Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘Mindfulness’

Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Dharana

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas. So far we’ve also covered the niyamas, asana, pranayama and pratyahara.

Focus on your breath. Focus on your alignment. Focus on a point in front of you. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever taken a yoga class chances are you’ve been asked to focus, be it on a specific muscle that needs attention or on something esoteric, like the quality of your breath. The act of focusing, of drawing your attention away from one thing and landing it pointedly on another, is at the heart of Patanjali’s system of yoga.

Dharana, the sixth limb, is dedicated to the cultivation of concentration and is supported by all the limbs that came before it: A strong asana practice frees the body of distracting kinks and aches; a powerful pranayama practice removes toxins and unlocks stuck energy; a pratyahara practice draws attention away from external diversions and back into the internal landscape. With all of those preliminaries out of the way we are able, finally, to practice concentration.


So how to do it?

First, it’s important to note that harnessing concentration is not meant to clear the mind of all thoughts, leaving a blank slate at which to fixedly stare. Rather, its intention is to allow us to choose where we place our awareness and attention. If you’ve ever tried to meditate you’ve likely noticed how the mind loves to jump from idea to idea, pulling your attention with it. This is not a modern-day phenomenon: When introducing meditation to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, Swami Vivekananda called the mind “a drunken monkey.” 

To tame the monkey, think of concentration as a muscle like any other; it gains strength and flexibility through regular use. It also comes naturally. Consider the last time you were truly absorbed in something — an excellent book, a vexing problem, a heated conversation, a tender moment — to the exclusion of all else. This is the muscle of concentration at work, and we flex it to be more focused on and engaged in the present moment.

Dharana leads very naturally into dhyana, meditation, and the seventh of the eighth limbs (stay tuned!). Yet its impact can be felt far beyond a seated meditation practice. Use it in a yoga class to fully inhabit a pose and use it off the mat to fully inhabit whatever you have chosen, at that moment, to explore.

Photos: Top photo from and illustration found here

Jai Amma!

Amma is in town this weekend as part of her annual North American tour. If you’re thinking about going to the Javits Center, here are some tips:

  • Arrive early.
  • Be prepared to stay late.
  • Go with the proverbial flow.
  • Be present! Your hug with Amma won’t last forever.
  • If someone is making dosas in the food hall, eat one.
  • Take it all in. If you’ve never been to India, the contained chaos of an Amma event is almost like being there.

So, why go? Here’s my story:

A few years ago I spent several months traveling through India. I had a very open itinerary (read: no plans), a flexible schedule (no return ticket) and an emergency stash of antibiotics in case things got messy (they did).

I had heard of Amma before I arrived. Several studios in New York had her picture on their altars, and I knew friends who had stayed at the Javits Center until sunrise to receive a hug from her when she was in town. But I was skeptical. Who was this woman people showered with so much devotion? The whole thing smelled culty to me, so I kept a polite distance.

Still, I was curious. When the friend I was traveling with saw that Amma was at her ashram and would be there for the duration of an intensive yoga training that started that week, we took it as a sign. We registered that night and arrived in the steamy southern state of Kerala a few days later.

Amma’s ashram looks like a bright pink wedding cake and is as close to a convent or a monastery as a New York bodega. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff for sale: Amma’s signature rose perfume in the gift shop, fresh juice from the fruit stand, and crunchy spirulina from the wellness shop.

The ashram is home to over 3,000 people, a number that shifts and expands with short and longterm guests, and operates like a small village. It is a dynamic, fascinating and confounding place.

Now I was even more curious. Who was this woman?

Born Mata Amritanandamayi in Kerala in 1953,  Amma had, by all accounts, a rough childhood. Pulled from school to help run the household, she often gave her family’s meager food scraps to those with less, resulting in punishments and beatings from her family. She persisted and soon coupled her generosity with spontaneous hugs — a physical gesture from a young girl that, then and now, was essentially verboten.

Mata’s acts of generosity and affection grew, earning her the name Amma, or Mother. The number of people clamoring for her compassion grew too. Soon, she had a following.


Now Amma is famous for her hugs. She gives them, usually for hours at a time, as darshan. Darshan is one of those Sanskrit words and concepts that is difficult to define. It is a blessing, a vision, a glimpse of the divine. The way I see it, Amma’s work is the giving of love and tenderness without condition. Her divine nature is revealed in those moments of connection, making it a gift and an offering both.

It is also a feat of physical and spiritual endurance. Amma won’t stop until everyone in line gets a hug, and her hugging marathons have lasted over 24 hours. She has hugged upwards of 33 million people. She is always fresh, always present. The ions in her air space feel a little but more charged.

I received darshan three times over the course of my stay at Amma’s ashram. By the end, I was in. I wasn’t about to sell my belongings and move to Kerala, but any cynicism or doubt I’d had about Amma’s work had evaporated. The simplicity of her offering made it seem like there must be something else to it, but it is simply profound.

That’s my experience with Amma. If you’re curious, catch her on tour this summer and see what comes up for you. And, if you go, do yourself a favor and get a dosa.

To learn more about Amma, her charitable works, her current tour and her story, visit

Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Pratyahara

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas. So far we’ve also covered the niyamas, asana, and pranayama.

We’ve arrived at the fifth limb, pratyahara, the withdrawal of our senses from the world around us. While this may sound extreme, Patanjali has been building up to this. First, in outlining the yamas and niyamas, he created a guideline for engaging with the outside world; then, by introducing asana, he pointed to a practice designed to balance and purify our physical selves; once the body was sorted, he moved to our relationship with prana, the subtle internal energy that illuminates and guides us.

