Bikingkindness

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I’ve biked all around NYC (1636 miles at last count) on the saddle of this heavenly creature, Pietr VanMoof. And ever since Sharon Salzberg taught me how to send lovingkindness to my fellow commuters, the distances we travel are also part of my daily spiritual practice.

What’s God got to do with it? For starters, the lovingkindness prayer reminds me to see others (and myself) through eyes of love instead of fear.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be peaceful.

May you live with ease.

Try it out tomorrow! The proof is in the pedalin’.

 My first set of training wheels

My first set of training wheels

chakRAS QUEEN!

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Started from the bottom, now we're here. Please join me in thanking Kareth for teaching us about the chakras these last few months. Root to crown, each lesson was both practical and precious. I keep referring back to their physical practices, essential oil pairings and playlists. You've gifted us something very special, my friend.
For your easy reference, here are links to the complete series:

The Chakras
1. Root
2. Sacral
3. Solar plexus
4. Heart
5. Throat
6. Third eye
7. Crown

XOm,
Jonathan

The Crown: Your corporal highness

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We've arrived at Sahasrara, the Crown Chakra, pure consciousness. Located at the very top of the skull or perhaps just above, Sahasrara means "thousandfold" and is represented by a thousand-petalled lotus flower signifying the infinite. Here lies our gateway to spirit, the divine, and the unknown. If you look at the chakras as both a ladder of spiritual evolution and a progression of life's phases, the qualities of the crown chakra can often be felt in very old age as we grow closer to death and to liberation. The veil is thin here, and when we are aligned with the energy of the 7th chakra, we touch transcendence and reside comfortably in mystery.

When connecting to the source at Sahasrara, we become a witness of our own awareness. We glimpse the true Self, Purusa, the soul, and are capable of seeing that Self in all, and, like a mirror, all the vastness of existence within the Self. 

"The Self is everywhere.
Bright is the Self. 
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and Transcendent. It is he/she
Who holds the cosmos together."

- from the Isha Upanishad


Physical Practice: Great mental stillness is needed to perceive this ultimate state, and this chakra is where meditation is most fully realized. 

Find a comfortable meditation seat. This could be cross-legged sitting up on a pillow or block, or in virasana, on the knees, sitting on a block between the heals. Close your eyes, feel the stability in your pelvis and very gently lift the back of the skull to encourage the spine to lengthen. Let your breath flow in and out with ease for several cycles. Inhale deeply and extend the arms out and up towards the sky, bringing the palms to touch in a prayer shape. Slowly bend the elbows and lower the hands to just above the head as you peel the palms apart but leave the fingertips touching. This is Hakini mudra, usually associated with clarity of mind and Ajna chakra, but in this position, floating above the crown chakra, we use it as a conduit to the divine, connecting matter to spirit. 

Breathe in and out of the space between the palms. See if you can sense the energy circulating there within the emptiness. As you breathe, feel into the space between all the cells in your body, the space between the thoughts and emotions. Enjoy the simple act of breathing and noticing, of letting your awareness rise to the surface, of letting your inner Self emerge. 

Gently let your hands rest on the top of your head, on your crown chakra. Offer your gratitude to the mystery of life and to yourself for traveling so far into the unknown every single day. 

Essential Oils: There are several essential oils that elevate the crown chakra, although the simplicity of Frankincense is the epitome of spirit.

Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/kwrath/playlist/1p8NgcNUhOHH7cGizk7adF

Photo by Lizzie Lasater

Stop shodding on yourself

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In her book Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet Biomechanist Katy Bowman breaks the great news… many foot problems are a result of disuse. Great news? Yes, because it means we have an opportunity to positively impact our foot-ure by making smarter choices and moving differently today. Consider this... if bunions "run" in your family, don't blame grandma. Maybe part of the problem is in your closet, not your DNA.

Toe pick a healthier shoe, Katy recommends a no-drama five-factor evaluation. Once shod, you want to answer "Yes" to as many of these questions as possible.  

  • Heel: Can I maintain a truly vertical alignment with my weight over my heels?
  • Toe box height: Does the front of the shoe rest on the ground, keeping my toes out of extension?
  • Toe box width: Can I spread my toes comfortably?
  • Upper: Does the shoe stay on my foot without my toes having to grip it?
  • Sole: Does the sole allow the natural movement of my foot, not just my ankle to move?

In summary, the healthiest footwear fits the following cri-toe-ria: 

  • Flat heel
  • Flat toe box
  • Wide toe box
  • Well-attached upper 
  • Thin and flexible sole

Katy maintains a running list of her favorite minimal shoes here, making it super easy for us to choose wisely in the shoe department. I really like my Vivobarefoot shoes and I just purchased a pair of Camper winter boots because IT WON'T STOP SNOWING IN NYC. 

