Traveling Nowhere – Creating a Personal Retreat at Home

“Where ever you go…there you are.” Enlightenment is not found in some exotic temple on the other side of the world. It’s found in the daily mundane practices of life that slip by often unnoticed. Often purposefully ignored. Often pushed away. Traveling is great because it does help to open up a range of perspectives, as well as get us outside of routines so we can SEE our life. However, the true magic happens when you wake up in the same bed that you wake up in every morning. It happens when you go to work, when you laugh with your loved ones, when you move through arguments – and when you experience the inevitable suffering of loss,  sickness, and death that is simply a part of living for all sentient beings. It happens when you go grocery shopping, when you eat your lunch at your desk, and when you watch your kids play soccer. It happens on the inhale and it happens on the exhale. Sometimes, however, we need some distance to see what is right in front of us.

Though travel is a wonderful gift to be able to experience, you don’t have to break out your credit cards to go on a much needed personal retreat. It’s takes some commitment to practice a zendo/ashram/temple style retreat at home, but it’s doable and the benefits will be felt immediately. I recommend starting out with just one day the first time around, and then you can decided how a single day, weekend, or week long home retreat will fit into your life.

Follow these steps:

1. Pick a day when you can be alone. I know this can be a big challenge for some people, so you may really need to enlist some help in the endeavor.

2. Decide what your goal is, if any, and what forms you are interested in practicing, whether it is a certain kind of meditation, yoga, creative expression, or some blend there of.

3. Pick out any books, videos, podcasts, or supplies you will want to incorporate into you retreat day. (Meditation cushions, yoga mats, books, a journal, painting supplies, etc.)

4. Do as much as you can to create a peaceful environment before hand. Clean up a bit so you at least have room to move around or even one small area for minimal distractions.

5. Shop for and prepare clean, healthy food the day before.

6. Set up a fairly rigid schedule for the day like the one below. This will help you keep a flow, limit your decision making, and allow you to focus your attention fully on each part of the day. Note: Make sure you add in mundane activities such as household chores. This will help you bridge the connection between a calm, inward awareness during your retreat, and your regular daily life where you need it the most – the place where practice turns into to being. This is a practice that is typically incorporated into spiritual retreat centers.

 

Example schedule:

5:30 Wake up, quick shower, get ready

6 – 6:30 Meditation **

6:30 – 7pm Yin Yoga***

7 – 7:30 Eat

7:30 – 8:30 Clean

8:30 – 9 Rest and journal

9-10 Listen to Dharma Talk*

10-12 Read and rest, eat

12 – 2 Clean house, work outside in the yard or garden, etc.

3 – 4 Vinyasa Yoga***

4 – 4:30 Journal

4:30 – 5 Rest

5 – 5:30 Eat

5:30 – 6:30 Listen to Dharma Talk*

6:30 7:00 Journal

7:00 – 7:30 Meditation**

7:30 – 8:30 Yoga Nidra***

8:30 – 9:00 Prepare for sleep

9:00 Get to bed early

 

*Example: Free dharma talk podcasts from the SF Zen Center

**Free meditation timers (Bottom of page)

***Example: Yoga Videos from Yoga Glo

Note: You may find yourself using technology as part of your retreat. Avoid the urge for outside communications via social media. Keep the inward focus except for the knowledge of experienced teachers via, books, blogs, videos and podcasts (preferably ones that are ad free). Since there is no one else around to keep your daily schedule flowing, I recommend using a to do list app like Wunderlist, which you can utilize to setup your schedule with time reminders.

 

A Yoga Retreat to Help You on the Road to Recovery

If you’re struggling with an addiction, you’re not alone. In the US around 22 million people are believed to be dependent on alcohol or drugs, but, encouragingly, a similar number have managed to overcome these problems. Although traditionally addiction was managed in a medical manner, it’s now known that a holistic approach that encompasses a range of therapies is more effective. The benefits of yoga to help in the recovery process have been acknowledged and taking part in a yoga retreat could be just what you need to support your rehabilitation; particularly as the 12 Steps program to recovery encourages a spiritual approach, including meditation. As an activity that can be maintained once you’re home, something that most people can take part in even if they have other medical problems and one that offers a range of additional health gains, yoga offers great promise.

