Each day that we put forth the effort to act on our goals, we aren’t just doing, we are becoming. If we really want to do something, we have to find a way, otherwise we become those people that just find excuses instead. Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”
Yoga isn’t about making things fit us so we feel better. In fact, that actually creates a roller coaster. Regarding my classes, I have heard “I don’t like it too hot, I don’t like to sweat, it’s too hard or challenging, too many people-too crowded, too noisy, too quiet, I have to have my mat here, or face this direction.” Yoga should be less about “I have to have, I have to be or I like it like this.” Our practice is about getting familiar with ourselves, our minds, and our habits, including the ways we habitually create our own discontent.
When the environment, the flow or pose creates “chaos” on your mat, it teaches you how you handle chaos both on your mat and off your mat. Ask yourself when you are uncomfortable, when things aren’t just so, “Am I reactive? Do I judge, label, quit or flee? Does my mind take me out? Is there negative self-talk? Do I focus, breathe, tap into my power and stay? Do I resist or persist?” The inner work is done not by designing your perfect space or limiting it to only the poses you know and like. The true work happens when chaos happens and you build the awareness around how you handle it, your thoughts, your judgments, your labels, and perhaps realizing that you are creating your own discontent.
Instead of seeking comfort on your mat, try giving up your attachment to things having to be your way in order to feel comfortable, and create some comfort in discomfort. That is where growth lies. Because what we practice, we get good at, try cultivating strength and persistence, courage, patience and peace on your mat, and then all of those things you practice follow you off your mat into your daily life. Since how we handle chaos on our mat often reflects how we handle it in our lives, we can start practicing with awareness, setting an intention, cultivating our intention and committing to growth, breathing and moving on.
As we begin to expand our comfort zone and become less discontent, we increase our vitality, gain self-confidence and inner strength. And it might surprise you, but we also discover more joy!
I encourage you to return to your yoga practice, or perhaps just return with a fresh perspective, as a dedicated practitioner, letting go of your attachments to your definition of comfort, your judgments of like and dislike, can’ts and don’ts. Through practice and dedication to both your yoga practice and yoga lifestyle, you are continually growing- physically, mentally and spiritually. As my teacher Baron Baptiste says, “Realign. Recommit. Again. And again. And again.”
“There is power in the ability to be and let be.” -Aristotle
I tend to fill my days. Work, daily chores, and normal existence are often not enough, so I schedule, I plan, I make lists and do, do, do. Forgetting to occasionally pause can cause not only physical exhaustion and illness, but also mental burn out and disconnection to self. It’s like I have this energy bunny inside of me, driven and determined to check, check, check items off my never-ending to do list. But, I’m not unhappy; I actually love what I’m doing, and that is precisely why it can be so challenging to pause from what I love doing and just chill out.
There are people that look at me and are exhausted just listening or watching me be this constant doer. My husband’s sister often refers to us and all we do as “overwhelming.” We are all wired differently, but the ones that say, “I’m bored,” I just don’t get. I’ve never understood boredom though, as I have never had the opportunity to experience it. What is boredom anyway? I mean, even in stillness and quiet, I am not bored, so what has to happen or not happen to cause one to be bored? I’m getting off track, but the word “bored” has always bothered me because I just don’t get it.
Anyway, I recently and finally pushed the pause button. I deliberately spent an afternoon with myself in rest and relaxation, with less time doing more time being. I resisted the urge to pick up my book, because that is often my go to for R & R, but I knew that reading was still not allowing me to just BE, so I didn’t. I worked on deep breathing and my awareness of thoughts, like a nice reclined, feet up meditation, without allowing myself to fall asleep. Just being with me. It was glorious. Its’s in those moments that I catch glimpses of my soul, the essence of me. “Oh, hi there! I know you. Welcome back,” gently smiling and hugging myself. Less doing, more being.
I share this with you, choosing to put part of me in a blog, because it is my wish that everyone can experience this sort of coming home, this connection to self, finding stillness and peace within. Whether you are a doer or not, I believe everyone can benefit from pushing the pause button, sitting in stillness just being with yourself. There is in fact, power in the ability to be and let be.
So this week has been a week of working on non-attachment and it hasn’t been easy. I’m sitting here at work on my computer because I am thirsty and using work to help me resist the urge for a glass of velvety, red wine. I have to admit I’m second-guessing why I am doing this, but it is only my selfish desire to have what I want that is trying to sabotage my self-discipline and determination. I’m just being real here, and to be completely honest, I booked my Uber ride to the airport 30 minutes earlier to allow for a half hour at the Vino Volo Wine Bar. Yes, tomorrow this week of non-attachment ends, but I’m not returning back to normal. I’ll be stronger, will have persevered and better apt at adopting moderation.
This week of non-attachment hasn’t been all about wine; I’ve done a few things out of character. What I’d like to share is how I have brought the practice of non-attachment to my yoga mat this week. As a student first, I practiced with 3 different teachers this week and brought a non-attached “me” to the mat. For instance, all week I’ve practiced chair pose differently just for the sake of not being attached to my way of doing chair, or how I like doing chair pose. Sometimes a simple adjustment can change our entire experience in the pose. A different variation of chair pose grew on me and got more comfortable the more I did it, as I would suppose most things would.
