Intentions and Real Change

Several yoga classes begin with a meditation, or setting of an intention.  This is a great time to bring focus to the question of you want/need from the day's practice.  You may want to consider setting an intention on a daily, weekly, monthly basis or longer.  

It takes practice to turn inward and discover what you truly want or need.  Many of us were brought up to do as we were told.  Sports were based on performance, and winning was the primary goal.  The feeding of the spirit may have been a rare or completely void aspect of our everyday lives.  

The practice of intention is well worth the investment.  In January of 2014, I set my intention for the upcoming year.  I asked myself who I wanted to be, and how I could make my life better.  I decided that the wall I had built around my heart must come down.  I had been able to do the work at my local yoga studio, but returned to my old habits during the rest of my life.  The journey has been incredible and life changing.  I have made connections with family, made new friends, and began recording my thoughts in this blog.  I am more available for others now that I am more connected to myself.

All of this work on intentions and heart opening has allowed me to come to a simple conclusion that really shocked me.  Maybe I could open up and ask for what I want in other situations.  I thought of a situation that was far from ideal, and asked myself what my dream outcome would be.  When I contacted the other parties involved, the final solution worked out better than the one that I proposed.  This is so simple, but was also very profound.  Imagine asking for what I wanted - shocking!  I was able to use my energy to maintain connections with others, rather than using my resources in maintaining the wall around my heart.

Call it an intention, a dream, or a resolution.  You can set goals that leads to emotional and personal growth.  When you do this work, it improves all of your personal and professional interactions.    

To get started, you need to reflect during some quiet time to yourself.  You may prefer a daily walk in nature, prayer, meditation, yoga asana (postures), or a combination of a few of these things.  Here are some steps to help you begin to find and work toward your intention.  

1.  As you begin, ask yourself what changes you'd like to see, and begin to visualize that change in your life.  

2.  Notice if there is any physical tension that is connected with that emotion or change.  Breathe deeply and try to soften that tension.  

3.  When you find that feeling or situation arising in your everyday life, return to your breath and the softness.  Remind yourself of the change that you want to make.

4.  When you feel that change becoming habit, ask how you could expand it to create a better world.      

You do not have to be satisfied with, "that's just the way that I am".  You have the power to set an intention, make a change, create better thoughts and a better life.  It will improve things for those around you as well!  Change your inner dialog, change your physical response, and you can change the world!

Live your yoga every day - Beth

Namaste - Does Everyone Really Have a Light?

"Does everyone really have a light?  What about my ex and murderers?  Do they really have a light?"

Ahh, the frequently quoted phrase at the end of yoga classes.  Yoga teachers frequently end class something like, "namaste, the light in me honors the light in you".  This is appreciated by most students, but has left one of my students questioning the light in some folks that they've met.  I'll attempt to respond.

I like this definition of namaste  

I honor the place in you where the entire Universe resides, I honor the place of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where, if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us
— Ram Das

So yes, my answer is that light, or place is in everyone, but not everyone resides in that place.  It may be very well hidden.  Yoga, spiritual practices, and meditation are just a few ways to connect with that place.  Not everyone resides in that place, although many of us are attempting to spend most of our time in that space.  

Until the next time - Namaste

Beth

Support in Yoga and Life

"I do it myself!"  Most children utter this phrase starting at a very early age.  A little later, there is generally a stage when Mom & Dad don't know anything.  Such striving for independence is vital for survival in our culture, and is a necessary evil.

When we get older, we generally learn how much support our parents or caregivers actually gave us.  Without support, it is much more difficult to open ourselves to new experiences. 

Yogis can often behave the same way.  Our vision gets clouded, and we think being able to "do it myself", without the support of a prop (a block, strap,  chair, blanket, the Yoga Wall, Aerial silks, or even our beloved mat), is somehow more valuable.  Sometimes, even if you can do the pose without a prop, a prop can be a huge benefit.      

