Always do your best. What you plant now you will harvest later.
In the yoga classes I’ve taught this past week, the theme I have been focusing on is “The Harvest”. The chosen reason is the time of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, especially where we live in New England. The purpose of this theme however is not about the crops we need to harvest before the first frost (which was last night), but all ‘seeds’ and ‘harvests’ for the future.
Not sure what it has to do with yoga? If you are still with me, please allow me to explain.
A seed is just a seed all by itself. A lettuce seed alone has nothing but the potential to become lettuce. If I plant lettuce seeds in the ground in the month of April (appropriate for our Connecticut hardiness zone), there is a decent chance it will grow lettuce. But if I plant a cucumber seed in April, it will absolutely not grow into lettuce, and there is a slim chance will grow at all. Cucumber seeds can only thrive after the last frost. Hence, it would be best to plant them in mid-May for any hope of having a cucumber in August.
So far I have a seed, dirt, and weather that will hypothetically allow me to harvest cucumbers. Seeds, dirt and weather are not that insanely different from the potential we have as humans to manifest goals or create the type of life we desire. In churches and other spiritual communities and texts we will often hear the phrase “As above, so below”.
What does that mean? It means the physical world is not all that different from the mental and spiritual worlds. Even though we can’t see those other worlds, the laws of nature are consistent.
Like seeds, our thoughts are just thoughts alone. The properties of a thought will only bring forth that thought. If I’d like to lose 10 pounds, it’s only a thought or wish until I do something with it. Additionally, wishing it will not yield me a promotion or the improvement of a relationship that I’d like to enhance… obviously. With me so far?
Next that thought is planted or ‘sown’ in my mind. The mind is not so dissimilar to the soil that we plant our seeds in. The thought that I would like to lose 10 lbs in a mind racing with anxiety, wrought with depression, or full with a stressed out ‘To Do’ list will only go into a abyss of other competing and negative thoughts. Similar to how planting a cucumber seed in sand, in the snow, or even in April; the mind’s condition would not be right to help a positive thought manifest into the raw potential it has.
This is where yoga comes in.
Yoga is not soley about moving around in different poses (or asanas). Yoga means to ‘yoke’. This sacred Sanskrit term is used to signify the connections between spirit, mind and body. Whether we are moving through poses, meditating, chanting, doing breath work, etc; what we are really doing is creating a connection of our physical body to our mind and spirit; creating a sense of equilibrium between all three – which are really one beautifully operating unit. It’s difficult to have anxiety when the mind, body and spirit are yoked in meditation or savasana (that last pose in most yoga classes where you actually enjoy laying around doing nothing for a few minutes).
When we are in balance, the mind is clear. When we sow thoughts in a clear mind, it is akin to planting seeds in proper conditions. When the mind is not clear, thoughts will still grow in murky conditions. These conditions often generate unwanted outcomes. For example anxious thoughts will thrive and create even more anxiety in a busy mind. The mind is constantly creating whether we get involved with what is put in or not. Analogous to how weeds will grow without involvement.
Yoga helps clear the mind through pointed focus and awareness. Focusing on breathing while mindfully moving from posture to posture in an average American yoga class (which is what comes to the minds of most when they picture yoga) helps us to stay in the present moment and pay less attention the wandering mind. When we are on the mat and feeling the slight shifts and sensations of our bodies, we are connecting our physical body with our inner selves. While sitting in a posture for a short while, if the body is relaxed and the mind wanders; it becomes very clear what is in there as thoughts arise.
A beautiful characteristic of yoga is that the habits we build on the mat will begin to stay with us off the mat.
A remarkable trait about thoughts is that you can change them.
If we don’t like what is coming up, we don’t have to actually keep thinking them. With a little practice of strengthening the mind, we are able to notice thoughts that aren’t aligned with the life we want and modify them.
Ignoring or changing unwanted thoughts and clearing our minds creates the proper soil and weather conditions to grow an aspired thought into reality. This will give us the boost to perform the last and third step of harvesting what we would like. That last step is the physical work.
If we plant cucumber seeds in mid-May and walked away… maybe we will have some cucumbers, but not likely. Chances increase if we ensure the seeds are properly watered, have the right amount of sun, and weeds are kept at bay – at least initially. As the season progresses and cucumber buddings begin to grow and get stronger, we still need to keep an eye on them; but weeds and unexacting sun and water levels are less likely to halt the progression of physical cucumbers.
