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All posts by Andrea Ferretti

Three meditation studies that inspire me to practice

When Jason and I recorded the second podcast for this program (which, btw, you can still sign up for!), I told him that I often read  yoga and meditation research — for fun. He somewhat incredulously blurted out, “Nerd!” because he had no idea that I love poring over Harvard Health’s recent round-up or that I visit Richard Davidson’s site on the regular just to see if there’s anything new…

But it’s true – I do. In part, it comes from my years of writing short health pieces. But it’s also because the research inspires me. We all get bored in our practice from time to time. Reading the research is part of how I bargain with myself to sit down and do the practice. Even after all these years, I still need need reminders about why this practice is so valuable. Plus, I genuinely love seeing how science is starting to measure the things we inherently know when we engage with these practices over long periods of time – that they make us more empathic, that happiness is a skill, that somehow we aren’t as triggered by stress anymore.

With that in mind, here are three of my favorite meditation studies (I include lots more in the program):

Jason Crandell Meditating | Yoga Meditation | Jason Crandell Yoga

Compassion Meditation Changes the Brain

More than 10 years ago, Richard Davidson’s team published a study in PLOS One indicating that “positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport.” Brain scans of 16 monks who were exposed to distressing human sounds showed increased activity in regions of the brain associated with emotion sharing and empathy compared to a control group. Access the study here >>

Mindfulness Increases Grey Matter

This study, led by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, showed that after just 8 weeks of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), participants demonstrated increases in areas of the brain associated with compassion and empathy, memory, and concentration. In addition, the participants’ amygdala got smaller! The amygdala is associated with fear and the fight or flight response.  Access the study here >>

Meditation May Protect the Aging Brain

When researchers at UCLA compared the brains of meditators to non-meditators they found that meditator’s brains were almost a decade younger by the time people reach their mid 50s. Research is still ongoing, but the hope is that meditation may help protect against age-related decline. Access the study here >>

I hope these studies inspire your practice! For more inspiration, consider joining You Can Sit With Us, which includes self-compassion meditations, mindfulness meditation, and self-inquiry practices.

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What Self Care Means to Me — and Why It Matters

Andrea Ferretti

Self care is a buzz word these days. And there’s a reason for it – in times of cultural and political strife, people’s interest in self care increases.

Buzz words tend to make me cringe, or at the very least, they make me suspicious. But last year, as I was prepping for an interview with Jill Miller, I read her words, “self care is healthcare,” and they stopped me in my tracks with a big, resounding, inner YES.

Yes, because I went through clinical depression and panic disorder in my twenties, and a big part of my healing was learning self care (the other big part was and still is anti-depressants). Yes, because when I became a mother 6 years ago and ended up with an unplanned, super-medicated C-section and my baby couldn’t latch properly for close to a month, I was forced to slow down and practice self care. Yes, because when I went through cancer treatment four years ago, I was reminded yet again that ongoing self care was part of my post-treatment plan to help prevent recurrence.

So, a big YES to the idea self care is part of what keeps me healthy – and when I lose touch with that, I am less healthy, resilient, and strong. I’m also less able to cope well with the primary people in my life – I’m less patient, more brittle, and less of a teacher to my daughter, more of a drill sergeant. The reason for this is so obvious to me now –it really is true that the way you treat others begins with the way you treat yourself. If you’re gracious and spacious with yourself, you’re more able to extend that goodwill to the people around you.

For me, self care is a constant process of self-reflection and then making choices that contribute to my overall well being from moment to moment.

The actual doing of self care is different for everyone. And until I read Jill’s quote, I put it in the category of – go get a mani with my bff or treat myself to something. I like to treat my self – just ask my husband. And, occasionally, a pedi feels like self care. But overall, I think of it differently now. For me, self care is a constant process of self-reflection and then making choices that contribute to my overall well being from moment to moment. Sometimes it takes the form of using some essential oils to reset my mood. Other times it’s scheduling in coffee time with friends who I truly love connecting with. Many, many times it’s allowing myself more silence, less screen time.

