Freedom Flow Yoga Playlist

freedom flow yoga playlist mandy learo

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Stop Pretending To Be Concerned So You Can Gossip About Someone

whispering

You know who you are. You sound like this:

“I’m really worried about Petunia. Did you hear she signed the divorce papers? Her husband is already seeing someone else. She told me he’s been messing around for years, and now she’s gained like 30 pounds. I’m getting concerned.”

Really? Are you really concerned, or do you just want to talk about Petunia for a little while?

Care and concern are excellent excuses to gossip about our acquaintances and friends. We like it, not only because we get to appear like compassionate people, but we also get to dissect and judge their character and their choices. Win-win, right?

Part of spiritual growth and practice is checking our intentions and motives before we act. This is especially relevant when we discuss other people. In Buddhism, “right intention” is held so highly that it is the second step on the Eightfold Path to self-awakening. We must always examine why we are doing something.

Sometimes it is okay to talk about other people. Sometimes, we need to process our reactions to the way someone is behaving. (“Petunia has been ignoring my calls because she is in pain, and that makes me feel rejected.”) That is okay. Sometimes, we need to collaborate on how to ease someone’s suffering. (“Petunia’s divorce is final, so I think we should plan a night on the town.”) That is okay.

What is not okay is veiling our vicious gossip in fake compassion.

So let’s all stop doing it.

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Moving Through Anger Yoga Playlist

anger yoga playlist mandy learo

Sometimes, my personal practice serves the same purpose as a pillow on which a frustrated child might beat their fists and direct cotton-muffled screams.

I’ve heard it said that sweat and tears are healing waters, and this has been my experience. I designed the above playlist for when I need to practice expressively and fiercely so that I can wind down into a more peaceful headspace. Hope you enjoy it!

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Dispatch from Kripalu : The Pursuit of Happiness

mandy learo kripaluOnce a year I visit the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, a retreat and educational facility in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I come to recharge my batteries, get away from “the grind,” and take workshops that help me become a better yoga teacher and human being.

This year, because of a growing personal interest in Buddhism and meditation, I chose a weekend with Dr. Howard C. Cutler. He is the famed psychiatrist who cowrote the Dalai Llama’s bestselling The Art of Happiness, and his primary expertise is how Buddhist principles and practices have been proven by Western science and psychology to be effective in the creation and maintenance of happiness.

Almost immediately after signing up, I had second thoughts. Should I have done a Gentle Yoga Workshop for my students who desire less intense asana? Should I have held out for an Aerial course so I can expand my class offerings? Should I switch to something else? “Happiness” sounds like a Pollyannaism, and in light of the seriousness and difficulty of spiritual growth, is happiness even important?

The first session of the AOH workshop was held in a dim yoga studio with an altar at the front, on which a Ganesha statue and a single sunflower rested. Chairs were arranged in a circle. The doctor was a couple minutes late and fiddled for awhile with the microphone before he achieved the right volume. He wore rumpled jeans and hiking boots. He placed a can of Red Bull on the altar. I trusted him immediately.

Most of us are motivated by a want to be happy, but we feel that happiness in itself is not a worthwhile or noble goal.  We transparently pursue those things we think will make us happy (career success, family creation, travel, nice possessions), yet we shy away from admitting that what we are really after is happiness itself. Happiness is a legitimate goal all by itself because it is a result of right perspective and spiritual health, and today we have scientific evidence to support the efficacy of specific practices from Buddhism and the field of positive psychology.

This weekend has been a valuable experience for me, and I’m looking forward to writing at length about the ideas and techniques as I delve further into them and develop direct experience with the practices. For now, I’d like to leave you with the idea that it is okay to want to be happy. It is even okay to want to be happy more than you want to be wise, or loving, or successful. Mindful pursuit of happiness involves developing wisdom, compassion, and a comfortable life, and happiness is not a frivolous desire. We all want it, and we can, and should, seek it.

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The Lesson of Nostalgia

I was not a free-spirited, happy teenager. Most of my time was spent writing poems about the darkness and misery of existence, wandering through school hallways in a drugged haze, and bemoaning the injustice of my below-average looks.

Recently, I saw a photograph of myself at 15 or 16, and, instead of remembering my discontent at that age, I was struck by how absurdly beautiful I actually was, a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. I saw poreless skin and the easy physicality of young and pain-free flesh. I saw that I was taken care of and had few real burdens to carry. I saw all the mistakes I had not yet made. Stunned by nostalgia and longing, I had to look away and turn the page of the photo album.

Why did my teenage self focus on what was wrong with me and my life? Why didn’t I know what I had? Why couldn’t I appreciate the years of my youth while they were happening?

There is a lesson in this for me. Because surely, down the road, the photographs I take today will inspire nostalgia in my future self. I will think, “Look at how beautiful I was at 29, and look at how simple and great things were for me then.” I will remember my loft and my dogs and my yoga classes and wonder whether I really knew how lovely my life was while it was happening.

My ungrateful, sleepwalking teenage self is a personal cautionary tale of how years can pass unappreciated and, in a way, unlived. Today, I will open my eyes to the beauty of what’s going on with me right now. I will not be preoccupied with what’s next, nor will I dwell on what’s lacking.  Everything exactly as it is today– I will try to notice it, and enjoy it in the present.

