stop your wiggling.

Lately I’ve been enamored with the dichotomy between stillness and movement.  You may remember this post where I talked about travelling horizontally vs. travelling vertically. To borrow from Pico Iyer,  travelling vertically means traveling into Stillness within. I’ve discovered that I’m fairly skilled at resisting extracurricular fidgeting in two areas of stillness: savasana and seated meditation.

But I’m nearly terrible at finding stillness inside a yoga pose. 

lisa26

This is one of my favorite poses, but I’m constantly wiggling once I’m in it. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

It’s part career hazard: as a yoga teacher, my eagle eye is scanning the room, looking for any opportunity to help a student move more efficiently and enjoyably in and out of each pose.

And it’s part habit: I always want to find a way to make my pose look and feel ideal.

But what if ‘ideal’ for today is exactly where the pose landed in its first mental conception and physical manifestation? What if the pose doesn’t require a shifting of the hips, an extra elongating of the spine, an extra stretch of the ribs, or an extra visual scan around the room to see who’s doing the pose better than I am? It usually doesn’t.

One thing I adore about the Ashtanga asana system is that I only get 5 inhales in each pose. I sure as heck better get myself into my pose in one movement. Forget about wiping sweat, drinking water, fixing bobby pins, adjusting bra straps: there is simply no time for these shenanigans. There is only time for stillness.

Again, to quote the very wise Pico Iyer, “Stillness is not an indulgence… it’s a necessity for anyone who wants to gather less visible resources.”

Meaning: we don’t need 3 hours in meditation to find stillness. We don’t need to indulge in a three week sabbatical to make stillness a part of our lives. (Although, how cool is it to get into the mountains, set up your yoga mat on a pine needle carpet and start your day with birdsong? It’s really cool!)

IMG_6393

Travel, if you have the chance.  But also be brave enough to be still.

I’m working on finding stillness in each pose—getting into the pose and staying as still as possible. Physically, this could conceivably be a long time but mentally, this is SO difficult for me! I want to wiggle my way to perfection– shifting ever so slightly with each breath, nailing that pose and moving on to the next.

But when I do this ‘quick and conquer’ thing– what mental resources am I gathering?

Perhaps not the ones I need.

What do I need?

I need patience.

I need patience, patience, patience, and the tenacity to be imperfect. I need to gather up all my courage to get myself into an emotionally uncomfortable place and stick it out. This freedom to find stillness, to gather up the less visible inner resources feels like the ultimate prize.

My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. 

lisa04

My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

When you are practicing yoga (or not… maybe you are just trying to make it through the day without losing your mind at work and your temper at your kiddos) can you be brave enough to stop fidgeting and fixing? Can you be brave enough to be still and gather up resources that will ultimately fill you up? These are the resources of patience, gratitude, resilience, and ease. The resources that allow you to look around the room with your eagle eye and assess your life as being blessed, even if you are momentarily uncomfortable.

If you aren’t great at doing this, perhaps try listening to one of my Guided Meditations. Give yourself time and grace; expect a natural learning curve.

In the meantime, let me know which inner resources you’ve gathered while in a moment of stillness, and how your outlook on life is beginning to shift.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

-lisa

Author’s Note: this article first appeared on MayaYoga.com in September 2016. Lisa Ash Yoga retains the rights to this article 

how I ended up on a picnic table.

I ended up practicing on top of a picnic table.

IMG_6473

Seated series… the only place possible.

I wanted to practice outside in the foothills of the Rockies but instead ended up with a soaked slippery Manduka Mat on a dusty cement pad under the only shelter I could find.

One of the basic tenants of yoga philosophy is that our perceptions create our reality. Our misconceptions about something being likable or unlikable, appealing or unappealing, agreeable or disagreeable are what yoga calls ‘mental attachments.’ 

The rainstorm was the perfect example. I really, really wanted to practice the Ashtanga Primary Series outside that ill-fated day. I’d taken two days off from practicing due to strenuous hiking/camping/driving days. I remember trying to fall asleep the previous night feeling so eager to practice poses that would unwind my stiff body; it felt a little bit like Christmas Eve!

