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Mindfulness Archives - Rakta Hot Yoga

Impermanence

By Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Impermanence is the state of lasting for only a limited period of time. A very dear friend of mine is moving away from this valley in just two weeks. She is relocating to Pennsylvania which seems awfully far away. As I think back on the many fun times we’ve had together, I realize I never expected this past spring would have been the last time we rode horses through pastures of baby calves. I never thought we would have already played our last game of pickleball or taken our last Snow Bowl bowling lesson together. We all know change is a constant and certain part of life. In yoga, we practice presence on and off our mat. We understand tomorrow isn’t promised to us, but even with that knowledge, do we really embrace life and those around us?

Another friend of mine from Denver is getting ready to square off with stage three breast cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy are in her future. She is one determined and strong woman, and I have been inspired by her for years. I fully believe she will crush cancer, but I know she has a fight ahead and her life of leading yoga and fitness classes and owning a gym will abruptly change for a bit. How often do we think about our practice of yoga as a gift instead of just something we schedule at 8:30am between our morning routine and the start of our work day?

When I lived in Denver, I was a tired mom of two young and energetic kids. I could easily create a pity party of the never ending needs and demands of raising children. Driving my route for daily errands, I would occasionally (and seemingly when I needed it the most) drive past the house of an older woman going through chemotherapy. Her elderly, frail husband would help her with her walker as she slowly made her way from the house to the car. Thinking about what she faced each day initiated the immediate attitude reset I needed. Awareness about her situation heightened my gratitude for my own health and lifestyle. I wasn’t in and out of a hospital or doctor’s office; I was running in the park with a stroller and playing in the sunshine with my kids.

We take so many things for granted. The place we call home, our beautiful Yampa Valley, is one that so many people from all over the country want to see and visit. We regularly experience gorgeous weather and we can enjoy long trails that take us away on hikes, bikes, or skis. We share our lives and land with wild animals that seem exotic to city dwellers. And, we can easily connect with each another through the wonderful small businesses around town including gyms and yoga studios.

We take so much for granted until one day life instantly changes. Maybe you get sick or injured and your routine is interrupted. Maybe you need to tend to a family member or friend who faces sobering challenges. Suddenly that typical yoga class or regular walk up Spring Creek with your dog sounds so lovely. You wish you could be in the routine you took for granted. As we have learned this year, things can change in a moment. Again and again. My wish is that we all approach our time, our activities, and our loved ones with real-time authentic presence and gratitude.

In light and love,

Sandy

Grace

By Ayurveda, Breathing, Covid-19, Energy, Health, Mindfulness, Seasons, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Last month, the concept for my blog focused on my observation that we act differently around others while wearing a mask. When we are anonymous, our moral codes are disguised and we are not accountable. It seemed like we were losing kindness, connection, common courtesy, and politeness as we interacted or avoided interaction with each other. Over the past month, I have personally witnessed and heard others relay stories of aggressive, hurtful, and rude behavior in our town. It feels like we have hit an energetic low in this community.

There are so many possible reasons or a combination of reasons for this. Steamboat is super crowded right now. It has become more challenging to get outside and enjoy the feeling of getting away from it all. There are more people on the trails, at the lakes, and in open spaces. There are ongoing economic concerns as well as uncertainty around COVID-19 and its future impact on our lifestyles, businesses, physical and mental health, children, parents, and politics.

One thing to remember is to take a breath and realize that we are in the middle of pitta season. Wait, what? Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, is the traditional medicine system of India. It is based on the idea of creating balance throughout the body’s systems via diet, herbs, yoga, and pranayama. Things that affect the body’s balance include the seasons and the associated temperature, characteristics, and elements.

Pitta, or fire, season runs from late spring to early fall. In this season of fire energy, we can get out of balance from living at a high elevation, being closer to the sun, enjoying outdoor activities in the heat, lack of air conditioning, and even the foods we choose to eat. Too much pitta may manifest as becoming impatient, quick to anger, confrontational, or grumpy. It can also manifest as skin rashes, joint pain, or gastrointestinal symptoms such as reflux or diarrhea. The bottom line is: it’s hot, crowded, and we are losing our cool!

