JOURNALING

I recommend journaling because it helps work through thoughts, feelings, reactions, and difficult times in our lives. Carve out a little time each day to connect with yourself through writing in a journal. A great time to write would be following a yoga class or before bed, but I understand that those times might not be available for everyone. Just 15 minutes a few times a week is a great start.

Some things to write about, keeping in mind that all of these questions apply to your daily life ON and OFF your yoga mat:

1.       What did I hear today in yoga class that resonated with me? Why?

2.       What came up today? What thought or emotion? How did it make me feel? How did I react? And how did my reaction make me feel?

3.       What can I let go?

4.       What can I accept?

5.       What can I cultivate, feed, manifest in my life and on my mat?

6.       What am I grateful for today?

Providing some examples to help you get started:

1.       Maybe you heard me speak in class about “our experiences have something to teach us; all hurdles have meaning.” Maybe this led you to thinking about a difficult situation, a mistake or setback. Perhaps when you heard this in class, you had a shift of perspective about an event or situation. Journaling about this can help you overcome the adversity and help you learn the lesson.

2.       An example of what might have come up today in practice is resistance. Maybe you felt resistance while in a challenging pose, feeling uncomfortable and taking yourself out of the pose, giving up. So what came up was resistance, your reaction was to come out of the pose, so now the question is, how did your reaction make you feel. Describing the feeling associated with your reaction will help you re-think your actions in the future. Maybe the next time you will persevere through the discomfort, develop more discipline and inner strength, and stay in the pose. Remember as you grow in difficult postures on your mat, your growth helps you handle difficult situations off your mat. Others examples are negative self-talk, judgment, etc.

3.       Letting go. This is a good one. Letting go of something that doesn’t serve you. A good example is expectation. How often do we come to our yoga mat with an expectation? Expectations are a great thing to let go. And labels. Yes, labels. How often do we attach a label to ourselves and then go out of our way to prove ourselves right to keep believing it? You do it. We all do. Don’t act like you don’t.

4.       Acceptance. Whew. This is a big one and perhaps one of my biggest challenges. Dealing currently with a knee injury, acceptance has been very present on my mat.  Acceptance requires me to let go of ego and achievement and accept that where I am today is where I am, and despite my knee injury, doing my best. So whether it is an injury, limitation or circumstance, journaling about acceptance will help your perspective and will nurture self-compassion.

5.       An example of cultivating would be cultivating compassion, joy, or something that might be lacking in your life currently. Writing about what you can cultivate is like setting an intention to manifest and bring to life what you are needing and craving.

6.       And finally, gratitude. Frankly, there is always time in everyone’s day to count their blessings. Putting in writing what you have in which to be grateful is a great way to revisit those blessings on a difficult day. And on those difficult days when you are journaling and struggling to come up with only 3 things in which to be grateful, it is okay. Just right down what comes to mind, even if it is I am grateful for Netflix and red wine.

Happy journaling,

MaryBeth

 

The Gift of Presence

How often do you meet a perfect stranger, willingly or reluctantly, and have an opinion of them before they even speak a word? Do you make conversation, or do you shy away uninterested in the giving of your time, attention, or presence? Have you found yourself on the other side of a conversation with a perfect stranger grateful for the encounter? Have you considered the possibility that your meeting might not be so random?

Every friend I have, was once a stranger. Whether you walk away from a chance meeting with a new friend or not, I encourage you to take the opportunity to give someone just a few moments of your time. Think about how much you have learned about yourself through the connections you have with others. Relationships teach us a lot about ourselves. Brief encounters with random strangers can often change someone’s life; you never know the impact you might have and vice versa.  

Sometimes letting your guard down, wearing a friendly smile and connecting with a perfect stranger can have a lasting impact. We don’t know the stories of others, and we barely give recognition to our own. Most of the time when people shut out others, it is because they are afraid of being judged or disliked. Too often, we keep to ourselves in our small little comfortable box, keeping people out and ourselves locked safely in. That world becomes very limited and eventually very lonely.

I frequently fly between Ohio and Florida by myself, and most times I don’t mind a friendly conversation with my seat partner. But, there are certainly times when I just want to be left alone and read a book. If you have ever flown solo, I am sure you have experienced similar feelings. There have been many times I have talked for hours on a flight, or listened for hours on a flight, and then there have been times that I didn’t share my presence and opportunities were lost.

A friend shared with me a recent encounter she had with her seat mate on her last flight. She had hoped to sit quietly and read a book, but instead, a man sat next to her and immediately started talking. Though she had no intention of having a conversation, she opened up with kindness and curiosity to this stranger and by the time they landed, she had made a lasting impression and quite an impact. He was going through a difficult time, had re-evaluated and re-prioritized his life and was in transition. My friend was traveling with a mala she had purchased from me, and he complimented its beauty and wanted to know how to use it. She shared what malas are and the different ways in which they can be used, including going bead by bead with your fingers and repeating a mantra. She said, “For instance, ‘I am enough. I am enough.’” His eyes teared as he told her, “That’s exactly what I’ve told myself just this weekend.” By the end of the flight, she had given him the mala as a gift. She felt like this was no coincidence; the universe had interceded and delivered him a reinforcement in his time of need. And my friend, though initially reluctant, connected with a stranger on a flight, and perhaps gave him the courage to do what he knew he needed to do.

