Meet Your Kula: Krystal Prout

Part of what makes us so unique are the amazing members of our Yogi community, our kula. Each month, we’ll feature one member of our yogi community, chat with them about their practice, learn more about what draws them to yoga, and get to know each other a little more.

Meet our Prajñā Yogi, Krystal Prout.

Tell us about yourself!

Hi, I am Krystal, mother, yoga practitioner and instructor. I currently live in Alberta, Canada teaching yoga and raising two amazing kiddos.

What started your yoga journey?

Yoga had always been a whisper and for years I had wanted to try a class. In the fall of 2015 I had two small children when a local yoga studio opened in my small town. I was looking to gain strength and flexibility and also get a little bit of “me time” in too. It only took two or three classes before I started to feel an inner shift. I fell in love with the physical practice all while unknowingly beginning an internal healing journey.

When did you decide to become a yoga instructor?

After an on again off again practice for about a year, I decided I was going to get serious about the practice. A little over six months after that, about two years into my yoga journey, is when people began to ask if I was teaching classes and suggested I should. I had never even considered the thought of being a yoga instructor. In the span of a couple weeks several people, including my mentor & teacher recommended I take my yoga teacher training. I took those nudges as a sign from the universe and enrolled my RYT200 in the fall of 2017.

What type of yoga do you teach? What drew you to this particular form of yoga?

Though I have training in Hatha, Yin and kids yoga, my heart beats for Vinyasa and Power yoga. I prefer to practice this style myself so naturally I’m drawn to guide it as well. There is something very powerful about these styles and watching students get stronger, playful and pushing themselves during their practice is very rewarding for both them and myself.

How has the practice of yoga affected your life? Spiritually? Mentally?

As I began to do “the work”, (the physical practice), it simultaneously began to start the work internally. My teacher would always say in class “we’ve opened up the front side, the backside...but the hardest part to open is the inside” and this is exactly what happens when we continue to go deep in our practice.

After taking my training and learning so much about the yogic concepts, I really wanted to begin to live true to myself. Taking responsibility, honoring myself and how I choose to speak and behave. Of course I still have a lifetime of work to do but yoga has pushed me to explore my values and lean into virtue.

What does the concept of Prajñā mean to you? How do you see this embodied in your practice?

Prajñā to me is wisdom. This concept, for myself, is about listening to my body. Knowing that my body is so wise and it will guide me if I simply listen. Embodying this in my practice means; listening inward. It means; if it feels good to push then I’ll push and if it doesn’t feel good, knowing when to let be. It also means being okay with where I am in my practice and letting that space between where I am and where I want to be inspire me.

Has this understanding changed throughout your yoga journey?

It definitely has changed throughout my journey of practicing. When I first began I was always pushing never wanting to find softness or stillness in the poses or in the mind. As a beginner, I was perhaps a bit aggressive in wanting to advance. I also had no idea of the capabilities of my body. Five years into my yoga practice and I'm continuing to surprise myself with what my body is capable of doing.

As you look back throughout your yoga journey, what advice would you give to other yogis?

Consistency is key. Don’t give up so soon on whatever you’re working on whether that be a meditation practice, the physical practice of yoga or some thing else entirely. Small changes over time become big changes. And try not to put yourself into a box of limitations. Knowing that your practice can look different each day, will feel different each day and that’s OK and to embrace that. Boxing yourself into limitations of “not being naturally flexible” or coming in with an injury or not loving your body type can mentally block you from moving forward in your practice. Each time you step on your mat enjoy the process and if you are not loving your practice, know that it’s ok to switch it up.

Are there any mindfulness practices or techniques that you use to center your practice? To open your mind?

I am a big fan of breath work. Incorporating breath work into my practice literally transformed it. I typically begin my practice with mind-body connecting. I will focus on feeling my body connecting physically with the mat (feeling heavy and grounded, then I begin to imagine my body extremely light - like I could float!) then I move into breath cleansing (retention breath and big sighs out to clear and create fresh energy), and finally calling in my ujiyi breath (this is my favourite prana) starting to create heat, sound and focus for my practice.

Where can we find and continue to support your work?

You can find me on Instagram at @krystalsyoga .This is my favourite place to share my practice and connect. I also have online classes that you can find linked to that account and in 2021 I’m looking forward to creating more virtual spaces for yogis to connect with me online!

You can also practice alongside Krystal with our Third Eye Opening Asana: 

I open my mind to all that I have learned and all that I do not yet know. I seek to deepen my understanding of both myself and others with non-judgment and a free heart.

