Exploring the “Flow”

Reality is so much more delicious than our concept of it.

-Judson Brewer

Think positive. Think outside the box. Think it and it will happen. Okay, I made that last one up, but have you ever been told to think a certain way to improve an area in your life?

Did it work for you?

Shifting your thinking and perspective seems so simple, but in reality it isn’t an easy thing to do. It is a process of breaking habits, challenging yourself to do something different, and growing. Bottom line: it is uncomfortable, especially when you think about it too much.

Wait a minute… of thinking is part of the problem, how can it be the solution?

It isn’t really an issue of thinking- thinking is necessary and can actually cultivate focus. The issue is when you overthink in a way that removes you from the present. Instead of appreciating what is in from of you, you are dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. That type of thinking isn’t productive and can suck a lot of energy away from enjoying life right now.

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If you are an over thinker (like me) yoga is a great way to calm your mind and literally help you find your “flow”. It helps you connect with your body here and now, and shut down the flow of thought and start up the flow of the body. In fact, the “flow” is such an integral concept in yoga that is can be traced back to the first known written document about yoga known as Yoga Sutras.

What is a flow and why you should explore it

Flow is a psychological term describing when a person is fully immersed in a task. Generally speaking, a flow consists of concentration and enjoyment. When you are in the flow, you are in the moment, enjoying life and free from worry for the future or past. There is evidence that being in the flow promotes higher levels of happiness.

Why find your flow? When you are in your flow, you are at the your optimum- the best you can be. What could be better?

Check out Judson Brewer’s TEDx talk where he discusses and describes the state of flow.

Basically, we need to do more, think less.  And this is much easier said than done.

The irony of realizing you are in the flow is to sometimes not be in it. Like all things, balance is necessary, and understanding the flow, how to enter it and engage, as well as reflecting on when you were in it and how you felt, are necessary to create awareness around the entire flow experience. Brewer notes that you need to get out of your own way, usually obstacles you think up and trip over. Stop the trip up and develop the reflection by working on your own flow.

How to get into a flow (from Mrs. Mindfulness)

Step 1

Take 5 deep breaths, closing your eyes if you want. Focus just on your breath here and become aware of what it feels like to be in the moment.

Step 2

Be present and aware in the now. Notice how you feel.

Step 3

Do an activity with purpose. It can be anything- washing the dishes, going for a walk, looking at a picture. Just do it completely in the moment. If thoughts arise, notice them and allow them to float by.

Step 4

Continue the activity. Notice how the activity is different when you do it with mindfulness. You may see that the activity comes “alive”.

Me writing this blog is an example of finding flow in patterns of thought. I may not be engaging with the room I am sitting in at the moment, but I am actively engaging in an idea- that is also a form a flow!

If you are struggling to find a flow in everyday tasks, do some yoga and apply the same awareness listed above. You may surprise yourself.

Enjoy the day, don’t overthink it, and get into the flow!

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Powerful Pictures: How does Yoga Imagery Influence You?

A week or so ago, I saw a picture of a frog riding a turtle. It looked like the frog was catching a ride on the turtle’s back- it made me genuinely smile. Not long after the photo was splattered around the Internet world, another article emerged- this one discrediting the picture and revealing it as fake.

It gets worse. Both animals were purchased from exotic animal dealers, promoting a cruel industry where animals are sold off as “pets”, or in this case, macro models for a wannabe natural photo shoot. Why would someone make the effort to do this? To get attention and acclaim, of course.

This picture got me thinking about the images associated with yoga. Yoga photos, yoga marketing, how yoga is pictured in my head and how I, in turn, push that message out to other people. Do we really understand what we are doing? What effect are these images, regardless of our intention, having?

The Peak Pose Eclipse

In yoga, peak poses are advanced poses that require preparation and enter safely. You build toward them, and release them. The whole process looks like a normal distribution or a hill, with the peak pose sitting at the top.

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The process of the peak pose: the poses should warm up, cool down and help you enter the pose safely and with intention.

I’m new to the digital yoga game, which is part of the reason I am in tune with this. Marketing yoga highlights a primary message: Yoga is awesome, and it is good for you. And you want to communicate this message in images. How do you achieve this? Most people focus on poses (often “peak poses”, or poses that take preparation and warming up to even get into). By highlighting what a person can achieve through a peak pose, we ignore the rest (and just as wonderful and important) part of the practice.  Yoga injuries are on the rise. Is this due to unhealthy standards and focusing on a peak pose image as a ruler for success? Why do peak poses eclipse other poses in the practice? Peak poses are not an end goal- they are just a potential part of the larger yoga practice.

