Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive]
ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
–Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.33

Pratipaksha means opposite and Bhavanam means contemplation or meditation. My friend and amazing yoga teacher Erika Halweil used to chant this sutra often years ago in class. It always resonated with me. How simple, I would think. And yet, 15 years later, I continue to allow myself to be disturbed by the words and actions of others, affecting my own peace of mind. As we enter into a new year, it seems like the perfect time to work on this sutra. Nothing is more precious than a quiet mind, my Sanskrit teacher Manorama used to say (and probably still does :)) It is not the world’s fault that we are annoyed, angry, or irritated. It is not the slow cashier, the Sunday driver, the arrogant ex-spouse, the needy older parent, the willful child, the person with body odor and too-loud breath next to you in Yoga class. It is you, or me, allowing ourselves to be disturbed, allowing our minds to be distracted and pulled out and identified with the small self. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ said Gandhi. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said Martin Luther King Jr (and the Buddha). A perfect example of Pratipaksha Bhavanam right there. I wonder if Mr. King was familiar with the Yoga Sutras?

It comes down, again and again and again to practice. We can read these quotes, we can agree that the sutra sounds like a good idea, but without putting this idea into practice, we will inevitably find ourselves cursing the yoga student with the too-loud breath for disturbing our peace of mind. The Sanskrit word for Practice is Abhyasa. Patanjali has another sutra which tells us the following:

Sutra 1.12: Abhyasa-vairagyabyam tan-nirodhah
—Consistent practice with nonattachment will stop the mind from fluctuating

So we now have a way to practice. It cannot be just one day, one time, one situation. As with our asana practice, it must be consistent to have some real and lasting affect.

This month, when you come to your mat, sit well, close your eyes, what comes up? What negative or disturbing thought pops up, for you, again and again? Catch it. Notice it. Take a breath in and smile. Now take a breath out as you think the opposite. Try it. Put it into practice. Now try this. Come to the wall and find downward facing dog with your hands about 4-6 inches away from the wall. Step in with one leg about ½ way and pause. Soften your skin and open to the abundance and beauty all around you. Now, spread your fingers well and claw at the floor with your hands, pulling your arms and hands isometrically towards each other and engaging the muscles of the arms. Commit yourself and imagine that your arms are like your legs, your hands like your feet. Soften your upper back ever so slightly so that you feel a connection of your hands to your shoulder blades, plugging your arm bones into their sockets. Lift the leg that you did not step in and pause. Bend the bottom leg as you keep the top leg straight and strong. Now, start hopping. Open to that bigger energy and float up into Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana- downward facing Tree pose!). Find the wall with your feet. Yippee! You are upside down.

Think the opposite. Shift your perspective from small self to higher self. From limiting thoughts that keep us separate to beautiful positive thoughts that connect us to everyone around us and this beautiful world. Pratipaksha Bhavanam in action. Breathe. Feel. Transform.

Come down slowly and rest in child’s pose. Let your forehead make contact with the ground and feel the delicious stimulation of the third eye center (Ajna Chakra).

Maybe that’s all it takes. A handstand a day keeps the doctor away!? 🙂

With love and gratitude,
Jessica

Everybody Upside Down // JB Yoga

About seven months ago, three months prior to my 40th birthday, I started asking around to my slightly older female friends, “What doctors do you use for female issues? Where do I go to get my hormones checked? When you turn 40, do you feel more tired than usual? Start gaining weight?”

Jessica Bellofatto Headstand SUPThese questions and more were swirling around in my head as I had just returned from teaching my annual yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico. I had felt fantastic while I was there, meditating every morning at 6am., running on the beach, SUP’ing in the ocean with my 11-year-old son riding on my board (adding 70 extra pounds of weight to my efforts), and teaching two hour yoga classes twice a day. It is what I generally thrive on.

