5 Effective Ways to Enjoy Your Life More

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What do you enjoy most about your life?

Need need time to think about it?

What did you enjoy most about your day? Still thinking? What do you enjoy most about your yoga practice? I know, you need another moment.

Why are we as humans so reluctant to acknowledge the things we enjoy? It is as though by simply saying “I enjoy” that we could mean that we are selfish, pleasure-seeking animals that are self-centered and self-important. More likely than not, we find ourselves making excuses, feeling guilty and denying ourselves of the very things we enjoy most in life!

A shift needs to take place, and our health depends on it. Even if it means that we are pleasure seeking animals, we should consider that pleasure is important to self.

Deep down, being “happy” is something that each of us desires. We know that it feels intrinsically good, that we deserve to be happy and we deserve to feel good–as often as possible! However, pinning down exactly what happiness is can be a challenge just like it is to identify what we enjoy about our life, our day or our yoga practice.

Let’s try the questioning again. Traditionally, words to describe happiness include joy, optimism, success, and well-being. What is something that gives you joy in life? Maybe it is the work you do or a significant relationship. What is something that gave you optimism today? Maybe it was a friendly neighbor,  a smile from a stranger or a sale at your favorite store. What part of your practice felt like you were being successful in your well-being? This could be practicing with your friends or arriving on time to your favorite class. No matter how great or small,  each thing that we are able to identify will ultimately play a role in our own idea of happiness. Cultivating a practice of acknowledging happiness is inextricably linked to our health.

What makes one person happy will most likely be different from the next person, but one common theme prevails: being happy is associated with vitality and optimal health. Happy people generally eat healthier, tend to exercise more, and get better sleep than those who are stressed out or depressed.

If you need a bit of inspiration in the happiness department, here are 5 ways to quickly cultivate happiness is your everyday life.

Photo-Jun-17,-3-04-20-PMBe in the moment. While it may seem incredibly obvious, we can still go to yoga and be on the yogic path totally consumed with thoughts about the past or future. Stop, drop and be present. Not only will you feel more in your body, but you will also slow down the excess work in your body from  coping  with the stress of high level processing.

Practice love and non-judgement. This is for yourself and for others.  We are all doing the best we can with what we have in any particular moment. Being in practice of loving the self and others allows us to show and share compassion.

Smile and Laugh.  Studies have shown that when your face is in a smiling position it actually sends a signal to your brain that you are happy. Laughter has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones while also increasing memory and learning. Additionally, laughter increases creativity and improves alertness. The beauty of this tip is that you even when you fake smile or fake laugh, you still are training your brain and body, and you will reap the benefits as a result.

Gratitude. Make a list of 5 things each day that you are grateful for. Saying thank you and really making yourself aware of the things that are great in your life can very quickly shift your mood.

Connection. Humans are social beings and are inherently seeking connection. We are designed this way and have a fundamental need to be in community. The beauty here is that by having social support, we ease our stress and suffering. By establishing meaningful connection with others, we invariably put problems into perspective; we make ourselves available to consider things differently.  

Photography Credit: Nkechi Deanna Njaka


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Trusting Self: Moving away from Social Consensus

We’ve all done this: we sit down with a group at our favorite cafe and ask “What are we getting–should we share something?” or “ What are you going to order?” before even asking ourselves what we want to eat. Perhaps this has happened: you are deciding what to wear to a dinner party and you send a poorly lit selfie in a group text to see what everyone else is planning to wear and to receive confirmation that your wardrobe choice is acceptable.

Nothing is wrong with either of these scenarios. We are social beings. And while this is true, there is definitely a difference between looking for inspiration and relying too much on an external consensus with your life’s biggest questions.

If you are someone who has difficulty making big decisions for yourself and feel the need to crowd source your every move (like where to eat your next meal, if you should go on a second date, where to take your next vacation or the decision to quit your job), then you may benefit from cultivating a practice of self trust. The value of trusting the self is unparalleled to anyone else’s opinion, especially when it comes to one’s deepest desires and values. Honestly, no matter how confident you are, we could all benefit from looking deeper within for answers we can make ourselves about our life.

Photo-Jun-17,-3-20-41-PM“Everybody has to pass through doubt. Long is the journey, dark is the night. But when after the long journey and the dark night the morning arises, then you know it was all worthwhile. Trust cannot be cultivated. And never try to cultivate it — that is what has been done by the whole of humanity. Cultivated trust becomes belief. Discover it within yourself, don’t cultivate it. Go deeper into your being, to the very source of your being, and discover it.” OSHO

Osho asks us to go deeper into our being to discover what it means to trust the self and only the self. What can we understand about trusting the self? We can learn to trust our inner wisdom and our inner guide when we commit to some form of meditation.

