Tag Archives: Discipline
So if we are what we eat, do we eat what we are? Do I really turn into the human equivalent of a jelly donut if I eat one? It’s an interesting question, and one that yogis frequently address on their journey to greater awareness. Just like not every type of asana practice fits every body, no one approach to eating is right for everyone. Some people are vegetarians, some are not. Some people can do well on all raw foods, some don’t. It’s a highly personal journey and one fraught with challenge at times, particularly for those of us who’ve grown up with typical American eating habits. On the funny side, it’s an amusing moment when you realize that the only reason you thought a particular food was good for you was because the TV told you so!
Listen to Your Gut
On the yogi’s journey towards finding a solution for their own particular constitution, intuition and balance are the keys to finding out what the map of your digestive needs looks like. Foods that might be ok in the morning can leave you too stimulated for sleep, and grounding foods might feel too heavy in the early hours of the day. As you progress on your yogic journey, you can find yourself sensitive to foods that you thought were fine before. A good way to get a guidelines for what might work for you is to find out your dosha. Dosha is a term in Ayurvedic medicine, that describes one of three types of energy types (kapha, pitta or vata) which combine in various proportions to determine individual constitution.
To Fast or Not To Fast
So most of us heard this before – something to the tune of “Don’t eat two hours before class!” Some people also experiment with other types of fasting as well. Just like food choices, fasting can be something highly personal. Pitta types can be really physically challenged by fasting – they do better when eating every three to four hours. As I Pitta type myself, I try to avoid large meals before classes (and particularly mexican foods!) – but that is just me. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any large or heavy meals before your practice, for the same reason your mom told you not to swim for 30 minutes after eating lunch. You’ve got to give your body time and peace to digest your food to get the maximum nutritional benefit. A good compromise is eating lightly at least 30 minutes before class – maybe a handful or two of nuts or something with protein, like a hard boiled egg. One thing never to skimp on is the water – drink drink drink!
The Definite Baddies
There are some pretty solid rules about food out there that don’t depend on your dosha. It’s fact that refined foods, sugars and fried foods play havoc with your health and should be minimized if not eliminated from your diet. What you might not expect is that some of these foods can hide out in products that you wouldn’t expect, like high fructose corn syrup in your crackers, for example. When I started paying attention to my diet, I became a label reader. That has given me the power to discern whether that healthy looking box of whatever is actually really healthy for me, because marketing and labeling can be really tricky sometimes. Another empowering trick is to find out what some ingredients like MSG can masquerade as; some alternative (and perfectly legal) names for MSG are glutamate, yeast extract and autolyzed yeast extract, just to name a few. (If you want to know more, visit www.truthinlabeling.org or www.msgmyth.com).
The Awesome Goodies
The good news is that there is so much local, organic and yummy food out there so you never have to feel deprived after kicking the foods out of your diet that aren’t serving you well. One thing I found after I eliminated gluten and wheat from my diet is that I kicked an 18 year old acne problem overnight! A lot of yogis who find out what is working for them and stick to it find immense benefits and the ability to be well. So the food story is not all deprivation and finger-wagging – immense freedom can come from finding out what really doesn’t work with your body. Once you find the right balance for you, the rewards can be more than you ever imagined. Plus, you might discover new foods you might never have tried before you brought more awareness to your eating habits.
There are some great foods for this time of year to help you get through the end of winter, support your kidneys (one of the organs that can get especially stressed at this time of year) and be well. Some of my favorites are below:
- Soaked almonds. A nutritional powerhouse. Soaking the almonds makes them more digestible.
- Royal Jelly. A substance made from young nurse bees as larvae food. Thought by acupuncturists to be deeply nourishing to the kidneys and adrenal glands.
- Seaweed. There are many kinds, dulse and kelp being just two available. For those with thyroid problems, it can deliver necessary and supportive iodine to facilitate hormone production. You can also get your seaweed by eating sushi!
- Turmeric. A spice used in a lot of Indian food. It has nutritional and immune system benefits like decreasing inflammation and boosting your immunity towards some types of cancers.
