Transition With Intention

Transition With Intention

“Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.” -Samuel Butler

September’s bittersweet end to summer and the arrival of autumn marks an important time of year when we’re reminded that our lives and everything that surrounds us is constantly in flux. On the 22nd, the equinoxes come to a point of balance once again between the two solstices, where day and night reach equal length as the Northern Hemisphere transitions from a period of light to dark.

Many people have a tendency to fear the dark and cling to the light. But as the energies of the leaves on every deciduous tree retreat inward to prepare for hibernation, we can take this transitional time as a queue from Mother Nature herself to turn our awareness inward and reflect on our own growth throughout the summer. This will set us up for intentional transformation as we enter the next season.

Slow Down Your Pace

Noticing the first signs of the colors of the season, earlier sunsets, or even a slight chill in the air gives us the opportunity to look for areas in our lives that are out of balance so we can shift them accordingly. In the spring, we’re like newborn bunnies that just want to hop around and frolic as energetically as possible throughout the entire summer. But in autumn, we move toward a softer and more mellow state that gives us a chance to rest.

Reflect on your habits over the past few months and ask yourself which habits you may need to down-regulate so that they're sustainable and continue support your sense of renewal. For example, maybe you need to spend less time flowing through more challenging sequences to make more time for meditation. Anything that has been starting to tire you out on a mental, emotional, or physical level should be reevaluated and adjusted.

Release What No Longer Serves You

Slowing down to reflect upon our lives allows us to identify and let go of what won’t help us grow in the future. Nature continuously cycles through periods of rising and dying, and just as the trees prepare to drop ever leaf they grew earlier this spring, we must be willing to examine and question whether certain aspects of our lives should have expiration dates too.

Ask yourself, what’s taking up too much of your time? What’s distracting you? What’s draining your energy? What’s keeping you stuck in “busy” mode? In meditation, you may want to try gently dropping one of these questions into your heightened state of awareness like a small pebble in water, then watch slowly as answers are revealed to you from your deepest self, like ripples expanding from where the pebble was dropped.

Cultivate Balance in Your Practice

We can look to the ancient healing system of Ayurveda to help us make the appropriate seasonal transition in our yoga practice and in our health. In Ayreveda, the vata dosha is the energy type that dominates autumn, which translate to “wind” and is comprised of air and space. It’s common for our minds and bodies to feel imbalanced, unsettled, and even overwhelmed due to the abundance of vata energy in autumn.

To rebalance yourself, establish habits that encourage stability in your life — like sticking to a routine as often as possible, practicing yoga at the same time each day, and waking at the same time every morning with the sun. Poses that target the lungs and digestive system will help calm excess data energy in your body, so experiment with incorporating more sun salutations, backbends, twists, sitting poses, and side stretches into your practice. Cooked foods and beverages like soups and herbal tea will also lend themselves to energy balance, whereas too many raw fruits and veggies might make it more difficult to tame that abundance of vata.

Despite the dormant nature of the season, autumn isn’t a time for stagnation in our own lives. It’s a transitional time of year to be fully embraced by honoring the changes that are taking place within ourselves.

Image (edited) via istolethetv

Inspiring Balance in your Practice|Balance in Your Practice

Back to Balance

In the heat of the summer, it’s common for our energies to become imbalanced as we connect to the light of the sun and the life of nature, which inspires us to go forth and follow our deepest desires. A couple months into summer and the flames of your heart may be raging out of control, or they may be nearly extinguished.

August is the perfect month to take a step back and ask yourself where you might be feeling any unevenness in your life. Perhaps you haven’t been feeling as flexible in your yoga practice lately, or maybe thoughts of a looming event are distracting you from the present. Maybe you’re feeling a hint of negative emotion lingering inside you that you’ve been having to suppress in order to get through your day-to-day schedule.

While everyone’s own imbalances will vary (or perhaps barely exist if you’ve done a good job throughout the summer to maintain balance), there are a few steps you can all take to stabilize yourself — or at least refresh your body, mind, and soul. When you’re balanced on a physical, mental, and emotional/spiritual level, it’s so much easier to live in alignment with the values and desires of your true self.

Improving Physical Vitality

When it comes to the physical aspect of yoga practice, your level of strength and flexibility will impact how well and how long you can stay balanced in each pose. While there are several specific poses an sequences you can perform to grow stronger, become more flexible, and even improve balance, first ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Are you getting enough sleep to allow your body to recover from physical activity?
  • Are you making sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking water throughout the whole day?
  • Does your diet consist mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, whole grains, and healthy fats?

Rest, hydration, and diet set the foundation for your energy level, your physical strength, and your flexibility. Make sure you examine these areas in your life first before you move on to look for a specific practice that you might expect to fix a physical problem.