But this rain. Afternoon rains are the norm during July in Colorado, not the exception, so I should have taken the encroaching clouds seriously.  I didn’t.  I laid out my well-worn yoga mat in a patch of grass and set up shop with water, pen, pencil and journal.  When the first few raindrops hit, it felt luxurious. (I hadn’t showered in three days, after all.) But I was worried about my journal getting wet so I moved under a tiny shelter by a trail head. I resumed practicing, not realizing that the wind would blow buckets of rain horizontally, barraging my dry cubby hole until I was completely soaked. I picked up my (now covered in bird poop) Manduka and sprinted back to my Subaru. I waited it out for about 5 minutes and read my Yoga Sutras while I waited. From the Yoga Sutras:

IMG_6465

“Mistaken perceptions are wrong impressions that are mired in false appearances.” I.8

And “the single most important thing: things are empty of being what they are by themselves.” I. 42

Is as if these two little threads of wisdom were magic.

My perception of the rain was my responsibility.  The rain was a welcome respite from the summer heat and a blessing to the vegetation in Lory State Park. But in and of itself, it was just rain. 

Miraculously, I wasn’t frustrated.  I wasn’t disappointed, angry or even irritated (again, a miracle).  I was still stoked to practice and determined to find a place where I could do so.

I elected to see the rain from a place of clear understanding and not emotional output, and I climbed on top of that picnic table to practice.  Occasionally I got a few weird looks from other Park goers, but I didn’t care. It was magical. This ancient wisdom helped me take responsibility for my understanding and appreciate the rain for being rain, not as something causing me frustration. These threads of wisdom from the seminal yoga text are what it’s all about.

Over the course of the next few months on this blog, I will be examining Sanskrit terms which are important concepts from the Yoga Sutras. We won’t be learning them the traditional way of call-and-repeat and questioning discourse, but I hope to bring you some insight into the text that started it all. We’ve already talked about our citta (as our heart-mind-connection) in this post and we’ve already learned about purusha (as our Inner Light) in this post. You’ll want to go back and review these posts if you have a free minute. so we can keep moving deeper into the knowledge of the Yoga Sutras.

If you don’t already have your own copy, I suggest The Essential Yoga Sutra by Geshe Michael Roach.

Feel free to send me questions as we go along! Looking forward to learning with you,

-lisa

why are you drawn to yoga?

still small voice, drawn to yoga

My friend Katie (remember her inspirational Earth Day Meditation?) recently reached out to me and asked me: ‘Why are young people drawn to yoga?’  Seemingly easy to answer, right?

She quickly followed with this question: ‘What is it about yoga that quenches their yearning for spiritual practice outside of the institutional religious practices?‘  Slightly less innocuous, but actually, still easy to answer: it’s the same response.

In writing my response to Katie to help her plan conversations at a spiritual retreat, I uncovered a profound clarity that reinvigorated my passion for what I teach. Maybe a one-hour yoga class seems like no big deal (remember that post! ha!) but, you know… it is a big deal.  Students are drawn to their yoga practice because they are looking for a spiritual practice that asks instead of demanding, that brings relief instead of inciting anxiety, and that encourages seeking instead of blind faith.

I thought you may be interested in my answers. It’s not a sermon, you can click away and leave any time you want to; but I hope you read through it all and then ask yourself the same question: why are you drawn to practice yoga?

IMG_4936

“The yearning that attracts students into the yoga practice room is to experience relief.  

In a world increasingly instantaneous, students are accustomed to immediate feedback, results, and reactions. In a world increasingly chaotic, students are continuously assaulted with a barrage of new sights, images, sounds, and demands for their attention. Yoga asks; it does not demand.  Yoga asks the question, “What if all of this went quiet?  What listening would remain?”  The feedback is immediate; the experience of moving into Divine Silence and listening to the innate Wisdom of the Soul offers powerful and immediate relief.  

