Lessons from the Garden

Change has been on my mind a lot lately. As the tree outside my window tries to push buds into the world, I notice a thawing in all areas: excited planning of outdoor adventures, summer drinks appear on menus, and Edmontonians become far friendlier as they are freed up from the stress of running into icy winds. In myself, I notice the desire to take action on things that I only have energy for in spring, when the world is starting to freshen up and I am driven to carry that turning over into my own life. In recent weeks, this has led to deep cleaning my floors and minimizing the contents of my garage and pantry with both vigorous brutality and little warning. 

This time of year sparks a mood for change and, as we emerge from hibernation and catch the fever of activity and outdoors and sunshine, we are in a perfect position to take stock of our lives and decide what areas could use refreshing.

Personally, the need for growth is revealed to me through reading and, lately, I have been enjoying several books on existentialism and meaning (light topics, I know). Between all the words of heavy philosophy I have waded through, a single truth has underlined my explorations: that growth and purpose are indispensable to the human spirit. As we enter adulthood, and set the routine of our lives, it's easy to think that by our late 20s we should be finished. We are handed a pass/fail perspective of life where the superficial elements (car, house, money, spouse) are given greater value than the functioning of our private worlds; yet, even with all these things, are we not limitless in our ability to be unsatisfied? There is the trap of stagnation, where so many of us sit back and quit growing, becoming frightfully bored or simply losing focus. Our society is full of cautionary tales about remaining static, though we rarely heed their wisdom—coining terms like "midlife crisis" and "empty nester" to describe individuals who face the trial-by-fire of an uncertain identity. These words roughly attempt to communicate the fact that there is little meaning to a life without internal purpose. 

It is important to note that when I say internal, I do not mean a selfish life that is only concerned with one's own interests. I simply mean a life that is not dictated by the superimposed structures of success that others will place on you. I mean having healthy expectations of yourself and working to live up to them because it benefits everyone to be in the presence of someone free from the insecurity of trying to "measure up". 

When we look at humans, we see that from birth we are meant to pursue life with a level of curiosity and discovery; a life as brief as ours is wasted sitting still. So, as we stand on the cusp of transformative springtime, I want to encourage you to consider areas of your life that may have fallen asleep. Learning to pursue growth and purpose is relatively straightforward—we simply follow the breadcrumbs of our interests, skills, and the encouragement of people who we trust to be in our corner.

In my own pursuit of growth, I have found the most (unintentional) wisdom in a choice I made years ago in University. A terrified first year in a Fine Arts program, I made the decision to say yes to any opportunity that I would normally avoid because of fear or insecurity. Without knowing it, this small mental adjustment paved the way for many positive changes to happen that year. Suddenly there was room for openness, curiosity, and risk at a time in my life where these were desperately needed. What have you always wanted to try but never bothered? What have you left undone for simple fear of failure? What areas of your life could use more compassion? I think wellness tends to be one of the areas that could always use a little more grace. Judging our bodies less and taking time to nourish ourselves with good, nutrient-rich, food; getting the necessary amount of sleep, not just when it's convenient; spending time with people who truly have your best interest at heart and listening to what they think of your problems; taking breaks because it's more than your legal right, it’s a necessity; and spending time blessing your physical body with activity are small changes that chip away at stagnation.

In a regular yoga practice, we are offered a supportive place for personal growth. In that physical space between rest and effort, we access a quality of focus that can be directed to any intention we choose. When you hit the mat this week, I hope that you will use that clarifying space to let go and embrace your life as something beautifully unpredictable, full of limitless possibility. As we reach into that possibility, in all areas of life, we start to remove some of the limits that we have placed on ourselves or that others have applied to us. When you leave the studio, I hope you contain fewer inner-walls than you came in with. I hope you talk to a stranger because they might have something to teach you. I hope you consider how all the small choices and you make are shaping your values. I hope you decide to undertake new challenges that you wouldn't normally try and that you end up on paths you didn’t foresee. Then, I hope you learn something new that changes you in a deep and wonderful way.

The month of May is dedicated to refreshing our bodies inside and out through dietary and other cleansing activities—a perfect time to take the newness of spring into your body and listen to what that body is telling you it needs. The wonder of spring is this: though everything must grow to survive, even the seemingly dead can come alive and flourish with a little nourishment.

 

 

The Low Down on Yoga Nidra

Low Down on Yoga Nidra

Doing yoga in your sleep? Sounds like my kind of yoga!

Now that I have your attention, let’s back up for a second. Yoga nidra is not doing yoga in your sleep. It’s another one of those ancient practices, aptly described as yogic sleep, a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping or the "going-to-sleep" stage. It’s a deep, meditative practice without the formalities of sitting in - what could be uncomfortable for some people - meditative postures. Instead, you lie on the floor like you do in savasana and go to work on your body, breath and mind.

For someone who has a lot of trouble falling asleep or having a full, restful sleep, this practice has really helped me calm my mind, soothe anxieties, and allows me to drift into a deep state of meditation. Yoga nidra has helped me accept the feelings that arise that moment right before you drift into sleep land, which as it turns out, is when I’m feeling the most vulnerable. Thankfully, yoga nidra helps to calm my mind and body and work through stress, accepting that these feelings may come and go but that they aren’t my reality.

The name of the game is conscious relaxation.

Let’s walk through how this works.

  • Lie down on your mat and close your eyes.

  • Start mindfully breathing. Deep inhale and exhale.

  • As with anything yoga related, set your intention. (I often focus my nidra practice on gratitude. Rather than “counting my sheep” to help me settle into sleep, I think about all of the great things in my day that I am grateful for.)

  • Release all tension in your body. Scan from the tips of your toes, to the tips of your fingers, and out through the top of your head. Let go of anything that is no longer serving you in this moment.

  • Find your inner drive. The best way I’ve had this explained to me is to find my happy place. (Very Peter Pan-esque, hey!) Is this place somewhere you’d like to revisit? Is it a feeling or state of well-being when you’re feeling your best? Concentrate on this.

