One of the most common challenges I see when teaching yoga classes is around sitting. Let me start by saying that I don’t advocate spending long periods of time sitting, even for meditation. I think our bodies are built to move. There’s some strong evidence that modern people sit too much and that it can negatively impact our health. Taking stock of how much time you spend sitting each day is a worthy enterprise. Make sure to get up and move around as much as possible and of course, incorporating yoga and exercise (which I see as two separate practices, more on that in the future) into your daily routine will help to balance out any negative impacts of sitting.
That being said, people sit. They sit at home and often sit in a yoga class. So since we are going to sit, let’s become expert sitters, shall we?
6-Point Sitting Checklist
Let's start with a bit of self-assessment. Find your expression of sukhasana (easy seated pose) by sitting on the floor in what the kids today call “criss-cross applesauce” or cross-legged pose. Here's a pic of me in my expression of easy seated. You'll notice that I can sit comfortably with my knees toward the ground and with good posture. I've been practicing yoga for many years so please know this is based on years of practice. This is not meant to be a model for ideal sitting, but just to give you a visual of one expression of sukhasana.
Once you find whatever your expression of easy seated is in this moment, scan through this list:
Notice the rounding in my spine in the picture above.
Now see how my spine is curved a bit toward my belly? This is the natural curve of my spine. If your spine doesn't look exactly like this, not to worry. Explore YOUR body and its needs.
I've done a pretty good job here of stacking in the picture above.
After this scanning exercise, you might have discovered the need to modify. Here are several suggestions for how you might find an expression of easy seated pose that is better suited to your body.
In the picture above you can see the blocks on the chair, covered by a blanket for comfort. I would always rather see a student sitting in a chair and using good posture than sitting on the floor in a hunched position. Seeing students use props to take care of their bodies makes me a very happy teacher.
A student of mine recently told me that he struggled with his meditation time because his legs started to hurt after about fifteen minutes in cross-legged pose. I’m sure there are some schools of thought who would tell him to ignore or transcend the pain in his body. I’m not of that mindset. Our body is our temple and we are gifted with the responsibility of taking care of it. If it hurts, it’s talking to us. Listen. I suggested that he try modified hero or a chair, that he continue specific asanas to help open his hips and stretch his hamstrings a bit more, and that he think about walking meditation. Another option he could try would be to break his meditation into two sessions.
Be curious about your body, honor its unique needs, and experiment. One of the reasons that we say that yoga is a science and not a religion is that we are asked to take nothing on faith. Rather, we are encouraged to test everything for ourselves and to honor our experiences. Try different expressions of sitting and see what is the best fit for you. As a teacher, my job is to help you to become more aware of your own needs so that you can make the best choices for yourself in your yoga practice, on and off the mat.
Once you find a comfortable seat, consider using it to close your eyes and to sit quietly in meditation for five minutes. Take some deep breaths in and out of your nose. Just five minutes each day is a great place to start with developing a regular meditation practice. Can’t sit still? I used to carry that story too. I hear you. It can be hard to push pause. You might consider trying a guided meditation to begin. There are many that you can download online or through apps.
One of my friends and fellow yoga teachers once reminded me that we are human beings, not human doings. Finding some time each day to be still is not just important, it is a fundamental part of who we are and it’s necessary for our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Just try five minutes, just for today, and see what comes.
Happy sitting. If you have questions about how to find a comfortable seated position, please comment or contact me!
One of the first steps toward building a spiritual practice is to learn how to sit. When I say sit, I mean a few different things. First, it's important to learn how to physically sit with as little discomfort as possible. Next, I am referring to learning how to sit mentally. For a very long time, I had a story that I told myself about how I wasn't able to sit still. It was very hard for me to be still for any period of time because my thoughts would get feisty and tell me there were better things that I could be doing. Finally, I also mean to learn how to sit with your emotions. Emotions are a normal and healthy part of life but for a long time I was scared of my emotions and had gotten into the habit of denying them.
I once asked people on my Facebook page when the last time was that they sat quietly for ten minutes without doing anything else. Most people shared that it had been a very long time since they'd done that. Many couldn't even remember the last time that they had sat still. In our modern era, when we do slow down to take a break, it's very common to reach for our device to fill that space.