Benefits to mental well-being

Yoga has been shown to be an effective adjunct to treatment for the management of addiction to tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Participation in yoga encourages mindfulness which increases self-awareness allowing you to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. This is helpful as if not managed appropriately negative feelings can contribute to substance abuse; when the mind and body work together it provides you with the discipline you need to be strong to resist a relapse. However, this isn’t the only benefit. Yoga is well-known for its ability to induce a state of calm and encourage relaxation, helping to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol which is otherwise associated with anxiety; drug and alcohol use are frequently used as a means to manage stress, so this offers a natural release for stress. Practicing yoga is also linked to increased production of serotonin, one of the body’s feel-good chemicals and may explain why participants report improved mood. When you have a brighter outlook, this helps to boost your self-esteem and belief in yourself so you are more likely to be successful in your recovery. Continuing with yoga once you have beaten your addiction may also reduce the likelihood of relapse or turning to other addictions owing to its ability to keep anxiety and low mood at bay.

A means of coping

Yoga can additionally be seen as a positive activity and one that you can turn to during your journey of recovery and even once this is complete. One of the themes of drug and alcohol rehabilitation is that you find new hobbies and activities to engage in – those that you don’t associate with substance abuse. Not only can this help to fill your spare time, when you might be tempted to relapse if you have a lot of time on your hands, it can help you to form new friendships with people not connected to your old habits. Particularly owing to yoga’s ability to boost your mental well-being, it is the perfect activity to take part in when cravings set in. Usually if you can distract yourself with an activity this will help your alcohol or drug cravings pass without you feeling the need to act on them. This helps to offer you life-long coping strategies.

Specific benefits of a yoga retreat

A yoga retreat offers additional advantages with regards to addiction recovery above and beyond attending yoga classes in your local area.

Firstly, a change of scenery helps to remove you from the factors that may have led to your drug or alcohol abuse. While problems at home, your social circle or money worries will still be there on your return, having developed your focus and with a greater commitment to recovery you will be better prepared to develop strategies to manage these.

Retreats are more often than not located amidst beautiful surroundings, which in themselves can have a positive impact on how you feel and your outlook, particularly if you live in a built up area with limited access to green open spaces.

You will also have the chance to meet others, possibly forming close relationships, and this will provide an additional source of support; they may not be in the same situation as you, but will be able to draw on their own experiences.

Besides practicing yoga when on retreat you can develop other healthy strategies such as eating well, which will hopefully help to spur you on to adopting an all-round healthier lifestyle once you have returned home. This will support your recovery efforts as nourishing your body is important for your mental well-being as well.

Community Spirit & The Power of Group Practice

“Community is the new currency” – Steve Gold

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So I just got back from the California Spirit Festival.

This inagural event in the beautiful Masonic Temple in dowtown Sacramento was full of the most amazing people.

I danced  along side 5Rhythms teachers Douglas Drummond from San Francisco, and the most fabulous Bella Dreizler from Sacramento, while being led through the waves by 5 Rhythms teacher Amber Ryan  from Costa Rica.

Diana Vitantonio guided us with a gentle heart through a powerful Vinyasa class, accompanied by the live music of Girish and his band.

Then I danced and jumped the evening away to Mc Yogi.

This is just 3 of the 45 different classes that were available during the weekend.

My favorite part of the experience was deeply personal. Everywhere I looked were friends, many design clients & colleagues I have worked with throughout the years, past yoga students, incredible teachers in the fields of yoga, music, meditation and dance, and a ton of new, friendly faces. Every single one of them joyously connecting together. One moment I would walk into a room and run into Les Leventhal who I finally got a chance to thank for his recommendation that I get a scooter for the month I was in Bali when I ran into him at Michael Franti’s Soulshine Retreat Center back in September of 2011. The next moment I would turn a corner and run into Dr. Yogi and Sat Rattan Kaur, my Kundalini Yoga teacher trainers.

