A blog about yoga, life, health and healing.
Yoga Sutra 1.12
"practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness"
I still remember my first yoga class. I was in Vail, Colorado and I took a class called "Yoga for Athletes". I was very into working out, lifting weights, and running back then so this class appealed to my ego.
After class, the yoga teacher asked me if I was a runner. She noticed that my hamstrings and gluteal muscles (my butt!) were very tight. All the running, lunges, and squats were creating an imbalance in my body.
As I was leaving the studio that day, I noticed a poster of a girl in a beautiful uttanasana (forward bend). She was completely folded in half and looked so peaceful. After an hour of struggling to reach my toes, I thought to myself, "I want to do that someday".
Fortunately for me, I was hooked on yoga after my first class. I did yoga as often as possible and began studying it and teaching it as soon as I could.
I totally forgot about that poster and my desire to be in a perfect forward bend until one day about ten years later. I was in a class thoroughly enjoying my uttanasana (forward bend) and a flash of that poster came to my mind.
I realized that my "goal" had been attained! It took ten years of a committed practice but it actually happened.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that we must commit to our practice regularly, for a long period of time and with full attention.
Had the yoga teacher told me after my first class that it would take me ten years to do uttanasana, I am not sure that I would have believed her. I may have even said "well then forget it, that's way too long!" Having patience is an important and necessary quality that yoga teaches us. When we are patient, our mind is calm and settled so anything that we are doing will benefit by our centered state of mind.
Patanjali also teaches us to fully attend to our practice. Its almost impossible to practice yoga without full attention. Try standing in tree pose and thinking about how long you are going to have to stay in tree pose. This will surely cause you to fall out of the pose. So our full attention requires that we let go of our attachment to the outcome. If we are in a pose and focusing only on when the pose will end, we are not giving our full attention to the pose. This can relate to any goal that we hope to achieve in life.
So practicing yoga requires the qualities of patience, devotion and faith, which in turn TEACH us the qualities of patience, devotion and faith.
This weekend I was fortunate to spend time with my adorable little nieces.
I watched in amazement as they practiced all of the new skills that they learned since the last time I saw them.
With support and encouragement from their parents, they learned how to take their shoes off and put them back on, color on paper instead of the walls, kick a ball across the yard, and say please and thank you when offered a snack.
As I marveled at these precious little creatures, I thought to myself, "practice makes perfect". I quickly modified that thought to, "well, almost perfect" when I saw the mischevious two and a half year old getting ready to color my couch a beautiful shade of crayola purple.
Anything that we do over and over again, we get better at.
It might be a skill like playing the piano, knitting a sweater, or playing golf. It might be a behavior like saying please and thank you, holding the door for someone, or exercising daily.
If we do anything often enough, it will become a habit. It might even become ingrained or automatic....something that we just do.
My nieces will eventually say please and thank you and put on their shoes without being prompted by their parents. Our golf swing will start to feel more natural, and our exercise routine will be a part of our daily lives.
The good news is; whatever we practice we get better at. The bad news is; whatever we practice we get better at.
We can unwittingly get better at things that we don't necessarily want to get better at.
If we often show up to work irritable or angry, we will get better at it. If we are afraid to try something new or step out of our comfort zone often enough, we get better at it. If we lose our temper with our kids each time they annoy us, we get better at that too.
Like the Olympic athletes who practice their sport so often that it becomes part of who they are, the state of mind that we practice often enough becomes part of who we are.
According to yoga philosophy, our natural state is one of peacefullness. Through the stilling of the craziness of the mind we will be able to discover this truth.
Yoga Sutra 1.12 says " these mental modifications (craziness of the mind) are restrained by practice (abhyasa) and non attachment (vairagya)."
Yoga Philosophy teaches that when we practice the eight limbs of yoga and let go of the results of our efforts, we will acheive this state of yoga or union with the self.
We can apply these wise teachings to everything that we want to get better at in our lives.
When my nieces payed attention to the process of putting on their shoes instead of being distracted by the goal of getting outside, the process of putting on their shoes was perfect. Their shoes were on the right feet and fastened securely. Staying focused on the task at hand, instead of the final outcome allowed them to get outside more quickly.
When we stay in the present moment and turn our attention inward on a regular basis, we will be more aware of our own "practices". With this knowledge, we can choose to practice only those things that we would like to get better at.