So, my advice: Set out on your food journey with a high sense of anticipation, an appetite for change and an openness to trying something new! Your reward for feeding your body well will be beyond whatever you can imagine (and isn’t that cool?).
Lots of us suffer from one type of sleep deprivation or another in our lifetimes. Kids, work, stress or illness can keep us up well past a healthy bed time. What to do when you wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep? Here are some great techniques for calming your energy down and avoiding that frustrating feeling.
Move. Once you are sure that you aren’t falling back to sleep, change your surroundings. Often frustration can build while you lie there, just staring at the ceiling or tossing back and forth. Find a quiet corner of the house, even if it is the bathroom!
Support your body. There are a few great yoga poses to support your endocrine system and nervous system, the two systems that are often put under duress when you are dealing with insomnia. The thyroid and the adrenals are put under pressure (or may be the reason for your insomnia in the first place) and they can be supported through Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) or Setu Bhanda (Bridge Pose).
Viparita Karani. Take a pillow and place it about six inches from the wall (you can also do this pose in bed). Sit on the pillow, with your legs parallel to the wall. Swing your legs up the wall and lay back, so that the pillow is gently supporting your lower back and your hips are on the floor. Slide yourself away from the wall to account for tight hamstrings. A yummy addition to this pose is an eye pillow and fuzzy blanket to keep you warm. Once you are in the pose, you can do some relaxing breathwork.
Viloma Pranayama. This breath work is a great way to active your parasympathetic nervous system. Take a gentle breath in, focusing on inflating your low belly. Take a tiny pause, then keep inhaling into your chest. Take another tiny pause, and fill your lungs to absolute fullness. Then slowly and gently exhale through the mouth. Do this as many times as you need to feel relaxed. For me, it usually only takes 5 or 6 rounds to feel some stress relief.
Setu Bhanda or Bridge Pose. This pose is excellent for those with thyroid issues. To begin, start on your back, feet on the floor. Press your feet firmly down into the floor and lift the hips up. You can support underneath your low back with pillows or blankets. The light pressure at the base of the throat can stimulate or calm the thyroid and bring the throat chakra back into balance. Stay here as long as you like, making your exhales longer than your inhales.
Any of these techniques can be really helpful in balancing out your energies and bring you back to sleep land. Give them a try and tell me if you are successful!
So just a few quick thoughts about strength in your yoga practice. Lots of people think yoga is all about stretching. It’s not. It’s about finding strength within you and without, finding the strength to be flexible, both emotionally, physically and mentally. How is the possible, you ask? It’s really quite simple. Find the emotional courage, the mental hardiness and the physical health to be fully and completely present in every moment of your life. Sound hard? Yep. It’s a skill, just like a muscle you build in your body. So how do you do it? Here are 4 simple steps you can take towards this goal RIGHT NOW:
1. Daily practice. This brings CLARITY. If you don’t have one, get one. At first, it doesn’t matter so much what it is other than something that helps you clear your mind. My favorite methods for this are:
A. Morning pages: If you have ever heard of the Artist’s Way, you know of this practice. It’s three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every morning that helps you dump the garbage out of your brain, so you have space for everything else.
B. Gratitude Journal: When you focus on the positive, the negative stuff that isn’t real or need to be part of your world falls away. Really. When you can reframe your life into what is positive rather than focusing on the negative, your “mental muscle” for noticing the positive really improves and you start to notice the beauty more completely than the ugliness.When you are naturally more happy, this draws more happiness to you without effort.
C. Meditation: This is the super drug of the yoga world, in a really good way. When you meditate, you find yourself more able to deal with the slings and arrows of fortune and more importantly, make the changes that are important for you and your life. It takes courage to sit and be still, to take stock of how you live your life, as it is not always pleasant. (Nobody ever tells you that, but I think it’s important for you to know!) Nevertheless, the benefits quickly begin to outweigh the negatives, and meditation can become like your best friend. Always there for you, allowing you to be just as you are, in any one moment.