Yoga is for every body. But do the photos say that?

The yoga industry has come under fire for being marketed as exclusive and essentially not accessible to all people. For example, Yoga Journal, one of the industry’s leading magazines, uses thin, white, able-bodied women as their models for the front cover of the magazine. These images have a dichotomous meaning- on one hand, they are screaming “Yoga is healthy! Yoga makes your look good!” and on the other, they are saying, “Yoga is for fit, young, white ladies”! Just like the “frog on the turtle” picture, the images market multiple messages and may inadvertently cause harm. Be aware that, like all photos, they tell a story. But the story these images tell don’t have to be your story- you are ultimately in control.

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We live in the age of digital consumption. More than ever, we are bombarded by images and maintain multiple selves on various social media platforms. On Instagram, yoga pictures can be found in all forms: peak poses, yoga in beautiful places, naked yoga, yoga quotes. In the midst of so much visual yoga, it is easy to fall into the ocean of Dancer’s Poses and sunsets. Because of this, some photos promote shock value- think yoga pose on a cliff, in the freaking subway, or the most recent one I saw, a yoga pose on the rump of a live horse. All of these places look like terrible (and highly dangerous) places to practice yoga. They are made to stand out and challenge your view of yoga- but definitely not to give you ideas on new locations to practice!

Yoga Image Exercise

Try this. Each image below portrays the balancing asana Tree Pose (Vrksasana). Take a few seconds and look at each one.

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Which of these pictures fit your image of yoga? Why or why not?

Bottom line: you can’t make everyone happy. The message you get from a photograph may or may not be what the author intended it to be. Like all visual media, the interaction between the creator and the viewer is varied. As the viewer, you can ultimately create awareness to how images affect you, and how to handle that.

Like all visual media, the interaction between the creator and the viewer is varied.

So what can we do? Reflect on what yoga means to you. And how yoga looks to you. Can it be encompassed in a picture? Do you find yourself “falling into line” and promoting the image that is sold to you? Develop an awareness of how the yoga photos affect you.

And remember:

Have a body + do yoga = yoga body.

It really is that simple, regardless of what the pictures say.

Beyond Tree Pose: Yoga, Environmental Awareness & the Yamas

Today we released the final video for our Yoga for Environmental Awareness Series. The project was a celebration of our environments locally and globally. Each video was set in a different location, and most highlighted ways you could set an intention and do something good for the environment.

Does it sound weird?

Yoga. Environmental awareness. Can the two be connected?

Yes? No? Not sure?

You aren’t alone.

When I first began to practice yoga, I didn’t consider yoga as a tool for environmental awareness. In fact, I probably would have noted that the only connection yoga had to the natural environment was through vrksasana (tree pose). However, as I’ve grown into my practice, my understanding of yoga has changed. I am able to see the benefits of practice beyond my mat and how it can be used to facilitate change beyond the the self, and expand to the broader social and environmental contexts. But how does a yoga practice achieve this? It all starts with empowerment and tools to take action.

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Tree Pose. Photo Credit R. Jaypalan

Yoga Empowers Us

A yoga practice makes you powerful. This varies for every person-maybe you will feel empowered in your mind, stronger in your body, or in your behavior. People who are empowered are more likely to take action, and this is where real change can come about.

Yoga provides an eight-limbed path that practitioners can utilize both on and off the mat. Despite its ancient history and philosophy, modern yoga is primarily marketed as a tool to improve your body. This individual, physical focus overlooks the potential for yoga to encourage collective action that benefits the community and environment. Don’t get me wrong- yoga is a great tool for self-improvement and is beneficial for the body and the mind. But how does yoga function off of the proverbial mat? I believe that people who feel empowered are more likely to adjust their behavior to help their community and environment. In this way, yoga can help empower people to step up and make changes on both an individual and community level.

Yoga Gives Us Tools to Take Action

Yoga provides everyone with a toolkit (manifested in the eight-limbed path) to operate in the world. Ultimately, these tools set the stage for self-improvement. This stage may also function as a launch pad allows for an improved person to conduct themselves in ways that benefit others and the environment.

The task to do something can also feel daunting- but yoga can help you take steps toward making a difference. The size of the difference doesn’t matter- it is the action, no matter how big or how small, that does.

We are living in a time when climate change caused by our behaviors is a threat to every being on the planet. The task to do something can also feel daunting- but yoga can help you take steps toward making a difference. The size of the difference doesn’t matter- it is the action, no matter how big or how small, that does.

