5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Fall in Love with Your Body

child bodyWhen I first started doing yoga, I really didn’t like my body very much. I rarely had any positive thoughts about it. Mostly when I thought about my body I felt frustrated, or ashamed. These sound like big things to feel but in my experience talking and working with women these are some of the most common ways us women feel about our body. When we give ourselves the time and space to really listen to what we tell ourselves about our body, it’s surprising what we hear. It’s unusual for us to have thoughts like “I love my body,” “My body is amazing,” “I appreciate everything my body does for me.” Mostly we think things along the lines of “I wish my body were different,” “I don’t like this part or that part,” and “I’m too big.” What if there were a way to go from body-bashing to body-loving? What if you could go from wishing your body was different to seeing how amazing it is? It’s all in the approach. I’m not going to say that yoga is the be-all solution. But practiced with an awareness of how it can help you love your body, yoga can be a powerful force of positive transformation.

5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Fall in Love With Your Body

  1. We realize how we talk to ourselves about ourselves. When we do yoga, we have to be with our body and our thoughts about our body. There’s no distraction from the thoughts of self-judgement or rejection. We become keenly aware of what we say about our body. And that’s the first step to moving from believing those things to realizing they’re untrue. Takeaway:Start to notice what you tell yourself about your body.
  1. We must choose to stop feeding those thoughts. Body-bashing thoughts, like most thoughts that pull us down, can feel really attractive. There’s a part of us that leans into them, relishing the way we feel. To continue growing and learning in our yoga practice, we need to shift our focus to what how we’re growing and what we’re learning. And we learn how to be in a very body-focused environment without feeding those body-bashing thoughts. Takeaway: Focus on what you’re working on in your yoga practice, not the thoughts about your body.
  1. We learn to use our body in a different way. During our yoga practice, our body becomes a tool for physical strength and flexibility. It becomes a part of us that enables us to do a handstand, rise into tree pose, or arc into a backbend. It becomes a part of us that supports us as we learn something new, and then master it. Takeaway: Notice what you’re doing now, that you weren’t doing before.
  1. We start to appreciate what our body can do. Seeing our body in a whole new way helps us to appreciate what it can do. We’re less likely to take it for granted, especially since we can experience such a dramatic change in how we feel after practicing yoga. We start to appreciate what our body can do for us. Takeaway: Make a list of reasons why you appreciate your body.
  1. We learn to see our body in a different way. Rather than looking at our body only as something to be assessed, measured and compared to others’, we start to see it as a part of us that helps us gain inner and outer strength, access deep peace and contentment, and even begin to live from a place of love. Takeaway: See your body as a way to access an inner state that begins to impact your world and how you experience it.

Yoga is one of the things that helped me powerfully transform the way I feel about my body. It’s not often that I think negative thoughts about this incredible vessel I’m honoured to live in. From this place of gratitude, it’s rare for me to see my body as something to be assessed and compared to others’. I just look at it and think “Thank you.” And for that, I am eternally grateful. I hope these tips help you, too, xL

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Editor’s note: This was a guest post from the amazing Lindsey Lewis–life coach and yoga teacher. Stay up to date with her latest at www.libreliving.comFacebook, and Twitter.   Photo credit: TeenyTinyOm

Theming your yoga class, theming your life…

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Theming is an integral part of the class-planning process if you are a yoga teacher, whether it is done consciously or not. Some people prefer to prepare a short story or inspirational reading, others choose a word or anecdote to share. However, even if you’re not intentionally putting forth the effort to plan a theme for class, theming still occurs.

A conversation that came up during my training a few weeks ago had to do with the topic of theming. How necessary is a theme, even? What makes a good, or a bad, theme? Christina Sell dropped some wisdom on us that I found both comforting and challenging. Whether you choose a specific theme or not, a theme has already chosen you. The way that you speak, the words you choose to use, your sequence, your adjustments…are all part of who you are as a teacher. Compassion, grace, perseverance, and courage are all your themes, and if you teach as your most authentic self, every aspect of your class carries your theme.

