The nature of the unconscious mind creates an easy and frustrating predicament that comes along when one is beginning to learn of the process of meditation and yoga. Close your eyes, let your mind relax…and without your consent, it drifts off into some region of your unconsciousness, perhaps leading you through a strange trail of thoughts of the day, or into imaginative and perplexing dream territory. It happens again as you lay down to go to sleep, and as you tinker between waking and slumber, hypnagogic hallucinations begin to spiral and blossom throughout your mind at a rapid pace.
How do we go through the day, having complete control of our actions, words, and thoughts, only to be transported to another realm of thinking when we take a moment to rest? Why does the unconscious mind dominate our personal will to move toward clarity and ease? How can one control the unconscious mind?
Truth is, it can’t be controlled, but, it can be possibly understood through various techniques, such as Yoga Nidra, or Yogic Sleep. Yoga Nidra is a sleep-like state of meditation, where participants, lying in corpse pose of course with eyes closed, explore the multiple layers of consciousness.
Ever heard of the iceberg metaphor? Imagine that our waking life and conscious mind is the tip, exposed to the elements of everyday life. The massive, submerged chunk below the surface is our unconscious realm, containing memories, manufacturing dreams, preserving intuition, and manifesting imagination. And the oceanic water that the iceberg is floating in? Perhaps that’s the energy of collective consciousness.
Like all mass, consciousness is pieced together by density and volume. There’s a lot of terrain for one to reconnoiter. And, as said before, it’s difficult to consider the idea of controlling the unconscious mind, but, through practices like Yoga Nidra, its energy can be harnessed, and used positively to reduce stress, restlessness, and a handful of other things.
Do you have a special yogi in your life that you’d like surprise this holiday season? Are you stuck on what to get them? In the mood to treat yourself? (“TREAT YOSELF 2011!”)
To thaw your gift-giving brain freeze, or inspire your own wishlist, my top 5 yoga-themed gifts after the jump! Read more >>
It's December. It's cold and rainy. I feel like getting under a blanket and hibernating in my warm house. But I know it's also the perfect time to walk myself to the Bloomingdale studio and get back into a regular yoga practice.
The winter brings out something in all of us. For me and many others, seasonal depression kicks in when fresh air is rarer and the sun seems to have stayed in bed. For others, the holidays bring on stress over what to buy, how to decorate, and which holiday party to go to. There is a kind of natural lethargy that comes about, which is healthy, I think to an extent. I love having time to slow down, spend more time at home with my roommates eating delicious food.
However, while entering the winter it's important to create some space in our lives for yoga. Going to a class forces me to be present and connect with my body. If I'm feeling low, I can use yoga to appreciate my body and what it does for me. The yoga studio is a respite from everything else that's going on in our lives and outside. On top of all of that, it's a healthy and inexpensive indulgence.
Sometimes I look for a “pick me up” in the form of a cupcake, or watching my fave TV show (30 Rock), or reading a good book. And these are all usually enjoyable, but I really feel like an hour of yoga is more effective. Afterwards I feel rejuvenated, more balanced, and happier.
This blog post is as much for me as it is for you. Margaret! Go to yoga! That's what I'm saying to myself. You won't regret it.
I am getting ready to embark on a month-long adventure across Southeast Asia. Leaving in just a few hours, I’m very excited but also incredibly anxious. Until now, I didn’t believe that I had any phobias, but the mere thought of the plane taking off the runway makes my heart race and stomach feel like it’s doing somersaults. Thinking back to every plane ride I have previously taken, I remember experiencing a minor panic attack each time. I completely realize the silliness of my fear, but still, it’s easier said than done to tell myself to just relax.
One of my good friends, a very mindful yogi, often says, “We are all going to die someday… and it might be tomorrow.” Her words are true and wise. As morbid as this may sound, thinking this actually makes me breathe easier and with more gratitude for the present moment. We really don’t have as much control as we think we do. Nonetheless, I am still prepared to totally freak-out the moment I feel the plane move. Since my recent trainings in aromatherapy and herbal medicine, I’m stocked up with essential oils with relaxing scents and herbs with calming properties. I am also planning to take my yoga practice on the road … um, well, up in the air, rather.
Of course it’s not likely the flight attendants will tolerate me rolling out my sticky mat in the middle of aisle to do some Moon Salutations, but the beautiful thing about yoga is that it adaptable to virtually any situation. One of the most effective ways to calm and balance the central nervous system is simply to breathe. The breath and our current emotional state are so intrinsically linked. If one is in harmony, then so is the other. Normally our bodies breathe without us asking it too; however, in times of acute stress, we often “forget” to breathe enough. When our brain senses too little oxygen, it signals danger to our body, which then responds by taking in even less oxygen with short and shallow breaths, thus the cycle of anxiety continues. Something as simple as consciously taking a slow deep breath is enough to break the cycle and relax the mind and the body.
