Friday, May 24, 2013
Friday, March 29, 2013
What are the elements in my life which are causing stress?
From the perspective of our nervous system, any sort of stimulation counts as a form of stress. Examples of this can range from a tiger attack, the sound of a car horn, a surprise poke from a friend, a bright flash of light and yes, of course, a vigorous yoga practice. So, contrary to what we might think on the surface, yoga really is not always a relaxing stress eliminating practice.
How can I become more aware of the stress I carry and get better at dealing with it?
Enter, a balanced approach to yoga! A balanced practice includes at least two elements in varying degrees depending on what we need, what time of the day it is, how old, young, fit, relaxed, stressed we are.
Positive and healthy stress
We practice stressing and taxing the body with demanding physical postures and sequences in order to practice the ability to respond to stress in an efficient way. If the body is healthy, a vigorous practice should feel hard without wiping you out completely. If much of our time is spent being sedentary, this positive form of stress can not only help to keep us healthy and limber but it can be a way to move stagnation and to learn some great techniques and tools to help us deal with stress in a healthier way.
Learning to rest
Sometimes enough is enough and we just need to rest! Our yoga practice can do this also. Often the most challenging part of restorative and passive forms of yoga is giving ourselves permission to switch gears. We practice deep rest. Taking away all or as many of the stressors as possible, we take time to rest deeply and get the body habituated and sensitive to all the conscious and unconscious forms and patterns of stress that we hold in our body.
Recognizing what we need or practice to be is key! If stress has taken over, we may tend to want to keep pushing in that direction with more fire, movement and tension. Can we instead allow for space, quiet and stillness? I don't know about you but I want it all! I want to experience all the subtleties of what a diverse approach to my practice can bring. I would never choose to eat only one food for the rest of my life...why on earth would I choose only to move through my practice in the same way all the time?
Spending some time evaluating how much and what kind of stress is present in our life is almost always a useful way to spend some time. Sometimes we need to experience the extremes to learn what feels balanced, normal, healthy. So start the conversation with yourself. Ask some questions and most importantly, stay open to where some of the answers may lead you.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
I can write about love from my imagination, through the lens of my finite being, of this place and time and from my experience of love and of the absence of it. Much of my current pursuit is to find myself experiencing love as much and as often as possible. Simple but not easy!
I want my life to be an experiment, a laboratory for all sorts of flavors, textures and qualities of love. I want my experiences to be ones where I easily tap into the abundance of love that is possible in every moment. We are conditioned to identify and operate from an assumed scarcity when it comes to love. We are taught to believe that some love is superior to others, that love is hard to find and that once we've got it we have to hold on for dear life. What I keep coming back to and what my greatest teachers keep driving home is that there is no scarcity of love.
But why does it feel so challenging to experience love sometimes? Because there is love that is easy and love that is hard. There is a reason that most love stories end with the first kiss. This is the love that is easy, intoxicating, exciting, new. This is the love that we can most easily identify because of it's intensity. There is truly nothing like the feeling of being in love. It is amazing but like all incredibly desirable experiences, it can become an obsession, a fixation and an addiction. Part of love practice is to acknowledge that sometimes love is easy and sometimes love is hard.
Can we practice love even when it is hard? Love feels harder when things are stale, stagnant, when we are grouchy or hurt, when there is a breach of trust. Love is also hard when we dislike or feel indifferent towards someone. These are all our greatest opportunities to practice love. These moments of challenging love are when we can make love something we do and not just something that happens to us once in a while.
Practicing love amidst hardship, loneliness, boredom is where the challenge lies. It is a noble pursuit to be infusing love into all the parts of our lives that feel tricky or sticky or rough.
What does this look like? I am certainly not advocating for a blind denial of negative experiences or feelings. Spending our time wishing things were different is in many ways antithetical to love practice. Love and honesty absolutely must go hand in hand. Honesty about what is present is the first step. Can we hold space for all that we experience and approach our experience with as much love as possible. We first love ourselves enough for our experience to be okay and valid. We create space for the experience and spend time responding with clarity and gentleness.
