Mindfulness and Motherhood: Holding Space for New Mamas

Leah Hartofelis is teaching at Wanderlust Stratton this summer! Create your community of likeminded souls, and learn from leaders like her. For tickets and more info, click here


Becoming a mother is one of the most beautiful and transformative times in a woman’s life—and yet, it can also be one of the most challenging, frightening, and lonely periods. This was all at the forefront of Leah Hartofelis’ mind when she founded her Long Island yoga studio Breathe N Flow Yoga nine years ago. A mother of two, (or four, “if you count the two yoga studios,”) is a teacher and long-time student of yoga, who specializes in pre- and post- natal practices, meditation, and breathwork, as well as vinyasa and yin yoga. A self-described “yoga mama,” Leah strives to create a nurturing community for students to cultivate and discover peace, joy, and balance. She brings this wisdom and strength to Wanderlust this summer—if you’re a new mother (or in the early stages of considering it!)

“Since we opened the first studio in Freeport, Long Island in 2010, our intention has been to serve families,” Leah tells me when we connect over the phone. “The idea is that even after our mothers give birth, they have a place and a community to keep coming back to and to grow with.” In accordance with these goals, the Breathe N Flow schedule offers a variety of classes from group classes for expecting mothers, kid’s yoga classes, gentle flow classes, yin and restorative yoga classes, and more.

Each year at Wanderlust, my eye always immediately goes to the yoga mamas, because I know about the strength that it takes to be able to continue your practice. – Leah Hartofelis

When Leah began practicing yoga around the time that her first born son (who is graduating from high school this year) was a toddler, there weren’t many yoga studios around. “It wasn’t like it is today,” saysLeah. She started taking what she calls “yoga-lates,” or “yoga-influenced” classes. “I got to enjoy a little influence of yoga—but I didn’t truly begin to understand the benefits of a full yoga practice until my second son was born and I began practicing regularly,” she says.

Leah recounts how she actually found out that she was pregnant with her second son after feeling unwell following a yoga class one day. “This was really a turning point for me,” says Leah. “During my second pregnancy, I really became interested in the ways that yoga can be done safely to help to alleviate some of the common discomforts of a pregnancy.”

From Student to Teacher

In her quest to obtain more knowledge about the yogic practice and her desire to share it with others, Leah completed a 200-hr training at Sonic Yoga in New York City, a 500-hr training with teacher Cyndi Lee at OM Yoga Center, as well as trainings in restorative yoga with Judith Hanson Lasater, and a Prenatal Yoga certification in the Barnes Method.

Today she works closely with her longtime mentor Elena Brower. Even while directing two studios, teaching weekly classes, leading Breathe N Flow’s 200hr Teacher Training, and mentoring new teachers, Leah is constantly learning and exploring.

“We yoga mamas are always operating on a busy schedule,” says Leah. “But yoga allows us to find balance and clarity through the breath, so that we are stable, no matter what else may be going on.” Leah’s goal is to bring the techniques and tools that have helped her find clarity in her own life to her students, so that they may learn to incorporate the yogic teachings and find joy and a deep awareness in all aspects of their lives.

pregnant woman standing with hands on belly

Photo by Ali Kaukas

Prenatal Practice

The prenatal yoga practice allows women to find strength, flexibility, and stability throughout their pregnancy. “The body is going through many changes,” she says, “so preparing for birth and mothering requires a practice that is both strengthening as well as restorative for the body and mind.”

Much of the teachings that Leah offers are centered around breathwork to help prepare mothers-to-be to have the best possible experience during the birthing process. “One thing I always tell my yoga mamas, is that the one tool that you have that you don’t have to remember to pack is your breath,” says Leah. The practice is also geared towards alleviating discomfort in common areas such as the hips and lower back through safe, guided movements. “But what is truly the most important aspect to a pre- and postnatal yoga class,” Leah tells me, “is the sense of community. We lift each other up.”

This June, Leah is bringing her teachings to Wanderlust Stratton, where she will be offering three classes. The first offering is one of Leah’s signature open level classes called Breathe, Flow, and Meditate. The second is a guided meditation workshop called “Take Five,” in which she will offer practical tools and skills to find moments to meditate in our busy lives, even if only for five minutes. And finally, Leah will be leading Wanderlust’s first prenatal yoga class.

“Each year at Wanderlust, my eye always immediately goes to the yoga mamas, because I know about the strength that it takes to be able to continue your practice,” says Leah, “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to offer a class in which mothers or mothers-to-be, in all stages of their pregnancy, could attend.” The primary focus will be on cultivating breathwork techniques for relaxation. So many times, says Leah, we are too busy to even truly experience our pregnancy. “Breathing exercises are utilized to facilitate this connection between a mother and her baby, and with her own body.”