The gaze of the Eight Limb Path has been shifting evermore inward; pratyahara brings this internal focus to the forefront.


The Sanskrit, as always, is worth exploring. Ahara means food, or anything we take in from the outside. Prati, a preposition, means against or away. Pratyahara, then, means moving away from, or gaining mastery over, that which we draw on externally for nourishment.

Food, in this context, is multi-layered. On one level it refers to the actual food we eat (dense or light, fat or sweet); to our sense impressions — sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell —  on another; and thirdly, perhaps subtlest of all, to our relationships and interactions with others.

Are we to eschew all food, feelings and friendships, then? No. Despite how it may sound, pratyahara does not need to be practiced in a remote Himalayan cave. Incorporate the practice into your daily life by first making room for the right food, feelings and friendships to enter your sphere. By choosing mindfully you are already gaining mastery over your senses; instead of being ruled or swayed by the outside world you are choosing your reactions to it.


Incorporate pratyahara into your asana practice by noticing when your mind wanders during a pose. Instead of letting your cravings or senses take hold — I can’t wait to get out of plank. Ooh, what’s that smell? Why is the girl next to me sighing so loudly? Someone farted! — bring your awareness to the energy of the pose itself.

Pratyahara is about choosing where we want our energy to go, and from where we want to withdraw it. 

As a stop on the Eight Limb Path on the way to enlightenment, pratyahara is instrumental. By finding nourishment and contentment within we cultivate a greater understanding of and respect for our infinite capacities. This turns meditation from a bore into a delight. Every path given up is another path chosen.

Photos: Top image from Elena Ray‘s beautiful archives; Kurmasana pose @yogainspiration; pachimotanasana from Tasty Yummies

Love Your Roots

The feet are gateways to our internal organs and, when stimulated, can aid in a powerful detoxification. They also withstand a lot of pressure throughout the day. They are our literal foundation and, be it through unsupportive footwear or unforgiving pavement, often take a lot of abuse. Last month we posted a guide to simple and profound self care practices in honor of Mother’s Day; this month, when summer officially begins and our feet are on display — and withstand hot sand, sweaty shoes and wedding dance floors — we put together a foot-specific treatment plan in the same vein of loving-kindness.

Show your soles some love with an aromatic foot soak and massage. It’s a simple way to recharge from the ground up. Here’s how:

For a cooling soak, fill a foot tub with cool water and a handful of dried lavender and rose petals. If you don’t have fresh herbs and flowers on hand, essential oils work just as well; peppermint is another cooling, calming option.iStock_000011316485_Small-300x300

For a warming soak, use hot water, powdered or fresh ginger (sliced), and a few tablespoons of Epsom salt. The body will absorb the magnesium in the salt, helping to reduce inflammation, and the ginger will increase circulation.

Soak your feet for at least 10 minutes. Resist the urge to scroll through Instagram or answer emails. Use this as a chance to meditate or simply recharge.


After patting your feet dry, rub them with a generous helping of sesame, almond or coconut oil. Use oil liberally throughout — the skin, our largest organ, needs hydration any way it can get it, and oil on the skin helps it retain water. Give your toes, ball mounds, arches, and Achilles tendons lots of love and attention. Be intuitive and apply as much pressure as you can handle.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Cross your ankle over your knee and, using both hands, move your ankle in slowly widening circles. Take the circles in one direction and then the other.

Press your foot between your palms and rub back and forth, toe to heel, moving quickly to stimulate circulation and warm up cold toes or slowly to calm the nervous system.

Join your thumbs at the base of the sole and and press up and out toward the ball mound, just below the toes. After several sweeps, move to the toes, pressing all five back and forth at once, like the hinge of door. Then, massage each toe individually, spending time at the base, on each knuckle and at the nail bed.

Take a cue from Reflexology:

enhanced-7505-1409163740-4Our kidney point is located in the very center of the sole of each foot. An acupuncturist once described the kidneys to me as our bodies’ battery packs: they are what keep us charged. Anyone dealing with stress, fatigue, the stimulation of an urban environment, or general loss of “me” time will experience imbalance and strain on the kidneys. In Chinese medicine the name for this point, Kidney 1, is Yongquan, Bubbling Spring. I love the image of an eternally replenished stream, bubbling up and over, never losing energy or flow.

Locate and massage this point to bring your own spring back into action. The benefits associated with stimulating and caring for the kidneys, via the feet, are a grounding down of energy; the alleviation of dizziness, headaches and insomnia; and increased fertility and vitality.

For more opening, consider wearing yogi toe separators before your soak, and around the house in general. They stretch the toes, contribute to a general awareness of how we stand, and make it easier to find “the four corners of the feet” yoga teachers are always talking about; they are absolutely goofy and totally worth it.


Photos: Top photo found here; herb photo found here; Reflexology chart courtesy of BuzzFeed;

Exploring the Eight Limb Path: The Niyamas

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas.

This week’s focus is the yamas‘ sister limb, the niyamas. While the yamas are practices concerning our relationships to others, the niyamas are practices we can do on ourselves. They are activities for right living with a focus on health, happiness and devotion.

The Niyamas 

  • Saucha: cleanliness
  • Santosa: contentment
  • Tapas: purification through discipline
  • Svadhyaya: self-study
  • Isvarapranidhana: devotion to a higher power

Much like the yamas, the niyamas are multi-layered practices with immediate applications and deeper possibilities of integration.

Take saucha. Have you ever practiced next to a really smelly yogi? Or maybe realized that you are that really smelly yogi? Cleanliness in body (and mat) is part of a balanced practice: Honoring your physical self sends a subtle but strong message that you care about your whole self and your practice. Off the mat, saucha extends to keeping our thoughts, actions and intentions honorable. Both interpretations are about distractions: What is keeping you from focusing on what’s really meaningful? Lack of clutter only helps clarify.