  • Breathe into this space. Breathe in peace and gratitude and breathe out insecurities and negative thoughts.

  • As emotions or thoughts come up, acknowledge them. Mull them over, and let them go. A good method is to ask these thoughts or feelings what they need. Where do you feel these thoughts in your body?

  • At the end of your practice, come back to your intention for a moment. Breathe.

  • And slowly bring yourself back to a wakeful state, just as you would from the end of a meditation. Be gentle and give yourself the time to slowly come back.

  • The interesting thing about a yoga nidra practice is that you really do learn more about yourself. You learn about the thoughts and feelings that occupy your subconscious and you understand how to work with these thoughts and feelings rather than bury them further inside of you.

Now that you have a sense of what it’s about, you can catch a weekly yoga nidra class at the SATTVA School every Sunday from 8:30 to 9:30pm with some of your beloved instructors to go deeper into your nidra practice. You can also access a full guided yoga nidra sequence on SATTVA Online that will easily lead you right into sleep. 

JAMIE AUSMUS

Clearing Space: Simple Steps for the Home Practice

Yoga Practice at Home - Sattva Yoga Studio

The studio is an important place in any yoga practice. It is a separate space from the rest of our lives, providing relief from the usual distractions: the phone bill on the counter you need to pay, the files that have yet to make their way into the cabinet, the jam that your child has inevitably smeared somewhere (I don't have kids so I naturally assume they all have jam-hands). The studio lets us connect to our teachers, our peers, and our inspiration. It stands apart as a space where anything is possible and we can connect to some much-needed positivity while tackling our fears, our flexibility, and our self-love.

That being said, sometimes we just can't get there! Our schedules are impacted by the unexpected and the timeline gets thrown out the window when family emergencies, snowstorms, and car troubles abound. Also, let's not forget those days when we can't seem to pry our tired bodies off the emotional floor of our lives and make it to class. Therefore, with reality in mind, I hope that the following tips for a successful home practice will help bring the studio to you and keep your practice on track, even when your life isn't.

1.     Designate a practice space: While having a dedicated yoga space in our homes is the stuff of dreams for most of us, it is still helpful to repeatedly practice in the same area of your home. Whether this ends up being the living room or the foot of the bed, pick a place that you have a positive association with and build on that. Choose someplace that feels comfortable for you and is preferably not a work zone like the kitchen or laundry room. Hard floors are nice as they help with balance but they are not the top priority if it means practicing in a space that pulls your focus to chores and distractions.

2.     Respect your home practice and make sure others do too: Communicate with the members of your household that the next hour is yours. You wouldn't stand up in the middle of the studio and take a call, so don't do it at home. Turn your phone off, close the door (if there is one) and allow yourself to take the time that you need for self-care. It is highly unlikely that a disaster will occur in the next hour that you need to respond to and, best of all, showing respect and love for yourself sets a healthy example for everyone who shares your home.

3.     Clear the visual landscape: One thing that is great about the studio is the lack of visual clutter. If practicing at home is going to become a regular part of your routine, consider minimizing the landscape of your chosen space. Do you have shelves piled with knickknacks? Overflowing magazine racks and shoes spilling out of closets? Curate the space you intend to practice in, keeping only objects you love. If you plan on minimizing, it is helpful to take all the extra items you would consider parting with and add them to a donation bag in the back of a closet. After a month or so revisit the bag and, if you haven't missed any of the items inside, recycle, donate, or trade them.

4.     Find a great instructional resource: One of the best things about SATTVA are the instructors! Adjustments are one of my favorite things in the studio, along with the humor that always seems to find its way into a class. Needless to say, good instruction makes all the difference in yoga; so, unless you're used to self-guided practice, make sure to use an instructional resource that you connect with. Thankfully, SATTVA's website offers online classes for just $10/month, where the studio posts all the monthly sequences and many other great tools. They also have 30 minute sessions available for when life is overwhelming and you have a little less time on hand. 

5.     Set the mood: Whether you're a morning or an evening yogi, take a few minutes to get into the right headspace for your practice. In the AM, this could include an energizing cup of tea or coffee and 5 minutes of reflection before setting your intention. If you're a night person (my personal preference), light some candles and dim the lights. If auditory stimulation is important to you, incorporate a soundscape that inspires you by throwing on some music (pretty much all free streaming services have yoga playlists). Some other sensory favorites are incense, nebulizers, or some essential oils rubbed onto the temples and wrists.

6.     Make an intention list: Sometimes when we walk up to the mat, it can be hard to find our intention. Whether it's racing thoughts, a rough day at the office, or lack of sleep holding us back, having a starting point in those less-inspiring moments can be helpful when that living room session feels flat. Keeping a list of intentions to guide our practices can be extremely helpful. Enter the yoga journal! Each time you practice, make a point of noting your intentions, what you're learning, and a positive gain from each session. Keep the journal or list in your practice space and, on days when you're having a hard time setting the tone on your own, flip through the pages and see what inspires you. Sometimes just seeing your progress can provide a little attitude boost.

7.     Make a schedule and stick to it: If you think you can reasonably practice 3 times a week, schedule it! Pick the days and times where you would like to be in the studio and if you ever just can't seem to make it there, try and squeeze in a short session at home. Staying accountable to your goals will feel incredible.

8.     Refresh your weekends: Weekends are often the time for catching up on things like work, sleep, and time with loved ones (hopefully not in that order). The idea of the "weekend warrior" has us scrambling to pack those the "S"-days with rushed activity. Take time to catch up on personal time as well, starting your weekends with a little asana. The bonus: for days where you don't feel like leaving the bedroom, you don't have to. Simply roll out of bed, leave on the comfy sweats, and put in a little quality time on your mat. You'll be glad you did. 

Finally, dear friends, wherever you find yourself this week I hope you feel encouraged to roll out your mat and spend some time in that important business of self-love. It will always be worth it. 