“Yoga is our way of expressing and celebrating this life that we have,” Leah muses. “Whether I am teaching an expecting mom or a child or my husband, I want to share the ways that this practice has lifted me up. It has shown me that we are infinite. I can’t wait to share it at the top of the mountain at Wanderlust.”

And we can’t wait to learn from her there! Click here for tickets and more information.

jillianJillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga

 

 

 

 

 

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This Home Practice Will Help You Breathe—and Relax—Deeply

Want to to learn how to really embody your breath in order to take bigger, deeper breaths and rest more fully as a result? Read on.

Ellen Patrick demonstrates different poses where people can take bigger and deeper breaths.

“Inhale, raise your arms. Exhale, fold forward. Inhale, rise up to a half forward bend. Exhale step, or jump, back to Chataurunga.

As a yoga student, I’m sure you recognize this phrase from just about every vinyasa class in which you’ve practiced. Ironically, the most frequent phrase I hear from students after teaching a vinyasa class is: “I love yoga, but I don’t get the breathing part.” That’s when I usually laugh and say, “Of course you get the breathing part! You’re alive!”

See also This Month’s Home Practice: 16 Poses to Spark Inspiration

All humans inhale and exhale 24/7, but rarely are we aware of the breath in the course of our daily lives. It is during a yoga practice that we have the opportunity to become more aware of our respiratory patterns. We get to look at the quality, pacing, fullness, and texture of our inhalations and exhalations; we get to pause and appreciate the breath’s profound ability to create vitality and well-being. As we become more mindful of our breathing, naturally the question arises: Why do we need to bring awareness to the breath when respiration happens automatically?

The response is three-fold. First, on a physical level, if we coordinate movement with breath, movement becomes more effective and efficient. Then, from a physiological perspective, the breath regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous responses (the autonomic nervous system). Finally, from a psychological viewpoint, this regulation can help us cultivate better stress management techniques. In other words, when we manage the quality of our breath, we have the ability to influence our relaxation responses.

See also How to Build a Home Practice

It is important to keep in mind that breath is three-dimensional. Our lungs expand and condense forward and back, side-to-side, and up and down. By preparing the muscles of the body to support these natural shape changes, your breath capacity will be greatly enhanced, movement will be more effective, and the reactions of the autonomic nervous system will sustain greater resiliency. Because most people have postural and muscular imbalances, the body needs to be primed through yoga postures to achieve maximum results from respiration.

The following sequence will prepare your body for optimal breathing and as a happy result, relaxation. By stretching and freeing up space in tight muscles, strengthening weak postural muscles, and toning the diaphragm—the major muscle of respiration—you will attain a deeper and more efficient breath.

This Sequence Will Help You Breathe and Relax

Fuel Your Digestive Fire with This 3-Ingredient Ayurvedic Tonic

Sip on it before meals to help your gut process what you eat and leave no toxins behind.

Craving change but feeling too stuck, sluggish, or restless to take aim? Join John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com, and Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurveda Yoga Specialist, for Ayurveda 201: Six Weeks to Transformation and Bliss Through Ayurvedic Psychology. In this new online course, you’ll experience: unique yoga practices; inspiring discussions backed by science; and recipes, herbs, and a short, gentle cleanse. The results? Clarity, brilliance, and balance, so you can create lasting shifts in your life and well-being. Learn more and sign up today!

In Ayurveda, agni, which means digestive fire, is an important aspect of good health. When your digestion and metabolism are properly functioning, you reap the nutrients of what you eat. You also expel toxins that otherwise accumulate into ama, or toxic sludge, that slows down your mind and body. Here, John Douillard, who co-teaches our upcoming course, Ayurveda 201, with Larissa Hall Carlson, shares a simple tonic you can sip on before your meals to rev up that digestive fire. Bonus: Eating out? Restaurants will always have these three ingredients…

Watch also These Are The Signs You May Have to Detox ASAP, According to Ayurveda

Smudge it Away: Crystals for Spring Cleaning

Rashia Bell is the founder of The Cristalline, and a Wanderlust speaker this year. Catch her at Wanderlust San Francisco in May, or at Wanderlust Stratton in June. For tickets and more info about San Francisco, click here. For tickets and more about Stratton, click here.