Yoga teaches that suffering results from the illusory thought that we are alienated from the Divine.  As a yoga and meditation teacher, I see students approach yoga who are yearning to leave behind a fragmented, stressed-out, anxious existence and remember their wholeness. They don’t want someone else to Save them.  They want to be empowered to approach their suffering with peace of mind, with a healthy body, and with an emboldened Spirit. They want to remember what it feels like to be at Peace.  

As a minister, yoga appeals to me because it is spans time, history and faith tradition.  Every single person is welcome and invited; every person can be taught to practice yoga.  My students are 9 months old and 79 years old.  My students are non-verbal autistic children and school principals with Multiple Sclerosis.  My students are single gay men and married professionals mothering 4 children.  My students are healing wounds from years of abuse and my students are offering care as hospice nurses.  My students trust yoga because it does not ask them to suspend belief in the world they live in, it asks them to find Divine in the world they navigate.

As a mystic, yoga appeals to me because I want to be as close to God as possible. Meditation is a practice that anyone can learn and anyone can hone. Meditation offers us what nothing else can: it offers us insight into the inner workings of our mind and our spirit and asks us to be patient with ourselves as we learn to love ourselves again.  Meditation is what Rumi talked about when he said, “I have been a seeker and still am. But I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.”

As an intellectual, yoga appeals to me because it is a science.  The path of yoga, or ‘union’ is dependent on personal experimentation and experience.  If a practice works for you, then stick with it.  If a practice doesn’t speak to you, try it a different way.  This approach makes sense to rational minds and iPhone users who have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. Yoga philosophy is a framework for whole and healthy living that is inspired by thousands of years of collective wisdom.  This framework is simple and straightforward: practice non-harming of all sentient beings, meditate on the Divine, hold every single breath and every single movement as sacred, and you will experience profound relief, peace, and wholeness.  

If you ask my definition of yoga, it will not be textbook.  It will be the answer of the minister, mystic, intellectual, and seeker.  I will say: “Yoga is listening to the small sacred space between my inhale and my exhale where the Divine resides and learning to fill that space with my movement until only the Divine Remains.”  You, of course, will have your own answer.  And that’s what most of us are looking for: a space to ask our own questions and find our own answers.  

still small voice, drawn to yoga

Ask yourself the question: ‘why am I drawn to the practice of yoga?’ and see what answers show up.  Please share with me, I may pass them on to my friend, Katie. :)

Happy Answering,

-lisa

 

 

how to start a home practice.

Berkeley, California

When it’s sunny I recommend taking your home practice outside. :)

 

Nearly every week I get a Facebook message from a friend saying, “Oh, I WISH I could come to your classes, Lisa, but…<enter any number of legitimate or not-so-legitimate reasons> so could you recommend yoga for me to practice at home?

I always try to be helpful, because I understand that attending a yoga class led by a teacher is not always feasible. Babies require babysitters, Kids need rides to gymnastics, co-workers schedule mandatory lunch meetings, work deadlines must be met, happy hour specials should be enjoyed.  Or, it’s snowing.  Or raining.  Or sunny.  Or hot.  Or just too stinking early in the morning to get to a 6:00 am class.

If any of these excuses ring a bell: you need a Home Practice.

Home Yoga Practice has benefits: I engage in home practice at least twice a week because I’m usually teaching my own classes at ‘yoga class times of the day.’  I also use this time as exploration of poses and sequences that I’m going to teach; my classes are always intentional and my lesson plans detailed.

However, I strongly believe you NEED A TEACHER.  The Yoga History is very clear on this subject: yoga was originally taught from teacher to pupil in a 1:1 ratio.  Teachers can offer you the appropriate modifications for injuries and for body type. Teachers can point out to you when a pose needs to be tweaked to avoid injury.  Teachers can offer pointers on breath control, guide you through meditation, and share their own wisdom regarding the philosophy of a yogic lifestyle. They may show you a few poses, but that’s not the important part. Teachers actually, um, teach you.

During your search for your yoga teacher (if you don’t already have one or live too far away from me to attend my classes) here are some tips for “Starting a Home Practice.”

