We must rise up and show that there are more loving masses than there are hateful few.Read More
As I share the journey of a lifetime with my family, I am reminded of the value of taking by the time to just be in the moment. Many of us have so much but experience so little. There is such a difference between doing something and being fully present.
I was traveling by ferry between Athens and Mykonos when a woman asked me to move from the boats railing so she could have a photo taken. I obliged, but upon observation wondered if she was really experiencing the beauty of the moment in the same way. The warm breeze in her hair, the sun on her face, the beauty of the sea and distant land. She was smiling, but was she really there?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to stop documenting my trip with photos, but I am reminded of my commitment to find balance. We may all take the time to have a full experience instead of just documenting it, because that mindful pause is really what makes a moment special.
One way to find that balance takes a 30 day commitment to yourself. Make sure to find at least one mindful pause in your daily life and journal about your experience.
Our inner voices can be very critical. As we struggle to meet whatever ideals we have set for ourselves, the inner voice draws attention to our shortcomings. We throw habitual meanings on these shortcomings like I'm not good enough (thin enough, smart enough, loved, etc). While self reflection can lead to positive change, why can that inner voice be so mean?
Last year I served as a mentor for two amazing yoga teacher trainees. I was able to hold space for them and help them reach their goals despite challenges. I work in health care and as a yoga teacher. I feel that I have refined holding space for others and helping them through difficult times. I would never have spoken to them the way I sometimes do to myself.
Recently I thought, what if I could hold space for myself with the same love that I hold for others? Could I hold my own space with the same compassion that I have for others? Could I get better results and be happier in the process if I had an internal mentor voice that could combat or replace any critical self talk?
For me, the process has started with a Metta (loving kindness) meditation practice. There are online videos, but I rather enjoy keeping this for myself. The verbiage goes something like this,
"May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be free from suffering ".
Send these well wishes to yourself, then to someone you love (may you be), to someone who has cared for you, to someone who you don't know quite as well, to someone you struggle with, and to a larger group of people (maybe all beings). Include yourself in this last group (may we be). At the end of your meditation, return the thoughts back to yourself. These well wishes can also be sent when you catch yourself thinking unkind things of yourself or others. It just may change the way you interact with others and yourself.
Hold just as much love for yourself as you do for others. Serve as your own mentor and watch yourself accomplish your goals with strength and ease. Come from a place of love and watch your whole world turn into a better place.
Which is really the correct path? What is the "real" yoga? Yoga has become big business. In effort to attract students, instructors and studios turn to marketing strategies that highlight what we do best. Industries attempt to design and market products that will appeal to a specific demographic. This may seem like good business, but does it threaten the heart of what the practice is all about?
The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means "to join" or "to yoke". Could our efforts to set ourselves apart threaten the core of our practice? Whenever we try to make hard and fast rules, it tears us apart. Yoga is not only fancy poses, nor is it the lack of fancy poses. Yoga is not only in heat, nor is it the lack of heat. Yoga is not only for flexible, inflexible, male, female, gay, straight, overweight, thin, athletic, young or old. Different practices and teachers will appeal to different people, so isn't it great that there are so many to choose from?
Although there are several different paths, they all come from the same origin. Power yoga has it's roots in ashtanga yoga, as taught by Pattabhi Jois. Alignment based yoga and the use of props takes inspiration from BKS Iyengar. That's without even getting into the fusions like alignment based vinyasa. There are many different styles, but were you aware that many came from the same lineage? BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois shared the same teacher, Master Krischnamaycharya.
If you are a dedicated yogi or a teacher, I am sure that you are inspired by your practice, style, and teachers and want to share it with others. Please be sure to support all yoga in your written and verbal communication. I have only taken one Bikram class ever, but am happy to recommend a nice studio in the area if that's what you're trying to find. I love my teachers, my studios, my students and my community, but I will not say that my training or style is any more valuable than someone else's.
We are all on a path searching for the same thing, and the path is ever evolving. I hope to be practicing when I'm 103. That's 60 years from now, so while my yoga may not look, feel or sound the same, that does not make it any more or less valuable than what I am doing today.
Don't get me wrong, I am very passionate about what I do, and would love to introduce you to my classes either on the mat or on the Yoga Wall. I have seen many people benefit from my classes. I have benefited from different teachings at various times in my life, so if you're looking for something else, I'll try to help you find that too.
Try various types of yoga and share ideas with several different yogis. Make each practice your own, and I will do the same. Above all else, find the union. We are more alike than we are different.
There is a lot going on in our nation and in the world. I have been silent and contemplative, trying to take it all in. I have noticed repeatedly that there is distress and unhappiness regardless of which candidate each of us supported on election day. I have looked to the practices of yoga, mantra and meditation for support. Many of us have either stopped looking on social media or have blocked posts from one or both sides. If you have not noticed, ignoring the unease does not make it go away. We will all have strong feelings, and many times find ourselves in opposition with those around us. We cannot change this fact.
I come from a line of very spiritual people. My grandfather was a Baptist Missionary in Africa and Pastor in Maine. When I read this quote from Gandhi, I was struck by the similarity between their approaches. I honestly think it would have shocked my grandfather too! When my grandfather was in distress, he would skip meals, go to his study. He would spend the time in prayer, reading spiritual books and studying the Bible. We lived with my grandparents when I was at the impressionable age of 13, and at the time he faced the fact that Parkinson's Disease was robbing him of physical strength and abilities. He responded by taking frequent time in deep reflection. The message was clear, "Grandpa is having a hard time with xxx so he is fasting today". He had a very strong will, and I rarely saw the softer side of him. The fact that I can look back as an adult and realize the strikingly similar approaches makes me smile. The more we are different, the more we are the same.
