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Spring has sprung! Lots of exciting goodies, please read!

Hello to YOU, fellow yogi!

So much to announce, and grateful you are taking time to read this because you might want to take advantage of some great April offerings at my studios this month!

Over at EXHALE VENICE (aka Exhale Center for Sacred Movement) –

New Student Promo!

A Fabulous Week of Transformation! For just $30, all new students (or students that have not been in 6 months) will receive unlimited access to all classes in Venice and Santa Monica, spa access, free mat rental, AND $25 of an hour long spa therapy!

Flow with a Friend!

ALL April long, Students can bring a NEW Friend to class for free!!! My 7am yogis, please bring yogi friends who want to come experience a sweet sangha (community). Let’s encourage those we love, including friends, family, colleagues to come practice. If you have yogi friends that used to practice at this sweet 7am time and have not been to the studio in 6 months, please invite them back. FREE on the house!

Exhale is Lululemon Studio of the Month!

Lululemon SantaMonica is hosting us this month and I’ll be offering a free all levels class on Sunday, April 13th at 9:30-10:30am. If you’ve been there to take my classes before, would love to see you there. I’ll also have goodies from exhale for you as well. Please dress warmly…I find that it is quite cold in there until our bodies warm up.

New studio YOGASALT
YS is offering $30 for 30 days this month! Take advantage of checking out the sweet neighborhood spot while you can! Easy parking is free all around the studio! Message me via fb if you have any questions, or you can email me directly at g@graceflowersyoga.com

Last but not least, here is my most current schedule.
M/W/F – 9am to 10:15am (L1/2) at YOGASALT
T/Th – 7am to 8:30am (L2/3) at EXHALE VENICE
T/Th – 5:45pm to 7:15pm (L1/2) at TRUYOGA

Blessings abound!

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Read: Perfection. The Silent Killer.

I recently discovered that someone had taken a piece of my writing, tweaked it a bit and reposted it, passing it off as their own genius.
At first, I was irked. The more irked I became, the more I began to dive into why it was irking me so much.  The more I dived in, the more I started to untangle my initial reactions.
Perfection is a silent killer.
I began thinking about why someone would plagiarize. Sure, I’ve been there when I’ve struggled to write an essay about something I had absolutely no interest in. I’d tell myself after hours of scouring online for words I could pass off as my own, “Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s use that.”  However, that was back when I was still a college student, trying to make passing grades so I could graduate.
How does it apply to our lives now, in the social media age?  We live in a world where we no longer have anonymity, are craving true connections, but instead, are left stranded with estranged, delusioned online lives where a “like” on someone’s Facebook post or a comment means that they are our “friend”.  Our ego inflates with the number of “likes” we accrue, and this obsession with displaying our life in a way that makes it, on the outside, look perfect and ideal.
How did we get here?
We now have the ability to present ourselves in a way we’ve always wanted. Not particularly in real-time per se, but real time enough where we can post snippets of our lives as it’s happening, moments that seem exciting, photos of ourselves that always look good, and can delete any and all things that we dislike or decide not to share for whatever reason.  We live in a constant world of editing. We can edit ourselves to be more “attractive” online, we can share parts of our lives that seem the most fun, the most exciting, the most beautiful, and others end up with this really biased view of our selectively publicized life.
We essentially, can create “perfection”.
We want to present ourselves as perfect, pristine, with photos that are touched up, and words that aren’t quite truly our own.  If we aren’t careful, we can blindside ourselves into believing that this alter ego, edited and touched up is who we are.  Sadly, this only moves us further away from our essence, our core, our Spirit.  The work is to live honestly, authentically, and trying to be perfect all the time, only reinforces the fact that deep down inside, we believe that WE ARE NOT ENOUGH.
And I think it’s what this individual felt. I wrote something that touched her. It quite possibly resonated, and while my first response is feeling irked, my second response is a heck yeah.  You go girl. If I can write something that touches you deeply, and resonates with you deeply, and if I gave you words to express something that you otherwise wouldn’t have expressed, then it makes me happy…that my words have power. And it is transcending, and far-reaching and making a difference.   I’ll take it as a form of flattery.  However, this realization led me to mull around this idea of “perfection” a little bit more and examine our need to make our lives look perfect in our cyberspace life.
What I see now is that this notion of perfection is silently killing our true spirit and authenticity.
Wanting, seeking, constant perfection makes us do all sorts of crazy things.  
How about we lose this need for perfection and reconnect with the need to be authentic, with a desire to share our truest self?

