Satya and Communicating with Compassion

"Satya, means ‘truth’ or ‘not lying’. When we live in our truth, we are honest with our feelings, thoughts, words and deeds" (pulled this definition from a great article @ princetonyoga.com* full citation below more reading).

Aaron and I just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary in June. We started dating when I was just 19, so we have been together for around ten years--about 1/3 of our lives. 

We are generally pretty complacent about our relationship--always talking about how and why it's so good. But, just like every other person in any kind of relationship (friends, family, lovers), we are constantly working on our communication skills.  Before I delve into my thoughts on this, I want to be clear that I am not an expert on this. I mess it up all the time, but just like any other person, I am practicing. I constantly remind myself, "Okay, Jessica. Speak from your heart...." Okay, so here we go.

I can't exactly speak for Aaron on this, but for me, a huge part of being able to speak with Aaron, to really express how I feel, is just being able to honestly talk with myself first. This really applies to talking with anyone--partners to coworkers. Being able to to communicate starts a the most basic inner level of being able to communicate with yourself. 

Can you actively listen to yourself? Like really listen? Can you tap into your youness? Like tap into the place in you (beyond your ego) that we refer to when we say "Namaste"--your well of universal truth. For example, ask yourself, "What do I want?" and record your answer quickly. Now, ask yourself, "What do I really want?" Maybe your answers are the same, but I find my second answer usually reflects my true self or my honest self (my non-ego self) more accurately. 

Okay, so satya is very important for communicating with yourself--getting in tune with what's really important and what really matters. Only when you have been honest with yourself and you have filled your well with truth and love can you then authentically communicate with someone else. 

Communicating with someone else:

Step 1: Be honest with yourself

Step 2: Drop from judgement down to empathy and understanding

Once you have found your Satya and filled your well with self-compassion, it is much easier to open yourself up to other people, and really communicate with compassion. 

Step 3: Speak from your heart and be there for the other person wholly--even if it is just you. 

This type of mindfulness communication can be practiced in almost any context, but the mat is a great place to start. The body holds so much wisdom, and when we practice yoga we are actively trying to bring the wisdom of the body and the knowledge of the mind together. Can you open your heart and mind and be honest with yourself on your mat? Doing what feels right according to your deeper self (not your ego self)? Once you let go of the ego and leave self-judgement behind, then you can clear the path for compassionate communication with yourself, then with others. 

(A couple of shout outs that really helped me write this blog! Loved this article and their definition of Satya. It also has more info on the other yamas if you are looking for more yoga education: *http://www.princetonyoga.com/about/yoga-101-real-yoga-for-real-people/the-five-yamas/. And Scott Catamas--who I stumbled upon while looking through podcasts. This man is amazing and is an expert on compassionate communication. If you want to poke around on his website, here it is: http://lovecoachscott.com/)

Excuse me, but I'm on autopilot!

"Warrior II," the teacher says, and you automatically bend your front knee and reach the crown of your head up towards the ceiling as your back leg moves towards straight. The teacher continues to give cues on where you can check in with your body, but you already know them and sit your hips down to right where they feel comfortable.  After all, who knows your body better than you do? Certainly not your yoga teacher who you have practiced with five times who is suggesting a 90 degree angle in your front knee. Lastly, you bring your gaze over your front middle finger and then maybe start to zone out--detaching from your body and letting your mind float away to other important things like your lunch plans.

We all go on autopilot, so don't feel bad if you do this! We go on autopilot throughout the day at different times and just kind of do our work or whatever and just kind of cruise. When we do this in yoga, we can sometimes think, "oh, well, it's a good thing. I am in the zone. I am focusing on my breath..." well, you're right and you're wrong. Focusing on your breath is great and getting into the zone is also great, but what zone are you getting into? Depending on where your mind has gone when you're in the zone, you could be hanging out in the past. Just kind of performing things today like you did yesterday and the day before that letting your body sink into to it's muscle memory while your mind dives into your endless pool of thoughts. The late BKS Iyengar wrote in his book Light on LIfe, "Do not allow past experiences to be imprinted on your mind. Perform asanas each time with a fresh mind and with a fresh approach. If you are repeating what you did before, you are living in the memory, so you are living in the past." This little excerpt really stuck with me! How can we make progress if we only do what we know that we are good at because we did it well yesterday? 

We have all done so many warrior twos! We do them in almost every vinyasa class and in most other yoga classes, too! In fact, there are many familiar poses that we do many times in our practice. Whether it is our yoga practice or life practice. How can we find something new to breath through and focus on? We let our bodies tell us where we need to go and gently guide it there with encouragement from our minds...maybe through our breath, and bam! That's yoga--creating a union and partnership and fluidity between the body, mind, and breath. Ask yourself, "Where and how can I improve? This is where the fire of practice (tapas) ignites the lamp of intelligence, and self-knowledge (svadhyaya) dawns" (another gem from Iyengar). 