This post is not another political post that is attempting to tell you what to believe. Notice what makes you feel grounded and brings you peace, and make regular time for those practices. Get very clear so that you can respond with integrity rather than have an automatic reaction. I know that I usually end up regretting those darn automatic reactions!
We must always find a way to back to the calm within the storm. When we experience the calm, we can be of better service to our core beliefs. We can come from our true nature rather than a place of fear or anger. We can better serve the things that really matter to us!
In addition to my regular yoga and meditation practice, I have found Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation to be extremely helpful. Here is a short example to get you started, but you can use any words or well wishes that suit you. You can practice this seated or even silently send these well wishes to everyone you pass during your day and notice how you feel. I wish you happiness, health, peace and freedom from suffering. Namaste.
I have officially experienced the post election blues. It has much more to do with the disconnect that I see and feel from humanity than who won and who lost. After a lifetime of avoiding expressing and feeling my own emotions, I have to say that sometimes this feeling stuff really sucks. I am feeling my own sadness and the heaviness of the emotions in those around me. Last evening I sat with myself, and I cried deeply. The division I see in our nation is so profound. This division impacts people of other races, religious beliefs, the LGBTQ community and their families.
Sometimes, you really have to feel something before you can move past it. Luckily, my amazing friends at Create Karma and I have been sharing a path of healing and acceptance during the past year. They have taught me to open my heart, and hopefully I have led them through some healing as well. I love them deeply. I have felt my feelings, and I am ready to move forward and take action as a leader for the wellness of our community and our nation.
This week I taught yoga classes encouraging my students to find a place of refuge in their own breath. I struggled to take my own advice, so I made a cup of my favorite tea, and found inspiration through reading. This gem of a quote had the greatest impact, so this is where I start moving forward.
Now I choose to practice finding this harmony, happiness and balance through the Yamas and Niyamas (10 principles of living) of yoga. If you have felt the feelings that you need to feel and are ready to move take positive action moving forward, here are the steps that I plan to take.
Ahimsa: compassion for all living things - I turn to a quote from Charlotte Bell. "My favorite description of ahimsa is of a dynamic peacefulness prepared to meet all needs with loving openness." I feel compassion for all beings who are being hurt or oppressed. This extends to my vegan diet. I am not apologetic, but maybe in order to be more balanced, I need to find actions that express loving openness rather than dwelling on sad or painful things.
Satya: commitment to the truth - Sometimes I have tended to hide my beliefs when they don't parallel those who I am around. It may feel easier for me that way, but it is a form of deceit. So to all those hospital employees who may be reading this, I voted for Clinton this year. There, I said it. I don't agree with her entire platform, but my personal beliefs are closer in line with hers than with Trump. Truthfulness - check.
Asteya: non-stealing - It may seem easy to think, I don't steal. Can we look a little deeper? The times that I choose to remain silent and don't stand up when #1 is being violated, I am stealing support from those who may desperately need it. Am I focusing on the news too much and stealing my attention from work that will be for a greater good?
Brahmacharya: non-excess - To me, this really has to do with how you use your energy. I choose to spend my energy in a constructive manner by avoiding too much time dwelling on things I cannot change, yet knowing when to use my voice. I will practice experiencing the difference.
Aparigraha: non-grasping - I will practice giving things to others as a sign of compassion. This may be expressed in a note or through baking. It will definitely be expressed through my financial and active work with Create Karma during this year's Extraordinary Give on November 18!
Saucha: purity - I will choose to keep my mind pure by increasing the time I spend in meditation and physical yoga practice. This can also be practiced through prayer and/or the study of religious text. I will take meditation breaks instead of coffee breaks. I will wear a mala as a sign of this commitment.
Santosha: contentment - I will continue to offer teachings of love, healing and balance. I understand that others will choose to express their voice in a different way. We are a free world and they are free to do as they wish. I am content with the fact that it is not my job to fix anything for others. Everyone has their own path.
Tapas: right effort - Now is the time to not only seek knowledge and beginning to apply what I have learned. Break old habits and find a way to make our lives and this world a better place. Keep zeal and enthusiasm for the things that I really believe in and place my attention there.
Svadhyaya: self study - I have had tremendous success in self study by becoming aware of my habitual patterns and beliefs. Sometimes that little voice in your head isn't our own voice or even the right thing to listen to (it may just be a little bad habit that you've picked up along the way). Sometimes my old habits seem like old friends, but they are not. It is important to find your true nature so that you can begin to break these old habits. This aspect of the path has given me the gift of the biggest heart opening, and I can't wait to see what else is in store! Study of religious text would also apply to this category.
Ishvara Pranidhana: dedication to the highest (God) - Yoga does not tell us how to define God. That is very personal. Anyone with strong religious convictions should cling to them. Otherwise, how do you connect with the divine? You could connect with this through time in nature or by looking for the highest expression of goodness in every situation.
The funny thing is that just taking the time to write these words and dwell on these steps has me feeling better about everything. Now is the time to put my yoga practice into action. I call for you to join me in taking all or some of these steps. We can make our world a better place.
I have a confession to make, despite 17 years of faithful yoga practice/study, and 4.5 years of teaching yoga, finding regular time for my personal practice was still a challenge. I have tried practicing on my own with limited success, via class streaming on YogaGlo and was quite judgemental with myself when I failed to meet the goals that I set for myself.
I started participating in Instagram Yoga Challenges, and saw both regularity of practice and physical achievement in poses that I usually stay away from. The chance to be listed as a winner seemed to ignite the fire to get up early enough to practice every day. There was one problem with this. The gains were physical, but the soul had left my practice. I am reminded of a verse from the Bible that I had memorized as a child.