Ahhh, springtime: After the physical and energetic rest of winter, it’s finally that time of year when the days get longer, and our energy starts to increase with the excitement that summer will soon be here. Seedlings start to sprout up out of the ground on the first hint of a warm day, and you begin to plan your summer full of mindful adventures. Everything around you, from the flowers to the trees to the announcements of Festival tours, feels in a state of renewal and rebirth. Everything around us feels just a little lighter and brighter. So how do we take advantage of this time of year to energetically shed our winter coats?

Crystals can be useful tools for both allowing one to detach from patterns that aren’t serving them and to redirect that energy towards what you want to create. Below are some crystals that can help you to embrace the energy of spring and the possibilities that await. A key factor in this process is to first understand the seasonal cycle that we are in, and that which is guided intuitively by the moon.

And people are definitely seeking out this kind of intuitive wisdom in droves right now. I feel like these days someone is always rushing home to charge their crystals during a Full Moon, or setting New Moon intentions. In ancient Indian times, it was thought that if you placed a piece of Moonstone in the mouth during a full moon, while gazing at it, it would then enhance your dreams to allow you to be able to see your future. That’s a crystal ball I know we would all want, but offer up some other suggestions on how we can gain insight. Curious about this? I’ll be teaching at Wanderlust San Francisco and Wanderlust Stratton—learn more with me then. In the meantime, here are the crystals you need to smudge away winter and step fresh into spring.

cear quartz crystal

Clear Quartz

Clear Quartz is probably the most commonly recognized crystal, the most widely-found in different areas of the word, and the most multi-use of all crystals. Almost thought of as the ruler of the crystal kingdom, many other stones are considered a part of the quartz family of minerals due to their composition, such as: Amethyst, Citrine, Aventurine, and obviously other quartz derivatives such as Smoky, Rutilated, or Rose Quartz.  The main properties of the clear form of the quartz stone are to amplify, program and to retain energy in a way that is kind of like muscle or memory recall. It is a clearing and balancing stone that can align with any or all of the chakras at once, so if you could only choose one stone to have (and that would be such a travesty!), this would be the one.

The specific structure and symmetry often found in the stone, enhances its neutrality. As the Switzerland of crystals, it can target specific areas of the body with the energy that is needed. From energetic release, to energizing and taking action, to connecting more with nature now that our days our brighter and getting warmer, clear quartz can help lead the way.

moonstone

Moonstone

Moonstone is a harmonious stone, with an energy that is intensely feminine, and therefore connected to cycles of reproduction, birth, and subsequently rebirth and renewal.  Moonstone is a stone that is also intimately connected to one’s inner journey and the mystery of self-discovery. So, in the same regard that we follow the moon’s path and journey each month, in springtime in particular it works to purify and energize the emotional and physical body. It does this by helping us to both literally and figuratively shed the protective layers that we have been wearing all winter. As a crown chakra stone, it connects us to the energy of nature that surrounds us. In doing so, it helps us to reduce frustration and find objectivity which ultimately allows us to view situations through a lens of optimism by connecting to the cycles of nature.

moldavite

Moldavite

For all of the organic calming effects of Moonstone, Moldavite is effectively its energetic opposite. Sometimes it takes a meteor literally crashing into Earth for us to identify the things that we need to let go of. That is precisely how Moldavite was created by mother nature nearly 15 million years ago, in the area around the Czech Republic. If you just think for a moment about the immense stratospheric power of this sort of act of nature, you know you aren’t dealing with just any average crystal! From physical cleansing to spiritual enlightenment, this heart-centered stone is one that leads the way for personal evolution, and like a chrysalis that turns into a butterfly, the spring awakening that Moldavite spurs can be profound.

amazonite

Amazonite

So now that we have cleared everything out, and shaken things up, what’s next? We have to identify how to use this new energy. Amazonite is a throat chakra stone that is tied to communication and expression. And now that it is spring we are ready to let ourselves shine again like the sun. Amazonite brings peaceful energy to our interactions with others so that we can express our personal truths without fear, and at the same time shows us how to maintain our internal boundaries and protect our energy.  It is a stone per say that helps to make sure that one is both “walking the walk,” while simultaneously “talking the talk.” It helps you to see opportunities in your life where you can redefine your core values and goals, and through self-expression identify how you can achieve them.

So now that this time of year is the bright light we have been waiting for the past six months, that beacon that has literally helped us weather the cold and the energetic quicksand that we have been in during retrograde season to find the light at the end of the tunnel. We have turned that corner and we can use our crystals to clear out all of the relics that we no longer need. So let’s spring clean both energetically and in our spaces, to take action and propel ourselves forward and create change. And at the least, use it as a reminder that tells us that summer is just around the corner, and we’ve got our sights on really letting the fun begin!

