Pro-tips for Beginning a Home Practice

One of the reasons coming in to Renkon Yoga Studio FEELS SO GOOD is this: we put a lot of thought and energy into creating a space that feels sacred for you.

Consider some of these ideas to help your home yoga practice feel extra-special.

CHOOSE A YOGA NOOK: This can be in a tucked-away corner, a spare bedroom – or heck, even in YOUR bedroom (that’s my favorite place to practice). Consider your happiest-feeling rooms of your house – the rooms with the most comfortable temperature, lovely natural lighting, and – this is a big one – the least amount of visual and audio distractions. That’s the spot!

GATHER WHAT YOU NEED: Once you’ve decided on your perfect yoga nook, lay out your mat in the direction you think you’ll like best (we recommend near a window if you can), keep in mind your needs for a screen and plug for streaming your virtual classes from Renkon. Add a blanket or thick towel or two, a yoga bolster or small, firm pillow or chair cushion, and yoga blocks if you’ve got them. We also love to keep a book of poems nearby, some incense and/or candles (and a kid proof lighter if you’ve got littles), a journal and pen. We also recommend an easy-to-add, light layer like a zip up sweatshirt to toss on if you get chilly during meditation. Try grabbing a basket to store these items when you’re not practicing so your nook always looks tidy, lovely and inviting.

ORGANIZE YOUR TECH: Since you’ll be joining us virtually, decide if you’ll be using a phone, device or computer to tune in as you practice. Figure out the best way to set that up so you can easily see it, and get the charger organized so you stay powered on. (These are all things that will interrupt your practice if you don’t take care of them ahead of time! You’re welcome!). To protect the audio quality, our online classes won’t have music – if you’re a music lover, consider adding a small speaker so you can stream some relaxing music into the background of your yoga nook or dialing up the Spotify playlist our teachers might somtimes provide. Bonus: this can sometimes help block out the noise of a passing truck or a conversation elsewhere in the house to help you stay present.

SELECT A SCHEDULE: We don’t want this daily virtual yoga practice to become a nagging thing on your to-do list that you never get to. When we hold classes at the studio, they have a scheduled start time. – our virtual, live-streamed classes do too! This helps our guests stay accountable to yourselves and your yoga practice by showing up on time and staying consistent and steady. Reflect on the reality of your current life and determine what time of day you’ll practice, check out our schedule to see which classes line up with your needs. Do your best to practice at the same time of day, or at times throughout the week that really support you and the schedule/flow/logistics of your reality – this is how your yoga practice becomes a longterm, sustainable part of your life instead of an item on your to-do list that you struggle to get to.

Real talk: We know this is a pretty dynamic time with lots of changing logistics and unseen developments daily so please select the time to practice as an experiment, see how it goes, and reserve the right to change your mind about your practice time if it becomes necessary.

BEGIN WITH INTENTION: Just like we ask you to arrive to the studio 5-15 minutes ahead of class, show up for your live-streamed class or personal practice just as intentionally on time. 30 minutes before you plan to practice, change into clothes that allow for ease of movement. 15 minutes before practice, turn off your devices (except the one you need to stream the class), light your candles, bless your space in the ways that work for you, and find your way to your mat. 5 minutes before class begins, click the link, enter the password, and hangout in the virtual waiting room until your teacher welcomes you in – or if you’re practicing on your own, tune in to your needs and consider what will best support your practice on that specific day. Spend a few minutes arriving, breathing and being before you begin.

If your mind is over-full, consider using the few minutes of stillness before yoga practice to write down all your worries in your journal. Give yourself permission to be petty, curious, and real with yourself. Say it all into the pages where anything goes. Acknowledge the fear. Allow the anxiety. It’s real, it’s there, and its warranted, love. This practice helps you move that fear energy out of your body so the journal pages can hold a bit of the edge for you so you can step onto your mat and practice. This is a great activity to do before bed too.

This is a practice. It won’t ever be perfect; it can’t be (and it’s not supposed to be), by the nature of what this is: a practice. It will be ever-changing day by day. Some days you’ll be energetically dialed in and FEELING it. Other days, you’ll resist, resent, and even maybe skip it entirely. In these tender times, it’s 100% important to keep what you need in mind, my loves. Don’t bail on yourself, though. If a full yoga practice feels like too much, give yourself permission to lay on your yoga mat and close your eyes and feel your belly move up and down as you breathe in and breathe out instead. If a full yoga practice feels uninspired, check into what does sound great – maybe its a long walk, maybe its cuddling up with a book, maybe its a guided meditation, or perhaps it’s pulling out your guitar for a solo jam session. Whatever is your living, breathing, true-blue self care practice on any given day, that’s enough. Go with grace. Follow your gut. Tend to your needs in ways that work for you.

