scrunchies are back in?!?

The thing about yoga is that is 100% meant to be learned on the yoga mat and then 110% meant to be practiced off the yoga mat. I mean, it’s not really something that I “do.” It’s something I practice. Because practice means: ‘to do that which is not yet fully accomplished.’

Yoga is something that, like being kind and courageous, I get to practice every single day of my life. I can get better at it, but I probably won’t accomplish it fully 100% of each minute, each day.

The practicing of yoga-ing, is the practice of yoke-ing. It’s the act of binding my Spirit with the Divine Light that precedes all creation and to the principles of compassion and ethical living. In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth used that same word: yoke. He was talking about how ‘his yoke was easy’; meaning that deciding to live out his teachings grounded in compassion was something that any body and every body could get on board with. Any body and every body is and was invited to take time to go inward, in prayer, in meditation, in mindfulness with humility and a yearning to yoke to the Divine.

“To yoga with the Divine” sounds slightly bizarre, but ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit actually means ‘yoke’ or ‘to find union with.’ So, yeah, you can yoga with goats or yoga with Pearl Jam or yoga with Sangria or yoga with whatever is the new-bizarre-yoga-class-combo popular right now (real talk: don’t ask me what is popular… I just found out that scrunchies are back in and Justin Bieber is out. For the record, I don’t like scrunchies. And I LOVE Justin Bieber.) but if it doesn’t change your heart to be more:

  1. Kind and compassionate
  2. Truthful
  3. Generous
  4. Humble and Courageous
  5. Trustworthy and Trusting

then WHAT IS THE POINT in doing yoga??

The ethical principles of yoga are called ‘yamas.’ There are 5 of them and they are the primary foundation of yoga practice and yoga living. The eight important pieces of the yoking-to-Spirit-to-discover-ease-in-mind-and-enlightenment-puzzle-called-life are often called the Eight Limbs (Limbs as in, like, limbs on a tree. Not as in, you grow extra appendages.)

For thousands of years, humans have individually and collectively asked the questions: Who am I at my deepest level of Being? How do I live my truth in this community with other flawed-but-awesome humans?

These are the questions, we, as yogis and seekers of wisdom, ask in our Yoga Practice. These are the questions that the Yoga Tradition wants us to look for on the yoga mat; and then practice our answers off the yoga mat.

Over the next few months, I’ll be leading you through the five yamas and discussing how they can positively affect your life on and off the yoga mat. We’ll discover what these ethical principles mean and how they inform our vision of self-care, of care for our families and care for our communities. Together we will learn how to yoke ourselves in mind, body and Spirit to a way of living that affirms the world is abundant, gracious, loving and sustaining.

Send me your questions about the yamas and I will do my very best to point you in the right direction.

Also, don’t forget to do your own investigating; I suggest The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra.

Happy Yoking,

-lisa

i appreciate you scooting over.

I haven’t been able to write much lately, not because I haven’t made time, but because I haven’t made space.

Like the genius warrior/writer Glennon Doyle Melton, reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. I’ve been inhaling everything I can get my hands on for the past two months: self-help books, leadership books, spirituality books, yoga books, chick-lit-Savannah-wedding books, don’t-send-your-business- down-the-drain books. I’ve been inhaling so long and so deeply, I haven’t taken one exhale in months. Do you know how awesome it feels to be so full of breath that your eyes are popping out of your head and your lungs are Blimping it to anywhere but here? There is no space. There is absolutely no grace or conscious awareness or invitation for emotional healing when I hold my breath for two months straight. And definitely no space for writing about it.

In Sanskrit, the idea of space is defined by one little syllable: “kha.”

In the Yoga Sutras, we learn early on that the whole idea of yoga is to teach humans to mindfully breathe their way from duhkha, suffering, (literally: Bad Space) toward sukhaSafe Space.

In yoga practice, we discover sukha almost immediately. We learn that we find sukha through releasing physical pain, tension and fatigue with yoga poses that stretch and open our bodies. We learn that we feel a sense of sweet serenity when we finally trust our yoga mat enough to hold us safely in final relaxation pose, savasana.

And we also learn about Bad Space, suffering (duhkha), very early on in our yoga practice. We learn that pushing ourselves into a pose is a very, very bad idea because we wind up so sore we can only waddle the next day. We learn that holding the breath beyond the natural inhale and the natural exhale brings us face to face with our aversions, our desires, our addictions, our cravings. We learn that the mind will trick us into duhkha with its infinite configurations of distractions and illusions and lies, yelling things like: ‘You have no business being here! Get out now while you still can—before all the perfectly-clothed-bendy-peppy people in this room figure out you’re a big giant faker!