Using the Yamas to Promote Environmental Awareness

The first path mentioned in the Yoga Sutras is the yamas (standards of how we should conduct ourselves with others and our environment). While each of the yamas can be personalized for specific situations, each are connected to how we interact with our natural environment. The environment, our communities and each of us as individuals are inextricably interconnected.

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Ahimsa (non-harming): Does your behavior harm the environment? Scientific consensus provides overwhelming evidence that our behavior has a detrimental impact on Earth (i.e. climate change). This, of course, has a negative impact on people, animals, and flora around the world. Most of the harm is rooted in out choices as consumers, including a dependence on fossil fuels and using products that are toxic for the environment. Focus on shopping locally, reducing your dependence on gas, and repurposing and re-using instead of buying new products.

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Satya (truthful): Speaking the truth is vital when it comes to protecting out environment. A plethora of science exists about how we can help improve our environment- people just ignore it. Speak to others about these issues and do not be fearful of stating the truth.

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Asteya (non-stealing): Are you taking things from others? An example of this may be the consumption of energy. Reduce your energy consumption by washing clothes on cold water, air drying laundry and watching your electricity use in the house.

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Brahmacharya (not wasting energy): Being aware of our natural environment and plight of climate change can be a huge energy drain. Be mindful of what you can take on. Small steps, whether it be recycling more, planting a garden, or speaking to a friend about making more environmentally friendly consumer choices all require you to take care of yourself. Remember to take care of yourself so you can care for others and the environment.

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Aparigraha (non-greedy): Do you have every thing you need? We are avid consumers, and often buy things we simply do not need. Try to curb the urge to buy things that you don’t actually need, and share with others. Volunteering with a local conservation effort is a great way to get involved and share yourself actions with your local community.

 Yoga Can Make a Difference

Our behavior has an effect on the world, and that is a powerful thing.

The yamas are just one example of how you can get started being more engaged and aware with our natural environment. Does yoga directly affect climate change? No. But yoga does empower people to take action and make a difference in their community and environment. Our behavior has an effect on the world, and that is a powerful thing. Let’s adjust our behaviors in a way that promotes celebrating and protecting our environment, our communities, and us.

Has yoga helped you take action?

The effect of yoga advertising: when does selling yoga become telling yoga?

“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” – T.K.V. Desikachar

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Recently, I picked up a yoga magazine at a local library. It took a few page flips to actually find the content I wanted without an ad. I originally opened the magazine to read articles about yoga and instead, I was being sold yoga. After looking at a few pages of advertisements, I found myself wanting to purchase a new yoga mat that I didn’t even need. I closed the magazine and practiced a few minutes of sitali breathing to regain my composure. I became curious- exactly how many pages of ads are in this yoga magazine?

And so I counted.

Out of 129 total pages, 49 pages had one or more ads plastered on the page, sharing educational content with marketing content. That is a whopping 38% of the journal’s content is based in advertising.

Admittedly, I am the type of consumer that gets excited about a good deal, a phenomenon that produces “smart shopper” mentality. It is an ego-expressive feeling that makes you feel validated by getting something for a good deal. Bottom-line: you bought something that fed something in your ego or concept of the self. Exposure to a product or idea doesn’t necessarily mean you will buy into it right away, but eventually, over time with consistent exposure, you likely will.

When you open a yoga magazine, it is nearly impossible to miss the colorful ads, promoting teacher trainings, classes, clothing, jewelry and anything not related to yoga that suddenly is related by the mark of a branded lotus flower. Advertisements are effective- they grab your attention and manipulate your psychological needs and wants- and they are powerful!

I get that magazines need to make money, and that they can be a helpful medium for a yoga business. Ultimately, this business is necessary- yoga clothing and accessories can provide benefits to different people. I also understand that we live in a capitalistic and globalized society that promotes commodification of products and ideas to sell to consumers. Therefore, it is important for people to reflect on how marketing is affecting them. When are advertisements are no longer selling yoga, but telling yoga? The only way to assess on how this affects you is to reflect. What does yoga mean to you? How do products or brands enhance, or hurt this concept?

When are advertisements are no longer selling yoga, but telling yoga?

When I first became interested in yoga, I began to look at yoga brands and magazines, simply because of their accessibility and mainstream appeal. My interest in exploring postures started to become and interest in wearing certain yoga attire, having a specific type of yoga mat, and even drinking yoga-related teas. I felt like I was living yoga, when in fact, I was buying into brands that were telling me what yoga was. I was a perfect yoga consumer, until I noticed the effect it was having on my mentality.