Rashia Bell is a co-founder of The Cristalline. A graduate of both the Fashion Institute of Technology and the New York School of Interior Design, she has spent the past 10 years growing her Design and Consulting company, The Gray Box Group. In looking to gain a greater understanding of the energetic and healing powers of stones and other healing modalities to incorporate them into interiors, Rashia has completed two Crystal Healing certifications from The Crystal Academy of Advanced Healing Arts, is a level 2 Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Healer and has completed yoga certifications in English and Spanish. The foundation for The Cristalline’s design process is specializing in personal healing work, and Rashia has lead workshops for all ages, private events, and retreats around the world. (Photo by Matt McConnell Photography.)

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Health in Your Hands: How One Woman Handled Thyroid Dysfunction

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis about a year ago. I knew that I’d had hypothyroidism (I was told by my naturopath that since my mom, dad, and my two brothers had it, it made sense that I had it too) since I first got a full thyroid panel at the age of 20. Ever since, I’d inconsistently taken a natural thyroid medication called Naturethroid, never thinking to look up the instructions or really understand anything about it. I had transferred my doctor worship to my naturopath after she helped my cure my amenorrhea, and didn’t do my own research or ask important questions. Learning from experts in a collaborative setting can really help to lay the foundation to ask these kinds of questions; For me, it wasn’t until the Hashimoto’s diagnosis that I really dug into thyroid health.

I began to understand the root causes, the things that make the thyroid function better and worse, the different medications available and pros and cons of each, how reversible Hashimoto’s is, and how it connects to symptoms I had been feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. I learned that Hashimoto’s is quite complicated and common (especially for women!). It’s difficult for most people to ever completely stop taking some kind of thyroid supplement, be it natural or pharmaceutical, but, having seen that it’s possible, I’ve made it my mission to reverse my Hashimoto’s and one day, ditch my Naturethroid.

Sitting with Experts to Learn the Basics

As it would happen, I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Aviva Romm, a wonderful functional medicine doctor and author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution. This past January, I followed her 3–4 week program and then retested my thyroid with a blood test. Despite everything I know about food, meditation, movement, supplements, and herbs, this program taught me so much, and opened my eyes to all of my false beliefs: the things I’d convinced myself, or never thought about, or didn’t fully understand, or blindly assumed. If you’re thinking of doing the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution program, or any kind of reset program or elimination diet, here are my seven takeaways that might help you understand what to expect and what to look for.

Food products are still processed—even if they’re healthy!

Many “health foods” (i.e. foods sold in health food stores or organic sections of mainstream grocery stores) have preservatives, vegetable or canola oil, or additives like stabilizers (things that make things creamier for example). Somehow, I had been conveniently letting these items fall into my grocery cart—or maybe my husband did and I didn’t fight it—despite my awareness that whole foods or one-ingredient foods are always preferable. This includes things like frozen organic or cauliflower-crust pizza, “healthy” chips or crackers, granola and other cereals, certain soups, marinara and other sauces, nut butters, gluten-free and organic frozen chicken nuggets, coconut ice cream bars, dark chocolate bars, kimchi, hummus, salad dressings, nut milks, packaged bars, yogurt (even plant-based), and many more. I had wrongly assumed that because a product had the USDA organic label, or because it used coconut over dairy or cauliflower over gluten, that it was good for me. But I soon learned that many of these “healthy” products contain tons of ingredients that I definitely did not want to be consuming. I had to come to terms with the fact that if a box of organic crackers is sitting on a shelf, then it is highly likely it has preservatives, and that gluten-free organic chicken nuggets are still a fried food.

Almost everything contains added sugar and inflammatory oils and butter.

I didn’t fully understand how common canola and vegetables oils are in food products, so I wasn’t catching them on labels. I also wildly underestimated how many healthy-seeming food products had added sugar! Kimchi was the most shocking. In my mind, because I wouldn’t add sugar to kimchi or a nut butter, I mistakenly assumed an organic brand I trusted wouldn’t either. Not true at all. Sugar is added to things you couldn’t possibly imagine needing sugar, like cauliflower pizza. Why on earth does that need to be sweetened?!

I also underestimated how many little bits of sugar I had been consuming throughout the day. From fruit in my breakfast smoothie to a coconut date roll in the afternoon to some dark chocolate or a coconut ice cream bar a few evenings a week, my sugar intake really added up. A coconut date roll isn’t bad for you, per-se, but in conjunction with sugar from those other sources, I was consuming way too much. I encourage you to really think about all the sugar you consume in a day (including hidden sugar in things like kimchi or peanut butter and natural sugars in fruit), and you might be surprised by your total intake.