Santosa is the flip side of aparigraha. The niyama asks us to focus on contentment, while the yama cautions against possessiveness. Both send the same message: Be grateful for what is.


Defined as internal fire or heat, the concept of tapas often comes up in yoga class; you may have heard your teacher mention it when you’re doing something taxing or uncomfortable, like holding utkatasana for forever. In that context, the idea of “building tapas” means stoking your internal fire and generating heat and energy to fuel your practice. On a deeper level, tapas means being able to sit in that fire, to stay centered and calm amidst discomfort and even fear (Will I ever be able to straighten my legs again?). Through the heat of our discomfort an internal alchemy occurs and cleansing arises; purification is on the other side of challenge.

In many ways, embarking on a yoga practice can be like taking a master class in your Self. The mat is an intimate and contained space to examine your reactions to frustration, emotional release, surprise and impatience, to name a few. Svadhyaya, the act of self study, encourages mindful navel-gazing. Being aware of our patterns and expectations only helps us come into right relationship with others.

God, Creator, Allah, Divine Mother, Gaia… whoever you do or do not pray to, isvarapranidhana is about recognizing and softening to the universe. If belief in a higher power is not your thing, think of isvarapranidhana as an awareness of the interconnectivity of life and its participants. Our actions ripple; by focusing on ourselves in positive ways through the first four niyamas we arrive at the practice of isvarapranidhana ready to look outside of and beyond ourselves.

Rather than dictates or decrees, the yamas and niyamas are invitations to reflect more deeply on actions we are already engaged in. Profound in their simplicity, they create a clear framework from which to explore right living and Right Intention.

In Honor of Mother’s Day, Self-Care for Selfless Moms

From praise and tough love to life and dinner, moms are the original givers. But moms, and all others in giving roles (because you don’t have to be a mom to be selfless), often aren’t getting back what they’re putting out. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, take a moment to notice where you’re expending your energy. What are you getting back in return? Just as moms aren’t the only ones capable of selfless giving, all of us have had moments of feeling depleted and out of touch with our own needs.

In Ayurveda the counter to this is dinacharya. the intentional practice of self-love and self-care (reflected on in more depth here). A vital part of right and balanced living, dinacharya feels especially important as we celebrate the givers in our life and as we move into late spring with its seductive pull of long nights and warm days.

Practicing dinacharya doesn’t have to be physical, but, as yogis, taking care of our bodies can feel like an imperative. One of the paradoxes of a yoga practice is that as we open and release through stretching and dynamic breath, we become more aware of places of tightness and holding. Muscle soreness, instead of being a condition we live with, suddenly feels more acute. Coming into alignment means we know when we’re out of alignment; increased awareness of our whole organism means increased sensitivity to its aches and pains.


In Sanskrit the word sneha can mean both “oil” and “love,” and in Ayurveda, Abhyanga is the practicing of anointing and massaging yourself with warm oil. Here’s how:

  • Heat a carrier oil like sesame or almond until it’s warm but not hot to the touch.

Which oil? Choose your oil by dosha. Light and airy Vata types will like a heavier oil like almond, while fiery Pittas would benefit from the cooling properties of coconut oil. Kapha types can try sesame.

Pro tip: Heat the oil by placing the bottle in a bowl of hot, but not boiling, water.

  • Stand undressed in a warm room (your bathroom is ideal), and apply oil to the crown of your head. Move out from the crown in circles, applying firm but gentle pressure to wake up your scalp.

Second pro tip: If you’d rather not get oil everywhere, lay a towel you don’t mind getting oily down in your empty bathtub, climb in and apply the oil from there.

  • Next massage your forehead, temples, cheeks, jaw, and ear lobes (the site of many nerve endings). Use an upward motion. Don’t be afraid of the oil.
  • As you continue moving down the body, pause at the places that might be calling out for more attention — tender knees, tight shoulders, clenched jaw, constricted low back. You know better than anyone where you need a little extra love, so don’t feel like you’re interrupting the flow if you spend more time in one place or come back to it later.
  • Wake up your arms, legs and joints with long sweeping motions in the direction of your heart.
  • Come back to your abdomen and chest. Make broad, clockwise circles to help the oil absorb. Trace your large intestine to stimulate digestion: move up on the right side of your abdomen, across, and then down the left side.
  • End at your feet, spending as many minutes on them as you can.
  • If you can, let the oil absorb for up to 15 minutes. Take a warm bath or shower, letting the oil sink in instead of scrubbing it away. The heat from the water helps the oil permeate the skin and sink deep into the muscles.
  • Afterwards, towel dry gently, keeping the skin as hydrated as possible.

Here’s why:

  • Nourishes and hydrates the entire body
  • Stimulates muscles, tissues and internal organs
  • Lubricates the joints
  • Increases circulation
  • Aids in elimination of toxins by stimulating the lymph node
  • Calms the nerves
  • Results in better sleep
  • Enhances vision
  • Softens and smoothens skin

As with any self-care practice, intention setting and space creation is key (read about creating sacred space here). Set aside time for Abhyanga daily, weekly, or monthly and consider it as important as eating well and exercising. Self-care doesn’t have to be reserved for holidays.


Sacred Space

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” This quote by Annie Dillard from her book The Writing Life functions like a great big exhale. It’s a reminder to step back, see our priorities, and reflect on where we expend energy. Dillard’s insight about time is also true of space: How we treat our spaces is how we treat ourselves. By watching how we spend our time and how we use our space we can begin to see how we value ourselves.