  1. Find a space.

My home yoga space is actually a home office.  (And a ‘bike room’ a perk of living with an IronMan.)  It’s not a state-of-the-art bamboo-floored softly lit yoga haven like you would imagine a yoga teacher would own.  Actually, we don’t even own my office, we live in a 900 square foot rented house.  Read: there are a LOT of distractions in my ‘yoga space’ including my computer, my books, my to-do pile, a closet, a doggie bed, and an area rug always in need of a vacuum.  My point?  No space in your home is ever going to be ‘perfect’ but do not let that be an excuse.  Turn down the lights, clear away a space big enough for your mat (preferably not carpeted) and light some candles.  Commit to your space and invite the Sacred to meet you there.  In my yoga space are pictures of loved ones, landscapes of mountains, reminders of the beach, and a small altar.  Make the space meaningful to you.

IMG_4378

my home yoga space. please note the presence of Russell Clive, who cuddles with me in savasana.

  1. Outfit with Yoga Props.

You’ll need the following: your own yoga mat. Everything else is optional.  Seriously. But if you do want to buy props, here are my recommendations:

  • 2 Yoga Blocks.  I prefer foam blocks which can be purchased at retail outfitters such as Target and Sporting Goods Stores.
  • 1 Yoga Strap.  I prefer an 8 or 10 foot yoga strap with a plastic buckle available from Yoga Direct.
  • 1 Yoga Bolster for Meditation.  I love this “Sukasana Pillow” which helps me sit in ‘easy-pose’ for meditation.      
  • 1 Eye Pillow for Savasana. I love this Hugger Mugger Silk Eye-Bag with flaxseed filling.
  1. Choose a Guide.

Again, there is no substitute for the guidance and expertise of a teacher in the room with you. However, if you are looking for a guided session at home, here are my recommendations from trusted teachers.

Yoga Upload with Maris Aylward.  Maris teaches for me at Westport Yoga and is an excellent guide.  Her YouTube channel is free, but it is quality.  A unique class that caters to beginners is her “Wrist Free” Yoga Class which doesn’t require Downward Facing Dog or Yoga Push-ups. Ideal for strong beginners and anyone who has a wrist or shoulder injury.

YogaGlo is an online forum of yoga classes from some of the most popular and respected yoga teachers in the country.  YogaGlo requires a monthly fee of $18 but the first two-week trial is free. Classes can be sorted by class level (making it easy for beginners to find an appropriate pace) and time frame (for busy-bees!).  You can also add classes to your ‘que’ and for easy referencing. My teacher Tiffany Cruikshank of Yoga Medicine is featured on this website and her classes are super fun!

YogaVibes offers the option to purchase per-online-class.  If you are an Ashtanga Practioner and need to practice at home, you can download a Full Led Primary Series Class with my teacher Wade Mortenson here.

  1. Schedule it in your day.

Write it in your calendar and treat your Home Practice as an appointment that cannot be missed. It’s easy to become distracted during a home practice: you’ll suddenly notice your house needs cleaning or that the laundry isn’t done.  You’ll put it off until after your NetFlix original series ends. You’ll sit down to answer one email and end up on Facebook an hour later.  The key is discipline and commitment.  Set a time for your home practice every week and respect that time.  Make a schedule and stick to it!

No home practice is going to perfect, but then again, no yoga practice is ever perfect. That’s why it is called ‘practice.’  And it’s worth it, because yoga is the good life and can change your life in a million ways (or at least 10).  Remember: when it comes to yoga, there are 2 lessons to learn.

Go. Get learning. Let me know how I can help along the way.

-lisa

suffering can be transformed. #MeditationThoughtMondays

suffering can be transformed

Thank goodness nothing lasts forever.  After seven months of intensive chiropractic, yoga therapy, and meditation, my shoulder is no longer suffering.  More importantly– I am no longer suffering.  I took this picture not as a humble brag, but as a reminder that everything is impermanent; that nothing lasts forever.

