Who wouldn’t want to reduce stress? Stress is the leading cause for heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, weight gain, and premature aging. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and completely dismantle our lives and yet we are largely lost as to how to combat it and often even how to see and acknowledge it.
Most of us don’t notice our stress until it has debilitated us, taking out our backs, locking up our necks, or giving us a horrible stomach ache. Once we have let the stress go that far, it is hard to bring down. A great help to managing our stress and reducing our chances of chronic illness would be to notice it sooner.
You can learn to notice the first signs of stress in your body by checking in with yourself throughout the day. Ask yourself, “how is my breathing?” If it seems shallow, short, locked up in any way, that could be a sign the body is under some stress. Quickened breath is also a clue. Look for breath position. Is it high in the chest (stress sign) or low in the belly? If breath quality/location is hard for you to access, you can check in with your vocal tone. A stressed body will often produce a high, airy voice and a calm one a full round sound.
Go ahead and check your breathing rate and position and vocal quality now! What do you notice?
Observing your breath is the quickest way to reduce your stress instantaneously. Choose a spot you feel your breath the most, like your nose, chest or belly and just watch as it comes and goes. You don’t have to do a thing. Simply observing is an art which has enormous impact. Many will tell you to deepen or lengthen your breathing. I would say to just watch. We are so quick to make adjustments but our systems know what to do to run most calmly and efficiently if we only get out of their way. Learn to be with what is and your body will thank you.
Get in the habit of observing your breathing multiple times throughout the day. You should see an immediate reduction in your stress level each time and a cumulative decrease in your stress level over time. If it helps you can even set an alarm for checking in with your breath every hour until it becomes second nature. This simple act will have a profound impact on the quality of your life and could even save it. Nothing should be stopping you from starting today.
You will find in time that you don’t even have to remind yourself to observe your breath. You will do so regularly and naturally as needed, re-regulating your system and finding peace in the moments of being one with this most subtle of human acts.
Too expensive. That was the main reason to keep me from going to yoga festivals for a long time. I thought, how many classes can one possibly take a day and how can it ever be worth it, spending so much money? I got the chance to answer my questions and review my doubts when I got invited to Yoga Conference Germany in Cologne. The experience reached far beyond the practice of yoga asanas. In those two days I laughed until I cried and I cried until I laughed again. I hugged strangers and became close friends with people I had known from yoga classes for a while but never really connected with. I sweat a whole ocean, I sang, I danced and slept like a baby – and overall I felt inspired, happy and in love with my life.
Yoga festivals are a special and sometimes life changing experience. I cannot wait to check out the numerous yoga festivals of North America: In summertime there is a yoga festival happening almost every weekend in the United States and Canada. These events can be pricey, yes. But they don’t have to be: Almost every festival offers selected classes and side-events for free. Most of them have spots open for volunteers that donate their time to support the festival team in exchange for attending classes for free. So, money considerations shouldn’t necessarily stand in the way.
If you are still not sure about whether a day-long yoga celebration is the right jam for you, here my top 5 reasons to at least give it a try.
Relax and Re-new: A yoga festival is an active mini-retreat
If a yoga class can be your mini-break from everyday routines of moving (or mostly not moving) and thinking (or mostly worrying), a yoga festival can be a mini-retreat and your go-to when you need quality-time for and with yourself. You might need time to unwind and relax or space to be inspired and feel alive: Yoga festivals give you both and so much more.
Whether the event is happening in a far away place or right in front of the door: As soon as your feet touch the festival grounds you are entering a completely different world. Everything here is set up to make you feel awesome! Far away from your daily routines and to-do-list(s) all you need is to exhale stress and enjoy the offerings of the program to relax and energize. Yogis are known to be a mostly positive, warm and open community wired to connection, so don’t worry to come along on your own or bring a friend if you can.
Summer 2017: Yoga Festivals in the USA
You need a time-out from daily routine and a chance to re-boot your system? You are craving new impulses for your yoga practice and inspiration for your life? You would love to meet a bunch of inspiring people and make new friends? Don’t waste a lifetime: Grab your mat and hop on an intense ride of yoga, meditation and music.
