Category Archives: Meditation

Making the Most of Your Minute

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Today is my weekly posting for Inkspot, the blog for authors of Midnight Ink.  I hope the visualization practice I share in this article will help my writer friends–as well as my students–to be more comfortable when they have to speak in front of a group or do anything else that makes them nervous.  Check it out!

http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/2015/04/making-most-of-your-minute.html

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere!

Ancient Teachings and Dandelion Seeds

fragility

I wrote this blog article on New Year’s Day, but I couldn’t post it then because of my imminent book launch. Now, as we enter into spring—the season of dandelions—it feels perfect. I hope you enjoy it.

I taught a good class today, but it wasn’t the class I had planned. Superficially, there were similarities to what I had plotted on paper. Quite a few of them, actually. But what makes my New Year’s Day class truly special has nothing to do with the poses. Not even the breath work. Meditation and ritual make the class unique.

I was oddly troubled about this year’s class. I knew the “gift” I wanted to give to my students. I knew the flowers I would arrange and place on the altar. I drew out my sequence and printed out quotes. The day before class, hubby helped me lay out the mats and I lined up the candles. Superficially, I was ready, but something was missing. I’d pulled out my tried-and-true meditations about letting go of the past, but this year they didn’t ring true. I lay awake until well after one am New Year’s Day, still confounded. Eventually, I gave up, convinced that this year’s class would not be my best.

New Year’s Day morning, I walked into the room, still feeling uneasy. I smiled at the twenty-five yogis that were waiting for me, and silently asked their forgiveness for what was sure to be a subpar experience. Then, as I walked toward my meditation rug, an image came to me: dandelion seeds.

I can only believe that the ancients sent that image to me, because suddenly everything about my class made sense. What if we didn’t focus on leaving behind what didn’t work in 2014, but instead reconnected with everything that did? What if, instead of blowing out candles to get rid of the old, we symbolically shared it with the world, like a child sharing dandelion seeds with his neighbors?

I tossed much of my plan aside and taught from my heart. Both of my meditations changed. I changed the breath work. I even changed the asana. The class that seemed heavy and sad became free and light—as did the energy of my students. They even applauded at the end, in spite of my glaring would-never-pass-yoga-court sequencing error. But then again, the sequencing wasn’t the point.

I don’t even know why I feel compelled to write about this. Somehow it seems important to remind my teacher training graduates—and myself—to trust in the teachings and be open to what comes. Sometimes a class plan that worked brilliantly before simply isn’t right. Sometimes the right plan lies just buried in your subconscious.

There was power in that practice. Seeds of hope that we will carry forward and share with our worlds.

What seeds will you plant this spring?

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Embracing Distraction in Corpse Pose: Answer to a Student Question

A Whole Life Yoga student asks: “How can I tune out snoring and other noises in Savasana (Corpse Pose)?”

This is an excellent question, and it brings me back to the true purpose of Corpse Pose. Corpse Pose isn’t a time of quiet nothingness. It’s a period of active meditation. Snoring is simply another of life’s many distractions, not all that different from ringing cell phones, rumbling lawnmowers, or annoying music. Our reactions to life’s distractions are more about us than the distractions themselves.

Imagine, if you will, a happy yogini—I’ll call her Judy—resting on her back in a blissful Savasana. The man next to her starts snoring. Snoring is simply a sound, neither good nor bad.  The yogini’s gremlin mind, however, makes it all about her.  Oh good Lord, that man is snoring again. Why doesn’t the teacher do something about it? Doesn’t she realize that man is ruining my practice? Left unchecked, Judy’s mind will reel with righteous indignation, as if one man’s cat nap is some sort of attack on her personally. Judy’s practice may indeed be ruined, but I’m not so sure it’s the snorer’s fault.

Instead of your letting your monkey mind take control over you, why not take control over it? There are many different ways to do this, but one of the most powerful is to simply notice. Not the sound that’s distracting you, but your reaction to it. Do you feel irritation? Humor? Embarrassment? Frustration? Whatever you notice, don’t allow your mind to amplify it. Instead, notice the thought; notice the emotion. Then bring your mind back to the feeling of the breath in your body. Over time, you might that the snoring isn’t nearly as distracting as you originally thought.

Remember, yoga is a symbol of the rest of your life. Do you have similar thoughts and reactions to distractions in your daily life? Would your life be more peaceful if, instead of allowing your thoughts to control you, you controlled them?

