don’t feed the marmots: ahimsa

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.

File_003(1)

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.

File_007

 

 

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

waiting for something miraculous to happen.

I’m one of those people who experiences anxiety over events on my calendar which are scheduled months in the future. I say things like, “Well, after that workshop, things will slow down and I can really enjoy life again. I’ll have time to cook and take naps have coffee with friends and enjoy leisurely walks after that big event.” What a profound realization when one day I realized: why am I waiting for life to slow down in the future? Why don’t I just slow down life right now? Why don’t I just enjoy the little leisurely times in my day today, instead of waiting for them to show up in my calendar in the future?

And thus begin an intense commitment to spend 1 hour every afternoon in silence. Not in ‘anticipatory waiting tense’ silence. But in leisurely ‘I’m going to enjoy every single little gift of this moment’ silence. Because waiting for fulfillment or waiting for the clock to slow down or waiting for this big event to take place before I enjoy life again gets tiresome. And frankly, it feels silly. This is actually a very intense spiritual practice in discipline; because TV is so much more fun! Because it’s sometimes difficult to not pick up my phone and tune in to frenetic internet activity. Because being silent feels a lot like just waiting for something to happen. But it’s not. It’s witnessing that something.

I believe that the biggest and best miracle of each day is the miracle that we get to be alive this day. I believe that I was meant to live every moment fully awake, fully alive in grace, fully in love with this gift of being alive today. I’m not rushing into the next thing. I’m not rushing to get something done. I’m not rushing through my day. I’m witnessing the biggest and the best miracle unfold right in front of my eyes.

One of my favorite, miraculous techniques of tuning into this silence is called “Follow Your Bloodstream.” It is the ultimate practice in pratyahara a yogic practice in turning senses inward. Here’s my guided meditation, adapted from Martha Beck.

Also, you can find more Guided Meditations here.

How can you take a few extra minutes of silence today? How can you tune in to the miracle of being alive? How do those minutes change your perspective?

Happy Silence

-lisa

(please note: an edited version of this article also appears in Community of Christ Daily Bread.)

leaving for my sacred 2017 sabbatical.

Just like last year’s modern day sabbath, I’m heading out for my annual sabbatical. I’m eager for all the fun things I’ve got planned, but dreading 3 weeks without my best friend Russell Clive.

Who could say goodbye to this sweet boy?

What do I have planned?

I’ll see family (SoCal and Mimi, here I come!) and friends (I am beyond thrilled to train again with Yoga Medicine and my teacher Tiffany Cruikshank again) and live in van down by the river.

I’m not joking. Check out this sweet ride.

My Ironman built out a conversion van so we could drive to Canada for this sabbatical. We plan on celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary by hiking and biking and camping and lounging in the epic vastness of Canadian National Parks and generally being in awe of God’s crazy beautiful earth.

And most importantly, I’m taking a sacred Sabbath. In my study of Spaciousness (kha) I examined the sacred spaciousness of time, form and Soul (read previous posts). Sabbath is just that: a period of time devoted to being uncluttered, unplanned, unencumbered by ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts.’

Gerald May reminds us in his book The Awakened Heart that spaciousness has its roots in the Hebrew letters yodh and shin, combined to form the word that denotes freedom and removal of constriction. From these same letters emerges the root word for salvation. It makes sense to me that salvation is associated with spaciousness because it means being free to choose love over fear and choose consciously my thoughts and actions, as opposed to being directed by impulse, reaction. Spaciousness and rest, in time, in form and Soul is true freedom. For me, salvation is embracing moments for self-care of the Soul and consecrating those moments Godward.

And so, in a world that no longer values Sabbath, in a world that consistently tells me that working really hard makes me really worthy and resting makes me irrelevant, I’m taking a Sacred Sabbath Sabbatical to re-discover the freedom of spaciousness.

While I’m away, resting and rejuvenating and practicing self-care of the soul, please:

See you at the end of August, all rested and refreshed.

-lisa

how to be a successful adult.

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?

Happy adulting.

-lisa

a yogi’s guide to hiking a 14er.

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. Wear gloves. It’s cold. And numb fingers make everyone crabby.
  3. 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, but the 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Don’t be annoyed when a 3-year-old summits faster than you do. Refer to Number 7.
  9. 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.

learning to polish the mind.

When I was little I collected every shiny little gemstone I could get my hands on. I LOVED those big bins of polished rocks at old-timey stores; I loved the treasure hunt of sifting through all the precious polished “gems” (probably just rocks put through a tumbler and not that precious at all) and finding the perfect one to add to my collection. I still secretly scavenge a beach pebble or river rock to bring back home with me when I travel.

Our thoughts, our emotions, our vrtti-s are exactly like these polished rocks.

In English, we loosely translate “vrtti-s” as “thoughts”; this is somewhat accurate. A better English translation is “turnings or cyclings.” All our thoughts and all our emotions are little gems of energy cycling through our field of awareness. In Yoga, the aware mind isn’t just the physical brain. Our awareness is both heart and mind—the citta. Everything we see, hear, feel and experience throughout the day is absorbed in our minds and is turned, over and over again, like rocks in a tumbler.

So, when the Yoga Sutra’s define for us in chapter 1 vs. 2 the primary aim of yoga as:

“Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah”

What it means is NOT that we should completely cease, stop and abolish the turnings and thoughts of the mind, but that we should use the techniques of yoga to polish the vrtti-s until they gleam and point us toward the True Light of Inner Awareness.

