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

 

 

 

Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage, part two: art of impermanence.

Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage, part two:  art of impermanence.

(location: Island Amantani, Lake Titicaca, Peru)

Our first adventure site in Peru (see previous post if you are wondering why I’m in Peru) was a lake excursion to the unique islands on Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world.  It is breathtaking.  (You can learn about Lake Titicaca here).

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Lake Titicaca from Island Amantani

What’s marvelous about Lake Titicaca is not only its size, but that it is where worlds collide.  The urban bustle of Puno (if you’ve ever been to a developing world city, you know that ‘bustle’ is a nice way of saying ‘chaos’) contrasts starkly with the absolute stillness of ancient agrarian farmsteads on the islands in the lake.  The lake is the birthplace of the Incan civilization according to Andean mythology the first God of the Incans was born from these waters nestled at an altitude of 12,500+ feet.  Viracocha emerged from the lake to create the sun, the stars and the first people.  Quecha-speaking descendants of these first Incan people still live on the secluded islands today and maintain the traditional ceremonies of honoring the sun at special times of the year from the top of their highest island peaks.

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legit fesitval. school was cancelled on the island for two weeks for this traditional festival

Our Lake Titicaca tour included three stops so we could learn about the cultures of three different island communities and stay in a local home on Lake Amantani.  After stepping of the rocking boat in the shimmering sunlight of mid-afternoon, we stood awkwardly on the banks of the lake while we were assigned host families with whom we would spend the night.  Our host mother was the tiniest person you’ve ever seen in your life.  Her mantle-adorned head barely reached my shoulder… and I’m not tall to begin with.  She led us, wordlessly, grinning, to her home on the side of terraced fields.

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walking up the path to Mathilde Maria’s home

Having no common language, we communicated brilliantly with smiles, shrugs and nervous laughter before settling into our guest room.  My Ironman had to duck to get in the doorway.  Classic.  Air BnB in Willy Wonka’s Shrinker-machine.

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Air BnB, Peruvian style

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note the height of the doors

A quick lunch of quinoa soup (score) and then it was up the mountain, walking the path that would deposit us at the peak of the island: the place where the Spirit of “Pachatata,” or Father Earth, resides.  On the other side of the valley rises “Pachamama,” or Mother Earth.  Modern inhabitants of the island venerate ancient Incan ruins and traditions on these barren, wind-swept peaks.  They, clearly, are used to walking up-hill at altitude: I was repeatedly lapped by grandmas carrying bundles of corn on their backs, babies in their arms, and who knows what else in the folds of their giant skirts.  I’m pretty sure you could fit a lamb in each pocket.  But the ‘45 minute leisurely walk’ up to the highest point of Amantani Island was worth it.  It was uncomfortable, but it was worth it.  Until you’ve seen a sunset at the top of the world, you haven’t seen a sunset.  

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the sun setting over Lake Titicaca, view from Pachatata, Father Earth

As the sun disappeared behind the Andes-framed expanse of water in front of us (cordially stealing all prospects of warmth and the feeling in my fingers), my Ironman and I mimicked the sacred tradition of circling the Quecha priests’ ceremonial site four times.  As I walked, unsteadily (thanks, Altitude Sickness), head bowed against the harsh wind, fingers tucked in my armpits for warmth, I noticed the worn path beneath my hiking boots and thought: all manner of feet have walked this path.  Bare feet, hooved feet, truck-tire-bottom-sandaled feet, touristy-Solomon-shoed feet, hiking-boot-clad feet.  Literally, since the beginning of (Incan) time, feet have been circumnavigating the highest point on this island, praying for blessings.

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This revelation was humbling because it reminded me of the impermanence of life.  I like to tell my Vinyasa yoga students that the only thing CONSTANT in life is CHANGE.  Circling the weathered stone walls of this tiny temple was an act of showing up to celebrate the impermanence of life: of the inevitable setting of the sun, of the slow rising of the moon, of the constant movement of the waves, of the gently persistent wind.  And it was an act of reverence to the fleeting nature of my own life, which is a short blip, but an important blip, in the grand scheme of the universe.  It was an act of yoga.

“Yoga, like art and like music, is understanding the art of impermanence. 

It is a way of learning the spiritual discipline of showing up for a sacramental event even if you don’t know what your experience will be, how your performance will be received, how your spirit will be expressed, or what you will learn.”