Brief conversations with strangers can leave them empowered. A listening ear can go a long way in bringing about healing. Connection with someone, however brief, can build self-esteem. And generosity is often a gift that keeps on giving, to both the giver and the receiver. And, I must give mention to the elderly. There have been many times that I have entertained conversations with the elderly in restaurants, airports, and on airplanes. Those conversations have been some of my favorite because their experiences and stories are full of wisdom, they express fearless emotions, and I inevitably walk away a little softer and wiser.

Last month when I drove to upstate New York for Baptiste training, I stopped at a diner in Phoenicia, NY and sat by myself at the counter. The place was super busy and noisy. An older gentleman came in and sat next to me at the counter. I don’t remember who started the conversation, but what I do remember is embracing him as he wept over the recent loss of his partner for over 40 years. He was embarrassed and apologized for his sadness and his uncontrollable emotions. I let him know that I was honored that he had shared his loss with me, and in fact, we had had a devastating loss also, losing Larry Jr 3 ½ years ago. We talked about grief and healing, and he thanked me several times before I left. I have a feeling he left our brief encounter with some healing and perhaps a little stronger, and so did I.

I encourage you to think about your imprint, your legacy, or the many lives you have touched. Think about your connections with others and your relationships. Consider how much you share and how much you hide. Are you afraid of being judged or are you the one doing the judging? Perhaps both? How often do you truly give your time and attention, to not only those you love, but to the strangers among you?

And lastly, do you have a generous spirit? In the Book of Joy, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama describe having a generous spirit as being easy and fun to be with, radiating joy, being less about self-agendas, having nothing to prove, less pretense, and being more open and honest. A generous spirit promotes not only self-acceptance, but an acceptance of others, and compassion for both ourselves and humanity. Those with generous spirits often have a sense of humor, they don’t take themselves so seriously, they forgive, and they are grateful. They feel connected.

I am learning that all experience is useful. Everything is progress. The most important thing we can offer someone is our presence. I am cultivating a generous spirit. And finally, sharing a quote from Oprah, “I believe three of the most important words anyone can say are not ‘I love you’, but ‘I hear you.’’’

Baptiste Level Two - The Sannyasin's Journey

I am proud to share that I recently completed Baptiste Level Two Training in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. The focus of the training was the Sannyasin’s Journey on teaching yoga and living authentically. A Sannyasin is a spiritual warrior and seeker of truth, and the self-inquiry part of this program was about finding our truths, exposing our filters, shifting our perspective, and finding our power and purpose.

I explored my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher and connected more deeply to myself, my way of being. By discovering my truths, I began to bring clarity into my way of being and how I show up for others. This program was intense, challenging, and physically exhausting. But, I loved every minute of it. The morning meditations brought focus, insight and stillness. The journaling and group work brought forth clarity and understanding. The asana brought the sweat, and a lot of it, but it also provided me the gift of acceptance and the creation of space.

And, I cannot fail to mention how wonderful and uplifting it was to connect with fellow yogis and attendees, the teachers and staff. Connections were made, friendships formed and deepened, and it was impossible to not feel supported and encouraged.

I walked away from this experience with a new sense of leadership and who I am for others. I realize that what I say is my life. I peeled back some layers, found some comfort in discomfort, and tapped into the power of creating myself as I want to be. I plan to bring this way of being into my daily life, both personally and in my teaching, and most of all, I look forward to sharing this gift with you, my yoga students and friends. Thank you for showing up on your mat and trusting me to lead you on your yoga journey. I absolutely love teaching yoga and watching you live your practice, on and off your mat.

-MaryBeth

High Plank

*Strengthens core muscles, biceps, triceps, deltoids, chest and leg muscles

*Strengthens the wrists and hands, strengthens and lengthens the neck muscles, strengthens the spinal muscles (spinal extensors) which improves posture

Last year on one of the many televised awards programs, Cher, at age of 70, was on stage and shared with the world that she can hold a plank for 5 minutes! Planks are always held in my yoga classes, but typically not longer than 30 seconds. However, I have several students that have been working on planks, and with proper alignment, have found it much easier to hold them longer and slowly working their way up to 1 to 2 minutes. Here are some alignment tips to help your plank:

Place hands shoulder width apart and wrists under shoulders.

Press palms into mat, spread fingers wide, and keep elbows soft.

Keep space between the shoulder blades wide and pull them down the back away from the ears.

Stay broad and open across the chest and lengthen through the crown of the head, keeping it forward.

Feet hip width apart, ankles flexed and on balls of feet.

Engage the legs by activating quadriceps, pressing the tops of the thighs up and pushing back through the heels.

Engage the core by drawing abdominals up and in. Do not allow hips and butt to sag or drop. The body should be in one straight line, from shoulders to heels.

Breathe, keeping the breath in the chest, not belly.

To deepen the pose, lift one leg at a time. Hold the lifted leg for five breaths. Repeat with the opposite leg for the same amount of time.

plank.jpg

Faithfully

I’ve always loved music, and when I need to fill the space with noise, I opt for music over the television. The station or playlist depends on my mood or activity, of course, but I seem to always be in the mood for classic rock. When I’m in my car, I’m known to listen to the radio at an obnoxious volume and can often be seen dancing or singing along. All I can say is "Blame it on Sammy Hagar's, There’s Only One Way to Rock."

But seriously, music warms my soul. Yesterday Faithfully by Journey came on the radio, and it took me back to when I was a young girl, about 13, at a dance, and hoping and praying the boy I liked would ask me to slow dance with him. I remember what a big deal it was, who was dancing with whom, and worried that I wouldn’t get asked to dance. I remember putting great emphasis on who I danced with, and ridiculously putting my self-esteem into the hands of an immature, unreasonable boy. If I were to be disappointed, I would feel horribly hopeless, and all over a stupid slow dance.