How does yoga help with stay home orders?

The idea of another month of staying home, the continuation of financial extremis and uncertainties about health and safety is a lot to bear.

Without simplifying the anxiety and fear this extension is sure to carry, we want to encourage you to continue (or begin) a regular yoga practice as a form of self-care and activism.

Let’s take a look at the ways your yoga practice is supporting you well beyond what’s often called “stress relief.”

Most of us know “exercise” isn’t exactly the point of stepping onto a yoga mat (although it’s an excellent side effect).

But, what IS the reason we show up over and over again, then?

Yoga definitely registers high on the self care matrix for most people…but why?

Most yoga practices involve mindful movement – some slow, others flowing, and some downright intense – but they all have this in common: they draw you into yourself to feel the entirety of your own experience in any given moment.

This is probably the hardest part of yoga: being face to face with your present-tense experience with very little access to your go-to vices for self-preservation, validation, or escape.

It’s also kind of the point.

We’ve all felt the impulse to cry out or run away from a posture – or have suddenly found ourselves fixated on lots of things we need to do the moment our quads begin to burn and tremble in a pose (aka: picking the lint off of our mat or watching the dust bunny roll past our mat with awe or annoyance).

Some of us will have also felt shame for wanting to soften out of a posture and stayed anyway. Some have perhaps experienced a reaction of hyper-compliance causing us to stay in a posture, overriding an experience of pain or extremis to “be good” and do the posture “right,” even at the detriment of our own well-being.
But, overriding our needs or distracting from what’s uncomfortable isn’t actually what the practice is endeavoring to teach us.
Our yoga practice is helping us to notice the reactive ways we behave and think when we’re struggling to be with the reality of a moment.And with that awareness, our yoga practice can also then help us to connect with new ways of responding to a perception of discomfort that allow us to shift our experience to one that is empowering, safe, and grounded without changing the actual experience at all!

There’s a difference between practicing yoga and performing yoga.

When you’re performing yoga, you execute the movements and force your body into shapes for awhile, and come away feeling physically stronger or more open, or maybe both. Or maybe nothing but a sense of accomplishment.

✔️Do yoga

There’s a subtle and important shift that can happen when practicing yoga becomes your intention.

When you practice yoga, you witness yourself and your experience and your reactions to your experience as you move and breathe.

You notice your own distractions.
Huh, there I go picking up lint again…

You notice your own self judgments.
Definitely just called myself lazy again…

And you notice the clunkier parts of your body, too.
Oh wow, my right hip is feeling really sticky today…

When self-witness is the leading focus of your yoga practice, you learn a lot about how you think and act in the rest of your life. You start to see your impulses and patterns, your inner thought world begins to reveal itself more clearly, and your real world distractions and vices start to become more obvious, too.

This is great news – not so you can judge those things and put a moratorium on them, but rather to enable you to start to noticing yourself in the act of distracting so you can a) get curious about what you’re protecting yourself from and b) try out new, empowering ways of responding and supporting yourself instead.

Sheltering in place can feel a bit like standing in side-warrior with no end in sight. Bringing self-observation into our days may at first be startling (remember, no judging, just observing!) but the information you’ll notice is invaluable.

What can you notice about yourself today?

What are the ways you’re ignoring your needs and what are you doing instead?

What might happen if you take a few minutes right now to check in with yourself, as if from the middle of a really long bridge pose, and answer these questions honestly:


1. What small shifts might make this easier for me?
In bridge pose, that might look like pressing your feet more firmly into the earthy or elongating your neck or lifting your sternum. Both of these will generate more support and stability from the earth while allowing deeper engagement from your adductors and core. Viola! Easier!

In shelter-in-place life, that might look like drinking a glass of water, getting outside for a socially distanced walk, or turning off the news for awhile.


2. Is there anything I’m doing that is making this harder for me?

In bridge pose, that might look like holding your breath or lifting your hips higher than is available for your body at the moment. Of course, holding your breath and going deeper into the pose than your body feels supported to do will make bridge feel unnecessarily hard!