 

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ready for anything

Here’s my lesson: Although life is sacred, it is fleeting.  Although our troubles are arduous, they are fleeting.  Although our blessings are unlimited, they are fleeting.  There is an art to embracing the sacredness of creation and the sacredness of impermanence without futility overshadowing this lived experience.

And there is an art to showing up.   Even when it’s freezing and your fingers are numb.

Even when your head is about to explode.

Even when you don’t speak the same language, and you don’t know how to count the local currency, and you don’t share many of the same customs: there is an art to showing up: ready for anything.  You never know what you will learn.

So, here’s my question to you: When did you ‘show up’ to an experience, feeling totally underprepared, but ready to live life to the fullest?  What unexpected blessings or unexpected stumbling blocks arose?  What did you learn?  (If you don’t have one of these moments… book a plane ticket, quickly!  There are so many places to explore in this world!  Better yet, just walk outside your workplace and strike up a conversation with the first person you meet… you never know what your experience will be and what you will learn!)

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“Yoga, like art and like music, is understanding the art of impermanence. It is a way of learning the spiritual discipline of showing up for a sacramental event even if you don’t know what your experience will be, how your performance will be received, how your spirit will be expressed, or what you will learn.”

Can’t wait to hear back from you,

-lisa

 

what would you do if nothing stood in your way?

what would you do if nothing stood in your way?

I’m always on the lookout for questions like these.  My girlfriends from college are relatively scattered these days, so we communicate every week by group email.  To add to the ‘daily dish’ we share about our families, our jobs, our homes, our stresses, and our successes, I insert a Question of the Day into the email chain and everyone answers as honestly as she can.  Sometimes the questions are really important (i.e. Vampire or Zombie?), sometimes the questions are simply thought-provoking (i.e. what personal success did you experience in the past week?) and sometimes the questions are soul-searching:

what would you do if nothing stood in your way?

I found this question featured on a Lululemon Athletica shopping tote (which I adore, and maybe also hoard to re-use as grocery bags) and it immediately struck me as an integral question for self-evolution.  Self-doubting, questioning, searching, and seeking are all activities of the mind-ego… and believe me, my mind-ego is ripe with activity despite (because of?) years of yoga and meditation.  Yoga is a discipline that gives us the tools for listening to our inner-voice and eavesdropping on our Soul but what we hear isn’t always clear or straightforward.  Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu is attributed with saying: “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”  Meaning the more we learn and utilize tools for self-reflection and inner study the more clarity we gain.  Our soul’s deepest desires are not outside of us.  Our soul’s deepest desires are inherent within us.  So, what would you do if nothing stood in your way?  That’s a literal question, not a hypothetical one.   Go ahead… answer it.

I mean, really, your answer may reveal dreams that you’ve never before had the courage to say out loud.  You may hear in your answer an inner-wisdom, speaking softly.  And you may end up navigating your life experiences to include your answers.

What would I do if nothing stood in my way?

I’d garden.  I’d have an expansive, fertile vegetable garden in my back yard and I’d spend hours tending it.  I’d have enough vegetables to feed two vegetarians.  (Which is not easy, since my Ironman and I eat a boat load of veggies.  Russell Clive is a full-on carnivore, in case you were wondering.  Turns out: dogs eat meat.)

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I’d write.  For no one.  For myself.  For the world.

I’d go on PeaceWalks across the desert campaigning against nuclear weapons and I’d hang out with the Dalai Lama.

I’d travel to San Francisco one morning just to drink Peet’s Coffee, hike in the Berkeley Hills, hug my friends, and take a yoga class.  Then I’d fly home that same day.

I’d read every book in the library.

I’d never let fear of failure hold me back.

I’d live as if each day was my last chance to breathe joy into this world.

What would you do?  Honestly: comment, Facebook, text or email me your answers.  Happy Soul searching.

-lisa

 

 

learn to meditate. your way.

learn to meditate, your way.

Meditation is a life-changing practice.  When we sit in stillness, we learn to trust our own wisdom and insight.  This inner wisdom supersedes the demands of anxiety and fear, which allows us to act with greater care for ourselves and for others.  This is what yogis call “mindful living.”

Most often, beginners to meditation are told to “Still the Mind.”  When I first learned to meditate, my mind could only stay still for 0.3 seconds.  I’m a list maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier, and a dreamer.  Even if my butt was still, my mind was anything but still.

