Thursday, January 31, 2013

creating conditions for feeling good

In the Yoga Sutras there is this inspiring AND challenging practice known as brahmacharya. My favorite translation is:

Conservation and regulation of energy.

Energy being the general state of aliveness, or lack thereof, you experience at any given moment.

We all bring ourselves to our yoga mats with a very different "feeling." What's been happening in your life over previous days, weeks, and even months? Have you been sick? Are you in the midst of a major transition? Are you celebrating something big in your life? Are you knee deep in grief (hello, been there)? Have you been eating ice cream and fried foods most days?

All of these and more, they affect us. Certainly something to consider when we roll our mat out and take our seat.

This morning in class I invited students to get curious about ways they could be in their practice AND generate more energy. What would that look like?

Holding a pose longer that you're comfortable.
Taking more time to rest in child's pose.
Transitioning from pose to pose, place to place, with ease.
Expanding the breath.
More acceptance, less judgement.
Breathing in a different way.
More love. Less fear.
Actually smiling during class.
Taking the easier option of a pose.
Taking the harder option.

Learning how our yoga practice can generate energy OR deplete energy can help us to take the practice off the mat.

How do you create conditions throughout your day that help you to feel good?

Start the day slowly, intentionally.
Give yourself extra time to drive to work.
Savor a cuppa coffee or tea.
Move your body in a way that feels good.
Stay in the shower longer.
Eat delicious foods that you celebrate.
Gaze at the sky.
Have that difficult but needed conversation.
Engage more with people that elevate you.
Do something nice for someone.
Appreciate nature.
Do one thing you thought you couldn't.
Breathe deeply.
Make eye contact. Bonus points for smiling.
Take a nap.
Clean your house.
Prepare a meal while listening to music.
Snuggle your kids, your kittens, your dogs.

I'm curious, dear Friend, what are the conditions you create that help you to feel alive?

What depletes your energy?

What generates more energy?

Monday, January 28, 2013

the art of attention

After reading the deliciousness of Julie's post I found myself wishing I'd been in her class yesterday. Heavenly. Enjoy Friends.

I taught my All Levels Sunday class on Dharana recently and as soon as I “namasted” my students and lifted my head to their faces, I felt a really profound energy exuding from the room.  It’s these moments as a yoga instructor that remind us why we do what we do.  
I explained at the beginning of class that Dharana is complete concentration; a total focus of attention.  My favorite translation of the word simply says “the unbending concentration of the mind.”  Most of us are used to flowing through the yoga poses- sometimes leading to a loss of concentration because we get so caught up in the flow. (And don’t get me wrong, I love getting lost in the flow!!)  

Sometimes, we need to stop, hold the pose, and be aware of where our focus is directed.  So in this particular class, I had my students hold their poses a little longer than usual.  I noticed shoulders dropping during Crescent pose, arms dropping during Warrior II, and gazes turning to the earth during Extended Side Angle.  

I was so pleased to see these small movements because I knew my students were paying attention to what their bodies needed at that moment.  It was not about doing the perfect pose, it was about doing each pose with a deep sense of focus.  And when we are really present, we take care of ourselves by giving our arms a rest or gazing downwards to ease our necks.  As we all learn to concentrate and be in the moment, we learn to take care of ourselves better.
Like all aspects of yoga, this concept can be related to our daily lives.  The art of Dharana allows me to let go of all the things that tend to receive my focus but really do not deserve it.  I’m reminded as I think of this “unbending” concentration that when I’m living my best life and my spirit is experiencing joy, I’m focused.  I’m focused on the things that really matter- taking in deep breaths, eating sustainable food, caring for my relationships, caring for myself, caring for my students, and so on.
It is so easy for modern humans to get wrapped up in a million different things at once.  There’s just so much to see and do in our world.  We love to multitask, we love to write or type out a long list of to do’s and mark them off when they are done, and we love to keep life busy so we don’t get bored.  I’m guilty of all of these things!  

