Mala beads, the ancient Buddhist meditation counters, are now finding their way onto the necks and wrists of yogis, the mindfully aware, and fashionistas alike. So what are these beads and what meaning is behind them?
Mala beads are much more than the final touch to your yoga chic look; these pieces of jewelry have deep and spiritual significance.
Typically made of 108 beads, each one symbolizes the repetition of a mantra or Sanskrit prayer. Often, but not always made from rudraksha seeds, the idea is to hold each bead in your hand, starting at the center piece, and repeat your mantra once for each bead until you are back at the beginning. The result is a more focused and heightened meditation experience.
The significance of the 108 beads has several theories depending on your religion and culture. Buddhists relate the number to the 108 afflictions or kleshas. This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times. For some the number is significant as it is said enlightenment can be achieved through meditation and only taking 108 breaths a day. Others link the number’s significance to the heart chakra, as there is said to be 108 energy lines leading to it.
The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated around the 8th century BCE in India. Some estimates say over two-thirds of the world’s population employ some type of prayer beads as part of their spiritual practice.
Today mala beads are on the rise in the Western world, providing a calling for the creative and crafty to develop mala beads for the masses.
Serena Sonny Sabourin, a local to the Whistler, British Columbia area and a mala bead creator, shares her journey with the beads:
Jane Emerick: How did you got started on this project, what drew you to create mala beads?
Serena Sonny Sabourin: It all started when I set my word of the year. My word was “create.” At that point I was a single mother working two to three jobs to support myself and my sons. I didn’t see them that often and this was not acceptable to any of us. I wanted to work from home doing something I loved that left me feeling excited. “Create” infused itself into all of my actions.
I started making mala beads for my practice. Meditation is something I have been drawn to since I was a young child. I was introduced to the practice by one of my mother’s employers, a Buddhist, at an early age. She left a lasting impression on me. Knowing that how we choose to think has a massive role in how our life plays out has always fascinated me.
Before I knew it, mala bead orders were coming in. I quit my job so I could fulfill them and spend more time at home being a mother. I believe we all can create and sometimes need a daily reminder to bring it to the surface.
Some say how these beads are created is essential to their power, what’s your creation process?
I do believe the true power comes from within the practitioner. However, that is not to say the beads have no part. Each bead is strung intentionally and purposefully and with mantra—always with mantra. Before I string the beads I cleanse them and my workspace and say a prayer.
What do you think about such a sacred item becoming somewhat mainstream?
The history of the mala is long. The mala is a tool. It is not exclusive to one religion. Perhaps not all who have mala beads are completely aware of their value and significance. But that doesn’t mean it will always be the case, people are learning more and becoming more educated.
Do you see the popularity of mala beads as a trend or something that will be around for a while?
I do not believe this is a trend, but rather it is an emerging tool that will prove very useful to many in our society.
I am continually amazed by the power people possess. I am forever inspired by anyone who takes charge and creates change. I have seen some magic happen and am so thankful to have seen it.
Mala beads and meditation inspirations can be found widely on the Internet and through your local artisan markets. Here are some great resources: Maa Mala, Mala Collective, Japa Mala Beads, Salt Spring Malas, and Ahimsa Om.
This post appeared on Yoga Anonymous.
I was a gardening disappointment most of my adult life until I found the key to gardening motivation: A purpose.
For me, real success in my garden came when I went from trying to recreate my produce drawer in my backyard, to focusing on something simple that I could maintain and use on a daily basis.
My garden now has one purpose and one purpose only: to fuel my smoothies. I make the collection of my daily greens and herbs part of my morning ritual in all of the seasons.
If you live in a wet and cool coastal climate—like the west coast of Canada where I live—go nuts with kale, mint, parsley, collard greens, and blackberries. By growing and eating what is in season locally you will not only make your life easier and your garden more successful, you will also be benefitting your health.
Start small and consider using pots. There is nothing more discouraging than a bunch of dead plants that were left in your care. Using pots also controls delicious but evasive plants such as blackberries. Pots are easy to move indoors in the winter and are a great way to continue growing your herbs throughout the year. I like to grow mint, as it tastes great in smoothies and can be grown indoors year-round.
