not needing more: santosha.

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“Contentment is the fragrance of present moment awareness. Contentment reflects a state of being in which your peace is independent of situations and circumstances happening around you.” – Deepak Chopra


I have 5 rain coats, approximately 63 sweatshirts, 3 puffy vests and a thousand reasons to stop buying more clothes. And still, I open my closet
and think: “I need a new jacket.”

What is it about being a human that makes us think, “I need more”?

Is it that we are truly lacking? Or just that contentment with what we have right in front of us is dulled in comparison to our feverish desire for more?

It’s not easy to feel contentment: it’s easier to believe that happiness will magically descend upon my life when I’m wildly successful/ can do a handstand perfectly/ lose the last five winter pounds/ have a new jacket/ the sun is shining every day/ yoga classes are filled to the brim.

I do it constantly, this ‘wanting more’ business. I want more students, more money, more hobbies, more free time, more Girl Scout Cookies, more puppies, more flowers for my front porch, more friends, more tattoos, more sunny days, more Instagram likes.

And yet, the wisdom of yoga tells me that I will still not feel content even if I have all these things. Ridiculously, I’ll still want more.
The practice and philosophy of Yoga teaches me that true contentment, called santosha, is independent of external factors and must derive its potency from my internal state.  Not what I have, but what I am. 

Contentment is inaccessible if I am living in the future, hoping for life to be perfect one day when I have more of everything I don’t really need.

Santosha requires me to examine all the reasons and all the ways I look for fulfillment, validation, praise and worth outside of myself. And instead, look for contentment in the exact present moment, with exactly what I have and exactly who I am.

One thing that helps me find contentment is to meditate on the gift of the Present Moment with this Guided Meditation:

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

What does contentment (santosha) mean to you? How do you find it in the present moment? I’m looking forward to your answers,

-lisa

integrity and satya: so no to junk e-mail.

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.”

–Yoga Sutras II 36 (translation M. Stiles)

 

how to balance your mind in an unbalanced world.

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

  1. Use your right hand. Make a ‘mudra’ of first two fingers extended, other fingers lightly folded in to the palm.
  2. 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.
  3. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  4. On an inhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and inhale through the left side of the nose.
  5. On an exhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and exhale through the left side of the nose.
  6. Continue alternating the breath in the nostrils for 10 rounds.
  7. To finish, rest your hands lightly in your lap. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  8. 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.

Happy Balancing,

-lisa

(editor’s note: a version of this story was published April 10, 2017 on mayayoga.com. used with permission.)

you are made of gold.

I love me a good fire. A real wood-burning, smoke-producing, utterly-charming fire holds me captive for hours. I’m the kind of person who sits too close the fire: my frontside burning, my backside frigid against the chill of the air, but too intoxicated by the heat to move away.  On New Year’s Day sequestered in an Arkansas cabin with my Ironman, I watched solid logs gathered the day before from the rugged hillside turn into powder behind the fireplace grate. In a matter of hours, they transformed completely from substance to ashes. It was beautiful.

January 1, or 2, or 31 is really just another day to the calendar. But we treat every January with unwarranted importance as the one and only time we reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. This act of reflection on the recent past and looking forward to the near future is, in my eyes, of utmost importance. But it should not be confined to January (even though it’s the perfect way to spend the hours hiding from winter’s unrelenting peril). Instead, transformation, or parinama in Sanskrit, can and should happen every day.

The Yoga Sutras tell us that we are all made of same underlying energy, an indivisible and invisible but powerful energy. A person’s heart is like gold: it can change, re-configure as a new shape, appear in a different form, but its essence remains the same. It endures fire and heat, but it is still gold. Parinama is a process of moving into the fire, confronting the heat of loss, fear, confusion, pain, humility, anger, and injury but retaining your essence of pure, unaltered light. It’s the process of taking a new shape but remaining gold.