Among all this excitement was something else very interesting going on: Sacramento area yoga studios setting aside any idea of competition and integrating together into a united whole for the betterment of the  yoga community at large.

I also happen to know very intimately how much work it took by the team of people laboring out of love to make this festival a reality.

The energy around this group manifestation seeped right into my being. I realized how important it is for me to stay connected to community. I spend a lot of time working from home and practicing yoga in my living room, which is great, but there is a greater power in the energy of groups reaching towards a goal.

Working with the California Spirit Festival team to support them in producing the event led to a ton of growth in communication and time management. There were many people relying on me and many people I was relying on. In the same way, the dynamic of a group yoga class can give you that extra energy and focus to be fully present.

I worked. I played. I practiced yoga. I danced completely. I hugged A LOT of people. I even got some new design clients! For me, California Spirit Festival was a huge success, and I look forward to connecting even more at the event next year…and everyday!

What is even more amazing to me is all the incoming remarks from the participants and how transformative the experience was for them. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to help others create a space that supported so many people in their growth and wellness!

Get out there and connect with your people! Amazing things can happen!

P.S. You can find me all in black just behind Diana at the start of this video!

Just Start

I get your emails on a regular basis. Very long emails. You generously tell me about your life, and what you want to be doing compared to what you are doing now. You tell me there is something you read on this blog that inspired you. You want to know how you can do what it is you want to do.

I have the same answer for everyone. It is the same answer I give myself every day. Sometimes multiple times a day.

Just open the file.

At this point in my career I am a thriving freelance graphic/web designer and online marketer (though you wouldn’t know it by the shape of this blog…and we can define “thriving” at a later date.). I have many regular clients.  I have a fabulous  home office. And….I have freedom to choose when, where and how I work.

Freedom is a lot of responsibility.

The fact is, though I love my work, I would rather not have to do it on a daily basis….or even at all, really. But I still enjoy it for what it is. It is what I do for my energy exchange in the universe, and it has many perks.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and all I want to do is dance in my living room, listen to music, read, play outside, daydream, and talk with friends.

But sometimes shit’s really gotta be done. (You can quote me on that…)

I have two driving forces:

1. Deadlines

2. Inspiration

(not necessarily accomplished in that order)

Inspiration sometimes comes, and I sit down with no blockages, and work flows through me with ease…and if I am lucky every now and again it comes out with brilliance.

Most of the time, I am on deadline and things just have to be done no matter what.

Even when I would rather…not.

So when I find myself dreading the prospect of sitting down to work I tell myself:

Just open the file.

I don’t have to do ANYTHING but open the file. Once I get to that, then I am fine, and deadlines are met. The work gets done.

It doesn’t matter what it is you want or have to do.

Just open the file.

It’s good to see the big picture. It good to see the end goal.

See that. Then just start. Somewhere. Anywhere. In anyway possible.

It doesn’t matter where you start, but you can only get to the finish line if you start.

You can only get to the finish line if you START.

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WWSJD – What Would Steve Jobs Do?

I recently read the Steve Jobs biography. One of the most inspiring books I have ever read. I just want to share a little story with you about being persistent against the seemingly impossible.

Shortly after finishing the book I found myself in Reno at a craps table (I am not into gambling, but it was fun to experience something different). My travelling companion handed me a $500 chip from another casino to try and cash in at the cage since the croupier wouldn’t cash it in at the table. I went up to the cage with a big smile and asked if I could cash it in. The woman looked at it, made a call and then told me, “No.”

As I started to walk away I stopped abruptly and thought to myself. “What would Steve Jobs do?” Would he have just accepted that “no” and walked away?

Hell no.

