What is Interbeing?

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“Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

My Week at a Mindfulness Wake Up Retreat

Plum Village

Dear Respected Thay, Dear Friends,

A Kingston summer time smile to you today.  Please take a deep breath, offer yourself a smile and be at ease as you read about my wonderful experience and highlights at the Wake Up retreat in mid-June 2018 at Plum Village Blue Cliff Monastery. The retreat was for young people on the path of mindfulness.

Upon arrival at the monastery, I felt a deep sense of ease and peace; not only because it’s a sacred space of practice but also the energy of mindfulness was penetrating deep within me and around me like a warm down blanket. I remember stopping to take in deep breaths of fresh pine and birch tree air - a wonderful moment of arriving.

There were about 100+ practitioners in attendance. After day 2 of the retreat, we became closer in friendship and support, especially in our dharma family, the Cheeky Cherries. Many tears of release and revelation were shed in our circle of sharing.  As we peeled away layers of letting go and insights, along came layers of understanding and loving kindness for ourselves and one another. It was like “magic” as our Cheeky Cherry friend, Joseph coined it. 

To guide us with the theme of “For a Future to be Possible,” Brother Promise or Thay Phap The, gave a practical dharma talk on four elements that can help us live a joyful and happy life, now and in the future;

1) Self-Care
2) Eating a plant-based diet (veganism)
3) Purpose
4) Community

I resonate with number 3 and 4 quite a bit because of the nature and offerings of our wellness school “saigon om” that Sarah and I started 5 years ago. After having been an engineer and then high school math and science teacher as my career in my former life, I now transfer my “problem solving” and “teaching” skills into our holistic approach of well-being when we travel and teach.

On the topic of purpose, Brother Promise asked “Do you want to be #1 or do the #1 thing you love?” I’ve spent a good number of years on this auspicious spiritual journey to figure out just that - my purpose and volition. I’ve travelled as far as China, Thailand, Laos, Bali and Vietnam to cultivate, learn and strengthen what has helped and transformed me the most; and that is yoga and mindfulness.

A decade later, I’m ecstatic to say that saigon om is manifested with the intention of bringing wellness practices to all beings. With combined skills of Reiki, fitness, yoga, Qi Gong, massage and mindfulness, Sarah and I are able to offer and share this transformative path with friends around the world. My favourite Thich Nhat Hanh (aka Thay) quote says it all “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

Yes, we often remind each other that we are blessed to do the #1 thing we love and now sharing it with communities in Kingston, Melbourne and Saigon.  I have much gratitude for Sarah, my second body, to offer our practice to our beloved communities as we “travel, teach and learn.” (our motto).

As for #1, self-care this is very important; be it Qi Gong, yoga, fitness, or meditation, I think caring for one’s body and mind is crucial so that we can be there for others. When self-care is there then eating a plant-based diet (#2 veganism) is a natural process with the practice of looking deeply in terms of the cause and effect we as humans have on other beings and species.

The week at Blue Cliff was very nourishing for my spirit and inner child to sit, breathe and play with young like-minded friends. I love you, my Cheeky Cherries. Until we meet again next year, smile and breathe.

Bowing in Gratitude,
Hang

6-Week Wellness Challenge

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Dear community, dear friends,

I must admit that I started challenge out of a bit of frustration. Three times this past week on Facebook, I've been seeing "a fitness challenge" with a selfie of some half-cladded 'skinny' woman. That image watered my seed of anger. But I digress with 3 deep breaths to calm down my anger. 

If you've been my personal training client before, you know I believe that looking "skinny" isn't necessary fit and vice versa, being fit does not necessarily equate to looking skinny, as the media and magazines often portray. Rather, it's about feel good about your whole self in body, mind and spirit. More holistically, feel at peace with who you are and the world around you. Looking good is only a small part of a holistic approach to wellness. A "fit" looking body may just give you temporary happiness, until you gain all that weight back. Then what? We may have seen or know of people who go on this so called "yo-yo" diet and have not shown consistent happiness, have they?  

A healthy lifestyle is a way of life, for the rest of your life, not just a 6-week challenge. So now you understand that I only use "6-Week"  in my subject heading to grab your attention and hope that it's a good gentle encouragement to kick start you on a healthy, joyful and peaceful lifestyle and naturally make it your way of life as you cultivate more awareness of what's going inside and outside of you.

Some awareness practices Sarah and I follow are:
1) Eating plant-based such as fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.
2) Meditating regularly to bring awareness to body, mind, emotions and surroundings.
3) Surrounding ourselves with Mother Nature and positive beings.
4) Taking good care of our daily sufferings.
5) Cultivating joy and peace in our daily activities
6) Practicing daily gratitude.
7) Enjoying life. 

So, let us begin with this initial kick start. I've explained each point in greater details below. It's very simple. So simple that I've attached a one-page PDF for you to print and put on your fridge to remind you and check off your daily so-called challenges. If you stick to the challenge you'll start to see something magical changing in you. It's called positive perception to life as your brain re-wires to a more positive outlook on yourself and life. This re-wiring of the brain is called "neuroplasticity," which will create a lasting effect.

Two important things I'd like to advise you is that you commit to this challenge and be kind to yourself, especially when you catch yourself not being mindful or forgetting an activity. Remember the number of months, years, or decades you spent creating these negative habits and thoughts, which means some activities might take more diligence/effort than others so you can care and change how you perceive yourself and the world. 

Looking "fit" does not necessarily equate to long-term happiness. Wellness is a holistic approach, from food, thoughts, emotions to surroundings and regular exercise. It is not just about physical fitness. 

The list of challenges is by no means exhausted. Please feel free to do extra, if it's too enjoyable or add more of the positive things you are already doing. 

