Life Balance Jumpstart: The Wellness Make-Over


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Charge Through the Outstanding To-Do List

As defined by the law of conservation of energy, energy is neither created nor destroyed; it is only transformed, replaced, or rechanneled.

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Nothing emerges from nowhere.

This week, we invite you to join us in tackling something that can be an energetic encumbrance in order to make room for the new!

What is it?

Confront the dredges of your to-do list.

This might include diving into the bowels of your e-mail inbox, deep cleaning unseen kitchen corners, ironing or other tailoring needs long put off, or paying some outstanding bills. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to call an old friend or relative for months, but haven’t gotten to it. Maybe there’s an overdue conflict that’s gone unresolved.  You name it…

Things like these, whether small and large, can weigh on the mind (a little or a lot).

So, what actions can you commit to this week in order to clear up some stagnant energy?

Need a little extra inspiration to get started?

Imagine how content and centered you’ll feel after completing some of these long put-off tasks.

by Sophie Slater


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Verses that Nourish the Soul: Gathas

A couple years ago, my beloved brother-in-law Tim and I discovered that we had a mutual interest in the teachings of Zen Buddhist master. Soon after, Tim gifted me a book by this great teacher called Peace is Every Breath, which presents inspiring and accessible ways to cultivate greater mindfulness in everyday life. One practice in this book that really spoke to me is the expressing of gathas.

In Sanskrit, the word gatha means a “song” or “verse”.   In the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a gatha is simple and very short verse that can deepen the experience of little acts we often take for granted, like brewing a fresh cup of tea or washing our face.  In a world where the pace of life can seem to be getting faster and faster, it’s all to easy to become mindless as we run from point A to B and lose site of the preciousness that can exist in each moment.  Slowing down and focusing on the task at hand through the tool like gathas can help us come home, reground, and find new depths of gratitude and presence.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Gathas are nourishment for our mind, giving us peace, calmness and joy which we can share with others. They help us to bring the uninterrupted practice of meditation into every part of our day.”

Here is an example of a gatha of Thich Nhat Hanh’s that I love about using the phone:

Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems, as lovely as flowers.

For inspiration, you might want to pick up a copy of Peace is Every Breath or visit this website that shares many gathas of Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Let this practice be about remembrance instead of precision. There’s no need to recite these verses word for word.  In fact, you can write a your own gathas in your head as you wash the dishes or vacuum the living room.  Let us know how it feels to give yourself the gift of greater presence. 

by Sophie Slater


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Need a Relaxing Energy Boost?

Try these restorative variations of setu bandha sarvangasana, or bridge pose!

What you’ll need:

  • A little floor space
  • Ideally a yoga mat
  • For part II, a foam or wooden yoga block

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I. Bridge Vinyasa, also called Dvipada Pitham variation

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet hip width apart.  If possible, ankles should be directly under knees.  Have the arms along side the torso, palms face down. (Photo 1)
  2. Take a few breaths in the nose and out the nose.  The breath should be smooth, gentle ujjayi breath (please visit my recent blog on this “victorious breath”)
  3. When you’re ready, inhale and lift hips and arms.  Bring the backs of the wrists to rest on the floor behind you (Photo 2).  Stay an additional few breaths to familiarize your self with the form.  The lower back should feel spacious.
  4. After a few breaths, exhale and lower the hips and the arms back down.  Try to coordinate the action so they land at the same time.
  5. Inhale and lift arms and hips once more.  Exhale and lower.*The breath should be smooth and gentle and initiate all action.  Let it extend a little beyond the completed form, as well.
  6. Repeat 5 to 10 times.  With each round, become more in tune with the breath.

 

II. Supported Bridge, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

This restorative backbend pose is stress relieving for both body and mind.  It can help improve and maintain healthy digestion.  For women, it can help alleviate menstrual discomfort.  When practiced correctly, it opens the should/heart area and is beneficial for the lower back.

This bridge variation can be practicing using the 3 yoga block heights.  If you’re not sure what’s best for you, start with the lowest height.  If anything feels awkward, release and realign.  There should be NO negative sensation in the lower back.

  1. After practicing the bridge vinyasa sequence, pick the hips up and place the yoga block on the lowest height underneath the sacroiliac joint.  Gently roll the shoulder blades closer together. (Photo 4) Thighs should remain as parallel as possible.
  2. After a few breaths here, you may want to move to the medium height.  I prefer to have the block lengthwise with the spine, supporting the tailbone to lumbar.  (See Photo # 5)
  3. If the first two heights are comfortable, perhaps try the highest option.  The block should fully support the tailbone.  Please see how it is positioned in photo #6.