US: Newleyweds, 1 year later

US: Newleyweds, 1 year later

My Inspirer, my Love, my anchor, my Life.

We celebrated our one year anniversary this past Sunday.

When you are having a great time, with your bestest of friends, time simply seems to fly, and fly for us it did.  For us, it wasn’t a matter of “finding” each other, rather it was a process of self-discovery that ultimately led us to each other.  Separately, we did a ton of work on ourselves, knowing that it wasn’t about “being with” someone that makes us happy, instead it was “being someone” that made us (ourselves) happy…and when we were happy with being inside our own skin and where we were in our separate lives, we met.  Then the process began all over again, learning how to love, how to forgive, how to support and nurture, while maintaining a beautiful way of life that helps support each other’s health and well-being.  It works because we put each other first…and it works because we work hard to protect what we have built together with boat loads of patience & respect.

Wishing you health and love and joyous futures…

 

 

Read: Pranayama

Why practice Pranayama?

 Physical well-being.

Lightness of heart.

Clarity of mind.

Inner and outer health and fulfillment.

Purpose, intention, and direction.

 

Defining our Terms

It should come as no surprise that breathing is one of the most important and intricate activities we engage in. In many ways, our conscious life begins with our first breath and ends with our last. Cellular respiration, the source of all our physical energy and expression in the world, is dependent on a constant flow of oxygen being delivered to each cell and carbon dioxide being taken away. Every emotional state we experience has a corresponding pattern of breathing associated with it. Even the elemental rhythm of our heartbeat is intimately connected with the action of our lungs. The word “inspiration” itself refers to both the act of breathing in as well as the state of being filled with spirit and energy.

Because yoga comes from India, many of its terms sound foreign to Western minds and can make the practices seem esoteric or inaccessible. In reality, pranayama is as easy to practice as our next breath. “Pranayama” is a Sanskrit word made up of two halves, “prana” and “yama” (or “ayama”), and is most often translated to mean “mastery of the life force”, or sometimes, “removal of obstacles to free the flow of life force.” In yoga, the life force, known as prana, refers to the energy that animates, controls, and permeates the world in and around us. Digesting our food, changing our heart rate in response to exercise, and fighting off infections are all highly complex and variable tasks, yet each of them happen spontaneously, effortlessly, and automatically through the functions of prana. This same force is behind great migrations, the interdependence of species, and the changing of seasons. As the naturalist John Muir said, “Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.” Prana is this active and intelligent force connecting everything. And pranayama is the exploration of how we can tap into this universal potential.

The aim of both yoga in general and pranayama in particular is to help us participate in the nearly unlimited intelligence of the life force so that we can share in its capacities. Instead of fighting nature, we gradually become able to partner with it. When the ancient seers began their study of the potential of being human thousands of years ago, they soon saw that working with the breath could yield impressive results toward greater aliveness, self-expression, and power. The breath is one of the easiest doorways into the capabilities of the human nervous system because it touches every aspect of our being: physical, physiological, psychoemotional, and spiritual.

 Physical Effects: Organ Toning and More

The first step in pranayama is training ourselves to use the entire range of our physical breathing apparatus. This means experiencing full yogic breathing—coordinating the lower, middle, and upper parts of the breath process—as well as learning to attenuate the outgoing breath. You can learn this type of breath from any qualified yoga instructor.

When we take full, slow, deep breaths through the nose, using all three sections of our breathing apparatus and drawing out the exhalation longer than the inhalation, a number of important things start to happen in our body. First, nose breathing filters the air, warms it, and keeps it moist. Thus the air arrives in the lungs in the best condition to provide efficient transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This is no small thing. Anyone who deals with breathing difficulties will tell you just how much dusty, dry, cold air aggravates their challenges. In addition, full breathing through the nose also stimulates some of the subtle nerve structures, beginning the process of bringing light and aliveness to our inner realms (more on this later).

