While driving, I came across a very long truck that was struggling to back into the narrow driveway of a construction site. The truck was so long that it blocked both lanes of traffic, and we had no choice but to wait for the driver to get out of his jam. Having no other choice made it easy -- there was nothing to do but sit. If I knew anything about driving enormous trucks, perhaps I could have helped direct him, but I know nothing about that. So I relaxed and took advantage of having a little extra quiet time with my thoughts. But suddenly someone in one of the other cars started honking his horn. He honked again and again and again. I am sure he was frustrated, but all of that honking did absolutely nothing to help the situation. It did not help to move the truck, but probably added to the truck driver's anxiety about blocking traffic. If the honking flustered the driver, it may have even slowed his ability to react. It certainly disturbed the peace of everyone within earshot. I noticed immediately that this constant noise created a bit of anxiety in me, and I used my yoga breathing techniques to calm myself and make sure that I didn't take on this other person's anger.
I'd love to grow a little vegetable garden, but my yard is too shady, so I've been having a lot of fun sprouting beans in my kitchen. I love sprouted chickpeas, lentils, and mung beans. I eat them raw or lightly sautéed in olive oil with sea salt. I put them on salads or in soups, and they're great alongside a fried egg. I love the texture, and the sprouting process changes the nutrient value and the way that your body processes the beans. They are a tasty, super-healthy, low-calorie food.
You don't need any special equipment. I like sprouting the larger beans in a colander covered with a towel, and I sprout the mung beans in a glass jar with plastic netting over the top, secured with a rubber band. They are ready to eat in 2-3 days. You can get beans for sprouting online or locally. I found a great selection in the bulk section at Mom's Organic Market, and a smaller selection at Whole Foods. Remember that the dried beans you use must be whole -- no split lentils or peas. I found a great website that will tell you -- and show you -- everything you need to know about sprouting: http://sproutpeople.org If you follow their directions about rinsing and airflow, you'll grow safe and healthy sprouts. Today I started growing a batch of micro-greens. I can't wait to see how they turn out!
When I threw out my back from dancing, I used this routine from Lee Albert, my positional release therapy teacher at Kripalu. It fixed me up right away, so I repeated the routine twice a day for the next few days to make sure it didn't come back. Three days later I was dancing again!
1. Standing half-moon posture.
2. Quad stretch -- you can do dancer at the wall or as a balance, or you can lay on your stomach and bend the knee, holding your foot.
3. Supine twist -- lay on your back, bend left knee, take it over to the right side so you are laying on right hip. Arms stretched out. Repeat on other side.
4. Half frog - lay on stomach, one knee bent toward shoulder but w/o any strain at all.
5. Lay on back with lower legs in a chair to slack hip flexors. Legs are at a 90-degree angle but relaxed. Hold at least 2 minutes.
6. Sit in a chair, slack adductors by sitting knock-kneed and pigeon-toed for 2 minutes.
7. Sit in a chair, legs parallel, with a block between the thighs. Squeeze for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times. Rest for 1 minute, then do 10 more rounds of squeezing.
In about a month's time, I've traveled back and forth from Virginia to Florida, the Caribbean, Texas, and New York. While I thoroughly enjoyed these travels, I now find myself with an aggravated and bloated stomach, severe dry skin (even though all of the places I visited were humid), and a rattled mind. I keep starting projects, putting them aside and starting others. These are all classic signs of aggravated Vata dosha. Increased Vata dosha often occurs in the winter time, but the movement of traveling can also bring on this quality of too much wind/air in the body. So if you feel out of sorts after a vacation, what can you do? Nurture yourself.
1. Eat and drink warm foods. Even though it's summer, I am craving the soothing feeling that I get from drinking toasted green tea, so I make it warm, not hot. I make sure to include warm meals as well. Eating nothing but cold salads will not bring Vata back into balance.
2. Take care of dry skin. Drink plenty of fluids, hydrate in a lightly warm bath, and give yourself oil massages. Sesame oil is preferred in the winter, but I'm using a lighter oil now that is not so heating. Try coconut, apricot, avocado, etc. If you spend a lot of time in air-conditioned buildings or cars, you might want to carry a spray bottle filled with rose water and glycerin to give your skin a boost of moisture.