So I turned around and went back. I asked her (nicely) if there was an actual written policy and if I could talk to a supervisor. She directed me over to the main cage in the next building very close by. I spoke with the manager there and she also gave me the same answer. “No.”

Now I was determined. I was not going to leave until I cashed that chip in. I knew that there must be a way, so I pressed on and asked the manager the same question, “Was there an actual written policy and could I talk to a supervisor?”

She made a call to the pit boss. He came over, looked at me, looked at the chip and said “No problem.”

 Score.

 I was so proud of myself.

Ultimately, between my travelling companion and I, we received 3 “No” answers before finally getting a “Yes.”

The main thing that I learned from reading the Steve Jobs biography is to not put a cap on what we think is possible. Being persistent against the seemingly impossible may not get you everywhere, but it can certainly get you further – in your yoga practice, in your business, in your MISSION.

Don’t take lazy “No’s” as a final answer from other people and especially from yourself! You have to be willing to keep taking that next step right past the nay sayers and your own negative self talk!

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A Daily Physical Yoga Practice – Power Yoga by Baron Baptiste

Below is a yoga set based on one of Baron Baptiste’s 90 minute Power Yoga set which I have been practicing daily. Don’t miss out! Keep reading…

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New Stuff Added to the Free Yoga Poses and Meditations Page

I added some new, free yoga pdf’s just for YOU! Surya Namaskara A and B (Sun Saultations) are ready for download and printing. Why dontcha just mosey on over here and grab ‘em. I have the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series coming your way soon!

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Why Practice Yoga?

Most people hear the word yoga and think about flexibility, strength, crazy postures, physical health, etc. These are all a part of yoga of course, but for me, yoga has always been about cultivating awareness on the yoga mat so I can learn how to be more aware when I leave the yoga mat. I don’t practice yoga to have flexible hamstrings (well sometimes I do and it’s certainly a great benefit), I practice yoga so that I can live the best life that I can. When I think about yoga, I think about things like prosperity as the flow of energy. I think about communication and our relationship to ourselves and those around us. I think about moving beyond preconceived limitations of all kinds – not just the physical. Yoga teaches me to how to be aware of my patterns of reactivity so I can make conscious choices. It teaches me to be emotionally stable. It teaches me to be present

Through yoga I have learned how to speak my voice, project my needs and wants, to listen better, to be more compassionate (even towards myself!), to dance and sing more, to be of service to others, to laugh with my whole being, to rest more completely in order facilitate healing, to be more conscious of what I put inside my body, to be true to my word, to have dedication and commitment and to let go of that which does not serve the greater betterment of myself and others. 

Yoga has helped me become a better mother, a better entrepreneur, a better friend and a better partner. 

Yoga has taught me that I am enough.

There are many things I still struggle with in life and I see nothing wrong with that. What I do know is that due to my yoga practice I am happier, healthier, doing what I love to do with more energy to do it, all while having more fun as I take a few spins on this Earth! 

Though I have and do practice many forms of yoga and meditation, my highest form of yoga practice has been teaching yoga. Aside from being a mother, no other practice has helped me be as accountable for my words and actions. Through the years I have had the great opportunity of uplifting others. Sometimes those people are yoga students and sometimes they are friends and family who start practicing yoga on their own. Sometimes it is a simple moment when I inspire others in some other way.

Even if you practice yoga solely for your own benefit, all beings around you gain the benefit. One thing that we sometimes do not realize is just how much affect we have on other people. 

I think we have all experienced a moment when a loved one, or even someone we don’t know, walks into a room feeling angry, sad or stressed out. With out them having to say a single word, we can tell, we can feel it and immediately our own physiology starts to change and vibrate with them. That is how much power we have over each other. So do you want to be the person that walks into a room and powers people down or do you want to be the person who walks into the room and powers people UP? Because our very presence has immediate effects on other people, we have a lot of responsibility to each other concerning our own energy. Since we are going to affect each other anyway, we might as well affect each other in such a way that benefits us all. 