One of the ways that I intentionally theme classes is with a playlist. I choose a word, or maybe a holiday, to base the playlist off of, and then spend hours swimming through music and choosing just the right combination and sequence. It’s one of my favorite parts of planning a class.

In the case of this coming Independence Day, I’ve created a playlist entitled ‘Freedom’. On it are songs that speak to Freedom from many different angles. They beg questions like “What is freedom to you?” and “What cost are you willing to pay for that freedom?” and more lightheartedly, “What would freedom look like if I were a Dragonfly?”

It’s not so important to me that the class even notices the theme of the playlist, but that the intention and energy that went in to making it is expressed.

I’d love to share my Freedom playlist with you, in honor of the 4th of July. Throw it on, and find freedom on your mat.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from DCOY contributor Sean Devenport. She is currently completing her 500-hour RYT.

540217_698781320137845_1802831051_nA quiet and curious observer by nature, Sean was drawn to human psychology as an undergraduate at Ripon College. Determined to learn just what it is that makes people “tick”, she travelled the globe studying some of the ways we, as humans, can be – spending a semester on the golden beaches of Australia, and another in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Sean returned home to discover the key ingredient  to understanding others was first to understand the Self. Since 2009, Sean has been a dedicated practitioner of yoga and life, dabbling in every style from Bikram to Kripalu. As a former dancer and dance enthusiast to this day, the fluidity and dance-like quality of Vinyasa was what really spoke to her soul. After studying under Gioconda Parker in 2011, Sean began teaching her own personal style of Hatha Flow, a melding of Vinyasa, the dedication to precision and alignment of Anusara, and Iyengar, and the core teachings of Hatha Yoga. Sean was highly influenced by William J Broad’s 2011 best seller The Science of Yoga, and strives to offer a safe and judgement-free environment for practitioners of every level to seek higher understanding of themSelves. Sean encourages students to pour the compassion and love that they cultivate for themselves on their mats, in to their every day interactions with others. Under the guidance of Gioconda and Christina Sell, Sean is currently pursuing her 500-hour teaching certification, The Alchemy of Flow and Form, at the San Marcos School of Yoga. Connect with Sean on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Photo credit: Laura Sykora on Instagram

10 Things I Learned From Destination Yoga Teacher Training

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1. I am stronger than I know. I spent hours upon hours, day after day doing insane amounts of intense yoga. My body did not let me down. On the contrary, it surprised me almost daily by how much it was able and willing to do. There was a point in the week where my body seemed to tell my mind to “STFU. I got this. Quit telling me what I am incapable of. Enjoy the ride.”

2. We are all in this together. One of my favorite moments of the week was laying on the ground in savasana, singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” while holding hands with a drag performer from Seattle and an architect from Boulder. We had nothing in common; we have everything in common. It is amazing how many friends you find when you realize the only thing that matters is we are all human.

3. That story you tell yourself, the one where you are not good enough, not smart enough, not ready, not worthy? Stop. It is old. It is boring. And it is a lie. It is also holding you back. It is impossible to be where you are, to believe more is possible, to write another chapter when you are busy reading the previous one. So whatever your past is, leave it there. The mf-er is heavy. And you have things to do.

4. Forgive. Tell the truth. Do unto others. In other words, live the golden rule. With yourself and with others.

5. You are responsible for the energy that you bring into a space. So that bad mood, your sadness that you have not dealt with, the unresolved fight with your sister, the frustration from not following your dream, it is not just your business because you are hauling into every interaction in your day.

6. If you want something new, you can not create it from old stuff. Nor can you create anything at all, until you clean your sink. The best analogy of the week, the one that landed with me the most, was the sink full of dirty dishes. It is really hard to tackle when it is overflowing, yet totally doable when there is only one or two. This is life. Deal with the dirty dishes as they come. Do not let the sink get overloaded or it becomes overwhelming and you do nothing.

