What is Spirituality?

I had a student ask me a few weeks ago, what is spirituality?  In Yoga we talk about becoming more spiritual but what does it really mean? What does it mean to become spiritual?

You already are spiritual.  Maybe, you have forgotten.  We are all spiritual but if we don’t make the effort to connect back to our Source energy we forget.  When my student asked me what it means to be spiritual.  I said, “understanding Spirit.”  My teacher used to say that all the time.  To become spiritual means to understand Spirit.  So then they asked.  “How do you understand Spirit?”  Now that is a great question!  I said, “you have to connect with the non-physical aspect of your being.”  “How do you do that?”, was the next question.

“What is the part of you that is non-physical?”

“I don’t know.”

“Your breath is a non-physical aspect of your being.”

“Is that why you place so much emphasis on breathing in classes?”


The breath is the part of you that is animated but non-physical.  You can feel breath moving in and out of you, you can hear it, but you cannot grasp it in the palm of your hand.  It is so subtle.  That is why in so many spiritual traditions so much emphasis is placed on focusing on the breath.  It is the part of you that is non-physical that you can still pay attention too.  Every moment that you spend focusing on your breath makes you have more spiritual awareness.  How does this work?  Every moment you focus on your breath you step out of your mind, which is a part of the ego.  As long as you are connected to your body, to your mind which includes ALL THOUGHTS, you are still connected to the material form, so in essence it is not your Spirit.  Even though thoughts cannot be put on a plate and brought to someone they are part of the mind and the mind is part of the body and the body is material, make sense?  The body is not Spirit so thoughts although subtle have nothing to do with understanding Spirit.

You must step out of the mind to understand Spirit.  The breath becomes key in doing that because mind and breath have the same source and you cannot focus fully on one and still keep the other.  When you focus on your breath you bring all your awareness to the non-physical aspect of your being.  Every moment that you spend on your breath you are increasing your spiritual awareness!!  It’s cumulative.  So in essence, the more you focus on your breath, the more you focus on the non-physical aspect of your being, the more spiritual you are becoming.  Not that you weren’t spiritual!  You ARE  spiritual!  YOU ARE MORE SPIRITUAL THAN YOU KNOW!  BUT its all about becoming spiritually aware.

You are the point were Heaven and Earth meet.  That is why human-beings are so lucky.  This experience is truly a gift.  You have the soul, which is non-physical and the body, which is physical.  I believe it’s our life’s purpose to remember that we are Spirit in a human body, not that we are human beings with a Spirit, or soul.  You are Spirit in a vehicle, your body, come to Earth to fully express your Spirit.  Spirit cannot express itself without a vehicle and your body is that vehicle.  The body is temporary, the Spirit inside you is the eternal part of you.  Our life’s purpose is to connect and keep that connection while we are living.  Many only make that connection the moment before death, when the physical body wanes, the Spirit shines brilliantly.

When you become spiritually aware, you are in essence Spirit becoming aware of itself.  Or consciousness becoming aware of itself.  How cool is that?  How beautiful is that?  That is why Yoga is such gift in your spiritual journey.  Our body is the vehicle for the soul to work through.  The more your practice Yoga the more your purify your body and mind and the stronger your connection to Spirit becomes.  How does it work? It works because when you practice Yoga you begin balancing and fixing your physical body. By fixing your body,  I mean getting rid of all the unnecessary aches and pains that burden so many today because of our sedentary lifestyle.  You heal your body by stretching it, moving it, and paying loving attention to it daily.  As you do that you are no longer absorbed in all the aches and pains of your body.  How can you ever expect to hear your Spirit when your mind is reminding you of all your aches and pains?  That is why Yoga says fix your body.  As you heal your body and over time through practicing breath work quiet the mind you will hear the voice of your Spirit singing sweetly inside your heart.