Then, just a few short weeks later, there I was, barely able to drag myself out of bed in the morning, subbing out yoga classes left and right, and wondering naively, “Is my age finally catching up to me? Is this what 40 feels like?” The thought of being pregnant did not occur to me at all. After all, I had an IUD in, and they are said to be 99 percent effective. A couple of weeks into this strange new reality, it did dawn on me. I lay awake throughout the night, in shock, but knowing that it was true. I was pregnant. My son would be turning twelve in October, and my daughter eight in September. For all intents and purposes, I was WAY out of the woods. And here I was, about to turn around and head back into them.

I have been divorced for about four years, and am deeply in love with my live in boyfriend. It HAD occurred to me that he would make an amazing father, I just didn’t think I was necessarily ready and/or equipped to go it again. But, as my yoga practice has taught me over the past 20 years, anything is possible, nothing is impossible, and the only constant is change. Thus, we made the decision to embrace this unexpected gift and embark, all over again, on the craziness that is pregnancy, labor, and infanthood!

As I enter into my 33rd week, the home stretch, it has been, once again, movement that has kept me energized, happy, strong, and emotionally stable! Be it yoga, running, paddling, surfing, or swimming. A day after turning 40 at 18 weeks pregnant, I ran six miles at an average of an 8:30 pace (a bit slower than pre-pregnancy pace) and then took my seven-year-old daughter on an awesome downwind paddle with my friends with the wind at 20 knots. At 28 weeks, I placed fifth in a six mile SUP race, just a minute or two behind the lead women. And at 30 weeks, I placed first in my age group in a local 5k (this time at a 9 min/mile pace!) Throughout the summer I have kept up a demanding schedule of yoga classes on land, SUP Yoga classes on the water, taking care of my two older children and, oh yeah, packing to move! I say all of this not from my ego, but to attempt to dispel the myth that pregnant women, especially pregnant women of a certain age, are weak, or in some way handicapped.

In this quest, I am not alone. Recently, a 35-year-old woman who was 38 weeks pregnant with her third child, got harshly judged and criticized all over the internet when the folks over at CrossFit posted a photo of her, looking gorgeous I might add, lifting weights. The comments that followed ranged from being naive to being downright cruel, telling her that she was a horrible mother, would lose her child, and was stupid for staying physically fit and strong through the course of her pregnancy. I am not saying that all pregnant women should lift weights or go out and run six miles. But I have come across too many people that are shocked by the fact that I continue to run, surf, paddle, move, and revel in my body, that I feel the need to set the record straight. Pregnancy is not an illness. Pregnancy is a normal, natural condition (as is birth, by the way).

Jessica BellofattoYes, all pregnancies are highly individual, and yes, under certain circumstances women must follow certain guidelines to ensure that they are not putting themselves or their babies at risk. But, for the most part, we women can continue to enjoy most of what we enjoyed pre-pregnancy, while allowing for the inevitable fact that the body is changing rapidly every single day, and to honor that, to cultivate the ability to listen to what feels good and what doesn’t, each day. In my last pregnancies, beyond 14 weeks it no longer felt ok to lie flat on my belly. But this time around, I was able to lie flat on my belly (and therefore surf) up until 20 weeks. I am most grateful this pregnancy for stand up paddling. I only started paddling about six years ago, so had not had this sport to enjoy my first two pregnancies. It has been amazing to be on the water, whether it be teaching SUP Yoga classes, going on a downwinder, or just taking a leisurely paddle in the bay.

We, as women, are so much stronger and more capable than we often give ourselves credit for. Instead of criticizing and judging the pregnant weight lifter, can we instead honor her? Can we honor and support ALL women and empower each other to live our best lives with less doubt, less fear, and more joy? Can we embrace all of the stages of a woman’s life and create the space for each of us to find our own unique expression and path?