Let's fast forward the clock to my adult years when life really got complicated and my self-esteem was truly tested by a cheating, lying husband, responsibilities of children and co-workers from hell. Talk about disappointment and hopelessness.

Now I'm 47 and looking back through the years where my experiences provided opportunities to sulk in self-pity or grow and get stronger. I see that young girl up against the wall with self-doubt and confusion, lacking self-confidence, as Faithfully begins to play and boys scramble to find a dance partner. Yes, I’ve come a long way. Though I remember that little girl well, I am no longer her.

The song transported me back to those young days, and I’m drawn to reflect upon what I would tell her if I could go back and give her some advice.

I would tell my 13 year old self, "Never put your key to happiness in someone else’s pocket. Never look for happiness outside of yourself or base it on external circumstances." I would warn her that life only gets harder as she ages, and it is how she handles what happens to her, her reaction, that determines her direction and destiny. Bad things happen to good people, and you will either get better or bitter, but not both. Choose wisely.

I would tell her to surround herself with people that uplift her, bring out the best in her, and those people will be the ones that will show up to celebrate her successes and are genuinely happy for her. Those people are true friends.

I would tell her to nurture her independence, spend time alone and get to know who she is and love herself. 

I would tell her to focus on the present, be mindful and not to waste time fretting over the past or worrying about the future. Make the best of each moment and each experience, and take nothing for granted.

I would tell her to travel often and travel afar, seek adventure, discover other cultures, and to keep learning.

I would tell her to slow down and not to be in a hurry to grow up. Go to college. Get an education. Learn another language, fluently. Dream big. Think big. Never shrink for anyone. Don’t let the insecurities of someone diminish her light. Shine bright. Be authentic, not a copy of someone else. Stand tall, shoulders back, and wear a smile like she has a secret that no one else knows.

Don’t be self-righteous. Seek peace but without losing her individuality. Don’t take everything so seriously. Have fun. Laugh a lot. Watch less TV and read more books. And communicate; speak her truth!

I would want her to know that she wasn’t meant to be a victim. In difficult times, take back her power when she is mistreated and be better for it. Take no one’s shit and stand up for herself.

I would like her to be like water, both soft and strong. Be kind, mostly to me.

And finally, I would tell my younger self to keep prayer and meditation in her daily life and of course, do more yoga.

I'm happy that the song Faithfully reminded me of my little self at a school dance because it prompted me to sit quietly and think about my feelings and the stories in my head. I am left with satisfaction from my insight and of my growth, confidence, and this blog.

MaryBeth

S.T.O.P.

Deepak Chopra says that no matter the challenge, in any situation, you can always go to your state of being. “You STOP.”

S- Stop

T- Take 3 deep breaths

O- Observe what is happening in your body and mind

P- Proceed with kindness, joy, and love.

Last month, while reading one of my books, I learned about this idea of “STOP”.  I’ve been applying this state of being, this idea of “STOP” to my life, and I can say I feel better that I am not living in a reactionary state all the time and practicing some control of my learned behaviors and automatic responses.

For example, last month my husband and I were having a pleasant conversation with a neighbor that had recently taken two of my yoga classes. He was telling my husband how much he enjoyed my classes when two other visitors came over and joined in on the conversation. One of the gentlemen was instantly annoying and became very opinionated and condescending on every topic we discussed. At first, I wanted to be defensive, debate, and prove my intelligence, but instead of reacting I chose to STOP. I realized that his opinions did not matter and I did not care about educating him or attempting to change his mind. As this guy’s ego and rudeness spilled into the space around us, my gut instinct was to put him in his place or make him squirm. But, I practiced STOP and knew that if I were to do so, that I would also be coming from a place of ego. Instead, I ignored the guy that was being rude and shifted the conversation back to my student with kindness and a genuine interest in him and his life in North Dakota.  Eventually, the guy that was rude had less to say as we didn’t feed his ego or rudeness, and I was able to enjoy the conversation that had originally started with my new friend.

Later that evening over cocktails and sunset, my husband said he was surprised that I didn’t put that guy in his place. I smiled and replied, “I simply chose to come from a place of kindness instead of ego like him, and I feel better about myself because of it.”

I encourage you to apply Deepak’s philosophy of STOP to your daily life and reflect on the difference and impact it makes in your life and in your relationships. What we feed grows. If we come from a place of ego during challenging times, we aren’t feeding kindness, joy, and love. When we pause and reflect on what is happening in our body and mind, and the belief behind it, we are better able to choose how to proceed, and will more likely choose kindness. We can come from a place of ego or kindness, but not both. -MaryBeth

Acceptance

I start off each new year with an intention, a gift to myself that produces more growth than a quickly forgotten resolution. When setting my intention this year, I struggled with what I needed to work on and narrowing my focus on just one word. Acceptance kept coming up, but it seemed silly and I was unsure why or how to cultivate acceptance as my intention. I went with acceptance for 2018, entering into the unknown, clearly not knowing what I didn’t know.

Do we truly understand what acceptance is and how it applies to our being? Dictionary.com defines acceptance as the act of taking or receiving something offered. Aha! The word that resonated with me was “receiving.” It is easy for me to accept little things like traffic, an illness, an ache or pain, an inconvenience or a little stress. I can receive them, not always with gratitude, but I can receive them, be slightly annoyed, and then let go, move on. Though receiving or accepting these examples might seem easy, when it comes to accepting yourself, your thoughts and emotions, it is much more difficult and challenging. It is especially challenging for me, because I am a doer. Part of the difficulty is that it is hard to silence the doer in me, the fixer that swoops in to take action wanting to problem solve and change the world.