Your ego is the voice in your head that screams do this, don’t do this!  You are too old, or too this or too that!  Ego will always be fear based.  Spirit is loving and VERY courageous.  It knows no fear.  Your Spirit is the gentle quiet voice that is ALWAYS nudging you gently.  It’s the soft subtle voice that never pushes but keeps asking you to follow your dreams.  Ever heard the gentle loving voice that says, “you should go back to school.”  “You should  write.”  “You should pursue your passion.”  That is the voice of your Spirit.  It’s subtle, it’s gentle, it’s always trying to direct you to what will bring you more joy, more love, and more connection to your Spirit.  Often times, it gets the back seat to our mind, or ego, that is loud and used to getting its way.  Through regular practice of Yoga and breath work, you will over time quiet mind and body.  Over time, your natural and spontaneous state will be focused on the breath instead of having your focus in your mind, in your thoughts.

That is why practicing breath work is so important on a spiritual level.  I talk about ALL THE PHYSICAL benefits in class(which there are SO MANY!) but today I wanted to share how your breath work and your Yoga practice can help you grow in your spiritual awareness.  Sending lots of love this morning and hoping that this inspires you to keep practicing.

My practice is very special to me.  I always imagine that I’m temple cleaning.  I am cleaning and purifying the temple in which Spirit resides in. It’s so sacred to me.  To me, nothing is more special than honoring that connection and in honoring that connection I find that Spirit guides you to a life full of meaning.

Brightest Blessings,

Sandra Vanatko



Everyday Is a Blessing

I love this quote.  One of my students posted this on facebook yesterday.  I love it!  I’ve taken it to heart so that I do not take one day for granted and so that I don’t take my body which is my primary vehicle in life for granted.

“The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered, ‘Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived,'”

If you take this one quote to heart you will start living every day more fully.  You can chase money and you chase material goods but you die empty-handed.  I think when we live solely for material gain when death approaches it is a empty experience.  The only thing we can take with us when we die is blessing.  All else stays, we can only take our blessings with us.  Why are we sacrificing our health for money?  Why do we take our bodies for granted?  We don’t take care of our bodies until they start breaking down on us.  A crisis situation is often times the situation that puts people back in touch with their bodies.  Your body talks to you through aches and pains, LISTEN!!  We often ignore symptoms by taking medicine instead of acknowledging that there is a problem.  Medicine often time is just symptom treatment.  How often when you have a headache or ache or pain just reach for a pain reliever instead of contemplating why there is pain.  If you have a headache you should first ask why.  Could you have a headache because you didn’t drink enough water?  Or that you have too much stress? Or that you didn’t get enough sleep?  Do you see how your symptoms are your body’s way of communicating with you trying to tell you that you need to switch your pattern? If you look deeply into what is causing the pain, you can focus on switching the pattern to avoid future pain but there has to be mindful awareness present to do this!  I am not saying medicine is bad but we should not be using it unconsciously.  Your body talks to you through aches and pains.  Listening to your body helps avoid breakdowns!

I heard that Alexander the Great was sick days before his death.  As he was preparing for his death he asked that his coffin be built with a place for both his arms to hang out the sides of the coffin.  After his death, Alexander the Great was paraded through town and when asked why his hands hung outside the coffin palms up, it was said that it was because he wanted everyone to know that he had spent his whole life trying to conquer the world and now he was leaving this world empty handed.

Find balance!  There should be equal time between work, play, spiritual development, sleep, exercise, and rest!  We need to balance physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually daily to be optimally healthy!  Nothing is more important than taking good care of your body. Your body comes first.  Even if you have all the money in the world, if you don’t have health you cannot enjoy your wealth.  Even if  you have all the time off in the world but you are not feeling well, you cannot enjoy it.  Do not sacrifice your health for anything!  Your body is the temple that houses your soul.  Think of your body like the garage that houses your soul.  Should you not be doing some temple maintenance daily?  The cleaner the temple the more clear the connection to your soul.

Someone sent this story to me this week.  I want to share it here.  I think it ties in nicely with Dalai Lama’s quote and philosophy:

Once upon a time there was a rich King who had four wives.