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? - Mark 8:36 KJV
It didn't really matter if I could stand on my hands or do a big backbend if the spirit and the true feeling of what brought me to yoga was gone. The pose is not the goal of yoga! I was practicing daily, but for the wrong reasons.
Setting out to find the soul of my yoga practice involved establishing a regular routine, finding discipline, and being honest about my intentions. I no longer have to look good for my morning practice. I am enjoying the liberty of establishing a routine that works for me. The first step was loss of the daily instagram post, which gave me the freedom to come to that mat just as I was in the moment (it also saves the time of getting changed). I usually get out of bed, feed my pets, drink warm lime water, and practice in my pajamas. This has given me the freedom to take more time for the practice itself and find balance every day.
My second step was the loss of my yoga class streaming. I'm not saying that this step is for everyone, but I needed to find balance by loss of external focus. I spent less time choosing the day's practice, and more time in actual practice. I am able to customize my practice based on my daily schedule. I lost the external focus, and regained a little more soul in my yoga practice. Putting the soul back in my yoga has influenced the way I feel off the mat, my interactions with my family & friends, and brought authentic inspiration to the way I teach. Sound good? Here are a few steps to get you started...
- Timing - set a regular time & routine every day. Hold yourself accountable, but allow for variation depending on what else is going on in your life. Your practice should be a haven, not an obligation. A goal of early morning practice 5-7 days a week works for me.
- Breath (pranayama) - If you are practicing early in the morning, it is a good idea to do a type of breathwork that will give you energy. I've been working with Kapalabhati or Skull Shining Breath. Here are some instructions if you're new to the practice.
- Meditation - This may feel more natural either here or after your asana (pose) practice. Feel free to experiment to find out what works for you. I prefer to do a round or two on my mala beads, then sit in stillness for the rest of my meditation, but there are several ways to learn how to meditate. Subscribe to my blog, and you won't miss the guided meditation I've been working on!
- Yoga Poses (asana) - I find that an established routine with opportunity for variety works well for me. Established students or teachers can develop a practice of their own. I suggest new students establish a practice with a local teacher (see my schedule for information on group or private instruction). If you're interested in online offerings, comment on this blog and let me know what you're looking for. I love to meet the needs of my online community!
- Savasana - include some time in rest before taking on the rest of your day!
Reading/Study - You may choose to read a religious text, or study some yoga text. The choice is yours. Meditations from the Mat is a good choice, and an easy read. It includes 365 brief one page reflections, that I have used as an intro to several of my yoga classes. Some of my other favorites iinclude Light on Life, Eastern Body Western Mind, Yoga Sutras and A Spiritual Rennegade's guide to the Good Life. Check out the Facebook Yoga Book Club that a friend & I started if you want somewhere to discuss yoga texts & find inspiration.
Just yesterday, I had a discussion with a friend who is nearing the end of teacher training. She had recently come to the conclusion that yoga was much more than where you put your hand, foot or tailbone - YES!!! Your yoga practice can be about turning inward, how your practice makes you feel, finding balance. You can choose to take your practice into every part of your day. You may or may not be able to hold fancy poses or teach large groups, but please find and keep the heart and soul of your practice. The true power of our yoga practice lies within.
Namaste - Beth
Society values multi tasking and efficiency. These skills are considered necessary for companies to thrive in today's competitive marketplace. We now talk on the phone or listen to a book while going about our daily tasks. Always on the go, time is a commodity. The more we can accomplish in a shorter amount of time, the better ... or is it? There is certainly a time and place for these efforts, but sometimes it can be a bit too much. We may find ourselves with a bit of mental clutter. Here are my 3 simple steps to begin mentally decluttering.
Slow Down - It is important to schedule some time to slow down, quiet your mind, and restore. For a healthy way to slow down, I prefer yoga and meditation. Other helpful practices include walking in nature, playing music, praying, journaling, or reading spiritual books. It is important to schedule this time, and make it a priority. If you regularly take the time to slow down, you will be able to access the skill when it is necessary in steps 2 & 3.
Listen - Dictionary.com defines listen as "to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing". We must first practice listening to ourselves before we can ever truly listen to others. Begin to become more sensitive to your gut instincts and physical cues that your body uses to communicate with you (tight shoulders, breath changes, etc). Ask yourself what story is behind a particular feeling or instinct. Use your practice of slowing down from step 1 to become a better listener. We must be able to refine the art of internal listening if we ever want to be able to truly listen to others.
Trust - It is impossible to slow down and listen without the element of trust. Stop any urges to judge what your are hearing, how well your meditation is going, what you should be doing instead. If you are practicing listening to yourself, give yourself permission to trust your instincts. If you are practicing listening to others, fight the urge to solve their problems or judge what they are saying. Less judgement and more trust will help free you from unnecessary mental clutter.
These are skills that I am beginning to refine after 16 years of yoga practice. When I am able to get it right, I can feel a physical sense of lightness in my body and focus in my mind. Notice the physical feelings that you have when you are actively listening to yourself. Take that practice, and use it when you are interacting with others. The ability to clear out enough mental clutter to slow down, truly listen, and trust ourselves and others is a highly rewarding practice that is well worth the effort.
Namaste - Beth
Ahimsa is the yogic principle of non harming. According to the American Psychological Association's 2014 stress report, women "consistently report high levels of overall stress and unhealthy behaviors to manage stress". Gender aside, all stress has a negative impact on the wellbeing of our society. Our solutions to manage stress (unhealthy food, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, drugs, etc) are not the best things for our health, and may cause additional harm.