-Holly de Moissac

Discover the Rhythm of your Breath

Ojjayi Breathing Technique

I’ve heard it referred to as the “ocean breath” but my first instance with ojjayi breathing was something totally unexpected. It happened during my first ever yoga class at, what was then called The Yoga Loft, now the Sattva School. I hopped into a class with a friend of mine, who recommended I try out sattva. I was brand new to yoga and brand new to this school. We dove into our sun salutations at the start of class and all I heard was what I honestly thought to be the instructor turning on their “jungle sounds” playlist on their iPod. Hilariously, and much to my surprise, the jungle sounds and feeling in the room was actually created by my fellow yogis around me! Every time I get on my mat to practice, I think back to that day and smile. My how far I’ve come since that firs day at Sattva!

Let’s take some time to talk about our breath, since it’s such a pivotal part of our practice.

What is the ojjayi breathing technique?

It’s an ancient yogic breathing technique in which it first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras) and finally moves into the upper chest and throat.

In Sanskrit, the prefix "ud" (उद्) added with the root "ji" (जि): "ujji" (उज्जि), brings the meaning "to be victorious". Ujjayi (उज्जायी), thus means "one who is victorious," or in our breath’s case, “victorious breath."

How do you do it?

It’s essentially a constriction at the back of your throat and sounds just like a whisper. It’s audible and you feel it, meaning, you feel it in your body and you feel your neighbour too.

Why do we use it?

Now this is the tricky part: sync your breath with movement. To put it into the simplest form I can, we use ojjayi breath in our practice for rhythm. We use it for connection. We use it for balance. Ojjayi breathing also helps us regulate the heating of the body and helps us release tension as we flow through our practice.

It’s quite a challenge to move through a practice and maintain a steady, even quality to your breath, but that’s what makes yoga so fun! You’re in a constant mindset of fine-tuning and making small adjustments. Over time, the more we focus on our breath, the more it becomes second nature and truly part of our practice.

Concentrate on the Breath

Even when I’m going about my day, when I get stuck on a challenge that needs lots of concentration, I catch myself in mid-ojjayi breath. When I started realizing I do this throughout the day, that I’ve trained my body and breath to connect over the years, really does help me work through problems with a sense of groundedness and connection to the moment I’m in. How cool is that?!

Remember, it takes practice to find your breath and it takes patience. Dedicate a practice on your mat to sticking to rhythmic breathing and see how far you get before your mind wanders. And when it does begin to wander, kindly bring it back and try again. Without the breath, there is no life to your practice and you just move from one pose to the next, rather than wholeheartedly moving as one: body, breath and mind.

JAMIE AUSMUS

Chasing the Silence: An Introduction to Meditation

Mind Body Healing Through Meditation

If you have ever sat through a yoga meditation feeling like a fraud, inwardly confused, trying not to laugh, or bored beyond words, you are not alone. In a culture that rejects stillness and worships a level of busyness only possible with help from caffeine, this is to be expected. Our initial Western confrontations with meditation often bear the hallmarks of discomfort; meditation feels wholly other to us because it is and, though we may have learned to survive stress and anxiety, we do not naturally seek the rejuvenating stillness that we so desperately need. Instead, we crave and run from stillness in equal parts. We crave it in moments where life rushes past in endless waves of family and work and responsibility. We run from it when we are lonely, when the house is quiet at night or when fears and anxieties are running through our brains. We turn on Netflix, rant to a friend, or swipe right on tinder. We chase it and prevent it simultaneously, without understanding its true necessity and simplicity.

In yoga, this conflict looks like impatience and we all experience it. We may hit a wall that we can't seem to break through—never emerging into that headstand we're dreaming of or bemoaning tightly bound hamstrings that make the splits an exercise in torture. We may decide that our balance and strength are behind schedule! We can't seem to find the focus, the softening, the release of tension that comes from being fully committed to each posture. And as we practice, it's not just that the day is flooding into our minds, it's that we can't even begin to slow the hurricane of activity. Enter meditation. While we are taught to develop self-control and mature outwardly, most of us were never trained for the mental and emotional gymnastics that life requires of us. Yoga is no different (except the gymnastics really happen).

Meditation cultivates an inner stillness and vitality by aligning the mind and body. In a SATTVA yoga class, we experience this unification when our complete mental and physical energies are focused into a single action. This means that in each movement we make, moving our minds is half the job. That wall you have hit in your practice cannot simply be torn down with more effort—the mind must be allowed to do its work. Since our minds convert mental/emotional stress into the physical body as tension in our muscles, the mind must also play a role in unwinding of the tissues. As we push through postures, our body carries memory of how far it will push and how to hold itself tightly for protection. By recognizing the studio as a safe and vulnerable place, we can allow our minds to rest and access new space that has simply been held back.

In yoga, this process begins with setting an intention. Simply put, your intention is the place where you will direct your complete focus. To connect with an intention, I ask myself the simple question, "What do I need today?" and observe what floats into my mind. The best intentions will carry that ring of truth and I'll feel a small emotional response when I get it right. In my practice a frequent intention is the word "kindness". During a class, I guide my actions and thoughts in an orbit around that word, seeing every pose and thought as an opportunity to be kind to myself. The thoughts and actions that do not align with this word are discarded, leaving a clarity we rarely experience in 21st century life. This part of yoga is so easy for the beginner to miss, perceiving the practice to be divided between mind and body when, in fact, the two are inseparable. Physicality and consciousness work in harmony in all aspects of the practice: the asana (posture) acts as a moving meditation and cleanse, preparing the mind for a meditation of stillness. 

