I’ve been listening to a lot of Rachel Hollis lately. She’s a kick-butt entrepreneur and influencer who built a multi-million dollar media company on the platform of motivating women to DREAM REALLY BIG.
I like what she has to say and how she says it: authentically. (In Yoga Philosophy authenticity and speaking truth is called satya.) And I also think The Dreaming Big Thing can be disorienting and slightly misdirected.
It’s just that I talk to women who are so indelibly overwhelmed with doing things BIGGER: bigger birthday parties, bigger promotions, bigger responsibilities, bigger purses, bigger calendars, bigger minivans, bigger social followings, bigger involvement in all things Kate Spade, that their sense of inner contentment (santosha) shrinks smaller and smaller by the day, until their stress is the biggest thing in their overwhelmed/underwhelmed lives.
The best advice I’ve heard that speaks to this feeling of being unfulfilled within an overfilled schedule is from Becca Stevens in her book Love Heals:
“If you stress because you feel like your glass is half empty most of the time, your cup may be too big.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Big Fan of Dreaming Big. AND I also think that my dreams need to be very, very SMALL and SIMPLE so that I don’t feel continuously half empty.
In 2016 I wrote a blog post called Dream Away where I shared my 3 biggest/ smallest dreams: to teach, to travel and to love.
These 3 Simple Dreams create a precise foundation for my daily decisions. In order to keep my cup small, I use them as a heuristic: if it doesn’t help me do these 3 things with increasing integrity and excellence, I don’t do it.
These 3 Simple Dreams shrink my cup; they hone my focus and make certain that what I say “yes, please“ to is exactly in line with my authentic truth and assist in creating a small, happy life.
This week, challenge yourself to spend time in contemplation; what 3 Simple Words can narrowly define your biggest dreams so that your cup feels like its overflowing? How can you shrink your cup so that it stays full?
Real talk: having a baby makes my life bigger and slightly more hectic; but she fits at least 2 of out of 3 criteria: spreading more love and making me a better teacher. (And she’s just so darn cute. So she’s a big YES, PLEASE!)
I get about 50 gazillon junk e-mails, promo mailings and annoying calls a week now that I own a small business, all of them trying to tell me how much I NEED to advertise with them or offer their product or sell their junk. The impetus to sell more and use CAPS! And promote THIS! And ADVERTISE with US! (for free, after I invest $172) is insatiable and it is WAY out of line with my integrity.
This icky, growly, stay-away-from-me-response bubbles up when I start listening to voices that promote scarcity and sagely explain why my worthiness depends on Facebook Ads and staying relevant on omniscient Instagram. No experience has led me more to refining my integrity and drawing boundaries to stay within my integrity than registering an LLC.
Satya is the second of the ethical considerations of the yoga philosophy. There are five ethical considerations given in the Yoga Sutras which guide our social and communal actions. These are called yamas and we examined the cornerstone, ahimsa (non-harming and compassion) in previous posts.
Satya is defined as Truthfulness and Integrity. It is the impetus for aligning our thoughts, words and actions so that we are effective and living with sincerity. It’s the opposite of living a false or shallow life where we say one thing… and then do another. I love what writer and researcher Brené Brown says about satya because she takes it one step further from just ‘telling the truth’ to ‘living our truth.’ She says that truth telling is integral to upholding integrity and that it also takes courage. She writes,
“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
One of my values is living a life of simplicity and generosity. So when I am bombarded with messages telling me to DO MORE and BE MORE to BE MORE WORTHY, the pit of my stomach fills with molten hot revulsion. It’s difficult not to give in to messages and ideas that seem culturally customary; my boundaries are often affronted and I find myself fearful, but then I get on my yoga mat and meditate and my courage is bolstered.
I remember that choosing courage over comfort is part of living satya and that whenever I am in line with my highest Good, which is always Light and Love, then I’m living a meaningful life. And I just say “No, thanks” to every bogus e-mail that comes my way.
When are you living in integrity with your highest good? When do you find your words saying one thing and your actions saying the opposite? In contrast, when do you feel most aligned, truthful and sincere?
“By abiding in truthfulness, one’s words and actions are subservient to truth and thus whatever is said or done bears the fruit of sincerity.”