So we act with honesty in the moments where love feels hard and then when love feels easy? "When Shakti strikes, surrender with a smile." We have turned the soil, planted the seeds and done the work and all that remains is to enjoy watching what will grow, blossom and evolve. The brilliance is that we really do have the great privilege to experience love all the time. Notice the easy moments of love in each and every day, take these moments in fully, they are there... Perhaps in the perfect cup of tea, in the music that makes your soul soar. Dive deep in to the love of the lingering hug from a friend, the moon, the sun, a deep breath or the feeling your body moving.
When we make love our practice, both when it is easy and when it is hard, when we allow more space for what is present now, for the relationships that exist in our life, this inevitably helps us to see that love abounds. We always have the capacity to be in love. It is a choice, a practice and a surrender. Love is not a substance to be acquired and it doesn't have to look a certain way. Love is abundant and our work is simple. Keep remembering love. Keep acting from love. Keep being in love.
Friday, January 18, 2013
A big part of what I experienced during the month immersion that I did in Mexico was a completely new way of setting intention and creating change in my life. Through an integral and multi-faceted approach, lots of hard work and honesty, we absolutely have the possibility of fulfilling our intentions. Don't be fooled, however, I'm not here to say it will be a walk in the park. This work is not always necessarily easy and does involve a level of self-honesty which can be challenging. A few ideas...
Start with something small and concrete:
We humans have a vivid imagination. Our ability to imagine can be a gift and a curse. When we set grandiose goals that are lofty and deeply rooted in the realm of our imagination, this may mean that our goals are quite separate from the reality of our lives. If this is the case, we risk the disappointment of not realizing them. On so many levels, we cannot underestimate the unfortunate result of telling ourselves we are going to do something without following through. This sends the message that we can't be trusted to act with integrity, that we don't do what we say we are going to do. The more this happens, the further away we get from what we want and the harder it becomes to set goals and to believe in ourselves enough to fulfill them.
The flip side of this is that we build on success, however small that success may be. Even a small accomplishment sends ripples of confidence into many other realms of our life so that when we make small changes and stick with them, we continuously create confidence in our ability to stick with it and to get closer to a life of integrity.
Figure out a timeline that works:
Not too near and not too far but just right is the key! Again, until the summer, I didn't realize quite how important timing is. Especially when the intention or goal is one that is related to a habit, which is most often the case. When I use the words 'forever' or 'never again' this feels really daunting and makes it an appealing option to give up and weasle out of what I have set out to do. I found that for myself, setting a goal that spans over the course of one year was realistic.
This means that I have space for the freak-out and that there is also space for the freak-out to end! Where before I felt a sense of failure as soon as something was hard, giving myself a specific time line really changed this. Relaxing around the freak-out phase without just abandoning all together makes things so much easier. With a year ahead of me, I know that with time, the changes I'm trying to make will become easier and easier!
When trying something new, let something go. When letting something go, try something new:
We are finite creatures with finite amounts of energy, time and resources. Let's not forget that as we work towards real and significant shifts. One really cool technique is that of linking a positive form of change with something negative that we wish to let go of.
Our actions and habits have a certain amount of momentum and energy behind them and the practice here is to re-direct that energy and momentum towards that which we really want to be feeding! As disparate as the two may seem, when I think about what I really want in a moment when I'm feeling likely to engage in a negative action, maybe I can see more clearly how my motivation is slanted and this is really helpful for a double dose of positive change.
Speak it out loud:
Once the leg work is done, the counter-point to a new goal is identified and a time-line put in place, see if you can cement your idea to make it more real. Write it down! Send yourself a letter! Tell your friends! Hold a ritual or ceremony! Allow your goals to exist somewhere outside of your head...