Meditation classes - Sattva Yoga Studio

As we learn to access our minds through the movement of the asanas, we can still struggle with seated meditation. Intentions and movement are easier to understand because most of us have been conditioned to perceive busyness as a virtue. Sitting still, on the other hand, is not as accepted in our cult of hurry; however, it is in this stillness that we tap into an essential self. In a quiet place within, we can observe our entire being, freeing ourselves from the tension and emotional burdens that our minds and bodies carry. As thoughts break across your consciousness, you will learn to release them one by one. Such thoughts are small reflections of our lives and by observing what arises, we can locate areas of stress, negative thought patterns, and emotional inconsistency. Your job then becomes to kindly observe each wisp of thought and release it. This letting go is a beautiful opportunity to experience your authentic self without the weight of outside pressures and expectations. As your meditation practice strengthens, less will float up to the surface. You will come to a place where the holding of those physical memories has been released through the conscious mind, arriving in a space with fewer distractions. Finally, as we exit meditation, we carry forward the tools we have cultivated, gaining the ability to release the excess that is not contributing to our lives.

By frequently practicing meditation, we become more in touch with our bodies and minds, more aware of what is essential in our lives, and we gain healthy mental practices that allow us to turn down the white noise of life. Becoming more observant is a powerful thing. It makes us better listeners, better friends, and better artists. It allows us to recognize good things in the face of stress. It also allows us to question what is necessary for us to experience joy. The balance that results from strengthening both mental and physical bodies equally is the driving force behind a life lived in balance, where each of us is equipped to cope with adversity and accept our whole selves.

Tips to Improve Your Meditation Experience:

Check in with yourself before class to see where your head is at. What is racing through your mind? Where are you holding tension in your body? By identifying some of these things before you begin your practice, you can be purposeful with your intention.

Come early, take a little time on your mat, and breathe out all the obvious tension that you came in with.

Apply your meditation experience to the rest of your life. Do you run? Have a desk job? A complicated family? Practice the act of letting go throughout each day.

Practice guided meditation. Through sattvayogaonline.tv, you can access guided meditation courses (and all of SATTVA's video sequences) for $10/month. Beginning with guided meditation will help you maintain your focus and build a strong foundation. Or check out Science of Self - SATTVA Yoga's meditation companion that comes with a handy app so you can take your meditation practice with you wherever you go.  

Join a meditation group where you can leverage the collective energy and strength of a room full of people. Every Wednesday Rameen hosts a FREE satsang and meditation class at the SATTVA School: 7:30pm to 8:45pm. 

Commit to going deeper through one of SATTVA's upcoming meditation courses and strenghten technique so that you can methodically develop your meditation practice. Meditation Orientation is a 50 hour meditation course that begins this month! For more information, visit the SATTVA website: http://orientationmeditation.com.

Our experiences in the studio reflect our broader lives; a general lack of mental discipline will have ripples into our practice that we must respond to. I sincerely hope that you will chance dipping your toes into this vital part of yoga. The stillness is yours for the taking. 

 

HOLLY DE MOSSAIC

Learning to Be: 7 Days of Insight from a Digital Detox

Digital Detox Can Change Your Life

In the past, I have talked about the need for gratitude in a world with a negative focus. The mental picture I have for trying to stay thankful and positive some days is this: You are canoeing on a river. The world around you may be beautiful, but you can't enjoy it because there are little holes in the canoe. You could choose to plug the holes and appreciate the beauty of being out on the water, but often you spend your time panicking about sinking or just bailing water from the boat.

Tackling negativity requires a shift in perspective; instead of focusing on the water flooding in, it is helpful to look for the cause and make structural changes to our lives.  In my life, negativity often enters digitally, through social media, mindless distractions, and an endless stream of depressing news; therefore, I have decided to plug those holes and enjoy the river. For one week, I eliminated all media-related activities that detract from being present. This included Netflix and YouTube, television, movies, smartphone games, all forms of social media, news websites, all forms of click-bait, and mindless rabbit-trail style websites that can distract me for hours. I also turned off notifications on my phone to remove any home-screen temptation. My goal was that, by subtracting these distractions, I could assess how much space media takes up in my life and confront the stressors that I use technology to escape.

As a 21st century North American, a certain amount of leeway was necessary. I still needed my computer and phone for work but limited internet usage to 2 email checks a day, work-related tasks, and music. I replaced all other media with books, music, and movies at the theatre (if needed). Since connecting with people is important, and not something I consider a distraction, I allowed texting and messenger apps. 

Day 1

I lived with a lot of music. Historically, Netflix has been my constant companion during hours of repetitive tasks in the studio and, as I found myself constantly twitching for my computer, I realized how dependent I am on background noise.

I was reminded to eat mindfully. Since taking time to enjoy and savor food increases pleasure and helps prevent overeating, removing distractions allowed me to notice how cursory my mealtimes had become.

I rediscovered reading as creative fuel. Social media helps us compare ourselves to others— the opposition to creativity. As I read books related to my field, I enjoyed easy inspiration and excitement about my work as a visual artist.

 Day 2

 I realized how automatic my interactions with social media are. I started checking my notifications in the morning before my brain was fully awake. I also noticed my mind concocting "status updates" throughout the day.

I enjoyed the simplicity of a life that is full of things I like. In the void left by all that digital filler, I had to be intentional with what I did with each day.

I noticed hunger and allowed it to dictate my mealtime schedule rather than the habit of eating at certain times.  

I found room for downtime. I realized how much better my day is when I spend an hour or two reading, meditating, and praying.

 Day 3 

I noticed how long a day really is. With little left to do but productive things, it’s easy to get it all done.

I found more clarity in my yoga practice. The lack of distractions made focusing on my intention easy during asana and meditation.

I optimized my bedtime ritual. Without screen time, I slept better and noticed my stress levels were reduced.

 Day 4

I found more room for empathy. With lower stress and less on my plate, I had more patience and emotional space to bear with people in my life who are struggling.

I discovered positive loneliness. Social media allows us to feel connected with each other while keeping us isolated; without it, there is time to crave real interaction.

 Day 5

I was reminded that nothing motivates like boredom.  

I embraced relaxation. At the end of an incredibly productive week, I rewarded myself with a long soak.

Day 6

I enjoyed meaningful connection with others. To cap off the week, I invited friends over for wine, food, and games. It felt truly refreshing to spend time with people in the absence of social media.