You’ve seen marmots, right? I mean, besides holding the title of cutest rodent name, they truly are the cutest. Their little noses never stop sniffing, they bounce down trails like plink-o balls and they steal smelly hiking shoes for snacks. Adorable, svelt, glamorously silver and long legged. I want to share snacks and stories and sunbathe with marmots.
But omygosh did you know you can kill a little furry creature by sharing trail snacks? Consuming human snacks (on purpose or inadvertently) disturbs the natural cycle of sustenance and wild ecology so deeply that one cheeze-it can kill a marmot.
I was recently reminded of the power of ahimsa (non-harming) during my two week camping trip in the Canadian National Parks. These landscapes are breathtakingly momentous and magnificent. They are pristine; hundreds of miles of wild forests and mountains and waterways are preserved perfectly.
And because Parks Canada treasures their wildlife so deeply, campers are continuously reminded how damaging it is to feed furry critters. I’m an animal lover. My first instinct is to call and cajole and cuddle them… even the ones with sharp little teeth. So I had to pay careful attention to all my actions: I couldn’t and shouldn’t just do whatever I wanted, which mostly consisted of having high tea with marmots and sharing chocolate with bears. I needed to appraise my actions from the viewpoint of ahmisa first.
Ahimsa, which means compassion and non-harming, is the first of the yamas (ethical considerations of yoga, discussed in previous post) and is the cornerstone by which we build and measure all of our actions. Our marmots, our snacks and our yoga practice are all connected.
We learn ahimsa on our yoga mat when we pay attention to the intimate connection of our breath and our emotions and practice in a way that is laced with gentleness and compassion. The more we practice yoga, the more obvious it becomes: we are SO connected with other living beings. And our actions are extremely important because we are a microcosm of the macrocosm.
Deepak Chopra says it so perfectly:
“If you recognize your individuality is intimately woven into the fabric of life—that you are a strand in the web of life—you lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful to others. Acting from this level of your soul, you are incapable of being violent because your whole being is established in peace.”
And that is how yoga changes the world. We LOSE the ability to act in harmful ways. We are INCAPABLE of violence because we are established in peace in our hearts and truly, honestly, want to choose compassion in each and every way. Take your next breath and notice: you are sharing this breath with millons and gazillions of other sentient beings and you are one amazingly awesome strand in the web.
Go establish peace amongst yourselves and your marmot friends.
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.
“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-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:
Kind and compassionate
Humble and Courageous
Trustworthy and Trusting
then WHAT IS THE POINT of doing yoga?
The point is this: yoga does help us become more kind, compassionate, truthful, generous, humble, courageous, trustworthy and trusting through the ethical principles it promotes and the continuous Presence we learn.
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 thefive 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.
Enjoy this Guided Relaxation and Meditation Experience.
Guided Meditation Teachings
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I’ve been an adult for nearly a decade; which in no way entitles me to any authority on the matter, whatsoever… but actually I think I may have figured out a significant strategy to successful ‘adulting.’ (This, by the way, is its own hashtag…which makes me think my internet community must be overwhelmingly and alarmingly excited about pretending we know what we are doing as pretend adults.)
(so fun to be a real-life adult! photo cred: JanaMarie Photography)
I’ve presented this 3 pronged approach to a few friends lately; its been received reasonably well. I’ve been warned it is, perhaps, missing a few key elements regarding paying bills and car insurance and feeding oneself and her family, but I’m pretty sure I’m on to something.
So, my exhaustive list of 3 key actions: How to be a Successful Adult
1. Move things around. Moving things around makes me look so busy! And creative! And responsible! And people love it when things are in a new place. Trash, dust, towels, pictures, Kleenex boxes, water bottles, Ganesha statues, plants, dirty clothes, clean clothes, whatever! Move that stuff around, continuously and consistently, and you will totally look like you know what you’re doing.
2. Send a lot of e-mails. I have discovered that e-mailing is the most substantial indication of “doing work.” It makes me appear so important and communicative and ‘on it!’ It’s the best! Sometimes I send e-mails just to send e-mails…and then check them off my list.