Meet Your Kula: Nina Monobe

Meet Your Kula: Nina Monobe

Part of what makes us so unique are the amazing members of our Yogi community, our kula. Each month, we’ll feature one member of our yogi community, chat with them about their practice, learn more about what draws them to yoga, and get to know each other a little more.

Meet our Maitrī Yogi, Nina Monobe.

Hi Nina! Tell us about yourself!

Hi! I’m Nina (Marina) Monobe and I love to help others through my veterinary and yoga practice. I’m a Veterinary Doctor who moved to USA to work as a PhD researcher and teacher assistant. During my cultural transition time, I found myself practicing yoga as a therapeutic exercise to fight anxiety and depression. Nowadays, I’m an Alliance Certified Yoga Instructor and AFAA Fitness Instructor. I consider myself living between two different worlds, veterinary & fitness, which I love equally.

How did you begin your yoga journey?

As an immigrant in USA, who left family & friends back in Brazil, I had a difficult time trying to adapt to the new American culture. I always felt overwhelmed trying to prove my skills as good as or better than my co-workers. Subsequently diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I considered a variety of therapies that could potentially help me, including yoga. Soon enough I realized yoga as a life changing experience and I can definitively say it saved my life.

When did you decide to become a yoga instructor?

In 2018, I decided to take my practice to the next level. I wanted to deeply understand the alignment, benefits and history behind it. Since then, I found myself always enrolled in a different training. At this moment, I’m working on finishing a 500-Hour Orthopedic Yoga Therapy Training Course.

What type of yoga do you teach? What lead you to this particular style?

I teach a wide variety of yoga styles, from traditional Vinyasa Ashtanga and Restorative Yin Yoga with mediation music, to Power Yoga and yoga with weights, with pop music. My mission is to bring awareness to people that yoga can be fun and make you flexible, balanced and strong from the inside out and there is always a style out there waiting for you to fall in love!

How has the practice of yoga affected your life? Spiritually? Mentally?

Yoga is body-mind work. It makes me more flexible and stronger from the inside out. Physically I now have better flexibility, range of motion, endurance and muscle strength. I’m more aware of my body limitations and how to mindfully progress my practice. From practicing Pranayama, I’m more centered and present. I’m more grateful and appreciative towards everything in my life. I feel more complete and accomplished. I’m more understanding about situations and patient with people and myself. All of those feelings developed through yoga decreased my anxiety and stress levels.

How do you find compassion for yourself in your journey?

Yoga is a constant learning process. It was through injuring myself (on and off the mat) and not being patient with my body that I learned how to better listen to it. At some point you not only become aware of your limitations but you start loving yourself. As you recognize yourself as a human with ups and downs but in constant progress, you find compassion.

How do you incorporate what you've learned from your practice both on and off the mat?

By becoming more aware and learning how to love myself, I learned to always make adjustments to improve my physical and mental experience on the mat. Sometimes taking easy modifications or taking a slow and gentle flow. This allowed me to see that those small adjustments could always be applied off the mat. Situations I cannot control or plans gone wrong, I always find a way to adjust. Not blaming myself and likewise, taking it easy. Treatment myself with love, sometimes a relaxing bath or playing my favorite playlist to boost my mood. Also, yoga taught me to always take a minute for gratitude, during Shavasana or Pranayama. This is a practice I take everyday even when I don’t step on my mat. Allows me to find peace even on a chaotic day. Finally, by exploring the eight limbs of yoga on the mat, practicing it daily off the mat improved my relationships with family, friends and strangers. Being more patient and compassionate to others and not only with myself.

What would you share with a beginner?

First of all, I always had this misconception that yoga would be a stretching routine, mostly performed by seniors, or people with injuries. I remember being afraid of trying a class and it being super boring, with long meditations. I was totally wrong and I immediately discovered Yoga has many different styles and most of them aim to improve strength, flexibility and endurance. My first yoga class was Power Yoga. I remember taking breaks and feeling ashamed for not being able to touch my toes in a “simple” fold, while people twice my age were so much more flexible and stronger. The shame, combined with the physical challenge made me a regular in Power Yoga. However, I know many people never come back for the same reason. My greatest tip would be to never compare yourself with another person. Yoga is a journey and we all start somewhere. Our bodies are different, therefore, they perform differently and progress happens with practice. Knowing that, let go from frustrations. Focus on where you are and what you want to achieve. Sometimes, record your movements or poses and later on your path come back to see how far you’ve come!

How has your understanding of Maitrī grown and changed over the years, both in your practice and in your everyday life?

