pay close attention. #MeditationThoughtMondays

pay close attention

I absolutely love summer.  Summer is fresh, warm, abundant.  (I start Hashtagging #bringonsummer in January!) Summer is when the pace of life/work slows down and we are afforded time to pay close attention to the little miracles unfolding in nature.  One of my favorite poems, written by prolific poet Mary Oliver, offers the act of ‘paying attention’ as an act of prayer.

Although there are no hard and fast rules, traditionally, the difference between prayer and meditation can be summed up as this:

Prayer is the act of talking with God.

Meditation is the act of listening with God.

Today, and for the rest of the summer season, my Meditation Challenge for you is to pay close attention.  Pay close attention to the small miracles: the intricacies of the insects crawling on your sidewalk, the slow growth of buds on the tomato plant, the sudden unfurling of spinach leaves in the garden.  Even as I was writing this, enjoying the summer sunshine on my back porch, a lightning bug danced on my hand for a moment.  Her wings were beautiful and her smile made me grin.  Pay close attention: life is short and meant to be savored.

Also, pay close attention to your body.  The form of Meditation I’ve been teaching in my Sunday Morning Meditation Classes (you can read a review here and see my full teaching schedule here) is focused on paying attention to each part of your body and then fully relaxing that body part.  We are often unaware of the places we hold tension– in our jaw, in our wrists, in the space behind the eyelids– until we consciously ‘let go and relax’ that tension.

Notice how, in this poem by Mary Oliver, the art of Paying Attention is equated to prayer. It is a form of Meditation, as well. Her reminder that life is short is not meant to be grim: instead, it is meant to entice you to pay close attention to life.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA  Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.

pay close attention

 

You can practice the “Attention and Relaxation” Meditation at home.

1.  Lay down on your back in a comfortable place.

2.  Take three cleansing inhales and exhales out of your mouth

3.  Focus our entire awareness on your toes.  Pay attention to how your toes feel.  Curl the toes, tighten the toes, clench the toes on your inhale; on your exhale: totally relax your toes.

4.  Do this two more times with your toes.

5.  Travel your attention to your feet and your ankles. Pay attention to how your ankles feel.  Curl the toes, tighten the foot, engage the muscles on your inhale; on your exhale: totally relax your toes, feet, and ankles.

6. Travel your attention all the way up your legs, your back, your torso, etc. Continuing the same Attention and Relaxation technique.  When you get to your shoulders: move through your arms to your hands and fingers.

7. Lastly, pay attention to the wrinkles in your forehead and the tension in your ears, eyes, and jaw.  Let your face be at peace.  Relax your entire being.

8.  Sit up, keeping eyes closed, and resume seated quietude for three minutes.  Mindfully enter back into your physical space with a few deep inhales and exhales to conclude your practice.   Pay attention to how you feel.

Happy Summer,

-lisa

fill your heart with what’s important and lets be done with the rest. #MeditationThoughtMondays

fill your heart with whats important

Here are some things I think are important.

  1. Love
  2. Kindness
  3. Truth
  4. Integrity
  5. Dedication

Here are some things I think are not that important:

  1. Most everything else

Today, I want to challenge you to fill your heart with what’s important and ‘be done’ with everything else.  Meditate on the questions: “What’s most important to me?  How can I fill my heart with these things and let go of the rest?”  

For inspiration, I implore you to read this article, which features one of my favorite soon-to-be-fifth graders, Brayden Ingram.  I’m proud to call Brayden my cousin (he just graduated from being ‘my baby cousin’ this summer when I realized he’s only 2 inches shorter than I am!) because he chooses compassion and generosity with his peers.  This story is a perfect example of what it looks like when you fill your heart with what’s truly important and forget the rest. (You can read more inspiring stories here: Beyond the Spotlight.)

Jennifer Bradley, author of Beyond the Spotlight blog, writes:

“Missouri 4th grader Brayden Ingram is a “good kid.” In fact, he’s so “good” in school, that this year, he racked up piles of ‘good behavior tickets’ in the classroom. These tickets are the keys to unlocking all sorts classroom fun.