What I am learning through my personal study of Dharana is that I’m much lighter, much more at ease when my focus is singular.  I’m able to give 100%.  I’m less distracted, in turn making me more productive in all parts of my life.  
I encourage each of you to take the time today to just notice where your focus is being directed.  Is it on a thousand different things?  Are you moving fast between tasks, conversations, stop signs?  Stop a moment and give full and utter attention to your breath.  It is the best place to begin.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

yoga friends forever

Gotta love Misty Pittman for keeping it real. Cheers to more giggles.

Pre-Yoga certification days, back when I was "just" a student, I used to love it when teachers would come to class to practice.  To see them wobble in tree or skip a vinyasa flow to rest in a child's pose made them more "human".  It reminded me that there is no such thing as perfection and it helped me to relax into my own imperfections.

So I was caught a little off guard when I came to class recently and noticed that some of the students were quietly setting up their yoga mats behind me.  Nervous giggles erupted as they told me that they did not want to practice next to the yoga teacher.  I joked back that every time I was in downward dog, I would be watching them.  More nervous giggles.

I assure you, fellow students, that there is no need to be shy.  In fact, it is likely the practicing yoga teacher that is feeling nervous because we surely place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. 

 Some of the things that I struggle with?

I fall out of tree.  All.  The.  Time.  I can't step my left foot between my hands from downward dog.  I lose my balance when I come up into crescent.  I need to sit on a lot of blankets to bring my knees level with my hips.  I have never been able to push up from chaturanga to up dog.  I don't stand on my head without a wall.  I hate chair pose (who doesn't?).  My heels don't touch the floor in downward dog.  Hip openers frustrate me. 

And none of that matters.  I'm here to have fun and I want to have fun with you!

So please please please roll your yoga mat next to mine.  I would love to have a vinyasa buddy.  And when we both fall out of tree, we can giggle together.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

new year inspiration

Halfway into January. Still time for inspiration & intentions for the year to be what you most need and desire. Join Meredith Swim on a little journey of intentions, breath, and all things compassionate. How sweet is she?

As a little girl, the glittering wake of the New Year inspired my own small tradition for goal making. A journal, a pile of markers and a quiet corner were the necessary ingredients for cooking up Resolutions for the New Year. 

I mused on places I longed to explore, books I wanted to read, academic disciplines I needed to implement to get straight As, and beauty rituals I should adopt to look more like a polished J-Crew model. 

The blank sheet transformed into a long list of lofty goals with flowers and hearts decorating the sides. By this time next year, I vowed, I would be smarter, prettier, more confident, and more successful. I’ll just be a BETTER me.
These goals, however, quickly faded from memory until the next time I flipped through the diary’s pages and discovered them. Guilt and a sense of failure always accompanied these sudden goal discoveries because many of them had yet to manifest into reality (I haven’t traveled to Cambodia (yet) and the printer I swore to repair for the past three years remains on vacation). 

Over the past few New Years, I’ve either grudgingly concocted a resolution list or simply skipped it all together. The arrival of 2013, however, brought back the familiar awe I use to feel as a child with the start of the New Year. 

This year is already a year of life transitions - college graduation looms on the horizon and questions arising about the next life step to take are occupying worries and daydreams - and thus, it’s a year of possibilities. 

If I was adhering to the old tradition, I would have created a master goal list concerning GRE scores, internship applications, and additional yoga certifications (all in purple and pink marker, of course!). 

Yoga inspired a new twist on my New Year tradition. Instead of crafting my resolutions, I planted three intentions to guide me through the New Year. A yoga practice doesn’t feel whole for me unless I’ve set an intention; it’s a way for me to direct my thoughts and energy into a purposeful action. 

When I am a student, I intend to stay with my breath and when I teach, I intend to teach to the best of my abilities at this time and space. So, similar to my yoga practice, I decided to let my year unfold through intentions.
Now, what’s the difference between a goal and an intention? This question prompted some research (thank you, Yoga Journal!). Intention and goal are often interchangeably used, but goals are future oriented while intentions focus on the present (yogis are all about the present moment). An intention connects you to your Authentic Self and your inner values. 

Also, intentions and goals collaborate beautifully together. An intention can keep you true to your Authentic Self as you work toward your goal. My goals for taking the GRE this summer will be aided by my intention of practicing compassion toward myself. 

I intend to be kind, not critical, as I study and if by this time next year, I’ve practiced just an ounce more compassion toward myself and others, then, I accomplished some spiritual growth. 
I’m intending to stay connected to my breath as I navigate the daily moments of my last undergraduate semester, keeping me in the present and not worrying about whatever lies ahead. I’m intending to radiate my authentic self; staying true to myself will foster confidence, acceptance and the courage to pursue dreams. 

With this intention, I also observe my journey from the viewpoint that there is no need to “improve myself and be better.” 

I’m already all I need to be for this moment in time and so are you, yogi and blog reader. 

Staying with my breath, remaining connected to Self, and feeling and practicing compassion  already give me reason to celebrate the sweet heartbeats and little beauties of 2013. 

There’s no need to push, the year is blossoming from the seeds of intentions. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

authenticity & vulnerability

I was inspired by this and suspect you will be too. Sarah Frank Bowker shares with us what is guiding her throughout the year. Good yoga life stuff, for sure.

My 2013 theme: communication with authenticity and vulnerability

Yup, that’s my theme.  It is helping to inform all of the Big Goals I have planned for the year.  And I am slowly starting to get comfortable with this Very Strange Desire to have a theme, and commit to these Big Goals for my year.  You see, I am not someone who has done a lot Specific Planning. 

In fact, the last New Year’s Resolution I made (that I kept) was in 2007, to start a regular yoga practice…and we all know how that turned out. ;)

But seriously, in years past – if I spent one hour thinking about the past year’s accomplishments, and then making a “To Do” list for the coming year – that was a Big Accomplishment for me.

And you know what? That hour, that little bit of focused time I spent was worth it.  It helped me to call attention to my desires, help me celebrate my accomplished goals, or more often – progress towards a goal. And that was where I needed to be with my planning.  And the universe supported my intentions, I know that.

Yet as fall weather cooled into winter here in Kentucky, I came to realize I needed to enter 2013 with thoughtfulness, planning, and a theme to guide the goals I would set.

So why the change?  I am not entirely sure.  But I have felt a perceptible shift in my energy.  I remarked to Sharon over bunch recently that I felt “rested up.” That it is time to deepen my commitment to myself.  In yoga terms, I am feeling tapas (heat) in a creative energetic way.

I am feeling inspired.

Inspired to tackle areas of my shadow self that I have resisted in years past.

Inspired to embrace a couple of big new projects in 2013.

And, inspired to not put a ton of pressure on myself with this new-found energy shift.

How did I come to my 2013 theme?

“Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.” –Eckhart Tolle

As 2012 drew to a close the word authenticity kept popping up in my world.  It’s as if the universe was starting to coyly wink at me, as she often does.  She would drop this word authenticity into quotes posted by friends on Facebook, in books I had been reading, and even in my meditations, my heart was craving authenticity.

What is authenticity to me, I asked myself? I was not sure…but I was willing to listen to my heart on this one.

Yet along with this grand appearance of the word authenticity, I immediately felt a connection to the word vulnerability.

I thought to myself, “Oh crap. Really?  THAT’S what is helping me to define authenticity?” < Insert a deep breath here>

Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” –Brene Brown

As I let this word settle into my heart, I knew it was right.  But vulnerability is a fearsome concept.  One that brings challenge AND opportunity.

Being vulnerable. Opening myself to the gifts and the lessons that this focus will surely bring puts me into a space that I am not immediately comfortable with. (Can you blame me?) 

But I have my breath. 
I have my yoga mat.