Once you know what to plant, when to plant it, and the best place to plant it, form a ritual that involves gardening and stick to it. Just like anything else you do in the morning, incorporate gardening into the start of your day. Watering plants in the morning will allow for greater absorption of moisture into the plant and less evaporation under the sun.
The morning is also a great time to gather the goods for your smoothie. If you normally allocate five minutes to make your morning smoothie, allow for 10 minutes. An extra five minutes should be all you need to gather your goods and give your garden a drink.
Another important step for success: Make if fun.
If you have kids, get them involved. Encourage them to incorporate growing and harvesting the garden into daily fun. Get creative with smoothies: Now that you are growing your ingredients, you can invent new creations that utilize what you have sown.
My west coast local favorite is mint and blackberry with a rotating mix of greens, from kale, to collards, to leafy spinach. Yum!
Enjoy the sense of accomplishment you feel when you wander through the produce section at the grocery store, knowing you are improving your health and finances by growing your own kale, spinach, or whatever you’re harvesting at home.
Above all, be patient. Like any new changes in your daily life, don’t expect results overnight. Be persistent and eventually you will have your very own smoothie garden.
To learn more about homegrown smoothie gardens, The Green Smoothie Garden can be a helpful guide. You can also buy seed kits from places like The Urban Farmer that can take some of the guesswork out for you, but are not a substitute for knowing your area’s planting seasons and best thriving seeds.
This post appeared on Yoga Anonymous.
Some of my most beautiful and mentally challenging yoga practices have been outside.
Some of my most beautiful and mentally challenging yoga practices have been outside.
One particular outdoor yoga experience stands out in my mind. My husband, 2 children and I had just arrived on the beautiful surf escape island of Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia. I checked the hours of the outdoor yoga studio near our bungalow and was in luck—I‘d be able to take the 4 p.m. class.
Soon I was standing in Tadasana with the ocean breeze rustling my hair and the sweet smell of tropical foliage filling my nostrils. I felt more at peace with each cycle of breath.
Then, and without warning, a low buzzing began to increase in volume around my head until finally the first mosquito (of many) launched its attack on the back of my shoulder. I resisted the urge to slap it loudly, not wanting to disrupt the Zen of the class. But then the secondary attack began, this time on my ankle. I slapped it loudly in a knee-jerk reaction, and, since I had already caused a disturbance, I snuck in a few scratches to my previous bites.
Before long, the entire class was a slapping and scratching mess. It was at this point the teacher mentioned the importance of wearing some type of bug repellent to this afternoon class. She even recommended an all-natural lemongrass option the locals used. But this information came too late and there wasn’t any bug repellant at the studio to use.
So we kept practicing; enduring the bites and resisting increasing urges to scratch.
I really tried, I hunkered down, I went inside my head—I wanted to invoke my inner Buddhist and block out the bugs—but it was challenging. At one point I was convinced these were the most itch-inducing mosquitoes on the planet. But I made it through.
I did attend several more classes at the studio, lathered in lemongrass oil, and not surprisingly had a completely different experience. Some type of natural repellent is now something I don’t go without when practicing outside.
There are a couple other things I have learned about having an outdoor practice that can help take some of the natural frustrations out of this experience. Here is my guide for outdoor yoga success:
If you’re going to be outdoors, you’re going to need to add a few more things to your yoga arsenal. Pack some bug spray and sunscreen—preferably natural versions. Layer: Warm layers are essential to keep you comfortable before and after your routine, and they can be easily removed as you warm up with your practice.
You are outside. You are likely in a public area, there will be noise and interruptions. Be prepared to laugh these off and be light with your intentions. What space are you inhabiting? Are you standing in the middle of a touch football game? You may want to find a better spot.
Manage the Risk
Understand your environment and adjust your practice as needed. Be mindful of uneven surfaces, especially when doing weight-bearing repetitive postures like Chaturanga Dandasana. Considering skipping the Vinyasa. Have a look around you before you get into the zone.
Test Your Balance
Use the opportunity of being in a wide-open space to go upside down. There is nothing like practicing a handstand in the middle of a grassy space without fear of kicking a wall or a piece of furniture when you come out.