Next time you are doing anything (yoga, running, writing a report, anything) see if you can find something new about it--a new sensation, a new depth, a new perspective. See if it helps you come back to the present and get better at whatever it is that you are doing. Next time you are in Warrior II, see if you can get that 90 degree angle in your front knee (without hurting yourself) or maybe you find a deeper external rotation in your back leg. Whatever it is, see if you can "ignite that light of intelligence." Go inward and allow yourself to learn about yourself (one of the hardest tasks there is). Once you have learned all you can for that day or session, find a little contentment and send yourself some gratitude for all of your hard work! 

My Experience with Loving Myself

I love my friends. They’re the best. They are smart, beautiful, generous, and gracious. There are two reasons why I am talking about my friends in a post about loving myself. The first one is that we often think of treating others how we want to be treated, but when thinking about self-talk, I often think it can be the other way around. Would you tell your best friend or your mother how fat or ugly or stupid she is? I may not know you, but chances are that the answer is a resounding NO! The second reason I bring these beauties up here is because a lot of my friends are very very very talented. My husband and most of his friends have PhD’s. A large majority of my closest girlfriends also have or are working towards their PhD’s, as well. If my friends don’t have PhD’s, they are freaking amazingly smart. They have skills and talents that I am in awe of, and although I have arrived at a sound place where I want everything good and perfect my friends, sometimes I just feel like I can’t keep up with them--and this is where the blog post starts.     

Am I smart enough to be running my own business? Am I pretty enough to have my pictures on social media? Am I good enough at yoga to teach other people? The list goes on and on, and I am constantly reminding myself that the answer to all of those questions is YES. It is YES no matter who you are. If you want to do something, just do it (in the words of the wise Nike corporation). I tell my students all of the time in class, and I do because I constantly have to tell myself, too. I am right where I need to be in this moment, and, yes, it is ___________ enough. So, I guess, tip #1 from my experience: see if you can recognize your negative self-talk, thank yourself for reminding you of whatever it is, then flip it around or simply just put it away and think of something else (for example, “yes, I am smart enough, and now I am going to focus on writing this blog”).

Why do we all tell ourselves these fabricated stories when we know the truth that is within us? It has always fascinated me that I could always hear my true self behind my negative words of self-doubt. Sometimes we feel like we need to learn how to love ourselves again. I often think that I need to tell myself things so much so that I will eventually believe. In reality, I think I already knew them. When I start thinking about how great all my friends are, it is important for me to maintain my happiness for them and not compare myself to them. We are all beautiful and unique waves in an endless ocean of beauty and depth. I can only be the best version of me. So, I guess, tip #2 from my experience: as you recognize that you are comparing yourself to others, STOP! Be happy for the other person. Celebrate them, and then celebrate yourself for your outstanding and beautiful uniqueness.

Another fun and quick tip you could do right away: with a dry-erase marker, write on your bathroom mirror your mantra for the next day. It could be something like these: “I am smart and beautiful” or “I am strong and healthy” or “I love and respect my body.”

What do you do stop negative self-talk in its tracks? How do you get in touch with your true-self and feel the love? Let us know, so we can all try it out! 

May and the transition into SUMMERTIME

The high today is 90. Summertime in Durham, North Carolina (please read this with a southern accent)...sigh! My personal practice has been trying to stay cool in the heat the last couple of weeks as our temperatures have been rising. I have also been ramping up my asana practice, which is nice and hot (partly due to practicing at Hotasana near Southpoint in 100 degrees and partly due the heat and humidity that is settling in for the season). I LOVE me some heat while I am doing yoga. I HATE me some heat while I am trying to live a normal life off my mat. 

But, Jessica, don't we practice on our mats so that we can carry our lessons off of our mats into our everyday lives?

Well, yes. Yes, we do, but for some reason even though I love dripping sweat at the studio, dripping sweat at the grocery store, in the car, or at a restaurant is just not as fun! Traffic in cool weather = opportunity to slow down and smile. Traffic in hot weather = everyone is evil and I hate everything. 

This past week, I have been practicing finding space, taking breaks, going with the flow (albeit hot), and staying cool (mentally and emotionally).  

Finding space: As I was frantically trying to get some grocery shopping done the other day (not finding anything, getting frustrated with the lack of help and my own lack of grocery-shopping abilities), I felt my blood start to boil! I became more and more frustrated, and I had to find some space...immediately! Mental space, and just space space. I had to get out of the grocery store! So, that's what I did. I took some deep deep breaths. I breathed in and cleared my mind. I let my breath go and relaxed while maintaining that openness and clarity. This mini-breath meditation helped me a lot! It also helped a lot to leave Harris Teeter. 

Taking Breaks: Sometimes when you're too hot (physically and mentally), it's a really good idea to take breaks. I find this to be the case in my asana practice and in my daily life. I try to keep things at a manageable pace, but sometimes I get too tired, and need to take a break (I have a teacher who calls it a mini yoga vacation on the mat). For a long time growing up, I was always under the impression that taking breaks was for the weak--it was for the people who couldn't keep going or didn't have the mental or physical fortitude.  Well, now I know it is the opposite. Having the courage and discipline to listen to your body and honor it's needs are the signs of a person who is strong and willing to respect their body and practice. Although I am always looking for my edge, I wouldn't be able to embrace it if I didn't take the occasional break. 