Each time we find ourselves getting better at anger, judgement, gossip, or fear, we have the ability to change that state of mind and instead choose to get better at patience, acceptance, compassion, and courage.
Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga said "Do your practice and all is coming."
This simple statement encourages us to commit to our practice and have faith that devoting ourselves to something greater will ultimately bring us exactly what we need.
This morning I noticed that there were little leaves beginning to sprout from one of my indoor house plants.
It made me grateful to see this clear sign that spring is here.
Each year as spring approaches, my houseplants shed their leaves. Sometimes I help them along and pluck the leaves that are dry or discolored. Other times, I remove leaves that are still green because I know that doing so will allow the plant to flourish. I always hesitate a little before removing leaves for fear that I am causing a premature end to their existence. Each time I do however, I can almost hear the plant letting out a big sigh of relief as the weight of the old leaves no longer drains it of precious nutrients. This shedding of old leaves prepares the plant for the new growth that always comes in springtime.
Just like plants and animals, we are affected by the seasons. Our bodies mirror what is happening in nature. The cold and snowy days cause us to eat more, sleep more, and spend more time inside which can show up in our bodies as excess weight. The excess weight we carry doesn't only show up on a scale. We can also feel a heaviness in our energy that can show up as fatigue, lethargy or even depression. According to Ayurveda, this heaviness is caused by a build up of kapha. This damp and heavy energy is a result of the cold and wet days of winter. An excess of kapha is the cause of the congestion, allergies, and weight gain that are so common in the springtime. Ayurveda suggests that we consciously rid ourselves of this heaviness when the spring comes to keep ourselves healthy and strong as we enter into a new season.
The focus of your self care in spring should be to clear out and lighten up. Following these simple guidelines can keep you strong and healthy.
* Get outside and breathe the fresh air.
* Exercise vigorously everyday, focusing on building strength and endurance.
* Go to sleep by 10PM and wake up by 6AM to be rested and clear in your mind.
* Clear out clutter in your home, car, and workspace to avoid feeling burdened by your stuff.
* Reduce or eliminate dairy products since they cause mucus, congestion, and sluggishness.
* Reduce or eliminate sugar which causes weight gain, brain fog, and inflammation.
* Cut down on red meat which can be heavy and slow down digestion.
* Drink ginger tea as a digestive aid.
All living things are impacted by the changing seasons. We can learn to move with grace and ease into the spring by emulating the intelligence and perfection in nature. Make a commitment to shed the excesses of winter and like my plant, you will be ready and open to the new growth that always comes in spring.
If you know me well, you know that I love scars. Especially on faces. They are so beautiful to me because they cannot be hidden. They reveal the truth.
We all have something that we would rather not reveal to the world. If it's a physical affliction, we can sometimes cover it up. Our mental and emotional afflictions however, are much harder to hide.
Buddha said, "there are three things that cannot long be hidden, the sun, the moon, and the truth."
The part of ourselves that we don't want to reveal can become our shadow. It lurks inside of us just under the surface until something forces it out of it's hiding. Usually, our shadow side is revealed through our relationships with others.
Carl Jung said that "what we dislike in others is a crack in the door of who WE are." So, what you vehemently acuse another of, is often really what you deny in yourself. We are afraid to reveal our shadow side so instead we project it onto others.
In yoga philosophy we learn to turn our attention inward and study ourselves. This practice of svadhyaya helps us to get to know ourselves deeply and start to acknowledge that what happens outside of us can act as a mirror to what is going on inside of us. When we keep our inward focus we can learn to reveal, accept, and have compassion for our shadow side. We are only human after all and to quote Deepak Chopra, "we are all part saint and part sinner."
Once we see honestly that part of us that we deem as a "sinner" we can release it from where it is hidden so that it no longer has power over us.
When the light of truth and understanding shines through our "cracks", the perfection that is within us can be revealed.
Vitarka badahne pratipaksa bhavanam Yoga Sutra 2.33
"When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of." SriSwami Satchidananada
My mother in law always finds a way to see the positive in every situation. She has this very lovely way of CREATING a silver lining in every cloud.
I'll never forget one day at a family party, somebody's dog peed on her foot. Before I tell the rest, you must know that she is afraid of dogs, never had one or let her kids have one growing up. We all held our breath to see her reaction.....then she laughed and said, "OH, it's good luck when a dog pees on you!" I'm not sure if this is true, BUT she managed to create this thought so that she wouldn't react in a negative way to something that she really had no control over.