In shelter-in-place life, that might look like staying up really late, or maybe holding yourself to a standard of hyper-productivity every day. Indeed, not getting enough sleep and staying over busy with unrealistic expectations will definitely make this harder.

3. What additional support might make it possible for me to stay with this experience a bit longer?

In bridge pose, this might look like sliding a block under your hips for a more supported experience or even putting a block between your knees to activate adductor engagement for newfound strength. As always, anchoring your posture with slow deep breathing makes a world of difference too.

In shelter-in-place life, this could look like calling a friend who’s a good listener, writing a slew of anxious thoughts into the pages of a journal at bedtime, taking time to do something you love every day, or even setting up a telehealth appointment with your therapist. Let’s be honest, why choose-these are all supports that can make this experience easier to navigate and sustain.

So why does it matter, in the end?

Every time you come toward your yoga – and your life – with a willingness to practice self-observation without judgement, it helps you:

+drop out of your ego’s reactivity patterns

+notice where shame and guilt is running the show

+discern your actual preferences from your trauma-responses
and

+connect with the mental, physical and spiritual needs of yourself without all the noise between you and your truth.

From this place of witnessing yourself and learning how to respond intentionally to an experience (in regular life, shelter in place life, and in yoga) and adjust your response from moment to moment according to your needs and preferences allows you to feel empowered, supported, and safe, come what may.

This cultivates the ability not only to create an experience of stillness within, but with practice, to feel safe being with that stillness.

Cultivating the ability to be with stillness is activism. It means you’re developing the ability to connect with empowerment, support, safety, no matter what challenges come your way. It means you’re practicing the art of self-resourcing and accessing resources available around you, too.

The witness, discernment, and ability to little by little response with intention to what you notice while practicing pigeon posture translates to a newfound ability to self-witness, discern, and take action on behalf of yourself in your daily life, too. This does not come naturally to most of us, hence: the practice.

This is why we practice: to create a lived experience of empowerment, support and safety – to bring ourselves more fully alive and present for the ride of life.

None of this promises we will be without experiences of suffering, challenges, discomfort or hardship.

The more we practice self-observation without judgment, the more stillness we connect with and receive internally, the more our challenging experiences in life become safe to navigate and resources we previously didn’t have access to become accessible.

Sending out massive love and peace to our Renkon family far and wide and deep gratitude for your willingness to come together from a distance to make it through this pandemic.
Here for you,
Sarah Nannen + Brad Stefl

Notes from Mother Nature

We’re all basically house plants with more complicated emotions.

The day before, this sweetie pie pictured above was limp with dust on its leaves way up on a high shelf that left it neglected from watering and too far from the sun.

It looked “sad” and hopeless. I actually wondered if it was too far gone to be revived?

Ten minutes of TLC looked like carrying it to a new spot next to my bathtub, gently wiping its leaves clean and over the course of the day giving it little sips of water.

One day later, it’s thriving. It literally *feels* full of life again.

How often, when we feel down and hopeless, do we forget the impact a tiny bit of TLC can have on our vitality?

🌱Take this sweet reminder from mother nature and prioritize the simplest actions on behalf of your well-being today:

✔️drink water
✔️get sunlight
✔️trust the process

whatever you’re doing today…
whatever you’re *not* doing today…
it’s enough.
you’re doing great.

As it becomes increasingly clear the response to COVID-19 is going to last much longer than originally estimated and the impact on our “norms” is irreversible, we encourage you to continually evaluate your priorities and values. While there are daily responsibilities that must be tended to, we encourage you to continually focus on what matters most: the health and well-being of you and those you love.

Sending love and peace,
Sarah + Brad

The times, they ain’t easy

The times, they ain’t easy (what an understatement), but there sure are spots of sweetness blessing us in between the worries.

The future is full of uncertainty. Even so, I hope none of us wait for this to be over to start living into the moments.

Between the hustle and hunkering down, the mask-making and e-learning, the work-from-home and the unemployment applications, the too-much-together and the longing for connection, the worry about the bills and keeping the pantry stocked, the memories of our lives being written.

Keep your eyes up so you can take it in.

Prioritize your mental health and that of those you love. Let go of productivity, tune in to what must be done, and make space for the beautiful moments wherever they arise.

 
Sending love and peace,
 
Brad + Sarah
Owners, Renkon Yoga Studio
Yoga for every body.
(Yes, even you!)