Meditation has always been a useful approach for figuring out the next step– whether it is a problem that needs to be solved, a life transition that we need to go through or a challenging conversation we need to have with a coworker or loved one. When we are at a fork in the road, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to dial into our inner selves.

And even when we do this, we have to be mindful that the answer may not come as quickly as we think we need it. It may also not come in the way we expect it to. Therefore, we must be patient in our meditation practice.  We absolutely may get our answer when we least expect it.

What happens during meditation is that our brain waves slow down. It is here that we experience less interference from our conscious mind. As a result, we are more successful at accessing the subconscious mind. It is in this space that we are able to clear out the noise that is no longer serving us (eg. comparison, limiting beliefs, irrational thoughts).

Here is a simple meditation for Discovering the Self for greater self-trust. This is a meditation that you can do when you are faced with a challenging decision.

Find a comfortable position. Either sitting on a block, bolster or pillow, find a position  that will be comfortable for you for up to 10 minutes.  Make sure that you are in a space that will be free from external distractions and interruptions.

Time your meditation. Start with 5 minutes and if that feels like too short, try 10. Use a timer or a phone so you can fully relax with the eyes closed and be notified when the time is up. If you have to check the clock, you will interrupt your meditation.

Focus on your breath. Bring your attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your nose. Notice the way the air feels going in the nostrils and notice how the air feels exiting the nostrils. Make sure you’re breathing deeply from the diaphragm. Regardless of how shallow or deep the breath is, remember to focus on the inhalation and exhalation without judgement.

For self discovery. If you’re looking for a specific answer from your meditation, ask yourself the question at the beginning of your meditation. For example, if  you’re looking for your next career move, ask yourself, “What is the career path that will give me the most happiness and fulfillment?” Keep asking yourself the question and allow space for the answer to arrive naturally and organically. If it doesn’t come right away, that is OK; it may not arrive immediately. Be patient with yourself and do not be critical of your process.

Wandering mind. It is natural for the mind to become busy with thoughts. Notice them as they arrive and allow them to disappear. If there are thoughts that appear that resonate with you and your question, give yourself permission to dive deeper into the thought. You’ll know when you receive your answer because you will have a strong sense of knowing.

It is possible that you will find yourself becoming bored and the mind will drift to tasks, plans, to-do lists, memories, etc. When you notice this happening, bring your focus back to your breath and be patient with yourself. It is important to not make yourself wrong for drifting. Know that having thoughts are totally normal, and then let the thoughts go.

Next time you are tempted to find confirmation of a decision within your friend group or you have the impulse to skip over the process of listening to our own instincts, try this meditation and see what there is for you. Learn to trust yourself, because that is where the truth of your path lives!

Photography Credit: Nkechi Deanna Njaka


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Unfold.

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In each of us, our greatest potential exists below the surface. When we begin a spiritual journey, like yoga, we are constantly discovering that there is more to uncover and more to unfold each time we bring ourselves to the mat.

Yoga is the journey of the self,
through the self,
to the self. – The Bhagavad Gita.

Of. Through. To.

The majority of us have been conditioned to think that our potential has everything to do with performance. With achievement. With the accumulation of things. We graduate high school. We go to college. Maybe we pursue an advanced degree. We arrive at a job we think we want. We get the right promotion. Perhaps we even find the right spouse. We do the right things–degrees,  awards, prestige and….more things.

Potential has less to do with what we have and more to do with how we go about getting it. It’s not what we are doing, but HOW we are doing.

The practice of yoga reminds us of this time and time again. We arrive to our mat, thinking one thing, leaving with a totally different experience. Why does it work this way? Because the journey is about the self, and the self is on a path to understanding the self. The self is not just one way; the self is constantly evolving. The self continues to unfold itself every moment of every day. It is in the moments where we can connect to the body and the breath that we discover what it is we truly need to unfold.

Remember this the next time you unroll your mat and do a forward fold. Surrender to the truth that you have arrived at your mat to discover that there IS something to discover about yourself– a truth that goes far deeper than all the accomplishments and all the awards and all the “things”. Allow yourself to truly accept where you are in your journey and that you are headed somewhere profound. And always remember that your journey has less to do with the potential of your ability to have things (or to get into certain poses) and more to do with your potential to be closer to yourself.

