"In the dance of life's intricate steps, Lord Ganesha leads, his wisdom the music, his blessings the rhythm, and our hearts the willing dancers." ~ Ashley
In the gentle embrace of September's embrace, an auspicious day dawns, a day where the heavens themselves seem to dance in celebration. It is the 19th of September, a date that holds profound significance for millions across the world.
On this day, hearts and homes are adorned with vibrant colors, echoing with the sweet sounds of devotion and joy. It is Ganesh Chaturthi, the grand festival that ushers in the presence of Lord Ganesha, the beloved Elephant-headed God.
Lord Ganesha, the harbinger of auspicious beginnings, the remover of obstacles, the patron of intellect and wisdom, graces us with his divine presence. His form is a testament to the extraordinary union of strength and serenity, power and peace, all encapsulated within his endearing visage.
The heart of this celebration lies in the recitation of the Ganesha mantra, a sacred chant that resonates with the very essence of this benevolent deity. Each syllable of this mantra reverberates like a divine melody, carrying with it the promise of transformation and illumination.
"Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha."
As we gently unravel the layers of this mantra, its profound meaning begins to reveal itself. "Om," the primordial sound, the sacred vibration that underlies all of creation, aligns us with the universal energy. "Gam," the seed of realization, invokes the Lord's grace, inviting him into our lives. "Ganapataye," the address to Lord Ganesha, the one who governs our journey, guiding us through the labyrinth of existence. "Namaha," the humble surrender, the recognition of our limitations, and the willingness to let go.
Together, these syllables form a harmonious tapestry of devotion and affirmation. They acknowledge the challenges that life presents and invoke the wisdom and strength to overcome them. In the rhythmic repetition of the Ganesha mantra, one finds solace, clarity, and an unwavering connection with the divine.
As the vibrant idols of Lord Ganesha are lovingly immersed in the waters, we release our own burdens, surrendering them to the infinite wisdom of the universe. And in this act of surrender, we find liberation, a newfound sense of purpose, and an unwavering belief that with Lord Ganesha by our side, all obstacles can be overcome.
So, on this sacred day, as the fragrance of incense wafts through the air, and the echoes of devotional songs fill the hearts, let us embrace the power of the Ganesha mantra. Let us invite Lord Ganesha into our lives, not merely as a deity but as a guiding force, a source of strength, and a harbinger of new beginnings. In the gentle cadence of the mantra, we discover the extraordinary power to transform our lives, to move past obstacles, and to embark on a journey of grace and wisdom.
Ganesh Chaturthi, a celebration of faith, a festival of beginnings, and a testament to the enduring power of devotion. May Lord Ganesha's blessings illuminate your path, removing obstacles, and filling your life with joy, abundance, and boundless love.
"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." – Mark Twain
Life is a tapestry of unexpected turns, a dance between harmony and discord. Lately, I've encountered such complexities that have served as a crucible for my emotional resilience and spiritual growth. But what if the power to transmute these moments—from chaos to clarity, from hurt to healing—resides within us all? To guide you on this transformative journey, this blog post delves into the art of forgiveness and loving-kindness. Here, you'll discover effective strategies for elevating your mental and emotional state, especially when entangled in misunderstandings or conflicts.
To further enrich your journey, I've also included an interactive PDF worksheet and journal towards the end of this blog. This resource is designed to offer you a structured yet reflective space to dig deeper into these concepts, providing actionable steps and contemplative prompts for each topic discussed. And don't miss the guided Loving Kindness Meditation video, a harmonious capstone to our exploration of these timeless principles.
For an optimal experience, I suggest reading this blog through your browser, particularly if you're one of my cherished subscribers.
With an open heart and spirit,
The Meaning and Importance of Forgiveness
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." ~ Lewis B. Smedes
Forgiveness is a term we often hear but may not fully understand, especially when we're in the heat of emotional pain, betrayal, or disappointment. The instinct to hold onto hurt is a natural one; it's as if our mind is trying to protect us by saying, "Remember this so it won't happen again." However, that protective instinct often does more harm than good. Before we delve into the intricacies of what forgiveness is and why it's so crucial, let's dispel some common myths.
Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you; it means releasing the emotional burden that comes with resentment and anger. Holding onto these emotions serves as a constant drain on your mental and emotional resources.
