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I’ll be honest – I don’t really think anyone wants to read yet another article about New Year’s Resolutions.  But I feel I have an obligation to share with you what I learned years ago that has proven time and again to truly work.

Many of us experience plenty of stressful emotions during the holidays for myriad of reasons.  We may feel overwhelmed and stressed from travel, company, or excessive shopping; we are nostalgic or depressed IMG_1461for those we may have lost or miss; we feel exhausted and guilty from excessive imbibing and/or the breaking of our routines.  Therefore, the chance to redeem ourselves as we turn the calendar to another year gives us hope, and stamina, for a healthier and happier future.

But how many past “resolutions” do you remember making?  How many of them did you actually fulfill?  The one resolution in my past that I actually remember, and that I have followed through with to this day, was in 1992 when I resolved to quit drinking soda.  I was never a huge soda drinker, but living in Atlanta, home to Coca Cola, with an abundance of those adorable little chilled glass bottles in the fridge, I am sure I drank my fare share.  I remember my reason for giving up soda was stated something like, “drink more water to improve my health”.  My then-recent diagnoses of Crohn’s disease the previous year had already seriously taken its toll on my health and I was open to whatever I could do to have the upper-hand in my well-being.  I believe the success of that resolution came in the way I thought about it and spoke of it – in both the positive and in the present tense.  Instead of saying, “I am going to quit soda”, I instead stated that “I drink only what nourishes my body and keeps me healthy.”  Does this mean I never fell off the wagon?  Nope.  But it did slowly sink in to my sub-conscious, and in a short time, and to this day, I stopped liking the taste of soda.

Positive intentions create a positive reality.  A summary of Lao Tzu’s teachings stated that “our thoughts become our words; our words become our actions; our actions become our habits; our habits become our character; and our character leads to our destiny.”  Let that sink in for a moment.

So how do we create true positive intentions that ultimately create our destiny?  We use words that are positive, present-tensed, and personal.  Instead of pushing our desires into the future, state them as if they are happening now, even if it sounds silly.  Do so with a positive spin vs negative.  For example, instead of saying “I’m going to stop eating junk food and lose 15 pounds”; rephrase this to say “I will maintain an optimum weight for me by eating only healthy and nourishing foods.” See the difference?   Keep it personal by stating, for example, “I live in peace by surrounding myself with positive and peaceful people within my environment”.  This replaces a vague wish for world peace, or a desire to stop being negative all the time.  These semantical differences have a large impact on our psyche, which eventually sinks deep into our conscious and creates real change.

Over the years I have practiced and lived by these principles.  My life has not unfolded simply or easily, but the dreams and aspirations that I have held close to my heart have come to fruition in more beautiful ways than I could have ever planned or dreamed.  I believe we can all use more personal, positive and present-minded thoughts and intentions in our lives.  You can’t change the past, but you can change the direction of your future.  Why not start creating the life you truly want to live now?

Namaste….

ps…If you would like to create a positive vibe through the use of a beautiful universal mantra for peace, join us for Shanti 108.  This is a community event practiced in the sanctuary of your own space.  A 108 day practice for peace realization. 10 minutes each day consisting of chanting the Om Asatoma Shanti Mantra 8 times and then 8 minutes of stillness as you receive and give the powerful vibratory affect of this mantra in silence.

Click here to hear it chanted by  Deva Premal and Miten:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lh5XjWHJivk)

Om Asatoma Sadgamaya – In realization of our infinite peace and connection, I am led from the unreal to the real.
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya – From the darkness to the light.
Mrutyoma Amritamgamaya – From the poisoin to the nectar.
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi – Om Peace Peace Peace

The last line repeats the word peace three times to deepen and expand our experience of peace from heart to heaven and everything in between. Peace in your heart, peace in your relationships and community and realization of the universal peace that never ends.

This is a beautiful experience of present, positive and personal intentions for peace.  Thanks to Stephanie Adams of Flow Yoga, our community in the Gorge and throughout the world is beginning this today, 1/8/15.   You can start anytime!