A simple way to carve out meaningful and profound time and space is to create an area in your home dedicated to meditation or quiet reflection. Most yoga studios have an altar as a way to anchor the room and honor the intentions of the space and the teachers. If it appeals to you, creating an altar in your own home is as important as unrolling your yoga mat when it comes to cultivating a home practice, either of asana or simple mindfulness.

How to do it:

First, there are no rules around creating your altar: It is a reflection of you. If you’re looking for direction, think about incorporating the elements into your space and bringing them into balance.

Water: A simple glass or a vase with fresh flowers is a wonderful way to call in the water element. Make a ritual of picking or buying flowers for your altar every week — consider it a gift to your spiritual practice.

Earth: Flowers, again, ground back into the earth. For something evergreen, consider using dried stems or petals or another gift from the outside world: a beautiful stone, shell, a crystal or piece of wood.

Fire: A candle, incense, a smudge stick — like sage, palo santo, or sweet grass — immediately adds a sense of ritual and heightens the senses.

Air: The air element is about mutability, flexibility and change. Allow your altar to be dynamic by adding and subtracting elements that newly inspire you or no longer serve you.


Make it personal.

Photographs, gifts and meaningful mementos are perfectly at home in sacred space. Who are your guides or role models? It might be someone universal, like the Hindu goddess Durga or the Buddha, or it could be someone from your daily life — your parents, child or someone you want to honor.


You don’t need to have a dedicated yoga or meditation room in your home for your altar, but if you do, start decorating! For the rest of us, work with what you have. Clear off a shelf, a side table, a corner of your dresser, or even an empty corner. Being able to sit in front of your altar is great, but just having a spot that you’ve steeped with meaning to pause by or look at will remind you to stop and center.

Once you’ve chosen your elements and a serene space to put them in, spend some time arranging and organizing. Harmony and balance in your physical space can promote the same internally.

Finally, once your space is created, use it. The more regularly you come into your sacred space the more sacred it will become.

And The Eyes In His Head See The World Spinning Round


In Yoga, a minimum of 200 hours of training is required before one teaches. Is there a required minimum number of hours of meditation before one can reach Enlightenment? Can one person meditating for inner peace and positive change contribute to healing the world’s problems?


I have heard suggestions of how many minutes per day one should meditate (12, 30, 60) and how many days of silent retreat one must partake in to come to Enlightenment. I have heard many people express an “aha moment” when they found their Enlightenment and other people say it evolves over time with the deepening of their practice. I do believe meditation is the path one takes to reach the summit of Enlightenment. And, I am only at the trailhead of my ascent.


I’ve not considered myself Buddhist. Even though I often said when my children were toddling, if there was a Buddhist school, that’s where I’d send them. Now my daughter is studying the psychology of Buddhist meditation at Naropa University and my son is doing a thesis on the influx of Yoga in Western cultures.


I questioned what influence monks spending their life in isolation — living out of touch with the happenings in the “real” world — could make towards our world’s problems? I chided tenderly and respectfully, calling the enlightened souls living in caves or up on the mountaintop ‘Fools on the Hill.’ I thought that if I were to live constantly in retreat from the endless list of everyday tribulations existing in our world — well, I’d be sitting in meditative bliss. But how would I then be of service to anybody other than myself? How would this contribute to making the world a better place?


A few years ago, I likened myself to the protagonist in Kissing Jessica Stein, looking at my watch every twenty seconds to get through three minutes of meditation. I sought a Buddhist therapist to find my inner peace.

One day my Buddhist therapist gifted me with a little box holding a mala blessed by the late yogi Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche. I had no idea what to do with mala beads, or who HH Chatral Rinpoche was. I learned the beads were to hold while I meditated and with each bead focus on thoughts of compassion and loving-kindness for all beings. I like to believe I was bestowed this treasure box and these magical beads because of the values I hold near and dear, those the same as HH Chatral Rinpoche’s. He was a strict vegetarian and a determined advocate for animal welfare. I like to believe my therapist thought the transfer of Rinpoche’s energy into my hands would provide a continuation of intention because he knew I would hold the mala and feel the blessings from Rinpoche’s spirit and continue his wishes for all living beings.


To save animals from slaughter or any mortal danger,

With entirely pure motivation and conduct,

Is without doubt a practice to be taken up…

Lamas, officials, monks, nuns, men and women,

In all the places over which you have control,

Exert every influence and do all within your power

To release animals and ransom their lives,

While encouraging others to do the same.

-from The Benefits of Saving Lives, HH Chatral Rinpoche


At the closure of 2015, HH Chartral Rinpoche passed on to parinirvana. I never met the esteemed man; I never traveled to India or Tibet. But, I understand how one enlightened person, living in retreat, practicing meditation — in isolation, in a cave, on a mountaintop — can impact somebody thousands of miles away and his wishes can be carried on. Today, when I sit… in my isolated world, holding my blessed mala… I think of our beautiful world, tribulations and all. I hold the energy from HH Chatral Rinpoche to take care for all animals and our planet.


In part, I jest when I ask how many hours of meditation and retreat are required to reach Enlightenment and to attain Buddhahood. I relate it to wanting to run a marathon and sitting on your sofa reading Born to Run — you won’t get very far unless you put on your running shoes (or even barefoot like Abebe Bikila) and take your stride outside. I started my interest in the Buddha nature through literature, but I realized by practicing meditation was when I began to understand. The words of HH Chatral Rinpoche teach me that what is required is to begin and then to practice meditation with authenticity of intention and with compassion for all. Some people say compassion for all, to reach awareness towards an infinite number of beings, seems vague and abstract — understandable. Consider cultivating focused attention in a benevolent manner towards any beings that come into your field of awareness.


