Beyond Words


Written by Andy Vantrease

As someone who enjoys writing, I often think how important words are to our existence. They enable us to communicate, form relationships, adopt belief systems and complete transactions for goods that keep us alive. They’re part of how we present ourselves every day to the world; the words we choose directly affect how we connect with people. Language is woven into almost everything we do as humans, and often we view silence, or a lack of words, as awkward and uncomfortable, opening our mouths again as soon as there’s a lull in the exchange.

So, you can imagine, when I began introspective practices – meditation, yoga, Qi Gong – how perturbed I was to encounter experiences that I could not fully explain using my mother tongue. Not only was I at a loss for words, but so too were my mentors, teachers and healers after certain classes and sessions. Each time I went deeper into my heart, exploring energies and habits of the self, I tripped over explanations, because the feelings are not justified using Webster or Merriam’s accepted collections. The emotions are too … intense, complex, ephemeral (for lack of better words) to describe. I felt alive. I wanted more.

Although language, as we commonly know it in the verbal sense, is essential to our lives, it’s also limiting.

We have a sea of thoughts, feelings and energies within our bodies and throughout the natural world that is beyond words. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, practitioners use “Qi” to represent the life-force that swims through every being – humans, animals, plants, stars, the universe as a whole. The idea of Qi helps believers translate their experiences, but even that leaves room for interpretation, as all words do.

I’ve come to realize that the real work –the disintegration, the pain, the fertile field of confusion… and the growth, the re-membering… the true healing – that work is done in the realm beyond letters and words and clear explanations. Instead of looking for ways to share your experiences, focus on having those inexplicable experiences. Dig and dig and dig until you uncover feelings that rock your world and leave you speechless. Try communicating with others through a smile, a hug, a dance, eye contact. Try communicating with yourself the same way.  Sit in the silence, knowing that energy is omnipresent. Know that it’s real, despite not being able to talk to your friends about it. Know that you’re real, especially when you feel too complex for society’s boxes. Then, and only then, are you embodying your self as a human “being,” wholly and truly.

Feel more. After all, the longest journey that we all take is the one from the head to the heart.

Searching for Your Inner Voice

Written by: Andy Vantrease

I remember the first time I meditated. I sat down next to my friend in her living room, she turned on the iPhone Headspace App: Lesson One, and a calm British voice guided us through 10 minutes of meditation. I remember saying afterwards, “I’m really bad at this,” and “I couldn’t stop thinking!” I finished a full week of guided meditations and still thought, “Why can’t I stay focused? Why does my mind always wander? Why didn’t I say what I wanted to say to that person two weeks ago? Why can’t I just move on?”

You may recognize this voice. The one who loves to drag you back in time and analyze everything you’ve ever said and done, drowning your thoughts in What If’s and If Only’s. You start to visualize different outcomes based on the options you had in some recent or even distant past. Or maybe you’re better friends with the future voice, the worrier who concocts hypothetical scenarios and gets bent out of shape for something that hasn’t happened and may never happen. She’s a heavy hitter, too. How about the one who is judging you for every strange thought you have? He’s tough to please, isn’t he?

We all have many voices in our heads. We spend so much time absorbing opinions from TV, radio, magazines, friends and family, it’s tough to distinguish our own thoughts from those projected onto us from outside influences. The goal is to find the inner voice. The authentic voice. The one who guides your intuition. The one who throws out those messages to the body when something “just feels wrong” or “just feels right.” We oftentimes disregard thoughts like this and choose to second guess our instincts, only to find out we may have been better off listening to them.

My advice for finding your inner voice: stop talking and listen. You don’t have to sit on a hand-woven glorified rainbow pillow in a dark room or climb to the top of a mountain for a profound meditative experience (although both sound quite nice, eh?). The practice is about getting into your head, into your own mind and noticing the thought patterns. Facing the emotions that arise when you think about certain people and situations. Forgiving yourself for being human yet visualizing what it would look like to live to your utmost potential.  Relearning your values as you begin to see them surface over and over. What do you truly care about? What makes your heart beat faster? What kind of person do you want to be? How would you like to contribute to the world?

In a society filled with pressure to be a certain way, you have to work very hard to remain authentic and aligned with your values. Years can go by and you realize you’ve been on autopilot, living someone else’s dreams or striving to reach goals that don’t resonate with you. This is the perfect time to start the journey back to your self. Get quiet, listen closely and trust what you hear.