We have to do the work. Once new habits are built and ingrained into our neuropath ways and routines, less focus needs to be put on sustaining the desired result. Keeping 10lbs off is easy with good habits because we essentially reap what we sow. Physically and mentally. If you don’t have a crop harvest right now, it only because you didn’t plant seeds and nurture them in the spring.
The laws of nature as we know it work the same in the mind/spirit world.
Yoga helps us to create the harvest (albeit “life”) we want by cultivating a healthy mind-body-spirit connection. The take home – mind your thoughts, as they can and will create the life and harvest you have.
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant
Robert Louis Stevenson
Today I woke up anxious. Physically I had a slight tightness in my chest. My heart felt like it was a little heavy, but the worst was my breath. I couldn’t help but sigh every few moments. Obviously releasing some kind of tension. I felt slightly lost. Not sure where my life is going. Not but an hour later I was laughing and feeling like wherever my life is going it doesn’t matter and I’ll get there as I need to.
These are the “Gunas”. Fluctuations that are normal in the universe. They are everywhere. In the weather, in our moods. It’s a universal law. What goes up must come down. What swings one way will swing the other.
The Gunas are a term I learned in yoga teacher training and were often discussed. It’s now a part of my regular vocabulary and thought process. We don’t stay in one mood forever. Nothing stays in its state forever. We are supposed to feel good and bad. It should be expected that good things as well as bad things will happen. Fighting it is what leads to suffering. In Buddhism a key tenant is that any attachment causes suffering. Even attachment to feeling one way (like happy), being attached to an outcome you want, or any objects/feelings/desires/etc. The Hindu tradition (yoga’s roots) describes the same concept but in a different way.
From Yogapedia: https://www.yogapedia.com
A guna is an attribute of nature, according to Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism, there are three gunas that have always existed in the world in both all living and non-living things:
• Tamas (darkness, destructive, death)
• Rajas (energy, passion, birth)
• Sattva (goodness, purity, light)
Here in our Western world we are not taught to think in this way. We seem to feel that if something goes wrong or we don’t feel well (mentally, physically or spiritually), that something is wrong with us. Imagine we were taught that both elation and depression are normal and to be expected? Neither will stay. Both are an experience of being alive. The more we attach to any experience (the good or the bad ones), the more we will ‘suffer’. Suffering really meaning anything from disappointment to despair.
I’m signed up for daily emails from Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest that wrote many books on spirituality. I recently finished “Falling Upward” which was amazing! Much of it was about how we need to fall in order to learn and grow. How opposite things are complementary and part of life. I will paste a quote from the Tuesday mediation.
“If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light, and it is not good to pretend that they are totally separate!”
Understanding the Gunas is one of the many ways I am learning to accept life as it is. When I remember them when I’m feeling down I almost embrace it as the full experience of life. Not always, but more & more often.
They have helped me- and if you have read this and are willing to try, perhaps that can help you or a loved one too!
Peace & Namste
We are born with nothing, even clothes. At the moment of death we might be donning some attire, and perhaps be clutching something –a person, animal or object (or all 3). But those physical remnants remain. We come into the world with nothing physical but the body. When we leave, we leave even the body behind. The only thing that goes is that light in our eyes, our spirit.
So why do we become attached to anything? Why do we spend that precious time between life and death hauling around stuff? Worrying about stuff? ‘Stuff’ being our cars, clothes, friends, jobs, or status. The only thing that really matters is the imprint we leave on the planet, created through our spirit. We can’t haul anything but our spirit out of this world, so why isn’t the spirit the main focus of living? Why are we focused on stuff?
I started yoga like many others for the physical practice. My first experience was with a VHS tape at home in my living room. “This is easy!” I thought. It must be because I’m flexible and was a dancer when I was young. I moved from position to position and sat there waiting to see what I would be told by the TV to do next. I ignored the cues to breath “Geez, I know how to breath” and ‘open up’ “Isn’t that what I’m doing?”. I was annoyed at the end when the suggestion was to lie on my back for several minutes. “What a waste of time!”
I went to actual classes a few times, but I didn’t quite understand it. I only did yoga at home because I heard it was good for you. I didn’t particularly enjoy it and I absolutely skipped the lying on your back part at the end.
