the uphill part is really, really hard. and also worth it.

I’m not the biggest fan uphill. Even if it’s in a spectacularly gorgeous place, like Sequoia National Park, the “uphill” part of hiking isn’t my favorite.

Sequoia National Park was everything I wanted it to be: bursting to the brim with gargantuan trees and switchback trails and boulder-strewn valleys and jagged horizons.

There’s just something about being on trails where the only sounds are bird calls and insect conversations and rushing mountain streams. Hiking boots crunch shale and the occasional breeze whistles through, but otherwise it’s just us and the trees standing proud, reverential and silent, surveying our descent into the valley below.

And, let me tell you, the descent was steep. I know this, because I struggled with the weight of my backpack and a healthy dose of altitude sickness on the uphill part. (Of which, as previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan.) Mostly because of the short-of-breath-ness, and the fact that it usually looks impossible to walk to the top of the mountain pass from my vantage point, and also, it’s just plain hard work.

But, it is worth it. Because the views are insane. And there’s a power in rising to the challenge. And there’s a power in moving just one step beyond my perceived limitations.

One Mindfulness technique I use when I’m struggling to keep moving forward on a big uphill climb is the Counting Backwards method, courtesy of yoga teacher Erich Schiffman.

It works on a simple premise: When I’m in a place of mental discomfort, it’s nearly impossible to draw my attention inward and stay in the present moment. So my mental limitations and “freak-out thoughts” just get louder and louder and louder (and a little outlandish) and I experience a moment of anxiety. (You’ve probably experienced this sensation when you were stressed and couldn’t fall asleep at night… I hear you.)

However, focusing on Counting Backwards anchors me in the present moment and allows me to practice pratyahara, the temporary withdrawing of the senses in Yoga Philosophy. In addition, letting the breath flow freely without the need to control it or change it helps me maintain mindful awareness. It’s a way of moving into the mindset of the “Observer” and regaining a moment of perspective and sanity.

To practice Counting Backwards Meditation:

  1. Start by taking 3 Cleansing Inhales and 3 Cleansing Exhales.
  2. Remember that you are not going to change or control your breath, you are simply going to count it as it moves in and out of your body.
  3. Starting at 50, count backwards with each inhale and exhale until reaching the count of 1.
  4. The inhale is 50, the exhale is 49. The inhale is 48, the exhale is 47 and so on and so forth. If you lose count or become distracted, just start over at 50.
  5. When you reach 1, pause for a few moments and notice any positive changes and shifts in your body, mind and Spirit.

I use this technique often: to slow down the turning vrttis of my mind, to get me up a steep hiking trail, to help me fall asleep and to drop me into meditation mode.

Try it for yourself: “Counting Backwards” 

Happy Counting,

-lisa


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every day a gift: santosha

My natural inclination is to hit the ground running the moment my alarm goes off. But what I really crave is A Slow Morning: a morning that I can unwrap slowly, deliberately, with care and attention.

Years ago I was inspired by this quote from spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and have held it close to my heart since. He says,

Every twenty-four hours is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy possible.”  

I’ve found that if I unwrap my morning slowly, like a precious gift, the possibility for joy, fulfillment and contentment increases exponentially. If I cherish my first stretch, spend an extra moment cuddling with Russell Clive, meditate first thing and drink my coffee slowly (from a real coffee mug, not a travel mug), I start my day feeling tremendous contentment. I am ready to receive whatever the day has to offer.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll be HAPPY! every single moment of the rest of the day. Santosha, which is the Sanskrit word for inner contentment, is a difficult attitude to maintain. Because, let’s face it: happiness doesn’t always present itself tied up with a pretty little ribbon every day. Some days go terribly wrong (hello, influenza B) and I’m frustrated, stressed and suffering.

Santosha is a possibility only when I relinquish my expectations and choose instead to be grateful that I even get to open the gift of the day, regardless of what’s under the wrapping.

One way I increase my possibility for santosha is starting my morning in meditation– setting my intention that I’ll be open to receive. Whatever the day brings, I strive to stay open, grateful and aware of the preciousness of this day.

Use this Guided Meditation today to open to the possibilities of joy and santosha.