3. Measure my success by how much fun I’m having and how quickly I can change my mindset from fear to love. Being serious is overrated. I’ve found that success in life, for me, means always choosing joy and learning not to compare myself to others. The more I love others, give to others, and affirm others, the more successful I am at building the life I love. It’s sometimes terrifying owning a business whose bottom line is contingent on students getting off work on time in the evenings, family schedules, personal energy levels and the conscious and sometimes difficult choice of attending a yoga class instead of a Sporting KC game. It’s sometimes terrifying owning a business in what now, for some unknown reason, seems like a ‘fad industry’ and there are yoga studios popping up on every corner. It’s sometimes terrifying when I think: Is this really a real-life job and do I have the energy to keep it going? But then I remember to measure my success by how much fun I’m having and how quickly I can change my mindset from fear to love.
And I choose to love my life.
How do you measure your success? How can you change your mindset from fear to love? How do you choose to love life?
My Ironman insists on celebrating his birthday on top of a 14er in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Literally, on the summit. And I always, always, always forget how difficult it actually is to hike one of those things, so I say, “YES! Let’s totally hike that mountain that requires ten straight hours of hiking and a 4 am wake-up call on vacation!” and then I start hiking and remember: Holy freaking cow, this is really, really difficult.
Worth it? Yes, because the spaciousness of the summit and the silence of the trail are unforgettable. But still difficult.
So, readers, in the (likely) circumstance that you never marry a former Trail Guide who expertly guides you to the top of a 14er summit (or two) every summer, I humbly present to you my Yogi’s Guide to Hiking a 14er.
Tell yourself it’s easy. Literally, start every sentence with: “It’s easy for me to…” And fill in the blank. In challenging and strenuous situations (for instance, climbing to the top of a pile of rocks 14 thousand feet in the air or getting your work done before deadline or talking to the most annoying co-worker in the history annoying co-workers) your thoughts (in Sanskrit vrtti-s) can spin wildly out-of-control. Hiking to the top of a 14er mirrors life in that it is mind-game. Gaining control over the 70,000 daily thoughts in our mind alters the spinning trajectory of our vrtti-s to be helpful instead of harmful. Our mind LOVES to distract us from achieving goals such as ‘being present’ and ‘being content’ and ‘not dying while walking these last 7 miles’ with negative vrtti-s. Negative or harmful thoughts are usually caused by deep emotional triggers (in Sanskrit: kleshas) and they turn over and over and over again in our subconscious until we believe them. Starting a sentence with, “It’s easy for me to…” re-sets the turning/tumbling/ridiculous cycle of self-judgmental thoughts and helps you focus on what you CAN DO. Like, for instance, take one more step. In fact, “It’s easy for me to hike this whole trail, even though my lungs are exploding.”
Wear gloves. It’s cold. And numb fingers make everyone crabby.
Listen to silence. I believe it’s ultra important to understand that the core of our being is always quiet and still. It is our Inner Light, our Inner Wisdom, which is connected to Spirit. A little bit of the Atman lives in each person’s heart and offers an Infinite wellspring of grace, joy, love and wisdom. The vrtti-s spin like wheels, distracting us with outer definitions of who we think we are and how we aren’t good enough, butthe inner light of awareness (purusha), is a hub stillness. Listening to silence means learning to listen to the still small voice of awareness that shines through all the vrtti-s. Sit yourself down on a rock and listen. It’s incredibly quiet on the mountain. It’s intoxicating and beautiful and freeing.
Get an alpine start. If you don’t get it done in the morning, it’s not going to happen. This is true of your yoga practice and your meditation practice. Set your alarm and get up in the dark if you need to. Be diligent in your personal resolve to consecrate your day toward Love and set your intention. Do it first thing in the morning or the day will get away from you. Remember: you have time.
Take frequent rests. I recently learned that resting is a spiritual practice. And that taking naps is an important part of staying healthy and whole. When climbing that GD mountain of day, set aside a specific time of the day for an 8 minute savasana, legs-up-the-wall-pose or guided meditation. Resting is necessary for your body, mind and spirit to re-align. Rest at every mile mark, take a drink, eat a snack and enjoy the view.