I’ve had plenty of little things that have required acceptance in the first month of the new year like inclement weather, issues with my aging mother, a daughter with medical issues, usual family drama, and most recently, a wrist sprain. They’ve been easier to handle, receive and accept. However, my mind, my thoughts, my emotions, and my ego were having a different experience with acceptance and much more of a struggle.

After only a month of working on acceptance, I realized not only how few answers I actually have, but that my desire to control everything, especially my thoughts, actually has me avoiding a lot that needs attention and change. This revelation didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy or like a lightbulb switched on. Instead, I felt fear and discomfort. And I know when I face my fears, and when I am outside my comfort zone, that is where I grow, learn and transform.

My first major hurdle with acceptance this year:

With the 3-year anniversary of Larry Jr’s passing approaching, I started to build up my strength, like I was preparing for some uncontrollable meltdown and lapse of control. But the truth was, it wasn’t strength; it was resistance as I later discovered. Once the dreadful day came, I had little energy because most of it was used to not let thoughts of him or the loss consume me. Classic avoidance also kicked in as I had slept in that morning, taken an afternoon nap, and went to bed early.

When I wasn’t sleeping, I pushed away negative thoughts and replaced them with happy thoughts, but sadness kept returning. I became judgmental that I felt self-pity, instead of gratitude. Then, when I succumbed to the awful void, I judged myself more for having a victim mentality. My mind stirred the pot more by replacing pity with desire and feelings of “this is not how it was supposed to be.” Self-criticism also had quite the party in my head for feeling entitled to how I think life should be. The more I judged and criticized myself, the worse I felt. I chased them away with the alter egos of MaryBeth, the Fixer, the Controller. My mind went to “don’t feel that way,” “don’t think that way,” and “that is negative,” and “be more grateful, more joyful, be stronger and move on.” The reality was that nothing I was thinking, feeling, or doing was getting me out of my funk. Sadness had consumed me, and so much so, that I had little awareness to how my husband was doing, coping, sitting right next to me.

The Shift:

Suddenly, out of nowhere, acceptance was knocking at my door. I had been chasing one feeling with another, one thought with another, fighting amongst myself, part of my mind trying to control another part of my mind, heartsick, and I was stuck in a continual loop of disconnection from my true self. It wasn’t until I stepped back and went to my intention for 2018, acceptance, that I realized what I needed was to just accept, “This is where I am right now.”

I stopped resisting and empowering the underlying emotion driving all the madness, my grief. I stopped judging everything that came up and gave up the resistance. I stopped criticizing myself for how I felt and why I felt it, and let grief just be present. I received grief. There were no answers and nothing to be fixed. There was just grief needing to simply be felt and acknowledged. I didn’t need to control my thoughts or adjust my perspective; I needed honesty, truth with myself.

Where I Am Today:

I like being “Susie Sunshine,” so when Susie isn’t sunny, the internal struggle and self-dialogue begin. I self-judge, self-criticize, resist, and wish for what I want or feel entitled to. I’m quick to not let myself be down, low, or in a funk. I grab my “tool bag” and go to work. But I am learning the real work lies in acceptance and the raw truth behind all of it.

Accepting isn’t giving in or giving up. For me, acceptance means receiving and not judging or criticizing myself for what I am feeling or my inability to control a thought or emotion. I am choosing to give power to my attention and acknowledgment of where I am at that moment, what I am thinking, and the belief behind it. I am no longer resisting and am silencing the urges to change how I feel. I am becoming the silent, non-critical observer of all of it. I believe that once I truly allow acceptance to be completely present in my daily life, my relationship with myself will become more honest and authentic, allowing my relationships with my students, friends, and family to be more honest and authentic as well. And, as I continue to cultivate honesty and authenticity, the sunshine returns to Susie, and she can shine her light even brighter.

-MaryBeth

Be Okay With Everything Not Being Okay

Today’s lesson presented itself once I became aware at the beginning of yoga class this morning that my tank top was on inside out. I didn’t have time to run out of the room to take it off, so I decided to just roll with it. Class started with few minutes of meditation, and it was a struggle to sit there in stillness as my mind kept going to my shirt and not being comfortable with the knowing of wearing it inside out. Although it was unlikely that anyone else would even notice it, I knew it, and it was driving me crazy. So the lesson became: Be okay with everything not being okay.

Once I started moving, and focusing on my breath and asana, I slowly forgot all about my shirt. So much so, that I kept it inside out while grocery shopping after class. I no longer cared. But once I got home, it had me thinking about how uncomfortable I was initially over something so silly and insignificant. I pondered the lesson that came to mind and how it applies to our everyday lives.

It is strangely unfamiliar when we do things differently, out of order, or against habit. It is uncomfortable when we are operating outside what we consider to be normal or routine. We get so comfortable, or attached to a feeling of safety or comfort, thinking that things have to be a certain way. We become safe and comfortable in our routines, and we convince ourselves that things have to be this way, or that way, in order to be okay. The truth is, they don’t. Sometimes lurking outside that safe space we created in our brains is opportunity and growth! Redefine okay, and learn to be okay with everything not being okay.

Now of course I am not talking about the big stuff like not balancing your checkbook or forgetting to pay your mortgage. I’m also not downplaying organization or efficiency. My point is more about not allowing insignificant things to rattle us, get us worked up and off center.