Going with the flow: What does it really mean to go with the flow? Does it mean giving up or just accepting the way things are? Not really. I think it does mean letting go of trying to control things you can't (like other people and their reactions or accidents). I think it does mean trying to roll with the punches. I read somewhere that going with the flow is like actively trusting and cooperating with what the universe offers you. It is so easy to get frustrated and angry when you cannot let things go--when you cannot go with the flow.

I have a Saturday ritual. In the morning, I get up early and go to yoga. After yoga, we pretty much always go get a gluten free biscuit at Daisy Cakes. We usually sit around, have some coffee and chat, then meander home to do some cleaning up, walk my sweet dog with my wonderful partner, and then do something fun at night (dinner, movie, friends, drinks, etc). Such a perfect day, right!? I LOVE SATURDAYS. However, sometimes, the universe will throw a curveball at you, and (I am sorry to say, but) your plans don't mean shit to the universe. Last Saturday, I experienced a curveball, which threw off my plans, made me sad and frustrated, then depressed. Instead of letting it go and going with the flow, I fought the flow, which is a horrible, lose-lose game plan.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu 

Frustration and anger are normal. So normal. But letting them get the best of you is not a healthy practice. It is my practice during this saison de la chaleur to stay cool. To not let the heat and frustration bubble out of me and consume my being. Take some deep breaths. Find space. Find peace and clarity and coolness. Go with the flow.

“Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing...” – Chuang Tzu


CELEBRATE

During my Friday Power Flow classes, we have been talking a lot about celebration and what it feels like in the body--Friday is a great time to reflect on your week and each moment to find a little celebration in your heart. Celebrating can look like different things to different people depending on where and what they are celebrating. Sometimes we celebrate with rituals--taking a hot bath, getting a massage, or popping some bubbly with a group of friends. In any case, I think we can all agree that it feels good to celebrate.

I find myself trying to celebrate more on my yoga mat these days. Of course this practice ebbs and flows just like anything, but here’s the main gist: when I catch myself getting frustrated about not being able to do certain things on my mat, I try to flip it into something I can celebrate. First and foremost, I made it to the mat! Secondly, everything is worth celebrating. Whether you have gone one centimeter deeper in a stretch, nailed a new pose, tried something you know you can’t do yet or even backed off a little--you listened to your body and that is worth celebrating! Your body is always worth celebrating.

Things I like to celebrate: spending an afternoon with friends or family, talking to the checkout clerk at the grocery store (or any other sweet interaction with a stranger), trying a new yoga pose, cuddling with my doggie, taking a walk and enjoying the weather (rain or shine), taking a picture of a mother and daughter in the Duke Gardens, helping someone find where they parked their car, someone helping me find my keys--all of these moments connect us to our humanity, to the universal energy that flows between us. As the french like to call it, the "joie de vivre." A happiness and excitement about life.

 

Whether I am celebrating myself, my friends, or something else, I get a very similar feeling in body. I start to feel very alive. I feel some tingling in my chest, the corners of my mouth start to rise a little, and my blood seems to run a little more smoothly. If I could put these feelings into words, they would be joy, gratitude, fulfillment, pride, happiness, excitement, trust, relief, and warmth.

One of the nice things about celebration (much like any other sensation) is that you can cultivate it no matter what you are doing--there is always something to celebrate! Similar to thinking of things that you are grateful for, you can simply think of some things that are worth celebrating. There are thousands of moments that we can take time to honor and celebrate. It is just a matter of finding them and paying attention to them.  Next time you are feeling frustrated, try tapping into the powerful energy of celebration and perhaps it will help you feel lighter and happier.

 

art by http://jeanettagonzales.com/2013/04/joie-de-vivre/

art by http://jeanettagonzales.com/2013/04/joie-de-vivre/

7 STRETCHES TO DO AT YOUR DESK...right now!

We all get tired at work. Feeling the “afternoon slump” at all hours of the day is more normal than you would think. Staring at screens, sitting down, and slumping over our keyboards has become the norm for around 8 hours every day . . . and it’s a surefire way to feel mentally and physically exhausted. Don’t fret, though! There are lots of ways to build energy at work (and they don’t need to involve a three o’clock trip to the coffee maker or routine facebook checks). You can take a quick walk around your building, drink a big cup of water, or even do some quick yoga moves right at your desk!

Stretching out is a great way to energize your body and mind. It gives you a momentary mental vacation, reverses some of the sitting and stillness, and increases circulation to your entire body! Try some of these stretches for a little shot of energy:

Wrist Stretch:

DSC06224.JPG

Give your wrists a break! It is so common to build up wrist and forearm stiffness from typing all day. Sitting at your desk, reach one arm out in front of you (as if you were reaching out to accept a gift). Then continuing to open the hand, reach your fingertips down towards the desk/ground (or up towards the ceiling). Gently hold your outstretched fingers with your other hand and slowly guide your fingers back towards your elbow. Take three full inhales and exhales on each side.