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According to Social Media, everyone and their mom thought 2016 totally sucked. I thought it was fantastically wild ride—very high highs and very low lows—which sent me headfirst into the heat of transformation (you can read my 2016 round up here.) I definitely got burned a few times.  And I probably did some burning (that smoke detector in my new house works well, I assure you.), but isn’t a wild and slightly uncomfortable ride totally worth taking, if at the end you step off a new and transformed person?

Parinama: true inner transformation of thoughts, words, actions and habits takes time.  And trust. And a willingness to get burned. Transformation, on and off the yoga mat, begins with discomfort but ends with a stronger sense of respect for both yourself and the life you are leading.

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The Yoga Sutras tell us that every time we set foot on the yoga mat or have a seat on our meditation cushion is an opportunity for reflection and transformation. Everything in nature changes from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. Today, and every day of this year, set your intention to refine yourself. Take a moment to sit by a fire—you may already be sitting in one if you are reeling from stress, anger, hurt, or fear—and remember that everything is always changing and true reflection will move you forward into true healing. Set your intention to be open to change but remain gold. 

Happy Burning,

-lisa

 

may the force be with you. #MeditationThoughtMondays

not our thoughts, viveka

I was all snuggled up on the couch, ready to brave the stormy night with Star Wars to keep me safe. The iconic yellow text retreated into the star field and I felt completely safe from Dark Forces; I high-fived my Ironman and settled in to watch Jedi Knights restore peace and justice to the galaxy. Without warning the thunderstorm seethed and the sound of hail bashing our house drowned out the unmistakable opening refrain.

First thought: How eerie and scary… Glad I’m safe inside. 

Second thought: I’ll check the radar to make sure it’s just hail and not a tornado. No tornado? … Glad I’m safe inside.

Third thought: Oh DEAR GOD my plants are outside!! I didn’t prepare my garden for this! I’m going to LOSE EVERYTHING! Forget about finding Luke Skywalker and restoring the Balance of the Force. I have to do something!

My garden wasn’t in a galaxy, far, far away, it was right down the road being pummeled with frozen marbles. I temporarily lost my mind; my adrenaline revved up to run to the rescue. I imagined myself darting out to the car, driving four blocks in a flash flood, sprinting to my garden plot… and then… what?

What could I possibly do to protect my baby spinach and my unborn beets?  Nothing. No rescue plan would be successful. If the storm as going to flood my seeds and pulverize my kale leaves then it was going to do it whether I was on my couch cuddling with Russell Clive or whether I was fighting my way through mud losing my mind trying to stop it. This wasn’t Star Wars and it wasn’t a real disaster.  This was just a Midwest thunderstorm.

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Some beets were saved, they were small, but they were delicious.

Sometimes during meditation, the mind does this ‘overreacting’ bit like it’s trying to win a freaking Academy Award. The mind identifies a small problem, turns it into a disaster and then creates an elaborate rescue plan. It’s exhausting. 

Thought: I’m feeling sad today.  Erroneous catastrophe: If I’m feeling sad right now, then I must be sad ALL the time and I must be depressed. Something is inherently wrong with me. Rescue Plan: I need to call a doctor immediately, check on my health insurance plan for covering anti-depressants and eat a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate chips while I’m on hold.

Thought: I’m feeling tired right now.  Erroneous catastrophe:  There must be something wrong with my metabolism and I probably have cancer of the thyroid.  Rescue Plan:  I’ll start planning my own funeral so my cousin won’t feel entitled to play a Prince cover as my eulogy.

Thought: I’m feeling annoyed at this person. Erroneous catastrophe: This person is the bane of my existence and I’ll never be happy if I have to stay on the same project team as him.  Rescue Plan: I’ll devise a way to get said annoying person fired so I never have to work with him again.  Then, I’ll rule the world.

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One tool yoga philosophy gives us the ability to use discernment, or Viveka, to realize that we are not our thoughts. We can have a thought without being defined by that thought.

Sometimes, though, we don’t need to fix a problem, or come to the rescue. Sometimes, we just need to sit back and become a ‘watcher.’ One tool that yoga philosophy gives us the ability to use discernment, or Viveka, to realize that we are not our thoughts. We can have a thought without being defined by that thought.