Until one day I went to a class at a local chiropractic office that was offering free classes for a week. The classes all had different names. I couldn’t tell them apart and really didn’t care. The time I was able to get home from work and get my husband situated with the kids was far more important. I went to a class Monday and Tuesday. Same experience, but this time I had to lie in silence at the end. I really disliked that part. However, the Wednesday class was life altering. It was called “Love your body yoga”. Yoga was yoga to me. The postures all even seemed the same. But there was something different about this class. Perhaps the teacher’s voice or encouragement, I don’t know; it was too long ago now to remember. Somehow though, I was able to do the postures better. I listened to the cues to breath and expand in certain parts. I moved slowly, mindfully, and with grace. At the end I was looking forward to the lying meditation (known as savasana – pronounced “shavasana”). During savasana the teacher came around with an oil for our foreheads. When she gently put her hands on my temples I felt at such peace I almost wanted to cry. The smell was like light and citrusy, but like incense. The experience was so comforting. When I left class I kept touching my forehead and smelling the oil. I felt a sense of peace.
My practices at home became a little different after that, although I was never able to get into a good routine and reap the benefits of yoga. Years later on a whim I signed up for a local class at the Park & Rec. I knew yoga was good for me, I knew how to do it (I thought), and I wanted a steady place where I knew I wouldn’t be lazy and skip it.
The first class was amazing. I drove away with a sense of bliss. That night in bed when I turned over in the middle of the night I felt space in my body as well as an overall sense of harmony. I kept going and the benefits kept getting better and better. It wasn’t very long before I had my first cry on the mat while in pigeon (something I now know is quite common). Soon after that; the mind, body, spirit connection was undeniable. Where has this been all my life? Do other people know about it? Why isn’t this more well known??? Our spirit is the key to life.
I didn’t know it until long after I started yoga teacher training, but the word yoga means “to yoke”. Particularly; to yoke the mind, body, and spirit. I know there are many other ways to link the mind, body and spirit. Others have found the answers in various different ways, but have come to the same sense of yoking. Once you sense that connection to the mind, body, and spirit it’s difficult to go back to the material way of living because you know deep down that it doesn’t matter.
Yoga isn’t a magical cure that works all the time. In fact many times I move through a whole practice and never feel ‘settled’. The difference is that I know my mind, body and spirit are disconnected and that I do not like feeling that sense of separation. I know that giving into that separation by trying to fill the space between with stuff only leads to suffering and a sense of even more separation. I know this and most of the time cannot master it. But the time in between remembering where the sense of true peace comes from grows a tiny bit each day.
The time in between birth and death is our life. In that life we accumulate things. Physical things. We become attached to those things. We become attached to people. We become attached to happiness and think something is wrong when we are sad. We need to eat, sleep, and eliminate to order to function and stay healthy. To stay healthy through eating, sleeping and eliminating we need stuff. So we spend our lives from birth to death hauling around stuff. Stuff to eat, stuff to sleep, stuff to look good in the eyes of others. At any moment in time we are likely hauling stuff, whether it’s a wallet, purse, tube of lip balm, or like me – bags and bags of food, drink, or ‘stuff’ I might need.
I’m not proposing that we don’t have stuff. We absolutely need to haul around things from day to day, or house-to-house, or city-to-city in order to function and stay alive. The disconnect comes in two forms: 1) From taking more than you need. 2) Becoming attached to that stuff.
There are two ways to not take more than you need and/or become attached. 1) You can listen to authorities that preach this. 2) You can discover for yourself.
The problem with number 1 is that most of those who preach it and know it at a spirit level do not practice this. Our parents taught us not to take more than you need, but we then probably watched them eat, buy, shop, and generally consume more than they needed. We observed as they became attached to their jobs, cars, houses, other people, stories, the news, etc. The same went for teachers, preachers, friends, family… the society that shaped our thoughts growing up. The message was conflicted and if you are anything like me, didn’t even question the confliction.
Discovering this for yourself is a whole different ballgame. Once you realize that non-attachment and taking only what you need is the key to liberation, it’s hard not to incorporate it into your decisions. Before the discovery on your own, the hypocritical authoritative voice in your mind may have caused a sense of guilt; but the knowing it is not right through your very own voice is far more powerful.
Old habits are incredibly difficult to break. There is not a switch that goes off where one starts to make perfect decisions from here forth. In fact there is more debate, guilt and remorse over not making the right decision than ever.
Wikipedia describes the Monkey Mind as a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. The monkey mind is the voice in the head that never stops talking. Like a monkey it cannot sit still. It jumps from thought-to-thought, worry-to-worry, new shiny object to new shiny object, without a care in the world. It is like a toddler that never grows up. It responds to the wiring in the brain that lights up “like” impulse. It likes stuff – food, taste, status, objects. Its concerns are all about ‘me, me, me’.