So, what do we stand to gain when we choose the path of forgiveness? Let's explore some compelling reasons:
In summary, forgiveness isn't about giving a free pass to those who've wronged us; it's about freeing ourselves. The act of forgiving is like dropping a heavy bag you've been carrying around; it provides you with a sense of relief and paves the way for inner peace, better health, and empowerment. If you find yourself resistant to forgiveness, remember that you're doing it for you, not for the person who wronged you. The act of forgiving is a self-loving choice that lets you reclaim your power and move forward with a lighter heart.
The Foundation: Practicing Self-Compassion
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." ~ Buddha
Our journey begins with the indispensable practice of self-compassion, a cornerstone for extending loving kindness towards others. Just as a gardener painstakingly nurtures the soil to yield vibrant blooms, so too must we cultivate self-compassion to nourish love and kindness within our own hearts.
Imagine a friend facing a challenging phase in their life. Naturally, you offer a comforting shoulder, empathetic ear, and uplifting words. The essence of self-compassion lies in affording ourselves that same level of care and understanding when we face life's inevitable ups and downs.
However, the application of self-compassion is often easier said than done. Just yesterday, I found myself entrapped in a cycle of negative self-talk. Thoughts like, "Why did you even get involved?" seemed to undermine my genuine enthusiasm, as if my eagerness held no merit. But upon reflection, I realized that such self-criticism serves no constructive purpose.
As we've explored the essence of self-compassion and its undeniable impact on our emotional well-being, you may be wondering how to manifest this understanding into your day-to-day life. Well, the journey from conceptual understanding to practical application can often be bridged with some simple yet transformative steps. Allow me to share some strategies that have been game-changers for me and could serve as practical building blocks for you as well.
Practical Steps for Cultivating Self-Compassion
By consciously incorporating these practices into your daily life, you begin to disrupt the cycle of self-neglect, paving the way for a more harmonious existence, devoid of unnecessary turmoil and negativity.
Handling Misunderstandings and Negative Energy
"Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace." ~ Dalai Lama
In a world rife with misunderstandings and unexpected negative energy, knowing how to manage your emotional landscape is crucial for maintaining balance and well-being. When I talk about 'managing your emotional landscape,' I'm referring to two main areas: Thought Management and Energy Management.
Thought Management involves becoming aware of your thought patterns and how they contribute to your emotional state. On the flip side, Energy Management is about controlling the invisible yet palpable energy that influences your interactions with others and your own well-being.
In the interest of supporting your journey toward emotional wellness, I've created an interactive PDF worksheet and journal designed to complement this section. This resource offers targeted prompts and exercises that assist you in taking actionable steps towards better emotional self-care. I encourage you to download it as you read along—doing the exercises will significantly enhance your experience and understanding of the material presented.
Techniques for Thought Management:
To sum it all up, mastering your emotional and mental state is well within your grasp. Simple yet potent techniques such as recognizing triggers, pausing to breathe, and questioning your thoughts can provide immense relief. To truly empower yourself, also consider grounding exercises and activities that promote emotional release. Remember, you are not a passive spectator to your life—you have the agency to influence your emotional and mental well-being.
⭐️ How do you manage negative energy and misunderstandings in your own life? Share your techniques or experiences in the comments below. And don't forget to check out the interactive PDF worksheet and journal to deepen your understanding and practice.
⭐️ *For my cherished subscribers viewing this blog in their email, I recommend opening the email in your browser. This will enable you to access both the Loving Kindness Meditation video and thePDF worksheet/journal seamlessly.
Practical Steps for Implementing These Practices
"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love." ~ Lao Tzu
Understanding the concepts of forgiveness and loving-kindness is just the beginning. To fully experience their transformative power, we need to integrate them into our daily lives. The proverbial saying, "Knowing is not enough; we must apply," couldn't be truer here. Inspired by the wisdom of Lao Tzu, who emphasizes that kindness in different facets of life brings about profound changes, let's explore some actionable steps you can take to make these practices a part of your everyday routine.
In a nutshell, making forgiveness and loving-kindness an integral part of your life doesn't have to be complex or overwhelming. Even the simplest actions like setting up daily reminders, creating a conducive environment for reflection, or seeking support from trusted individuals can make a substantial impact. Remember, as Lao Tzu so eloquently puts it, kindness in its various forms can bring about confidence, depth, and love in our lives. All it takes is a few consistent, practical steps to unlock these benefits.
A Guided Loving Kindness Meditation
Practical application is essential for fully embracing and integrating the principles I've discussed in this blog. That's why I'm thrilled to offer you an invaluable resource for your self-discovery and emotional growth: a guided Loving Kindness Meditation video. This meditation aims to serve as a nurturing foundation, enriching your compassion and kindness toward yourself and others.