Being in a Safe Space versus a Bad Space is a big deal. It feels like the difference between being a weirdo robot about go berserk and being a real-life functioning person. It feels like the difference between crouching in a dank dark hole and cart-wheeling through a brilliantly sun-drenched glade. It feels like the difference between filling myself with more and more and more and more, still unable fill the void of yearning in my heart, no matter how much I fill it with, and being a person who can sit with herself in silence and actually enjoy it. It feels like the difference between living through the days and actually LIVING LIFE.

And here’s the thing: practicing yoga doesn’t prevent suffering in life—it doesn’t, actually, (even though I really want it to) prevent really crappy things from happening. Practicing yoga doesn’t earn me a free pass from turmoil; it just teaches me how to lead my thoughts away from a continuous loop of turmoil and get my head into a Safe Space where I can find sukha, relief, sweetness.

Over the next few posts I want to explore the concept of kha; what it looks like and feels like to find spaciousness in our lives.

I’m finally ready to explore exactly what kind of kha I’ve been hiding in the past few months as I’ve transitioned from yoga teacher to business owner, left my Ashtanga Yoga home and shepherded a community of grieving students through the loss of our former owner and the change in leadership at Westport Yoga.

I’m finally ready to exhale my way into the spaciousness of sweet, forgiving, Soulful living… and since writing is my exhale, I suppose I’m inviting you along for the ride. I appreciate you scooting over and making space for my Blimp-sized emotional exhale.

-lisa

 

universal piggy bank. (karma part 2)

(or: karma can be a friend. Part 2)

Remember Melvin the mouse? The one we forcefully and woefully evicted? (Refresh yourself on what Melvin taught me about karma in the previous blog post published last week.)

Today, as promised, we are going to look at another aspect of karma: the idea of a universal piggy bank.

Melvin’s story was an example of our typical understanding of ‘bad karma.’ But the full understanding of karma in the yoga philosophy is more nuanced than that. According to the Yoga Sutras actions can be good, bad or neutral. Each type of action creates a karmic residue that sticks in your memory and your heart-mind (citta is explained in this post).

Each time you take a karma action that is selfless, compassionate, kind or forgiving the residue of that action stays with you. You create, in effect, a repository of kindness. Yoga scholar Nicolai Bachman calls it a ‘karmic bank account.’  He explains, “Each time you perform a positive action is like depositing money into your karmic bank account.  Each time you do something hurtful or negative, it is like writing a check from that back account.”

And here’s the thing: we all share a bank account. All however-billion-humans are on this little planet share this account.  When I married my Ironman last fall, we talked endlessly about the pros and cons of having a shared bank account. When it comes to karma, I think a shared bank account is absolutely wonderfully amazingly uplifting.  It means that every single time I do something kind, I’m depositing more kindness into the world. And it’s not selfish—I’m not giving you my preferred parking spot at the Plaza Library because I myself want to benefit. I’m actively adding kindness currency into the universal piggy bank and anyone can access it!  It’s like I’m giving you a debit card (not a chip card—those things are more trouble than they’re worth) so that when your funds of compassion are low, you can bank with me.

This is true because like attracts like.  Kindness attracts kindness.

Every time I consciously choose to be generous with a friend, I end up on the receiving end of generosity the next day. Even when I feel like being stingy with my money, I try ardently to avoid the pitfall of ego (and the delusion of scarcity) because I know my generosity will multiply. And it doesn’t have to be money: simply offering five minutes of listening or giving someone a ride home on a snowy day turns out to be a huge deposit in our shared karmic bank account. 

Compassionate actions are said to be motivated by selflessness. Your job as a yogi is to understand how every thought, word, action and deed can positively impact the world around you and hold yourself to the highest standard of ethical and compassionate behavior. Real-talk: even if you are in a terrible mood, don’t take it out on the first person you see. It truly doesn’t matter how much you hate your job or are annoyed by your manager, choosing kindness (no matter what) makes a deposit of kindness into the universal piggy bank. You don’t have to pretend to be happy—pretending doesn’t get you anywhere—but you put a deposit in your karmic piggy bank by choosing kind thoughts, words and actions so that all of us can benefit.