As a yoga teacher, I taught non-attachment in my yoga class this week. Students’ downdogs were bigger, their bends were different, their chair different, and the movement from back to top and top to back of their mat was different. Things got a little messy and awkward, but things were also discovered, and a little space was created. The asana provided the physical workout, but the practice of non-attachment to their way of doing a pose developed awareness, openness, and even a new way to do it that they now like better.
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 this paragraph was about your yoga practice AND life, so if your mind was reading it and you weren’t applying what you were reading to your yoga practice, then I ask that you go back and re-read this paragraph again with your yoga practice in mind.
When I talk about being okay with everything not being okay, 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. Furthermore, recognizing an attachment, or more importantly, an unhealthy attachment, and simply just taking back your power!
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, I encourage you to 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 like I did once throughout an entire yoga class, and knowing it was inside out!
Play with the retraining your brain to be okay with everything not being your version of okay. Try a week of practicing non-attachment and see what you discover. 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, and on your yoga mat!
As a student, I have taken many different types of yoga classes, and the classes that leave me feeling like I got a great workout and work-in, feeling empowered and accomplished are the power vinyasa and Baptiste’s Journey Into Power classes. When I take a sweaty vinyasa power class, I’m challenged and receive a full body workout with optimal results. Vinyasa power classes leave me feeling more connected, centered, aware, accepting, present, peaceful and in general, mentally and emotionally better. No matter how many times I do the same pose, there’s always room for growth and adjustment. Some days I modify and some days I’m taking an advanced version. Some days I feel like a graceful swan or a powerful badass, and some days not so much. My yoga practice is a continual unlearning and learning that requires stepping up to the edge of my comfort zone by being physically and mentally challenged. Baron Baptiste teaches us to put our focus on what we want to transform, the areas of our life we want to change or where we want to grow in our practice. The effort made on the yoga mat, both physical and mental, builds inner strength and helps us through life’s challenges, thus transforming our way of being. B.K.S. Iyengar said that it is through the alignment of his body that he discovered the alignment of his mind, self and intelligence.
More difficult than the physical asana is often bringing the yoga practice off the mat and into our lives. Along with meditation and prayer, Baptiste Yoga encourages self-inquiry, which in my opinion, is the most challenging work. Self-inquiry requires an inner listening and leads us to a better understanding of ourselves. It peels back layers, tears down walls, sheds light on things we’ve buried deep down, and it gets messy and uncomfortable. The self-inquiry part of my practice has helped me work through grief and dismiss negative beliefs and unhealthy thoughts. I’ve discovered joy, gained self-love, and have become more authentic, enabling me to empower others and better connect to my students and people around me. All this transformation starts with awareness and connection to self on your mat through the challenge of holding or flowing through the vinyasa power asana.
When students are on their mat practicing yoga, the first thing that must go is their thoughts. Yoga is a feeling practice, not a thinking practice, so it requires you to come out of your head and into the physical sensations in your body, as you work on breath and focus. The depth of your practice depends on your mindset, your connectedness to self and your willingness to learn, both the postures and what the postures teach you about yourself. And, regardless of how many times you have done a particular pose, there is always the smallest adjustment that can make a big difference in your experience in that pose. During yoga class, you’re not just practicing breath, movement and stillness. As you hold postures, flow through Sun A’s and Sun B’s, and meet with resistance and fatigue, you also are practicing patience, perseverance, integrity, compassion, acceptance and more. All these things follow you off your mat and into your daily life.
Your yoga mat should be a place to not only get a physical workout and sweat, but also a non-judgmental, non-critical and safe space to practice, focus and breathe. As our awareness grows in our practice, our postures grow. We connect to our center and we start to honor ourselves. From that center we find our truth, and from that truth, our words, thoughts and actions flow out of us, often with more compassion and humility.
Like my mission statement states, my yoga students receive more than a physical workout; they receive connection and inspiration to guide them along their journey of physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation, both ON and OFF their mat. Through focus on breath and presence on your mat, doing the physical asana and the inner work, my classes will make you stronger, physically and mentally, more flexible, and overall, a better version of yourself. It is hard because what doesn’t challenge us doesn’t change us.
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.
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.’’’
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.
*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.
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.
Deepak Chopra says that no matter the challenge, in any situation, you can always go to your state of being. “You 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Downward facing dog engages your whole being. It calms your nervous system and works on overall flexible strength. It decompresses your spine, tones and strengthens your arms, opens the arches of your feet, sculpts and lengthens your thighs, and is an amazing shoulder opener.
Alignment of Downward Facing Dog:
You should look like an inverted V.
Contract and activate your quadriceps. Press your thighbones back behind you.
Pull your hips back and tilt your tailbone up.
Pull your belly toward your spine.
Press your arms down and forward. Drop your shoulder blades down your back, externally rotating, palms should be flat pressing your mat forward, and pushing your chest toward your thighs.
Spread your fingers and place weight into your knuckles, not your wrists. Press down through the knuckles of index fingers, not letting the weight fall off to the pinky sides of hands.
Gaze between your feet. Breathe.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.