The Magic of Mindfulness

mindfulness
mindfulness
Photo by Ketino Photography

Mindfulness is having awareness of the present moment. It is something to be practiced. The result overtime is experiencing less suffering and more joy in your life. Simply put, savor each moment as if it were your last.

What Mindfulness does

Once you start practicing mindfulness you will start to notice many interesting things in your life….

  • You are less likely to react negatively to emotionally charged situations.
  • You will start to transform pain into healing and darkness into light.
  • You will create an awareness that enables you act instead of react.
  • You will start to think about what you truly want, need or feel, making decisions based on your values instead of temptations or the desire to escape.
  • Challenging moments become less intense and no longer consume you.
  • Your physical immune system will become strengthened.
  • Your relationships will grow stronger.
  • Accidents will be prevented.
  • Your true nature will start to show unadulterated.
  • You will experience more success and joy in your life.

Why Mindfulness works

Your ego is a powerful force. It tries to define you and make you feel like you are a separate entity from the rest of the world. But you are not.

It seeks out ways for us to hide from who we really are, what we really think and what we actually need by finding ways to escape our discomfort. It creates resistance in your mind and forms a hard outer shell that separates you from reality, keeping you in your comfort zone. Only it’s not actually comforting.

In challenging times, you may show emotions of anger, fear or anxiety. These are all emotions that arise from identifying with your ego, or your perceived reality. When you practice mindfulness it is you who is in control of your thoughts instead of your ego.

Do you overeat, drink too much, fight constantly with your spouse, hate your job or stress about your future? Believe it or not these are all things you can change by practicing mindfulness.

Practicing mindfulness puts these actions into perspective, forces you to pause and think and allows you to act with intention. The gap that you create in the constant flow of your thoughts enables you to start becoming aware of why you are in these situations and how to make better choices before you do or say something you will regret.

For example, let’s say you had a hard day at work so you come home, prepare dinner, open a bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass. There are several scenarios that could evolve from here. Below are two of them, one being a scenario where you are mindless and one where you are mindful….

A. You turn on the TV plow through your dinner and look up an hour later to realize that the glass of wine you started out with is now an empty bottle. You start to feel ashamed and regretful knowing that tomorrow you are probably going to have a headache, which is not going to make your day any easier than today was.

B. You swirl the wine in your glass inhaling the aroma of the wine taking small sips throughout your meal savoring the nuances of that particular varietal and enjoy the feeling of getting a slight buzz. Once the meal is over you put a cork in the bottle and save the rest for another night feeling satisfied and happy. With a clear head you go to bed thinking tomorrow is a new day.

Scenario B is a good example of participating in an activity mindfully. The actions are deliberate, done with intention and executed using value based decisions. You are completely aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Alternatively, scenario A is a good example of a mindless act. When you react, like eating or drinking on autopilot,  instead of acting with intention it is because you are seeking a particular result. This result usually comes in the form of a quick fix that you think will bring you comfort. Since the decision was not based on your values you end up feeling regret, shame or angry with yourself instead of comforted. When you don’t get the result you were hoping for you start to experience more suffering than what you originally started with.

How to practice mindfulness

Observe your thoughts and actions as they are. Do not let them define who you are or let them turn into bad habits. Instead become curious as to why you have certain thoughts or do the things you do. To find out who you really are all you have to do is sit back and watch.

There are many ways to do this such as……

  • Meditation – Sit with yourself and experience what is. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them without judgement and let them pass.
  • Yoga – A moving meditation. Notice your breath and how you attempt each pose. Are you holding your breath? Are you clenching? Are you angry that you can’t get the pose down perfectly? Yoga can be a perfect metaphor for how you live your life. Do you tense up and judge yourself when it gets hard or do you treat yourself with compassion and know that you are perfect just the way you are?
  • Live in the present moment – Give your attention to what you are doing instead of thinking about the result you want to achieve. You do this by trying not to dwell on things that have happened in the past or what will happen in the future. Use all of your senses here. What do you see, smell, hear, taste or feel right in this moment? How can you bring more awareness and engagement into your current situation?
  • Constantly check in with your body – Do you have a “pit” in your stomach? Are you clenching your jaw or tapping your fingers? These are all feelings that stem from non-acceptance. Your thoughts can materialize in your body. Notice where you feel pain or tightness and try to release any gripping or fidgeting.
  • Catch yourself complaining – Next time you find yourself doing this stop and ask yourself, “What action can I take to resolve this issue?” If you cannot find an answer either leave the situation or accept it as it is.
  • Breath work – There are many helpful breathing exercises that you can do but simply paying attention to your breath is a great way to start. Next time your thoughts are racing stop and see how you are breathing. You might be breathing fast, or shallow or not at all. Stop and smooth out your breath, breathing deep from your belly and then resume your day.

