This month, I am bringing you something a little bit different. I would like to share with you a video podcast which has really struck a chord with me. (Disclaimer - There will be swear words. Apologies if that bothers you although I still highly recommend listening.)
I've been a big fan of the Joe Rogan Experience for a long time. I find his approach to be as close to open and considerate of all angles as a person can hope to be. Even when he talks to someone I disagree with, I find it really valuable practice for myself to listen to opposing view.
This particular conversation is with Megan Phelps-Roper. She grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the group that protests funerals and events with signs like "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers". Megan left the church 4 years ago and has been sharing her story ever since. There are two things in particular that moved me about this conversation.
First, it really gives an insight into a group I think most of us, regardless of political or religious bent, would say is vile. Megan explains in depth the mindset of the church members and how they can truly believe what they are doing is right. From the outside, it's so difficult to imagine how anyone can think yelling at grieving family can be justified. And yet, all of us carry our own beliefs about what is right and wrong, often without ever being curious or questioning why we believe these things. We are all human beings that are products of our environments, our upbringings, and our experiences. Imagine if we could all hold our beliefs a little less sacred, not to invalidate them, but to make room for new ideas and growth.
The second thing that really moved me about this talk is the power of real, humane conversation. Megan explains how her doubts about the church's doctrine and methods were fostered until her ultimate decision to leave. It wasn't because people yelled at her or called her names. It was people (on Twitter of all things) talking and listening to her in a human and compassionate way. It's not hard to see how valuable this reminder is in the current political and societal climate we're in. The power of change is in meeting each other as fellow human beings, even if that human being holds beliefs that are abhorrent to our own. Change is not created through self-righteous name calling. That only serves our own egos. So, I invite you, next time you find yourself engaged in an argument, to check what your motivations are. Are you trying to learn or question or invite someone else to see things in a different way? Or, are you trying to get an ego boost from winning or being "right"?
I know that this is a long talk but I cannot recommend it highly enough if any of what I have said has resonated. You don't have to watch. Put it on in the background while you do the dishes or work on your computer. I would love to know what your thoughts are and if this resonated or triggered something in you. I hope you are having a wonderful transition from spring to summer! Be well and enjoy the rest of June. xoxo
Last month, I found myself parched and deflated. I was lacking inspiration, motivation, and felt like I was just going through the motions of my daily routine. I felt stuck, unsure how to get out of it. With the onset of Spring, I felt a desire to move and create and get out of my rut. But, I didn’t know where to put my energy, no matter how clearly I felt, something.
So, I waited. Surely, the magical bolt of inspiration was right around the corner, right? As you might guess, it was not. So, I thought, how do we get the proverbial ball rolling when we’re not sure what direction to go in? How do we get ourselves out of a rut that feels oh, so comfortable (but not really)? How do we create our own bolt of inspiration?
As I pondered this, a TED talk from Elizabeth Gilbert came to my mind. I will link the talk here (I highly recommend) but the bit that stuck with me was about the power of simply showing up. For her, it was showing up to her writing, whether or not she felt particularly inspired. Then, the creative genius could come or not, but, at least she had held up her end of the bargain. I thought about how I could apply this to my life in general. I felt like I was already showing up, putting one foot in front of the other, and carrying on even though I was feeling less than inspired. However, after thinking about this (and talking to my fabulous therapist), I realized I wasn’t really showing up fully. I was, like I said earlier, simply going through the motions. I wasn’t giving my life any fat to chew on (so to speak) so, naturally, nothing new was growing.
So, I decided to make some changes. Not giant, monumental changes. The quiet, every day changes that, with time and practice, become monumental. I started to recommit to my yoga practice. Not in some unattainable way I’d give up on in a few days. I committed to one class a week that was so convenient I would have to put more effort into not showing up than if I just went. It's also a completely wonderful and inspiring class I genuinely look forward to (most of the time anyway). I knew I needed to get more nutrients into my diet so I started to experiment with healthy smoothies. I found it a great way to get more veggies into my diet in a, to me, more tolerable way. Dare I say I look forward to that green or blue or purple concoction of fruits and veggies and I truly feel better in my body.
So, those were my daily life adjustments. I also had a mental list of things that I wanted to do or was interested in but for one reason or another, I hadn’t done them. I had a few records I wanted to pick up from Providence to further my genealogical research. I had made up such stories about the traffic and the parking and the hassle that I made myself afraid to do it. When I finally went, not only was the process easy as can be, I was able to add three generations to a branch of my family tree with the information I gained.
