How To Be Happy, When The News Is Not

We woke to the news of another senseless mass shooting today. And not just a shooting, but the deadliest shooting in US history. Horrific, unthinkable, unjustifiable tragedy.

From shootings, to hurricanes, to inflammatory politics, we can’t escape negativity these days, and it’s taking a toll on our collective psyche. So many people are hurting, and it’s hard to know how to begin to help. It’s also hard to turn our attention away from the bad news.

Some people can acknowledge and process these tragedies in a healthy manner, but for others this negative cycle can have a significant impact, making us feel stuck, depressed, and hopeless. If the news of the day is overwhelming you, here’s how to break the negativity cycle:

  • Mind your mind. The human mind is like a monkey–always busy, and looking for ways to get us in trouble, rarely focused on the task at hand. Notice how often your thoughts shift to the past or present, and think more about what is happening in the moment, than anything else. Remember that the present is the only thing you can control. When the mind wanders, think “be here now.”
  • Sort your thoughts. Just like you sort laundry, (whites with whites, and colors with colors), you can also sort your thoughts. Which are helping you? Which are not? Make the line between the two more obvious. Notice that all thoughts are either painful (and disempowering), or painless (and empowering). Work on fueling the empowering thoughts, and pushing aside anything that might disempower you.
  • Recognize repetitive patterns, and break them. Our mind repeats the same messages over and over again. In some cases this is good–affirming thoughts foster confidence and hope. However, when negativity rules our thoughts, it can create self-sabotaging habits that are hard to break. Get really honest about your thought habits, and get rid of the ones that drag you down.
  • Don’t believe everything you think. The ego rules the mind and convinces us that we are right, and everyone else is wrong. That our perception of reality is the ONLY reality. And it’s just not true. Nothing in life is that cut and dry, and no one is right 100% of the time. Remind yourself that no matter what it seems, you don’t have all the facts. Give yourself, and others, a lot of grace, by recognizing that not everything you think is founded in truth.
  • Trust the struggles. Challenges are an essential part of life, and trying to fight them only makes us more unhappy. We have a choice in every moment to embrace reality, or deny it all together. When life doesn’t happen on your terms, instead of getting angry or denying it, tell yourself “it is what it is.” And then figure out what you can do to make it better, and go do that.
  • Ask a different question. Instead of asking “Will it ever get better?” ask “What can I you can do to make the world a better place?” And don’t discount your answer. We might not be able to directly change every bad situation in the world, but we can always do something to make a difference in someone’s life. Remember that every small act of kindness adds up like the drops of water in the ocean. The more positive effort you put forth, the better the world will be. No act is too small…so go do something to make the world a better place.
  • Remember that nothing is forever. Everything is always changing, which is good news, when we watch the world struggling. Todays news will be tomorrow’s history. Life will not always be this way, so get to work to do your part. Take it one breath, one moment, at a time. Affect what you can change, and use your talents to help others, one random act of kindness at a time.

Should we keep watching the news? Yes, of course. It’s important to stay informed. But don’t let it consume you. Know your limits and control your thoughts, so you can use your energy for uplifting and inspiring work, helping to make the world a better place, and enjoying the happiness you deserve.

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Three Things I Learned When I Almost Died

 

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Celebrating my birthday with family and friends in the spring of 1998–one of the few times I actually left my bed, while recovering from a near fatal car accident. 

Nineteen years ago today, a man named Freddy saved my life. Freddy was an EMT–the first to arrive at the scene of a devastating car crash. I was severely injured in the crash, and the doctors who cared for me after said it was a miracle that I survived. I had to be resuscitated three times, and was rushed to a nearby hospital in the minutes that followed. I was in critical care for eleven days, before being moved to regular hospital room.

The impact broke bones all over my body, including my C2, my shoulders, my collarbone, and my pelvic bone. I spent three weeks in the hospital afterwards. It took that long for me to get stabilized, learn how to walk again, and finally breathe without artificial support.

I was heavily medicated during the recovery, and because of the meds (or maybe it was the closed head injury?), my memories are blurry at best. What I do remember vividly from that time, however, is the excrutiating pain in my side from the chest tube that was inserted above my right ribs. I also recall tears streaming down my face, as the nurses forced me to stand up and walk around my hospital room. I remember doubling over every time I had to cough, or my family tried to make me laugh, because my broken ribs were stabbing my insides. The rest, however, is pretty foggy.

I do have clear memories of coming home from the hospital, though. I had limited mobility, and time dragged in the three months after my release.

The recovery process was brutal. I had a lot of support, thankfully, from my family, our church, and our friends, but it was still overwhelming.  I wondered how life could ever be the same.

I eventually made a full recovery, although I still live with some chronic pain. The thing that helped the most?  Discovering the healing discipline of yoga. I found yoga (or maybe it found me?) five months after almost losing my life, and it transformed me forever.

That first class was ridiculously difficult, but when it was over, I felt like a completely different person. I knew I was onto something, and started practicing yoga every day at home, with videos. In the next few months, yoga slowly helped me reclaim my strength and my flexibility. I suddenly had muscles where I had not had muscles before–YASS! People said I looked strong, something I had never been told before. And, I actually felt strong, physically, mentally, and spiritually–stronger than ever before. My moods improved, and I finally felt happy again. I fell in love with meditation, and learned some pretty cool new ways to breathe. The more I practiced yoga, the happier I felt, and I wondered why I hadn’t tried this before?

Looking back, I feel like I finally have perspective on the journey. I was given a second chance at life, and in the process learned three important lessons:

1. Life happens in the present moment. Prior to the crash, I spent a lot of time lamenting the past, and worrying about what might happen in the future. But, being stuck in bed, unable to move, for months on end, I could think of nothing but what was happening right then and there. It changed my brain, to be entirely focused on recovery, taking life one breath at a time. As I got into yoga, the message was the same–be here now, because the present moment is the only thing you can control. As I learned how to be more present, I felt more connected to my life and the people around me than ever before.

2. We are all connected in our struggles. Before I got into yoga, I was hyper-aware of my struggles, and how they affected me. I thought I was the only one who felt this way or that. By taking yoga classes, though, I started to see that everyone is struggling in some way–even the people doing crazy handstands were breathing and shaking! I realized that yoga is hard for everyone, and it’s pretty much a metaphor for life. Everyone struggles with something in life, and it is important to look for these similarities, more than our differences. Yoga philosophy teaches that any idea of being separate is merely illusion. We are all the same at our core.

3. We can’t get happy, we can only be happy. During my recovery, I often thought, “I will be happy when I am fully recovered”. But even after the doctors gave me a clean bill of health, I was still incredibly depressed, and focused on what I had lost. Except when I was on my yoga mat. I felt happy during yoga, because my teacher taught me to quiet my mind, and be the witness to what was really happening. To look for the beautiful more than the ugly. Both coexist always, and we can be happy simply by controlling our thoughts. We have the power to choose happiness in every moment, and push away the thoughts that don’t serve us. Connecting with the bliss within is where it’s at!

Almost two decades have passed since the crash that almost took my life, and a lot has changed. I am grateful to be alive, and inspired by the lessons I have learned. I challenge you to put them into action–foster awareness, seek connections, and choose happiness. There’s so much waiting for you on the other side, and most of it is better than you ever imagined.

~Namaste and love to all~

FullSizeRender 8.jpgOur family 19 years later, with Rev. Don Harp, one of the many angels who flew to my side, offering support and love after the crash, and beyond.

We Are All Connected

HBO has a new ad running on social media that looks to be a plug for the network, but also feels a bit like a political statement, borrowed from the ancient yogic texts.

The ad reads “It’s What Connects Us.” The video that accompanies the ad portrays a variety of HBO actors and actresses saying “ah”, one at a time, until they all slowly melt together. Together their voices create the familiar tone that accompanies the HBO logo at the start of all of their programs.

It’s an absolutely brilliant use of one of the great teachings of yoga: “we are all connected”. This theme is found throughout ancient yoga texts from Yoga Sutras to Bhagavad Gita. There is so much about this idea in yoga, but the ad specifically reminds me that the sound “om”, or “aum” as it is traditionally written, is believed to be the sound of the universe working together. HBO is missing two of the syllables–it is actually pronounced “ah-oh-m”, in three syllables, but still, the meaning is similar.

When we chant “aum” in community, the result is much like the sound we would hear if flying high above the earth, listening to all beings at work and play. The constant buzz of people milling about their days creates a beautiful and meaningful vibration. It confirms that every life has a unique and important purpose.

It’s interesting to note, also, that the three syllables in “aum” each have a meaning–the A stands for creation, U stands for preservation, and M stands for dissolution. The entire life cycle in one word!

I love how this ad demonstrates the importance of perspective to recognize connection. We all need to take a step back once in a while. right?! Although each individual “ah” in the video is not particularly inspiring, as the faces blur and the voices blend, it makes a joyful noise.

Maybe you have noticed this in your yoga classes? Some classes offer three “aums”, and the first can sound cacophonous, but by the third, the sound is quite beautiful. This phenomenon occurs because we begin our chant alone, but quickly find our connection to each other through shared energy.

It’s a lot like life–so much of what we do each day can feel mundane, disconnected, and less than inspiring, especially if we do it alone. Taking a step back, however, we realize that we each have important work to do, and we begin to see that everything works together for higher purposes. Our responsibility is to stay on our unique path–yogis call this dharma–and trust the struggles, believing that everything that happens holds meaning.

Perhaps most importantly, HBO’s “It’s What Connects Us” ad reminds us that the idea of separation is an illusion. Our minds may tell us that we are alone, but the truth is that we are all connected, even if it sometimes does not seem that way. The high and the low, the good and the bad, the interesting and the boring, the beautiful and the ugly, all support the beautiful harmony of the universe. Just as the artist uses dark and light colors to define his work, the contrasts of life are necessary and beautiful forces for connection. Thank you, HBO, for this reminder.

 

How Yoga Teacher Training Changes Lives

 

Westside Yoga Teacher Training Graduate Liz Jin shares her story of transformation!

When I first got into yoga, almost 20 years ago, I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I was recovering from a life-altering car accident at the time, and was living with a lot of chronic pain. My first yoga experience felt impossible–everything hurt and I had to rest a lot. But I did what I could, and I was shocked that, afterwards, I felt less pain.

There was also this happiness thing. After class I felt happier, and more hopeful, than I had in quite some time. Maybe ever. I left that first class knowing that I would do this practice for the rest of my life, and I still feel that way today.

Unfortunately, there were few easy ways for people to practice yoga back then. One day I had this funny thought: “If no one else is going to teach, than maybe I should.” It seemed ridiculous, to say it outloud to my husband: “I think I should be a yoga teacher”. We both giggled the first time I mentioned it.

But that thought turned into a calling I could not deny, and THAT is why I walked into LA Fitness and applied to be a yoga teacher. They didn’t care that I had never taught yoga before, and I didn’t care that the class only paid $17. It was just something I felt I had to do; it gave me purpose.

So…it was 2001, when I taught my first class, and there were no RYTs, no Yoga Alliance, and certainly no standards for yoga teachers. The manager at the gym didn’t take me seriously at first–at least not until I started filling my classes, and the members demanded more yoga on the schedule.

My Tuesday and Thursday night classes grew quickly in the months that followed, and it was exciting, but it also made me even more nervous about my teaching. Am I teaching this right? What if someone gets hurt? What if I get fired? My fears grew, week over week, so when I saw an ad for YTT in Yoga Journal Magazine, I jumped at the chance to get certified.

I applied for a Yoga Teacher Training Course in the summer of 2002, and began training that fall. I’ll admit I was intimidated at first, but it was clear that the struggle was there to serve me. Those long weekends of training added more to my life than I ever could have imagined.

It was during YTT that this practice really came alive for me. I discovered why yoga makes me feel so happy (samadhi, or bliss, is actually one of the eight disciplines of yoga), and learned new ways to add yogic techniques to my life. As I embraced yoga philosophy, and applied it to my life, I figured out how to control my migraines without medication, and finally got off the painkillers I had taken for years. I learned how to breathe more effectively, think more clearly, and be more of the person I always hoped to be. It deepened my faith, and made me feel like everything really is going to be ok. Most importantly, YTT gave me the background and confidence I needed to teach others in an effective and inspiring way.

Looking back now, YTT was, by far, the most empowering experience of my entire life. It opened my mind and my heart to possibilities that I never would have considered otherwise. Ask anyone you know who has completed YTT, and I expect you will hear the same.

The truth is that yoga is for everyone, and this training can help everyone. No matter what you have been through or what you are facing, learning how to apply yoga to your experiences can improve your life. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Yoga is the teacher, and it will call to you when the time is right. Answer the call, and give yourself the gift of becoming a true yogi.

These days, I am leading Yoga Teacher Trainings in Atlanta in West Midtown at Westside Yoga. Students of all levels and backgrounds are welcome. Learn more about our program in the video above, and feel free to contact me if you are interested! Or if you just want to follow our adventures in YTT, like us on Facebook and find us on Instagram.

Namaste,

Amber

 

 

 

 

Feed The Faith, Question the Belief

MONDAY MANTRA: Feed the faith, question the belief.

As a new year begins, we feel a renewed sense of hope for what lies ahead. We make resolutions to do better, and be better, but what can we do to ensure that we actually become a better version of ourselves this year?

Our best hope for transforming our lives is getting to the root of how we make choices. Are our decisions founded in faith, or founded in belief?

Faith is who we are and what we know at our core; the undeniable truths of our lives. I like to think of faith like the roots of a tree, because faith grows strong from the inside out. No matter how intense the storm, what we know for sure will never change. When we are connected with our faith, we feel free and happy. Everything is exactly as it should be, and we can do anything we set our mind to.

Belief is that which is founded in ego–it can be easily swayed by the world around us, like the leaves and branches of a tree. Belief emerges from our experiences, and is influenced by the expectations and ideas of others. Because belief grows strong from the outside, and forces its way inward, it can make us feel imprisoned, and incapable of change. We might know that we can change because of our faith, but because we have given power to belief, we are not able to live up to our resolutions.

Through the practice of yoga we learn the value of satya, seeking universal truths, and being truthful, in every situation. Satya encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to question our beliefs, and to invest in that which is undeniable. We are worthy. We can grow stronger. We can control our responses to the world around us. These are all things that can no one can take away from us.

As you make plans for an amazing year ahead, remind yourself to feed the faith, and question the beliefs. Watching your thoughts will open new possibilities in your life, and faith will empower you to make those dreams come true.

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I Am Not My Circumstances

MONDAY MANTRA: I am not my circumstances.

Sometimes life is so wonderful, that we believe this is how it always should be. Sometimes life is overwhelmingly difficult, and we wonder what we did to deserve such challenges.

Throughout our lives, our circumstances are constantly changing. As our situations change, our minds label what is happening around us as good or bad. We believe that life is good when things go the way we want, and life is bad when things do not unfold as planned. Our analysis of what is happening founded in perspective, and not necessarily truth. And because analyzing our experiences is engrained in our thought patterns, our conclusions often bleed into our opinion of ourselves. In the process, we can damage our self-esteem, our motivation, and our judgement. We cling to a temporary and false sense of who we are, founded in that which is fleeting.

In order to be happy—truly, sustainably happy–we must anchored that which never changes. We must remember that, although circumstances are always changing,  who were are at our core can never change. Our essential, authentic self is created at birth, and we remain that same person through our entire lives.

Think about who you were at age 5, age 15, age 20. What made you, you? Has that changed?

You will face many trials–everyone does–but the challenges are there to refine you. They are your greatest teachers, leading you to become more of who you are intended to be.

Stay present through the good and bad times in your life, and never forget what makes you, you. Circumstances are simply part of your journey. Nothing that ever happens can change your essential self.

 

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The Other Side Of Fear

MONDAY MANTRA: Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Fear is the great deceiver. It amplifies our doubts and toys with our imagination. The more we believe our fears, the less likely we are to take risks, and the more limited we become in our lives.

Fear and faith are like weeds and flowers in a garden. If we feed them both, both will grow…but the weeds will ultimately overtake the flowers. However, if we do the work to eliminate the weeds, clearing space for the flowers, what is beautiful will ultimately flourish.

The next time you find yourself wrestling with fear, push the negativity out of your mind, making room for good thoughts to grow. Doubt the fears, and believe in the possibilities. Tell yourself that life is limitless–you will never know how big your life might become, until you try.

 

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I Am Peace

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MONDAY MANTRA: I am peace.

December is, for many of us, the busiest time of year. Ironically, though, it is also the time of year that we talk most about peace on earth and goodwill to men. So, how do we reconcile the demands and extremes of the holidays, with our fundamental hope for peace?

By recognizing that peace is not something to wish for in the future. It is not some elusive ideal that we can only hope to achieve. Peace is a state of mind, a choice we make to practice ahimsa (non-violence) in every moment of every day.

Ahimsa is one of the highest values in the yogic practice. It is much further-reaching than physical non-violence. Ahimsa teaches us to refrain from negativity in all aspects of our life, including our actions, speech, and thoughts, about ourselves and others.

Every single one of us can be peace, by reminding ourselves that peace is a state of being. Any time it feels out of reach, use the mantra “I am peace” to remind yourself that peace is a who you are at your core. No matter how circumstances in life may change, peace is something that is always waiting within, ready to be revealed and shared with others.

Trust Your Struggle

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MONDAY MANTRA: Trust Your Struggle

One of the highest values in yoga is the concept of tapas–the heat that is created through refinement. Tapas is created when we stay in a difficult pose, even though we think we want to release it. The heat that builds through this resistance serves us by making us stronger, wiser, and happier.

The chatter in our minds can make it difficult to create tapas. It is human nature to avoid that which is difficult. We cycle through all kinds of stories–it’s not important, I’m not in the mood, I don’t want to do this. But…if we step outside of our thoughts, and push through the resistance, we see new opportunities to grow stronger in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

Trust your struggles instead of avoiding them. Ask yourself: What might be waiting beyond the challenge? There is joy in overcoming. A sense of pride and resilience that can only be achieved by working through difficulties with intention, awareness, and the belief that everything is possible.

 

 

 

We Can’t Get Happy, We Can Only Be Happy

MONDAY MANTRA: We can’t get happy, we can only be happy.

What’s the one thing everyone wants in life?

We all want to be happy. We chase happiness, as if it is a material possession that we can claim as our own. We think if I only had this or that, I would be happy. If only I was richer, thinner, or smarter, I would be happy. The longer we wait to “get happy”, the further out of reach it seems.

The truth about happiness, though, is that it is not as elusive as we think.  It is not a thing to be chased, but a state of being that we choose. We are, at our core, already happy. Our bliss might be hiding behind our attachments to the past, or our fears about the future, but happiness is always within, waiting to be revealed.

All we have to do to connect with our inner joy is learn to quiet the chatter of the mind. Be the witness to our thoughts, and practice non-attachment to outcome. In so doing, we realize that our thoughts are the only thing standing between us and happiness.

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Be Here Now

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MONDAY MANTRA: Be here now.

The only way to be truly happy is to live in the present moment. The worries, doubts, and fears that rule our minds are often founded in repetitive thoughts of prior traumas, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. These are things we can not control. The only thing we can control is the here and now. If we set aside thoughts of the past and future, and commit our focus to the present moment, we see our lives with greater clarity. We find new freedom in how we think, and we accept that the our life is not what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow. Life is what is happening in the here and now.

Change The Story

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MONDAY MANTRA: Change the story.

In yoga, one of the highest values is satya (truthfulness). The concept of satya is far-reaching; it teaches us to honest with ourselves, as much as we are honest with others. It also encourages us to seek the truth in every situation, and recognize that sometimes the things that feel like a burden, are actually our greatest opportunities for happiness. What we want most is often waiting for us on the other side of the work we avoid.

Try practicing satya the next time you find yourself resisting the thing you know you need the most. Whether it is your yoga practice, work that is cumbersome, or a relationship that is difficult. Ask yourself if it is truly negative, or could there be a beautiful opportunity for growth in the very thing you are trying to avoid? Surrender to the truth, and make the choice that best supports your long-term happiness.

What Can I Learn From This?

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MONDAY MANTRA: What can I learn from this?

Everybody struggles. It’s a simple fact of life. Our circumstances are constantly changing–sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. The one thing that never changes, though, is who we are, We are the same person at age 5, age 25, and age 75. The more we connect with that essential sense of self through our yoga practice, the more we can control how we respond to the struggles in our lives. Instead of asking “Why do bad things happen?”, we practicing asking, “What can I learn from this?”. When we recognize that our struggles are our teachers, the easier it becomes to make peace with things outside our control.

It Is What It Is

MONDAY MANTRA: It is what it is, but it will be what you make it.

Our minds are constantly labeling our experiences as good or bad–this is human nature. But what would happen if we simply accepted experiences as they are, instead of judging them? This is the true purpose of yoga. Learning to still the mind so that we can find freedom in how we feel, how we think, and how we move. When we let go of judgement, and embrace what is, we realize that we already have everything we need to be happy.

Where The Eyes Go, The Mind Will Follow

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Hello friends! I’ve missed chatting with you! Please accept my apologies for my absence.

I have been working around the clock at my new yoga studio, Westside Yoga in Atlanta, GA. We are a power yoga studio, on a mission to make yoga accessible and fun for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The turnout at our grand opening was unbelievable–over 100 people showed up! It was so much FUN! We have an amazing team of teachers, and awesome community of yogis, too. I am really proud of what we are building, and how it serves our community.

Check out the photos of our grand opening on the home page at westsideyoga.net, and come practice with us soon!

I am grateful for your support of this blog over the past few years, and look forward to connecting with you more often in the days ahead.

For today, I thought I would share a little yogic wisdom to help you start your week off right. Hold these thoughts close to your heart, and they will change your entire week.

MONDAY MANTRA: Where the eyes go, the mind will follow.

In yoga, a focused gaze, or “drishti” is an essential part of every pose. When we focus the eyes intentionally, we minimize the chatter in the mind, and grow stronger in our ability to control our thoughts, our breath and our movement.

When we are aligned in our gaze, breath, and movement, we feel like all is right with the world, and everything is possible.

And nothing is more blissful than that. ‪

Namaste~

Amber

How To Use Coconut Oil For Healthy, Glowing Skin

It’s been really cold and dry in Atlanta this week, and my skin has paid the price! Chapped lips and dry hands are no fun, so I’ve kept a bowl of coconut oil on the bathroom and kitchen counters, as a reminder to moisturize throughout the day. I also wash my face with coconut oil every night and morning, using only warm water to rinse. A little oil remains on the skin, along with a lovely glow.

I first tried coconut oil as a replacement for soap and lotion two years ago, when my friend Lisa (AKA The Charmed Yogi) told me that it’s a great practice for removing dirt, moisturizing, and leaving the skin refreshed. It seemed too good to be true, so I asked her to write about it for this blog. I was so inspired by the simplicity and wholesomeness of the practice, that I played around with it in the months that followed.

At the time, I was also experimenting with Retin-A, and a few other products that my dermatologist had suggested. Although the synthetic products did seem to brighten my skin, I didn’t like the idea of using all those chemicals.

When I first started cleansing my face (and eventually my entire body) with coconut oil, it felt strange, rinsing with water, instead of washing the oil off with soap. I was afraid my skin would break out, and I would feel dirty afterward. But, after a few weeks, I got used to the changes, and learned to love the light layer of oil that is left on my skin for protection.

I also love that my coconut oil regimen is simpler than washing with soap, and toning and moisturizing afterwards. It removes waterproof eye makeup in a snap, which is much easier and cheaper than using an eye makeup remover.

When I travel, coconut oil saves space in my suitcase. I used to pack a cleanser, toner, and mosturizer, but all I need now is a little block of coconut oil in a small container, to get me through a few days away from home (I freeze it before I travel and double bag the container to prevent leaks).

I know cleansing with oil might sound strange, but it not only works, it works better than anything else I have ever tried, and feels so much easier than my old routine. It has taught me that we don’t need all of those chemicals to stay clean, and it saves me hundreds of dollars each year.

Could you toss your commercial cleansers and switch to coconut oil skin care? You never know until you try, so give it a whirl, and let me know what you think!

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Why Tapas Is Better Than A Resolution

It happens every January 1st. I wake to a brand new year, exhausted from the holidays, but also grateful for a fresh start. I’m anxious to make a plan to do more, to be more, and to feel my best in the year ahead. As the morning unfolds, I remember that I indulged more than normal lately, and I think, “I need to make a resolution!”

And then I remember that, in over two decades of striving to lose weight and get in shape, resolutions have not helped me achieve my goals. They feel like a quick fix at the time, but I eventually find myself back where I started–struggling with my weight, not sleeping well, feeling fatigued all the time, and battling the headaches that have plagued me for decades.

I wrestled with resolutions and chronic health problems for years, and always wound up feeling ashamed by my inability to get it right. I kept making the same mistakes over and over again, and gained and lost a lot of weight, until I discovered the value of tapas. Not the small plates you find in Spanish restaurants, but tapas, the yogic observance that teaches us to get healthy by enduring resistance on a daily basis.

For yogis, tapas means discipline, and refers to seeking and overcoming that which is difficult. By observing tapas, we cultivate better health and happiness. It usually implies asana (poses), meditation, and pranayama (breathwork), but it can refer to anything which challenges us. When we continuously lean into that which we resist, and allow it to refine us, we grow stronger and happier, every single day. Tapas helps us become all that we can be.

There is power in the overcoming. For example, when we push past our barriers to challenge our muscles, they tear before they grow back stronger. When we increase nutritious foods in our diet, we lose our taste for sweets, and crave more fruits and veggies. These are just a few ways that the practice of tapas leads us to build a healthy life, one hard choice at a time.

Choosing tapas (the path of resistance) might sound incredibly uncomfortable, but I promise, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We can do so much more than we imagine! And what happens on the other side–empowerment, contentment, and joy–is absolutely priceless.

Like everything in yoga, the meaning of tapas is open to interpretation. For me, embracing tapas means I meet my yoga mat daily without fail, eat mostly from the earth, and strive to live in the moment.

Observing tapas inspires me to practice yoga for at least 20 minutes every day, even when I don’t want to. That way I can go to bed each night knowing that I at least did something to honor my body.

Tapas helps me choose a salad, when I would rather order pizza. It stings a little when the food arrives–that’s the resistance–but I quickly forget the pizza craving as I relish the energy I feel in the hours that follow the meal.

Valuing tapas is also helpful in my family life–it reminds me to stop and play games or read books with my daughters, even though my to-do list is a mile long.

My favorite thing about tapas, though, is that it gives me something to be proud of, as I look back on the year that just passed. No one is perfect (I certainly am not) but I did try overcome resistance every day last year. Not to lose weight, or look a certain way, but because I wanted to be the best version of myself that I could be. Thanks to tapas, I can look back on 2014, knowing that I did my best to be healthy and happy.

I’m not saying that new year’s resolutions are bad, just that they never worked for me, and I have found something I value much more. Tapas has taught me to make small, daily investments in my health and happiness, trusting that they will all pay off somewhere down the road. It’s a faith walk for sure, but it brings peace and continuity to my life.

As we begin another year, consider tapas as a path to a healthier life. Be disciplined, and do the things that you resist the most, every single day. Trust the struggles, and remember that getting healthy is hard on purpose…that’s what makes it worthwhile.

Happy new year, friends, and thank you for joining me in this journey!

Namaste~

Amber

 

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How To Create a Home Yoga Practice

HomeYoga660For many people, it’s really hard to practice yoga at home.

I struggled with my home practice for years, even after I earned my teacher training certification in 2002, and especially after I had kids. Every time I got on my mat, I would remember the laundry that needed to be put in the dryer…and the snack I forgot to prepare for my kids…and the trash I should have taken out…and on and on.

I finally realized that staying on my mat is difficult by design. The poses aren’t the work in yoga. They might stretch and tone my muscles, but the real yoga happens when I arrive on my mat, and surrender to the experience.

If you think you might be ready to practice yoga at home, remember that you don’t necessarily need books, DVDs, or podcasts. All you need to practice yoga at home is a quiet space, a mat, your breath, and a willingness to listen to your body. You can add a little music, too, if you feel moved to do so.

Here’s an easy way to think about sequencing your practice:

1) Warm Up

Sun salutations are a great way to begin a home practice (I recommend starting with 3-5 rounds). Move through the first round slowly, holding each pose for several breaths. Add in some stretches as you see fit. For additional sun salutations, listen to your body, and decide whether it is best to transition between poses with every breath, or every few breaths. There are benefits to both applications (read more about that here). Remember to always keep your mouth closed, and breathe through your nose.

2) Build Strength and Awareness

Next, pick 3-5 standing poses, such as side angle pose, triangle pose, chair pose, or any others you remember from previous experiences. Hold each pose for 5-10 full breaths. Find your drishti (focused gaze in front of you, or looking up) in each pose, and hold steady. Practice each pose 2-3 times.

3) Balance

Afterward, challenge your balance in tree pose, and dancer pose for 10 breaths each. Again, focus on your drishti.

4) Stretch

Hip openers, such as pigeon pose, and backbends, such as bridge pose, are best saved for the end of practice. Hold each for at least twenty breaths (and don’t squeeze your butt).

5) Twist and Reconcile

Finally, it’s always best to finish with a twist and savasana.

This is an introductory approach to practicing at home, so of course you can substitute more challenging poses as you feel prepared. You can also add more sun salutations, to increase the intensity of the experience. As you grow in your home practice, you may also feel called to play with arm balances, inversions, and maybe even the poses on the cover of Yoga Journal magazine. Take your time easing into more challenging poses, and trust the process.

Before you know it, magic will happen, and you will look forward to your home practice more than you ever imagined.

Photo: http://www.mindbodygreen.com

Your Strongest Core, In 10 Minutes A Day

Summer’s right around the corner…which means that soon we will all be bearing a lot more skin. I don’t know about you, but I ‘m always more motivated to work on my core, when bathing suit season is drawing near. Especially after having three kids in three years.

It was January 2011, and I was six months away from turning 40. The workouts I had been doing–a combination of running, walking, and the elliptical, with a little yoga mixed in–were not giving me the results I desired. My arms and legs were strong, but my core was weak. I decided it was time to reclaim my abs, so I would feel my absolute best by the time the big 4-0 rolled around.

My plan was simple… a 10 minute ab routine every day, no matter what. I refused to go to bed at night until it was done. I committed to do 100 bicycles, 100 sit ups, and a planque routine that consisted of 6 poses, held for 20 breaths each. Whenever you do core work, you have to do back work as well, so I would also strengthen my back with locust pose, held for 20 breaths, 3 times, each day.

It was not easy at first! I gave myself grace the first few weeks, when I realized I could not do complete sets without stopping. For example, I allowed myself to do four sets of twenty sit-ups at first, and eventually worked my way up to 100 in a row. When I was feeling really motivated, I would do the entire ab routine twice a day–once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

It takes about 6 weeks to start seeing results, but trust the struggle. Good things come to those who trust the struggle, and do whatever it takes.

Planques:

There are three planque exercises that are really effective. Knee-to-nose, knee-to-elbow, and knee to opposite elbow. Hold each for 20 breaths (or two sets of ten breaths each), and make sure you do them on both sides of your body.

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Photos: http://www.shapemagazine.com

Sit-ups:

Practice 100 sit-ups every day. Start with five sets of 20 continuous sit-ups, and eventually you will be able to do 100 in a row.

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Photo: http://www.womenfitness.net

Bicycles:

Same as above, 100 bicycles, allowing for multiple sets at first to get the job done.

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Photo: http://www.blairsburgmacfit.blogspot.com

Locust:

Hold this pose for 20 breaths each, for three sets. You can vary the pose by reaching arms forward, or out to the sides instead of back.

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Photo: Marty Sconduto for http://www.yogajournal.com

Seek The Truth Relentlessly

MONDAY MANTRA: Seek the truth relentlessly.

We all have stories about who we are, and what we can or can’t do. We repeat the stories so often in our mind, that we start to believe that they are the ultimate truth. I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, and so on and so on. It’s an endless cycle, and the more we repeat the story, the more it sticks to our perception of who we are.

Until we recognize that the stories in our minds are limiting, and self-imposed, we can never realize our full potential. The only way to become who we are intended to be, is to examine the story, and get rid of the parts that don’t serve us.

What are your stories? Which are founded in reality, and which are not? Don’t let the story stand between you and what you might become. Seek the truth relentlessly, and do what must be done to be happy, even if it seems impossible. We are all capable of so much more than we know. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and believe that what you want most is waiting for you, on the other side of the truth. ॐ

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Rejoice In The Way Things Are

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MONDAY MANTRA: Rejoice in the way things are.

There is an important distinction between happiness and excitement. So often in life we think, if I only had this or that, I would be happy. The truth is that we already have everything we need to be happy.

Happiness comes from being connected to who we are. It is the byproduct of believing that everything is exactly as it should be. Good things happen, bad things happen. It all works together to teach us to appreciate the blessings in our life. When we are grateful, we feel happy.

Happiness is very different than excitement. Excitement is what we feel when when we achieve a goal, or receive something that we feel we are lacking, such as a new car, a promotion, an invitation to a party.

Unlike happiness, excitement is not sustainable, because it is dependent on circumstances. Happiness is only dependent on self-awareness. It is what we feel when see ourselves with clarity, and remember that we each serve an important, unique purpose in the world.

At our core, we all want the same things–to know that we are seen, that we are heard, and that we matter.  This is what makes us happy, and it’s not something that we can buy or be given. It lies in how we see the world.

When we believe that we already have everything we need to be happy within, the whole world belongs to us.