“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect and to be kind and affectionate with ourselves.” – Brene Brown
It’s surprising how quickly coin jars fill up. My Ironman and I occasionally drop spare change in a glass jar, which we joke is my tattoo fund, but we really end up emptying it for car washing and street parking the Adventure Van. Miraculously, it’s almost always full even though it collects coins one by one; it’s like drops of water filling a reservoir.
Compassion, too, is something we can collect and store up in our hearts little by little. It starts by learning to befriend ourselves, speak kindly to ourselves, forgive ourselves and eventually love ourselves. Every time we treat ourselves with loving-kindness, we create a well-spring of compassion from which we can draw from and extend to others.
Compassion is conscious awareness of suffering and a desire to relieve the suffering through an energetic response.
And anyone will tell you: it’s super hard to be compassionate towards other humans when you are tired, burnt-out, stressed-out and overall feeling gutted and empty.
So start with a few moments of self-love every day. Start by resting, breathing, eating well. Start collecting compassion one precious coin at a time. Begin filling a reservoir by choosing self-care (remember this post about the elements of self-care?) so that you can better love yourself and others.
Collect 6 minutes of compassion today by trying a Guided Meditation. Go buy a healthy snack. Take a walk in the sunshine. Write yourself a Positive Review. However you practice self-care, do it today.
Being an avid book reader, I’m constantly scanning book reviews for new reads. (See my list of best yoga books for 2018 here.) If the reviewer spends her entire paragraph criticizing the characters and plot, then offers a backhanded comment on how it’s a pretty good book and worth the read, I’m not into it. If the reviewer praises the book overall and offers poignant suggestions for improvement to the author, however, I’m on my way to the library. I’m all about the Positive Review.
The great thing is, in my life, I’m the Reviewer. And every single day I can write a Positive Review about my life. Sure, I could spend hours reviewing all the things that aren’t going well and are stressing me out (the vrittis of the mind will spiral continuously if we let them) or I could treat myself compassionately and practice non-harming by writing a Positive Review.
Ahimsa, which means non-harming and compassion, is the first Yama and most important tenant of Yoga Philosophy. (Remember this post about the marmots?) We practice ahimsa every day (and especially during every yoga practice) by choosing self-talk that is compassionate and non-judgmental. Since our confidence is intimately connected to the quality of our self-talk, I think it’s really really important to spend time cultivating compassionate and positive comments and reviews.
Sure, we can always pinpoint areas of our lives to improve and ways to grow; but today, practice a little more self-love than usual and write yourself a Positive Review.
It’s the second-most wonderful time of the year: Sunshine! Sweating! Swamp-hair! Summer! It’s easy to get caught up in toning your ‘swim-suit-body’ but instead, think outside the box by tuning in to what your body, mind and spirit really need this summer.
3 (different) things to tone this summer:
1. Your Hip Flexors. Strong hip flexors keep us moving forward in life– running, jogging, walking and having fun– but they get tight from sitting for extended periods of time (cross country road trips, anyone?) and can lead to low back discomfort. “Hip Flexors” is a non-specific term applied to muscles that bring your hip joint into flexion (closing the gap between your thigh and your belly). Taking time to do a fewlunges might sound silly (Thanks, Joey) but can be really effective in both strengthening and stretching your ilio-psoas muscle group.
Start in a simple lunge with the back knee down and top of foot flat on the floor. Take your hands to your hips to make sure your hip points are level and even. After 10 inhales, replace your hands to the ground and lift your back knee without tucking your toes. Hold for 5 counts. Lower the knee back down and repeat the sequence twice more. Switch legs and repeat.
2. Your Plantar Fascia.
Two words: sandal season. Not only are we increasing mileage in our running shoes, but we’re also slipping on sandals for quick walks. Sandals host notoriously terrible arch support and easily incite foot pain. Grab a RAD Roundor tennis ball and prop it under the middle of your arch. Apply gentle pressure and roll your foot lengthwise on the ball. Also try “pumping” your foot (like you are applying the brakes while driving) with the ball right at the junction of the heel and the arch. This action gets the Achilles’ tendon in there, too.
3. Your Relaxation Response.
In summer, our energetic output increases exponentially– not only are the days longer, but we can’t bear to miss out on any social engagement or chance to travel. Full-on-summer-engagement can leave us feeling frazzled and in need of a good 2 day nap. Instead, use Crocodile Pose to re-boot your energy by calming down your neurological system and toning your Relaxation Response. Relaxation Response describes the effects of the “rest and digest” side of our physiological parasympathetic system. Ideally, we’d like to tap into our Relaxation Response seamlessly so we feel cool, calm, collected and refreshed most of the time. Meditation is a great way to do this; Crocodile Pose is the best, though!
