Thursday, June 1, 2017

5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Thrive At Work

by Stephanie Given, Zuna Yoga 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate

At the restaurant where I work, I constantly receive the same comments from coworkers, managers, kitchen staff, and customers. “How do you stay so happy?” “What do you drink in the morning?” How are you always smiling?” My answer is always the same. “Why not?” 

In my job, like many work environments, it may seem difficult to continue with positivity. But through the practice of patience through yoga, you can learn to observe, accept, and train the way your mind perceives reality. I work in the busiest restaurant in a bustling tourist town in New England. We’re blessed that even during the slower months, business is still steady due to locals. But during the steamiest and stickiest season of the year, tourists are packed like sardines everywhere downtown. Forget about driving—it’s difficult enough to find room walking down a sidewalk. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. Heck, I’ve been here for 10 years. I love talking to people, I love meeting them, I love hearing their stories, and I love that I’m able to add an extra flare to a special occasion or vacation. I find that working in a restaurant allows you to see and constantly be reminded that there are more kind people in the world than negative ones. It’s amazing to see a table of strangers secretly pick up another table’s drinks or entire bill, sometimes because the unknowing recipients are in the military, sometimes because they’re celebrating, other times simply because the other table is paying an act of kindness forward. 

The team I work with also supports each other through any ordeal, always having each other’s back during work and outside of it. We see each other as family—and I think we’re seen by rival restaurants as a cult. 

But when it’s a swampy 95 degrees outside, there’s a two-hour wait for a table, children are screaming, and everyone is hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, many customers turn into different creatures. During this time, the wait staff, kitchen staff, and bartenders are buried in the weeds, and when the computer system goes down, you quickly learn a new side of your coworkers. 

Working in a restaurant—and working in many challenging environments—will take an extreme mental and physical stress on your well-being unless you learn how to take care of yourself. It’s at these times that it takes the same, if not more, dedication, discipline and strength to have a consistent yoga practice on your mat as it does to take that practice off the mat and into stressful situations. 

Throughout the years, I’ve become more mindful of how I can enhance each day at my job by integrating certain yogic principles. It came first without conscious thought, but now I consistently rely on reminding myself the following…especially when the you-know-what hits the fan.

You are what you practice to be
Before I start my shift, I set an affirmation or intention for my day, just like I set an intention for my asana practice or meditation.  “I am compassionate” may be the most helpful when you work as wait staff. There are many instances where this comes into play, but the true test is when mistakes are made during the busy night rush the kitchen staff or any of the wait staff, including myself. If the kitchen forgot to make one dinner out of the order for your table of ten, and you already have the foundation of empathy, it will completely change how you react. The trickle effect doesn’t only continue onto how the rest of the night continues, but the next time you forget to ring in an order, they will most likely show you the same compassion back.   

Attitude is everything
Where your mind goes, energy follows. Just like in my yoga practice, when I tell myself I’m not going to have a good practice, I don’t. If I have one bad customer who was rude and didn’t tip well, I don’t brew over it. If I do, the rest of my night is absolutely going to continue in the same fashion. Changing my outlook on the situation, and knowing that this customer was having a bad night—and that it’s not me who’s having a bad night—will change the type of interactions that I have with customers for the rest of the night.  

To know yourself is to know your environment
To know your environment, is to understand the people around you. Sometimes I come up to a table with a big smile about to ask, “How is everyone doing…?” but am quickly cut short, without eye contact, and orders of “Chowder.” Instead of instantly resorting to thinking “How rude!”, I remind myself that these people have been waiting for 45 minutes with crying children, they’re hungry, and they’re not at their best. If I can get some sort of food—and, usually, some sort of adult beverage—in front of them as soon as possible, they may end up being my favorite customers of the day.

The Value of the Pause
During meditation and asana practice, knowing how to watch when thoughts and judgements arise rather than become attached to them or let them define you will bring your practice to a higher level and closer to your true self. This applies to any moment in your life, especially in a difficult situation like a coworker mouthing off to you. Learning how to continue the practice of pausing before reacting and not becoming attached to the anger will entirely enhance your life. 

We have the memories of the past, but we can clear the emotions of the past
This may be my favorite quote throughout my yoga teacher training with Zuna Yoga. Not every day is a good one and that’s okay. Some days, after 13 hours on my feet, not being tipped well, poked often and, often, being emotionally abused, I always remind myself before going to bed about the good things that happened throughout my day. If even that is difficult (it happens sometimes), I always remind myself that I am thankful for my job and the beautiful people I work with. It truly helps me get out of bed the next morning, and begin the day again. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Off the Mat with Carina

Get to know Carina, Zuna Yoga assistant trainer and ERYT200

Describe yourself in one word. 

What is your astrological sign?