A full breath with the exhalation longer than the inhalation also has significant impact on the processes of the abdominal cavity, where all of our main organs are located. As the diaphragm moves up and down, each of our abdominal organs moves also, sliding against one another, changing shape, tugging on its attachment tendons and fascia, and sloshing around any liquid or food it contains. These physical actions are crucial to the health of our organs, and thus to our quality of life.

A colleague of mine emphasizes that “life is motion.” Since many of us spend too much time sitting, we don’t get the movement we need to promote optimal health, especially in our abdominal cavity. Sitting at a desk, table, or in a padded television chair undermines proper breathing by promoting a “hunched over” or compressed posture that pinches the abdomen. This compromised posture leads to an over reliance on getting our breath from the middle and upper parts of our lungs, using our diaphragm inefficiently, and costing us the health-producing movement of our key organs. It may sound odd to credit a regular pranayama practice with improving both digestion and elimination, but if you practice regularly, you will see that this is what happens.

 When we practice full yogic breathing, we also increase the velocity of the fluids moving through all the tissues in our body, thus promoting an increase in nutrition to the cells, more efficient waste removal, and better immune defense. Scientists estimate that we have more than two gallons of fluid in our body that is not contained within our cells but around our blood vessels, organs, and cells. When the breath moves in and out, it produces alternating saturating and wringing effects on our tissues and this “interstitial fluid.” Similar to cleaning a dirty sponge in a sink, this action has a significant cleansing effect.

The alternating squeezing and soaking process helps the lymph system in particular. Our lymph system is tasked with fighting infections and overall detoxification. This function requires fluid transport, but the lymph system itself does not contain a primary pump like the heart, so any activity that promotes fluid movement becomes crucial. Complete yogic breathing is one of the best facilitators of this necessary transport.

The last physical benefit of pranayama practice is that full yogic breathing tends to empty the lungs completely. This has two important consequences. First, this means that the bottom third of the lungs gets a thorough airing when we do pranayama exercises. Like the bottom of any container, gravity will tend to accumulate material there. When we use our lungs completely on a regular basis, we have a better chance of keeping the bottom third of our lungs cleaner. Second, regular practice of a full- breath technique will keep the tissues of the lower lungs more nourished, flexible, and free of toxins. Just like the heart can starve for blood when the arteries harden and narrow, the lower lung tissue can starve for nutrients and oxygen when it is insufficiently used and seldom moved.

 Physiological Effects

Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response, the automatic reaction that happens in difficult or threatening situations. This response comes from our unconscious nervous system (the autonomic nervous system), which actually consists of two halves: the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic system helps us get “pumped up” or energized to deal with external demands or threats, and is thus the originator of the stress response. The parasympathetic system moderates or de-energizes the body, and is thus the originator of the relaxation response. In a healthy system, these two halves of our autonomic nervous system should turn off and on regularly and in response to life events.

Unfortunately, our nervous systems do not always function in a healthy way. In our modern world, it is well established that we over-stimulate our sympathetic nervous system and under-stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system—with disastrous impacts on our health. Living with an over-amped sympathetic nervous system in a habitual stress response contributes to almost every domain of illness, from heart disease and hypertension to digestive difficulties, diabetes, backaches, joint pain, autoimmune disorders, and insomnia.

A daily pranayama practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system as well or better than any other activity—you can test this yourself by starting a regular practice and noticing that at some point during your breathing session your salivary glands will kick in and fill your mouth with saliva, one of the key indicators of parasympathetic activity. Taking time each day to consciously activate the parasympathetic nervous system will, over time, reprogram our bodies’ habitual pull toward an overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and significantly reduce the health risks associated with that overstimulation.

Psycho-emotional Effects

Do you remember your parents or grandparents telling you to take 10 deep breaths when you got angry and before you acted on that anger? This folk wisdom endures because it has a solid base in science—and begins to demonstrate some of the most powerful benefits of pranayama: that the breath pattern will automatically change when the emotional pattern changes. We breathe in one pattern when we’re joyous, another when we’re angry, another when we’re depressed, another when we’re distracted, and so on. This presents an important opportunity.