The one word that keeps coming to mind as I begin my asana practice on my mat these days is grace. It is one of my favorite words. I love its simplicity and elegance when spoken aloud. The word has several different definitions and uses. It can mean smoothness of action or beauty of form. It can indicate a pleasing or attractive quality. It can refer to kindness, forgiveness, or reverence.

When I practice grace on my mat, I am meeting myself right where my body is with honesty and kindness. Through the lens of an observer, I honor myself. When I practice grace with others, I accept them where they are in their journey and I extend kindness and compassion. I honor them. Grace is ending class with Namaste, which means the light, spirit, and divine in me bows to the light, spirit, and divine in you. I honor myself and I honor you.

It is easy to practice grace. And it is easy to be full of grace, until you aren’t anymore. I can be full of grace until I walk into the grocery store and spot someone walking down the aisle the wrong way with their mask below their nose. Incredulity, righteousness, and rage flash through my system. And I am instantly reminded that grace is a practice, and I am committed to it. My righteousness recedes, and so does my judgment.

Grace means we acknowledge that we are all shipwrecked in this boundless and unforgiving ocean right now. And we acknowledge, too, that we are all in our own, unique boats. I cannot assume I know and understand the kind of stress someone else is experiencing, just as others cannot truly know and understand mine. Just as it is important to balance pitta by selecting or avoiding certain foods and activities, it is also important to find ways to cultivate grace with yourself and others around you.

In light and love,

Sandy

The Gift of Time & Yellowjackets

By Health, Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie right now. Empty streets, empty supermarket shelves, and toilet paper panic. The past few days have been difficult trying to make the right decision to close Rakta when, as a small business owner, I feel uncertain and anxious. I’ve been concerned about my teachers and concerned about taking away a place people can come to breathe, ground, and find peace.

But, I believe in my heart that closing is the right thing to do. Social distancing helps flatten the curve and reduce the impact on our healthcare system. Please remember that real people with families are working in hospitals and clinics. They are risking their health to take care of us. We owe it to them to be responsible and look out for society as a whole.

Remember, too, that we have been preparing for this kind of experience. Every yoga class, posture, meditation, and quote is designed to help you feel great when life is good and to feel stable, ready, and equipped when life is uncertain, unprecedented, or unfamiliar.

This is a time to grow and experiment. This may be your first opportunity to practice at home. It might feel awkward or empty at first, but lean in. Be present. Know that you are the source of your own calm. The pause between stimulus and response is your breath, and this is where growth occurs. Use your yoga tools.

Last fall, we had a bizarre infestation of yellowjackets in my house. It nearly unglued me. I have a real fear of all mean stinging vespids (not honeybees—they’re sweet and I love them). In the summertime, I jump away from yellowjackets when they land on my meal, hover, and dare me to proceed to eat and practice proper social etiquette.

The infestation in our house was like living in a horror movie. We wore shoes because dying yellowjackets fell from ceiling lights and blended into the carpet as they crawled around using their last measure of life. They fell on my son’s pillow at night. They dropped into my morning coffee while their counterparts buzzed overhead.

We called exterminators and set traps outside. “It seems this winter may be unusual and we’re seeing some bizarre behavior,” professionals explained. “Just wait it out and it will pass.”

About six weeks ago, I started feeling a shift in the energy around Steamboat. People seemed stressed and busier than ever. When I asked, the common response was: “I just have so much going on.” People stopped having time for social gatherings, meeting up to ski, and making phone calls. I thought back to my yellowjacket friends from the fall (yes, I’m overcoming my aversion) and I thought to myself: is something looming?

Here we are on March 14th, 2020. The COVID-19 situation means things are changing rapidly. It’s day-by-day, hour-by-hour with regard to policy implementations, cancellations, and closings. This is uncharted territory for the entire world.