Last December I spent three days on the couch suffering a horrible cold.  I was miserable. (And also a bit dramatic; I actually tried to ‘cancel Christmas.’  Good thing no one took me seriously.) When I finally got off the couch, I could no longer lift my left arm above shoulder level without experiencing excruciating pain. My shoulder had been bothering me for over a year, but I kept pushing my yoga asana practice to the next level and ignoring the pain in my shoulder, ribs, and back.  It was initially exhilarating to ‘achieve’ my ‘dream poses,’ but then I’d spend the rest of the day recovering in order to teach my yoga classes.

I (eventually) decided that ignoring my injury wasn’t going to heal it. I started an intense treatment of bi-weekly chiropractic adjustments, weekly yoga therapy, daily physical therapy, and meditation.

I would find respite from the pain after a chiropractic adjustment and then over-do it on the mat —so excited that I could backbend again!  My excitement was usually fleeting: the next day I’d be back at square one, moping around my house like a sad puppy. My Ironman (who earned the World’s Greatest Fiancée award for listening to me whine for months) would gently remind me that nothing is forever: everything is impermanent. 

In other words: suffering can be transformed.  I love reading books by Tich Nhat Hanh, the foremost leader in happiness and the art of transforming suffering into joy.  My guiding light through the process of healing over the past year has been his book, No Mud, No Lotus.  In it he writes:

“The art of happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less.  Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.  In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well.”

When I was exhausted and my stores of internal optimism waned, I needed reminders that suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive.  I needed to embrace my injury with tenderness, not live in futile frustration.  And I really needed reminders that nothing lasts forever: pain does not last forever just as non-pain does not last forever.  As simple as this ‘impermanence- business’ sounds, it’s extremely difficult to embrace in times of suffering.

I definitely haven’t learned my lesson.  My hip is hurting like crazy and I’m being very impatient in the healing process.  There are times when I’m being dramatic: ‘This injury is never going away. I’ll probably never progress in my asana practice. I’m not even 30 years old and I’ve hit my peak.’  And then I have take a big breath.  And remember my shoulder.  And the work I put in to embracing the suffering.  And the patience I cultivated through hours of meditation.  And the suffering that was eventually, slowly, faithfully transformed into something beautiful again.

When have you witnessed your suffering being transformed?  When have you needed reminders that ‘nothing lasts forever’?  When have you learned to embrace happiness as it comes—even when the conditions weren’t perfect?

Tell me your story.

Happy Transformation,

-lisa

 

 

stress less. #MeditationThoughtMondays

stress less

That’s great advice… but, um, how can you possibly “stress less” when life is hectic? My meditation students never fail to ask, “When am I supposed to give time to sitting around and meditating during the day?”

You might not have twenty extra minutes in a day to experience the stress relieving benefits of meditation.  But, when time is precious, do you have extra minutes in a day to GIVE To Stress? Stress steals moments.  Stress steals your ability to be effective, efficient, and compassionate.  Because your body is most concerned with survival, it doesn’t have time to be concerned with anything else, even staying healthy.  You can read more about stress and your immune response here.

Stress is a normal physiological response to, well, just about everything in your current environment.  Your body does not discriminate between physical stress and emotional stress: it reacts to both by releasing the same hormones and vamping up your sympathetic nervous system to all stimuli– real, imagined, positive, or negative.

During April, National Stress Awareness Month (yes, one more thing for you to stress over forgetting!), my Introduction to Meditation Workshops at Westport Yoga have been packed.  The best part?  In between our afternoon Sunday sessions my students have shared with me inspiring stories about how a one-minute morning meditation has reduced their daily stress levels.  Kara told me how she didn’t even get upset when her car was rear ended at a red stop light because she was practicing Mindful Breathing.  (I assigned the homework called “Red Light Breathing” to encourage students to stay mindful even during a stressful commute!) That’s extreme; I’d still get upset if my unsuspecting Subaru was hit by some knucklehead who was driving too fast.  But Kara’s Red Light Breathing must be super powerful.

Even one minute of mindful breathing can reduce stress and create relaxation in the body.   Whether you have one minute, or sixteen years, here are 9 tips you can utilize to reduce your stress level and lead a happier life.  (Number 9 is my favorite!)