Why practice yoga? 

For health. 

For energy. 

For physical strength and flexibility. 

For prosperity.  

For longevity.  

For compassion.  

For wisdom. 

For love.

Namaste.

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Cultivating Awareness Off the Yoga Mat

About 10 years ago, I read the book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunyru Suzuki. It was a pivotal read in my early meditation practice. Not long after, I read Suzuki Roshi’s biography, Crooked Cucumber and in the book I first learned of the San Francisco Zen Center which Suzuki Roshi founded. Among many things, the book talks about how the dining hall, which has tile floors with heavy wooden tables and chairs, is located directly above the zendo, or meditation hall . Suzuki Roshi realized during meditation that one could hear loud noises above as people dragged the chairs across the tiles when they pulled them away from the tables in order to sit down for their meals. He taught that one should not drag the chairs across the tiles lazily, but gently and quietly move the chair with awareness. He taught that this should be done in order to not disturb the meditation going on below, and also because that is how one should treat all objects as well as ones actions – with quiet, gentle awareness.  

After reading the book, I went to stay at the Zen Center. Sure enough there was the dining room, directly above the Zendo, with it’s tile floor and it’s heavy wooden tables and chairs. Every time I went to sit in a chair I moved it away from the table gently and quietly. I found this simple task to be a profound practice in awareness. However it wasn’t just moving the chairs around where awareness was being practiced at the Zen Center. The awareness of how one moved and interacted with the environment and the people in it permeated the entire day. Walking up and down the stairs, cooking, cleaning the bathroom floors, opening and closing doors. Everything was done with awareness.  

At the yoga studio I teach at there are times when you can hear people talking outside on the side walk and trucks roaring by. I have always welcomed those noises, as they are a part of life, and I feel that practicing yoga and meditation in a room on a street corner versus a silent void helps us to learn how to strengthen our focus when distracted on the mat and therefore how to deal with distractions as they come up when we are off the mat.  

And yet…

I have invited my students to bring their awareness of how they interact with the world with them when they come to practice as I was finding the level of noise when they came into the studio was sometimes not very conducive to a practice of awareness. When you go to your yoga class, you can start your intention of awareness the moment you touch the entrance door handle. At my studio the entrance and bathroom door can be quite jarring when opened and shut in an unconscious manner – particularly when someone must arrive late, leave early or use the restroom during class. In fact, the doors can be opened and shut in almost perfect silence, and every time I open and shut the doors in silence, I am reminded of what it is like to be precisely aware of my actions. You can continue this same practice with how you take off your shoes, how you put your belongings down and even how you roll out your mat.

Spend some time cultivating this practice of awareness before the you even begin your yoga practice. Then look around at how you move about in your daily life. Do you get home and just drop your things on the floor. Do you tap your pen on the desk noisily at work? How do you treat your possessions? Do you take care of them? Do you enter a room full of people and just start talking with out waiting to see what kind of situation you are entering into and possibly interrupting?

The more you start to cultivate awareness in your daily life, even when performing simple, everyday tasks, the more you will begin to cultivate awareness in other aspects of your life. If you can become aware of how you fold your laundry then you become aware of how you react to others emotionally, how you treat you body, how you interact with money and time etc. For every bit of awareness you cultivate, the universe opens up to you.

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Don’t Let Your Connective Tissue Hold You Back

I am honored to offer this guest post by Bella Dreizler, she is a certified physical therapist with over 38 years of experience as well as an amazing yoga teacher.

- The Wandering Yogi

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Consider this fact: The more we inhabit our bodies, the easier it is for us to heal. And whatever we do to deepen our relationship with the body’s movement, breath and sensation supports our health and wellbeing. Practices like yoga and dance help us become more fully embodied. But sometimes injuries or stiffness keep us away, plant us on the sidelines, away from the very movement medicine we need. Vulnerability and fear can often create paralyzing inertia.