 EVERYDAY

1) 10-15 minutes. Sit and meditate on breath. Check in with how you are feeling and set the day's intention based on your observations of body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

2) Eat one plant-based meal, which includes vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Be mindful of your caloric intake in the store-bought salad dressings. A simple recipe Sarah makes is 2/3 vinegar, 1/3 olive oil, and a few drops of tamari (Japanese soya sauce) and a few chopped up garlic cloves.

 3) Walk outside at least 10 minutes, preferably in nature. If it's too enjoyable, challenge yourself with 10,000 steps everyday, or add in brisk walking to a light jog to strengthen that heart. Sarah's currently inspiring me with her daily 10,000-step goal. Walk/jog in such a way that it feels joyful and pleasant. Did you know that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada? Let us combat and reduce this number.

4) Have gratitude for 3 things everyday, and feel free to share it out loud to your loved ones.

5) Do your chore or daily activity with your full attention and without distractions, eg. brush your teeth, eat, put on clothes, walk to car, talk to a loved one without a device in your hand etc. 

6) Practice watering someone's flowers ie. be kind, offer words of encouragement, be inspiring!  

7) Bring awareness of your ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) and counter them with something more positive. For example. "Gee, this shirt makes me look fat." to "I need a new shirt that will make me feel awesome."

EVERY WEEK

1) Do 1.5 to 3 hours of moderate to high intensity exercise of your choice.. For example, canoeing, running, group fitness, yoga, Qi Gong, Kungfu, dancing, cycling, etc. My challenge to you is to get your Heart Rate up to about 80% of your max up to 2 hours every week. Max HR = 220-Age. Remember that a common cause of death is cardiovascular diseases every year. This can be prevented.

2) Have at least one meal/evening with your family with no devices and practice having positive/good conversations. Water each other's flowers.

3) Practice deep listening without judging, educating or giving advice to anyone. Do this at least twice a week. Smile at a the speaker with your full attention.

4) ONE whole day of not complaining about a thing. Look for the good in yourself, your family and the people you encounter.

5) Read a few pages of a wholesome good book. 

Have fun with this challenge and feel free to report your joys and challenges on the Facebook Event Page. 

Click here for the Checklist in PDF

Email me if you have questions. 

Keep fit, Eat well,  and Look for the Good,
Hang
saigonom@gmail.com

 

5 Simple Ways I Incorporate Mindfulness Into My Daily Life

Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. This awareness helps us recognise what is happening inside of us (body, mind, emotions) and around us in every moment. 

When I first discovered mindfulness, I only practiced it on my yoga mat or meditation cushion. I would feel very peaceful while I meditated or practiced yoga, then as soon as I stepped out into the world I would feel anger and anxiety at the traffic and busy streets. I didn't know that there was another way to be in the world.

Sometime later during a day of mindfulness in Melbourne, I practiced mindful tea drinking for the first time. As a group we sat peacefully and enjoyed our tea in silence. As I sipped my tea, I had a big 'aha' moment. Tears streamed down my face as I realised that mindfulness is not just for the yoga mat or cushion, it is a way of life. My perception to my way of life forever changed that day. I experienced a breakthrough and they were tears of relief, relief that there is another way to live, a more peaceful and joyful way than I had been living all my adult life. 

Over the last 4 years, as I've nourished my mindfulness energy, my practice has brought more peace and joy into all areas of my life. I know how to take better care of my anger and anxiety, my family relationships have improved, I find peace in my daily activities, and I have a deeper appreciation of nature and the people I love. I also now enjoy sharing this peaceful way of life with others. 

In my mindfulness practice, I enjoy having a daily organic formal practice, which changes day to day and includes sitting meditation, mindful walking, yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi. I also enjoy practicing mindfulness informally by bringing it into my everyday activities. I find that my formal and informal practices nourish and support each other.

I'd like to share five simple ways I've been incorporating mindfulness into my daily life over the years.

1. Waking Up
The first thing I do when I wake up is breathe and smile. I feel grateful to wake up with a new day ahead. I often recite a gatha (poem/verse) from my mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh:

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

Reciting this gatha while I breathe and smile helps me let go of any anxiety I may feel about the day ahead. It brings me peace and calmness and I carry this peace with me as I sit up, place my feet on the floor, and take my first steps of the day.

2. Showering
As I step into the shower I practice smiling. My smile nourishes my gratitude for having fresh clean running water. My smile also helps me be present so I can enjoy the feeling of the warm or cool water on my skin. I step out of the shower feeling flower-fresh in body and mind.

3. Driving
My mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, asked us “Why rush? Our final destination will only be the graveyard.” This reminds me to go slowly in life and especially when I drive. I try to always stay at the speed limit and give myself lots of space between my car and the car in front of me. When I stop at the red light, I smile at my old habit energy of irritation and use the red light as my ‘bell of mindfulness’ to bring my mind home to my body with my breath. Speed humps used to annoy me but I recently added a new driving practice to enjoy them! I slow down the car to peacefully drive over them while at the same time slowing down my mind with deep and calm breaths.

Mindfulness in everyday life

3. Preparing and Eating Meals
I really enjoy preparing my meals at home with fresh, organic and wholesome ingredients. In the past I would rush through cooking and be irritated at how long it takes. Now with mindfulness, I enjoy each task. Smiling also helps. Sometimes I catch myself with my grumpy face, and then I smile with gratitude to have delicious fresh produce. I smile at the vegetables and reflect on the journey they have taken and the elements (rain, sun, earth, clouds), farmers etc.) that have nurtured them. Then when I sit down to eat, I take away any distractions (TV, phone, books, newspapers) and eat just to eat. Between each mouthful I place my fork down and focus only on the food in my mouth, chewing slowly and enjoying the waves of tastes and textures. Eating without any distractions makes the food become real and I appreciate and enjoy my meals immensely. I've noticed that I eat less now too. 

5. Queuing Up
While I am waiting in a queue at the supermarket or the post office, I try to practice “non-waiting”. I become aware of my habit of reaching for my phone to distract myself and leave my phone in my bag. Instead of checking my phone, I stand peacefully and enjoy my breath, being aware of what’s happening inside me and around me. Then when it’s my turn to be served, I am ready to offer my smile, peace and freshness to the cashier.