I paid more attention to others when my phone was not a distraction.

I was able to identify stressors in my life, acknowledge them, and move on without prolonged worry or anxiety.

Day 7

I felt more connected with my partner. In a week with less filler, there was plenty of time to spend enjoying each other's company.

I had time to plan ahead. I looked forward to reintroducing media in a controlled way. I came up with the following guidelines for myself that could also be useful for anyone looking to set some boundaries regarding their digital intake. 

  1. Leave most media use for weekends.
  2. Post on social media platforms once a week.
  3. Enjoy phone-free moments, dedicated to rest and stillness. No screens before bed.
  4. Set times each day for checking email and social media. Leave phone notifications off.
  5. Fill the extra time with good habits: working out, quiet times, and nourishing meals.
  6. Remember that social media is truly anti-social. Connect with real people.

With limited media usage, I finished 2 books, had amazing gains in my art practice, fostered healthier habits, felt more positive, experienced lower stress, and saw benefits in my yoga practice as I became calmer and more focused. The greatest realization was that by simply turning down the volume, I was tapping into a fuller life. It turns out that when we decide to look up from our task of eternally sinking, when we banish the inward flow of negativity that threatens to overwhelm, the view can be breathtaking.

"There is a direct relationship between self-nurturing and our capacity for a sustained creative flow. […] This means we must treat ourselves as finely tuned mechanisms. We must learn what makes us thrive and give ourselves a diet of those nutrients." —Julia Cameron

 

HOLLY DE MOSAIC

 

 

Surviving 2017: Gratitude in the Eye of the Storm

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Lately, the world has felt wobbly and spinning off its axis—the way a top looks at the end of its spin. From political views to human rights, as we teeter of into 2017, things have never felt so uncertain. In my personal life, mental health crises are swirling around me as I watch the high price of stress, anxiety, and depression in those I love; and so, it seems incredibly oversimplified to sit here in this moment and talk to you about gratitude, even though it’s never been more important. You see, there is this little blue book sitting on my kitchen table right now that's holding everything together. I have only written 300 sentences but each line is pure hope. They carry the steam that floats from my morning cup of tea, the fresh green of new leaves, the incomprehensively soft feel of my friend's new baby. If you haven't guessed from the title of this blog, the little blue book is my gratitude journal.

If you're like me, your Facebook feed is suddenly full of people who are deeply (and loudly) afraid. And I'm not saying they shouldn't be; yet, suddenly our collective fears seem to have reached an overwhelming pitch and I'm watching dear friends who struggle with their mental health be pushed to the edge by waves of negativity. I suspect that things feel worse than they ever have because of the internet. News is everywhere, if you can even call most of what pops up on our social-media feeds as news. Things have gotten heavy and I don't think we were built to carry the weight of the world. Instead, I think we are anthropologically meant to bear the weight of our lives and small communities. I'm not suggesting that we all stick our heads in the sand and run away, as if that were even possible. I'm suggesting that we reconnect with real humans in our lives and remember all the small and deeply gorgeous things that we miss when we're scrolling and clicking and panicking. I'm suggesting that we focus on changing what is actually in our power which, as it turns out, is very little. For me, those little changes began with saying thanks.

I started a gratitude journal after reading a book about the importance of giving thanks. I tend toward pragmatic realism in my personality, so at first I was concerned that I wouldn't have enough natural pep and positivity for the challenge; however, these days that little book is full of power. After a late night supporting people in crisis, I wrote line 300: " Good friends, bearing take-out", when a lovely friend showed up at my house with mountains of Thai food for a writing session. It is so easy to gloss over these moments and so necessary to remember them. The beautiful thing about cultivating an attitude of gratitude (hot rhymes, I know) is that it's free; no one can tell you what you need to be thankful for. Furthermore, it’s a perspective that can draw us away from anxious thoughts back into the very real and waiting world as we shift our focus away from things we can't control and back to the good things we already have.

One of my favorite things about yoga is how it naturally amplifies gratitude. What better way to give thanks for your body than spending some time respectfully tuned in to its language of movement. When I hit the mat, I am always reminded how privileged I am to be here, in a space of quiet thoughts, with time to focus on myself. For so many people, that is not even an option. I also have a body that is capable and strong (another privilege) but some days can I can still forget how lucky I am to have the money for yoga or the freedom to be upset about politics or the legal right to speak my feelings into the world. Sometimes we forget these privileges and use our freedom to rant and bicker. I know I do. So, when I recently read an article that named empathy as the most powerful way of conquering fear and division, it struck a chord. The writer pointed out how empathy allows us to understand what others are feeling and treat them with respect, even when we don't agree. With empathy, those we differ from become teachers, allowing us to grow, connect, or simply learn what not to be: ALL things to be thankful for. 

And as we increase in this empathy for others, we must also remember to be empathetic with ourselves: being kind to our bodies, letting our minds rest, and building joy into our days as we embrace all the goodness that politics and hate can't tarnish. We can remember to fill the consumerist drive for "more" with gratitude for what we have. We can let people in our lives know what they mean to us and strengthen our connection to humanity. We can dig into those sun salutations and give thanks for spines that bend and muscles that stretch and burn with life. We can become students in a world that reveres the loudest teachers. We can allow gratitude to slow the sand in the hourglass when we're feeling buried by our lack of time or money or love or things. You see, gratitude is the opposite of lack. Gratitude simply has everything already and desires no more. Saying this, I acknowledge that pitching gratitude to those whose basic needs aren’t being met is not helpful. I say this to those who have enough but refuse to know it which, let's face it, is most of us.

In these fearful days, I dare you to practice gratitude. I dare you to take a break from worrying about all you can’t control and, instead, choose to breathe life-saving words onto paper. I dare you to write 100 things you are grateful for and then I dare you to write 1000. I dare you to be thankful for the parts of yourself and others that you don’t always like. I dare you to never stop writing because when a storm rolls over, you can look back to line 200 and read about the way “hoarfrost-patterned branches held up bluebird skies” and how on line 56 you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt you were loved. Then, when you sit there in the eye of your storm, whether you’re on your yoga mat, or walking through an uncertain life, you will have a little light to place between your hands and breathe into your heart because gratitude, at its core, is the practice of hope. And when you learn to see that life is full of good things, you will begin to trust that the future holds the bright specks of stars, soft hands, and dreams.

With Love,

Holly 

Find Your Happy Place: The Upside of a Regular Practice

Develop a Routine of Yoga

There’s something to be said for routines and consistency. With a regular pattern in our life, we are able to anticipate variances, commit to something and instill integrity into its very being. With a routine, we are able to notice the subtle changes our mind and body makes as we go deeper into the familiarity of our routine. 

 

Finding Your Groove

When it comes to your yoga practice, creating a routine for yourself (and maybe your friends for a good ol’ yoga date) is the best way to establish a regular yoga practice. When you sink into a routine, you’re able to see the world—a.k.a. your yoga practice—more clearly and tweak it as your body needs throughout each month. When we develop a routine for our yoga practice, we develop a consistent rhythm—a sense of familiarity in the body—and from this place, we are able to play and improvise as we explore postures during each practice and during each month’s sequence. 

 

The Benefits

We can’t say enough great things about establishing a rhythm to your practice. Not only will your physical practice evolve, so too will your mind. You’ll start to notice a change in your practice, identifying the smaller details, the nuances, of each posture and their transition to the next posture. In essence, you’ll have the time to see the forest for the trees and it will be great! 

 

A Few Helpful Tips

In order to get into this yoga groove, we have a few helpful hints for you to ground into a routine: 

  • Start at the end. Think about what you want your future self to feel like. What are you trying to achieve through your yoga practice? It’s always easiest to look at what an ideal world looks like for your yoga practice and set mini milestones and goals along the way to achieve this rhythm. If you’ve never been able to stretch your knees in adho mukha svanasana (downward dog), aim to focus on that throughout January and see how this attention changes the way your body sits with this posture. 
  • Pencil yoga in. It’s helpful to schedule your week in advance. Sit down once a week and map out when you’ll get to the studio to practice and when you can do an at-home practice; perhaps through the Sattva Online platform. Taking the time to think about when you’ll be able to practice will help you stay focused and keep you accountable for what you’re looking to achieve. 
  • Set yourself up for success. Take care of yourself in between your time on the mat. Get a good night’s sleep, drink plenty of water and eat food that will fuel your body rather than hinder it. These moments in-between your mat time will enable you to come to your practice feeling positively fueled.

 

It can be a bit daunting to get in the groove of a steady, consistent yoga practice but finding that rhythm will enable you to go deeper into your practice and ready your body for more difficult postures and sequences. Take a peek at one of Rameen’s many yoga talks, to ground into your practice. It will enable your mind to go further into discovery, which is always what we’re after: discovering who we are. 


JAMIE AUSMUS

12 MISTAKES BEGINNERS MAKE

Mistakes Yoga Beginners Make

As we get a little deeper into 2017 at SATTVA, many new faces will join us on the hardwood for the first time. What a perfect way to begin the new year, with some mind-body transformation! That being said, new beginnings often involve a learning curve and yoga is no exception. Thankfully, since we all tend to make the same mistakes, a little help can mean dodging some basic pitfalls. If you're just starting out, we’re glad you’re here; if you're in the middle, let’s grow a bit further; and if you're a seasoned practitioner, let’s take a quick self-check (and remember of where you started). 

1. Starting at Someone Else’s Pace

Don't worry about where your friends are at, it is YOUR body that you need to make decisions for. If you have some experience and understanding of yoga, the All Levels class might be your jam; however, if you've never stepped into a studio before or don't understand the basic mechanics of postures, a Beginners Class might be more your speed. If you have some physical limitations (or are just stiff as a board), fear not, there is something for everyone!

2. Feeling Unqualified (Especially in Beginner Classes)

Students often feel they must reach some mystical standard of flexibility before beginning yoga or transitioning to the All Levels class. If you have been practicing beginners for a while, bite the bullet and move to the next level. In any physical activity, you will improve most efficiently when you work towards a higher goal than your current ability. Listen to your body and take the leap! There will be more to learn wherever you go and it’s actually really exciting and fun to challenge the body and break out of the comfort zone. 

3. Putting a "Yoga Image" First

Advertising and social media market a visual lifestyle of yoga. Those images of people rocking an inner peace face with the "perfect" body, "right" clothes, and collection of parachute pants (insert inspirational quote), are not you. Yoga is your own journey and will impact your life differently than everyone else's. Looking the part is far less important than the mental work you will do in class. Your practice is more than an identity to try on; allow it to flavor your life in a personal way.  

4. Gearing Up (Expensively)

Contrary to popular belief, you can be inflexible in lulu pants. In studio clothing, it is important to have great mobility, breathability (particularly if, like me, you sweat a LOT) and comfort. It's true, some companies specialize in doing this well but you needn't break the bank just to look the part. Bargain stores and smaller brands can have great options and, frankly, when we get deep into those lunging postures, no one has the brain space to ponder how "legit" you look. 

5. Forcing It

I cannot stress this enough. What does forcing it look like? It looks like shaking like a leaf as you push into excess amounts of pain, with terrible form. Within each posture, there are multiple variations with different degrees of difficulty. If you don't know how to enter a posture, wave over an instructor! They will be able to adjust your body so you can find the necessary balance of engagement and relaxation to open up your tissues. If you can't breathe properly in a pose, consider modifying. 

6. Thinking You're Alone

You have so many people on your team in a yoga class! Your instructors are waiting to help. USE THEM. If you have an injury or physical limitation, tell them before class and they will help make the postures work for you. The studio is not a space of competition; it is a space of togetherness. The bodies surrounding you have gone through (or will go through) the same struggles and epiphanies as you. That human-pretzel in front of you? They once needed blocks and straps. We may deepen into our own practices but we all know what it's like to start. Rest into that empathy.