At first, most of the meditative practice was extremely difficult for me. Dealing with my mind wanders was always challenging. Maitrī meditation through Chanting helped me to channel my energy, center my mind and body and find peace. Over time, I found self-love and gratitude and consequently, I learned to be less judgmental and goal oriented as I used to be. As I became a yoga instructor, I nurtured my mind to become a beacon of light for others to feed off of, in a way that now what was a way I would use to find peace and happiness helps others to find them as well.

You can connect with Nina and follow along with her yoga journey at @ninayoganow.

You can also practice alongside Nina this with with our Maitrī Grounding Flow and our mantra:

May all beings be well, may all beings be happy. May I treat all beings with love and kindness.


Connecting the Self with Nature

When was the last time you spent an entire day outside? Can you remember your last trip to the beach, or where you last went hiking? Have you ever fell asleep while laying in the tall, cool, grass as you watched the billowing white clouds shape shift against an ocean blue sky?

Some might say these are frivolous ways to squander time, costly and unproductive or considered a child's activity; in truth, these activities are as necessary as air, food and water for sustaining the health and well being of everyone, of all ages. But part of incorporating nature into our lives for the purpose of improving our health is understanding how society has pushed us to be isolated, not just from nature, but also from each other.

The Natural World, Our Natural Place

Have you ever noticed how kids and dogs always know how to have fun? It's something of an innate ability, and it's by virtue of not having forces, like society, pull them out of their natural place. As any kid (or dog) would tell you, you can't really have fun until you're outside. That's where the adventure is.

Celebrating our love for nature by letting the rain splash on our face or catching snowflakes on our tongue is as much tradition as it is nutrition for our mental health. Its in our DNA to be outside. We crave it. That's why kids can't wait to get outside to splash in the puddles. We are outdoor animals, and nature inspires us to be ourselves in the purest form.

And it's because of our relationship with nature that we are able to fully express ourselves. This can be during play, or during contemplation. Consider the often overwhelming sense of wonder when we look up at the stars at night. Deep inside, we ask the eternal questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Nature inspires this thought, just as it stirs excitement in our souls.

The Balance Between the Individual and the Connection

To answer those questions, as only we can do for ourselves, we need to remember our connection to nature. We need to feel the expanse of the sky above us, feel the earth under our bare feet, the sun on our skin, the wind in our hair. We need to remember our connection to each other.

But what draws us from this is another carnal need: privacy. This balancing point is where the frustrations of modern society pulls the individual in, and causes aches in the soul.

Humans that live packed into tight spaces with very little or no privacy often forget how to stop, be still, to listen and observe in silence. And its no wonder: under such a constant barrage of distraction and manipulation, from school to work to church and their obligations and responsibilities, then family, friends and the latest trends that require attention, then every media on the planet that seeks to plug one in to the stream of advertisements for every conceivable product, all clamoring and vying for our attention.

Modern privacy is caricature of real privacy – the type that inspires the wonder aforementioned. Instead, the ceaseless demand for decisions is exhausting. The digesting of the information overload requires energy. This is a reality bred by our own creation, and is one that must be consciously guarded against. Rather than privacy being provided by nature, it is forced by our own hand, and this is dangerous. 

We tend to fear crossing the street, preferring to be safe with what we know. We suspect any culture or geographical location that is not familiar to us. Bigotry, greed and fear are unseen, but now compulsory factors to our "survival." Our basic human need to feel secure and truly safe is distorted due to a lack of connection with our natural world, and this means we take action to protect ourselves by searching out a place of release from society's pressure.

The Paradox of a Interconnected, Completely Individual Society

What happens, then, when our natural connection to nature its stymied by a false sense of privacy and illusionary isolation? A prickly, disconnected populous, unsure of who is who and who is worth trusting.

A modern example is to notice next time you're in traffic how many cars have one occupant. There is a reason we prefer private vehicles. Its the same reason no one likes being in a elevator with one or more other persons we don't know. We now all have an invisible zone around us that, should anyone enter into, we react defensively. When we step into a full elevator, we hold our breath. We keep our eyes down and stand on front of our feet in anticipation of the doors opening and escaping the brief but barely tolerable invasion of our space.

Consider a movie going experience. The instant we step out of a dark, crowded movie theater we feel our spirit expand like being released from invisible restraint. After so many hours of 'sharing' even the largest spaces with hundreds or thousands of other people, sooner than later we must escape the masses. Our mind feels 'free' as it spreads outward, filling the increased space around us. There is even a physiological reaction to filing out of a stadium after a concert or football game. No matter how much we love the music or the sports, most of us breathe a sigh of relief when we get outside. We feel even better when we get back to a private, familiar space with one or two trusted companions where we can relax and be ourselves.