2. COMPASSION. This is essential, both for your path of personal growth and for your community. What does compassion really mean? I think the Dalai Lama always says it best: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Compassion for me means the unrelenting commitment to serving others and our community at the expense of our own egos. Our natural ego is a healthy thing, the thing that keeps us identifying with our bodies and keeping them healthy. When the ego gets out of control, as it often does in Western culture, we consider ourselves the most important thing all the time. This can lead to behaviors that are detrimental to not only the health of others, but also to your own emotional, physical or mental health.
Compassion is not always comfortable. In fact, a lot of times it can feel pretty darn uncomfortable. There is a level of intensity that is above the norm when we deal situations that call for compassion. Maybe you are talking to a difficult friend, who for the thousandth time, is complaining about her lack of satisfaction in life. Maybe you are seeing a destructive health pattern happen for the thousandth time in a relative that just won’t own up to the fact that their behavior is causing their suffering. Maybe you are dealing with someone so in pain or suffering in that moment that they literally just can’t process what is happening to them or help themselves. Maybe someone is just causing you pain. Compassion is a blend of patience, grace, love, awareness, vulnerability and strength. It takes the strong, compassionate friend to stick by someone in crisis, putting their needs first over your own. It also is compassionate to put your own needs over others, when the balance tips too far in the other direction. Just this practice can give you strength in many situations in your daily life.
3. Commitment. No one learns how to be strong overnight. When you figure out a practice you are going to commit to every day, make yourself a tracking system. Know, concretely, when you do it and when you don’t. Some easy suggestions for tracking your practice:
A. Write it down. When you figure out what you need to do, write it down. There is something about translating thoughts and feelings from the ether into the written page that can do one of two things: let you let go and crystallize where you want to go. Be as clear as possible with your goals and ideas!
B. Keep a calendar. Maybe it’s something about getting gold stars on my homework and chores chart when I was a kid, but it really helps me to see my commitments as I keep them visually. Something about being real and in front of me that helps a lot in bringing the habits of strength into more and more of a daily practice. Soon, what seemed extraordinary is now ordinary and part of my routine. This helps me quickly gain control of times when I am not successful, and reinforces the adage that “every day is a new opportunity for change.”
4. Accountability: We need people to witness our goals and to hold us accountable for change. If you make empty promises to the empty air – how has that ever got anybody anywhere? Give yourself the following:
A. Small goals. Give yourself something attainable that is not pie-in-the-sky. Don’t promise the moon, either. Pick something reasonable yet still challenging. One great exercise I learned from the Artist’s Way was Ten Tiny Changes. Write down ten tiny changes you can start practicing today that will help you towards your eventual and larger goal. It can be as simple as “I commit to not say this habitual phrase in conversation.” That small trigger you place in your consciousness can help you promote greater awareness in all situations, and even learn a little about what you habitually do that doesn’t serve you.
B. Community: Have someone to hold you accountable. Who is going to tell you when you miss the mark? Find someone you trust to tell you the truth about how you are doing, and create a container for them to do so in a loving and compassionate way. A weekly meeting or check-in at a designated day or time can help you reset the clock if you mess up, and also acknowledge your successes so you can rejoice in your progress.
If you can put all of these things together, they are a very powerful recipe for change. It can also bring you joy in your transformation when you blend in the element of compassion. The formula for change looks just like this:
CLARITY + COMPASSION + DEDICATION (Accountability + Commitment) = JOY & TRANSFORMATION.
Now get out there and give it a try! Come back and tell me how it goes – the community wants to know!
A new Yoga Quickie! This is a preview of my full 60 minute video, Freedom of the Heart: Upper Body Therapeutic Yoga. Enjoy!
Serving others. What does that mean to you? For yogis, it is a daily commitment that their actions serve their community – and not just close friends and loved ones. The practice of Seva, or selfless service, is one that deeply permeates the yogic tradition. Some examples of the highest Seva practices have been shown in American society by every day people, going to work, doing their jobs, living their lives as best they can.