Nightshade vegetables are everywhere.

For the three-week formal program, I eliminated nightshades (a family of plants that includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes), and couldn’t believe how many recipes or dishes at restaurants include at least one of these foods! Tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes are ubiquitous in the standard American diet, even in healthier recipes. Reading about how inflammatory these vegetables can be for some people, and how anyone following a Western diet eats nightshades at least once or twice a day, I realized that it might be an easy thing to eliminate for anyone trying to get to the root of a chronic health issue. Nightshades were one of the many things that made it difficult to eat out.

Eating out was nearly impossible.

In the nearly four weeks I was doing the program, I ate out maybe three or four meals. The first thing I realized was that, as a New Yorker, I eat out more than I thought I did. The second thing I realized was that it is incredibly hard to eat in a healing way at restaurants or when ordering takeout.

Simple dishes I assumed wouldn’t have butter or sugar in them often did, and could not be replaced with something healthier. Many restaurants only had canola oil, even those I specifically chose because I thought they would use cleaner oils like almond, avocado, or olive. Also, many restaurants couldn’t tell me much about the quality of their meat or whether certain vegetables were organic—and nightshades were pretty much everywhere, even when they weren’t listed on the menu (potatoes or tomatoes on the side, peppers in the sauce, or chili flakes sprinkled on top). Finding gluten-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, or oats was also very difficult, and often the serving of vegetables provided isn’t enough to fill you up without some other side of grains. Many sauces included dairy and often things were pre-marinated, which made it difficult to make them without dairy. Butter, I found, was used more often than canola oil for cooking, though I couldn’t eat either!

The most difficult part by far was that eating out for me is a shared, fun experience with people I love, whether it’s my husband or friends or family. While getting dressed to go out to dinner with my husband one night during the program, I realized that I was dreading how annoying I would sound asking a dozen questions about each part of my meal, and feeling like I didn’t have anything to look forward to because I couldn’t have a glass of wine or any sort of “treat” or “reward” food. Which leads me to my next point…

Alcohol plays way too big a part in my culture, society, and habits.

I gave up alcohol for 25 days during the program and realized how much of my social life, as well as habits to cope with long or stressful days, revolved around alcohol. It was incredibly eye-opening to realize that I equated fun and making something special with alcohol. I realized how routine ordering a cocktail was when I sat down at a table, or how many sunsets created a longing for a glass of wine. I also felt bad for people socializing with me when I wasn’t drinking, as I know that the shared vulnerability and “letting loose” of drinking alcohol creates a bond, and not engaging in drinking felt like I was putting a wall up. Our culture celebrates drinking to the point where I believed fun and special occasions required it.

After a few days without it, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt when waking up in the morning. Even one drink impacts your sleep (or two if you’re a man or a larger person) and waking up feeling rested and without any cobwebs (even little ones) was amazing. I forced myself to use other things to unwind, like playing music, stretching, or reading a novel. I also lost three pounds over the three weeks without doing much else besides changing my diet and not drinking. That was a bonus!

Giving up the taste and ritual of coffee—not caffeine—left a void.

I had already given up caffeine in the fall of 2018, but when I was also forced to give up decaf coffee during the program, it made me sad! I realized that the ritual of walking to get my one cup of rich, warm, creamy, flavorful decaf coffee with cashew or oat milk each morning was what I loved, not the caffeine fix. I began drinking much more herbal team on the program and still did my morning walks with tea, but it just wasn’t quite the same.

I loved that the program helped me I incorporate many more wonderful organic herbs in the form of teas into my day, but once the program was over, I couldn’t have been more excited to re-introduce decaf organic coffee into my life. Yes, decaf still has a small amount of caffeine, but the amount in one cup is less than two squares of dark chocolate, and most importantly, I don’t feel that hyper, jittery, anxious feeling that comes after drinking caffeine when I drink it.

It’s hard to truly give yourself permission to pause.

One of Aviva Romm’s signature phrases in this program is “permission to pause.” She emphasizes this because a lot of Hashimoto’s patients like me have fatigued their adrenals through too much stress and constantly being “on,” which impacts your thyroid health. Besides diet, supplements, and herbs, giving yourself permission to pause and do some self-care and things that bring you joy is an important part of the program.