Vrtti-s aren’t necessarily a bad thing; we need to be thinking and feeling and perceiving to enjoy living this life as a human. But vrtti-s, when left unchecked, can cycle out of control. If the rock tumbler is left on high all night long, it’s going to start smoking and burn an engine belt. If the vrtti-s are left to their own devices, they can easily spin out of control.

I’m sure you can remember a time when your thoughts were spinning pinballs and your emotions were all over the place and smoke was coming out your ears and your mind was completely trapped in a cycle of unhelpful thoughts. I’m usually an incredible sleeper (thanks to a few hours of yoga classes and Russell Clive walking each day) but every once in a while, my brain just WON’T shut off when I lay down at night.

I have so many ideas! And so many worries! And so many things to do! And probably I won’t get them done! And even if I do, they will probably fail! And I’m not really sure I’m qualified to do all these things anyway! And probably I should just give up and instead sit on the couch all day.

It’s at these times when the vrtti-s are less than helpful, when the constant turning of the mind does not enhance my ability to be happy, healthy, and whole.

We use the techniques of yoga—the breath, the concentration, the meditation, the poses—to help us refine and polish our thoughts and emotions (vrtti-s) so that they do not distort our perception of the world, but instead enhance our perception of the world as being a place of unity, trust and abundance.


The techniques teach us to take in all the things that we see, hear, think and feel throughout the day and polish them up so that our mind is not preoccupied with raw, ragged and rough misconceptions about the world, but instead our mind sees what is true: that there is enough, that we ARE enough, that the inner light of awareness inside our heart is connected with that same light in others. That the Universe wants us to be in yoga, in union, with it at all times. That is a pretty little gem of wisdom worth collecting. 

What is your favorite yoga technique for ‘polishing the vrtti-s’? What helps you enhance your perception of the world as a place of unity and abundance?

I’d love to hear from you! (Also don’t forget to check out my page key yoga learnings for a brush up on terms like citta and purusha.)

-lisa

when no one wants to hang out with me.

My Ironman AND my parents were out of town, my private client cancelled last minute and my dinner plans with girlfriends fell through. I had zero plans after 12:15 pm. On a Saturday.

Immediately, my brain started its persistent forecasting, planning and scheduling: I should call Katie and see if she wants to hang out, and if that doesn’t work I’ll invite her to brunch tomorrow, and if that doesn’t work I’ll just show up at her work and beg to take her to coffee… and if that doesn’t work I’ll put an ad on Craig’s List for someone to PLEASE hang out with me and distract me from all that is going on in my life/brain/heart these days. And also..I have a HUGE e-mail list and housework list and gardening list that I should tackle.

Instead, I sat on my back porch, ate hummus and listened to squirrel chatter. I did nothing.

It was glorious. For about 8.3 minutes; then I was ambushed by an undeniable-pee-your-pants-urge to do something and be ultra-productive.

The idea of Spaciousness (‘kha’ in Sanskrit) is a valuable idea in Yoga Philosophy. As we’ve learned in the recent two posts, ‘kha’ denotes the spaciousness and the quality of the heart/mind (citta) and determines how we interact with experiences in our daily lives. When we feel like our minds are spacious, we feel free. When we feel like our minds/agendas/brains are crowded with ‘too-much’ and ‘you-need-to’ we feel confined, trapped, overwhelmed.

I like the idea that Spaciousness can be appreciated in three ways: Time, Form and Soul.

Space in Time is a gap between activities, agendas and to-do-list items. It’s a vacation from the incessant need to be efficient and put-together and follow-all-the-rules. Time Space is priceless because it doesn’t happen all that often in my life, during which I yearn for space to rest but instead fill up my hours with appointments and classes and clients and laundry and e-mails. Time Space for me is permission to sit still and withdraw from my addiction to efficiency.

Space in Form is that unbelievable feeling of sprinting into a spacious field, flinging my arms wide open like a nut-case and breathing BIG into the uncluttered world that holds me. It’s why I YEARN to be in the mountains every summer and why I will endure 10 hours of hiking to get to the top of a 14er in Colorado. It’s why I MUST, for my own sanity, get out of Westport and into trees and on the trails weekly. Space in Form is necessary for my survival, I think.

Space in Soul is, literally, my mental salvation. It is freedom FROM. It’s learning to listen to my Inner Voice that says: Um, maybe don’t be so stressed about this, Lis, it’s probably not a big deal. At all. (It is, usually, never a big deal.) Soul Space for me is freedom from having to re-act with defensiveness or insecurity when someone criticizes me or what I choose to share on the omniscient inter-web. Soul Space for me is freedom from judging and disapproval when I look in the (fun-house) mirrors at Westport Yoga and instead just being glad that I even remembered to take a shower and put on my shirt right-side-out. Soul Space for me is learning to celebrate other yoga teachers and yoga studios instead of feeling jealous or inadequate. Basically, it’s freedom from having to react from fear because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to do and instead being free to respond from a place of worthiness and love. Oh, that is a sweet, sweet space.

I’d like you to take 5 minutes of quiet time and think about appreciating space in 3 different ways:

Time, Form and Soul. How do these qualities of space (kha) show up in your life? How can you make more spaciousness, more sweet space (sukha) in your day today?

I’d love to hear your answer–

-lisa

p.s. here are three possible answers:

  1. take a yoga class.
  2. listen to a guided meditation.
  3. tell everyone in your house how much you love them.