He loved the 4th wife the most and adorned her with rich robes and treated her to the finest of delicacies. He gave her nothing but the best.

He also loved the 3rd wife very much and was always showing her off to neighboring kingdoms. However, he feared that one day she would leave him for another.

He also loved his 2nd wife. She was his confidant and was always kind, considerate and patient with him. Whenever the King faced a problem, he could confide in her, and she would help him get through the difficult times.

The King’s 1st wife was a very loyal partner and had made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and kingdom. However, he did not love the first wife. Although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her!!!

One day, the King fell ill and he knew his time was short. He thought of his luxurious life and wondered, “I now have four wives with me, but when I die, I’ll be all alone.”

Thus, he asked the 4th wife, “I have loved you the most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?”  “No way!” replied the 4th wife and she walked away without another word. Her answer cut like a sharp knife right into his heart.

The sad King then asked the 3rd wife, “I have loved you all my life.  Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?”  “No!” replied the 3rd wife. “Life is too good! When you die, I’m going to remarry!”  His heart sank and turned cold.

He then asked the 2nd wife, “I have always turned to you for help and you’ve always been there for me. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?”  “I’m sorry, I can’t help you out this time!” replied the 2nd wife. “At the very most, I can only walk with you to your grave.” Her answer struck him like a bolt of lightning, and the King was devastated.

Then a voice called out: “I’ll go with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go. “The King looked up, and there was his first wife. She was very skinny as she suffered from malnutrition and neglect. Greatly grieved, the King said, “I should have taken much better care of you when I had the chance!”

In truth,
we all have the 4 wives in our lives:

Our 4th wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it will leave us when we die.

Our 3rd wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, it will all go to others.

Our 2nd wife is our family and friends. No matter how much they have been there for us, the farthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.

And our 1st wife is our Soul.  Often neglected in pursuit of wealth, power and pleasures of the world. However, our Soul is the only thing that will follow us wherever we go. Cultivate, strengthen and cherish it now, for it is the only part of us that will follow us to the throne of God and continue with us throughout Eternity.

Sending all my love this morning.


Cancer Awareness

We had our workshop on Saturday and I just wanted to post some highlights of what we talked about for review!

Some facts that we got from The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Weatherford.

1.  1 woman in 8 is at risk of getting breast cancer.

2.  1 woman in 3 is at risk of getting any type of cancer.

3.  1 man in 1000 is at risk of getting breast cancer but 1 man in 2 is at risk of getting cancer.

I was surprised at first at how high this level is and then I realized, no I am not.  It is all around today.  We have all been affected by cancer even if it is not directly us we know family or friends that have been diagnosed.  So what can we do to help prevent this devastating disease?  Take the online quiz here to see how much you know about breast cancer.

We talked about our eating habits in class.  On the quiz one point is using a salad plate instead of a regular dinner plate.  Always remember the outside ring on a dinner plate is meant to be decoration but we tend to fill our plates all the way to the edges.  Keep your food in the middle ring!  Cup your hands together.  That is the stomach size.  Half is for food, 1/4 for liquids, and the other 1/4 is for space.  That is a good measure of how much you should be eating.  We are eating more and moving less and this is a deadly combination.  If you go out to eat, resist temptation to over eat by asking your server to box half of your meal before they even bring it out!  Restaurant portions are often WAY TO BIG!!  Restaurants want to charge more and so will often times bring more food for more “value.” Remember that your body is not the garbage can.  Don’t kid yourself either.  There just aren’t a lot of “healthy” fast food items.  Remember, that often times restaurants are in the business of making food taste the best they can (which equals more butter and more salt!) And they want to do this as cheap as possible so the ingredients are not going to be the freshest or most taken care of during growth and harvest.  Turn the t.v. off when you eat!  We over consume when we are not mindful when eating our meal.  Take the portion you want to eat out of the container so you can see exactly how much you eat.  Don’t eat straight out of the bag!  Drink plenty of water!!  Sometimes thirst is represented as hunger and we over eat when our bodies were actually only thirsty.  Why am I talking so much about food here?  Because statistics show that 2/3 rd’s of our population is overweight and if you have a BMI over 40 you are morbidly obese.  Women that are overweight have a higher reoccurrence of cancer and a 62% higher death rate after diagnoses. These statistics are alarming.

