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Yoga Begins Now: National Yoga Day

Yoga Begins Now: National Yoga Day

Today is Summer Solstice AND National Yoga Day!

To be honest, I think it’s kind of weird that we have a “National Yoga Day”, but then again there is a day for everything now a days. So, why not yoga?

Yoga has done so much for me in the last fifteen plus years. So much that when I look back, a gazillion thoughts go racing through my head, and I find myself a little unsure where to focus and settle in.

But what can yoga truly do for you?
Where do you begin?
Where does yoga begin?
Where did yoga start?
In a gym?
On a yoga mat?
Online?

What is yoga?

To answer that I went back to the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali (third century B.C.E) and the VERY FIRST word in the Yoga Sutra is “atha” which translates to “now”.

Right here, right now, in this moment.
Wherever you are, whomever you are, no judgement.
No yoga mat needed, just the presence of your being.
Yoga begins in the present moment…Yoga IS the present moment.

I’ve been there, on my yoga mat, trying to create something, trying to create a moment that others will say “wow” to, a moment worthy of the status of “yogi”.
But I have discovered, the second we start down that path, we lose yoga’s true essence.

I often discuss with my students, while standing at attention in Warrior II, that the back hand symbolizes keeping the past in the past, and the front hand, the future in the future. All of this while they (we) stand present in this very moment. In this moment, in all their feelings, all their sensations, in all that currently is.

And if you compare these first words in the Yoga Sutras to most practitioners’ definition of yoga (to unite) as Michel Stone puts it, “we turn yoga into something one does, a form of willful activity”.

Stone goes on to passionately point out that we have now confused YOGA with the “doing” of yoga.
Much like one says, “I’m going to yoga”, or “yoga was so hard today”, or “yoga is too easy”.
And is it that we have now confused the techniques of yoga with the “experience” of yoga.

The first time I heard this it rocked my world. I immediately stepped back and dropped my mat and sat to the ground in deep thought. Replaying the words back in my head again and again.

It was a reminder that yoga is not something we seek outside ourselves. And in a culture desperate (yes, I used the world desperate) for true meaningful connections. Sadly, we will not find them outside ourselves, we may not even find them “doing yoga”. Because for many, yoga has become more about mastering the pose, then connecting with their inner master.

Don’t Just “Do” Yoga

I say to my students’ time and time again, that it’s about taking it off the mat into your everyday life.
It MATTERS!

And my classes may not be led to the tune of modern funky music, and I may not wear the most fashionable clothes or always push in the way of a boot camp style, but the desire for my students to create a meaningful connection within is always the forerunner of my teachings.

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for yoga. Not because it keeps me in shape or flexible, but because yoga, repeatedly, has asked me to step into the present moment. Offering me forgiveness to my own self as I would be guided to step out of the looming darkness of my unforgiving past and away from the anxiety of the unknown future and into the small morsel of the present moment.

And it was in that small moment that I found peace. Not because of the pose I was in, or the music played, or what other poses I had already mastered. But rather I had fully understood for a small moment in time, what it meant to be in the “now”.

It is when we fully commit to such a practice (the now not yoga) that we finally begin to understand what yoga is asking us to do.

Practice the Present Moment

Get quiet.
Be still.
Be silent.
Feel.
Breathe.
Open.
Connect within.

And we cannot do that when everything around us is so loud to hear.
We cannot do that when our focus is on what we did or what is next.
We can only do that when we truly understand that yoga IS the present moment.

It is not a tangible practice or even an object to be seen. But rather one to be experienced only when all else is stripped away.

Today it is National Yoga Day. I want to encourage you to not just step onto your mat to strike a pose, sweat yesterday’s indulgences out, instead, truly bring “Atha yogausasanam” to life (in the present moment is the teachings of yoga).

From my heart to yours,

Namaste.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post them in the comments below. 

PS Want to read more amazing teachings from the late Michael Stone. Start with this amazing book!

Where have you been? Coming back to the mat!

Where have you been? Coming back to the mat!

I can hardly believe it’s already time for the holiday spirit!

The weather has surely changed and it’s about time for… snow.

But we all knew that was coming.

Lately, there is not a day that goes by that I am not finding myself self so grateful for all that is around me.

So much has changed, yet so much hasn’t.

I look at my life and what I have realized is I have changed. Internally that is.

For so much of my life, I have always had “stuff” to deal with.

  • stuff that was weighing me down
  • stuff that was consuming my mental space
  • stuff that was telling me I am somehow less than

Stuff.

And although I have forged forward through that all, it still was challenging for me to deal with, and the more aware of life, my thoughts, my actions, and what truly want in life and how I truly want to live.

I realized that this “stuff” had to go.

Maybe you can relate.

  • maybe you too have been there before

Maybe you are dealing with the same internal work I was and continue to work on.

 

I have had a few people say to me recently “Hope, what’s changed”?

And to be honest, nothing and everything, all at the same time.

Yoga has played such a HUGE role in my life that I am so grateful to be able to continue to share it, and still, fifteen years later, be passionate about my offerings to the world!

 

Yoga allows change

In yoga, we are asked to get quiet.

On the mat we are asked to feel, breathe, and allow.

When we move a bit more slowly and methodically somethings amazing can happen.

 

We (for the first time) meet ourselves where we are with a gentle hand.

More than fifteen years ago, yoga met me with a gentle hand.

Broken and feeling very alone, I met yoga.

But who I really met, for the very first time, was myself.

 

See, I spent nearly my entire adolescent upbringing running from myself, running from feeling, running from my potential, running from failure, running from anything that I didn’t already know (even if it could be better).

 

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever felt so disconnected, so lost, so misunderstood?

Yoga is so much more than a place to physically practice.

And it doesn’t have to just be physical postures.

Yoga is an opportunity to expand yourself.

Yoga is a solution.

Yoga is an opportunity to not only see your potential but live it.

How so?

Every time you come to class, even though you don’t want to, or your couch seems cozier,
You are building up a strength to do the same with other “healthy choices”.

Every time you breathe through the urge to come out of a yoga pose,
You are also building up the skills to not give up in life.

 

Every time you sit with the discomfort of the pose, move, or thought,
It will only get easier out there.

Every time you allow yourself to feel, feel anything-anger, frustration, joy, bliss, sadness, forgiveness, happiness, whatever,
You are opening yourself to an outlet and an inlet for such an experience in your everyday life.

Every time you say yes to yourself in a self-giving, self-caring, self-honoring kind of way,
That will only help you for hours, days, weeks, years to come.

Come back to the mat: build courage, strength, and enrich character and life with yoga

A long time ago someone said to me

“Hope, the very things you don’t do are the EXACT things you NEED to do, and until you do them, they will continue to manifest in any and all areas of your life, over and over again”.

 

And how true these words were.

Yoga has allowed me to take baby, baby steps to building up the courage, strength, voice, ability, trust, and willingness to do such things in life.

And what felt like forever has now truly begun to come full circle.

 

See, if it wasn’t for my yoga practice (one that seeps into all areas of my life) I would not have begun to truly practice self-care and ASK for time to myself.

I wouldn’t have been able to tackle the hard aspects of my business, like learning finances, advertising, technology, and numbers.

I wouldn’t have been able to create reputable programs and a humbling reputation for offering some of the best yoga around.

I wouldn’t have been able to take a HUGE leap and step fully into taking my yoga tool box to the stage and begin my next steps in sharing my life, my lessons, my yoga to people beyond the yoga mat.

I wouldn’t have been able to successfully take on additional streams of revenue, that where I once flopped, I am now soaring.

I wouldn’t have been able to teach my kids a life that I wish I would have known when I was growing up.

I wouldn’t have been able to be here with all of you today to tell the story.

If it’s been a while, what gives?

Why have you been away?

If it’s been awhile, no stress, I have a spot waiting for you.

If it’s been so long, it just feels too long, the first step to making any change worth having, is to simply show up and the rest will just happen.

No matter how long it’s been, one day or three hundred.

I hope to see you on the mat really soon.

Not sure where to start? Join me on the mat ONLINE in my ONLINE Mindful Movement & Yoga Studio anytime, anywhere.

From my heart yours,

 

I’m Not A Yoga Teacher…

I’m Not A Yoga Teacher…

I’m not a yoga teacher.

Turning the way that I do business upside-down has come with its challenges. For years I have simply called myself a yoga teacher. Over these years, I have grown as a person, and as a result, my teaching style and approach on the mat have evolved as well.

I can still remember finally being brave enough to show up to another yoga teacher’s class, who in my surrounding area had made quite a name for herself. Usually full of fear to do such a thing, I took my mat under my arm and walked in the door. She recognized me and casually said hi, and I returned the greeting. Her class was hard, really hard, and I can remember leaving that session dripping in sweat and overwhelmed with tears because I thought to myself “I am nothing like she is.”

For years I yo-yoed with this type of thinking. My classes were growing and my following was becoming like family, but my insecurity regarding who I was as a yoga teacher continued with me for several years.

Throughout my entire life, I never felt like I fit in, always standing at the edge, or inside the circle but wondering how long it would last. This gut feeling stayed with me, that I was never meant to conform, yet I desperately wanted to be liked and accepted as both a kid and later as an adult. In our family, we were shown firsthand how to dislike ourselves, and I definitely would have gotten an A+ in that category.

As I taught others about how to love themselves, I often would speak candidly on my mat about the teachable lessons of life. What I really was speaking about was my own life, and I really was speaking to myself. I slowly began to heal my negative thinking patterns one by one while assisting others doing the same.

Many of my students would joke that they would come to my classes to help their physical bodies heal (as I had a growing reputation for intuitively understanding the body), but they would stay because of what it did for their minds. And that is how I view yoga.

Yoga is simply a tool for us to get to know ourselves better, be the observer without distraction, and see how we act and react to life in what I call the incubator (the yoga mat).  I love to speak to my students’ souls, and often would find myself crying on the mat, not because I was sad, but because I knew the deep truth that I was being told to speak to those present that day.

These truths, alongside my very nontraditional approach to yoga asana (poses) and the body, caused me to feel like a liar every time someone asked me what I did for a living. I’d say I teach yoga – but that’s not what I do.

I teach others how to live in their bodies fully! I teach others how to honor who they are and how to listen to what their breath and bodies are saying to them. I do all of this while challenging their thinking and their outlooks on themselves and on life in a gentle mirroring way.

I wasn’t a yoga teacher at all.

As I questioned this and meditated on this huge unveiling in my life, I also was diving deep and launching myself into speaking beyond the yoga mat. In writing my five-minute keynote, I was challenged to tell others who I am and what I do in just those few short minutes, and in a way that they would walk away remembering.

Who am I? Easy, I’m Hope Zvara and I Help Others Purposefully Excel. What do I do? And how do I do it?

Yoga was off the table because I knew deep down that I was beyond a yoga teacher at this point. I saw yoga as a tool I would continue to use, but it wasn’t my only tool, especially since most of my learning and education on the human body over the last eight years was outside the yoga realm.

What do I do?

For two weeks, I thought about this. Who am I and what do I do? As I sat down to write yet again, I softly laid my fingertips on my keyboard and the words just flowed. I help others learn to live in their bodies by following the three B’s: Breath, Body, Belief.

Breathing is essential. You cannot live without breathing, and, sadly, many people are not even aware of their breath.

The Body is the soul’s last attempt to get us to listen, and the mat is a way for me to help others learn about and live in their bodies more fully.

And finally, your mindset, or your Beliefs, create your behaviors and set you up for what you will, in fact, attract.

These three pillars are what I have evolved around over the years, and in creating this clarity, it has allowed me to create more focus in my life and in my business. It has reminded me of what I speak on, who I am as a teacher and how I can help people. If it doesn’t fit into this framework, I know to pass on it. After all, trying to be everything for everyone just ends with you being nothing to anyone. As a result, your message becomes watered down, diluted and lost in the shuffle.

I am not a yoga teacher. I am Hope Zvara, and I use yoga as a tool to help and inspire others to live the best life possible: breath, body, and belief (mind).

 

 

Changing with the Seasons | Insights to Living with Ease

I hope that everyone is enjoying the slightly warmer temperatures and the extra sunny day each week (hehe).

I love spring for so many reasons, but in the last few years I have found myself in a sigh of relief when spring is truly here. That the countless gloomy days and swinging cold temperatures are put to an end and a sense of freedom comes with the lifting of winter.

Seeing all the wild life come back to life and flowers, yes, the flowers come back into bloom is so captivating.

Spring for me is a time of rebirth, a time to see things again with fresh eyes, to remind myself of what is important, and to take time to match that up with my goals and dreams.

Spring offers a sense of energy and a sense of renewal. Spring for me is a reminder of new life and my own, as 33 years ago, this April my loving parents brought me into this world.

I have come a long way in 32 years, 33 springs, 128 season changes, and despite my own challenging season changes and unexpected storms, I have made it through them all.

The last several winters to spring season changes have stopped me dead in my tracks (literally), and left me weeping with tears of joy that yet again, new life is transforming.

That every year, the same birds come back, that the squirrel who crunches black walnuts all over my yard made it through the winter, that my chickens survived, that the deer, turkey’s, and my family of five can in-fact coexists together when we simply respect each other’s needs and lifestyle.

That in a season of change, so much stays the same. I believe that there is a lesson to be learned in this transition, that even with all the technology, advancements, and fancy devices, the best lessons we can learn have nothing to do with that stuff and everything to do with my backyard friend the grey squirrel and our coexisting neighbors the deer and turkey.

I learn so much from nature, watching how the animals adapt with change, how they tune in rather than tune out when things don’t go their way? I often wonder to myself what their goals and dreams are, why do certain animals do what they do? What do they know that we may have forgotten? What do they see that I need to?

It reminds me to step back and listen, to step back and check in and make sure the path I’m on is the one I should be on, that the way I’m walking is best in line with my gifts and talents. That how I am choosing to spend my time on this earth is enriching the lives of those around me, inspiring them, and that this cycle first starts with me and how I view this life.

Because here’s the thing-things change. Seasons change, life changes. The animals we coexist with understand this fully, they adapt, they tune in, they figure it out. We humans could benefit from the same.

Living in Wisconsin has brought about an unexpected gratitude for warm weather, for all four seasons, for the notion that nothing lasts forever.

Just last month I sat next to a woman on a flight home who lives in California and was telling me how when the temperature drops below 70, it’s unacceptable to her, and she’s cold. That when her son calls from college here in Wisconsin, and he comments how lovely a day it is when it’s sunny and 35 degrees in January, I am grateful for being exposed to change. See, her son has adapted, her son has drawn a new appreciation for the necessary changes, for the sweetness of a 35-degree day laced into dozens of others barely reaching 20. He embraced the change, and she even commented on how she admired his willingness to endure such changes.

Why do we hold on, why do we fear that when something is changing good won’t come of it? That nature has a cycle, and in the trillions of seasons the earth has made it through that each cycle, each year, change must continue. And like the animals, we must learn to adapt and tune back into nature, tune back into what is truly important. Tune back into the messages we cannot get via text or Facebook.

So as spring continues to come into bloom, don’t fight it, let go of trying to figure it out, because all that time you spend trying to master something no one has yet to do, you could be spending that time mastering the art of simply tuning in, listening like the deer do, living in harmony like the birds do and seeing the gifts, blessings and real beauty the ever-changing earth has to offer us.

Because if you want to change anything in life, being in it, close to it, and surrounded with it, you then realize that the change first starts with you. How you live, how you eat, how you breathe, how you interact with that and those around you.

The trees don’t complain when the previous winter was a rough one, the turkeys don’t spend their days grumbling on Facebook when their neighbors the deer ate all their food. No, they restrategize and move on, they work to figure out where they went wrong, realize where they need to improve so it doesn’t happen again. They put effort in so they can continue to thrive.

Yoga has brought me great insights to life, to my life, and what it truly means. Yoga, like nature, is about us ever evolving and learning how to adapt to changes with grace and ease. Be it a new teacher, a change up in the classroom set up, or attending a class style we are not accustom to.

To fight winter each year will only cause more pain, misery, and unhappiness. Learning to see the beauty in the one 32 degree day among many other chilly and dreary ones is the first step to seeing the good laced in with the challenging.

Here’s to adapting and changing with the seasons.

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Om At Home: 4 Ways to Help You Enjoy the Winter Season!

Om At Home

5 Simple Steps to Enjoy the Winter Season!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Don’t let winter weather get you down. The weather outside might be frightful but here are five things that can help you feel so delightful.

  1.  Relax and enjoy the snowfall from inside where its warm with the added benefit of aromatherapy. Scents and smells can aid in the ability to reduce anxiety, ease depression and boost energy levels, all of which the colder, darker winter months often can increase for people. A little sweet scent can boost your energy and outlook on a snow-covered world until its summer once again. Grab a diffuser to set your winter season off on the right note!

2.  Don’t let the winter months bring you down. That sheltered feeling winter brings many in the colder climates can set many into a downward spiral of negativity and depression. Music is a great way to instantly change one’s mood. Accessible, relaxing music playing in the background can take a frown and turn it upside-down in a few quick songs. Listening to music can reduce stress, redirect our attention, calm our busy mind, and choosing tunes that are relaxing and calming can turn a stressful workspace into a happy place. Here’s one of my favorite CD’s to help you set the mood.

3. Sip away stress with tea. Drinking tea does one of my favorite things-warms you from the inside out. That feeling of the first warm sip as it runs down your throat is both calming and soothing. During the winter months I, like many, struggle with drinking enough water, due to the fact it’s so cold outside. But during the winter months, the air is dryer which is a call for us to drink even more water. Tea is a great way to get your water count in and at the same time balance your mood, as many teas have added benefits depending on what you choose to drink. Here is some of my favorite tea.

4. Shine a little light down on yourself this winter with a light and ion therapy lamp. Those shorter days and gloomy afternoons do wear a person down. A few years ago I decided to do a better job warding off the winter blues  (also known as SAD). A little light goes a long way. Boost your mood with light therapy.

The weather outside might be frightful, but inside you can make it your own delightful winter retreat-everyday!

A little investment in yourself this season can make a big difference in how you see the world over the next several months.

(Click on any of the products above to learn more or grab this item NOW and start your winter season out on a warm, bright, soothing note!)

 

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Yoga: Is It What We Think?

Yoga: Is It What We Think?

Yoga is it what we think?

Yoga begins in the present moment.

But what really is yoga? Many associate yoga with asana, the practice of physical postures; what many yogis know as the third limb of yoga (of the 8-limb path). But to be clear, yoga is so much more than that.

Absolutely, asana is a pathway, but what does it then lead to?

The first word in the yoga sutra is- atha, which literally means “now”. My initial understanding of yoga was the typical rendition of yoga, meaning to “unite” or “yoke”, but as Michael Stone puts it “this turns yoga into something one does, a form of willful activity”.

I have both practiced and studied yoga for almost fifteen years now, but to be honest, have only really truly understood the actual meaning of yoga and have worked to apply it to my life in the last few.

Taking this new approach to yoga has allowed both me as a yoga practitioner and as a person simply moving through this thing we call life to find more value in what yoga is trying to teach me (us).

When I think of these two drastically different meanings of yoga, it becomes apparent to me that initially, one may make more sense than the other. That one may be easier to digest, and in return, welcome more people into the arms of yoga; eventually leading those dedicated enough to the true understanding of what yoga is.

The full first yoga sutra reads “Atha yoganusasnam” which translates as “in the present moment is the teachings of yoga”.

So before we even get to asana, we are already told of the present moment…the now.

And it is in this present moment, in this balance between birth and death, darkness and light, the inhale and exhale, it is here, that we feel the completeness of what is: the silence that precedes all things.

In my life, I have come to the mat thousands of times already and although many come to the mat to receive the many benefits of yoga asana; could it be that the true goal of the action of yoga asana- is to step into the stillness that is the moment, not the asana itself? The place we meet our breath, we meet our body, we meet the asana or even another, on this pathway we call life, that we see it as complete.

So then, is it through yoga asana (or any of the other 7 limbs) that we strip away the layers of distraction, dissolution, and ignorance and fully accept and receive the present moment, the now, the silence.

 

I think about my experiences on the mat itself and after many years of practice, although I love the asanas, I love more where the asanas take me. As a teacher, it has become difficult at times to adhere to the requests students have to push hard, go deep and move beyond what I know and can sense they truly need at this time. But in a culture still blinded by the action of: doing equals success, truly teaching the meaning of yoga proves to be difficult.

The discomfort that arises with being still, breathing, and only focusing on that one breath. Asking your students to slow down and be in their bodies, rather than outside themselves, does soon pass. And it is the practice of asana that can peel away the layers of that discomfort, that distraction, so that you the practitioner can fully arrive in the moment, in the now, in the stillness and silence, so that we can truly understand that “yoga beings now”.

So it may be safe to say that asana is a practice of yoga, but is not yoga. And that through the mat we are given a more clear path, with instructions (hopefully) to guide us to what we now know yoga is…the experience of the moment we work to create on the mat, and the off the mat every single day.

To all the places your yoga practice may lead you, may it in the end, guide you to the one place that is always real, true and pure, the place that is not dependent on which pose you do when, or how long you can balance, or whether your practice is beginner or advanced. In the end, may what we call yoga always guide you into a full completeness and realization of the union of life.

From my heart to yours, from my soul to yours,

Namaste,

Hope

References: The Inner Traditions of Yoga by Michael Stone, 2008

 

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