A blog about yoga, life, health and healing.
I have had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving at my house for the past twelve years. We have a large group, sometimes as many as forty people gather together to celebrate.
Ten years ago I asked everyone to write down what they were grateful for on a piece of paper. I remember the eye rolling that I got from the teenagers, and the slightly annoyed looks from the men watching football, but after some cajoling, everyone deposited their written sentiments into a basket. At the end of the meal, we all gathered together to read the notes. Each person took a turn reading until the basket was empty. Some of the notes were funny, some were sweet little scribbles written by a two year old or pictures of a turkey, some of the notes were sentimental and made us cry. Taking the time to focus on what we were grateful for that year brought us together as a family and reminded us of how fortunate we were.
Our gratitude ritual has since become a tradition that we look forward to. It was especially important after we lost my beautiful sister in law to cancer, when my brave nephew went to Iraq, and most recently when many family members who lived in Breezy Point lost their homes and possessions to hurricane Sandy.
A gratitude ritual reminds us that there is always something to be grateful for, even in the midst of tragedy. We might have to dig deep to find it, but it will be there like a shiny little gem.
Practicing gratitude daily can be transformational. Studies show that people who have a regular gratitude practice have stronger immune systems, are more generous, happy, and positive, and are less lonely and isolated.
The philosopher Meister Ekhart said, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice."
Like prayer, a gratitude ritual can enrich your life. It is a good practice to regularly list the things that you are grateful for and to say thank you to the people that you appreciate. It is an even better practice to push past the typical gratitude list of family, friends, and good health (if that's the case) and begin to look deeper.
Can you be grateful for your difficult sister in law or grumpy boss? Can you have gratitude for your knee injury or your not so perfect living quarters? Can you find gratitude for the people and experiences that challenge you the most?
Every person and experience in life gives us an opportunity to learn and to grow. Our failures and suffering often teach us the most about ourselves, even if it's not so obvious at the time. Looking for the good in every situation can rewire our brains and help us to have healthier and happier lives.
If you have seen at least one Star Wars movie, you have heard the phrase, "May the force be with you."
The "force" according to Yoda was an energy that he could control with his mind. With intense concentration, Yoda could summon "the force" to help him achieve great feats of strength. Using "the force" he was able to defeat the evil emperor, despite his small size.
According to yoga philosophy, there is an energy not unlike "the force" that pervades all living things in the Universe, including us. This energy has the power to create, protect, and destroy. It is called prana.
I have heard prana explained as "that which is infinately everywhere".
Iyengar said that prana is as hard to explain as it is to explain God. But this life force energy is responsible for all of the movement that occurs in our minds, bodies, and emotions.
It is said "where our mind goes, prana flows". If we are scattered and running in a million different directions, our prana will disperse itself in all of those different directions leaving us feeling depleted. If we are focused and calm in our minds, this energy or prana will stay concentrated in our bodies leaving us feeling energized.
Paying attention to where you are focusing your energy can help you to stay healthy and vital. Noticing where you might be blocked or "leaky" requires keen awareness of the body and mind.
Our breath reflects the state of our minds and vise versa. You may notice that when you are stressed, your breath becomes short and choppy. This breathing pattern can cause the muscles of your neck and shoulders to contract and become tense. When you are calm, the breath is steady and even which allows your body to relax.
The yoga practice of pranayama or conscious breathing is a good way to change the state of your mind. Taking some slow and deep breaths with awareness has the power to turn an agitated mind into a calm one. On the other hand, taking some more vigorous breaths has the power to change your mind state from distracted to clear and focused.
Like Yoda, if we keep our minds focused and calm, we can achieve great things.
This week as I sat pondering what to talk, teach, and write about, I thought to myself, "I need to just stop talking!"
I thought, "People must be getting sick of me saying, bla bla bla bla bla." To be honest, I am getting sick of myself saying it.
So instead of me talking and giving my students yet another instruction on how to do their job of doing yoga better, I thought, "I should just be quiet so they can listen to themselves."