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photo cred SFA

I first approached the art of meditation with the dual intent of calming my anxiety and healing a hurting heart.  I found that the use of a mantra, or repetition of a phrase, worked well for me.  The constant, gentle, repetitive reminder gave my mind something to focus on.  My mind wasn’t ‘still’ per se —because I was busy repeating the words: “In… out… calm… ease” – but my thoughts were still-er.  (Which was an improvement).

 

In my experience, thoughts won’t ever completely cease, they will just slow down.  My mind whirls at breakneck speed.  It always has, and it probably always will.  Nerd Alert: I like to picture my neurons as cars speeding across interstate overpasses alarmingly fast… and then slowing down, together, consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace.  They are still going somewhere.  But they are going slower, taking time to enjoy the scenery.  (By the way, if I were queen of the world, I would decree that every driver must follow the speed limit.  Slow down, you fools, I’m maneuvering my refrigerator-box-on-wheels-vehicle just as fast as I dare to, and that happens to be the posted speed limit. Back to meditation…)

Meditating is an integral part of your yoga practice: the asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation.  Coincidentally, the word asana translates to the word ‘seat’.   But here’s thing: you don’t JUST SIT THERE… seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your emotions, your breath, your own inner divinity.

Yoga and meditation go hand in hand.  Leading yoga teacher Eric Schiffman writes, “Yoga is a way of learning to be in meditation all day long. In other words, listening inwardly with a quiet mind as many moments of the day as you can for the guidance and wisdom of Infinite Mind, God.”  You can access his entire article here.

Even if you aren’t in a yoga class, you can and should, still meditate on your own. Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.

I suggest starting here:

  1. Focus on the Breath.  All beginning meditators need to begin here; learning to listen to your breath teaches you the miracle of the present moment.  I like to remind my students: “You can’t breathe in the future, you can’t breathe in the past.  You can only take this breath, right here, right now.”   Here is my favorite breath mantra: (adapted from Tich Naht Hanh’s meditations for peace.)

“In.”  <Inhale>

“Out.” <Exhale>

“Calm.”  <Inhale>

“Ease.”  <Exhale>

Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat.  Don’t worry about how your breath sounds or how long it is.  Just sit and savor the feeling of ease in your body.

  1. Try Guided Meditations:  Mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg shares 6 different meditation techniques on her website.  The techniques draw from varied philosophical backgrounds. You can access these meditations here.  My favorite can also be found in her book Real Happiness.  It’s called Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation.  It’s super easy to wish metta for yourself (May I be safe, May I be Happy, May I be Healthy, etc.) and (slightly?) more difficult to wish metta for other people in your life (especially the difficult ones… like that guy who honked at me for stopping at a stop sign the other night.  Sir, it’s a STOP sign. I’d like to amend my Queen of the World ruling to decree that all drivers must obey all traffic laws, speed limit notwithstanding.)  Salzberg’s site is a great place to start because it will teach you different meditation disciplines and guide you through each one.

3.  Make your Meditation Portable: Download the ‘Stop Breathe & Think App’ (it’s free) on your phone and carry your meditation with you everywhere.  The App explains how to practice mindfulness and helps you track your progress in learning to meditate.  Some of it is a little cheesy (you earn stickers every time you complete a guided meditation, for example) but the App is straightforward and helpful.  The meditations are short— some even less than five minutes long.  I listen to these meditations in my kitchen as I’m chopping vegetables.  (I’ll never be a Buddhist Monk who accesses liberation while chopping onions… I’ll just start by being more mindful to not chop my finger off while I’m making soup.)  You can listen to a meditation or use the App to ‘check in’ with your emotional state while waiting in line at Target.  It might remind you to extend compassion to your check out-person, because kindness is contagious.  (Don’t pretend you don’t check your phone the instant you have to stand in a line.  You do.)  Search for the ‘Stop Breathe & Think App’ on iTunes or visit the SBT full site here.

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photo cred EMA

  1. Just Sit.  Don’t worry about doing it correctly or incorrectly.  Start by sitting still for 60 seconds.  Slow your breath for one minute.  Appreciate the joy of simply being alive.  I learned to meditate by using the timer on my phone.  That way, I wasn’t tempted to check the clock and see how long I’d been sitting. If you use a timer, you won’t cut your session short thinking you’re running out of time and frantically jump up to straighten your hair before someone else is in the bathroom so you won’t be late to work, etc. etc. etc. (See how fast those anxious thoughts sneak up on you?)  My go-to is an App called Insight Timer (free on iTunes).  I even use it when I teach because it indicates the end of meditation time with a lovely, resounding Tibetan Gong (relaxing), instead of my daily wake-up alarm (not relaxing).  Start with one minute a day.  And work your way up to four minutes.  And then ten minutes.  (Ten minutes?  For total freedom, bliss, spiritual wellness and emotional health?  Yes, Please.)