Use practices like these to gain insight on who you really are and what you really need. Practicing mindfulness all of the time even in ordinary situations, not just when times get tough, is the key to growing the skill. Over time your mindfulness muscle grows stronger enabling you to cope with anything life throws your way. The more you practice the more skilled you become. The more skilled you become the less suffering you endure. This is the magic of mindfulness.

Is mindfulness a practice that you have adopted in your life? If so, what positive results have you noticed so far? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more health tips, cooking ideas and resources. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

Resources

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

The Mindful Meal Challenge by Darya Rose (Summer Tomato)

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Eric Ripert Lessons in Mastery and Mindfulness, The Tim Ferris show

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Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

Finding Mindfulness In Your Yoga Practice To Prevent Injuries

Mindfulness with Justine Duran

Mindfulness with Justine Duran

Mindfulness is a practice everyone is talking about these days. To put it in simple terms it is the act of being present and it can spill over into your whole life if you start to practice it throughout your day. Eating, talking with a friend, driving and exercising are all experiences that can be enhanced by mindfulness.

Yoga has always been an activity that touts the benefits of mindfulness. But being mindful in yoga doesn’t just have to do with the fact that it increases your enjoyment of it. Being mindful in yoga also prevents injuries.

This week I sat down with one of my yoga teachers and good friend, Justine Duran. We discussed something I don’t believe is talked about enough in mainstream yoga, which is how to have an injury free practice.

Justine’s story

Justine started her life as a yogi when she was 20 years old. After battling drug and alcohol addiction in her teens she went through a year of heavy detoxing and found yoga.

She found the benefits in her practice immediately. She started sleeping better, feeling like herself again and most importantly was becoming more present.

Yoga made such an impact on her in fact that she signed up for her teacher training only two weeks into practicing.

The “aha” moment went something like this – She was in a class one day being led by a teacher she hated. The teacher was going on and on about the principals of yoga and Justine was thinking shut up and get to the next pose already.

As the teacher came over to adjust Justine in pigeon pose he said something profound that finally resonated with her. It triggered something in her brain and she began to sob realizing that she had been resisting his words up until that point. What the teacher was saying actually made sense. She had hated him because she didn’t want to hear what was most likely true, that she was being driven by her ego and not her heart.

As she squirmed out of denial she realized that this work spoke to her and she wanted to learn more. Not only that but she realized in that moment what she wanted to do with her life.

She wanted to connect with people on a deeper level. Like this teacher had just done with her.

So, like anyone who has just discovered their passion Justine jumped in head first. She took the teacher training in New York and then continued down a path of practicing every day.

She moved to Arizona where she fell into a routine of what she calls the 8’s. Every single day she would run, practice yoga and study yoga for 8 hours, work 8 hours and then sleep 8 hours, making her life an ongoing infinity loop.

Her body throbbed constantly, but her head was very clear.

Justine moved around a lot. New York, to Tucson, to Los Angelos, to Portland, to San Francisco often back tracking and doing the same city twice.

Once she landed in San Francisco she found a yoga teacher in the Richmond district that taught Ashtanga. She was going religiously six days a week. She was very flexible, focused and fearless powering through arm balances, deep stretches and handstands like they were no big deal.

And then she got injured.

She had gone from zero to sixty and back down to zero in about 7 years. She couldn’t practice yoga basically at all. All she could do was teach. Depression set in and Justine was now faced with having to re-examine her lifestyle. She was angry. She had worked so hard at her practice and on her body and now she could barely move.

What could have caused this injury she wondered?

Rehabilitation started with the discovery of a new float spa called Reboot, which offered water filled pods for floating in. The buoyant salt water relaxed her body and offered an ideal space for meditation. It was while “floating” that she started to reflect on her injury and wonder, what was she practicing so hard for?

Living and teaching yoga in San Francisco made her feel the need to have a strong social media presence. She had been flooding her instagram and Facebook feeds with yoga poses that the general public could only dream of getting into.

Was she practicing really hard just so she could post these images of herself she thought?

Even after the injury happened she was still posting these photos. Justine said, ” I would lay there on pain pills posting photos of myself doing yoga basically “fooling” everyone that, that was my current life”.

She started to resent yoga, for what people thought it should be and what she thought they expected from her. She felt the pressure of having to teach these strong powerful classes when her body wasn’t even strong enough.

It made her realize, most people’s bodies are not built to do all of these advanced poses. But people want them anyway and end up forcing themselves into them.

It was an internal battle for her. Does she give people what they want potentially facilitating a room full of injured students or does she learn from her own experience, slow her class way down and teach students what their bodies need logically?

She realized what she had been doing up until this point was fueling people’s (and her own) ego instead of fueling their consciousness.