And I give myself permission to imperfectly pursue my theme and my goals; a valve to let some of the steam from the heat, the tapas, of my 2013 Theme and Plans escape.

I am curious to know where your energy is being attracted in 2013.  What would you like to create space for this year?

Monday, January 07, 2013

never give up on a dream

Laura rockin' full wheel in Tulum, Mexico
 Enjoy this guest post by Laura Whitaker and I imagine you'll end up like me....inspired to dream a new dream. Or two.

"Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway."
-Earl Nightingale

With the start of the new year, we've all been hearing, talking, and dreaming about goals and resolutions. Things we want to do, habits we want to break, and lifestyles we want to cultivate. Maybe they aren't even resolutions but dreams we've had since last month. Or even years ago. 
Dreams of something small, something big, or something so freaking huge it's completely overwhelming. When our goals feel so huge and out of reach, we tend to shy away, save them for later, or think of excuses that they're not for us. 
Believe me, I'm the first to admit I have issues with this. I have definitely allowed myself to be be completely overwhelmed by my dreams and my goals - fearful of the big picture - so that's precisely why this has been on my mind and why I've been exploring it through my yoga practice. 

One of my recent classes focused on those small steps we can take to make our big goals actually happen. Those individual mindful breaths that add up to a full day of awareness. Those small adjustments we can take to make a pose more accessible or more comfortable. Those few breaths in downward-facing dog that eventually guide you toward a complete at-home yoga practice. 
Really, each small step toward that dream is an accomplishment in itself, right? We don't always have to look with anxiety and apprehension toward the end goal; rather, we can appreciate and applaud ourselves on each step of the journey that gets us there. 
Then, whether or not we actually accomplish that dream in the way we initially envisioned it, we are still doing inspiring and positive things for ourselves along the way. Pretty cool, huh? 

As Earl Nightingale says, "the time will pass anyway." The world didn't end as in 2012, and I'm willing to bet it won't come to an end anytime soon. There are too many beautiful things that have yet to happen. 
So 2013 will become 2014, and the years will continue to come and go, ebb and flow. We can either spend that time being idle and fearful of not reaching our end goals. Or we can just take small steps toward our big dreams and see what happens. 
So what are your 2013 goals? Your big dreams? And what are you doing to help yourself reach them? Remember, each little milestone is an accomplishment, so reward yourself with a few breaths in your favorite pose every step of the way :)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

this year, I stop struggling

Leeann Carey supports Sarah in gate pose.

"Most of us have at least one area of life where we feel we have to struggle. Maybe its in our relationships. Maybe its in our spiritual practice. Maybe its in our work or vocation. A lot of us have struggle baked into our cells, cascading through our neurons in the form of cortisol and other stress chemicals. We think that if we aren't struggling, we won't make breakthroughs. Nothing will turn out right. Maybe no one will love us.

But its actually possible to make appropriate effort without tying yourself in knots. The next time you feel yourself clenching over a possible outcome, try asking yourself, 'Am I in a state of struggle? Can I let it go?' At first, you might have to do this twenty times an hour. But after a while, it will become natural. It always surprises me how much better things turn out when you remember to turn off the struggle button. Even hard times become easier, because when you let go of struggle, you begin to feel how the current of life is willing to carry you." ~Sally Kempton

Where are you struggling in your life?
Where are you struggling in your yoga practice?

Do you see any similarities?

PS - Want to practice a style of yoga that is sooo not about the struggle in yoga poses and in class? Consider joining this training by Leeann Carey, Jan 25-27.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

making space for All of it

Sher, Kris, Megan, and Misty at training in Outer Banks

for the future

Not at the expense of, but in conjunction with

for the moment

That's what I'm curious about right now.

Wondering how is that we can make space for All of it.
How we can hold the intentions of our year with acceptance and gratitude for where we are now.

Which is yoga, right?

Atha yoganusanam....Now we begin the sacred practice of yoga.