Photography Credit: Mark Kuroda


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Discovering The Calm of Yoga

While it is beautiful to have a full and busy life, a life that is full with meaningful work and relationships can be increasingly more difficult to manage if we don’t have an efficient way to be in relationship with our time and energy.  With the increasing desire to connect and to be connected at all times through digital media and devices, it can be that much more difficult to find clarity with all the push notifications, calendar invites, reminders, and a never ending inbox. These commitments that make our beautiful full and busy lives can easily and quickly turn into obligation, where we find plans and events stressful rather than enjoyable. When not managed properly, stress can become anxiety– a series of unpleasant feelings that include but are not limited to nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying.

Roughly around 18 percent of Americans age 18 and over suffer with anxiety, making it the most common mental health concern in the country. These clinical stats or a diagnosis do not exclude all of us who experience stress, tension and anxiety in our everyday lives.

DSC_0600While there are many solutions to solving the “anxiety-problem,” practicing yoga can be an extremely effective way of relieving stress. It can also be a way to manage the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety and depression.  In yoga we are training our body to respond differently to stressful situations. A consistent yoga practice will create a pattern of rest and digest in our parasympathetic nervous system. This makes us less reactive to all the things we perceive as stressful in our everyday life. By transferring our focus and attention to our breath and our body, we effectively temper the sensations of nervousness, stress and worry while simultaneously releasing physical tension.

If you are someone who is sensitive to depression and anxiety, one of the most profound things to discover in your yoga practice is the ability to manage these sensations. Research studies show that through breath, intentions and meeting yourself at the mat, you will able to discover a calmness that transcended over your body, mind and spirit.

13_1019_savvyogi_martin_scott_992Breath. How this works: Deep breathing is the opposite of shallow breathing. And while that may seem obvious, what is not always evident to us is the relationship short breath has to our anxiety or panic. The practice of deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest. It is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which manages the fight-or-flight response.

Intention. How this works: The body listens to the thoughts you think. One of the most simple ways of becoming more aware of your thoughts is by setting an intention. Maybe the intention is to be more curious or to judge the self less. By setting the intention, you are giving yourself permission to be more aware of your thoughts because you can check in and see if you are aligned with your intention. Often times when we are feeling intense feelings of fear, it is because we have not yet given yourself the space to think different. Once we are in a habit of recognizing our thoughts, we can start to see very clearly which thoughts are not supporting us.

Meeting yourself where you are in your body. How it works: This is grace and gratitude. It is a practice of self-love and appreciation no matter what the day looked like. It is an acknowledgement that you are a being who is constantly evolving. It is also a commitment to the process of transformation and discovery.

Additionally, here are a few poses that also help with anxiety that you can do at home:

Balasana (Child’s pose) This is the resting pose that is often the one we take when we have had one too many chatarungas. It also promotes relaxation by encouraging a steady conscious breathing, which is particularly great for anxiety. We know that breath calms of the nervous system. Additionally, Balasana helps to release tension in the back, neck and shoulders, which are all areas where most people hold a lot of their stress without knowing it.

Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall) This is a good one for all levels because it doesn’t require flexibility or strength. This is a restorative pose that relaxes the bod and calmly supports the nervous system.

Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand) Since this pose reverses the blood flow in your body it effectively allows you to focus more attention on your breath. We know that the breath calms the nervous system, so you have your attention there rather than your anxiety or discomfort. What also happens in this pose is that we increase and stimulate blood flow to our head. The major benefit of this is we begin to detoxify of our adrenals, which decreases sensations of fear, worry, anxiety and depression.

Savasana (Corpse Pose) The final pose in class, which symbolizes death. Any time you are feeling overwhelmed (whether in class or in life), try taking corpse pose. Lay flat on your back with your arms at our sides. It is easy to examine the breath in this poses, so if you need something to focus on, remember that you can always watch your belly rise and fall.  It’s so relaxing that sometimes we can hear our fellow yogis snoring on a neighboring mat.

Photography Credit: Nkechi Deanna Njaka + Joe Budd


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Plant Seeds to Find Harvest in Your Habits

We have all heard the saying ‘you reap what you sow’ or phrases like ‘the fruit of your labor.’ They both come from agricultural harvesting—the process of planting and gathering what has come of it. With all things, there can be environmental factors that contribute to the end result. This can be true for us as well throughout different seasons. If you think of this as creating new habits for yourself to see changes (or fruit), you can participate in a similar process that will result in the life you want to live. For the month of February, Union Yoga was focusing intentions around planting seeds.