The spirit on the other hand is quiet and all knowing. It knows right from wrong. It will make the best, most loving, decision on behalf of the good of your body and the the world every time. The spirit doesn’t talk to you, but if you ask it – it will give the mind the right answer.
Here is where you learn that the habits formed in your physical brain wire faster and respond more quickly to your mind than what your spirit speaks to it. Your mind has been accustomed to ignoring that wise, quiet, but all knowing spirit within because that monkey chatter is so loud. We give into it as we might a toddler, just to quiet it down. It’s why yoking the mind, body and spirit are so important. Once they are all on the same page – there is no conflict. The right path is clear.
Even if you haven’t yet made the mind, body and spirit connection on your own or have no idea what I’m talking about and are curious –
- Consider not hauling around so much stuff – whether it’s physical or emotional.
- Become unattached, knowing that nothing ever lasts.
- Take only what you need.
Know with practice and time, the space between remembering becomes greater and greater…. and with that comes a sense of peace.
Last Sunday evening after dinner I was washing a pot. I was washing it very mindfully. I was noticing the feel of the warm, soapy water on my hands. I thought about how the pot was made and how I infused the homemade vegan chili in this large, heavy blue pot with love. Most importantly I was slowly and methodically removing the food that was stuck to the bottom of the pan. I thought back to a lesson I just cannot seem to always remember – “To go faster you must slow down”.
I led a fast paced adult life until about 2 years ago. So fast that I hardly had time to think. Washing a pot with food stuck to the bottom has always reminded me of this paradox; thanks to a visit from my mother a few years before she passed away. When my children were young and I was first married, we had little money, but I kept a really good home. I felt very on top of things. But I was rushed back then too. I was so rushed that I never really had time to deal with pots that ended up with years worth of stains on them. In late 2001 my mother came to visit with her new husband Boris. I had only just met him, and I know he made my mother very happy. He was from Venezuela. My mom talked so much about how laid back he was and how he got her to slow down, grow out her hair, and stop fussing so much with make up and keeping up the house. I made a big dinner when they came to visit, and afterward there were many pots and pans that needed cleaning. My mother and Boris came into the kitchen to help and stationed themselves at the sink; she on dish duty, he on drying duty. What seemed like only moments later while I was putting the leftover food into containers, I noticed Boris drying off one of the pots. What caught my eye about a particular pot that usually had brown and black soot on the bottom was that it was so shiny and clean. Years worth of food and cooking build up was gone! I asked my mother how she did that and so fast… she only smiled with a glint in her eye and said “Boris showed me how”. She never told me with words, but with her eyes she told me to slow down and go easy. The next time I had to clean a pot and ever since I’ve taken my time, used far less pressure than I ever would have and they have always come clean. Working in a rush and with too much pressure used more time and never yielded the same results. I never understood how, it’s just the way it works.
I learned this 17 years ago, but I still don’t always remember or practice this principle. Two years ago I slowed down immensely, truly savoring the small, day-to-day moments, and oddly enough I found myself to be happier, more at peace and with more time than I ever had. It’s not only time, but also about ‘less’. Doing less, trying less, having less… all equal less stress and more joy.
Last week I had the luxury of traveling with my husband and a group of amazing individuals from my yoga studio to a jungle sanctuary in Costa Rica. Getting to this sanctuary required two commercial flights, a puddle jumper plane, a 45 minute car ride, and then a 20 minute hike crossing a river four times. It was hot and humid; the type of humidity where you never dry off, even after a shower.
The only way on and off the sanctuary is a 20 minute-plus hike. On the last full day of the trip, my husband Daren and I ventured off the property to the sanctuary’s closest neighbor Nena, in pursuit of pure organic extra virgin coconut oil. It was a short walk over a bridge that overlooks the ocean to Nena’s house. For the previous two days, Daren & I opted to take some excursions off the property with our group. Both days were a little hectic and obscenely hot at times. I felt ambivalent all morning about whether or not we should take the walk down the hill to get this coconut oil, mainly because it was hot. For some reason I said I’d like to go but I wanted to walk slowly. So off we went to Nena’s house for coconut oil.