If you learn how to remain focused during distraction in Savasana, you might notice a ripple effect in the rest of your life.

I hope that helps.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere!

Join the Mediation Party

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Jenny Zenner. Jenny is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program and a promising writer. She  can be contacted at jzenner@gmail.com.

buddha

Toying with the idea of meditating? Maybe you think to yourself, yeah, but it looks like you need all this paraphernalia. I don’t have a puffy cushion or a gong or an auspicious altar. So how can I even begin?

I’ll admit, I’m someone who likes a prop or two. I own a few sets of mala beads including a string of bodhi tree seeds harvested from the mountaintop where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Guess what…you don’t need all the props. You already have everything you need: your body and your breath. If you are someone who wants a prop or two, I’ll show you how you can take simple household items and make do.

What better time than Mardi Gras aka Fat Tuesday? Mardi is Tuesday in French. Mardi Gras falls on the eve of Lent, the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s a time of closing out winter and inviting spring, clearing out and indulging before a time of repentance. Celebration. Part of that celebration in the New Orleans festival includes tossing strings of beads from floats in parades. Down in the French Quarter those beads are earned by women willing to lift their tops.  Regardless of how you may have come into possession of a set, if you happen to have some stuffed in a drawer or dangling from your rear view mirror, grab them and find a seat.

No party beads? No problem. Pull out your grandma’s pearls, a rosary for you Catholics, or even a string of Christmas lights. If the string you are using doesn’t have a marker on it like a clasp, larger bead, or cross, simply tie a ribbon or rubber band on it so you have a start and end point.

When I meditate with a string of beads, I have a tangible timer. I don’t have to worry if I remembered to set my phone or watch. An annoying alarm doesn’t jolt me out of my meditative state. When I get impatient, I can always take a peek to see how close I am to nearing the end of the string.

Find a comfortable seat in a chair, on the floor, a park bench, or the solace of your car in a parking lot. Hold the string in one hand between your thumb and middle finger (picture holding a pencil). With your thumb on the bead next to your marker, take a breath in and release the breath. At the end of your exhale, let your thumb advance to the next bead and breathe your inhale and exhale. If you find your mind wandering, tell yourself breathing in with your inhale, and with your exhale tell yourself breathing out. Keep it simple, come back to the bead in hand and your breath. Advance until you are back at your marker. Going through my string of 108 beads takes less than 15 minutes. I also have a bracelet with 12 beads for a mini meditation.

Repurpose those party beads for a joyful practice.

Jenny Zenner founded Seeds Yoga www.seedsyoga.com. Based in Seattle, WA, she’s a former addictions counselor turned yoga teacher, recruiter, career coach, and writer, being mindful in as many moments as she can muster as a mom to twin boys. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook and of course connect on LinkedIn.

Yoga Meditation for Childbirth

Please welcome today’s guest , Tess Jones.  Tess is a yoga teacher, freelance writer, and mother of two.  Thanks for joining us, Tess!

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Meditation is a great tool to use during the physical and mental challenges of childbirth. Slowing your breath and focusing on a meditation can calm your mind and allow your body to let the contractions come.

There are many types of meditations. Some guide you to clear your mind and focus on your breath, while others have you focus on a word, phrase, image, or object. Some ask you to sit or lay still, while others may guide you to move your hands or your body. Use what works for you, trying different things until you find something you connect with that brings you to a place of peace, calm, and grounding in your body.

Once you have a few that you like, practice your meditations in the months leading up to your birth so that you feel familiar with them and can recall them quickly. Teach them to your birth partner or doula, since during labor you may not remember to try them.

Below is a short meditation to try at home:

Grounding Meditation for Pregnant Mothers –Hands on Heart and Belly

  • Find a comfortable seat, or lay on your side. Use pillows to prop yourself until comfortable.
  • Take two full minutes to relax. Breathe naturally and evenly.
  • Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Slightly tuck your chin. Fill your heart and your belly with breath on your inhales feeling them rise, and feel them fall on your exhales. Let go of any thoughts that you are holding onto. Feel a sense of inner strength, grounding down, and ultimate peace filling your body. Clear your mind as you calm your body.