Last week I went on a vacation with my family. Prior to the vacation, my mind was almost constantly occupied with problem-solving: How can I improve this or fix that? I was energetically applying my efforts, but nearly everything I did seemed to hit a wall. I was frustrated and fearful. As soon as we got to our destination, the new scenery and stimuli immediately took my mind out of problem-solving mode and forced it to be in the present moment. I spent the entire week simply being present and not once ruminating over the past or worrying about the future.
When I got home, I found that the vacation from my mind left me in a new space. The previous problems are still there, but I'm able to be accepting and peaceful rather than fearful or anxious.
When I taught my next class, I realized that a good yoga class that directs you inward is very much like a vacation. No matter what happened before the class, going inside with the breath takes you away from your environment and puts you in the present moment. This gives your mind a break -- or gives you a break from your mind -- and leaves you more peaceful and accepting. Having this time of peace and spaciousness can give way to creative solutions that seem to spring forth without all the angst that often comes from the churning of the mind.
I have a lot of new and exciting adventures in place. First up is my new "virtual studio." This is an online studio where you can take live online classes -- either a group class or private lesson -- from your home, office, or wherever you are. If the times don't suit you, you can download a video lesson to take at any time. While it may be difficult to imagine what an online class is like, once you try it you'll realize that the barrier of computers seems to disappear almost immediately and it really does feel like we're together in a room. If you have a webcam, I can see you, too, for an even better experience.
Here's a comment from a student: "My session with Sandy was so healing, empowering and joyful. She helped me release pain and tension in my right shoulder and hand. . . Amazing work!"
I'm offering 4 20-minute classes for those who need a quick yoga break, as well as a full 75-minute class complete with deep relaxation. Private lessons are available by appointment. I have a free yoga breathing video that anyone can download, and a 20-minute video that is available for $10. More videos will be added to the library soon. To sign up for classes or download videos, visit my virtual studio on powhow and share this link with your friends: http://www.powhow.com/classes/joyful-heart-yoga-with-sandy-pradas
It's heartbreaking to see innocent lives shattered by someone intent on hurting others. People are going about their business, enjoying the day. For some surely the marathon was a quest -- a chance to gain victory over a setback in life, or to realize a hard-fought goal. How can we be safe in a world where there are people who want to hurt us?
Unfortunately, there is no safety. We can do what we can to make the world a better place. We can hold our elected officials accountable for enacting our wishes to make our country more safe. We can be a good example by treating others with loving kindness, and we can raise our children to do the same. But still there is no safety. We cannot control everything and everyone.
At times like this many people ask, "How can God let this happen?" Well, it seems obvious to me that God is not focused on making our lives free of pain. That doesn't seem to be his job. From the beginning of time all living creatures have had to suffer pain, illness, hunger, etc. Somehow we got to thinking that if we prayed enough and were good enough we would be protected from these things, but it doesn't work that way. No one is immune from suffering in this life. I suppose if we did live pain-free, perfect lives we would have no need to look deeper into spirituality. We would not have lessons to learn from … to grow from.
Happy New Year! This is naturally a good time for reflection. We look back on our lives and think about what was good, not so good … what worked, what didn’t. And we look forward to how we’d like to see ourselves in the new year.
When I think about all the beautiful souls I’ve seen over the year, what strikes me is how many of us are suffering from stress. Many of us can’t sleep, feel anxious most of the time, and are so overwhelmed that we sometimes become paralyzed with inaction. Or we spend so much time being busy that we’ve lost connection with ourselves and others. We are often fearful, angry, and sad and feel unfulfilled. We can spend a lot of time in our heads and have little or no connection with our center – our source of innate wisdom and creativity. We simply react to a chain of events rather than being the driving force in our own lives, and that never feels right.
The good news is that there is something that can help with all of these problems. The bad news is that we have to do it ourselves. No one can do it for us. If we want to feel better we have to take action.
I read a poem today that I think is a perfect ending to the article I wrote yesterday about the school shooting. Those of us who are "light bearers" should not lose heart. We have work to do!