Whatever the self care choice is, there are three underpinnings to this approach to self care:

– First, I acknowledge that self care has value. It’s not a treat; it’s a necessity for me to function at my very best in a consistent way.

– Second, it requires the ability to tune in to what I need, which requires self-awareness.

– Third (and I learned this one from Caitlin Hildebrand on my recent podcast, Yoga as a Form of Radical Self Care) – when it’s tied to your overall sense of purpose, it’s more meaningful and easier to stick to.

And that’s why yoga and meditation are at the very root of all my self care practices. These two foundational practices that accomplish two things at once – they hone your self-awareness so that you can better identify and respond to your own needs while being amazing forms of self care in their own right. Simply stepping on the mat or sitting in silence on a regular basis will help you understand your energy levels, your physical pains, your responses to stress. These practices will help you hear the voice in your head that is planning the future or is stuck ruminating on the past. They can illuminate the mean girl on your shoulder who tells you you’re not working hard enough, and it also open you up to a compassionate voice who knows the truth of how inherently worthy you are.

Self care is not always easy – it’s not all running through daisy fields taking selfies. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. But it does require committing to its value and carving out practices that you can regularly incorporate into your life.

I have so much more to say about this topic and I’d love to share it with you. If you’d like to learn more about self care and create a meditation habit that sticks, join me in May 13th, 2019 for my three-week program, You Can Sit With Us. Each week, you’ll receive four meditations, a video podcast, and a journal with self-inquiry questions to help you scope out develop a self care and meditation habit that support you in all aspects of your life.

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10 Creative Ways to Inspire Your Yoga Practice This Summer

Yoga Inspiration Warrior III Virabhadrasana III | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

When summer rolls around, yoga practice can fall by the wayside — the longer days mean we spend more time outdoors, we travel, those of us who have kids deal with changing schedules. So, to keep you inspired, Jason and I are doing a six-episode summer yoga podcast series!

For episode 1, we offer 10 creative ways to inspire your yoga practice this summer. You can listen to the episode by clicking here. And, we took notes for you, which you can find below.

YOGA INSPIRATION: 10 WAYS TO INSPIRE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE

1. KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET

Most of us are accustomed to a 60-90 minute studio practice, so it’s easy to feel like a 15-30 minute practice isn’t worth it. But Jason makes the point that doing a little bit every day can have a big impact and he uses the slightly gross but still apt metaphor of brushing your teeth. Is it better to brush your teeth for a few minutes each day? Or better to go to a dentist once a week for 90 minutes? Bottom line: Take advantage of and value short practices!

2. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU LOVE

If you have a consistent, longstanding home yoga practice then it makes sense to work on poses that challenge you. But if you’re new to home practice, emphasize poses you love. You want to make doing yoga something you look forward to and something that’s fun, not a chore. Another Jason metaphor: If you’ve never cooked at home, would you teach yourself to cook by starting with your least favorite dishes or your most favorite?

See also Jason’s Favorite Yoga Poses

3. BE FLEXIBLE WITH THE TIME OF DAY

There’s a longstanding recommendation to practice yoga in the morning. And for most of us, this makes sense — we start the day off feeling clear and the day doesn’t get away from us. But when your schedule changes, it’s important to be flexible and fit your practice in when you can. Jason almost exclusively practices at night when his schedule is throwing him a curveball. If he’s teaching weekends or trainings, he does light evening practice to stay connected.

4. BE FLEXIBLE WITH INTENSITY

If you typically practice in a studio, you’ll probably normalize a certain degree of physical intensity and a different intensity won’t feel as valuable. But if you want your practice to be “portable” and accessible to you when life throws your curveballs (like when you’re traveling or when you’re sick), then you have to be willing to do a moderate intensity practice from time to time. Remember that a key component that differentiates asana practice from other physical endeavors is that it’s not just about pushing through — it’s about tuning into how you’re feeling and creating an appropriate response.

5. DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO REPLICATE A STUDIO CLASS IN YOUR HOME PRACTICE

We’ve touched on this in the previous tips, but think of it this way: The difference between going to a yoga studio and practicing yoga at home is like the difference between going to a Michelin-star restaurant and eating a home cooked meal. You’re not only going to eat at fancy restaurants and you wouldn’t judge a home-cooked meal on a standards of a well-trained chef.

6. TRY AN ONLINE PROGRAM

YogaGlo has a new series of online programs that are amazing (if we do say so ourselves). You can select a program that you want to do and then schedule the weekly classes into your calendar and it will email you reminders. Jason and several other teachers like Amy Ippoliti, Stephanie Snyder, Claire Missingham, and all have programs on YogaGlo that you can check out.

7. USE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE AS A COMPLEMENT TO YOUR SUMMER ACTIVITIES

Spend more time outside hiking, biking, or swimming in the summer? Then use them as a muse for your practice. Instead of working toward peak poses, do poses that balance out the hunched position of the upper back while you’re on a bike or the tightness in your quads from hiking.

8. PRINT OUT SEQUENCES FROM OUR SITE

Find inspiration around you! Here are sequences from our site that you can download and practice with:

FOUNDATIONAL SEQUENCES

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar A)
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar B)
30-Minute Whole Body Sequence
30-Minute Morning Sequence
Evening Wind Down
Immune Booster
Two Core Yoga Routines
Ease into Urdhva Dhanurasana
Open into Hanumanasana

SEATED POSES

Quick Hip Openers
Fold into Lotus Pose
16-Pose Sequence to Help You Progress in Compass Pose
Parivrtta Janu Sirasana

INVERSIONS

The Perfect Shoulderstand Prep
Refine Your Headstand
A Shoulder Opening Sequence to Forearm Balance

ARM BALANCES

Twist into Eka Pada Koundinyasana I
Pigeon + Chaturanga = Eka Pada Galavasana
Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose)
Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Parsva Bakasana (Side Crow)
Build Your Vasisthasana (Side Plank)

9. VALUE CONSISTENCY

The most important component of a physical or fitness regime is consistency. You truly don’t need to do big huge intense practices; you just need a consistent ongoing relationship with your body and breath. You need to come back to it time and time again.

10. TRY SOMETHING NEW!

If you’re practice is feeling stale or stuck, try a new class or a new teacher or a new studio! It can really freshen things up and give you a new perspective and rekindle your interest in the practice.

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Drop the Technique. Just Dance.

Before we get to the post, a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong. I also have three separate online teacher trainings, focusing on arm balances & inversions, sequencing, or anatomy.

Yoga in Music Class | Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana | Andrea Ferretti | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

I typically think of Jason as the contrarian in the family. He’s insightful and he excels at communication – especially when it goes against the grain. Last week, Jason wrote, In Praise of the Quiet Class, a piece that talks about how, contrary to modern yoga norms (yoga in music class), he’s never played music during yoga class in his 20 years as a teacher.

And as I read it, I found that my own inner contrarian was rising up to meet his contrarian. So, I wanted to add my voice to the topic. You see, I truly enjoy and value taking yoga classes with music from time to time. So much so that I interviewed Stephanie Snyder for the podcast this week to talk about how she does it so skillfully.

Stephanie talks thoughtfully about why she includes music in class: Chanting and playing music help facilitate rhythmic breathing. Music in yoga class can be a great bridge for folks who aren’t ready yet for complete silence. And it can evoke emotion that can draw people into themselves and into a more inquisitive, receptive state.

You can hear her talk about all this more articulately than I on the podcast. But what drew me to stay up late on a Monday night writing this for all of you was the following little revelation that I can’t shake.

