Wanna retreat with us??

OK yogis, our April 2023 yoga for breast cancer recovery retreat in Puerto Vallarta is coming up. I am over the moon excited about sharing this special time in this incredible venue. It is going to be epic! We have a really amazing group of beautiful thrivers already registered, and I am working on finalizing plans for all of the yoga, teaching, and adventures. I wanted to update you on some important upcoming dates and information:

January 6, 2023: This is the cut-off date for registration, and I have to have the final room list to the resort at that time! This is less than 5 weeks away, so let me know what questions I can answer to be sure you get registered in time.

February 23, 2023: The final payment of the full balance of your room will be due by this date, so plan accordingly. Some are making smaller payments over time to chip away at it, and I’m happy to accommodate this if you like.

Finally, now is a good time to check your passport and make sure it does not need to be renewed. Also a good time to start looking at flights. If you decide you want to add on extra days before or after the retreat, the resort is offering a special price for 3 days before and 3 days after, so let me know if you want more information about extending your trip!

Please let me know if I can answer any questions. Can’t wait to see you in paradise!

Flying in awareness

While flying back home after a recent trip and looking out the window of the airplane, I saw these gorgeous clouds floating over the image of the earth below, and felt this interesting separation. Up here in the sky, I felt a quiet stillness, protected by that thin lacelike layer of clouds, from the busy bustle of the earth below. Not that I couldn’t see the surface of the earth, with its little towns and highways, and all of the usual activity going on there. But it felt like those delicate and loosely dispersed clouds provided a subtle but real separation. And that got me thinking it was an interesting representation of the buffer that meditation provides us from the busyness of our thinking minds. I often use the image of sinking below the surface of the ocean, dropping below the choppy waves to find the stillness beneath. This is just kindof the opposite imagery; rising above the clouds to escape the busyness below. In either analogy, you get the idea. We can learn to be the calm, still, peaceful awareness behind the activity. And learning to inhabit that place can help us feel so much better when the big storms of life arise.

Mindfulness is the key to learning to take this step back, to shift our awareness, and to be able to calmly observe our thoughts and emotions rather than being swept away by them. And mindfulness comes in so many flavors; from mindful movement to breath or body awareness, from sitting meditation to walking meditation, and from formal to informal mindfulness practices, there is surely something that can work for everybody.

It has been said that “meditation isn’t about trying to change what is; it is about changing our relationship to what is”. And I think this fits perfectly with these images of either rising above or dropping below the fluctuations of the mind. There’s no need to stop the flow of thoughts or emotions, or try to control the world around us, if we can just, instead, shift the way we perceive those things in a way that brings us more presence, more peace, and more contentment.

By practicing focused non-judgemental awareness, even if it is just for a few minutes every day, we train our minds to be able to do this. We train our minds to be able to drop below the surface of the waves…. or to rise above the surface of the clouds, to find that place of stillness and clarity. That panoramic perspective, or that bird’s eye view, so to speak. So each time you spend 5 or 10 minutes practicing gently bringing your awareness back to your breath, or you practice really being mindful of your body’s movements in yoga, or you practice focusing on loving kindness, you strengthen that ability. So give it a try! And if you are a person (like me) who says “I can’t do sitting meditation, I’m just too restless or impatient”, then start with moving meditation. Begin to learn to focus on your breath and your body in moving meditation, and over some time, the restlessness will settle and sitting meditation will become more approachable. And remember, there is no right or wrong way to practice. Just practice!

Why not start now? Set your timer for 5 minutes, close your eyes, and just focus on the sensation of your breath moving in and out. You can focus on the belly or the chest rising and falling, or the air moving in and out at your nostrils, wherever the sensation of the breath is most vivid for you. Each time your mind wanders (and it will), gently bring it back to the breath. Even if you have to bring it back 5,000 times, just keep at it, gently and patiently coming back to the breath, without making it a problem or condemning yourself in some way for the lapse in attention. Just keep practicing noticing what is happening, and being gentle and loving with yourself. Each time you come back, you’ve strengthened your mind a little more. When the timer dings, you are done. Simple as that! Before you know it, not only will you find the meditation gets easier for you, but you may find that you start to crave the little respite, the quiet restful stillness. And then eventually you’ll find yourself flying free, calm, and unaffected by whatever storms or madness might be going on below.

