Discovering the Magic Elixir of Meditation

Anyone that knows me, knows I did not come to yoga and meditation easily.  I am in most respects the poster child for the “Type A” personality; always going 100 miles an hour, consumed by a need to over-achieve and over deliver, and on to the next “bright idea” or opportunity before the current one is fully complete.  But in my mid twenties, after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was introduced to the incredible power of yoga and meditation to help me manage not only the physical symptoms arising from this chronic condition but also develop the emotional and psychological resilience I needed to live a full and vibrant life in harmony with this condition.

Over the last 15 years there has a been a flurry of research on the benefits of having a daily meditation practice. As little as 5 minutes a day of meditation has been shown to help you:

  • Manage stress
  • Increase focus
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Enhance creativity
  • Improve your relationships
  • Create inner peace
  • Awaken your intuition
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Become less judgmental
  • Deepen your connection to Self and Spirit
  • Assist with healthy sleep patterns

It was not easy for me to develop my daily practice, but it gave me an empowered path to re-gaining my health and vitality and it continues to provide this for me – nearly 20 years later.  So, if you are standing at the doorway of wanting to develop a daily meditation practice, Shanti is here to help! Here are a few tips to help you begin your practice:

  • Keep your intent simple. If you are new to meditation start with simply sitting still and deep breathing for 1 or 2 minutes. Each day or week add another minute and see how your ability to sit in silence will grow effortlessly over time.
  • All meditation begins with deep breathing, so the first step to cultivating a practice is learning to connect with your breath, focus your attention on breathing through your belly, and then systematically relaxing your entire body. If you need help with this, join us at Shanti for our monthly Yoga Nidra evenings.
  • Accept your monkey mind. Don’t be surprised if while sitting, even for 2 minutes, your thoughts begin to race. This is completely normal and frankly expected. Rather than berating yourself and giving up on your meditation practice, simply accept this as part of the process and gently, as if interacting with a child or best friend, bring your mind to focus on the sensations of your breath, the sensations of your body, or on a word or phrase that you can mentally repeat. Even seasoned meditators have times when their mind races forward or backward while in meditation. The only difference is that those of us who have been meditating for a while understand that this is a normal part of the process and don’t see it as a source of discouragement but as a sign of clearing the path to a deeper connection with ourselves and our dharma.
  • Set aside a specific time of the day that you will use to develop your practice and keep this appointment with yourself rain or shine, in sickness or in health. There is a beautiful Zen quote that says if you don’t have 10 minutes to sit in meditation, sit for 30. And I’ve come to understand the truth in this! It is the times when you don’t have the time and you don’t want to sit in meditation that you need it most.
  • Create a sacred space, free from distractions, that will provide you with the undisturbed time you need to meditate. Even your car will do! Simply find a way to make it feel sacred by placing an inspiring picture on the dash or playing some calming music. And if you can’t find the space that works for you, try out Shanti’s Shakti Studio during our daily open meditation hours.
  • Try doing some light stretches before your practices to help still your body and tune-in to yourself. Neck rolls and shoulder rolls and a fully body stretch is a good place to start!
  • Find a comfortable position to sit or lie in. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is not accessible to most people – don’t force it if you are one of the millions that find it torturous! Instead, be kind to yourself and find a position that works for you making sure that your spine is straight but you have the support your body needs to be fully relaxed and at peace.
  • Treat your practice as an experiment and privilege, not a duty! Our lives are chalk-full of responsibility piled on top of responsibility. Let your meditation time be a gift from you to you.
  • And finally, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again! I am living proof that it’s possible to unearth the wonderful fruits of a daily meditation practice, even if it is buried very very deep! But if you need a little help along the way:
    • Join Christine Hatheway for her weekly guided meditation class at Shanti on Sundays from 11:05 – 11:35 starting February 5.
    • Or enroll in her upcoming Introduction to Meditation workshop on Sunday, February 19 from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Or check-out one of the many wonderful aps like this one at Sounds True  with a variety of free guided meditations for use whenever you need it and wherever you are.
    • Or visit us at Shanti during our FREE open meditation hours in our beautiful Shakti Studio (pictured above). Check our daily schedule for these drop-in hours.

Namaste, Sari

Choosing the Right Yoga Style for You

Over the last 10 years yoga has bloomed prolifically throughout Canada, a wonderful sight to see for yogis like me who swear by the health benefits of this ancient practice. However, with this proliferation has come an abundance of choice and, in some cases, confusion from new students about the best yoga style suited for their specific interests and needs.