Perspective at Play


Written by: Andy Vantrease

Every life has ups and downs. Dips that make you feel like you may never be able to dig yourself out and highs so euphoric you don’t want them to end. Then there’s all the in-between. The everyday tasks, interactions, routines, communications.

Many people stumble through this life of in-between moments, treating them as boring, meaningless times that are all strung together from one day to the next. Before they know it, years have gone by and when they catch up with old friends, their only news is “same old, same old.”

It’s easy to get sucked into what many perceive to be the inevitable monotony of adulthood. But, even if you have the same job, are working on the same project and living in the same house, it certainly doesn’t have to mean that nothing exciting is happening. What if we could take the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life and treat them as extraordinary? Or, at the very least, acknowledge that they aren’t dull at all.

Sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective. When life becomes stale, tap back into your inner child for inspiration and curiosity.

During yoga class last week, the instructor asked that we study our feet as if we were children, discovering them for the very first time. We were asked to describe them without using judgment words like good, bad, better, worse, ugly, pretty – words that we learn later in life from magazines, media and society. We detailed their texture, the shapes of our toes, the veins, the colors, the temperature of our skin. We looked at them simply as a part of us, as functional tools that get us through the day, beginning right when we step out of bed in the morning. They are our roots. We didn’t see injuries, nagging pains, insults or comparisons from the past. We saw the structures that exist to help us run, stand, play, move, jump, dance, live. The same can be said about every inch of our bodies, if only we choose to see these inches in such a light. We entered practice that day with a new perspective on movement, and we left practice that day with a new perspective on life.

Discovering life through the eyes of a child is an unparalleled way to view the world. Everything is new and fascinating and challenging and fun. It’s more about the mindset than what you’re actually learning, as long as you’re always learning. It’s about appreciating all forms of life for the amazing miracles that they are. It’s being able to take a step back from the misguided messages being hurled at us every day, and trust in our bodies, in our capability for greatness, and in the limitlessness of possibilities.

If you love to cook, dive into learning about where your food comes from or the health benefits of the spices in your cabinet. If you love to read, pick up a new book or an old favorite that may deliver a whole new meaning to your current situation and connect dots that didn’t exist the last time you read it. A change in perspective doesn’t have to mean a profound physical change at all. It’s an opening of the mind and a look through a different lens.

So go on, embrace your inner child, and watch the positive changes take hold.


The Purpose of Setting an Intention

Written by: Andy Vantrease

When I first started practicing yoga, I told myself that it was to ease back into exercise after a long battle with tendonitis and overworked muscles. As I stepped onto my mat those first few weeks, I didn’t know much about the philosophy or importance of setting an intention, and I assumed it meant to set a goal. We’re all accustomed to setting goals in life – work, financial savings, #relationshipgoals – so I figured a yoga intention was the same.

When setting my intentions, I typically only took into account the physical play that would take place on my mat. With prayer hands over my heart, I would think to myself, be more flexible in forward fold, or make your heels touch the mat in downward dog. These thoughts narrowed the focus of my practice and didn’t include any of the emotional and mental changes that I would face in the next hour, let alone off the mat after class.

By focusing solely on the physical, I was limiting growth in other areas. One day, as I was asking my physical therapist (who also happens to be a yoga enthusiast) about my shoulder pain during yoga, she said, “Make sure you are opening your heart.” I waited for more, assuming she was going to tell me certain heart-opening poses to attempt. Instead she said, “Open your heart and surrender to what is.”

I began to realize that coming to my mat was not all about which poses to try and what exactly I should be doing with my wrists and hips and where to put my leg to get the perfect calf stretch. I started to let my body move with my breath and my inner feelings. For the next few classes, my intention was to feel. I wanted to feel everything that surfaced – every emotion, every fatigued muscle, every irritation, every elation, every confusion, everything. And, I wanted to meet those feelings with acceptance, as observations. I discovered that my true intentions were not physical growth at all, and that the positive changes I was seeing on the mat, within myself, had the power to follow me off the mat into the rest of my life.

Since yoga is a mind-body connection, setting an intention can bring your practice to a deeper level. By setting an intention you are making a connection between what you work through on your mat, and what you continue to focus on as you step off your mat and resume your daily schedule. Examples can be love, trust, patience, forgiveness, openness and positivity.

Try reflecting on these categories of thought to help you set an intention:

1)   Practice gratitude: Thank yourself for showing up and setting this time aside to nourish your mind and body. Also think about the people in your life that allow you to be here and to be you every day. Practicing gratitude on and off your mat will help you to be more comfortable with what you have and allow you to open your heart to new situations, possibilities, and poses.