I'd love to hear about your informal mindfulness practices. How do you bring mindfulness into your everyday life?

A lotus to you, Buddhas to be,
Sarah

4 Easy Ways To Bring Happiness Into Your Day Every Morning

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Would you like to receive a bouquet of flowers every morning upon waking up? I do. Although I don’t necessarily buy or grow flowers myself but how I start my day often gives me the same feeling as receiving a bouquet of fresh flowers.  

1) I smile and breathe in bed when I wake up. I smile to practice gratitude for my aliveness. I breathe deeply to remind myself that I’m truly alive. I usually place one hand on my belly and the other on my heart and take 3 deep joyous breaths as I lie in bed. Sometimes I enjoy my breath a few more times longer when my beating heart says hello, the sun radiates on my face, the pitter patter of the raindrops melodically sing on my window, or the birds chant from high above. This sense of aliveness and gratitude helps cultivate peace and joy throughout my day.

2) Hang time. I make an effort to wake up before everyone so I can have some Hang time. It is time to practice Noble Silence where I don’t plan or think of my to-do list for the day. I simply carry on the mindful breathing from my bed to the washroom to setting up my coffee-making ritual. The fragrance from the coffee brings so much joy to me. I then sit down and enjoy a big tall glass of water before I take my first delicious sip of coffee that I have carefully crafted.  

After coffee is usually the reading of our favourite Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh’s book. I’m currently reading “How to Love” and his latest release, “The Art of Living.” There is so much insight and wisdom in his writing. Sometimes one sentence has such profound effect on me that I have to put the book down so I can contemplate how to put it to practice in my daily life. I love that about Thay’s writing. He makes it practical and real for me.

3) Mindful movement. After my coffee and reading spiritual text I like to take care of my body and mind with some sort of physical practice. Every day is different and organic in my practice. After checking in with myself I then plan out the practice for my morning. I vary my practices from fitness workouts to yoga to Qi Gong to pranayama (breathing exercises) and most recently long morning walks on the ocean shore in Indented Head, Australia. It all depends where I am and what I feel like in the morning.

4) Plan out my day. After a delicious and nourishing morning, I then consciously plan out my day, which usually starts with turning on the internet to take care of my inbox, check social media, and simply be ready to receive and connect with other people in my daily interactions. If my capacity is low for whatever reason I tend to spend more alone time and be mindful of my speech to others. The important thing to me is that I listen to myself and know what’s going on inside and around me without making too much of a fuss.

My Qi Gong teacher in China once told me “How you start your Qi Gong practice is how the rest of your practice is going to be.”  For example, if I start Qi Gong with focus, grounding and calming intentions, then I continue to cultivate that concentration, strong grounding and peaceful energy throughout the practice. I took his wisdom a step further and applied it to my morning upon waking up. If I start it in a nourishing, joyful and peaceful way than it becomes a reflection of how my day is going to be.  

As a teacher, I often find myself talking and sharing in front of groups of people. I love starting out my morning in a way that nourishes my soul, heart, body and mind. I'm then able to offer my freshness to the people I encounter throughout the day. Our mindfulness teacher often refers to it as “watering the other person’s flowers.”

How do you start out your day? How can you bring peace and calmness into your morning and day? And, how can you offer this to your community as well?

Peacefully dwelling in my soy latte,
Hang

7 Simple (sort of) Ways to Kick Start 2018

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2018 is going to be an auspicious year.  But then again, every year that we're still alive is an auspicious year.   Did you know that about 92% of the people who make New Year's resolutions fail every year? I think they don't achieve their so-called New Year’s resolutions because they seem daunting or too far-fetched after a day or two, like a drastic diet change or fitness regime.  

Start with small achievable simple things that you can do every day to create good habits and thus, voila, cultivates well-being. Start small and it will have a rippling effect on the rest of good habits.

Here are small and simple habits I still practice every day.

1. Smile and Breathe
Upon waking up early each morning, remain in bed, smile and feel your breath coming in and out for about 5 breaths. Naturally, do more if it’s too enjoyable. Then get up. Do not “BBQ” in bed – it’s a Vietnamese expression that means when you wake up, you get up. Avoid rolling, tossing or turning like a veggie kabob on the grill.

2. Stay Hydrated
After waking up, the first thing I consume is a tall glass of water to hydrate myself from the night’s sleep. Your body loses water (and carbon dioxide) through your exhales each night.  If you’re on the go, carry a water bottle with you and drink the equivalent of another 4 to 5 more tall glasses of water throughout the day. Sometimes we confuse thirst with hunger and end up eating instead of drinking. 

3. Exercise
A simple and inexpensive form of exercise is walking outside.  10 minutes is a good start to get the blood or Qi (energy) circulating. If it is too enjoyable do more or continue later on in the day. When walking, enjoy Mother Nature’s views and sounds, say hello or smile to the people that cross your path.  Coordinate your steps with your deep breaths. Feel a sense of ease and joy in your steps. Avoid listening to music or getting lost in thoughts. Walk to just walk. Or, jog to just jog.

After your walk, take 5-10 minutes to stretch out your muscles and mind. I prefer to practice yoga or Qi Gong where breath is coordinated with movement to help keep my mind from wandering. This also helps me stay focused on what I’m doing.

4. Smile
I named this pose “smilasana” in yoga. Smile at everything that you do, like driving, cutting up the vegetables, taking out the garbage, strolling in the supermarket, standing in queue, walking from A to B, and in activities or chores that you don’t care for. One day you’ll find joy in it. Smiling helps me find ease and peace in myself and in what I’m doing.

The way I see it is I always have a choice; to suffer while doing the work or to find joy in doing the work. Why suffer when you have a choice, right?