We are light bearers, stewards
of a truth that insists on being
shared despite doubt or fear or
imagined limitation. We spread
the flame by teaching or by growing
still, by daring to be outrageous
and dancing beneath the full moon,
or by holding a friend in need
and taking part in life's normal
routines. This is our message--
there is hope encoded in each
cell, each loving thought, each
time we reach out to one another.
There's truth that won't be stopped
by toppling buildings, snipers'
bullets, war clouds on the horizon,
or the inner storms of grief, despair
and insecurity. We are the peace we've
been seeking, the peace that stretches
beyond the mind's need for form or
understanding, the peace for which
each human heart longs. Now is
the time for the light bearers to
We've all seen how this works: Jane Doe is working so hard that there's no balance in her life. She sacrifices sleep and healthy meals so she can do more. As she continues with her unbalanced lifestyle and constant state of stress, she starts to get frequent colds. This is a little tap on the shoulder -- a request from Jane's body, mind, and spirit to wake up and start taking better care of herself. But she ignores it and continues to do the same thing. Desperate for change, the body moves from a tap on the shoulder to a thunk on the head: chronic inflammation sets in, causing a host of symptoms. Still Jane ignores what's right in front of her and continues living her life as usual. Eventually the body breaks down, full-on disease sets in, and Jane is finally forced to stop and rest because she is in the hospital.
To me, the numerous mass shootings we've experienced in the U.S. are a spiritual wake-up call to our nation. We keep getting nudged, tapped on the shoulder, thunked on the head, kicked in the gut, and still we go on as usual. Yesterday 26 people were killed in an elementary school -- 20 of them were children between the ages of 5 and 10. My heart is breaking -- for the victims and the families, but also for our country and all of the future victims of gun violence. How much horror do we have to experience before we wake up and decide to do something different?
I recently found out that some of my students don't know that I have a few videos on this website, so I'll put them here for you to see. The first is a short lesson on yoga breathing, and the second is a practice that I designed to help bring the mind to sharper focus so you can carry on with whatever you need to do during the day. It may help you stay focused at work or in school, or before a performance. I've also included one of the videos from our Costa Rica retreats as well. Enjoy! (If the website music interferes, you can scroll down to the bottom left-hand side of the page and turn off the music.)
My Grandfather died yesterday. He was 94, and I loved him very much, so I'd like to share this story that I wrote about him:
THE MAGIC CARPET
Sandra L. Pradas
The memories of vacations spent at my grandparents’ home in Pittsburgh are so deeply imbedded in my mind that 40 years later, the smallest details resurface in my dreams. I see the sprigs of mint that grew on the hillside, the cheery red and white wallpaper in the kitchen, the delicate tea cups in the dining room, and the spitting, sputtering monster of a water heater in the bathroom. With the exception of the water heater, I loved everything in that house – especially my grandparents.
My favorite memory is of me and Grandpa Flodine cuddling in the dark, flying on our “magic carpet.” I was probably only four years old when Grandpa came up with this new pretend game. He would put his arm around me, and as we closed our eyes, our magic carpet would soar into the sky. We traveled all over the world on our imaginary carpet, stopping to sleep on a mat with a small, hard pillow in Japan one night, and then in an igloo in Alaska on another night. My grandfather showed me the Northern Lights, the Norwegian fjords, the koalas in Australia, and many other fascinating sights throughout the world. He taught me that the people in these other lands spoke a different language and ate different foods. He explained how they dressed, what their houses looked like, and what they might be doing.
All suffering is caused by the difference between what is actually happening and the way you want it to happen. This can involve other people’s behavior or situations such as jobs, finances, family dynamics/relationships, health, and aging.
Learning acceptance is a wonderful healing gift that you can give to yourself.
Everything you experience is part of your journey through life. It’s an opportunity or a teaching experience. Maybe a wake-up call. Whatever it is, embrace it because it can put you further ahead on the path. Surely you have all experienced something that you initially thought was bad only to discover later that it turned out for the best or lead to personal growth.
