Mindfulness Meditation – 5 Minutes and 5 Steps to Well Being

marabaclassI created this 5 Step 5 Minute Mindfulness Meditation process for myself and anyone else who feels ready to feel more calm, release distracting emotions, and focus on compassion in 2018.  In the new year I always like to “reboot” body mind and spirit. Should be easy, for a Yoga teacher, right? Yes…and actually not always. Being accountable to self renewal can seem daunting when I’m teaching others, caring for family, and need to hit that BIG “refresh” button but my hands are full.  We all face changing moods, seasons, politics, bodies…life is constantly offering inspiration to renew our tools!
Let’s practice this 5 Step 5 Minute Mindfulness technique that, while requiring focus and practice, can become a new habit this year!  2018 is the perfect year to reduce stress and boost clarity. As a care taker, teacher and mother, I have deep compassion for myself and others when we can’t “just be calm”. It isn’t easy; and requires practice.  But isn’t it worth the try? Perfection isn’t my goal; I’m practicing staying centered even when things are rough around the edges.  I invite you to practice this 5 Step 5 Minute Meditation with me. Please let me know how it is going!

This Mindfulness Meditation has 5 Steps. It combines well with Legs up the wall Yoga pose but if you have a heart condition or can’t access the wall or get on the ground just sit in as comfortable a position as possible.

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HERE IS WHY: What happens when we mindfully focus on our breathing?  When we feel stress, our bodies tense and our nervous system gets stuck.  Our brain can become locked and the “Thinking Mind” often reacts, judges, and creates MORE tension. How to shift out of STUCK and into the present moment where calm and clarity can heal? One great technique is  to distract that “Thinking Mind”by tuning into the physical body sensations.  With body based relaxation techniques and gentle focused breathing, we can train our brain to reset. When we keep coming back to our Breathing as our emotions and thoughts surge, and FEEL our physical sensations, our nervous system will often relax.  Let’s let our inner critic gently take a back seat as we try this meditation.
HERE IS HOW:  Follow these 5 Steps to Feel more Centered.  Set a timer for 5 minutes to start.  As the process gets easier slowly increase the time if you desire.  Use an eye bag or towel if you like to cover your eyes.

1) GET COMFORTABLE  Find yourself a comfortable pose like legs up the wall, or in a comfortable chair – put a pillow under your knees or feet in order to get very relaxed as you practice this meditation.
You may need to read this over and be prepared to try it a few times to foster the seeds of relaxation. Be comfortable with taking care of yourself.

2)  DON’T CHANGE Gently bring your attention back again and again to your belly like you would sweep a strand of hair away from your face and….just breathe. For a few minutes don’t try to change your breathing.  Simply notice what your breathing is doing.  Without changing anything, just feel the physical sensations in your body.

3) ACCEPT  Whatever happens is OK. The “Thinking Mind” likes to judge and may chatter repeatedly. When you find yourself losing focus, or forgetting to breathe, without judging yourself, gently come back and focus on the Present Moment – the way breath is coming into your body and going out of your body.  Give your Body and Mind permission to lose focus and regain it.

4) CENTER Now bring your awareness to your waistband.  Allow your belly and back to softly expand with each inhale and gently release any tension on the exhale.  Imagine a billowing tent that lifts on the breeze and then settles back into itself easily.  It may help to put a pillow or blanket on your belly to help bring your attention there and soothe your nerves.

5) COMPASSION is the Key. Notice and accept whatever you feel. On each out-breath, as you would for a close friend, offer yourself compassion, or strength, appreciation or whatever first comes to mind.
Compassion doesn’t mean being passive or not taking action.
With compassion we are clear and can do what needs to be done—that might mean taking a pause, settling the mind, and trying to see things as clearly as possible before taking skillful action.  Offer yourself safety and serenity in this short timed meditation; and any other compassionate intentions that you may want to bring in.

Continue to practice this meditation as it will powerfully enhance your Well being. Doing a 5 minute daily meditation has helped me reset my day and recommit to self care for the new year. Just like we try to be more regular at flossing, let’s commit to practicing a Mindfulness Meditation daily in 2018. Do forgive yourself for not being perfect – or flossing as often as you should:)!
I simply invite you to breathe each day and let go of whatever holds you back.

How to be an Amazing Beginner at Yoga

Have you ever wondered what yoga is like?  Have you heard the”buzz” about yoga and thought, “could I do that”?  If the answer has been, “Nah”, then please read on!  Have you ever held back from a yoga class because you couldn’t see yourself as either strong enough, flexible enough, calm enough or you just plain didn’t want to wear those yoga pants?  This can happen even if you’re not a beginner.