7. Friends absolutely change everything. In a good way. This applies to all kinds of friends—BFFs, just met you friends, boyfriends, friends that are boys, friends in your city, friends far away, friends you talk to daily, friends you wish you talked to daily. Because what they all have in common is a willingness to take a little bit of your load, your story and leave you with a more manageable amount.

8. Inspire somebody. Like air masks on an airplane, start with you. Then spread that inspiration to your kids, your friends, your spouse, the random guy in line behind you at Starbucks. Let your life be an example of what is possible.

9. Listen to the ultimate teacher. No matter who is leading class or discussion, the teacher is you. You know your body and heart most, you can be your own guru.

10. Practice yoga. Daily.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Christina Russo, a new contributor to Daily Cup of Yoga. Find more of her work at LittleWindmillYoga.com.

Photo credit: Cam Lee on Facebook

10 Benefits of Gratitude

gratitude_silviaRick Foster and Greg Hicks set out on a three-year journey to study extremely happy people. In their book How We Choose to Be Happy, they found that there are nine choices happy people make. One of those nine is to practice Appreciation.  The other of the nine choices includes: Intention, Accountability, Identification, Centrality, Recasting, Options, Giving, Truthfulness, and Synergy.

Happy people actively exercise gratitude and choose to live with an attitude of gratitude. They don’t buy into what geneticists say, that we have an unmovable “happiness set-point.”

The happiest people, according to behaviorists, can move beyond that biological set point through practices such as Yoga and gratitude meditation. In fact, many studies suggest that gratitude can be learned by anyone to transform our lives. This means that by actively practicing gratitude, we can actually raise our “happiness set-point,” regardless of the situation, and no matter the circumstance.

Appreciation makes us aware of the blessings present in our life moment to moment. There is always something to be grateful for if you are fully engaged in what’s happening right now instead of replaying the past or worrying about the future. Besides a higher happiness set point, other benefits of gratitude include:

  1. Feeling more connected (less lonely)
  2. Stronger immune system
  3. Improved emotional equilibrium
  4. Better sleep
  5. Increased energy
  6. More confidence in ourselves
  7. Deeper relaxation
  8. We are more attractive
  9. Increased creativity
  10. Easier bounce back from difficulty

To experience these benefits we must consciously choose to practice gratitude. Include one of these exercises in your life:

  1. Set your intention to maintain a Gratitude Journal for one week. Every morning, start your day with a simple gratitude exercise that involves writing down 3-10 things you are grateful for, both big and small.
  2. Set the timer for three minutes and sit still. Quietly think about all that you appreciate in a free-form stream of consciousness, without any editing. Don’t worry if it makes sense or not.
  3. For a week write one thank you note per day to tell someone how much you appreciate them and why.
  4. Practice self-appreciation. Take time for seven days in a row to write yourself a note of gratitude.

You will be amazed at how effortless recognizing these moments of grace becomes. Taken together these small blessings cultivate a beautiful “just right” abundance of love and joy. What’s even better? Studies prove these gratitude exercises will increase your sense of well-being by at least 10%. Don’t take my word on it, or even believe the scientists behind these studies, try it and find out for yourself. Love yourself, love your day, love your life! ~Silvia

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Screen Shot Front Silvia CardEditor’s note: This is another amazing guest post by Daily Cup of Yoga contributor Silvia Mordini, E-RYT, retreat leader, happiness coach, and yogipreneur. Enthusiasm to love your life is contagious around Silvia. Her expert passion connects people to their own joyful potential. Silvia lives her happiness in such a big way that you can’t help but leave her classes, workshops, trainings and retreats spiritually uplifted! Born in Ecuador, raised traveling around the globe, she is an enthusiastic citizen of the world and spiritual adventurer. She has over 10,000 hours and 15 years of teaching experience, owned a yoga studio for 9 years and after being run over by a car used yoga to recover physically and emotionally. Silvia leads Alchemy Tours Yoga Retreats and Alchemy of Yoga RYT200 Yoga Teacher Training.