You might remain sealed in strict retreat for months or even years,

But if you fail to make any progress in the state of your mind,

Later, when you tell everyone about all that you did over such a long time,

Aren’t you just bragging about all the hardships and deprivation?

No matter where you stay—be it a busy place or a solitary retreat—

The only things that you need to conquer are mind’s five poisons

And your own true enemies, the eight worldly concerns, nothing else,

Whether it is by avoiding, transforming, taking them as the path or looking into their very essence,

Whichever method is best suited to your own capacity.

There’s no better sign of accomplishment than a disciplined mind,

This is true victory for the real warrior who carries no weapons.

-from Words of Advice, HH Chatral Rinpoche


Self-development is important to help solve the world’s problems. It begins within Oneself. We are all interconnected. If you change yourself in a positive direction, those near you will feel it and hopefully be influenced and then they will influence others and so on. This is how I came to be influenced by HH Chatral Rinpoche. I know the ‘Fool on the Hill’ holds the wisdom to make the universe a better place…

but the fool on the hill
sees the sun going down
and the eyes in his head
see the world spinning round. 

*Paul McCartney, 1967.



Gordon R Ashby, Untitiled, 1971




Katherine Meadowcroft is a dedicated and passionate advocate for the visual and literary arts; and also for environmental sustainability, supporting the efforts to eliminate plastic pollution. She has run competitively and cycled for thirty years, has hiked many trails for more than thirty years and began summiting mountaintops four years ago. Katherine began practicing yoga eighteen years ago, and began her meditation practice nine months ago. She received her Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from University of Washington and her Master of Arts in English and American Literature from Mills College and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post

Yoga 101: Breathing!

Nestled under the rib cage at the base of the lungs, the diaphragm is the body’s best breathing muscle. Here’s how it works: When we breathe in our diaphragm flattens out and moves down, creating a vacuum for air to rush into; when we breath out, our diaphragm relaxes and moves up, pushing air up and out of our lungs.Image-1While our diaphragm is always working, we often don’t use it as much or as well as we could. Think of bending over to pick up a heavy box and straining your lower back instead of squatting down and lifting from your legs. That’s what shallow breathing is like — using your chest and neck to pump air in and out when there’s a much stronger muscle (the diaphragm) made for the job that’s waiting for some action.

Yoga is an incredible practice for engaging with the breath; we are constantly reminded to return to it, witness it, and listen to it. But off the mat it can be easier to let the thread of breath slip away.

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing is a super simple way to breathe more deeply wherever we are, immediately increasing the amount of oxygen in our system and blood in our brains.

First, try it lying down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, following the movement of the diaphragm as it fills with air. If you’re breathing into your diaphragm your top hand will stay where it is while your bottom hand will rise as the belly fills. On the exhale, follow the movement of the diaphragm in and up. Continue until you feel euphoric.


Once you’ve gotten the hang of diaphragmatic breathing in a supine position, try it sitting and standing. The more aware you become of the sensation of deep, vital breaths, the easier it is to recognize when you move back into shallow, chest-centered breathing. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is an absolutely ace relaxation tool to have in your arsenal. Try it the next time you feel unfocused, tired, irritated, disconnected or just want to get a little high, au natural.


Illustrations from Honeybeery Diary and The Acoustic Singer

6 Quick Tips to Turn Presence Into Charisma

Last week the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley published an article outlining the ways a mindful practice can lead to people viewing you as more charismatic.

Great leaders in politics, media, and even within our personal network of friends tend to share a charisma that separates them from others. They radiate an energy and charm that is attractive and garners respect. Research now shows that you don’t have to be born with this star-like power to be successful, but rather you can harness the tenants of a mindful practice to be more present with others, and cultivate a charisma within yourself.

“Charismatic people are often described as having the ability to make you feel as if you are the only person in the room.”


women-shaking-handsHere are six common traits that you can practice to cultivate charisma:

  1. Empathy
  2. Full listening
  3. Eye contact
  4. Enthusiasm  
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Skillful speaking


All of these tips boil down to being present with the people you interact with.

“One research study showed that the mere presence of a cell phone impaired the sense of connection in a face-to-face conversation.”

Social media creates the illusion that getting one hundred likes on a Facebook post can be equated with real-life influence and respect. However, this is not always true, and as a result, creating and maintaining meaningful relationships that extend beyond the digital sphere is more important than ever. 

Slowing down to breathe and be present with the person you’re talking to does not decrease the productivity of your day. On the contrary, it allows you to get more from the interaction: a deeper connection with the person, a better understanding of the information you exchange, and (as this article notes) a greater chance of happiness and success within your personal and professional networks. 

So go ahead and #GoDeep

Meditation in the Modern Age

As a young artist, I am constantly trying to create structure and stability for myself within the hectic world of working freelance. I find guidance in podcasts, blogs, and twitter feeds written by professional artists and entrepreneurs who are happy to share their behavioral patterns and “life hacks” with people like me, hungry for any tips that might just be the key to success.

After mining the internet for such information, the most frequently cited practice is some form of daily meditation.

meditation-at-homeUp until a month ago, meditation was something I only did in yoga class. As many of you know, the ambiance at Five Pillars feels much like a high end spa — the warm lights, the sweet smell of essential oils, and the nurturing voice of my teacher allow me to escape into the present moment, and experience a sense of restorative peace that feels a lot like the moments during and after a great massage. Meditation is easy there — it feels effortless. This was not my experience when I first tried meditating at home. I quickly realized the thing I missed most was a soothing voice guiding me through the meditation. My mind was quick to wander in the silence, and I didn’t quite know what I should be thinking about … or not thinking about.