If you’re looking for more meditations to try, there are two free downloadable audio meditations on my website circleheartbooks.com. These audio files can be added to your iphone and listened to for a quick calm-down moment during your day. I also have several other meditations in my book Yoga for Birth. Yoga for Birth is available on Amazon.com. It features prenatal poses, meditations, affirmations, philosophy, and more for pregnant mothers and their birth partners. The book was photographed and independently produced in the greater Seattle area.

About the Author

Tess Jones is a freelance writer and mother of two who has practiced yoga since 2002. She has studied hatha, vinyasa, prenatal, and postnatal yoga teaching. Her yoga focuses on mindful movement, self-awareness, and discovering the peaceful, grounded strength within ourselves. Her books and yoga-related articles can be found on her website circleheartyoga.com.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.   The second book in the series, A Killer Retreat, is available at booksellers everywhere!

 

Inviting Peace to All Parts of Your Life

This is the final of three blog posts that details practices mentioned in A Killer Retreat.   This poem can either be used as a chant, a daily intention, or a mantra for meditation. May we all find peace this holiday season.  

Bench

Like me, my yoga teacher protagonist Kate Davidson wants to live a meaningful life. She wants to be a good person. Heck, she’d even settle for being downright boring every now and again. But that’s harder than it sounds when you’re the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

You see Kate—like most yoga teachers I know–isn’t perfect. Not even close. But when she publicly threatens to strangle a woman who gets murdered less than an hour later…

Suffice it to say that some days Kate should keep her big mouth shut.

Kate is admittedly shaken by both the murder and the accusation, so she practices yoga to remain calm. One of her go-to practices is a beautiful chant I learned almost twenty years ago. Conveying the tune is difficult without teaching chanting notation, but saying the words or mentally reciting them in meditation should be equally effective.

A Poem for Full-System Peace

Anamaya Shanti—May my body have peace.
Pranamaya Shanti—May my energy system have peace.
Manomaya Shanti—May my mind have peace.
Vijnamamaya Shanti—May my personality have peace.
Anandamaya Shanti—May my spirit have peace.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti—Peace, peace, peace.

There’s nothing magical about the Sanskrit words; the English translation has just as much power. Try setting this intention every day for the next week or mentally reciting it the next time you feel stressed.

I hope it benefits you as much as it does Kate.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Finding Contentment in Uncertainty

In honor of the approaching publication of A Killer Retreat on January 8, the next three blog posts will be devoted to yoga teachings and practices mentioned in the book.  Enjoy!

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In a few weeks I’ll launch the second book in my series, A Killer Retreat. Of course, the main plot revolves around solving a murder, but my yoga teacher/sleuth Kate is also faced with a choice: should she put the brakes on her relationship with her boyfriend Michael and risk losing him forever, or should she marry him and risk losing herself? Of course, there are many other options, but those are the only two Kate can see, at least at first.

And it terrifies her.

So instead of making the decision, she does what any moderately neurotic person would do when faced with multiple, irreconcilable options: she avoids all of them.

As you might guess, the strategy doesn’t work very well, at least not for long.  In Kate’s own words, “Ignorance is bliss. Until it isn’t.”

Kate’s dilemma isn’t unique. I know from experience that running away from change only works for awhile, and it’s a short while at that. No matter how fast I run, no matter how far I go, my problems go with me. But what if the actual choices we make in life are immaterial? According to The Yoga Sutras, they may be.

The Yoga Sutras promise  that although there are many potential paths in life and at least a gazillion things over which we have no control, everything we experience–good and bad–is fodder for our growth. If that’s true, then every path we take serves us in some way.

So we can take comfort in knowing that there are no absolutes, only opportunities for our development. If you travel your pathway with mindfulness, focus, kindness and compassion, the destination will always be your true self.

The meditation below may help you find santosha—contentment—in the midst of change.

Many Paths, One Destination Meditation

  1. Close your eyes and bring attention to your breath. Focus your mind on the soft, subtle sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
  2. When you are ready, imagine yourself standing at the intersection of several paths, each of which represents a different choice. There is no right choice; no wrong one, either. Only different roads to the same destination. Even though you can’t see it, contentment lies at the end of every path.
  3. In your mind’s eye, stand at this intersection with your feet planted solidly on the earth. Imagine how you will feel when you unite with contentment at the end of your journey. What will contentment look like? Feel like? Smell like? Sound like? Taste like? Involve all of your senses as vibrantly as possible.
  4. For the next several minutes, mentally and physically practice contentment, so that when you begin walking your chosen path, contentment will accompany you.
  5. Continue this meditation for several minutes or however long feels perfect.