I mean, we can hit our funny bone and feel a startling pain in our elbow, but we do not become that tingly sensation. Similarly, in meditation, we can have a thought without becoming the thought. 

As Sharon Salzburg writes, “Most of the time, we think we are our thoughts.  We forget, or have never noticed, that there’s an aspect of our mind that’s watching these thoughts arise and pass away.”  Meaning, we don’t always have to create a rescue plan and rush to the scene. We can often allow ourselves to watch the movie and the story will unfold.

The Sanskrit term for this is Viveka.  It means ‘keen discernment.’  This is when we hone our ability to consciously discern one thing from another and exercise clear judgement, which can help us avoid unnecessary suffering. Viveka helps us make healthy choices by stepping back, observing the situation, and then acting with clarity in order for our Purusha to shine through.

One impressively simple and deceptively effective way to become the ‘watcher’ and engage in viveka is to use the technique of ‘naming your thoughts.’

For example, when you are meditating, notice what you are thinking about and then categorize it: plan, worry, remembrance, distraction, anticipation, new idea.

It’s easier and harder than it sounds; it is very relieving to know that whatever you are thinking about doesn’t have to be addressed right away. You don’t have to jump up and try to navigate the Millennium Falcon to the Resistance Base. You can just sit with your thought, notice that it is a thought, and then continue sitting and ultimately relax.

Here’s your Meditation Challenge:

“Naming Your Thoughts: Developing Discernment Viveka”

  1. Find your Meditation seat and set your timer for 8 minutes.
  2. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  3. Sit with only breath awareness for a few minutes, just notice your breath coming and going without changing it or judging it.
  4. Notice what thoughts are present in your awareness.
  5. When a thought arises that is noticeable enough to distract you from your breath, label it ‘thinking.’
  6. If it is more distinct, then you can label it specifically: ‘planning, worrying, anticipating, remembering, ruminating.’
  7. Either way, the thought it just a thought. Return to your easy breath awareness.
  8. And remind yourself: you do not need a rescue plan. Just a moment of breathing.

At the end of the 8 minutes, take a few cleansing breaths and notice how to you feel. If you still feel like there is an impending disaster that needs a calculated rescue plan, then write about it in your journal and notice if your emotional response to this problem has changed after your meditation time.

It’s likely that you will be feel less worried and have greater clarity about the problem. This will help you realize if it’s more helpful to allow the movie to continue playing or if you need to be an actor in the story line by jumping in and fixing it yourself.

Either way, May the Force Be With You.

Happy Discerning,

-lisa

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One impressively simple and deceptively effective way to become the ‘watcher’ and engage in Viveka is to use the technique of ‘naming your thoughts.’

what you keep forgetting. #MeditationThoughtMondays

bells of mindfulness

I’m great at forgetting things.  One time I left the mop by the front door to remind myself I needed to clean my entryway and it was still there two weeks later.  (I put the mop away. Without cleaning.)

With forgetting comes the nearly oracle act of remembering the most mundane, ordinary tasks at the most inappropriate times. Like when I’m with a private client talking about their chronic back pain and I suddenly remember I didn’t put the sheets in the dryer. Or when I’m in savasana at the end of yoga class and realize I forgot to pay my rent and return a phone call from last Tuesday. Not game changers, but definitely not ideal to forget.

My mind is such an dexterous venue; I’m grateful that it can multi-task and hold incongruent thoughts simultaneously, but sometimes, man, I wish it could focus on one thing. I’m always looking for more ways to be mindful, to train my mind to be actually present in the moment, as opposed to hurdling wildly from one thought to the next. ‘Mindfulness’ is surprisingly trendy right now…at least that’s what trendy people tell me. The act of being mindful is hard remember, because… I just forget.

Even if I wake up with the intention of being mindful and present all day long (even while driving!), I’ve forgotten by 9:30 am when I sit down at my computer, with my breakfast and my iPhone and start multi-tasking.