One thing I incorporated that I really enjoyed was turning on music when the work day was done and it was time to cook and eat dinner with my husband. It lifted my mood instantly, got me singing along and away from thoughts about my to-do list. It felt like a weekend even when it wasn’t, and that’s what bringing joy back into your life is all about.

Unfortunately, besides my nightly dance party while cooking, and a few minutes of breathing exercises in the morning, I didn’t do as much self-care as the program stipulated. It turns out, giving yourself permission to pause when you’re an entrepreneur and in today’s 24/7 world is more difficult than anything else, and arguably the most important thing we can do.

My Results from the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution Program

After the program, my thyroid panel blood test showed my TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) had come down from 14 to 7.5 (though I still want to get it below 2) and my thyroid antibodies (the sign of Hashimoto’s) from 48 to 38 (though I’d like to get them to zero!). Despite seeing these results, I found the strictness of program made me revert back to a few of my old eating and lifestyle habits for the past few months (certainly being less strict when eating out!), though many of the dietary changes have stuck at home. I feel hopeful that one day I’ll be able to kick my Hashimoto’s to the curb for good, and this program was a great way to see fast results in that endeavor!

Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board certified patient advocate, speaker and the founder of WellBe, a media company and lifestyle brand focused on bridging the large gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement to help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. She received her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. She lives with her husband in New York City. You can follow her for daily inspiration and information @getwellbe

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After My Mom Died, Yoga Saved My Life

The exact date eludes me, but the imprint this night had on me will be forever seared in my memory.

It is late December, 2009, and I am 16 years old, a junior in high school. My parents solemnly sit me down on the couch as if I had stolen my sister’s Halloween candy in an effort to be featured on Jimmy Kimmel. Remembering this experience, I wish that had been the case, because the next four words completely altered the rest of my life.

“Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer.”

My mother, a supposedly-healthy 48-year-old woman, who completed a triathlon just a few short months earlier, was now calmly telling me she had 3 to 6 months to live. I tried to go about my night as if nothing happened, but there was no avoiding the foreboding sense of what the future had in store for my family.

New Year’s came and went and after countless appointments, CT scans and procedures, chemotherapy proved to be the only viable option. A treatment that would kill cells in her body in hopes of conquering the disease. On the date of her first session, my mother made me a promise to me: She would spend one last Christmas with her family.

Day by day, month by month this single cell mutation exacerbated by the strain of chemotherapy began to turn my lively, compassionate, and inspirational mother into a shell of the woman she used to be.

Bernadette Suzanne Vanyo, the most important person in my life, passed away on December 26, 2010 at 10am in her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She left an indelible mark on this world and in my heart.

Finding Light in the Darkness

Experiencing this devastating transformation first hand is the most painful and destructive thing I have ever been through. It brought on some of my life’s darkest moments. Being able to transmute my pain into growth and find the light at the end of the tunnel has allowed me to become self-aware and mindful—perhaps in a way that no other event could have done. However, my path to peace, awareness and self-study has been long and far from straightforward.

That path began with a chance to travel to Bali, Indonesia as part of my Theater Arts degree at Arizona State University. An element of the training involved yoga—something that I was aware of prior to my trip, but which I had largely considered to be a form of glorified stretching. However, over the course of 40 days, I twisted, I folded, and I breathed, but something else, something limitlessly more important began to change: my mind.

The Moment it All Changed

During a morning Hatha yoga class, as the sun was peeking over the horizon and the rest of the world began to wake, something shifted in me and I finally gave myself permission to do what I had been resisting for so long: to grieve. Reflecting on this experience, my cathartic release came from an awareness of my breath. As I breathed through the experience, I gave myself permission to dissolve the trauma of my past and open myself up to the beauty of the present.

Here I was, a very young adult surrounded by people, some 2 to 3 times my age. As I expressed my trauma emotionally and physically, I was greeted with open arms by a loving and nurturing community. It was that day that the seed of acceptance, mindfulness, and empathy was rooted deeply in to my soul, and that I recognized the sacred intelligence that exists in all of us.

Yoga Found Me

It is often said that yoga finds you, and that you are attracted to the physical but return for the mental. The mindful practice of yoga has not only opened doors for me, it has shown me which ones to close. It has provided me with an ever-changing mirror in which to affix my drishti and a sounding board for daily personal reflection. Mindfulness is single handedly responsible for where I am at today, it adds meaning and fulfillment to what I choose to do and has been paramount in my ability to learn to accept things—even the most difficult and devastating.

Yoga has not only saved my life, it has shown me how to live. As Eckhart Tolle wrote in The Power of Now: “If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within, secondary reality without.”