Daren and I really took our time. We stopped and looked at monkeys. We watched little birds. We passed our friend the white cow. When we left the property and crossed the street we stopped on the bridge. Actually, Daren on the bridge and called out to me “Babe, look at this view!”. Slightly annoyed, I stopped to look. I was initially feeling rushed, looked at my watch and started calculating how much time it would take to get to Nena’s, buy this coconut oil, trek back, “relax” at the pool, and then dash off to the next yoga class. However, when I turned my head to the left and saw the scene, my heart rate actually slowed down a bit. I couldn’t believe I was about to just walk by and miss this scene! I took it in. While standing there I couldn’t help but notice this insane harried American thought pattern and I pushed it completely away. When I stopped and didn’t worry about the time, I was able to remember that I was here in this beautiful place, at this beautiful moment, with my beautiful husband and a group of beautiful well-lit individuals. I stopped my physical, then mental body from the rush of insanity and fleeting thoughts to appreciate the view and the view of my husband appreciating the view.
We stood there a while in silence. I took a few pictures and resisted the urge to snap more. More is not better. More pictures, more talk, more activity… more, more, more… No, no, no… I know this, but I live in a world that tells me the opposite; so it’s easy to forget.
It was I who broke the silence after a long while. I had the profound realization that because we walked slowly we weren’t as hot as we were the rest of the trip. I intellectually knew that before we walked and even made that suggestion, but it was even more profound to experience that it worked. It dawned on me that every time I go anywhere where the weather is warm all the time, the locals move slowly. I heard other Americans and Canadians joking about how the natives live on “Costa Rican time”. I’ve heard the same joke in other places. All these Americans and Europeans thinking it’s so funny to crack jokes about how slow everyone moves, when really the joke is on us. What is wrong with us? We are the dummies sweating in the sun because we are rushing around like lunatics. It’s our culture that is uptight, wound up and stressed. What are we in a rush to do anyway? At that moment on the bridge I decided to put my watch in my pocket and let the day pass as it may. Strangely there seemed to be just the right amount of time for everything once I stopped worrying at all about it.
When we start to move too fast, we often do not see what we need to see. (Huffington Post 2015 – Why Going Slow Will Make You Go Faster). This applies to work, our lives with our families and friends, or achieving any of our goals. Maybe it’s not just what we need to see, but what will enhance our everyday experiences.
In the midst of this jungle last week we were surrounded by wildlife. It was beautiful, simple, exotic, intoxicating, and natural. This was a yoga group at a yogic sanctuary. Yogi’s might be more aware than most about the beauty of being conscious, but are no less human and subject to falling prey to being unconscious in a world that keeps dangling shiny temptations all around. One of my teachers deliberately did not go on one of the daily excursions on a day that every other single one of the group did. She said she did not want to feel rushed, and she sat watching monkeys for several hours that day instead. The message she took away is that the monkeys were there all along, providing the same level of awe and entertainment, but had one not taken the time to just stop and observe, it would have been missed.
The evening we returned to Connecticut from Costa Rica, Daren and I found ourselves on a line at a McDonald’s drive through on the way home from the airport at 11:45 at night. By that point in the day we had been up & en route home since 5:15am. We had only one square meal. We were tired, dirty and stressed. Hurry up and wait. We almost missed a connecting flight because Passport Control was a hot mess when we got back into the U.S. We were waiting on a very long car line at 11:45pm for an absolutely nutritiously poor meal (well Daren was waiting, I was looking forward to some soup at home). We were stressed. Daren was tapping at the wheel. I was mentally trying hard to not fall into the trap of ordering something greasy or feeling upset over the slow moving line, all while trying to stay cheerful so my husband could stay positive too. In my mind I was doing math again about the number of things I needed to do the next day to get ready for the week, wondering how I could fit them in. How much mail was there? Who is taking the dog to the vet Thursday? What should I pull out for dinner tomorrow? Should I go shopping? I needed to inventory the food situation at home first, right? With every thought I felt my blood pressure rising. And every time I noticed my breath becoming rapid and shallow or my heart racing, I made the conscious decision to breath deeply and live in the moment. That only lasts a few moments out here in the “real world” until the thoughts & heart start to race again. How could you explain this feeling to someone in the third world?
We may have been in the middle of the jungle, but the concrete jungle creates artificial stressors that make living life to the fullest impossible. It’s impossible because living life to the fullest was taught to me that one need to fit in as much “fun”, work, and activities that one possibly can. This means learning as much as you can, moving quickly, multi-tasking, making lots of money to do these amazing things (because heck they aren’t free!), AND providing these amazing experiences to our offspring. Making money means more rushing and more stress. For most, making money means sitting in a car or in some form of transportation for unfathomable periods of time each day, to do a job you hardly ever see the results of or feel connected to, for far too many hours each day. Then rushing home to activities and usually harried, unhealthy meals – if you are lucky with loved one(s). Weekends for the most are spent putting your living quarters back together from the rush of the busy week by cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, shuffling other humans around and spending “quality” time with other humans you are supposed to care for to keep your social life active and your role as a parent connected with your children. In between you must squeeze in the “fun” and “experiences” you are going out to make all that money for, but also it’s very important to exercise, meditate, perform self-care, visit the doctor-dentist-optometrist regularly, prepare healthy organic, locally grown ingredient-based meals at home and sleep enough hours per night just so you don’t get fat, stressed or sleep deprived. You know… so you can be happy and experience life to the fullest. Sounds insane to me!