These last seven weeks of my pregnancy I hope to be able to run, paddle, swim, do headstands, and enjoy this sacred time in a way that speaks to me. When we as women are happy and fulfilled, we can then serve others from that place. I already know that my baby understands this; after all, he or she chose me as its mother and made it quite clear that it was meant to come into this world at this point in time. I am honored and ecstatic to be of service to this being and can not wait to meet her!


This blog was originally posted on Athleta.com

The Pregnant Athlete // JB Yoga

Ask many women what area they dislike most about their bodies and you will likely hear one of two things: the belly area or the backside. In some ways, I dislike creating a  yoga sequence targeting the legs and butt because I personally practice yoga and enjoy other forms of movement such as running, surfing, and stand up paddling not as a means to an end but because yoga and movement have taught me how to love my body regardless of a bit of extra weight around my middle or a few dimples on my butt. I love movement because it makes me feel alive, happy, and empowered. The fact that my butt looks better in a bikini is just an added bonus! So, try the following sequence with an attitude of love and gratitude for your body and its awesome capabilities. Thank your legs and backside for being the workhorses of the body that they are, supporting you throughout your days. I am currently 5 months pregnant with my third child, and embracing my larger frame, while still continuing to move as much as possible for the sheer love of it.

Tabletop Butt Blaster

Come to a hands and knees position with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. On an inhalation extend your right arm forward and your left leg straight back, drawing the navel towards the spine, gazing at the floor and floating the leg up just parallel to the ground.  Maintain the internal rotation of your lifted leg, meaning that the hips are square and the inner thigh of the lifted leg is reaching up to the sky and on an exhalation, release down. Inhale and float the left arm forward and the right leg back, and exhale to release down. Repeat eight times on each side.  This sequence works the hamstrings and gluteal muscles of the lifted leg.

Plank Pose with Bonus

From your tabletop position, extend your legs straight back behind you and come to plank pose. Hold here for a few breaths, drawing the belly in tightly to the spine. On an inhalation lift the right leg just a couple of inches into the air, again internally rotating the leg so that the hips are square and the inner right leg lifts to the sky. To fire the adductors (inner thighs), create your own resistance and hug the leg to the midline, imagining that someone is trying to push your right leg to the right but you resist them by hugging in. Pulse the leg up and down 10 times. Put the right foot down and switch, lifting the left leg. On an exhalation, come down and press back into child’s pose for a short rest. This plank with bonus works the hamstrings and glutes of the lifted leg, as well as the inner thigh muscles.

Lunge Sequence

Press back to a downward facing dog pose. Step the right foot forward into a lunge position and bring your torso to vertical with your hands on your hips. Use your hands to press your buttocks flesh down, creating space in your lower back. On an inhalation, bend the back (left) leg so that the knee hovers right above the ground, and as you exhale, extend and stretch the left leg straight. Again, inhale and bend the back leg; exhale to extend the back leg. Repeat eight times on this side. Now keep the back leg fully extended and stretch the arms up alongside the ears into a high lunge.  Pull the belly in and up and lengthen the tailbone down. Take five breaths.  Inhale place both hands on the floor next to the front foot, and exhale step back to downward facing dog and then switch sides. This one strengthens the entire leg, but specifically the quads, buttocks and abs.

Utkatasana with Abduction

From your downward dog, walk the feet to the hands and release over the legs in an easy forward bend to release the backs of the legs. Soften the knees and roll up to stand. Stand in mountain pose and extend the arms straight up into Urdhva Hastasana (upward reaching hands pose). On an exhalation bend the knees and sit back into utkatasana (fierce or awkward chair pose). Hold for five breaths. Now inhale, and on the exhalation sit a little lower and you raise the right leg straight out to the side. Inhale that leg down, exhale the left leg straight out to the side. Inhale lower down.  Repeat eight times each side. Inhale stand up to mountain, and exhale release the arms.

Following this sequence I suggest a 3-5 minute legs up the wall pose, to restore the legs and truly relax. You deserve it!

4 Yoga Poses for a Great Butt // JB Yoga