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_MG_3241 I love yoga.  I love to practice yoga, I really love to teach yoga, and I love how yoga has changed my life.  There is no shortage of articles written all over the internet singing the praises of yoga, or, as I lately read in the online publication Elephant Journal, dissing yoga.  The most recent controversial article that I read was titled something like “Why I Left Yoga”, and it was written by a native of India living in the US.  In this dismissive essay the writer takes issue with the Americanization of the ancient practices of Yoga.  She makes some valid points (the $100 LuLu Lemon yoga pants…which I have honestly never worn or owned),  but most of her reasons focused on what she refers to as the trend of white upper-middle-class women practicing yoga as a trendy entitlement rather than a true holistically beneficial practice.   I immediately questioned this classification – what is wrong with people of financial means to feel a deep connection to the ancient and time-tested truths of yoga?  Who really cares if a person is so moved by their practice or experience that they choose to have a sanskrit tattoo imprinted on parts of their body?  It’s not my thing, but I hardly feel the need to judge others’ choices.  What difference does it make if someone has felt such a resonating truth from the lessons of self-realization that they choose to spend their money on a trip to an ashram in India?  We live in a free country, thankfully, and it is one’s own prerogative how they choose to live, believe or spend their money.

I do think that yoga in America can feel hip or trendy, and that many studios have become “a scene” like a new club in Brooklyn might be “a scene”.  But that is what makes America so diverse and interesting.  Just as the sub-continent of India is home to an incredible variety of beliefs, religions, and languages, so too is this country.  Just because people with financial means are flocking to their local studio, or planning their next vacation to a yoga retreat, doesn’t mean that their practice, or their journey, is any less meaningful or justified as the single mom on a limited income wage.  In actuality, many communities have studios, gyms, churches and outreach programs that offer yoga for free, or for donation, to those who want to learn the art of stress-relief and mind-mastery through the practice of yoga.  Do all studios follow the principle of seva, or service?  Of course not.  This isn’t a perfect world and not everyone is in the business for altruistic purposes.  However, from my experience, most yoga instructors (myself included) teach because they want to help people find a better way to manage their stress, improve their health and live their lives more fully.  I don’t know many teachers who teach yoga only for financial gain.

So why do I love yoga?  I love yoga because it is a practice that anybody can experience anywhere.  There are no necessary tools or equipment (a mat and loose fitting clothes are helpful).  You only need your intention and your will-power to enter the world of yoga.  Of course, there is a learning curve that starts with letting go of a piece of your ego so that you can walk into that first class. Wearing designer clothes, having an understanding of Sanskrit, or bowing down to the archetypes of Krishna, Shiva or the energy of Kundalini are absolutely not required.  You just need an open mind, a willing body (ok, maybe only partially willing), and a beginner’s attitude.  Although I have been practicing for over 16 years and teaching for eight, it still require a willingness, desire, and discipline to stay with it.  That doesn’t mean that every single day I practice for hours – I don’t.  It doesn’t mean that I expect others to practice specific dietary restrictions or suddenly take a vow of austerity.  I don’t.  I love yoga because ultimately YOU are your best teacher.  Only YOU have your life experiences that formed your psyche and your body.  Only YOU truly decide what you need and want out of this life.

Practicing yoga requires a letting go of pre-conceived ideas about what poses should look like and how they should feel.  It changes day to day, and even from pose to pose, within one session.  It’s tuning into your inner knowing, that felt-sense of how your body and mind, and most interestingly your breath, responds to challenges.  Do you become restrictive and inflexible when things are difficult or out of reach?  Or can you allow the tightness, the discomfort, or the heaviness to move through you without clinging to reaction and discomfort?  Yoga teaches us to pay attention and to be the witness to how we respond in all situations of life.  It is the ultimate metaphor of learning how to navigate life with grace and ease.

Right here, right now, I am loving this.  This is my mantra.  This is my prayer. This is my song.