One mindfulness training exercise that I’ve used for years and I absolutely love is called ‘Bells of Mindfulness.’  It involves choosing a sound— like a chime on a timer— to bring your attention back into the present moment. 

In his gem of a book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about his ‘Bells of Mindfulness.’  He says that he and his fellow monks living in the monastery at Plum Village always stop what they are doing when they hear the monastery bells ringing. Upon hearing the sound of the bell, he pauses, takes a deep breath and thinks:

‘The sound of the bell brings me back to my true self.’   

this is me, not being mindful, just doing an annoying 'tourist' yoga-gram in front of a church in Europe.

this is me, not being mindful, just doing an annoying ‘tourist yoga-gram’ in front of a church in Europe.

This probably works well if you live in a place like Europe where cathedral bells toll on the hour, but I don’t hear church bells every day. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests choosing a different sound, such as the dinging in your car when you forget to buckle your seat belt, as a ‘bell of mindfulness.’ I suggest using your smart phone or your genius watch or whatever the heck tells you ‘you have too much to do!’ all day long.  Remember how I have my phone remind me to de-stress every few hours?

 

Here’s a quick, 5- minute mindfulness practice that will help you train your mind.  (You’ll want to download the free app “Insight Timer.”) 

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes, with a 1 minute interval chime.  
  3. Breathe naturally, enjoying the natural rhythm of your breath. Focus on the place where the breath enters your body, and just enjoy sitting.
  4. Start your timer.
  5. Every time you hear the interval chime, repeat silently: “The sound of the bell brings me back to my true self.”
  6. After five minutes, notice how calm you feel. Smile, extend gratitude for the time you spent ‘not forgetting’ your true self, and move on with your day.

I suggest practicing this Meditation Moment in the middle of your work day and also before your formal meditation practice in the evening.

Let me know what you forget.

-lisa

bells of mindfulness

thoughts like a calm ocean. #MeditationThoughtMondays

rock with waves pic

 

I’m not a strong swimmer, I’m sea-sick in boats, and I’m creeped out by fish; but I love the ocean.  Hearing the waves crash against the shore and rhythmically recede back into the water makes me sigh with wonder and relief. (What makes you happy every time you heard it?) When the waves are gentle, I imagine myself floating in the center of my experience and am reminded of the magnitude of the ocean.  I’m reminded that nothing is forever (even my suffering) and everything  in nature undergoing continual transfiguration thanks to the waves and rhythms of the water.

When my family and I went to Hawaii in February, I found myself transfixed by the waves.  I didn’t actually spend that much time IN the ocean (I did get to swim with giant sea turtles, though!) but I could sit for hours on the beach, listening to the water rush over sand and wash over the beach.  In a few places, it washed right over a rock, moving it slightly, depositing that same rock only a few inches away. The rock didn’t seem to mind.  It seemed to float in the middle of its experience and remain calm. 

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Through the practice of Meditation, we can do the same.  We can learn to float in the middle of our experience– despite the enormity of what we are feeling– and learn to sit with our experience until we feel a sense of calm.  I’m not saying this is easy.  It is most certainly a challenge for me when I am experiencing fear or anxiety. But I can’t figure out anything else that works better to calm myself down than sitting, focusing on my breathing, and staying in one place until I feel like my thoughts are a calm ocean.

This guided Meditation is adapted from Matthieu Ricard’s book Happiness and is one of my favorites.  You can use its imagery as a way of nurturing an uncomfortable emotion so that you don’t get washed away in the storm of the emotion.  There is no time limit to this meditation.  You’ll want to sit with it until you feel as though you are floating in the center of your experience.

There are three district stages of this Visualization Meditation. If you aren’t a fan of being in the ocean, visualize yourself on the beach near the shore (I’ll be sitting there with you! That water is too cold!) Allow the images to crystallize in your mind’s eye as you visualize yourself floating in the center of your experience.