Be kind to yourself around this entire process:
Change is almost never easy and it takes hard work and time to integrate. When we frame our behavior or action as either a failure or a success, this can leave us feeling terrible when we don't 'succeed'. Rather than berating yourself when things don't work out, see if you can try to identify what hasn't worked and make the necessary changes to your plan to up the odds in your favor. This could mean scaling down expectations, re-framing the timeline or coming back to your motivations for the change you're trying to make.
Get some expert help and advice:
My intention here was to offer a few tools which have really helped me to make significant changes. Much of what I'm describing is a simplified explanation of a very cool system of discovery and intention setting outlined beautifully in The Four Desires by Rod Stryker. If you're interested at all in delving deep in the process of leaning more about yourself and of setting goals with depth and meaning, I can very much recommend working with this book.
A few really cool tricks to help make changes that stick! So as we sit, here towards the end of January, don't believe what they say... January 1st need not be the only day of the year where we resolve. Bust out a journal, cup of tea and look within. Be kind to yourself, be real, think about your goals long and hard, visualize your resolutions in space and time, think big but scale back it it all becomes too much. We can achieve our goals! Especially when we set them with vision, imagination and intelligence.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Vairagya or the practice of non-attachment is terrifying to me. Perhaps because it feels extremely challenging, perhaps because it forces me to look at my own mortality and the fleeting nature of all that surrounds me and also perhaps because I truly love many of the things that I find myself being attached to and to face the possibility of losing these doesn’t seem like much fun!
Rationally, we know that attachment is useless. Everything is always changing and we are all going to die. Much of our life, however, is constructed around the presumption that this isn’t true.
So, how does this practice work? What does non-attachment look like in the context of a yoga practice? During meditation? As I navigate my life? What does this mean for my goals, my loved ones, my coffee addiction and my future?
After some time thinking about this, here are some thoughts:
When all gets boiled down, whether I’m clinging to an idea, an object, a person or a goal, I’m clinging to an outcome: I want this to happen next. Or: I really don’t want this to happen next! I’m placing some kind of value, either negative or positive, on something that I really can’t control: the future! This means that if my attachments are all related to what I want or don’t want to happen, the practice becomes that of not being attached to specific outcomes.
Simple enough, right? In theory, yes, but this practice certainly isn’t easy. Our attachments are strong. Sure, there are myriad small addictions that we all have. I, for one, really love coffee and it might be a tough to give up my attachment to the effect of caffeine on my body.
There are, however, many more complex and deep-rooted things that I cling to. For example, I daily make tons of assumptions about how the world works, what it means to do good, how to succeed and what are the components, which make up my personality. We also hold many different beliefs about what it means to be accepted and weather or not this is important. Quite often, self-harming behaviors such as substance abuse, addiction and obsession are tightly woven around these ideas. To let go of these types of attachments is much more of a process.
That is why it is a practice. The next question is of course, in the sea of attachments and assumptions that make up the stuff of our lives, where do we begin to untangle this knotted mess?
I think that where this practice begins is in the act of noticing. I begin by bringing my awareness to a few attachments and assumptions I hold. Maybe this leads to the discovery of a few more. I can take it as slowly or as quickly as I need in any moment. I also remember to take on the task of unraveling my attachments with a lot of love, care and as much as possible, without judgment. Maybe it is painful and challenging to let go of certain things and takes quite some time. Maybe this leads to a great sense of relief. Perhaps this means that I have permission to let go of ideas and things that no longer serve me. Maybe, this even leads me to imagine a life where my action isn’t driven by clinging to those things that I’m attached to. Maybe, I teach myself to move through the world without the goal of achieving specific outcomes.
Now, if I get to a point where even a small portion of my actions is not driven by attachment, this practice has the potential to yield staggering and incredible results.
First off, there is the possibility of vastly increased openness; openness to people, possibilities and ideas that likely weren’t on my radar before integrating the practice of non-attachment into my life.
When I practice non-attachment to specific outcomes, my goals can be fluid and open. Instead of having goals, in fact, I can create intentions, sort of mission statements related to the way in which I want to approach my life. My practice becomes one of showing up applying my intention by doing my best in each situation.
