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Episode 152: Cyndi Lee — Building Resilience Through Meditation and Sustainable Yoga

Today, we’re talking to Cyndi Lee, who was the first Western female yoga teacher to combine Tibetan Buddhism and yoga.

Cyndi and I worked together many times when I was an editor at Yoga Journal and I have so much respect for her. You’ll see why in this candid, down-to-earth interview. Cyndi is is not only inspiring, but she’s a living testament to how practicing yoga and meditation for many years can help you navigate life’s ups and downs with grace.

We talk about:

* Cyndi’s career as a professional dancer in the 1980s–including what it was like working with Cyndi Lauper

* The journey that led Cyndi to open the legendary Om Yoga studio in New York City

* Her recent studies that led her to become a Buddhist chaplain, what that entails, and how that intersects with yoga for her

* Cyndi’s double hip replacement, what she learned from it, and how the healing process is going for her. Plus, she shares what advice she’d give to others who are facing a similar situation.

RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

Cyndi Lee’s website

Yoga Body, Buddha Mind: A Complete Manual for Physical and Spiritual Well-Being

May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind

Upaya Institute and Zen Center

WRITE A YOGA PODCAST REVIEW

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SHOUT-OUT TO OUR SPONSORS

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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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Episode 133: Yoga for Life’s Transitions with Ty Powers

This week, I talk with Ty Powers. You might know Ty as the husband of my personal yoga teacher, Sarah Powers. He’s also an incredibly insightful teacher in his own right, a meditation teacher, and coach. Recently, he’s also been leading workshops called Changes and Transitions in Midlife–something that is of particular interest to me now that I’m in my 40s.

Here are some highlights  from our conversation:

*Ty talks briefly about parenting and race and how both of those things have impacted his life

*We commiserate about the challenges of having a spouse who’s an international yoga teacher

*We talk about how things change once a person gets into their 40s and 50s , the process of aging and how to make sense of the changes to your body. And Ty shares why he thinks people are beginning to ask the big questions about life and spirituality earlier today than ever before.

*How,  culturally, we’re missing the mark in preparing for all of life’s transitions, and how practices like yoga and meditation can help us to prepare ourselves for that process

RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

Ty Powers Bio

WRITE A YOGA PODCAST REVIEW

If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! It makes it easier for others to find the podcast. If you don’t know how to leave a review, here are some step by step instructions. Woohoo! So easy!

SHOUT-OUT TO OUR SPONSORS

1. LOLA is a female-founded company offering 100 organic cotton tampons, pads, and liners. For every purchase, LOLA donates feminine care products to homeless shelters across the U.S. For 40% off all subscriptions, visit mylola.com and enter the code YOGALAND40 when you subscribe.

2. Care/of is a monthly subscription vitamin service made from high, quality ingredients personally tailored to your exact needs. Their short quiz asks you about your diet, health goals, and lifestyle choices and uses these answers to create personalized vitamin packs just for you. For 25% off your first month of personalized care/of vitamins, visit takecareof.com and enter promo code YOGALAND.

3. Storyworth makes it easy and fun for loved ones to tell their stories. Simply purchase a subscription for someone you love and each week Storyworth will send them a question about their life. After a year, stories are bound in a beautiful book. For $20 off, visit storyworth.com/yogaland when you subscribe.

4. Away is a new kind of luggage that is designed to be resilient resourceful and essential to the way you travel today. They use high-quality materials at a lower price point than other brands because they sell directly on the Internet. For $20 off a suitcase, visit awaytravel.com/yogaland and use promo code YOGALAND at checkout.

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Why I Meditate

I Don't Meditate | Yoga Meditation | Jason Crandell Yoga

“I don’t meditate.”

“I don’t do yoga.”

“Meditation and yoga are for New Age, magical thinkers who are out of touch with reality and have too much time on their hands.”

These might have been some of my own personal excuses I made to the person that was dragging me to my first yoga class more than 20 years ago. She didn’t listen to me. And, really, why should she have listened? I was wrong on all counts. At the time, it was unclear just how profoundly wrong I was. Time would tell a different story.

So, what was my deal? Well, it was simple: I didn’t understand anything about meditation or yoga. So, my mind made up an incorrect story based on very little information. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all do it from time to time. One of the many problems with this hard-headed tendency is that we cut ourselves off from experiences that can be incredibly valuable to us—like yoga and meditation.