Another thing I always thought “wouldn’t that be cool to try” was some kind of self defense or martial arts class. It was scary because it was totally out of my comfort zone, a totally new world with different movements and customs I felt completely foreign to. I would also probably be “bad” at it (something I am not naturally comfortable with). But, I reached out, found an awesome studio owned by an awesome husband and wife team, five minutes from my house. As I write this, not only am I taking classes, I know have an opportunity to teach there.
Along with all of this, my life in general has really opened up. Since beginning this experiment, I have been given several opportunities to travel. That is something my life and my soul had been missing for a long time. Again, as I write this, I have gone to Florida, Maryland to see dear friends, and am preparing to go to Colorado, a place I have never been but am eager to see.
The moral of this story, to me, is that you don’t have to move mountains or turn your life upside down, or, even know where you’re going. However, when you truly commit to your self care and self improvement, even in small and mundane ways, life will open up to you. Every wisdom tradition says this in one way or another but, if you’re anything like me, experience itself is the best teacher. If this resonates with you at all, if you feel like you’re in a rut or if you’re feeling directionless, consider some small change or shift that is true to you. Maybe it’s a lifestyle shift or something new you’ve been dying to try but find what it is and do it. Without expectation, as you dive into whatever your practice is, be aware of your life and see if anything about it feels different or uplifted. I would love to hear your thoughts on this so please feel free to leave a comment below. Until next time, I hope you have a wonderful May and enjoy Spring!
This month's blog post has been inspired by failure. If you've been keeping up with previous blogs this year, you will know that I have chosen to practice monthly resolutions (rather than new year ones). January's intention was, in my estimation, a resounding success. I stuck to nightly journaling, even on days I didn't feel like it. The one time I missed it, I easily let myself off the hook. I have even continued the practice post January.
February's intention sounded really good. I decided to set aside time to read the piles of books I genuinely want to take in. Since mulching was a big theme for me, I also decided to set aside time to do that in the form of restorative yoga. After the successful feeling of January, I was looking forward to this new chapter. But, do you want to know how many times I did each of these intentions?
One time, I set aside time to read. One time, I spent my ten minutes in a restorative pose. I couldn't seem to force myself into these resolutions. Why had I failed so completely this time around? And then in hit me.
These resolutions, while lovely, did not come from a truth in my heart.
They were inspired by expectations I felt from others and by the fact that, frankly, they sounded good. But they weren't really what I wanted. This got me thinking about all the things I (and perhaps you) do for ourselves versus what's expected from outside.
Certainly, there are times we need to do things because, well, that's what comes with being an adult in the world. However, like so much of life, it's about finding balance. Speaking for myself, I was always a people pleaser. My method of gaining approval growing up was becoming who or what I thought other people wanted me to be. In fact, it wasn't until this journey of yoga and self-awareness that I met the "real" me. This path has helped me get to know (and love) the person I actually am.
So, this month, my resolution is quite simple. I intend to become more aware of the motivations for my daily actions. Is this a true desire? Is this something I am doing for fear of disappointing someone or for hope that I will get approval? Is this a "should" or is this a "yes"? For all the actions that have the space for this inquiry, I am bringing it. And, I will practice my ability to consider, and to say "yes" when I mean it and "no" when I need to. And, for those other responsibilities that don't have the space, I will be grateful I can provide whatever service I am providing.
This isn't just about possibly cutting out or adjusting things. It's also about giving permission to do things that feed you, even if they seem frivolous. For example, I have a makeup/beauty channel on YouTube. (You can check it out here if you like that sort of thing.) Making videos is a time consuming process. I don't have a big following and I'm certainly not making any money from it which makes me feel like I shouldn't invest the time. But, I freaking love it. I continue to feel pulled back to it even though there's a part of me saying "this is a waste of time". But is it? Is anything that makes us happy and feeds our souls a waste of time? I don't think so either. So, another intention is to embrace the frivolous that is actually not frivolous.
Does any of this resonate with you? Is this a practice you would like to bring in to your life? I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings around this topic! Feel free to check out our resolution support group on Facebook if you are interested in a like-minded community to bounce ideas off of and ask for help. It's a really special space if this is something that speaks to you. In the meantime, feel free to share any of your own thoughts, feelings, or intentions below and I look forward to continuing the journey with you into Spring!