Consider using a softer surface other than a yoga mat. This will allow you to connect with the naturally uneven surface of the Earth and work through some balancing postures.
Be the Peace
Always remember that the peace you seek comes from within. If you are looking outside yourself you will never find it. Use this mentality when the inevitable distractions that come when practicing outdoors occur.
Once you have mastered these small challenges, the benefits of doing yoga outside are immeasurable. Even just going outdoors can do wonders for your mood and several scientific studies have proven it, so it is worth getting right.
This post appeared on: Yoga Anonymous.
Several years ago in the weeks leading up to my wedding, a group of my girlfriends took me to Joshua Tree National Park on a mission to find our “spirit animals.”
We did yoga, we walked on the magical rocks at night, we breathed, we stargazed, and we meditated in hope that our animal spirits would to come to us. We had varying degrees of success—some of us reported feeling an animal presence, while others spent most of the time giggling. Little did we know (a short while later) that finding your spirit animal would be a trending topic on the web, social media, and even in fashion.
What is a Spirit Animal?
Spirit animals come from several cultures and religions, including Shamanism and First Nation peoples through their ceremony and healing practices.
Shamans believe healing can be achieved by working with our animal allies in the spirit world. The shamanic belief is that everyone has a spirit or power animal, which resides within each individual, adding to his or her power and offering protection from harm. The spirit also lends you the wisdom of its kind. A hawk spirit will give you hawk wisdom, and lend you some of the attributes of a hawk, such as focus and the power to see.
In First Nation’s culture across North America, spirit animals play a similar but slightly different role, focused around a respect for animals. In this culture, when an animal is killed for food, all parts of the animal are used and a prayer or blessing is made to the animal for providing life and comfort.
In modern First Nation’s culture, special recognition is still given to the power of animals, and skins and feathers are worn in ceremonies and dances. It is believed that an animal can appear to give you a certain wisdom, strength, or premonition that something will occur. For example, a hummingbird is said to be a joyful messenger, and when it appears at a time of sorrow or pain, healing will follow.
On a superficial level, the term “spirit animal” has been used in the pop culture world to indicate your desire to be like, or to declare your affinity with, a certain well-known personality. In other words, traditionally you would never hear someone say, “Beyonce is my spirit animal.” But modern culture not only permits it, you can also buy a T-shirt claiming it.
Where is Your Spirit Animal?
The good new is you don’t have to be a shaman to get a spirit animal. The first step is simply believing we all have one—or several—and from there being open to their presence.
Connecting with your sprit animal or calling on an animal spirit for help, wisdom, or power is on a yogic level the ability to connect with your spirit. The word “yoga” means to unite, and this is in essence what we are trying to achieve when we practice, connect with our spirit, and are open to a spiritual presence around us.
How Can You Find Your Spirit Animal?
Contact your local shaman. Sound crazy? It’s not. They are popping up everywhere. Ask your local yoga teacher and do a little Google search for your area. You can also dabble in the plethora of online quizzes available.
Lastly, spend time outdoors in the animal kingdom to connect with nature. It’s amazing how this alone can help you get in touch with your spirit animal. If all else fails, plan your next getaway to Joshua Tree—sleep under the stars and let your animal spirit soar.
By the way, that night under the stars my spirit animal did come to me. It’s a wolf. It’s said that this animal stands for an appetite for freedom and living life powerfully, guided by instincts. I think it’s apt because I have a passion for passion. No matter what I do, this is my mantra: To live full and be present and always, always trust my inner intuition as a guide.
This post appeared on Yoga Anonymous.
When you travel alone, you open yourself up to a beautiful journey of self-discovery.
It’s been on your mind for a while, but every time you and your friends are close to booking your yoga retreat trip together, something happens. One of you decides she can’t afford it. Something comes up at one of your jobs. There’s a family issue. The list goes on.
So you are left with two options: wait for your collective lives to align, or take matters into your own hands and book a solo trip.
The idea of traveling alone can be daunting. We generally feel safer in numbers, and even the idea of navigating to the retreat’s location from the airport without a buddy by your side seems intimidating. But not only is a solo retreat possible, it’s also a heavenly invitation to paradise as the cooler fall and winter temperatures set it.