Perspectives On Social Distancing

As the temps begin warming and the sun comes out fulltime to welcome spring to our central Illinois region, we’re going to see a huge influx of people getting out in the world for some much-needed respite from sheltering in place at home.
While fresh air, sunshine, and exercise/mindful movement is critical for our health, there are still quite a few practical things we definitely need to consider when taking to the great outdoors. This article from WGLT is a great reference about the do’s and don’ts of using local parks and the Constitution Trail that runs throughout our community.
We must remain disciplined to keep our distance from one another physically, despite our longing for hugs and high fives. Yesterday, that meant our family walked and rode scooters on the sidewalk across the street from another family and we chatted as we moved with the entire street between us. Was it weird? Yup. Was it necessary? Absolutely. This helped our young kids (and the grown ups, too) feel connected and a sense of togetherness while ensuring no one accidentally exposed one another to the possibility of sickness.
Social distancing in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is going to demand we ALL spend time with only those who we cohabitate with and that means some of us are going to be faced with what feels like way too much family time and others of us are going to experience the intensity of isolation.
This article offers a wide variety of thoughts on what it really means to practice social distancing with diligence in a way that will benefit your health and that of your community. It’s so tempting to visit family members – yet it’s crucial we remember that every visit with those you don’t live with is a potential exposure of one or all involved. Every exposure, every sickness not only puts our healthcare system (and medical workers) at risk, but it also extends the period of time we have to live like this. It’s vital we ALL participate in the important work of staying home for now.
Social Distancing is not an inconvenience, it is a necessity!
 
The shelter-in-place order is going to require us to make many lifestyle changes that feel less than optimal at first. It’s going to ask of us to stay home for all but the necessities. It’s going to require others to put their lives on the line daily to fill our prescriptions and tend to our sick and keep our grocery stores stocked and open. It’s going to last longer than we want it to, much longer than we think we can endure, yet we’re all capable of doing what must be done to make it through.
The other day, I mentioned this shelter-in-place experience feels oddly reminiscent of my last 8 month deployment onboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) – except we’ve got way more down time and access to personal comforts. We literally couldn’t leave the ship for weeks, sometimes months. There were days in a row where I wouldn’t see sunshine or breathe fresh air. We were often in harm’s way or executing maneuvers that could be life-threatening. And while sometimes our family of 6 feels more like the crew of 300ish humans living on the ship together, we each had our role and the ship could not operate without everyone doing their part. This has really helped me put this shelter-in-place experience in perspective. We’re all home together. We’re all safe. We’re all doing our part to make this work the best way we can.
Most people are describing this period of time as “unprecedented,” but it makes me consider how many other unprecedented times in history we’ve moved through like multiple world wars, multiple epidemics, the great depression just to name a few. And every time the circumstances were terrifying, overwhelming, and living conditions were “less than ideal” (an obvious understatement), yet we all did what we needed to do to make it through. We innovated our industries. We came together in our communities.
We went without. We adapted to find new resources and developed new priorities. We remembered our values. We created and grew. We used our unique gifts and talents to contribute to the greater good. We turned our attention to the basic necessities of life. We held onto hope while doing the excruciating hard work to make it through. It wasn’t pretty; many suffered, many died, many lives were changed drastically forever. And yet, there were ripples of systemic changed.
Here we are again, in a dramatically different context, yet we’re all facing a common threat. And despite the fear, overwhelm and unknowns of the future, once again we’re seeing our communities innovating our new normals. We’re seeing individuals and institutions rise to the occasion and shift the ways we do business and meet the needs of each other.
It is my deepest hope that this worldwide experience will be a moment in time that despite the horrific death tolls, fear, and financial impact, we’ll find our families and communities more deeply connected for the long haul. It’s not a matter of whether we want to social distance or whether we enjoy social distancing, but a matter of fact that we must all do our part to make this effort at minimizing the reach and impact of COVID-19. And sometimes, in the face of great threat, we find that we can do and endure the doing of really hard things.
Keep it up.
Keep staying home.
Keep minimizing your exposure to others and public places.
Keep keeping it real, keeping it simple, and keeping it “good enough.”
Keep doing your part to save lives and minimize the risk.
Keep choosing only the essentials for trips into the world.
Keep planning ahead to minimize time spent in stores.
Keep not hugging, not shaking hands, not sharing space, despite our human instincts to come together.
Keep planning virtual happy hours.
Keep chatting from across the street and on the phone.
Keep taking care of your most basic needs with the resources you’ve got.
Keep your standards realistic.
Keep your radar attuned to moments of gratitude.
Keep asking for help and receiving support in safe ways.
Keep it up.
We’ll continue to show up here with you virtually offering new yoga practices and guided meditations to help you take care of you from your home. We’ll keep innovating to find ways to pay our overhead and to pay our teachers who rely on us and coming up with new ways to stay connected and of service to you during this time.
You’ve got this!
We’ve got you.
Sending love and peace,
Sarah + Brad
Owners, Renkon Yoga Studio
Yoga for every body.
(Yes, even you!)
Questions? Connect with us: hello@RenkonStudio.com