Because we offer many styles of yoga at Shanti Yogi we spend a lot of time guiding our new students in choosing the right style for them. Here are two important questions you should ask yourself when choosing the right style for you and a little cheat sheet on some of the most popular styles in the city right now!

What is our primary intention for your yoga class?

  • Cardio work-out or weight loss : you may want to try Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Flow or Heated Yoga.
  • Increased flexibility: you may want to try Hatha, Yin, Restorative or Kundalini.
  • Time to relax: you may want to try Yin, Restorative or Kripalu.
  • Spiritual awareness and/or awakening: you may want to try Kundalini or Kripalu.
  • Physical or Emotional Healing: you may want to try a specialty class or one-on-one Yoga Therapy.

Do you have any health conditions that may affect your mobility or are contraindicated for rapid movement, heat sensitivity, sound sensitivity, deep breathing exercises or deep stretching?

  • Ensure you note your health condition to the teacher of your class to ensure that specific movements, breathing exercises or the teaching environment of your class are not contraindicated for your condition.
  • Ensure you have your physician’s permission to experiment with the style of yoga you choose in your condition.
  • Explore the options available in the city for one-on-one Yoga Therapy or group classes designed for your specific health condition.

Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Flow Yoga

These are a more vigorous style of yoga guiding you through a flow of postures to help “you heat the blood”, purify the body and connect your movement with the flow of your breath. In Ashtanga specifically there are three foundational series of postures you are instructed through, with a particular focus on alignment in each. Where as a Vinyasa or Flow class sequence may change from one class to the next.

Hatha and Kripalu Yoga

These two styles of yoga offer a slower-paced flow through postures, holding each posture for longer periods than in a Vinyasa or Ashtanga class, while still moving through a full body sequence of movements. Kripalu yoga specifically is a form of yoga which emphasizes the development of an increased awareness into the physical and emotional sensations awakened during the posture flow.

Yin & Restorative Yoga

Both these styles of yoga are very relaxing, where you spend your whole practice on the floor exploring long posture holds. How they differ is that in Yin Yoga you will hold a posture for 2 to 5 minutes with just enough prop use to give the connective tissues a healthy stress while being able to maintain the pose.   In Restorative Yoga you will hold a posture, supported by bolsters, blankets or blocks, for between 10 to 20 minutes, in order to unlock the body’s relaxation response.

Kundalini Yoga

Known as the yoga of awareness, a class combining meditation, mantra, physical exercises, and breathing techniques with an emphasis on moving the Kundalini (primal energy) through the body for spiritual awakening and liberation.

Heated Yoga

Hot Yoga was first brought to the West by Bikram Choudhury, who developed a style of yoga based on a series of 26 specific postures and 2 breathing exercises, taught in a room heated to 37C. Today there are a variety of yoga styles taught in heated rooms but the primary similar benefit of this form of yoga is the detoxification that happens due to the profuse sweating that takes place in the heated environment.

 Yoga Therapy

There are a number of forms of yoga therapy in the West including, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, Viniyoga, Irest yoga, Trauma Informed Yoga, Integrative Yoga Therapy and others. Essentially these yoga programs are designed to help you systematically address physical injury or pain, or mental and emotional stress or trauma to help you heal. Therapeutic yoga programs can be offered one-on-one or in small groups composed of specific populations or designed to address specific ailments. With the increase of clinical research into the power of yoga, meditation and mindfulness to assist specific health conditions and ailments, Yoga Therapy is becoming an increasingly popular form of alternative health care in the US and Canada.

Namaste, Sari

Sari LaBelle is a co-founder and owner of Shanti Yogi.

Using Mindfulness to Create the Habits You Desire

Right about now is the time when most of us (myself included) start to fall off the New Year’s Resolution wagon:( I’ve found mindfulness to be an awesome tool to help me climb back on for the long haul.

Mindfulness in its most simplistic essence is defined as a process and state of continually coming back to the present moment with non-judgmental awareness. The practice of mindfulness teaches us tools to bare witness to our thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions, and see them as a passing waves in the ocean of our lives; rather than ways of being that define us or are permanent.

So how can mindfulness help us create the habits we want and let go of the habits we don’t? The first thing is that mindfulness teaches us tools to tune-in to what is happening in the present moment with deeper attention; helping us catch ourselves when we fall into mindless behaviors (like going for that extra piece of chocolate, potato chip or glass of wine).