May, 12-14, 2017 in Joshua Tree, CA
May 20, 2017 in Harlem, NY
Downtown Yoga Festival
May 20-21, 2017 in Salt Lake City, UT
June 9-11, 2017 in Snowshoe, WV
June 22-25, 2017 in Bondville, VT
Nantucket Yoga Festival
July 7-9, 2017 in Nantucket, MA
Telluride Yoga Festival
July 20-23, 2017 in Telluride, CO
August 11-14, 2017 in Tidewater, OR
Floyd Yoga Jam
August 31 – September 3, 2017 in Floyd, VA
September 7-11, 2017 in Joshua Tree, CA
Learn from masters: Renowned yoga teachers share their personal practices
Yoga festivals usually invite the most renowned teachers from all over the world that have dedicated their lives to yoga. Some of them teach traditional Yoga styles like David Williams who was one of the first Western students of Ashtanga founder Pattahbi Jois in Mysore, India. Some teachers created their own yoga style like Dana Trixie Flynn and Jasmine Tarkeshi (Lotus Flow), Bryan Kest (Power Yoga), David Life and Sharon Gannon (Jivamukti Yoga). Some are known for their physical mastery of yoga poses like the Canadian yoga Goddess Meghan Currey. Others have specialized in the philosophy and mythology of yoga like Alanna Kaivalya.
Where else do we have the opportunity to meet and practice with so many different expert yogis on one day? It is extremely inspiring and motivating to listen to and learn from passionate teachers who live what they are teaching and teach what they are living.
Be inspired, stay inspired: Time to explore and discover new sides of YOU
Most of us in everyday life stick to our one or two favourite teachers and beloved routines without hardly ever trying something new. Yoga festivals are a great opportunity to explore new territory: Most yoga festivals offer a wide range of yoga styles and related topics. The die-hard Power Vinyasa Yogi might discover the bliss of Yin Yoga. The serious Ashtangi may fall in love with the playful Acro Yoga. One might explore mindful and fun “sister” disciplines like aerial yoga, thai yoga massage, dance, hula hoop or parcour. The other might find the time and peace to dig into meditation and breathing techniques.
As much as we need certain routines to save energy, the constant drive on auto-pilot, that many of us so easily get trapped into, can eventually make us feel chronically tired or even depressed. A week-end in the vast and colourful yoga-world is opening the door to step out of our comfort zone: Meeting new people and absorbing new ideas can inspire us to a new perspective on our practice and on our life.
Unity in Diversity: Meet your tribe and celebrate togetherness
Yoga attracts people of diverse cultural and social backgrounds. While the diversity of the community makes part of its beauty, separating concepts of our mind like age, nationality, gender, religious beliefs or political backgrounds dissolve into a sphere of acknowledgement, yet insignificance when you meet in yoga pants.
Breathing and moving together creates a sense of belonging with others around you and really brings the uniting practice of yoga to the forefront. Being present at a yoga festival allows us to celebrate that fact with other like-minded people, from all over the country or even the world, while celebrating the wonderfulness of the practice itself.
Heading to your first yoga festival? This is what you need to know.
* Best deal: Look for Early Bird Prizes OR apply to be a volunteer: This way you are supporting your favorite yoga festival and get to go to classes for free. Yay!
* First come, first serve: Reserve, if possible, or come to classes early and save your spot: Most workshops, especially those of very popular teachers, will be filled and sold out quickly
* Plan your day ahead: Prepare a schedule with favorite classes and one alternative class. That way you can quickly re-schedule if needed, and you still have enough time to go to a different location.
* Plan wisely: It is best to alternate asana classes with physically less demanding classes like meditation, massage or mantra chanting. That way you are less likely to burn out and can enjoy the practice even more.
* Food and water: Don’t forget to take breaks to eat and digest. Most yoga festivals cater with delicious vegetarian and vegan meals and desserts. Treat yourself – your body needs the nutrients and hey, this is your quality-time, remember?
* Pack list: You might need to bring your own yoga mat as not every festival offers rental mats. Also: Water bottle, towel, enough yoga wear to maybe change during the day and a cardigan or sweater for cosy savasanas, healthy snacks like fruit and nuts, flip flops for changing locations and public bathrooms, tigerbalm for sore muscles, tampons, since the next drugstore might be far, and a personal journal to note down every spontaneous insights you will probably have
* What to expect: Hundreds of happy and gleaming people in pants or shorts. It can be overwhelming at first but don’t shy away: You are one of them. Latest after the first class you will feel it.
* Don’t forget: Unless you are practicing aparigraha, Sanskrit for non-greediness or temperance, you might want to bring some extra cash and extra space in your luggage. There will be some stands with tempting yoga wear, ayurvedic oils, yoga books, malas etc…
Wild and free: Wholehearted living outside the comfort zone
It is this open and safe space of acceptance that can open doors you might not have known even existed. Suddenly you catch yourself climbing on a stranger’s body in acro yoga as if you were born to do so (most probably your are). You take the courage to try that handstand off the wall and fail in laughter. You gaze into a fellow student’s eyes in a partner meditation and don’t feel shame for tears running from your own eyes. You sing and dance your heart out at the Kirtan concert and forget that, just a minute ago, “chanting” didn’t seem to be your thing at all.