 

 

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Seated Cat/Cow Stretch:

Your spine has some natural curves, but sitting at a desk can stress your back out (as we all know). Sitting at your desk, place your hands on your knees or thighs. Taking a deep inhale, bring your gaze towards the ceiling as your arch through your back and your chest reaches up towards to the ceiling as well. As you start to exhale, pull your belly in towards your spine and bring your gaze to your belly button--rounding through the back making a C-curve. Take three rounds of these cat/cow stretches, using your breath as your guide.


Seated Twist:

Twisting is great way to relieve stress and stretch your spine. Sitting in your desk chair, place your right hand on your left knee and your left hand on your armrest or around the back of your chair. Pull your belly button in towards your spine as you lengthen out and reach the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Then, exhaling, you can use your arms to find a twist that feels good for you. Make sure you do this in both directions and hold each one for 3-5 breaths!

 

 

Side-Body Stretch (from seated or standing):

Either staying seated or coming up to stand, just reach your right arm up towards the ceiling (letting your left arm relax by your side or gently grasp your opposite wrist). As you’re ready, reach your right arm towards the left side of the room over your head (kind of in the direction of where the ceiling meets the wall). Pull your belly gently inward and maybe start to shine your chest up towards the ceiling. Hold here for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side.

 

 

Reverse Plank Pose:

Shoulders have a tendency to roll forward when sitting at a desk. This stretch will help open them back up! Come to stand facing away from your desk with your feet about 1-2 feet away from the desk. Place your hands on your desk with your palms facing down and your fingertips wrapping around the edge of the desk. Start to lift your chest up towards the ceiling. If this feels good and you would like to walk your feet out slightly farther away from your desk, you can! Keep your chin tucked if you feel any tightness in your neck; otherwise, you can gently release through your neck and bring your gaze behind you--keep your shoulders relaxed down your back away from your ears. Keep lifting your heart towards the ceiling. Hold for 3-5 breaths (take deep inhales and exhales).

L Pose:

Stand facing your desk and place your palms face down near the edge of your desk. Slowly walk your feet backwards until you are a making a 90 degree angle with your body. Gently press your torso toward the floor. Keep your belly hugged in toward your spine to stay active through your core. Let your knees bend a little and then straighten again with every inhale and exhale (hold for 3-5 breaths).

 

 

 

Forward Fold:

Step away from your desk. Bend through your knees and fold your upper body over your lower body by bending through your hips. Keep breathing! Let your upper body hang heavy over your legs. Relax your neck, head, eyes, and jaw. If you would like to interlace your fingers behind your low back to find a deeper shoulder stretch, you can try that out, too. Otherwise, just let your hands rest on the floor or fold your arms and bring opposite pinkie fingers to opposite elbow creases. Take 3-5 solid breaths, then slowly roll up your spine letting your neck and head come up last. Gently roll your shoulders down your back once you are upright. Smile and return to your work-space!
    

Repeat any of these stretches throughout the day to refresh your mind and body. Be very gentle with your body: if any of these stretches hurts or causes pain, stop! For optimal results, make sure to focus on your deep inhalations and exhalations and move your body with your breath. And enjoy!

If you have any questions, or if you are interested in bringing Yoga @ Work (a 30 minute yoga break to keep your employees happy and healthy) to your office, email Jessica directly at jessica.collette@gmail.com or visit: www.jessicacollette.co/yoga-work for more information.

This post was originally published in CurvyGirlHealth: http://curvygirlhealth.com/7-stretches-to-do-at-your-desk/

 

On Grounding

When we think of grounding, we often think of feeling physically connected to the earth or to the surface below us--a very comforting feeling, for sure. There is a lot to be said for feeling the solid ground below your feet. However, there is more to grounding than feeling that physical connection. 

You can be grounded wherever you are right in your own body whether you are in the ocean, on an airplane, or in space (not sure how many astronauts read my blog, but you get the point). I have found through my own personal practice that there are two keys to this: 

1. Breath

Basic Muladhara symbol from sunnyray.org

Basic Muladhara symbol from sunnyray.org

2. Muladhara/Mulabandha

Breath? Okay. Check! Mula...what? Let's actually go over the weird one first. Muladhara is your base chakra. Mula = root, dhara = support/foundation. Chakras are energy centers in the body. Your root chakra is located at the very base of your spine. This is an important chakra for grounding because when this energy center is moving freely, we feel more connected to ourselves--physically and emotionally (or spiritually). I sometimes like to think of it in construction terms--it is the groundwork that needs to be laid in order for me to work on the rest of the building (all the way up to the top floor). Chakras.net has a really nice description, too: 

"Everyone admires the leaves and flowers of a plant, but hardly anyone takes any notice of the roots that lie hidden in the darkness of the earth. But the roots form the basis of the vegetation. From the sustenance received from the roots the sprout gains the power to penetrate the dark soil, grow upwards towards the sun and produce flowers, fruit and seeds."

One of the many ways this energy center can be tapped into is through Mulabandha, the root lock (bandh = lock). The root lock can be engaged by squeezing the inner thighs toward each other and lifting the muscles of the pelvic floor up and in toward the body, kind of like advanced kegel exercises (we can all think of other departments where these could come in handy). Strengthening this area of the body by more regularly engaging it will help you feel stronger and more connected to yourself.  Essentially learning how to find grounding and comfort within your own body--finding your own solid base (without the help of any other physical platform). 

