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?

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“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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Aparigraha April 101: introduction to the how and why of life.

Aparigraha April 101: introduction to the how and why of life.

“You know,” Eric confided in me the other day, “I sorta wish my family wasn’t used to the lifestyle we live… my kids have so many toys that they are constantly bored. We are constantly stressed about cleaning our house and maintaining everything.  I get up every day and go to my J-O-B, but that’s all it is: a job to keep the money rolling in.”  Eric told me he wished that he could do something different with his days, perhaps become a personal trainer or a physical therapist, but he felt like there was too much baggage holding him back.  I told him: be patient, go for it when the time is right, and take the Aparigraha Challenge… maybe he’d discover that he didn’t have to hold on to all the things holding him back.

Aparigraha is the Sanskrit word for the yama commonly translated as non-hoarding. (Side note: I’m not talking about obsessive hoarders like that TV show…. I know Eric’s wife and she keeps a clean house; I’m talking about the simple non-relinquishment of all the ‘excess stuff’ in your life that magnifies discontent).  I’m challenging all my students and readers, for the month of April, to take my weekly Aparigraha Challenges.  Every week, I’ll post one 5 point challenge.  Read the post, (feel free to commiserate with my failures and celebrate with my successes when appropriate), reflect on your current lifestyle, and then follow the directions for one week.

Ok, so what does aparigraha look like and why would the yoga sages even care about how disorganized my closet is?

First is the obvious: having more ‘stuff’ in your life requires more energy to take care of that ‘stuff.’  Do you need one car?  Possibly, probably.  In Kansas City, Missouri, the answer is probably yes, because this is a geographically expansive city and distances between work and home are likely to be too far to bike or bus for most people.  But, do you need three cars?  Probably, no.  If you own three cars, you spend an exorbitant amount of time and resources taking care of those cars, licensing those cars, changing the oil in those cars, etc.  Time that could instead be spent loving your family, engaging in acts of personal healing such as yoga and meditation, or in service to others.  All actions that will, undoubtedly, enhance the quality of your lived experience and your community.  With the money you are not using to take care of three cars, you could save someone’s life (countless national organizations are looking for cures to chronic diseases like the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society) or create a more just and sacred community where all children are embraced as people of worth (check out The Children’s Place KC and Operation Breakthrough, which are outstanding local non-profits providing children a safe place be loved).

Have you ever heard the motto, attributed to Mother Theresa, “Live simply so that others can simply live”?  That’s what we are going for here.

The second perspective of aparigraha is internal.  Practicing aparigraha, at its finest, is practicing letting go of everything that is no longer serving you.  This means abandoning anger, righteousness, egotistical desires, frustration, and complaining.  It means letting go of worn out beliefs, deserting societal structures that you feel are unethical, and maturing your spiritual understandings.

This month, we will delve into the nuances of aparigrahaAparigraha doesn’t necessitate total renunciation of material items.  (I happen to think that, yes, I do need all four tubs of Christmas decorations that are stored in the basement, Mike.  And yes, I do need an entire set of Pyrex dishes, not just one bowl.  I’ll hold on to those, thank you.)  Instead, aparigraha is about letting go of things accumulated in our spiritual lives, emotional lives, and physical lives that no longer bring joy.

The Yoga Sutras say: “If you persevere in overcoming possessiveness, you will wake up to the how and why of life.” (adapted, II.39)

When my life is overrun by ‘stuff,’ I can’t see clearly in my busy, hurried, overwhelmed life.  It’s like looking for my missing sock in the depths of my sock drawer and realizing that my sock drawer has been invaded by scarves.  I can’t see to the back of the drawer to find the object of my desire (my REI merino wool socks, as it turns out) until the scarves are removed, re-folded, re-considered, and returned to their rightful place.  Overcoming possessiveness means learning through your yoga practice (that you don’t need socks? … we practice barefoot, after all) that the bigger picture in life is much less complicated than it seems:

You are perfect, whole and complete.  You are nothing less than a manifestation of Divine goodness and are created to exist in a state of authentic love.  You are meant for health, happiness, and wholeness at your Soul’s level.  That is the promise of yoga. 

