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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

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

Motivation

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

Recently I’ve been thinking about the underlying motivation in different areas of my life. As much I hate to admit it, my interest in fitness first started by reading Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazine articles in high school and college. Thankfully, I evolved beyond that and found running and hiking to be great stress relievers for all of the pressures of Physician Assistant school. If I saw a hill, I couldn’t wait to run up it and clear my mind. Rollerblading, another trend of the times, also gave me a feeling of freedom.

With so much running and no time allocated for stretching, I found yoga as a way to relieve my back pain. My first yoga classes were with a wonderful man at Bally’s Total Fitness in Denver. His yoga was a fusion of Tai Chi and gentle yoga, and I felt so much better on a physical and emotional level. Eventually, I found a yoga studio in Cherry Creek and it became my yoga home. I entered what I like to refer to as my “posture collecting phase.” I was obsessed with inversions, arm balances, and backbends to the point that I ultimately sustained injuries (which have changed the way I now practice yoga). When my kids were babies, then toddlers, yoga was my anchor as I navigated my work-mom balance. I didn’t yet know how to apply yoga off my mat, so I needed classes to create space in my mind.

When I turned 40, things changed. My kids were in school, we sold our business, and I was questioning lots of areas of my life. In addition to doing yoga, I started going to a Lagree Pilates studio and kickboxing gym. I was addicted. Both places provided great physical release, and I became more fit than I ever imagined I would. As I started my journey into teaching yoga, pilates, kickboxing, and personal training, my workouts were an escape for me. With exercise, I was shutting out issues in my marriage, frustrations around parenting, and nagging questions about my career satisfaction and my overall identity. On the outside I looked healthy, but psychologically I was obsessed and borderline panicked by the threat of missing a workout.

As I enter the last bit of my 40s, nutrition, meditation, spending time with my kids, and running a business keep me busy. I still have time to be active, but it’s a healthier mix. I no longer feel the need to do certain things just because I can or should.

The passing of Herald Stout last week has been on my mind. He was a gifted yogi, yoga teacher, and father. I keep asking myself why—he lived a healthy lifestyle and yet was taken way too soon. It’s a reminder that nothing in this world is certain. Harold’s passing inspires me to hone in on my motivation. What are my real priorities and passions? A speaker at the Feel Good Summit I attended in June suggested ditching the Bucket List for a F**k it List—for all those things we know we don’t want to do even though somehow we feel like we should. It’s a list of things we can let go of. This can help when we consider fitness. Do we exercise and do yoga to support our health, to exert control over some aspect of our life, to escape, or to connect with what truly serves us?

In light and love,

Sandy