The Harvard Business Review writes about how this slow to go fast paradox works in business as well. When we take the time to get things right, rather than plow ahead full bore, we are far more successful in meeting objectives (Harvard Business Review 2010 – Need Speed? Slow Down).
Physics teaches us that time is relative. Slowing down means time slows down with you. I can’t explain why this is, it’s just is. Another exquisite paradox is that it also helps you appreciate and truly experience more. Additionally life and experiences become less expensive, less material and far less stressful. This article is a bit more on the holistic side, but resonates with me because it talks about how when you work less you work better, find what really makes you happy, have the ability connect with others, and are able to savor life (Wholesome Living – 10 reasons why you should slow down to go faster).
The overall message for me is that slowing down = living life to the fullest. I keep forgetting, but the time between which I do is growing larger and larger. I hope that others who haven’t given it a whirl do! There’s nothing to lose but old, tired ideas of what it means to life our lives to the absolute fullest.
It’s Friday, December 30, 2016. I just walked 4 miles up to Cheshire coffee from my house. I’m siting alone with a yummy cup of green tea with a little honey & lemon. I’ve never been more content in my life. I did a lot of thinking on the way up here and wanted to capture my own thoughts. I don’t know if I’ll finish this or blog it. For now I’m just writing from my heart.
2016 was the best year of my life [so far]. I’ve been reading all these Facebook posts about the number of days until this miserable year ends, and the posting everyone shares about how they want to stay up this New Years Eve just to watch 2016 die. I don’t relate to this. I would have until this year, but I’m really a different person.
A few weeks ago on the first weekend in November, Daren and I drove up to Portland, ME with Koji in the backseat. We were on our way to see Thomas at college. On the way up there Daren and I were having one of our normal long car ride talks about life that I absolutely love and adore. At some point we hit traffic and Siri took us on a different route. It was off the main road through a shady looking neighborhood. The dog was seemingly upset. He was panting, walking back and forth and squeaking. We had some background music playing that suddenly seemed so inappropriate. Siri was directing my movements breaking into the music and into what seemed like insane directions with pop-up turns. The very yang, bright setting sun was shining in our eyes. The car was hot. There was loud construction work taking place just outside our tightly rolled up windows. Somehow we continued to talk through the chaos continuing what started out as a deep conversation when I needed to just stop. I realized it wasn’t serving me any longer. When Daren continued I gently said that we should pick it up a bit later, that I felt a little anxious needing to talk so loud over the noise, and it was difficult for me to concentrate on what Siri was saying. I turned off the music too. He understood. We continued driving in silence until we were back on the road, traffic lightened up and the dog was comfortably resting in the back. All the while I thought about how recognizing all of this was something that was new to me a few years ago. Before that I would have just started to feel irritated and angry and not quite understand why. Once I realized this type of scenario I would have pointed it out and grumbled about it. But actually doing something about it in a constructive way is new to me this year. I recognized the feelings of irritability and I didn’t feel the need to have a verbal running commentary of everything in my head anymore. I was thinking about how in general I don’t feel the need to comment on everything. I was going through so much of my yoga studies and homework at that point in time and really starting to put into practice the 3 checkpoints of is it true? is it necessary? and is it kind? I suddenly had a lot less to say. And I’m a better listener for it.
I was thinking about this and how different I am when Daren asked me in the car that evening what I was thinking about. How can I explain it to him? I told him I was just thinking about how different I am from the person I was just a year ago. He asked me why I thought that. I said yoga. In some very nice way I can’t recall, he questioned me about how. He said something to the effect of ‘I live with you every day and watched you go through this journey, but I don’t see anything different’. It’s probably true that looking at me, and even more so living with me one wouldn’t notice a difference. Not only are the differences mostly internal and subtle, but one doesn’t notice their pet or child growing up day to day. Only when you measure a height on a wall or look back at pictures can you really see a change. How can I explain to my husband how I’m different?