When we spend several minutes a day consciously regulating our breath, we break our unconscious patterns of breathing—and thus the unconscious emotional patterns that underpin them. This is a very important phenomenon. We function best when we are flexible, agile, and able to flow with the changes that life brings. Unfortunately, many of us fall into habits of thinking and feeling that come to dominate our consciousness, even when they are out of step with what life is presenting. We wind up narrowing the range of our emotional and cognitive experience and become more rigid, more habitual, and less creative. Daily practice of breath regulation works against this ossifying tendency. Just as many times computer glitches can be solved simply by rebooting the hard drive, so too can habitual emotional glitches be solved simply by regularly changing the patterns of our breath.

One of the most important psycho-emotional benefits of practicing breath regulation is the confidence it gives practitioners to self-regulate in other areas of their lives. Because pranayama takes focus, overall concentration increases as well. Since you are stimulating the relaxation response, you are able to be calmer in many areas of life. Since you are increasing oxygen levels in your blood each day, your cellular respiration becomes more efficient and your energy levels start to build. Because you are starting to see success in so many areas, your self-confidence gets a boost and that growth in confidence brings a higher level of performance, thus further bolstering self-confidence. Pranayama practice is the priming mechanism for the pump that starts the virtuous cycle of feeling good about yourself.

Over time, pranayama practice also generates awareness of the more subtle layers of interconnection between our choices and their effects. Many people doubt that such simple exercises can produce the results I am talking about, but those who actually practice have no doubts whatsoever, including the yogis who have confirmed this over and over for thousands of years. Think about it—if it weren’t effective, would humans have bothered to keep this knowledge alive as long as they have? Try it for yourself.

Spiritual Effects

Looking at the catalog of the benefits of pranayama practice in these domains, there is more than enough inspiration to begin practicing, but the real payoff goes beyond these.

Western science focuses on the gross nervous system, but yogic wisdom always posited the existence of a matching subtle nervous system. Full pranayama practice aims to illuminate and enliven this subtle nervous system. Yoga teaches that the human nervous system has potentials far beyond the normal regulation of the physical and mental bodies. In yoga, the human nervous system is like a set of antennae that can focus and channel the creative power of the universe into expression in a single life. Pranayama practice polishes the capacity of the nervous system to conduct this cosmic creative potential into real, tangible manifestation. It is similar to increasing the capacity of a wire inside a light bulb so that it can handle more wattage without burning out. When the wire can handle more wattage, it produces more light and heat. When we practice pranayama every day, our subtle wiring gradually becomes stronger and we begin to fill up with light and energy. In many ways, this is all we really mean when we talk about being “enlightened.” There is really no end point, just a gradually increasing capability of our nervous system to handle all forms of energy.

As the light body is gradually polished and enlivened, we also develop a much richer inner life and a deep sense of spiritual balance. When pranayama is followed by a short period of meditation, the connection to inner stillness increases by leaps and bounds and will ultimately create the period of rest, integration, and quietness that we crave in our practice.

In the end, breath, movement, and energy are life, and life is breath, movement, and energy. The yogic practice of pranayama combines all of these elements into a single integrative experience that is well worth the investment and one that will absolutely generate both inner aliveness and resilience and a powerful outward expression. The only thing you need to do is practice each day.

Durga Breath (3-part Breath)

Three-part yoga breathing is a pranayama technique that is valued for its many benefits. This method of breath control enhances your self-awareness of your body while increasing your sense of self control and calm. It is useful for meditation, calming yourself in times of stress or trouble and during your yogic practice. It is also purported to oxygenate the blood and release excess carbon dioxide, increasing alertness and relaxation.

Three-part yoga breathing is a method of breathing slowly and regularly through the nostrils in such a way that you fill all three chambers of your breathing capacity. You can practice this right now wherever you are and experience the great serenity that accompanies this form of breathing exercise.

Breathing in through your nostrils, fill your lower abdomen with air, then fill your upper abdomen with air, finally filling your upper lungs. Use your hands to gently feel your abdomen, following the filling of each chamber, rising as your entire abdomen and chest fills to its maximum capacity.