Takeaway Lessons

The power of the mind is leaps and bounds beyond what we currently think possible, and—regardless of external circumstance, it’s possible to consciously curate a mindful, authentic, and present existence. When you become conscious, intentionally conscious, of the present moment, you are able to learn to experience what is, and to recognize what may never happen again. Every experience you have my be your last. Why not do what you have always wanted to? Why not strike up a conversation with that cutie on the other side of the room? Go do whatever it is, because you have no idea what the future may hold.

There is no better time to start than the present. Don’t restrict yourself with a limiting belief based on fear disguised as practicality.

Sink into the present with Kevin’s Mindfulness 365 eBook by Synchronicity Yoga. A year of daily actionable prompts, activities, and meditations to help you cultivate a happy, healthy, and mindful life. Learn more here

kevin wathey author bio photoKevin Wathey is an ex-athlete, actor and yoga instructor currently based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the owner of Synchronicity Yoga (@SynchronicityYoga), which he founded to help others achieve their highest potential through mindful and authentic living. You can find Kevin at one of his yearly international retreats, select festivals throughout the country or by following his adventures with his dog Lokah on Instagram @KevinWathey.

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The post After My Mom Died, Yoga Saved My Life appeared first on Wanderlust.

Violinist Ida Jo on the Language of Light and Playing for Meditation

Catch Ida Jo playing IRL at Wanderlust Seattle this year. 


Ida Jo is in California when we connected. She had just finished out a weekend of playing violin at Wanderlust Squaw Valley just northwest of Tahoe City, California in 2018—and we’re lucky enough to have her back at Wanderlust Seattle this year. “I love playing at Wanderlust because there are so many chances to play, whether it’s accompanying a class or performing on stage” she says. I can sense her smile and elated spirit through the phone.

Ida is a violinist, writer, and a yoga teacher of the Ghosh lineage. Her music explores the interconnectedness of humanity, and evokes a spiritual energy of both searching and grounding. Her most recent album, Language of Light, is specifically inspired by the yoga practice.

“It has more of a dance-y, electronic vibe, and incorporates synthesizers, keyboards and violin effects,” Ida says. The album sounds more full bodied and explorative than her earlier solo work, and the sound is unique in its use of live hand percussion paired with electronic dance music. Ida started the album with an idea of how she wanted each song to sound, and then opened it up to others to offer their insight. She is especially grateful for the insights of friend and collaborator Scott Lamps.

“It’s helpful to have a fresh view on something that you’re too invested in to see clearly,” she says. For Ida, music is a form of healing. Her voice is unwavering and strong as she sings, “With the roots as our teachers / and the breath as our wings / and the quiet as the source of all that sings/ in Earth as our witness.”

From a listener’s perspective, It feels like an offering—an invitation to join her in celebration of our connection to the earth and each other. She expresses that light is what binds us together, and it cannot be put out.

Light is the freedom, light is a choice. Light is a language, light is our voice.

Ida grew up in Wisconsin and began playing the violin when at seven, after begging her mother to let her take lessons.

“I was drawn to the sound, and I didn’t really know why. My mom wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a passing thing,” Ida says. Once she began her classical training, she took to the instrument like a fish to water. “I wanted to have a classical foundation so that I could understand the technical perspective of how music works before exploring [her own sound].”

As she grew older, Ida began to combine her knowledge of classical orchestral with folk, and transformed into the passionate fiddle player that she is today. She joined a group in Minnesota that traveled around the globe performing traditional folk music, and participated in fiddle competitions—an integral part of her hometown.

woman playing violin in woods silhouette

“I was really influenced by 60s and 70s southern soul and the rock groups that my mom would listen to,” Ida says. She grew up on The Band, Bob Dylan, The Staple Singers, and later on fell in love with the music of Lilith Fair singer-songwriters ,including Sarah McLaughlin, Ani Difranco, and Jewel. After studying violin at University of Minnesota, she began playing in bands and working on her own music, fusing her rock, folk, and singer-songwriter influences. With the skills to shred and a vision of the sound she wants to create, Ida’s music is unmatched in both its lyrical wisdom and unique string sound.

“Most of my energy is focused on writing lyrics” says Ida. “That’s not to say that the music is secondary, but if I’m going to write something that people are going to listen to, I want to make sure that they mean something.”

I wanted to study the patterns in people, and their tendencies and energies.

Inspiration for Ida runs the gamut. Sometimes her lyrics are based on personal experience and sometimes they’re more observational, specifically within her latest album. Finding inspiration isn’t easy, she notes. While some ideas are more obvious, others take a little bit of digging. 