Remember "the right shoe" is only part of the equation. Movement is also medicine. In her book, Katy offers easy exercises (stretches, massages, posture pointers) to help you fix your feet. As Katy says, "The state of your feet right now is simply a reflection of everything you have done up until this moment. Human tissues are dynamic and adapt to the forces that are placed on them. When these forces change, the tissues change to reflect the different habit. This is true whether it's a good habit or a bad one!"
 
XOm,
Jonathan

Photo by Vivobarefoot

This sucks

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For the last few years, encounters with a certain citrus-colored someone always cause me anxiety. It’s led to some positive behavior changes in my life (I almost never watch the news now) and highlighted other potential “development” areas (like when I stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes, and say “Lalalala”).
 
I’m happy to report I’m making progress. In fact, this past Tuesday morning, when my eyes, like a moth to the flame, glanced at the news screen in the elevator and saw his 5-letter name, I also noticed a sinking feeling in my stomach. However, this time, instead of ignoring it, pushing it down, turning against myself, and possibly derailing my day, a voice inside me said, “This sucks.” That tiny moment of recognition made all the difference, and before I even arrived at my floor, the anxiety had passed. Every time I admit what I’m feeling, anxiety gets its wings and flies away. 

That’s how powerful mindfulness is. Simple awareness of your bodily experience, grounding yourself in the sensations of the moment, can change your day and, dare I say, your life. Two things happen: you understand that thoughts and feelings come and go and that you can choose your response to them.
 
Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness in short, focused bursts. It has both short-term benefits (the slow-to-dissolve residue of relaxation post-sit) and long-term life effects (more resilience, for example).
 
This month, I’m meditating every day with one of my “be here now” heroes, Sharon Salzberg, to get better at living. Join us.
 
XOm,
Jonathan

There are so many ways to make yourself crazy

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But there's one way I know for sure to be kinder to yourself and others, to feel connected and motivated and right where you need to be... a consistent meditation practice. 

A few weeks ago, I had the ultimate pleasure of meditating with legend Sharon Salzberg in NYC, and she offered three tips for starting a meditation practice:

  1. Sit every day: The latest science shows that meditating as little as 9 minutes a day for a month will change your brain. 
  2. Investigate: Use an app, read a book, anything to reassure you that you're doing a good thing (by meditating) and doing it "right." Note: You can't fail at meditating. 
  3. Play: Find creative ways to practice mindfulness throughout the day. This is how we form new habits and thought patterns. For example, the next time your phone rings, don't pick it up right away. Let the first ring signal a new opportunity to be mindful, the second ring a reminder to notice your breath, the third ring, well, you should probably pick it up on the third ring. But just imagine how much clearer the connection will be when you do.


XOm,
Jonathan

P.S. Sharon's 8th Annual Real Happiness Meditation Challenge begins again February 1. It's one month of guided meditations and it's free. Who's with me? Click here to register.  

Ajna: Open your (third) eyes

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At Ajna, the 3rd eye Chakra, we find inspiration and receive visions that we then manifest in the lower Chakras. Ajna means "command" or "perceive." Thought to be located at the center of the brain, the 6th Chakra is associated with memory, sight, perception, and wisdom. It's element is light and it is physically represented at the pineal gland, said by Descartes to be "the seat of the soul," where variations in light are translated to hormonal messages relayed throughout the autonomic nervous system. In other words, the Pineal gland helps to regulate our wake/sleep cycles and circadian rhythm. In some reptiles, this gland is known as the parietal eye and is actually a light-sensitive organ at the top of the head, in effect a true 3rd eye.  

When the 6th Chakra is blocked, we can experience confusion, headaches, dizziness, and an unhealthy attachment to logic. However, our mind is one of our greatest tools for activating this center. Yoga Sutra II.26 says "the means to liberation is uninterrupted discernment (viveka)" Edwin Bryant's interpretation says that "complete liberation occurs only when intelligence first provides discrimination and then ceases to act altogether." Intelligence helps us see things clearly and access insight, but knowing when to let go of logic and simply be is really what gives us space to access cosmic vision. The physical gift of sight allows us to behold the beauty of creation, yet this subtler inner sight helps us integrate and appreciate what we see.

Physical Practice: Begin sitting in Virasana, with a block in between the heels and the knees together. Rapidly rub the palms of the hands together until you feel heat building. Cup the palms over the eyes and let the darkness wash over you and the warmth sooth the muscles around the eyes. Notice a sense of relief as the eyes are able to completely rest away from lights, screens, and the seemingly constant visual information this culture churns out. Visualize an indigo night sky surrounding you and let your mind empty into the darkness. Breathe.

After a few minutes, release the hands, gently open the eyes, and roll forward onto hands and knees. Lower down to the belly. Stack one hand on top of the other with the elbows winged out to the side. Let the forehead rest on the back of the hands in crocodile pose. Notice the soothing pressure at the center of the forehead, in between and slightly above your brows. Take slow deep breaths into the space at your 3rd eye. Return your attention to the darkness and to your own inner wisdom. Breathe. Notice if any images arise from the darkness. Breathe. What does the light bring? Colors, form, patterns? Breathe. Trust that whatever emerges originates from a place of insight, that it is your perception of this particular moment's truth. 

Essential Oils: Balsam fir to improve mental clarity; Cypress for concentration; Marjoram to release mental tension and obsessive thoughts; Peppermint for focus and to ease head and/or neck tension; and Patchouli for perspective. 

Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/kwrath/playlist/5vk8u36UEEL9pV06BJ3RxC

This pose is magic

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Of Basic Relaxation Pose, Judith Hanson Lasater writes, "This pose is magic, and the magic is that it doesn't work if you don't do it." I couldn't agree more. In fact, it's the reason I try to end every Reboot Camp class with up to 20 minutes in BRP. 

Why 20? It takes the average person's body 10 to 15 minutes to relax physiologically and move into parasympathetic dominance (the rest/digest state). Once you're there, growth and healing can begin. 

To practice Basic Relaxation Pose at home: 

  1. Gather a pillow, at least two of your favorite blankets, and a timer set for 20 minutes.
  2. Find a quiet place to lie down, preferably a comfortable rug or carpeted floor.
  3. Roll one blanket and place it under your knees. 
  4. Rest your head on the pillow, tucking your chin ever so slightly. 
  5. Cover up with the other blanket for warmth. 
  6. Spread your arms open in Pavarotti mudra
  7. Start the timer. 
  8. Repeat daily. Restorative Yoga teacher's orders.

Want to go deeper? Check these out:

XOm, 
Jonathan

Vishuddha: Express yourself

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Chakra number 5, Vishuddha or Throat Chakra, begins the upper chakras and relates more to the subtle realm than the lower chakras. Vishuddha means "to purify" and this center acts as a filter or processor, carrying the information from Chakras 6 and 7 down into the body for articulation and manifestation. Communication. Expression. Creativity. Truth. When we are genuinely connected to our values (explored at the Heart Chakra), authentic expression comes naturally. We honor and speak our truth.

Creative expression and articulating our intentio are clear way to access this Chakra and to keep the energy moving in both directions. Yet we also need to revel in silence. The ultimate restorative practice, give yourself a chance to enjoy the quiet, to recharge your ability to communicate effectively. Mantra and vibration are other methods for embodying Vishuddha Chakra. Find or create a mantra that feels authentic to you, and recite it when you experience confusion or doubt. Use the carefully crafted words to return home to your personal truth. 
 
Physical practice: Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana). Have a block handy and lie down on your back. Bend the knees and place the soles of the feet on the floor close to your pelvis and hips width apart. Press the feet into the ground to lift the hips and slide the block under the sacrum at its lowest or medium height. You can walk your shoulders together if you like and even interlace the fingers around the block. Lightly press the back of the head down and take slow deep breaths. This pose, along with shoulder stand, helps to activate the thyroid gland and stretch the neck and shoulders, all associated with Vishuddha Chakr. hile in supported bridge, try humming through your exhale and let the sound and vibration that you've created nourish the center of expression.

Essential Oils: For the Throat Chakra, I often use Bergamot for self-acceptance, Juniper Berry for its purifying effects, and Lavender to assist in communicating the truth and relaxing into silence when the time comes. 

Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/kwrath/playlist/5RkwSRlid34Ng5DKwd4Ea3

 

New year, new body parts to massage

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On Tuesday, after folding our blankets the way Judith Hanson Lasater taught us, we settled into the first Reboot Camp class of 2018 with an Ear Shen Men aromatic acupoint “massage.” Part of the Peter Holmes' protocol for relaxing tense conditions, Ear Shen Men plus Bergamot lifts the spirit, calms anxiousness and restores balance to the nervous system.

and restores balance to the nervous system. 

To practice this on your own (or another): 

  1. Place a single drop of Bergamot on one of your index fingertips. 
  2. Tap your index fingertips together to distribute the oil.  
  3. Lightly touch your anointed fingertips to Ear Shen Men, located at the top of the ear (blue dot below). The lighter the touch, the greater the shen effect. 
  4. Close your eyes and tune in to your breath. 
  5. Spend 40 – 60 seconds here, or until you sense a change in state in yourself or the other. 
  6. Bring your palms to meet in front of your heart and inhale the lemony-sweet infusion.
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We spent the next 45 rolling our core, front and back. After class, my friend Annie shared a line from Tennyson, the perfect ending to this week’s dispatch. 

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier.”

XOm, 
Jonathan