For my cherished subscribers viewing this blog in their email, I recommend opening the email in your browser. This will enable you to access both the Loving Kindness Meditation video and the PDF worksheet/journal seamlessly.
By participating in this guided meditation, you'll be empowering yourself to not only understand but also actively practice the art of forgiveness, loving-kindness, and emotional self-care. While this video offers a wonderful starting point, don't forget that I've also created an interactive PDF worksheet and journal, which you'll find in the section on 'Handling Misunderstandings and Negative Energy.' These resources collectively offer a comprehensive toolkit for emotional well-being, ensuring you're well-equipped for any emotional challenges that may come your way.
Conclusion: The Road Ahead
"It's not about perfect. It's about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that's where transformation happens. That's how change occurs." ~ Jillian Michaels
In recent days, I found myself navigating a labyrinth of emotionally charged conversations with another parent—or rather, a couple. These interactions left an imprint, filling me with a tumultuous blend of feelings: misunderstood, conspicuously frustrated, and deeply unsettled. Despite devoting myself to a structured yoga practice and an intensely focused session of Nadi Shodhana pranayama—both integral components of our ongoing Kriya Yoga Journey—the sticky emotional residue from these confrontations clung to me like stubborn ivy on an ancient wall. Even the tranquility of a concluding Savasana failed to shake them off.
Amid this inner whirlpool, I turned my thoughts to the age-old practice of Loving Kindness meditation. Could it serve as my emotional balm? Did this couple, who had unwittingly triggered my emotional chaos, even warrant my loving kindness? As I wrestled with my own resistance and internal tension, I sank into the soothing folds of the meditation. First, I showered love upon myself, followed by my loved ones, and eventually broadened the circle to include the world at large—and yes, even this couple. Whether they sensed this goodwill, I can't be sure, but I choose to believe in its impact.
By the meditation's end, something extraordinary happened. The weight of resentment and frustration lifted, as though a fog had finally cleared. I felt reconnected to the fundamental essence of who I am, aligned with the universe's intricate web of interconnectedness. Unexpectedly, a sense of gratitude crept in, thanking these individuals for the unintentional lessons they had bestowed. Their words and actions became a mirror, reflecting my own imperfections and reaffirming my place within the greater cosmic mosaic.
As we venture further into the transformative realms of forgiveness and loving kindness, let's heed Rumi's timeless wisdom: 'Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth.' Through the alchemy of forgiveness, compassion, and deep-rooted empathy, we become the authors of our own healing narrative. Consider this a heartfelt invitation to nurture these virtues within ourselves, allowing their radiant essence to extend outward, influencing all who cross our paths.
~ With Love, Ashley
Your Support Matters
Dear readers, if you've found value in this article, I invite you to join the conversation. Share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the comments below; your insights could make a difference in someone else's journey.
Additionally, if you appreciate my efforts to provide an ad-free reading experience, please consider making a donation. Your generosity enables me to continue creating quality content that enriches lives.
Your support doesn't just help me; it fosters a community committed to growth, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me.
With Gratitude ~ Ashley
Today, let's talk about breath and its importance within your yoga practice and beyond, off your yoga mat. I often say in my yoga classes that your breath is your guide. It informs you if you have pushed your body too hard (it gets shaky) or if you have zoned out and are no longer present in your practice, your body, and the moment (it disappears). Thus, your breath is the key to unlocking your body's potential, but it also serves a greater purpose. In fact, maintaining a steady, rhythmic breath is the most vital element of your yoga practice and towards living a full and present life.
Have you ever noticed the connection between your breathing and the actions you are taking or have taken? Have you ever observed how your breath is connected to and impacts your body, energy, and movement?
If you practice yoga, perhaps you have become skilled at matching your breath to your movement, and the two no longer feel separate but rather one thread that carries you through the fabric of your practice. If you have yet to build a yoga practice with breath awareness, once you do, you will learn that when you use your breath consciously, it becomes this pure, raw energy that sweeps through you like a cleansing wind. (Doesn't that sound nice?) Every inhalation is an invitation for life (prana) to enter your body; every exhalation affects a letting go and a release of gratitude for that life force (prana). As you breathe through your yoga practice, your brain signals that you are safe, calm, and grounded. Furthermore, when you learn through vinyasa to match and mirror your movements with your breath, you find yourself peeling away layers of physical and mental resistance. Your breath sustains you when you come to your edge in a pose and allows you to move into new mental, emotional, and physical frontiers.