But we are all in this together. Our over-scheduled lives have just been completely opened up. It may feel daunting, you may feel lost. But you have the power to make the most of this gift of time.

Get outside and walk, run, or bike. Listen to the sounds of nature and feel the springtime ground beneath you. Look through your pantry and finally use the dried beans and quinoa you intended to use last winter. Read a book. Catch up on sleep. Hang out with your family. Sit, meditate, and evaluate how much of your busyness is necessary versus optional.

Following the news nonstop will not help. Refer to one or two trusted sources for updates and information. Don’t fall victim to panic and the sneaky, dangerous every-man-for-himself mentality. You’ve been training for this moment on your mats for years. Continue the yoga without your mat. Continue the yoga.

In light and love,

Sandy

Revisiting Our Core Values

By Goal Setting, Mindfulness, Values, Yoga No Comments

While I was teaching a yoga class recently, I demonstrated a handstand. I was trying to illustrate how to use the wall as more of a prop than a crutch. I was in the middle of the room, and it just so happened that I floated up without effort and I balanced. That may not seem like a big deal to you, after all, I’ve been teaching yoga for years and most yoga teachers have an advanced practice. However, I’m in the minority of super tight teachers who don’t effortlessly flow through advanced postures.

Handstand has been a journey for me. I remember practicing yoga years ago in a fabulous studio in Denver that offered Forrest Yoga which is a lineage of yoga created by Ana Forrest. It’s a physical yoga with lots of arm balances and inversions. I would kick up over and over again trying to find the wall, making a loud thump with each attempt. Everyone else effortlessly held a handstand while I crumpled in child’s pose, sweaty, out of breath, and feeling defeated.

Perseverance is one Rakta’s core values. In my handstand journey, I’ve spent countless hours practicing L wall dog, kicking into handstand, and working on various prep postures for handstand. I have found that perseverance and not overthinking are a fabulous combination for success. It amazes me that things can come together when you least expect it. Perseverance means working through injuries and staying committed even when you don’t want to continue a process. It’s gritty, not glamorous. Perseverance is what makes the Procter and Gamble Thank You Mom campaign so touching.

Precision is just as important as perseverance. In my handstand journey, I practiced between two walls at home. I learned from the feedback of great teachers and watched videos on technique. I took workshops on inversions. I feel fortunate that Rakta’s team of teachers is so dedicated to precision that they actively seek out continuing education, workshops, and trainings and they maintain home practices as well as the discipline of writing out class plans, learning from other teachers, and thinking about logical, safe, and effective sequencing. Our instructors embody precision in their teaching and in their philosophy of yoga.

Passion is what drives both precision and perseverance. Passion is the fire in your belly, and it helps you persevere during challenging times. I feel fortunate to be able to do something I’m passionate about–supporting people in their quest for health. These three pillars of Passion, Precision, and Perseverance create the foundation of Rakta Hot Yoga. Even a skill like handstand takes all three components: the unwavering desire to do handstand; the discipline to learn the foundational basics and technique; and the commitment to practice.

As we move into spring, a few new offerings will be added to the schedule. We’ll have wall yoga with a special wall/inversion class to create a time for people to practice different inversions and help them on their journey. We’ll continue to offer impromptu classes combining sculpt and flow with cardio boxing or cardio dance. Boxing and dance are two different activities I’ve loved and practiced for years, and I believe in the physical and cognitive benefits of both as we move the body in different planes of movement.

In your own life, what is your passion? How do you support it with precision? And how do you persevere?

In light and love,

Sandy

Every Little Bit Counts

By Fundraiser, Health, Mindfulness, Values, Yoga No Comments

Sometimes the news in the world—and even in our small community—can be so sad, upsetting, and daunting that it’s easy to feel helpless. It’s easy to doubt whether we can even make a difference. It’s mind boggling for me to think of the one billion animals killed in Australia’s fires. With so much death, destruction, and devastation, how can we make a difference? The truth is: every single animal we can help counts. Our support makes a huge difference in each animal’s life.