Use every moment to smile and enjoy your breath. This simple practice reminds me that I’m still alive and often helps me to realize that whatever it is that I’m struggling with is smaller than I perceive it to be.

How wonderful it is to smile to my aliveness every day. If not, it likely means that I’m dead or walking around like a zombie.  

Fun facts about smiling. It only takes 17 muscles to smile but 43 muscles to frown. Smiling produces “feel good” chemicals. Our teacher says, “Smile to offer yourself and others your freshness.”  To me smiling is like offering myself a fresh bouquet of flowers without having to spend money on flowers.

5. Stay Positive
Water your garden and stay positive. When I complain, swear, or have negative thoughts, I water the weeds in my garden and I’m the first receiver of this suffering, and then the people around me are the second and third receivers of my negativity. Nobody likes to be around a complainer or a negative person. It is exhausting. We also lower our self-worth and lose the ability to heal.

Take a moment to come back to your breath before reacting. Your breath is real. Sister Dang Nghiem at Plum Village says, “The strong emotions experienced are just states of mind. Come back to your breath.”  Physically remove yourself from the negative situation if you need to.  Look for the good or accept the situation without negativity. This requires conscious practice and deep looking to help you understand your behaviour and perception.  Buddha says, “Where there’s perception, there’s deception.”  Understand yourself and understand the other person.

Remember that 90% of our suffering is self-inflicted.  Be open and curious. Our experience often deceives us into believing what’s right or wrong.  This is dangerous.

6. Rest
Take time each day to rest your body from the doing and the mind from the overdrive thinking. It can be as simple as sitting or lying down for 5 to 10 minutes and just be. Just be with your breath, so the mind can come home to its body. You can do this anytime of the day. This is why I love savasana, the resting pose, at the end of every yoga practice. On a side note, have you tried yoga?

7. Quality Time
Spend quality time with your beloved ones. When you’re with your loved ones, really be there with them. This means avoid getting distracted with your laptop, TV and other devices. I like to put my phone on silent or out of sight. I’ve also turned off all the pop-up notifications from social media. I allocate some time every day to take care of important messages and emails. 

Sarah and I have made a pack that whenever one of us is on our device and the other person starts talking, we stop using our device and give our full attention to the person who is talking to us. We both feel strongly that  the presence of another person is more important than laptops or smart phones. If it's an urgent email that we need to give our full attention to, we ask the other person to give us silence for x minutes. 

Our teacher likes to remind us when we fight, disagree or suffer, “Where will we all be 300 years from now?” Treasure your moments with family and friends.

May your 2018 be nourished with loving kindness, peace and joy. 

Smiling at 2018,
Hang

5 Choices That Have Changed My Life

What do I want for breakfast? Where do I want to go for coffee? Should I get anxious at this long queue, or just stand here, smile and enjoy my breathing? Should I honk and yell at the careless driver, or just smile and let her through?

These are some examples of choices we get to experience every day. At first you may think they seem irrelevant and insignificant choices. Please bear with me and for just one moment, have a beginner’s mind and hear me out.

These small choices are the ones that will shape and change your life. It’s not the big ones like marriage, buying a house or moving to another country.

Habits are manifested from choosing a “bad” or a “good” choice. These habits become your behavior, which then in turn make up your personality.

Personality colours your perception, relationships, beliefs, and how you feel. In the end you always have a choice. 1) A choice to suffer or 2) A choice to not suffer. Hopefully, you opt for the choice that makes you suffer less. And, more importantly, make a choice! If you can’t decide, you also suffer.

Here are some choices I’ve taken in my life that have changed my life.

1) Accept. I know life isn’t fair. I have chosen to accept it for what it is and stop the blaming. I go with the flow of life. When I accept and see things as they really are, I cultivate understanding and love within me. I suffer less when I have understanding of myself and others.   

2) Feel Blessed. I sometimes call it the attitude of gratitude. Being able to wake up every morning is a miracle. Every morning when I wake up, I immediately smile and feel my breath coming in and out of my body for about 3-5 breaths. This makes me feel blessed for being alive, and readies me for a brand new day ahead.  

After I step on the yoga mat or meditate, I always take a few moments to smile and express my gratitude to all the teachers before me, within me and after me for showing me this auspicious path. I then also carry this gratitude everywhere I go; the delicious coffee or tea in my hands, the meal before me, the community I live in, and the people sitting across from me, especially my loved ones.  

3) Speak Good Words. Good words increase good vibration and water my good seeds of happiness, peace, and calm. I'm always the first receiver of my thoughts and speech. So why not speak lovingly? On the contrary, if I gossip, use profanity or negative words such as “gross, disgusting, hate, stupid, blame” etc. I water my seeds of afflictions (klesha) and the people in ear shot of me get them too. Please sit down and consciously write down words you would like to remove from your vocabulary and come up with new loving words you can use every day.

4) Walk the Talk. Honesty and integrity are two character traits that mindfulness has taught me, as a teacher, student, friend, daughter and partner. I know that when I lie, I’m really being untruthful to myself, my soul, my consciousness and my whole being.  I also lower my own vibration and I don’t heal.

5) Share My Wisdom, Not Suffering. Every morning I sit and check in my capacity for the day. For example, I check in with my body, mind, and how I’m feeling each day.

If I’m suffering, I meditate longer and breathe deeply to take care of my pain. I know that it’s a state of mind and I need to come back to my mindful breathing. I also spend more time alone to breathe and be with my suffering. I heighten my awareness of my speech and I speak less. I do everything I can with all the mindfulness practices I know to NOT let suffering defeat me or over spill this suffering onto others. Life is just too short to dwell in my suffering. Here’s an experiment, look up at the blue sky and try to frown. Not possible right? Life really IS amazing and worth living for. We are alive everyday for a reason.

If my capacity is high I spread my peace, love and joy to people I encounter throughout the day. Even if it's just a smile or a nod of kindness. I have vowed to make my good energy and good intentions as my signature wherever I go.