We all go through cycles in our lives. We experience times of change, times of routine, times we know where we're going, and, times we feel lost. This is an inevitable aspect of the human experience. In my own life, I feel like I am often going between feeling like I'm moving in the right direction and feeling like I have no idea what direction to move in. As I find myself in that latter place of uncertainty once again, my first reaction is exacerbated frustration. Really, universe? Again? Why can't I just have this figured out yet?
Of course, there's a part of me that knows life will always move in cycles. You don't have to look hard at the weather or how things in the earth grow to see that everything lives, to some degree, in cycles. As I pondered this, it suddenly struck me that I wouldn't expect a seed I just planted to be a full grown plant. It needs to nestle in the ground and, unseen by me, germinate and grow roots before, eventually, poking it's head out of the ground. It has to mulch (a word that, as a non-gardener, seems fitting for this process). So why don't I give myself permission to mulch?
Frankly, this is an easy question to answer. Our society exclusively applauds accomplishment and the end result of effort. While we might give props to the journey after the fact, in the midst of it, we usually try to rush to the conclusion. After all, that's what we value. While it's wonderful to praise accomplishment, this imbalance has forced us out of the natural flow of life. In our rush to "do", we burn out and break down. But, you know what? I don't want to burn out or break down. I'm tired of feeling frustrated and worthless every time my life moves into this "mulch" phase.
So, I'm going to give myself permission to mulch. This doesn't mean I'm going to sit around twiddling my thumbs, but, it does mean that I am going to let the seed of the next chapter of my life germinate. Yelling at it to grow faster has never worked in the past anyway, so, why would this time be different? Instead, I will practice being comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing exactly what's happening. I will do my work and follow my interests while letting the voices clambering to know what I'll get out of it quiet down. Even as the earth quiets in these winter months, I will allow myself to quiet and listen and be.
If this has resonated at all with you, I hope you will join me in this practice. Give yourself permission to mulch, to rest, to act, whatever it is your current life cycle needs. Find a manageable intention or action you can bring into your life today and play with it for the month of February. Notice what comes up for you, what effects you feel, all with compassion. I will share below my February monthly resolution (see my January blog post for more info) and feel free to share yours in the comments section below. As I mentioned in that blog post, I have made a Facebook page for community and support around resolutions and intentions for this year. It is there if you would like to join, we would love to have you! Peace be with all of you this coming month and I hope you have enjoyed this post!
February Monthly Intention: While I don't feel obligated to make an intention that matches my post, it does seem to fit this month! My intention for this month is to prioritize time for reading/quiet. I am surrounded by books I genuinely want to read but never seem to have time to. I intend to spend time every week day (weekends are optional) reading. I also intend to spend at least 5 minutes twice a week in a grounding, calming restorative yoga pose. I'm really loving supported forward folds and supported child's pose at the moment. This will give me time to simply be and listen, which, even though I am a yoga teacher, is not something that comes easily. What about you?
Hello 2017! Whatever your feelings are as we enter the new year, I'm sure you have either considered, dismissed, or committed to some new year's resolutions. I have written before about a yogic approach to resolutions, and, while I stand by that post, this year, I want to try something a little different.
I know I'm not the only one who has some...difficulty with self-discipline. Last year, I made a seemingly simple resolution to do a single sun salutation every day. It might have lasted a couple months but, by summer, it was a distant memory. While I was good about not beating myself up about it (yay progress!), it got me thinking about a new way to set resolutions. After all, isn't the running joke that by mid-January, the gyms are empty again? Why do we insist on setting ourselves up for failure?
Perhaps, a whole year is too much weight to carry. Not to say that a year long intention isn't valuable (of course, it is), but, maybe, we would find more success by taking slightly smaller bites. So, I thought, why not set a New Month Resolution instead? You might still have an over-all theme for your resolutions, you might even choose to stick to the same one each month, but doesn't it feel more manageable to think about 30 days rather than 365?
In the interest of both accountibility and, perhaps, inspiration, I would like to share with you some of my own goals, intentions, and my first monthly resolution. If this is something that resonates with you, please read the end of this post.
For the year: Like I said, I still think it's valuable to consider the year as a whole. I realized at the end of 2016, I had almost completely neglected any activity that fed my soul. I wasn't moving, I wasn't creating, and that caused me to feel completely stuck and stale. I gave myself no outlets for my thoughts or feelings and, I'll tell ya, I am feeling the effects. I hope to be able to travel more and just generally get my sh*t together. I feel as though I have languished too long.