After practicing part I and II, bring the feet mat with apart and let the knees touch.  I like to rest one hand on the stomach and the other on the heart.  Breathe fully and deeply.  A nice technique is three-part breathing: breathe into the belly, then lower chest, then upper chest.

Remain for a few breaths (5-10) and then hug the knees into the chest.


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Day 22: Find Your Inner Warrior

One of my all time favorite yoga poses is Warrior II, or Virabhadrasana II. I love this pose because, even on my shakiest (physically and emotionally) of days it helps me to feel rooted and strong.

Here we break-down this wonderful grounding, stabilizing pose that, when done properly, allows for so many benefits including: expansion across your chest, lungs, and shoulders; stimulating abdominal organs and digestion; increasing endurance and stamina; improving balance, concentration, and core awareness (hint: it’s not just about your legs supporting you!); stretching your inner thighs and groins; strengthens your shoulders, arms, thighs, ankles, and legs. Wow – that’s a mouthful!

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  1. Begin by standing in Mountain Pose (tadasana).

  2. Step your feet wide apart, keeping the outer edges of the feet parallel to the edges of your mat or, if you are on a wood floor, parallel with the floor boards.

  3. Externally rotate your right toes to face the front of your mat, keeping your outer left foot parallel with the edge of the mat or slightly pigeon toed.

  4. Bend your right knee only until the knee is directly above the ankle. Important: do NOT allow the knee to bend beyond the ankle, maintain a 90 degree angle or less.

  5. Peek down at your right toes and make sure you can see your 1st, 2nd, and maybe even 3rd toe. For most, you will feel a slight stretch in the inner right thigh. This is good!

  6. Take your hands to your hips and on an inhale lengthen up through the spine, making sure that your shoulders are directly above your hips. Think of gently drawing your lower belly in and up so as to “fill up” the lower back and slightly lift the chest.

  7. From this supported core, extend your arms to a “T” position with the palms facing the floor. Draw your shoulder blades toward one another and down the back, and bring your gaze over your right fingertips.

  8. Hold for 5-10 breaths and then repeat on the left side.

Please honor the following contraindications:

  • High blood pressure

  • Diarrhea

  • Neck problems – keep your head and neck looking forward from the chest rather than over your front arm

  • Medical conditions that may affect balance

  • Knees: if you have any knee problems be careful not to go too deep into the knee bend. Focus on engaging the quads to stabilize, stabilize, stabilize!

What did you notice while in this pose? What was challenging? What felt amazing? We welcome you to share your experiences!

by Maggie Converse


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Give Yourself Permission to Do Something You Love

Good morning and happy day 21 of the 31-Day Challenge for Change! Today, we invite you to give yourself permission to do something you love.

When? 

Today and generously throughout the New Year.

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What might that something be?

Something that honors who you are and what’s important to you.

Maybe it’s something you know will make you laugh or smile. Maybe it’s allowing yourself to take a 20-minute break from work to go for a brisk walk in order to counter that midday slump, or picking up a long-lost and well-loved hobby like painting or sewing or bird watching. It could be something as simple as making a snow angel in freshly fallen snow.

For some reason, giving ourselves permission to do things we know nourish our body and soul, even if it’s just for a brief time, can be easier said than done. When we’re overwhelmed with work, it can be all too easy to make excuses about why we can’t break free from the tasks at hand. The inner critic might even pipe up and say things like, “You don’t deserve to do anything right now! Work is far more important!”

We always deserve to prioritize self-care and thread a healthy balance of it into our lives. Every day. Now, I’m not saying abandon all tasks right now and go to a spa. Instead, honor how powerful a daily does of you time can be. In fact, there’s been a great deal of recent research reinforcing the notion that giving oneself time to step away from work and do something enjoyable actually leads to greater productivity in the long run.  It certainly leads to greater happiness, too, which can benefit all areas of our life.

So, what will you give yourself permission to do today?  This week? Share with us via email and the Life Balance Jumpstart Facebook page.

 

by Sophie Slater


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Dedicating Your Practice

What does it mean to dedicate your practice?

 

There is a term in Buddhism called the Bodhisattva vow: dedicating the search for enlightenment to the welfare of all sentient beings, helping to free them from suffering. If you’ve taken a handful of yoga classes, chances are you have heard your teacher use the term “dedicate your practice.” One of the primary intentions here is to encourage us as students to use our energy in the world to create good in the world and, perhaps one day, eliminate suffering.

 

Now, this may seem like a mighty task and truth be told, I will sometimes feel overwhelmed and think to myself “Oh gosh! Who do I dedicate my practice to today? Who REALLY needs help?” What I have learned to do is allow myself to dedicate my practice to the first person (or perhaps animal, or group of people, etc.) that comes to mind. This is not meant to be a challenge to come up with the perfect person to dedicate your practice, but a practice in compassion and empathy so that when we are off the mat and living our daily lives we can perhaps be a tiny bit kinder to one another.

 

So with that, as you come to your practice today, maybe you will dedicate your practice to someone. Here are a few steps to guide you …

My dedication today is to my cat Bodhi who often keeps me company during my practice, sitting on my lap during meditation.

My dedication today is to my cat Bodhi who often keeps me company during my practice, sitting on my lap during meditation.

 

1. Decide who or what you will be dedicating your practice to. This can be someone you love dearly, someone who you know could use a little extra care, or even someone who makes your life difficult! The possibilities are endless.

 

2. As you set up your yoga practice, lying down or seated, focus all your intention on your dedication. Visualize yourself giving love, kindness, and compassion to this person.

 

3. Always allow yourself to process any emotions that may come up. This can be a very emotional experience. So whether these emotions are good or bad, allow them to cycle through you.

 

4. Bring your attention to your breath and the mantra “Loving, Kindness” – inhale “loving” and exhale “kindness” – saying these words to yourself.

 

5. As you begin moving through your yoga asana practice bring your attention to this dedication when you find your mind wandering, when you are confronted with a challenging pose, and perhaps as you begin to wind down your practice. You may find that as you send out loving kindness to this particular person, you will also be sending this to yourself.

 

You can take the same dedication into your meditation if you wish! Ultimately it’s up to you and, like everything, this becomes easier with practice. Don’t worry if you have forgotten by the end of your yoga session who or what your dedication was. As always, please feel free to share with us today … what is your dedication? And let us know how it goes!

by Maggie Converse


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Chew Your Way to Better Health!

It’s not just what you eat that matters, but how you eat it.

Did you know that digestion begins in the mouth?

As we chew our food, we mix it with saliva, which contains enzymes that invaluably contribute to the chemical process of digestion. The breakdown of the chemical bonds that connect starches, for example, starts with the integration of salivary alpha-amylase; and, fat digestion with the secretion of the enzyme lingual lipase, excreted by glands located under the tongue.

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Eating mindfully is a great way to better savor delicious homemade treats, too.

Chewing food thoroughly, to the point that its original texture is entirely broken down, is imperative for optimal digestion. And, optimal digestion and optimal health are inseparable. In fact, in the time-tested sciences of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s believed almost all illness originates from imbalanced digestion.

Under chewing goes hand in hand with rushed eating.

What risks do these practices pose to the digestive track?

The entire system is taxed from start to finish. Larger food particles can create esophageal stress, which can not only damage the lining, but also contribute to acid reflux. The likelihood of reflux and heartburn will only be increased as the food reaches the stomach and the digestive juices are asked to do more than necessary. In an effort to break down partially digested food, fewer nutrients are absorbed (also bad from an economical standpoint!). From here, the remaining undigested food becomes fodder in the intestinal track, resulting in excess bacteria in the colon, which can lead to bloating, gas, indigestion, IBS, and even appendicitis.

To be honest, part of the inspiration to write this blog is that eating more mindfully is a resolution of mine.  In fact, even though I was writing this blog this afternoon, I just happily and relatively quickly devoured the mushroom risotto, roasted salmon, and salad I just made my husband and I for dinner.  Basically, I’m very conscious about what I eat, but forget to SLOW down.  I also forget to carve out adequate time and end up eating in a hurry before running out the door to teach a class. Or, I’ll be so busy that by the time I eat, I’m ravenous and forget to chew well.  So, I am committing myself to patiently and completely chew my food and invite you to join me.

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In case you need another reason 

to chew thoroughly:

Studies reveal that people who chew their food slowly consume 12% fewer calories on average than those who do not. So, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, this is a sustainable assist!

The following are a few tips that can help you slow down and better enjoy that meal:

  1. Stop and acknowledge your food before the first bite.  Take the time to cultivate gratitude for the nourishment in front of you.
  2. Breathe well as you eat. Breathe deeply during and between bites.
  3. Be conscious of the food’s texture. Rather than counting how many times you chew, focus on fully breaking down the solids before swallowing.
  4. Think about the flavors…and savor them. You might also find that eating slowly helps you develop your sense of taste, have greater appreciation for the quality of your food, and ultimately lead you to make better food choices.

by Sophie Sophie