It can be difficult to be in the mindset of seva. Our culture is so much about me, me, me and I, I, I that we can get lost in what we want for ourselves and completely forget about the person standing right in front of us. The question I pose to you is – how does that benefit you? When you push aside the person in front of you – maybe forgetting about their feelings or so focused on your own needs that you forget the world around you – do you ever ponder the consequences of that mindset? Too often, we can get completely insular about our own needs and forget that one of the most rewarding paths to happiness is through service to others.
This is a funny practice to talk about on tax day – our taxes are a contentious point of service for many people. We can’t change tax day, but we can change how we feel about service in general. So what does seva look like in your actual habitual mind processes? For example, it means stopping and considering how you can best serve others even when your intention is to serve yourself. So how does service fit into your life? Here are some ideas and thoughts about how the concept of service can be incorporated into your life from my own experience:
1. Slow down and take your time. Moving quickly has its place, but to be in service to yourself, when you find yourself rushing, take 5 deep breaths. Really pause and try to open your lungs deeply. If you take a really deep breath, you can feel your belly expand all the way down into your low pelvis. Repeat the mantra, “I am reconnecting to what is really important in my life.”
2. Take the time to express your gratitude. Even writing down 10 things to yourself that you are grateful for can be a helpful exercise. Many people do this once a day, to keep them focused on what they have in their life, versus what they don’t have. Take the time to talk to the people you are closest to in your life, and give 10 extra seconds to the people you don’t – like the cashier at the drug store or grocery store, or gas station. They are in a position of serving hundreds of people a day, often required to have a smile on their face. Make any service industry professional remember why they do their job by being the example of politeness and patience.
3. When emotions overtake the situation, step back and assess what is really important. Do you need to get a problem solved? How can you serve the solution to your problem rather than your emotions about the situation? Taking the emotions out of the driver seat is a great way to see clearly through to solving the problem. Even if you fail a hundred times to make this happen, keep trying. Being clear about problems is the best way to overcome them. Be in service to the answer, not the problem.
4. Let someone else go first. This sounds obvious, but what about when you’re in traffic? Let that person turn in or merge in ahead of you. In the grocery line, allow the person with fewer items go first. Serve others at the dinner table before yourself. Fold your spouse’s laundry with extra care – and cook their favorite dinner when they least expect it.
5. Consistency. Lastly, one of the best ways to promote selfless service in your life is to be consistently supportive of those in your immediate circles. Being stable and consistent in your efforts of service daily, rather than once in a long while, builds positive energy within your community. Small acts of 10 minutes a day, every day, build momentum of positivity in your life and can affect really powerful change over the long term.
What is one way you practice seva in your daily life? Comment here and let us know how you are serving your community today.
One of the fundamental questions of mindfulness practices is: When do you press in and when do you let go? When do you push your limits and when do you gracefully take a back seat? The answer is at the same time more simple and more complex than you might think. I am finding the answer is that I do both, at the same time. Sounds kind of confusing? Yep, it is the concept of paradox in your mindfulness or yoga practice. I’ll illustrate with a few examples to help you understand what I mean:
Asana or Posture Practice
When I am doing a strong yang energy practice (moving, sweating, breathing deeply and generally vigorous poses), I find that softening my intentions and using certain mindfulness cues can help me achieve this paradox. For example, if I am doing a really challenging pose, say Ardha Chandrasana or Half Moon Pose, and I am efforting very strongly with my body, if I relax my eyes and think about softening my heart, the whole pose becomes soft yet VERY strong in a way that is subtle yet very real. It’s the same thing in a less strong pose, say Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose. As I inhale and raise my chest, pull my elbows back, engage my belly, etc., I soften in my intentions in the pose. I might repeat a mantra, “I am whole, I am peaceful.” I am still strongly lifting my body into the pose, but the difference is I have softened my mind and allowed more space in my heart to be easy within the effort.