In the quiz, number seven talks about getting enough sleep every night because lack of it can increase your risk of getting breast and other forms of cancer.  Insulin like growth factor hormone GH is not produced properly with lack of sleep.  It also peaks within the first few hours of sleep. So it’s SO IMPORTANT to get to bed!  What is GH good for?  It increases lean muscle mass, stimulates growth and metabolism of muscle, bone and cartridge cells, reducing body fat, and regulates cell growth.  It’s in control of cardiac function, immune function, brain function, and aging.  That’s a lot of good reasons to get to bed!!!

You have to learn to manage your stress to get to bed too!  If you are stressed you release stress hormones that put you in fight or flight response.  You won’t be able to fall asleep because your body is preparing for fight or flight!  Sleep is the last thing on your body’s agenda!  Make sense?  Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone impairs your sleep.  When the balance of GH and CRH are off it is associated with aging and depression.  When you are stressed you have less immune function.  You have less ability to cope, and you have less ability to kill off changing cells.  Everyone has cancer cells, with healthy immune function your miracle body is able to keep up and kill off the mutant cells but as your immune function lowers it’s harder to ward off and cells can multiply to rapidly for your immune system to keep up with.  NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT YOU MANAGE YOUR STRESS.  NOTHING ROBS YOU OF YOUR VITAL ENERGY FASTER THAN STRESS!!!  STRESS STEALS THE VITAL ENERGY YOU NEED FOR YOUR BODIES REPAIRING AND INNATE HEALING RESPONSE TO WORK OPTIMALLY!!!

Question nine is interesting.   Hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of death from these major illnesses by what percentage?

26% in breast cancer

29% increase heart attacks

41% increase in strokes

100% increase of rates of blood clots.

With these statistics I think everyone should think carefully before deciding on hormone replacement therapy.  Is one problem trading off for the risk of another problem, possibly a greater problem?  Why do we see such an increase in heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots?  100% increase in blood clots, this is NOT GOOD.  As we age we naturally lose elasticity in our blood vessels.  We can of course off set this by practicing Yoga!  Thankfully, there is so much each and every one of us can do to maintain and manage our health.  SELF CARE IS THE BEST CARE.  Practicing Yoga not only keeps the body fit and strong, it keeps the blood vessels more elastic and youthful.

Other things we touched on Saturday were colon health.  I will write a separate blog on this but YOU must have healthy digestion.  Transit time should not be days through your body.  The longer food sits in your body the more it becomes putrified and allows for unhealthy toxins to make its way back into the bloodstream.  Since the beginning of time, even the Egyptians, knew the importance of a healthy clean colon.  Unfortunately, our modern-day foods are often time fiber-less and hard to pass through the colon.  Good rule of thumb.  If you grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, DON’T EAT IT!  If there are more ingredients there on the label that you don’t recognize then you do put it back!  Eat whole foods.  Eat living foods in their most natural state.  We are slowly poisoning ourselves when we have chronic constipation.  It’s called auto-intoxication.  Look it up, read about it.   I find that many students suffering from things like arthritis and fibromyalgia feel better as they clean up their diet and get their bowels moving quickly.  The more toxins are in your body the harder your body is working to process these toxins out of your body which in turn means less energy for the immune system to do its work.  You want to do everything you can to keep your vital energy up so your immune system works at optimal levels.  Your thought should always be, what can I do to keep my internal environment(your body) an environment that doesn’t promote cancer.