Regardless of the paths we choose, may we all walk them in peace.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Yoga Nidra

julie_and_bikeThis week’s blog entry was written by guest author Julie Miller. Julie is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program and a teacher at Whole Life Yoga. She can be contacted at ecojamill@yahoo.com.

As you may imagine, in a meditation class conducted in a comfortable, dark room, with soft music playing and a gentle voice guiding practitioners through visualizations that are often quite peaceful, it can be a challenge to stay awake. Still when a student recently asked me why I phrase my request that students “do not fall asleep” in the negative instead of saying simply “you will stay awake”, it caused me to reflect on the purpose behind that particular statement.

The ideal nidra state is neither awake nor asleep. The unconscious mind is tapped in to through what might best be described as a lucid dreaming type of other state. Through a series of guided meditations designed to peel back the onion of self-awareness, a practice typically explores sensations of the physical body and then down through the more subtle layers of breath, emotions, and energy to reach the ego-less self. This path of exploration can allow one to become aware of conditioned responses and provides the opportunity to break patterns that no longer serve, or were perhaps never beneficial. These habits or patterns are referred to as Samskaras, and it is thought that we must break through or purify these in order to open the door to our true nature. To use that controversial label, yoga nidra is a form of tantric yoga. As defined by well-known yoga teacher Rod Stryker, tantra means to weave, and yoga nidra allows us to weave and reweave the fabric of our consciousness so that we can begin “to see the seer”.

That is all very abstract and no doubt a bit heavy sounding, but the class itself is very relaxing. We begin with breath awareness exercises, a guided body scan, and then move into mental exercises that ask the yogi to engage all of their senses such as imagining fully being in a physical location and all of the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes associated with that place. An exploration of each person’s unique association with symbolism and imagery is usually included as well as mental exercises guiding the yogi through emotions and qualities of being (e.g. compassion, gratitude, joy). These lead to more complex exercises asking the practitioner to attempt to hold conflicting thoughts or sensations simultaneously, thus finding release from conditioned thinking.

The medical benefits of yoga nidra can be found in studies in peer reviewed journals showing its ability to aid with depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and PMS, and new studies state it may be helpful for regulating blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes. If that isn’t enough to convince you to give it a try, I have often heard students say that they feel more creative after a nidra practice, sometimes experiencing a burst of inspiration during the session, others report having more vivid dreams, and many find they are more in touch with their intuition and subtle sensations of energy in the world around them.

Julie

Join Julie’s Yoga Nidra class at Whole Life Yoga and experience the peace, creativity, and relaxation that is part of this deep, wakeful sleep.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Three Tips for Practicing Mindfulness in a Multitasking Workplace

A note from Tracy: Publicists send me multiple blind submissions for blog articles every week, and for the most part, I review and ignore them.  But this one caught my eye.  Meditation and  yoga helped me survive my last two years at Microsoft.  You may not be able to make it to the studio every day, but you can practice mindfulness wherever you are–including at work!  I hope you enjoy this article by Dr. Romie Mushtaq.

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Google, eBay, Intel and General Mills offer classes on it. So do Harvard Business School, Ross School of Business and Claremont Graduate University, among other campuses. Mindfulness is not just a corporate trend, but a proven method for success.

Mindfulness – being focused and fully present in the here and now – is good for individuals and good for a business’s bottom line.

How can people practice it in a workplace where multitasking is the norm, and concerns for future profits can add to workplace stress?

“Even if a company doesn’t make it part of the culture, employees and managers can substitute their multitasking habits with mindfulness in order to reduce stress and increase productivity,” says Dr. Romie Mushtaq, www.BrainBodyBeauty.com, a neurologist with expertise in Mind-Body medicine and Mindful Living.

“The result that you and your colleagues will notice is that you’re sharper, more efficient and more creative.”

Dr. Romie says the physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies.

“Practicing mindfulness, whether it’s simply taking deep breaths, or actually meditating or doing yoga, has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain, which is what allows us to learn, acquire new abilities, and improve memory,” she says. “Advances in neuroimaging techniques have taught us how these mindfulness-based techniques affect neuroplasticity.