A friend recommended I download a guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm to make this new practice a bit easier. At first, I scoffed – of course there are apps to help you “unplug” and free the mind. But after doing a bit of research, I realized apps like Headspace have over 4,000,000 meditating users from over 150 countries around the world. I had to try it out.

The app is pristine. The design is simple and playful, which makes the experience of working through it accessible and fun.

It starts with “Take 10.” 10 minutes for 10 days straight to get more “head space.”

You begin on your first day with a cute animation, just the first of several instructional animations you’ll watch over the course of your 10 day journey. The first animation gives you 5 quick tips on how to begin the process:

Quick Starter Tips:

  1. Find a place you will be undisturbed for 10 minutes – ideally with some peace and quiet.

  2. Try to practice at the same time every day – it’s easier to create a new habit this way.

  3. Meditating first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.

  4. Don’t worry! On some days it will be hard and others easy, gently stay with it.

  5. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Either works fine.


You then begin the 10 minute session with Andy as your guide, a British man with an uplifting voice.  Not only does he help you focus on your calming breath, but he offers new ways to interact with passing thoughts.

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The first few days were glorious. Perhaps it was just my excitement about finally being a “person who meditated every day,” but within the first three days of my practice I felt more clear headed, grounded, and relaxed. The intense feelings of change seemed to level out as  I continued my journey, and now that I’m deeper into the practice the effects are more subtle. However, I know what I am doing is good for my mental health.

Overall, I feel less anxious and stressed, and in moments when those feelings arise, I have a few more tools at my disposal to handle them. Through this journey, I have realized that “bad”/negative thoughts are inevitable, but it’s how I relate to them that counts.


There have been countless studies that show the positive, long term effects of consistent meditation. Not to mention the positive effects of the focused breathing that come with meditation. But most surprising to me has been how easy it is to actually do it every day. It is a quick 10 minutes that I dedicate right when I wake up. And on those days when I oversleep and am rushing out of the house, I use the subway ride to work to get in my 10 minutes. This small effort allows me the same sense of rejuvenation that an hour long yoga class usually provides, and on days when I can’t get to the studio, I cherish that 10 minute gift.

Join our 10-Day Attitude of Gratitude Challenge!

The week before the Thanksgiving holiday is an ideal time to deepen into an “Attitude of Gratitude.”

It’s impossible not to be reminded of the heartbreaking struggles and tragedies taking place every day around the world every day. This week, in the wake of such horror and such loss in Paris, Beirut, Kenya and elsewhere, it is easy to feel deep sorrow, confusion and even hopelessness. We wouldn’t be human if this didn’t touch us.

And even though our own daily struggles, god-willing, pale in comparison, it’s still easy to get mired in the daily grind, daily disappointments, daily frustrations.

It can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of our blessings.

This is a time of year that asks us to remember. That asks us to give thanks. That asks us to acknowledge all of the blessings, no matter how big or how small, make up our individual lives. And they are indeed, different for each of us.

Aside from cultivating a state of grace, compassion and connection, living in a state of gratitude has a host of incredible physical and psychological benefits. Forbes has published an article on seven scientifically-proven benefits including reducing aches and pain, reducing anxiety and frustration, reducing aggressive behavior, while boosting self esteem and supporting optimum sleep.


Join The 10-Day Challenge!

Our invitation for you this coming week is to end each day with a reflection on three things you’re grateful for. You can write them down in your journal. Text them to a friend. Simply sit in quiet contemplation and think about them to yourself.

Join us via Facebook and share the things, moments, people or blessings your thankful for! 

As part of our gratitude for YOU — our community and students who help make Five Pillars Yoga the special place it is — everyone that participates on Facebook will receive 50% off your their class. 


If you’re a little stumped on where to start, you can check out this fun article from They point out it’s easy to be grateful for the big things, like a promotion at work, but we’re also allowed to appreciate the small things — like just how delicious a piece of pie can be. You can go broad, like “I’m grateful for my family,” or specific like “I’m so thankful my daughter cleaned her room today!”




Taking the time out to notice moments of blessings in your life will have a profound impact over time. You may notice as you attune yourself to notice blessings you’re more in the moment, more centered and calm. And when you attune to your blessings, you may begin to notice just how many of them there are!



To kick off the challenge, I’d like to express my appreciation for Peter Tunney’s “Grattitude” billboard that soars over the Bronx. I’ve gotten to see it many times as I’ve been inching along in traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway, and it always reminds me in that moment to take a pause and count my blessings.

So give it a try this week and see how you feel.
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From the Mouths of Babes

As adults most of us move through modern life as efficiently as possible – faster, more streamlined, less fluff around the edges.
We may gain an advantage in the workplace, or find the time to cross another item of our to do list. Which is great! And what is lost?
Sometimes it’s simply the moment of pause – the moment of choice – a moment of reflection that is compromised for the sake of speed.


As the momentum of the day goes on, our mood might also begin to race creating anxiety and a short fuse. The line for coffee might be a bit long, traffic might be thwarting your best laid plans, a little expectation isn’t met at home, at work, at school.

Without that moment — that pause – that choice point — it’s easy to be reactionary – to be curt with our child or a coworker, glib with a friend or partner.


We’ve placed such emphasis on teaching kids emotional regulation to navigate their schooldays. Perhaps we need to be reminded from the sage little people just how simple it can be.


The video below will not only reaffirm just how special our youth is, but see if it can also function as a mindfulness exercise in itself…

We dare you to actually take the 3minutes and 41seconds required to be present with the video (almost a lifetime in todays short-attention span culture) and try this:


Watch the pace of the video and watch the pace of your energy as it swells and then ebbs. Do you notice your mood or stress level higher or lower at the beginning or end? Thoughts perhaps settling like glitter in the bottom of a jar of water.


