Self-Care Challenge (Day 185): Cleaning My Yoga Mat

Yoga mats can get downright filthy, especially if you tote yours around to various studios like I do. With that in mind, my self-care practice for the day was to clean my mat using a DIY lavender cleanser that I made.

rolled up purple yoga on a hardwood floorSoon after I started practicing yoga more regularly, I quickly realized there wasn’t a good way to store my mat. No matter which direction I rolled it, the clean side still touched the unclean side. (And, honestly, there isn’t really a clean side if you sweat at all during class.)

Most specialty yoga studios do a pretty good job with keeping their studios clean–many have “no shoe” policies and keep sanitizer solutions available. But highly trafficked gyms, on the other hand, can be a different story altogether. 

Couple that with the fact that I’ve been using my mat at home more often between classes, and it’s a no brainer that it will need to be cleaned more often.

yoga mat sprayWhile perusing Pinterest many months ago, I came across several recipes for homemade cleansing sprays. Eventually, I settled on my own version: 

4 oz tap water
5 drops of lavender essential oil 
6 drops tea tree oil

Simply place the three ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until combined.

Now, while I’m comforted with the fact that my mat is clean, I also get to enjoy the therapeutic aroma of lavender. It’s quite the calming combination. 

 

Self-Care Challenge (Day 177): Stretching

yoga blockAt a yoga class last week, I learned a new pose: the supported bridge

Suffice it to say it’s my latest obsession. 

I’ve noticed that in recent years, my hip flexors and lower back don’t quite cooperate the same way they did when I was younger. They get tight and sore easily, especially after extended periods of activity.  

An orthopedic doc once recommended a stretch where I lay with my back flat on the floor, and my legs elevated and bent into a 90 degree angle. That has been helpful on more than one occasion, but it’s not exactly comfortable for any length of time.

The supported bridge, on the other hand, is my new best friend. It’s the perfect wind-down stretch just before bed, helping me to relax (“melt” is probably a better word) and prepare for sleep.

Experimenting with different poses sometimes leads to new self-care practices. 

What’s your favorite yoga pose?

Self-Care Challenge (Day 2): Cultivating Intentions

yogabliss store frontYesterday afternoon, I joined sixteen fellow lovers-of-life at Yogabliss on Mercer Island to attend MacKenzie Miller’s workshop, “Cultivating a New Year.”

The purpose of the gathering was to spend time reflecting on what we wanted to bring with us into 2016–and equally important, what we’d like to leave behind us in 2015. As we vacillated between yoga poses, meditation, journaling and group sharing, we connected not only with one another, but also with ourselves on a much deeper level.

For some reason, the yoga part was really hard for me—like, really hard. I typically prefer gentle yoga, where the movements are much slower with periods of rest in between, but after the flow sequences we went through yesterday, I felt like I had just run a 5K. I spent most of the time wobbling around trying to see which pose I was supposed to be in. At one point, I was so frustrated with myself that I thought about walking to the coffee shop across the street to grab a cup of tea and a pastry, and imagined myself watching the rest of the class through the window.

yogabliss Maria
Stacy and Maria Bliss

But those thoughts are precisely why I continue going to classes like this, and why I prefer group exercise classes to solo workouts. The positive energy of other people always motivates me to push through and challenge myself. (Otherwise, I probably would have been drinking tea and eating a pastry.)

The real highlight for me, though, was having the opportunity to connect with some amazing individuals that I would have never met otherwise. These brave souls shared some of their most intimate life struggles with complete strangers, and then still had the strength to offer encouraging words to others in the group. I’m just now beginning to understand why it seems that yogis live so buoyantly: It is a choice to live above the noise of negativity. Living upp is about living intently, yet buoyantly, remaining more focused on what brings you joy than what steals it. 

The time spent reflecting with these inspiring individuals has helped me decide on a mantra for 2016: Connection.

6 Reasons I’m Glad I Started Practicing Yoga

rock cairn

Sure, I’ve taken a yoga class or two over the years, but I’ve never really felt like I knew what I was doing. It was more like I was playing solo Twister while peering through my armpit at the instructor trying to see which appendage I should move next. I always felt like I was missing the whole point.

That’s why in January of this year I decided to take a beginner’s yoga class. It seemed logical to start from the beginning and to pretend I knew nothing at all (which wasn’t hard to do since I didn’t). I chose a 6-week class series taught at a local studio here in Issaquah, Village Green Yoga. (I highly recommend them if you live in the area.)

I instantly knew I’d made the right decision when I met our instructor, Jean. She made us feel welcome the moment we walked through the door. She was patient, encouraging us to push ourselves – but also to stop if and when we felt discomfort. She also offered suggestions for modifications when we discovered that our bodies didn’t quite move the way we’d hoped. Probably the most inspiring thing for me was that she, like the rest of us, was imperfect. And she wasn’t afraid to say so. She recognized that she had limitations too, and that all of us were in it together – simply doing our best. It was such a great lesson in self-compassion.

Since there were 6 classes, I thought it would be symbolic to highlight 6 reasons that yoga has been a positive experience in self-love for me.

1. It’s helping me get to know my body. Having lived with myself for nearly 38 years now, you would think that I knew myself pretty well already. But I was utterly shocked to find out that there’s still quite a bit I don’t know about myself. For example, who knew I was so lop-sided?! Seriously. I don’t bend the same way on both sides. One foot flops further to the side when I lie on my back. My right leg goes to sleep when I sit in the sukhasana pose (cross-legged) too long. The other significant thing that I learned is that I can no longer move in some ways that used to. (Bummer.) Despite these discoveries, even after just 6 short weeks, it seemed I was able to do more than I could that first week. Success!