If my mother in law were a yogi, she would be practicing pratipaksa bhavanam.
Translated as, cultivating the opposite, Yoga Sutra 2.33 says, "when disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of."
This is not easy to do when we are in the midst of a very difficult time, but with practice, even the most challenging and emotionally turbulent moments can become a bit more peaceful.
When we "cultivate" an opposite thought, it causes us to first observe the fact that we are thinking a negative thought in the first place. This requires that we take a step back and see ourselves being pulled in a bad direction by our minds. When we do this, we have created a space between ourselves and our minds which can help us to look more clearly and objectively at the situation. Maybe then we ask ourselves, "Am I overreacting?", "Is this really as bad as it seems?", and finally "Do I need to step away from this situation all together in order to keep myself from reacting in a way that is unrepairable."
When we do this, we have tamed the mind so as not to be in a reactive mode but in a creative one instead. Since our thoughts create what is real to us, living this way can help us to live a happier life.
Cultivating the opposite is ultimately about changing our attitude rather than attempting to change the person or situation that makes us unhappy. So next time you find yourself being sucked into a negative state of mind, take a deep breath, a step back, and see if you might cultivate the opposite.
A long time student of mine who I affectionately call, "Curious George" came to talk to me after class last week.
He said, "I am not trying to flatter you but, I want you to know that I always apply your teachings to my daily life. No matter what is happening, I slow down and watch myself before my mind can react out of habit."
I have to admit that I was flattered, but more than that I was impressed by my inquisitive student's thoughtfulness and discipline.
It takes discipline to pay attention to your thoughts, words, and behaviors on a day to day basis. Doing so allows you to choose the qualities that you would like to cultivate in your life. My student's curiosity, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn are qualities that support his capacity to be disciplined.
In yoga philosophy, we are advised to practice tapas, which can be translated as a "fiery discipline". They say that when we have a committed, enthusiastic, and disciplined approach to our yoga practice, we will "burn" away any blockages in our mind, body, and emotions that prevent us from finding union with our higher self. The yogis believe that when we find this union, we will be at peace in our mind and hearts.
Even if you don't practice yoga, you can apply tapas to anything that you would like to improve in your life.
Getting healthy in your body, improving your relationships, finding success in your career, or creating more happiness in your life are all things that don't just happen. To make a transformation in any area of your life requires a constant, committed, and disciplined effort.
Assuming that others who are happy and successful are just lucky is a total cop out.
Happy and successful people consistently have a willingness to do the work that is required to achieve the results that they seek. In other words, they are disciplined!
Cultivating the qualities of enthusiasm, curiosity, and the willingness to learn and grow, will support you and make your disciplined efforts rewarding and enjoyable.
In the Four Agreements; A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz says to "be impeccable with
your word". This is a lofty goal, but definitely one to aspire to.
We should never underestimate the power that our words have.
They can heal, create, soothe, and join people together.
They can also hurt, destroy, weaken, and tear people apart.
Most likely, at least once, every one of us has put our foot in our mouth, spilled a secret that we promised not
to tell, gossiped behind someone's back, or hurt someone with our words. In the heat of the moment we
often forget that what we say, and we can't take it back.
We can back peddle, apologize, try to pretend we didn't actually say it, but often these remedies are like putting
a teeny tiny bandaid on a giant gaping wound. The sting of our words can do damage that lasts for a very
Being impeccable with your word requires mindfulness.
Observe yourself for a few days and you will learn what your tendencies are. Do you talk to fill the air?
Do you speak impulsively? Do you choose your words carefully or do you choose your words
To make sure that your words don't cause unnecessary harm, a good rule of thumb is to practice the
Three Gates of Speech. Asking yourself the following three questions will take you through a process to
ensure that the words you are about to say are chosen carefully and with thoughtfulness.
Is it true?
This can be tricky. When we were kids we would play the telephone game. The first person would
whisper something in someone's ear and that person would repeat what they heard to the next person.
This would go around the circle until the last person would share what they had heard. There was always
an eruption of laughter when the first person revealed what they really said.