We learn to turn toward these behaviors with compassion and dive into the feelings and thoughts that may have triggered our mindless behaviors or old patterns. Rather than engaging in self-flogging for having fallen off the wagon, we learn to embrace these moments of imperfection as opportunities to learn more about ourselves. To dust ourselves off and hop back on the wagon with greater conviction to make the changes we desire, a deeper understanding of ourselves and patters, and most important, a lighter heart.

We also learn tools to help us reinforce the changes we want to make by paying greater attention to the baby steps along the way and progress we make towards our goals. We learn to use our breath and body sensations to tune-in to how great we feel when we are consistent with the exercise regime we have followed for a whole week – or even 10 minutes! This helps to build new neural pathways in our brain to connect the thought and action of doing these activities with positive feelings so that eventually the desire to engage in these new behaviors is transferred to the automatic part of our brains and the battle of finding the will, time, energy to get to the gym is partially won.

So to help you on your journey toward using mindfulness to create the habits you deeply desire, here are a few tips:

  1. Get clear with yourself about the real reason why you want to create the new habit or let go of the old one. Visualize yourself having been successful for a whole month. How does it feel in your body when you imagine this state of being? Do this everyday, first thing in the morning, for at least 30 days.
  1. When you fall off the wagon, rather than letting your inner critic take over, let your inner best friend take the lead. Remind yourself of the progress you have made, that you are in fact doing the best you can. Ask yourself why you may have been triggered into the old habit or away from the new habit. Remind yourself that this is the normal process of learning something new and remind yourself of why you want to make the change and how great it feels in your body when you do.
  1. Celebrate your successes along the way. Identify some specific ways you can reward yourself for milestones achieved and take the time to share these moments of success with the people you love. In the wise words of one of my mindfulness mentors, Thich Nhat Hanh “ Every time you recognize a moment of happiness, happiness comes.”

Namaste,

Sari LaBelle MA (HSI), CYT, n.d.

Curious about for learning more about mindfulness or shaping your future creatively, join Sari for two of her upcoming workshops: The Magic of Mindfulness and Flow into Your Heart’s Desires Vision Collage and Yoga Retreat.

The Benefits of Yoga for PTSD

Trauma affects us all in one way or another, we’ve all known someone or had our own experiences with it and know that it’s affect can be very debilitating in day to day life. It can lead to feelings of helplessness, loss of control, anxiety, depression, and other complications. An article recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that Canada has the highest lifetime PTSD prevalence rate out of 16 countries worldwide, surprising higher even than countries like Nigeria, Brazil, and Iraq.

Traditionally, the treatment used for PTSD is a combination of exposure treatment and pharmaceutical drugs.   For some, this can work well but for others the side effects of the medications can be disconcerting and many people do not complete the exposure treatment because they may become overwhelmed and flooded with memories or dissociate which interferes with the resolution of the trauma. In order to resolve these traumatic memories the individual needs to be able to remain in the moment and manage intense physical & emotional sensations that come with the exposure treatment, this is difficult because PTSD affects the ability to regulate impulses.

A research study conducted in 2013 by the Trauma Centre in Brookline, MA looked at yoga as an adjunct treatment for PTSD. The study showed that Trauma Sensitive Yoga significantly reduces PTSD symptoms and may be able to help individuals tolerate physical and sensorial experiences associate with fear and helplessness and to increase emotional awareness and the ability to manage trigger responses.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga is a style of yoga that is specifically designed to help individuals mitigate the effects of PTSD. These classes focus on creating a safe environment for the individual to connect with their body and internal sensations. The classes consist of yoga poses, breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation techniques that help cultivate body awareness, emotional and physical regulation, release muscular tension, calm and focus the mind, regulate the nervous system, as well as practices to increase compassion and self-acceptance.

Shanti Yogi is pleased to offer a Yoga for PTSD program, starting Thursday January 19 at 4:30 p.m. To register for this program or for more information on the class please contact us at 854-2900 or shantiyogicentre@gmail.com.

To learn more about the benefits of yoga for PTSD, check-out this wonderful 9 minute video:

Sat Nam,

Jacynte Leger, CYA-E-RYT-500

Jacynte Leger has been teaching yoga in the Moncton area since 2009, she teaches weekly classes at Shanti Yogi including Yoga for PTSD and she is also one of the facilitators of Shanti Yogi’s Therapeutic Applications of Yoga program.