One part of me didn’t want to explain. I’m truly becoming a less is more kind of person. It seemed like work to talk about this. Why couldn’t we go back to the deep conversation we were having earlier? That moment was now lost. Why try to get it back? We were in a new moment. I was just asked a question that could lead to another deep conversation. Should I try to explain? Is it true/kind/necessary? It kind of passed my filter. The necessary part was plus/minus, but he was curious and I guess talking out loud would help me to actually quantify what I was thinking internally and have someone to bounce it off of.
Well…. I don’t remember exactly how I described the way I felt different, but it included a lot of the following:
- I listen more deeply. I resist the urge to dole out advice. Yoga taught me to listen to my body, other people, and nature. My teachers taught me to sit in a circle and just listen to other people’s stories sans weighing in. Without the pressure of having to respond, and the stipulation that you can’t; I learned to listen more deeply. Even though it was something I only practiced for a weekend a month for a short period of time during a check in; I took it off the mat and internalized it into my life.
- I am aware of my body. Panic attacks this year helped me to further listen to my body and even become aware of the anxiety I was so accustomed to, that I didn’t even realize I was walking around with it. All Of The Time. One of my yoga teachers who also has anxiety and is very open about it, helped me to realize that it’s ok and human to have a disorder. Listening to her and other teachers share their own stories of being human and battling various ailments (for lack of a better word) encouraged me to open up and share as well.
- Once I realized I had anxiety disorder and that it was way out of my control, I started medication. The medication helped to clear the fog and chatter of my mind. With that fog gone, I was able to actually hear my body, the messages behind my thoughts, and work through learning much more about myself. Once I started to understand myself, especially the way my body works through yoga practice, yoga study and self-contemplation; I began to love myself in new ways and just accept what is, my life experiences, and my place in the world.
- Understanding myself also helped me be in touch with what “amps” me up. I learned this year that I can run 8-10 miles… no problem! But I also learned that it also makes my anxiety worse. I can’t have more than 1 cup of coffee each day. Ginger makes me nauseous. I was too clouded with monkey chatter and anxiety to even notice let alone act upon these things before.
- I have a better idea of when to fight for something and when to let go. I was more of a fighter before. Taoism is something I’m only starting to touch upon through Yin Yoga. I love the concept of the yin yang and the balance between healer and warrior. Now I know there is no need to fight for everything. Some things are not worth it and others really are. Knowing the difference is key. At work I let a lot more go. I can’t change certain things and exerting energy toward doing so is fruitless. However, I knew when to keep going for myself and my employees at times; and when it was worth doing something for the greater good. At home I stood my ground with some blended family issues I knew are also for the greater good. Things that I would have handled more heatedly and immaturely before. I have a little more insight on how to stand my ground like a mature and calm woman.
- I’m moving slower – physically. When I find myself rushing (which is less and less these days), I question why and slow down. There is almost no reason why I’m doing it. My knee surgery really helped me to recognize this. When I had to move incredibly slowly around my house and workplace, I felt uncomfortable; like I was wasting time. I questioned what was not happening or what I was not otherwise doing while I was taking all this time to get from place to place. How would moving faster make anything better? I didn’t have a good answer.
- I usually realize I’m rushing because my deep exhales tell me so. I realized once I started to tackle my anxiety how much I exhale out deeply. I often do that when I’m anxious. Rushing and haste makes me anxious. And there is never really a good reason to rush. I had to question why was I uncomfortable with sitting still and slowing down. What I was running from? Meditating and sitting in yoga postures for a long time, especially yin postures helped me to learn to sit with discomfort and contemplate the thoughts that arise. In a class with others it’s harder to run away.
- Once I realized I when I was taking deep exhales and slowing down, I was so much more in touch with my breathing. Especially how often I breath in a shallow manner. Yoga taught me to breath. The 3-part breath taught me what a full breath was and the benefits of what proper breathing does to my body. I created a personal breathing practice varying with Sufi and Ayurvedic breathing. I feel fresh and cleansed after I do these practices. It helps me use my breath all throughout the day as I move about life to help channel my emotions in a more healthy way. I stop and think about my breath so much more now. It’s a beautiful thing that we all carry with us. It has so much untapped power that most people don’t know about. I want to share this with the world it’s so cool.
- Being in touch with my breath and slowing down has helped me think a lot more about my thoughts. The quality of my thoughts. How they are shaping my perception of the world. “Don’t water the weeds”. I catch myself all the time thinking about things I don’t want to be thinking about that don’t serve me. At first I would beat myself up for not having pure, beautiful thoughts. But the yoga sutras taught me this is normal and to just begin again. So I feel normal and begin again. The beauty is that the time span between beginning again is growing longer and longer. Catching myself happens more quickly. And the quality of my outlook on life is improving as a result.