Now let's add the all-powerful, life sustaining breath to the mix. Just take deep breaths :) through your nose. That's it! The root chakra is often represented by the color red. I like to imagine this color as a bright red light at the base of my spine and with every inhale, I breathe deep into my body and let the color grow brighter and stronger and with every exhale, I imagine the light circulating the base of body--it's warm, comforting, and grounding. 

This exercise of engaging the root of your body and finding your breath could be a 20 minute meditation or 5 seconds while you gather yourself at your next holiday party. With enough practice, you can start to feel grounded anywhere because you will find the sensation within your own body. 

At your next seasonal soiree or family gathering, notice if you are staying grounded and true to yourself and your body. If not, take a few moments to find your breath and your root connection. You'll often hear people say, "come home to your body." Well, I think this is what they mean. Stay present and grounded in your own body, and you will feel at home no matter where your travels take you. 

 

 

Community & Giving Thanks

After taking a long time off (long time) from the blog, I have decided to return with a little insight on giving thanks and community. Around the holidays we often think how we are thankful or grateful for our friends and family...because we are. Community is such an important facet of being truly happy, and I am always feeling so #blessed (haha, jk), but really grateful, for my dearest community. I am often so overtaken with my love for my family and friends that I forget that I am part of the community, too. 

We live in a culture where it is socially frowned upon to say something like, "I am grateful for my body" or "I am grateful for my ability to _____" because it sounds arrogant or self-involved. I guess my reason for writing this short little blog post is to say that it's not arrogant or self-involved. It is loving yourself. There is a big difference between loving yourself/having confidence and trust in yourself and being self-absorbed.  "They" always say you can't love someone else until you love yourself fully, and I think it is the same for gratitude (they both come from the heart). 

I recently listened to a Ted Talk about gratitude with David Steindl-Rast, and it went into detail about living a life full of gratitude and love. Taking every moment as an opportunity to be grateful--to fill your being with love and gratitude (for yourself and then for everyone and everything else around you). You constantly give love and gratitude to your community, but you are part of that community. You want your sister to love herself as much as you love her and vice versa..so start doing it! 

Tomorrow, when you are going around the table to say what you are thankful for, don't forget about yourself--there are a million and one things to be grateful in this world or even at your dinner table alone, but it starts with you. You are awesome and you are the perfect version of  you (inside and out), and that is definitely something worth being thankful for. 

November 26, 2014

5 Reasons to Salute the Sun

Surya Namaskar A or just a basic sun salutation has helped me get through many a difficult situation. Sometimes you need to get warmed up quickly, other times you need a little grounding. Here are the 5 reasons that I love sun salutations:

image from http://empowermentyoga.wordpress.com/

image from http://empowermentyoga.wordpress.com/

  1. You can do them pretty much anywhere--if you have a space the size of a yoga mat, you can do some quick or not-so-quick sun salutes. Traveling to a different continent? No problem! They can be done on the airplane (if you don't mind some funny looks). In a hotel room? In your bedroom? At the park? Sun salutations are always there for you. 
  2. They are relatively easy to remember. They only consist of a handful of different poses, so between your muscle memory and your super smart brain, they are generally pretty accessible. Remembering or wanting to remember a whole flow is sometimes not ideal, and sometimes you need a quick workout (busy day, traveling, stuck at the office, etc).
  3. They warm you up quickly. You are really moving a lot when you do a sun salutation. There is a reason that they have always been one of the first things to do when practicing yoga for thousands of years. They get your blood flowing and heart pumping, which is a great time to practice your breath and get you nice and limber to do all the other crazy and fun yoga poses you could ever want to do!  
  4. They are incredibly grounding. They bring your mind to your body through your breath. Sometimes sitting down for meditation is not in the cards (especially if you haven't moved much all day). The last thing we want sometimes is to go home and sit and focus after a long day of sitting at a desk. But one of the first things we want is a little peace of mind and tranquility, which focusing on sun salutations can bring you! They can be an alternative to meditating or maybe a pre-meditation practice--either way, they don't take long; they feel good, and...
  5. They are fun!

Why do you love sun salutations? Better yet, do you love them? Do you ever spice them up?

Speaking from the Heart

We all go in cycles of being more and less self-aware. Sometimes, we can really tune in to what our bodies, our hearts, and are minds are trying to tell us to do or what we need, but other times, not so much! When we can really tune-in and listen to our bodies and minds, then we can start speaking from the heart more! To me, speaking from the heart is like channeling empathy with everything that I say (maybe not everything I think at first, but working through it before I open my mouth). This can get a little tiring, but like everything else it takes practice. A part of this practice is to be gentle with yourself when you find yourself not speaking or thinking from the heart, which can happen..often! 

Heart Fractal!

Heart Fractal!