But it wasn’t making me a better student of yoga- it was making me a follower of brands telling me what yoga is and should be.

Marketing is a powerful tool, tapping into out psychological needs in way that makes us want more, need more, and buy more. But it wasn’t making me a better student of yoga- it was making me a follower of brands telling me what yoga is and should be. I was literally buying into how other people- people interested in profit- defined yoga. Having a specific mat, wearing certain attire, and consuming particular food items do not make you a better yogi – it makes you a good consumer.

So what can you do? Try to be mindful of yoga advertising and how it affects you. Do advertisements evoke emotional  or physiological responses? Create awareness and explore how yoga advertising affects you, your perception of yoga, and your yoga practice.

Exploring Intention: What is it and how can you use it?

IMG_1733.PNGIn every yoga video, we mention to “set your intention” before the yoga practice. I realize that students may have no idea what the heck this means, so I explain our intention of the intention with intention below (hehe).

What is an intention?

An intention is, by definition, a purpose and/or to act with purpose. It is like drawing a map of where you would like to go. Basically, you aren’t mindlessly wandering through your day if you have an intention- your actions use this concept as a proverbial seed in which actions can “grow” from throughout the day. In this sense, your intention is the root of your actions because you are acting with purpose. You are allowing the intention to be active, and all of your actions are connected by this underlying root.

Goal setting vs. Intention setting

Are you used to setting goals? Perhaps daily goals to accomplish tasks or lists to remind you of daily and life goals (think to-do lists and bucket lists)? Most people set goals to stay on a particular path and work toward achieving something, commonly referred to as the end goal. Goal setting can definitely help you achieve results that you want, but do you always enjoy the process toward attaining the goal?

That is the primary difference between a goal and an intention. A goal is focused on the end product, while an intention is focused on a process. Focusing on the present moment can foster a new perspective and, as some research shows, even foster more satisfaction and happiness (check out Matt Killingsworth’s TED talk  to explore this).

Brainstorming and Setting your intention

Setting your intention is so simple that it may seem complicated to start. As with all things, it is all about taking that first step to begin on a path (or to realize you are already on one).

Step 1. What is a characteristic you value in yourself? What actions make you feel good?

Keep the intention positive, focused on present (short-term) and make sure it can adapt to various situations.

What sucks in your life? Are you able to control it? What can you do to make it better today?

OR (we’re sticking to positive, right?) What makes your grateful in your life? How can you maximize this gratitude everyday day?

Step 2: Intend to take Action…… with your Intention!

Apply the intention. This may seem simple, but it is easy to fall into autopilot and old patterns that fling you back to being, well, without intention! Bring yourself back to the moment and remind yourself of your intention by setting an alarm on your phone as a reminder, or an old school sticky note in your wallet, fridge, or mirror.

Step 3. Keep the Intention Going and Growing.

Install the intention into your day, through reminders mentioned above. In the morning, repeat the intention out loud to yourself or meditate briefly (5-10 minutes) on it. Let your actions throughout the day to be guided by the intention, and notice how it affects your perspective and interactions with others.

 

Setting intentions is simple yet challenging. It is not meant to dominate your life, but rather, to guide and enhance it. Your intention should empower you to take action and be aware of your actions. Give it a go!

Need help thinking of an intention? Borrow one of these:

  1. Gratitude: I intend to be more grateful for what I have and to others in my life.
  2. Love: I intend to love fully and without judgment.
  3. Positive: I intend to be positive with myself, by actions and others.
  4. Compassion: I intend to be compassionate toward others and myself.
  5. Forgiveness: I intend to forgive others and myself.

 

Yoga helps you slow down and redefine the concept of a “workout”

img_1341Working out includes “work” for a reason. Sure, it can be enjoyable, perhaps even fun. But it takes dedication to exercise regularly and discover your workout regiment. People value their time, and staying fit, while a priority, is often penciled in to a busy schedule. Pushing too hard at anything can result in a nasty injury, and this includes workouts. Fast-paced, repetitive workouts can cause damage, especially in sensitive joints. This isn’t because these workouts are dangerous, but rather because the haste to complete them easily promotes improper alignment, ineffective stretching and not listening to what your body needs. For the record, injuries happen in yoga for the same reason- misalignment, moving too fast and pushing too hard. Often, the best therapy is to take a break and allow the injury to heal. In this case, an injury may push you in another way-this time, to redefine your concept of a “workout”.

