We are taking our healthy lifestyle commitment to new levels with a regular monthly yoga feature with advice from our favorite local yogis. Enjoy these wintertime tips for warmth, comfort, and good spirits!

JANUARY — GROUND

Be 

By Stacey Vespaziani of South Hills Power Yoga

For the January “Yoga Tool Kit” on the theme of GROUND, I wanted to offer a simple mantra meditation repeating the phrase “Show Me.” This is a lovely way to open to all the next year has in store.

1. Find a quiet place.
2. Sit with a tall spine using a chair or sitting on a pillow (or cushion) on the floor.
3. Relax your hands in your lap, close your eyes, and press your sitting bones down toward the earth as you lift your chest toward the sky.
4. Place your focus on your breath. As you inhale, say to yourself the word “show,” and as you exhale say to yourself the word “me”. Keep repeating your mantra until the time that you’ve allotted for your daily meditation practice has completed.

Note: If you are new to meditation, try sitting for five minutes at first and increase the time of your daily practice by five minutes each week until you create a daily practice between 20-45 minutes.


Balance

By Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga

January falls during the Vata season in Ayurveda: it’s cold, dry, and windy. To balance these qualities, we need warm, heavy meals incorporating root vegetables, which naturally grow in cold climates, to “ground” and balance our energy.


Breathe

By Kristie Lindblom

Full Three Part Yogic Breath

This simple practice can be done any where and any time to help us connect to the deep roots of our breath. Many people find they are more calm, relaxed, and centered after practicing this breath for even just a few minutes. Please note that if you ever feel hungry for your breath or out of breath, you can simply return to your natural breath and try again when you are ready.

1. Sit comfortably with your spine aligned with its natural curves. Many people are more comfortable sitting on a pillow or blanket, but this can be done in a chair, a bed, or anywhere you can find a place to be still for a moment.
2. Take a few moments to simply notice that you are breathing.
3. Become aware of the shape changes in your belly, your ribs, and your chest that are a response to air moving in and out of you. Explore each of these areas separately and as one for a moment.
4. Take three sips of breath in — one to your belly, one to your ribs, one to your chest — hold briefly at the top and then take a full exhale.
5. Repeat this process for several breaths at least, but this can be done for as long as you want.
6. Sit in your natural breath once more and notice any shifts of changes you feel physically, emotionally, or mentally.


Move

By Kristi Rogers of BYS Yoga

MOUNTAIN POSE (TADASANA)
Standing postures are associated with and assist in balancing the Root Chakra (Muladhara) and the blueprint for all standing postures is Mountain Pose (Tadasana).  We stand a lot throughout the day, so initially, this pose may seem like a very simple thing to do. But, how often are we fully balanced in our feet, equally weighted through both legs and hips, and lifted through our torso with a sense of grounding and ease? Let’s explore the basic actions of Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to begin to understand why this posture is so important in setting a foundation for our yoga practice as well as helping us stand firmly in our lives!

1. Standing barefoot with the inner edges of your feet parallel to one another and your feet no wider than hip-distance, lift and separate your toes. Return your toes to the ground, creating a broad base between the big toe and pinky toe and spreading across the ball of each foot. Visualize 4 corners of each foot — at the outer edges of the ball of the foot and heel — and ground down evenly into these 4 corners while feeling a lifting of the arches at the center.

2. Staying rooted in the 4 corners of each foot, draw that same lifting energy from the arches up the legs to lift the knee caps and begin to engage the thighs. (If you are having trouble lifting the knee caps and engaging the thighs, re-lifting the toes, which lifts the arches, can often help access these actions. Contract the hips evenly, drawing into the midline of the body, tone the lower belly, and feel the buttocks’ flesh release toward the heels.

3. Lift the armpits away from the side waist to assist in lengthening all sides of the torso up from the pelvis, and gently draw the shoulder blades toward one another on the back to maintain an open chest and broad collarbones. Externally rotate the arms from the shoulders to open the inner elbows and palms forward, and reach down through the fingers toward the floor. Maintain a long neck by reaching upward through the crown of the head.

4. Once in the physical posture (asana), you can explore deepening your breath. Visualize your inhale, an upward flowing breath (prana) originating from your feet and moving up the front of the body (corresponding to the lifting of the arches, knee caps, chest, and crown of the head) and your exhale, a downward flowing breath (apana) moving from the crown of the head down the back of the body (corresponding to the releasing and grounding of the shoulder blades, buttocks’ flesh, and feet).