It’s Not a Contest

There’s legit no contest.
No one’s pain is more important.
No one’s grief is more valuable.

It really doesn’t matter if their struggle is harder or easier than yours.

It matters not if the cards are stacked against you and someone else has better odds.

(I mean, it does from a social justice perspective and it certainly does impact the road to healing and the resources you’ll have access to that others won’t. Privilege IS real and important to acknowledge, but doesn’t change the point of this post)…

At the end of the day, I hope we all make it.

It’s not helpful to you or anyone else to make comparisons to other people’s problems or how you think it’s easier for someone else.

Life is hard.
Period.

We’re all walking each other home.

We’ll all encounter rock bottom moments and experiences that will take us out at the knees. It’s happening across the planet right now. Times have been tough before and they’ll be tough again.

It will look different for each of us and it ALL matters.

You ALL matter.

What you’re facing matters.

What you’re feeling matters.

And what matters most is that we keep looking up at the horizon line to take one more step forward today, and we keep reaching out to the hands and hearts around us that are available to help us hold what’s happening in just the right ways.

I hope we all make it.
I’m rooting for you.
I’m here to help make the journey a little more doable.

You don’t have to do it alone. We were never meant to.

Sending deep love and peace,
Brad + Sarah
Owners, Renkon Yoga Studio
Bloomington, IL
Yoga for every body.
(Yes, even you!)
Questions? Connect with us: hello@RenkonStudio.com

During Times of Duress, Try Expanding Your Awareness

It’s really easy to be bombarded with thoughts of doom and dread. The news, your newsfeed, and probably most of your thoughts are being flooded with information about the pandemic, the death tolls, the lack of PPE and the extension of shelter in place order timelines.
As a result, our survival fears are being constantly activated, our emotions are surging, and our general sense of well-being is dwindling by the minute. It’s incredibly easy to get caught in the undertow of fear and hopelessness right now.
Without minimizing the reality we’re facing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic across the planet, I’d like to invite you to experiment with a new kind of daily practice to stabilize the way you’re experiencing this unprecedented moment in time. This practice will allow you to both honor and acknowledge the thoughts, fears and emotions that are very real, relevant and important to your experience while also expanding your awareness to create room for something else: vitality.
I often teach on the topic of life being an “and” experience, meaning this: even when we’re in the midst of painful moments or tough times, there is always ALSO at least a little glimmer of beauty, gratitude, and bits and pieces of joy.
So today, take a moment to experiment with this practice. You’ll need a journal and pen (I always encourage doing this work the analog way with an actual piece of paper in front of you to put your thoughts onto with a pen or colored pencil in hand).
For this practice/exercise, I’m going to request you to try a new kind of intentional language. Instead of writing down your responses to the prompts below in any old everyday kind of language, try starting every sentence with these words: “I am aware…” This is important because it connects you with your observations of yourself and of your experiences, rather than getting tangled up in the judgement of and swirling stories that we are often quick to attach to our experiences. The second thing I’m going to invite you to try is finishing each observational sentence with the words “right now” – using this language helps your intellectual center mindfully acknowledge the reality that this situation is temporary without minimizing the importance of your current experience.
With that in mind, read on:
STEP 1: Write down everything you’re experiencing that feels negative (overwhelming, fearful, unknown, etc). Be sure to write it down as an OBSERVATION of the pain as discussed above. It’ll sound something like this:
I am aware that I’m feeling lonely right now.
I am aware of a sense of constant brain fog right now.
I am aware that I’m feeling like I can’t control anything in my life right now.
 