While this requires constant vigilance and mindfulness, it is absolutely worth the effort. Positive attracts positive, clean kitchens stay mouse-free, and communities are uplifted when individuals consciously choose kindness for all other living beings. With this in mind, karma can be a pretty good friend.

Happy Depositing,

-lisa

how to practice daily.

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It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.

Sometimes, I feel like ‘doing yoga’ (aka, practicing weird and challenging asana poses that an Indian guy conjured up a few hundred years ago or that a random yoga teacher put on YouTube yesterday) is like eating caramel ribbon brownies and homemade ice cream every day.  It sounds like a good idea, until you do it every day.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love moving my body with my breath and finding a moment of complete flow with life, but sometimes I just want to sit down do nothing but watch robins hop around in my backyard. (Or more accurately, I want to sit with Russell Clive on the couch and watch The Office on Netflix.)

A few students reached out to me recently and asked for help structuring their yoga classes into their week and figuring out an attendance routine that works for them. (You can read my post here about how to stay accountable and make time for yoga.)  Unfortunately, their requests started off with apologetic/delirious guilt-talk:  They were feeling guilty and not like a ‘real yogi’ because they couldn’t practice the Ashtanga Primary Series every day because they had kids’ karate lessons to attend, low backs that felt pain after three consecutive days of practicing, animal shelter benefits to run, ailing parents to take care of, or generally had any semblance of a life outside of a yoga studio. (I think this life exists… I’m not sure, though. Actually, I was just at the airport and I noticed everyone wearing yoga pants except for the TSA agents. So maybe everyone does spend their entire day running between yoga classes. All signs point to yes.)

And then they had other questions about how to schedule their yoga practice: What if they just wanted to do something different???  What about a hard-core sweaty Vinyasa class?  What about a deep stretch yin yoga class?  What about a relaxing restorative yoga class?  What about a yoga sleeping-laughing-toad catching- metal forging-class set to a Pearl Jam soundtrack? Choices: endless.

So my advice?  Find something to do every single day that makes you HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY! (That’s three times, so you know it’s important.)

Tradition are great; they are evidence that some person, somewhere, at some time, made up a routine of doing something and found enlightenment. Or at least found their day to be easier.

Traditionally, yes, maybe the original Ashtanga Yogi’s practiced the Primary Series at 4:30 am 6 days a week and then took Saturdays off.  Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t have 3 kids in elementary school, two fluffy dogs that never stopped shedding, an SUV that needed maintenance, Facebook accounts to keep updated, and a fulfilling career.  Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t fly to work Monday through Thursday in Toledo and then jet back to KCMO for Friday Night Buck Night at the Royal’s with their grandkids.  So maybe their tradition isn’t very useful to you, to your low back, or to your happiness quotient.

It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.

Remember, yoga isn’t exercise.  Yoga is a study and a science of calming the mind waves in order to achieve freedom from our habits, our un-checked assumptions, and our fears.  It’s a calculated system of ethical living, breathing, attention, concentration, moving and meditation that just  makes your life happier. (There are a bajillion physical healing benefits to the poses as well: lowering blood pressure, healing nerve issues, strengthening bones and alleviating pain of all types, but that’s a different topic for a different day.)  So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

wider for bc

So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Practice asana gently to avoid intentional suffering  and do something that makes you feel happy.  Yesterday, my yoga was an hour spent weeding my neighborhood organic garden plot.  (Happy and dirty!)  Today, it was one hour of Ashtanga Second Series with fifteen minutes of pranayama followed by a walk with my Russell Clive through the Kansas City Rose Garden. (Happy and sunkissed!) Tomorrow, it may be two hours of sweaty asana practice at Maya Yoga followed by mindfully cleaning my kitchen. (Happy and clean!)  The next day it may be ten minutes of breath meditation before I teach followed by a road-trip to St. Louis during which I say hello to every cow we drive past and delight in the robust green of Midwest Spring.  Maybe I’ll get out of the car and ‘yoga-stretch’ at Quick Trip, but whatever, the point is: Your Yoga can be ANYTHING.  On the mat, off the mat, in the morning, in the evening, in your body or in your head.  Anything that brings you into mindful, present-moment, wonderful awareness and draws you to a place of stillness where you practice compassion and self-care is YOGA.

So, please do this every day.  You will feel happy, happy, happy!

(And, please, come to my classes. That too. You should definitely come to my classes.  As often as you can. You’ll be happy, trust me.)