According to the Native Americans, "we are the ones we have been waiting for."
Unfortunately, many of us are so busy doing that we have forgotten how to just be.
I heard someone say that we have become human doings instead of human beings. We are constantly doing and even when we are not doing, we are planning what we are going to do!
Wouldn't it be nice to just be where we are without having to do anything at all.
Some of the doing is necessary, but much of the doing is just a habit. A way of being that we have gotten accustomed to. Since the birth of the iphone, even when we are just sitting, we are checking our messages, sending texts, or playing words with friends.
So while we might think we are not doing because we are just sitting, we are filling the non doing with talking. Talking on the phone, talking in our heads, talking through texts, talking via email, talking to the TV that is talking to us.
At the risk of giving you something else to do, I am going to stop talking just after I suggest that you take at least five minutes every day to just sit.
Stop moving, stop talking, stop thinking and just breathe.
But don't listen to me, listen to you.
"Come to the edge" he said, "but we'll fall", they said.
They came to the edge anyway, he pushed them, and they flew.
Baron Baptiste says that each of us has our own "edge". It is a boundry between where we are now and where we can grow and transform into someone better. He calls this edge, "A place of comfortable discomfort."
Anytime we push past our comfort zone, we stretch our self imposed boundries and we grow. All breakthroughs whether they are physical, mental, or emotional occur when we are willing to challenge what we already know.
It reminds me of my dog's invisible fence. After a few mild shocks, she decided that the risk of pain was too great to pass through the boundry created by the fence. Every now and then, if I overthrow her tennis ball it will land just outside the confines of the fence. She will be excitedly running after the ball and then come to a screeching halt to avoid feeling the pain again. What she doesn't realize is that the fence has been broken for over two years now so her boundry at this point is self imposed.
We also create limitations for ourselves when we choose to remain in our comfort zone.
Like my dog, we might sit in the safety of our "own backyard" looking longingly out into the distance wondering what might be out there for us if we were willing to breakthrough our self imposed boundries.
Most of us have old thoughts and beliefs that can hold us back from reaching our potential or trying something new and different. Recognizing that these underlying thoughts are holding us back in life is difficult. Many of our repetitive thoughts are so old and so habitual that we aren't even aware of them.
They might say things like, "You can't do that, don't even bother" or " You are going to fail just like the other time" or " I don't want to get hurt again." Although these thoughts can be unconscious, they are powerful enough to run our lives.
Anytime we try anything new, we are stepping out of our comfort zone and we have created an opportunity to grow and change. This can be frightening and we run the risk of feeling discomfort or even pain. But whether we succeed or whether we fail, we always learn something when we push ourselves past what we thought we knew to be true.
It might be going farther than we did yesterday on our morning run. It might be going back to school after raising a family. It might be pushing ourselves to write, paint, or to meditate on a regular basis whether we feel like it or not. It might even be leaving a job or a relationship that is not healthy for us, but we have grown so comfortable with the feelings of unease that we stay anyway.
When we stretch the boundries of our minds or our emotional body by breaking a pattern or habitiual thought, our opportunity to change our lives is limitless.
In yoga, we are constantly exploring the body's ability to respond to discomfort. Many of the poses ask us to move and stretch into places that are very unfamiliar and often quite uncomfortable. The greatest challenge in yoga practice is to stay present and relaxed throughout the discomfort.
Finding your edge in a yoga pose requires care, attention, and a good amount of self study (svadhyaya).
When we learn to recognize the difference between a pain that can cause injury, and the discomfort that will help us to have a breakthrough, we will begin to transform our physical bodies by breaking down the layers of resistance and tension that our habitual patterns of movement and thought have created over a long period of time.
Finding your edge in life also requires care, attention and self study. Learning to recognize when you are staying in your comfort zone out of a self imposed limitation can help you to push yourself in a way that may be uncomfortable, but will create the opportunity to grow and find a new edge that is beyond what you thought you could achieve.
Come to your edge, and maybe you will fly.
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