In some ways, this is natural, in others, this is a sensation exacerbated by the lack of true connection with each other and our world. Yes, every person needs a moment of private solitude to reconnect with themselves at one point or another. But just as seriously, we need to allow ourselves time to truly be private, truly ponder, and truly enjoy the world around us. This soften us, and connects us. We are at our best health, mentally and physically when our eyes see green and blue, as light and color create their own energy, having their own wavelength and frequency.

Say Goodbye to 'Modern' Necessities and Embrace the Self

And this really is what shows the point: we must embrace the self, the true self, once again, and this self exists in nature. Every person needs to relax, exhale, and let go of posture and pretense, ideology and intent. Stop making decisions. Stop sharing. Watch one sunset and keep that moment for yourself.

We are not truly healthy until we feed the whole body and mind. Being part of nature is the life experience; one must get outside, find a place to celebrate life, in person, in private, where one can truly relax.

Software is in the works for sending the smell of food, flowers, and spices through digital media, but currently, Instagram and Facebook are not capable of physiological interaction. For the time being we the only way we can enjoy the scent of pine on the breeze or feel the cold splash of ocean spray on our faces is to actually go do it. Lets face it, no app will ever replace nature. So just do it.

This article was contributed by Robert Richardson, environmentalist and arborist who has planted over 1 million trees in the last 50 years. He currently lives, studies, and maintains forestry in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. 

Using Yoga to Support Body Positivity

Using Yoga to Support Body Positivity

One of the most wonderful shifts we’re seeing more and more of in society today is the shift toward body positivity. The body positivity movement affirms that every body is beautiful and deserving of love, no matter what it looks like or what its current state of health may be.

While prying ourselves away from toxic media that continue to shame us all into thinking bodies need to look a certain way to be worthy of love, practicing yoga is something else we can use to help us all develop healthy, loving relationships with our own bodies. And it absolutely doesn’t have to involve changing the way we currently look.

Quiet Negative Self-Talk

Yoga is all about being mindful. As mind, body and spirit connect in the present moment through each asana, we learn to become more effective observers of our own thoughts, accepting them without judgment and freeing ourselves from the monkey chatter that consumes us throughout most of the day. We’re better able to to recognize the ways in which we automatically label, criticize and even insult ourselves so we can choose to dissolve and neutralize this negative self-talk.

Discover Your Uniqueness

Body positivity seeks to reveal each individual’s beautiful uniqueness, and because yoga can be designed and modified for anyone of any level of fitness–from beginner to advanced–it truly is a personal practice as well as a collective one at the same time. By connecting the breath and body, each of us will discover new things about our flexibility, strength, balance and calmness of mind that we could never discover by trying to live through somebody else's experiences.

Develop Your Own Strength

When we realize what our bodies truly are capable of doing, it’s a lot easier to show our appreciation for them. Anyone who practices yoga can take a trip down memory lane to remember just how challenging it was to stretch, bend and hold certain poses in the very beginning. Over time, the body naturally gets stronger, becomes more flexible, and gives us the opportunity to be grateful for how far we’ve come and how much we’ve improved.

Practice Self-Love and Compassion

All of the above ways that yoga helps us become more body positive paves the path for an even stronger sign of growth: genuine self-love. Expanding our awareness can help us identify and dispose of the lies we’ve been led to believe about ourselves and about body image in general, encouraging us to forgive ourselves for how we may have treated our bodies in the past and shifting to honor them instead for what they're able to do for us today.

It’s true that a lot of people start practicing yoga to improve their physical appearance. While toning up and even losing a bit of weight may be welcomed benefits, the true goal of yoga is to obtain peace of mind by ceasing to identify with thoughts and feelings that cause us so much emotional pain.

Change of physical appearance or not, yoga is a practice that supports the body positivity movement no matter what our personal goals may be. And most importantly, yoga is and always will be for every body.

Image (edited) via Randy Pantouw

How Yoga Can Boost Productivity

How Yoga Can Boost Productivity

Anyone who's familiar with yoga knows that's it's great for building strength, improving balance and increasing flexibility. We also know that it can be a great stress reliever and a very spiritual practice for those who use it for personal growth purposes.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about adopting a regular yoga practice that covers both physical fitness and mental wellness is the effect that we start to notice it having on some of the most seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives. Many of the busy careers we have today, for example, are often considered to be anything but stress-free and spiritual.