“Multitasking, on the other hand, depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions, and it reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe, which contributes to our creative thinking. In today’s marketplace, creativity is key for innovation, sustainability and leadership.

Romie offers these tips for practicing mindfulness in a multitasking business:

•  Focus on a single task for an allotted amount of time. You might say, “For 15 minutes, I’m going to read through my emails, and then for one hour, I’m going to make my phone calls,” Dr. Romie says.

If your job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings — unless it’s your boss. If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing to help with a problem, it’s OK to tell them, “I’ll be finished with what I’m doing in 10 minutes, then I’m all yours.”

•  When you get “stuck” in a task, change your physical environment to stimulate your senses. Sometimes we bounce from one task to another because we just don’t have the words to begin writing that strategic plan, or we’re staring at a problem and have no ideas for solutions.

“That’s the time to get up, take a walk outside and look at the flowers and the birds – change what you’re seeing,” Dr. Romie says. “Or turn on some relaxing music that makes you feel happy.”

Offering your senses pleasant and different stimulation rewires your brain for relaxation, and reduces the effects of stress hormones, which helps to unfreeze your creativity center.

•  Delegate! We often have little control over the external stresses in our life, particularly on the job. How can you not multitask when five people want five different things from you at the same time?

“Have compassion for yourself, and reach out for help,” Dr. Romie says. “If you can assign a task to somebody else who’s capable of handling it, do so. If you need to ask a colleague to help you out, ask!”

This will not only allow you to focus on the tasks that most need your attention, it will reduce your stress.

“And who knows? The colleague you’re asking for help may want to feel appreciated and part of your team!”

While it is possible to practice mindfulness in a hectic workplace, Dr. Romie says she encourages business leaders to make it part of the company culture. Stress-related illnesses are the number one cause of missed employee workdays.

“Offering mindfulness training and yoga classes or giving people time and a place to meditate is an excellent investment,” she says. “Your company’s performance will improve, you’ll see a reduction in stress-related illnesses and you’ll be a more successful businessperson.”

About Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Dr. Romie is a mind-body medicine physician and neurologist. She did her medical education and training at the Medical University of South Carolina, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Michigan, where she won numerous teaching and research awards. She brings to healing both her expertise of traditional Western medical training and Eastern modalities of mindfulness. She is currently a corporate health consultant and professional health and wellness life coach at the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine in Orlando, Florida.  She is also an international professional speaker, addressing corporate audiences, health and wellness conferences and non-profit organizations.  Her website is www.BrainBodyBeauty.com.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

“Butter on the Head” Relaxation Meditation

This meditation (attributed to Zen Master Hakuin) is a wonderful practice to soothe your nervous system and relax tight muscles in your upper back, neck and shoulders.  Give it a try, but don’t blame me if you crave popcorn afterwards!  😉

  • Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up toward the ceiling.  Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable.
  • Allow your eyes to close, or if this is too challenging, keep your eyes at “half mast” gazing softly down and several inches in front of you.
  • Notice your breath, without intentionally trying to change it.  First notice the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils.  Then notice the movement of your rib cage and belly.  How does your spine move with each breath?  What other sensations can you feel?
  • After two to three minutes, imagine that there is a sphere of golden butter on the crown of your head that is being warmed by the sun. As the butter slowly melts, it oozes warmth and peace down your body. Any place that it touches your body, stress melts away.
  • Imagine the response of every muscle to the warm liquid. As the butter flows over your forehead, feel wrinkles ease away from your brow. Imagine it running over your cheeks, relaxing the small muscles at the edge of your jaw. As it moves down to your neck and shoulders, feel any tension you might habitually hold in those areas release. Feel the warmth move down your chest, your belly, down your arms, hands and out through your fingertips. Feel it move in small rivulets down your spine, relaxing the tiny muscles that connect each vertebra.  Continue exploring the sensation of the warm, oily liquid as it moves down your body, down your thighs, calves, ankles, feet and toes.
  • After the first pass, notice any areas of remaining tension and bring your awareness to those areas again.  Imagine warmth and softness erasing all places of tightness.
  • If your attention wanders (and it will!) just notice it, and invite your focus back to the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose.  Then begin to imagine the nurturing, warm buttery sensation again.
  • Continue this meditation for five to fifteen minutes

Enjoy.  May you find peace and vibrant good health!

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and bookstores everywhere!