 Yoga, sitting meditation, a new relationship, building a house, growing a garden, learning a new instrument, training a dog, getting a PhD, starting a business, restoring a new property, or simply preparing a meal all have ONE thing in common: there is a process required for a result. Whatever the result is, a new ritual or habit is created.

At Union Yoga, we are creating a practice and community encouraged by creating new rituals and habits. At this time of year, it is so important for us to put process in place so that we can see the benefits of our hard work, and have others (friends, family, community) benefit from it.

If you are feeling inspired to create a new habit, ritual or process for yourself this season, we want to encourage you! It doesn’t even have to be around yoga!

Here are some simple actions (sowing) that will yield results:

Be Committed. We all know that significant change happens over time. Commit to 30 days. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change and it will easily fit in your calendar.

Be Simple. While ambition and drive are admirable, it can sometimes be overwhelming, resulting in termination or disruption of process. Take simple approaches to your new habits and begin to build when you start achieving results.

Be Consistent. Do your new habit every day– consistency is going to be a major contribution.

Be Thoughtful. After 2 weeks you might forget about your one month commitment! If you forget, you become inconsistent, which defeats the purpose of habituation. Create reminders for yourself (post-its are fun), set alarms or track in your calendar.

Be Accountable. Find a friend who encourages you (maybe they want to plant similar seeds to develop the same habit). Use them for support when things get hard.

Come practice with us at Union Yoga. Plant seeds, set intentions and let us be a supportive community around your goals.


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Finding Growth in a Greater Dimension of Consciousness

Growth NOUN
The process of increasing in physical size

Personal growth. Physical growth. Spiritual growth. Professional growth. Emotional growth. Financial growth. Psychological growth….GROWTH. We hear it all the time. But what does it really mean to grow? How do we measure the more esoteric interpretations of growth? To what extent do we participate in the evolution of our own human development? Some of it seems natural. And then some of it seems selective.

Selective. Intentional. On purpose. Moving towards verses sitting idle.

“Growth has to have a selective life.”—Osho

My whole life I have had a mindful movement practice. I’ve danced for 28 years, and have practiced yoga for 13 years. Dance and yoga have always been something I do where I can easily drop in, be embodied and be in the present moment. This sort of moving meditation has been an integral part of my growth as an individual. I notice my growth most profoundly in the studio when I set an intention, met my challenges and paid attention the experience by being in the moment.

The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness. –Lao Tzu

Depression, anxiety, and negative self talk were all things that I struggled with growing up and they had a major impact on my life as a young adult. It wasn’t until I developed a yoga practice that I truly understood how being present mattered to my growth.

Studies have shown that when we are in the present moment, we are less likely to experience stress, low mood and anxiety. Both research and my personal experience have shown this to be true. It is because anxious, stressful and depressive thoughts and sensations develop from negative self talk, rumination, catastrophizing, analytical concern and obsession from the past or for the future. There is no way to be present when we are existing in what was and what will be. We, as human beings, do not yet have the power to do anything about either and yet we spend a lot of time existing in those spaces hoping to overpower what isn’t currently occurring.

We sometimes see growth and maturation when we have to go through something hard; when we have overcome an adversary. Growth also happens when we change a behavior in our life that it is no longer working for us and when we create new behaviors that do work for us.

I’ve experienced growth in many ways through movement. This practice of being in the moment through movement has treated my depression and anxiety as well as built confidence and a healthy self-esteem. It’s very powerful and profound to see how my own physical limitations have been confronted through challenging what is possible with my mind.

Growth happens when we move from one stage to the next. The practice of being in the moment through the medium of a movement or yoga class is where I see true integration through the work of the mind body relationship. When we ask our bodies to do something that we haven’t done before, there is an opportunity to refuse, resist or risk. On those days we feel like taking a risk (attempting that handstand or some other challenging pose), we see and experience growth in that moment. We also continue to build the muscle for even more growth.

On May 16th, I have the honor to integrate mindfulness and movement in a workshop offered at Union Yoga. It will be a 2 hour experience for yogis, dancers and non-dancers to learn how to achieve growth through exploration and embodied movement off the mat. I designed this workshop around the mechanics of how taking risks in the moment yield rapid physical growth.

Grow with us at Union Yoga this month. Try out a new class or sign up for a workshop.


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Metamorphosis: How to Reach Peace of Mind through Yoga

Metamorphosis, NOUN 
(in an insect or amphibian) the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.