Expand this concept to the people within our community. We all know someone who has overwhelming medical bills. We know there are kids who need court advocates. People are fighting addiction, chronic pain, and social inequities. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how great the need is. But we have to remember that we can make a difference every day in little ways.

How we treat each other matters. Integrity, respect, and gratitude are big concepts most of us use to guide us through our daily lives. But even the small stuff has a big impact. How do we treat each other at busy intersections or when we zipper merge? How do we interact when we meet in the aisle at the grocery store? Do we make the effort to move our yoga mats over for the person who just walked into class? Do we make eye contact, or do we consciously avoid it? Do we take the extra two seconds to hold the door for someone behind us when it’s cold and we’re pressed for time? And if we do, are we smiling?

Think about what happens to your own mood when someone shows kindness and compassion. Little things we may not think about can make a big difference.

Years ago, I listened to a guest speaker at my kids’ school in Denver. This man had climbed the highest mountains on every continent. He told us that on each trek he had one thought: just one more step. When he felt weak and tired, he thought: just one more step. When he felt hungry and depleted: just one more step. When he was shuffling in pain: just one more step.

To this day, when I take on a project that’s big and challenging, I think of those words. Breaking things down into little pieces makes them more achievable. Just one more step.

The animals that suffered or perished in Australia’s wildfires really devastated me. As much as I wanted to board a plane and volunteer in an animal hospital, I knew that wasn’t realistic. Instead, we broke it down into a smaller, achievable course of action and decided to fundraise. I couldn’t fly to Australia, but we could help with ongoing costs of care and supplies. I was blown away by the generosity of the Rakta community and the love and concern expressed by so many. One little yoga studio in a small mountain town can send over two thousand dollars to help—that seemed pretty amazing.

While there are so many distressing issues in our world right now, we also have real, poignant needs in our own community. Horizons Specialized Services Early Intervention and Family Support programs help families who face overwhelming medical bills and other expenses associated with providing the best care for their children. As a Physician Assistant and parent, this hits home.

Throughout the month of February, proceeds of several classes will go to Horizons to help families facing challenges we can’t all comprehend. In the words of Judith Lasater, “Eventually our practice evolves from something we do into a truth we become.” Our yoga becomes more than open hips and cool inversions. We take the presence, calmness, and openness we create on the mat off the mat and weave it into our interactions with others. Every act of kindness and compassion matters.

In light and love,

Sandy

Don’t be a fruit fly

By Health, Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I was happy and relieved to learn that I passed my Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) earlier this month. I’ve been a certified PA since 1995, and every six years I’m required to take a 4.5 hour exam covering all of medicine. It doesn’t matter if I practice cosmetic dermatology or forensic pathology, as a PA I have to test on the comprehensive entirety of medicine.

More to the point (you may be thinking), is that I haven’t been practicing medicine at all for the last six years. And I’ve noticed, as a result, that I have the attention span of a fruit fly. Not a goldfish—did you know the myth of their three second memory has been scientifically debunked? The most recent research puts the goldfish at nine seconds, which is actually longer than the human’s attention span since the mobile revolution. (Eight seconds. Google it. On your smartphone.)

The most common response I received when I told people I was studying for my boards was a whimsically confused and nonjudgmental: “why bother?” Comments came in along the lines of: Are you planning on practicing any time soon? Won’t that be hard to squeeze in between your morning flow and midday sculpt? Do you know if I left my mat here yesterday?

Studying certainly took a lot of effort, especially considering it was for something that wasn’t going to directly affect my daily life. But I had two reasons for spending eight weeks buried in books and answering 1,578 prep questions.

Before owning a yoga studio, medicine was my life. I spent years in hospitals—in the OR, ED, and ICU. I read journal articles for fun, I attended amazing conferences, and I wore cool dog scrubs.