We can look to yogic, mindfulness and wellness practices for healthier (non harming) ways to manage stress, anxiety and insomnia. Some of them may even change the way you view situations that you used to find stressful. Here are a few ideas.
- Yoga Practice - if you're not already a yogi, now is a great time to start. If you're already a regular yoga practicioner, maybe try changing things up by practicing a different style or a new studio. Practices like Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Yoga Nidra are very relaxing and good for all levels. For more physical work, Iyengar and alignment oriented class are structurally oriented, while Vinyasa and Prana Flow classes generally offer more movement. Try a new class, teacher, video or studio to shake things up.
- Breathwork - Yogic breathwork (pranayama) is a great way to manage stress. Try one of my classes if you're in the area (we practice a bit of breathwork in every class). Otherwise, you may want to experiment with a practice such as Alternate Nostril Breath or simply lengthen your exhales. Sit or lay comfortably, close your eyes, and count the length of your inhales. As a goal, you could try to make your exhale twice as long as your inhale. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the breath.
- Essential Oils - Essential oils can change your mood. Lavender is especially relaxing, and mint or orange scents are uplifting. You can diffuse them, wear them in a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil, or put a few drops in your bath or on your pillow. I prefer to use 100% pure essential oils.
- Eye Pillow - Laying down (on your back or with your legs propped against the wall) with an eye pillow can be one of the best ways to restore a calm, relaxed mood. Using and eye pillow is said to stimulate the vagus nerve (the body's rest & digest response).
- Hot Tea - There are many delicious types of tea to choose from. Herbal teas such as camomile tea may be a good choice, but I find that taking the time to sit and relax with a glass of tea melts away my stress. You may choose to relax with a friend, or enjoy a quiet cup with a view of nature.
- Hot Bath - I find a hot bath to be a particularly enjoyable way to relax when I'm feeling anxious. You can use oils, candles, and/or music to set a spa like atmosphere.
- Time in Nature - Enjoy some peace, quiet, and get some vitamin D! Being outside (particularly in a quiet place like a park or garden) can do amazing things for your mood. I like a hike in nature, but a walk in our local park will fit the bill when I'm short on time.
- Journaling - Keeping a journal can be a particularly useful practice. You may choose to journal about gratitude, your emotions, or focus on positive aspects of each day. Even this blog and my Instagram account @Yoga.M8 have been a way for me to practice a form of journaling.
- Mantra Meditation - Reciting a mantra every day can be a great way to focus on the things that matter the most to you. It can be a personal statement or prayer, or a traditional mantra in sanskrit. Since my trip to Nepal in 2015, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum has been special to me. Here is a link to a video of the mantra. I like to use mala beads to keep track of my practice, but that is optional.
- Music Therapy - You know the music that changes your mood. It may be a pop song that you like to sing along or it may be quiet background music that you'd find in a spa. You may perfer to play the music yourself, or listen to someone else's music. Whatever the case may be, recognize the way different types of music make you feel, and focus on music when your mood needs a boost.
How do you choose to manage your stress? Could any of these practices help you find stress relief with a focus on Ahimsa (non harming)? Stress is not necessary, you have the tools to avoid it! As you yoga and mindful practices help you find stress relief, maybe you can choose to find a little less stress in your life in general. If these practices are not helping to manage your stress, anxiety, or insomnia, please consult your physician.
Namaste - Beth
How often do we judge our limitations (or abilities) based on past experience? How much time do we spend on plans or worries about the future? Below, I'm sharing a quote really hit home for me. One of the most importance aspects of our yoga & meditation practice is to bring ourselves out of the stories that we have created about the past and future. Learning to enjoy the present moment can change our current lives for the better, and make space for a more promising future.
In my teens and early 20's I used to get to the now by running. Putting one foot in front of the other allowed me to find space between my thoughts. A little later I found the same feeling in a sweaty vinyasa class, then in the stillness of an alignment based hatha class, and finally in meditation. Finding the present moment started out during and at the end of my runs. It always took at least 2 miles to get into that good space in my head, I was no longer in the past or the future, I was simply putting one foot in front of the other. As a sweaty post run mess laying on the floor, I found space between my thoughts. This may have been my first taste of savasana (the resting pose at the end of a yoga class).
Take the time to notice and experience the beauty of now in your yoga (or meditation) practice. On and off the mat, releasing expectations based on past performance or idealistic future goals can rob you of simple joys. Maybe your ______ isn't perfect (home, job, pose, body), but is there really any such thing? Can you make a promise to stop labeling things? Is it possible to dwell on the good things that you'd like to celebrate rather than the things that used to be, or the things that you wish were different?
Maybe you can even expand that idea to those around you. You can start by finding common ground with those you interact with on a daily basis. Take a moment to smile at a stranger, make small talk with the barista at the coffee shop, leave a special (anonymous) treat for a coworker who needs a mood boost. Just imagine how wonderful it would be if you could see the beauty in everyone that you meet. Wouldn't your attitude shape your entire world?
Your body exists in the past, your mind exists in the future, but isn't the now wide open to possibilities? Expand rather than contract, smile rather than worry, seek a balance between comfort and effort. Find the beauty of now, and the next now, and the next now... the now really can be wonderful!
Namaste - Beth
So many of set goals, put steps in place to reach our goals, and then allow ourselves to be distracted and move off course. Regardless of the type of goals you have set (spiritual, career/ education, health/weight loss, completing a task, finishing a project, mastering a pose,) they all require zealous effort, in each and every moment, as each of a series of transformations take place.