Happy Practicing,

-lisa

why gratitude is the only reasonable response to life. #MeditationThoughtMondays

This article was first published on November 5, 2014.  I’m re-posting it to kick off a second year of the very popular Gratitude Meditation Challenge.  Please join me!

“It’s November and Facebook is about to blow up with ‘Thankful Lists.’ These lists say something like, “Today I’m thankful for my house, my family, my job, my car, my bathtub, and my Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte.”  My list usually includes my space heater and my warm socks.  2013-10-17 16.03.15

I love November (the two best holidays of the year happen this month: my birthday and Thanksgiving!) because all of a sudden, people start thinking about expressing gratitude for all of the conveniences in their lives, and … they smile a little bit more.

But I want to challenge you to remember that gratitude deserves more than thirty seconds of your attention at the end of your yoga class and gratitude deserves more attention than your 30-day Facebook List.  It even deserves more attention than the ten minutes at the Thanksgiving table when your  family members identify one thing they are grateful for before digging into fall roasted veggies.

ipod old 004 (7)In reality, gratitude is the only reasonable response to being alive.

Why? Because if you really think about it, being alive is practically a miracle.

Whether or not you pause to examine it, a  joyful, abundant, and healthy life is pouring itself upon you in each moment.  This is one reason we practice finding and paying attention to the ‘Present Moment’ in yoga.  And it’s the whole reason that yoga makes us happier.  Michael Brown explains this in his book The Presence Process.  He writes:

“What is Present Moment Awareness?

 

It is a State of Being in which we effortlessly integrate the authentic and Divine Presence that we are with each God-Given moment that we are in so that we are able to respond consciously to every experience we are having. 

 

By accomplishing this, our response is always the same: GRATITUDE.” – m. brown 

Meaning: if I’m aware that the moment I’m living is part of a joyful, abundant, and healthy life, then the ONLY reasonable response is gratitude.  That’s all there is to it.

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“Take a moment to the do the most important thing you will do all day: extend your deepest gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings that bring you joy in this life.”

My challenge?  It’s the same challenge I give at the end of every yoga class I teach. “Take a moment to the do the most important thing you will do all day: extend your deepest gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings which bring you joy in this life.”

What are your blessings?  What brings you joy?  What are you grateful for?

My GRATITUDE MEDITATION CHALLENGE uses my favorite Gratitude Meditation.  You can find it here.  Please join me in 60 seconds of Gratitude Meditation every day for 20 days.  One minute, one thought, one day at a time. New to Meditation?  Check out my tips for beginners:  Learn to Meditate Your Way.

-lisa

gratitude balasana

Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage, part three: walking slowly.

Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage, part three: walking slowly.

I’m a really slow walker.  I’m a painfully slow walker, according to my sister.  I love to dawdle, and gawk, and sigh, and look, and hum, and sing, and pray, and meander.  And maybe take a few steps forward.  Slowly.  Guess where this was not super welcome/ expected/ appreciated… on a four day trek up the Salkantay Mountain pass in the Cusco region of Peru.  Apparently, when you have more than 30 miles and 12,000+ feet of elevation gain/descent to cover in a few short days to get to Machu Picchu, you walk at a quick clip.  Even if you have short legs and are still sick to your stomach from some apricots bought in a local market the week prior.  No time for meandering.  Only to time for putting one foot in front of the other.  Again.  And Again.  And Again. 

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walking into the cloudy abyss…

The four day trek (sleeping in tents along the way!  yay!) through the Salkantay Mountain Pass in Peru was the highlight of our Peruvian adventure (see this post to figure out why I was in Peru).

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our camping sites along the trek in Peru were insanely beautiful

The trek was challenging.  My adventurous spirit was squelched by altitude sickness.  But it was remarkable.  Why?  I learned, for the first time, how to truly offer every step I take as a walking meditation.

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one step at a time, for many days and many miles

We left our backpackers hostel in Cusco at 3:45 am on a Peruvian winter morning and by lunchtime we were deep into the remote trails of the Andean cloud forest with our native guide Edson and a group of seven fellow hikers.  We did not choose the traditional-tourist ‘Incan Trail’ hike to Machu Picchu.  We yearned for a more secluded, intimate experience.  The Salkantay Trek follows a remote footpath and pilgrimage route for native Peruvians who paused to worship the glacier capped ‘Savage Mountain’ on their way to Machu Picchu.  For hundreds of years, Quechua, Incan, and other tribal Peruvians have put one foot in front of the other on this same trail.  They probably walked much faster than I did.

