You know what they say when you “assume” something? Yep, it typically makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. Such were my assumptions about yoga-I was kind of an ass…
The assumptions I made about yoga were revealed to me throughout today after my morning started with a phone call from a friend who was shocked when she read in my post yesterday that I literally started yoga a year ago; she had assumed that I had taken a yoga break and was just coming back to the practice. Nope. I’m a newbie, I assured her. We laughed and shared our yoga stories over the phone and talked about the ways yoga has transformed our lives. She began practicing as a teenager and has a wealth of knowledge that I love to try and suck out of her! I in turn loved telling the story how just a year ago I had assumed that yoga was just about stretching and physicality. When I first walked into the studio, I was a beat-up and injured runner who needed to shed the 20 pounds I put on in a short 3 months time, (it really was a ton of fun gaining it, though!). I was also near completion of a 4 month physical therapy stint on my neck and shoulder to try to squelch my migraines and shoulder pain, and I had a chronic Achilles issue that had plagued me for the last 7 years since I gracefully fell off a curb that I didn’t let heal properly, (go future!). It is true that I have not a graceful bone in my body, thus why I have the title “Class Klutz” of the Monticello High School class of 1983! In other words, I was a hot mess!
All I wanted that initial day was physical transformation-and fast. I wasn’t looking to do slow/meditative yoga, (why would I not want a work out?), so I hopped right in to the upper level classes. After all, I was an athlete, right? My assumption that yoga was easy was wrong-it kicked my ass right into the beginner level class which was where I was meant to be. Also, my assumption that yoga was only physical “exercise” was also very wrong. As I told my friend this morning, one day, while laying in Savasana, I started to cry and I couldn’t stop the tears and the running nose. I was SO embarrassed! Then, a little while later, the tears started to flow while in 1/2 Pigeon Pose. In June, when my mother fell and was in the hospital for nearly a week, I bawled like a baby every time I hit my mat. What in the heck was going on? Why was I crying all the fricking time? Why was my mind not obsessively chattering? Why was I starting to be kinder? Where had I gone?????
I’ll tell you where I went: far away! And I sure hope that old me stays far in the rear view mirror! She wasn’t the nicest of people. It didn’t take long for the transformation of my innards to begin taking precedence over the transformation of my body, and I liked it, having assumed that I wouldn’t. I found that as I set my head on my mat in Child’s Pose, I wanted to pray-to give thanks for all of the blessings I had been given. I would pray for those in need, for the beautiful transformation that was happening in my life, and I prayed for the entire world to experience this peace and beauty that I was finding. After all, I thought, all the needless anger and battles that people engage in could melt away if they could just set their foreheads on the mat and cultivate compassion and kindness toward all of creation. Even I was looking people in the eye and actually listening to them! I wasn’t staring past them trying to move on to the next item on my task list.
So what’s the point of assuming anything anyhow? When we assume, we’re usually wrong, right? Don’t we usually assume that the thing we’re thinking about is more grandiose, (and usually negative), than it really is? What’s the point of all that wasted brain power trying to assume what is happening or what someone else is thinking? Because more often than not, the truth usually ends up revealing something that is actually a million times better than we ever imagined. Welcome to yoga!
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and my 1 year anniversary of starting yoga. The reason I bring both of these things together is because for Lent I am removing myself from my personal Facebook page to focus more on the yogic pieces of my life that nurture and grow my spirit. I started a FB paged dedicated to yoga and healthy living a while back, but never took the time to invest in it, until now. I had reached an obsessional point at the computer and iPhone scrolling through FB checking for new updates when I was bored or even while talking with my friends or family. How, with everything I wanted to do, I wondered, could I be bored and even interested in spending so much time on FB? How could I be so rude that I didn’t pay full attention to people? Well enough is enough. The timing was perfect, so and I gave it up on a day when I was celebrating the anniversary of a life event that has changed me inwardly as well as externally.
It is time to read the plethora of books I have on my nightstand instead of perusing FB at night. Books that will remind me of the beauty of Jesus’s love and ultimate sacrifice for us during this Lenten season, and books that will grow my mind and spirit so that as I walk through this life, I will be a reflection of His peace, compassion, and love for all things.