But yoga has a way of touching all areas of our lives, no matter how much it may be rooted in the daily chaos of the modern world. Here’s how it can help you be more productive at work and even at home too.

It enhances mood and increases energy

A big part of yoga involves propping up the spine to be erect during certain yoga poses, which takes strain off the neck and back from slouching and other bad posture habits we unconsciously tend to adopt in our everyday lives. Practicing yoga can help us become more aware of our posture while we’re sitting in our desk chairs or on the couch at home.

Research has shown that altering our posture to a proper upright position can actually put us in a better mood and even give us a bit of an energy boost. And when we’re feeling happy and energetic, as opposed to moody and sluggish, it's a lot easier to get work done more efficiently.

It improves focus and prevents multitasking

Clenching the muscles to hold certain body parts in sometimes very awkward positions all while keep our balance and staying still for a period of time naturally forces us to increase our awareness while we focus on what we’re doing. Several studies have shown that yoga can stimulate brain function immediately after a session, leading to improvements in coordination, memory, reaction time and even IQ performance.

Improved brain function makes it easier for you to focus and less likely to become distracted, so we can give our full attention to one task at a time. Despite what some people might have to say about multitasking, it's actually a total productivity killer and can negatively impact brain health too.

It reduces stress and anxiety

We’ll always have to deal with stressful situations both at work and at home, and while we may not have much control over this part of our lives, we can at least exercise some control over how these types of situations tend to affect us. The combination of deep breathing and meditation that’s involved with yoga builds awareness in ways that have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and even chronic pain.

Increased awareness from practicing yoga helps us break free from our impulses that are triggered by our emotions. When we can ground ourselves in the present moment and avoid getting caught up in a bad habit of always just immediately reacting in response to emotional stress, we automatically become better decision makers.

So whether you’re constantly struggling to meet deadlines at work or can’t find the energy to start on a personal project at home in the evening, making yoga a daily practice and really tuning in to the mindful aspect of it can probably help. This is one mind-body workout that has more benefits to offer than you might realize.

An Easy Trick for Being More Mindful

An Easy Trick for Being More Mindful

Mindfulness is the mental state of being totally present and accepting of what’s happening right now, and let’s face it–we could all stand to be a little more mindful at work, in our relationships, with our health situations, and in all sorts of other important areas of our lives. But that's easier said than done, right?

Practicing yoga certainly helps, but there are lots of other ways that we can help ourselves become more mindful people. The following technique is a good place to start for people with busy lives and racing minds. If you can make it into a habit, you’ll probably start to notice some good mental benefits–including enhanced focus, minimized distractibility and less anxiety.

Pick one mundane activity you do every day

Think about your daily routine and pick out something that you do every day without even thinking about it (that doesn’t include electronic devices). Ideally, it should be a morning task. It could be showering, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, putting on makeup or brewing a cup of coffee.

Choosing a morning task to serve as your mindfulness practice will help set the tone for the rest of your day, and it doesn’t have to be anything that takes longer than a few minutes to complete. It also doesn’t have to be anything complicated that has a lot of steps to it. In fact, the simpler and more mundane it is, the better.

Use a trigger to activate mindfulness

Once you’ve chosen a daily task you’re used to doing on autopilot, it’s time to pick an initial action to serve as your trigger. As an example, a trigger could be the simple act of picking up you toothbrush if the mindfulness activity you’ve chosen is brushing your teeth. Or if you’ve chosen showering, your trigger could be turning on the faucet.

Triggers help to remind us of our daily habits so we don’t forget to do them. After the first few times you pick up your toothbrush or turn on the hot water for a shower while consciously thinking about it as a trigger for the habitual activity you’ve attached to–in this case it’s practicing mindfulness–you should find that it becomes easier to remember to practice your mindfulness habit every time you pull the trigger.

Let your mind explore every moment through your senses

So you’ve started brushing your teeth, or washing your hair in the shower, or doing whatever it is you need to do for your brief mindfulness practice. Now you can let your mind wander around every experience you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. Place your awareness on different aspects of the task and accept it as it is, without passing any judgment on it.

If you’re brushing your teeth, you might want to place your awareness on the wetness of your saliva and the bubbly suds of the toothpaste. The feeling of the bristles of the toothbrush along your gum line. The sound of the brushing. The smell and taste of the toothpaste. If you find yourself getting sucked into focusing on thoughts running in your head, that’s okay–just acknowledge that you went away for a bit, let the thought pass and bring yourself back to the present.