Your Green Yoga Lifestyle

Today’s topic: food waste.


Our culture of consumption has resulted in a major garbage problem. And, there is an easy solution that begins with you! And me. So let’s take our yoga off the mat by reducing food waste this week. Like other resources, we can reduce (take only what we need), reuse (leftovers? food drives?), and recycle (compost).


Food Waste Facts:


  1. 40% of food in the United States is wasted
  2. 97% of food waste still makes its way into the landfill!
  3. This waste breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) and releases methane, which is a major greenhouse gas 21x more potent than carbon dioxide.


Ending food waste would be a major step toward easing climate change.


So what can you do?


  1. Reduce the amount of food waste generated in your household.
  2. Plan ahead and donate canned goods to a local food drive before they expire.


For more information on global food waste and what you can do about it, check this out:


Thich Nhat Hanh said: With negative energy you can make the positive energy. A flower will become compost someday, but if you know how to transform the compost back into the flower, then you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry about your anger because you know how to handle it – to embrace, to recognize, and to transform it. So this is what is possible. 

So knowing how to handle and transform our waste can reduce our anxiety about bigger environmental issues. And as active participants,we make a big difference. Our efforts matter. We are all responsible. Sure, there are definitely some companies who contribute more waste than others, but every little bit counts! That means, the waste we generate in our homes, at work, and eating out adds up.

Actions that support a healthier planet also support your personal well-being. And your personal well-being and regular yoga practice supports a healthier planet. Win-win. But don’t take my word. The proof is in the compost.






Let Go With The Flow

Autumn heralds change… lush greens give way to brilliant scarlet, orange and yellow. Then, inevitably, leaves dry and curl and drop. This release is part of the natural cycle of life. The trees don’t fight it — and the results are glorious! So why should we?

This fall, see how it feels to embrace the idea of letting go.

Most of us know we’re inherently resistant to change. And that’s what letting go is. It’s releasing something that is our normal, our status quo. It’s changing something we’re used to. What’s on the other side is an unknown, and this is biologically and psychologically scary for us.

The good news is, this can be a practice. We can just give it a try. There are lots of areas in our lives to explore Letting Go.

~ Some are perhaps easier — try cleaning out your closet and getting rid of clothes you haven’t worn in ages, or clear out your junk drawer.

~ Some might be more challenging, like taking stock of your friendships and letting go of connections that are at best not working, and at worst, toxic or abusive.

~ Some might be in the physical realm — is it time to let go of smoking, eating too much sugar, or other habits that aren’t healthy for you?

~ Some might be in the emotional realm, such as letting go of negative self-talk or an old script you constantly fall back on.


Clinical and spiritual psychologist Tara Brach is in synch with the season! Just a few days ago she released a beautiful guided mediation on Letting Go of Judgement. Click here to listen.


You might explore letting go of expectations you place on a friend, child or partner. Or perhaps even unfair expectations you put on yourself.

Especially an expectation that “Letting Go” is an easy task. It’s not. It takes courage. Let it be a practice. Give it a try in the areas that you’re able. And you may find that, over time, as you get used to it, you’re able to let go of more difficult things, bigger things, and you’ll discover that “you’ll be ok” on the other side.

More than “Ok” in fact… Because even though we know that letting go is hard, we also know that when we clear the way, new things can arise. Out with the old, in with the new. We let go of the old, dry, brittle and stagnant to make room for new, fresh, vibrant opportunities in all realms. And why fight that?



YOGA 101: The Koshas

In yoga, we call the layers of our beings koshas. During our practice on and off the mat, we can begin to sense that we have several aspects of our beings.

  1. The physical body: skin, muscles, ligaments, joints, bones, vital organs
  2. The energy body: breath, heat, pulsing, streaming, tingling sensations
  3. The personality body: thoughts and emotions, direct response to sensory stimulation and environment
  4. The wisdom body: the non judgmental observer within, also known as intuitive awareness
  5. The bliss body: light, clarity, inner peace, unconditional love

And, when we begin to cultivate nonjudgmental self awareness and observe the layers of our being with non attachment, our hearts open… and deeper healing occurs.



The five progressively subtler bodies that compose our personality are described in a yoga classic called the Taittiriya Upanishad:




“Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.

“Inside this is another body made of life energy. It fills the physical body and takes its shape. Those who treat this vital force as divine experience excellent health and longevity because this energy is the source of physical life.

“Within the vital force is yet another body, this one made of thought energy. It fills the two denser bodies and has the same shape. Those who understand and control the mental body are no longer afflicted by fear.

“Deeper still lies another body comprised of intellect. It permeates the three denser bodies and assumes the same form. Those who establish their awareness here free themselves from unhealthy thoughts and actions, and develop the self-control necessary to achieve their goals.

“Hidden inside it is yet a subtler body, composed of pure joy. It pervades the other bodies and shares the same shape. It is experienced as happiness, delight, and bliss.”

Go deeper with this article by Yoga Journal: You Are Here.

And check out this article by Kripalu: Healing Anxiety and Depression: An Ayurvedic Perspective.

(Selection take from article originally published at, Image taken from

Seven Steps to Personal Transformation

We often think of yoga as movement, postures, or stretching… but the art and science of yoga goes so much deeper. Check out these seven steps for personal transformation and healing!


First, we can acknowledge where we are with non-judgment and curiosity, beginning to practice self-awareness on and off the mat. The first yoga sutra says: Atha Yoga Nushasanam, which can be translated to Now the Inquiry of Yoga Begins. 


