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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is Present Moment Awareness?

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

-lisa

gratitude balasana

how can I serve? #MeditationThoughtMondays

yours to offer the world

In our previous two Meditation Challenges, we explored two questions which delve into the heart of the human experience.  First, in order to tune in to our own wisdom, we asked the question: “Who am I?”  (Find the “Who am I? Meditation here.)  Second, we fine-tuned our intuition and our listened to our deep, driving desire by asking, “What do I want?”  This week, we explore the third question from Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga Program.  This question is: “How can I serve?” 

Deep Chopra writes:

“Regularly bringing your current answers [to these questions into] conscious awareness enables you to be alert to the opportunities that resonate with the needs of your soul.”

When we transition from asking “what do I want” to “how can I serve?” we are transitioning from an ego-centric point of view to an expanded point of view where we realize how our action impact our communities.  Even this littlest action: what we eat, where we shop, how we treat the customer service agent at the print shop, how often we wash our own yoga mat, etc. etc. etc.

Yoga asana and meditation practices are often done in a group because the communal setting reminds us that we are intimately connected to each other on the physical level.  When you share breath with other people in the yoga practice room, this connection is obvious.  Practicing as a group also reminds us that we are intimately connected to each other on the soul level.  As your consciousness expands from individual to communal, it becomes apparent how important it is to treat every other person (and animal!) with compassion and ahimsa (non-harming).

The question, “How can I serve?” expands opportunities for fulfillment in life.  It asks us to identify our unique talents and skills to discover how we can be of service.  In yoga, we often call this dharma or ‘life’s way of purpose.’  Just as each cell in the body – blood cell, brain cell, skin cell, stomach lining cell — has a very unique and important function in the body’s health, we each have a unique and important role to play in the overall health of our community.  Asking “How can I serve?” helps match our creative expression of our talents with the community’s needs. 

And, luckily, it doesn’t require saving the whole world.  You don’t need to carry the weight of the world on your chaturanga-strong shoulders.  This is a only recipe for catastrophe and lots of chiropractic work.  Instead, you simply need to ask the question: “How can I serve?” and listen as opportunities arise which match your talents and help fulfill your desires.  The opportunities are limitless- I don’t even want to give you a list to start with because I don’t want you to limit your thinking to the usual ‘community-service-volunteer-actions.’  Your true dharma can be expressed through your family, your job, or your hobbies.

The following excerpt from Bill Plotkin’s work Soulcraft was completely transformative in my life.  It reminded me—“Ms. Fixer-Over-Achiever”—that I didn’t have to fix the whole world; instead, my first job was to find and love my true self as an offering to the world.  I hope this text guides your exploration into the question: “How can I serve?”

“The gift you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world, but to fully belong to it.  It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it.  You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place.

Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is a challenge.  Your offering is your TRUE SELF.  It is the most you can do to love and serve the world. 

It’s all the world needs.”  -bill plotkin

Today, I want to challenge you: not to change the world, but to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world. Start with this Meditation Challenge:

“How Can I Serve?” Meditation

  1. Sit in Meditation.  Set a timer for 5 minutes.  (Have a pen and paper handy.)
  2. Take 10 steady inhales and exhales to calm your mind.
  3. Breathe easily and normally.
  4. Silently ask yourself: “How can I serve?”  Ask yourself these questions every 15 seconds.
  5. Notice the answers.
  6. When the 5 minute timer goes off, take 10 steady inhales and exhales.
  7. Open your eyes and write down your answers.
  8. Repeat for 7 days in a row. Notice how your answers change and expand.
  9. Re-visit the list next week to re-orient yourself with your true desires.

Again, please consult The Chopra Center for more details about The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga.  This meditation has been adapted from Chapter 2 of Dr. Chopra’s Book.

In service,

-lisa

yours to offer the world

be captured by silence. #MeditationThoughtMondays

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you cannot capture silence

 

When it’s 95 degrees outside and you are a tourist in a country that doesn’t believe in Air Conditioning, the only logical course of action is to spend your Friday night inside an art museum. To protect the artwork on display, the museum keeps constant cool temperature and low light. To protect the beauty of the artwork on display, the visitors keep tones muted and tend toward silence.  Despite brash colors and daring impressionist strokes which scream of emotion and sensation in Van Gough’s masterpieces, the galleries were primarily silent.  It reminded me that it is human nature to approach that which we find beautiful with silence.