Do you remember in elementary school having an opposite day with your friends? It was playfully challenging even as a child, and now we are serious adults with all of these habits, patterns, routines, and small comfort zones. Like opposite day, try something each day that breaks a pattern or routine, something that pushes the edges of your comfort zone out a little farther. Take a different route home. Do something out of order. Try something new. Or perhaps, just wear your shirt inside out.

When we live within the confines of obsessive-compulsive thinking and/or behaviors, we become complacent. Complacency in the feeling of self-satisfaction, thus leaving us little opportunity for growth. Our growth lies on the edges of our comfort zone. Our fears become our limits.

Retrain your brain to be okay with everything not being your version of okay. When you push that barrier, that self-limiting belief that your way is the only way, you start to find that much of it is about control. Once you give up some control, you will become less rigid, more easy-going, place less importance on insignificance, and might just discover a little more joy in life.

Strength

I believe that if you go through life not experiencing failure, then you aren’t pushing your limits, exploring your edge, or expanding your comfort zone. Sometimes my classes are tough, and that is when I am giving you the opportunity to exceed your expectations and/or self-limiting beliefs. Although sometimes we fall out of a pose, or struggle to even get in it, we are making a courageous effort in trying. If it were meant to be easy, then it wouldn’t necessarily be an exercise or a practice. What doesn’t challenge us, doesn’t change us. Sometimes it takes just as much mental effort as physical effort on our mat, and that mental effort builds inner strength to help us get through life’s challenges off the mat.

I leave my yoga mat feeling stronger every time. I’m stronger physically and mentally, because I also do the inner work, that essence of my being that worked just as hard as my body.

As a yogi, our spiritual journey doesn’t keep us from experiencing difficult times or facing times of darkness. My yoga journey has instead taught me how to use those dark or difficult times as opportunities to use compassion and kindness, as well as opportunities to learn and grow. It is our challenges, our struggles that make us stronger. Yoga has helped me embrace my reality, deal with it, sometimes gracefully, other times not so much, but I don’t run or hide. I show up for myself and deal. Our strength lies in our ability to accept, let go of what we think it should be, and surrender to what it is.

So when in class during a challenging asana, persist through it, surprise yourself with determination and strength, and that strength will spill over into your daily life. Your yoga practice will make you stronger, wiser, and more kind and thoughtful. Let these moments bring growth and transformation to your way of being.

What Strong People Do:

They move on. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They don’t delight in casting themselves as a victim. They simply move on.

They embrace change. They welcome challenges and see them as opportunities.

They stay happy. They choose to be happy. Their happiness is found within and not found in external circumstances.

They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.

They are kind. They are unafraid to speak up. They are authentic.

They are willing to take calculated risks.

They celebrate other people’s success. They don’t resent others.

From the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu (Lou Cha) “Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. Water is both soft and strong.” Be water.

Autumn Meditation

It is raining leaves on this sunny morning as I sit in meditation looking out the window watching the falling leaves float down from the trees. They are dancing, circling, spinning, gliding through the air before coming to rest in the ravine and our driveway. The pesky cardinal that continually taunts my husband and I, and poops on our vehicles, is perched on the side mirror of Larry’s Escalade. His head spins in all directions as he seems to also be enjoying the same splendor as me.

These moments of silence and stillness in meditation, just staring out the window at nature offers me such clarity and grounding. It is hard to explain exactly what changes inside me, or how, or why; it just does. Sometimes I meditate with my eyes closed, other times a visual form of meditation calls to me, but regardless of eyes open or closed, it is the stillness inside of me that awakens.

I can see why Henry David Thoreau secluded himself in a cabin deep in the woods at Walden Pond for two years of spiritual discovery and introspection. I have always liked my alone time, and that is usually when my creativity comes most alive. Most of my solitude is usually spent near the water in Florida which I have always loved, but if I ever moved to the beach full-time, I would have to travel during Autumn to somewhere that is abundant with fall color and falling leaves. I love this time of year despite the end of summer and the onset of barren trees and frigid temperatures. The seasonal change happens so quickly that nature beckons me to notice her and appreciate her, and so I do.

So this morning, as I sit here with stillness and softness, I start to feel love and compassion swarming inside me. I feel peace, and without searching for it, joy overtakes me. I’m reminded that for no reason, other than being still and silent, these feelings that arise are my being—my authentic self. I still notice my body, my physical form, the tightness in some areas or soreness in others from yesterday’s work, but my body isn’t me. I’m aware of my thoughts, that thinking all the time monkey mind of mine, always planning, learning and doing, but that also isn’t me. That’s just my mind, full of thoughts and ideas. I believe this peace and joyful feeling comes from my soul, and meditation helps me find it amongst all the clutter and chatter. Deepak Chopra describes our soul, “Between every thought, we have a little space. That still presence that you feel, that’s your soul.” When I am truly still, I feel the most as myself, that essence of me, that center of my awareness, who I really am. And when I presence myself to it, I feel a sense of connection to everything around me, my spirituality comes alive, and that is when I feel the most beautiful.

Suddenly, as I sit here enjoying this beautiful day, this beautiful setting and this beautiful feeling, I’m not so annoyed by the cardinal or by the million leaves scattered everywhere. My never-ending to-do list seems less daunting, and I’m left with a sense of wonder, a feeling of joy, and an openness and spaciousness. Most prevalent is a sense of knowing that I am right where I belong at this time, that even though everything might not be okay, I’m okay with it not being okay.

DRISHTI

As a Yogi, we seek to view an inner reality, becoming aware of how our brains only let us see what we want to see—a projection of our own limited ideas. Often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity or seeing more clearly.