- Being in touch with thoughts and clearing the fog of anxiety has helped me to also recognize the running background noise in my mind. Songs that I didn’t even like that would play continuously sometimes for hours on end. Conversations from earlier in the day or years before that were either good, bad or indifferent would repeat over and over. Why? What was I feeding my body by allowing the monkey chatter to take over? Yoga taught me about how thoughts have power and shape life experiences. I learned to help redirect many unconscious thoughts through mantra by putting the power of the mind and background noise to work in good ways. Saying a mantra over and over is directing energy toward something you actually would like in your life. I started replacing the music I listened to on the way to work with beautiful mantra music instead. Now the background noise in my head is often messages I intend to fill myself with. I hear mantras and the changes that I want to see in the world replaying instead of unhealthy messages. I’m aware of what I’m ingesting from the world around me, consciously direct it, and let that be the monkey chatter.
- In January this year I woke up one morning with a sty in my eye. I never had one before. It hurt and I couldn’t wear make-up. I had to go to work without eye make-up. No one really noticed. If they did, they didn’t say anything. Somehow over the course of the past year through conversations in my yoga classes with other students about healthy living I started to think about what I’m ingesting in all ways. Food is obvious, but thoughts, air (breath), products, messages – everything. I didn’t know anyone else in real life that I saw on a regular basis who even thought about using natural products. I’m now painfully aware of health & beauty products that seep right into the largest organ of our bodies (skin). I am weary of chemicals and not so hip on make-up anymore. I look and feel so much more natural. I get ready in the morning faster. I’m not blow drying my hair. I’m using natural food more often for health & beauty products inside and out.
- I’m me more. I didn’t even know me before. I was under the influence of my own thoughts and hardly noticing the world around me. In being more aware of the world around me, I’m more aware of others. A few weeks ago while walking to the copier machine in my old office I passed someone that I hardly know that I sort of peripherally worked with in the past. She was crying. On the way back to my office I don’t even know why, but I walked right up to her and gave her a big hug. She seemed surprised at first but then collapsed into my arms and let herself cry. I said I don’t know what it is, but I wish for you that everything goes the way you want and need it to. Between sobs she said me too. I hugged her extra tight, let go, and went on my way. I used to not do things like that. I tell people I love them, I listen with the intent to understand a lot more often. I’m present mentally with greater frequency. I feel more authentically me than I’ve ever felt before.
- I love my own company. I used to fear it. When I was 20 years old I drove across the country by myself while in the military. I had no CD player in my car. Cell phones didn’t exist. I was uncomfortable with myself. I hated going out to eat and sitting alone on that trip. I disliked being alone most of my adult life. I needed a book or something to do or watch. Now I love being alone just as much as I love being with other people. I need to do both to keep myself balanced. How can I ever have an original thought if I’m not alone? How can I ever hear if I’m always talking, listening, stimulated or having to respond?
Daren was right mostly. One can’t see these things. They are subtle. They are personal to me. On the outside I do look mostly the same. I’m imperceptibly different sitting in a car in traffic to the person next to me. Inside – not so much. The world tells us how we should be and behave from the moment we are born. It’s hard to know who you really are or how you really feel if society dictates how that should be. Humans are the only ones who do that. In the car ride on the way to Maine Koji acted upset when we were in traffic. Us humans tried to ignore what was around us and carry on. Why? Yoga was predominately responsible for bringing me so much more awareness. There are other things that started to shape my life in a different way that started a few years ago. Things that led me to the practice of yoga. Yoga itself worked it’s quiet magic on me over the past 4 years. Starting yoga teacher training last January really took it to a new level because I started to understand how it worked on me and the training enabled me to embrace it for it’s benefits that much more.
I feel very blessed and lucky to have had the time to dedicate to learning about yoga and myself. I’m lucky to be a citizen of the first world who is fulfilled in food, shelter, and clothing enough to be able to explore higher thoughts. I don’t want to take that for granted for a single second. I’m in NO way perfect. I fall off my own path. But I get up. And I fall less and less these days. 2016 rocked in that way for me. I only hope to keep going and maybe inspire others to do what they need to do to find their own path as well.
I will post this as a blog after all. If anyone is still reading – Thank you for doing so and being interested enough to finish. Hopefully that means it touches you too in some way. Comment, write, call me, text me if you are moved to. I love to listen. Love to share. And would love to learn from you. Peace. 2016 – out.