Om, Namaste, Zen: Yoga for Monkey Mind

The Buddhists have a wonderful term for the constant state of brain chatter that I often find myself in; Monkey Mind! Just like a monkey can never sit still, swinging from vines, hoo-hooing and flinging things about, a monkey mind is a brain that’s constantly in motion. My brain is usually in motion, and while the thoughts aren’t always bad, I do need to find more ways to silence the brain drain — part of my 2014 goal for healthier living. Enter: Yoga.

I’ve been doing yoga intermittently for several years. I first took a class at the junior college, and found myself annoyed by the perky teacher who encouraged us to measure ourselves every week to see if our yoga-ing was helping us shrink. My second attempt at yoga was at the Granada Hills Pavilion, a gigantic community class with at least forty people stacked on top of each other in a dim ballroom. I loved that yoga class, but had a hard time concentrating when somebody would “open up” and let a fart slip out, which happened often considering the class was so packed. (It happens – not judging (in fact, it will probably be my karma that now I crack one off in tomorrow’s yoga class) – but I’m immature and farts make me laugh.) I’ve tried yoga several times at my current gym, and while the class flow itself is fine, I’ve been really bothered by the fact that none of the teachers at my gym use music in their classes. For someone who does have the old monkey mind, music is a great way to move through thoughts rather than swirling them around while you’re supposed to be downward dogging.

This week, I tried an awesome Vinyasa Flow class with my blogging buddy, Alyssa at Inner Power Yoga. It was so cool to meet Alyssa this week, and even cooler that she was the one teaching the class! My workout buddies Susannah and Sally joined me for an evening of flow, and we twisted, stretched and smiled into various poses like Cobra, Cat and Warrior. I was super excited because I got to try a head stand inversion against the wall — the perfect balance of challenge and comfort.

Then, on Sunday, I took a “restorative yoga” class which focused on postures using props like blocks, bolsters, and straps to really relax and open up the muscles. It felt amazing!!! One thing I learned is that to really feel a certain pose or posture, you should stay in it for 60 seconds. Good for me to know when I do some mid-day stretches. I’m loving what yoga does not only for my mind, but for my body, too. During these classes the amount of cracking in my muscles makes me sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies, but after I feel limber and loose. It’s amazing how tense your muscles are throughout the day, and how important it is to stretch them out. Now that there is scientific proof that yoga has healing powers (specifically in reducing stress and illness related inflammation), I think I’m going to make a goal to do yoga at least once per week. That’s something me and my monkey mind can feel pretty zen about :)

Have you done yoga, and do you find it relaxing? One of my friends says it’s too relaxing for her, and for that reason, prefers other more intense forms of exercise. What about you?

Meditation for your Monday.

Welcome to the beginning of the week!  I suppose here in the United States we technically start our weeks on Sundays but we all know that the REAL week begins once we get back into that work/school mode.  This week Alyssa graduates from Cal State Northridge, WOOOOO!!!  I also am finally in my school finals mode and am taking a break from my four-page research paper on Irish-Americans to write this blog.

During busy weeks, it can be easy for our minds to quickly become overwhelmed with all our responsibilities we need to accomplish.  Many of us already suffer from having anxious minds so when life’s pace picks up, it can be hard for our thoughts to slow down.

One of the most valuable tools I have learned over the past few months in practicing yoga is the art of meditation.   It’s hard for me to sit for even three minutes without fidgeting and fighting the desire to get up and DO something, but in yoga I was forced to relax each class for ten minutes during our “Savasana” (sah-VAH-sah-nah) or “cool-down meditation”.

tropical island-7

On our last day of class, I told my teacher that those two ten-minute meditations are the best twenty minutes I do for my health every week.  It takes me about five minutes to finally be able to relax my crazy thoughts but once I get there, my mind is able to escape into a blissful world that normally takes place on some tropical beach with the waves gently brushing up on the shore like the wind brushing through my hair.

There are a few different types of meditations you can do.  Here is a list I am sharing from my yoga class:

  • Concentration – Mentally (eyes closed) focusing on the breath, counting the breaths,or a specific chakra. Visually (eyes open) focusing on lighted candle or other peaceful object while clearing away all thoughts except those related to the intended focus.
  • Visualization (Guided Meditation) – A teacher or a recorded script guides students through a relaxing, focused visual journey or mental vacation, in which students are encouraged to push aside all thoughts and participate mentally in the visualization.
  • Mantra – A sound,word or phrase is spoken aloud or silently (mentally).
  • Stream of Consciousness – Observe ones own thoughts stream past in our minds as if on a movie screen. Acknowledging each thought without mental reaction, judgment or comment, then releases it with gentleness and waits for the next thought.