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Caprese Salad is the Best Salad on Earth

caprese salad mandy learo

Don’t argue with me on this one. The buttery, yielding mozzarella. The earthy, sweet basil. The balanced, meaty tomato. Caprese salad is colored like the flag of Italy, where it is traditionally served as an appetizer.

All Caprese salads, to be called as such, contain the three core ingredients. Variations on the recipe include olive oil dressing, salt, olives, or chopped garlic, among other flourishes. Here is how I like mine:

Ingredients:

sliced tomato

sliced mozzarella

fresh basil leaves

balsamic glaze 

Directions:

Layer as desired, drizzle as desired, and close eyes while chewing to maximize glorious flavor moment.

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What, Exactly, is Power Yoga?

grasshopper pose oknamaste

Power yoga is a term that describes a vigorous, fitness-centric, and flowing style of yoga. It was developed in the mid-90’s and grew out of an attempt to adapt Ashtanga to the tastes and turn-ons of American students. The mother and father of Power Yoga, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest, were both devoted students of the Ashtanga method.

Whereas Ashtanga is about precision and consistent practice of predetermined sun salutations and flows, Power Yoga classes are less concerned with meticulous execution of poses, and Power Yoga sequences vary widely and often change drastically from class to class, even those led by the same teacher. Known occasionally as “gym yoga,” Power Yoga minimizes pranayama (breath work), chanting, and meditation (although 5 minute supine relaxation is still generally used to close classes).

Because Power Yoga is so westernized and focused on the physical body, its existence and popularity are sometimes used as evidence that Americans have warped yoga beyond recognition and stripped it of all spiritual depth.

However, yoga has a history of embracing and accepting varieties of approaches and ways of practicing. Differing paths have existed for thousands of years, each approach appealing to specific temperaments and individual strengths. In the west, we primarily practice Hatha Yoga, or seeking union through physical posture. Additionally, there was and did exist other ways to perform yoga and grow closer to ultimate union with the divine: Karma Yoga (yoga of selfless action), Raja (yoga of meditation), Jnana (yoga of knowledge and scholarship), and Tantra (yoga of ritual). Since yoga’s inception, it has been accepted that different methods and means were needed for different people.

The ancients knew that common spiritual goals could be obtained through a variety of yoga styles, and so too should modern man feel empowered to develop and practice different approaches for his needs. Although Power Yoga may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is not something we should arrogantly dismiss if we prefer to practice differently. Many people come to Power Yoga to sweat and stay to feel alive.

In the words of Bill Wilson:

“… the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.”

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Butter Bean Hummus

hummus1

I first had butter bean hummus in Greenville, SC, and even though I had my doubts, I fell in love. It was served as an appetizer, and I righteously spoiled my appetite for the entree by gobbling up the whole bowl.

When you think about it, on the spectrum of bean silkiness, the traditional chickpea is about as grainy as it gets. Using butter beans instead results in an incredibly smooth dish. I don’t eat a lot of raw vegetables, so having a delicious dip is a nice incentive to occasionally do so. I think I’ll be making this a lot over the summer!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil

4-5 garlic cloves

1/2 cup tahini

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 15-ounce cans of butter beans

teaspoon smoked paprika plus extra for presentation

salt to taste

butter bean hummus mandy learo

Directions:

Pour olive oil into saucepan on lowest heat possible. Add peeled garlic cloves. Attend to closely, stirring, cooking garlic for a couple minutes, careful not to burn it. Set aside to cool. Blend lemon juice and tahini in food processor. Drain and thoroughly rinse butter beans. Add butter beans to blender, and slowly add garlic and oil. Blend until desired consistency is reached. Remove from blender into serving dish and fold in smoked paprika. Taste and add salt as desired. Serve with a sprinkling of paprika on top. YUM!

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The Difference Between Pampering and Self-Care

massage

I don’t have anything against pampering. One of my weekly teaching sites is a beautiful spa, and I love it there. Pampering is great under the right circumstances, but too often it is confused with self-care.

Ask someone what they do for self-care, and they often rattle off a list of the things they do to treat themselves: pedicures, massages, restaurant meals, or bubble baths. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are not self-care.

Self-care is maintaining personal wellness in all the dimensions of health: emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Self-care is performed with actions and consciously selected attitudes by the individual and for the individual. Behavior that promotes balance and well-being is self-care.

Self-care is consciously attending to our need for:

  • Relaxation and sleep
  • Good nutrition
  • Medical care
  • Personal hygiene
  • Mental health
  • Physical fitness and exercise
  • Financial security
  • Cleanliness and safety of the home and work environments
  • Spirituality
  • Healthy relationships with others

Self-care has to come before pampering, or else it is a band-aid over a gaping wound. I am recalling a particular time before I got sober, and I booked myself a massage. There I was, hungover and shaky on the table, determined to relax. It felt indescribably good to be touched (my loved-ones, for their own self-care, had distanced themselves considerably), but by that same afternoon my back was tense again, and I was scheming over how to get my next fix. I had pampered myself, but without a firm foundation of self-care, pampering was worthless.

Sometimes, pampering is even in direct conflict with self-care. If we are treating ourselves to a shopping trip but mired in financial problems, purchasing new clothes is not self-care. If we pamper ourselves with a rich meal but are overweight and sick, that is not self-caring at all.

Pampering is self-indulgence, and even though there is a time and place for it, we need to not confuse pampering with the work of self-care. Self-care is not indulgent: it is the noble and necessary work of loving and nurturing the self.

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