“Open to Receive”

Happy Opening,

-lisa

Every twenty-four hours is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy possible.”  -TNH


Guided Meditation Teachings

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not needing more: santosha.

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“Contentment is the fragrance of present moment awareness. Contentment reflects a state of being in which your peace is independent of situations and circumstances happening around you.” – Dr. Deepak Chopra


I have 5 rain coats, approximately 63 sweatshirts, 3 puffy vests and a thousand reasons to stop buying more clothes. And still, I open my closet
and think: “I need a new jacket.”

What is it about being a human that makes me think, “I need more”?

Is it that I am truly lacking? Or is being content with what I have right in front of me is dulled in comparison to a feverish desire for more?

It’s not easy to feel contentment: it’s easier to believe that happiness will magically descend upon my life when I’m wildly successful/ can do a handstand perfectly/ lose the last five winter pounds/ have a new jacket/ the sun is shining every day/ yoga classes are filled to the brim.

I do it constantly, this ‘wanting more’ business. I want more students, more money, more hobbies, more free time, more Girl Scout Cookies, more puppies, more flowers for my front porch, more friends, more babies, more tattoos, more sunny days, more Instagram likes.

And yet, the wisdom of yoga tells me that I will still not feel content even if I have all these things. Ridiculously, I’ll still want more. The practice and philosophy of Yoga teaches me that true contentment, called santosha, is independent of external factors and must derive its potency from my internal state. Not what I have, but what I am. 

Santosha requires me to examine all the reasons and all the ways I look for fulfillment, validation, praise and worth outside of myself. Instead, inner contentment arises only in the exact present moment, with exactly what I have and as exactly as I am.

One thing that helps me find contentment is to meditate on the gift of the Present Moment with this Guided Meditation. Please enjoy.

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

What does contentment (santosha) mean to you? How do you find it in the present moment? I’m looking forward to your answers,

-lisa


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you gotta clean your shower (every day).

ipod old 001 (2)I’m always surprised that my shower isn’t clean—it gets ‘washed’ every time I shower, right?

If I’m not diligent with the shower scrubbing (which I’m not) it stays dusty no matter how many times I take a shower.

Studying yoga is similar. It requires attentiveness and daily commitment.

The Yoga Sutras say that studying yoga requires abhyasa, or ‘diligent practice.’ Abhyasa is required because there are a billion gajillion distractions vying for your attention. Identifying your happiness and worth by these distractions leads to confusion and frustration. However, uncovering purusha (your inner Light of awareness) leads to inner contentment. The knowledge of your inner Self requires turning your attention inward on a regular basis.

Abhyasa (diligent practice) sounds daunting. I mean, I have a lot going on. I’m preparing yoga workshops, writing a book, managing a yoga studio, teaching upwards of 12 classes a week, learning how to be a wife, keeping Russell Clive healthy, buying potted herbs like they are going out of style and maintaining loving friendships.

Do I really have time to do my yoga practice every day?  YES. I absolutely have to make time.


Abhyasa is the desire to maintain a committed effort to know yourself at your deepest core and to use your yoga knowledge to heal your life, thought by thought, moment by moment.

It is the recognition that no one else is going to clean your shower: you are the only person who can turn inward, examine your thoughts, and use discernment to choose which thoughts are helpful in your healing process.

When I think about abhyasa, I remember that consistent, focused practice will deepen the connection to my Divine Inner Self. It may happen slowly, like little drops of water filling up a bucket, but eventually I’ve got enough water collected for a foot soak (yay!). Over time, my body, mind, and heart will be clear and healed. This cleansing process benefits myself and everyone who knows me. This inevitable truth makes it a lot easier to get up at 4:45 am and get myself on my meditation mat every morning.  

If you already have a regular practice, make it more regular. If you don’t already have a regular practice, carve out some time in your day.  Even if it is only 5 minutes, that’s a great place to start.

During this time, turn inward. Sit quietly. Allow the breath to wash away any residue of fatigue, tension, stress or distraction. Make this cleansing process a priority.


If you need a place to start, try listening to one of my Guided Meditations:

Breathing Meditation:

Be Still and Know:

Happy Cleaning,

-lisa


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