Nourish

By Kate Kill of Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh

Nighty-Night Rasyana – Makes 2 cups
Here’s a drink that will nourish your heart and soul! The nutmeg encourages sleep, and the other spices provide warmth and grounding. Enjoy a mug in the evening and wake up feeling refreshed and focused. Sweet dreams!

¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ cup water
2 cups milk
Raw honey to taste

Boil the spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric) in the water for 5 minutes.  Add the milk and bring to a soft boil.  Pour into mugs and let cool for 5 minutes before you add the honey.

Photograph from Kate Kill


Think

By Jennifer Ferris-Glick of Exhale Pittsburgh

In the month of January, after the flurry of the holidays, feeling “ungrounded” and disconnected becomes the norm. And for many people, ​t​he new year is a great time to re-center. Resolutions are often set to help find a framework for stability moving into the new year or to determine a course of action like​ the slogan​, “new year, new you”.

Resolutions, however, are often a recipe for failure. Embodiment of our best selves cannot be created when resolve is set from a place of being ungrounded. If we are ​unclear on our reasons for setting goals, then we are not able to live an inspired, ​authentic ​life.

Intention is different than resolution. Deepak Chopra calls intention a “directed impulse of consciousness.” Those impulses​ contain seed​s​ that we want to grow. More than just setting goals, intention is directed​.​ ​With intention, we embody more balance​ and​ integrity​. We experience​ much less suffering because we are living in unity​ with who we are authentically.

Yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras (written by the sage Patanjali around 400 CE), teach us that only through intention can the practice of Yoga be meaningful. Intention is set from the first line of the Yoga Sutras, Atha Yoganushasanam, often translated as “​n​ow begins the study of Yoga”.

If the practice of Yoga is to find enlightenment through the union between body, mind, and spirit, intention is the vehicle with which to practice. But this practice is not just applicable to Yoga. There is greater application to the practice of life.

Living an inspired life through meaningful, internally driven intention is the best way to practice Yoga off the mat. ​​When we ground ourselves with intention, that is when we plant seed​s​ deep into our​ consciousness — we literally move from our insides​,​ outward. When the seasons are right, we see deep personal transformations and we find greater flow in life. ​T​hose seeds begin to take shape and blossom.


 

FEBRUARY — LOVE

Be

By Kate Kill of Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh

We all want to BE in a loving space, free from judgment. The Loving Kindness Meditation offers you the opportunity to calm down and rest with total acceptance. As we feel more loving and kind towards ourselves, it naturally permeates out to those around us.

To begin:

1. Sit quietly with your back as straight as possible. Take a few minutes to get comfortable. Allow your legs and hips to rest, and lift up through your spine. Relax your jaw and your shoulder muscles.
2. Begin to watch your breath. Allow your breath to be rhythmic, smooth, and at a pace that is right for you.  Give yourself a little time in this step. As your breath relaxes, your nervous system will calm down and it will be easier to hold your focus.
3. Bring your attention to your heart space and observe the sensations around your heart. Repeat the following intentions towards yourself in your heart space:

     • May I be filled with Loving kindness
     • May I be well
     • May I be peaceful and at ease
     • May I be happy

4.  As you repeat the intentions, feelings of understanding and appreciation will arise. Rest and BE in the feelings as long as you like. Come out of your meditation when you are ready.


Breathe

By Kristi Rogers of BYS Yoga

Breathe (Pranayama) — Exploring the physical location and the element of water associated with the 2nd Chakra.

Abdominal/Ocean Breathing:
Find a comfortable, reclined position on your back. Bring your hands to your lower abdomen, the physical location of the 2nd chakra within the body, allowing your elbows to rest on the floor. Start taking deep breaths in and out through your nose, first just noticing the breath at the nostrils. Then, slowly, over the course of multiple rounds, begin lengthening and moving the breath down your body until it reaches the lower abdomen and you begin to feel your hands gently rising and falling with each breath. Keeping your body relaxed, sense the hands moving as if they were being carried by the waves of the ocean and connect to the water element associated with this chakra. Continue this deep abdominal breathing for up to a minute (gradually adding more time as you feel comfortable).


Nourish

By Stacey Vespaziani of South Hills Power Yoga

AVOCADO, CUCUMBER & TOMATO SALAD – Makes one serving

1 large avocado, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, deseeded, and cut into half-moons
1 handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Place the ingredients into a bowl.
2. Top with olive oil, salt, and pepper, if using. Stir.
3. Sit down and enjoy.

