By: Lisa Venancio, FreshJax Yoga Teacher + Blogger
In Kripalu yoga, class begins with a centering meditation and pranayama (breath), followed by a mindful series of warm-ups and asanas (postures), and ending with a relaxed shavasana and closing centering. As a yoga teacher who mainly practiced Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Hot Yoga prior to becoming a certified in the Kripalu tradition, it took time for me to understand the importance and benefits of incorporating all of these components into my practice. This is not to say that these other styles of yoga did not value or incorporate relaxation and warming up, but it was not until I found the Kripalu tradition that I become comfortable with the stillness and progression.
Admittedly, before I became a yoga teacher, shavasana was my most challenging posture. This may sound silly to some people. We’ve all seen the yoga t-shirts and memes that say, “I’m here for the shavasana.” However, I was always half present during centering and shavasana. These practices meant quieting the mind chatter, becoming still, and receiving the benefits in full. I knew it was important, yet my mind often wandered to my to-do list, or replayed a recent conversation, or overanalyzed something for the twelfth time. This was the place where the anxiety, insecurity, fear, sadness, anger, or self-criticism found a way to creep in. This momentary relaxation was my biggest challenge. I fought it. Why? Because I was not okay with being still. I was not being present. Momentum was where I thrived, which is not a bad place to be, but we can miss the benefits of warming up and slowing down the mind and body if we stay here.
By performing warm-ups prior to the formal yoga postures, we release tension while improving muscle and joint flexibility. We also generate heat in the body from the inside out. Early in my yoga practice, I was always itching to get through centering and warm-ups quickly and jump right into the postures. Then once I was in the postures, I wanted to flow from one to the other without staying anywhere too long. I was always one step ahead of myself, and sometimes even the teacher. Who knew yoga would challenge me in patience, humility, and mindfulness. After all, I was just there to burn calories and stretch, right? Wrong. I’ve realized that if we cannot be mindful while standing, walking, and sleeping, we certainly cannot be mindful through sun salutations and asanas. Centering warms up the mind, next we warm up the body, and then we explore the asanas.
Mindful yoga even approaches asana as meditation. When we practice mindfulness through triangle, for example, we ask ourselves what is happening to our bodies when we progress into triangle. This builds on feelings and sensations, rather than emotions. What does it feel like to hold a posture like warrior one or pigeon? When a posture feels pleasant, we enjoy holding the pose, but if it feels unpleasant, we desire to come out of it. I always tell my students, “It is when we want to come out of the posture that the posture truly begins.” If we experience sensations as our limbs start to ache, the yoga mat becomes a safe space to understand the difference between discomfort and pain.
When we learn to spend time with unpleasant feelings as they come up on the mat, we are able to build coping skills in facing challenging situations off of the mat. This self awareness is where growth begins, and as we carry positive energy, mindfulness, and peaceful intentions into our world and relationships, change happens. I have learned to love centering, meditation, warm-ups, and shavasana just as much as I love the asanas. I have also learned to truly experience each asana. It is here that I have found healing, both physically and mentally. At FreshJax, we find joy in facilitating healing and growth in your yoga practice and encourage you to discover a positive relationship with mindful yoga.
At FreshJax, we practice the Kripalu style of yoga. One common question we hear is, “How is Kripalu yoga set apart from other styles of yoga?” We would like to take the time to break this down for you.
Kripalu yoga is a gentle version of Hatha yoga. It blends asana (postures), mudras (hand gestures), breath and body connection, relaxation, and meditation. This blend brings sensations of the body, breath and mind to your consciousness. We bring attention to proper alignment of the body, holding each posture for a period of time. The length of time depends on the specific posture as well as the type of class you’re practicing in. As we hold poses for a longer period of time, awareness to sensations of the body is deepened. We eventually come into a more meditative phase, which is where we are guided by our intuition and self awareness, moving to the flow of prana.
What is prana? Prana is a Sanskrit word that means vital life force. Grasping this idea of prana can improve your health and wellbeing, externally and internally. While the health of our physical body is tangible and important, the energy within and around our physical body is no less important. This is prana, and it sustains life everywhere. Prana flows through the breath, so when we inhale, we take in prana. When we expand our lungs to their maximum capacity, we are improving the flow of prana. Breathing techniques, or pranayama, focus on the progression and quality of prana.
When we disturb or block this flow of energy, we can create imbalance or sometimes disease. Each act of the body is heavily influenced by mental and emotional wellbeing. By understanding and observing your physical, mental and emotional state, energy flows and healing takes place. In practicing Kripalu yoga at FreshJax, we liberate layers of stress and pain and experience a state of complete relaxation and rejuvenation.
Kripalu yoga improves and strengthens the muscular-skeletal systems as well as the circulatory, digestive, respiratory, nervous and immune systems. Consistent yoga practice produces physical benefits, such as easing anxiety and stress levels, and enhancing endurance, strength and energy levels. The practice of Kripalu Yoga positively affects the mind and emotions as well as the physical body.
Kripalu Yoga encourages self awareness and personal growth, creating and cultivating a cherished relationship with your own body, mind, and spirit. We learn to respond to ourselves with compassion and grace, meeting new edges as this practice progresses, while simultaneously listening to our bodies and loving ourselves as we are. We set intentions to be present and quiet the mind chatter, which brings self discovery. By carrying these intentions from your Kripalu yoga practice into your life and relationships, you bring light into the world around you. FreshJax can be your go-to place to reset your mind, body and spirit and nourish your need for relaxation, rejuvenation, and growth.