This mantra was given to me by my teacher, friend and soul brother, Tom Kelly of Soul of Yoga in Encinitas.  He taught me years ago, and continues to this day, that each and every moment is a gift.  If you live in the past or constantly worry about the future, you are completely missing the point of life.  Yes, we have all heard this before, but how often do you stop the voice in your head and correct the incessant commentary by exclaiming (out loud if you need to), RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, I AM LOVING THIS!!!!  Try it.

Books have explained, ever since the written word, the need to live in the moment and to cherish each and every experience as it comes.  However, we humans feel the need to add commentary to everything in order to give ourselves the illusion of control.  In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer calls this voice our inner room-mate.  He/she is always there with you stating the obvious, the absurd, or the fabulous little experiences in life.  Your room-mate never seems to respect silence, always filling your mind with different emotional states such as guilt, anger, lust, desire, frustration or disappointment.  What if you could silence that voice?  How would you determine your feelings?  Well, you would just feel them.  No judgement, no words, no reruns of past experiences, good or bad, filling your head.  You would just simply feel the experience.  That’s it.  No more, no less.  It can feel terrible, raw and painful; but then it is over.  It can feel ecstatic, incredible, and delicious; but then it’s over.

Our need to hold on to and constantly label our inner emotions creates a conflict with our perceived reality and the actual reality that we are experiencing at any moment.  This does not mean that what we feel isn’t real, but often the severity of our negative emotions negatively affects our body’s response.  If the majority of your thoughts are not of love but instead of anger, hatred, jealousy, frustration, and sadness,  your physical body reverts back to our evolutionary protective mechanism known as flight or fight.  A perceived or real event sends a signal to the brain which, in short, puts our body on high alert to protect itself.  The hypothalamus, or command center in the brain, sends signals to the adrenal glands and our involuntary body functions go into action.  Adrenaline pumps through our bloodstream, our heart beats faster, small airways in our lungs expand to take in more oxygen, thus increasing our breath count.  Our blood pressure spikes, our pulse increases, and the heightened levels of adrenaline triggers a release of blood sugar and fats into our blood stream from their stored locations.  We stay at this high alert level until the perceived (or real) danger has passed and our para-sympathetic nervous system tells the body to take a break and return to “normal”.   Over 50% of Americans live in this stressed state most of their lives.   Living like this is the antithesis of drinking from the Holy Grail, or finding the Fountain of Youth.

How do you overcome this constant stream of consciousness disguised as your inner room-mate?  First, stop and take three deep breaths.   Then maybe take a few more.  Focus like a laser on the place in your body your feel the stress or the pain originating.  Breath into that space and let the feeling pass through you.

So I ask you, can you find a place within yourself to find peace with what IS.  Right here, right now, I am loving this.

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Namaste,

Ahhh…the sounds of the waves breaking on the beach just outside my window always bring complete santosha (sanskrit for contentment) to me.   The almost primal exaltation from that initial moist ocean air on my bare skin gives a sense of stability to my being.

photo-10The incredible fragrance of the salt-water air mixed with the aroma of  Mayan culinary delicacies tickles my taste buds.  And the colors of the rising sun over the Atlantic ocean lighting up the water and sand always inspires my spirit.

Our five senses are our windows to the mind and soul.  How we choose to stimulate ourselves using these senses has a direct correlation on our state of mind and well-being.  Compare the real scenario I wrote about above (from where I just returned from teaching for a week in Tulum, Mexico, on the far reaches of the Yucatan peninsula,) to the impressions that you absorb on an average daily basis.  Of course, our lives are hectic, the weather is volatile, and constant technical chatter overwhelming.  You don’t necessarily have to fly to a yoga retreat in order to withdraw from the cacophony of life, however I do hope you will consider joining me next March for an uplifting and restorative week of bliss.

photo-9So how do you retreat without leaving your home, office or car?  You stop, close the computer, turn off all sounds and visual stimulation around you, put your phone on silent, and sit.  Now relax your shoulders and belly, smooth out the lines on your face, unclench your teeth and tongue, and find your breath.  Just observe the inhale and the exhale as they naturally occur. Try and follow the breath as you take it in through your nostrils and visualize it as a vapor (you can even add color if that helps) moving down into the lungs, expanding your rib-cage and filling your belly.  If it feels as if it gets stuck somewhere between the throat and the sternum, relax the muscles in your body again and focus on the area of resistance.  Close your eyes.