People may stay away from trying a yoga class because it seems too slow-paced, and thus a waste of time. I understand this mindset, because I used to feel the same way. That is, until I realized that a regular, varied yoga practice can put both your mind and body in incredible shape, and slowing down has huge benefits. As a society, we value productivity and moving quickly. Life often needs to be scheduled just to fit in daily tasks. This is where yoga can be the most beneficial- a practice cultivates mindfulness, awareness, and living in the present moment. Based on time between scheduled activities and gazing at phone, television and computer screens how often are you living solely in the present moment?

In this case, an injury may push you in another way-this time, to redefine your concept of a “workout”.

Another great aspect of yoga is its ability to stay consistent and adjust to your needs. You don’t need to always look for workout trends (even though yoga with beer and/or goats can be a blast and I recommend it). As you become familiar with yoga postures and breathing techniques, you can start your own custom practice based on what you and your body needs.  This practice will only grow as your become introduced to the lesser known limbs of yoga ( there are 8-limbs in total). In this sense, yoga is truly an individualized practice that can go beyond the concept of a workout.

As you become familiar with yoga postures and breathing techniques, you can start your own custom practice based on what you and your body needs.

Yoga practice on and off the mat is a journey. It s all about finding what is right for you, not and always listening to what other people of media is telling you. In my own experience, a yoga practice has led me to discover far more than defined muscles-it has affected interactions with others, the environment and myself. Explore, discover and empower yourself to take action and give yoga a try. Check out the AnthroYoga videos to get started, or shoot us a note to discuss personalized yoga sequences to get started!

Can These Yoga Poses Make You Powerful?

One of my all time favorite TED Talks (see below) is about how your body language affects your interactions with other people and your general outlook on life. Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, describes the importance of our body language (also called non-verbal behavior) and how it affects they way other people judge us. And it isn’t just other people paying attention to our posture- we are as well. Our body language affects us from our thoughts to our physiology. Basically, powerful pose= powerful mindset.

Basically, powerful pose= powerful mindset.

Primates use body language to establish social roles. For example, a more dominant individual interested in clarifying their social power may make themselves “look big” or take up space (important to note that many animals do this, -even in situations where they want to scare something away). Humans are primates (specifically hairless apes) and also follow this power posture pattern: opening up and taking up space when you are feeling powerful, and getting smaller when feel less powerful.

 

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Jamie, a resident at Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW.

Want to see if this power pose business works for you?  Try out the sequence below, and let your body change your mind!

Yoga Power Pose Flow

Hold each pose for 15 to 60 seconds (tiny tweaks lead to big changes) 6 full inhales and exhales.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

  • Stand at the top of our mat, feet hip-width distance apart. Press your feet into the ground and feel stable- lift your toes to test your balance and to connect with the ground.
  • Place your arms down by your side, palms facing forward, fingers extended.
  • Roll your shoulders back and down, allowing your chest to open.
  • Engage your abdominals.
  • Gaze forward and lift your chin.
  • Relax your face and focus on your breath.

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Standing “T”

  • Raise your hands out to a “T” position, and imagine your arms are being pulled in opposite directions.
  • Press into the large toe mound of you foot
  • Allow your shoulders to release down your back.

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Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

  • Step your left foot back and turn your toes out to a 45-degree angle. Make sure you are pressing into the outside of your left foot- adjust your stance as needed.
  • Bend the front right knee and point your hips forward.
  • Engage your abdominals
  • Inhale and bring your hands up and overhead, extended your arms.
  • Gaze upward in between your hands or forward.

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Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

  • Allow your left (back) foot to turn out to 90-degrees, toes facing the long edge of your mat. Maintain the bend in your front knee and make sure your front heel is in line with the arch or heel of the back foot.
  • Tuck your tailbone, bringing your pelvis forward.
  • Roll your shoulders down your back and extend your hands out to a “T” position. Keep your arms active- imagine two people are holding your hands pulling you in either direction.
  • Look over your right (front) middle fingers.
  • Keep you chest open and bend deeper into the front knee.

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Star Pose (Trikonasana)

  • Turn both feet toward the long edge of the mat, toes facing forward. Step your feet wide
  • Keep tailbone tucked and abdominals engaged.
  • Extend arms overhead and spread your fingers
  • Allow chest to open and roll shoulders down your back.
  • Say “I am powerful” 3 times (optional).

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Do the other side!

Return to Warrior II, on the other side (left if you began with right), moving into Warrior I, “T” position and back to mountain pose.

 

Try this sequence when you wake up or any time you need a power boost. Observe how these poses are affecting you- do you fee more powerful?