Photograph from Stacey Vespaziani


Think

I once sat with my teacher, Raghunath, and asked, “What is our role towards the material suffering in this world?” His answer was simple: compassion. Compassion is a practice. Like any skill, it can be learned and developed. As one of the deepest expressions of love, compassion asks us to intentionally engage and connect so that we can understand what is needed in each moment and act to meet that need. Yoga offers the opportunity to connect to practicing compassion by connecting with ourselves and assumes we will carry that practice off the mat as we learn to connect compassionately with the world. — Kristie Lindblom

The practice of yoga encourages us to listen to our inner voice, our inner teacher. This voice is wise and kind, but very quiet. To hear it, we have to sit still and clear out the loud, anxious, negative voices in our minds. Doing this regularly will help us to see situations more clearly, to make better decisions, to recognize what’s really important, and to understand why we’re here. Interestingly, all the great spiritual teachers have come to the same conclusion: we’re here to learn from and to love one another. — Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga


Go

By Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga

Women’s Healing Circle

January 27, 6:30-8 p.m.
Schoolhouse Yoga, 7210 McKnight Road, North Hills

February 24, 6:30-8 p.m.
Schoolhouse Yoga, 7210 McKnight Road, North Hills

This class is designed to use the energy of yoga, mantra, and meditation to heal the body, mind, and soul. It is open to women of all ages and backgrounds. When we come together in a circle, the power of the group helps to support and uplift all the members of the group. We will begin class with some yoga exercises and stretches. We will then light a candle and speak an intention for healing in five words or less. We will support our intention by chanting a healing mantra and close with a deep relaxation, supported by the healing power of guided meditation.

Family Yoga

January 8, 2-3 p.m.
Schoolhouse Yoga, 2215 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill

February 5, 2-3 p.m.,
Schoolhouse Yoga, 2215 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill

In our family yoga workshop, we will focus on fun and playful movement as well as calming breath work to bring the family together in a lighthearted practice. We will move through a physical asana practice designed to be mindful of the bodies and minds of children and teenagers. Join us to unite your practice with your family as we include a brief guided meditation to help to focus busy minds of children and parents alike. Family members and friends of young yogis (ages 4 and over) are welcome.

Partner Meditation (perfect Valentine’s date!)

February 12, 2-3:30 p.m.
Schoolhouse Yoga, 5923 Baum Blvd., East Liberty

Sustaining healthy, fulfilling relationships (of any kind) can be challenging, especially during times of stress. Do you need to reconnect with your spouse, partner, or close friend? Or maybe you’re just looking for something fun to do together to create a stronger bond? Learn to relax together and experience a deeper connection through breathwork and simple meditation techniques, as well as a few gentle partner yoga postures. This workshop is designed to allow you to quietly experience and appreciate each other’s unique presence.

Inside Out Asana with Kristie Lindblom

February 4, 1-3 p.m.
Schoolhouse Yoga, 5923 Baum Blvd., East Liberty

In this workshop, we will tune in to the deep wisdom of our bodies and use a somatic approach to alignment in asana. Using inquiry and exploration, students will be able to approach any style or tradition through universal principles of body mechanics and learn to work with the unique form of their individual bodies.


MARCH — EMPOWER

BE

By Kristie Lindblom

Psychologists tell us that feeling empowered comes from realizing one has actual influence over his or her life. We gain this awareness by taking action towards a goal and observing the effects of that action. Taking action means that one has to have the physical, emotional, and psychological reserves to do so. When I was a young mother, the best advice I received was to remember what they tell you on an airplane: Give yourself the oxygen first! We can’t take action unless we take care of ourselves. Try the following meditation as a daily dose of oxygen to help you stay focused, present, and renewed so that you can take action in the rest of your life.

1.    Sit in a comfortable position where you can align your spine easily.
2.   Begin to notice that you are breathing and become aware of the sensation of breath.
3.    With each inhale, draw in all the vital energy and strength that you need.
4.    As you exhale, release anything that is not serving  you or your goals.
5.    After doing this for 3-5 minutes, visualize three things that you can accomplish today and see yourself doing them.
6.    Slowly blink open your eyes, and let the world come to you for a moment before tackling your day.