Everything else is just stuff.

Time to wake up to the how and why of life.  Take the Aparigraha April Challenge:

  1. Read.  Each week, I will post actions YOU can take to live a simpler, aparigraha-inspired lifestyle.
  2. Try.  Follow my recommendations.  At least try one.
  3. Share.  Tell me how it’s going.  Individuals succeed at a higher rate when we are accountable to a community.  Share your successes, frustrations, failures and ‘aha moments’ with me through the comment section of this site, or email me at ash.lisamarie at gmail.com
  4. Breathe.  Making a lifestyle change takes longer than one week, and often longer than the required habit-changing 21 days.  Give yourself time.  Be Patient.  But go for it.  (Even you, Eric.)

The challenges will include everything from cleaning out your closet, healing your heart, reducing waste in your home, conserving the Earth’s precious resources, and relinquishing habits that no longer serve you.  Challenge yourself to live simply and tell me all about it.  I double-dog dare you.

-lisa

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photo cred EMA

 “If you persevere in overcoming possessiveness, you will wake up to the how and why of life.” (adapted, II.39)

show up.

get up and show up.

your yoga is only 1% theory and 99% practice.  get up.  show up.

I ran into a friend this week who “took the summer off” from yoga classes because her kids were out of school. (Yay for summer! And yay for spending time with kiddos!) She promised she’d make it back to class in September.  September turned to January.  Now it’s March.  It was her third class back.  She felt amazing.  She felt rejuvenated.  She felt fresh and solid and glad to be back to a routine.  “I mean, I do my Sun Salutations and everything after I get off my treadmill, but it’s not the same.” she confided. “Sometimes I just need a little accountability.  I’m a better me when I do my yoga practice.”  That’s right, lady:

Get up, dress up (or dress down… I wear yoga pants, which are practically pajamas, every day) show up, and never give up.  

See you on the mat.

~lisa

letting go for Lent.

photo cred EMA

Traditionally, the Lenten season in the Christian liturgical calendar is a perceived as a time of sacrifice.  I remember a friend telling me that he slightly resented “having to give something up” for Lent.  “I think I’ll give up… smoking.”  He wasn’t a smoker.  Jokingly, he chose to “fast” a bad habit that he didn’t even have, so he could feel good about his Lenten sacrifice.  Here’s the thing though:

Most of us have bad habits.  That we could give up. And feel better by doing so.

Maybe it is a novel thought: sacrificing something that doesn’t serve us; giving up something that would help us feel more authentic and whole if we abstained from it. 

Participating in the Lenten tradition doesn’t have to be a burden.  Instead, it can relieve a burden.  One year, I chose to ‘give up’ my negative body image talk.  (It lasted about two days, until I put on my skinny jeans…) Another year, I tried to give up walking too quickly, because I didn’t want to rush through my days anymore.  (Again, this lasted about two days because I double booked myself for two appointments and had to rush to the second one.)  This year, I’m giving up being annoyed.  I can’t tell you how many times a day something trivial upsets me and I’m immediately annoyed. Isn’t being annoyed still super annoying?

I may not succeed fully, but I can at least try sacrificing the burdening habit of annoyance.  Your challenge is to do the same.  Give up a habit that is a burden.

Finish this sentence:  This Lenten season, I’m giving up ______________.

anger? resentment? holding grudges? negative self-talk? gossiping? complaining?

Don’t choose something like ‘doing the dishes.’ That’s funny for about 2 seconds (and never funny for the other person in your household).  Choose to give up something that is standing in your way, keeping you from becoming happy, healthy, and whole.

Remember:  “The spiritual journey is never about holding on. It is always about letting go.” – Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Tell me about your choice.  I’d love to hear about your Lenten experiment.  It starts tomorrow.

Happy Giving Up,

-lisa