Lie down on your belly, placing your forehead on your hands. Mindfully slow down your breathing and feel your diaphragm strengthen and tone as it presses into the floor with each inhale. Stay this way for 6- 8 minutes and you’ll feel completely refreshed and rejuvenated when you get up– like you’ve just left a Hawaiian spa.
Let me know what you’ve toned. Have a happy, and health summer!
I am the kind of person who knows EXACTLY what she wants to order before even suggesting we get ice cream. Which is why, when I am feeling indecisive or am around an indecisive person, it just about kills me. I know this about myself, I don’t even pretend to apologize for it because it’s authentic. But I also predict that I would (probably) live a more vibrant life if I could be more spontaneous (potentially) or accommodating to people who like to make spur-of-the-moment decisions (maybe). Either way, I know this about myself because I’ve done A LOT of self-study of my habits and tendencies (and also anxiety levels while waiting in line for my Ironman to decide which frozen custard to order.)
Svadhyaya is the intent to know yourself at your deepest, most authentic level through self-reflection and self-study. In yoga philosophy it is one of the five niyamas (personal practices) and it is important because our concepts of who we are determine how we see and interact with the world. My concept of who I am determines small decisions (like if I’m the kind of person who eats a cinnamon roll or a bag of broccoli) and determines big life-changing decisions (like if I’m the kind of person who stays at a job that is unnecessarily stressful and brings me closer to plucking my eyes out than it does to filling my bank account or the kind of person who is willing to quit and move on to a more fulfilling life.)
As life coach and author Martha Beck writes, “Our whole lives, all the actions we take are based on our concepts of who we are. Not knowing that one crucial fact undermines everything we feel, say or do.” According to Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras and this Martha lady, I sure as heck better figure out who I think I am.
Svadhyaya, or self-study, means that I should consciously and continuously seek insight, knowledge and wisdom that helps me understand myself better and that leads me toward emotional freedom, vibrant living and spiritual wholeness. I truly can’t think of a better life task.
One way to do this is through the study of sacred and inspiring texts. Read my current recommended list of svadhyaya titles here.
Another way to practice svadhyaya is through contemplation– asking the Big Questions. I wrote about a phenomenal practice to uncover the True Self through contemplation based on Deepak Chopra’sSeven Spiritual Laws of Yoga back in 2015. You’ll definitely want to re-visit these posts; they get to the core of identity, ego and how to define/refine yourself on your own terms, not by labels that have been thrust on you by other people:
Currently, I’m meandering through a state-of-mind Martha Beck calls Dreaming and Scheming, so my self-study is honed on my need to be creative and my desire to thrive. My Big Svadhaya Question is this: “When do I feel fully and truly authentic, vibrant and alive?”
Of course, this is easier to answer when I already feel vibrant and alive. (Even imagining vibrant aliveness is oh-so-difficult when I’m down in the dumps… or a little tired… or hungry… or have the worst allergies… or am feeling disappointed about my yoga studio… or all the many things that make life so “lifey.”) So if you don’t have an answer today– I get it. I share this question with you because it’s helped me uncover who I am, define a concept of myself that I appreciate and continue an ardent svadhyaya self-study.
I’d love for you to consider it, sit with it for a few days, and then shoot me your answer. When do YOU feel fully and truly authentic, vibrant and alive?
One thing that helps me get in the mood for contemplating Big Questions is to take a few moments of silence beforehand.
Right after I announced that I was purchasing Westport Yoga KC one year ago, my student Ginny gave me this card. I taped it in the front of my lesson plan notebook; so I would see it every day.
Do it with passion, or not at all.
This just about covers the idea of tapas from our study of yoga philosophy. Tapas is a niyama, a personal consideration. We’ve already discussed the first two of the five niyamas: saucha (self-care) and santosha (contentment) in previous posts. Both saucha and santosha sound pleasant and gentle and a perhaps a slightly idealistic: character traits developed by spending my days lounging in daisy covered hillsides singing show-tunes with Olaf and Julie Andrews.
But tapas? Zest, zeal, curiosity, unrestrained passion and discipline? THAT, I can get behind. My eyes light up when the words “curiosity, challenge and exploration” are thrown into the game. I’m notorious for doing things with passion or not doing them at all. Go big or go home.