Recovering from Mental Fatigue

Buddhists commonly refer to that little voice inside your head as “the monkey mind" because it never stops thinking and no matter how hard you try, you can’t control it. When thoughts get to be too much, they can begin to consume you — essentially throwing off the balance between thought and awareness.

If your mind is constantly racing and telling you to go, go, go — you may want to try some standing forward bends, which turns your focus inward to relax the heart and rest the brain. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling pretty beat or overwhelmed in such a way that makes you want to give up or protect yourself, you may want to perform some heart-opening backbends. Breathe and observe your thoughts from a distance.

Restoring Emotional Wellbeing

When you experience emotion, this is a message from your deepest self asking you to feel something so that you can continue to grow and expand in your human life. Of course, the mind despises anything negative and thus the most common reaction is to suppress it. Constant and prolonged suppression of negative emotions can throw off the balance of the entire body on all emotional, mental, and physical levels.

To get in touch with your emotions, you can sit down for 10 or 20 minutes for a meditation where you aim to turn your awareness inward and ask yourself what you need to feel. Saying a mantra like, “I am completely here with you” can help to reveal any emotions that may be coming from a deep place, possibly even rooted in your subconscious from a traumatic experience that happened decades ago during childhood.

Allow yourself to cry if you need to, doing so without judgment and with total self-compassion. You’ll have no idea how much more whole you’ll feel when you embrace every emotion that your body needs you to feel.

Image (edited) via Livnir

Sun Salutation

Sun Salutation

The sun salutation (surya namaskar) is an asana sequence made up of 12 postures that is traditionally practiced at dawn or dusk to cultivate a connection with the sun as it rises or sets. With July typically being the warmest month of the year across most of the United States, now couldn’t be more of a perfect time to master your sun salutation.

Sun salutations can be performed using different styles and modifications to suite anyone of any yoga skill level, from beginner to advanced. In many yoga traditions, it’s common to perform 2 to 12 repetitions of the full sequence to kick off the session by warming up the body, but you can do as many as you like, whenever you like. In fact, a study from the International Journal of Yoga found that a 20-minute session of sun salutations was all it took to help people calm their minds and reduce stress levels.

Anyone can go through the motions of performing sun salutation or any other sequence for that matter, but the full experience of the sequence requires deeply integrating the mind, breath, and spirit into the physical postures. Here are some tips on how to improve yours.

Start at Sunrise

Surya namaskar literally translates to “salute the sun,” meaning that this is an ideal sequence to perform with the intention of awakening your inner sun in the morning, which located within the navel center. As you begin in mountain pose, regulate your breathing to a slow rhythm to help you find your center before saying this short mantra out loud or in your head: “I salute the sun, source of light and power.”

Synchronize the Breath

Your breathing should flow with each posture to help you quiet your mind, focus your awareness, and support your physical body as it bends, stretches, and pushes against gravity to hold itself up. After centering yourself for a few moments in mountain pose, synchronize your breath with each of the following postures that are a part of the sun salutation sequence:

Upward salute: Inhale as you sweep your arms up overhead.
Standing forward bend: Exhale as you sweep your arms down to your feet.
Half-standing forward bend: Inhale as you flatten your back and exhale as you go back to standing forward bend.
Lunge: Inhale as you step each foot back separately or jump back.
Plank: Exhale and inhale while keeping the abdomen engaged.
Chaturanga: Exhale as you lower your body to the floor.
Upward-facing dog: Inhale as you lift up to open your chest (and complete as many breaths here as you like).
Downward-facing dog: Exhale as you push back to lift your hips into the air (while continuing to inhale and exhale as long as you like).
Half-standing forward bend: Exhale as you jump your feet forward.
Standing forward bend: Inhale and then exhale as you bend back down toward your feet.
Upward salute: Inhale as you lift up and you extend your arms overhead.
Mountain: Exhale as you lower your arms to your sides or in prayer.

Fan the Flame

Once you’ve completed several sun salutations (ideally six or more), you can finish in mountain pose by closing your eyes, folding your hands near your heart, slowing your breathing, and visualizing a flame at your navel. Take several deep breaths, feeling the flames grow stronger as it expands from your center while exhaling. Feel as if you’re soaking up the infinite light and warmth of the sun by imagining your whole body filling itself up with sunlight.

You can flow into your regular yoga practice, move into meditation, or go ahead and start your day from here whenever you’re ready. However you choose to practice, you can bet that a properly executed sun salutation sequence will definitely make a difference in boosting your confidence, courage, and inner strength.

Photo (edited) via Michael Pravin

Solstice Celebration

Solstice Celebration

The Summer Solstice, occurring on June 20 of this year at 6:34 PM ET, marks the longest day of the year as midsummer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere and the amount of daylight reaches its peak. This completes the cycle that started from the last Winter Solstice.