Unless it is your story to tell or it is an undisputed fact, most repeated stories.....ie, gossip, are NOT true, so
don't repeat them. If what you are about to say is true, you can open the first gate, but you must get through
the next two gates before you speak.
Is it kind?
We all know whether what we are about to say is kind or not. Sometimes we say hurtful things and say we
didn't mean it, but we always mean it on some level. What good does it do to hurt someone on purpose?
Like my mom said, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
Sounds pretty simple but there are exceptions to every rule, which leads to the last gate of speech.
Is it necessary?
This is the "gate" that requires the most mindfulness before stepping through. Sometimes we find ourselves
in a predicament. Should we tell our friend the truth of what we know even if it will be painful for him or her
to hear? Even if it may risk her relationship with another? Even if we aren't certain what the consequences
will be. That's the thirty million dollar question. There is no simple answer, but a heart felt and well thought
out process will help you make your decision.
Most spiritual practices teach the importance of right and honest speech. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali
says, "When established in truthfulness, everything one says comes true."
Aspiring to say only what is true, kind, and necessary is an excellent way to stay true to yourself and others.
The other day I misjudged the speed at which a car was coming and I pulled out in front of it.
As if playing a game of chicken with himself to see how close he could get to me without using his brakes, the driver of the car continued at the same speed until he was literally inches from my bumper. At the same time he held down his horn and I could see him yelling obscenities at me in my rearview mirror.
Initially, I felt bad and I wished for a universal hand signal that meant, "Oops, I'm sorry, my bad!" but his reaction made me angry. I took a couple of deep breaths and reminded myself that, when someone has an outburst of anger directed at me, it usually has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with what's going on inside of them. Taking a moment to remember this instead of reacting with unkindness gave me an opportunity to be compassionate to the suffering of another.
Anger and violence have a strong tendency to spread. More than likely, the road rage stranger was holding onto anger from a previous interaction. It could have happened ten minutes before, ten weeks before, or even ten years before, but it was affecting him in the moment. As a result, he may have over reacted to my pulling out in front of him without full awareness of what he was doing.
All unkind or violent interactions can potentially harm us and cause us to react with the same unkindness or violence towards others.
When we commit to yoga, we are asked to practice restraints (shouldn't dos) and observances (should dos).
These ethical practices form the first two limbs of the eight limbed path of yoga and are called the yamas and the niyamas.
The first and most important "ethical practice" is ahimsa which means, to "do no harm". Nicolai Bachman, author of, The Path of the Yoga Sutras, says that " Each person has the potential to be kind or to be mean.... practicing the eight limbs of yoga strengthens our kindness and weakens our meaness."
Practicing ahimsa isn't always easy. We may have to let others angry or hurtful outbursts pass through us instead of "fighting back" so that the unkindness doesn't have an opportunity to spread. In other words, if we don't engage or participate in another's unkindness, hopefully it won't escalate any further.
I am not saying that we shouldn't defend ourselves against physical violence, but I am saying that when people are unkind, it is often best to take a step back, breathe and resist the urge to take another's unkind thoughts, words, or actions personally. Remember that hurt people, hurt people.
Spreading kindness and compassion through your thoughtful actions can help to heal yourself as well as others. So always remember the father of modern medicine and great healer Hippocrates' advice and "above all else, do no harm."
You don't see life as IT is, you see life as YOU are."
Imagine that each morning when you wake up, you reach for your glasses. Each pair is different. One pair is the "I am a victim" pair. You might have an "I am stupid", or an "I am scared" pair. Maybe you have an "I am fat, abandoned, wronged, outraged, or better than him/her" pair. Each pair is created by the stories that you tell yourself regarding some past or future event. In other words, the meaning that you give to the events in life that make them something other than just an event that occurred in your life. So your mind "colors" the events and you see life as whatever "color" you created. The more you hold onto or create a story in your head about something that happened, the more often you will reach for the corresponding pair of glasses.
It's through this lens that we interpret the situations that occur in our lives. So if I am wearing my "I am stupid" glasses and my husband says to me, "You missed the turn", chances are I will interpret his neutral comment as "OMG you missed the turn you dummy! You can't even read a map! Geez, you are so stupid!". This is because I am interpreting his neutral comment through a lens or filter of my "I am stupid" glasses. So in that moment I am not seeing life as it is, but seeing life as I am.