See also Change Your Day with a Lovingkindness Meditation

If we fast-forward two decades to the present moment, I do meditate and I do practice yoga. Both are inextricable elements of my life. If you’re familiar with my classes or online content, you already know that I practice yoga. It’s possible, however, that you don’t know that I meditate. I do. Here’s why.

Why I Meditate

There are countless modern articles that extol the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meditation. Arguably the entire tradition of yoga would not exist without meditation. Personally, I meditate for three reasons—any other positive side effects of my sitting practice are an added bonus:

1) Sometimes my life feels like a run-on sentence and my meditation practice gives me much needed punctuation. Like everyone else I know, I jump from one thing to another thing in a seemingly endless series of minor events. My meditation practice helps me press the pause button in my life. It helps curb my neurotic impulse to plow through every moment of my life without registering any of them.

2) My meditation practice helps me bear witness to the sensations of my body, the thoughts of my mind, and the feeling of my breath. All of these things are genuinely interesting to me. I’ve always been curious about the human condition and my meditation practice gives me a live glimpse into the phenomenon.

3) My meditation practice balances my active practice by providing me with a complementary physical experience. I like to work intensely in my body. But, I also like the sensory experience of being still. Working intensely and being still both provide physical feedback loops that I use to focus my attention. For me, they’re an inseparable pair.

5 Common Excuses for not Meditating—and why MOST of them are weak

Excuse #1, “My mind isn’t still.”

Counterpoint: Your mind is never going to be still. Never. And, whoever gave you that impression didn’t meditate either. Instead, when you meditate, you’re going to simply observe the activity of your mind so that you can witness your thoughts with greater objectivity. Your mind will still be active because you’re still alive. But, when you meditate consistently, your mind’s activity (usually) settles just enough that there is a lessening of pressure around your thoughts.

Excuse #2, “I don’t have time.”

Counterpoint: You actually do have time, you’re just in the habit of doing other things with your time. And, honestly, you may not be able to make time for meditation every day of your life. Life can get away from us once in a while. However, sitting for 10 minutes a few times a week is plausible for nearly everyone.

Excuse #3, “Meditation is for New Age, magical thinkers who are out of touch with reality and have too much time on their hands.”

Counterpoint: What kind of a person would think this?!?!

Excuse #4, “I can’t sit still.”

Counterpoint: Honestly, this is someone of sound and able body saying, “I can’t move.” Yes, you can. You can sit still. You might be lousy at sitting still. Sitting still might drive you crazy. But, you can sit still. In fact, this makes me think that you might need some practice sitting still. But, wait, how can one practice sitting still??? Oh, that’s right.

Excuse #5, “I don’t know how to meditate.”

Counterpoint: This is NOT lame. This is legitimate. Like so many other things in life, it’s helpful to have some guidance when you’re starting something new—or, trying to stay consistent. If this is your excuse, you’re in luck. I have answers for you below.

How to Start Meditating: Yoga and Meditation Tips for People Who Don’t Meditate

There are countless resources on meditation online, in books, and in local communities. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful.

#1. I’ve released a program on Yogaglo.com called, “I Don’t Meditate.” Clearly, this program was the inspiration for the title of this blog and my recent podcast on Yogaland with Andrea Ferretti. The program consists of 6, 10-minute meditations. You can learn more about the Yogaglo program, here. And, if you haven’t listed to the podcast, please check it out here. Yogaglo has additional meditation classes from exceptional teachers like Sally Kempton, Harshada Wagner, and more.

#2. Jack Kornfield and other meditation teachers at Spirit Rock in Woodacre, CA and the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, are exceptional resources. Jack—and many of the other teachers at Spirit Rock—offer podcasts, guided meditation, and dharma talks that will provide you with endless guidance along the path of meditation.

#3. Local dharma teachers or groups in your area can provide you with guidance and community. Not everyone will have access to a local community of meditators. However, many do. You may even consider driving to a meditation center or sitting group once a month if you live further away. These communities provide support and inspiration that can be invaluable.

I hope that these resources will get you sitting, taking inventory of yourself, and making sure that you don’t make the mistake that I made of saying that you “don’t meditate.”

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