For my business: For the next six months, I want to create more online content. My goal is to upload at least one new video to my yoga channel on youtube every week and I also have a couple of online courses I want to flesh out. I am giving myself six months to stick to this and see if it's something I really enjoy and if it serves people. I also intend to send out an email newsletter/blog post once a month.
January's New Month Resolution: While I have a million ideas floating around, the one that resonates the most with me right now is nightly journaling. Like I mentioned above, I haven't given myself much of an outlet for my thoughts and feelings and this seems like a really great practice for that. So, at the end of each day in Januray, I will write in a journal, even if I just write "I'm too tired to write" or "I have nothing to say".
I will be sharing each new resolution in my monthly emails (check out the homepage if you are interested in signing up), as well as a short re-cap of my experience during the previous month. However, I got to thinking, if more folks would like to join me in this experiment, wouldn't it be great to have a communal place we can share our goals and support each other? So, if this resonates with you and you would be interested, leave a comment here or send an email letting me know. I will set up a private Facebook group just for us where we can share our resolutions, our findings, and ask for/offer support. Let's rock 2017!
The holiday season can be many things to many people. Some of us might look forward to it all year while others mutter grumpily about "Run, Run, Rudolph" playing in the grocery store before Thanksgiving. (That might be me...) Whatever your feelings, I think we can all agree that this time of year can be incredibly stressful. The frenzied shopping, holiday crowds, travel, and preparations piled on top of already busy lives can do a number on our sense of well-being (not to mention our sanity).
In this month's blog post, I would like to offer practices to counter-balance all of that hurry. In a time where it feels like you have no time, it is especially important to make time and stay committed to your own self-care. My hope for this post is to offer practical tips you can bring in to your life, now, and throughout the year.
I know it might sound obvious but the breath is truly one of the most powerful tools we have. One of the things that happens when we get stressed and engage the sympathetic nervous system (our "fight or flight response) is that the breath gets short and quick. You can create that feeling right now. Start to take rapid, shallow breaths and notice how long it takes before you start to feel anxious. Probably not long, right? Now, take a few deep breaths. What happened? Did you start to feel calmer? Breathing deeply literally "switches gears" from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (often called the "rest and digest" mode).
Remembering to breath fully in a moment of anxiety or stress can help us to de-escalate our physical experience as well as give us a chance to think clearly. Building a habit of taking deeper, fuller breaths gives us a calmer baseline we can live in. Not too mention, the deeper and more complete our breaths, the more physical health we can create on a cellular level.
Another reason breathing practices can be so powerful is, since we (ideally) breathing all the time anyway, we can practice anytime, anywhere. Sure, you could rock the #stopdropandyoga hashtag in line at JC Penney but, for most of us, we might not feel comfortable Downward Dog-ing in public. Breathing deeply though? That, can be done anywhere with no obvious sign, except for the sense of calm you'd radiate!
Real World Practice
Commit to a Ten Breath Practice- It can be more challenging than usual to stick to a your yoga schedule or meditation routine. An alternative is to commit to a Ten Breath Practice. Pick a time of day (keep it as consistent as possible) and take ten full breaths. That's it. No extra equiptment, special clothing, or particular setting required. You can keep the breath relaxed or practice a particular pranayama (check out my Breath Breakdown playlist for guidance).
Restore the Body
As powerful as the breath can be, it's important to address the physical wear and tear that holiday (or any) stress can create. Between the travel, standing in lines, or even just sitting in front of the Amazon website, the body can accumulate an increased number of aches, pains, and fatigue. One of the most comprehensive ways to deal with this, in my humble opinion, is the practice of restorative yoga. In short, a restorative yoga pose uses props to completely support the body. This enables the practitioner to relax in the pose for an extended period of time, allowing a deeper physical release. In addition, the time spent in stillness gives the nervous system a chance to relax and return the body to homeostasis (the "neutral" mode we are designed to spend more of our time in). All this comes together to create an experience that leaves the body with less pain, less tension, and more vitality.
This kind of constructive rest also gives us an opportunity to practice self-care. Especially in this season of giving, it can be more challenging than usual to prioritize our self care. However, as I've mentioned often, it doesn't serve anyone to run ourselves on (or beyond) empty. Taking even a few minutes in a restorative pose will not only help your physical health, it will also help your mental and emotional health. The action of taking care of ourselves is not just important, it's vital.