Our drishti, our gaze, our visual focus through our asana, is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—including within, and seeing correctly the world around us. Drishti allows us to see God in everything.

When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things, our vitality flows out of us. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from yoga. To counteract these habits, control and focus of the attention are fundamental principles in yoga practice. When we control and direct the focus, first of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.

After teaching the yoga class on drishti, I was moved by the texts and feedback I received from the students. I knew it would be an incredible experience, and having Larry play the guitar and sing during Savasana was icing on the cake! When I did the drishti practice during my Baptiste training, I considered it one of the most powerful moving meditations I had ever done. At some point in the practice, my block became a mirror, my drishti shed a light within, and I saw things I had tucked away, and when I went down into half pigeon, I let them go. The release I felt brought me to tears. Your focus determines your reality, and combined with yoga, your focus shines a light of awareness into the corners of your body. When I went into the heart opening poses of the practice, I cried some more, because I fell a little bit more in love with me. When I set the block behind my head before pushing up into wheel pose, I couldn’t wait to get back up in wheel and put my gaze back on that block. I had more determination to do 6 wheels and hold them longer than I had ever had before.

I can’t explain how much I enjoy sharing this beautiful gift of yoga with my students, but I can tell you that I am grateful that you show up, do the work, and allow me the opportunity to do what I love. Thank you to everyone who participated in the drishti practice and for those of you that shared your experice wiht me and gave me a little love and appreciation after class.

Acknowledgement

My friend, Dianne, and I just returned from a fabulous week in South France. I love to travel, explore and learn, especially to places that are not only rich in history, but also in cuisine and good wine!

As I've traveled to Italy and France, the people there always greet you, "Buongiorno" (Italy) or "Bonjour"(France), all day long and everywhere you go. It's actually considered rude to not greet each other. It's more than just a friendly greeting. To me, it is also an acknowledgement. I see you. I hear you. I am present. 

Acknowledgement. So simple. Free. Giving and caring. I invite you to practice acknowledgement by generating "good morning" and "good evening" and see how it makes you feel, and how others respond to your acknowledgement. Put down your phone or look up from it. See a person. Be present. Slow down and offer a friendly greeting and a smile. We all feel better when we are heard, seen, and acknowledged. We all want connection, and an acknowledgement is a good way to manifest it! -MaryBeth

Level One: Journey Into Power Training

I recently completed Level One Journey Into Power Training with Baron Baptiste! This was a lofty investment in my personal growth, both as a person and as a teacher. The week long training was intense with approximately 5 hours of hot power yoga each day.

The instruction I received at training was excellent, learning directly from one of the best, Baron himself. I’m happy to share through my teaching all that I have learned and experienced. I believe to be the best at what you do, it requires continual learning, continual practice, passion and dedication. This is my commitment to you, my students.

 

Tears on the Mat

I was on my mat, at the end of a tough class in half pigeon pose, feeling a sense of surrender, I cried. Has this happened to you? Have you an emotion swell up inside you during your practice and then suddenly realize tears are streaming down your cheeks? Have you felt the relief of letting go so much that you sobbed on your mat? If tears have been a part of your practice, I am here to reassure you that tears are perfectly normal, and in fact, tears signify transformation.

I have had a few students approach me after class to share with me that they cried during class. Sometimes my words or my inspirational message hits close to home. Sometimes their tears are from accomplishment, other times, a release, or even a realization. Whatever the reason, it is okay.

Crying is perfectly normal when practicing yoga and nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. When you cry in yoga class, it is because you are doing the inner work, not just the physical workout. When you have a shift or release, it is because you are focused on yourself and your breath and movement, and stillness, and on your emotions, thoughts and your awareness of them. That IS yoga!

The next time tears pay you a visit on your mat, smile, acknowledge the work you are doing, both physically and mentally, and greet them with an acceptance and appreciation. That is the beauty of yoga.

~MaryBeth

Project:OM

I am excited to announce that Yoga Living raised a total of $775 for Manduka’s project:OM, a yoga class of one million to battle breast cancer. This was a donation based class and all donations went directly to Susan G. Komen Foundation to help them reach their bold goal of reducing breast cancer deaths by 50% by 2026. There were 42 bodies on 42 mats, practicing together, in support of me and the fight against breast cancer. I am incredibly grateful for the support that led to the success of this project:OM class! Thank you to everyone that participated, donated, and shared the experience!  (May 14, 11 a.m. – Noon at the Goslin Nature Center, Alley Park, Lancaster)

Source: https://www.manduka.com/projectom/

Sunday Morning Yoga with Gus, at the Green Monkey, Naples

My right elbow gave out on me today during a physically challenging hot yoga class. I had my right knee to my right elbow and flying, and suddenly my elbow gave way; it buckled and I fell, landing first on my boobs, then everything else collapsed onto my mat. I was lucky to have not face planted and quickly had gratitude for being well-endowed.

When I got back home after class, I had a texting conversation with a friend, one of my also “well-endowed” friends, and I shared with her my experience. She was concerned that I might be too hard on myself, especially since that particular elbow had a previous surgery. Our conversation sparked some thought and reflection, and then I picked up my pen and wrote.

First, I want to share, it is okay to fall out of a pose, and like life, when you fall, you just get back up and pick up where you left off. Secondly, I didn’t fall because I failed. I fell because “it” failed, regardless, it being my elbow, my strength or balance. I believe that if you go through life not experiencing failure, then you aren’t pushing your limits, exploring your edge, or expanding your comfort zone.