Exhale through your nostrils from your upper chest, to your mid-section, ending in your lower abdomen again, releasing all the air from your lungs and abdomen in a steady, calm manner. Let your hands slide down your chest, then your upper abdomen to your lower abdomen as you finish the breath. Repeat this process slowly, gently and with great intent, focusing on the control you have over your breathing and the relaxation that accompanies such deep, controlled breaths.

You can do this sitting up in a chair, but it is even more effective if you are lying on your back or are sitting in a meditative position. Practice this breath control and feel your heart rate slow, your blood pressure fall and your body relax in response to the release of tension. Allow your mind to clear and enjoy a few moments of meditation as you allow this therapeutic form of pranayama exercise to clear your mind and feed your soul.

Viloma I & II

Viloma = literally means “anti-hair” refers to going against the natural line or movement of the breath.

Viloma I (cooling breath):

Inhale deeply, hold the breath at its peak.  Slowly release the breath 1/3. Pause. Release another 1/3. Pause.  Release the last 1/3 and empty the breathe all the way out. Pause.  Inhale and repeat.

Viloma II (heating breath):

Inhale deeply, release the breath all the way out and hold for a moment at the bottom of the breath.  Slowly inhale 1/3. Pause.  Inhale 1/3 and pause. Inhale last 1/3. Pause at the peak, and then release the breath all the way out. Repeat.

 After practicing each breath take a moment and notice what sensations you’re experiencing.  Just take note of them, and notice how the experience changes each time you practice these breathing techniques.  Most importantly, remember to keep the body calm, the brain quiet and the breath flowing.  Your breath is always with you, so call upon it to nourish, calm, heal, and energize the body whenever you need it.

 

Me: The Torch Bearer

First and foremost, Happy Chinese New Year! This year celebrates the year of the Snake. You can read more about it here.

It is the second day of the lunar new year and a full 16 years + a day of my favorite person’s passing. My grandfather was, in a way, someone who held the family together. My grandfather was the man in my life, my role model, and someone who took care of me from the day I was born till the day of his passing on February 10, 1997.

As a child, Chinese New Year was a big deal. It involved days of preparation, with the women in the house prepping and cleaning all the nooks and crannies to insure that as the big day approached, the house, as well as all the food were in order and ready to go. My grandmother was the master dumpling, or aka Jiao-zi maker. My mother was her sous chef. I, with my pigtails, was the sous sous chef. Giant platters of fresh dumplings were hand made from scratch, days before the big celebration, with each dumpling carrying finger imprints from one of the many female helping hands. The family altar was carefully set up, with “seats” for both of my grandparents’ ancestors. One for my grandmother’s family, the Chen’s, and one for my grandfather’s family, the Wang’s, which I fall under. The altar was the focal point of the house. Fish, meat, chicken, platters of whole fruit, dim sum goodies, wine, tea, crackers, cookies…anything to offer our ancestors for 3 days were laid out in grand style on top of a giant festive red cloth that covered the altar table.

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(Our little altar)

Red. It seemed like everything was suddenly cloaked in an auspicious red tone. Incense. The smell of chinese incense filled the house for days on end. It is a fragrance that is still etched deep in my heart and my soul…

My favorite part of Chinese New Year preparations was the final moment where everything was laid out, ready to go and my grandfather would begin counting the incense sticks. 7. 8. The number is foggy to me now. He’d give me 2 or 3 of my own and I’d follow him out into our backyard at dusk, on new year’s eve, mimicking everything he did. We lit our incense sticks with the tops pointing down, so the flames would rise up in an effort to make sure each stick was lit. He kneeled, I kneeled. He raised the incense sticks to the sky, I did the same. He asked for our ancestors to come join us in celebration of Chinese New Years, I muttered the same words under my breath. We would bow 3 times, forehead to earth and then I’d get up with him, giddy with excitement that our ancestors were coming with us back into the house. I would ask him how he knew they were following us and he would ask me if I could see the smoke from the incense. Yes, grandpa, I see the smoke, I would say. He would confirm that those in fact, were our ancestors in smoke form, joining us, ready to feast. I was maybe 6 years old. We did this for many many years…

I loved Chinese New Year. I loved everything it represented: family, hearth, celebration, and the receiving of those awesome little red envelopes filled with money even before I knew what money truly was. It was a time where family reigned king…when young and old came together, 4 generations under one roof…AND it was a time of the year when we each made out like a bandit, hundreds of dollars richer, for simply kow-towing to the elders. Mom would secretly pull us aside and ask us how much we got from this auntie and that uncle, simply so she can make sure to return the same when she gifted their children with their own red envelopes.