One of my favorite Christmas memories was being on call at Denver Health Pediatrics. Santa delivered gifts and my Christmas morning rounds were much more enjoyable seeing kids happy that they weren’t forgotten. For one morning, the floor was filled with innocence and joy instead of pain and sickness. It felt magical. Even though it was a while ago, I’m still not ready to close that chapter of my life.

The second reason for digging in and studying was that I really enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of reviewing things I hadn’t thought about for several years. Ruptured pancreatic pseudocyst? Endoscopic retrograde basket extraction? I’m listening! With this kind of content, mindlessly opting out and scrolling through Instagram didn’t stand a chance.

In the last few years, I’ve challenged myself physically with yoga through poses, technique, philosophy, workshops, trainings, and seasonal challenges. I’ve tried some new Steamboaty sports and acquired new athletic aspirations. I’ve worked on my spiritual growth with meditation and incisive attention to my own personal beliefs. I’ve endured emotional challenges associated with raising two teenagers and running a business in a remote ski town. But I hadn’t challenged myself intellectually, and I can’t tell you how surprised I was to enjoy it!

Living in such a beautiful area with abundant alpine activities, it’s easy to focus on our physical bodies and commit to exploring all the different ways to create strength and develop new skills or hobbies related to the outdoors. But don’t forget the power of stimulating your brain.

Learn to speak Turkish or play the oboe. Study astrobiology or auctioneering. Assemble an 18,000 piece puzzle of the Sistine Chapel. Tackle your teen’s trigonometry homework. Okay, maybe start with a scatterplot, but challenge your brain in 2020!

In light and love,

Sandy

Be the goat

By Goal Setting, Health, Mindfulness, Seasons, Values, Yoga No Comments

Recently while teaching class, I realized I wasn’t aware of any yoga posture named after a goat. How could this be? We have a cobra and scorpion, cat and dog, camel and cow, pigeon and eagle, butterfly and peacock pose. How could such a fun, spirited animal like a goat be omitted. What was Buddha thinking?!

No goat asana? No problem! I started analyzing postures and concluded the closest semblance of goat is a variation of horse stance (vatayanasana). In horse pose, grasp your ankles with your hands and align your back so it’s parallel to the earth. It’s the perfect platform for a goat to jump on, and off, and on again.

So, maybe we don’t need an actual goat pose after all. But, I believe we have a lot we can learn from these quirky little creatures. And if we channeled just one or two of their many great qualities into our lives, what would that look like?

Goats are curious. They explore every single thing there is to explore. They live in the present moment. They don’t fret over their numerous epic fails—even though they’re broadcast all over social media. They think outside the box to unlock every gate. They persevere.

Goats rely on their herd for protection and companionship. If there’s noticeable irritation between herd members, they still band together. They settle disagreements immediately: let’s butt heads and move on. They don’t hold grudges.

Goats are open and excited to greet people they don’t know. They embrace a fiber rich diet (a healthy goat is never constipated) and chew their food thoroughly, twice. They cherish a good nap.

As we step into a new decade, where can we find more playfulness in our lives? Can we take a leap even though we may fall flat? Can we greet the day with more curiosity? Can we let go of an old grudge? Can we live in the now? Can we persevere ridiculously?

Moving into 2020, my hope for our Rakta yoga community is that we support each other’s different needs. Let’s look out for our herd. Let’s be aware of those around us. Make space for someone to put down his mat. Whisper when the woman beside you is peacefully meditating. Extend kindness and consideration on and off your mat as you navigate through the studio, into traffic, or down a shopping aisle.

Be kind with your words to yourself and others. Strive to improve one thing about yourself every day. Enjoy each day for exactly what it is. Try not to wish away the present for the future or dwell in the past. As we approach December’s winter solstice, find time to be quiet and still. Find the beauty and magic in this season. Take care of those around you.