It is time again to write here as well as in my well-loved recycled leather journal. It is time to make consistent time for my devotions. It is time to start my seeds for spring planting. It is time to breathe and reflect on all that I have been blessed with. In 1 short year, I have been transformed in mind and body through the practice of yoga. It has deepened and broadened my relationship with God and I have learned to quiet my mind and seek His voice. It has strengthened me physically and emotionally. I have learned calmness, kindness, and compassion. I have deepened my understanding in the fact that life is a journey and every step we take, pleasant or unpleasant, is there for a reason. I am learning, through friends and yoga, that the things we experience are not truly even good or bad; they just are, (thank you, Liz). You can’t have one without the other or life would be out of balance.
It has always been my goal to be His hands and feet each and every day, and to die having nothing more to give. I want to be all used up. I want to suck the marrow out of each and every day of this life.
Here’s to life and using each minute wisely.
It is not easy looking inside. As a matter of fact, it’s really a deflating and embarrassing feeling. The practice of svadhyaya is another one of the niyamas that I am learning about as I continue this adventure of yoga teacher training.
Svadhyaya is the process of being aware of your actions as they are happening as well as reflecting on your actions during the course of the day. Have you had times when you’ve had an immediate awareness that what you’re doing is something that you shouldn’t be, (gossip, not being truthful), and your brain clicks in that this is wrong, but then your body has to think about how to react. Do you stop gossiping or lying? How do you change the conversation you’re having? Is the person you’re with going to think your weird if you stop and fess up how you’re really not wanting to continue this conversation of gossip? It’s just so much “easier” to continue and tell yourself you won’t do this again. Right.
When I stop and think about my actions, two things happen: either I get embarrassed or proud. And then I struggle with feeling shameful, or conversely, wonder if my sense of pride is really my ego getting the best of me. I am a much different person than I used to be, and while I was never a mass-murderer, I wasn’t very kind. I yelled and screamed a lot, I took advantage of people for the sake of “business,” I lied, I coveted just about everything that everyone else had, and last but definitely not least, I didn’t love my neighbor as myself. Now, my actions in these areas are quite different as I have really allowed myself to open up and love people….really love them. I am more careful with my words, I am very content with what I have, and I have stood on my ethical soapbox to the point where I have lost a job because of it. I am proud of these changes, yet is that pride a contributor to ego? How can I be proud without being egotistical? Awareness.
And my actions that aren’t so stellar? In what areas of my life now can I afford to be more aware of my actions as they happen? The first thing that I think of is my mouth, especially when on the phone and not being face to face with someone. I seem to lose my moral compass when I am on the phone and I easily slip back into negative talk about others. I swear, (oh my, do I swear!). I get agitated, angry, and vindictive., (and I enjoy doing so until I hang up and think about it). I had coffee with an awesome man last week, and we talked of morals and values in relation to our work. He shared with me that over the last 7 years in his job, he has chosen to get up ever morning and ask for one simple thing in prayer, “help,” and has chosen to watch his words and align them with his values. Man, this is so hard! For me, there is also an element of peer pressure to this that I get uncomfortable with. How do you stand up for your values and say what is right when with others around you are being negative and saucy? It’s so much easier to just jump on the bashing-bandwagon and pile on the negativity and criticism instead of stopping and backing, or better yet, pointing out the actions of the group verbally. Awareness.
Another area of my life that I need to be more aware of is my thoughts. I have a very imaginative brain, and I can head off in a daydream state and blow the littlest element so far out of proportion that I soon become physically agitated and start to sweat. It’s truly so dumb! I’ve often wondered what the trick is to keeping my mind aligned throughout the day on goodness and truth because there has to be a trick to this…it’s just soooooooo hard! Awareness.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. I also know that I am not perfect. I will have thoughts and actions that aren’t in line with my belief of right and wrong, but I do know that the more I become aware of what I am doing and what I am thinking, the more I can change my behaviors. A few years ago, it dawned on me that if I ask in prayer at the start of each day to be His hands and feet, and I intentionally behave in that manner, I should become the person I want to me. In reflecting on svadhyaya today, I guess this really holds true. If I ask the Lord to be His hands and feet every morning, (perhaps I should add “His mouth,” as well), and I mirror my actions to match this, I should be able to put my head on the pillow each night knowing I haven’t hurt anyone and I have made the world a better place.