Learning how to sit is a great place to begin your exploration of yoga and spirituality. When people think of yoga, the images of the mat-based postures are often the first things that come to mind. These poses are called asana. Asana is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to "seat." For me, this means that the purposes of these postures is to help us learn how to sit in our lives. If our bodies and minds are jumpy, too tight, too loose, sitting can be very difficult.
Using props generously is a great way to support your sitting practice. One of the first steps in this process is to learn how to fold a yoga blanket. I've created a video for you to help you with this. By learning this traditional blanket fold, you'll be able to find increased comfort when you sit. I'll be posting more suggestions about healthy sitting practices in the coming weeks. In the meantime, find a blanket and practice this fold.
If you already have a sitting practice, I'd love to hear from you. What's your expression of sukhasana (easy seated pose)? Can you sit comfortably without a blanket? Do you use blocks or prefer a chair?
If you are new to sitting, what questions do you have about how to create a comfortable seat?
Check out the video below to learn how to fold a yoga blanket.
Many people become interested in using essential oils because of their kids. They're a great reason to start aren't they? One of the biggest concerns a lot of parents have is around things like behavior, focus, hyperactivity, ADD/ADHD, etc. I want to take a minute to address this and to offer some points for you to consider if you are dealing with this issue.
1. I am not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV. Doctors are important. Talk to one, maybe even two. One of my teachers calls doctors "Western doctors." You are getting the Western, scientific viewpoint from them. It's important. It's not the only viewpoint.
2. I teach yoga, college success courses, and work as a wellness and career coach/advocate. I educate through my writing. In short, I'm a teacher. In all of my teaching roles, my mission is to help YOU become your own best teacher. I'm not here to tell you what you should do. I try not to use the word should at all in my life. I am here to share information, to give you my opinion, and to connect you with resources. But when all is said and done, what I want most is to empower you to be your own best wellness advocate.
3. Many people who know me know that I read a lot. One of my friends calls me The Librarian. I have read a lot on this subject and I can tell you that the absolute BEST RESOURCE on the planet for these concerns is the book Self-Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker. He is a doctor, though I'm not sure if he also plays one on TV. The book is out in paperback and it will be the best $10 you ever spent. There are also tons of resources on his website. No, Dr. Shanker doesn't pay me to plug him. I share this info because it's life-changing and I believe all humans should read this book. Also, he's Canadian and I'm basically obsessed with Canadian people and whenever I meet them I try to make them my best friends.
4. Dr. Shanker explains how what many of us perceive as misbehavior or hyperactivity is actually a stress reaction. Our children are under monumental stress and many of them are acting out because of that stress. Our job are parents is to minimize stress the extent possible (note that it is impossible to eliminate stress) and to teach our children how to notice the signs of stress and learn to calm themselves down. While they are learning to do that, we can help them do it.
5. Stressors include things like too much stimulation, overcommitting to activities, sugar, chaotic environments, family dysfunction, health concerns, etc.
6. Stress management strategies include things like deep breathing, rubbing your child's back, keeping the home environment clean and calm, clear expectations and communications, and developing healthy routines. Exercise can be type of stress relief. Note that is can also be a stressor, of course. It depends on the type of exercise and how it's woven into your child's life.
7. Children learn more from what we do than what we say. If you are overloaded with stress and not managing it, your child will pick this up. Take care of yourself first. Put your oxygen mask on first. Make stress management a family affair. If I asked your child what they learn from you about stress, what would they say?
8. Now, finally, we arrive at the role of essential oils in this scenario of an overstressed child who is acting out. First, let me say that there's no silver bullet. If there was an essential oil that "cured" stress, essential oil companies would be a quadrillion dollar industry (is that a number?). Essential oils can be PART OF your approach here. Read the book, make some positive changes, eat healthy, and try oils.
9. What oils could you try to help with stress? Here's a link to the doTERRA chemistry wheel: https://www.doterra.com/US/en/blog/science-research-news-doterra-oil-chemistry-wheel
Consider calming oils first. Serenity is a great blend if you prefer pre-made blends. Yes, there are oils that focus on grounding, centering, clearing, and focusing. Those have a place. But in my mind, based on what I know from Dr. Shanker's work, the first goal is to get stress under control. That being said, every child is different so experiment and see what works.