In a recent blog and video for business owners, my friend Mike spoke about the results of taking 31 days of purposeful action. Much like Iyengar, he speaks about the results he received when he spent 31 days making consistent efforts to reach his goals. At the end of the month, the several small transformations, a result of steady effort, lead to a big result.
I'm approaching another birthday, and the whole world seems to be reminding me to start being, and stop worrying about becoming. With that in mind, I will rededicate myself to my practice with zeal and enthusiasm. Here are the daily steps that I plan to take during February 2016 and beyond.
- Being a daily meditator (this has been a life changer for me)
- Being a person who practices self care (increased daily water, walking, healthy choices)
- Being a yogi who spends time in asana (poses), reading yoga texts, or writing daily
By being a person who practices these steps daily, little transformations may feel like something big by the end of the month. The zeal and momentum must continue to make a transformation rather than temporary changes.
What goals have you been meaning to reach? What do you need to start being? Transformation takes steady zeal and effort, but it is well worth the time invested. Stop becoming and start being, and being again, and being again...
Namaste - Beth
4 years ago I was a brand new yoga teacher. CC was my most loyal student at our local studio(not her real name). She was attentive, dedicated, and sweet. One day, when I cued "crow pose" (an arm balance), she seemed uncharacteristically negative about the pose. That day I promised her that we would keep trying and "one day we will get you in that pose". I didn't have enough experience to make such a promise, and I didn't even know my own limitations at the time. She seemed satisfied with my response, and we moved on. Every time I cued crow over the next 4 years, CC would attempt the pose, fall, smile, and move on with her practice without missing a beat. During a recent large class, and CC had her normal place in the back row. I cued crow, offering a few modifications, and began to assist the newer students. I heard a sound from the back row, and looked back to find CC grinning. She mouthed "I did it". How very cool to see her accomplish her goal. Just like any other week, she quickly returned to her practice.
Anyone who has been practicing yoga long enough has had some of these experiences. One of the things that I love about yoga, is it's lessons that apply to daily life. I find it so inspirational to be able to watch students working on their practices, accomplishing goals, and doing so with love and grace. How often are we reluctant to start something for fear of failure? How often do we have a bad attitude when things don't go our way? Here are a few ways to face your daily life like you do your yoga practice.
- Try things that scare you, or seem just out of reach. You can do more than you know.
- Face the task with a sense of humor. Nobody is perfect at everything, so don't expect yourself to be perfect either.
- If you fail, move on graciously. There's always next time.
- Keep with it. Dedication is the key to reaching your goals.
- Believe in yourself. Starting something with the idea that you can't do it is like praying for something that you don't want to happen.
- Encourage others. There is strength in numbers, so seek out other people with the same interests and/or goals.
Just yesterday I had my own accomplishment of the seemingly impossible task, the ellusive Firefly Pose. This had seemed impossible for years, and I deemed it because of my "tight hamstrings". Well, something snapped when I saw CC reach her goal. I tried Firefly with a fresh attitude. I saw possibilities rather than limitations, and you know what? My Firefly got off the ground. What is your Firefly? What are you ready to tackle on or off the mat?
Namaste - Beth
As we leave 2015 behind and enter 2016, many people will be creating New Year's Resolutions, things they intend to accomplish within the next year. I am not against setting intentionsor starting new projects, but I'm not writing another blog about resolutions either.
So much of our time is spent dwelling in the past, or worrying about/planning for the future. Why not take some time to be mindful, and just "be here now"? Unsure how to even start living in the present moment? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Put your phone/ipad/laptop down! How can you be in the present moment if you are busy becoming of one mind with an electronic device?
- Find a quiet space and close your eyes. Listen to the sound of your breath, try to feel the thumping of your beating heart.
- Try some yogic breath work (pranayama). My students are exposed to this during each and every class and their current favorite for stress relief is alternate nostril breath. I'm including a video link to the right.
- Take a walk in nature. Smell the smells outside, listen to the sound of the wind blowing or the stream moving. Feel the fresh air on your face.
- Quietly enjoy a cup of hot tea. Don't do anything but experience the smells, taste, and temperature of the tea.
- Warm up with a quiet, hot bath or spend some time in front of a cozy fire.
- Join a meditation group.
Now I will head out to gather food to mindfully prepare dinner. How can you fit a little more mindfulness into your life? How can you "be here now"?
Namaste - Beth
After visiting Kopan Monestary in Nepal, we were unable to find a taxi, and walked back to town. We were invited into the home of our new friend. We were welcomed with open arms, given tea, and a tour of the home. We saw living quarters, a dining area (where the children were doing homework), kitchen, and a very small prayer room.
Being Americans in our first few days in Nepal, we were confused and amazed that the beautiful prayer room contained a monk, dressed in red and yellow, with a book in front of him, quietly meditating. He briefly broke his focus (he did not seem happy in that moment), while our Neapli friend showed us the room and explained that the monk had to go through the book every day. We stayed in the doorway hoping that we would not be offensive to the meditating monk. We left the prayer room (and the monk), and shared tea. It was obvious to us that it is a completely normal thing in Nepal to have a Buddhist monk meditating in your home. It took us another 3 days to get enough courage up to ask any questions about the monk. As it turns out, the meditating monk helps to prepare their home for the festival which was less than a few weeks away.
I hear a lot of Americans say that they are unable to meditate, because they just can't empty their minds or think about nothing. You'll be pleased to know that according to the book, An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by The Dalai Lama, that complete emptiness of the mind is not necessary to practice meditation. There are a total of 9 stages of calm abiding. I assure that the monk, although an avid meditator, was not completely undistracted when we entered the prayer room with our friend. He did appear to quickly regain his concentration and proceed with his meditation (but even he wasn't "perfect" - what a relief).