As one of Justine’s students I witnessed the change in her classes. There was a shift all of the sudden. We hadn’t practiced handstands in weeks.

How to have an injury free yoga practice

There are four things Justine emphasizes now in her classes to promote an injury free practice..

Breath, alignment, strength and consistency.

Breath

She explains that a slow, deep and steady breath throughout your entire practice is crucial. “Breathing deep in a posture gets oxygen to travel throughout your entire body. It frees blockages and eliminates stress that has become manifested in certain parts of the body, like tightness in the shoulders, for example.

The breath should be paced and calculated, connecting with each movement in a mindful way. You are not moving on to the next posture because the teacher is cueing you to, you are doing it because your breath is telling you it is time to move forward. The teacher is just a guide, your breath dictates where and when you go”, she says.

For me, setting an intention for mindfulness at the beginning of my practice helps me focus on this. When I get distracted, which is inevitable, I gently bring my attention back to my breath.

Justine helps in this department too. She gives cues for breath work throughout the class. This has become a quality I have now come to look for in a teacher’s style.

Alignment

Justine says, “alignment is so important, I don’t see the purpose of getting past downward facing dog if you can’t even do that properly. You should be thinking about every posture you do very carefully before moving on to the next.

It’s not aerobics even if it may feel like it sometimes. If you know how to use your body and understand the breath and how to engage your bandhas you can create so much warmth in your body that you can be completely drenched in sweat and just be standing in one place. People don’t realize that. They think they need a faster more physical practice to reap the benefits of yoga.

Basically they are just trying to get a work out and are missing the whole point of what yoga really is. If you want cardio, go get cardio, and use yoga for what it is meant for.”

Practicing in front of a mirror can help you with alignment. Look at yourself in the posture and pick it apart. Make sure bones are stacking properly and that you aren’t hyperextending. The more you do the posture that way the more you will build muscle memory around it and it will eventually become second nature.

Strength

Flexibility without strength can cause injuries.

Justine says it is best to always keep a slight bend of the knees, especially in forward folds.

Justine urges, “just because you are flexible and can stretch deep doesn’t mean you should. It’s almost better if you are a bit tight because it forces you to come into postures with restriction. When you are flexible and don’t have adequate muscle support you can end up going too far. You can build towards flexibility you can not undo hyper flexibility and hyper mobility.

People tend to see other students in class going deep into certain postures and they think that’s how that posture should look for them, so they end up pushing themselves into it.

Being hyper flexible myself is what led me to getting my back injury. I had flexibility but not enough strength so it left my joints vulnerable. People with very flexible spines and not enough glutes muscle often end up injuring their backs. They end up jamming their discs in back bends. Squats are a great way to build up your glutes muscles.”

I would also add to Justine’s point that every pose should be active even if it’s a seemingly passive pose. Engaging your muscles protects your joints and helps to prevent injuries.

Consistency

Justine recommends to, “either be consistent or don’t. Don’t go once every other month and think you can just pick up where you left off. It doesn’t work that way. Each practice builds upon the next, every day is different, you don’t really know what your body is capable of unless you practice on a regular basis. Repetition is important. If you don’t practice often things are too random and the body loses muscle memory.”

A sustainable healthy yoga practice

I asked Justine what she felt a healthy yoga practice looked like. She said. “you can’t go wrong if you stick with the basics. When I started getting back into my practice after healing my back injury I started by doing just five sun salutation surya namaskar A’s and a five minute meditation each day.

After about a month of that I added in five surya namaskar B’s. Even though my body knew what came next I didn’t push myself. I stopped there because I knew that if I started to push again I would just re-injur myself.

Sticking with the foundation of doing five surya namaskar A’s and five sure namaskar B’s is really all you need. The rest is glitz and glamour.

If you did this short practice everyday five days a week you would know so much about your practice.

You would see patterns like which foot you always step back with first or which way you cross your legs. Knowing this is important because then you can mindfully change it up next time in order to balance yourself out.

Since you only have a goal each day of completing these basic sun salutations you will be more apt to try and do them perfectly instead of rushing through them to get to the other postures.

Pace yourself and focus on each movement with mindfulness. Once you have mastered sun salutations you can move on and start doing other poses to the best of your ability. You will always learn something from each sun salutation.”

Realizing and accepting that Justine no longer has to push herself has been liberating, she admits.

She is now back practicing Ashtanga yoga but only does about 40% of the poses that she used to hop right into. She goes three times a week and just practices meditation on the other days. She knows what her body used to be and what it is now and she accepts it.

On the subject of yoga and longevity. I asked, “how do you get to be that 80 year old lady in the class who is still practicing yoga every week?” She said, “that woman knows how to breathe fully and she doesn’t have 900 poses in her practice. Maybe she has 10, that’s the key to longevity.”