The word mandala is Sanskrit for “circle” or “center.” It’s a simple geometric shape that has no beginning or end. Within its circular shape, the mandala has the power to promote relaxation, balance the body’s energies, enhance your creativity, and support healing. Mandalas are used universally to promote healing and other positive states of being.
The mandala is a circular matrix with a center point—a point from which all things are possible. From this sacred center comes forth infinite possibilities and unlimited potential. The “circle with a center” pattern is the basic structure of creation that is reflected from the micro to the macro in the world as we know it. It is a pattern found in nature and is seen in biology, geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy.
Circles are a powerful symbol found in every culture. We see them in halos, prayer wheels, and other religious symbols, architecture, and nature. To the Tibetan monks, the sand mandala represents multi-dimensional fields of spiritual consciousness and the state of enlightenment. To the Native Americans, the medicine wheel, a form of mandala, symbolizes sacred ceremonial space and the circle of life. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung has called it “a representation of the unconscious self.” The mandala is widely recognized as a meaningful reflection of its creator. In both eastern and western cultures, the mandala has come to symbolize harmony, unity, wholeness, and healing.
Benefits of Meditation Through Mandala Coloring:
People who color mandalas often experience a deep sense of calm and well-being. It's a simple tool that doesn't require any expertise, but it can be remarkably soothing and nourishing. Mandalas not only focus your attention, but allow you to express your creative side, which many of us neglect in our daily lives.
"I am not flexible enough. Fit enough. Strong enough. Zen enough. Granola enough. Thin enough. I am too busy. Too out of shape. Too tight. Too overweight. Too awkward. Too old. Guys don’t do yoga, do they? Is it safe for pregnant women? Do I need to have good balance? Do I need to wear yoga pants? I don’t have a yoga mat. I don’t have time. I will laugh too much. I never have a break from my children. What if I pass gas in a yoga posture? What if I have a health issue? What if I can’t touch my toes? What if I am recovering from an injury?”
It is true, and our goal at FreshJax is to create an all inclusive environment for people to fall in love with yoga and receive the many benefits of this practice. We welcome all women and men, including pregnant women, senior citizens, new mothers and even their babies, kids, athletes, empty nesters, working professionals, runners, teenagers, teachers, college students, and all shapes, sizes, colors, cultures, languages, religions and physical impairments. No matter what your season of life or experience is, yoga is for YOU. Our teachers are expertly trained to assist you in modifying your practice in order to meet the needs of your body and health. Whether that means modifying a posture to make it more comfortable or safe for your body, or advancing the posture to provide more challenge and take you to a new edge.
We will help you develop better body awareness, understand contraindications of each posture in order to keep you safe, and become knowledgeable of the benefits of each posture. You will become more connected with your body and breath, mindful, present, and have a deeper understanding of how to engage in a complete state of relaxation. This practice serves and regulates all of your major body systems and organs. It is a 6,000 year old system of self care with a host of amazing benefits.
FreshJax is centered on relaxation. It is easy to get caught up in the chaos of the world around us. Tension can go unnoticed and affect our overall health if we don’t take the time to rejuvenate. Stress looks different for everyone, yet we all experience stress in some form. The common ground we share is our need for relaxation and stress relief. From restorative and gentle yoga, to health food, to aromatherapy and self-care products, FreshJax makes relaxation possible for everyone.
The truth is, you don’t need to be flexible and strong to do yoga. You can do yoga to become flexible and strong. We are an all encompassing studio. Come just as you are, wear what helps you to feel comfortable, and allow us to provide the rest. We provide yoga mats and a variety of props to enhance your practice, and we encourage you to borrow these items free of charge. We aim to decrease any obstacles stopping you from getting here and experiencing the refreshing benefits of yoga. Come get centered, stretched, relaxed and strengthened with us at FreshJax.
Welcome to our yoga community. Namaste.
Studies have traced a range of impressive benefits to the simple act of writing down the things for which we’re grateful—benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike.
Tips for using your gratitude journal:
Keeping a gratitude journal—or perhaps the entire experience of gratitude—is really about forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life we’d otherwise take for granted. Perhaps that’s why the benefits seem to diminish when you start writing more than once per week, and why surprises induce stronger feelings of gratitude: It’s easy to get numb to the regular sources of goodness in our lives.
How to use your gratitude journal:
Choose a time each week to write in your journal.
Refer to other entries in your book for inspiration or just write from your heart.
Remember, there’s no wrong way to write in your journal and, just like life, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be a wonderful experience.
What's an Eye Pillow?
An eye pillow is a small fabric bag filled with flax seeds, rice, dried beans, or a combination of these to provide a gentle weight over your closed eyes. They can be unscented or filled with dried lavender for added aromatherapy benefits. You'll often see these used during relaxation at the end of a yoga class. You can also gain the benefits of an eye pillow by using one to help you fall asleep.
Eye Pillow Benefits
Eye pillows provide gentle pressure around the eyes releasing tension, stress and fatigue. This causes the eyebrows, cheekbones, temples, neck and shoulders to relax. They also help you to focus inward by blocking out intrusive light and shadows. Some yoga scholars also claim that the light pressure on the eyes sends a neurological signal to the brain that facilitates whole body relaxation.
Lavender has been used throughout history as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue. Research has confirmed that lavender produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled. Scientific evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. Studies also suggest that massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, better concentration, and reduced anxiety.
Explore yoga + healthy living in Jacksonville, FL with FreshJax!