Stage 1 - Placement
During this stage, the meditator practices placing his/her concentration on an object. Frequent distractions occur, and regaining focus requires great effort. The idea is to become aware of that the mind has wandered, notice it without judgement, and continue the mediation. Isn't great that the distracted meditator is at the first stage, and not unable to mediate! Everyone starts somewhere.
Stage 2: Continual Placement
During stage 2, the meditator may be able to continually place his/her mind on a chosen object of meditation for a few minutes at a time. The mind is still distracted frequently, and the periods of distraction are still longer than the moments of focused mental stillness. Again, notice the mind wandering and bring it back to the meditation without judgement.
Stage 3: Re-placement
During Stage 3, the meditator is able to immediately catch distraction of the mind, and quickly regain it's focus.
Stage 4: Close Placement
During this stage, the meditator may be able to complete an entire meditation session without the mind becoming distracted. There is still the possibility of excitement or laxity during this stage.
Stage 5: Disciplining
During this stage, the meditator has achieved a calm, focused mind and becomes aware of more subtle dullness or laxity.
Stage 6: Pacification
During this stage, laxity no longer arises, and one's attention may be directed to subtle excitement. Great inward focus is necessary at this stage.
Stage 7: Fully Pacified Attention
The mind rarely experiences excitement or dullness, and it becomes easy to pacify and refocus.
Stage 8: Single Pointed Attention
The meditator can now easily be focused on an object without the slightest experience of dullness or excitation. How many of us thought that this was a requirement to be a "good mediatator"? In reality, it would take thousands of hours of practice to ever have the hope of reaching this level. Even so, every stage of mediatation is highly beneficial.
Stage 9: Balanced Placement
The meditator can now focus on an object effortlessly for as long as he/she desires.
It is important for a meditator to avoid judgement of his/her ability to meditate. Even the monk was obviously affected by the parade of Americans entering his meditation space, that doesn't make him bad at meditation.
My meditation practice may never reach stage 3 or 4, but it is still beneficial. I notice that I am generally happier, less reactive, and able to focus more easily during my daily life. I am less judgemental and more aware of myself and others the more consistant my meditation practice becomes. My personal practice currently includes a few rounds of Japa Meditation followed by seated meditation. I'm aiming for 20-40 minutes daily, in one or more sessions.
I urge you to commit to daily meditation without judgement. Break it up into a few small sessions, or all at once. Make it a priority in your life. You may find yourself happier, healthier, and less stressed. If you are new to meditation or just want guidance, The Simply Being App is helpful and available on itunes. There are also guided meditations available for streaming on You Tube and Yogaglo, as well as a number of other meditation websites. Happy sitting!
Namaste - Beth
Imagine a boat, any type of boat will do. The boat is taking on water, and in danger of sinking. What is putting the boat in danger? I'll explain some ideas, and answer the riddle at the end of this blog post.
I found the people of Nepal to be happy, gentle and strong. They have the abiility to face adversity with a smile, a shake of the head, and the phrase "what can we do". I witnessed drivers waiting in gas lines for 4 days. I witnessed shop owners cleaning their shops and patiently waiting for tourists to return (as hotels were nearly empty). The Yoga Sutras call for us to have these same qualities.
स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥ (Sthira Skuham Asanam)
sthira = (nom. sg. m.) strong; steady; stable; motionless
sukham = (acc. from sukha) comfortable; ease filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = (acc. sg. n./nom. sg. n. from āsana) asana; posture; seated position; physical practice
This text is often something to strive for in our physical practice, which is a great goal. Finding the balance between stable strength and comfortable ease is a challenge. It is a great way to make sure you aren't pushing too hard, but is there more? What if you could face your entire life this way? What if you could find a way to face the challenges that come from the outside with a new perspective? If you can remain strong yet happy and relaxed, despite all adversity, how would this change your life? These are the exact qualities that I admire about the people of Nepal. They have this Sthira Sukham stuff down like nobody else!
So, back to the boat. In my eyes, it is the water inside the boat that is the problem. How can you change from the inside, so that you remain strong, steady, and happy without letting the water get in and sink your boat? It is something that I strive for, and something that my yoga and meditation practice bring me closer to achieving. Look within yourself for the answers.
Namaste - Beth
While staying in Nepal, our guide frequently encouraged us to hire a cab to get around during our daily excursions. We frequently complied with his request, as it was quick and provided work for the cab driver, but occasionally we opted to walk. Our guide reluctantly complied with our wishes, often leading us through fascinating business and residential areas. We were thrilled to watch the locals going about their daily lives and slow down to really see Nepali life. Our guide was not impressed with these decisions, so we finally asked why he didn't like to walk. "Flat is boring" was his reply. Makes sense, the man does make his living as a trekking guide. Flat walking did not offer panoramic views or cardiovascular challenge. In cardiology, flat line refers to being dead and without a pulse. Time to get off the flat line.
Moderate challenges did reward us with breathtaking views and new experiences. By stepping out of our comfort zone and confronting slippery paths, leeches, and questionable roads, we were rewarded with the experience of a lifetime. It is often like that in yoga as well. When you are willing to step just beyond your comfort zone, amazing things can happen.
In practice and in life, you need to experience both the flat lines and the uphill battles. You need a moment to pause and reflect, and a moment to power through a challenge. This is why there is more than one style of yoga. We can't spend our entire practice resting in shavasana or sitting in meditation, but we can't spend the entire time giving 100% physical effort either.