STEP 2: Write down everything you can bring awareness to that feels positive (lovely, nostalgic, cozy, safe, etc). Again, be sure to write it down as an OBSERVATION of this vitality experience as discussed earlier. I’ll encourage you to get really, really specific with this part. This will allow you to intentionally identify the experiences, relationships, and even superficial things in your life that are feeling very supportive and nurturing right now. It’ll sound something like this:
I am aware that I’m really cozy under this blanket right now.
I am aware that I’m feeling really connected to Aunt Susan right now after receiving her text today.
I am aware that I am so grateful for good health and strong legs and a safe neighborhood sidewalk that allowed me to enjoy a walk to begin my day.
I’m aware that watching spring begin to bloom through my windows brings me great joy, especially watching the fat squirrels run through the trees.
 
PRO TIP: If this feels overwhelming or a bit like busy work on your to do list, try giving that a spin. Set a timer, grab a cuppa tea, put on some music that lights you up, and set a timer for 15-20 minutes as an intentional act of self care today. THIS practice is another form of yoga in your life, friends! And we promise: it can really change the way you experience your day!
Ok, that’s the practice of expanding your awareness to elevate your consciousness beyond the doom and gloom of our current reality. It’s all about acknowledging (and expressing) the negative experiences with intentional language that creates a healthier experience of the pain and fear and then expanding your awareness of some good things happening in your life and on your behalf, too, even in the midst of this really surreal time of social distancing and interruption of life as we’ve come to know it.

TLC for your Yoga Mat

Think about your yoga mat for a moment. Is it becoming like a trusted friend? Your go-to place when you feel the need for some tender loving care? When you are in need of invigoration? Relaxation? Contemplation? Even a good cry? Your yoga mat is with you through it all.

Your trusty yoga mat may need a little tender loving care in return. Here are some tips for making sure your mat stays fresh and ready for the next time you need it.

When you borrowed one of our studio mats, I’m sure you cleaned it with the spray bottles of mat cleaner we have available. You always want to leave it prepared for the next user. Do you give the same care to your personal mat?

There is nothing less relaxing than rolling out your mat to prepare for a refreshing practice – only to see a grimy mat and having the smell of stale sweat hit you. Even if you don’t typically have a ‘sweaty’ practice, a clean fresh mat will set the tone of for your next lovely yoga experience.

Many people have mentioned how good the mat cleaner smells at the studio and you are always welcome to use it to clean your personal mat. Would you like that same experience for home?

Did you know that I make our own cleaner from just a few simple ingredients? Here is the recipe:

Yoga Mat Cleaner

– Clean spray bottle, a glass bottle is great if available

– Fill bottle about ¾ full with clean water

– Fill the remainder of the bottle almost full with witch hazel OR white vinegar (I use witch hazel because the smell is less – vinegary – but both will work for their antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.)

– Add a few drops of tea tree OR lavender essential oil (I use tea tree oil at the studio – this is a strong essential oil and you only need 2 – 3 drops in a small bottle. Both oils have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.)

– Add a few drops of another essential oil for the scent of your choice (I use Lemongrass and Rose Geranium at the studio.)

Simply shake the spray bottle well, spray your mat and then wipe off with a clean cloth. You may also wish to wet the cloth and wipe your mat again to ensure remaining traces of grime and sweat are removed, especially if you have a practice that builds a good sweat. Allow to air dry.

If you’re concerned about keeping your yoga mat free of bacteria or even potentially mildew or mold, you’ll definitely want to pay attention to making sure it is dry before rolling. Don’t roll it up immediately after you clean it. Allow it to thoroughly air dry before rolling up or storing. A warm, damp environment is the perfect place for mildew to grow so be sure that your mat is dry if you are leaving it in the car, especially on a warm day!

Deep cleaning your yoga may need to be done on occasion, again depending on how much of a sweat you typically build up. Confirm with the manufacturer of your mat for its cleaning instructions, but most can handle a deep cleaning in the tub or shower. A natural rubber mat and/or a grippy yoga mat may absorb a lot of sweat and may require a regular deep clean. You can scrub your mat with a cloth and mild dishwashing soap and let it soak in the tub water for a few minutes or give it a good rinse in the shower before allowing to completely air dry.

You may also wish to invest in a yoga towel to help keep your mat from getting so dirty or sweaty in the first place. These are typically made from a micro-fiber fabric and come in fun colors and designs. It is recommended to lightly spray them with water before your yoga practice to enhance their grip. As with the mat, be sure that your yoga towel is dry before storing. Yoga towels can be thrown in the laundry for regular cleaning.