10. Again, oils aren't magic, okay? Use the oils as part of a broader routine. Maybe screens go off after dinner, the lights get dimmer, and your family reads together or does a bit of yoga. Maybe you use that time to share one positive thought about your day or a hope that you have for your future. Maybe you say a prayer together. The oil becomes part of this family ritual of self-care and togetherness, got it? Stress management should be integrated into the entire day but pay close attention to nighttime routines. Sleep restores us. If you and your child are hyped up and stressed out before bed, that will impact your sleep. So if you feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start, start with the nighttime routine.
11. Why does this work? You can read about essential oils and traditional view of how they work here. But in this post I want to mention the idea of essential oils as PRIMERS. Primers are cues we receive from our environments that influence our behavior. For example, let's send one person into a violent movie where the hero dies and another person into a romantic comedy where love conquers all. After the movie, let's ask these two individuals about their view on humanity. Who do you think would have the more optimistic outlook?
For more on primers, I want to direct you to the book, Creating Your Best Life. It's a great book overall but read about primers in Chapter Nine. Primers are all around us. We can control some, others not so much. Putting up inspirational quotes in your office is a great example of using primers.
Essential oils are primers. As part of a routine, they tell your mind-body that it's time to relax and heal. I believe that essential oils are most powerful when used as part of this kind of ritual. This is our healing oil and ritual. This is our be silly and dance oil and ritual. This is the oil our family uses when we want to wind down for the night. See how it works? Over time, your brain will smell that oil and it will be primed to enter a state of calm and relaxation. Primers are the real deal.
I hope this helps and if you have any questions about oils or life in general, please ask. Many questions are answered on my FAQs page.
How I work the moon: grow and let go
This post has been a LONG time coming. For the past year or so, I've wanted to not only become more committed to this blog, but I have also wanted to write a regular series about setting intentions on the new and full moons. I do this in my life already and always incorporate the moon into the yoga classes that I teach. Making the time to sit my butt down and write about that process was another story. And yet, here I am. As I love to say at the end of my yoga classes, every moment is a chance to begin again.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the Jersey shore. If you live near water, there's no doubt in your mind that the moon influences the tides. If you're into the science behind it, you can read more here. Since humans are about 60% water, it makes a lot of sense to me that we are just as influenced by the moon as the bay and ocean are.
In my life, I translate it like this: full moons are a time to let go of what no longer serves me and new moons are a time to set intentions for what I want to cultivate in my life. In short, full moons=let go, new moons=grow.
One simple way to "work the moon" is to sit down with your journal and write down three things that you'd like to either grow or let go as we approach a new or full moon. You can incorporate that into your yoga practice, meditation, or other spiritual practices. I love bringing the moon into my life in this way because it's yet another way to check my ego. It reminds me that there are forces at work in the universe that are WAY bigger than me and if I want to stay sane, I can humble myself before them as often as possible.
Staying with the "Grow & Let Go" energies of new and full moons is a really simple approach. If you want to get a little fancier, you can take a peek at what sign these new and full moons are in and add those energies into your practice. Here's a screenshot of my favorite moon phase tracking app:
Virgo new moon
Virgo is the sign of discernment. Ideally, that discernment or observation comes from a place of love and growth rather than judgment. Virgo asks us to say, "Here's what matters in my life. Here's what doesn't." Remember, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
Virgo is the sixth sign in the Zodiac (Aries is first, Pisces is last). The first six signs are focused inward at the level of the personality. Their job is to develop the personality or self. The last six signs are focused on the development of the soul or the Self (notice the capitalization here). Since Virgo is the last sign in the personality department, it's about tidying up the loose ends of that work. It also relates to healing any wounds that are standing in the way of starting the soul journey.
What loose ends have been floating around in your life? What details need attending to during this Virgo New Moon?
My sources tell me that the Virgo new moon arrives tonight (which will be 9/19/17) at 1:11 a.m. Take a moment to consider a goal or intention that you've been putting off. Make time to focus on the details of what needs to happen in order to manifest those goals. Remember, we do this not from a place of judgment (e.g. you are such a slacker you should've done this years ago) but rather from a place of love (e.g. everything happens in its own time).
Here's a peek at my intention-setting journal and the four intentions I've set for this new moon.