Second, we can choose to take personal responsibility for our health, our wellness and our lives, letting go of blame (I feel the way I do because of someone else or something external to me) and shame (I am not enough). We begin to focus our attention on creating peace in our inner worlds rather than fixing and changing external circumstances. Our inner worlds begin to influence our external reality.


Third, we can create a vision for where we are going and a personal mission statement based on inner principles to guide our decisions in life. In that sense, we are making conscious choices rooted in character rather than reactive responses based on short term pleasure or fear. To support this process, check out Patanjali’s eightfold path and pay special attention to the the yamas and niyamas, which are observances that lead to healthy habits. 



CREATE VISION- What does living a healthy and fulfilling life look like? Feel like? When you imagine a life where you are happy, healthy and living a life full of purpose and integrity, what are you doing? Who are you surrounded by? How do you treat yourself and others?

If we know where we are going and the principles are guiding us, we discover a sense of stability, integrity and inner peace in the healing process. I find my personal mission statement and vision board helps me to align the choices I make in the present moment with my deepest, most integrated self… and this in turn gives me the patience and awareness to sacrifice pleasure in the moment for long-term happiness… most of the time.


Fourth, we can practice presence and and self-awareness on and off the mat… letting go of attachment to end results. We can let go of trying to arrive in some complex posture or at some future destination and, instead, we can become interested in our own experience in the present moment. Here, we take the seat of the witness or nonjudgmental observer within. The asana practice in yoga (postures and breathing exercises translated as “to sit in the seat of one’s self“) is a wonderful tool to support this step.


Fifth, we can discover new information and personal tools to support our process. We identify gaps in our knowledge or support base (perhaps we choose to develop resources for self-soothing, or we find individual or group support systems around issues we face) and gather new resources to aid our growth. And then we can allow these external resources and support systems to interact with our own “gut” or inner compass, taking baby steps in each moment of our lives, knowing these small moments add up to big changes.


Sixth, we can ground our personal understanding, mission and practices in community by discovering our tribe.


Practice: Are there other people who are interested in exploring mindfulness practices, yoga, personal growth, or your chosen spiritual practice? How do you feel when you join this community? Who in your life already makes you feel authentic, whole, abundant, and alive? And where are there people who are being, living, doing, thinking in ways that align with your mission and vision?

We can go through life protecting ourselves and avoiding authentic connection- and yet, when we open our minds and hearts to love (not necessarily romantic love), we find ourselves attracting other people who are asking similar questions and enjoying life the way we like to enjoy life. Although it is wonderful to spend time around people who are incredibly different from ourselves, finding our tribe- people who are aligned with our core values- gives us a sense of connection and resilience in our lives.


Seventh, we can begin to know ourselves as multidimensional beings and “yoke” or “unite” the various aspects of ourselves. Yoga means “to yoke” the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. When we experience moments of yoga (the integration of the layers of our being), we move from darkness into the light… and we bliss out! We access a healing state of inner peace and experience personal transformation that is rooted in a sense of infinite abundance, love and light. 

And we remember the saying Jack Kornfield introduces in his book A Path With Heart: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” Kornfield goes on to say, “The dazzling effects of lights and visions, the powerful releases of rapture and energy, all are a wonderful sign of the breakdown of the old and small structures of our being, body, and bind. However, they do not in themselves produce wisdom… Even great openings of the heart, kundalini processes, and visions can turn into spiritual pride or become old memories… Spiritual experiences in themselves do not count for much. What matters is that we integrate and learn from the process” (Kornfield, 129).


So the bliss itself is not necessarily indicative of lasting transformation… it is in the life-long, moment-to-moment process of learning from direct experience when personal transformation occurs! Beginning right now…

10 Tips to Support Your Green Lifestyle 

Eco-conscious living has become in vogue in the 21st century. If you ask us, this movement is far more influential than the latest trend… jumping on board comes with incredible benefits that improve the health of your body and greater society. Green products are better for your body and the planet. Green business solutions save money and protect our natural resources. Reduce, reuse, and recycle has become increasingly important as we face major environmental issues.


Today’s topic: Sustainability


What is “sustainability” anyhow?: The concept of “sustainability” is based off of the principle that we take only what we truly need, protect our natural resources and also consider the needs of future generations (our children).


When we choose to go green and live with “sustainability” in mind, we are making the conscious decision to participate in conserving and protecting natural resources. Every bite of delicious food we take, each product we purchase, the fresh air we breathe, and the water we drink stems from nature and will ultimately return to the earth.




Here are 10 tips to support your green lifestyle:


  1. Ask yourself what you really need to live comfortably and joyfully. Include your family and/or friends in a discussion. Simplify your lifestyle and reuse, re-purpose, or recycle items you no longer need.

  2. Purchase with sustainability in mind: items with less packaging, items that do not harm the earth (biodegradable), chemical-free personal care.

  3. Green your laundry by washing on the cold setting and hang-drying your clothes.

  4. Carry a cloth bag with you to the grocery store and consider cleaning/reusing plastic bags or replacing plastic bags with reusable bags or tupperware.

  5. Consider buying more organic produce and learn about the clean fifteen (produce with least pesticide use) and dirty dozen (produce with harmful pesticides) to protect your body and the earth.

  6. Eat less meat.

  7. If your morning cuppa joe is a daily event, consider carrying a reusable mug with you.

  8. Consider walking, riding your bike, or taking public transportation instead of driving.

  9. Host a clothing swap with friends to keep an inspired wardrobe without buying anything new!

  10. When you need a break from the daily grind, try a staycation or check out a Stewardship Travel Program for a sustainable vacation.



create helpful habits reminder or advice on a  slate blackboard against rustic weathered wood planks