Namaste

This is how we do it…

Can you even believe how gorgeous this space is? Well this is one of the spaces we will use for yoga practice at the 2023 Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat in Puerto Vallarta! We’ll just move those loungers out of the way, replace them with our yoga mats, and tada! Daily yoga practice designed specifically for breast cancer survivors, with the glorious Pacific ocean as a backdrop. You might even want to take a quick dip in the ocean after practice to cool off before we head to breakfast! What better way is there to nourish your body and mind, alongside like minded thrivers who are certain to become new friends?! AND, see those pretty little lanterns hanging from that gorgeous shade tree? They light up to make the perfect spot for evening yoga as well. It is going to be truly magical! Are you coming?? Please contact me if you are interested in coming, but need a roommate. And remember, you can bring your partner or support person to join in all of the activities if you like. We are in this together, right? So it is important that they learn how yoga and mindfulness can help us in recovery too!

Click here to access all of the information: https://yogawithleona.com/retreat/

Namaste

Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat 2023 is on!!

For any of you who aren’t on Facebook and may not have heard, Yoga with Leona’s 2023 Yoga for breast cancer retreat is officially scheduled! And I am over the moon! So mark your calendars for April 6-11 2023, in glorious Puerto Vallarta Mexico. We will spend 5 incredible nights in a luxury all-inclusive resort right on the beach. This place is beyond amazing. All ocean view rooms, 5 pools, unlimited food and drink, 5 restaurants, 5 bars, oceanfront dining, private beach, and us – a community of like-minded thrivers who understand the challenges of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and lovingly support and encourage one another in our healing and our growth! We’ll have twice daily yoga practice (all-levels, no experience necessary), educational sessions on yoga and mindfulness specifically for breast cancer survivors, 2 fun outings to discover and explore this tropical paradise, and plenty of time to just relax, unwind, and connect with each other and with nature.

Click here https://yogawithleona.com/retreat/ for all of the details. I expect this retreat to fill up, so register soon to secure your spot! Send me an email with any questions or to get that registration finalized (leonabyt@gmail.com). See you in paradise.

Namaste 🙏🏼

Loving ourselves and our bodies through cancer and aging

You all know I’m a classic rock lover. The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, and bands like these are my jam. But I do listen to pop music on the radio when I’m tooling around town. And I’ve been obsessing on this song from Lizzo lately, called About Damn Time. What first hooked me was this lyric “I’m not the girl I was or used to be….. Bitch, I might be better”, but since then I love it on a lot of levels. Check it out if you haven’t heard it (and if u are ok w a little of the b-word 😉 ).

So the reason it hooked me is I’ve been thinking alot about embracing our changes, respecting and loving – even revering – how our bodies morph and change over time. Instead of dreading and hating these changes and feeling this negative energy, sadness, or animosity toward our own selves, why don’t we recognize all of these changes as 1) completely natural and 2) signs that we have lived rich and full lives and overcome so many obstacles?! Why can’t we see that in fact – bitch, we might be better! From our scars to our laugh lines, to stretch marks and weird fat rolls (like the ones on my side in this pic), to cellulite and sun spots, and even including our emotional quirks and habits, all of these changes are simply our bodies’ way of responding – responding to our life, to the challenges we’ve faced, to the friends we’ve made, to the adventures we’ve met, to the threats we’ve overcome, to the fun we’ve had, and even to the not-so-fun moments that have really kept us human. I’ve been thinking of my body (and mind I suppose) as a beautiful tapestry of all of my life’s experiences up to this point. Because really, our bodies are on our side! They’re just trying to protect us, right? To keep everything together despite whatver life throws our way. They don’t make those changes just to mess with us and piss us off. Our bodies and our minds respond in the best way they know how to keep us healthy and safe. So instead of being mad and disgusted at my radiation-scarred breast, I try to send some love there, to thank my skin and tissues for healing me from that damn radiation. I wink to those crow’s feet that bring back memories of so many great laughs, and those sun spots that remind me of so many fun days outside. Even to those weird fat deposits (when did that get there?! LOL) that remind me of some fabulous meals or margaritas that I have shared with my loved ones. And I’m truly grateful. I’m grateful for my body. She’s carried me through quite a lot of madness over the years and I’m still here! Thanks to all of her hard work, I’m here to enjoy another day, another yoga practice, another walk in town, another margarita w my hubs, another whatever life brings me next!

If any of this resonates with you, or these are themes you are working on in your own life, check out Ram Dass’ book Still Here. I just finished it and actually lent my copy to a close friend because I loved it so much and I thought it would help her too. It inspired much of my recent introspection and re-orienting of my feelings about aging and changing, and seeing those changes as positive and sources of joy and gratitude, rather than sadness, defeat, and decay. Ram Dass’ wisdom and inspiration are vast and profound. Check out an excerpt from the book here: https://www.ramdass.org/still-here/.