Transformation does not have to involve big choices in life. It is the day to day positive choices that have changed my life tremendously.

I also invite you to start by making a decision first, to suffer or to not suffer. If the choice you’ve chosen does not serve you, at least then you have another choice to make. But if you sit around and don’t decide, you suffer. Please decide to live life to its fullest.

Choosing to smile,
Hang

4 Ways to Handle Harsh Words and Gossips

Dear Friends, Dear Sangha,

Sarah and I often get asked how we deal with harsh words or gossips.  Yes, words are very powerful. Once they’re said, it is often hard to take them back. It’s like breaking a dish, then saying “sorry” to the dish and hoping it’ll fix itself to the way it was. We know that is not possible.

Before I share how to handle harsh words or bad gossips as a receiver, let me start with us as the speaker of good and loving words. We call this “loving speech” in mindfulness. Most of us have uttered words that we regret and vow to not say again. But yet when we find ourselves in similar situations we speak unkindly again and again, especially to our loved ones. Why? The answer is “habit energy.” The Zen circle often refers to this strong habit energy as a wild horse, pulling us in many directions and yet we are sitting on the horse and have no control over it. The wild horse is like our wild mind.

The good news is we can stop our so called “bad” habits.  We need to create some space in our mind to “act” instead of “react.”  The space that helps us to act appropriately can be cultivated with “mindful breathing,” which is the essence of the mindfulness practice. For example, when we’re angry, we don’t speak. Rather we breathe deeply in and out to calm down the anger.  This will take some practice. At first you might catch yourself after you say harsh words. Eventually with the practice of mindfulness (see my article on 4 Meditative Techniques) the space will get bigger for you to take care of your strong emotions before you act.

It’s hard to practice “What people say about you is none of your business” because words are powerful, as mentioned earlier. Here are some tips that have helped me over the years.

1) Understand that people that speak harsh words and gossip or have anger issues are suffering too. They don’t have mindfulness to help them take care of their suffering so they spill it over onto us. Once you understand this, you have a lot of compassion for them and you do everything you can to help them suffer less.  Your smile or peaceful energy can be enough to help them.

2) Don’t speak. If you understand their suffering you tend to not say much. I find it really helps to remove myself from the situation. If it's a loved one I say “I feel a lot of anger now, could we please speak about it later?”  I then enjoy a walk outside with the birds and the sky by myself. Later when I’m much calmer I share how I feel with the person.

3) You have a choice to suffer or not to suffer.  This choice is always yours in any situation.  Have deep awareness that only you can stop this internal turmoil. It starts by not blaming the other person. Blaming creates more suffering on both sides. 

Sarah and I always ask ourselves this question when we’re in a pickle. “What would Buddha do?”  Asking ourselves this question is like a reminder of “What would a good person do in this situation?”  With the energy of understanding and compassion, we suffer less.  

4) Continue to practice the dharma. This has helped increase my capacity to deal with the world’s chaos and harshness. More importantly, my capacity has helped me live my life in harmony with myself and the world. When we practice mindfulness, we can offer our community peace, love and understanding to lessen its chaos and harshness. Our teacher always says, "peace begins in oneself."

May your breath be deep and peaceful,
Hang  

4 Meditative Techniques

Mindfulness has helped me in many capacities.  I might even be bold and say it has transformed me into a better person, partner, friend, sister, daughter, and teacher. It has changed my relationships, my view on life, and my volition.  Most importantly, mindfulness has helped me learn how to take care of my day-to-day suffering and learn to live with more harmony, peace and joy within me and around me.

Here are four techniques I practice on a daily practice to help me nourish harmony, peace and joy.

1. Mindful Breathing

Our teacher, Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh poetically says, “Our breath is our anchor.” It took me sometime to practice and fully experience the fruit of its deep meaning.  With the practice of conscious breathing, the mind & body unite, and thoughts, body, and feelings start to calm down like a pebble settling at the bottom of a pond. Only when all is calm, then I begin to experience insight and understanding of my sufferings and joys.

Sometimes, I just sit and focus on my in-breaths and my out-breaths for 10 minutes. To spice up my meditation practice I sometimes incorporate my 13 Pranayama exercises, which takes about 45 minutes to complete. It all depends how I feel in the mornings.

With this conscious breath I’ve taken my practice deeper and remind myself to breathe deeply while doing other activities like brushing my teeth, driving my motorbike/car, or drinking my coffee in silence in the morning.

2. Walking Meditation

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

We walk the moment we get up. From the bedroom to the toilet, from the toilet to the kitchen, from the parking lot into the office etc. We can turn this into a meditation by coordinating our steps with our breath. Every step we take can bring us a sense of peace and joy.

When I step, I don’t exert extra effort. In fact, our teachers at Plum Village often remind me to make it enjoyable because all the conditions of happiness are right here in every step.  

 “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

3. Smiling Meditation

Sarah, my three nieces and myself attended a Wake Up retreat in early 2017 in Cambridge, Ontario. Sister Dang Nghiem was leading the retreat. She said something in her second book, “Mindfulness as Medicine” that deeply resonates with me; “Smiling is the practice of non-fear.” 

Not only does smiling make me and the people around help me feel good, like seeing my favourite flower in full bloom, it’s also a practice of getting to know my own afflictions and learning how to take care of them.

On a biological level, when we smile the brain releases endorphins (natural pain killer) and serotonin (anti-depressant).

Next time when you feel a strong emotion arising, like anger, anxiety or stress, smile at it with this: “Breathing in, I feel anger. Breathing out, I smile to my anger.” And really smile at your anger to help find the cause of this anger. I usually add in a mindful walk in the park or out in nature to calm my mind and bring me back to my true self.  We need to take care of our body and mind with the practice of loving-kindness.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

4. Mindful Movement

We all know that exercise is really good for the body.  As a fitness professional for many years, I think exercise coordinated with the breath is even better! For example, running, swimming, Qi Gong, yoga, etc, where each movement or 2-3 movements are synchronized with a breath. I mix up my practice between weight training to cardio fitness classes, Qi Gong and yoga.  My go-to and favourite practices are Qi Gong and yoga, even if it’s just for 10 minutes on a busy day.