The challenge is to be happy with whatever life is throwing at you. Can you enjoy that flat and easy path as well as the uphill battle? Can you balance the rest and the work? Try finding the balance between the sthira (strength and steadiness) and sukha (ease, relaxation, joy). This is our challenge, and it is the work of a lifetime.
Namaste - Beth
I was a typical American entering Kathmandu. The very idea of crossing the dusty, busy streets of Boudha, Kathmandu was daunting. Maybe we didn't really need to ever cross the streets that were scattered with potholes, busses with passengers on top, motorcycles, "scooties", cows, water buffalo, taxis and people. As there are no traffic lights or stop signs, there was never really a break in the traffic which seemed to be coming from every direction.
My husband and I looked at each other, found a break in the traffic, and attempted to make a run for it. Luckily, our guide was there with a quick "stop, hold my hands, I'll teach you". We obediently held Shakti's hands, and at the age of 40+, were taught how to cross the street. His message was simple, slow down, don't make any sudden movements, and let them know you're coming. Create space for them to react. It was like a game of frogger, moving, pausing, then moving once again. During the 4 days that followed, we obediently held Shakti's hands whenever we had to cross the street so that he could teach us how to slow down for our own safety.
My yoga practice has followed a very similar pattern. I started out with a very fast paced, sweaty vinyasa practice about 16 years ago. It was the feeling at the end of practice, the pause during shavasana that kept me coming back to the mat. Some years later, I found an amazing teacher with the same message that I learned in Nepal. She taught me to slow down, engage my muscles precisely, and find time to pause in the middle of my asana practice. This pause allowed me to experience more subtle sensations and create space in my body.
Even if you practice a very flowing vinyasa style of yoga, I invite you to take a moment to pause in a few poses. You can play the game of frogger during your practice by pausing during a pose and experiencing the ways your body moves with your breath, or the way that grounding down through one area can help you open up somewhere else. Much like crossing the road in Kathmandu, slowing down can let the driver (your mind) catch up with your movement & see that you're coming. You will be able to appreciate more subtle aspects of the pose and fine tune your alignment. This leads to a happier, healthier practice.
This lesson of slowing down can move off the mat as well. During your busy day, maybe you can take a moment alone to pray, chant, or meditate. Maybe taking a moment to pause and be with your family or loved ones will help both of you find more joy in your otherwise busy lives. Notice the areas of life where you would benefit by slowing down and creating space.
For those of you who were not around in the 80's, frogger was a popular video game where a frog tried to cross traffic without getting run over. I may be dating myself by referencing it in this blog post. Either way, play frogger. Pause for a moment during life or your yoga asana practice (poses).
Namaste - Beth
A moment of truth as I deal with my own stress. After writing this entire post on dealing with holiday stress, I accidentally deleted it without saving, and had to start over. Now I'll be taking some of my own advice, taking a deep breath, and enjoying a cup of hot tea while I rewrite this blog post in an attentive manner.
When our busy holiday schedules get the best of us, sometimes we miss out on all the great little moments. Much like our yoga practice, there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, although that is often our goal. Mindful practices can help reduce stress levels and allow us to enjoy our experiences more fully.
I'll list several practices to try. Find the ones that appeal to you, and put them into practice when you're letting life's stressors get in your way. Your nervous system will thank you.
- The yogic practice of attentive breathing is a proven method to calm the nervous system. Begin by noticing the length of your inhale, then try to extend your exhale to twice the length of the inhale. Over time, if the length of your inhale naturally lengthens as you calm down, you can respond by lengthening your exhale even more.
- Aromatherapy is a great way to relax. Essential oils like lavender can be used in body products, diffused into the air, or added to hot baths. I have been known to put a drop on a surgical mask when I'm working in a stressful surgical case during my day job in cardiology.
- Take a long walk, preferably outdoors. Put your phone away, and really stay in the moment. Practice hearing the rhythm of your footsteps and breath, noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, and put your to do list away. Take the time to be mindful as you walk.
- Yoga is an obvious choice as a way to move mindfully. You may be able to take a full class at your favorite studo. If not, consider a home practice. That may mean a few of your favorite poses, or sun salutations on your own, or you can search You Tube for a free class that meets your needs.
- Tai Chi and Chi Gong are great gentle ways to learn mindful movement. I advise seeking out an instructor or class if this practice interests you.
Meditation is a great way to focus inward and reduce stress. Medical studies have shown changes in the brain structure of meditators with as little as 20 minutes of daily practice. Some of my favorite people are regular meditators! Tara Brach has many great meditations that are available for free online, and it's a great place to start.
Mantra is another way to find attentive stillness. You may choose a phrase that means something to you or try a more traditional mantra. I'm a fan of Om Mani Padme Hum, in the Tabetan Buddhist tradition. So Hum (I am) is another common mantra. Simply think or say so with the inhale, and hum with the exhale.
Restorative yoga is a great way to relax. Classes are available in studios and online. Legs up the Wall is a great restorative pose that can be practiced in just a few minutes. It is practiced by quite literally laying with your legs resting up against a wall as shown here.
Enjoy a nice glass of tea. This has been a favorite method of stress relief my entire life. While in Nepal, tea was regularly offered when we entered people's homes. I love this tradition! Don't multitask or pay bills while enjoying your tea, although a nice conversation with a friend or family member is encouraged.
My 95+ year old grandmother and 13 year old son agree that a very small piece of dark chocolate is something to be savored and enjoyed. Rather than diving into your child's halloween stash of candy, try allowing yourself to take a moment to really experience a small amount of your favorite treat. No guilt allowed.