Sol refers to “the sun” in Latin while sistere means “to stand still.” The word Solstice, then, can be interpreted as “the standing of the sun.”

This is the time of year when we can truly embrace the fiery energy inside of ourselves. During this time and over the coming summer months, feeling the energetic connection we have to the sun will encourage us to celebrate it for being the greatest source of light and energy that supports all of life on Earth.

Here are just a few suggested ways you can celebrate the Summer Solstice this year.

Sun Salutations

Sun salutations (Sura Namaskar) are at the heart of many yoga practices and are performed with the intention of honoring the sun. Traditionally, this dynamic asana sequence was meant to be performed in the early morning hours and on an empty stomach.

Keeping the breath flowing along from one movement to the next as part of the sequence is very important. If you would like to see exactly how to perform a sun salutation, watch the video below from Brooklyn Yoga School to get a full walkthrough of the entire sequence.

Solar Meditation

A solar meditation is meant to be performed by connecting with your Solar Plexus Chakra, which is the third Chakra found directly above your belly button. This Chakra represents your energetic center for power, confidence, and self-esteem.

As you bring your awareness to your abdomen, your breathing fuel will fuel it with warmth and power to help you build strength and balance. Try following this short, 4-minute Solar Plexus Chakra Meditation provided by Aura Cacia to really tap into your inner strength and power.

Farmers Market Fun

As crops begin to fully ripen, midsummer typically marks the height of farmers market season across much of the United States and Canada. Farmers market destinations in most towns and cities become charged with the energy and enthusiasm of vendors, volunteers and the general public from the community and beyond.

Make an effort to head out every week or so to your local farmers market so you can fuel up on farm fresh produce that’s in season. To find a farmers market near you, consider referring to the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory so you can perform a search for your location.

Outdoor Adventure

Take a moment to look back on your journey since the Winter Solstice and ask yourself how you wish to stoke the fire inside of you with some kind of outdoor adventure or challenge. It could be something as simple as learning how to cast a fishing rod if you’ve never done it before, or something as daring as going remote camping somewhere off the grid.

Challenge yourself to host a big backyard barbecue with all your friends and family, or conquer your fear of deep water by planning a trip to the beach and treading in an area where your feet can’t reach the floor. Let your personal power and confidence guide you.

However you choose to celebrate the arrival of summer and the days leading up to the Autumnal Equinox once again, remember to relax, let go, and have fun. After all, having fun really is the only thing you need to do to celebrate something.

Photo (edited) via Riley Kaminer

The Divine Within

The Divine Within

Each and every one of us has the ability to access to a higher level of consciousness that can free us from the mental turbulence we’re so used to experiencing in everyday life. A commitment to a persistent yoga practice can harmonize the body, mind and spirit in a way that brings us closer to this divine state of higher consciousness – but only if we're willing to venture past the simple pleasures and delve deeper into ourselves through serious self-exploration.

Those simple pleasures that entice us to start practicing in the first place – like the social component of joining a class, the physical transformations in appearance, or even just the exciting “newness” of getting started – are nice benefits, but they’re not what keep most of us going. The more we develop our practice, the more intrinsic value we get out of it.

When we free ourselves from fixating on external benefits, we grow to start practicing from more of a harmonized body, mind, and spiritual state where self-giving and self-love drive us. All of our most cherished desires can be fulfilled when we pursue them from a state of love. And in order to keep the flow of love and abundance moving, we need to continually both give and receive — to ourselves, to others, and to nature itself.

It’s worth noting that the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” which means “to join.” The ultimate goal of the practice is to join the sense of personal self with the sense of infinite being. Our true nature is pure consciousness, which is the divine and infinite source of everything in the entire universe.

When we say “Namaste” to someone, we’re acknowledging the truth that a divine spirit exists in them the same way it exists in us too. Roughly translated to “I bow to the God within you,” the gesture is meant to unify our spiritual energies as recognition that beneath our egos, we are all infinite beings existing as one in divine consciousness.

Through giving ourselves the gift of truth, beauty, and goodness in our state of harmonized oneness, we can find peace in knowing that everything really is perfect as it is. Tapping into our divine energy helps us become aware that there will always be things we perceive as “problems,” there will always be things we want to improve, and there will always be lots of difficult decisions to be made throughout life. But these all stem from thinking — not being.

Even though the entire universe is constantly flowing and changing, we can find freedom from our naturally human desires to control, overanalyze, regret, worry, or do anything else of the sort when we move closer to being in tune with our state of infinite being. When we have this sense of connection and unity with something greater than ourselves in our human form, it's easier to detach from those negative thoughts and feelings, all at the same time paving the way for us to develop real appreciation for every experience in the present just as it is – and just as it's meant to be.

Photo (edited) via Pierce Martin