If you’ve never given meditation a shot, I highly recommend it.  I’ve never been able to successfully meditate for more than twenty minutes but I’m hoping with practice, I’ll  be able to master this relaxation technique because I know I certainly feel better afterwards.

One of the better guided meditations I have found are by a wonderful man named Deepak Chopra.  Deepak Chopra is a new-age guru who was born in India and immigrated to the United States to become board-certified in internal medicine and endocrinology. He also has written over seventy books and has become world-known in the Ayurveda world.  We did some wonderful chakra meditations in our yoga class so if you like the idea of exploring meditation further, I recommend hunting them down on Youtube.

Here is a short example of a guided meditation that I hope a few of you will take the five minutes to relax their minds with.

Do any of you meditate on a regular basis already?  If not, what challenges do you find when it comes to being able to meditate?

I hope you all have a wonderful week!  I’ll be back on tomorrow with another blog!

Lots of love,

AprilSignatur

What has a month of doing Pilates and Yoga twice a week done?

It’s been a little over a month now since school began and I can honestly say that my excitement for school to END is not because of the work load, it’s because I’m so excited to see how my body turns out.

I was super smart and decided to take Pilates and Yoga back to back through my college, knowing that I would be forced to stick with the classes because if I dropped them,  I would lose my financial aide.

So every Monday and Wednesday from noon to two, as I practice feeling my pelvic floor and sun salutations, I think to myself how proud I am for choosing to take these classes.  I started taking yoga a few years ago but would only go at random times so didn’t feel the full benefits from regular practice.  Now that’s it been a month of regular routine, I feel stronger, leaner, and more grounded than ever before.  I notice that my waist, though still fluffified with fat, is getting these cool lines going down the sides of it, as if I have DEFINED ABS. Haha!  I also noticed that my back rolls of fat are basically gone, which I find to be a HUGE accomplishment considering it hasn’t even been that long of classes.  I’m sure doing my hula hoop has helped with that too!

One of the amazing Pilates moves I learned - Click on the photo for more from ultimatepilatesworkouts.com

One of the amazing Pilates moves I learned – Click on the photo for more from ultimatepilatesworkouts.com

Pilates has been making me discover muscles I  never knew I had before.  For example, in class last Wednesday we did these crazy leg moves where we were on our hands and knees and along with the standard up and down leg lifts, we also had to move our legs from side to side.  When we were done with those, we laid upon our mats on the cold and polished floor, eager to rest.  BUT NO!  Instead, our teacher had us bend our knees up and practice lifting our pelvis and thighs off the ground, while still keeping our knees and stomachs on our mats.  Pilates introduces many moves that seem so hard the first time that I try them, but now that we’ve been repeating them, they keep getting easier and easier.

Like Pilates, I have progressed very nicely in my yoga class as well.  I have a goal set to be able to reach my “nose to my toes” and this previous class, for the first time in my adult life, I was able to reach my forehead to the tops of my toes.  I didn’t expect this type of achievement to come so soon so you can imagine how happy I felt after class when I gave it a shot.

Yoga has given me so much confidence in what my body can do.  I feel so proud of myself when I am able to do the harder poses my teacher labels as “level two and level three”.  I love yoga because it has yet to make me feel once that I was simply too fat to achieve the poses.  Plus, between doing the Pilates and yoga, my posture has improved and has made me take note of when I’m slouching more.  My Dad’s days of pulling my shoulders back to teach me to stand-up straight might be coming to an end!

April doing “Half Moon”

I am also very proud to report that since I began again on my weight-loss adventure on January 2nd, I have lost eight pounds.  This week alone provided me with a four pound loss because of the detox I have been doing.  As I write this, it’s the night of Day Four, and I have been going strong!  Every day is easier than the one before and while I still hear the faint voices of the caffeine Gods calling out to me, my determination to complete the week puts ear muffs over me and refuses to respond to their calls.