The Bhagavad-Gita implies that one can reach peace of the mind, the body and the soul by practicing yoga. In the 700-verse Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, such freedom is celebrated throughout the text in a memorable exchange between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna about Spiritual enlightenment. I want to explore how one might reach peace of mind through yoga from the perspective of my own journey.

When I first started practicing yoga about 13 years ago, I was intrigued by the promise to reach peace of mind. For years I struggled with stress, anxiety, depression and low mood. There was no peace of mind. In fact, it was the opposite of peace. Noise. And it was noise that wasn’t serving me.

There are various ways that I attempted to treat my noisy symptoms—I saw doctors and therapists, and I took medication. I studied neuroscience and worked in a psych hospital. It wasn’t until I stepped into my very first yoga class that I began to understand the significant affects that yoga has on the mind and, therefore, the body.

I would call what happened over the following few years a metamorphosis of cognition and behavior. The biggest thing for me was that with each class, I focused on my breath. Slowly, I began to treat my symptoms—the things that were causing me the greatest suffering in my life—with yoga.

It didn’t happen over night.  When we look at the definition of the word metamorphosis, it means marked by a change in appearance, character, condition, or function overtime; a transformation.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) work as a pair to help us respond to and cope with daily life. The PNS is the “rest and digest” system. The SNS is the “fight or flight” mechanism in your body. For many people, daily life brings a whole host of stresses that activate the SNS. This could be anything from sudden loud noises, bright or flashing lights, and crying babies to negative and frustrating thoughts, to-do lists, long lines, and traffic.

It may be helpful to think of the PNS and the SNS as a seesaw; when one goes up, the other one goes down.

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is generally very high with people who experience a lot of stress and anxiety. By practicing yoga, we are able to find a state of “rest and digest” more easily.

If you perceive many things in your life as stressful, your SNS is constantly activated as a result. If not addressed, these daily experiences will tend to create an imbalance in your body. This was happening to me.

The restorative powers of the PNS work to bring balance to the body. Fortunately, my yoga practice activated my PNS, which ultimately strengthened its circuitry and brought balance to the seesaw. It brought balance to my life.

Many yoga practice styles include gentle breath-based sequences and diaphragmatic breathing which all activates the PNS. Parasympathetic activation is the base state of our bodies, brains and minds. PNS activation reduces blood pressure and slows the heart and breathing rates after a stressful event. This is the science behind why yoga feels so good.

“The mind is restless and difficult to restrain, but it is subdued by practice.” The Bhagavad-Gita

With the metamorphosis from practicing yoga, I am now aware of and respond differently to stress-inducing thoughts and experiences. I’ve noticed over the years that yoga not only helps strengthen my PNS, it reduces my body’s tendency to activate the SNS. Since I am in a practice of reducing my stress levels through yoga, I am managing my levels of cortisol. I can clearly see these as two distinctive states.

Begin and add to your metamorphosis journey. Check out the Union Yoga schedule online for all the class and workshop offerings. And we will see you on the mat!


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

Flourish: Examining Both the Beauty and the Garbage

Flourish, VERB
(of a person, animal, or other living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

One could argue that this is rather obvious. When I see “favorable environment,” I think of loving, kind, supportive environments where I feel elevated, free and abundant. I think of people, places and activities that light me up, give me fuel and encourage me to constantly do my best.

What exactly, then, is “unfavorable”? Hostile, harsh and negative surroundings that do not nurture or support.  We’ve all known people who fit this description. We’ve all had jobs that restricted us. We have even lived in places that felt confining and less than ideal. These unfavorable conditions are those that are external. When we think of the more esoteric environments, I think it is worth exploring our resistance.

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently in one of the workshops offered at Union Yoga. Yoga teacher and art therapist Jeanne Bissmeyer [facebook.com] offered a three-day workshop around Powerful Goal Setting, Finding the Inner Compass and Dharma. Over the course of three weeks, I had the opportunity to explore what might be getting in the way of my “favorable environment.” In thinking about my “favorable environment” as an internal space that I nurture myself, it was an incredible opportunity to discover the most important components to my own flourishing. We can look at the self-journey as though it is a garden

Garbage can smell terrible, especially rotting organic matter. But it can also become rich compost for fertilizing the garden. The fragrant rose and the stinking garbage are two sides of the same existence. Without one, the other cannot be. Everything is in transformation. The rose that wilts after six days will become a part of the garbage. After six months the garbage is transformed into a rose. When we speak of impermanence, we understand that everything is in transformation. This becomes that, and that becomes this. -Thich Nhat Hanh from Present Moment Wonderful Moment

When I read this text, I am forced to think about my own garbage. My own garbage is everything like my lack of discipline, my feelings of scarcity, my resistance, my fear, my perfectionism, my jealousy and my insecurities. These are all the things that I would normally think keep me from growing. But through this workshop, my perspective has changed. My garbage is not all the things that keep me from being who I truly am. My garbage is not all the things that keep me from who I want to be. My garbage is part of the process.