BREATHE

By Jennifer Ferris-Glick of Exhale Pittsburgh

Bhastrika Pranayama

The third chakra (Manipura Chakra) governs many things in our system, including our digestive system, pancreas, and more specifically metabolism. With the third chakra in balance, we are able to tap into unlimited energy and strength. To enhance our energy from this “power station,” practice the Bhastrika (bellows breath) to increase circulation, mental clarity, and memory retention; purify breath; energize; and ignite digestion and metabolism.

1.    Sit in a comfortable, upright position with an empty stomach.
2.    Sit with a long spine and a soft belly.
3.    Draw your hands to your belly.
4.    Lengthen your inhale and exhale through the nose, keeping your lips closed and your jaw unclenched.
5.    With your lengthened inhale, push your hands away from your body.
6.    With your lengthened exhale, allow your hands to follow the belly back in towards the body.
7.    Then, begin to inhale through the nose with greater force while inflating the belly.
8.    With greater force, exhale through the nose while drawing your belly back towards the spine.
9.    Keeping the force in your breath and starting from your belly, quicken your inhalation and your exhalations to about 1 second for one full cycle (inhale and exhale).
10.  Continue to practice for 30 seconds.
11.  Return to your natural, organic breath for 30 seconds.
12.  Then, repeat the Bhastrika Pranayama for another 30 seconds.

Note: If you begin to feel light-headed, return to your natural breath. Do not practice if you are pregnant, or you experience hypertension or seizures.


NOURISH

By BYS Yoga in collaboration with Lauri Lang, RDN, LDN

Cauliflower Turmeric Flatbread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups raw riced cauliflower (food processor works best)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup combo almond meal/ground flax meal (¾ cup almond & ¼ cup flax)
  • 3 tablespoons turmeric
  • Sea or pink salt, to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
  • Black pepper, to activate turmeric
  • Fresh herbs of your choice (Snipped chives are delicious!)

Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2.  Mix together and combine all ingredients in bowl with spoon.
3.  Spoon mixture onto parchment paper, and spread with fingers into a rectangle (an even layer, about ½ centimeter thick).
4.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden.
5.  Once baked, cool completely, slice, and store in refrigerator for up to a week.

+ Join Lauri Lang for a Third Chakra Wellness Workshop at BYS Yoga on March 11, from 1-3 p.m. and sample the Cauliflower Turmeric Flatbread!


THINK 

By Stacey Vespaziani of South Hills Power Yoga

Three Ways to Work on Aparigraha (The Yogic Teaching of Non-Grasping) Every Day:
1.   Take Only What You Need: In your yoga practice, at mealtime, and in the possessions you bring into your life. Give away what is no longer serving you.
2.   Let Go of the Result: Do your best in the present moment and move toward your intention without attachment to the outcome.
3.   Be Generous: With your time, resources, and energy. When you see a need, do your best with what you have to meet it.


BALANCE

By Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga

There are three Doshas in Ayurveda: Vata (air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water). Doshas are the three qualities that we possess in our bodies and in our minds. They also exist in our environment. Spring is Kapha season in the Ayurveda calendar. It’s cold, wet, stagnate, and heavy. These qualities can manifest themselves as sluggishness, mucus, or illness in our bodies, or lack of focus or depression in our minds. Exercise is the obvious antidote to physical stagnation and limiting foods such as meat, dairy, wheat, soy, and corn can also help to keep our bodies feeling light.

In addition to the three seasons in Ayurveda (Pitta is summer, Vata is fall/winter, and Kapha is spring), the Doshas affect us diurnally. Pitta hours run from 10 a.m./p.m. to 2 p.m./a.m., Vata hours run from 2 p.m./a.m. to 6 p.m./a.m., and Kapha hours run from 6 a.m./p.m. to 10 a.m./p.m. It’s advisable to go to bed before 10 p.m., before the fiery, stimulating effects of Pitta kick in. (Have you ever noticed how you get really hungry when you stay up late?) It’s also wise to go wake up before the Kapha hours start at 6 a.m. (Have you ever felt sluggish and unfocused on days you’ve slept in late?)

Working with the natural rhythms of Ayurveda will allow us to get our bodies strong and our minds focused. Maintaining this balance of hot/cold, heavy/light, movement/stillness will improve our ability to avoid illness and keep our minds clear and peaceful.


MOVE

By Kate Kill of Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh

March is the perfect time to slough off the heaviness of winter. As our days get lighter, we want to get out and contribute to the beauty we see springing up around us. In yoga, we use Warrior Pose to empower and enliven ourselves. The energy of a warrior is strong, grounded, and open-hearted. Warriors are able to respond to situations in a non-reactive way to accomplish whatever mission they set their heart to. Practice Warrior Pose, and tap into more drive and freedom to bring your best self into March.