Several months ago, I noticed myself cycling into "self-unawareness." I was getting angrier, more jealous, and more irritable--all things that I value NOT being. It did not feel good, and that's when speaking from the heart really occurred to me.  Why wouldn't I be listening to my heart and channeling my compassion and empathy?  So, I asked myself these two questions:

1. How do I speak to myself?

2. How do I hope others will speak to me?

Yes, sometimes we are not the nicest people to ourselves, but we can certainly understand where we are coming from (most of the time). This can go the other way, too. If you have trouble with negative self-talk, ask yourself, "Would I talk to my mom or best friend or my partner this way?" If you are saying something mean, the answer is probably NO! 

When people start acting weird (or just not like their usual selves) or they do something that doesn't seem quite right, I will try to ask myself, "When do I do weird things that probably rub people the wrong way?" And I always come up with the same answer: either I am having a rough day or maybe I am under some weird pressure/stress that is making me act funky! We ALL experience distress, and we are all affected in different ways by it. But even when you are experiencing something stressful or someone else around you is, can you dig a little deeper? Can you feel your breath and your heart beat? Can you treat yourself and that person with empathy and love? 

The more you speak from the heart, the less anxiety you will have! If you say things out of love, you will probably ask yourself less, "What was I thinking when I said that!?" or "Why did I say that?!" Because you will know why you said things and whatever you said was meant to be a direct communication from your heart to the listener's heart. 

Speaking from the heart isn't always about responding to negativity with love! It just went there for me today. It is also just about letting your true self be heard. When was the last time you told your friend or partner a reason why you are grateful for them or how good they are at something? Your heart feels that all of the time, but how often do we verbalize it? Last time you looked at someone with admiration and respect and love, did you tell them? I have just started practicing letting my heart open up to friends and family a little more, and it feels great!

Anahata Chakra (or Heart Chakra): "In Anahata one makes decisions ("follows one's heart") based on one's higher self, not the unfulfilled emotions and desires of lower nature. As such, it is known as the heart chakra. It is also associated with love and compassion and charity to others" (wikipedia.org).

Anahata Chakra (or Heart Chakra): "In Anahata one makes decisions ("follows one's heart") based on one's higher self, not the unfulfilled emotions and desires of lower nature. As such, it is known as the heart chakra. It is also associated with love and compassion and charity to others" (wikipedia.org).

Having trouble putting your feelings into words? Try filling in these blanks next time you are wanting to express your heart:

You are so amazing at ___________. It is so cool that you know how to do that!

I am really grateful for your ability to _____________. I don't know what I would do without it!

Do you realize how good you make me feel when you say/do __________________. 

Thank you for being so _____________________. You are the BOMB.COM. 

CON-FIDE-NCE

The World Cup is cramping my blog style! Here is a very late post on confidence (something that keeps popping up in my life in the last couple of weeks).

Public speaking, driving, yoga poses, asking for help, or trying something new or really doing anything. What do all of these random things have in common? They all require confidence and trust that when you take your next step everything will be fine. Building up confidence...not easy.

How many times have you talked about or just wondered about the difference between confidence and arrogance? If I am too confident, I am arrogant? Will people think I am arrogant if I am confident? I get this little voice in my head when I am building confidence, "if you are too confident, you will become arrogant!" Thanks to Bill Hader in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then another voice comes into my head, "Whoa! PUMP THE BREAKS!" Arrogance is completely different than confidence, but I have always reminded myself that it is a fine line to walk. Well, it's not quite as fine as I was thinking actually. 

One of the definitions of confidence (according to google) is "a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities." Vocabulary.com describes confidence as "a feeling of trust and firm belief in yourself or others." 

Annnnnnd the definition of arrogance at Merriam-Webster's website is "an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people." 

*Reflecting*

Appreciating and trusting your own natural energy and/or the energy of the people around you or trusting in the truth and energy of the universe is where confidence can be found. On the other hand, believing that your energy is more valuable or somehow better than others' is where arrogance lurks. These are pretty different feelings. There is no trust nor appreciation in arrogance. Having trust (con-fide-nce) in the universe (or god or love or the energy or whatever you want to call it) and experiencing that feeling of fullness and support is where confidence begins to build a foundation within you. 

I love the phrase "exuding confidence." Now whenever I think about trying to exude confidence, I think about exuding trust--trust in myself and in the support and energy I receive from the universe, friends, and loved ones. 

There are different ways to build confidence. As always coming back to the breath and bringing the mind back into the body can always help. I like doing this while imagining a bright light radiating from my body and connecting with the bright light of the universe. Some people like to find the connectedness and trust with the universe through nature, yoga, running, singing, church, or swimming in the ocean. What is your way to connect and build confidence?

Courage, Compassion, and Sitting with Fear (in a yoga studio)

FEAR! When I think of the word fear, I think of the most extreme types of fear like--actually, I am not going to list them, you can probably think of your own. 