7. Ignoring Your Intelligent Body

At SATTVA, there are no mirrors. You need to listen to your body to tell if you are balanced and grounded. You need to feel through the lines of your bones and tissue to find stacking. You are the best defense against improper alignment, so, take your eyes off everyone else, soften your gaze, and feel your way through the postures. In time, your awareness will increase and, as you do things properly, you'll remember what good form feels like. 

8. Setting Unrealistic Goals

Your body will open on its own schedule and, if you don't let it work at its own pace, not only will you become frustrated but you may actually hurt yourself. If this is your personal pitfall, start a yoga journal. Track the date and length of each class, making some general notes on the experience. Then, most importantly, log something in a "little victories" column to help acknowledge the small gains you make. Finally, to put your expectations into perspective, track your number of sessions rather than the weeks you've been practicing.   

9. Being Intimidated (Hero Worship)

When we enter an All Levels class, 95% of us have people in the room who are much deeper into their practice than we are. That person you feel intimidated by was once in your shoes, so don’t allow destructive comparison to sneak in. Instead, toss out feelings of inadequacy and enjoy watching the deeper variations in their postures. If feelings of intimidation persist, talk to them. It’s likely that they will admit to not being made of moonlight, magic, and the essence of Gumby—despite what you expected. 

10. Ignoring the Mental Game

Like it or not, yoga is more than just a physical practice. As you strip away tension in the physical body, tension in the mind becomes apparent. Learning to soften your mind and body into the practice will reveal different aspects of self. Help prepare your mind by arriving early for the session, give yourself time to settle in, and don't ignore your intention— it will be your focal point, guiding you through all the challenges you face in class. 

11. Not Preparing Your Body

Whether you sweat a lot or not, come hydrated and re-hydrate after class. Water aids in muscle recovery and will help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, common in people just beginning a new fitness routine. Also, nothing feels worse than finding yourself hungry during a workout. Low blood glucose from inadequate food means that you may wind up sluggish and tired, not having the energy to maximize the benefits of your class. Try consuming easily digested carbohydrates (green smoothies anyone?) 30 minutes before class so that you are ready to go from Om to Om. 

12. Overlooking Hygiene

You have just touched your mat with your bare hands and feet, depositing body oils, sweat, and bacteria onto its surface. For the love of everything, wipe it down and deep clean it occasionally or it will start to stink. In addition to cleaning your mat, you may want to rinse the salt off your skin before you go about your day. A quick rinse could save you from dry and irritated skin, especially during cold winters. Finally, ladies, take the time to bring a change of underwear to class as bacteria and yeast thrive in moist environments.  

I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading about my own mistakes, cleverly disguised as advice. As we move through the year, be encouraged that we are all in this practice together: making discoveries, stretching our limits, and tuning into the wisdom of our bodies. Remember that beginning is hard and an achievement unto itself. See you in class!  

Holly de Moissac


Holly's bio: 

I am a visual artist by vocation, a rock-climber and fledgling yoga practitioner by passion, a faith-chaser by design, and an unfinished wanderer by choice. I began my relationship with yoga hoping to increase flexibility and have since fallen in love with the mental rest provided by the combination of focused physical practice and meditation. I am excited to document the lessons I learn as I deepen in my practice alongside you all.  

I am a visual artist by vocation, a rock-climber and fledgling yoga practitioner by passion, a faith-chaser by design, and an unfinished wanderer by choice. I began my relationship with yoga hoping to increase flexibility and have since fallen in love with the mental rest provided by the combination of focused physical practice and meditation. I am excited to document the lessons I learn as I deepen in my practice alongside you all.  

Setting Your Intention: The Power of Purpose

Set your Intention - Sattva Yoga Studio

As we prepare for our practice, we’re always asked to come to samastitihi with our hands held together at the centre of our chest and set our intention. Silence ensues and fellow yogis come together to find that certain ‘something’ to guide our practice; what we like to think of as our focus for the practice.

Now, your intention can be a literal word or descriptor, keeping you focused during your practice, or it can be as nebulous as a feeling, a colour or whisper of something that holds you in the present moment. We know this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to going deep into your practice but if you have no goal, there is no path; if there’s no path, there’s nothing to guide you along your journey and achieve the successes that you aim for.

This holds true for the moments you’re on your mat and translates all the way out into your daily life. This is all yoga; your practice is part of your life and so are your intentions. Your intentions can change for each practice or it can be a consistent feeling or word that holds you throughout a month or an entire year. An intention is something just for you; a little gift you give yourself in order to go deeper into your practice and figure out what makes you, you!

Here are a few ideas to help you set your intention, whether it be for a particular one-time practice or for the entire year:

  • Start from a place of gratitude. What/who are you grateful for? What’s bringing you the warm fuzzies? Makes you light up? Gets you smiling? Think on that and hold onto it for one practice and discover if it’s worth holding onto for future sessions on your mat.
  • Send out the good vibes. Can you dedicate your practice to someone who needs a little extra love and support? This is another great way to find an intention that resonates with you. Send out some support to a person in your life who needs a little extra love. Perhaps they’re struggling through a loss or feeling stuck in a rut. Sending out good vibrations to others is a strong way to set your practice and help a friend in need.
  • Get out of your funk. Sometimes, we gravitate to yoga to cleanse away anything that no longer serves us. Think on what’s creating a bit of funk in your life; something that’s keeping you off your centre. Now think on a feeling that will help you get out of that rut. It could be a feeling of happiness, peace, love, warmth, you name it! Sometimes this can be a helpful process for your practice. Be patient if you’re using intentions to clear space in your body and mind and remember, cleansing can take time.
  • Start small and be specific. Is there something you’re aiming for in 2017? Oftentimes thinking on how something/someone makes you feel is a great place to start from. Think on that feeling during your practice and discover how it vibrates through each posture. Thinking through a practice in this way can lead you down a breadcrumb trail that will help you clearly define an intention that you can use multiple times.
  • Reflect. After your practice, reflect on how your intention guided you through each posture. Did it help you stay focused? Think about how you can refine your intention for your next practice and try again. Continue fine-tuning until you land on something that will bring you the guidance you need to go deeper into your practice and explore what happens in your body during each posture and during each practice.