“You have to have the garbage. You have to see how the garbage helps,” Bissmeyer explained. “I know when I open and accept my struggle, I can soften to it. When I soften in my struggle, I learn from it. I can find ways to be grateful for it and there I find beauty. So in my darkest moments, when I stop resisting and accept it for what it is, then and only then can I let go. And when I fully accept something without an impulse to change it, I see only beauty.” I wonder if the flower could speak, if it would say the same thing. I don’t imagine the flower resists the process. I imagine the flower just goes with the flow, accepts things for what they are and lets nature run its course.

But here is the beautiful thing—when I examine the nature of a flower, a vegetable or a piece of fruit, rarely do I ever see the presence of the compost or the presence of the garbage. The flower is beautiful and fragrant, the fruit is delicious and the vegetable is nutritious and vibrant in color. And if we leave it alone, the flower will wilt. The vegetable or the fruit will eventually rot and turn into garbage. Compost. The process begins again.

Thich Nhat Hanh says this: “If you are an organic gardener, you know how to handle the garbage. You know the techniques of transforming the garbage back into compost and into flowers. You don’t have to throw away anything at all. So, the energy of fear, of anger should be considered to be the garbage. Let it be produced, because it can become the art of mindful living.

So, now we should learn how to handle the garbage in us, namely: craving, anger, fear and despair. We should not be afraid of the garbage in us if we know how to transform it back into joy, into peace.”

I’ve dug deep in my garbage—fears, anxieties, jealousy, negative talk—to discover the beauty of my goals and purpose. That’s the flower. The fruit. The produce.

For this month of May, as we focus on the Union Yoga theme of flourish, I want to offer an invitation to really examine both your beauty and your garbage—and the beauty in the garbage. Just get your hands dirty. Dig deep in the dirt and find your transformation.


Nkechi Njaka
ndnlifestylestudio.com

The Teacher Within

My name is Martin and I became a yoga teacher by accident. I had been practicing yoga regularly for 8 years with an amazing teacher who inspired and challenged me and I was fortunate to form a solid teacher-student bond with her. She teaches more than just asana. She weaves philosophy, meditation, pranayama, The Yoga Sutras, and more into her classes and I was eating it up. There were significant shifts that I felt mentally, emotionally & spiritually but I didn’t understand why. I knew it was a result of the yoga practice but I wanted to know “WHY?”. I knew there was more to this journey.

I asked my teacher what I should do to learn more about yoga. I had a million questions – “What books do I read?” “How do I learn more?” “Where do I find the answers to the meaning of life?” She told me that I should do a teacher training. “But I don’t want to be a teacher.” She told me that I would find the answers to all my questions in a teacher training. I asked her what I should do and she told me to go to NYC and study with Sri Dharma Mittra. Being an obedient student, I went home and signed up.

Little did I know that it was in for one of the most challenging things that I was ever going to face, but that’s a whole different story in itself. Part of getting certified was teaching a free class for 6 weeks. My mindset was “I’ve worked this hard, put in all this time and money and I’m not giving up.” I was determined to get that certificate. At the end of the six week class, I gave a heart-felt “THANK YOU” to my guinea pigs and got ready to send in all my stuff so that I could receive that coveted certificate in the mail and get back to my regular life.

Guinea Pigs: “What happens now?”

Me: “What do you mean ‘what happens now?’ ”

Guinea Pigs: “What about our Saturday morning yoga?”

Me: “Go find a studio and a teacher that you like.”

Guinea Pigs: “We want you to teach us.”

Me: “I’m not a teacher.”

Guinea Pigs: “What have you been doing for the last six weeks?”

Me: “Teaching you yoga.”

Students: “So, same time next Saturday?”

Teacher: “I’ll see you then.”