So let’s love ourselves and our bodies, just as we are. Echoing back to Lizzo, It’s about damn time!

Namaste

Determination in backbending

Here is a little progress log of me working on my back flexibility over the last several months. It is funny that I happen to be wearing the same outfit in each pic! I guess it is my favorite these days. The angles of the pix are somewhat different, but you can see my head getting ever closer to my foot! And my knee closer to the wall meaning more hip flexor openness. The eventual goal is to be able to catch that foot with my hands, to make that shape for example in dancer pose (natarajasana) or in one legged king pigeon (eka pada rajakapotasana) or in full camel (called paripurna ustrasana or kapotasana). As I always say, arriving at the goal is less important than what we learn along the way, but it is fun to see the progress. What am I learning along the way? A little about the specific areas of the body that I need to work on and a little about the quality of the effort that works best to see that progress unfold.

As you may recall me lamenting, back flexibility is one of my biggest physical challenges in yoga. I’m pretty strong and my legs are flexible, but my back? Not so much! 😉 I found this new stretch about 6 months ago and decided to try it, hoping to continue to tap into some flexibility in my spine, especially in the upper back/shoulders and in the low back/hips. It is sort of a modification of King Arthur’s pose against a wall. The upper back/shoulder tightness has been a longstanding challenge, but was made quite a bit worse by my breast cancer treatment, so it is something I really try to focus on. Recall that the scarring we develop on the front side of our chest as a result of breast cancer surgery and/or radiation causes a contraction of the front side of our chest/shoulders, which makes extending the spine (aka backbending) more challenging. So if you have a stiff upper back or a forward hunching of your shoulders, this may be part of the reason. But this is even more reason why we need to really keep after it. If we don’t continually stretch and open that front side, the tightness and contraction in those areas of scarring can worsen. For this area, getting the arms up and over the head is important (see middle and right images). I have also really been loving puppy dog pose for opening this same area recently (Click here to see puppy dog https://youtu.be/tsD3QRU-UsU).

The other area that this new stretch works on is the hip flexors. You don’t initially think that the hip flexors are that involved in backbending, but in fact they are! Just imagine the front-body tightness I discussed in the upper torso, and translate that to the front side of the lower abdomen and pelvis. Overly tight hip flexors cause contraction of the front side of that area, thus also limiting backbending. The hip flexors are a group of several different muscles that flex (or bring the thigh forward/up) the hip joint. They include the large muscles on the front of your thigh, but also a lesser-known group of muscles called the iliopsoas that originate deep inside the abdomen/pelvis and then cross the hip joint and insert onto the femur (thigh bone). The iliopsoas is very commonly tight, especially in those of us who spend a lot of time sitting for our jobs, and is an infamous culprit in chronic back pain. I think it was a big source of my back pain years ago. So learning to strengthen AND stretch the iliopsoas, along with the other hip flexors can really help us feel better. And get us closer to those fun backbends we want to be able to do.

Working on our challenging areas requires patience, commitment, and determination, but it is important to remember to keep an element of gentleness and compassion for yourself at all times. Recall tapas, from the niyamas of yoga philosophy, which teaches us self-discipline, to keep up that inner fire that drives us to keep putting in the effort. But recall also, that tapas isn’t meant to be a penance or self-flagellation. This is why I love this quote from Pema Chodron, whose wisdom continues to guide me: “Determination means to use every challenge you meet as an opportunity to open your heart and soften, determined not to withdraw”. I love this idea of the juxtaposition of the commitment and effort with this element of softness and open-heartedness. As opposed to a sort of gripping or forceful effort. And this is especially true when working on backbending, where gripping and forcing get you nowhere and in fact probably hinder your progress! Probably many of our challenges in life are just like backbending. Scary, uncomfortable, slow to see change, frustrating if you allow them to be….. but also surprisingly accessible if we just approach them gently, thoughtfully, and keep up that persistent effort. And WOW once we begin to crack them open, they feel sooo delicious, and even tiny bits of progress are rewarding and empowering.

So if you have a stiff back like I do, whether from the upper back, the lower back and hips, or wherever, give this posture a try. As with everything in yoga, start low, go slow, and listen to your body. And as with all backbends, focus on lengthening and extending the spine, stretching up and out of your hips as you bend back. Don’t dump into and compress the low back. Work at it slowly, patiently, but with softness and an open heart, determined not to withdraw.