Real World Practice
Obviously, I would still love to see your gorgeous face in my yoga class, but, I know this can be a challenging time of year to fit it in. Like I mentioned above, practicing a restorative yoga pose or two can give you a chance to maintain balance from the comfort of your own home. While there are lots of great restorative poses (including this gentle heart opener), I think good ol' Legs Up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani) is perfect for this time of year. It's an inversion, which means it's a calming pose. It gives the legs a chance to release from lots of driving or standing and helps the circulation (especially helpful if it's cold where you live). I would like to share two different versions with you that you can choose from depending on your preference. Special thanks and a shout out to my beautiful student, Chrissy, for modeling!
Prop It Up!
If you want to take your Legs Up the Wall practice to the next level, props is where it's at!
I recommend spending a little more time in this version, anywhere from 2-10 minutes. Here are a few options you can pick and choose from, or, practice together.
Finally, Give Yourself (and Others) a Break
Holiday expectations can be difficult to manage. For some people, it's a difficult or painful time of year, rather than a festive one. It's easy to get short-tempered, irritable, or judgemental to oneself or others. So, give yourself and those around you a break. As that famous quote says, you don't know what battles the people around you are facing in their lives, so, be kind.
I hope that you have enjoyed this month's post! I hope you experiment with the tools I have offered and, if you have, please let me know how you find them. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and close out 2016 with a bang! Be safe, have fun, and I'll see y'all next year!
Welcome to part two of this blog exploring the practice of connecting the non-judgemental self-observation of yoga to our political discourse. If you missed part one, check it out here. This section will dive into action steps you can bring into your daily life and conversations. As I said in part one, these are things I have been using to "walk the talk," so to speak. If any of this discussion resonates with you, I invite you to play with these practices and notice if and how they might shift your own habits, beliefs, and conversations.
Acknowledge Your Bias
We all have biases. We all have prejudices, whether conscious or unconscious. That's called being human and I don't think it's automatically a bad thing. Where we run into trouble is assuming our bias equals fact or when we deny the fact we have any biases in the first place. In this TED talk, the speaker reminds us that "we don't need 'good' people, we need real people." By that she means we don't need people to try to be "good" and bias free, we need people to be honest and courageous enough to face their biases. I think this is such an important point and something I need to practice myself. So, instead of denying any biases (or getting mad at someone for reminding you of them), practice facing them. Practice shining a light on them while releasing judgements toward them or yourself. I'm not going to sit here and pretend it's not going to be uncomfortable. It can be really challenging to see the aspects of ourselves we might not be as proud of. However, on the other side of that discomfort may be opportunities for growth and change.
Explore Your Sources
Confirmation bias is defined as "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs." We all do it. Whether it's only watching Fox News or exclusively reading the Huffington Post, it's easy to see why we'd tend toward information that agrees with us. The danger, of course, is that we may not be getting the whole story or even factual information. I am constantly amazed at the subtle, and not so subtle, manipulation of information in sources. I was recently looking through two subs on Reddit, one conservative and one liberal. While both subs are pretty active, the stories each chooses to showcase are often completely different. Everything, from the language of the headlines to the pictures in each article, helps to reinforce the bias of the readers. With that said, I think it's difficult, if not impossible, to be completely unbiased. However, it is really important to be aware of them. So start to pay attention to your news sources. Notice the tone, the language, the photos, the headlines, even the stories they choose to cover. Being aware of how biases show themselves can truly transform how we take in and share information.
I think it's an amazing juxtaposition that we have all the information we could hope for at our fingertips, yet anyone can write anything and pass it off as fact. It may seem obvious, but I know I'm not the only one who could use this reminder. Not everything you see is true, not everything you hear is the whole story. As already discussed above, information can be very easily manipulated. Therefore, it is important to practice those critical thinking skills we all have. Even if we've let them get a little dusty. One way I like to practice is with Facebook memes. Even the ones that lean toward my own beliefs are often obviously taken out of context or incomplete. For example, if it's a quote, look up if this person actually said it. What was the context the quote was taken from? What is the bias of the source of the meme and of the information you find? Of course, this can be a time consuming process but I think it's critically important nonetheless. It's how we stay truly informed rather than just placating our egos (as discussed in part one).