Words cannot describe sufficiently what exactly makes the seemingly impossible possible. It is a heart opening mixture of intense practice and a supporting and warm community that melts away inner limitations and, beyond fear, (self-) doubts and shame wakes a deeper truth of ourselves: We are full of potential. Our life can be ecstatic and adventurous. We are wild and free.
As teacher and student, Melanie is dedicated to the fluid and creative yoga practice of Laughing Lotus NYC. With a background in Modern and Contemporary Dance, somatic education like the Alexander Technique and Traditional Thai Massage, in her yoga classes the German native combines her love for healthy alignment with her passion to inspire a life full of expression, truth and love. Melanie wants to watch you become the most radiant and happy version of yourself.
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There is a lot of confusion, frustration, and misinformation around meditation. Perhaps the word itself needs re-defining. In most yoga circles you’ll more often hear it said that one has done their “siting practice”. It’s fair to say we’ve sat still for a length of time. What happens inside that stillness, only the practitioner knows for sure. I promise you, more often than not, it’s a louder internal landscape then you think, especially if one is just beginning.
Here are five steps for getting started:
1. Create a Sacred Space. This is a lot easier than it sounds. In my house it is literally a corner. The idea is that when you adorn a space and only use it for a specific function, that area takes on a new energy. (Think church.) Even if the energy were to remain the same, your brain associates that space with its single function (in this case meditation) and you’ll settle into that function more easily then you would in a different space.
2. Make Time. Set a specific time aside each day for your sitting practice. I recommend morning since as the day goes by, more and more things can get in the way. Also, the mind is quieter in the early hours. By coming to your space the same time each day it becomes a habit that you are unlikely to break. By scheduling in your meditation time you never have to “find time”. It’s already been made.
3. Be Still. Most teachers recommend that the spine be in alignment for meditation. If possible you’ll be sitting with a tall straight back, and the legs in a cross-legged position (ultimately padmasana). Some students who can’t sit up comfortably for long periods of time will sit against a wall or lay down on the ground. The most important thing is to be still. Once you find your position, try not to adjust or move in any way. Meditation is an attempt to move beyond the body so activating the muscles is out of alignment with your purpose. Most of the time, if you let the impulse to move pass, it will dissipate.
4. Just Watch. To meditate you will have chosen or been given an object of meditation which could be your breath or a mantra. (See my previous blog.) You will be telling your mind again and again to focus on that object only, but your mind will have other thoughts. This is normal. Keep working to make yourself aware as soon as the mind leaves the object of meditation and bring it back. Do this act without judgement. Simply observe the process. Ultimately you are the object of meditation, so by observing the way the mind moves, you are doing the work.
5. Get a Physical Yoga Practice. As mentioned, the upright spine position is optimal for meditation practice. Still sitting in this position for a long time is very difficult unless there is asana in your life. The physical practice helps you develop an easy seat and also does a lot of the pre-meditation work, cleaning and calming the mind. How long should you sit? The current experts say 20 minutes, but that’s really just for entering a space of meditation. For being in and deepening that space one needs closer to an hour. Sounds long, right? Even 20 minutes is very difficult at first. Start with 5 minutes daily and slowly increase minute by minute as the practice becomes consistent in your life. You’ll be at an hour in no time and craving more! Once you find the peace of meditation, staying in isn’t the problem, it’s coming out!
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” -Anais Nin
If we want things to change we have to change ourselves. Then, suddenly, the world around us appears different. But how can we change ourselves? First we must become aware that there is an option to change. Most of us spend a good deal of our lives adhering to certain decisions about our preferences and characteristics, never questioning where those labels came from or if they are indeed permanent and true.
For instance, I may appear a loud and bossy type. When I come into a room, I let my thoughts be known and assert my desires. Perhaps my whole life I have behaved this way and from this behavior enjoyed much success. I may become known as “loud and bossy” to the point where others around me adjust to take supporting roles and even choose me for activities where those traits appear helpful to the group. I may not realize there is another role I can take. I may have been told that this personality comes naturally to me, but it may just be well practiced, or it may be that I subconsciously feel a need to play a role I was assigned, worried no one else will take that part or that I won’t be effective in another position.