Remember that Meditation is YOUR practice.  You will find a way to meditate that works well for you, and you will find a way that doesn’t work well for you.  If you are learning to sit in stillness, you are learning to trust your own wisdom. Listen to your own insight, and commit to a daily stillness practice.  It will change your life.

Still need more convincing? This article describes the scientifically substantiated benefits of meditation. And there are more out there!

I’d love to hear your stories; how do you like to meditate? What do you find helpful?

-lisa

 

breathing through allergies.

My allergies are killing me.

Last Tuesday I woke up at 3:30 am gasping for breath. It seems I accidentally closed my mouth while I was sleeping (which wouldn’t be a problem if I could breathe through my nose like an ordinary human, but apparently it’s a death sentence for someone suffering from spring seasonal allergies.) During my yoga class last night, I not-so-sneakily-snuck out of the studio while everyone else was in savasana for dose of decongestant spray and peppermint oil… oh the joys of loving to play in dirt and take long walks in the Great Outdoors.

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the promise of all things allergen

I almost skipped my Mysore Ashtanga practice on Monday because my nose was completely stuffed.  Ujjayi breath in and out of my nose seemed impossible.  And it was, at first.  My initial downward facing dog felt like I had wrapped my face in a cotton pillow and plunged it underwater.  That great.  But something miraculous happened: by my first Sun Salutation B, I could breathe. I mean, really breathe into the opening of my throat and listen to the familiar sound of ocean wave that the ujjayi creates.  It was as if breathing deeply… helped me breathe deeply. (Novel, I know.)

Instead of feeling frustrated and fatigued, I felt relaxed and rejuvenated.  I could literally feel myself becoming happier and less anxious every time I inhaled.  I felt my spirit lift—I felt connected with my body, instead of feeling annoyed with it.

And it reminded me of this beautiful explanation of Breath from Max Strom’s book, A Life Worth Breathing:

“In our breath there is so much power to be harnessed, so much grace to be found. Many ancient languages associate breath and spirit, or breath and soul, as the same word. Spiritus comes from an old Latin word, meaning “to breathe” but also [meaning] “soul” or “spirit.” Another example is aloha which originally meant, “Breath of God” in ancient Hawaiian. So, when we say aloha to each other, it essentially means “I breathe God with you.” It seems … that human beings understand the act of breathing to be much more than mere physical survival, but as an intimate connection with the divine source, and that breath is actually associated with spiritual life.” – Max Strom

I often tell my students that if they ‘do nothing else but stand here and breathe, their practice is already a success.’  But I often wonder: do they really get it?  Do I really get it?  When I am powering myself into arm balances, am I looking for grace within my breath?  Or am I just using it for the power it provides my muscles?  Probably the latter.

When I take a deep breath after (waking up from) savasana (relaxation pose) do I remember that it is a Divine Gift?  Usually my first thought is to check the clock and see how many minutes I have to change clothes and get to my next class.  So… no, I’m probably ignoring that wake-up-inhale as “an intimate connection with the divine source.”
Fact: being unable to inhale through my super-stuffy nose reminds me that breathing is a gift.  (Trying to look on the bright side here.)  And with that gift, my Spirit is connected with every living creature in the past, present, and future.

If you too struggle with seasonal allergies, check out this article from Gaiam which gives advice on the best yoga poses to relieve allergies.  And if you are a science nerd, like I am, this article details the physiological details of respiratory allergic reactions.  And lastly… take a deep breath and cherish it like it is the only breath you will take today.  Cherish your Spirit.

Get on your mat, even if your allergies are killing you.

photo cred MAD

photo cred MAD

Aloha,
-lisa

Earth Day meditation.

Sharing this meditation from my friend and spiritual guide, Katie Harmon-McLaughlin.

Happy Earth Day (which should be EVERY day).

“Meeting God is not a momentary ‘spiritual’ affair; rather, God is the ether, the reality, the body, the garden in which we live. God is never absent; God is reality (being). Everything that has being derives it from God (we are born and reborn by God). The entire cosmos is born of God, as is each and every creature. We depend on this source of life and its renewal absolutely. We could not live a moment without the gifts of God’s body- air, food, water, and other creatures. This realization is an overwhelming experience of God’s transcendence; it calls forth awe and immense gratitude. Yet, at the same time, as Augustine puts it, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Where can we go where God is not, since God fills heaven and earth?” -Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology

 

Take a few moments to breathe deeply and know that with each breath you are inhaling and exhaling divine love; the unifying, life-giving spirit in all of creation.