If you already practice mindfulness, be sure to keep it up during the holiday season. If you don't, or if you're looking for something new, try a few of the practices on this list. Notice how you feel, and enjoy a stress free life during the holidays and into the New Year.
Namaste - Beth
Here at home, I frequently hear the yoga community speaking about a goal of daily yoga practice. There are yoga challenges set up to encourage us to practice yoga poses every day. We may speak about getting our "yoga practice in", meaning exercise, and something to do and help us with the rest of our day. Yes, physical exercise and yoga postures are important, but isn't there more?
I observed several friends in Nepal practicing yoga, even though they have never been in a single yoga pose, let me explain. While attending a Yoga Nidra class with Beryl Bender Birch, she told us she is frequently asked if she practices yoga every day. Her answer was perfect, "yes, I practice yoga every day, but I do not practice asana every day". Asana (the poses) are just one of the 8 limbs of Patanjali's Yoga. The other 7 limbs are all vital to a yoga practice!
Tapas: heat, zeal, discipline
Svadhyaya: Study of spiritual scriptures and self
Isvara Pranidhana: surrender to God
Asana (yoga postures) Through the practice of the physical postures of yoga, we develop discipline, focus, strength, ease, clarity, and balance our energy. This is a good prep for daily life, or for a meditation practice. It is not the only part of yoga.
- Pranayama (breath control) Literally translated as "life force extention", breath control is intimately connected to our nervous system. Breath work provides a link between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. I consider it to be vital, and begin each personal practice with a little bit of breath work. I hear feedback from students that this is a helpful practice that they bring into their daily lives.
Pratyahara (withdrawl from the senses) Moving our attention away from physical sensation allows us to focus inward. According to Yoga International, "pratyahara exercises require concentration and the ability to focus on the inner sensory and energetic experiences of the body". So you are not asleep, and you are not lost in your phone or your to do list. Your mind has an inward focus.
Dharana (concentration) During asana, our focus changes, during dharana, our attention falls on a single mental object. This may be an image, a sound, or a specific energetic location in the body. This practice can be considered the gateway to meditation.
Dhyana (meditation) Durning meditation, there is an unwavering flow of concentration. Medical science now supports the fact that meditation is a very beneficial practice on it's own. Although my friend in Nepal meditates for 2.5 hours every day, you can start with as little as one or two 5 minute sessions and find a practice that works for you.
Samadhi (bliss) When we experience samadhi, the mind is free from all distractions, and we experience inner consciousness & light. You may wish to think of this as heaven, enlightenment, or just peace.
I may not have practiced asana every single day while I was in Nepal, but I did practice and observe yoga every day. I observed practices and ways of life that will forever change the way I think. I observed people facing extreme hardship with a smile and a shake of the head ("no problem" - just like in Jamaica). If it was something they couldn't fix, they just faced it & moved on. I observed women happily washing their clothes on a rock in a stream. I was welcomed whole heartedly into people's homes, and allowed to interact with their children. I observed the daily prayers of monks. I walked with hundreds of dedicated people doing their daily meditative walks around the Boudhanath Sthupa, spinning prayer wheels and chanting Om Mani Padme Hum. We witnessed people buying brass objects for honoring parents who had died and those people preparing for the festival. The people of Nepal have impacted my practice off the mat in so many ways!
Don't get me wrong, I love asana practice. My teaching style is rooted in physical alignment, strength, stability and self observance, but there is so much more to yoga. If you don't manage to fit in any asana today, think like a Nepali, "no problem". You can always practice a little meditation, or any combination of the 8 limbs. They're all yoga (even Beryl Bender Birch thinks so).
My husband and I were walking along the lake in Pokhara, Nepal enjoying the views of nature, shops, and people that we saw along the way. An elderly Nepali man was sitting near the path splitting wood with a handheld tool. As our path crossed the area where he was working, I became fascinated and paused to see what he was doing. "Eyes broken", he questioned as he stopped working. I was processing his intent and did not respond in words or expression. A louder and angrier "eyes broken" met my silence. You could feel the hostile energy as his eyes met mine. We quickly continued along the path, and I was filled with fear. At a week into our trip, this was our first day without our guide, and I longed for the ease that came with his guidance and friendship. We were truly in another world.
Later in the streets near our hotel, we passed an elderly Nepali woman. Her gray hair was pinned back, she was carrying a bright pink umbrella to shield herself from the afternoon sun, and was wearing a beautiful pink sari. There was a beauty and grace about her, and I admit that I stared a bit too long. My eyes met hers and I gave her my warmest smile. She greeted us with a "namaste", and we returned the greeting. After we passed, her friendly voice commented, "always smiling, never talking". Her words stuck with me as we continued on our way.
"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." - Rumi
We all hold some sort of barriers. I believe that every interaction can be a lesson. Both of these encounters point to some of my personal barriers. Caution and reserve are my protective bubble, and they are driven by fear and shyness. They are a barrier to experiencing love and friendship. They can close relationships before they even start. Would the man have responded differently if I had said, namaste, may I watch you work? Maybe, and maybe not, but his words can be a lesson and a gift.
I found most of the people in Nepal to be open, loving, kind and giving. I have new friendships that I will treasure forever. It is also glaringly obvious that as a personal practice, I must begin to enbrace these qualities. My meditation, my yoga practice, and my daily life will focus on breaking down barriers and finding an open heart. Very often, what you give is what you get. Give what you seek, and it will return to you.
"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
Happiness never decreases by being shared." - Buddha
Happiness and love are contageous. Take a few moments to ponder each of your interactions (even the negative ones). They are a gift, and contain lessons that will help you find what you seek. Each day, share a little more and watch the beauty that unfolds.
Namaste - Beth