Now, roll out your lovely fresh yoga mat and enjoy today’s practice!

It’s OK

It’s ok if you’re afraid.
It’s normal if you’re worried.
These are heavy times.
Feel what you feel.
Tell a kind human what you’re feeling.
Tell your journal what you’re feeling.
Tell your cat what you’re feeling.
Tell the wind what you’re feeling.
Don’t keep it to yourself.
Say it out loud.
Move it to the outside of you
so your body doesn’t have to hold
that for you, too.
Sending love and peace,
Sarah Nannen
Bloomington, IL
Yoga for every body.
(Yes, even you!)

A Review of “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self,” a book by Stephen Cope

Yoga And The Quest For The True Self begins where many personal quests begin, at a point of deeply felt loss—in this (the author’s) case, a relationship involving infidelity and abandonment. And, as people often do when faced with a traumatic life event, he decides on a yearlong sabbatical from his practice as a Boston psychotherapist. A yoga retreat at a center in the nearby Berkshires beckons as a short but perfect first stop—one of many planned destinations. But what was to be a one-time retreat turns into a decade long recurring series of long weekends and entire summers steeped in the practice of hatha yoga in a community of like minded seekers at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshire Hills near Lennox, Massachusetts.

What follows is a deep, insightful account of the author’s journey of self-discovery. Eventually confronted by a fatigue in his yoga practice, he is compelled to re-examine a preconceived idea that somehow yoga would purify and transform him into a more perfect being—not unlike the medieval European alchemists who sought to change lead into gold. But he soon discovers that yoga works not to change who we are, but rather to bring into consciousness an awareness of the divine being that we have been since birth. Removing the layers of false identities that obscure this ability to see ourselves clearly is the only path forward.

Yoga psychology names five kleshas, or afflictions as the root of all self-estrangement: ignorance, ego, attraction, aversion, and fear of death. Here Pantajali in his Yoga Sutras (II, 26, 28,) written probably sometime in the 2nd century C.E., cryptically points out a central truth of yoga: “The uninterrupted practice of the awareness of the Real is the means of dispersion of avidya [ignorance].” And “From the practice of the component exercises of yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination which develops into awareness of Reality.” Cope soon discovers through self-observation the emergence of several notable changes within himself that signal this “awareness of the Real.” The most notable for him is the use of important relationships to “explore and reveal the real Self” as opposed to those that continue to prop up “our false compensation.”

The author eventually comes to realize that for all his ten years of striving and efforts he has come full circle. Like the hero of the classic yoga parable “Viveka’s Tale,” (which he retells in the Prologue}, once he uncovers his true self—once the “web of mistaken identities” is dissolved, he comes to see that all along he was the very Self which he sought—one with the divine, immutable Atman. One might expect that such a liberating experience (moksha) might bring relief or respite from constant struggle, but for the author this new found Reality leads to only one course of action. Like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita he must plunge back into the mundane, ordinary world of samsara (literally: “flow,” “change,” “passing in and out of being”) with no notion of gain or loss in all his actions. The very same world he previously so desperately wanted to control.

At this point the reader may legitimately ask, “So what?” For all the expended effort one ought to feel exalted in some way and be different somehow. Isn’t that why we so desperately crave infinite life, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss (sat, chit, ananda)? For the author (and for that matter, many other authors of other spiritual traditions: Theresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, the anonymous author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” to name only three) the answer would be a resounding chorus of  “Yes, everything changes and yet nothing at all changes.” We return to the world of samsara to live life fully in body, mind and soul. The purpose of life now is the expression of compassion in infinite form grounded in the certain of knowledge from personal experience that all is One, and One is all. Or, as Buddhist tradition teaches: “nirvana is samsara, and samsara is nirvana.” Zen, in its characteristically dry, direct fashion, says it another way, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Stephen Cope’s book is the clearest, most easily accessible a description of what hatha yoga is and how it works that I have thus far encountered. His perspective as both psychotherapist and yoga practitioner allows him throughout the book to be here the scientific observer, analyzer, synthesizer—here the student, storyteller, and teacher—at all times the warm, caring, welcoming traveler.  Yoga And The Quest For The True Self already has a place among my collection of reference works that I continue to re-read and consult over time for gems of insight and wisdom.  I recommend it to any and all travelers who seek truth.