There are many reasons NOT to do something new; especially something fairly different as yoga.  There are a LOT of reasons TO try yoga and I’d like to tell you just one.  After years of teaching and practicing yoga, studying the body and holistic healing, and just plain managing life, this one reason stands out.  Our world is not getting more complex and we have an epidemic of need for connection on a body, mind and soul level.  What the ancients knew was that going inside and practicing mindfness of our breath and body position is a great way to find balance.  We are experiencing a global trend of such rapid change that this ancient practice of yoga has become modern medicine for the isolation, inflammation and challenges we regularly experience.

But there’s one problem: you still have to try it.  Practice body awareness and it will work.  If your inner voice is curious and you think you’d like to try yoga, you just need to get past the reasons not to do it and consider the reasons to venture out.  You don’t have to wear those yoga pants if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to be flexible, calm or strong.  What you do need to do is give yourself complete permission to see yourself doing something new.  That’s hard to do; how do you imagine yourself doing something that you’ve never done?  It’s harder than ever to make time for something that seems so…. (fill in the blank with your perception).  The good news is that there are a lot of yoga opportunities around!

If you choose to try yoga, find a beginner friendly yoga class taught by an experienced teacher.  There are SO many types of yoga; what type is best for a beginner?  There’s no one best type.  This means that you need to ask around and find a referral for the teacher who will know how to adapt the practice to your individual needs no matter what style of yoga is being practiced.  The word Yoga means connection.  Connecting to the present moment, to your body – and to your breath most importantly.   There are different poses and breathing methods for different issues, times of day, ages, body types, injuries, etc.  Your journey will truly start with just a taste of asanas (or poses/positions).  Later you can progress to a full yoga dinner party.  You just have to be willing to be an asana appetizer for awhile.

If you are new to yoga, there is probably a part of you that longs to feel powerful, energized and is just plain hungry for a taste of what yoga medicine can feel like – you may want to skip right to dessert.    If, at first, you try yoga and feel uncoordinated, it’s hard to breathe like the teacher describes, or you aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, then it’s time to congratulate yourself; YOU ARE DOING JUST FINE!  Remember that part about being at the appetizer stage?  We all set incredible expectations on ourselves; if the mind wasn’t so tranced out with distractions and judgements, we wouldn’t need yoga in the first place to achieve the centering we need.

Stay tuned for the next installment of being an Amazing Beginner, and in the mean time: find an instructor that is well trained, caring and zeroes in on your particular needs.  Have fun and don’t forget to wear your favorite costume:)  After all, you don’t have to do anything special; just choose to start from where you are.

These are the yogis in my neighborhood!

kids lyingKeeping it local and organic is what Austin is all about, right?  After much searching for a place to teach very close to home where my students and I could feel inspired and supported, I found a buddhist/yoga studio a few blocks away right here in our very own Zilker.  Yay!  One of my students/Zilker mom friends requested that “it HAS to be walking distance from the school, so I can drop my kid off and come take your class…or take your class and easily walk over to pick up.”  Because I have an on-going private practice as well, I needed to be available to my standing clients and avoid driving out of the area.   I’ve taught the first class of the 8 week series and loved seeing the Zilker parents from my neighborhood looking up at me during Apanasana (vital air pose).  That’s what we ALL need to do during this SOLA construction; Keep Breathing More Vital Air!  I’m so grateful for the support and encouragement of my neighbors, students, friends and family.  My goal is to stay out of my car and on the yoga mat, to share my gift of teaching and love with others, and to do it all right here in my neighborhood.   We can’t all work from home but what would it look like if we could develop South Lamar so that we stayed closer to home for many if not all of our life needs?  What more could we discover about our neighbors if we kept it all local?  Looking at the sweet faces in class on Tuesday, I thought, “These are the Yogis in my neighborhood!” (cue Mr. Rogers theme).  I think it’s a good place to start.

Flu Shots? Make Soup!!