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
I once drank so much turmeric water that my skin turned yellow

What are your three top travel tips? 
Favorite places to go:
  • The Beachhouse in Fiji, a small resort at the coral coast with great surf and beautiful nature.
  • Bhagsu, a little village in Dharamsala, India. It's calm and peaceful but also has some funky Goa vibes and great people.
  • Austria, for everything. Vienna is a cool city that truly blossomed after total WW2 destruction. The amazing mountains, both in summer and winter, and our Great Lakes Region.
What book are you reading right now? 
I'm always reading more than one book on any given day. Currently, at different times of the day:
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n 
Yoga and Ayurveda by David Frawley (some Zuna Yoga required reading)
The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga by Sir John Woodroffe

Three songs on your playlist right now? 
"Take Me Home Tonight" by Eddie Money
"Ong namo" by Snatam Kaur 
"I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen 

One thing you're really good at: 
Changing someone's mood from stressed to relaxed

One thing you're epically bad at: 

What do you do for fun? 
All kind of water sports; painting in bright colors on everything that I can find; hiking and walking; dancing in nature; playing card games; reading

What's your biggest pet peeve? 
Sand in the bed

How did you make your first dollar (or Schilling)? 
In my mom's shop in Vienna selling old Christmas ornaments

What are the three qualities that got you where you are today? 
Cheerfulness, self-discipline and a sense of humor

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Don't worry, it will all work out for the best. Eventually, you'll come to realize that every "bad" moment was a great turning point in your life.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Attitude is everything" by Everett Newell.

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
Leaving Vienna and my old habits behind and going to India for my first yoga teacher training

If you had a superhero power, what would it be?
I'm actually pretty happy with the powers I already have

What's your favorite thing about being a yoga teacher?  
Oh, there are so many. If I have to pick, constantly meeting amazing people, sharing something that has so positively changed my life and not having to wear shoes.

What's your favorite yoga pose, and why?
Twisted lotus. It feels amazing. Every single muscle in my body get stretched and released, and I can really be still and connect with my breath.  

What's your favorite quote?
"Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside of you" from Rumi 

What's on your bucket list?
I want to rent a glass house in Greenland and watch the northern lights. One week of just watching the sky, practicing yoga and drinking hot chocolate. 

Carina is based in Fiji and Vienna and is assisting Zuna Yoga's 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher trainings. Learn more about our staff here!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

5 Awesome Benefits of Meditation

By Vibhu Krishna, 200 hour yoga teacher training student

We all know that meditation is beneficial to us. But how exactly does it affect our everyday lives? Here are our five favorite benefits of meditation, although we suspect it touches us in more ways than science can currently prove.
1. Improve your relationships Meditation changes our brains and behavior in many ways that positively impacts our relationship skills. It can improve our ability to respond appropriately to difficult situations, such as during a disagreement with our partner. The practice also improves empathy - the ability to understand another person's state of mind, without getting lost in their "stuff" or losing awareness of our own emotions. It also makes us better communicators, able to see a situation clearly and not get lost in our own "stuff."

2. Boost your brain Scientists have known for some time that meditation increases the volume of grey matter in regions of the brain associated with memory and emotion, resulting in improved learning and empathy. Meditation has also been correlated with improved focus and attention. And now research indicates that long-term meditators appear to have even more gyrification, or folding, in the cerebral cortex, making your ability to process information even speedier—which effectively means you’ll be able to memorize and recall the Sanskrit name of one-legged pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) with ease! 3. Jumpstart your mood Got the blues? Meditation may be useful for alleviating depressive symptoms according to research at Johns Hopkins University. The decrease of symptoms observed in meditators with mild depression matched improvements commonly associated with antidepressant medication. Meditation is also a proven stress-buster and can even induce positive thoughts. And you don’t have to meditate two hours a day for the rest of your life to reap these benefits. Research shows significant stress reduction with just 25 minutes of meditation a day over three days.
4. Fight Disease In a five-year study, Harvard psychiatrists found that meditation can switch on genes associated with improved immune function. It can also switch off pro-inflammatory genes which causes quicker recovery from the physical trauma of stress. Your heart also benefits from meditation via decreased blood pressure and the potential prevention of cardiac disease. Finally, meditation can bring relief from symptoms to those suffering from many illnesses, including fibromyalgia, HIV, asthma, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
5. Live longer Each time your cells divide, the protective ends of their chromosomes—known as telomeres—shorten. The shortening of telomeres is a natural occurrence that accompanies aging. Over time, however, it eventually leads to an inability of the cell to divide, which has been associated with disease onset. Telomerase, sometimes referred to as the immortality enzyme, helps maintain the ends of chromosomes after cell division, thus keeping the cell alive longer. In a pilot study at the University of California at Los Angeles, meditation caused a 43% increase in telomerase activity, proving that a calm state of mind can counter the effects of cellular aging.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Why I Do Yoga