Although the yoga class was hard in a challenging way, I didn’t feel I was hard on my body. Our teacher, Gus, started the class with warning us he had consumed a large amount of caffeine, and in being honest, I felt some resistance flare up in me and immediately thought, “Oh no, this is going to be tough. I knew I shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine last night.” I released that feeling just as quickly as it came up and giggled with an attitude of “Here we go.” No exaggeration, 30+ Sun A Salutations later and only minutes into the class, I was sweating profusely and continually refocusing on my breath. Gus hit us hard for an hour of the 75 minute class, and we delivered.

Not every yoga class I attend is a heated power practice, but when I commit to showing up for my practice, I am all in. These tough classes challenge me and push me beyond my comfort zone. It is in these moments that I exceed my expectations, or more often, my self-limiting beliefs. I surprise myself with endurance and determination. My breath sustains me.

I might be a power yoga junkie, but I’m no superwoman and certainly check my ego at the door. And yes, like everyone else, my mind lies to me, too, and says, “You are going to die. Come out of the pose. Give up. You can’t do it.” But I tell those negative thoughts they aren’t welcome on my mat, and I release them and replace them with, “I’m not dying. I’m not quitting. I can do it.” Then, I do it, not always so gracefully, but I do it.

My yoga practice has helped me become a better person, equipped with more compassion and kindness. But this doesn’t mean that my authentic self is not often inappropriate or that I drift through life seeing all roses and rainbows. The truth is, that today during practice when our teacher had us hold an imaginary beach ball while in extended side angel pose, triangle pose, and revolved triangle pose, I also imagined throwing it at his head. If you ever see me giggle on my mat, it is because I am thinking something inappropriate and I truly crack myself up. There is a cartoon that says, “I am glad my thoughts don’t appear in bubbles over my head.” Well, boy am I glad they don’t because I would be in BIG trouble all of the time! I can’t undervalue a good sense of humor, and often resort to it when I need not take myself so seriously.

I leave my yoga mat stronger every time. I’m stronger physically and mentally, because I also do the inner work, that essence of my being that worked just as hard as my body. I leave class fulfilled with a deep satisfaction, a radical self-acceptance and self-love. Today, I also left class with tears in my eyes with an abundant gratitude for my teacher and our practice. And my boobs.

As a yogi, our spiritual journey doesn’t keep us from experiencing difficult times or facing times of darkness. My yoga journey has instead taught me how to use those dark or difficult times as opportunities to use compassion and kindness, as well as opportunities to learn and grow. It is our challenges, our struggles that make us stronger. Yoga has helped me embrace my reality, deal with it, sometimes gracefully, other times not so much, but I don’t run or hide. I show up for myself and deal. Our strength lies in our ability to accept, let go of what we think it should be, and surrender to what it is.

Today I am feeling strong, physically and mentally, and I am grateful for the gift of yoga in my life.

The end of 2016 is here, and what better time to reflect on the past year. Today during yoga class, our teacher told us to take inventory of our year without judgment, without labeling as good or bad. I encourage my readers to do the same. Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and reflect. Don’t label; just acknowledge and feel. When you stumble on something that is weighing you down, commit to leaving it behind in 2016, and let it go. Don’t bring what doesn’t serve your higher purpose into the new year. You have the power to choose your thoughts and to choose your perception of the events in your life. Find the silver lining throughout the difficult times of 2016 and focus on what you learned, your growth. If you are experiencing a setback, then search for the meaning in it and create your plan to move forward.

Our teacher today also had us make an intention for the year of 2017. One word, although, I chose two being the overachiever that I am. I couldn’t decide between the two, so I stayed with both. Repeat that intention to yourself every day. I intend to _________. Or, I am ___________. Write it down and carry it with you. Put it on your calendar. Set is as a daily alert on your phone to remind you to live your intention. Truly commit to cultivating that intention throughout 2017. Write it on a post-it and stick it to your bathroom mirror. Use a magnet to hang it on your refrigerator. If you spend a lot of time in your car, stick your intention inside your car. Hang it up at work.

I challenge you to reflect on 2016, without judgment, find the silver lining and opportunities for growth, and leave behind what doesn’t serve you. If you need to forgive, then forgive. If you need to tell someone you love them, tell them. If you want a clean slate, clean it. I challenge you to set an intention and live and cultivate your intention in 2017.

As 2016 ends and I bid it farewell, I do it fondly, with gratitude. I welcome 2017 as I commit to living my yoga practice, creating my life with joy and abundance, respecting my journey, and living with intention.

Happy New Year!

Namaste,

MaryBeth

Meditation

If you haven’t tried meditation, I encourage you to give it a try this holiday season. There are many valuable benefits of being at peace with your mind and thoughts, and feeling calm and centered. Don’t be intimidated by not being able to clear your mind. It is a misconception that meditation requires clearing of the mind. Meditation is much more than that. It’s something that requires an open mind, patience, dedication, and time. One is not simply “good” or “not good” at meditating. It is just simply an exercise, a practice. Another misconception is that meditation and mindfulness are associated with religion. Practicing meditation is not associated with any belief. It is simply a technique to learn mind control. There are many different types of meditation. The most common is meditating in a quiet space, however, a walk or jog can also be a form of meditation. Some people meditate with their eyes closed, some with their eyes open. There are also guided meditations you can find on phone apps, YouTube, and other internet sources and outlets.  