Holistic health has been my interest, academic pursuit and lifestyle of choice since my first year of college.  After experiencing some tough life lessons (such as ‘no, kraft mac and cheese really isn’t the best food to eat on a daily basis’).   I went to California and became one of “those” Yoga studying, Deep Breathing, Juice drinking types.  Very fortunately, I was able to study with some fabulous wise and learned teachers in San Francisco; primarily Donna Farhi – my first Yoga teacher, whose exacting and dynamic style that emphasized the inner body and inner inquiry still informs my teaching and practice of asana and movement today.  I was also able to take incredible Holistic Health courses at SFSU in my undergrad, including Qi Gong, Meditation techniques, and Wellness in Aging from professors who were professionals in their fields and based their work on solid research and science.  These courses, along with the Physical Therapy coursework in my program, helped shape my approach to health and well-being as an integrative, body-based approach.  Body, Mind and Spirit being interconnected was a concept that made sense to me but I certainly had a mostly academic understanding of this idea. I practiced A LOT of yoga but didn’t have a very balanced diet or lifestyle.  I did learn the Pilates Method from the incredible Madeline Black, who emphasized that Joe Pilates developed his exercise regime to heal his lungs and improve his immune system.  My fascia and core were in great shape but my periods were a wreck!  Back then, I knew that belly breathing and core strength could keep me healthy and I knew that certain foods worked better than others for me but I was like a collector of information that needed “digesting”.  My life was forever changed when I experienced the cooking of Simran Kaur, a chef, meditator and one of the most amazing women I have ever met.  She was a foodie before foodies were cool.  She took Macrobiotics and made it fun – and easy!  Simran showed me how my emotions, hormonal and immune system (among many other benefits) could be strengthened by eating “con gusto”; with pleasure and enjoyment; with less rules, more savoring and definitely more joy.  It revolutionized my approach to eating for health. But…. I was still eating waaaaay too much fruit and raw salad and wondering why I was always cold and low energy when I met my husband who cooked for me on our second date.   The meal was so sumptuous and yet simple; steamed chicken and steamed vegetables.  I felt like Sheena after that meal – for many reasons:)  My training in Oriental Medicine only reinforced this idea that the warmer and happier you are on the inside, the stronger your defenses are on the outside.  One of the most amazing teachers I have ever had was my Eastern Nutritional Energetics teacher, Dr. Lisa Wilson, who managed to help us learn about how to implement an individualized Holistic diet for healing while keeping a sense of humor and unconditional acceptance towards ourselves and the patients with whom we work.  Eating fresh, in season, whole foods in accordance with your individual constitution is ONE key to wellness.  Being rigid is not.  When I first began to work on my relationship with food, I experienced how much my diet affected EVERYTHING.  It was easy to become very detail oriented (“crazy!”).  Eventually, life changes, choices, foods, and moods, together with the passing seasons, tidal daily energies, and the needs of  the young souls around me necessitated that I get back to basics, get organized and plan!   Although there is no “right” way to eat, having a meal plan and good recipe ideas that inspire and appeal to me and my family makes the cooking and eating process a whole lot easier.  Less scrambling and More Yoga!  I find great food blogs and books and share ideas with other like minded folks around me; which is part of what food is meant to do; bring folks together.  Being an “airy” sort of constitution, I do best with warm, protein rich meals.  Eating soups and stews seems to keep the bugs away, keeps me grounded, and is a great way to show those around me that I care.   I have had many soup mentors along the way.  I once learned how to make a wonderful Miso soup from my rocker girl roommate who cooked a giant batch whenever any of us got a cold.  Thank you, Leslie for the original probiotic soup!  My acupuncturist Lifang Liang, in San Francisco, always said; “cook soup now!… and you won’t need makeup” and after cooking enough soup, my whole hormonal system normalized; much better than blush and mascara, believe me.  Dr. Lisa showed me how to make bone broth to stave off flu and weakness and as a way to make other foods more nutrient rich and I share this technique with all my friends and clients.  So many people are asking, “Should I get a Flu shot?!”   That is individual choice, but either way, I say,  “Cook Soup Now!”.  And come to Yoga class!  I am offering some great new group classes in a wonderful Zilker Zen healing arts studio so please check my schedule out on the Classes page.  Stay well, and enjoy.