How does the moon influence your spiritual practice? I'd love to hear from you!
A pretty smart guy once had some wise words to share with us about energy.
Essential oils are one of many ways to help shift your energy. Last night I felt wiggly as I sensed the approach of a new week with several appointments and changes. I diffused some Balance and Serenity and soon felt myself returning to homeostasis.
Astrology is another way that I explore my personal energy and the energy of the universe, which got me thinking about how to combine the two: how can we use our sun sign to help us choose the best essential oils for our energetic profile?
when in doubt, follow the middle path...
Like everything else in life, astrology lives inside of the law of moderation. I'll use myself as an example here. I'm a Libra, a sign represented by the scales. I met a fellow Libra at my doctor's office the other day (we actually share the same birthday which felt like a lovely sign that my healing is on track) and when I said, "Oh a fellow Libra!" she laughed and said, "I'm a true Libra. I can see the good and bad in everything." I knew exactly what she meant.
It might seem like a great gift to be able to see both sides of everything, and it is. But it can also be my greatest curse. I can be paralyzed by indecision. I'm constantly aware that if I choose one path that I'm forgoing another path. I have a really tough time with boundaries, even if someone is a jerk to me, because I always see the good in them. I can be judgmental of fantastic people because I can see all of the ways that they might improve.
One of my favorite astrologers, Stephen Forrest, sums it up brilliantly by saying, "Like no other sign, Libra tolerates a paradox."
Part of my journey is learning how to decide. If not, I'll just circle the drain. We all have this shadow side. Our shadow is what happens when we overindulge in our tendencies and stray from the middle path.
That being said, the challenge isn't to disown my Libra energy. If I did that, I would be denying who I really am. Forrest describes this as, "suffering from a starved sun." He says that when we deny our true nature we, "fail to feed the sun and the spirit dies." In tempering our shadow, it's important not to overcompensate.
In creating this list of the best essential oils, I've taken this idea of the middle path into account. For example, as an air sign, Libras like myself never have a shortage of ideas. Energizing oils have their place in my life, but oftentimes it's not energy or ideas I need, it's focus and direction. As such, I've created the following list to help you all find your own expression of the middle path. The idea is to practice moderation. Don't starve your sun. Don't overindulge it either.
Use this list to experiment with finding your middle path. Like anything else in life, essential oils impact us all differently. Some of us might resonate more with one of these oils than the other. Experiment. You know yourself best. Consider trying diffusing, topical, and internal applications as different signs might prefer one over the other. Remember, the signs are archetypes. We all have each of the signs in us to some extent in varying degrees. Our job is to honor all of these twelve archetypes in pursuit of higher truths.
A quick note to my astrologer friends, I recognize that our sun sign is only a small part of our chart, but I do think it explains our core personality and is a great starting point to help people to grow their self-knowledge. :)
Okay let's get started! Please note that sun sign dates and keywords are pulled from the book Astrology: A Cosmic Science, by the brilliant Isabel Hickey.
Aries, you are the first sign in the zodiac. You are direct, active, and often intense. You initiate new things and have a very focused, creative drive.
Use essential oils to help you pick your battles in life. Learn to practice keen discernment rather than indiscriminate offense.
Recommended Oils: Clary Sage, Veviter, Ylang Ylang, & Frankincense.
Taurus, you have a gift for enjoying the simple pleasures in life. As a fixed, earth sign, you bring stability to the world. You are steady and strong.
Use essential oils to help you avoid getting stuck in a rut. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, certainty is. While your stabilizing force is much needed, remember that we are all here to grow.
Recommended Oils: Passion, Lemon, Bergamot, and Cassia
Gemini, you are the most perceptive of the signs. You are taking it ALL in. You have an incredibly active mind and a desire to communicate information. Because your mind is so agile, you can often connect with anyone on any topic.
Use essential oils to help you to balance all of that perception with focus. Your mind can be a bit like a bobsled without a track. Build your track.
Recommended Oils: Balance, InFocus, Peppermint, Veviter, Elevation
Cancer, no one feels like you do. You have a deep, internal focus on your feelings and you're deeply empathetic to the feelings of others. You love easily. You also feel hurt just as easily. You are the Zodiac's mother. Whether you are a mother by traditional standards or not, you are drawn to that mothering role.