The breath we use for asana practice in my yoga classes is called ujjayi (oo-jai-ee). Ujjayi breathing is the thread of breath force that elegantly weaves through the tapestry of our vinyasa practice. It is the access point to the source of serene passion required to intuitively lead yourself through your practice and everyday life. Ujjayi serves as a source of equanimity and ease when the path gets tough. It is a doorway to vitality and creative energy.
The Sanskrit word ujjayi translates to "victory." In yogic principles, victory comes by being committed to something bigger than oneself. So the question becomes: How do you create your practice to be about something bigger than yourself? The answer to that question lies in breath awareness and tuning into the transformative power of your breath.
The Connection Between Your Breath & Your Thoughts
Breath and the absence of thoughts are correlated. By correlated, I mean a specific kind of connection in which breath, thoughts, and emotions are in a dance with one another. As you become conscious of your breath, you notice that it reflects your thoughts, energy, and emotional moods like a mirror. Most of us need a breakthrough in being conscious of our breathing and our understanding of the impact it has on our practice. Unfortunately, most -- if not all -- of us are very poor observers of our breathing.
Has this been your experience? Please let me know in the comments section below.
Most of us do what we do on our yoga mats, and we produce positive results for the most part without really noticing our breathing. So the first step -- the most crucial step -- is to simply notice your breath. Try that right now; pause for a moment and observe your breath.
Observing breath is a tool to cultivate self-awareness. With every mood and emotion, your breathing has a different rhythm. When you are angry or frustrated, watch your breath; you will notice it has a certain quality. When you feel fear, observe how your breath responds. When you feel love, watch how the breath flows. When you are sad, notice the tempo and rhythm of your inhalations and exhalations. When you are calm, happy, or just hanging out in Savasana, clue into your breath and see how it feels and sounds.
Have you noticed that when your body is healthy, you breathe differently than when your body is sick? When you are ill, the breathing is off-center or may alert you that something is wrong in your inner ecosystem. In contrast, when you're in perfect health, you typically forget about your breathing because it flows without friction.
We are typically unaware of our breath, but yoga on and off the mat provides the perfect opportunity to get conscious of it. You get to know your breath patterns and their different qualities through yoga and pranayama. You get to observe that whenever your state of mind changes, your breathing also changes. The reverse is also true: change your breathing, and your state of mind and emotional energy also change. Breath awareness is a tool that has transformative powers; you can literally change your mind and your mood just through breath.
Pranayama is the practice of putting your attention on the breath and intentionally being at play with it. A significant breakthrough awaits those who are at conscious play with their breath. You are training the mind to hone its focus when you bring your awareness to your breath while in a receiving pose (any pose you hold for a breath -- or more-- intentionally). Training yourself to keep your attention on your breath brings forth a meditative energy to the pose and integrates with your body, mind, and being. This cultivated mindfulness on the mat empowers an overall ability to focus during everyday tasks.
In an article published in 2012 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers evaluated people who had no previous exposure to meditation. Some group members were given 3 hours of mindfulness meditation training and were asked to meditate for 10 minutes each day for 16 weeks. Other group members did not meditate at all. Both groups were then given tasks that involved attention to detail. Those group members that were meditators showed more control over executive functions! This study points to the possibility that even small amounts of meditation training can significantly change neural patterns in the brain.
The work for the newer yogi is to consider the breath as fascinating, engaging, and fruitful. Learn to be with your breath in each pose. Observe it, and be at play with controlling the flow of breath into and out of your body. Observe the impact of your breathing on your physical structure and the energetic vibration in your body.
Do that, and you will experience a sense of expansion. By observing your breathing, you will alter its flow; as it transforms, so does your feeling of groundedness and, thus, your entire being.
The word pranayama is often translated to "breath control," but I never liked that definition personally. I've discovered that pranayama is less about breath control and more about the expansion of energy and the flow of vitality that comes through conscious breathing. Prana means the vital energy found in the breath, and ayam means infinite expansion.
If, on the mat, the aim was to control the breath, that would put you and me in the role of "controller of life force," which diminishes what's possible in the vast landscape of pranayama. Pranayama offers a great expansion of your life force. Its gifts come when you become one with the flow of breath and experience it as part of the organic pulsation of your body, your emotions, and your energy. That might sound a bit like new-age fluff, but try it for yourself in the pose and see what happens. Allow your breathing to be a holistic, natural experience, in sync with the ebb and flow of your body's pulse and sensations and your energetic movement, and you'll see what I mean. This is how we break from "doing breathing" to being moved and used by the breath into an experience of total aliveness.