Acceptance isn’t giving in or being passive. I once heard acceptance compared to aikido. Aikido works with the energies of push and pull. When someone pulls you towards them, instead of resisting and trying to pull away, you move toward them, using their momentum so they have no power over you. Likewise, acceptance means going with the flow, rolling with the changes, and using the energy in a situation for healing.
It seems that most people I know are trying to lose weight and would especially like to lose a few pounds before modeling their bathing suits on the beaches this summer. As we get older, our metabolism slows and it gets more and more difficult to shed those pounds. The abundance of readily available food and our over-scheduled lives makes it all the more difficult to take the time to eat properly. But it can be done, and with the variety of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables available now, summertime might be the best time to shape up your eating habits.
Here are a few tips that have been helpful to me:
1. If you have a smart phone, get "Lose It," a free app that keeps track of your calorie intake and output. (You can also do this online at loseit.com) A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly states that these types of tools have been very successful in helping people to achieve and maintain weight loss. I've found this to be very easy to use, and for some reason, I really don't want to go over that calorie budget bar, so it keeps me on track. And I love adding exercise and watching my calorie budget increase!
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that the cause of suffering is not seeing things as they are. We don’t recognize the impermanence of life, so we cling and crave rather than savor and enjoy. Nothing is permanent: health comes and goes, circumstances change, one day we have money and the next day we don’t, people come in and out of our lives. Change is constant, yet we persist in trying to avoid the unpleasant and cling to the pleasant. We make a really big deal out of things that aren’t that important on a grand scale. We delude ourselves. We try to control others. Our fears, our beliefs, and our biases color all of our thoughts, all of our decisions.
The practice of yoga – postures, pranayama, and meditation – shines the light of awareness on the inner workings of the mind. As we are able to increase our focus and concentration and delve deeper inside we start to clearly see this delusion – this ignorance – and we come to understand that the world isn’t at all the way we thought it was.
Dear Yogis & Yoginis,
I want to share something that I read last night in Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence:
It was an unbearably steamy August afternoon in New York City, the kind of sweaty day that makes people sullen with discomfort. I was heading back to a hotel, and as I stepped onto a bus on Madison Avenue I was startled by the driver, a middle-aged black man with an enthusiastic smile, who welcomed me with a friendly, "Hi! How you doing?"... a greeting he proffered to everyone else who entered as the bus wormed through the thick midtown traffic. Each passenger was as startled as I, and locked into the morose mood of the day, few returned his greeting.
But as the bus crawled uptown through the gridlock, a slow, rather magical transformation occurred. The driver gave a running monologue for our benefit, a lively commentary on the passing scene around us: There was a terrific sale at that store, a wonderful exhibit at this museum, did you hear about the new movie that just opened up at that cinema? His delight in the rich possibilities the city offered was infectious. By the time people got off the bus, each in turn had shaken off the sullen shell they had entered with, and when the driver shouted out a "So long, have a great day!" each gave a smiling response.
The tagline of Joyful Heart Yoga is "Live Wide Open!" What does this mean? It means dismantling our defenses and habitual patterns of reacting from fear -- fear of the unknown, fear of loss -- and opening ourselves to all of life's wonders and mysteries. We find that sense of awe and enchantment that we had as children. We open ourselves to love even though that means opening ourselves to sorrow and loss. We allow ourselves to live in the flow of life even though we have no idea of where it will take us. Instead of sleepwalking through life, we become fully awake and alive.
The best way I know to live wide open is through the regular practice of yoga, pranayama, and meditation. These practices slowly peel away layers of resistance and help to loosen our old "stuff," sending it bubbling up to the surface so we can look at it and learn from it as it dissipates into the ether, leaving us feeling more free, more clear, more clean. In otherwords, wide open!
While cleaning up my files, I ran across some notes that I scribbled in the year 2000. It was a list of the benefits that I had gained from my daily yoga practice. These benefits came automatically, without any conscious decision to change:
Benefits I've noticed from my daily yoga practice:
· I feel better.
· I have better posture.
· I have more body awareness, especially in my spine. I am always comfortable now.
· I go to bed earlier. I used to go to bed at 2:00am, and now it’s around 11:30.
· I drink less alcohol, and never have it to relax or because I’ve had a hard day.
· I drink less coffee.