Use essential oils to help you avoid hiding within your shell. You can hide from the world by descending into your feelings. Come out to play and let the sun kiss your face.
Recommended Oils: Clary Sage, Jasmine, Wild Orange, Peppermint, Tangerine
Leo, you love life and your path must include bright, positive, passionate, and creative activities that are life-affirming. You are at your best when you are expressing yourself and getting noticed.
Use essential oils to keep your pride and ego in check. Yes, you are meant to shine, but with an inner core of humility and grace. You can be both proud AND vulnerable.
Recommended Oils: Cedarwood, Hawaiian Sandalwood, Jasmine, Lavender, Melissa
Virgo, when you are at your best you are diligent, service-oriented, and have a talent for noticing what others might ignore. You are often known as both a great scholar and healer in the Zodiac. When those two skills combine, you can change the world for the better.
Use essential oils to help you avoid becoming judgmental and picky. You know and see a lot Virgo, but there are many ways to know and see the truths of the world. Stay open, loving, and flexible.
Recommended Oils: Peppermint, Forgive, Cheer, OnGuard, Clary Sage
Libra, you bring harmony to the Zodiac and to the world. You love being surrounded by beauty, art, and grace, not for vanity's sake, but because all of those ideals bring the world into greater balance. You are the halfway point through the signs and mark the day of the year when night and day are in perfect balance. Your gift is in seeing the light in the dark and the dark in the light.
Use essential oils to help you avoid getting lost in the paradox. Remember to balance your idealism with pragmatism.
Recommended Oils: Balance, InFocus, Motivate, Lavender, Roman Chamomile
Scorpio, you have the ability to penetrate some of the most intense elements in the universe. The Scorpio energy is the sign that can stare death in the face and then transcend it, recognizing the power of the present moment juxtaposed against the eternal.
Use essential oils to avoid becoming too intense. You can be prone to obsession, moodiness, and anxiety. Visit both the darkness and the light.
Recommended Oils: Bergamot, Wild Orange, Citrus Bliss, Valerian, Marjoram
Sagittarius, you are on a great quest. Your life is an adventure in pursuit of higher truths. You often feel propelled from an unknown force that moves you forward and you are always open to trying something new if it helps you to learn more about life. You are a happy, optimistic, and energetic sign.
Use essential oils to help you avoid overextending yourself. Balance your natural exuberance with some stabilizing energies. It's okay to slow down once in a while.
Recommended Oils: Balance, Thyme, Lemongrass, Arborvitae
Capricorn, when you set your sights on something, there's very little doubt that it will get done. You are probably the most determined sign in the Zodiac. You are tenaciously making your way to the mountaintop. Your assets include self-control and integrity.
Use essential oils to avoid plowing people or important ideals down while you forge ahead. You are at your best when you use your power in service of others.
Recommended Oils: Peace, Valerian, Balance, Lavender
Aquarius, because you are the Water Bearer you are often mistakenly assumed to be a water sign. Not so. You are an air sign through and through. Your live the life of the mind, of concepts, and of brilliant ideas. You are not ever meant to conform to the status quo but rather to help lead humankind to knew ways of living.
Use essential oils as a way to remind yourself not to use your intelligence and vision as weapons. You can be very stubborn and spitefully eccentric. Remember, kindness and compassion are universal laws and love is the highest vibration in the universe.
Recommended Oils: Cheer, Forgive, Rose, Roman Chamomile, Cypress
Pisces, you are the last sign in the Zodiac and by many accounts you are both of this world and beyond it. You are the most spiritual sign and of all the signs, it is most critical that you develop a daily spiritual practice to honor your sun. You Pisces, are awake in the dream. That is your gift and your burden. You are often an imaginative and gentle soul.
Use essential oils to help you honor and support your natural spiritual awareness.
Recommended Oils: Myrrh, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Spruce, Veviter, Ylang Ylang
Remember that astrology does not deny us free will. It tells us that these are the gifts and challenges that we've been giving on this path and that it is then up to us to use them for the highest good and in service of others.
How do you use essential oils to support your sun sign? What do you think of these suggestions? I'd love to hear from you!
Have questions about how to begin your essential oils journey? Check out my FAQs page!
Namaste friends, Karen