Silvia can be reached on the Web at www.alchemytours.com or www.silviamordini.com, or via email at silvia@alchemytours.com. Twitter: @alchemytours@inspiredyogagal; Facebook: Silvia Mordini; YouTube: lovingyourday; Pinterest: Silvia Mordini; Intagram: alchemytours.

Photo credit: @inspiredyogagal on Instagram

The Yoga of Acceptance

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Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. – Lao Tzu

The beauty of a yoga practice is that it helps us learn acceptance. Initially, I found that my practice was helping me learn to accept my body as it was that day in that particular moment. Every time I would go to class, my teachers would remind me, remind us all, that a piece of doing a posture was simply about focusing on where our bodies were right then. Not where they were the day before. Not where we wanted them to be. Right then.

It was a hard lesson to accept. When I first began my practice three years ago, I was happy to just show up and do anything. I was excited about the possibilities for each posture. I looked forward to seeing what the next class would bring.

But the more time I spent in the studio the less accepting I became of my body and what it could do. I wanted my tight hamstrings and hips to open up so that I could go deeper in certain postures. I found myself frustrated with the time it was taking and the lack of progress I perceived myself to be making.

I had developed a goal-oriented practice.

My practice had moved away from self-acceptance and enjoyment and into one where I thought the only way to be happy was to obtain full expression of a posture. No, not every posture. I just had certain ones I loved and thought were beautiful that I wanted to achieve. The rest of them, well, they didn’t really concern me. If a posture wasn’t on my list of favorites, then it was something I simply had to do in order to get to one of those that was. I was just passing time.

Refocusing My Practice

As the quote from Lao Tzu says, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes,” and sure enough, I experienced one that helped me refocus my practice.

About six weeks ago, I was doing some back-bending at home. I shouldn’t have been doing it. It was cold outside, I was cold, and I was not properly warmed up. But my back felt tight from sitting all day, and I just wanted to stretch it out. The result? A pulled muscle in my lower back.

That pulled muscle impacted nearly every single posture. Anything I could have done in a posture previously became non-existent. Yes, I could go to class, but I had to move slowly and evaluate what was going on with my body. Most postures I could barely get into at all, and there were several I flat out couldn’t do for weeks because of the pain it caused in my back.

I didn’t want to give up my practice, and it was recommended to me that continuing, and doing anything I could, was better than doing nothing at all. Some movement is better than no movement.

The first week was the worst. I cried several times because of the pain and the physical limitations it put on me, but then, somehow, I managed to fall into acceptance. I started to find the joy in going to class and doing what I could without expectations. I became excited again about what the next day would bring. Some days I could do more, and others I could do less, but I learned not to get upset by this.

I started to appreciate each posture for its own beauty and what it brought me each day. Since I couldn’t do my favorite postures to the extent I was used to, I had stopped focusing on when they would show up in class. I was simply being.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by new Daily Cup of Yoga contributor, Leigh A. HallLeigh has been practicing Bikram Yoga for over three years. She blogs regularly about her practice at www.mybikramyogalife.com.  You can find her on Facebook,  Twitter, and Pinterest.

Sacred Sound: Mantras & Chants

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Many years ago when I started a yoga practice, I had no idea what it would reveal to me. I was just hoping for a little extra strength and flexibility, and I did what I could to avoid all the spiritual trappings of the practice. But, somehow, as it does, the yoga did its job. Over the years it brought me through physical, psychological, and emotional revelations that I can’t imagine would have taken place otherwise.

One of the most powerful insights has come through the use of sound and mantra as a basis for the practice. I was born with a hearing impairment that gave me a unique relationship to sound. As a child, I would feel sound, vibration, tone, and intonation in order to more fully access my world. This was second nature to me, but through my studies of yoga (and physics!), I suddenly found a reason behind my special relationship to sound. Just as important, through yoga’s rich mythology, I also gained context and meaning to better understand how the inner and outer practices of yoga work. It is from this perspective that I have always practiced and taught, fueled by the belief that sound has the power to harmonize us and myth brings forth what is alive within us. It is in this spirit that I always end my lectures and workshops with these words: Don’t miss the vibrations.