· I have no problems with eating or digestion. I know how much to eat and when to stop. I seem to know what my body wants.
· I am more compassionate.
· I’m less judgmental.
· I’m more accepting and try to see other viewpoints.
· I’m more comfortable with my place in life. I don’t fear the unknown.
· I want what I have – I’m content!
· I can adjust my energy, moving it through the chakras as needed.
The seed cannot know what is going to happen. The seed cannot even believe that he has the potential to become a beautiful flower. Long is the journey, and it is always safer not to go on that journey because unknown is the path, and nothing is guaranteed. Thousand and one are the hazards of the journey, many are the pitfalls. But the seed tries, it makes an effort; it drops the hard shell which is its security, and starts moving. Immediately the fight starts: the struggle with the soil, the stones, the rocks. The seed was hard, but the sprout will be very, very soft and dangers will be many.
But the sprout starts towards the unknown, towards the sun, towards the source of light, not knowing where, not knowing why. Great is the cross to be carried, but a dream possesses the seed and the seed moves. The same is the path for man. It is arduous. Much courage will be needed. -Osho
Dear Yogis & Yoginis,
When I meditated on what my New Year's message should be about, the word "courage" immediately came to mind. Maybe it's because my son is moving to the other side of the country tomorrow. It takes courage to leave the known for the unknown. But like Osho's seed, the voice within is strong and he's willing to put aside his fears and doubts and move forward anyway.
Life has been extremely busy for me this year: I've attended several out-of-town trainings, led retreats in Costa Rica and Spain, taught numerous classes and workshops, and my private yoga therapy practice has really picked up steam. And that's just work -- I've had a whole slew of activities and travel for family and friends as well. Which is why I was taken by surprise when I realized that I was soon to host Thanksgiving dinner even though my calendar was booked up to the very last minute.
In the period B.Y. (before yoga), I would have started spinning my wheels and wasting a lot of time with "how am I going to do this" thinking. My panic about how much I had to do in so little time would have caused me to be unfocused and unclear, and I would have been completely exhausted before my guests arrived.
But living with yoga day to day has taught me how to warp time. The method is simple, yet takes lots of practice: Stay in the Present Moment. At first, this is hard to do. When we are in class, we can watch how quickly the mind jumps back to the past or forward into the future. But if you keep practicing, you'll find yourself more and more in the present -- the only place we should be. In the present moment, you have all the time you need. You are focused, clear, and efficient because you are fully present. Your brain isn't scanning through time, dredging up old stuff and imagining things that haven't happened.
Photo of Michael J. Lindell, Inventor & President of MyPillow, Inc.
As many yogis know, once you start walking around with good posture, you start noticing how uncomfortable a lot of furniture is. Chairs, car seats, sofas, etc., just don't seem to be designed for holding yourself up properly with an elongated and well-aligned spine. And then there's our beds: A place where we spend 8 hours a night rejuvenating our bodies and minds is the most important piece of furniture in the house.
A comfortable mattress and pillow are of supreme importance. A mattress needs to have enough give for your shoulders and hips to sink in without putting your spine out of alignment if you're a side-sleeper, and enough give for your rear to settle in without throwing off your alignment if you sleep on your back. If your tailbone is tilted up or down, or if your shoulders and hips are high and everything else is sinking, you're going to wake up with a sore back.
And then there's the pillow. If you sleep on your back, you need support under your neck that doesn't lift your head so much that your chin points down to your chest. And it can't be so thin that your chin points up to the ceiling. If you're a side sleeper it's even more tricky finding the right pillow. The pillow needs to support all of that space between your neck and shoulders. When the pillow is right you should feel supported and comfortable and your neck should be aligned -- not raised up or down. Since we all come in different shapes and sizes, it's not easy to create a pillow that would suit everyone.
It's nearly the end of August -- summer is almost over and once again time seems to have raced by me. Since it was a beautiful morning, I went out for a walk in the woods. I sat by a creek and watched the water -- in some places it was swirling and busy, and just a little downstream it was still and quiet. It reminded me of a meditation that I did once in Sedona, so I thought I'd write it down so you can do it yourself. It can bring peace, calm, and clarity.