And that is how I accidentally became a yoga teacher.


martin-user-photoMartin Scott
Owner, Union Yoga
E-RYT500
martinyoga.com

Staying Healthy

In December 2013, around 6:30 in the evening, my mom was standing in her bedroom looking a two pieces of art hanging on the wall above her bed when both of her ankles pronated, collapsed and she fell to the floor.  Unable to get up or move her feet she crawled to the phone next to her bed and called my sister.  “Can you come over?”

“Why?  What’s wrong?”

“I think I’ve broken both of my ankles”

My sister and her husband went to my mom’s house to find her laying on the floor, unable to get up.  The ambulance came and took her to the hospital where they found out that both of her ankles had just snapped due to osteoporosis.  She had a severe lung and upper chest infection that was borderline pneumonia which had to be cleared up before they could operate on her ankles.  It was ten days before she was healthy enough to go into surgery.

They put one ankle back together with screws and the other one with pins.  This was just the beginning of a very long, difficult recovery that was to keep her off her feet and in a hospital bed for almost two months.  I flew to Texas to be with her in the hospital and to help however I could.  I was shocked to see how dire the situation really was when I got there.  I knew that the starting point for her recovery was so far removed from where she needed to be that getting healthy was going to take a lot of time and work.  Plus, being trapped in a bed, unable to stand or use her legs which were already not very strong, her muscles were going to start to atrophy very quickly. I was a little nervous to say the least.

My mom is 78 years old and has lived alone until now but her life will probably never get her independence back 100% to where it was before.  She has been relatively healthy most of her life but as she approached middle age and after a few minor health issues she became very sedentary and stopped moving her body at all.  She wouldn’t go for a walk or do any kind of “exercise” of any kind.  She slowly became fearful that if she moved at all or did anything to keep her muscles and joints healthy that she would actually hurt or injure herself.  Her point of view became very fear based which ultimately led her to the place where she is now with hardly any physical strength and almost no flexibility.

After the hospital stay she ended up in a rehab facility where they really pushed her.  She was in physical therapy for about 3 hours a day and they had her up walking in no time.  Her fear-based point of view was still standing strong and she was resistant but they really pushed her.  Luckily she’s a bit of a fighter so she didn’t back down from the challenge.  She called one day and said, “I walked 800 feet today!  That’s 2.5 football fields, you know.”  I was amazed that she could accomplish what seemed an impossible feat.  At that point I realized what determination could do and that the body can heal.

I can’t help thinking about how my mom’s situation would be different if she had done yoga to keep her body active.  Would her ankles have collapsed like that if she’d done yoga?  I don’t know.  Would she have had some physical strength and flexibility to fall back on after such a terrible accident if she’d done yoga?  Yes, definitely.  I can’t change the past and what happened is done.  What I can do is help her as best I can to recover and start to build some strength, some flexibility and, most of all, confidence that she has the ability to make her body healthy again.

Yoga practicioners know about the amazing benefits of the practice for the mind, body and spirit.  The asana, we all know, keeps our muscles strong and our joints healthy.  It can be challenging at times but it can really keep the physical body on track to longevity.  I see Sri Dharma at his age – he’s just 3 years younger than my mom – with his body still healthy, moving and grooving in his yoga practice.  We see octo and nonagenarians like Bette Calman at 84 in Titibasana and Bakasana, Toa Prochon-Lynch at age 94 doing full Mayruasana and, of course, BKS Iyengar at age 95 all still practicing daily with healthy bodies and clear minds.  They all not only do the asana but keep a healthy, simple and clean diet and maintain balance in their lives.  This is the best evidence that doing yoga keeps a body healthy.

Going through the 500hr TT and being dedicated to the practice for the rest of my life.  I know I will still be doing my asana, pranayama, meditation – all of it just like Sri Dharma when I’m 75 or 78.  It is so important to just keep using what we’ve been given even if we think we can’t, we surely can.  Sri Dharma teaches this with the amazing example that he sets.  Just try and keep trying – you’ll live a long, healthy and very happy life!  Yoga – it does a body great!!


martin-user-photoMartin Scott
Owner, Union Yoga
E-RYT500
martinyoga.com

Mantra, Japa & Kirtan

I didn’t know it at the time but Sri Dharma was present at the beginnings of my practice…..

I was very musical as a child and formed an extremely tight bond with music at a very young age.  My first piano lesson was the same day as my first day of first grade and I played my last recital my senior year of high school.  I joined the school band in fourth grade playing the tenor saxophone then went through a bunch of different instruments – french horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, tuba, baritone – until I quit band my junior year in high school.