Mediation is not about stopping your thoughts or blocking them. You simply let them come and then let them go. Try to see your thoughts as clouds floating through the sky of your mind, and then watch them drift by as other clouds move in. This mindful practice helps you realize just how impermanent your thoughts really are, and takes away their power to rule over your life. It teaches you the important and valuable truth that you are not your thoughts. Regardless of where, how, or the duration, meditation can help you find stillness. It can help you become aware of your thoughts, and can help you take back control of your mind. Meditation helps you relax and connect with the present moment. Meditation offers you clarity and increases your ability to focus.

If you are new to meditation, I would encourage you to start with just five minutes a day, and then increasing to 10 minutes, and then eventually 15 minutes. Here are a few helpful mediation tools: a comfortable cushion, a mala, a daily meditation book, a timer or even better, the Insight Timer App. The Insight Timer Meditation App is free and available on App Store and Google Play!

If you are interested in learning more about meditation, there are a plethora of articles written on the benefits of meditation. Both yoga and meditation have been popular topics in magazines and on television. On a recent segment of the popular TV show, The Doctors, they were discussing the implementation and many benefits of yoga and meditation in schools and how effective it has been for the students, their families, and educators. They stated, “one in five kids have stress related symptoms, and through yoga and meditation, the students dealt with stress better, had improved behavior, improved focus, higher test scores, better attendance and slept better at night.” To watch this segment on The Doctors, visit the following link:  http://www.thedoctorstv.com/videos/should-meditation-replace-detention-in-schools

By taking time for meditation, prayer, solitude, and silence, you connect with what is in your heart. Meditation helps me set my mind, like a reset button. I encourage you to give it a try by setting a goal for daily meditation throughout the month of December. There is no better time than now, especially with the holiday season upon us! Meditation will make you feel more calm and relaxed, and it is when you don’t have time to relax that you need to relax the most!

Meditation and My Winter Discovery by MaryBeth Tipton

October is winding down, central Ohio has reached its peak season for the fall color on our trees, and cooler weather is upon us! Part of me is resisting the change of season, while another part of me is relishing in it, and another part of me is looking forward to and already planning for the holidays. It is such a struggle to stay present.

Today during my meditation, I chose to keep my eyes open and stare out the window at the beautiful trees. I recognized my resistance to the upcoming barren trees and winter weather, and felt myself wanting to hold onto this season, as if my desires had anything to do with mother nature. It is in these moments that we find ourselves feeling an attachment to an idea or a comfort we so desire, that we must surrender to our lack of control and accept that change is the very nature of life. During meditation I had to continually redirect my thoughts to savor the moment, savor today, the colors still present on the trees, the coolness before the shiver, and allow myself to truly enjoy it without missing it before it is even gone, and without dreading the winter weather that is to come. Thinking more on my resistance during meditation, I went deeper and thought about why I was feeling so resistant, and decided to release that feeling and replace it with curiosity.

In my self-discovery, all I could come up with was “I don’t like winter”. Then curiosity hit me. What do I not like about winter? I could only list 3 things: I don’t like being cold, I don’t like driving in icy conditions, and I don’t like to have to wait in long lines when shopping. Is there anything to like about winter? Why not just change how I currently feel about winter and decide to like it? Why must I feel differently about winter as compared to the other seasons? Suddenly I realized I had an attachment to a belief, a belief that I don’t like winter, and that belief was preventing me from enjoying the outgoing season of fall and the incoming season of winter. That belief was interfering with my presence, making me feel melancholy about what is pending.

Once I allowed my curiosity to run rampant, I shifted my perspective and discovered I actually love winter. I love shopping and gift giving, and that just happens to be associated with Christmas and the holiday season. I love fires and curling up with a blanket. I love winter because Courtney and Kyle were both born in the winter, and we get to celebrate their birth in January and February. I love winter because I love to decorate the house with snowmen and the color red, and I enjoy my sparkling Christmas trees. I love winter because I tend to spend more time at home during the shorter days which lends to me spending more time in my kitchen, and more time with Larry and Jack. I love winter because I am more apt to take a luxurious bath with candlelight and classical music playing. I love winter because Larry is more likely to want to cuddle with me. I love winter because at Christmastime I look forward to receiving cards in the mail from friends and family I haven’t seen in years. I love winter because our family spends time together at Christmastime. I love winter because I get to wear my boots, cozy sweaters and scarves. I love winter because I get to see a few Columbus Blue Jackets hockey games. And finally, I love winter because during the winter months, I spend many days, okay weeks, in sunny Florida! I know, that one stung a little, but I had to add it because it’s the truth!

So to get to my point…If you find yourself unable to stay in the present moment, and looking ahead with anticipation that prevents your enjoyment of today, then recognize what you are doing, dig a little deeper with curiosity as to why, and then change your perspective. If you are holding onto yesterday and unable to truly live with vitality in the present, then shift your perspective by looking in front of you, not behind. If you find yourself dwelling too long in the past or the future, then just reel yourself back to the present moment. The very act of recognizing your thoughts and feelings, releasing them, and refocusing is meditation.

Meditation is a magical time of self-discovery that can lead to a much more peaceful existence. Meditating for just ten minutes feels like pushing a reset button on your day, allowing you to regain control of your thoughts and feelings. That time you spend in silence, looking with curiosity within yourself, will help you grow and develop as you begin to process the events of your life and the meaning that you have given them that might not necessarily be true. You might discover a false belief, a fear or an attachment that you can now release and move through. Transformation takes place when you drop whatever story you are telling yourself and open your heart to the truth. Our awareness of self and the act of working through those layers can be both uncomfortable and liberating. But in the end, the reward is truly a much happier, peaceful life, and it all starts with mindfulness and meditation.