I look forward to reporting back in another month what TWO months of regular yoga and Pilates has done for my body.  This is probably the best positive change I have ever been able to make for my body and I have a solid belief that my practice of both won’t end when the semester does.

What kind of positive change have you made in your life that has had a great effect on your health?

Lots of love,

AprilSignatur

Stretching my way to health – By April

Salutations!

This past week has brought forth many positive changes in my life, most revolving around my education and health.  I’ve been slowly building my college credits towards a degree but the one subject area I have avoided at all costs was math.  Over the summer I went blindly (without studying) into a math placement test to finally face my fear and ended up being defeated with a recommendation for the “General Arthritic” class.  When I got my book, I was extremely discouraged to find that I would be spending four months brushing up on my basic addition and fraction skills.

I reacted to this set back as I do in most of my challenges of life, I just didn’t accept the results.  I decided to retake the test this past Monday after taking the time to actually attempt to study.  Honestly, I didn’t spend THAT long relearning algebra but apparently my exciting weekend of watching hours of Canadian math teacher explain 9th grade math on Youtube was enough to help!  I didn’t end up placing in the class I was hoping for, I scored even higher!  Only one class level stands between myself and my required math goal and it is an incredible relief to know that not all hope has been subtracted for me in math land.

Using the inspiration I received from conquering my math fears, I’ve decided to conquer another fear of mine:  fully devoting myself to exercise.

My gym membership has been hold nearly a year now because of my trip to Europe and “saving money”.  Every month I tell myself I am going to begin it again but somehow time and my lack of actual membership continues on.  Since I am fortunate enough to have my educational fees waived (Thank you BOG fee waiver!), I enrolled myself in two PE classes:  Pilates and yoga twice a week!  I’ve always wanted to take Pilates and my little experience with yoga has been enough to make me love it.  I am pondering about taking one more exercise class, perhaps a circuit training or body conditioning course just so I can work some cardio into my “forced” exercise plan.

I have to stick to a full time school schedule so I’m still eligible for funding so by signing up for these PE classes, it’s literally forcing me to stick to my goals.  Plus, I am excited to see the results of devoting four hours a week to core strengthening classes like Pilates and yoga.  Maybe I will finally be able to achieve one of my major life goals of being able to touch my nose to my toes!

April’s Goal

 

Have you had experiences with either yoga or pilates?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you everyone for reading!

Peace and monkeys,

 

Yogi bear never did Yoga

Yesterday I got in touch with my inner namaste and tried out the Total Woman yoga class. It was quite a feat for me to be up and ready to stretch and strain on a Saturday morning, but I joined the winding line of middle-aged women armed with my yoga mat and towel at a staggering 10 AM. The class was packed to the gills, to the point that the woman next to me rested her arm on top of mine during a stretch. It was a little awkward, made even more awkward by the time she said “Oh! You’re so soft!” ten seconds into our little stretchin’ space problem.

The class seemed both a little too slow and a little too advanced at the same time, if that makes sense. Half the class we were doing the “supine pigeon”, while the other half we were doing some crap called the rising sun cow leg or something. Half the class was twisted like lithe, spiralled rubber bands while the other half (the half I belonged to) sat stubbornly on their mats, just looking on as legs flew in the air, chests contorted, and arms flailed. I didn’t think it was a very good workout, and was relieved when we entered the resting portion of the class, in which the teacher asked us to loosen our groins and invite the sunshine into our souls.

I've totally mastered this move!

One other thing that really bugged me about the class was that there was NO music! No pan flute, no indian chants, no weird yogi yodeling… and it was a bummer. Trying to get to a zen state while listening to “I’m every woman” blare from the cardio room next door was a little rough. All of the other yoga classes I’ve taken always have some sort of nice melodic background music, so it was a little dull hearing just the instructions… an hour of “Press your heel into the floor. Release your pelvis. Open your groin up, allowing the energy to flow through your shoulders. Pulse your pelvis. Press your heels down. Curl your toes. Allow the zen to flow through your soul.”

Surprisingly, I’m sore as feck today. My wrists are like jelly, my arms are achin’, and my buttocks feel more like pummeled hamburger meat than juicy buns. So I guess my meh work-out actually worked. The next class I’m going to be trying is Impact Kickboxing… which requires my own pair of boxing gloves and involves punching a dummy for an hour. Now THAT sounds like just the type of thing I need for zen to flow through my soul :).

Which types of workouts work for you?