I would save my allowance then ask my dad to drive me to the store so I could spend hours perusing the records before I finally made the decision as to which one of the many-coveted vinyl discs would end up living with the other beloveds I had so carefully chosen.  I would then spend hours in my room memorizing every word to every song and commit to memory every melody.  This passion for all kinds of music grew with me all the way through adulthood.

With this deep-rooted love for music I’ve always loved chanting in yoga classes.  I was first introduced to this part of the practice by my teacher, Stephanie Snyder and it quickly became my favorite parts of the class.  She always began and ended her classes with a chant and it was different every time.  At first I just loved the melodies, the smile that these lovely tunes always put on my face and the overwhelming sense of happiness that they left me with once they were done.  I listened very carefully to learn the words so that I could sing along, enunciating each word and working hard to be right on key which was made a little easier since she plays the harmonium.  When I got home from class I would look up these chants online to learn the words and their meanings.  I was certain that knowing the translations would make me understand them even more.

One of my favorites that I learned in Stephanie’s class and the most mysterious of all became The Purification Mantra.  She told us that she had learned it from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra.  She told us how this powerful mantra would  purify anything that the sound touched, purify the mind, the practice, everything.  I found myself chanting The Purification Mantra when I was washing dishes, when I was riding my scooter, out for a walk, settling in for my practice – all the time!  I asked Stephanie what it meant and she told me that she didn’t know and that I didn’t need to know and that it is more powerful when you don’t know the meaning.  This piqued my interest.

I started to realize that the effects of the mantras were what was making me feel so clear and grounded, not the happy tune or the words.  It was the repetition of the words that were calming my mind, clearing things out and giving me that feeling of peace and calm.

Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.  Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come. (www.swamij.com)


When I sit with my mala and chant my mantra 108 times I almost forget the words that I am saying.  The japa of the mantra calms the vrittis to the point that I can hear my own voice as if it is a separate entity completely.  The cadence and rhythm of the mantra and the repetition of it are the simplest way to “nirodhah the vrittis”.  Now I don’t try to figure out the words or what they mean when I learn a new mantra.  I just get into the groove of it and let it works its magic.  These are some one of my favorite times with Sri Dharma – comfortably sitting, chanting, responding incessantly what he calls out and feeling the amazing sense of clarity and calm that comes without really knowing what I’m saying.


martin-user-photoMartin Scott
Owner, Union Yoga
E-RYT500
martinyoga.com

Fear

Fear is such an interesting thing.  It is so real for some people and not so much for others.  I feel a lot of fears come from our discomfort with the unknown.  Fear holds us back from experiencing true happiness without constraints.  It’s like a blindfold that hides the truth, keeping us separated from what we want.  It hides our potential and keeps us from attaining the life that we want.

There are many ways to confront fear but I think that courage and objectivity are powerful tools.  Courage is a confidence that helps us to work to confront something causes us fear.  We develop it by learning to trust ourselves – it’s like protecting ourselves with our own self-knowledge. Objectivity is being able to look within and to see ourselves with clarity and without judgement, observing with unconditional understanding.  When we have to have the courage, confidence and self-knowledge to realize our own strength, we conquer our fears and overcome them so that we are not controlled by them.

When I was a child I thought that there was something in the closet or under the bed that was going to get me at night and I was really afraid.  But when my parents turned on the lights, I looked under the bed and in the closet and saw that there was nothing there then the fear went away.  Sometimes we need someone else to pull away the curtain of fear so that we can see clearly.  Experiencing the things that we think we are afraid of often remove the sense of fear.

In teaching yoga, students often tell me that they don’t do or can’t do certain poses which usually comes from a fear-based point of view.  These are usually the poses that present the most challenge in terms of strength, flexibility or they’ve never done them.  If we are dealing with an injury then that is a whole other discussion.  BUT, if the student is willing to try with the support of the teacher then, more times than not, the fear of the pose is lifted and then the student can move forward in the practice with confidence.  The pose may be accessible but the fear of what they think might happen when they do it becomes the fear.  Being afraid of fears allows them to control us even more, keeping us constrained and keeping us from living a happy, fulfilled life.

In my own life I approach some situations with caution or trepidation but I don’t know let fear enter into the picture and for that I am very thankful.  There is an old Spanish proverb that I heard for the first time in the movie Strictly Ballroom and it says, “A life lived in fear is like a life half-lived”.  Who wants to half-live their life?  I don’t!


martin-user-photoMartin Scott
Owner, Union Yoga
E-RYT500
martinyoga.com