Ocean Meditation

            1.  Dive in: Watch your thoughts come and go.  Do not control or manipulate.  Do not change or rush.  Notice that the thoughts are like waves.  They arise out of the ocean of consciousness and then dissolve right back to where they came from.  They were never separate.

2.    Get Wet:  If there is one wave that is particularly strong, big, or threatening, do not turn your back on it. Allow the wave to wash over you.  Even if the wave crashes on you, as if the emotion is particularly strong, stay with it.  Do not swim away.  Let the wave crash and the water droplets re-join the ocean.

            3.  Float:  Whenever new thoughts arise, like waves raised by the wind, watch them dissolve back into the ocean.  Allow yourself to float in the center of your experience.  Eventually, your thoughts will be like a calm ocean.

When you feel ready to integrate back into your daily life, do so slowly and mindfully. Take a few minutes to be on vacation from worrying and then float through your day.

Happy Floating.

-lisa

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show up for yourself.

show up for yourself, apples

I couldn’t figure out why my scarf smelled so good. It smelled fresh, crisp, and satisfyingly sweet around my face. I had just stuffed myself into an extra pair of fleece-lined pants, adorned myself with my hat and gloves, zipped-up two coats and (Ralphy-style) bent over to grab my purse when I was caught off guard by how heavy it still was. (I only carry a large purse in the winter; it’s storage for my many, many layers and winter-time extras… my hope is that one year I will make it through the winter without losing a glove.)  There I was, a performance-gear snowball, ready to roll down the stairs and out into 18 degree weather, so my purse was empty… and still heavy?

I found three apples rolling around the bottom of my purse. Seriously? Along with two books, a yoga mala, a lint roller, three camping forks, sunglasses (sunglasses!? it hadn’t been sunny in two months!), four pens and a zip-loc full of tea bags. No wallet. But, three apples!  I mean, I could survive on apples and almonds (and successfully have before), but carrying around three apples instead of my wallet in my purse seemed ill-advised.

Apparently, I stowed an apple in my purse each morning that week… and never got around to eating it.  I’m sure I intended to mow down on my favorite snack in between teaching my classes but instead I wound up with an apple-scented scarf.

Intentions are slippery, complex creatures.  So often, I set a remarkable, wise, intention in the morning and it slips away, unnoticed, by the 3 o’clock slump. I’ll set an invigorated, enthusiastic intention at the beginning of the year and it runs away three weeks into February.  Or, sometimes I do remember my intention …I just never get around to doing it.

But here’s the thing: life is too long to live without intention.  I’m not talking about ‘the great and humbling mystery and meaning of life;’ your life is already meaningful simply because you are living it.  What I’m talking about are the aspirations, the wishes, the yearnings, even the feeble wants that we spend so much time thinking about and planning, but never get around to doing.

Do you intend to do something but ‘never get around to it’?  (Remember this post: what you would do if nothing stood in your way?)  Hopefully, this ‘something’ is more important and inspiring than eating an apple that’s been in your purse for three days, but it definitely doesn’t have to be life changing.

Could it be: Call a dear friend?  Mail a card to your grandma? Clean out your closet?  Update your resume?  Invite your mom to a yoga class?  Begin a meditation practice?  Sit and breathe for 5 minutes daily, learning to de-stress?  Engage amicably with a co-worker who you find difficult to appreciate?  Go for a walk over your lunch break and actually take a ‘break’? Cut out sugar from your diet?  Donate your spare change to your favorite animal shelter?

Whatever your intention is: Do it.

Your challenge is this: today, do that SOMETHING that ‘you never get around to doing.’  Actualize your intention.  Make your idea into solid MATTER.  No one else is going to do it.

As modern poet cleo wade says: “Show up for yourself and do not wait a second longer.”

Looking for a good intention for your yoga class?  Check out this article I published a few years ago: intention.  Looking for a Meditation to help you uncover your intention?  Try this one: what is my deep, driving desire?

Happy Doing,

-lisa

show up for yourself, apples