yoga lessons off the mat: go with the flow



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When I was 22, I worked in the daycare center of a gym. I could hear the yoga instructor outside my classroom every morning. A former gymnast, I was intrigued by the advanced poses she taught. They reminded me of the commands I received from my coaches years ago. And although I wasn't practicing gymnastics anymore, I missed the challenge of the exercises and routines. So I thought, why not try yoga.
It only took me 10 years to realize a super powerful aspect of the practice, and I'm going to let you in on the secret today.  With Yoga, there's so much more, and I have only just begun to skim the surface of what yoga means to me. Like gymnastics, yoga helps me connect to my physical body, without all the backhand springs! But unlike gymnastics, yoga is more than purely physical. And although I love and value the postural (asana) practice of yoga, I believe the way yoga is portrayed in our modern culture is inaccurate. 
Over the years, modern yoga as we practice it here in the United States, has gotten heated up, sexed-up, intensified, and deconstructed. Countless ads on Google and Facebook promote yoga as an intense workout, and feature tall, thin women showing their defined abs balancing on their hands. Though yoga can be fantastic exercise for the physical body, it is so much more than that.
Yoga is the study of oneself both on and off the mat. Vinyasa yoga, one of many styles of the asana practice, promotes moving with the breath, cueing constricting or more challenging positions on an exhale and opening up to freeing postures on an inhale. On my mat, I flow between postures, while continuously breathing in and out.
This is good practice for my life. Off the mat, yoga helps me flow between life's many emotions. Pain, sorrow, loss, heartache, joy, happiness, passion, and ecstasy may be waiting in the next breath. And of course these feelings occur simultaneously and coexist within our emotional bodies. By moving between constriction and openness, inhale and exhale, on my mat, I can essentially practice moving more easily with all my emotions off the mat. And I remember that my breath can help me shift my experience at any moment, and better handle what life throws at me.
written by Danielle Liberatore

I Welcome...



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"I am Grateful." You've probably heard this suggested mantra or meditation before, but I don't like it.
Don't get me wrong.  Practicing gratitude is wonderful, and listing or chanting specific things you are grateful for is a nice practice. It simply doesn't work for me. I recently discovered a meditation technique that is more effective and more realistic, and I want to share it with you. I also love it because I can do it without getting out of bed. But more on that later.
I started practicing yoga and meditation before it was cool. I loved the physical asana (postural) practice, but viewed meditation as something that was time-consuming, unrelatable, or full of Sanskrit phrases that were supposed to have some profound effect on me, but didn't deliver. The asana practice would keep me in shape. But meditation? Well...I can do without it, I thought. I didn't care as much about my mind as I did my body.
However, I soon realized that my physical yoga practice began to slip the moment "the wave," as my yoga teacher Coby Kozlowski likes to say, got a little turbulent to surf on. I would feel emotions like sorrow, despair or loss so profoundly and didn't know how to handle these emotional waves. I thought. to myself, Yoga is supposed to help me deal with these emotions. I'm breathing for goodness sake! What more can I do? Why do I still feel awful?
Here's the thing: the body and mind are connected. I know, shocking, but it's true. I was not taking care of my mind, which was affecting me during my practice. So I decided to give in and try meditation. I told myself that if I am going to practice this ancient, mentally strengthening, and helpful tool proved by many, many before me, then it was going to have to be on my terms. So sure enough, I stumbled upon the very popular gratitude meditation.
I practiced. I did!  And I told the universe what I was grateful for every day. But it didn't do much for me. It was like getting my favorite latte or tea warm, but not hot, or stepping into a lukewarm bath. Good enough, but meh, not great. I thought, What about everything else? Sure, I am grateful for my house, health, family, and friends, but what about everything else in my life? Where does that fit in?
Fast forward until a few weeks ago when I was introduced to something that finally works for me. It's called the Welcoming Meditation, developed by meditation master Lorin Roche, as introduced to me by my teacher Coby Kozlowski. Rather than repeating the phrase "I am grateful," I use the phrase "I welcome." I welcome my friends, family, and all the great things in my life.

I welcome the tummy that I wish was a little flatter, and hips that I want to be a little smaller. I welcome the bill that shows up today that I might not be able to pay. I welcome the approaching deadline. I welcome the uncomfortable conversation I need to have with my lover. I welcome my emotions, high and low. I welcome it all. 
To me it feels so much more complete. And it allows me to welcome all of the things in my life without complicating it by trying to force gratitude for them. I don't have to like it in order to welcome it. 
As I'm learning, meditation is very personal. And what works for me may not work the same way for everyone. But I didn't know that until I tried something new. 
Here is the Welcoming Meditation for you to try:
When you open your eyes in the morning, before jumping out of bed, take five minutes with your hand on your heart and say to yourself, "I welcome..." Fill in the blank with whatever comes to your mind.  Keep going for a few minutes, and welcome all the thoughts, emotions, parts of you, and things in your life.
How do you feel? 
written by Danielle Liberatore

the definition of yoga



Definition of Yoga

The above image is a page from the Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary that contains "yoga."

"yoga: the act of yoking, joining, attaching, harnessing, putting to (of horses); a yoke, team, vehicle, conveyance; employment, use, application, performance; equipping or arraying (of an army); fixing (of an arrow on the bow-string; putting on (of armour)" - excerpt from the Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary

What is "Yoga"? Like so many other Sanskrit words, there is no single English definition of the concept of "Yoga." Perusing the many definitions in the Monier-Williams English Dictionary, it becomes clear that Yoga's long history and culture shine through many of its meanings. 

Funny thing. There's no mention of it as exercise. 

This is why I like to call it Yoga, with a big "Y," while the little "y" yoga is what we in the Western world refer to as the asana or postural practice.

One of my favorite definitions from the dictionary is "the union of the soul with matter." There are also many references to astronomy and conjunction. 

To be clear, evidence of the postural practice didn't exist until maybe the last few hundred years. That's not a long time for a tradition that's got several thousand years in the books.

So what does Yoga mean really? 

To me it means Connection with a big "C." Connecting body, mind, and spirit. Connecting to myself, and to others. Connecting to my environment, the place that I dwell, not only my physical body, but where my body lives on this planet.

But even the word "connection" falls short in my eyes. To me it's more than that. Yes, it's connection, awareness, acknowledgement of other. But it's also engaging, with life and with my community in a way that takes connection a step further.

I think this is why yogis who practice for a long time tend to be more aware of others, listening and interested to their life stories, empathetic to their struggles. We also tend to be aware of how we use material resources, and engage with the planet. And we tend to be the first ones to call for peace, not as a passive way to avoid violence and war, but of choosing another possibility for the sake of everyone.

Because in the end, we're all connected, yoked, if you will, to one another. That's one thing astronauts have commented on. Looking down at Earth from space, they say, it seems so small, and we're all down here living on the same piece of stardust. 

Before we break out into "Kumbaya," let me ask you this:

What does Yoga mean to you?