A blog about yoga, life, health and healing.
After a particularly challenging yoga class, a student said to me, "I was really agitated in class today. I am not sure why. I saw myself wanting to be angry at you for making me struggle, but instead I kept breathing and going back to myself."
Every time we struggle in any part of our lives, we have been given an opportunity to learn about ourselves.
Had my student blamed me for giving her poses that made her struggle, she would have missed that opportunity.
Instead, using the tool of her breath, she chose to use her struggle as a way to stay connected to herself.
The practice of yoga is about discovering ourselves. The belief that we are all perfect and whole at our center is one of the main teachings. Svadhyaya or self observation and study is a commitment that we are encouraged to undertake through our practice.
It's not always easy to look at ourselves honestly and with our eyes wide open. Its much easier to blame others for our problems, or look the other way when we make a mistake or act in a way that feels unbecoming.
Winston Churchill said, "I am always able to learn, but not always willing to be taught."
Looking for someone to blame or becoming defensive when things or people in your life become challenging is an indication that you are "not willing to be taught."
Learning from your mistakes and taking ownership of your actions shows that you are.
Through self observation we can learn to change our habitual tendencies. When we look honestly at our behaviors, reactions, motivations, and strategies we may see that underlying it all is our attempt to protect our self image or ego.
Getting past the ego can be quite a challenge, but when we do, our relationship to ourselves and others will benefit.
Using our challenges and struggles as an opportunity to grow gives us the freedom to be courageous, strong, and centered no matter what life brings.
"The inner gate opens only when the outer gates are closed." Hazur
I recently taught a private yoga session to a student who normally does yoga in a group with two other friends.
In the group sessions, she was very distracted and always seemed unfocused and ungrounded. She had a great deal of trouble keeping her balance in standing poses and was never able to calm down. Her inability to focus caused her to repeat bad habits in her asana. I felt like a broken record reminding her over and over to soften her elbows in downward facing dog.
She had some injuries so I suggested that she come to me privately so we could address them.
During her private session, she was completely focused and calm. Within minutes, she was able to break her habit of locking her elbows and turning her fingers outward in downward facing dog. I didn't have to repeat myself a hundred times!
I realized that in the group classes, she was so focused on what her friends were doing that she couldn't stay connected to herself. Whether she was looking at them in comparison or for approval didn't matter, what mattered was that her outward focus was knocking her off balance.
The ability to focus inward isn't always easy. Our normal state is often to follow our senses. We see, hear, smell, touch, and taste our way through life. Our senses can make our lives wonderful, but they can also distract us from following our inner wisdom. They can draw our minds towards all the things around us. When we are overly attached to our senses, we are always chasing the next thing. We are always hungry or thirsty or wanting something or waiting for something to happen. BKS Iyengar said that, "our senses look outward naming everything they see, as if life is a non stop shopping spree!"
In the eight limbed path of yoga, the fifth limb is called pratyahara. Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing our senses so as not to be energetically pulled away from our center. To "withdraw our senses" requires our letting go of sensory over indulgence. When we do this, we begin to follow our inner guidance instead of being guided by external events and what others around us are doing.
Rolph Gates, author of Meditations from the Mat, says that pratyahara is going from distraction to direction. So the more often we practice yoga or simply don't allow ourselves to be distracted by external stimuli, the more we will be able to stay centered, balanced, and guided by our always present inner wisdom.
My mom used to say, "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours."
I often think of this lovely advice when I see a person that looks unhappy. Nine times out of ten, when I give someone a smile, they give it right back.
This simple act of kindness demonstrates the Law of Circulation. This Universal law states that all things in the Universe are flowing in circulation at an ever expanding rate.
According to Deepak Chopra, MD. "The universe operates through dynamic exchange. Nothing is static. Your body, your mind, and your energy are in constant exchange with the universe, the cosmos, and cosmic energy."
My interpretation, "what goes around, comes around."
We see this law in nature. The ocean gives water to the air, the air receives the water and forms clouds, and the clouds give the water back to the ocean in the form of rain.
We see it in our bodies. We take in food, water, and oxygen, and then there is an output of energy, movement or breath.