Justine’s yoga philosophy

Justine begs of her students to, “be honest with yourself, try not to be driven by the things you see and what others can do. Observe and learn how to know yourself. It’s not about knowing someone else’s body and trying to match yours with theirs. Drop your ego.”

She ended our interview joking, “it’s so simple! I can’t wait until yoga is not “cool” anymore.”

How to do Surya Namaskar A from TheHealthyLocavore on Vimeo.

Justine Duran
Justine Duran

Justine Duran dedicates her life to her yoga practice, friendships and the attempt of life balancing. She believes in an independent home practice and consistency, and with that the ability to find true observation of the self. She is currently studying to be an alcohol and substance abuse counselor with a goal to eventually own a retreat center for suffering recovering addicts. She currently teaches vinyasa yoga at both OMpower in San Francisco and in private one on one sessions. You can follow her at yikes yoga on instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.

How to Build a Solid Meditation Practice

meditation

Meditation and practicing mindfulness are becoming as popular as wearing yoga pants these days. What is it, about meditation, that’s making everyone from teachers to CEOs swear by it?

I recently sat down with Jerrica Fritzley, a meditation teacher and fellow yogi. She and I talked at length about the nuts and bolts of meditation and how important it has been in her life.

In her younger years Jerrica suffered from depression. Not wanting to go on anti-depressants she turned to meditation.

She started taking meditation classes from a woman who taught, not only to heal others, but to heal herself as well. Jerrica’s teacher has Lyme disease.

Jerrica discovered through meditation that she tends to be so empathetic towards others that it gets in the way of her following her own intentions.  She noticed that she was making decisions based on what others believed instead of on her own beliefs.

Meditating started to instantly make her feel better. She started to see herself making her own decisions and taking control of her life. She said “everything around me started to seem lighter, like meditation brought the light out of my body and showed it not only to the world but to myself”.

Jerrica explained that this is her form of therapy and that meditation enables her to reset and balance her brain if she feels bombarded by other people’s energy.

She now teaches meditation to children sharing the lessons it has taught her with them.

Here are some of Jerrica’s tips to building a solid meditation practice:

  1. Start a mindfulness practice first. Becoming more present with your surroundings and your thoughts encourages awareness which sets the stage for a successful meditation practice.
  2. Pinpoint things to focus on. Whether it be following your breath, counting to ten or scanning the body your focus will lead the way to a quiet mind.
  3. Listen to your body and modify to fit your comfort level. Contrary to popular belief you do not need to sit cross legged on the floor with your hands on your knees sitting up strait. Which ever position allows you to relax and be comfortable is the best position to be in for meditation. It can be anything from sitting in a chair to lying down. One of Jerrica’s favorite ways to meditate is in child’s pose.
  4. It’s OK to let your mind wander. Look at your thoughts like you are watching mindless TV. View them, acknowledge them and then let them go. Try not to have any emotional attachment to them. Go back to the breath.
  5. Meditate anywhere, anytime. Being unconventional with your practice will not only enable you to do it more often but will make it so it becomes a part of your life and mindset. Meditation can occur when taking a walk, fishing or doing a mindless task at work. You can also use it to escape anytime you feel like someone has taken your energy. Jerrica suggests ducking into a bathroom stall or empty room at work and taking five minutes to yourself to breathe and recalibrate.
  6. Be patient with yourself. Your practice doesn’t have to be perfect (that’s why they call it a practice). Your awareness will grow over time and it will become easier.
  7. Try out an app, a class or a guided meditation. There are many ways to practice meditation these days. If your schedule is too busy to go to a class downloading an app like Headspace is a great option. There are also many guided meditations online to help you. These can be great motivational tools if you are just starting out.

I persoanlly downloaded the Headspace App after reading about it in a magazine and hearing a friend rave about it (she uses it when she can’t fall asleep). After only a couple of days I have gotten myself on more of a routine and I look forward to sitting down to ten minutes of meditation almost daily now. I am confidant that over time my practice will grow by how quickly I was able to implement it in the first place.

Where do you have five to ten minutes in your day to quiet your mind? What do you think the benefits would be?

If you already have a meditation practice share your tips in the comments section we would love to hear them.

Jerrica Fritzley
Jerrica Fritzley
After 4 years of University in Switzerland, where she received a BA in Hospitality and Hotel Management, Jerrica is back in the Bay Area for good. When her health took a turn for the worse, Jerrica dedicated herself to learning alternative healing methods that produced amazing results. She now looks to combine her enthusiasm and dedication towards alternative healing methods with her love of hospitality, events, and community to help others with their healing journey.
 
Follow her journey on instagram @ease_and_grace

Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and certified health coach whose writing centers around holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made food.