The goal of ujjayi breathing -- the deep, rhythmic inhalation and exhalation used in yoga practice -- is to do so in concert with the whole. Ujjayi brings us fully present and, very often, into harmony with those around us. This is true in an asana pose or life.
Try this the next time you sit with a friend or loved one. Pay attention, and you'll notice: If you're connected, you will likely be breathing together. If you are not connected or there is agitation, you will likely be breathing separately. If you're sitting out in nature, meditating, or just being quiet and enjoying being "out there" (i.e., outside your head) and at ease, you will notice your breathing is in sync with the sounds of nature around you. On the other hand, if you're in nature and lost in your mental commentary, there will be a disconnect from the pulse of nature, and your breathing will reflect that.
In a pose, if you have aligned with your Drishti -- a soft, steady gaze -- and your breathing is deep and free, you will become aware that your physical experience in the pose flows to the same rhythm as your breath. You will notice that when breathing is happening as a holistic phenomenon, there is an absence of resisting and struggling. Instead, you experience a feeling of surrendering, of being powerfully at ease and steady in the zone. In fact, you may feel so much "in the zone" that you will not need to "do breathing" because you are already moving, breathing, and being from the center of the pose. You are in the experience of being whole, complete, and perfect, with nothing lacking or required.
Alternatively, let's say you are resisting, fighting, or struggling in a pose. Or you're bored, counting time until the pose ends. It would be a given, then, that you are breathing separately from the pose. True, you are breathing, but not in rhythm with your body, emotions, and experience. When you're dialed in and connected in the receiving pose, you are breathing from and with your body; this can never happen when you are lost in the narratives and default conversations in your head.
This distinction of in my head vs. in my experience way of breathing is something I've discovered for myself from my as-lived experience on the mat. When you experience this for yourself, you will find that this energetic experience can be transferred and shared with others. In this way, the breath can transform us and our relationship with others.
For example, when I was in labor with my daughter, Isabella, I was blessed to have my best friend's mother (and master Reiki practitioner), Hannelore Moebius, to help me. Sometimes, whenever a powerful contraction would roll through my body, my body and my breath would become frozen. When that happened, I would watch Hannelore's breathing and become connected to her in a way. I would suddenly experience my breathing with full awareness, and my emotional mood would calibrate in tune with her breathing. As a result, I felt deeply grounded in my body and connected to the core of my being. Because of her conscious breath awareness, I, too, became aware of my breath and was able to maintain a sense of groundedness, fearlessness, and strength even amid the most powerful contraction. Her power and breath awareness transferred to me.
Beyond being connected or disconnected to my own breath, or with another's, I've also had similar experiences on a group level. For example, when teaching in a room full of yogis, I've felt what it's like to have my breath connected to every person in the room, all of us unified in a frictionless flow of breath. It flows from "me" to "we." As a teacher, if I am stuck in the confines of my head, not present, and not leading from my body and being, I'll notice that the breathing in the room is compartmentalized to each person and is out of sync. If, however, I am not outside my head and I am instead thoroughly with them, authentically listening to the room, I will organically breathe with them, and they will breathe with me.
Recall from my last blog post that I have been reading Baron Baptist's book, Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice. He says that for him, pranayama means "to breathe holistically through your body, as a source of all movement and connection to others." This definition is in contrast to the familiar "control of breath." When we try to control our breath, we restrain it, thus cutting off the reservoir of vitality available to us. In the space of free-breath flow, your life energy expands you on the mat and off.
The Yogis Say...
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
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by Amy Ippoliti
Enlightenment Is Your Nature: The Fundamental Difference Between Psychology, Therapy, and Meditation
❤ WHAT STUDENTS SAY ABOUT ASHLEY CRUZ YOGA ❤
"From Aldea Yanapay (great school of love to children), to the incredible homely hostel la boheme, to the food at mercado san blas and at greenpoint... My 6 weeks in Cusco/Qosqo/centre/gravitational centre were all truly well balanced out by Ashley ● I have been doing yoga for five years in London, Lisbon and NYC and I was wonderfully surprised by the teacher Ashley in Cusco, Peru. From her words, to the sense of opportunity, helping, the pace, the getting everyone's names and brief "why am I here", taste for music and simply those oils... vinyasa gained a new look for me. ● You made me feel so balanced out, just when I needed that push. May your excellent work continue and your knowledge be taken further." ~ Yours, Ana Maria (portugal)
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