2)   Ask Why: We all have reasons why we come to our mats; otherwise, we wouldn’t be there. Take a moment to really think about what you want to get out of your practice (and out of life) and envision yourself already working on the change you wish to see.

3)   Think in Scales: For me, it’s helpful to think of my yoga practice as a microcosm for the bigger picture, for life itself. What I want to achieve, work through, challenge on my mat always translates to virtues I want to carry with me when I walk out the studio door. Recognize aspects of yourself or your life that you want to work on then bring them into your practice to make this connection.

4)   Dedicate Your Energy: Sometimes used in conjunction with an intention, you can also dedicate your practice to someone or something that is in need of your love and energy. This allows you to pour your positivity and strength into something other than yourself, if that helps. (Remember, though, it is OK if you are showing up for yourself and your practice should be a safe place to focus on you.)

Intentions will continually change as you move through your practice. What you need one day, you may not need the next. Learning to move through these ebbs and flows in your asana practice will equip you with the strength and flexibility to deal with the constant changes you face in your everyday life. Rest assured that by taking this time, and setting this intention, you are doing something positive for yourself and for those around you.

Mindfulness: What Does It Mean?

Written by: Andy Vantrease

Mindful is an adjective lacing the covers of wellness magazines, blog titles (guilty), meditation apps, tea flavors, beauty products and even paint colors. For months when I read the word mindful, I found myself tossing thoughts around in my head, trying to understand what it meant, and more importantly, what it meant to me.

We’ve all heard the advice: “live mindfully,” “eat mindfully,” “breathe mindfully.” Seriously, it’s like an overplayed pop song: it’s catchy but what is it even about?

Being mindful, by definition, means to be conscious or aware. But, aren’t we always aware of what we’re eating? We are physically lifting a fork, spoon, straw, bowl (pick your poison) to our mouths and feeding ourselves. Aren’t we always aware of how we’re living? We spend each day making decisions, driving to and from work, checking things off our to-do lists, taking care of our families, planning for the future.

The truth is, life moves fast. Really fast. And although your body and brain are functioning, how often do you sit back and marvel at the sheer magic of life’s moments? How often do you think about the thousands of chemical reactions that are happening each second to get you out of bed in the morning and keep your heart beating? (Thank you anatomy and physiology class.)

I’ve learned over time that to be mindful is to be able to pause and appreciate these moments. To look at your food before you eat, thank yourself for nourishing your body and treating it well (well being the key word – eat those veggies!) To walk outside to your car in the morning and notice that the daffodils are beginning to bloom. To look up and notice that the sky appears bluer now against the green grass and white Bradford pear trees. To read – with new eyes – the “Have a great day!” text from a loved one.

It also means paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging, especially during challenging times. After receiving an email from your manager, who wants to discuss your tardiness. After another tense conversation with a child who seems to be in a never-ending phase of rebellion. After calculating the finances and realizing you’ll have to give up certain luxuries, or necessities, just to get by this month. After hearing that the health exam didn’t return favorable results.

Being mindful is to be able to FEEL all of this, BREATHE deeply through all of this, and TRUST this life. The more you stop to appreciate, the more thankful you will be for each waking day. When you can take a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and be aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, you will be overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude for your mind, your body and the opportunities you are presented.

Getting Started

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce physical symptoms of stress, boost your immune system, restore focus, promote relaxation and regulate emotions. Sounds great, where do I sign up? In a world of constant stimulation, most of us are hard-pressed to find 15 or 20 minutes and a quiet place to meditate. Luckily, all you need to begin your journey into mindfulness is a set of lungs and an intention to reap the benefits of this new skill.

At several points throughout the day, preferably during stressful periods of time, pause and take a deep breath in … then a deep breath out. Focusing on your breath, even if just for 20 seconds, gives your brain the ability to register one task or thought at a time.

Breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five – repeat several times until you feel your mind clearing and your heart rate leveling off.  Observe and respond to what’s happening around you.

Practice this every day. If you skip a day, forgive yourself, and try again. Mental fitness, like physical fitness, takes time, effort and dedication. In life, as in yoga, your practice is your practice and only you know what works best for you. Thank yourself for showing up, taking time to pause, breathe, and appreciate.