Eventually I will likely be awakened to the malleable nature of personality. I could be faced with a similar personality type across from me and find my usual responses ineffective. I could experience a loss. I could read a book or blog like this one and realize I do have choice. Then I might decide to allow different aspects of myself to come forward until my personality wouldn’t be described as bossy at all. Part of the yogic journey is making better, more artful choices and finally arriving at no choice, but as an experience of our perfect, non-personality touched souls.
The self-help guides tell us to be ourselves, but who are we? Personality is a strange and fluid thing. Most of us have many; Sometimes they war inside of us. Other times they know their roles. Mom comes out at bedtime with the kids, but becomes a shy student in her night classes, hardly recognizable to her mother self. On date night, with girlfriends, with parents, all different personalities emerge.
Sometimes parts of our personalities remain buried for a long time. Suddenly I arrive at a situation where I want to use an archetypal energy but I can not access it. That’s where the costume comes into play. If I’ve been demure for a long time I may need some help expressing my authentic assertive self. In this case I can wear heals, and suits, and certain kinds of colors and hair styles until she comes out. Through the flow or restrictions of her clothing, movement becomes dictated. Through the eyes of those who witness my transformation I access her spirit. She was always there inside of me. Never false. Just hidden. Suddenly the world around me looks different. New possibilities emerge.
Choosing to transform through costume may have to be subtle on the day to day if we don’t want to shock our friends and neighbors, but on Halloween we have the opportunity to go all out. This one day we can access our superhero, magical, sexy, silly, even dark, vampire selves. Each of us has a chance to play a part not allowed to us normally and access a layer of our personality that is hidden away. As we expose more of ourselves we gain more choices and open ourselves to seeing the world around us in a different way. This is a healthy and important part of the journey to self-realization, so be sure to use your societal pass this Halloween and be whoever you most want to be. Don’t be shy. I know I won’t be!
You’re listening to an engaging story, desperately trying to weave a thread through a needle, perhaps deep in a daydream. Whatever it was, we’ve all had the experience of being so in the moment that we fail to hear a siren outside, feel the dog licking our leg, or smell the smoke coming from the kitchen. This is Pratyahara.
It’s rare enough that these moments come on their own but to silence the senses at will requires a serious mastery. First we must be able to control our prana. Consciously drawing the senses away from distraction and inward toward the self is the work we do everyday in Ashtanga Yoga and one of the many reasons I decided to practice and teach this specific lineage. Pratyahara is why though you love a fancy music playlist in class, you may not actually be practicing yoga if you are listening to it. It is why though you may have so much fun looking in the mirror and adjusting your alignment, there is argument that this is also not yoga. Patanjai’s definition of yoga states clearly that we are required to turn our senses inward to become yogis.
In the Ashtanga yoga method this pulling of the senses inward is done by employing a three-pointed focus. First we bring our attention toward the sound of our breath. Next we focus our eyes on one spot and consciously keep them from wandering around. Finally, we feel with every cell, the shape of our body in the pose. This trains our senses to steer inward and keeps us completely present in the moment.
The senses and mind are linked. If we can get mastery of the senses, we can master the mind. Though perfection in Pratyahara happens only after flawlessness is achieved in the limbs which come before it, there is no reason we can’t begin to practice training our senses now. Non reaction to stimuli is an incredibly powerful practice which brings great benefits into our lives. You pass a great sweater in a window of a store. Suddenly you are having this whole silent conversation in your mind about how you could really use a sweater. It’s off season. You haven’t gotten yourself something in awhile. At the end of this mind talk you have given yourself permission to purchase and you think you have done well by “thinking it through”. Truth is you have been scammed by the one who knows you best- your own mind! You never had any intention of purchasing a sweater only your senses dragged you into it! You were perfectly content till they got involved. When you start to observe this process and let the mind know you are into it, the senses will have much less power over you. Keep training your mind to dismiss the cravings. They will stop coming, and you will be free. This is the power of the practice of Pratyahara and the beauty of authentic yoga.
Cravings are the children of habits. Starve off your craving while your mind gets strong. Here are three steps to becoming craving free:
1. Avoid the trigger: If you return home each day at 5pm and immeditely open the kitchen cabinets scavenging for a treat, you’ve been programing your mind to think it’s hungry by the time you walk up to your front door. Take a walk at 5 instead to form a new habit.
2. Give yourself a reward: The 5pm snacks felt to your child self like a deserved reward for a day complete. Substitute with a new reward that gives your heart that full feeling. This could be as simple as sitting in the sun, or a nice long chat with a friend. As long as you feel it and recognize it for the reward it is, it will work.
3. Praise heavily: Make sure to consciously acknowledge yourself each time you make a new choice with positive self talk. “I’m doing a great job making fantastic choices.” Say it out loud for maximum benefit!