Put the Practice Into Action
Try it right now with a pose of your choice. Arrive at the proper alignment and form for the pose that fits your body best. Once you have arrived in the pose, take a body scan and see if you are pushing yourself to your edge in this moment. Your edge may be different today from all other days – it is today, right now, that is important. Once you are at your edge and pushing yourself strongly for this moment, take your attention to your eyes and literally allow them to soften. Soften your face, ears, nose, throat and back of your head. Allow that softness to ripple down into your heart. Feel space and ease created there. Stay in the pose for 5-10 more breaths, but come out when you can no longer maintain that sense of ease within the effort. Come to a comfortable seated pose and take 10-15 breaths to reflect on the experience. You may wish to write it down.
Meditation or Mindfulness Practices
Meditation practices are by nature, more about letting go and being receptive to what is, in this very moment, your reality. However, they require a strong push of determination, repetition and dedication to form the habit of using mindfulness techniques on a daily basis. You can meditate here and there haphazardly and find some benefits, but the real juice of the meditation realm of practices comes with the push towards doing it every day. This phenomenon of pushing towards change is called tapas in yoga, and it can be translated as heat, discipline or determination. When I focus on doing my meditation in small chunks (10-20 minutes at a time) daily, I find the same paradox exists. I feel the slow transformation of my perceptional abilities start to change over time (months and months), while I get a daily benefit of a more spacious frame of mind and more awareness towards my treatment of others. I find I can let go of things that upset me more quickly on a daily basis, and over the long term, I change my attitude towards those things that upset me completely. I may do a complete 180 degree turn in how I understand something about myself or another, and that can change my whole world view overnight.
Putting the Practice Into Action
Start by finding a comfortable seat. You can sit in a chair or on the floor with a cushion under your sitz bones, but don’t lie down or lean back on a couch. Make sure your spine is straight and your head is positioned over your spine. You can find this out by leaning forward and leaning back, and when your sitz bones sink down into the chair or cushion (like they are getting heavier in that one moment in time), you have found the point where all the weight is over your spine. Now set a timer for 5 -20 minutes. If you are new to meditation, try 5-10 minutes. First, write down a word that describes how you are feeling before you meditate. Now, the pressing in comes from learning to focus your mind during this time period. For today, use this mantra: Inhale: “I am whole.” Exhale: “I am peaceful.” Pause with the breath out: “I hold my own space.” When you are finished with your time period, pause and reflect on how you feel now. Write down a word that describes your state of being, post-meditation. You can take a few minutes to reflect on this, or journal about the experience. The letting go part happens naturally when you bring your attention to the meditation and let go of all other things that are occupying your brain and body. It’s funny – you are doing nothing, yet everything is happening, dropping away and leaving you clearer and more peaceful.
Paradox, Paradox – Are you everywhere?
Start looking for the existence of this phenomenon in your daily life. What do you have to let go of to make other things happen? What do you have to push into to let go of other things? This can be a very rewarding and interesting mindfulness practice in and of itself. Try it for a few days and come back and comment – tell me about your experience!
So if there is one theme that is posted about over and over and over again in yoga blogs, it’s gratitude. Be grateful for this, be grateful for that and everything will go well in your life. But guess what? Just being grateful in your head doesn’t cut it folks. I’m here to talk about radical gratitude. What is radical gratitude mean? It means being grateful for every piece of grit life throws your way, as well as all the nice, pleasurable stuff. Have you ever tried being grateful for every unpleasant thing that happens to you? What if you tried that today? Here are 5 tips to help you be a yoga warrior:
5. Be grateful for the ability to practice every day. And DO IT. Just get to the mat and be grateful that you can get there. So many people don’t have the ability, awareness or introduction to the beautifully life-enhancing practice of yoga. You do!! So get on the mat, no matter how you feel and do something. Be grateful for the aches and pains, as well as the yummy, delicous, “oh this is my favorite pose” feeling. (Note: And TRY the hard poses for you every day. If you try them once a day, eventually they won’t be hard any more!)
4. Keep asking yourself if you are being grateful in each moment. We want to not be grateful. We want to complain and say it’s her/his/its fault for the way things are going. The truth is, that never helps anyone do anything or be anything they want to be. It’s okay to have that thought, but bust right through it and do something else with that energy. Use it as fuel for the fire in your soul to achieve your deepest desires and dreams.