Luckily, when I first started doing yoga I was in high school, so my prefrontal cortex didn't stop me from doing anything (the non-scientific definition of the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps a person make smart choices--it's not very developed in your teen years). Fast forward several years to my first real yoga class out of college (as a real adult--haha, right?). I walked into the studio and set down my mat on the floor. As more and more people started to pile in onto their mats, my shoulders started to reach for my ears, and I became more and more nervous about practicing yoga with so many more experienced yogis (and of course, I was some sort of impostor). So, I rolled up my mat and walked right back out the door.  I feel good that I made it through the doors in the first place--they say getting there is the hardest part. Sometimes people can't even bring themselves to do that. This didn't just happen once. It happened several times. Every time, I would nervously head for the door. Even when my now husband (then boyfriend) went with me and supported me 100%, I still felt scared enough to walk right back out the door. 

taro taylor

taro taylor

It can be intimidating and scary going in to a yoga studio. There are a lot of really bendy people in really tight spandex. After a couple of attempts, I finally made it through some classes. What I failed to remember in the beginning, and honestly sometimes fail to remember even now, is that everyone has a different journey (yes, I am saying journey). In life, and especially in yoga, everyone is different. We all have different practices. We all have strengths and we all have things we are still working on. Some poses may never be attainable, but others will be. By just participating in the class in general, you are asking yourself to do something unfamiliar, uncomfortable (in more ways than one), and frightening, but you do it anyway. Why?

COURAGE!

COURAGE!

Enter a different kind of fear. If you are a human being, you know what it is like to experience your edge. No one likes getting pushed to the edge--it's scary and stressful. Being in a yoga class, you are constantly being encouraged to sit on the edge of your very own personal physical and emotional precipice. Stretching so deeply, moving your whole body with strength and grace while focusing on the breath can sometimes be amazing, even enlightening, but can often just be stressful. This is where the courage comes in. Courage being the ability to face your fears; to sit with them and breath through them. Facing your fears, peering over the precipice, not eliminating the precipice entirely, is where your courage starts to build. Having the courage to walk into the room, having the courage to try something new with your body, and having the courage to start to quiet your mind and only focus on your own practice. This is where the compassion comes in. While we are building this courage, we are giving ourselves permission to be afraid, and we are not beating ourselves up over being afraid. We begin to treat ourselves with compassion and love. Maybe you are not literally thinking about compassion or courage as your are trying to breath in your pigeon pose, but you are giving yourself the space and cushion to go deeper, to experience your edge, and to feel fear.  A dear friend once told me, "If only could you see yourself in the way that the universe sees you." The mat is great place to start to catch glimpses of that. Love yourself the way the universe love you, as an imperfectly perfect being, and the courage that you channeled slowly turns to compassion.

My little sister, Danielle, and me!

My little sister, Danielle, and me!

As I was talking to my little sister last night, I found myself listening to my own advice. In yoga, you can always be stronger or more flexible. You can always do a pose with slightly better alignment. Same thing applies to everything--you can always go a little further. You will never be able to do it perfectly because depending on how you look at it, either there is no perfect or you are already doing it perfectly. You can know where you want to go, but on your mat, you can love yourself every hard step of the way. There is a safe place for you to find fear, embrace it, build your courage, and find your compassion. 

I Am Not Participating!

Whenever my parents come to visit us, we make a trip to Costco and use their membership card to stock up on several key items (kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and San Pelligrino (things that are usually too expensive to buy elsewhere). Well, I am not sure if you know, but Sundays at Costco are crazy! People are literally running into each other left and right! As we were waiting in a line that zig-zagged through other lines to check out, they opened a new cash register. Enter complete chaos. About ten people and their boat-sized shopping carts started to push and run (yes, run) through the existing lines to get the chance to checkout a little faster. In the meantime, people are using firm tones as other people are bumping into them, heals are being snipped by the bottom of the carts, toes are getting run over. I saw one lady pushing her cart  towards the conveyor belt while holding onto the cart behind her to prevent it from mowing her over. It was getting real. While our jaws were dropping to floor in amazement, the woman in front of us in line looked back and said, "What's happening?! Oh, they opened a new line. I am NOT participating." We all had a good chuckle. We weren't participating either. It was nice waiting in line chatting with each other, and we all thought the line was going pretty quickly anyway. I smiled and reflected on what it means to participate or not...

Transient

Every day we make decisions on how and when and where we want to participate. Sometimes we don't have much of choice or we have already made the choice and we are now participating as a result of that past-made decision like some of us have to make a morning commute, do the dishes, provide for our family, pay our taxes, etc. These are all ways in which we participate to some extent in the social system. Maybe sometimes we don't like doing those things, but we do them with relatively little complaint and experience the good stuff on the way (like the morning light in the trees on the way to work, the warm water on your hands while doing the dishes, watching your family grow with your support, or getting a good public education).

Things are always going to be happening. Life never stops happening, so it is up to us on how we want to participate. 

 It's so damn easy to get sucked in to the situation at hand and get frustrated or mad or anxious, whether you are having a particularly hard time with a certain yoga pose, your boss is yelling at your, or your fighting traffic to get home for a date. And sometimes it can be just easy (if you can remember, which isn't so easy) to take a step back, a deep breath in, and say, "I am not participating." I am not participating in the craziness. I am participating in the way that I want to participate. In a way that will make things go more smoothly, that will take me where I want to go with less stress


Letting Go...Start Small

How many conversations do we have with friends about needing to get rid of old clothes, old shoes, clean out the fridge, and so on? Yes, sometimes it is just a matter of finding time, but isn't there all too often the voice in your head saying, "I might need that someday" or "I've always loved that shirt even though I haven't worn it in 2 years" or "that yoghurt might still be good (ew, but we all do it!)." I had two separate conversations about closet purging this weekend alone, and I didn't bring either of them up! 

