Gross and gruesome. Comfortable and uncomfortable.

Right now as I write this I am sitting on a chair. Supportive “miracle balls” are behind my lumbar spine. My legs are not crossed. I am wearing a belly band to support my low back. And it is excruciating.

I am in the last month of pregnancy and I assumed things would slow down. Instead, I woke up Thursday and it was like things stopped. Standing became a huge exercise. Lying on one side on the floor became an option, until it didn’t. All fours was the most comfortable position.

You can probably guess what abruptly happened to my yoga classes.

Back pain with a human living inside of you has fewer solutions. Your range of motion is already limited. Your belly gets in the way. You reconsider pain meds. I have found myself alternating between feeling incredibly strong mentally and feeling like I could crumble at any moment. Pain is a physical experience and I try to at least tend to my mental spaces when it happens. Give myself a moment to cry, or find relief, or even (probably not surprisingly if you follow my blog) meditate. Sometimes we move year by year but pain can have us moving hour by hour or even minute by minute.

In the thread of the remarkable (and annoying) human body I thought I would share this infographic by Ellie Summers, who hand created all of the characters and also found some pretty amazing facts that you might not know, even if you have taken your anatomy classes seriously.

To the gross and gruesome. To the comfortable and uncomfortable. To being human!

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5 Ways Meditation Adds Value To Your Life (Guest Post)

Some mornings I wake up and jump out of bed. Other mornings I drag and grumble and fight the morning with my fists up. Either way, I meditate. Some days I finish my meditation feeling better, while other times I slump right back into my mood. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore what the meditation does for me. It is a ritual and a practice. It allows me to feel more authentic. It gives me space for silence, when it is so tempting to slide back into the world of podcasts, music and chatter.

Michael Morelli wanted to expand on this topic for this site, thinking of the overall effect of meditation. It is a cumulative practice. Enjoy his writing!

Meditation

Life is short, so we better make the best out of it.

Do you live your life to the fullest?

Do you place great value in your time?

We all want to have the best for ourselves so we study hard, work for long hours, maintain regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet and educate ourselves unceasingly. We take these measures to ensure that we are getting the best value of life that we deserve.

Did you know though that a simple meditation can add value to your life?

Meditation is an ancient practice and its popularity has been increasing in recent years. If you have not yet added this practice to your life, consider some of the ways that meditation can improve the quality of your life:

  1. Increases self-confidence

Are you anxious at the idea of meeting new people?

Do you have confidence in your skills?

Self-confidence is a very important trait. We will have a hard time achieving something if we doubt our own capacity. We won’t be able to fully embrace and love ourselves if we are hungry for the affirmation and acceptance of society.

Doing meditation can help you to increase your self-confidence. Having a strong connection with your spiritual self helps you strengthen your self-awareness. The more connection you have with your inner self, the more you tend to have self-confidence.

  1. Refreshes the mind

We live in a demanding world where the pressure and stresses of society can sometimes get the best of us. Our decisions can sometimes be clouded because we are experiencing too much stress and anxiety.

Meditation is the cheapest yet the most effective way of giving your mind a break. Sure, you can unwind by booking a Caribbean luxury cruise, but not all of us have the resources or time to do so.

Meditate to clear your mind from all the worries, problems and anxieties. Find a quiet place and you can either lie or sit down, as long as you are in a comfortable position. Think of one specific thing, place or thought and focus on it for up to 10 minutes.

Simple meditation exercises can relax your mind and lower your overall stress levels.

  1. Dissolving anger and fear

Do you sometimes feel consumed with fear and rage?

Do you know how to manage your negative emotions?

Meditation is an effective way of clearing negative feelings such as anger and fear. It gives you peace and inner strength to face whatever situation life may throw at you.

When faced with a stressful situation, instead of reacting negatively and throwing fits when things don’t go your way, give yourself few minutes to take a step back. Meditate for a few minutes to give you time to process what’s happening and focus on the reality of the situation, rather than forecasting into the future. When you’re calm, there’s no place for fear or anger inside you.

  1. Increases positivity

We create energy in every moment of our day – whether it’s negative, neutral or positive.

Our thoughts, actions and language have affect the energy that we’re creating. We attract positive energy if our thoughts, actions and language are positive. On the other hand, we invite negativity when we’re always pessimistic about things.

Doing meditation increases positivity. When we clear our mind from all the worries and anxieties, we also attract positive energy.

      5. Develops a pleasant perspective

Though exercise can boost our mood, meditation can also help us in developing a different perspective that doesn’t move towards the worst case scenario. It can be part of a healthy lifestyle that involves diet, exercise and sleep.

No matter how busy or crazy your day is, give yourself some time to meditate. A few minutes of meditation every day can offer countless benefits.

 

Restorative yoga recording for holiday stress

The holidays have changed immensely for me in the last ten years. I believe it is a combination of moving to different countries, challenging my core beliefs and just growing up. There is less church and less shopping. There is more time with music and experiences. Quite honestly, the joy that I felt as a child I feel just as much today because the expectations I put on myself are few. Some years I make cookies and give them to people. Some years I send Christmas cards. Some years, I do little in terms of gift giving. I realized that just because I had an urge to give one year doesn’t mean that the world expects that I have to do the same thing every year.

The nice thing about dropping some of the things you have always done is that it gives other people permission to do the same. It’s even better when you warn the people in your life that you are backing off, so that they don’t find themselves scrambling to make the eggnog cookies they know you love.

We all want permission to give time rather than things.

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As much as we pretend that people expect our behaviour to remain consistent, in truth, a lot of this comes from ourselves. The holidays would still remain in tact if you did less and chose to snuggle more and see the friends that you can be in your pyjamas with rather than the ones that you feel the need to deck the halls for.

I have to admit, I love the Danish concept of hygge – warm cozy socks, hot chocolate, warm fires and blankets. The things we remember from the holidays are togetherness and laughter – not perfection. Plus, we each have the details that matter to us. Food-wise, I need holiday stuffing, while my partner needs twice baked potatoes. The rest is nice, but non-essential.

In honour of respecting what helps you to feel bright, I have put together a little restorative yoga sequence that is designed for anyone who has felt overwhelmed by the pace at the end of the year. Get hygge-fied and as cozy as you possibly can. I look forward to practicing with you in this virtual space.

Enjoy.

xx Courtney

The Benefits of Sleep on Your Mindset and Mindfulness

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Image Credit: Pixabay

I am not shy about the fact that I love my sleep. When I am on vacations, you are as likely to find me maxing out my mattress hours as you would seeing me explore the new culture and food scene. (This is one of the things that freaks me out most about new motherhood: sleep deprivation. Stay tuned.)

A previous guest post on my site talked about how mindfulness meditation can help improve your quality of sleep. However, a good night’s rest can also be beneficial for your mental health and help improve mindfulness. So with that in mind, this article by Ralph Miller takes a look at some of the benefits of sleep on a your mindset.

Sleep helps people better regulate their emotions

According to an article on the Huffington Post, sleep deprivation is one reason why people have less control over their emotions. When people get very little rest, they are more likely to have emotional outbursts and are more susceptible to succumbing to pressure. This is the reason why people tend to snap more at other people or why some tend to experience crying fits when they don’t have enough sleep. In contrast, getting enough rest not only enables individuals to regulate their emotions, but also how they react to emotional triggers. This enables them to have better control over their actions, allowing them to take more measured reactions and decisions instead of simply reacting when faced with different stimuli.

Sleep plays an important role on memories

Harvard’s Healthy Sleep points out that sleeping helps people process and consolidate memory. Lack of rest can translate to the inability or the difficulty of entering slow-wave sleep (SWS), a deep, restorative sleep that is critical in helping people learn new things. As a result, sleep-deprived individuals often have difficulty absorbing information. Furthermore, lethargy due to lack of rest also increases the likelihood of having your mind drift away, making it more difficult to focus.

In contrast, getting enough sleep improves concentration. In other words, sleep also helps you make better sense of the world around you. It allows your brain to process the various stimuli that you encounter during the day and factors which ones deserve to be “banked” in your long-term memory and which ones can be discarded. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation, especially beginners, can attest to the difficulty of trying to focus given the number of distractions they face on a daily basis. With enough rest, it might be easier for them to perform the mindfulness exercises since they are able to focus better.

Sleep helps reduce stress

Stress can be very detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health. Too much exposure to it will not only compromise a person’s immune system and make them more susceptible to a variety of ailments; it can also affect their emotions, their mindset, and even their performance. In fact, one reason why people opt to try out mindfulness meditation is that they feel overwhelmed with stress and want to regain control of their lives. There are various studies that show how sleep, or the lack thereof, is indelibly linked with stress. The less time people get to rest, the more they are likely to feel anxious. Conversely, getting sufficient sleep will help prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed. This helps them have a calmer mindset. Furthermore, getting enough rest will help them remain calm, no matter what triggers they might face.

Sleep makes you less prone to depression and anxiety

Some studies have proved that there is a correlation between lack of sleep and depression. As mentioned earlier, feeling exhausted on a regular basis due to lack of rest can take its toll not just on your physical body, but also on your mental and emotional facilities as well, which can lead to depression in the long run. An article on Health IQ notes that mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety can also worsen a person’s negative feelings. It said that meditation, which a study reported by ‘Frontiers in Neurology’ and subsequently published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health as having patterns similar to sleep, can help lower depressive symptoms by as much as 40 percent.

Sleep helps spur creativity

Mindfulness practitioners can attest to how the practice can help boost creativity.  Interestingly enough, Health.com reported that creativity is also a benefit of getting a good night’s rest. The article says that the brain is able to reorganize and restructure memories and information, thereby allowing people to see things from a different perspective.

Stress and meditation (this month’s free recording)

Happy fall y’all!

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I am unabashedly in love with cold weather and warm sweaters and pumpkins all over my apartment.

Where do you stand on the pumpkin spice debate? I mean, I like some cinnamon and cloves like the best of ’em, but I don’t need those flavour profiles to be in every single item that I consume.

I digress. I was thinking about stress the other day. How it’s one thing to tell yourself to relax when you are reeling from a bad case of road rage, but it is quite another when you are dealing with the stress that comes from taking care of someone with a serious illness. It’s one thing to recover from a bad haircut and another to recover from receiving a bill that you just can’t pay.

Breathe it out doesn’t always work, does it?

I think that’s why I do yoga and meditate. I try to build a baseline state so that when I am thrown off course, as we all are, I have something to return to. We all need a version of this, whether it is church or good coffee or a warm dog on your lap. Something that makes the ache in your heart just a tiny bit less.

If you are experiencing stress in your life, this meditation is for you. There is breath work. There is body recognition. Hopefully there is a little pause when your heart decelerates and you find yourself with stress, rather than becoming stress.

Let me know how it works out for you (and how pumpkin spiced you are).

As ever, Courtney

 

 

7 Amazing Benefits of Thai Massage – Guest Post

It was almost six years ago that I decided to go to Thailand to learn Thai massage. I claimed it would help my anatomy and my yoga teaching. I claimed it was for work, but let’s be honest, Thailand is a place that changes you and that you know will change you. I learned Thai prayers and ate mysterious vegetarian meals out of plastic bags. I ignored some of my classmates’ nights out drinking for early meditation wakeup calls. I was visited by the new love of my life who was kind enough to allow me to practice my Thai massage techniques. That is what relationships are about – a little give, a little take, a lot of massage. (What a giving guy.)

Thai massages in Thailand and Thai massages in North America can be dramatically different. Thai massages in Thailand can cost as little as $5 for an hour and can hurt more than soothe. However, it is one of those body treatments that has you realizing that even though you felt fine before, you feel better afterwards. The combination of stretching and acupressure along defined meridian lines will have you walking differently and maybe even smiling at that neighbour who bothers you a little too often with their leaf-blower.

I am not the only one who thinks so. Sara is a psychologist by profession who loves massage therapies. She is also obsessed with massage chair therapies and other relaxing techniques. She regularly posts at https://mymassagechairs.com/.

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Take it away, Sara (while I look to see if there is a Thai massage therapist in my area):

7 Amazing Benefits of Thai Yoga Massage

We all agree that Thai massages are the best in this whole world! Right!?! And when it comes to an Ayurvedic massage as old as 2500 years, it is teeming with benefits.

This is why I am here to tell you seven ah-mazing benefits of Thai Yoga Massage:

Improves Body Motions:

Thai Yoga Massage is an easy peasy way to improvise the functioning of the body parts, especially limbs. The stretching may feel awkward but it is accompanied by massage and the pressing of pressure points to make it awesome. This, in short, means that your body parts will function more easily. Your shoulder and ankle rotation may improve too.

Relieves Lower Back Pain:

Oh, these lower backs! They definitely kill us. But, worry no more, because Thai yoga massages may help. Researchers have proved that patients who are treated with Thai Yoga Massages for lower back pain fare better than those who receive joint mobilization therapy. 

Reduces Stress:

Stress is a killer; it happens when salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) enzyme is in abundance in your body. Start taking regular Thai yoga massages as a preventive mental health measure.

The deep massages help in bringing down the levels of sAA enzyme, reducing your stress level by a great extent. You can relax while taking this massage on a quality massage chair, and eliminate the stress hormone cortisol, to increase relaxation and get peace.

Improves Mood:

Thai Yoga Massage can get rid of stress, and is capable of lightening your mood. This massage is a popular therapy to treat mood disorders. Thai massage can stimulate physiological functioning like good mood, relaxation, and anti-anxiety. 

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Treats Migraines:

If research and popular opinion is to be believed, migraines are the most prevalent sort of headache. Different studies have found that traditional Thai Yoga Massages have eased the pain intensity of people with migraines substantially. It also helps in decreasing the overall pain threshold of different types of headaches.

Relief from Osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis is one of the most painful and crippling diseases. But Thai Yoga Massage can help people with osteoarthritis ease their neck, lower back, knee and hand pain. 

Increases Immunity:

Thai Yoga Massages can improve the overall immunity of the human body. When paired with essential oils, it helps in fight against various diseases and backs up the immune function.

 

Be Still – This Month’s Free Meditation

I have taken the time over the last month to visit many meditation centres. Not yoga studios with a side of meditation, but pure meditation. Some of these centres had chanting books. Some had incense. Some had chairs, while others had artfully arranged cushions. There were pictures of gurus, led meditations, and long chunks of silence.

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I was humbled.

On some mornings, I would arrive and find myself yawning incessantly through the silence. At other times, I successfully cleared away my mental debris (“I won’t forgive her!” “What has happened to the state of the world?” “Where should I live next year?”) and was granted sweet inner stillness. I quickly realized that my inner stillness was not just a selfish act. I saw the world differently, if only for a moment. I realized that my heart still has more capacity for love than for anger.

It would be awesome if one session changed me forever. It would also be awesome if I could attend one Pilates class and reap the abs for the rest of my life.

But life doesn’t work that way.

We have to keep clearing through and feeling, even though there is so much in the world that encourages us to shut down. It is work, which is why it is so much easier not to do it.

But today, take five minutes with me and shine. Be more of you and less of the noise around you. Notice what is under the skin and blood and bone and beyond the headlines and over your own story. Take the time with me to be still.

xx Courtney

Total eclipse of the heart (and meditation)

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Who saw the eclipse today?

If you didn’t watch it live, you might have watched it online, or talked about it at work. I went outside and a stranger let me borrow his glasses. Another stranger made sure that I didn’t miss a glimpse as I was walking away. People were staring up at the sky…together.

Man, I needed that.

The headlines and the news and the conversations I have been having lately have been focused on fear and separation. The world’s events have concerned me and made me feel disconnected. They have seeped into my dreams.

Yet, today, the solar eclipse 2017, part of the noisy world stopped talking about politics and hate groups and what people did not have in common. We all just stared up at the sky and felt small. For a brief moment in time, we were one beating heart.

I became a yoga teacher because I believe that the more we explore our spiritual sides, the more we will heal our wounds and not feel lonely. We are never separate. The moon had to kiss the sun to remind me.

To bring you back into presence before the fall season kicks into high gear, here is a guided meditation for you. I hope that you enjoy it!

 

Surprising Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation for Physical Health – guest post

I was talking to my friend about mindfulness (and my book!!! My book that comes out next year!!!) this weekend. He knew there were tons of benefits. It made me realize the mindfulness movement has made meditation like exercise: even if we don’t do it, we know it is good for us.

Today’s guest post is all about the physical benefits of mindfulness, which are all pretty amazing but not entirely surprising to those who have ruminated on the mind-body connection. Take it away, Brenan Quirante!

Surprising Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation for Physical Health1

Mindfulness meditation is the awareness and acceptance of everything in the present moment, including both the positive and negative things. It is natural for the human brain to notice negativity more than positivity. Nature has built the human brain in this way for survival purposes so that you are always aware of the dangers around you and you are ready to fight or escape.

This “survival awareness” can make people jump to the worst conclusion at the slightest sign of danger. On the other hand, other people have a natural defense mechanism that denies negative things, pretending there’s nothing wrong even when all of it is wrong.

Both types of people aren’t helping themselves! Mindfulness meditation places you in the middle. It also has a bonus: improved physical health. Here are the surprising benefits of mindfulness meditation for your physical health.

Prevention For Heart and Brain Problems

Mindfulness meditation strengthens the heart because mindfulness meditation involves breathing exercises. Scientists have also observed that people who undergo a certain amount of mindfulness meditation have brains with thicker myelin. So what exactly is myelin? Myelin is the primary component of the brain. Myelin is what gives the brain its whitish appearance. Thick myelin helps neurons synapse faster, strengthening the brain.

Improve Your Sleep Health

Have you ever felt groggy all day, and then a sudden surge of energy just when it’s already your bedtime? And you lie awake, with your eyes wide open and your mind happily thinking thought after another thought endlessly. This kind of situation will make you restless all night and ensure another day of grogginess. You need to welcome mindfulness meditation into your life. Mindfulness meditation calms the mind and the body and helps you to function better. When it’s time to sleep, mindfulness meditation makes it easier for you to relax and sleep well.

Pain Prevention

Headaches, backaches, and all sorts of aches can turn a perfect day into hell. Being in pain can make a person irritable and unpleasant to be around. Pain can turn you into The Hulk, probably without the green muscles. Mindfulness meditation lessens the stress that is brought about by body pain because mindfulness meditation involves relaxation and self-control. Mindfulness meditation can make your mind strong enough to be not affected by the pain. You can control this stress even more by checking out Peak Nootropics, medicines that enhance the mind. You’ll be like Popeye with his spinach, stronger and better.

Reduction of Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is a highly difficult condition. I have met ill-mannered people who have blamed their bad manners on their arthritis, a claim that was believable. Just like with body pain, mindfulness meditation also lessens the stress that is caused by the pain of arthritis. It may not lessen the pain, but it lessens the stress because of the same relaxation and self-control areas of mindfulness meditation.

Increases Energy Level and Immune Function

Believe it or not, but our daily habits and society, in general, encourage us to waste a lot of energy. Mindfulness meditation increases your energy level because it calms you down, saving your energy. It makes your mind clear enough to make you fully aware of which things really require your intervention, effort, and energy. It is also scientifically proven to increase the power of the immune system, helping your immune system to protect you from germs and keeping you away from sickness.

Reduces Blood Sugar Level in Diabetics

Mindfulness meditation reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics. People with diabetes tend to have high blood sugar levels because they are unable to turn the sugar from their foods into energy. That is why they become obese, but lack energy. High blood sugar levels can lead to severe complications, and some people with diabetes take medicines, exercise routines, and certain nutritional food products to deal with this. Some diabetics and select clinics use mindfulness meditation to help diabetics with their blood sugar levels (in conjunction with medicine and exercise).

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Mindfulness meditation gives you a better body, and it helps you survive. Being aware of everything in the present moment lets you know what exactly is happening, helping you respond accordingly. Mindfulness meditation can keep you from turning into one of those people who scream and run around like headless chickens in emergency situations, or those people who just stare in shock as a burning truck bounces on the highway toward them.

Mindfulness meditation can turn you into Bond, James Bond. Just kidding.

This month’s meditation!

This summer has been scorching in Philadelphia and I have been exploring all the ways to cool down, from mid-day cold showers to bulking up on foods that have a 90% or higher water content. I don’t often eat eggs, and I don’t believe in wasting them, but I am pretty sure the fried egg on the sidewalk trick would be successful. (There has to be a cruelty free substitute.)

Rachel Brathen, aka Yoga Girl, is the one who coined the hashtag #yogaeverydamnday. With blogs and Instagram accounts showing uni-faceted ways of living, it is easy to believe that there are people out there who excel at the art of being consistent. They always “eat clean.” They align with their spiritual selves and check in on a daily basis. They replace a bad mood with a handstand.

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I love yoga, but I don’t do it every damn day.

I call BS.

No one has it figured out and no one has a perfect existence. I will be running a 500 hour teacher training in 2018, and my co-leader, Monica and I were discussing the lie of the linear. In other words, we think that we can get better, stronger, healthier, faster, more attractive, etc, if only we just applied the appropriate formula. We don’t take into account age, or injury, or illness, or mental state, or just the fact that we are human freaking beings.

Especially this summer, join me in taking a break from the linear expectations. From judging your stomach every time you look in the mirror to bemoaning the wrinkles that have seemed to appear overnight. Take a break from your own perfection and live a little, even if that means sleeping in and reading the paper in bed. Give yourself permission to live a life that isn’t in a straight line, because there is nothing that happens every damn day for the rest of your life.

Let’s keep it simple with this month’s meditation. I hope that you enjoy!