If you are still on the fence as to whether you could travel to a yoga retreat alone, here are five reasons to take the idea off your bucket list and onto your slam dunk list.
You will make friends.
Do you ever travel to a new and exotic place with the goal of not meeting people? Probably not. So why not create space for those friendships by going alone. Yoga retreats offer a built-in, sure-fire way to meet like-minded yogis. And many offer shuttles directly from the airport to their front doors, giving you an immediate opportunity to strike up a conversation.
Other people go alone.
They did it, and so can you. You will find quickly that you are not the only person who made the plunge to travel solo, and that in itself is a reason to connect with other independent adventurers at your retreat. You may be surprised at how your shared solitude bonds you.
Yoga is a solo journey.
It is beautiful to attend classes in a large group, but let’s face it: yoga is a personal journey, not a team sport, so enjoy your time away for your regular social circles and see where your practice takes you.
Friends can inspire but can also distract you.
Have you ever placed your mat next to your friend’s in a yoga class and gotten the giggles every time your eyes connect? Then you will know what I am talking about. Allow your independence to translate to inward focus.
You can come on your own agenda.
Ask anyone who has traveled alone: the freedom of not having to align schedules is worth the courage it takes to head out solo. You don’t have to agree on where to go and when. The only thing you have to coordinate is where to have coffee and catch up when you are back from your amazing trip.
There is no time like now. Here are a few resorts that are offering amazing opportunities to escape the cold this fall. Don’t wait for your crew to sign up. Take the plunge and book your very own solo trip.
- Manu Yoga Retreats, Costa Rica
- Real Yoga for Real Life Yoga Retreat, Maui
- Sansara Surf & Yoga Resort, Panama
- Esalen, Big Sur, California (check out the retreat with Shiva Rea this Thanksgiving)
- Kaliyoga Retreats, Spain, Italy, & England
The pic is of Ganges river…..The time I went to India on my solo yoga journey.
This was also posted on Wanderlust.
A quick yoga routine that’s fun and simple for you and your tribe…
These are busy times in my household. For starters, what used to be a warm and cozy place has become a construction zone. We have evidence of home renovation everywhere: tools, supplies, tradesmen and women—we are living in and amongst the chaos.
But, to be fair, it was a little chaotic to begin with: Our two children are young, I juggle multiple projects (aside from freelance writing), my kids have little childcare (one day a week), and my husband works full-time. It’s a bit of a circus.
The upside of living through the noise that comes with gutting and renovating a home is that my 1-year-old son has become amazing at sleeping through anything and enjoys a long nap in the afternoons. This is the time of day when my daughter and I have developed the beautiful habit of practicing 15 minutes of yoga with each other. Keep in mind my daughter has just turned three. So this is a very simple practice, but it is an essential pause in our day that has helped make these hectic times seem peaceful and incredibly enjoyable.
A lot of children, including my own, like routine. So we always practice the same postures in the same order. I try and keep things simple and safe and I allow her to elaborate on the postures. She loves to add her own variations and often helps a doll or teddy do the practice with us.
When we first started together, she would lose interest quite quickly. But slowly, and with repetition, I am watching a little yogi unfold in front of me. I also had to shift my mindset from trying to go completely within—as I would in a normal practice—to finding that gentle balance of enjoying the calm and rejuvenating feeling I get from doing yoga at home, while taking great pleasure in giving my daughter the gift of yoga.
After starting with some big, calming breaths together, our basic series is as follows:
- Downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)
- Cobra pose (salabhasana)
- Tree pose (vriksasana)
- Handstand against the wall (adho mukha vrksasana)
- Childs pose (balasana)
- Corpse pose (shavasana)
I remind myself that the chores will still be there, the talking on my phone can wait, and everything can be put on hold to carve out this 15 minutes of unbelievably special time with my daughter.
But, as you know, sometimes it’s hard to stay focused and motivated with our yoga practice—even as adults. So I have six tried and true tips to share when going to the mat with your kid:
- Provide your child with his or her own mat. If this is an old mat of yours, or even if it isn’t a hand-me-down, let them make it their own by decorating it and maybe storing it in their own room or play space.