 

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the landscape was rugged and gorgeous

In Andean cosmology, mountains are Gods.  Their peaks are the highest point of contact with the Milky Way, which is the most sacred living space of Spirit.  Nevado Salkantay summits at 20,574 feet above sea level and the Southern Cross illuminates its highest peak at the height of the rainy season.  Rightly so, Incans believed this wild, uncivilized, unconquerable mountain governed the fertility of the region.  Had I known that the mountain pass I would stumble up (thank goodness my Ironman carried our water in his backpack) was christened ‘unconquerable,’ I would have prepared for the physical demands of the hike more seriously.  (As it was, I mostly prepared by walking our dog Russell and up and down our hilly block a few times.  Better luck next time.) But I did it.

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In Andean cosmology, mountains are Gods. Their peaks are the highest point of contact with the Milky Way, which is the most sacred living space of Spirit.

 

The weather was pristine.  The day before we arrived at the pass, trekkers were caught in a snowstorm; Salkantay hid behind dark cloud cover.  I’ve read narratives from Peru-lovers who’ve hiked Salkantay three times (masochists) and never been granted a clear view of its jagged peak.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we turned the corner of the trail and landed ourselves in the shadow of the most sacred mountain in the region.  We were blessed.

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There was Navado Salkantay or ‘Savage Mountain’, just over the next pass.

Just a few miles earlier on the trail, our group paused to perform a native Andean ceremony.  It was the most remarkable moment of the entire journey.  It was a welcome respite, a much needed break.  After several mornings of pre-dawn wake-up calls, wearing mittens to breakfast, and eating pancakes by candlelight in the cook tent, I was a little tired.  (Actually, the wake-up calls were one of the best parts of our fully-guided trek.  At 5:00 am, we’d hear a gentle knock on the outside of our tent and a sing-song “Buenas Diaaaas” signaling that steaming mugs of coca tea would magically appear right outside our zippered door.  That’s room service.)

Still, after two grueling days of hiking at altitude (much, much faster than I would have liked, thank you very much.  It’s not that walking is difficult.  It’s that walking FAST is shockingly unnecessary), I was tired.  I was ready to give up.  I was counting steps.  I was making myself deals and setting impossibly low standards:  just make it to that next rock, just make it through the next five minutes, just make it to the next micro-break, just make it through the end of the next story this chatty Santa Cruz hiker is telling.  I was exhausted.

Finally, we stopped.  I sat down.  I sat my meditating-loving butt on a mossy boulder and refused to get back up.  My Ironman prodded me to get stand up and bundle up.  My day pack transformed into weightlessness as I layered on extra vests, gloves, hats and adorable Peruvian knitted legwarmers, struggling to keep my body temperature comfortable.  (Why I actually thought this trip would be comfortable is still baffling.)  The view was stunning.  I decided I was staying right there.  I didn’t know where ‘right there’ was.  In fact, turns out it was six hours away from camp.  I still had an entire day ahead of striding up hill and tottering downhill:  putting one foot in front of the other.

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Our guide Edson gathered our group together to teach us an ancient Andean tradition.  Even though I didn’t want to take one more step, I got up and hobbled over to the group, eager to participate.  Edson spread a small stash of coca leaves in a wind-protected crevice of a nearby boulder.  He showed us how to choose the best leaves; two leaves in the right hand and three leaves in the left hand.  He explained that we were approaching the mountain pass and it was now the time to offer our journey as a sacred pilgrimage. 

 

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it was now the time to offer our journey as a sacred pilgrimage.

It was a light bulb moment.  My job is to teach people that movement is prayer.  And here I was: treating this hike as arduous– something to be conquered and endured.  The Mountain was not be conquered, it was to be revered. The trek was not to be endured, it was to be offered.  I held the coca leaves gingerly in my mittened hands, and remembered this poem:

 “I appear in the wind, in soil, in stardust, in the sun,

I appear in mountains and desert rain

am the star

and I am the stone.”   

(Find it here: ‘Be Love Clothing’ )

These words eloquently remind humans that the Spirit of creative forces is manifested in every phenomenon, not limited by our cognition and rational mind.