Namaste

May we stay…. forever young?

Today is my birthday!! I’m 46 years young, though I admit I’ve been telling people I am 39 for the past 7 years. Just kidding. Kindof. 😉

I love Bob Dylan, and love his version of this song, Forever Young. But I am absolutely realizing that I should embrace each year as it passes, rather than resisting and resenting them, or wishing I could stay young forever (at least chronologically young anyway). As Mark Twain said “Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many”. And I feel that in my bones. Traversing a life threatening illness like cancer definitely makes us realize that we should celebrate each year we get to live this beautiful life. Each year we get to spend loving the people around us. Each year we get to learn new things, to read new books, to see new sights, and to see the same old sights in fresh new ways. Each year we get to breathe more deeply, to connect with ourselves and with others in new ways, to love and understand our true selves more, and to simply enjoy being here now.

So today, I’m celebrating this new year that I have been gifted. My heart will always be joyful. My song will always be sung. And I will stay….. forever young (at heart, though probably not in body, but I’m going to celebrate those wrinkles too, as they are signs that I’ve lived and laughed and smiled all year long!).

Sending big birthday girl love to you all!

Namaste

Why I keep up my yoga practice

Are you new to Yoga with Leona? Wondering what the big deal is about yoga in breast cancer recovery? Why am I so obsessed with this practice? Let me count the ways…

I came to yoga practice about 12 or so years ago, originally to try to help with some chronic back pain. Thus began my journey into this amazing practice that continues to bring new benefits to me with each passing year; from even before my cancer when I was a hot mess of stress and over-worked exhaustion, to my cancer diagnosis full of fear and anxiety, through chemo and all of its attendant side effects, to recovery from surgery and radiation and the local effects on my chest and shoulder (which continue to some degree even 5 years out), and into the long term recovery and rebuilding my inner strength, my confidence in myself and my body, cultivating a place of peace, gratitude, and contentment that helps me feel joyful every day, in spite of life’s ups and downs. One of the amazing things about yoga is that it is a lifelong practice. It isn’t like some skill that you master and then you are done. With yoga, you continue to find new layers of depth and new types of growth, both in the physical body, but also deeper in the mind and in the spirit, with each passing year. And THIS is why I continue to practice. Let’s make a list.

First and foremost, yoga is a practice in awareness, in mindfulness. We use mindful movement, conscious breathing, and practices in focus and concentration to make us better able to stay present. Instead of being swept away by the torrent of crazy thoughts, fears, and emotions (all of which are expected and totally normal in this situation), our minds become calm and peaceful. We learn to disengage from those unhelpful thoughts when they arise, and to choose something healthier. The increased awareness of our body is so helpful too, as we become better attuned to what our bodies need.

Yoga practice keeps me feeling flexible in body and mind. Let’s face it, cancer, early menopause, and just age alone leave us feeling a little stiff sometimes. For me, especially in my radiated chest. But if I keep up my practice, that stiffness is only a minor annoyance (as opposed to truly painful and physically limiting if I don’t). For those of you with stiffness from estrogen blocking medications, there is a lot of data that physical activity, including yoga specifically, can help. AND yoga keeps me flexible in my mind. It is easy to get stuck in patterns of rigid thought and opinions about how we think the world should be. But this just brings frustration. Yoga philosophy helps us stay open and flexible, so that we can enjoy each moment as it comes.

Yoga practice helped me feel strong again after my cancer treatment. I’ve said before that I was really afraid that after treatment, I would have to accept some “new me” that was not able to do the things I used to do. That maybe I wouldn’t be able to lift certain things, or do vigorous yard work, or do a handstand again. Yoga practice helped me gain back all of the strength I had before, and MORE! I’m honestly much stronger now, both in my body and my mind. And the mental strength is even more important than the physical. Yoga practice teaches us that we are far more powerful than we know, that we can be confident in ourselves and trust that we can handle any obstacle before us.

But that leads me to the next point. This takes patience. Sometimes we want to just jump over that obstacle straight away. But many things require time. Including cancer recovery. While we are strong beyond measure, we have to build back to activities slowly, mindfully, patiently waiting until our bodies heal and catch up to where we need them to be. In this way we safely regain all of that strength and flexibility, without worrying that we are going to hurt or derail ourselves along the way. Just having cancer alone teaches us patience, but adding yoga in to our recovery adds this quality of empowerment to the patience. So it isn’t like we just have to lie around helpless and wait to be better. We are empowered to be actively doing something about it, but with control and the understanding that it takes some time.