Be creative in your route. There is no ‘one right way’ to get to the top. In fact, there may not even be ‘a top’ in life. Everyone measures success differently. Give yourself permission to be bit creative with your route and your end goal. Stay safe, but let your dreams run wild and free. Seriously. Do the things that most inspire you and do them with passion. You may not have a 9-5 job, you may not wear a suit to work, you may not have a giant house or even a giant ego; be creative and courageous find what really makes you come alive. The view from ‘the top’ will be priceless.
It’s about the journey. Sometimes, things are worth doing simply because they are beautiful and interesting. The spiritual journey of yoga is one of those things. The poses themselves are fun, but the inner journey of discipline, strength, flexibility and being willing to travel light is what matters most. Every step forward on the spiritual journey of healing the mind from addictions, cravings, compulsions and falsity is worthwhile. Every step forward into the Light is worth it—difficult and sometimes scary and sometimes hard as heck—but worth it. Keep walking. Try to enjoy the journey, because you’ll really never get this day, this trail, this hike ever again.
Don’t be annoyed when a 3-year-old summits faster than you do. Refer to Number 7.
Pack a chocolate bar. There is nothing sweeter in life than taking a moment to savor your hard work and delight in all your senses. When you achieve even a minor life goal (like putting all the clean dishes away?), enjoy the sweet moment to its FULLEST. Open a Cadbury, snap a few yoga photos from the summit, gobble up that Freaking Fresh mountain air and then start walking back down the trail. It’s waiting for you.
“True space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.” -GM
‘Waiting’ (i.e. thinking and worrying and meditating and worrying and praying for days) is generally how I operate.
It’s how I make big decisions and small decisions. It’s how ensure that I am living a life of integrity and not a life of greed or compulsion or defensiveness or (god-forbid) absurdity. Waiting is how I make Soul Space, a place for sweetness and relief, for intuition; a place for sukha.
Soul Space is something most of us are missing in our lives.
Why? Because making Soul Space is demanding and messy and uncomfortable and requires just about as much patience as putting a buttoned-down Christmas sweater on a llama.
What I discovered about Soul Space during my very big emotional inhale the past few months, was that it required me to wrestle with suffering (duhkha) and stop waitingaround for my Present Moment to be a magical unicorn-rainbow-puppy parade. Instead, I needed to start making my Present Moment as free as possible given the present circumstances (with puppies, sans unicorns, naturally).
The head/heart/Soul space (in Sanskrit ‘kha’) I lived in last spring was far from inner contentment. It was grieving and frightened and nervous and doubtful and overwhelmingly stressed. I didn’t write about it ‘real-time’ because living it ‘real-time’ was enough; but here’s what happened:
I quit teaching at my home Ashtanga Studio, the place where I launched my yoga teaching career in Kansas City, learned to structure my life around the discipline of yoga and even met my husband. (Sad, but not overwhelmingly so.)
I purchased Westport Yoga, the place where I transformed from a good yoga teacher into a great yoga teacher, learned how to be a leader in the industry and delighted in the invaluable mentoring of my boss Kate who taught me to lead with integrity, creativity and wisdom. (Exuberant, almost overwhelmingly so.)
Two days after the deal closed, as I was still wrapping my mind around the 11-day whirlwind of legal crises, bank accounts and paperwork required to purchase Westport Yoga, my mentor, colleague and dear friend took her own life. After decades of battling bi-polar disorder and depression, Kate’s decision was not unexpected but it was still extremely, horribly shocking. (Devastating, decidedly overwhelmingly so.)
Within me clashed momentous emotions: shock, devastation, excitement, determination, grief, anger, disbelief, anguish… duhkha. Immense suffering.
I did what any sensible person would do: I shut down my Soul Space, repressed a whole lot of emotion, turned into an efficiency robot and disconnected from any hope of grace.
I did what needed to be done: I called teacher meetings, I presided over Kate’s memorial service, I taught 15+ classes a week, I held students as they cried, I wrote lesson plans, I planned professional development and wrote contracts for teachers, I organized insurance policies, I went to therapy appointments, I rain trails with Russell Clive, I drank wine and binge-watched three seasons of Scandal and I even tried to learn tax laws (remember that post?). I filled my hours until I didn’t have to bear the discomfort of my Soul Space. I told myself I was WAITING for life to get back to normal, waiting to feel free again.
