Friday, July 3, 2015

Transformation

Photos by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.

It's hard to remember what life was like before yoga.

Things were fundamentally different before I began my practice. I had more fear and anxiety. I felt ashamed of my body. I talked down to myself and doubted myself regularly. A lot of the time, I felt tense. I knew I was capable of being at peace, but didn't know how to let the little things go.



I practice new habits now. I regularly give thanks for the blessings in my life. I am used to the sound of my breath in the back of my throat, that careful wave of ujjayi a constant reminder to be present. I do not mind waiting in line at the post office or the grocery store for it provides me a few minutes to meditate.

I'm able to stand on my mat and let everything else that's going on in my life fade into the background of my awareness. A new focus, a way of letting go. Inviting balance, flexibility, strength. Allowing peace.

Sometimes I awake from savasana feeling like a wholly new person. I walk out of class, refreshed, light, wondering where the old me is, fine with the fact that I am new.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Badass Women

Photo by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.

Welcome to a new series on Alive in the Fire that's all about badass women. :)

I am constantly impressed by women in my life who are courageously pursuing their dreams and doing what makes them most happy. Women I've known all my life, women in my community, and even women who I've met very recently or only met online through this blog. 

Women who are teachers, mothers, writers, warriors, business owners, leaders, artists, yogini goddesses... beautiful women of all ages, shapes, backgrounds, who have experienced a diversity of successes and struggles in life.


These women are badass. They aren't afraid to take risks. Or maybe they are, but they do it anyway. They know their strengths and don't let fear run the show. They create art and think big and sometimes break the rules. They live life to its fullest, go for wild adventures, and wear their hearts on their sleeves.

I love, too, that these women understand the importance of loving and caring for themselves, and that they take time to balance their busy schedules with moments of rest and relaxation.

These women are inspiring and encouraging, and I'm so grateful to be able to share their stories. I hope that you'll enjoy their positive energy and bright ideas over the weeks to come. As always, I welcome your feedback and encourage you to share these posts with other women you know. As women, we've got to support each other in being badass!

Photo here and below by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.

To kick off the series, I'd love to share my own post on being a badass. After all, this is my fearless year :)
Rachel Koontz, badass yoga blogger

What makes you a badass?
My relentless positive attitude. I believe others are inspired by my encouraging, uplifting spirit. 

It sounds silly, but sometimes I watch people around me notice my hair and my tattoos and the sparkle in my eye and I swear I can see its effect on them. Like at the grocery store. I'll have strangers at the grocery store smile at me, and I love that feeling, that I've brought joy to someone else just by being 'me.' 

I see it with my students after yoga class of course, too, and with my family and friends. Recently someone told me, 'You have such great energy!' and that made me feel so happy. Being the calm, peaceful person I am and being recognized as that is so empowering. Being badass is about being confident in yourself, and that's something I can honestly say is true for me at this moment in my life. I'm confident in who I am. I stay positive and I don't give up. And I share that sense of joy and peace with others around me.


How did you get where you are today? 
I believe devotion is a big part of it. Devoting myself to the path of yoga, focusing on my intentions, working my ass off, and believing in myself. Also remembering to stay humble and to ask for help when I need it. We all experience suffering -- goodness knows I've had some really dark times in my life. It's important to remember that we're in community with others for a reason. I wouldn't be where I am today without the support of my loved ones and my yoga community.




What do you do for yourself to rejuvenate?
My favorite things for rejuvenation are massage, Reiki, taking breaks from my phone, going to a Yin class, and journaling.



What advice do you have for others who are looking to find happiness and become fully empowered?
Clarify your vision. Get really clear on what you want. And then be kind to yourself in the process. 

If you're unhappy with something in your life, first you have to believe that changing it is possible. Tell yourself it's already real. When I realized I wanted to become a yoga teacher, I told my teacher at the time about my dream and she said, 'Perfect! Now you're a teacher!' She challenged me to start thinking of it that way in the present moment, rather than waiting or delaying or worrying about the 'what-ifs.' Before I'd ever even researched teacher trainings or led a class, she had me coming to yoga and considering it from the teacher's perspective and that shifted everything. 

You already have all the tools you need; I tell my students all the time, 'Everything you seek is within your reach.' Sometimes the part you're missing is awareness. What do you really want? And what fears are holding you back? It's a matter of understanding those things, and also finding a sense of gratitude for all the blessings you currently have. Make gratitude lists. Start each day with a list of 10 things you love. Doing this has always helped me shift my perspective so that I can move forward even on days when I'm struggling.


 Photo by Jobi Otso.

How do you plan to continue your baddass-ery? ;)

The more I love myself and others, the more impact I can have. I want to continue making my healing journey a priority, and developing my skills as a yoga teacher and a Reiki healer so that I can hold space for others. I always want to be learning new things.
Photo by T. Libertiny.

Coming soon in the Badass Women series... a magazine writer living in NYC, an entrepreneur from Chicago, and a massage therapist/esthetician from northern California, all of whom I adore :)

Stay tuned, lovely yogis! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Getting Tattooed

Photo above by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography. Photo below by T. Libertiny.

Hey yogis! Do you have tattoos? I'm a big fan of wearing my art on my sleeve. :)

All of my tattoos have very specific meaning and represent important moments in my life. Recently I completed a sleeve on my left arm by the beautiful and talented Jen Leonardi of Leonardi Tattoo.