We also see it in our material world. There is a constant circulation of energy through money, goods, and services.
Finally, we see this same flow in our human interactions. What we put out into the world in the form of our thoughts, our words, and our actions, we will ultimately receive back. It might not be in right away, it might not be obvious, but eventually whatever energy we are sending out into the world finds it's way back to us.
When we are kind, generous, and compassionate, we draw people and situations to us that have the same qualities.
When we are unkind, greedy, or judgemental, we will draw in unkindness, greed, and judgement.
Taking responsibility for the energy that we circulate requires that we look honestly at ourselves. It's much easier to blame someone or something for the state of our lives than it is to take ownership of it.
Asking the question, "why did I call this in?" reminds us to turn inward and look honestly at the thoughts, words, and behaviors that we are circulating. Taking ownership of our not so perfect behavior can take humility, acceptance, and courage. When we drop our ego's desire to blame others for what is happening in our lives, we can begin to see ourselves clearly and change our behavior if we need to.
Sometimes we have to make an effort to restrain ourselves from reacting to another's not so perfect behavior. Exercising our choice to respond instead of reacting keeps us circulating what we choose to circulate.
If that one person out of ten doesn't smile back at me, I have two choices. I can react with a frown and give them back what they gave me, or I can emulate the kindness of my mom and respond with a smile, thereby choosing to circulate kindness.
In the book Conversations With God, God recommends that we give away that which we would like to have more of. Giving away what we don't have enough of might sound difficult, but this act of giving always creates a sense of abundance and opens an energetic pathway for abundance to flow back in.
If we are lacking in love, give love.
If we are lacking in money, give money.
If we are lacking in friendship, be a good friend.
If we are lacking support, show support to another.
If we are lacking forgiveness, forgive others.
Giving time, money, energy, and love to those in need will keep these things circulating in our lives. If we hoard our time, money, energy and love, we may block the universal circulation and our lives become only about what we can get.
Winston Churchill said, "we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give". Giving from our hearts enriches our lives and the lives of everyone around us.
"Who has seen the wind, neither you nor I, but when the leaves bow down their heads, the wind is passing by."
Whenever the wind blows, I think of my mom. I am comforted by this simple verse that she often spoke. She passed away on October 20th, 2016. Like the wind, I cannot see her, but I can feel her presence in everything around me.
After the agonizing and precious gift of being with her for three days as her body slowly shut down, I have come to believe that somehow we have a choice about the actual time that we die. My mom waited until all of her five daughters arrived to leave her body. It was as if she wanted to see us one last time on this earth before taking her last breath.
It's hard to talk about my mom without mentioning the stroke that she had twelve years ago that started her on a slow downward spiral of short term memory loss and impaired brain function. While it was very difficult because over time she lost her vivaciousness and enthusiasm, we were grateful that her inner essence of kindness and contentment remained intact. She was always peaceful and sweet right up until the very end of her life.
As cliche as it sounds, my mom was beautiful inside and out. Her big brown eyes and blonde hair accented her dimples which were often evident. She used to say, "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours." She always had a smile and a kind word to give away. Her generosity extended to all people, friends and strangers alike. Her outgoing personality made everyone feel welcome and comfortable in her presence.
My mom loved poetry and music. She often spoke in verse, reciting poems or songs from memory that were pertinent to the situation at hand. I remember coming home from school complaining about someone that had wronged me and she would say, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This simple statement taught me to avoid talking unkindly about others. I learned quickly that when a friend was gossiping, if I didn't join the conversation, it would soon come to an end. My mom practiced this as well. I can't remember ever hearing her speak an unkind word about someone.
When I needed alone time with mom, I would fake an illness so I could stay home from school and be with her. She would put her cool hand on my head and say, "You feel a little warm, why don't you take the day off and rest." She knew what I was up to, but she never let on. An hour later she would come into my room and say. "Do you feel well enough to go get lunch?" Then we would spend the day together at the mall, eating, talking, and shopping.
While most teenagers were struggling to get along with their parents, I had a great relationship with my mom. My friends made every excuse possible to come over to my house. I would often find them in the kitchen hanging out with her. She had a kind and compassionate heart and a patient and understanding ear. I think my friends felt an acceptance in her presence that they may not have felt at home.