Widen Your Perspective
This is really challenging but, again, so important. Whether you lean right, left, Libertarian, Green, or the myriad of realities in between, be open to information from all avenues. If you're liberal, check out conservative sources. If you're conservative, check out liberal sources. Try to see issues from different angles. Without judgement, consider why would someone believe this or vote for that. Learn more about something you don't understand. Talk to friends or family who think differently. Maybe you can exercise your research muscles together as you both learn more about the issues. While this might seem slightly off topic, I recommend checking out this TED talk about a neuroscientist's experience of having a stroke. She talks about watching the right and left hemisphere's of the brain going on or offline. To me, it is a beautiful reminder that we need both sides to function and live fully. Even if you don't end up agreeing with anything you find, do you notice that you're able to have more compassion after this kind of practice? Can you find understanding and empathy, even if you don't find agreement?
At the end of the day, we, every single one of us, are real, flesh and blood human beings with hopes and dreams and tragedies and triumphs. We don't have to be enemies. We don't need to buy in to the same propaganda that justifies wars and genocides. We are all, in the end, in this thing together. Practice the above steps with empathy. Remember that on the other side of those articles, beliefs, and memes are human beings just like you. Without judgement, be open to learning, to being wrong, and give others the same support. Be conscious of how you converse and the tone of what you share on social media. When you choose to speak up, do so with compassion and openness. Lead by example.
The bottom line is that how we vote has real impact on real people and this real planet we all depend on. Elections are so much more than our ego or team colors. So let us set the intention to actively practice compassion, empathy, and intelligence in the face of hysteria and fear mongering. That is how we change the conversation and, to be a little cheesy, how we change the world. I hope this has inspired you as it has inspired me to be more careful, more open, and more thoughtful, now, to November, and beyond.
Alright folks, it's time to talk politics. I know that this can be an inflammatory subject (especially right now) but, to me, that makes it all the more important to talk about. I want you to know that my intention here is not to convince you to think the way I do. I want to focus on our own personal beliefs, reactions, and the way we talk to each other. I know I'm not the only one who is tired of our political commentary right now. I'm sure I'm not the only one tired of of exaggerated and self-righteous Facebook memes designed to divide. I know I'm not the only one who is frustrated with our current conversation being stuck at "I'm right, you're wrong, that's it."
As we dive into this topic, I want to invite us all to employ the same compassionate self-awareness at the heart of our yoga practice. Let us be open to examination of ourselves, our beliefs, and our reactions. Let us work towards a place where we can actually converse with each other rather plug our ears with our fingers. This matters more than us as individuals. Our choices in this election will have profound effects on the entire world.
On that note, let's talk about one thing holding us back from having deeper and more compassionate conversations, the ego.
What's Ego Got To Do, Got To Do With It
We all have one. We often think of it in negative terms. But what is it? I believe we, as humans, contain this center of Self that has no label, no agenda. It is constant and unchanging through whatever we go through in life. I see the ego almost like all the ways we dress up that Self. It's our labels, beliefs, hobbies, musical tastes, careers, all of the stuff that shifts and changes through our lives. Given this description, I don't think the ego is necessarily a bad thing. It's how we differentiate ourselves in our world. However, it's easy to over-identify our Self with these changeable aspects of who we are. It's what most of us are taught to do. But, are we really only as valuable as these identifiers we take on through life?
Speaking from my own experience, I came to the yoga mat with some pretty terrible beliefs about myself. It never occurred to me to question these beliefs because they simply felt like the truth. While the details belong in a separate blog, holding these beliefs as truth really stunted my ability to be the happy, healthy person I wanted to be. However, practicing the non-judgemental "inquiry of yoga" completely changed my life, from the inside out. I discovered more options and new perspectives which allowed me to become a more compassionate, confident, and happy human being on my own terms.
Step Back and Observe
So, can we bring that same sense of inquiry to the rest of our personal and political beliefs? Not to imply that what you believe right now is wrong or stupid or needs to be changed. But there is a clear and, I think, detrimental trend of holding our beliefs so sacred that there is no room for learning or growth. It's as if we think that if our opinion changes, that means there was something wrong with us, deep down. Is it possible that's not true? Is it possible that, while what we value is certainly important, we don't have to take different opinions and new information so personally? Is it possible that, as Walt Whitman says, we contain multitudes and we are much more nuanced and complex than the letter we put next to our name?
Yes, it can be incredibly challenging to open up and explore our habits and beliefs. It's going to take courage, compassion (for ourselves and others), and lots of practice. I truly believe, however, that we are more than capable of doing so. It may be the only way out of this political quagmire. So, let us set an intention to turn the destructive, divisive energy around us and use it as inspiration to be more thoughtful, more engaged, and more open. Let us converse, debate, and disagree with respect and maturity. Let us lead by example and, in our own individual ways, come together to create change.