Consider how this matters for you now.

Consider your connectedness with all other life.

Consider all that you have done so far today; all that you have eaten, all that you have touched. Pay attention to the fabric of the clothing you wear and think about where it came from. Pay attention to the place where you sit and the materials that surround you. All of these came from the earth.

The gifts of God’s body, the earth, are sustaining your daily existence. Pause in gratitude. 

Some of the things you touch and wear and use today have caused earth destruction. Pray for forgiveness for the ways we sometimes live unaware as though we are disconnected. Pray for greater awareness and compassion in the days ahead.

Become aware of the surrounding air that embraces every part of you, touching your fingertips, resting on your shoulders and head. Know that embracing-stillness as God, holding you in each moment. Know that there is not a place you can go in this world where you will not be in this loving embrace.

There is no distance between you and God.
There is no distance between you and love.
There is no distance between you and the rest of creation because you are part of sacred creation and are daily sustained by this planet.

How will you live this holy connection today?

for more from Katie, visit the Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Center Facebook page.

photo cred HM

practice loving-kindness

loving-kindness.

Your yoga practice is a great teacher because it presents this lesson: how to accept what our bodies are able to do (and how they look!) while simultaneously challenging our bodies to move beyond their perceived limits to find more freedom of movement and mobility.  In the process, we learn to be gentle with our self-judgments and with our lower backs.  We learn to love our bodies and love the simple fact of being able to move.  And we do the best we can.
The Yoga asanas are just one way we learn, through trial and error, through sweat and success, how to stop striving to find love outside of ourselves, and instead, find love inside.
This can only be done by practicing loving-kindness.  World-renowned author and Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön presents the talk “The Freedom to Love”, where she elucidates her modern-day interpretation of the ancient practice of loving-kindness.  This is also called metta meditation.
It’s worth the watch. 

In this short video, she explains how learning to practice loving-kindness changes your perspective on life.  Loving-kindness makes “a big difference in terms of your ability to be able to relax with yourself… It’s sort of like connecting with the best of ourselves,” Chödrön explains.
Yoga is the same way: it offers us a chance to connect with the best of ourselves.
I’ve found, personally, that when I connect with and appreciate ‘the best in myself’ I’m more appreciative and accepting of ‘the worst of myself.’  When I’m practicing loving-kindness toward myself I’m more accepting of my own flaws.  When my anxiety is high, or my self-esteem low, or when I’m feeling guilty and overwhelmed trying to meet the impossibly high expectations of others, I take a big yoga breath and remind myself: I’m doing the best I can.  This is the same thing I learned to say when I repeatedly fell on my face trying to learning pincha mayurasana (forearm stand) for three years.  I’m doing the best I can, I’d say.
When I learned to say this, to love myself despite my biggest anxieties, I also learned to accept (with more ease) people in my life who triggered my anxieties. This was not easy.  But, the more I practiced loving-kindness towards myself, the easier it was for me to realize:
 “That person is probably doing the very best he can… even if it’s not what I would want him to do.”  
Then I could relax (a little bit more).  And love (a little bit more).  Want to be able to relax into yourself?  (Even it it’s just for a few blessed minutes?)  Well.  Here’s your chance.
Finish February, the month of LOVE, by learning this metta meditation.

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Say it every day.  With sincerity.  Start loving yourself a little more.  Let me know how it goes.

*Note: parts of this blog post and this image can be found on Westport Yoga’s blog accessed here. 

-lisa

‘clearing away’ colors of emotions.

A little quote of inspiration I’ve shared with my students this week reminded me of this insane article about the colors of emotions actually showing up in our bodies. Yoga reminds us daily that the emotional and physical bodies are linked, but according to this research (follow above link), that connection is actually visible.

Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages.  As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.” 

– yoga teacher, Cybele Tomlinson

This is such a beautiful sentiment.  When I’m teaching, I use this phrase: “Inhale in space and healing, exhale out all the tension, toxins and stress.”  (Now I just need to add on: “For real.”)

Next time you practice: imagine that the space and healing in your inhale is a vibrant color.  Cherish that image and begin to let that color clear away your stress. 

Happy Healing.

-lisa

photo cred HM

photo cred HM