Warrior Pose:

1.  Place your hands on your waist. Take a step back with your right leg. Bend your left knee. Make sure that your hips are facing front.
2.  Activate the back leg and feel grounded as you push evenly into both feet. (Warriors aren’t easily knocked off of their path!)
3.  As you inhale, feel the breath moving into your hands (which are still on your waist).
4.  Once you are stable, lift your arms overhead. Soften your shoulders and lift the sternum to open your heart. Find your breath.
5.  When you are ready, step your right foot forward and bring your arms down.
6.  Take a couple of breaths to notice the effects of the pose and repeat on the other side.

Photograph from Kate Kill


GO

By Jennifer Ferris-Glick of Exhale Pittsburgh

Exhale Pittsburgh and Inhale Pittsburgh Present “Gurukulam”

March 4, 7:30 p.m. @ Exhale Pittsburgh, 222 Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown

The 2016 documentary “Gurukulam” immerses the viewer in an otherworldly, but immediate, atmosphere of spiritual contemplation. It’s a rare invitation to look, listen, and experience a contemplative rhythm of life as old as the Bhagavad Gita and as new as present-day India. For more on the film, visit qurukulamfilm.com.

The Solar Plexus Chakra Activation with Brooke Smokelin

March 12, 1 p.m. @ Exhale Pittsburgh

Smokelin will guide you through an activation workshop that ignites your powerful, warrior energy through specific yoga postures, breathing exercises, mantras, and mediations. Battle the demons of doubt and denial, and live the life of your dreams.

Long, Slow, and Deep into Ecstasy with Clyde Chafer

March 19, 1 p.m. @ Exhale Pittsburgh

Clyde Chafer will take you into a journey of discovery. Find and wake up parts of your body that perhaps have been dormant. Not just your physical body, but your emotional body, too. This two-hour workshop is slow-paced but challenging, as the poses are sequenced to help you find your personal edge. Once found, the edge is explored by holding poses and maximizing the breath, and in doing so, finding a depth perhaps never felt before.


APRIL — CONNECT

MOVE

By Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga

Anyone who has taken a yoga class is familiar with Downward-facing Dog, and anyone who has taken a Flow or Ashtanga Yoga class has spent a good chunk of time in it. It’s a great pose for a number of reasons: it stretches the back of the legs, the spine, the shoulders, and the arms; it helps to build upper body strength; and it encourages the engagement of the three “locks” that help to contain and direct the movement of subtle energy through the body. These locks are: mula bandha (pelvic floor lock), uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock), and jalandhara bandha (chin lock).

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, defines yoga postures (asanam) as having the qualities of stability (sthira) and ease (sukha). Downward-facing Dog is a very stable pose, as both the hands and the feet connect with the ground and your weight is evenly distributed among these four points. Once the body experiences stability, the mind can relax and experience ease.

Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward-facing Dog:

  1. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees slightly behind your hips.
  2. On an exhale, use your stomach muscles to lift your hips up and back, bringing your body into a right angle.
  3. Press your palms into the floor, keeping your pointer fingers parallel to one another.
  4. Drop your heels towards the floor, roll your thighs inward, and lengthen your spine by pulling your tailbone away from your hands and drawing it in towards your pubic bone (mula bandha).
  5. Scoop out your lower belly and draw your floating ribs up towards your spine (uddiyana bandha). Keep your shoulder blades wide and lifted away from your ears. Your head should be in a neutral position and your ears should be in line with your upper arms, with your chin slightly tucked (jalandhara bandha) so you can gaze at your navel (nabi chakra).
  6. Take five slow, even breaths, and then lower back onto your knees.

*Practice Child’s Pose instead of Downward-facing Dog if you have wrist pain or high blood pressure, or if you are in your third trimester of pregnancy.