In closing, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for your time and attention. This was a challenging blog for me to write and I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read it and, perhaps, considering these points in your own life. I wrote this as much as a reminder to myself as anyone else and, if this did resonate, I invite you to check out part two. In it, I share with you actions and practices I have been using to bring the above points more deeply into my life.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the what yoga has meant to me. At the end of August, it was the six year anniversary of my graduation from teacher training. Soon, I will celebrate my 30th birthday, a seeming milestone and, at least for me, a time to consider where I am in my life. As I think about my journey, it's inescapable what a profound impact yoga has had. It also just so happens to be National Yoga month so it seems like the perfect time to contemplate this path of yoga*.
The following are a handful of quotes and teachings that have had the most profound effect on me (though there are certainly many more!). I hope you enjoy my musings and I would love to hear your thoughts and any quotes or teachings that have moved you.
"Atha yoga nushasanam (Now, the inquiry of yoga)" Yoga Sutra 1-1
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is one of the fundamental texts on yoga. There are two things I love about this opening line. First, is the word "now". Now the inquiry of yoga. Not when you've lost five pounds or become a vegan or can touch your toes. Right now, as you are, with all the light and shadow we as humans possess. In an age of the "Instagram Yogi" performing super human feats of strength and flexibility, I find this to be a comforting reminder that yoga does not, in fact, require you to be anything other than what you are right now.
I also love the word "inquiry". This is one of many different translations (others include "study" and "learning") but it is my favorite. If you've been to my class, you know that I often say yoga is like a science experiment. You are free to play, to explore, to try things. Having come to yoga from the more rigid, performance-minded discipline of ballet, it took me a while to be able to relax in to the practice (rather than feeling like I needed to perform it). In that exploration, I have found so much more freedom and compassion that has, like so many of these things, rippled out into my life off the mat.
"My Beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself,
you break your own heart." Swami Kripalu
I remember the first time I heard this quote from Swami Kripalu. I immediately started to cry. I had spent so much of my life "breaking my own heart", judging and comparing myself, believing any self worth I might possess hinged on me being "better" than someone else. Yoga helped me to change and heal this habit that was so ingrained I didn't even realize it could be changed. Through the practice of compassionate self-awareness (the root practice and goal of Kripalu yoga), I was able to undue years of this heartbreak and learn new, more helpful and long lasting practices to deal with, well, me. And on that note...
"Yoga is the practice of dealing with the consequences of being yourself." The Bhagavad Gita
This is maybe my favorite quote from another preeminent book of Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita. I remember being struck by it plastered on a stairway at Kripalu. It seems like such an odd phrase. What does that even mean? While I imagine the meaning may morph as my journey continues, this is how I feel now.
One of the ripple effects of yoga for me has been a clearer understanding of who I am. For a lot of my life, I was the consummate people please-er. In an effort to be liked, accepted, and not rock the boat, I learned to become what I thought other people needed me to be. While I was liked and accepted and didn't rock the boat, I also didn't have any clue who I really was. Through this journey, I have really gotten to know myself and and feel so much more comfortable speaking in my own voice. Of course, that means that not everyone is going to like what I say or even who I am. And that's ok! Strengthening my inner reserve of self-worth and self-knowledge lets me "deal with the consequences of being myself".
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Viktor Frankl
While not a strictly "yoga quote", this piece of wisdom from the great Viktor Frankl sums up what I think is the most powerful effect of yoga (and, frankly, deserves its own blog post). I think many of us move through life on this immediate, and often superficial, reactions to our lives. It's a habit so ingrained it doesn't even seem like something changeable. And, even just gathering from my own life (though the state of the world is a good example also), I have made a lot of really bad and hurtful decisions because of this. Not to say I only ever make good decisions now, but, the point is this. Yoga opens up your awareness and it gives you choice. You are aware that you can choose to panic or breath or give up if you're running late to something. You can choose to fight or talk or be passive aggressive in an argument with your partner. You can choose and you are more aware of the consequences of your choice. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all did that?
*As a note, when I say "yoga" throughout this post, I mean the whole of yoga. This includes self-awareness, breathing, and meditation practices, as well as asana.