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It was a light bulb moment.  I learned that experiencing the living pulse of nature, in true reverence, is learning to hear in my own racing heartbeat the rhythm of the living earth.  It means listening to the wind.  Listening to the moving water.  Listening to the hummingbirds.  Listening to the stories written by hundreds of pilgrims’ feet scribed in the mud of this footpath.

My mindset changed completely.  Moving forward was no longer a battle of will.  Walking forward was now an act of deep reverence.  Every step was an offering.  I was honoring Creation in every step.  For the next six hours, I barely spoke a word.  I was immersed in continuous meditative prayer, using this mantra with every step:

“I offer you the breath in my lungs.  I offer you the sound in my heart.  I offer you the sweetness of my Spirit… Let me be silent.  Let me be still.  So that kindness and grace may hover over me.”  (Adapted from Carolyn Myss and Andrew Harvey.   You may need this book.)

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With this mantra, I was not struggling.  Now I was on a pilgrimage, sharing this experience with the history of the Mountain and the Spirit of nature.  I found renewed energy.  I actually wanted to walk forward, to move, to breathe, to offer.  I wanted the trek to never end.  (Until I saw our campsite off in the distance.  Then I was super excited to curl up in my tent and nap before dinner.)

It was the most powerful experience, to practice true walking meditation.  I hope that every day I wake up for the rest of my life, I will remember to use this mantra:

 “I offer you the breath in my lungs. 

I offer you the sound in my heart.  I offer you the sweetness of my Spirit… Let me be silent.  Let me be still. 

So that kindness and grace may hover over me.”

What can you offer today?  Think about and let me know.  Thanks for listening.  Stay tuned for the next part of our journey: the Sacred City of Macchu Picchu!

-lisa

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We made it. Two thumbs up.

the language of yoga: karma.

The Language of Yoga: Karma

The language of yoga: karma.

“Karma-a-a!” the teacher hollered across the pre-school classroom.  I looked up, expectantly, wondering: what the hell happened?  A little girl in wearing a backwards purple shirt and Pebbles Flinstone hair rushed past me, rushing to hug the teacher’s knees. The teacher wasn’t yelling “karma” in exasperation as I expected… she was calling the name of an adorable pre-schooler with an under bite.  Seriously?  Seriously.  Someone named her little girl Karma.  Oh dear God, I thought… What an unlucky name.  Or, wait, maybe it’s a really lucky name.  Was this Karma a good karma or a bad karma consequence?  

Karma is probably the most-used and least-understood concept in the Yoga philosophy.  Its meanings are many, and do in fact, vary across Religious traditions.  (e.g. ‘karma’ means something different in Buddhism than in Taoism.)  A few months ago, I stumbled across this article which explains the Sanskrit term of Karma.  It isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start… and it may inspire you to re-think the next time you pull out the old shrug-and-sing ‘karma’ when your friend gets a parking ticket.

This article is re-posted from Yoga Glo.  Its original format can be found here.  Written by Alice G. Walton, PhD

Karma may be one of the most colloquialized expressions from the yogic tradition, and unfortunately it’s also one of the most misunderstood. It originally comes from the Sanskrit word “karman,” whose root “kri” means simply “to do” – no morality or ethics implied. In fact, Karma itself is usually just translated as “to act.” But we tend to think of it as having more significant undertones, with god or fate in there as a mediator between action and consequence. And this is actually not so close to the original meaning, which is much more straightforward.

Maren Showkeir, who co-authored the book Yoga Wisdom at Work, points out how misinterpreted the word often can often be today. “I think people get really confused about Karma,” she says. “Many people have the misconception that it’s about the Universe or the Cosmos or even god rewarding/punishing based on actions we take.” It’s not about this at all, she says, and there’s no third party judging or orchestrating the actions we do.

Karma is just about what happens in the world after we take action of any kind – and the fact that our actions do have consequences, though we may not always be aware of what they are. “It’s nothing more than the connection between action and consequence,” she says. “That is always neutral. It’s our perceptions and judgments that label ‘good and bad.’” Some have pointed out that it’s really just as basic as Newton’s third law of motion (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”). And if we can get on board with this simplicity, we’ll understand the essence of Karma pretty well.

The problem is that we’re not always aware of how our actions will affect others, so there’s always some element of unknowing – and this can give way to the feeling that there must be another force at play. “We can’t really shape karma because we can never know the consequences of our actions,” says Showkeir, “which may be why people want to chalk it up to ‘the universe.’ However, we can be mindful about the actions we take.”