My goal every morning and every day is to nourish my body and mind with something healthy and delicious. I am often with people throughout the day. I find much joy in offering my good energy to the world when I leave the house.

I leave you with our teacher’s suggestion:

"Take time each day to be with your breath and your steps, to bring your mind back to your body—to remember that you have a body! Take some time each day to listen with compassion to your inner child, to listen to the things inside that are clamoring to be heard. Then you will know how to listen to others." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

May your day be filled with peace, love and joy,
Hang

4 Tips to Joyful Living

At a recent One-Day Qi Gong & Mindfulness Retreat in Portarlington, Australia on September 9, I was deeply moved by the comments and feedback of our practitioners.  They include:

- I didn’t think there was a way out of suffering but you’ve shown us that it’s possible.
- I realized that I’ve been consuming and feeding into my unwholesome seeds.
- You’ve given us so many wonderful tools to cultivate happiness.
- Thank you for the reminder that life is full of joy.
- There’s so much gentleness in the practice.

For the Aussies and friends around the globe that missed the event, I’d like to recap the day so you, too, can be reminded to come home to your body.

Tip 1: Take good care of your body. The body is your soul mate. Please make a vow to take good care of it with healthy eating, exercise, and mindful movements like yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong or walks in nature.

Tip 2: Don’t get lost in your mind. When the mind starts to wander, stop, and take 3 deep breaths to calm down the mind as to not get carried away in thoughts. If the breathing is too enjoyable feel free to continue for a few more minutes. You’ll soon notice that it’s just a state of mind that is creating stories, worries and anxiety.  Most of the time it’s not even real.

Tip 3: Surround yourself with like-minded people. That includes joining yoga classes, your local running, knitting, or meditation group. Naturally, you want to surround yourself with positive, supportive and grounded people who are the same path.

Tip 4: Bring awareness to your surroundings such as your family, neighbours, and friends.  Water their flowers. You’ve heard me say this before but it’s good to be reminded. “If you are kind to other beings, you are kind to yourself. If you victimize others, you are victimizing yourself.”

If we are diligent in our practice of the way of awareness,  we’ll soon suffer less and cultivate more joy.  Life is just too short to dwell in our suffering.  Dear ones, please take good care of yourself and transform your suffering into joy and happiness.

See you at the next Portarlington retreat with more Qi Gong and to deepen our mindfulness practice together. The date is set for Saturday, December 9th. For more details, please click here.

Smiling & breathing,
Hang

A Letter to My Family

*I sent this letter to my family shortly after my older sister, Thuy, passed away on December 31, 2016. Brain cancer quickly transformed her into another form within 6 months. Sarah encouraged me to share this letter with you.*

Jan 1, 2017
Dear Family, I would like to thank everyone for being such a great family, working together and staying strong to help out the Vuus and sister Thuy. I think it's a miracle that she passed away in peace and with so much love around her. I felt a lot of peace from her last week.

I think it's a miracle that she had a great life with 3 wonderful children, who are her continuation. I think it's a miracle that she is my sister. Without her fashion guidance I'd still be wearing mismatched clothes! I think it's a miracle that she passed on so many wonderful qualities on to me and all of us before she left. She is needed somewhere else. It's her time to go.

Science says that you cannot create something from nothing. And you cannot make something become nothing (matter cannot be destroyed nor created). The same goes true in the practice of Buddhism. Sister Thuy did not and cannot just become nothing. Her physical body is no longer here but she is still everywhere. Look at her 3 beautiful children. Look at us. Look at the garden in her backyard, she's there! She's in all of us and everything. When you eat her favourite dish and think of her, that's her in you. When you see her favourite flower and smile, that's her in you.

So now, it's up to us on how we carry her continuation within us. Her body now is like old tea leaves after the 4th pot. The first 3 pots of fresh and fragrant tea are already inside of us. Her spirit is in all of us. We are her continuation. I know it's hard to see or understand it now but if you look deeply you understand there's no birth and death. We should not fear death because we will all depart one day as well. Everything is just a continuation. If a tree dies for the winter and comes back in the spring. Did the tree really die?

If you ever find that your mind and thoughts carry you away with deep feelings of sadness, sorrow and despair, please stop. It will not do you or anyone any good because you suffer more and then you make the people around you suffer too. To stop, simply find a quiet place to sit or lie down, place your hands on your heart or belly, take 3 deep full breaths to come home to your body and to let go of the stories created by your mind. With only 3 breaths, you'll soon smile and see that she's right there with you and in you. We inter-are with her. If mindful breathing is too enjoyable feel free to continue. This is also called meditation; focusing on your breath. Trust your breath. Don't trust your mind. The mind has a strong habit of carrying you into the past and the future that is full of negativity. This makes you suffer a lot. Trust your breath. It's a miracle that we are all still alive to continue her spirit, isn't it?

If we look deeply like this, we suffer less and we can continue to live life more fully, more real and more present, while sister Thuy's continuation is in us.

Please spend the next few days in noble silence and focus on your breath. Come home to your body. Come home to life. Come home to your family. Don't live in sadness, despair or sorrow. This is a very powerful and deep practice, but you need to practice it, live it and carry it through. Start with just 5 minutes a day. Or go to a yoga class if you cannot do it alone. We all need to be strong in our mindful breathing to help us say goodbye to her physical body on Friday and Saturday. Please take good care of your despair and sorrow.

On the weekend, let us celebrate her life and celebrate that we have the honor to be her continuation. What a miracle that is. Sleep well. Relax your body. Relax your mind. Come home to your mindful breath. See you all on Friday.