Richard Rohr, author of Silent Compassion, points out that, “If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it is something singular and beautiful.  If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its singularity, as a unique and beautiful object, does not stand out.”

Silence is elusive.  Right now, even as I write this in the quietude of my backyard sanctuary, the silence of the early morning is vibrant with sound.  Some of these sounds make me smile (remember this post?) and some of these sounds are fairly annoying. (My backyard neighbor is constantly hammering.  After a year of this, I can’t imagine he has a single board left to hammer, and yet, here he is at eight in the morning hammering away…I have a few questions about this.)  But beyond the sounds, silence is a presence.  Silence can be its own being.

Silence can be something to meet and create a relationship with. Even if you don’t have a comfortable relationship with silence, as I naturally do, I think we all do this naturally when we encounter something beautiful. 

Your challenge this week is to bring something beautiful into your meditation space.  I brought a small vase of three Missouri Primrose blossoms to my meditation class yesterday and challenged my students to quiet their minds simply by gazing at the simple beauty of the flowers.  No counting, no repeated mantras, no English, no Sanskrit, no striving—just meeting silence.  In this way, we became captured by silence.  I want you to spend some time thinking about this: how can I become captured by silence?  How can I find something beautiful in silence?

Again from Richard Rohr:

“Silence precedes, undergirds and grounds everything…unless we learn how to live there, go there, abide in this different phenomenon, the rest of things—words, events, relationships, identities—all become superficial.  They lose meaning.” – Richard Rohr

Silence, the primordial beginning and ending, bookends our most meaningful experience: life itself.

This week, let yourself be captured by silence, even if it is just for one minute.

Enjoy the beauty,

-lisa

you cannot capture silence

 

 

 

you have time. #MeditationThoughtMondays

you have time

Here are three things you NEED to do today:

1.  eat

2.  sleep

3.  smile

Anything else you accomplish today is just icing on the cake (or icing on the vegan pumpkin bar… like this recipe).

You have time.  Seriously.  Use it wisely.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who feels very overwhelmed and anxious– she always feels like she has to be doing, doing, doing, and she can still never “do” enough.  I feel that way too– working from home (expect when I am teaching classes) means that my down time is easily confused with work time.  My work hours begin at 5:30 am and end at 9:00 pm during the week AND I work every weekend. In addition, my profession is my passion.  How do I keep my sanity?  How do I keep myself from working ALL the time? This has been my biggest struggle the past year.  Out of necessity, I’ve spent much time and energy bringing balance back into my life, which was previously overwhelmed with obligations/ e-mails/ work/ exhaustion/ anxiety.

Here’s what works for me:

Firstly: I schedule daily Meditation Breaks.  (If you are new to meditating, check out this article.)  I meditate, or sit quietly, for five minutes before every yoga class I teach.  Most people aren’t afforded the luxury of being in a yoga studio three times a day, so my suggestion is that you schedule (literally: put it on your outlook calender) your daily 5 minutes of sitting still and breathing.  When five mindful minutes is a non-negotiable part of your schedule, you are more likely to stick to your routine.

Secondly: I use my iPhone as tool for mindfulness.  

Reminders

Every day, my phone reminds me to take a big breath.  It reminds me that my self-worth is not contingent on how much I work. And it reminds me to take note of the many blessings in my own life. (Find out why you should  write down your blessings.)  I schedule into my day short reminders that I am blessed to be alive.  I got the idea from Max Strom’s book There is No App for Happiness.  He writes:

“Many people schedule every part of their day–except its most important parts– time to cultivate their deepest beliefs and convictions.  Schedule time that inspires you to do more with your lifespan.”  -m. strom

I also organize my apps so that I’m not unconsciously wasting time.

time wastersMy Ironman laughs when he sees this heading for my app collection of Time Wasters, but I’m totally serious about it.  If you are going to spend idle time on social media, be conscious that you are doing it.  Don’t be that person who checks her Facebook 53 times a day and then complains that she doesn’t have time to take a walk and smell the roses.  Increase the quality of your time and your time increases.  Be conscious about how you spend your time.