Here are a few ways that props can be helpful:

1.  They allow the experience of poses that were previously unaccessible.

2.  They help us find the balance between the sthira and sukha (steadiness and ease).

3.  They allow us to have new experiences in familiar poses.

4.  They allow us to experience the benefits of poses for a greater period of time.

5.  They teach us how to engage our lesser used muscles.

6.  They teach us to stretch our less flexible muscles.

7.  They make inversions and balancing poses more accessible.

 

OK, so yoga props can be great tools for everyone,  now what?  We take our yoga back our everyday lives!  Look for a way that you can or BE THE PROP for someone else.  Supporting someone else will bring joy to both of you.  

Be OK with accepting support.  Sometimes when we are able to soften, listen, and accept help, we are able to reach new places on and off the yoga mat.  Your non yoga prop may be a person, tool, discussion group, religious group, or anything else.  Whatever it is, maybe you've been resistant to the prop that is the very thing that will facilitate a new experience or skill.  Using a prop is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of mental strength, and awareness.  

Go into the rest of your day.  Realize that support is a wonderful thing!  Analyze your needs for props on and off the mat, and search for a way that you can be the prop for someone else.

Namaste - Beth 

Also, enjoy this short video of Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar speaking about the Yoga Rope Wall. 

More than a Yoga Body

Body image in yoga appears to be the new trendy topic.  Yoga Dork is selling "this is my Yoga Body" t-shirts, and Yoga Journal has teamed up with Kathryn Budig for this month's Body Issue  and social media campaign #loveyourbody.  Frankly, yoga is about so much more than the body, and it's getting a little old!

I don't mean to discredit the idea of learning to love yourself and coming to the mat the way that you are.  I have worked with those who came to yoga  because of stress, weight issues, injuries, recovery from cancer treatment, and a few who came to one class just to support me or their spouse (and ended up staying  because they loved it).  I encourage each student to look inward and meet themselves in their own space. I believe that the recent social media body image blast is attempting to send this very message, however I fear that it may be clouded in the delivery.

So, if yoga is not about how your body looks, then what is it all about?

1.   Yoga is about the body...  WHAT?  I'm the first to admit that I love a good alignment focused class.  I spend large amounts of time analyzing my own habitual movement and that of my students, family, and friends.  An hour with an Iyengar teacher or one of my favorite alignment based teachers will have me questioning everything, including the way that I stand, walk, hold my toes, etc.  These lessons are valuable and can prevent or treat injuries.

2.  Yoga is about the internal body.  Breathwork, postures, meditation and chanting can help balance the nervous system, relax tense muscles, strengthen weak muscles,  reduce blood pressure, decrease stress, and improve breathing.  I'm sure that we can all think of at least one of those areas that could use improvement. 

3.  Yoga is about the mind body connection.  I've had students show up in class announcing, "my husband said that I need to come to yoga".  I simply adore the times when students leave my classes with that blissed out yoga buzz.  You can see it in their faces and feel the energy in the room.  That is the heart of my mission, and it keeps yoga from being just another activity.

4.  Yoga is not just the time you spend on the mat.  I'm particularly fond of yoga philosophy found in the books that I've listed here, the Yoga Sutras, and many more.  

5.  Yoga helps create space in the body and mind.  Practicing yoga, paying attention, and observing without judgement can and should be taken off the mat.  Yoga has taught me to view things from a fresh perspective before reacting.  This has helped in my personal and professional life. 

In conclusion, come to yoga for the body, come to yoga for the other benefits, or come just to support your spouse or partner (it is so sweet to see loved ones practicing together).  Practice yoga, and do it often.  Seek out an experienced teacher, and learn to love the practice and practitioners as much as I have!

 

Namaste - Beth


Action

Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement, What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.
— BKS Iyengar, Light on Life

How often do you go into autopilot in your daily life?  How often do you take your daily commute, interact with people (including your family), do your daily work, and fail to see the details, satisfied to simply react?  Have you caught yourself saying things like, "that's just how I am, I can't help it".  If so, you are fooling yourself.  We all have the ability to take more action and less reaction if we make the effort. 