Breathing deeply,
Hang

My Three Faithful Friends

yoga-mindfulness-qi-gong-retreats-vietnam

I have 3 faithful friends in my life. They are mindfulness, yoga and Qi Gong. They have all been faithful because they have woken me up and rescued me from my unconscious life. They have sprinkled more love, joy, stability and peace into my life. In return, I have sprinkled love, joy and peace onto other beings I meet along my journey.

Because they have been faithful I am more awake, aware and alive.  I vow to be faithful in return; from the moment I wake up till the moment I lay down to close my eyes. I feel blessed to have these dependable friends.

I call upon mindfulness every day. Mindfulness helps me see the beauty around me, including my family, friends, people I don’t know and other beings. Mindfulness constantly reminds me that if I victimize someone I also victimize myself. If I’m kind to another person, I am also kind to myself.  Mindfulness has given me the super power of awareness.

Yoga. Yoga is like a weed whacker. It continues to whack away endless unnecessary and insignificant weeds, better known as thoughts, worries, fears, anxiety etc. Yoga helps my mind come home to my body every time I step on the mat.  Yoga gives me breath and strength to calm down the spontaneous strong emotions or mind twirlings, especially when someone utters unkind words to me. I now have better control of my mind thanks to the focus and concentration yoga has cultivated in me. Yoga has also gifted me with insights to live with deep inner peace and joy.

My other ancient best friend named, Qi Gong, has transmitted much of its healing powers called, “life force energy” or “Qi”, to me. When I get sick Qi helps me get back on my feet quickly. I am grateful that I only get sick once or twice a year thanks to the consistently healing that Qi Gong has nourished every cell of my body. Every morning, Qi Gong reminds me to breathe and gently and slowly move to wake up the creaky and aging body. My friend, Qi Gong, has also taught me to cultivate deep gratitude to my organs for the complex work that they do together 7-24 to keep me smiling, and the other important thing, alive.

There you have it; my three faithful friends. Who are your faithful friends?

Love, peace & joy,
Hang

How I Keep My Energy Flower Fresh During the 200-hour Teacher Training

Holding space for our 200-hr Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training (YMTT) may be seem exhausting or tiring, as one might imagine. Our training starts at 6am and ends at 7pm after mindful dinner.  So, how do I keep my energy flower fresh and mind clear to be there for my students, and to keep up with their energetic and keen minds? The answer is; Qi Gong (and a good night sleep!)

Qi Gong is a long term mindful movement program practiced to circulate, cultivate, regulate, enhance, and guide internal energies called “Qi” to achieve health, vitality, and spiritual awareness. It is an ancient Chinese system of healing and rejuvenation. It involves using your mind, conscious breathing and body to direct the flow of energy. 

I learned this system of internal healing in 2007 while taking an injury break (broken metatarsal - yikes) from my daily mixed martial arts practice. 

Four out of the seven days during YMTT  I get up as early as 2:30am to practice my Qi Gong, after a mindful delicious cup of coffee, of course. The other three mornings, I practice yoga or pranayama (breathing exercises).  On achy body days, I just sit and focus on my breathing. 

Attached is one of many simple routines I've designed and practiced regularly at sunrise by the ocean at the training. I'd like to share it with you and hope you'll enjoy it as much as me.

Smiling, breathing and moving,
Hang 

Qi Flow for the Hips

Learning How to Still the Body & Mind @ 200-Hour Training

The art of being still is easier said then done. When we're used to "doing" in life, it's already challenging enough to still the body let alone still the mind.  Imagine learning all the Qi Gong, mindful and yoga tools to help calm down the twirlings of the mind for 26 consecutive days. This is what our students at the training are cultivating. When the body is still, the mind can come home to it. When the mind and body are no longer separated and are both still, we start to see and understand our sufferings and learn how to take care of our sufferings, rather than running away or suppressing them. That is a deep practice that anyone can do; as seen here in the video with our students after module 1: Understanding Yourself.  Module 2 will be a continuation of practicing looking deeply to connect to our love, joy and peace, also known as true self.

Smiling,
Hang

The Dandelion Has My Smile

Mindfulness Meditation Dandelion Smile

An excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's beautiful book, "Peace Is Every Step."

If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. If in our daily lives we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.

How can you remember to smile when you wake up? You might hang a reminder--such as a branch, a leaf, a painting, or some inspiring words--in your window or from the ceiling above your bed, so that you notice it when you wake up. Once you develop the practice of smiling, you may not need a reminder. You will smile as soon as you hear a bird singing or see the sunlight streaming through the window. Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding.

When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness. This half-smile, how many artists have labored to bring it to the lips of countless statues and paintings? I am sure the same smile must have been on the faces of the sculptors and painters as they worked. Can you imagine an angry painter giving birth to such a smile? Mona Lisa's smile is light, just a hint of a smile. Yet even a smile like that is enough to relax all the muscles in our face, to banish all worries and fatigue. A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns to us the peace we thought we had lost.

Our smile will bring happiness to us and to those around us. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness, our smile. And this precious gift costs nothing. At the end of a retreat in California, a friend wrote this poem:

I have lost my smile,
but don't worry.
The dandelion has it.

If you have lost your smile and yet are still capable of seeing that a dandelion is keeping it for you, the situation is not too bad. You still have enough mindfulness to see that the smile is there.

You only need to breathe consciously one or two times and you will recover your smile. The dandelion is one member of your community of friends. It is there, quite faithful, keeping your smile for you.

In fact, everything around you is keeping your smile for you. You don't need to feel isolated. You only have to open yourself to the support that is all around you, and in you. Like the friend who saw that her smile was being kept by the dandelion, you can breathe in awareness, and your smile will return.

My little Buddha, are you there?

Litle Buddha

The practice I would like to show you is called “Recollection of the Buddha,” and it is taught in every school of Buddhism. You touch the Buddha and all the qualities of the Buddha inside you, and you know that the Buddha is absolutely real—not an idea or a notion, but a reality. Our task, our life, our practice is to nourish the Buddha in us and in the people we love.