My mom was kind and gentle, but she was also gregarious and silly... even mischievous at times. I used to say that she was the one at the party most likely to have the lampshade on her head. She was uninhibited and would say and do almost anything to get a laugh. She had characters that she played that were funny and sweet, bringing about fits of laughter among my sisters and me. "Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy" was my favorite, she had a high pitched voice and she would show up to take care off you when you were sick or injured, or sometimes for no reason at all. Another favorite of mine was when mom would draw eyes and a nose on her chin and turn upside down. Then she would begin an impromptu monologue with her head hanging off the edge of the bed. She was funny and quick witted and loved an audience.
My mom was the happiest when all of her daughters were home. She was a devoted wife to my dad and a committed mother to her five daughters. I always knew that no matter what, she would be there for me. She loved us all and never judged us for our mistakes or appearance. Without her having to say it, we all knew that her love was unconditional.
When I had kids of my own, my mom became the best grandma ever. She was tender and patient when they were babies, and fun and engaging as they got older. Mom would sing and dance and build sandcastles at the beach. She would draw and paint pictures or have a catch with a football. When my kids were little, we made frequent trips to Florida to visit. Traveling with four small children was always stressful, but as soon as we arrived, mom would be at the airport waiting for us with a big smile on her face. I would let out a huge sigh of relief and my kids would run into her open arms, almost knocking her down in the process. She would have toys and snacks in the car for the ride to the house, anticipating all of our needs before we arrived.
I am grateful and very fortunate to have had a mother as generous, kind, and supportive as my mom was. I will always miss her, but I know that her simple teachings will live on in me and I hope to pass them on to my children.
They are the following;
Spend time with your kids
Don't judge others
Love with all of your heart
They say that a mom holds her child's hand for a moment, but holds her child's heart for a lifetime. My mom, Shirley Jean Anderson Sax will hold my heart for the rest of my life.
Thank you mom. I love you and I miss you forever.
When I was walking my dog the other day, she had a confrontation with a labrador retriever. Since both dogs were on leashes, the fight didn't escalate.
After the two dogs were separated, each of them shook vigorously as if to release the energy that had built up from the altercation. Then they both went back to sniffing the ground and peeing on fire hydrants as if nothing had happened.
If the confrontation had been between the dog owners instead of the dogs, what happened afterwards could have been dramatically different. The two people would most likely have gone over the scene in their minds over and over again long after the fight ended. The ego would have stepped in to defend its position thereby keeping the energy of the fight alive and possibly growing.
When two people have an interaction, whether it's negative or positive, there is an exchange of energy. The energy will either be stored or released. Animals instinctively release the energy. Humans tend to hang onto it.
Our negative interactions are much more likely to be stored because we replay them over and over in our minds which gives them more strength. The stronger the energy, the harder it is to let it go.
When the negative energy is stored, it can eventually manifest itself into an emotional, mental, or physical issue.
Physical exercise, yoga, and working to consciously release stored energy will help to prevent "issues from storing in your tissues".
You might also create a ritual of releasing negative energy. Some people use a body brush in the shower or imagine the warm water cleansing them of negativity. Any ritual that you create will bring awareness to the process of letting go of negative energy which then makes it possible to do so.
Learning to protect yourself from taking in negative energy in the first place requires setting the following boundaries.
Telling someone flat out that you are not interested in participating in their negative talk, complaints, or gossip, is a verbal boundary and will likely stop the person or redirect their focus.
When you can't tell a person (your boss or sister in law) that you are rejecting their negativity, you can set an intention to do so. Visualizing yourself in a protective pink bubble, or seeing the negative arrows that are slung your way bouncing off of a protective shield can keep you protected emotionally.
If all else fails, you may have to walk away from an argument, leave a job, or end a relationship. Sometimes the only way to protect yourself from negativity is by setting a physical boundary.
Your energy is precious and valuable, and protecting it is an important part of self care. Remembering this truth will keep you healthier physically, mentally, and emotionally.
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.
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