Yoga practice also trains us in equanimity and acceptance. We learn to be ok with whatever life is bringing us on any given day, and not to get all flustered or hysterical if things aren’t ideal. We learn to breathe, just as we would in a challenging asana, and find some ease in the midst of the situation. We accept that the moment is what it is, but with our growing skills in patience, inner strength, confidence, and flexibility, we know that we will get through whatever challenges arise. So why get ourselves all upset and freaked out? Instead, we continue to breathe, and we calmly await a clear mind that can see the way forward.

These are all of my personal experiences and observations about how yoga has impacted me over the years. But it isn’t just me. There is an extensive scientific literature growing each year with new evidence that yoga practice does, in fact, carry significant benefits to cancer survivors, and how exactly these benefits arise in the body. For example, yoga practice is clearly associated with less cancer-related fatigue and improved energy. Yoga and meditation both clearly reduce markers of inflammation, which correlate to immune system function. Yoga and breathing practices tone and strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that brings us into rest and relaxation, to a place where healing can take place. Away from the stress response and chronic inflammation that result from the sympathetic nervous system being in overdrive from the threats of illness and the tension and anxiety that accompany it. This list of scientific studies on the benefits of yoga goes on and on, and is growing with each passing year.

I’m just like anybody, and I go through periods where I miss practice for a few days when I get busy with life or I’m traveling. But I generally regret it when I do, and I quickly come back to my mat. Back to this simple but profound practice that has completely transformed my life. It has taught me so much about myself, about how I move through the world, and helped me to cultivate those qualities that make me feel my best: a calm awareness, a peaceful presence, a compassion and understanding for myself and others (except in traffic, lol I’m working on that), a flexibility and openness to whatever arises, and a true joy for each day.

So whether you are new to yoga and just trying to figure out what it is all about, or you’ve been practicing for many years, my advice is to keep practicing. It doesn’t have to be a full 60-90 minute sweat-fest. Sometimes some gentle stretching in bed, or 15 minutes of mindful breathing is just right. Listen to your body and Just. Keep. Practicing! Maybe you’ll find similar benefits to mine. Maybe yours will be completely different. Maybe they’ll be mostly in the body, or mostly in the mind, or maybe a mix of both. But I really believe in this practice, and I trust you won’t regret it.

Namaste

Spring into your power

Happy Spring yogis! Yesterday was the spring equinox, or the first day of spring, when the length of the light matches the length of the dark, for those of us in the northern hemisphere. I celebrated the day, and the coming season of increasing light, with 108 sun salutations. 108 sun salutations are practiced by many yogis for different reasons, including marking the change of seasons, celebrating important dates or occasions, re-connecting to our practice, cleansing, detoxifying, optimizing energy flow in the body, and so many others. Here is a short vid of the last set of my 108 (you can tell it was the end and I was pooped by how hard I am breathing 😉 ).

What is up with the number 108? Well this number is considered sacred and significant in many different traditions from Ayurveda to astronomy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. And for those of you sports fans, I also learned from my teacher that 108 is the number of stitches on a baseball! As you know, sun salutations are combinations or sequences of movements in yoga practice that are meant to build heat in the body, and to create a moving meditation as we repeat these movements in concert with our breath. Sun salutations can be vigorous, and 108 is a big number, so practicing this can be challenging to body and mind. But the benefits of the practice can be so profound. Here are a few of the reasons I like to do it.

One simple one is to celebrate the change of seasons, and specifically for Spring, to welcome the increasing light and clarity as winter passes. Creating the habit of practicing 108 at the change of seasons just helps remind us to take a little time to recognize the changes, and what they might mean for us in our lives.

Many of you know, I love sun salutations for their moving meditative qualities. When I practice sun sals, I truly get lost in the harmonization of my body with my breath as I transition from one shape to the next. It is almost impossible not to be truly present in this place, as my thinking mind quiets to stillness.

Another important reason I like to practice 108 with some regularity is that is provides an opportunity for me to consciously recommit to my yoga practice. Like anyone, I occasionally find a little stagnation in my practice or lose motivation, and 108 always stokes that inner fire right back up and reminds me why I get on my mat, renewing my dedication and love for yoga.