Mantras and Chants

A mantra, as it relates to the yogic and Vedic traditions of India, is a Sanskrit phrase that encapsulates some higher idea or ideal within the cadence, vibration, and essence of its sound. A mantra can be as simple as a single sound — such as chanting the well-known sound  — or as complicated as chanting a poem that tells a grand story or gives instruction. Whatever mantra is chanted, no matter how long or short, the purpose is the same: it is meant to act like a skeleton key to help you bypass the mundane matters and mental chatter of the day-to-day mind in order to reach a transcendent state of awareness and self-realization that is, quite frankly, indescribable. Every yogic practice provides the means for us to do this — such as äsana (postures), meditation, and präëäyäma (breath work) — but mantra practice and näda yoga are uniquely simple and universal. If you can form a thought, you can do a mantra practice. The simple act of thinking a mantra is a start to a genuine practice. The silent repetition of the sound oà while driving, for example, can be a starting point. Eventually, our practice might grow to include chanting while meditating, attending lively mantra-based musical performances (kirtan, or kértana), or perhaps even chanting a longer mantra 108 times aloud to celebrate the New Year. As I’ve said, there is no wrong way to use a mantra.

In the United States, mantra has gained popularity largely through the musical kirtan (kértana) tradition. Popular kirtan musicians such as Krishna Das, Deva Premal, and Dave Stringer have brought these Eastern chants to life by giving them some good old American rock-and-roll flair. While the kirtan tradition in India began around the ninth century, its look and feel hasn’t changed much even as it has evolved to incorporate Western musical proclivities. It has always had (and still has) a fairly simplistic call-and-response-type format, where the leader will chant a phrase that is repeated by the audience. This typically becomes more lively and fast as the chant continues. In India, various instruments are used — typically the harmonium (similar to an accordion in a box), the tabla (classical Indian drum set), and the cartals (tiny cymbals). Those instruments are still present in many kirtan settings today, yet the music is often Westernized through the incorporation of all sorts of instruments, like the guitar, bass, and even a proper Western drum kit (like how Chris Grosso and I perform!). What is wonderful about many of these yogic and Vedic traditions is that they are quite malleable. So long as the intention is still sealed within the practice, the practice — even if it is modernized and Westernized — does not lose its efficacy.

So while some choose to chant mantras in a kirtan setting, others have long used mantra in spiritual practice in accordance with daily rituals, meditation, or as a way to bind fellow students of a tradition. Many use a mantra during their morning worship practice to invoke an intention or particular deity. Many practitioners also stay focused in their meditation practice by silently or quietly chanting a mantra. And some traditions claim certain mantras as part of their tradition — almost like a secret handshake. In many Eastern spiritual traditions, it is common at the beginning and end of a spiritual practice to chant a mantra or . Mantras are also commonly used as prayers for peace, health, or well-being. Mantras can be used to focus the mind and empower whatever spiritual practice we embark on. Mantra is fuel for the inner spiritual fire.

I encourage you to simply begin a mantra practice in whatever way that feels right, using my book Sacred Sound. and/or the mantra library on my website (www.bit.ly/mantralibrary), as a guide . Start simple, such as with om, and incorporate other, longer, or more complex mantras as they resonate with you. Some mantras may appeal to you because of their sound, while others may become attractive as you understand their context, underlying mythology, and intention. Over time, as you use each mantra in your life and practice, it will become like a friend whom you come to know more and more deeply. The mantra may start out as a little gem that lightens your day, but after years of saying it, it may also become a bright light that guides you through the darkest of times. Through practice, we make these mantras our own so they help us on our spiritual journey.

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AlannaKaivalya2_cEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Alanna Kaivalya, author of some of my favorite yoga books, including her recently released Sacred SoundShe is the yoga world’s expert on Hindu mythology and mysticism. Her podcasts have been heard by more than one million people worldwide, and her Kaivalya Yoga Method melds mythology, philosophy, and yoga. Visit her online at http://www.alannak.com.

 Adapted from the book Sacred Sound © 2014 by Alanna Kaivalya. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.