- Start very slow with little expectations. We started our daily practice by holding hands on our mats and taking big breaths together.
- Let them be creative in their postures. Alignment isn’t crucial at this age. My daughter relates every pose to an animal.
- Be consistent. Do the same poses in the same order any given day.
- Be cautious. This goes without saying, but I don’t do any postures where if I fall out, I could fall on my child (i.e. handstands or arm balances in the middle of the room). We do, however, do handstands together on the wall. Or, if no wall is available, I just spot her.
- TLC for all. Just like adult yogis, treat little yogis with care. A little snack post-yoga with water and maybe some quiet time helps seal the practice before life resumes again.
This post appeared on Wanderlust.
Once in a while you meet a yoga teacher that really inspires you and seems to come to you at the right time in your life. Something they say, some kind of cue clicks and there you go. Leilani, a former Hawaiian/ Californian, has been my recent experience of this. My new years resolution is headstand. I didn’t nail nail handstand, and yes handstand isn’t handstand. But it was close. Just a need more control. The irony is I am trying to let go of the need to control my life.
Ah the irony….
Side note, Leilani has the best pants I have ever seen.
Side, side note, the bottom pic is of Leilani, not me. Duh.
“Don’t get rid of your monkey, shine your monkey mind, get it working for you”…… MC Yogi low and methodic voice is heard through the microphone as DJ Drez, slowly begins to add the beat…before you know it Beastie Boy’s Brass Monkey hits the speakers.
This isn’t yoga as you know it, but my goodness it is good.
People’s hips shake in down dog. You have never seen warrior two’s so strong. You have never felt so connected and in the moment.
MC Yogi, takes opportunities to rap throughout the practice, and for such a modern take on such an ancient tradition, the connection seems seamless, like yoga has always been done to hip hop.
I was fortunate enough to take this class with my 10 month-old daughter. The vibe of the class was fun, loving and open. Perfect for a yogi momma and her yogi babe.
I feel like this type of yoga is the future, which seemed fitting to be sharing this with someone that is the future, my little girl.
As I practiced another mom parked her stroller next to her mat and joined the class as her little boy slept.
The feeling was completely surreal as we practiced in the beautiful setting of Whistler, we are beautiful children to the equally beautiful sounds of the Beastie Boys. What a moment. What a festival!
The first word that comes to mind when trying to describe this class is “wow”. To begin yoga with dancing to Michael Jackson? What?
But this is what sets the tone for what soon becomes an experience of total and complete opening, letting go and expanding into creative energy.
It is hot in the room, I am sweating….profusely. I feel challenged and empowered at the same time. Suddenly, Ryan asks everyone to jump up and find someone else’s mat.
“We are in this room together,” he says. “Take a moment to thank the person who’s mat you are standing on.”
We go back to our mats with a feeling of gratitude. And the class resumes.
Ryan and Megan tag-team-teach between each other, as the practice moves from fire to cooling asana series. Their contrasting styles bring calmness then excitement to the class. Megan bringing fire, while Ryan brings ice.
Spontaneously we are asked to yell out the name of someone you love. I scream my daughter’s name, while everyone around me shouts out loved ones
The experience is nothing but joyous. One of the most exceptional classes I have ever had the pleasure of being apart of. It made me so grateful to be alive and practicing yoga with such a great room of people.
What a way to start my last day of Wanderlust.
My Peeps at Wanderlust asked me to talk about the experience of riding Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak to Peak Gondola – Gladly I said.
As a proud local, I thought I would recommend this trip as a way to complete your Yoga High from the weekend. It might also provide you with an opportunity to reflect on what you have learnt as you surrender to the feeling of traveling way, way above the Fitzsimmons River between Whistler and Blackcomb’s Peaks.
To say the view’s are stunning is an understatement. But to say, life is beautiful is an understatement as well. We are so blessed to be here practicing yoga, a moment in the sky will give you an elevated perspective on how truly exceptional this weekend has been.
Jumpsuit Jane out, see you on your mat.p