The 3rd Niyama I am reflecting upon in my own life is that of tapas, or self-discipline. The word “tapas” translate as “heat” and regardless of what I originally thought, it does NOT refer to whether or not my body prefers cold weather or hot. What it rather refers to is the internal discomfort that comes when breaking a non-worthy habit, (either behavioral or thought) in order to allow positive change to come about. Think about this for a minute…when was a time you tried to break a habit, like being a couch potato, or reducing the amount of caffeine that you consumed. Remember how it physically felt? I sure do! I remember when I first started to exercise and my body was so incredible sore, and the more I pushed my development, the more I hurt. Heck, beginning a consistent yoga practice last spring brought about incredible tapas not only in my body, but in my mind as well, and it was happening naturally!
I didn’t begin a yoga practice for my thought patterns-it was a strictly physical endeavor. Yet almost immediately, my thoughts began to change and I wrestled with all of the new light that was being brought into my being. Talk about internal discomfort! My old, perfectly fine ways of thinking, (or so I thought), were leaving me for better, bigger, more profound thoughts, and providing a great deal of questioning and reflection internally. This was, and still isn’t easy! The things I am learning and the awakening that is happening in my spirit is oddly fearful. It’s freeing, yet at the same time, being I cannot control it, I worry about where all this new love and mindfulness will lead. Loving is very vulnerable, and when you grow up learning only guarded love, this new unconditional love for not only for your family and friends but the world around you as well, is a bit like being naked.
Overall, I believe I practice tapas pretty well, but would really like to practice on a deeper level-it gets very easy for me to succumb to the desires of my surroundings in certain situations. For instance, I am a 100% full believer in eating a plant-based diet, yet when everyone around me has a bit of ice cream, I succumb even while knowing the living conditions of cows in many factory dairy farms. When it comes to exercising after work, many nights it’s easier to just admit to being too tired and lethargic from the day instead of doing what I should by lacing up the running shoes or going to my yoga mat.
I would like to be rock-solid in my actions of self-discipline instead of being full-on at times and lax at others. You know…that describes me pretty well; when I get something in my noggin, I go 100 mph, but then I start running out of gas. I get gas, find something new, go 100 mph, run out of gas, and the process repeats itself. My desire and goal should be to find a consistent practice of self-discipline to act in mindful moderation instead of living on a personal roller coaster. I think I need to lift this new revelation up in prayer and ask God for a bit of help here. After all, there’s nothing I can accomplish without Him!
As I start today’s post, all I can say is that I am SO glad I am not writing this post 10 years ago because if I had been, I would have lied throughout the whole thing because content was something that I knew of only by definition and not by practice.
Contentment, or santosha in Sanskrit, means that you are being present in your day to day and minute by minute life, which as we all know, whizzes by so fast that sometimes, we shut out the lights at night and have no idea what we have done. Santosha also means that we are happy and comfortable with where we are in life and that we not only appreciate the people and possessions in life, but more importantly, we appreciate who we are and where we are at as people. Are we thankful or are we looking for more-the bigger and better home, better car, better job? Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and see a reflection of beauty, goodness, and happiness?
Me? Do I practice a life of santosha or am I still beating myself up and looking for more? What do I see when I look in the mirror? Am I truly happy? When I am tempted to be harsh and judgmental toward myself, how can I shift that? What are some reminders I can create to help me stay grounded in the present moment?
Never before at any time in my life, have I been more happy, more grounded, more in love, more beautiful that I am right now at this very moment. I have the most amazing marriage, the most wonderful children, the truest and most solid friends, and when I look in the mirror, what looks back is a beautiful, mature woman who is strong, who loves her wrinkles and sags, and who loves life. I am happy. Truly happy. Now life is not perfect and there are struggles, but I know that God is in complete control of my life and being I believe in Him completely. I know that He has me sitting safely in the palm of His hands and will never let me fall. He will provide, and He will bless. I have no need to worry, only the need to praise and glorify His name in all that I do and all that I say. How could life get any better than that?
There was once a point in my life, where I always wanted bigger and better-more and more-and no matter how much I accumulated, it was never enough. My home was never good enough and neither were my possessions, friends or family. Isn’t that sad!? But today, I love my home, and it’s the same one I’ve had for 16 years. It’s funny what a different outlook can make! My possessions aren’t anything more than “things,” and my friends and family? Well let’s just say that as I have quit trying to fill my void with crap, my family life couldn’t be better and I have been blessed to strengthen old friendships and have met some of the best new friends that I could ever imagine. And the funny thing is that nothing has changed in my immediate surroundings but rather in my mind! I am content and peaceful. I am blessed, and I am so thankful that God has chosen me to be one of His. It is when this really sunk into my thick head did I let the pulls of this world go and look at what I had with gratitude and contentment.