2. It’s teaching me how to breathe correctly. Breathing is something all of us do, but I’d argue that we don’t all do it well. I’ve always struggled with finding the right breathing rhythm while doing things that are physically demanding. I tend to hold my breath. No matter if I’m strength training or running, I sometimes just forget to breathe. And by the time I remember to, I’m huffing and puffing and feeling frustrated. I know that sounds silly, but I think it’s because I take everything so seriously. I concentrate so hard that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Yoga has taught me to find a sort of flow in my breathing, and that is what sets the pace for everything else.

3. It’s calming. I don’t slow down often, but yoga requires me to. The postures are relaxing and invigorating at the same time, and I can see how people become hooked on that sensation.

4. It’s challenging. It is somewhat ironic that most people tend to avoid things that are challenging – especially for things we do with our free time. But there’s something special about the way you feel when you nail a pose – or realize that you did it better than you did last time.

5. It prompts other healthy behaviors. Yoga makes me crave other healthy experiences. Healthy food, healthy relationships, healthy finances, positive thinking and gratitude come to mind. That is the kind of mind-set I leave with after every class. What a great source of motivation!

6. I understand  more clearly now that I am, and will always be, a work in progress. Ah yes, back to the idea of imperfection again. Yoga has a way of making imperfection okay – normal even. It’s an acceptance of reality. Pretenses and perfectionism must be checked at the door because yoga encompasses the idea that self-acceptance and acceptance of others is core to our being, and to finding happiness.

What have been your personal takeaways from yoga?

 

 

Choose Joy with Rebecca Butler

woman doing yoga poses

Have you ever felt the powerful energy of someone who lives unapologetically true to who they are? Those who live boldly don’t ask for permission to do so – and they don’t try to hide their imperfections. Instead, they embrace them and learn from them.

Meet Rebecca Butler. You will immediately be inspired by her optimism, drawn to her positive energy, and humbled by her candor. Rebecca shares her love and wisdom through yoga and writing, where her authenticity shines. Through her own personal life struggles she was eventually able to begin loving and embracing herself exactly the way she is.

“Choose Joy!” is her personal mantra – and one that is contagious. Some might argue that joy is like love, in that it isn’t something that just consistently happens on its own. It’s a conscious choice that takes effort and attention. I asked Rebecca to share some of her strategies for deliberately living a life filled with joy, and here are some of her thoughts.

Q: The words “Choose Joy” are very powerful. What led you to adopt this simple mantra (or do you even consider it a mantra)?

Rebecca: Choose Joy is absolutely my mantra. The words came to me in a dream in 2012. My mom passed early that year and that summer we were visiting some friends at the beach. My husband and I had a particularly grueling argument one evening. During my dream that night my mom visited me. She was a brilliant, zooming being of light. She was intertwined with another, whom I instinctually knew to be her best friend, who is also deceased, and they were chanting “Choose Joy, Choose Joy, Choose Joy, Choose Joy, Choose Joy…” Over and over as they zinged and bounced all over the room. I could feel their exuberance and jubilation. And the message was intended, not explicitly said, but rather, I just felt it: Honey, you can leave him; you can stay with him. But either way, Choose Joy.

Q: How do you personally choose joy in the context of day to day life (examples)?

Rebecca: When I am tempted to go to a dark place, snap at my children, berate myself for eating a cookie, argue with my husband nonsensically, I stop, take a deep breath and look to my wrist. My students have bestowed not one but two silver bracelets upon me stamped with the message, Choose Joy. Often times, I am then able to make a better choice, a more loving choice. However, I am not perfect. Sometimes I still slip and behave in a less than kind way. The important thing is that I always pick myself back up, eventually, and try again.

Q: How do you overcome the world’s tendency toward negativity?

Rebecca: The world is negative? Hmmmm, didn’t notice. What’s funny is that is only a half joke to me. Over the years, I have become very cognizant about what I consume, and I don’t just mean in a physical way. I mean from an energetic perspective as well. I am careful of what I ingest from a spiritual perspective. So I watch very little television, read very few newspapers/magazines, listen only to music that uplifts me in the moment (I put no parameters on what that might be) and read only things that inspire me. I spend time each day creating my life vision and what I want my life to feel like. I see myself in a loving home with my family feeling joy and kindness. I feel myself exhilarated with my career and my daily pursuits. I make a conscious effort on a daily basis to connect with the Divine and offer my services. One of my favorite questions is, How may I serve? I work to keep my chakras (7 main energy centers within the body that connect us to the spiritual and the Earth) aligned, free of constrictions and healthy so that I may metabolize Universal Life Force without struggle, therefore allowing me to freely manifest the Divine. My world is not negative. Not in the slightest.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who decided to begin choosing joy, but isn’t sure where to start?

Rebecca: Listen to Energy Anatomy by Caroline Myss. It’s an audio lecture. She is one of my greatest teachers. The lecture itself is 9.5 hours long. I’ve listened to it many times over. She is remarkably witty and funny. And still she knows how to empower you to make choices in your life that will lead to meaningful and sustainable change.

You can follow more of Rebecca’s inspiring wisdom at www.rebeccabutleryoga.com and Twitter (#choosejoy).