And then I read this, about repression of the Soul Space:
“…the more we repress, suppress, procrastinate, or anesthetize, the more resistant we will be toward space. Conversely, the more true space we give ourselves, the less we will repress. And to the extent that we consecrate our spaciousness, intend it for love, point it toward love’s source, space will be merciful. The unpleasantness of space will never be more than we can bear.”
-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart
And my Soul Space demanded to be opened back up and directed toward Love, immediately. What I needed was not more WAITING to feel the right thing or to find the right words to put down on paper about this experience, but more courage to consecrate my Soul Space toward love so that I could heal from it. I needed more Safe Soul Space, more sukha.
In the first post of this series, I introduced the Sanskrit term ‘kha:’ space or spaciousness. Yoga philosophy insists that duhkha (bad space, suffering) is a shared and unavoidable human experience, but yoga teaches us techniques to alter our reactions to suffering so that we can experience a space of relief and sweetness, sukha, even in the midst of suffering.
Meditation master Jack Kornfield writes, “The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the way we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom.”
In the mayhem and the emotional inhale of the last few months, I worked directly with the fear, grief, and anger in my very real and very temporary state of mind.
What I found was this: I only started to heal when I stopped waiting for things to be ‘back to normal’ and just acted like they were. I stopped waiting for things to be funny and just started laughing (loudly, probably obnoxiously). I stopped waiting to feel confident and secure and just started acting like I was a freaking Rock Star. I stopped waiting to feel like I could take a big, deep, FREE breath and just started making space for freedom in my body and my mind. I stopped waiting for the Present Moment to be a perfect one and just started seeing the present moment for what it actually was.
Gerald May, that blessed genius, came to my rescue again by reminding me that, “true space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.”
I just had to stop waiting for those love-filled rainbow unicorns to arrive on the scene and just go ahead and consecrate the Present Moment toward love, hope and freedom all on my own. That’s a Soul Space worth not waiting for.
Are you feeling the same way?
Here are 3 Guided Practices to help you encounter and maintain Soul Space today:
Springtime. I come out of hibernation and act like a maniac. I want to take all sorts of yoga classes all over town, attend all sorts of events, run all sorts of trails with Russell Clive, plant all sorts of herbs and be ridiculously active until the sun goes down. I think, “I have so much energy now that the sun is shining! I am invincible!”
And then the next day, I need a 2 hour nap and am wearing pajamas by 3 pm.
My reality slackens its grip on the wisdom of “a balanced lifestyle,” something I wholeheartedly endorse as a yoga instructor. In yoga, we call wisdom “ishvara.” Ishvara is the collective consciousness that we all have access to if we are quiet enough to listen. However, if we are unbalanced– if our energies and attentions swinging wildly between frenetic activity and forced hibernation, then we are not listening to this wisdom.
Ishvara is a wisdom tradition and also a teacher. Ishvara teaches us to humility by reminding us that there is a wisdom bigger than our individual ego. Each of us has direct access to these teachings through yoga and through meditation.
Isvara doesn’t demand or cajole or plead, it teaches and leads our life back into balance when we are at the end of our tether.
My go-to fix for finding balance in an unbalanced world is a pranayama technique designed specifically to restore balance to the mind and increase focus.
Nadi Shodana: Alternate Nostril Breathing
Use your right hand. Make a ‘mudra’ of first two fingers extended, other fingers lightly folded in to the palm.
Rest the first two fingers lightly between the eyebrows. The knuckle of the thumb rests lightly on the right-side bridge of nose and the knuckle of the ring finger rests lightly on the left-side bridge of nose.
Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
On an inhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and inhale through the left side of the nose.
On an exhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and exhale through the left side of the nose.
Continue alternating the breath in the nostrils for 10 rounds.
To finish, rest your hands lightly in your lap. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
Quietly affirm to yourself: “I maintain focus and balance.”
Emerge from this practice feeling focused and balanced. Use it as often as needed throughout the day. It’s perfect before an important meeting, after lunch break or anytime your mind slides towards imbalance.
(editor’s note: a version of this story was published April 10, 2017 on mayayoga.com. used with permission.)