BALANCE

By Kristi Rogers of BYS Yoga

The heart chakra sits at the balance point between the lower chakras (governing the physical) and the upper chakras (governing the spiritual). It acts as an important bridge in creating a harmony and an expression of love for ourselves and for others. The Sanskrit name (Anahata) means “unstuck” or “unhurt,” alluding to a pure, compassionate sense of interconnection and well-being. Essential oils can be a therapeutic and natural healing tool for exploring our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. Oils that you may wish to try individually or in blends to support the heart chakra are:

  • Rose
  • Bergamot
  • Jasmine
  • Geranium
  • Eucalyptus
  • Melissa

GO

By Stacey Vespaziani of South Hills Power Yoga

Yoga en Español

Saturdays, 2-3 p.m. @ South Hills Power Yoga, 3045 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont

Check out this new, non-heated power yoga class. Taught in Spanish, 100% of class donations will be given to local organizations dedicated to helping Spanish-speaking communities in Pittsburgh. For more information, visit southhillspoweryoga.com.


BREATHE

By Kristie Lindblom

Connect: Pranayama

The ability to connect with our breath is one of the most powerful tools we have to gain presence in any moment. Our breath is constant and always available to tap in to. In Sanskrit, the word “pranayama” translates to “control of life force.” Sometimes, though, it is useful to let go of control and practice, surrendering to the moment in order to connect with it. From a physiological perspective, breath is shape change in the body that is a response to air moving in and out of your lungs, powered by your diaphragm (the thin sheath of muscle between your chest and abdominal cavities). When your diaphragm moves up and down, a pressure differential is created and the high-pressure air on the outside of your body moves to the low-pressure space on the inside of your body, filling your lungs. Thinking of it this way, one can see how the universe breathes you! What if you let the universe breathe you and allowed your mind to connect to the natural ebb and flow of your ever-present breath?

Try this:

Close your eyes and notice that you are breathing. Become aware of not only your inhales and exhales, but also the lilting spaces between. See what happens if you let your attention stay in those spaces and allow each inhale and each exhale to rise from that space and fall back into that space. Can you surrender to each breath and let them rise and fall on their own? Notice how the air draws in on your inhale and releases on the exhale. Draw the world around you in on your inhale and surrender to it on your exhale, connecting within and without. Keep this keen awareness of your breath for 5-10 minutes. When you open your eyes, notice any shifts or changes within you.


THINK

By Kate Kill of Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh

AHIMSA (nonviolence)

Yogis use the observance of nonviolence as a foundation to connect to others and the world around us. At the surface, we might think nonviolence is refraining from physically fighting or verbally lashing out, but it begins at a much deeper level than that. In order to truly love and connect with others, we have to learn to love ourselves. We can’t offer others what we don’t have.

Self-love is multidimensional and starts with how you experience your physical body. When you have a weakness or injury in the body, do you give it your attention and care? Most of us tend to get angry and frustrated with our limitations instead of trying to truly understand them. With this aggressive attitude, our symptoms can worsen.

It’s the same thing with our thoughts and feelings. We all seem to be OK with the more positive feelings like love and happiness and the mental states that accompany them. It becomes a little trickier with emotions that are uncomfortable. From a young age, we are taught to control negative emotions or even pretend that they are not there. But the entire range of emotions is part of our human experience. Feelings are signals that help clue us in when our lives become unmanageable. As we experience our feelings with a kind attention, they move through us. We can wake up to the thought patterns that keep us stuck. With practice, we make clearer decisions to keep us in balance.

With loving attention towards ourselves, all levels of our being are in connection and coherence. From this, we are in a perfect space to connect with those around us in a healthy way.

MAY — COMMUNICATE

MOVE

By Stacey Vespaziani of South Hills Power Yoga

Start May off with this simple Moving Warrior series to add some flow into your practice.

  1. Begin by standing tall at the front of your yoga mat in Mountain Pose.
  2. Keep your right foot facing forward and step your left foot back 3 to 4 feet (with the outer edge of your left foot parallel to the back lip of your mat). Bend your right knee. Open your arms wide so that your chest is facing the left side wall and your wrists are in line with your shoulders for Warrior II.
  3. On your next inhale, reach your front hand to the sky and let your back hand rest on your back leg coming into Reverse Warrior.
  4. As you exhale, return to Warrior II.
  5. Repeat six times and switch sides.