Music in Yoga Class: Drop the Technique and Just Dance

I studied ballet through my whole childhood. By the time I was 12, I was dancing seven days a week and spending all day Saturday and Sunday training and rehearsing. When you take a ballet class, you begin with the technique at the barre. You meticulously warm up your feet, ankles, legs. Eventually, you move to the center of the room and continue honing your technique – pirouettes, arabesques, more tendus. You drill and repeat, drill and repeat.

Then, at a certain point, you learn a piece of choreography and you DANCE. You let go of the inner critic that hounds you about your knock-knees or your pronated feet and you put all of the steps together and you express yourself through your body. It’s FUN and the music is beautiful and there’s a levity in the room that fuels everyone simultaneously.

Clearly, there’s a place for that single-pointed focus on technique just as there’s a place for letting go and dancing. The closest I’ve come to that feeling of letting go of my inner taskmaster during yoga is in classes with music. I love technique-oriented yoga classes. They hone my focus and affirm to my ego that says, ‘You’re trying really hard therefore you are doing something right in your life!’

I also love classes with a good playlist because they allow me to drop my technique and just be in my body moving, breathing, and doing the yoga poses that I’ve drilled and repeated for the past 20 years. During certain times in my life or even certain times of day (like after a long day of work and commuting), I want to drop the technique and just dance. I want to forget about my fussy wrists and my crappy backbends and I want to move and breathe and express – even if, especially if nobody’s watching.

Like Jason, I know there’s a place for both quiet and music-filled yoga classes. And if you only practice to music, I implore you to consider adding a few minutes of pranayama or meditation in silence to the beginning or end of your day or your practice session.

But if you’ve never tried a yoga class to music? Or if you had a bad experience 10 years ago? It might be worth trying again. You might just unlock some moving, breathing, emotive part of you that’s not of the mind, but of the moment.

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Essential Sequence: Wake Up and Flow

Morning Yoga Sequence | Morning Yoga Flow | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

Full disclaimer: when it comes to the morning, I’m a coffee first kind of guy. Yoga is a close second. But, it’s second nonetheless. It wasn’t always this way, but nothing is permanent. So, if you’re like me and you prefer some liquid inspiration to get yourself on the mat first thing, don’t judge yourself. Once you’re ready, here’s a solid, get-up-and-go practice.

This is a pretty simple, straightforward sequence. You don’t need to revolutionize the future of yoga sequencing before noon. You just need to ease into your body, get moving, turn upside down a time or two and chase the cobwebs away with some backbends.

The sequence starts with three opening postures — Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, and Ardha Uttanasana — to slowly stretch the back of your body. Then, you transition into Sun Salutations. I have “Surya Namaskar A” listed here, but you can do any style of Sun Salutation that you like. I take my first couple of Salutations incredibly slowly. It wasn’t always this way, but, again, nothing is permanent. Take as many as you like and move at whatever pace you prefer.

Next, you’ll jump into a progression of standing poses. I like to practice Warrior II-based postures prior to Warrior I-based postures, because they’re easier for my hips. This is the order that I’ve chosen for this sequence, but I don’t have a black and white rule about it. I used to, but nothing is permanent.

After you’ve done a few openers, done as many Salutations as you fancy, and worked through your standing postures, it’s time to get upside down. If you’re not practicing Handstand, you could do Half-Handstand with your feet at the wall. Or, you could omit the inversion entirely. If you have a few tricks up your sleeve and want to do additional inversions or arm balances, go for it.

The sequence concludes with Bridge Pose and Upward Bow Pose, followed by Supta Padangusthasana. My backbends feel even tighter in the morning than in the afternoon. It’s always been this way — some things never change. Supta Padangusthasana grounds you after your backbends and rounds out the sequence. A brief Savasana or Seated Meditation is a nice way to fully close the practice. Usually, I include these, but I’m honest enough to tell you that sometimes I don’t. Once in awhile, it feels like I spent the entire morning sequence trying not to feel like a corpse.

OK, enjoy your practice!

PS: For easier practice at home, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF download. If you are already on our newsletter list, you still have to enter your email to receive the sequence.

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my online course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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