That’s it! That’s all you have to do. For people who aren’t used to being so mindful, it’s much more practical to focus on short bursts of mindfulness of just a few minutes rather than long sessions. Start with one mundane task, and once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can perhaps try adding another.

Practicing Self-Compassion

7 Tips for Practicing Self-Compassion

When it comes to making our own personal journeys through everyday life and measuring our progress along the way, we’re often our own worst critics. When we make mistakes, when we experience a little (or a lot) of bad luck, or even when we completely fail to achieve a certain goal, we tend to be much harder on ourselves than we would be on a friend or relative who might be going through the exact same thing.

Self-compassion is the practice of treating oneself with care, kindness and forgiveness in times of perceived suffering. It’s a mindset game that doesn’t exactly come to us naturally in today’s high-achieving, high-stress world, which is why we should all take a big step back once in a while to work on the relationship that we have with ourselves.

Recognize that you’re not alone.

It’s worth reminding yourself that you’re human when something you do goes wrong. The reality is that everybody–including you–makes mistakes, and that’s okay. Likewise, your problems are not unique, no matter how much you think they are. Keep in mind that thousands of people, or perhaps millions, have struggled and are struggling with the same things that you are.

Be honest with yourself.

Sometimes, we fall into a habit of ignoring certain truths about our situation or twisting them to make excuses so that we can feel like we’re right, or to boost our egos. Although it’s easier and more comfortable to ignore what we don’t like about ourselves, uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly is necessary.

Don’t judge.

Be mindful through your self-honesty work. Take a good, hard look at yourself and your situation without passing judgment on anything so that you can fully accept yourself as you are right now. Keep in mind that accepting it doesn’t mean liking it.

Observe your emotions.

Self-compassion isn’t about suppressing what you’re feeling. Let your mind run and watch what sorts of thoughts and emotions pop up. Humans are very emotional creatures, and we need to embrace them in order to move forward–even when they’re ugly and unpleasant.

Don’t dwell on the past.

A big part of what holds us back from practicing good self-compassion often has to do with a resistance to let go of what’s happened. We get caught up in that “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve” frame of mind, which never does anything to help us move on. After acknowledging it and allowing yourself to fully experience your emotions, bring yourself back to the present.

Focus on growth.

We’re all so focused on results these days, we forget that the challenge is what offers us the most value. Instead of fixating on the goal and the destination of whatever you’re trying to achieve, focus on learning and enjoying the process–mistakes and all.

Write to yourself.

To practice great self-compassion, you basically have to become really good at becoming your own best friend. Journaling is a great way to put yourself in this role, and it can really help during the stage where you’re trying to get really honesty with yourself. Write as if you were reaching out to a good friend.

Practicing self-compassion can help you live a happier, more fulfilling life. And you deserve it just as much as anybody else.

Photo (edited) via martinak15

Start the New Year with Intent

The start of a New Year provides a unique time for goal setting and planning. It's a time for both reflection and renewal, as well as the refreshing of ones' aspirations. While the past year may have felt like it went by quickly, it undoubtedly was also filled life changing memories, people, and events. Perhaps some of your goals were accomplished, or perhaps some of your goals changed. This is completely natural, and the phenomenon of change truly validates the old adage that variety is the spice of life.

With this in mind, begin this new year with intent.

What do we mean by intention?

Intention can seem like a simple concept at first. Perhaps you understand it simply as "setting a goal" or "deciding on an action or path," but intention in this context is a bit more nuanced.

Similar to the intentions you set in your yoga practice, intent here is not just related to goal setting. Rather, it's the priming of the mind, body, and spirit for a dedicated and on-going effort. Intention should not just be a target, but also the steps and methods applied to reach that target. For example, don't simply tell yourself to Get Better Grades or Exercise More. Instead, create a mental map of how you plan to get better grades – ie. devote the weekends to school, skip the summer break, etc – and enable yourself to actualize your goal through effective steps. When thinking about your next year, being intentful with your goals means being thorough and devoted to the steps required to reach those goals.

Bringing Intent to Your New Year

When bringing this intent to your new year, we encourage you to apply these three simple steps:

1. Reflect on the Year Passed

First, it's important to understand where on your path you are before you continue to push forward. Take time to reflect on your last year, and if possible, locate the list of your past goals and walk through them each slowly, analyzing what you've achieved and why or why not. Remember to ignore judgement in your reflection, as this can cloud your understanding of your goals and what truly contributed to their success (or failure). Ask yourself:

  • What did I want to achieved in 2014?
  • What did I achieve? Why?
  • What didn't I achieve? Why not?
  • Did any of my goals change in the last year?
  • Did I add any new goals in the last year?
  • Did I achieve anything I didn't expect to achieve last year?
  • What was the greatest contributor to my successes?