As your mind fights you for space and time, gently release attachments to those thoughts.  Right here, right now, they don’t matter.  They will still be there later, as will the emails, texts, laundry, shopping, etc… Taking these few precious minutes for yourself any time, any place under any mood or emotion is a gift that nothing else can replace.  Yes, this is easier while sitting in a beach hammock, listening to the birds sing and the iguanas cluck, while the waves break on shore.  But if you formulate this habit now and practice it everyday, you likely will find that you have more time and energy to do the things that you truly love and that really matter.  Maybe you will manifest the vision of yourself experiencing an Ayurvedic Yoga retreat with me in the magical Mayan Riviera!    Namaste….

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http://www.joannematsonyoga.com

So often we begin the new year with aspirations and resolutions.  We play hard during the holidays, or we languish in sadness and stress, with true plans to start fresh in January.  The time constraint that we place upon ourselves, along with sometimes unrealistic expectations, can cause even more stress or imbalance if we set ourselves up for failure.  Instead of concentrating on the purity of creating a healthier life for ourselves, we make to-do lists full of things we are going to stop and start “doing”.  Sound familiar?

Many of us have healthy habits that we have implemented in our lives.  Maybe these include eating healthier, invoking a more active lifestyle, or reducing the amount of stimulants and/or depressants in our daily routines.  But how many of us truly focus our attention on the personal betterment of our mind and body?   How much time do you spend incorporating mind/body practices such as yoga and meditation into your life?  I often hear people say that they plan on starting yoga, or that they wish they could meditate, but they just can’t find the time.  Many people tell me they try and make good food choices,  and they try to get plenty of exercise, but they are too busy.  Nourishing ourselves has become equated with luxury, not necessity, which is counter-intuitive to our evolutionary history.

We are what we eat, what we digest and what we think.  We do create our reality by the thoughts that loop through our minds, by the stories we tell and re-tell, and by our opinions that have been shaped and formed by our experiences.  True inner-growth can only blossom through stepping outside of our comfort zone of thoughts, opinions and habits and looking at our lives and the world around us with fresh eyes.  Today, much energy and time is spent trying to have a younger looking body, but how much time and energy is spent keeping the mind young and flexible?  What limits have you set for your own self, in terms of physical and mental flexibility?  Can you over-ride your pre-conceptions of what you can or can’t accomplish in this life?  Can your search deep within your own self and find your inner bliss?

There is a constant bombardment of information around us that reminds us of how toxic our environment is today.  That is true, but we also have the tools to reduce and to cleanse that toxicity out of our mind and body.  Our five senses (sound, touch, sight, taste and smell) are our personal windows to the outside world.  What we choose to take in through those windows is mostly up to us.  What we listen to and watch on the news, or in the form of movies, tv shows and video games, creates a reality within our mind that shapes our opinions subconsciously.  What we eat creates the cells that form our organs and feed our brain.  Who we spend our time with shapes our behavior and sometimes our thoughts.  What we put on our skin, our largest organ and our most obvious representative to what is happening on the inside of our bodies, can create either a cancer-rich or a cancer-fighting environment within us.   So I say again, you are what you eat, what you digest, and what you think.  Since we have so much to offer our body and our mind, why not keep it pure, clean and positive?  Your future body depends on the choices you make now.

Instead of resolutions each new year, I focus on a word.  My word for 2014 is Rejuvenation, also known as Soma in the world of Ayurveda.  Imagine the eternal search for the nectar of life, the fountain of youth, the Holy Grail; all of these are symbols of the universal human search for immortality and youthfulness.  Soma is, according to David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) in his newest book Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda, “the symbol of a deeper knowledge and awareness and of the spiritual quest overall….[it] also means ‘bliss’, and reflects our lifelong seeking for happiness, which is intimately related to our seeking of immortality as the hightest form of happiness.”

