Meditation. I'm willing to bet that you've heard of it since it's such a hot topic these days, but you may be too bashful to admit that you're not exactly quite sure what it means. The Buddhist Centre describes meditation as "a means of transforming the mind...[to] encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things." Or more simply put, meditation teaches us to calm the mind and see things as they really are.
There is so much evidence out there as to why we should meditate (it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves levels of happiness...the list goes on!), but I've heard just as many "reasons" as to why we don't meditate (we don't know how, don't have time, can't sit still...the list goes on!). Been there, said all that. When I started practicing yoga, I wanted nothing to do with the "crunchy, granola" side. Meditating bored me and I was terribly uncomfortable with "Om's". But over time, as I got over myself and stop letting my ego tell me what I should or shouldn't be doing, I came to appreciate meditation for what it was: a time to sit quietly without expectations or judgement.
So how did I go from being Miss Judgey McJudgerson to someone who loves meditating and chanting "Om"? I took baby steps and started small. It wasn't something that just happened over night - I had to make the conscious decision that I was going to be open to something new and go from there. So without further ado, here are 3 of the simple ways I came to develop a meditation practice:
1. Be realistic. If you've never really gotten into meditation before, you may want to steer clear of setting lofty goals like meditating every single night for 30 minutes. While I appreciate the ambition, setting unrealistic goals or expectations inevitably leads to failure and disappointment. When I first decided to meditate regularly at home, I set a goal of 15 minutes and I didn't even get through one session!
Instead, start a little smaller, setting a goal of meditating for 2 - 3 minutes every night (or morning!), and working your way up to at least 5 minutes at a time. This way, you're only committing yourself to very small chunks of time, which is so much less daunting than a full half-hour! 2-5 minutes will get you many of the same benefits as 30+ minutes, and it's more accessible given all of the other things you have going on.
2. Try a class. Now I don't mean a full-blown, 45+ minutes of meditation and only meditation (but if that's your thing, go for it!). There are a lot of yoga classes out there that incorporate anywhere from 5 - 15 minutes of guided meditation into the beginning or end of the class. This is also a great way to learn about different meditation techniques in a safe and judgement-free zone. With a class titled "Yoga and Meditation," or something along those lines, you're also sure to get some movement mixed in with the stillness so it's great intro if you have a hard time staying still for extended periods of time.
If you're going to try one of these classes, I recommend you go to your first one alone. I went to my first yoga class with a friend, which was awesome because it made the experience less intimidating to have someone there that I knew and could turn to with questions or nervous laughter. But when the time came for a short guided-meditation, I was so uncomfortable, constantly looking around the room to see if I was doing something silly or wrong and looking to my friend for reassurance that I wasn't. I was nervous that I would somehow embarrass myself in front of my friend, or even worse, embarrass her somehow. I was just way too self-conscious that I really didn't even meditate for a single second. However, when I went to a "Yoga & Meditation" class alone, I found myself much more open-minded to the whole experience. Not feeling like I had to please or impress someone took all of the pressure off and I was able to focus on myself.
3. Explore different techniques. Just like there are so many different types of yoga, there are SO many ways to meditate. So if sitting quietly, cross-legged on the floor just isn't working for you, try another way! For instance, you can meditate lying down or sitting in a chair, or even while walking, eating, or exercising. As long as you are staying in the present moment and really, truly experiencing it, you are meditating! Other meditation techniques include following your inhales and your exhales; doing a body scan and noticing how each and every bone and muscle in your body is feeling; and repeating a mantra, or saying with special meaning, over and over again in your head. Whatever the technique, you will benefit and start to see things with a different perspective.
Well hello there! Happy Groundhog Day!
Since we are focusing on the head this month, I thought it'd be fun to take it back to the basics for February's first few poses before we step it up a notch later this month. As such, today's focus is on Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and Staff Pose (Dandasana). Now I know I don't normally include two poses in one month so consider this your lucky day! These two poses are just so similar (Staff Pose is basically the seated version of Mountain Pose) and they are the foundation for so many other poses that it only made sense to cover them at the same time. I also think it's SO important to learn the correct alignment of your head with your spine/shoulders/hips/ankles before turning upside and playing with poses on your head.
How to Get There
Most times, it's easier for us to understand what correct alignment looks like if you see yourself doing a pose incorrectly and then correctly. This is definitely the case with Tadasana and Dandasana! When yogis hear the cue, "Stand tall" or "Sit tall", they often overcompensate a slouching position with an overly puffed-out chest, almost always accompanied by some booty popping.
Below you see an overly slouched Mountain Pose on the left and a puffed-out chest and popped booty on the right (my brother-in-law insists this is how women should walk around regularly and I could not disagree more - this is a recipe for chronic lower back pain!!!). The middle picture is the correctly aligned Mountain Pose - see how my entire body is centered along the crown of my head? My shoulders are relaxed and my spine is at its natural curve. I'm not tucking my tailbone under or popping it out. This same alignment holds true for Staff Pose, too, and I've shown you what it looks like to slouch in Staff Pose since I see this all the time.