3. Do your best, forget the rest. When you fumble and fall (which we all do), forget it. Move on. Don’t look back to the past, you aren’t going that way. ‘Nuff said.
2. Have fun with the hard stuff. When everything seems to be so hard and you just can’t feel grateful for anything, find a way to play. Be soft within the structured determination of your practice of gratitude. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t be overtaken by them. You are in control of your life.
1. Take FULL responsibility for everything that happens to you. And I mean everything. Even if it feels horrible. Ask yourself – how can I learn from this to make sure I don’t make the same mistake twice? Now, if you are thinking, whoa, that is totally unfair, there are things that happen to me that I can’t help. Sure, there are some things that happen to us that are beyond our immediate control – take the recent economy as an example. You and I didn’t make Wall street crash – but the action we can take at home is to be fiscally responsible, protect our finances, learn about smart financing and teach others in our community to be so as well. That is taking responsibility with what is called your “locus of control.” Taking to hand everything you CAN affect does wonders for self-confidence, feelings of security and personal growth. And to do it with an attitude of gratitude? Now that’s radical, dude!
Have a great practice!
7. Honor your practice. Take the time for your practice, and make it sacred for yourself. This means honoring your commitment to do the practice every day, no matter what. It also means planning your practice into your day. If you don’t have a plan, it’s not going to happen. Make it your ritual. The reason that yogis say to practice in the morning is not because it’s some magic time of day, it’s because you have a better chance of getting it done if you aren’t already in the swing of things during your day.
6. Engage all your senses. When you are on your mat, be on your mat. We can easily get to the mat and spend the whole time thinking about what we have to do that day, or whatever current drama is playing around in our mind. Start by noticing everything that is touching your mat, in each pose. How does it feel to have your feet, hands, belly, or back touch the mat? What can you hear? What do you see? What do you smell? Do you taste your morning coffee or tea still or is there an absence of taste?
5. Be mindful of what kind of practice your body needs in every moment. Not every practice is for every body, every day. We can develop a good intuition about what our body needs by consistently practicing checking in during practice. This is a very helpful skill for your practice but also it is GREAT for when you step off the mat. Did you hydrate well today? Did you eat nurturing foods? Did you skip meals because your schedule got too busy? We have all been there, but noticing when we fall out of balance, on and off the mat, is an important practice for a long, healthy life.
4. Reflect on your practice. Is it meeting your long term goals or needs? Your short term goals? What do you want out of your practice? There are so many styles and ways to approach mindfulness, it’s up to you to go to the “Awareness Grocery Store” and pick out the style you want to try next. Keep trying things until you find something that works really well for you and your needs. If you are unsure, then ask a teacher or attend a workshop that will introduce you to a new style. If you want something personalized, then try my Therapeutic Home Study Program. You can receive a personalized DVD that will be tailored exactly to your needs of body, mind and spirit.
3. Practice slowly. Even if you are in a vinyasa flow class, you can practice slowly and mindfully. Rushing through any practice is a sure recipe for injury, discouragement and obstacles to a daily practice. Holding poses for longer not only increases the calories you are burning, but also gives you the time to “marinate” in a pose, truly start to understand the subtleties and increase your skill.
2. Practice every day. There is no way to fully understand your body without a practice that is at least 5-6 days a week. Intermittment practice is helpful, no doubt, but to gain the discipline, mentally and physically, of a daily practice brings benefits you can only dream of right now. First, you will be presented with lots of things you have been ignoring, physically, mentally and spiritually, but eventually things will even out, you will get on a stable, sustainable path where you can be successful and happy.
1. Take your practice off the mat into your everyday life. Each moment is an opportunity to practice one of the yamas and niyamas, the ethics of yoga. All of these lessons will bear fruit in your every day life if you consistently practice them on the mat. You won’t be able to help all of the lessons coming with you into your life, if you listen to your body, mind and spirit each day on the mat.