Taking a moment to write out your answers can help you both better understand how you've spend your last year and what has truly "risen to the surface" in your list of goals. Be diligent with yourself and this process.

2. Be Detailed with Your Goals

After reflecting on your past year, now's the time to build out a list of your new goals or New Year's Resolutions. Here is where the beginning of your intentful year is born. With reflection fresh in mind, craft a list of goals that is both meaningful to you and realistically accomplishable. Keep in mind what has helped or hurt your past goals, and plan with this in mind. Don't be afraid to add some "stretch goals" to your list. While these may be harder to achieve, they can help inspire greatness and truly concentrated effort in your actions.

3. Make a Daily Reminder and Be Present

Like mentioned above, intent in this context is all about an on-going effort. While we may each seek to need nothing but our minds to motivate us, this isn't always the case. We suggest creating a daily reminder (this writer, for example, has three: one at 8 am, 12pm, and 5pm) that provides a familiar tone. This can immediately refer the mind to your goals and help reorient yourself. Perhaps yours is not an alarm, but a clearly posted list by your door, or motivational message added to your computer desktop.

Similarly, it's critical to remain present in your actions. While you've spent time in reflection, remember to be aware and conscious of your present actions and efforts. Be diligent in reminding yourself to not allow the mind to wander when working on your goals. Instead, remain steadfast with yourself and remember that it is often one's spirits, not tools, that determine success.

A New Year Filled with Intent

Going through this process several times throughout the year can be both healthy and useful in aligning yourself with your goals, and we encourage you to do so. Remember that making a concerted effort to be intentful in your thoughts, actions, and behaviors is the first step to reaching success and finding yourself where you want to be in one year's time. Above all, remain positive with yourself and keep in mind that good goals take time!

We want to hear from you! What are your goals? How do you plan to achieve them? Post your answers below! 

Shockingly Simple Steps for Reconnecting with Mother Nature

Outside is more than just that place beyond your walls and windows. It's a place of wonder and healing – a place to connect with the self in remarkable ways.

At times, though, it can be difficult to breakaway from our often indoor-driven lives. Work demands us to remain at our desks, and socializing seems to have become more and more of an online experience. It's not uncommon for people to rarely get outdoors and really connect with the world around them.

With this in mind, set an intention to work on your connection with Mother Earth. Reflect on how much time you spend outside, away from the luxuries and materialism that define most modern life. Realize that the more time you spend outdoors, the more you're doing for both your mental and physical well-being.

What are the ways you're connecting with the outdoors? Here are some of our favorites:

Hike for Health

Hiking is a great way to reconnect with the world around you. Not only does it provide a vigorous exercise, but it's also is one of the most intimate ways you can explore Mother Nature. Hiking brings you into nature. You find yourself on the trail, boots in the mud, with birds chirping and trees swaying around you. The air feels fresher, and the sense of serenity is in the air. It's no wonder hiking and exploring the outdoors has been linked to a healthier, longer, and more fulfilling life.

Boost Immunity, Get Your Hands Dirty

Another great way to connect with nature is in the garden. Whether it's your personal vegetable garden or tending to your assorted house plants, getting your hands dirty is actually one of the healthiest practices you can do. The hygiene hypothesis, as it's known, is the theory that exposing yourself to microbes – especially at early ages – improves immunity. Of course, a great place to find these microbes is in the soil bed of your garden!

Not only does gardening connect you with nature and improve your body's immune system, but it also has been linked to improving mental health by relieving stress and boosting mental clarity. Without a doubt, the rewarding feeling you have after successfully growing a plant is unlike any other. Gardening truly can put a smile on your face. Read more about the health benefits of gardening.

Animal Watching

While it seems like the benefits of animal watching would be intangible, it's something we've all felt before. It's that emotional response of awe or wonder – the feeling of something 'beyond words.' In this embodied space of wildlife, be it in a flock of birds or herd of buffalo, our social constructs quickly dissolve and are replaced with stillness and spectacle. Here, the mental euphoria brings us closer to nature, encouraging balance and serenity.