I don't think we've come across a single pose yet where I haven't talked about the shoulders. Almost always, you want to try to relax your shoulders, which will inevitably invite relaxation into the rest of your body. Think about it: how could you possibly relax if you've got your shoulders all tense and hugging up to your ears, completely drowning out your beautiful neck?? Bottom line: Relax. :)
So now that we've got some basics to master before going upside down, Friday's post will be about a similar base pose, Lotus, and I'll include some tips throughout on giving some TLC to your head and neck before moving into any inversions.
Happy Monday, all! And if you're interested, Punxsutawny Phil will be making his predictions on Winter's end around 7:20 AM EST. You can watch it online here. You're welcome!
So although I LOVE colors, I also LOVE wearing black, white and all gray-scale shades in between. I espcecially love how these plain colors go with just about anything and that they can be worn in so many ways. These finds are also great and versatile in that I can wear them to the gym or to yoga and feel perfectly comfortable and confident. So today's Favorite Finds goes out to my most basic, yet comfortable yoga gear ever.
Fabletics Forward Tee in White
This Tee was a pleasant surprise. I had never ordered anything from Fabletics before, and I was honestly unsure what to expect. I ended up just giving it a go, though, because the prices are so amazing. When you sign up on the site (for free), you get an email where your first outfit is 50% off. Or, they have huge specials. But even without a special, you can get an entire outfit for under $50 which is basically unheard of in the yoga clothing world. So given the low prices, I was a little weary of the quality of the clothing, but figured it was worth a shot. I was SO happy when this Tee showed up. It is so soft, durable, and appropriate for any type of workout, or for wearing to bed or even out and about. Even though it's a little thin (slightly obvious, given that you can see through it a bit), it's still great quality. I say go for it, but go a size up because it shrank a tiny bit in the wash.
Loving this and this.
lululemon Power Y Tank in Groovy Stripe Static Wave Dune/Black
See my review of the Power Y Tank here.
Athleta Oc Vinyasa Tight in Flint Grey
These leggings are legit and Athleta has succeeded, yet again. Athleta is seriously 10 for 10 in my book! Much like the Tee, these pants are so so soft and durable. They are great for lounging around the house all day or for an intense workout at the gym. The material isn't as breathable as some of my other Athleta leggings, but that is perfect for the winter! The waistband is also thick enough that it doesn't create a muffin top or cut off circulation. It also has ruching on the ankles and on the back which turns out to be pretty flattering. Also, no see-through issues :) Based on some of the reviews I read, I bought a size up, but I should have stayed true to my Athleta size and gone with the normal pick since these were just a tad too big. I love them anyway. They're on sale, too, so I might go and get the other colors!
How cool are these!?
eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat 68" in Majesty
See my review of the eKO SuperLite Travel Mat here.
When I think of February, the first thing that comes to mind is "Wow - I can't believe it's here already." But after that, I get excited because with a new month comes a new focus for my "Asana, Alignment & Anatomy" section! After hitting up a lot of my favorite poses in January, I decided that February (and all future months!) would be devoted to what YOU want. So that is why we are focusing on the HEAD for February. Over the last few months, I've gotten a number of questions about headstands: how to get over your fear of them, how to get into them, how to hold them, etc.
I'll be the first to tell you that I am FAR from an expert on headstands, but I do know all about overcoming fears of them. With a sensitive neck and a paralyzing fear of falling, I didn't even dare attempt a headstand until two years ago, when I had been practicing yoga for about six years. And then it took me a solid year or so of practicing them to be able to get into one away from the wall. Since then, my focus has been on gaining confidence with them, which is a never-ending journey. I have some days where I feel like a headstand champion and other days where I can't get my feet off the ground because I've gotten myself too worked up about it.
So this month, my goal is to share this journey with you in hopes of helping you safely explore this empowering family of poses. If you're new to yoga and/or headstands, I'll offer modifications and preparatory poses and exercises to build up the strength, flexibility, body memory, and courage needed for these inversions. If you're all about headstands and going upside down, I'll offer variations to mix up your practice and take your edge a little further.
Hope you enjoy!
Holy wow - I cannot believe January is almost over! We've come to the last day of poses (asanas) featuring the legs so after focusing on poses (asanas) that work your hammies and quads pretty hard, it's only appropriate that we end with one that offers up a fantastic stretch for your thighs, knees, and ankles. Hero Pose, or Virasana, is another pose that you'll likely either love it or hate it. For some people, this pose is heaven on earth and they could (and have) fallen asleep in while lying in the reclined version, Supta Virasana. For others, though, Hero Pose puts way too much pressure on the knees and/or ankles, making it totally and unbearably awful. If that's you, though, don't worry - you have options!