Sankalpa is sanskrit for your intention or the vow that you set in your heart and mind at the beginning of your yoga class. In other words, when you set your intention, you are creating a Sankalpa. When you set your intention, you are picking an idea that resonates with your deepest self or your “truth”. Just as we honor our bodies in our yoga practice by modifying or deepening into postures, we utilize our Sankalpa in the same way. So, when you set an intention and ask yourself what you truly need, let it come from within. Our intentions don’t always match up with what our egos want, so dive below the surface. The quieter you get and the more you let go of control, the easier your intention will come to you.


“Our intention creates our reality.”
~Wayne Dyer

Stay Humble

The word human itself comes from the same 
root as humus, earth. So too does humble,
which makes sense because the best way 
of staying humble is to realize what
you’re made of. Long before science came 
along to explain the minute details of how it
happens, cultures all around the world 
knew that our bodies are made from earth,
and that when we die our bodies go back to it.
~ Eben Alexander, M.D.


“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” 
~Pema Chödrön


 That moment between vulnerability and freedom…when all that you cling to is in the air. Breath is only chest deep, as if that is a means of control…the body’s last instinctual response of survival. Hypervigilance sets in and there is no turning back. There goes Alice down the habitual rabbit hole of the mind. But maybe by chance the landing isn’t too rough. The dust settles and you realize that you spoke your truth…the purest aspect of your being and the closest you’ll ever get to expressing your raw soul…at least in this space and time. The realization devours your mind and for an instant, perspective is all encompassing. But life continues and ego reappears. The ego enjoys consistency and does not discriminate between pleasure and pain. It’s enemy is change even if it is meant for you. And unfortunately the ego was born into a world of ebb and flow. The ego, an illusion of rigidity with the ever-present desire to be a tangible solid in a fluctuating world. But change naturally happens whether the ego likes it or not. Change is inevitable and eventually the realization meets up with everyone.
   So then that moment between vulnerability and freedom…the fear…is it fair warning or another trick of the ego? Without franticly rattling your brain and indulging your ego, take that moment to come back to yourself. Remind yourself of your intention. How does it align with the truths you spoke? And then just notice without judgment or expectation. Intention sets the stage for your life, whether or not it’s in line with your truth.
   But whatever intention you set, keep in mind that it does take courage to be vulnerable and it takes strength to face fear. It can be difficult, yet it is key to remember the freedom of self that lies on the other side of discomfort.
It’s not necessarily about being “fearless” but to acknowledge the doorway and walk through it.Namaste,

Morning Yoga

Morning Yoga: Wake Up! 

If Kyoto can wake up and do yoga, so can you 🙂

Here are a few key poses that will get you moving in the morning…

Child’s Pose (Balasana): Draw your knees to the outside of your mat and bring your big toes together, grounding down through the tops of your feet. Sit back onto your heels, reach your arms forward, and melt your heart in between your thighs. Your forehead should come to the floor or to a block for support. Take a few deep breaths into the back side of your body and ground down through your fingertips. Melt your heart towards the floor with every exhalation. (5-10 breaths)

Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana- Bitilasana): Come to a table top position with hands underneath of your shoulders and knees underneath of your hips. Your feet shoot straight back behind your knees. Start with a flat back. Inhale, drop your belly, open your heart, draw your shoulder blades back, and gaze forward. Exhale, round your back and gaze to your belly button. Take a few rounds matching your breath with each movement and then return to a flat back. (5-10 breaths)

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): From table top position, curl your toes under and lift your hips up into the sky. Work your heels down towards or to the mat. Draw your head in between your biceps, hug in your triceps, and spread your fingers wide. Keep lifting your tailbone as you draw in your lower ribs. Take a few moments to pedal out your legs. It is the morning, so you’re going to be a bit tight. Be patient with your body. (5 breaths)

Forward Fold (Uttanasana): From Down Dog, slowly begin to walk your feet to the top of your mat. Separate your feet a bit and hang over your legs. Make sure you have soft knees and that you are completely releasing your neck. You can sway side to side and release into the posture with every exhalation. (5 breaths)

Mountain (Tadasana): From your forward fold, slowly begin to roll up to standing, stacking one vertebrae at a time. Your head comes up last. Toe-heel your feet together, bring your arms to your sides, and open the palms for the front of the room. Ground down through your feet, lift up your knee caps, slightly tug your tailbone, draw in belly button to spine, and relax your shoulder blades down your back.

Take time to notice your body in each of these postures. It takes time and practice to become aware of how our bodies feel in each pose. Always feel free to make modifications too. It’s your practice! Enjoy!