Stay Connected to Mother Earth

By exercising our connection to Mother Earth, we benefit body and mind in many ways. As part of an active yoga practice, this helps us maintain positivity and direction in our lives, improving mood and ultimately encouraging us to be better yogis. Be sure to schedule regular outings into your practice, perhaps even incorporating them into your yoga routine (considering hiking to a view point, then spending time there practicing yoga). When you do, you'll feel the benefits almost immediately.

How do you stay connected with nature? Tell us in the comments below!


Different Asana Types - The Science and Art

To help cultivate awareness, relaxation and concentration there are various asana types to stretch, massage and stimulate various organs and energy channels. Each category can help to provide us with a different perspective on life, from a physical, emotional, internal and external point of view, which in keeping with the theme of Yoga will simultaneously support a contradiction or polar opposite to bring about balance and harmony. Whilst there are many different asana types, most of us will be familiar and regularly practice the following five.

Backward bending asanas

Back bending by name, frontal stretch by nature whereby the opening of the heart and chest area enlarges our lung capacity. This increases our intake of oxygen, as well as creating a protective cushion around the thoracic part of our spine, thereby alleviating pressure on the spinal lumbar region, the most commonly injured part of our spine. During backward bending asanas muscles within the coronal (frontal) plane of the body such as the abdominal, groin and femoral area are elongated. Backbends are associated with the past and it is through confronting the past, accepting that it is a part of our identity, that we accept our present state and grow towards our future thereby preparing for the forward journey.

Top tip: Inhale before practicing back bends and practice lengthening your spine. This offers more protection and will help create space to alleviate unnecessary pressure on vertebrae and spinal discs.

Forward bending asanas

Forward bends use gravity to offer relief from tension and pain. A state of relaxation is encouraged through compression of internal organs during exhalation. Forward bends will massage the abdominal organs whilst stretching the legs muscles and tendons. Most importantly, forward bends help make the back muscles supple and strong, by moving the spine into the “primary curve” position separating each vertebra, improving circulation and stimulating the nerves. When we take a bow we face forward to see the world and surrender to fearlessly face what is and what can be with deep humility.

Top tip: Bend from the hips instead of the waist to achieve a greater range of movement, creating a stronger pressure to induce greater relaxation on the abdomen.

Spinal twisting asanas

Performing at least one spinal twist after forward and backbends in addition towards the end of a Yoga session is a fairly common occurrence. The spinal nerves are stimulated and by twisting from one side we increase flexibility, compressing and stretching our abdominal region to nourish and enhance the flow of oxygen to the abdominal organs such as the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas and kidneys, promoting health and vitality. On a symbolic emotional and spiritual level, mindful twisting embodies the nubs we can encounter in life. It is through our approach to explore them, loosen and disentangle ourselves with acceptance and control that we create insight and inspiration to overcome distensions in life.

Top tip: The base of your spine has the least range of movement so begin twisting from the base, controlling the range of movement from your abdomen to create a greater range of space. Inhale to elongate your spine before moving deeper into the twist on each exhale.

Inverted asanas

By encouraging the flow of blood to the brain we stimulate neurones to boost mental power and increase concentration including our pituitary gland which is responsible for growth and development. During inversions breathing slows and deepens which intensifies the interchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen and the endocrine system is purified through enriched blood flow. By reversing the way we stand in the world we throw light and a new weightless perspective on our state of being.

Top tip: Master each stage before progressing to the next. Always follow an inverted asana with a resting asana for at least half the duration of time taken to practice the inversion before undertaking the counter-pose.

Balancing asanas

Our mind and bodies are always compensating for a lack of balance for the simple reason that we are rarely ever still. The practice of balancing asanas helps to develop the cerebellum function that coordinates and regulates muscular activity of the body in motion, to improve posture, balance and calm unconscious movement. Our submission to attain balanced steadiness develops concentration. At an emotional level, balancing asanas acknowledge our sense of equilibrium at a given moment, whilst providing the opportunity to conserve energy or achieve peaceful grace in the present moment.

Top tip: To begin with, activate your drishti (focused gaze) on a fixed point at eye, navel or floor level and take comfort that progress can be made quickly with regular dedicated practice.

It is only natural that you may gravitate towards a certain group, wishing to avoid another. It is human nature to want to succeed by sometimes pushing the limits and getting frustrated when expectation is not met. I, for one, love surrendering into forward bends but always face my ego when attempting and falling over in balancing asanas. However I’ve slowly come to appreciate that it is with humbleness that we must accept our current capabilities, we should face our fears and fall occasionally, because this is how we let go. We should forget about what we think we should be doing and how we should be, to create the space to root down, grow and become exactly who we are meant to be.