In other words, it’s about keeping intention, rather than consequence, in mind as we decide on our actions. There’s no guarantee, of course, but we can hope that decisions that come from a place of kindness will – in most cases – end in positive results. Showkeir agrees that for her, “the challenge is to try not to get too hung up on the potential consequences. If I act with the assumption/expectation that if I do X, we’ll get Y positive result, I am setting myself up for disappointment. The thing that drives my actions is my intention, and that is where the focus belongs. It is a fine distinction, but in my mind, an essential one.”

Acting from a place of intention frees you up to make better decisions, because you’re not overwhelmed – or worse, paralyzed – by all the potential outcomes. In those cases, like Showkeir says, your brain sort of shuts down because it’s impossible to predict the future. But acting with the assumption that good intentions usually lead to good outcomes is a lot more logical and a lot more liberating. “We can recognize that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions,” says Showkeir. “And that will lead to more peace.”

Alice G. Walton, PhD is a health and science writer, and began practicing (and falling in love with) yoga last year. She is the Associate Editor at TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com and a Contributor at Forbes.com. Alice will be exploring yoga’s different styles, history, and philosophy, and sharing what she learns here on the YogaGlo blog. You can follow Alice on Twitter @AliceWalton and Facebook at Facebook.com/alicegwalton.

This article is re-posted from Yoga Glo.  Its original format can be found here.

who do you practice for?

who do you practice yoga for?

“Since I started doing yoga a few months ago, I feel like a new person.  I want you to know that now I consciously try to be peaceful.  Even when I’m not doing yoga, I think about what you say in class and I try to make a conscious decision to be peaceful.  It’s not easy,” Erica told me one Monday after savasana “I think: what would I want my daughter to see?  Then I make a conscious effort to be peaceful.”  Erica’s daughter is 18 months old and adorable.  She wears twirly dresses and glitter shoes and her grin is obscured only by her big white pacifier.  Erica works in a high-stress environment with pre-schoolers who are in the foster care system.  ‘Peaceful’ would be the last word I would choose to describe her daily schedule.  But Erica is motivated by a deep wellspring of love, which only outlasts her wellspring of patience once in a while.

Erica does yoga for her daughter.  In a moment of silence at the end of every yoga class, Erica experiences a profound peace.  Her intention, or sankalpa, of peacefulness acts as a ‘call to awakening,’ in her daily experiences.  Without an intention, yoga poses are merely movements of the body.  But with an intention, it is the backdrop to an inner awakening: we often feel like a new person.

New people have new habits: new responses to frustrations (traffic?), new reactions to stressors (children? bosses?), new judgments on failures (ending a relationship?), new answers to questions (life’s meaning and vocation?), even new opinions on collective actions (communal conflict?).  Other people tend to notice these new responses and habits—transformation does not go unnoticed.  Penny says that she channels all her work frustration into a big, big, big, yoga breath: just when she’s about ready to yell at her (much younger and slightly annoying) co-workers, she instead, remembers her yoga.  And takes a big breath.  And calms down.  And responds like a leader and mentor should respond: with compassion.

Yoga simply makes you nicer.  And people notice.

Author and yoga teacher Max Strom writes:

“To choose to transform, heal, and grow is the dynamic and noble path that so few take but all of us admire.” – M. Strom, There is no App for Happiness

In other words, when you change your life by becoming happier, healthier and more whole, people notice.

So my question is: who are YOU practicing yoga for? 

Erica practices for her daughter: she wants her daughter to experience happiness, kindness and peacefulness in their household.  Penny practices for her team at work: she wants to mentor and inspire her co-workers and manage her team with integrity.

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Who do you practice yoga for?  Ask yourself this question every time you practice.  You breathe for yourself, yes.  You breathe to regain balance, kindness and truth in your life.  But you breathe for others too.  For your grandson, because you want to be able to sit on bleachers and watch his baseball game.  For your sister, because she annoys you so much you want to scream.  For your co-workers, because without yoga you might go insane. For your husband, because you cherish his love even when he leaves all the dirty dishes in the sink and forgets to take out the trash.  For your boss, because you wish her good health and good fortune, even if you find her work ethic absurd.  For your community, because you wish for safe neighborhoods.  For humanity, because you believe that peace is possible.  You are breathing for hundreds of generations before you and hundreds of generations after you.

Who do you practice for?

Think about it and let me know,

-lisa