You may like to spend three or four minutes on this practice, either alone or together with a few friends. Sit down quietly, breathe in and out for a few minutes to calm yourself, and then ask, “Little Buddha, are you there?” Ask the question very deeply and quietly. “My little Buddha, are you there?” In the beginning, you might not hear an answer. There is always an answer, but if you are not calm enough, you won’t hear it. “Anyone there? Little Buddha, are you there?” And then you will hear the voice of your little Buddha answering, “Yes, my dear, of course. I am always here for you.”

Hearing this, you smile. “I know, little Buddha, you are my calm. I know you are always there, and I need you to help me be calm. Often, I am not as calm as I’d like to be. I shout, I act as if I don’t have a Buddha in me. But because I know you are there, I know I am capable of being calm. Thank you, little Buddha, I need you to be there.” And the little Buddha says, “Of course I’ll be here for you all the time. Just come and visit me whenever you need to.” That is the practice of touching the Buddha inside. It’s a very important practice for all of us.

- Thich Nhat Hanh, in ”A Pebble for Your Pocket”.

Bringing Mindfulness Off The Yoga Mat

During the 8-week break between Module 1 and Module 2 of our 200-hour Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training in Kingston, our students' homework was to have a daily formal mindfulness practice on the mat (yoga,  meditation, Qi Gong, pranayama) and also bring their mindfulness practice off the mat into their daily life (work, chores, daily activities). Hang and I were smiling as we wrote their list of their "off the mat" practices on the whiteboard:

Mindfulness in Everyday Life
  • Practicing Qi Gong in the office and with students at school.
  • "Qi Gong Breaks" with tour groups on washroom breaks on long bus trips around Europe.
  • Practicing Noble Silence in the classroom.
  • Practicing mindfulness in the classroom with breathing and relaxation to help the students take care of their anxiety during concert rehearsals.
  • Practicing loving speech to cashiers at the supermarket.
  • Good words and loving speech to people at work.
  • Enjoying nature.
  • Practicing gratitude.
  • Mindful driving - appreciating nature.
  • Enjoying chores - mindful laundry.
  • Cooking with joy.
  • Using gathas (mindfulness poems) as reminders to be mindful. 
  • Practicing mindful breathing with students.

We've just started Module 3: The Art of Teaching and our students continue to share deep insights as their mindfulness practice blooms and grows. We look forward to sharing some of their insights in another blog post after the training.

A lotus to you,
Sarah

Advanced Hip Opening Sequence

A few months ago, we shared our Beginner Hip Opening Sequence. If you've been practicing the sequence for a while, you might feel ready for a little more challenge (and fun!).

This advanced sequence adds in some fun poses:

  •  Utpluthih (Scales Pose/Lifted Padmasana)
  • Agni Stambhasana (Fire Log/Double Pigeon) with variations - Hello, outer hips!
  • Astavakrasana (8-Angle Pose) with push-ups

You'll only need 10-15 minutes a day. We are not responsible for side effects such as joy, peace, and calmness from the practice :-) 

Namaste,
Sarah

Where's Your Smile?

Plum Village Monastics Mindful Cooking

On our most recent stay at Thai Plum Village, in November last year, Hang and I were helping the monastics in the kitchen to prepare dinner. I was given the task of washing and chopping up carrots, pineapple and herbs for a huge pot of "canh chua" (sour soup). As I was focused on my chopping, one of the nuns walked past me and asked me, "Where's your smile?". It helped me realise that I had a grumpy and serious face and I was not finding joy in my chopping. So I brought a big smile to my face and kept chopping. A few minutes later the nun walked past me again and pointed to her mouth and said again, "Where's your smile?". She did this about 4 or 5 times! Each time I would smile for a few breaths and find joy in my chopping, and then my strong habit energy of having a grumpy face when cooking would come back! It was wonderful to have her there to remind me to smile and find joy in my chopping. 

Mindful smiling while cooking is a practice that I do at home now. I catch myself with my grumpy face, feeling impatient that I have 10 tomatoes to chop or 20 mushrooms to wash, and I smile a gentle peaceful smile. It brings me back to my breath and the present moment, instead of being lost in my thoughts, and I start smiling so deeply at the tomatoes and mushrooms. I begin to talk to them with love (in my mind), like "Hello tomatoes, where did you grow? How much sunshine did you receive, how much rain fell on you?" and I see how they have been nourished by the earth, clouds, rain and sunshine. My heart fills with gratitude at these delicious vegetables. They are a wonder of life and will now nourish our bodies and give us energy and strength.

Mindful smiling while cooking brings me so much joy, and it's a practice that I'm bringing into my other daily activities now, like washing my face, showering, and doing the dishes. As soon as I smile, my mind and heart are full of positive thoughts and gratitude. And it also overspills onto the people around me :-)

We invite you to choose a daily activity to practice your mindful smiling. It could be an activity you love or maybe challenge yourself with an activity that you don't care for. We'd love to hear how you go!

Bowing to you deeply, 
Sarah

Beginner Hip-Opening Sequence

We can all relate to having "tight hips", especially after a long week at the office sitting in our chairs all day, or in our cars, or not doing enough, or too much, exercise. We find that sitting on the floor is a great remedy for tight hips, ditching the comfy sofa from time to time for sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Another way to open the hips is with yoga, of course! There are many yoga poses to open the hips. We've created this beginner hip opening sequence video that you could practice in just 10 minutes. The sequence has 4 different exercises and gently opens the inner and outer hips.

This 10-minute sequence is a perfect way to start the day, while you enjoy your morning cup of coffee and smile at the sunrise, or anytime of the day really. It's also great to practice at the yoga studio before the class starts.

Give it a go and let us know how it goes! Try it daily for 2-3 weeks and you'll notice a huge difference! We also have an Advanced Hip-Opening Sequence video once you master this.

Hello happy hips!

Namate,
Sarah