I will be facing over 30 hours a traveling within the next couple of days, so although my pranayama will be helpful in dealing with the stress and anxiety of flying, my body will probably be a bit stiff after so many hours of sitting. Oftentimes in a plane, standing stretches aren’t always an option, especially if you get stuck with the window seat. Check out this three great yoga poses that can be done while sitting in an airplane seat! http://www.yeeyoga.com/staying-alert-while-sitting
The autumn season is now officially upon us. The cozy comforts of fall – the colorful leaves, pumpkins, apple cider, and cool breezes offer a refreshing change of pace from the heat and humidity of summer. I am welcoming the change in season, but it is difficult for me to adjust to the fluctuations in weather patterns, the different types of pollen in the air, colder temperatures, and shorter days. I have a tendency to get sick during this time of year and feel somewhat low spirited and disconnected. My body is very sensitive to the changing of all seasons but especially the cooler ones. Thankfully, my yoga practice helps me make this transition a bit more seamless.
Autumn is a time for letting go… clearing space to allow for transformation. It is a good time to reflect on all the things in our lives that are no longer serving us, as well as giving special attention to the exhalation of the breath, apana, the cleansing, outward and downward flow of energy. When we clear away waste or anything that is undesirable or threatening to our health and wellbeing, we become more grounded and allow space for a strong foundation. From here we can enjoy greater resilience to stress, a stronger immune system, a clearer and more focused mind, a more positive outlook on life, and a deeper sense of purpose.
Throughout the fall season, it is beneficial to practice yoga at a slow, smooth and steady pace, making sure to gently warm up the body to avoid injury and consciously explore poses that help cultivate groundedness, calmness, and rejuvenation. Moon salutations, a highly beneficial warm-up sequence of yoga poses, help bring balance to multiple levels of the mind and body, perfect for this time of year. Enjoy this sequence, embrace the moment and embrace season. Happy autumn everyone!
This is what I think of when I can’t find my scorpion pose (or whatever crazy variations my teachers have cooked up on a given night). And I find a lot of comfort in that thought. Before we run, we walk; before we hop back, we step; before we levetate, we jump; before we lift a leg, we drop a knee; before we bind, we hook.
And so it is off the mat as well. Before I can achieve total harmony in all my relationships, I have to struggle with my mind and my pre-conceptions. I have to stop jumping to conclusions, try taking a deep breath, practice patience, and learn to ignore nasty thoughts when they arise. With baby steps, we can eventually become the best versions of our selves, bearing most likeness to the One who created us. This oneness is yoga.
So let’s try not to be frustrated with our bodies when we can’t achieve the poses we’ve set out to achieve. Let’s release expectations, release judgment and remember that before he was Picasso, he was just little Pablo.
Yoga is a wonderful way to relax, slow down, quiet the mind, to just be in the moment. Especially while living in a busy, high-stress, power-driven city such as Washington, D.C., yoga can be extremely therapeutic. People are often drawn to yoga as a means to find calmness and cultivate a sense of peace and serenity. For some, this may mean going directly into a quiet meditation. Simply sitting may be the extent of your asana practice. However, most of us have so much chatter running through our minds that this is just not possible. When our mind is cluttered with stress, physical stillness and mental concentration can be very difficult to achieve.
It is important to remember that an essential part of yoga is striking the balance between effort (sthira) and ease (sukha). Before finding stillness, sometimes we need to actually build more heat, more energy. Think back to when you were in grade school and how awesome it felt to get outside and run around the playground at recess after being cooped-up inside a classroom. Do you remember feeling much more alert and focused afterwards?
Yoga can be similarly revitalizing. Flowing through several sun salutations is a fantastically energizing and powerful way to kick-start your day or end your hectic week. Being careful not to overexert yourself when your body needs to rest, sometimes the best remedy to combat chronic stress, refocus, and recharge is to engage in a vigorous and dynamic practice. Moving the body to its edge can help clear away blockages in our mind, body, and other areas of our lives. As we move through a challenging sequence, it is important to find the areas in our bodies where we can relax even as other parts of our body are incredibly engaged. Then once you have worked out all the kinks in body, finally your body is able to completely relax into stillness, the mind can finally focus and meditation becomes more attainable. With this practice, we learn what areas in our mind we can soften and how to refocus our thoughts and energy.
Tomorrow morning challenge yourself in a vigorous, sweat-dripping practice. Challenge yourself to find your edge and see how it changes your day; see how it changes your life.
Before almost every yoga class, teachers engage their students in a brief meditation, accompanied by some sort of pranayama (breathing exercises), as well as some yogic ramblings. These ramblings often set the tone for the practice, and more times than not, include a lesson for how yoga can be taken off the mat in some form, whether it be spiritual, philosophical or through positive action.
When I first started practicing yoga, I remember sitting through this part of class impatiently, thinking “when are we going to get to the hard stuff, I’m ready to sweat!” Now, the beginning of class, the centering meditation, the ramblings, is the part I value the most. So much that while preparing to teach a class, I spend about 90% of my time thinking of my theme, the inspiration I want to pass on to my students in the first few moments of class.