Brayden can use his good behavior tickets for special meals, fun events, and small prizes in the classroom. But it didn’t take long for Brayden to realize that the system that he benefits from is not entirely fair to other students. “I feel like the behavior tickets constantly leave someone out feeling hurt. I get sad when I see someone that didn’t get a prize. I get really sad when I see tickets being deducted from peers,” Brayden confided.

So this fourth grader decided to put his own spin on the system. He began to save his tickets so that he could share them with students who struggle more with classroom expectations and behaviors. “I got the idea when one of the boys at school used his tickets to buy me lunch in the classroom with him. Afterwards, I started saving up 110 tickets so I could buy lunch in the classroom for the whole class.” It took a month of saving up, but Brayden felt it was worth it to see the smiles on everyone’s faces.

But his generosity didn’t stop there. The fourth grade classes also held an end of the school year movie and party. Students were allowed to choose between 4 classrooms with 4 different movies, but there was a catch. They had to pay for admission and snacks, and admission cost 10 ‘good behavior’ tickets. Students who did not have enough tickets were to be sent to a separate room to read. Brayden thought that felt sad. He realized that some of his classmates did not have enough tickets for a movie, so he went around sharing his tickets with five of his classmates in the hopes that no one would be left out. He admits to feeling a bit nervous when he noticed so many of his tickets were being used, but he decided that if he was the one who needed to go read, he would be happy to do it for the good of the group. In the end, Brayden had enough tickets left over for his own movie and snacks. From buying lunch to his move at the movies, Brayden is a firm believer in paying it forward. “I did what I did to give other kids the opportunity to experience the fun events and to help them see kindness in the world and hopefully help them pass it on.”

And Brayden didn’t have to wait long for his kindness to spread.  His Auntie Jen teaches 3rd grade at his school.  Inspired by Brayden’s campaign, Jen decided to pay the library fines of 13 students so they could participate in the end of the year field day celebration activities. This story is so inspiring because Brayden not only practices caring and kindness in the classroom, but because at age 9, he was able to see how harmful seemingly “positive” reward systems can be for students who struggle with classroom behaviors.”

fill your heart with whats importantI know that Brayden and my cousin Jen (who has always been my ‘big cousin and someone I want to be when I grow up’) both spend time thinking about how to make the world a better place.  Brayden’s example of generosity, kindness, and dedication should inspire all of us to ‘pay it forward’ every chance we get.  One small act of kindness means one small decision for happiness.  Many decisions for happiness means we can pursue a small happy life, and fill our hearts with what’s important.

How are you going to ‘pay it forward today?’  How can you fill your heart with what is important and ‘be done’ with the rest?

-lisa

overcoming obstacles of daily practice #MeditationThoughtMondays

obstacles

My friend Sara sent me a text begging for help. Her work schedule varies weekly, her wedding is approaching, and she has no time!  She’s missed all of my yoga classes for the past two weeks and could I help her develop a ‘yoga schedule’ to keep her accountable?  Which classes are best for her?  What does she do when she misses her favorite Tuesday night class?  How can she find time?

She’s not alone: we are quick to identify the obstacles preventing a daily yoga practice. The biggest one?  Time.

Every week requires a balancing act of life, work, family, and ‘fun-time’ activities.  And it also requires us to carve out hours for the not-so-fun-time-activities: cleaning the house, doing the laundry, getting the oil changed, heading to doctor appointments, etc.  etc.  etc.  The list goes on and on.  My advice is this: structure your day around your yoga practice.

Many people find time in the day to sit for hours and watch TV.  (No judgement here: I adore Office episode lunch breaks.)  However, many people do not find time in the day to sit for one minute and breathe with meaning.