The practice of letting things go can be so difficult. Even letting go of the small things--the lotion under your bathroom sink, an old t-shirt, or that special liquor from your trip to Europe 4 years ago that you will never drink.  We become so attached to material items because of the memory that they represent or the money we sank into them. It's very real and can be very hard to just say "goodbye." But noticed I said "sank." It's a sunk cost (you already spent the money, and you are not going to recoup it whether you use the item or not), and the memory is never going to go away even if the item does. 

Just letting go!! Marta and me at the Grand Canyon! 

Just letting go!! Marta and me at the Grand Canyon! 

It's never logical, so don't try to make sense out of it, and some of us have a hoarding-nature a little more strongly than others of us, and either way it is okay. It's all very intricately tied together with our sense of self, our desires to be comfortable and to be prepared. It is driven into us from day one that the more stuff we have, the happier we will be. But let me ask you this: did you fall into a deep depression the last time you cleared out the closet? I would be willing to wager that you actually felt the opposite! Freedom! Levity! Joy! And perhaps a sense of non-attachment.

I have found a good approach to letting go is to do what you feel comfortable with a little bit at a time. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

Confronting the material things can sometimes be easier than the thoughts (like I'm not good/skinny/tall/smart enough) or maybe the grudges (he lied/wronged/screwed me) that you've been holding on to, so maybe just start with that old lotion bottle or hair spray that you never use and just see how it feels. Take a deep breath through the nose and then just let it out. Let go of the breath. Let go of the lotion and feel that much lighter. 

Sometimes just releasing a little bit of tension can be the best thing to let go of. Taking a walk or a jog to physically let go of some steam is a great way to practice non-hoarding--letting go of your work day so that you can enjoy yourself and your evening. Or just finding a comfortable seat (at your desk, at the kitchen table, the couch, or your yoga mat). Take a deep breath in, hold onto it for a couple of savored seconds, and then send it on its way. As you breath out, notice the warmth of the breath as it leaves through your throat and nose. Also notice that as your breathe out, if your shoulders relaxed a little further down your back or if your jaw loosened up a little more. 

Aparigraha (non-attachment or non-hoarding) is one of the five yamas in yoga. By practicing with the small unwanted things in life like stress and old shirts, we prepare ourselves for the big ticket items like letting go of the ego or our youthful wrinkle-free faces or anything else that you can imagine that someday you might need or have to say farewell to. Non-attachment is no easy task, but we can work on it daily with the small things. 

Say "good riddance!" to something small today and let us all know how it felt! 


Gratitude

Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you to my dear friends and family who have supported me on my transition into following my dreams and passion. I am so grateful for you, your support, trust, and love. I could not have taken the leap without you all. 


One of my favorite things to talk about in class is gratitude. Cultivating a strong sense of graciousness and gratitude helps you to plug into life that much more--to really connect with the energy of the community; to feel what you share with others. Taking this practice to the mat helps me to fine tune it and gives me a chance to really reflect on it, which is sometimes a process that can be easily forgotten! Focusing on and experiencing negative things is a reality for everyone, but the first step is to realize it and then maybe counter it with gratitude. Sometimes I just start out thinking about the immediate things I am grateful for like my functioning body and mind, the time I have to practice, my friends and family, being part of a community, and from there it is easier to expand my thinking to other more general things (like having general safety, people who love me, planet earth, the warmth of the sun, etc).

It is often said that if you are thinking about what you are grateful for, you cannot be feeling fear or anxiety. Not only does gratitude just make you feel good, it has some deeper implications that can fuel your journey to contentment and stillness. Tapping into the graciousness of the universe and feeling truly supported by it presents a feeling that is sometimes hard to hold onto because it is so abundant and so beautiful.

Aspen trees. A symbol of interconnectedness. Each tree is independent, yet they are all one tree. 

Aspen trees. A symbol of interconnectedness. Each tree is independent, yet they are all one tree. 

"It is, as the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, the gift of the whole universe. When you stop and really look, you see that you are supported continuously in literally countless ways. This is the highest wisdom of yoga, the truth of interbeing, of no separation" (Frank Jude from www.yogajournal.com).

It also has physiological consequences (like a stronger immune system and the reducing the risk of coronary artery disease)! The mind-body connection of gratitude is strong. According to a UMASS Dartmouth article, people who practice gratitude are more likely to have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, energy, and sleep! 

Some outlets for the expression of gratitude:

1. Write down 3 things you are grateful for everyday or when you feel like it! 

2. Over dinner, tell your roommate or partner 3 - 5 things you are grateful for that happened to you.

3. Keep a gratefulness journal.

4. Write a note to your friend or a family member about why you are grateful to have them in your life. 

What are your favorite ways to express gratitude? Do you have a gratitude practice?

One last thought to reflect on. One of my teachers gave this poem to me in at a tumultuous time in my life, and it frequently reminds me to be grateful for things I don't naturally want to be grateful for:

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks