Self Love Slow Flow

Love is in the air! Greeting card companies are cranking out the sappy cards, florists are putting in orders for dozens of roses, and the holiday section at supermarkets are full of stuffed animals and chocolate heart boxes. February seems to be a time where the bulk of society feels the need to remind each other how in love they are through gifts, dinners, and actions of kindness. It’s nice to have holidays to remind us of how we should be all the time, so I’m hoping to give you a few tools to help integrate this idea of showing love into your life with more frequency than once a year.

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Love is one of the easiests gifts to give and receive, yet somehow it can also be quite the challenge. Especially when the love you need to give is to yourself. When’s the last time you treated yourself to a nice meal? A bouquet of flowers? Or even an hour of uninterrupted “me time”? When you think of “self love” what does that look like to you? For me, any type of wellness practice feels like I’m filling myself up with love. That can be anything from movement through yoga, dance, or weight lifting – to massage, fresh foods, and a good night’s sleep. I don’t think these things should be held on reserve for the perfect day or time when we have REALLY earned it. We earn it just by living our daily lives. So this month, I’d like to take you through a slow flow to give yourself the love and time you deserve.

Self Love Slow Flow

Let’s start lying on our backs with our arms by our sides and our feet & legs relaxed. Take a few moments here to arrive on your mat, becoming fully aware of your surroundings. You can close your eyes as you begin to feel your body in contact with the ground beneath you. Feel yourself being supported through all the areas where your body meets your mat. Let the breath begin to deepen as you start to scan your body from head to toe, becoming aware of any areas that may feel a little tight or tense. See if you can consciously relax those spaces just by bringing your attention to them. Stay here for five rounds of breath, imagining you can draw your inhales through the soles of your feet and up through your spine to the crown of your head, and then pushing your exhales back down the opposite way

With your next inhale, draw both knees into the chest as you wrap your arms around your shins or place your palms on your knees, giving yourself a hug. Begin to find movement here if it feels good to the body, maybe rocking a bit from side to side – slowly even rocking up and down the length of your spine. Eventually come to a place of stillness. Keeping your right knee hugged in, go ahead and extend your opposite leg all the way down onto your mat. Draw the bent knee towards your armpit, maybe even taking it to the side of your rib cage. Keep extending through your straightened leg as you feel your left hip flexor release while your right hip is being compressed. Breathe in here, and then draw your right leg across the body until you find yourself in a nice twist. You can extend your right arm out to the side here, seeing if you can keep both shoulders on your mat. If it feels okay for your neck, turn the head to gaze out over your right fingertips. Come back to your breath, and notice how each inhalation and exhalation affects this shape. After 5 breaths, unwind the body and come back to center – once again hugging both knees into the chest. Repeat on the opposite side, starting by extending the right leg down towards your mat as you keep the left knee hugged in, then coming into your twist after a few breaths.

From center, begin to rock and roll up the length of your spine until you find yourself upright. Cross at the ankles and make your way onto hands and knees in tabletop position. If your knees are a bit sensitive, feel free to pad them here with a blanket. Here we will begin to move through some cat/cow motions to awaken the spine. Feel free to find organic movement here as you inhale and exhale, maybe circling out the torso or taking the hips from left to right. Listen to what it is your body needs, and move with it. Eventually find your way to a place of stillness in tabletop.

With an inhale, sweep your right arm open and into the sky, spinning your heart open to the right side of the room. You can circle out the wrist here in one direction, and then the other. Then with an exhale, thread the right arm behind the left as you come down onto your right shoulder. Really reach through here with the right arm and lean back into the left shoulder to find more depth in your twist. You can keep the left hand where it is, or play with extending the left arm towards the top of your mat. You can also wrap the left arm around the torso as you begin to reach for the right thigh. Try to find something that feels loving and supportive to the body instead of strenuous. Again noticing your breath and how it changes the way this shape feels. After a few breaths here, exhale to take the left hand back to your mat underneath your left shoulder and with an inhale slowly draw the right arm back through and into the sky for a counter stretch before placing your right hand down. Repeat on the opposite side.

From tabletop, tilt the pelvis forward like in cow pose. The tops of your feet are flat on the ground here as you take the knees as wide as your mat. Put pressure into your hands as you begin to sit the buns back towards the heels, keeping the forward pelvic tilt, and letting your chest descend between your arms as you find child’s pose. Take 5-10 deep belly breaths as you connect with your breath and come back gratitude and love for yourself.

Once you’ve completed 5-10 breaths, begin to walk the hands in towards the body, bringing the knees together and the torso upright until you find yourself in a kneeling position. Interlace the fingers and spin the palms up towards the sky as you straighten the arms. Draw the belly in towards the navel, reach through the crown of your head, and knit the low ribs in as you engage the abdominal muscles. Take an inhale with the arms extended overhead, and as you exhale begin to push the palms forward and round through the spine tucking your chin towards your chest. Inhale to come back up right, and exhale to round through the spine. Do this 2-3 more times extending upwards with the inhale, and pushing forward with your exhale.

