Tag Archives: reflection
Yogic mindfulness techniques evolved from millennia of practice, as we learn what works to create a joyful human experience. Yogis have always been people just like you, figuring out how to live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Come and improve your everyday life by gathering this toolbox of now scientifically proven awareness techniques:
- decrease physical, mental and emotional pain
- improve physical, mental and emotional well-being
- gain mastery of your stress response
We will be practicing asana (postures), pranayama (breath techniques) and meditation (cognitive awareness techniques). All levels are welcome.
April 29th – May 20th.
Mondays, 2-3:30 p.m.
Asheville Community Yoga
8 Brookdale Ave.
Sign up at ashevillecommunityyoga.com
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!
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!
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.