Like this yoga studio I decided to purchase, which was my home base for offering yoga teachings in my community and was also totally floundering financially when I stepped in. Or when I decided to compete in my first trail race and ended up running one at altitude in Salida, Colorado the day after climbing a 14er (and of course, sleeping in a van). If I’m going to do it: I’m going to do it really, really big, which lots of passion, zest, zeal and a spirit of curiosity. Tapas.
The spirit of tapas asks: What are you doing when you feel most fully alive?And then says:Go do it.
In yoga, we call it ‘living your dharma.’ Dharma doesn’t necessitate that your passion is your profession. (This can often lead to burn out; remember this story about caramel brownies?) Understanding dharma is understanding that we each have something significant to contribute to the larger macrocosm of the world; we each have the potential of living our fullness on an individual level. It’s finding the way to express our tapas, our curiosity, our unique talents and then doing it with passion.
“When you are thriving, when you are serving your highest purpose, you are, in fact serving the highest purpose of everything else.” -Rod Stryker
This month in my blog series we’ll discuss how tapas (zeal, exploration) and dharma (meaning, purpose) interrelate and how these concepts help you Follow Your Bliss.
Our jumping off point is SaturdayApril 7, 2018: “Follow Your Bliss” a Stay-Cation Yoga Retreat. Together we’ll delve into the ideas of dharma, tapas and personal fulfillment, learning how to use rituals, meditation and yoga to follow bliss and potential.
Registration includes: 5+ hours of yoga practice, healthy snacks, fresh-pressed juice, take-home exclusive essential oil blend for self-massage and a day of soul exploration.
Register online:Westport Yoga KC (spots are extremely limited and these retreats always sell out!)
When I picture my Soul, I often picture it as a treasure box. As I move through my life, I collect trinkets to store in this treasure box for safe keeping. I’ve collected experiences of mountain-top serenity, phenomenal sunsets over the ocean, memories of juicy summer-ripe fruit shared with my grandmas, hilariously weird and awkward moments with my girlfriends, minutes of complete and utter bliss in meditation. I’ve also collected outbursts of anger, unjustified frustration directed toward the wrong (mostly innocent) person, days and days and days worth of worrying over future life and career choices.
Yoga philosophy tells me that every word, thought, action or impression I come in contact with is stored in my citta,which is the fancy Sanskrit name for ‘heart-mind-Soul consciousness’. (You can read more about it in this post.) I’m continually accumulating experiences to keep in my Soul treasure box, so what I want to know is: can I find contentment within the contents of my Soul?
Santosha, the personal practice of contentment, has to do with who I am, not what I have. (Remember how I need to stop buying jackets?)
This means I choose what I want the contents of my Soul to be. And you know what?
When I look inside my Soul Treasure Box, I want the contents to be bright and shiny and pure and free and full of love and light. I don’t want to carry around resentment toward the awful landlord who screamed his fool head off at me. Or unresolved grief over the loss of a dear friend. Or self-judgment over a job-half-well-done. These feelings are part of me being me (a human!) but they aren’t what I want to see when I open the contents of my Soul to examine them.
When learning santosha, reflect on these questions:
Do I feel contentment with the contents of my Soul?
What have I collected in my heart that makes me feel discontented?
What can I toss out in order to feel more contentment and fulfillment?
My natural inclination is to hit the ground running the moment my alarm goes off. And sometimes, I have to– teaching 6 am yoga classes means arriving at Westport Yoga KC at an indecent hour.
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 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 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, or contentment, is a difficult attitude to maintain. Because, let’s face it: happiness doesn’t always present itself tied up with a pretty ribbon every day. Some days go terribly wrong (hello, influenza B) and I’m frustrated, stressed and suffering.
Santosha is a possibility 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 every 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.
I hope this audio guided meditation helps you open to the possibilities of joy and santosha today.
“Open to Receive”
“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
“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.” – 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 closetand think: “I need a new jacket.”
What is it about being a human that makes us think, “I need more”?
Is it that we are truly lacking? Or just that contentment with what we have right in front of us is dulled in comparison to our 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 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.
Contentment is inaccessible if I am living in the future, hoping for life to be perfect one day when I have more of everything I don’t really need.
Santosha requires me to examine all the reasons and all the ways I look for fulfillment, validation, praise and worth outside of myself. And instead, look for contentment in the exact present moment, with exactly what I have and exactly who I am.
One thing that helps me find contentment is to meditate on the gift of the Present Moment with this Guided Meditation:
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,