By Stephanie Given, Zuna Yoga 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate

My first hatha vinyasa yoga class, I was there merely for the physical benefits. I walked a few blocks from my apartment to a local yoga studio and entered a class that was scheduled to last an hour and fifteen minutes, not knowing that Mary, the instructor, always pushed the class past two hours—a fact that I would later respect and, eventually, miss horribly. That entire class, I remember thinking “When the heck is this going to end?!” and “How can there be more poses?!” and “Kapalbhati? Breath of fire? What is that?” Quite frankly, it wasn’t what I felt during that yoga class that made me want to come back for more. Rather, it was what I experienced after the class that had me hooked. I remember the serenity of my walk home and really feeling the brisk air, sleeping soundly throughout that entire night and feeling less anxious than usual the following day. I returned to class every Thursday until the studio shut down.

For a while after that, I jumped around to other yoga studios, attending mostly fast and hot “heated hour of power vinyasa” classes during which I barely had a minute to relax let alone breathe. I would leave having experienced a great workout, which I craved, but I missed the feeling of tranquility and presence that I gained from Mary’s class. It took some time before I found a studio with a practice that satisfied what my mind and body craved— a balance of breathwork, core strengthening postures, and a beautiful savasana.

The more yoga classes I attended, the more I naturally began to take yoga off the mat into my life, physically as well as emotionally. I could feel myself becoming calmer, smiling more, and being more present and mindful during everyday activities. As I tried to explain this to friends and family, they asked why, which made me want to know, too. I began to research and write papers about the effects that yoga had on all aspects of your life for my college courses.

The reason has everything to do with breath.

In yogic terms, pranayama, the fourth limb of Patanjali's Sutra, is defined as the practice of voluntary control of breath and refers to the inhalation, retention, and exhalation of breath. “Prana” translates to “vital force,” and “ayama” translates to “expansion.” Coming together, “pranayama”  means “expansion of vital force.” In other words, it's controlled breathing, simple and powerful. And it has the power to change and sculpt your life.

In western terms, controlled breathing directly affects your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Your body reacts to psychological stress—whether actual stress or perceived stress—in the same way it does life-threatening physical stress. This means that the daily hassles that we all encounter, like running late for yoga class, being behind at work, or finding that your children have drawn all over your walls at home, create tension and friction in your body in the same way as a grizzly bear running after you. In response to stress, the sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate, elevates blood flow, and shuts off function to major organ systems, including your immune, endocrine, digestive, and reproductive organs. Imagine the impact that has on your entire body over time. No wonder most people in the western world are suffering from stress-related disease.

The opposing parasympathetic nervous system incites the rest and digest mechanisms of the body. It reduces blood pressure and slows down heart rate after stressful events. It redirects blood flow to the parts of the body that are not used for survival tools, like the digestive and reproductive organs and the endocrine and lymphatic systems. With this increased circulation, you are able to more efficiently extract nutrients from food and better eliminate toxins.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems balance one another like a seesaw —when one goes up, the other goes down. A consistent yoga practice with controlled breathing and pranayama establishes and maintains parasympathetic dominance. That means you minimize the body’s tendency to activate the sympathetic nervous system and thereby avoid the resulting cascade of negative consequences. In particular, research has shown that 30 minutes of controlled and focused breathwork, three times a week, under the instruction of a yoga teacher followed by a 10-minute savasana, can have significant improvement on a person’s overall wellbeing by increasing the parasympathetic nervous system response, which lessens the stress response and increases peaceful alertness  (Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, vol. 8, no. 5). Ample research shows how yoga alleviates unmanaged stress, a leading factor in anxiety, obesity, depression, and insomnia. All of these beautiful effects arise from attention to your breath!
Regular practice of controlled breathing strengthens the nervous system so that the mind becomes calm and capable of concentration and taking you one step closer to your true self. Focusing on your breath can literally and completely change your life. And you can practice this at any time. As you breathe in, feel and envision your breath flowing through your nostrils, down through your chest and to your pelvic floor for a count of five. Then slowly exhale your breath through your abdomen and chest and out through your nose for another count of five. Repeat this a few times and you’ll feel your entire body begin to relax. That’s the parasympathetic nervous system doing its thing. (When progressing beyond a beginner pranayama practice, it’s imperative that you work with a trained yoga or meditation instructor.)

When you learn to slow your breath and relax in difficult postures on the mat, you can train yourself to do the same in difficult situations off the mat. No magic. Just the science of the breath. It will make you healthier, calmer, and more present in your daily life—during rush hour, a stressful day at work, your child having a tantrum. You have the power to relax your entire body, not with a glass of wine but by becoming aware of the vital energy you already possess.