So what else promotes cancer.  So far we’ve covered how stress and nutrition can promote an environment for cancer growth.  What else?  Cancer HATES oxygen!  Here’s the catch, when you are stressed, you don’t breathe properly, when you don’t breathe properly you don’t have enough oxygen in your body and this creates the environment cancer likes.  That is why your breath work is so important and so powerful, and it’s FREE!  It’s cost efficient, its free medicine literally sitting under our noses.  Doing breath work daily slowly helps us retrain our muscles and nerves involved in breathing so even when you don’t think about your breathing you will over time continue to take slow, deep, regular, and quiet breaths.  There are also breathing exercises used to detoxify your system. (If you come to class, you know these as chimp, lion, and dog.)  Don’t skip them, they help more oxygen flow through your body and help detoxify your system.  Most people only use the upper part of the lungs for breathing.  If cells get less than 60% required oxygen then this creates the optimal environment for cancer.  So can you see how stress and breath and oxygen and cancer can be connected?  You must change your internal environment to one in which cancer cannot thrive.  Cancer cannot exist in cells where there is enough oxygen.  Breathe deep.  Pay attention to your breathing and train it to be slower, deeper, quieter and, more regular. A PROPER BREATH IS A MASTER KEY TO OPTIMAL HEALTH!!

Okay, so you hear often that cancer loves sugar.  Well, there is some truth in that.  Lets take a deeper look at how this works.  Sugars(glucose) stimulates the pancreas to make insulin. Insulin promotes the growth of cells, not just cancer cells but all cells.  Remember that everyone has cancer cells.  Our body is working daily to maintain health by getting rid of changed and diseased cells.  If you have too much sugar in the body this is promoting more and more insulin production which in turn making ALL CELLS GROW.  So this means if there are cancer cells, it’s excelling the growth of them too.  This goes back to diet.  Eat whole foods.  Eat complex carbohydrates.  Stay away from boxed and canned foods.  Sometimes fat-free is worse than having the fat because how do they make fat-free taste so good???  THEY ADD SUGAR!!  Be cautious about how much sugar you consume but please don’t toss your sugar for nutra-sweet, aspartame, splenda, or truvia. They ALL have chemicals and additives.  A safe alternative is Stevia.

One last thing I want to touch on too is that cancer thrives in an acidic environment.  There are test strips you can buy to check your pH level.  All body fluids except for stomach and urine are meant to be slightly alkaline.  As levels become acidic oxygen is driven out of the cells.  Blood must always remain at an alkaline pH 7.4 so that it can retain oxygen.  When adequate mineral consumption is in the diet, the blood is supplied the crucial minerals required maintain an alkaline pH of 7.4.  However, today most people’s diet is not optimal.  With that being said the body will rob other body fluids to keep the blood alkaline.  It removes crucial minerals from organs and fluids in the body and this causes the de-mineralized fluids and organs to become acidic and therefore anaerobic, thus including not only cancer, but a host of other degenerative diseases.

You want to focus on upper body Yoga exercises that help to increase blood flow to the breast tissue.  This also allows the lymphatic system to work.   The more active you are the more you help your body detoxify itself.  Breast tissue is made up of milk producing glands, ducts that carry milk, fatty tissue, blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels.  By moving you help stimulate circulation which is essential for prevention.

So again to review.  Too much toxin, too much stress(which means not enough oxygen) impairs immune function.  When the immune system is not working optimally the ability to kill off cancer cells is lessened.  Too much sugar increases levels of insulin which encourages cell growth.  So move, make a lifestyle change.  Get active!  Manage your stress. Find positive outlets for your emotions.  Watch what you eat, focus on whole foods.   Make sure you have healthy digestion and elimination.  I hope this is clear and helpful. This is my opinion. This is what I have incorporated into my own life.  This is what I see that helps others.  Take what fits. Try it on for size. I hope you find information that is useful.  If you have other information you would like to share please add it!

Thanks to everyone that came out Saturday.  We had very generous financial donations made and all went to the Susan G Komen foundation.  Thank you for your support.  Please share this article with anyone going through treatments or diagnosed with cancer.  There are things we can do to help our body stay healthy and heal.  Self care and prevention is in your hands.

With Love,


The Four Agreements: Chapters 6 & 7

Book Club, October 29th: Chapters 6 & 7
Breaking Old Agreements
We started our discussion with a bit from don Miguel Ruiz’s interview, his discussion on Angels.  He states we are all Angels, not in any particular religious way, but in the way that Angels are messengers and we are all messengers.  He went on to say that when we see pictures of Angels with wings, the wings symbolize our imagination.  Don Miguel Ruiz states that imagination is far more powerful than knowledge, as knowledge is based on ideas and facts of domestication and imagination is based on a deeper “knowing”.  I think that our imagination is our connection to the Divine.
We spent a bit of time talking about what kind of messenger did I come here to be and what kind of messenger have I become?  This seemed like a good lead in to the idea of our losing our freedom, losing our true selves through the process of domestication.  Whose dream are we living and by whose rules are we governing ourselves?  How aware are we of what we say to ourselves and how we respond to our daily life situations.  Once we become aware, then the need to transform or put the Four Agreements to work and then to live a life of Love.  We all agreed this was a powerful chapter, full of great information and inspiration.

Quotes that we discussed:
“They (Toltecs) compare the Judge the Victim, and the belief system to a parasite that invades the human mind.” …..”sucking their energy without any useful contribution in return”
“The freedom we seek is to use our own mind and body, to live our own life, instead of the life of the belief system.”
“We have just two choices.   ….keep living the way we are, to surrender to the Judge and the Victim and keep living the dream of the planet ….(or) We can rebel and say “No!” By saying “No” we become “Warriors” …”in a war against the parasite in the mind”
“Now it is up to you to choose what to believe and what not to believe.  You can choose to believe in anything and that includes believing in yourself.”
“Every day we awake with a certain amount of mental, emotional, and physical energy that we spend throughout the day.  If we allow our emotions to deplete our energy, we have no energy to change our lives or to give to others”
“The human mind is exactly like this (discussion of infected wounds on our skin) description of infected skin.  Every human has an emotional body completely covered with infected wounds.  Each wound is infected with emotional poison….such as hate, anger, envy and sadness.  An action of injustice opens a wound in the mind….”
“We have a dysfunctional dream of the planet, and humans re mentally sick with a disease called fear.”
“Forgiveness is the only way to hear.”
In talking about emotions  “…the victim represses and the warrior refrains”.
In talking about the Angel of Death and living each day as if it is our last …”We are able to break our domestication and become free again and heal our mind.  We surrender to the angel of death, knowing that the parasite will die and we will still be alive with a healthy mind and perfect reason.  Then we are free to use our own mind and run our own life.”

Chapter 7, Heaven on Earth
The dream we are all living right now is the dream we have created.  We talked about how we perceive things is so ingrained in our minds that even when the situation changes we continue to perceive it the same old way.  This chapter focuses on living the life of our mindful dream, using our imaginations to create what we want our life to be.  The focus on love, giving and receiving, being the way to heaven on earth.
“You have the power to create hell and you have the power to create heaven”.
“Just use your imagination and tremendous things will happen.”
“You will perceive love from everything around you.  This is the state of bliss.”
“Imagine you have permission to be happy and to really enjoy your life.”
“Imagine living your life without fear of being judged by others.”
“You love your body just the way it is, and you love your emotions just the way they are.  You know that you are perfect just as you are.”
“If you look at your life you will find many excuses to suffer, but a good reason to suffer you will NOT (my emphasis) find.”
“…we have a choice; to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny.”

Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the book club through attendance and also by following along online.  It has been an interesting journey and hopefully a journey that has been helpful in some way in your day to day life.
We will take November and December off and will plan to start a new book in January.  Title of book and dates will be posted at a later date.