A yoga mat is a great place to sort out the difference between action and reaction.  If you haven't tried yoga, try different styles with a variety of teachers.  It sometimes takes effort to find something that feels right.  If you're already a yogi, do you habitually move through sun salutations without even remembering that you have feet?  Are you working to breathe with consciousness?  When you catch yourself thinking about the person on the mat next to you, do you loose the action in your legs?  If so, I assure you that you're not alone, but this constant work is part of what separates yoga from simple stretching.

In addition to taking action in yoga practice,  begin to live consciously on a daily basis.  I was recently at a site overlooking a beautiful waterfall.  I spent some time looking at the falls, and then took a few yoga postures.  My friend is a photographer, and captured the scene with his camera.  Upon looking at the photos, I was amazed that I had missed the heart shape that is formed by the canyon.  I have been to this site a number of times, and have never really looked with enough consciousness to see it.  There is beauty and inspiration everywhere and in everyone when we take the time to notice.  

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  I am on a quest to take more action on and off the mat.  I strive for more intelligent movement and less reaction.  Old patterns can be difficult to break, and I am far from perfect in this endeavour.  By living with increased awareness, I begin to enjoy more happiness when I see the beauty in myself, others, and my surroundings.

When deciding to take action and live and move more consciously, it helps to come up with a plan.  Yoga does help, but so do a number of other efforts.  Some ideas are separating from your electronics, capturing your observations with a camera, or journaling.  Decide what methods appeal to you, and employ them.  It takes practice, but taking action, moving and living consciously, will help us connect with the beauty of ourselves and the life and surroundings that we see every day.

 

Namaste - Beth 

YOGA, MORE THAN PHYSICAL PRACTICE

Yoga's root word means union, or yolking.  When you join the mind, body, and breath, a profound sense of ease and joy can be accessed.  That connection and feeling is what separates the practice of asana (yoga poses) from calisthenics.  As a former distance runner and recreational cyclist, I have noticed similar experiences during those activities.  After the first 2 miles or so, I was always able to connect the patterns of my breath and cadence, and experience an easy, grounded sense of calm.  It was not unlike the feeling that I get during meditation, or yoga practice.

 As a yoga instructor, I find great joy and peace while helping students find that experience.  I am becoming increasingly aware that there are many ways for people to make that connection.  For years, my mother has heard me speaking of my experiences during yoga class, and frequently states, "it's kinda like when I'm quilting".  I'd usually listen respectfully, but I was completely disconnected from her thought process.  Recently, I have observed many true artists, such as the chef, photographer, musician, and painter.  Very much like yogis, these people keenly tune their senses to the task at hand.  What I mean is, that focused ease that is what separates yoga from physical exercise.     

Much like the artist or athlete who is in the zone, the yogi is able to turn inward, and the need to compete with the yogi on the next mat ceases.  As we practice, we begin to carry that grounded, serene feeling into the rest of our lives.  That, is the magic of yoga, and why I practice continually, on and off the mat.


Photo credit Jeromy Dobson

Photo credit Jeromy Dobson

Namaste - Beth 


Atha Yoganusasanam (also known as the what & why of my tattoo)

This is the first of the Yoga Sutras (which is the yoga text written by Patanjali).  Broken down in plain English, it means now begins the study of yoga.  At first glance, the statement simply states here is the information on yoga.  Like many yogis, I tend to look into this statement a little deeper.  So much so, that I got the sanskrit phrase as a tattoo on my arm.

Atha, or now.  To me, this means constant practice, not just when you're on the mat.  Think of the cell phone commercials, but instead of "can you hear me now", think "are you practicing now".  Try to stay in a consistent mindset.  One way of putting this into practice is by not judging yourself (or anyone else) when things don't go as planned.  The practice is now - in the present.

Yoga means union.  So, yoga is a lot more than just bending your body in strange shapes.  That union may be that of your mind and body, your breath and spirit, your connection with other beings or a higher power, or all of the above.  The interpretation can be up to you on this one.

What do I mean with all of this?  Simply take your yoga practice and make it a part of your whole life.  Live the yoga, regardless of what is happening in your physical practice at the moment.  Be a yogi 24 hours a day, not just during your time on the mat.


Namaste - Beth