Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up and your first thought is: ‘I didn’t get enough sleep‘? And this snowballs into, ‘And I don’t have enough time today and I don’t have enough energy today and there’s SURE not enough sunshine today.’
When I have these days (usually it’s actually freezing and cloudy and the only things that can cheer me up are dance videos and Vitamin D) my ‘enough-ness’ is already deteriorating before I even take off my pajamas. In Yoga Philosophy, we recognize these automatic and unfiltered thoughts as mind-patternswhich steal our energy. Coincidentally, one of the tenants of Yoga Philosophy is “asteya.” It literally means: non-stealing.
The foundation of practicing asteya is much more nuanced than, say… not stealing things. (Although, to be honest, I did try to steal a “stray” Ozark dog over New Year’s Eve… I guess I’m still working on the basic concept of asteya, after all. He really looked like he needed a home. And he was sweet and had a scruffy beard. I didn’t trust him to stay safe and warm running around the Ozark bluffs like a fool… but he didn’t trust my leash or the promise of a nice West Plaza home.) The foundation of asteya is TRUST. Trusting that we are enough and that the Universe is always working in our highest favor.
TRUST is the opposite of the scarcity-mindset that often dominates our mental landscape. In my experience, the two best ways to combat a scarcity-mindset of “not enough” are:
Affirming that there is a greater power than me.
Actively practicing a sentence of gratitude.
ONE: Affirming that there is a greater power than me. The healthiest people I know practice their spirituality every single day through moments of mindfulness. For example: when I am caught up in a snowstorm of not-enough-ness, I repeat this affirmation from Gabrielle Bernstein.
“There is a power greater than me, working on my behalf. I close my eyes, take a breath and tune into this energy.”
This instantly changes my day; it invites me to get quiet and listen to: what actually matters.
TWO: Actively practicing a sentence of gratitude. Can’t claim this one: positive psychology researchers, vulnerability expert Brene Brown and the great Oprah Winfrey all back this up. We are grateful FIRST, then we become more present and joyful. I stop whirly-twirly-anxiety-blizzard thoughts by saying out loud:
“I don’t want to steal from this moment or from my potential for joy. Right now, I am very grateful for ________________.”
Use these two practices throughout your day. What do you notice about your ability to GIVE to the moment, instead of STEAL from it? What can you learn about asteya from this practice?
At Westport Yoga KC we use these little green consent cards that say “Yes, please” so students can communicate with our yoga teachers to tell us if they consent to hands-on adjustments or if they really just want to be left alone. (Often, our students just want to be left alone. I get it; me, too.)
I love these “Yes, please” cards because they remind me to be very clear about what I am saying, “Yes, please” to. The cards are a perfect example of practicing brahmacharya, which means moderation and conservation. Brahmacharya is an appeal for a balanced lifestyle and healthy self-care.
Brahmacharya asks me to conserve my energy, refusing to spend it on worry, shame, frustration, crappy coffee, donuts and Instagram, saving it up to use it only on what’s really important. (Coincidentally, love, acceptance, humility, Roasterie Coffee, and pumpkin bread are pretty darn important.)
Asking myself what I’m actively saying, “Yes, please!” to helps me simplify my intentions, my practices and my daily choices. It helps me live a full, abundant life and say ‘no thanks’ to the things that tend to drag me down and deplete my energy.
Are you saying, “Yes, please!” to self-care, simplicity,mindfulness and grace? Are you saying, “Yes, please!” to conserving your energy in order to spend it on what is precious and beautiful and life-affirming?
This Guided Meditation helps re-affirm my commitment to living a life that is balanced, whole and consecrated. Please practice with me:
Guided Meditation, Balance and Ease:
Guided Meditation Teachings
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I’m one of those people who experiences anxiety over events on my calendar that are scheduled months in the future. I say things like, “Well, after that workshop, things will slow down and I can really enjoy life again. I’ll have time to cook and take naps have coffee with friends and enjoy leisurely walks after that.”
One profound day, I realized: why am I waiting for life to slow down in the future? Why don’t I just slow down life right now? Why don’t I just enjoy the little leisurely times in my day today, instead of waiting for them to show up in my calendar in the future?
And thus begin an intense commitment to spend 1 hour every afternoon in silence. Not in ‘anticipatory waiting tense’ silence. But in leisurely ‘I’m going to enjoy every single little gift of this moment’ silence. Because waiting for fulfillment or waiting for the clock to slow down or waiting for this big event to take place before I enjoy life again gets tiresome. And frankly, it feels silly. This is actually a very intense spiritual practice in discipline; because TV is so much more fun! Because it’s sometimes difficult to not pick up my phone and tune in to frenetic internet activity. Because being silent feels a lot like just waiting for something to happen. But it’s not. It’s witnessing that something.
I believe that the biggest and best miracle of each day is the miracle that I am alive today. I believe that I am meant to live every moment fully awake, fully alive in grace, fully in love with this gift of being alive today. I’m not rushing into the next thing. I’m not rushing to get something done. I’m not rushing through my day. I’m witnessing the biggest and the best miracle unfold right in front of my eyes.
One of my favorite, miraculous techniques of tuning into this silence is called “Follow Your Bloodstream.” It is the ultimate practice in pratyahara a yogic practice in turning senses inward. Here’s my guided meditation, adapted from Martha Beck.