Yes, your mind might wander during your practice but that’s ok. Just like in meditation, anytime your mind wanders from your point of focus kindly bring it back. Be patient with yourself and be patient in creating an intention that really resonates with you. With January off and running, we hope that setting your intention helps guide you through 2017 with light and grace, enabling you to really dig into what makes yoga a special part of your life that shines through every interaction and situation you are in. Happy exploring!

JAMIE AUSMUS


 Jamie's bio

Yoga nut. Music lover. World traveler. Nature buff. Dancer. Writer. Goofball. Just a few words that describe one of our newest bloggers, Jamie Ausmus. She’s been practicing yoga for over six years, most of which have been at the Sattva School.   By day, Jamie’s a public relations professional, molding stories and communications materials for a variety of audiences and readers. By night, she’s doing something active, trying a new recipe or hanging out with friends and family. The time spent on her yoga mat are moments she truly cherishes and she hopes that her blog contributions to the Sattva School help others discover a deeper connection to yoga as she does the same.

Yoga nut. Music lover. World traveler. Nature buff. Dancer. Writer. Goofball. Just a few words that describe one of our newest bloggers, Jamie Ausmus. She’s been practicing yoga for over six years, most of which have been at the Sattva School.


By day, Jamie’s a public relations professional, molding stories and communications materials for a variety of audiences and readers. By night, she’s doing something active, trying a new recipe or hanging out with friends and family. The time spent on her yoga mat are moments she truly cherishes and she hopes that her blog contributions to the Sattva School help others discover a deeper connection to yoga as she does the same.

Rameen Peyrow: How Meditation Changes Your Life

Meditation Benefits - Sattva Yoga Studio

Rameen Peyrow: How Meditation Changes Your Life

 

Rameen Peyrow talks about how the practice of meditation allows us to make different choices in every moment of our lives.   By Helen Avery
Photo by Ali Kaukus
Rameen Peyrow is a Wanderlust presenter. Join him and other luminaries at a Wanderlust event! Find out more |2016 lineup | Buy tickets   

In June, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex in England revealed that long-term meditators have greater access to their unconscious states than those who do not meditate. While some may argue that this means meditators have a deeper access to what lies beyond, it can be more simple than that: Meditation allows us to become aware of how we are about to react before we do.

In experiments conducted for the study, experienced meditators seemed to be quicker in picking up on their intention to move a finger before it actually happened—reporting their intention to move about 150 milliseconds before the physical movement, compared to other participants which reported becoming aware of the intention to move about 70 milliseconds before the movement.

While these seem tiny numbers, they offer the first scientific evidence into what we often experience as meditators: With practice, meditation can help us slow our mind-chatter down enough to provide us with a chance to change our reactions. And it also allows us to observe another part of our mind (in this case the instinct to move a finger).

“The training ground is meditation, and the practice ground is life.”

Rameen Peyrow is founder of SATTVA School of Yoga. Though he was a student of raja yoga from a very young age, it was after an awakening experience at the age of 20 that Rameen dedicated himself fully to practice. In his teachings he emphasizes the importance of meditation in getting to know the mind deeply, and in altering our experience off of the mat—the ability to change our habitual reactions and conditioning,

As a first step, “meditation gives us a chance with eyes closed to sit still, and to let the content of the mind express itself,” says Rameen. That content may be past experiences, thoughts, emotions and reactions, but by practicing becoming detached from that noise, and asking the question “who am I?” we begin to create distance so that we can observe the mind.

Over time we begin to realize the thoughts we are having are directly impacting our experience. For example, in meditationperhaps we notice a change in our mood when a certain thought arises. That distance of observation affords us the chance to dissolve the thought, and to have an experience of peace instead. And that’s something that translates directly toour lives off of the cushion.

“The training ground is meditation, and the practice ground is life,” says Rameen. “As life comes towards us it is no different to when thoughts come towards us in meditation—we simply have our eyes are open. As during meditation we would observe the thoughts with neutrality, so we do this with everything that comes towards us in life.”  With practice we can, as the study suggests, see the reaction coming with enough distance to instead make a different choice—to just observe the tendencies of the mind, and to dissolve it. Through meditation we can quite literally change our lives.

This outward practice strengthens meditation and vice versa. No longer are we only practicing one hour a day, but we have the chance to practice in every waking moment.

Scientific exploration into meditation has barely begun; according to Rameen, the West is similarly still in infancy when it comes to meditation. He describes the Western yoga boom as pioneering. Alongside tech entrepreneurs, coders and other meditators, Rameen has been working on a meditation app calledScience of Self that aims to get people meditating more frequently.

“All the answers to all the questions you have come from you.”

And yet Rameen notes that we’re only scratching the surface of what meditation can do. “Collectively as Western yogis we are attempting to decode meditation, and asking ourselves how does a Western mind attain these states of being? In the past 150 years we have been learning how to listen to that inner voice, but it will probably take us another 300 years to fully establish ourselves in it.”

It’s worth the practice if we want to bring balance to our lives.  While we often regard meditation as something we are told to do because it’s been proved it helps us be less stressed, we should actually be rethinking meditation—viewing it as essential. Says Rameen: “All the answers to all of the questions you have come from you… So what you want to develop is an environment where you are constantly cultivating a relationship with yourself. Whatever happens in your life in every moment, is you communicating with you. You hold all the answers and possibilities to attain peace and balance—and the way to access those possibilities is to meditate.”

 

 

Helen Avery - A journalist & Yoga Teacher

Helen Avery is a senior writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website,Life as Love.