Whatever mood, feeling, or story that we are holding onto in our heads becomes the lens through which we see, hear, interpret, and react to whatever is happening in our lives. At the risk of sounding political, it is exactly what has happened this election season. Whether we are wearing "I am for Trump" glasses or "I am for Hilary" glasses, we are seeing everything that occurs through a colored and unclear lens, depending on who we see (or saw) fit to become President. The media doesn't help because the news they report is most often reported through the lens that they are looking through as well.
In the the eight limbed path of yoga, the final limb is called samadhi.
sama means "clear, neutral or colorless".
dhi means vision.
The ultimate state that one hopes to reach through the practice of yoga is samadhi. If we reach this state of samadhi or clear seeing, it's as if we have taken our off glasses and we can see clearly each experience as it is happening in the moment, instead of through the lens of whatever state we happen to be in at the time. As hard as it is to be neutral with the constant barrage of stories, opinions, and actions by people in and out of politics, it is important to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to be more clear minded.
That being said...
Turn off your tv.
Log out of Facebook.
Delete your twitter account.
And practice yoga instead.
Yoga is ultimately about getting to a place where you can see life as it is instead of as YOU are....
Getting so completely clear and present that you are not looking through a lens of old stuff but having a fresh and clear perspective on life and what's happening in the moment. Doesn't that sound amazing?
I am always in awe of the wildflowers that grow along the side of the highway.
The other day I thought, "Well that's a crappy a place to be a flower." Cars whizzing by blowing exhaust on their beautiful little pedals, no one stopping to smell them or tell them how pretty they are, having to wait for rain to get a drink of water. I mean wouldn't they much prefer the backyard like my roses? They would be tended to and pruned, fed with expensive plant food, watered everyday by the automatic sprinklers, and admired by everyone who sees them.
My flowers seem to bloom for my benefit, to look pretty so that my family and friends can enjoy their beauty and aroma. In contrast, those wildflowers seem as if they emit a natural grace and gratitude. Those tenacious little highway flowers seem to simply bloom for the sake of blooming. While their living conditions could be considered atrocious, they bloom where they were planted anyway.
I wonder if those highway flowers would be upset if they saw where my backyard flowers lived. Would they think, "Well this sucks! Those backyard flowers have it so much better. This isn't fair!"
In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, one of the niyamas or personal practices we learn is called santosha. Santosha means contentment. Being content with who we are and what we have in the moment can be a challenge if we are constantly looking into the backyard of another. According to the Yoga Sutras, when we find santosha, "unexcelled happiness pervades our being" regardless of the circumstances of our lives. Patanjali tells us that deep inside each of us is an inner awareness that is peaceful, happy and content. The practices offered by the wisdom of yoga can help us to remember this Divine truth.
Being content with what we have and who we are doesn't mean we are complacent. Instead as we move in the direction that we would like to grow, we appreciate and have gratitude for each step along the way.
We can learn from those wildflowers blooming on the side of the highway, and know that when we are feeling stuck by the circumstances of our lives, we should focus our attention on our own backyard, have gratitude for what we have, and make a conscious choice to bloom where we're planted.
All Abhyasa Ahimsa Aparigraha Asmita-Ego Attachment Baron Baptiste Beginner's Mind Bramacharya Carl Jung Clear Seeing Colorless Comfortable Discomfort Creating Spaciousness In Mind And Body Cultivate The Opposite Deepak Chopra Dharma Empty Your Cup Enthusiasm Equanimity Family Fight Or Flight Great Vows Inner-awareness Inner Critic John Kabbatzinnb2faff332d Listening Mirrors To Ourselves Monkey Hunting Non Stealing Patanjali Pause Pillar Pleasure And Pain Posseses Us Practice Pratipaksa Bhavana Pratyahara Present Moment Present Moment Awareness Respond Instead Of React Samadhi Samskara Santosha Satya Sauca Sensual Pleasures Shadow Side Spirituality Steadiness And Ease Sthira And Sukha Strength Sustained Attention Svadhyaya There You Are Thich Nat Hahn This Too Shall Pass True Self Uncertainty Universal Truth What We Possess Wherever You Go Wisdom Yoga Philosophy Yoga Sutra 1. 14 Yoga Sutra 1.33 Yoga Sutra 2.33 Yoga Sutra 2 37cfe9965fa2 Yoga Sutra 2. 46 Yoga Sutras