In light and love,

Sandy

Refining my List

By Goal Setting, Health, Mindfulness, Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I just joined a book club and went to my first meeting. We discussed Brene Brown’s latest book Dare to Lead. I’m a huge fan of Brene’s work and Dare to Lead was especially timely for me.

One of the exercises from the book is to examine our values. Our group passed around a list of about 100 values. From the list, we each picked our top ten values and then the top two we thought defined us. This exercise was extremely challenging—all the values listed seemed to apply to me (trust, learning, achievement, financial security, faith, family, personal satisfaction). It was hard to find my top ten, then even harder to pick my top two.

We went around the group and discussed our selections. It didn’t take long before we noticed that I didn’t choose health as a value. How could I overlook health? I’ve dedicated more than 20 years of my life to studying health and working in the industry in various capacities.

I was baffled and honestly somewhat embarrassed.

Since the book club meeting, I’ve been asking myself questions:

  • What is health to me?
  • Is it absence of disease?
  • Is it a number on a scale?
  • Is it a set of laboratory values or how energized I’m feeling?

It’s easy to take health for granted until we get injured or sick. Our own community has experienced so many tragedies this year from cancer and suicide, infection and sepsis, to accidents and overdoses. The Winter Solstice is usually a powerful time for me for introspection and reflection. On the longest night of the year, I was able to reflect on what health means to me and where I can make changes to better support my health.

As we close the month of December and move into 2019, we can journal and contemplate shifts we would like to make in our lives. We can take inventory on exercise, personal and professional relationships, sleep, diet and nutrition, outlook on life, as well as habits, needs, and addictions. As a society, mental health and wellness are often overlooked, but chronic pain, anxiety, and depression can lead to substance abuse and suicidal ideation and they can decrease our immune systems, too. If you value adventure, curiosity, and learning but your partner values financial security, order, and routine, you can see how conflict can occur and how a survey might be an opportunity to create deeper connection. In the workplace, understanding how your core values differ from your co-workers’ may help explain sources of conflict and instill greater respect.

An honest survey of our values is such a beneficial exercise and a great way to kick off the new year. There are lots of online surveys available to take and download. Or dare to read Dare to Lead.

What does 2019 look like for your health?

In light and love,

Sandy

Christie Brinkley, Billy Blanks, and Me

By Health, Mindfulness, Nutrition, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

When I was 13, I received a copy of Christie Brinkley’s Outdoor Beauty and Fitness Book. I was set. In one book, I had the complete guide to everything I needed to know to be just as dazzling and breathtaking as Christie Brinkley. I followed her advice for cutting up bananas and freezing them as a snack to satisfy my sweet tooth. I did her exercises religiously and followed her beauty advice on how to lighten my hair with lemons. What could go wrong? I was totally sure that if I followed Christie’s advice, I would have all the tools I’d need to become a sexy, confident woman.

Fast forward a few years and moves, college and grad school, and I eventually lost track of my beauty bible. It was okay though because I found Billy Blanks and Tae Bo. I could kick and punch my way into total body fitness.

By my 30s, I wasn’t nearly as quick to fall for a quick fix, but I was influenced by yoga teachers, medical mentors, and people who seemed to me to have it all together. I was sure that if I could be more like them, I could be a better mom, wife, and friend. Looking back now, I realize I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t connected to my physical body or my intuition. Being a mom to two young kids, I was completely focused on their needs, care, and wellbeing. I didn’t have time or energy to listen to and interpret the messages my body was sending me. It was easier to listen to people like Christie and Billy, people who knew the steps to success. I ignored symptoms of allergies, stress, and fatigue—signs my body was using to tell me it was out of balance.

It’s taken nearly a decade of my 40s (my favorite decade, by the way) to connect to myself. What changed? Why do I now listen to my own inner voice? I can’t point to just one thing, but I believe meditation, yoga trainings, health coaching, nutrition training, and not working all night shifts in the emergency department have supported me on this path.