I can let go of a good dose of fear. By keeping the reality of being mortal very close in each moment, I can allow for experimentation, change and flexibility without being afraid of what I am going to lose.
The practice is one of love and the expression of love without any expectation of reciprocation in any specific way. I become very generous with my heart as it becomes clearer and clearer that I won’t run out of the stuff that love is made of.
The practice is one of feeling, of examining emotion without self-judgment or reaction. Of taking time with this and after some time, I act! I do exactly what is needed in the moment and remain un-phased by the nagging question which tends to stunt the ability to act selflessly: How is this affirming the ideas I love to believe about myself?
The practice of non-attachment is one of becoming intimate instead with a different question: What is going to happen next?
Can I ask that question without gripping or trying to control the answer?
I think that is the practice of non-attachment…
Always a fool,
Monday, October 24, 2011
So here we are, months after my last post and this fool’s life has changed and shifted dramatically. While I still sip a cup of ritual coffee as I pen these words, most of the rest has changed. When I last wrote, I was a guest in a foreign city for a finite amount of time. Not only that, I was intentionally disconnected from any form of employment. I spent months in San Francisco doing little more than reading, drinking tea and practicing yoga (exaggeration included…)
A transition period ensued between that life and my settling in Montreal. During this time, I took full advantage of August’s bountiful warm and sunny demeanor to eat blueberries, reconnect with friends and family and ride my bike around big lakes and on small islands. I also did spend some time fretting and worrying to some degree about the future, one that didn’t seem to have much direction other than teaching yoga in Montreal. August was a truly amazing time for me. I got the chance to put all sorts of principles into practice and watch yoga come to life in a completely new circumstance. My situation had the potential to generate a lot of needless anxiety. My yoga homework was to be present to the anxiety and simultaneously find joy, steadiness and ease within this unknown and new territory, and it worked out pretty well! This felt like a clear affirmation of the potency and power of the tools I am being taught and beginning to use in my life. I was shown through direct experience that this process is sound and does indeed help me to accept my humanness in a diversity of circumstances.
Autumn has me settling in and working to find people and spaces in which to share all that I’ve learned about yoga on my epic pilgrimage to the northern California coast. What has been truly amazing about this transition, this return, has been to observe my reactions to sameness, to familiar places and people, watching myself going through a long and drawn out transition in which I didn’t know what was to come.
Now, the always-terrifying task of putting myself out there in the world is upon me. Oh the things I’m learning about myself and about yoga in the process of doing that…
Landing in a new community is a very exciting thing indeed. And I’ve been really fortunate to choose a community, which is rich, diverse, vibrant, dynamic and bountiful. Already, I’m being given the opportunity to practice with a diverse group of people, in many different settings and everywhere I turn, people want to practice yoga. It is strange to be faced with the reality of a place when I’ve been concocting a strange question mark filled fantasy about it in my mind for months.
About yoga and community…
A surprise that I hadn’t expected about teaching yoga is the incredible capacity it has to bring people together. If only for us to come together to share our practice, it is worth doing. There are incredible teachers in each and every one of my students. If there is a willing student, no matter where or who they are, it is absolutely exhilarating to share this practice with them. I am really actively relishing in this joy and newness and sincerely hope that this feeling never goes away! A piece of advice given me from a great teacher often comes to mind: Let yourself be transformed by your students.
About the fool…
Ah, the fool. Here the fool is finding her place, standing still, gardening and nurturing one place for a while. Should be scary really but it’s not. If feels stimulating and exciting and I don’t think that this fool has lost any of her foolishness from standing still. In fact, from being in one place, the foolish tendencies only become that much more obvious. The fear of complacency and boredom has dissolved as I watch myself in action in this new space. I am witnessing myself wedge into nooks and crannies in which to teach and learn, resisting too much comfort and actively engaging with the opportunities I’m being given to ask the question: is this what I’m here to do? I can trust in my foolish tendencies to always provide a cliff edge only a few paces away!