BALANCE

By Leta Koontz of Schoolhouse Yoga 

Summer is Pitta season in Ayurveda. The Pitta dosha (bioenergy) controls digestion, metabolism, and transformation. When this dosha is out of balance, we can experience exhaustion, diarrhea, anger, and skin irritations such as acne, rashes, and sunburn. In Ayurvedic philosophy, opposites balance one another. Ingesting cooling foods, such as salads, watermelon, cantaloupe, and grapes, and limiting your consumption of spicy food, alcohol, and caffeine will help mitigate the effects of Pitta energy. Not coincidentally, these foods are found in abundance at this time of year! This is known as locavorism today, but it’s something Ayurveda advocated thousands of years ago! Summer is ruled by the sun. A cooling yoga practice that incorporates restorative poses, moon salutations, twists, and forward bends will help disperse the heat that can accumulate in your fire center. Sleeping on your right side will open your left nostril, which corresponds to the Ida Nadi, the lunar energetic channel. The moon is associated with feminine energy, darkness, coolness, and rest. It is the perfect antidote to the expansive and intensive heat we experience this time of year. Slow walks in the moonlight will balance the sun’s energy, as well as swimming and wearing blue, green, or white clothing.


BE

By Kristi Rogers of BYS Yoga

The fifth Chakra (Vishuddha) is our communication center. Often referred to as the throat chakra, it is related to speaking our truth and “having a voice.” But, as we’ll explore in this meditation, it’s also related to our sense of hearing. This simple meditation can be done anywhere and anytime, but as the weather warms up, this is a great meditation to do outdoors under a bright blue sky (the color associated with this chakra) allowing the sounds, vibrations, and resonance of both nature and the city to combine into a beautiful meditation soundtrack!

  1. Choosing to sit with your eyes gently closed (or perhaps lying in the grass looking up at the blue sky!), begin to notice your breath. (You can choose to breathe through your nose or mouth for this meditation.)
  2. After 5-10 rounds of breath, when you start to shift your awareness to how and where the body receives the inhalation and releases the exhalation, begin to focus on the exhalations and the aspects of letting go, softening, and opening to receive that comes with the outward breath.
  3. Keeping your breath soft and fluid, open your sense of hearing and begin to discern sounds, vibrations, and resonance from points furthest away from you. Stay in that hearing distance for a few rounds of breath and observe what you receive.
  4. Then, begin to shift your awareness closer. What sounds, vibrations, and resonance do you sense there? Listen in that hearing distance.
  5. Then, shift your awareness to the area directly around you. What sounds, vibrations, and resonance do you sense there? Listen in that hearing distance.
  6. Finally, draw your attention back to your own breath and the sound, vibration, and resonance that it has. Listen as you draw your sense of hearing into and from your own body. Choose to stay focused on hearing your own breath as long as you would like.

BREATHE

By Kate Kill of Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh

Why is the breath so important in yoga? We all know that without it, we can’t survive for long. And, as we create a healthy breath, we improve the functioning of our body. But what about improving the way we communicate? With each inhale, we are taking energy from the world outside of us into our being. And with each exhale, we are giving back to the world of which we are a part. Our breath is, at a subtle level, the way we interact with the world. By watching the breath, we can learn a lot about our relationships. Do we gasp with each inhale? This might mean that we resist accepting support from those around us until we are starved of the nourishment we need. Is our exhale longer than our inhale? In this case, we might overextend and eventually suffer from burnout or exhaustion. By evening out the breath, we not only rebalance our nervous system, but also how we manage our relationships. We learn the art of give and take. By letting go of pauses in between the breath, we reassure ourselves at a deep level that, yes, the next breath is on its way. We see the world as kind and able to meet our needs.

Practice:

Take a couple of minutes each day and observe your breathing. Let your breath be natural and at the perfect pace for you. As you watch your breath, allow your inhale to be about the same length as your exhale. Pay attention to the transitions between your breath. Smooth out any pauses so that one breath flows into the next. Move your attention to the touch of the breath inside the nose and then focus on the tip of your nose, where the breath first enters your body. Keep your attention at the tip of your nose as your breath flows in and out. After a few moments, start to feel your body again. Notice your chair beneath you and begin to open your eyes.


GO

By Kristi Rogers of BYS Yoga

Kirtan with Ashley O’Hara and friends
Saturday, June 3, 7-9 p.m. @ BYS Yoga, 1113 E. Carson St., South Side

Kirtan is a form of devotion found in the Bhakti tradition. Come learn more about Bhakti and be uplifted by chanting with Ashley and friends. Don’t worry about your singing voice — it’s all an offering! For more information, visit bys-yoga.com.