When I was a new yoga teacher, I labeled myself alignment-oriented. I knew exactly how a posture should look and I would cue ad nauseam to get students to create that posture. After almost 10 years and many hours of teaching and observing different bodies with different injuries and stories, I’ve come to see alignment as what works in the body within reason on any given day.

I no longer hold on to rigid ideas that are tethered to the word “should.” I have a running joke with Becky Kuhl about burpees. After doing them for 15 years, burpees don’t feel so good in my body. In fact, I really don’t like them at all. So I modify when I need to and I take pride in that. At this time of year, I make many life modifications. I may go to bed at 8pm. If I’m not teaching a 6am class, I don’t go to yoga at 6am. I make sure my eating, self-care, and exercise are aligned with what supports me, even if someone I respect tells me to do something different.

As we head into late fall and winter, I can’t encourage people enough to listen to their bodies about sleep, food, movement, and even the company you keep and connections you make. It doesn’t matter what your most inspirational yoga teacher, health guru, accomplished outdoor athlete, or business person eats, drinks, or does to their body or puts in their hair for highlights. It’s wonderful to have teachers, mentors, and guides on our personal journeys, but we don’t have to take others’ words as scripture when our true or best selves may be compromised.

“We are always looking outward, listening to our teachers who come in with their own problems and limitations, and we ignore the most supreme teacher within ourselves. The only way to evolve, to progress, to truly practice, is to listen to our inner teacher.” ~ Prashant Iyengar

In light and love,

Sandy

Every Breath You Take

By Breathing, Health, Transition, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

In this transition to fall, I’ve gotten sucked in. To being busy, doing too many things at once, running around, multitasking. I’ve been making mistakes, getting sloppy, becoming frustrated, and feeling lost and disconnected. I’ve been holding my breath.

To get it all done, I pressure myself to respond immediately to texts and emails… and I ignore my children. I feed my chickens in a preoccupied, frenzied state… and I forget to lock their coop. I move through cued poses in yoga class… and get agitated when the flow is too slow. Abiding the sequences, I’m thinking in checklists. Wanting to execute and perform (check), I maneuver through life (check), and (paradoxically) end up exactly where I don’t want to be: not present, not belonging, and not me.

By definition, a checklist is a type of informational job aid used to reduce failure. A checklist not only implies judgment (the possibility of failure), but it also legitimizes an external standard. When applied to my daily life, a checklist transforms my passions into tasks. Instead of turning in and tuning in, I turn out and tune out.

Fall is the time of year when I need reminders to return to my breath. We hear it all the time in yoga. Breathe consciously. Breathe deeply. Connect to your breath. One breath, one movement. Breathe and release what no longer serves you. But why is breath so important?

On the most basic level, breath is simply a way of staying alive. Breath brings oxygen into our bodies and excretes toxins that can stagnate in and damage our vital organs. Our autonomic nervous system regulates our breathing. Most of us breathe about 20,000 times a day without even noticing. On average, we use just a third of our total breathing capacity. When our breath becomes short, shallow, quick, or irregular, our minds become anxious and our bodies tense. When our breath is deep, slow, and regular, we’re infused with a sense of calm.

Compared to automatic breathing, conscious breathing cultivates different effects on our physical, mental, and emotional beings. Conscious breathing is the essence of yoga, helping us connect with various, subtle, divergent energies inside us. Conscious breathing is meditation, a method for being present, and it allows us to move from one state of being to another. Breath is a tool, a choice, and a way of living—not just a way of staying alive.

Breathing is living in the present. We inhale the future and exhale the past. Breathing aligns the mind and the body. When we slow down our breath, body, and mind, we can notice, focus, feel, perceive, and understand. We may not always like our observations or sensations, but we’re aware of what’s inside and around us.

Take the hours that are available in your day. Breathe consciously and deeply so that you’re present, connected, mindful, alive, tuned in, turned on, and totally you.

In light and love,

Sandy