“Usually I’ll be in the middle of something and will come up with an idea and try to jot it down,” Ida says. “But I don’t believe that you have to be inspired to write. I’ll sit down and write even if I’m not feeling it and see what comes out.”

This view is similar to the notion that one does not have to be in the right environment or headspace to meditate. Rather, meditation should be practiced during times of groundlessness. Ida is familiar with the benefits of this work—she notes mindfulness practices have helped her become mentally and physically strong.

“It takes strength to carry it all,” she says “and then make sense of it and put it out there for others. My mindfulness practice serves to make my music as pure and clear as it can be.” Ida further explains that these practices, whether yoga or meditation, have allowed her to be more aware of people around her and translate that energy into sound.

Ida first discovered yoga in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. She notes that the practice changed every aspect of her life, particularly her approach to music. For one thing, it allowed her to stay grounded while touring.

“Once I discovered yoga, it wasn’t long before I got really into it,” she says. She soon decided that she wanted to delve deeper into her studies, so she and bandmate Scott Lamps enrolled to study with renowned teacher of the Bikram lineage, Tony Sanchez in Cabo, Mexico. Sanchez is well-known in the bikram community, and Ida tells me that she first heard about him in Benjamin Lorr’s book Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, where he notes the profundity of working with Sanchez.

In 2015, Ida traveled to Kolkata to work at Ghosh’s Yoga College and helped them to begin their teacher training program. She is now an ambassador to the college, and has since co-authored the Ghosh Yoga Practice Manual with Scott Lamps.

Ida Jo’s unique history in both music and yoga has given her the opportunity to fuse the two into mindful experiences. When playing for a yoga class, she says that she often uses her own songs as a base to spring from, adding in improvisation based on the energy of the people in the room.

“It’s helped me to interact with people and think more about their experience, rather than performing,” Ida notes. “In performances you end up thinking a lot about yourself, but playing for classes is a service to people’s experience.”

Take a class with Ida, or simply check out one of her concerts, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Her music is a gift, a present to those hoping to find clarity in their own lived experience.

jillianJillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga

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The post Violinist Ida Jo on the Language of Light and Playing for Meditation appeared first on Wanderlust.

5 Mindful YouTube Channels Every Yogi Should Follow

By seeking inspiration, you may find that others are seeking it as well. Here are five channels that provide perspective and insight on how to stay true to yourself.

These yoga youtube channels will help you get practicing again. 

Not so long ago, during one of my winter slumps, I began looking for some unexpected sources of inspiration. I knew that this sense of enthusiasm could be found anywhere: in nature, in books, or in my day to day yoga practice and meditation. Still, as a yoga teacher and student of almost a decade, keeping my “inspiration tank” full is, as I see it, just as important as asana practice.

A vital part of practicing and sharing yoga is being able to guide from a place of love and insight about what it means to be human. There are so many beautiful and unfolding parts to what that means, but in today’s world of constant sense stimulation and technological clicking; things are only getting more complex and less mindful.

We are addicted to the noise of cultural and personal expectations, to the beeps on our phones and to the nonstop commentary of our thoughts. But, the irony is hidden in how all of these things make us even more tuned out, disconnected and unsatisfied. That is where, for many of us, yoga moves in with its special moments of silence and stillness, able to offer true peace and connection to a larger, conscious way of being.

See also 11 Best Yoga Podcasts Every Yogi Needs to Download Right Now

More than any of our technologies, our bodies are the smartest machines in the world; and they are constantly absorbing and filtering out live and technological information. Perhaps, I thought to myself this past winter; these machines could have a more meaningful presence? Similar to how a mantra practice stimulates positive thinking; could mindful use of noisy technologies be an inspiring, off-the-mat practice bringing us back to our true selves, to a positive outlook and a broadened perspective?

Once we bring awareness to everyday noise, a new landscape of possibilities opens up. We start to notice what words, philosophies, outlooks, tones, voices, and images enrich our lives and lead it towards beauty rather than the easy choice of laziness, negativity, or boredom.

See also Want to Start a Yoga Podcast? Here’s How

I now return to these beautiful (and free) online sources as a reminder that inspiration is always out there and that so many others are seeking it as well. These channels support my mindfulness practice in a noisy world that seems only to be getting louder. I hope that when you’re in need of a gentle reminder, you remember that these guides are available to you, too.

Psst! Follow Yoga Journal on YouTube

5 Mindful YouTube Channels

Yoga Journal Special Issue: The Mindful Guide to Women’s Health

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Includes:

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