So even if I slip and my daily practice of santosha eludes me for a brief period, my foundation is there and I am able to be present enough in mind to draw on that strength to get through the struggle and not let the world’s images and ways pull me down into its ever-spinning downward spiral.
I wrote the other day about the 5 yamas, or restraints, which apply specifically to how one behaves outwardly toward other beings, and because of that post, I really found myself since then intentionally thinking about everything I said, did, or thought in relation to those 5 yamas. What a wonderful revelation! As soon as I began to think negatively about someone, I remembered that I shouldn’t have violent thoughts about anyone or anything. As I opened the mail and happily saw the 25% Coach coupon, I remembered that the last thing I need is another handbag-(a combination of Brahmacharya & Aparigraha).
I’m far from knowing a great deal about yoga philosophy, but since this summer, I have been reading quote a bit, and while I knew about the yamas, never did the light bulb come on like it did after writing it down yesterday! There is something about my brain that needs to learn by reading followed by re-writing in order for it to really sink in.
So in the spirit of personal growth, I’m going to write about the next path of Pantanjali’s eight limbs, Niyama. There are five niyamas, or observances, that apply specifically to how one conducts themselves on a more intimate level in relation to their own behavior as well life regimens. Slightly differently from my last post, I’m going to write on one niyama at a time so I can really focus to think deeply about these personally related traits and how I am observing, or not observing them.
The first niyama is called saucha which translates as purity or cleanliness in reference to our behavior toward the outside world as well as the behavior we take toward our own bodies and health relating to what we consume and how we care for ourselves. I’m feeling confident in my lifestyle choices that saucha is an observance I regard highly; I am clean and really don’t stink up the yoga studio or gym too badly, I shower more than the normal human being, and my home is clean. In relation to my internal practice of saucha, I eat a vegetarian diet, (vegan, to even take it to a higher level), and I practice cleaning my body and detoxifying it through practicing yoga, walking my pooches religiously, running, and biking. Yep, I rock the saucha niyama. Right?
Not so fast. What again about my thoughts? Are they pure? Are they clean thoughts that contribute to an overall healthy mind? Some are, but unfortunately many are not. As a matter of fact, I really struggle with pure and clean thoughts. I have always been a daydreamer with a lot of brain-chatter going on in my noggin, and my mind will take one small thought and internally blow it up into some huge, completely false un-truth or negative situation. Why is it so much easier for our minds to steer toward the negative and adverse versus the positive and optimistic side of life? For example, in the last couple of days, there has been a lot of conversation about a job I held at an unethical company a number of years ago. As discussions around this past life have resurfaced, (mind you, there has really been nothing bad said), my brain has run rampant with negative thoughts and daydreams about situations that never even happened! I have manifested complete un-pure and un-clean thoughts about the people I worked for and have mentally made up situations that never even happened. Consciously, I don’t even realize I’m doing this until the movie playing in my head has become so negative that it deters me from what I’m doing or until I’ve broken out into a sweat and yank myself back to reality.
So while I am externally clean, my mind needs a bit of anti-bacterial soap, and I’m not quite sure how to do this—how to stop the chatter and the path toward negative thoughts. But any step is step in the right direction, so I have chosen to work hard at being more conscious about where my mind and mouth travels so that when they start to travel toward the negative, I can stop the train and turn it around. Maybe one small step at a time will lead me to a healthy and pure mind in the future.
When I began practicing yoga consistently this past February, it was nothing more than a way for me to stretch out my body and to heal my Achilles Tendons so I could run longer and faster than before. Never would I have imagined that this “means-to-an-end workout” would lead me to reflect more internally on my connection to the world and my place within that world. Remember, I did tell you I was becoming nicer!
One of the recent classes in our teacher training program has been on Pantanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path of yoga which is a step by step path to living a conscious life. How many of us can say that we go through our days truly living consciously? I know I don’t, and I want to change that. The first of the eight limbs is Yama, (rules of social behavior so we won’t have a harmful impact upon the world nor get tangled up in wrong relationships or posessions), and the second limb is that of Niyama, (rules of personal behavior). These two sets of principles go together and provide an ethical foundation for right living.