Intro to Yoga

If you are a seasoned Yogi, Down Dog is something you’ve done quite often.  If you are new to Yoga, or even if you’ve done a million Dog Poses, you might be asking, “What does a Downward Dog do anyway?”.  “What am I supposed to feel, and do to get it “right”?”.  Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog Pose is technically a forward bend (but a very active and slightly upside down one) and is meant to create head to tail lengthening (called “axial extension” in the anatomy world).  As my teacher put it, “the softer your joints, the lighter you’ll feel”, and in this pose it is especially true that slightly bending the knees and elbows can free you up to relax more into the pose.  This is a hard pose!  A great way to enter into this doggy experience is not on the mat but while you are in the kitchen (believe it or not).  Try reaching your arms out in front of you first and draw the arm bones into your shoulder sockets and feel the “armpit” muscles” engage.  Then place hands on the counter and lengthen back into a table top position with your spine; with feet under hips and soft knees; inner thighs toned up.  It is a challenge to let go of the shoulder muscles – even at the best of times.  Try releasing your neck and shoulders when all your weight is balanced between arms and hips.  When you do Down Dog on the mat, you bend over, place your hands and feet about 4 feet away from each other, and lift your hips up and back (as in “wag the tail”).  It feels really good to let the head snake out of the shoulders like a turtle out of it’s shell.  Your shoulder blades draw up onto your ribs when your engage your “serape” muscles; the muscles that wrap around you from your sides and “tie” into your belly.  Try keeping the elbows (and knees) soft, slightly bent as I mentioned; it makes it easier to play with the shoulder blades and get them to lift off the neck.  There’s a tendency in this pose to lock out and try too hard.  Put your effort into pressing the front arch of the hands and all 5 fingers firmly into the mat and deepen the breath into the ribs.  When you exhale, imagine a gurney around your center pulling you up and let your belly be the force that “suspends” your weight.  As you inhale, expand the ribs (and low belly) and open the waist.  Your exhale can “squeeze” the ribs and engage your core from all sides.  Yes, this will tone you up!  Yes, this pose stretches the hamstrings.  Yes, it is a good pose for energizing and waking up your energy.  It is also a great detox pose.  But use caution if you have any shoulder, wrist, neck, heart, eye, sinus or headache conditions as this is an inverted pose.  Check in with a trained teacher.  Check in with your inner teacher.  You have one!  Always keep checking in with your breath; is it getting too rapid or restrained?  Slow the breath down and exhale through your mouth to cool off and “chill out” a bit.  Feel free to to come down and rest with hips over heels and chest over thighs or on “all fours” as you need to re-group occasionally in this pose.  What if your “Dog” did yoga?  What Would Your Dog Do?  Doggies naturally shake!  Shake out tension and swivel side to side.  Keeping your Down Dog Pose fluid will not only release joint, muscle and nerve tension, it will also maximize detoxification, lymphatic return, fascial release, and enjoyment!  This will enable you to find that “happy place” in your pose.  The sweet spot in your Adho Mukha Svanasana is when you can take an easy breath (or a few) and lengthen from head to tail, even while you stay playful. How “should” you Do Yoga?  Sniff….Breathe…Streeeetch…..then Rest A LOT.

Yoga Soup in the Making

Tonight I’m making stock overnight so that in the morning I can cook up one of my favorite Yoga Soups in the crock pot while I go off to teach; Moroccan Lentil Stew.  Here’s what goes in: red lentils, red onion, sweet potato, lemon, cilantro, and digestive spices like garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon and clove. This Soup is so nurturing and soothing it should be called Restorative Yoga Soup!  I love soup because it loves me.  It is easy to digest, easy to cook, easy to individualize; add a garnish, serve only the broth, mix with a whole grain; the possibilities are endless, just like Yoga.  Perfect for this Fall season, and really easy to make.  My youngster loves to slurp this one!  I will attach a recipe very soon!  Now it’s off to bed for a nice reclined Goddess pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) to unwind this cooks legs.  While I put my dogs together, and let my knees gently open, the Yoga magic unfolds at the same time as the veggies in the stock cooking down in the kitchen release their delicious flavors.  Check back for more on Moroccan Red Lentil Yoga Soup and Evening Goddess Pose!

Yoga in the Classroom – Relax the Test!

Today I gave a presentation on Yoga mindfulness relaxation techniques for test taking and general stress reduction to a group of elementary teachers in my home town.  I mentioned the research studies that link Yoga practices in the classroom with better focus and more positive attitude in children and called myself a “Yoga Geek”; funny – but true!  It was humbling to know that these incredible teachers already implement many wonderful techniques to help the students focus, prepare for tests and feel relaxed in each school day.  These teachers don’t necessarily want or need another curriculum idea!  However, I was excited to share some very simple, easy to “slip in” Yoga mindfulness tools that can be used during exams, transitions, or even given to students to use anytime needed during a regular day.  One of the teachers mentioned that she is already seeing her students regularly using the exercises at their desks ( I had previously taught some of the Yoga tools to Relax the test to her class).  This was great to hear!  A fabulous and easy technique I showed the teachers today is called the “Chi Ball”.  Students gently clap and/or rub their hands together, then separate the hands a few inches, feel the sensation between their hands while breathing easily and fully, and firmly plant both feet on the ground.  Kids can make a “ball” with their “energy” between the hands; to stretch, shape and compress the “Energy Ball”.  This exercise quickly focuses and calms children and they love it!  One of my favorite stories about the “Chi Ball” was from a high school age Yoga student of mine who loved the technique so much she started teaching it to her friends.  “It helps them calm down and get centered”, she said.  While I realize that teachers have less and less time for any extra curriculum in grade school (or any) classes, and that they are doing an amazing job at preparing the students for the benchmark tests, this kind of Yoga mindfulness tool is short and unobtrusive, and can help kids during the long exam process (or during a regular day).  Hearing inspirational stories about Yoga in the classroom keeps me energized as a teacher of all ages.  Getting to share some Yoga tools with the best of the best teachers at Zilker elementary in Austin, Texas was such an honor.  I am reminded that gratitude is the finest form of mindfulness. Kids are our best teachers.