JUNE — ENVISION

NOURISH

By Kate Kill, Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh

Chill Out: A Summer Drink to Help Cool Your Body and Mind

Summer is a time for freedom and fun. We have plenty of outdoor activities to participate in and the sun keeps a smile on everyone’s face — except when you get overheated! As the air warms up around us, we feel the fire element in ourselves. Our bodies become fired up and then burnt out, and our thinking can turn sharp, critical, and aggressive. Enjoy this drink to stay balanced, and reap the benefits of this beautiful time of year:

INGREDIENTS:
¼ cup aloe vera gel
½ of a lime
1-1½ cups water or sparkling water

DIRECTIONS:
1. Pour the aloe vera gel into a glass.
2. Squeeze the lime into the glass.
3. Top off with water or sparkling water.  Ahhh…

Photograph from Kate Kill


BREATHE

By Stacey Vespaziani, South Hills Power Yoga

The Art of Ujjayi Breath

Maybe you’ve landed in a yoga class recently and the teacher casually instructed to “start your Ujjayi Breath,” and it seemed like the rest of the class knew exactly what she meant but all you could discern was the fact that your fellow yogis suddenly sounded like a Darth Vader chorus. Not to worry! Here is a simple break down of the yogic breathing technique used during most asana practice:

1. Inhale through your nose, then exhale out of your mouth making the sound “HA” like you are trying to fog a mirror.
2. Next, close your lips and keep the sound by gently flexing the glottis muscles (think: whisper muscles) at the back of your throat as you breathe in and out through your nostrils, as if sipping the air through a straw.

Tip: Ujjayi Breath is sometimes called “Ocean Breathing,” so the result should sound like the water hitting the shore and receding.


BE

By Leta Koontz, Schoolhouse Yoga

Meditation is a tool that can help you work through suffering by allowing you to experience uncomfortable feelings (such as anxiety, anger, or grief) so you can move past them. In the words of Robert Frost, “no way out but through.”

  1. Begin by sitting in a chair. Scoot up to the edge of the seat, and slide your feet forward so your legs are parallel to the floor and your heels are under your knees. Place your hands on your legs with your palms resting on your thighs. Gaze to the floor in front of you. Avoid closing your eyes, as it’s easy to get caught in reverie when your eyes are closed.
  2. On your inhale, silently say to yourself, “I am breathing in,” and on your exhale, “I am breathing out.” Make sure you sustain this thought throughout the length of both your inhale and exhale to reduce the intrusion of competing thoughts. A mantra in yoga is a sound, word, or phrase that acts as an aid in concentrating the mind. Use this simple mantra to enter a state of sustained concentration, which is the definition of meditation.
  3. On an inhale, allow yourself to feel your distress (anxiety, anger, or grief). On the exhale, release and let it go. Continue to do this until the negative emotion begins to wane. This exercise will be very uncomfortable at first, but everything changes after a few breaths — even the negative feeling will change.
  4. Observe the subtle sensations of your body. How does anxiety, anger, or grief manifest itself in your body? Consciously begin to smooth out the lines on your forehead, soften your jaw, and relax your shoulders. We tend to hold our breath when we don’t want to feel. Breathe deeply to feel deeply.
  5. Once your suffering has subsided, begin to breathe in this same emotion on behalf of others. For example,  when breathing in, say to yourself, “I feel the grief of people who have lost a loved one,” and on your exhale, “I send them peace and love.” With time, not only will your own suffering be mitigated, it will also serve as a path for you to practice compassion towards others. 

THINK

By Kristi Rogers, BYS Yoga

Recognizing and Honoring the Divine Light Within

This is the translation of “Namaste” that I like to share at the end of the classes I teach — often with a direction to bring prayer hands to the third eye, the space between the eyebrows, Ajna Chakra. While these words and actions may mean different things to different people, what it signifies to me is the action of bowing to our highest Self. The Self where there is a clarity of mind and perception of what truly is — free of misconceptions, distortions, and judgment. Let’s be honest here, it’s a Self we may only have ever glimpsed or experienced in short moments, but it’s a quality that we can work to develop through our mindful practices. In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on Yoga Sutra 1.3 — TADA DRASTUH SVARUPE VASTHANAM — “Then the Seer [Self] abides in His own nature” — he uses the analogy of a lake to represent the mind. If the surface of the lake, like the mind, has a lot of ripples and waves, then the reflection you see in the surface is distorted. Likewise, if the water is churned up and agitated beneath the surface, then the lake becomes muddy and you are unable to see through the water clearly. By becoming aware of the ways the “water” of your mind becomes disturbed, you can work toward balancing Ajna Chakra — developing focus, a clear perception, and a strong intuition — recognizing and honoring the Self within yourself and others.

 

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