Self Talk

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.

Path to a Personal Yoga Practice

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...

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.     
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. Savasana - include some time in rest before taking on the rest of your day!
  6. 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

The Beauty of Now

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.

Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present.
— BKS Iyengar

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

 

 

Lessons from Nepal #6 - Stages of Meditation

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

Guided Meditations

While I prefer a silent (or sometimes a mantra) meditation practice, many people who are beginners or those experiencing anxiety, stress, fear, insomnia or pain find a guided meditation extremely helpful.  It can be difficult to actually take the time to meditate, but the benefits are great.  Try to set up a regular schedule, and see my last post if you need a few tips on becoming a regular meditator.

Here are free downloadable guided meditations from Tara Brach.  I believe they are all about 20 minutes, although she also offers a 10 minute download if you sign up for her mailing list.  She is knowledgable, soothing, and will guide you through 20 minutes with ease. 

This is a 5 minute gratitude meditation with Elena Brower.  The video is 6 minutes long because she spends about a minute teaching you how to set up for meditation.  

A YouTube search will bring up a list of guided meditations, and there are also several meditation apps available on Itunes.  I've used one called Simply Being & it allows you to choose music, nature sounds, guided meditation, and meditation length.  This App puts a meditation easily within reach.  While it was free when I downloaded it, there is now a $1.99 charge, but this is a small price to pay for the rewards of meditation.  

If you have any questions, please ask, or see me at the studio.

Namaste - Beth

 

Meditation Break

Want a way to freshen your mood and outlook during the workday?  Try taking 5-10 minutes for a meditation break. Lately, I've been carving out a few minutes during my lunch break. Although I'm lucky enough to have a beautiful chapel at the hospital, any quiet space will do.

Are you a first time meditator?  Here are a few tips to get you started. 

  1. Promise yourself, no judgement.  There is no such thing as a perfect meditator.  Everyone starts somewhere.  The idea is learning to calm the fluctuations in the mind.  It's OK to have thoughts, just notice that they exist, and bring your attention back to the meditation.
  2. Find a quiet, comfortable space.  Close the door, and silence your phone.  Distractions will make the meditation a lot more difficult.
  3. Sit tall.  You may be comfortable on the floor, a cushion, or a chair.  Take the position that works for you, but don't slump.
  4. Find your focus.  You may use a mantra, your breath, or something you're gazing at.  When you feel your mind beginning to wander, begin again by finding your focus.  
  5. Set a timer.  You may start slowly with 5-10 minutes.  Notice how you feel before and after the meditation.  You'll be comfortable with longer meditations as your practice progresses.
  6. Try a guided meditation.  There are various apps, you tube videos, and meditation classes available online.  Although I prefer to sit quietly on my own, they can be a great place to start.
  7. Aim for a consistent practice.  A regular short practice may produce better results than a long, sporadic one.

A midday meditation break will elevate your mood, reduce stress, and reset your mind for the rest of your day.  I urge you to try it daily for 2-4 weeks and begin to notice the benefits.

 

Namaste - Beth

 

 

Practice Monotasking

Much of our culture celebrates multitasking.  In today's world, you can drive a car while listening to a book or talking on the phone to someone far away.  On the computer, I often have several tabs open, a sign of my frantic mind.  I may be (during the exact same session) searching for a heart opening mantra, shopping for last minute Christmas gifts,  and writiing a blog, while my washing machine does my laundry and my dishwasher does the dishes.  This probably sounds familiar to quite a few of us.  

That is why our practice is so important.  Plan some time to monotask every day.  Monotasking, or beinging attentive in the current moment can relieve stress, which is great for your nervous system.  You may even consider keeping a short journal about your experiences.  Please leave your devices behind - it will be OK!  Whatever you do, make it a REGULAR practice.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Take a walk or jog outdoors.  Notice the weather, the smells, the sights, and your feelings.
  2. Start a meditation practice.  It is highly beneficial.  My 12 year old son started by practicing 10 minute guided meditations on YouTube, but really all you need is a seat and your breath.  Here is a brief video (less than 2 minutes) to get you started.   
  3. More Yoga.  Even a 5-10 minute practice can change your mood.  I enjoy backbends and inversions for energy, balancing poses for focus, and seated poses for their calming nature.
  4. Prayer or chanting a mantra.  If you have a practice of prayer that benefits you, keep it up.  If you are interested in exploring chanting a mantra, it can be a very healing practice.
  5. Read something that makes you feel uplifted.  This may be a spiritual book, such as the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, poetry, or philosophy.     
  6. Write something.  This blog has been a practice of heart opening for me.  You can write something for others to read, or you may choose to keep a private journal.  
  7. Play or listen to music.  I know many people who find that music plays a huge part in their lives, and impacts their personal well being.  If you are one of these people, stop and enjoy the music!

After you finish your practice, notice how you feel.  Allow yourself to take the time to have this feeling every day.  It is always available to you, and you won't regret taking the time to improve your mindset.  Whatever practice you choose, keep it up!

Namaste - Beth