Thirdly: I’m diligent about Airplane Mode.  Since I realized my morning alarm would still sound even if my phone is on Airplane Mode (yea… I’m not the most ‘tech saavy’ person you know…) my phone goes on Airplane mode the moment I walk in my front door after my evening yoga classes.  Why is this important?  I shouldn’t be checking my work e-mail at 9:00 pm!  My time is my time.  Blue light from electronics disrupts sleeping habits, so e-mails and texts can wait until the next morning.  Airplane mode.  It’s a seriously great habit.

you have timeI’m still negotiating an appropriate balance between ‘work time’ and ‘life time.’  But these three practices have been instrumental in alleviating my anxiety over ‘not doing enough’ or ‘not having enough time.’  They’ve also been instrumental in cultivating quality time with the people I love.  These people deserve my time and attention.  I still have many things to do.  I still work two jobs and teach 17 classes a week.  But, when my to-do list gets overwhelming, I take a short walk outside and find something beautiful to marvel. And I remind myself that there are really only three things I need to do today: eat, sleep, and smile.  When it’s put that simply, it’s easy to believe:  you have time.  

How do you find balance in your life?  What practices happen in your home that help your family find more time to be together? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Time-Saving.

-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.

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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

live with intention. #MeditationThoughtMondays

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View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yogaLast year, I proposed this question: “What would you do if nothing stood in your way?”

I got great responses from friends and students: “Travel the world… spend more time loving my family…worry less about what other people thought of me… learn to cook… take better care of my health… quit my job and move to California… run a marathon… set aside more time for myself…start a new hobby and stick with it… practice yoga every day”

But the question still remains: are you living with intention?  Intention is powerful. (read my suggested intention at the beginning of yoga class).  Thoughts are powerful.  Your thoughts are powerful.

Sometimes bedtime arrives and I can’t remember how I spent my day.  Or I arrive at work and can’t remember driving there.  The ‘monkey mind’ is always wandering. That’s it’s job: to think ahead.  To plan and problem solve and be in constant motion.  But it can be exhausting.  When our thoughts distracted, our bodies feel fragmented, anxious, and bored.  We may walk through our entire day thoughtlessly.  But: What if everything you do today had a specific intention?  I call these: ‘micro-intentions.’  For example:

“I intend to eat this breakfast and savor each bite.”

“I intend to start my car and drive to work safely.”

“I intend to be productive, efficient, and compassionate during this meeting.”

“I intend to rest soundly and sleep deeply for eight hours.”

I believe that with these micro-intentions, life runs more smoothly.  And my day takes on more meaning.  And I have more energy to devote to moving forward to achieve my goals, as if nothing stood in my way.

Here’s your challenge for the day and your first #MeditationThoughtMonday

live with intention.

View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yoga

I dare you.

-Happy Meditating,

-lisa

(Have you heard about #MeditationThoughtMondays?  Check out ‘How to rid yourself of the ‘Case of the Mondays’)

every day that I encounter another living creature and engage, I am grateful.

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gratitude challenge day nine: November 15.

“Every day that I encounter another living creature and engage,

I am grateful.”

Steps to completing the gratitude meditation challenge:

Read.  Breathe.  Smile.  Sit in stillness.  Read again.  Express your gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings which bring you joy in this life.

day nine

Why gratitude?  Because it’s the only reasonable response to being alive.  Read more here.      

With gratitude,

-lisa

every day that I am given awareness of the smallest of beauties, I am grateful.

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gratitude challenge day six: November 12

“Every day that I am given awareness

of the smallest of beauties,

I am grateful.” 

Steps to completing the gratitude meditation challenge:

Read.  Breathe.  Smile.  Sit in stillness.  Read again.  Express your gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings which bring you joy in this life.

day six

Why gratitude?  Because it’s the only reasonable response to being alive.  Read more here.      

With gratitude,

-lisa