If you have a creek, stream, or river nearby, go visit it and carefully choose an inviting place to sit along the bank that offers a good view of the water. If you don't have a body of running water nearby, you can visualize one: See yourself sitting on the bank of a moving stream. You are surrounded by trees. You hear the light song of birds. The water is clear and clean, and it flows over moss-covered rocks. Settle in, take a few cleansing breaths with big, long exhales, and then sit quietly. Close your eyes or create a soft gaze, and absorb the surroundings. Take time to simply sit and feel connected to nature.
It's no secret that many people in the U.S. have a dysfunctional relationship with food. We eat on the run, we eat what's easiest and fastest, we often eat alone under stressful conditions such as cramming down a sandwich at our desks while working, or we eat mindlessly in front of the television.
Contrast this eating style to what I've observed in Spain. Of course, I'm generalizing, just as I did in the above examples, but after several visits, including our recent Joyful Heart Yoga Retreat in Spain, I've noticed some big differences between the way they eat and the way we eat, and I am trying to adopt some of their habits.
For breakfast it's typical to eat a roll and coffee. (I'm not adopting this habit -- I need a little protein in the morning, so I prefer my yogurt and flaxseed or a whole grain cereal.) But I am picking up the habit of keeping the portion small, and that goes for coffee too. In Spain, coffee and tea are served in small cups rather than large mugs. I found that my stomach enjoys the smaller size because it's less filling, and I don't feel bloated. I bought smaller cups and bowls to help me with portion control, and I make sure to eat mindfully so I enjoy the taste of my breakfast.
My husband and I went to a local jewelry store this weekend to get a new battery for his watch. While there, the owner offered to clean my wedding ring. When she brought it back, we were amazed at how it shined and sparkled. I hadn't realized that over time the ring had collected a film that dulled it's beauty.
This is kind of how it is with us. Over time, living in the world and going through our day-to-day lives can leave us covered with a grimy film that masks our inner light. If left unchecked, this grimy film can turn into a hard shell that makes it difficult for other people to see our sparkle, but also makes it difficult to feel it ourselves.
Think about the average adult American's life: The alarm goes off way before we've received enough rest. We gulp down whatever is quickest and easiest to eat, then run out the door to sit in a traffic jam so we can spend the next 8 hours or more doing something that we would not be doing if only we could win the lottery. We come home tired, exhausted, hungry -- not just for food but for fulfillment that we don't know how to get.
My heart goes out to all of the people in Japan, to the creatures and plants, and to the earth itself. This disaster is particularly heart-breaking because on top of the earthquake and tsunami, there is now radiation leaking from the nuclear facilities. It's devastating.
On the day of the earthquake, one of my students sent me a poem called "The Peace of Wild Things," by Wendell Berry.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
It's true that most wild things live in the moment, and there is great peace in that. It's also true that we are wild things -- we are part of nature. And as a natural species, we are subject to the laws of nature, to the cycle of birth and death. No matter how much we fill our lives with busyness, no matter how technologically advanced we become, we still do not have control. There is no safety; there is no security in worldly things. Our jobs, our bank accounts, our homes, buildings and monuments, our electronic gadgets, our relationships, our loved ones, and even our own bodies are all here on a temporary basis. We can lose them at any time, so if we base our sense of peace, happiness, and security on any of those things, what will happen to us when we lose them?
What do hummingbirds have to do with yoga? I'm not quite sure, but I know there's something to it. I've been thinking about these little flying jewels a lot since our recent Joyful Heart Yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I've always liked hummingbirds, but right now I feel especially connected to them. The winter at home has been so long and cold, and by the time we arrived in Costa Rica I was longing not only to feel warmth but to see color. And the hummingbirds provided!
On our second day, 14 of us planted ourselves in front of a group of hummingbird feeders in the cloud forest. I don't know how long we sat there, but it was a very long time. The hummingbirds flitted in and out, and we sat there with complete presence and awe and enjoyed them ... respected them ... and at least for me, felt very connected to them.
Even now that I'm back at home, I still think of them. I made the top photo my screensaver, and that little guy brings me great joy whenever I go to the computer. Look at his wide open wings and wide open heart!