The following was featured in Outside Magazine’s October 2014 Issue.  You can read the full article here.  It was written by Eric Beresini

clock

 

If you have: “10 Seconds: Laugh

Even just anticipating a chuckle is enough to relieve stress and elevate hormones that combat depression and boost immunity.

If you have: 5 Minutes: 
Chew Gum

Chewing two sticks a day for two weeks can fight off anxiety and fatigue and improve mood.

If you have: 15 Minutes: 
Meditate

Research has shown that a quarter of an hour of guided meditation performed in the office can kick psychological and physiological markers of stress. You don’t need someone in the flesh to help lead your thoughts; UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free weekly meditation podcasts to download or stream.

If you have: 30 Minutes: 
Go for a Run

Five days a week at a moderate pace of around ten minutes per mile can boost your mood, concentration, and sleep quality—not to mention your cardiovascular health and muscle tone.

If you have: 45 Minutes: 
Take a Nap

A 45-to-60-minute daytime snooze boosts your cardiovascular system, bringing spiked blood pressure back down to normal.

image7

yoga and movement help reduce stress.  check out Lisa’s yoga teaching schedule here.

 

If you have: 90 Minutes: Stretch It Out

Studies have shown that yoga relieves tension in everyone from medical students to flood survivors. Ninety minutes twice a week erases anxiety and replaces it with calm, though sessions half that long can also work. (Check out Lisa’s full yoga teaching schedule here.)

If you have: 1 Day: Walk in the Woods

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term meaning “walking or staying in forests to promote health.” Just a day in the wild, researchers have found, is enough to reduce stress, even in chronic sufferers.

 If you have: 1 Year: Move to Switzerland

The country topped the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index for life satisfaction. A strong sense of community, high life expectancy, and low unemployment make the Swiss life sweet. That and your in-laws probably don’t live there.

If you have:16 Years: 
Get a Dog

A pup will lower your blood pressure and generally improve your psychological well-being. And bringing it to the office can increase job satisfaction.”  – Eric Beresini  You can read the full article here

Russell Ash being coy

Every time you come home, your dog will welcome you with open arms, no matter how stressed you are.  You should get one.  

Which of these tips can you utilize tomorrow?  Which one is your favorite?

(I’m sure you have time to stress less.  I can’t imagine you have time to stress more.)

Happy Living,

-lisa

stress less

holiday special on private lessons.

Celebrate the holidays with hope, health, and happiness.

DISCOUNTED PRIVATE SESSIONS

Available for purchase through January 15, 2015.  (A perfect Holiday Gift!!)

Private: 3 sessions for $175 

Semi-Private (2-3 people): 3 sessions for $210

Time and location are negotiable; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons available.        NOTE: Purchased sessions must be used by June 30, 2015.

Contact: ash.lisamarie at gmail.com or use the contact form at the bottom of this page.

photo (1)

Deepening your yoga practice is life-changing.  I’d be honored to help you on your journey.

“Yoga has changed my life…I am in great shape mentally and physically since starting yoga.  Like anything else, the right teacher is the key.  Lisa is a great teacher.  Not only is she knowledgeable, but she helps you remember why you practice and how to apply it in your life.  Her teaching style and charming, lovable personality would be great… especially for someone just starting out who might feel unsure.” – Tracey P.

defy gravity: arm balance workshop with Lisa

defy gravity workshop advert

(click to enlarge)

Defy Gravity Arm Balance Workshop : Saturday, September 20, 2014  3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Special workshop with Lisa Ash. Learn the structural integrity of arm balances and benefit from personal attention to learn new variations of traditional arm balances.  Must have yoga experience, but proficiency in arm balances is not required.  Limit of 15 students.

You must pre-pay to reserve your spot in this workshop.

Cost:  $25 for Westport Yoga Members and $35 for non-members.  (tax not included)

Please E-mail lisa@westportyogakc.com to Sign-Up.  Visit Westport Yoga’s Site  for more details.