I remember during my yoga teacher training one of the teachers said, "How you do yoga is how you do life". In the moment, I was confused. What does that even mean? But the more I thought about it, the more I explored the idea in my own practice, the more I realized how true it is. I also realized what an incredible tool for personal growth it can be. Even if you are not at all interested in the more spiritual side of yoga (for instance, the phrase "balance the chakras" makes your eyes roll), paying attention to your habits in a physical yoga class can offer amazing insights to unconscious habits we have in life.
If you've practiced yoga for any length of time, you might have noticed some unconscious habits. Maybe you habitually clench your jaw or hike your shoulders towards your ears, even when you're in a pose that allows the shoulders to relax. Maybe you notice you always come in to pigeon pose in a certain way. We all have little ticks and habits in the way we move our bodies. In the same way, we accumulate habitual beliefs and patterns in our lives off the mat.
Here is my own experience as an example. When I started to pay attention to my practice, I noticed I tended to go to classes that focused more on flexibility than strength. This is neither good or bad but flexibility is something that came quite natural to me and something I felt "good" at. Generally in life, I noticed that I was really afraid of feeling "not good enough". If I wasn't immediately great at something, I stopped because I didn't want to feel like a failure. Strength didn't come to me as easily and so I avoided it so I wouldn't trigger that failure feeling. On my yoga mat is also where I first noticed how self critical I was. I would constantly compare what I was doing to what other people were doing and always try to "out yoga" them. I slowly became more aware that I moved through the rest of my life in the same way.
So this leads me to the reason this exploration, in my opinion, is invaluable. Our unconscious habits, on and off the mat, can have profound effects on our practice and our lives. My focus on flexibility and tendency to ignore what my body said led to a hamstring injury that halted my practice altogether for several months. My fear of feeling like a failure kept me in a very small box where I could not grow. Can you imagine how happy and fulfilled I may have felt constantly comparing and judging myself? (The answer is not at all.)
The best part about all this is that the yoga practice is a perfect place to practice adjusting these habits. The mat is a safe place to explore, to fail, to start again, and this practice naturally ripples out in to life. I could approach strength-based postures in a new way. I could practice them, rather than feeling like my worth was in conquering them. I could fall and "fail" and it wasn't really failure at all but growth. As I became more comfortable in the paradigm of practice, I found it naturally easier to do things in life I wasn't immediately good at and I could grow. As I practiced self care on the mat, I could drop down to child's pose and replace the judgemental voices with the sweet experience of honoring myself. It naturally became easier for me to take care of myself in life. I could say no to things I didn't really want to do and rest when I needed to rest and eat food that made me feel good. I became healthier, happier, more at peace and more confident.
So here is my invitation to you. Next time you are in a class or practicing at home, put your explorer's cap on. You know, the non-judgemental one. As you move through your practice, do you notice any habits? Do you push yourself beyond your edge or do you shy away from exploring it? Do you resist props because, to you, they mean you can't do the pose "properly"? Do you find yourself cold or uncomfortable in savasana but unable to ask the teacher for a blanket? (These are all from personal experience by the way.) Do any of the habits you notice resonate in the rest of your life? Do you feel like you have to push yourself beyond your limit or feel weak or unworthy? Do you resist support because you "should" be able to do it all yourself? Do you find it difficult to ask for what you need?
If you notice a habit and you'd like to change it, think about practicing it the next time your on the mat. Practice dropping in to child's pose or holding that plank for one more breath (with a smile!). Grab those blocks or ask the teacher for a blanket. Notice how it feels in your body to do that. Let the habitual mind chatter soften as you focus on the actual sensation of your practice. Say something sweet and congratulatory to yourself. You may not be able to do it every single time but every time you do, you are offering yourself a new habit. You'll feel the effects of it in your body and be able to tell if it's the right thing for you to do. This is your practice. I promise no one, not the teacher, not the other students, no one is keeping score. Strengthening your ability on the mat to take care of yourself means you strengthen your ability to take care of yourself always. After all, you don't lose the strength you build in those planks as soon as you leave the studio do you? It accumulates over time as long as you show up.
And remember, the choice is always yours. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to change anything. All I ask is that you notice the effect. You've read this far so I think I can safely assume that you are interested in living your best life as your best self. With compassionate awareness, you will know what direction serves you most.
I hope you play with this and find it useful! Please, if the spirit moves you, share what you find or your own experiences with this idea down below in the comments section. We all benefit so much from each others stories! Thank you so much for being here and giving this your attention. Until the next time, I deeply honor you. Namaste.