January 31 was the beginning of the Chinese New Year.  It is the Year of the Yang Wood Horse and symbolizes new beginnings, optimism and purposeful action. How exciting is that!  Gone are the unsettling years of darkness, negativity and degeneration.  We are now in a cycle of recovery and inspiration, so create some space in your life and in your mind, sit in stillness and silence whenever you can, and unlock the door deep within yourself to follow your intuitive path to bliss!

namaste…

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Change is never easy.  We are conditioned in our habits, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.   We find solace in the regularity of our lives.  When something comes along to disrupt this regularity, we may experience obvious, or subtle,  forms of stress.  Travel, illness, house-guests, weather, and countless other examples can take us out of our “normal” sense of being.  But change is a normal and natural cycle of life.  The days change to night, the seasons change from summer to fall, our bodies change as they age.  How we accept these changes, or invite them into our lives, can have profound effects on our health and vitality.

Ayurveda, which means “wisdom of life”, is an ancient system of health and healing that provides us with information to understand our connection to the natural world.  All too often in our busy technology-driven world we forget that we all are a part of nature, made of the same elements that comprise mountains, oceans, trees, and stars.  The same forces of energy that govern our lives also govern all living systems .  When we are living harmoniously within the laws of nature, we feel energized, healthy and rejuvenated.  When we fall out of balance with nature, we feel depleted, ungrounded, and stressed.

As summer transitions to the cooler temperatures of autumn, our body simultaneously undergoes similar changes.  The cooler temperatures can contribute to feelings of fatigue and deficiency due to our blood flow becoming more constricted to preserve our inner core of heat.  We may experience dry skin, constipation, and a “run-down” feeling with the weather change and the typical busy October schedules.  Our ne

rvous system needs nourishing, grounding and warming foods to counter the cool, dry and mobile tendencies around us.

Have you noticed that butternut squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, apples, and pears seem to be overflowing at the market?  These foods, along with delicious warm spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg nourish our bodies and minds while increasing circulation and improving our digestion.  We start craving hearty soups, warm chai, and delicious apple crisps because these are the foods Mother Nature intended to keep us in rhythm with the cycles of energy that surround us.

So if you are feeling tired, worn out, frazzled, chilled to the bone (even though it hasn’t dropped below 50 degrees yet), consider applying warm, organic sesame oil to your entire body before your bath or shower, prepare yourself a delicious mug of spiced chai (recipe to follow), and curl up with a great book (might I suggest Perfect Health by Dr. Deepak Chopra) to learn how you can take control of your body, mind and soul through simple daily routines, healthy food, and a desire to live well.

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Warm Spiced Chai

This recipe can be altered to be caffeine-free using loose herbal tea or with green tea.

16 oz. cold filtered water

1 – 2 inchs of fresh ginger sliced into coins or chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

1 ts. black or pink peppercorns

10 cardamom pods (or 1 ts. cardamom seeds)

3 – 5 whole cloves

1 ts. fennel seeds

1 TB orange peel (optional)

1 vanilla bean pod (optional)

3 ts. loose-leaf organic black, green or herbal tea (or 3-4 tea bags)

Sweetener – raw sugar, maple sugar, honey or jaggery

16 oz. organic milk (preferably raw) OR Almond milk, Hemp milk, etc..

INSTRUCTIONS:

Place water and spices (through vanilla) in wide-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and add the tea.  Steep for 5 – 8 minutes then strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Add sweetener (if using honey, wait until the mixture has cooled to just above room temperature).  At this point,  I like to put the tea in mason jars if I am storing for later use.  If you are making this to drink now,  you can add the tea mixture back to the saucepan and add milk in a 1:1 ratio.  Heat until warm and enjoy!  Serves 4

And speaking of changes…. I’ve had my own experience with change lately.  Just this week my new business partner, Dave Martin and I opened Trinity Natural Medicine in Hood River, Oregon.  Our mission is to serve the community through education, counseling, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and lots of love and support.  Visit us at http://www.trinitynaturalmedicine.org  and/or http://www.joannematsonyoga.com.

Ayurveda, Yoga, Healing, Nutrition, Columbia Gorge, Health, Crohn’s Disease, Food,

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