The majority of the artwork is based around mandalas, sacred geometry, and lotus flowers. All of these evoke notions of peace and harmony. I love that at a distance, the sleeve is bold, beautiful, and colorful…and when you look up close, you can also see an incredible amount of intricate detail behind the tattoos.

As for the flowers, I’ve always loved the phrase no mud, no lotus – it speaks to the idea that all of the suffering we experience in life is what creates our strength; without the darkness, we cannot have the light and beauty. In that way, the lotus flower represents both beauty and courage to me. And I’ve incorporated all of the colors of the chakras in there as well. 


The piece on my shoulder is inspired by the beautiful state of California, my home. :) I love the imagery of nature, the vibrant colors, and the way the design fits with the shape of my shoulder.

Around the inside of my upper arm, I also have the flower of life pattern.

Photo by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.


On my back is the Sri Yantra symbol, with its interlocking triangles surrounding and radiating outward from a single point. It is said to represent the balance between yin and yang, between male and female, Shiva and Shakti.

For me, it is a reminder to find balance in all things, and to remain mindful and aware.


I also have a tattoo of one of my favorite mantras, om namah shivaya, on my right ankle. I got this one at a time when I wanted a clear path in my life, and vibrating the mantra has helped me overcome obstacles. 

Often I will sing om namah shivaya throughout my day. It is a calling out to Shiva, the Destroyer, the one who takes the status quo and turns it upside down :) This tattoo reminds me to live in the moment, not becoming attached to any one situation.

I like that I can see the tattoo while I practice yoga, and that it points to my feet, which take me on my journey. (Credit goes to Mike Dalton at Chicago Tattooing and Piercing).



I also have a tree branch inside an imperfect circle on my inner forearm, one of my first tattoos on my arm. This one has various and very personal memories associated with it. 

The artwork represents moving through pain, acceptance of self, and living in a natural way that's in tune with the earth. In many ways, it's a reminder to myself to live peacefully regardless of the crazy experiences I have, or the chaos that others may bring close to me. 

It's also a testament to children of divorced parents, victims of abuse, and broken families; you are stronger than you know and my heart goes out to you. (Credit goes to Zach Stuka of Deluxe Tattoo in Chicago)



I got one of my tattoos in upstate New York, a lotus flower on the upper right thigh. This lotus represents beauty, grace, and restraint. To me, it's a reminder to be patient and to place value on serenity and purity over instant gratification. (Credit goes to Emel at Ink Inc.)




One of the early tattoos in my sleeve is an infinity sign. It represents my desire to keep creating art throughout my life and never to give up on artistic pursuits. (Credit goes to Jason from Chroma Tattoo in West Bloomfield, MI.)


Photo by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.

So, that's my ink... so far :) I think next I want to do the tops of my feet...

Do you have any tattoos?

Coloring Flower Mandalas (Book Review)


Do you ever feel like your creativity needs a boost?

I think all of us can relate to that 'stuck in a rut' feeling, whether it's in regard to our own art projects, work, relationships, or even our yoga practice.

It's so important to try new things, and to adopt a playful attitude!

Recently I was lucky to share the amazing book Coloring Flower Mandalas by Wendy Piersall with my lovely sponsored yogini Elizabeth. It's the perfect book for bringing out your inner goddess and inner child, all at once!


Here's what Elizabeth said about the book:

I absolutely love Coloring Flower Mandalas. It was the most colorful meditation I've ever experienced. 

Such beautiful hand-drawn designs! It was a great way for me to be present in the moment and find a few moments of calmness. I was able to bring out my inner artist and have some fun. I even turned on some good reggae and got in the zone. Thank you so much for creating an amazing adult coloring book!

A big thanks to Wendy Piersall for creating such a lovely book, and to the team at Ulysses Press for sharing this unique book with Alive in the Fire!


You may recall I have some mandalas tattooed in my sleeve :) What I love is that these designs have existed for thousands of years as tools for meditation and healing... the powerful sacred geometry, the spiritual symbolism, the lovely colors... all of it works together to create a beautiful, meditative design :)

Cheers to all mandalas, whether they're in books or tattoos or your meditation space!

Namaste, friends.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dedication

Photo by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.

All of your willingness.

All of your dedication.

Each and every moment that you practice.

You carry this with you, off the yoga mat.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Trust Yourself

Photos by Brynna Bryant of Respiro Photography.

There are times when we face fears and doubts and frustrations. When the world feels overwhelming. Perhaps now is one of those times.

It is at these times that it's most important to trust yourself.


If you think back, you'll remember many times in life when you faced challenges and you were able to overcome them.

Your strength has been building for years, and you can draw on it right now, right here.

Surround yourself with positivity. Take great care of your body, and nourish your spirit.


Reflect on your inner wisdom.

If there is something that's bothering you, give yourself time to process and understand it. Or, take a different approach -- do something different with your focus, adopt a playful attitude, and release the worry.


Now is the perfect time to move forward.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Healing

Photo by Justin Kral.

I can only control my healing journey.

Not yours. Not my family's, not my friends. Nor the path my students take.

I take full responsibility for myself, for doing the work I need to do in order to be healthy, fulfilled, and happy. I choose to love myself, to continually deepen my self-knowledge and self-compassion, what the yogis call svadhyaya, or self-study.

I choose to study my weaknesses, to be aware of them so that I can heal them. I practice awareness of what fears and attachments habitually surface.

Ultimately, my healing is my choice. And yours is yours.

PS Read more about svadhyaya and the benefits of this practice.

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