Yesterday evening I taught a class called, “Safe Space Yoga.” I led the students through a very grounding practice, beginning class by asking them to find their connection with the earth, their firm foundation, the steadiness of gravity—something that we can always come back to in any situation. Through each major transition, I would remind my students to reconnect with this base, finding balance especially as we moved into less stable standing postures. I remember at the time wondering if it was really resonating with any of the students, but the funny thing was that, regardless of whether it was or not, I was the one who was not feeling grounded. It was the largest class that I have taught yet, and I was beyond a little nervous. I’m sure that my anxiety was coming out in my teaching, especially when I was getting “foot” confused with “hand” and “up” confused with “down.” After class, I sat for a long time and thought about the irony of my lesson coupled with the persistence of my fear of speaking and performing in front of large groups of people. I made a promise to myself that the next time I felt like that, I would, as I taught my students, “reconnect with my foundation and find my breath.”
I expected such a feeling of unease to come tomorrow morning while teaching my next class, but it came a little sooner. Sitting in a frozen yogurt shop this afternoon, my wallet was snatched from my purse. The items stolen included three forms of ID, plus my Social Security card, my credit card, two debit bank cards, all my cash, gift cards, my insurance card, receipts for several items that I meant to return to a store… I’m sure there are other things of importance, but this is all I can remember. Within an hour of the theft, I received a call from my bank about unusual activity on my accounts, as my credit card bills were being racked up at various stores on Georgia Avenue on the way out of town. Standing on a busy street, alone, and feeling as if my entire life was taken from me in a flash of a moment, I felt my legs shaking underneath me and a pool of tears welling up behind my eyes. Suddenly I recalled my intention and found both my feet, firmly planted into the earth. I took a deep inhale and a slow exhale… Realizing in that moment that I still have myself and I still have my connection with the earth. As cheesy as it may sound, I started to regain my composure and find some inner peace.
There I was, standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk on Wisconsin Ave., breathing and meditating in Tadasana (mountain pose). I then found a police officer to file a report, called my bank and credit card companies to freeze my accounts, called the fraud department, and looked into the steps I would need to take in the case of identity theft. Reminding myself of my simple intention didn’t get my wallet back, but it did allow me to calm down, focus, arrive at the present moment and do what I needed to do in that situation. Tonight, sitting here safe and sound at home, I am thankful I found yoga and have learned how to take it off the mat and into my life.
I'll admit one of the hardest parts of yoga for me is showing up! Sometimes life gets in the way and I don't prioritize my yoga practice as much as I should. When I'm cozy in bed on a Monday morning it's hard to remember why I thought I'd like to go to Sunrise yoga at 7:15am anyway. 'I'll go later' I think and then slip back into sleep.
Any habit is hard to commit too. As humans we prefer instant gratification to the gratification we know we'll get at the end of a yoga session, or at the end of a month when our bodies look better, or at the end of a week when our minds feel clearer because of a consistent yoga practice.
So how do I get myself to go? It's not always easy. But I love to schedule the classes online a week in advance. That way I know I signed up and I'll feel guilty if I don't show up. Then I can base my schedule around yoga. There are so many class times I can always find one that fits.
Or I think of something to get myself excited about going to yoga – trying out a new class or studio or teacher. I also check in with my sister via e-ail daily and let her know what exercise I've done that day. It motivates us both to do something so we'll have an activity to report!
What works to get you to yoga???
Envy is a tricky beast and she knows me well.
On a spiritual and intellectual level, I know that the goal of yoga is not to achieve handstand in the center of the room. And yet… And yet…
I want to stand on my hands. I want to stand on my hands like a real yogi!
There’s that silly mind again, pulling me away from the true purpose of the pose and the practice. Yoga is not about achieving this pose or that pose. It’s about taking the body to its edge and resting there with a heart full of love and devotion. It’s about challenging the body to do what the mind says is impossible. It’s about lifting up the body to lift up the spirit. And it’s about cultivating strength of body and strength of purpose. This is yoga.
It takes a lot of effort for me to release the ego and honor myself where I am in my practice. But once I bring my mind to that place, my legs are suddenly much lighter.
The diverse family of DC yoga teachers at Yoga District are dedicated to making yoga accessible to everyone through a huge variety of yoga class types, from vinyasa flow to restorative and beyond. Most Yoga District teachers are graduates of Yoga District’s nationally-attended 200 hour teacher training program. All Yoga District classes focus on coordinating breath with body movement to promote flexibility, strength, and peace of mind. We strongly believe in yoga as therapy, so catch one of our classes whenever you need a healthy dose of self-care.
See all yoga teachers »
The Yoga District 200 and 500 hour teacher training certification programs, registered by the Yoga Alliance are unique in their emphasis on diversity of teaching styles studied, personal attention, and trauma sensitive yoga. It's no coincidence that Yoga District is regularly voted the leading studio in the nation's capital, and that most of its classes are taught by graduates of its training program. As a full time yoga school, small group trainings are led up to eight times a year by a dedicated faculty including Jasmine Chehrazi, contributor to the Harvard Karma Yoga Project teacher training, teacher training faculty at George Washington University, Yoga Alliance Standards Committee Advisory Board Member, Yoga Activist Founder, and Yoga Service Council Advisory Board Member. So take your practice and community involvement to the next level by joining a training. There's a reason why our graduates call the training "transformative."
Check out the yoga teacher training »