The next time you find yourself upright, you can unclasp the hands. Take your right fingertips to the ground beside your right hip, pick your buns up and over to the left side, and reach up and over with your right hand getting a nice side body stretch. Breathe into the space between the rib cage and stay for a couple rounds of breath. With an inhale, let the left hand guide you back to center as you restack your seat. Repeat this on the opposite side.

From kneeling, take your knees hip width distance apart and come up onto your shins so that your hips are stacked directly over your knees. Take the palms to the low back with fingers pointing down. Roll the shoulders up towards your ears and back down the spine as you draw the shoulder blades together and reach forward with the chest. Keep pressing the hips forward, and let your head move back in space while keeping your chin slightly tucked. You may choose to stay here, or if it feels sustainable, begin to reach one or both hands back towards your heels. Keep the integrity of this posture by making sure your hips stay above the knees. If they aren’t, ease out of the posture and bring the hands back to your low back, then slowly stack the spine as you come upright, releasing the glutes down onto your heels. Close your eyes here and take a moment to come back to yourself, feeling the benefits of this heart opening pose.

For your final shape, find some space against a wall. Bring your left hip up next to the wall and begin to recline as you come onto your back for legs up the wall.  For a little added back support you can put a cushion under the sacrum. Feel your low back release, a gentle stretch in the hamstrings, and an increase in circulation. You can relax into this shape for several minutes before lowering the legs to one side and coming flat onto your back for savasana to close out your practice. If you’re enjoying legs up the wall, feel free to finish in this shape – remember, this is about self love. ❤

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Breaking Free of Patterns

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Our lives are a series of patterns. Everything in nature goes through life in patterns, including humans. When we encounter obstacles, we have to learn to adapt to our new reality, or maneuver around it to continue to progress.

I have a really colorful past. I come from a very conservative christian background in a very small town in west Texas. I grew up believing untrue stories about magic beings in the sky that watched and judged my every move. I also grew up accepting sexism, racism, and classism as normal. Yet I had no idea, nor did my peers/relatives, that we were actually living in this strange reality. Most of the people from my past are still stuck there, but I have (thankfully) expanded my world view and understanding of different schools of thought. I can still recall some comments I made when I was growing up…slurs that were tossed around like standard adverbs. I had no idea who I was or how I was representing myself and my community. It’s painful to look back and remember the person I was before, but it’s also inspiring to know how far I’ve come.

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I know I’ve always struggled with feelings of unworthiness. I constantly tried to find love and acceptance by putting on a new mask in every crowd I surrounded myself with. I slept with people out of sheer craving for connection. I didn’t know who I was, I just knew who I thought everyone wanted me to be. This included everything from language I used, to clothes I wore, and even art I appreciated. It wasn’t until I was entering my mid twenties that I actually started getting a handle on who Brittany REALLY was.

I started experimenting with different substances to alter my perception, though I can’t fully attribute all my life changes to them. They were an important part of my growth on my path, though. I remember feeling like I had so many “a-ha!” moments and knowing such clarity around what I was understanding in those moments. I did my best to integrate the “downloads” I had received and worked on improving the areas that exposed themselves to me while I was under the influence.

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Eventually I found myself in the midst of heartbreak, defeat, and hopelessness – as is the case for many people. Hating my job, not caring for my body, and caught up in a whirlwind of useless connections with toxic people. Something had to change. I started reading books on philosophy, spirituality, self improvement etc. and ultimately signed up for yoga teacher training. During my 200hr training I had my world ROCKED. We were diving so deep into yogic philosophy and how it relates to the world around us all. I quickly learned that there was more to yoga than just stretching or exercise. This was a whole practice based around being mindful on your mat, so that you could bring that same mindfulness out into the rest of the world. Practicing things like compassion, patience, understanding, and acceptance are what always shows up for me on my yoga mat. The practice was some sort of salvation that I didn’t even know I was searching for. It drew me in and changed my life. From the fire that was lit inside me through yoga, my whole world went ablaze. I started caring more about my relationships, most importantly the one with myself – internally and externally. I started wanting to pursue a life of freedom, contentment, and happiness. Anything that didn’t allow for me to feel inspired and happy was immediately cut out of my life. I didn’t have time for anything that wasn’t serving my greater good. I was starting to gather momentum! I began surrounding myself with people who were knowledgable about movement, nutrition, and healthy life practices. I kept getting serious downloads from people I admired, read a bunch of books, journaled my heart out, and kept putting myself in uncomfortable situations that forced me to grow. All of a sudden I had ROOTS. I had security in who and how I was. I found love in my community, my relationships, and within myself. I thought this place was something that everyone else talked about but that I’d never experience…until I did. It lasted for a while, feelings of being inspired…like I was learning life all over again…but eventually, the patterns kept repeating themselves. I found myself in a loop. I was still progressing in minor ways, but I could feel that change was necessary and crucial to my continued development.

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Fast forward, and now I live in Denver. A whole new world! I was introduced to a new line of work that kept my pockets comfortable and allowed me to indulge in my favorite foods and activities. I was spending time with people who were fun and with whom I had enough in common to have a good time. We had great conversations about oneness and love and positivity. I felt inspired again by people and all that they had accomplished. This lasted for about a year before I noticed I was stuck in a loop again. I was having the same conversations with the same people…doing the same things…feeling greatly uninspired by the lack of progress I was witnessing all around me, and also within myself. Words are only a small part of progress…action is what I was looking for. I started trying to align myself with people and places that were more on the page I was hoping to be on. I wanted to be more active, I wanted to be doing what I loved and not just what was easy, I wanted to keep GROWING without feeling held back. So, on I went.

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Today, and for the past month, I have found myself in Costa Rica. I’m cooking regularly for yoga and wellness retreats. I am in bed early, and awake before the sun. I’m nourishing my body with nutritious foods and movement, I’m nourishing my mind with stimulating conversations and enlightening books, and I’m making connections with people who are inspiring me to do better…to BE better. Constantly. This is all that I could have ever hoped for when I first started my journey to become the best version of myself that I could be. Am I done? No. Am I still growing and progressing? FUCK yes! I’m learning so much about myself here and being challenged in ways I didn’t think were possible even just one year ago. I’ve broken free of another cycle of unhelpful patterns and relationships and feel like I’ve leveled up again. I can’t begin to imagine what life will look like in a year from now, but if I’ve found my way this far…I’m sure what’s in store is going to be exactly what I need.

I share this story because I hope to inspire people to keep moving forward. To keep following their hearts. To keep pushing through uncomfortable change until you find yourself in exactly the place you want to be. Recognize patterns, question everything, and keep trying to do better. There’s beauty in being content, and a balance between  that contentment and the desire to constantly improve. You’ve got this!

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How To Deal With Stress This Holiday Season

The holidays are a wonderful time for loved ones to come together. They are intended to remind us how blessed we are to have a community of support and love within reach. It can also be quite the challenge to put into practice all that we’ve learned around mindful living. It sometimes only takes one comment, one word, one look to trigger our emotional body into a place of reactiveness. Growing up in a conservative family from west Texas, it became very hard for me to stay grounded and loving throughout any gathering while being witness to so many things that challenged my current way of living. Many arguments, tears, and uncomfortable conversations later – I’m here to share some practices that have helped me deal with the stress that family gatherings can stir up around the holidays.

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Something that is super important to me in aiding to my stress response is making sure I’m properly nourished and well slept. These two things can play a huge role in how we’re feeling. Stress directly affects the nervous system, which, in turn, affects the digestive system among several other things. Getting foods full of B vitamins supports the nervous system and the production of neurotransmitters which are referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that can be produced when consuming leafy green veggies containing folate (like spinach), and can aid in keeping you calm, cool and collected. Additionally, you can reach for berries which are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients that help fight against stress related free radicals. The antioxidants found in berries can help reduce blood pressure, a significant contributor to stress. Speaking of antioxidants, these magical substances are also found in dark chocolate! Win! Having just a small amount of dark chocolate (not the whole bar) can reduce cortisol in the body in addition to helping regulate blood pressure. CBD is a great stress relief tool that can be applied topically or taken orally. Using CBD can help the brain and body access mood regulating chemicals like serotonin so they can be used more efficiently and return the body to a naturally balanced state. CBD has also been shown to increase the brain’s hippocampus, which can shrink when a person is really anxious, depressed, or stressed.

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Another factor that plays into blood pressure regulation is SLEEP. Getting adequate sleep in general, but especially during the holidays, is crucial. When you aren’t getting the sleep your body needs, stress hormones are produced and a vicious cycle ensues. The more stress hormones that are made by lack of sleep directly contribute to your inability to fall asleep the next night. They continue production into your day with the peak being in the afternoon/early evening when the body should be winding down in preparation for sleep. This can make you irritable and more likely to snap at your loved ones. So do yourself and everyone else a favor, get some sleep.

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If we can find the time and space to ourselves to practice yoga, breathing techniques, and even meditation – they can improve our body’s ability to handle stressful situations. Studies show that even as little as 10 minutes of meditation each day can help decrease anxiety and significantly reduce stress. Other studies have shown both increases and decreases in brain cell volume in different areas, one being a decrease in the amygdala which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and, you guessed it, – STRESS. There are a ton of benefits to getting into a regular meditation routine, and stress control is a key part of that. When we meditate, we are focusing on our breath, mindfulness, and controlling the brain from wandering off to unnecessary thoughts. When we begin to focus on taking deeper fuller breaths, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated and more oxygen flows to the brain. This lowers our blood pressure, slows the heart rate, and puts us in a calmer state. Yoga is a great way to combine both mindful meditation, breath awareness, and movement. All of these things together can create a sensation of calm and relaxation.

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So this holiday season, make sure you and your loved ones are all eating stress-reducing foods, taking deep breaths, getting adequate sleep, and taking some time to practice mindfulness & movement. These will all help everyone relax and enjoy each other’s company, the way the holidays are meant to be spent!

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