Often the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

The challenges that keep us from enjoying a physical practice are as varied as the bodies we inhabit: Back problems, hip tightness, recurring foot issues, neck injuries, shoulder restrictions. The list goes on! Yoga is one of the ways we work with our unique body limitations. When we come to the mat with an intention for healing, we can discover, open and soften restrictions. We can let new flexibility flow right from the practice. We can access newfound internal support for posture and alignment. 

As we age, stiffness and tightness begin to feel like the new norm. Injuries, heredity, gravity, emotional patterns and postural habits contribute to this universal condition. So much formal exercise focuses on muscles: how to strengthen and how to stretch. When we’re young, we can exercise muscles and boost power and flexibility with relative ease. As time marches on, the role of connective tissue and how it affects our flexibility becomes increasingly important. 

What is connective tissue? It includes the bones and the cartilage, the tendons attaching muscle to bone, the ligaments binding bones together and the deep fascia that binds muscles together. Collagen fibers are the building blocks of connective tissue and changes in these fibers cause ordinary stiffness. Injuries, habits and age change the collagen from pliable and elastic to rusty, short and a bit deranged. As it tightens, it draws the muscle and bone closer together. This is what creates less possibility for movement. 

Much of our tightness develops in predictable asymmetrical patterns. Breaking down these collagen changes in the connective tissue, especially tightness around the hips, spine and shoulders, is the aim of yin yoga. Change happens! 

We are living beings comprised of living tissues. When these connective tissues are stressed, they adapt and change. We already know about adaptive change from our experience following an injury. We can feel the tightness we develop in response to this type of stress. Less obvious are the restrictions that slowly develop over time because of the habitual ways we hold ourselves.

But stresses can be positive as well. Connective tissue restrictions will release when they are subjected to the right amount of tension and stresses applied in a purposefully therapeutic way. Over and over again I have seen and experienced significant structural changes by engaging in long held yin poses. 

If you are leading a typical life in this culture it may be jam-packed with productivity and activity. When we choose recreation it often has the same qualities. When we decide to fit in yoga because we heard it was good for us, we often choose active yang styles. Yin yoga is about quieting, turning inward, cultivating a peaceful receptivity.

For many of us, it is the perfect balance to an active life style. 

Learning how to release connective tissue with yin poses requires attention and patience. We need to know the specific region we are targeting in any pose and how to make adjustments so that we feel the release happening in that target place. We also need to find a way to work right on our personal edge.

 What is our personal edge? Breaking up collagen restrictions where there is tightness is usually uncomfortable. Some people refer to it as a “good hurt.” Each of us must find our personal edge and remember that it varies from day to day. We are over our edge and in danger of actually making ourselves worse when we create pain that stops the breath and makes us tense in areas other than the target. We are not quite at our edge when there is no sensation created in the target. Lack of sensation means that nothing is being stressed for adaptive change in the tissue. This edge-finding takes undivided self-focus and attention. This is not an activity to undertake while watching T.V. This is the very essence of a yoga practice: Deep awareness of the breath, undivided attention on sensation, union of body and mind.  

When you find your yin edge, the connective tissue between the bones has been stressed enough to soften. Sometimes the sensation is one of compression as structures press into each other. Sometimes it is a feeling of lengthening tension or traction as structures are being separated. These sensations are sure signs of letting go and should
dissipate during the first minute after releasing the pose. 

There is an old Chinese fable that details how to set a monkey trap: Cut an opening in a coconut the size of a monkey’s open hand, place some rice in the bottom of the hollow and place the fruit where the monkeys travel. When a curious monkey reaches in to grab the rice, his tight fisted hold will not fit back out through the opening.

The lesson is obvious. Just like the monkey, we need to learn to let go of whatever our version of the rice happens to be. Learning to let go of what is tight in our body often delivers us to deeply personal meaning about what we need to release in our own lives. We gain so much wisdom from mindful movement as we tune in to our precious body.

– Bella Dreziler bodyjoy.net