How to Get There
How does this help our legs? You're probably sick of reading this, but this really is a great stretch for your thighs, knees, and ankles! There aren't too many poses that wi
The most common (and most frightening) mistake I see in this pose is people going past their edge. "Going past your edge" may sound a little too yogi for you and it might not make sense, so let me translate in English: it is doing something your body is not ready for yet. For instance, say there is yogi trying this pose for the first time in a class, and they see other yogis taking it back into Supta Virasana. They want to do the same thing everyone else is doing, so they give it a go. This particular yogi's quads are still a little tight, though, so his/her knees end up popping up off the mat (like in the picture below), and/or his/her knees separate way too far apart. I'm willing to bet that at this point, this yogi is feeling some serious discomfort and possibly pain, risking long-term injury. This yogi would be "past his/her edge." He/she should start off sitting upright with a block and/or blanket/towel, and only move deeper when the body is ready for it, and overtime, it will be!
It may be apparent (or obvious) by now that this pose can be scary for the knees, but it really doesn't have to be! It's a great pose to practice patience and stillness while you explore the modification or variation that makes the most sense for your body. Try to relax so that you can enjoy the sweet stretch that happens on the fronts of the thighs and into the knees and ankles! Maybe even force a smile to help take some of the pressure out of your mind...sounds strange, but it really does work!
Happy almost weekend friends! Here are some suggestions as you're making plans for the weekend...
Take a Workshop
Interested in deepening your practice? Check out one of these yoga workshops:
Or maybe you're looking to spend some cash dollars...
Catch New Ads on TV
To sports fans, this is also known as watching the Super Bowl. Need an idea on what to do for the game? The links below have some great suggestions!
However you choose to spend the weekend, be sure to spend some time doing something just for yourself to help you relax and restore (even if it's only 5 minutes)! And bundle up if you go outdoors -- it's looking to be chilly!
In honor of the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I want to share one of my favorite Super Bowl recipes: Chili! This is a Reilly household favorite--even the cat loves it. Just kidding, he doesn't like human food (not even milk), but everyone else seems to like it! I have been experimenting with chili recipes for awhile now, and I tell you that this is the one. It's really truly SO easy, even if you are modifying around dietary restrictions, and it costs about $10 to make a week's worth of organic chili...not bad, right? It's so easy that it was my go-to meal during my 200-hr Teacher Training last year: before heading downtown for the long Saturdays and Sundays, I would carve out an extra 15 minutes before heading out the door to get the crockpot started and then when I got home from a long day, dinner was ready!
-You don't need to use dried portabello mushrooms - just chop up regular portabello s'hrooms and throw them in.
But back to my point on how Lasater turns Sanskrit into words that make sense. In one chapter, she explains Yoga Sutra 2:5 which states, “anitya-ashuci-duhkha-anatmasu-nitya-shuci-sukha-atma-khyatir-avidya,” or in English, “Nescience is the seeing of that which is eternal, pure, joyful and the Self in that which is ephemeral, impure, sorrowful, and the non-self.” I mean....what? Like seriously, that could be from a William Shakespeare sonnet. Thankfully, Lasater translates this Sutra into understandable English: “when we…think [we] will remain the same, we do not understand impermanence” (Lasater page 95). She then goes on to discuss how the only thing certain in life is change. Ah ha! I get it now: the Sutra is really saying: "change = good."
There are so many tidbits of wisdom in this book, but they're all presented in such a humble and "take what you will" fashion that really resonated with me. The book was also a pretty quick read. I read it cover-to-cover (or start to end on my Kindle) over about a week's worth of 30 minute metro commutes. Side note on the Kindle app: a nice feature is that it lets you highlight passages and take notes that you can then easily search for after the fact.
Anywho, if you haven't done so already, I HIGHLY encourage you get a copy of this book and read your heart out. It's sure to leave a lasting impression.
Happy reading, loves!
I want to start this week off with a challenge so today's post is all about Warrior III, or Virabhadrasana III in Sanskrit. Now this is one beast of a pose. Just holding this pose (asana) is a great workout for your legs, abs, shoulders, and even arms if you engage them enough. Being a part of the Warrior family, it's no wonder that Virabhadrasana III is a whole body challenge.
How to Get There
How does this help our legs? Beyond strengthening shoulders and the muscles in your back and core, Warrior III will improve your balance and posture, both of which are dependent on your legs. This pose strengthens ankles, calves, and thighs, and when done correctly, it really works the outer thighs and "saddle bags" area :)
Here are some examples of what it looks like when your alignment may be slightly wonky:
Today's pose is Frog Pose, or Bhekasana. We don't see this one too often in class since it's a tad awkward, but it's a great one! In it's full expression, Frog Pose is an insane quad stretch and backbend (which should only be done after lots of prep). It also stretches the chest (pectoral muscles) and gently works your upper (thoracic) spine. Since there's so much going on here, I'm focusing on One-Legged Frog Pose first, with the option to work into the full expression as an advanced variation.
How does this help our legs? Frog Pose is great for boosting energy and reversing the effects from sitting (possibly all day at work). It's also one of the best ways to stretch and lengthen our quads and hip flexors. This is crucial for mobility and helps with running, jumping, or any other physical activity that you're into.
Word of caution, if you have any knee issues, take this very slowly! Start with Half Bow Pose and only as your knee allows, start to work into the deeper variations.
Enjoy the frogging!
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...