How does this pertain to me? After all, as I fly through my days, I think I’m doing pretty well and being a pretty good steward to the world around me. Upon closer examination, I can say that I am doing better than before in living a conscious life, but truly, there are quite a few excuses I seem to be making to keep me nice and safe living in the ways of the world and not that of God.
There are Five Yamas and 5 Niyamas in Pantanjali’s path. As I look to the five Yamas for this journaling exercise, and if I am truly honest with my self-assessment, there are some things I really need to work on.
Ashimsa, (non-violence), is the first Yama. I don’t eat meat, so I’m nonviolent. Right? I’m not mean to people, so I’m nonviolent. Right? But what about my words? What about the negative self-talk that I use when referring to fact that I should be perfect? What about the hurt I cause when I roll my eyes at my husband or kids? Or how about when I think vindictive thoughts about someone I am angry with? As I think about violence in this atypical way, I see that there is actually a deep reservoir of violence that resides in my heart that I want to change. What could this world look like without violence of a physical, emotional, and internal nature? Can you even imagine?
Satya, (truthfulness), is the 2nd restraint of the Yamas, and ouch, this one hurts to self-reflect on as my days are filled with non-satya just over little tiny things that really add up. And then there’s the point of how I am truthful. When I am truthful in telling my husband that he should change clothes because his are wrinkled and have pet fur on them, how was I truthful? Was I truthful in a non-violent way or did I create hurt? There is such a fine line for me here and I’m struggling with this element of truthfulness in all situations when it could cause discord to others.
Asteya, (non-stealing) is the third restraint. How many times have I taken that pen or stack of post-it notes out of the supply closet. How about when cramming 10 pounds of crap into a 5 pound bag and I’m late to a meeting? Am I not stealing time from the person I was to see? When I share my bad moods with others, am I not stealing from their joyous day? This list could go on and on for me and there’s no need to continue, only a need to be conscious and fully aware of the times where I am stealing something from someone, including myself.
Brahmacharya, (sensual moderation). This Yama is about moderation of those things we find enticing to us, and for me, there are just too many to mention. I easily get obsessed and I want my Oompa Loompa NOW! I want that handbag, (and yes, it’s a Louis Vuitton as you probably guessed), NOW! I want to eat and eat in excess for I LOVE, (and I mean LOVE) food. Put a good beer in front of me and any sense of moderation is gone because I love the taste of beer! Being a woman who struggled for 17 years with bulimia, I would dare say that my Brahmacharya needs a bit of work. I am definitely not moderate—I am a bull in the china shop and when something strikes me, I do it to an obsessive rate. I push and push to such an extreme that I become a burned out mess who needs recovery time just to get back on track with life, and this isn’t healthy. It’s so easy in our material and highly-marketed world to be wanting everything we see because it’s going to make us happy, (or so we think). For me, again being conscious of the underlying reasons that are making me act compulsively is going to be key for dealing with the times where moderation is a big, bad 4-letter word.
Aparigaha, (non-grasping, non-clinging, non-hording). R-I-G-H-T….. I am a clinger. I like safety. I like my possessions; after all, I’ve worked hard for them. Right? I am attached. I am attached to my home and in particular, my new leather couch. I am attached to money, or perhaps the fear of not having money which petrifies me. I ask myself what is want and what is need, and are the wants “things” that I am attached to? I think about Acts 2 : 42-47 and the people that devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and how they sold off everything they owned and lived a beautiful life in harmony with those around them. Also, Matthew 6 : 25-27 comes to mind when Jesus tells us not to worry about any aspect of our life because our Heavenly Father knows what we need and will provide. I really need to learn to let go!
I wonder how I would have answered these questions 5-10 years ago when my life was a chaotic mess of chasing the proverbial “dream” at any and all expense. There was a carrot dangled in the form of a paycheck, that once deposited, would solve all of my problems and life would change. Guess what? The paycheck came and life changed….for the worse, and it was the biggest and best blessing of my life! I am thankful that I’m not reflecting on this 10 years ago but am rather doing so now where I can pull on those past mistakes that have worked out for the best, and can put those tools learned to use now in continuing to life a life of devotion and love.