As we got older with each year’s passing, the festivities began to shorten in duration. The preparation time began later and later, right up until the day before the new year, and the celebration time also seemingly got cut short. Perhaps it was the natural course for an immigrant family assimilating into Western society that caused these cultural traditions to subside, or perhaps the torch bearers who carried these traditions from the old country into the new country began to age…or perhaps it was a combination of both. Or, maybe it was a combination of us children growing up, having our own social calendars to tend to, and not being so interested in our heritage anymore as we tried to become more and more western in an effort to fit in.

Through the years, traditions began to wane until they were no longer. This made me sad. My grandparents, who were the primary driving force behind these celebrations, simply couldn’t keep up. Both were getting older, and without the excitement from family and extended family, it is tough to keep the traditions going themselves. I can understand that.

Then my grandfather passed away. He was 86 years old. With his passing, almost all of our family and our cultural traditions went along with him to the grave. The only practice that has stayed within the family is the yearly visit to clean his grave on Qingming Jie, and the yearly half hour visit to burn paper and bring food in “celebration” of Chinese New Year.

This is hardly a celebration in my book.

I asked my mom whether or not they set up the family altar this year. She said they haven’t for many, many years. A couple of days ago, the day before Chinese New Year’s eve, I got a sudden wave of nostalgia. Visions of what this special time was in our lives kept flashing page, after page through my mind. I missed those days. I missed my grandfather. I missed the incense. I missed the color red. I missed everything so much that I decided I was going to begin what is to become my own family tradition with my new little family…my husband, myself, and our two little furry kids, Jaxxon and Shiva.

You see, we are a bi-racial couple, married less than a year, trying to find our own footing in what is important to us and what “family” truly means. For me, family is about honoring roots. It is about embracing heritage and celebrating our beautiful cultures blending together. My husband is a gem. At first I felt sheepish, a little embarrassed at what I was going to be setting up in our house. I spent the morning of new year’s eve, bed-head, unbrushed teeth and all, sprawled out at the dining room table, practicing my chinese calligraphy, something my grandfather taught me before I even knew how to hold a pencil. I wanted to calligraphy the name cards of my ancestors, just like what my grandfather used to do, except my calligraphy is a joke. It is an effort of the 6 year old, trapped in this 34 year old’s body, trying to re-create the beautiful words that my grandfather, in his own effortless, magestic way used to create. These name cards are really like giant place cards. Taped to a stick. In my case, it was taped to a chopstick and stuck in a little bowl of rice so the rice can hold the chopstick up with the red paper “name card” taped to it. What was my husband going to think of my crazy rendition of my family altar? How do I explain to him that my ancestors were going to “sit” and “feast” with us, in our living room for three days straight? Would he be grossed out at my plans to lay out a whole fish with the head still firmly attached? And what about the chicken? The whole chicken with the neck and head and the gizzards still intact? Sticky rice gow? Turnip cake? A giant meat steak, blanched only in hot water?

My husband’s pretty great. I married him for good reason. He not only didn’t think it was weird, he fully loved and supported me as I went out on a crazy limb to reclaim my lineage. After I invited the ancestor spirits into our house, he even took part in honoring my ancestors with lighting his own incense, bowing, and paying his respects. It was really cute. Really sweet.

This year, as I resurrect what I think is a dying cultural practice within my generation and move forward as my family’s torch bearer of my ancestral customs and traditions, it makes me proud to embrace my heritage. I hope our future children will also embrace theirs proudly as well. It is what makes us unique and special. I want my family to have strong roots, and I want my children to know where they came from. As a future parent, I believe it is my responsibility to pass on as much as I know, as much as I remember, so my children are firmly anchored in their culture and understand what it means to honor family and traditions.

This year is special…Chinese New Year fell on the day of my Grandfather’s passing…16 years ago yesterday. Happy New Year, Grandpa and happy Chinese New Year to everyone, with a big toast to those born in the year of the Snake!

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