The benefits of Yoga are multifaceted and abundant: strength, balance, agility, coordination, flexibility, peace of mind, lower blood pressure, healthier heart.  But most of all: life just gets better.  Life just feels better when we just spend one hour moving and breathing to connect with God.  But finding that one hour can be difficult. Over the years, I’ve helped students organize ‘training plans’ for their yoga practice.   Here are my tips:

  1. Plan on practicing early in the morning. Waiting until the evening = procrastination.  You will probably find a ‘reason’ to skip yoga class.  (Also known as an excuse.)  Although there are no scientific findings that suggest ‘working out’ at a certain time of the day increases the health benefits or calorie burning of your routine, research does suggest that a morning routine is more effective when it comes to developing a consistent habit.  Read more here.
  2. Pack your yoga bag every evening. If you oversleep and accidentally miss my 6 am classes, your yoga bag is already packed for the day. Your yoga clothes, yoga mat, and towel are ready to go. This means you can sneak away from work at lunch and catch a noon class or leave work on time and enjoy an evening class before heading home.  No excuses.  (Just make sure you clean your yoga mat in between sessions if you are going to leave it in the car this summer! How to deep-clean your yoga mat.)
  3. Prepare a schedule. At the beginning of every month, print a Month Calendar and write your yoga schedule on it.  If you set a goal of practicing 5 times a week, then you need to see how your yoga classes will schedule around other events.  For example, if you have a wedding shower to attend on Saturday morning during your usual yoga class, you need to schedule a practice on Friday instead.  It’s not rocket science, but the week tends to fly by if you aren’t paying attention.  Schedule your yoga classes to your Google Cal (like an appointment that you will NOT miss) and you are SET!
  4. Partner Up. Find a friend and plan yoga-dates.  Numerous studies show that having a ‘work-out partner’ increases accountability in keeping healthy habits. This article even suggests the type of person you choose as your partner is important. Yoga studios are a great way to meet people.  Some of my closest friends are ladies who walked into my class first as students.  Now, we text each other weekly to coordinate our yoga schedules and look forward to seeing each other every class.  Being accountable to a friend or a teacher makes a difference.  (If you would like me to text you at 5:15 am to remind you to get up and come to my Sunrise Yoga classes, I’ll do it!)
  5. Perfect your one breath.  If all you have time to do is stand on your yoga mat for ONE big breath, do it.  The more time you spend breathing deeply, mindfully, and meaningfully, the more you realize the value of ONE breath.  Set your Intention for the day, and perfect your one breath.  Your practice will be a success.  You may find out that, “many of the obstacles you thought were there do not even exist.”

Tell me how you schedule your day and your yoga practice.  What helpful habits have you formed?  I’d love to hear from you.  Happy Practicing!

-lisa

obstacles

pursue a small, happy life #MeditationThoughtMondays

small happy life

Lately, I’ve been giving much thought to the question: What makes life purposeful? As a yoga teacher, I don’t spend my days with co-workers– I’m usually the only yoga teacher in the studio.  This means that I interact with students who have diverse professions, callings, and passions which bring meaning to their life. I’m in awe of students who work in hospitals (I won’t even set foot in one!) healing and caring for others.  I also love talking to students who are passionate entrepreneurs in the start-up world (Westport Yoga just started a partnership with the Kansas City Start Up Village… check them out here!)

I also hear from students who are unfulfilled in their careers and are looking for something to add meaning and purpose to their lives.  They generally feel ‘stuck’ and are hoping that a big move or career change will be the key, but are afraid of making a big decision. (If this is you, you will definitely want to read my New Year’s Resolution article “lean forward, get upside down, set a resolution“.)

I think there’s a compromise that needs to be seriously considered: a purposeful life is an accumulation of the ‘small decisions’ AND the ‘big decisions’ made daily which lead you toward or away from contentment.  Living a purposeful life doesn’t necessarily mean your profession is your passion and it doesn’t mean you are enacting change on a global level. Sometimes it can mean that you have diligently pursued small decisions that lead to happiness. 

This article written by David Brooks of the New York Times distilled a similar theme from hundreds of essays submitted answering the question: ‘What gives you purpose in life?’  The theme was this:  Pursuing a small, happy life brought more meaning and purpose to individuals than grandiose ‘globe changing’ campaigns.  Across the board, making daily decisions to increase contentment, encourage peace within households and value family brought purpose and meaning to lives.   

What small, happy decisions can you pursue today?  I’d love to hear your answers!  I hope the list is long (and that it includes a minute of yoga!)

Happy living,

-lisa