Perhaps the most important reason I keep coming back to this practice of 108 sun salutations is the way in which it brings me face to face with the strength and resilience of my body and my mind. When I practice 108, I feel healthy, confident, and empowered, despite the scars, asymmetries, and limitations that my cancer treatment left behind. I was a little reluctant to share this video, as it so obviously shows my wonky chest, with one breast implant high and prominent due to fibrosis from radiation, and the other riding lower and highlighting the breast animation deformity (movement effect from the pectoralis muscle). While overall I am very grateful just to be alive and healthy, and I feel fortunate to have even been able to have bilateral breast reconstruction after my cancer treatment…. there is certainly still a part of me that feels “ugly” and “damaged” when I see myself in certain images or videos. However, when I watched this particular video clip after recovering from my practice and savasana, instead of those negative emotions, I felt love and compassion for myself. I felt full acceptance and even an embracing of all of my physical scars and imperfections, as well as my sometimes busy and judging mind, my self-doubt, my fears, all of it…. in other words I was able to welcome the whole catastrophe that is me (a reference to Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, a guide to mindfulness).

And THIS is the magic of yoga. As one famous yoga teacher Rachel Brathen so eloquently said, “The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible or standing on your head is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love…. well, you”.

So for all of these reasons, today on the second day of Spring, I am devoted to continuing this yoga journey of growth and transformation, to continue to nourish and strengthen my body, heart, mind, and spirit.

My wish for you is that you find whatever practices or habits leave you similarly empowered and motivated to love and care for yourself as you recover from cancer and the effects of its treatment. It doesn’t have to be yoga or 108 sun salutations. It could be walking or painting, cycling or swimming, gardening or singing. But find what works for you. You owe it to yourself and you have the power.

Namaste

The power of finding contentment in uncomfortable places

Have you ever done the splits (aka hanumanasana) on a piece of driftwood? Yeah, so it wasn’t the best idea, nor the most comfortable place I’ve ever practiced this pose. But it was a pretty scene along my hike, so I went ahead. And it actually turns out to be nicely symbolic of the idea behind this awesome quote from Walt Whitman. “Happiness, not in another place, but this place…. not for another hour, but this hour”. To me, this quote echoes of santosha, one of my favorite of the niyamas from yoga philosophy, which help guide us in developing healthy attitudes and thought patterns to support us both on and off of our yoga mats. Santosha means contentment, and the idea is that we must strive to find some level of contentment in all circumstances, irrespective of how uncomfortable or difficult those circumstances might be. Yoga teaches us to practice finding ease and contentment in the most uncomfortable positions, like this one, hanumanasana, or some other crowd favorites like utkatasana (sometimes called chair pose) or navasana (boat pose).

As with most things in yoga asana practice, the practice of santosha on the mat is a little microcosm preparing us for santosha off the mat, in real life. Finding contentment in the midst of physical struggle (like screaming hamstrings or quivering quadriceps) trains us to more easily be able to find contentment when challenging situations arise off of the mat. And I think this is why santosha speaks to me so much. As cancer survivors, we have many uncomfortable or challenging moments, like the physical challenge of healing from surgery or radiation, coping with long term effects of those treatments, waiting patiently for chemo side effects to subside, the PTSD- like fear of going in for follow up testing, and even the tragic loss of one of our warrior brothers or sisters. While there is obviously no magic trick that will make all of these challenging moments go away, nor make navigating them easy peasy, a little practice in santosha can make them less painful and more manageable, thus opening up some space for more enjoyable emotions to arise.

Just as we learn to do on our mat while the teacher is counting breaths so slowly that it seems like we’ll just die here in boat pose, we relax our minds (maybe even smile a little at how damn slow her breathing is!), tune in to our own breath, and bear with it. And so often, we find out that we can stick with it longer than we thought! We discover that we have those same tools at our disposal when life throws us a really challenging situation. We can relax our minds, tune in to our breath, and hang in there, happily encountering that deep well of calm strength that we didn’t know was there. Obviously some life challenges are profound and completely overwhelming, making even the calmest, coolest spirits get flustered. That is life and it is ok. But perhaps those are the times that this practice is most important. So that, instead of falling completely and irreversibly to pieces, we eventually… no matter how long it takes…. come back to our breath, drop in to that calm peaceful mind, and again find our strength and determination to move forward. In this way, yoga empowers us, creating resilience, an inner confidence, and a knowing that, whatever arises, we can breathe through it. It’s really kindof a superpower. When we learn to tap in to this resilience and this ability to find contentment despite outer circumstances, our suffering shrinks and our joy and happiness grow.

So whatever challenge you might be going through today, instead of allowing yourself to stew in it and suffer, see if you can’t take a deep breath, smile to yourself and practice finding that little sliver of happiness…. in this place…. in this hour. You have the power. Keep practicing and see it grow even stronger.

Namaste

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