I’ve been an adult for nearly a decade; which in no way entitles me to any authority on the matter, whatsoever… but actually I think I may have figured out a significant strategy to successful ‘adulting.’ (This, by the way, is its own hashtag…which makes me think my internet community must be overwhelmingly and alarmingly excited about pretending we know what we are doing as pretend adults.)
(so fun to be a real-life adult! photo cred: JanaMarie Photography)
I’ve presented this 3 pronged approach to a few friends lately; its been received reasonably well. I’ve been warned it is, perhaps, missing a few key elements regarding paying bills and car insurance and feeding oneself and her family, but I’m pretty sure I’m on to something.
So, my exhaustive list of 3 key actions: How to be a Successful Adult
1. Move things around. Moving things around makes me look so busy! And creative! And responsible! And people love it when things are in a new place. Trash, dust, towels, pictures, Kleenex boxes, water bottles, Ganesha statues, plants, dirty clothes, clean clothes, whatever! Move that stuff around, continuously and consistently, and you will totally look like you know what you’re doing.
2. Send a lot of e-mails. I have discovered that e-mailing is the most substantial indication of “doing work.” It makes me appear so important and communicative and ‘on it!’ It’s the best! Sometimes I send e-mails just to send e-mails…and then check them off my list.
3. Measure my success by how much fun I’m having and how quickly I can change my mindset from fear to love. Being serious is overrated. I’ve found that success in life, for me, means always choosing joy and learning not to compare myself to others. The more I love others, give to others, and affirm others, the more successful I am at building the life I love. It’s sometimes terrifying owning a business whose bottom line is contingent on students getting off work on time in the evenings, family schedules, personal energy levels and the conscious and sometimes difficult choice of attending a yoga class instead of a Sporting KC game. It’s sometimes terrifying owning a business in what now, for some unknown reason, seems like a ‘fad industry’ and there are yoga studios popping up on every corner. It’s sometimes terrifying when I think: Is this really a real-life job and do I have the energy to keep it going? But then I remember to measure my success by how much fun I’m having and how quickly I can change my mindset from fear to love.
And I choose to love my life.
How do you measure your success? How can you change your mindset from fear to love? How do you choose to love life?
My Ironman insists on celebrating his birthday on top of a 14er in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Literally, on the summit. And I always, always, always forget how difficult it actually is to hike one of those things, so I say, “YES! Let’s totally hike that mountain that requires ten straight hours of hiking and a 4 am wake-up call on vacation!” and then I start hiking and remember: Holy freaking cow, this is really, really difficult.
Worth it? Yes, because the spaciousness of the summit and the silence of the trail are unforgettable. But still difficult.
So, readers, in the (likely) circumstance that you never marry a former Trail Guide who expertly guides you to the top of a 14er summit (or two) every summer, I humbly present to you my Yogi’s Guide to Hiking a 14er.
Tell yourself it’s easy. Literally, start every sentence with: “It’s easy for me to…” And fill in the blank. In challenging and strenuous situations (for instance, climbing to the top of a pile of rocks 14 thousand feet in the air or getting your work done before deadline or talking to the most annoying co-worker in the history annoying co-workers) your thoughts (in Sanskrit vrtti-s) can spin wildly out-of-control. Hiking to the top of a 14er mirrors life in that it is mind-game. Gaining control over the 70,000 daily thoughts in our mind alters the spinning trajectory of our vrtti-s to be helpful instead of harmful. Our mind LOVES to distract us from achieving goals such as ‘being present’ and ‘being content’ and ‘not dying while walking these last 7 miles’ with negative vrtti-s. Negative or harmful thoughts are usually caused by deep emotional triggers (in Sanskrit: kleshas) and they turn over and over and over again in our subconscious until we believe them. Starting a sentence with, “It’s easy for me to…” re-sets the turning/tumbling/ridiculous cycle of self-judgmental thoughts and helps you focus on what you CAN DO. Like, for instance, take one more step. In fact, “It’s easy for me to hike this whole trail, even though my lungs are exploding.”
Wear gloves. It’s cold. And numb fingers make everyone crabby.
Listen to silence. I believe it’s ultra important to understand that the core of our being is always quiet and still. It is our Inner Light, our Inner Wisdom, which is connected to Spirit. A little bit of the Atman lives in each person’s heart and offers an Infinite wellspring of grace, joy, love and wisdom. The vrtti-s spin like wheels, distracting us with outer definitions of who we think we are and how we aren’t good enough, butthe inner light of awareness (purusha), is a hub stillness. Listening to silence means learning to listen to the still small voice of awareness that shines through all the vrtti-s. Sit yourself down on a rock and listen. It’s incredibly quiet on the mountain. It’s intoxicating and beautiful and freeing.
Get an alpine start. If you don’t get it done in the morning, it’s not going to happen. This is true of your yoga practice and your meditation practice. Set your alarm and get up in the dark if you need to. Be diligent in your personal resolve to consecrate your day toward Love and set your intention. Do it first thing in the morning or the day will get away from you. Remember: you have time.
Take frequent rests. I recently learned that resting is a spiritual practice. And that taking naps is an important part of staying healthy and whole. When climbing that GD mountain of day, set aside a specific time of the day for an 8 minute savasana, legs-up-the-wall-pose or guided meditation. Resting is necessary for your body, mind and spirit to re-align. Rest at every mile mark, take a drink, eat a snack and enjoy the view.
Be creative in your route. There is no ‘one right way’ to get to the top. In fact, there may not even be ‘a top’ in life. Everyone measures success differently. Give yourself permission to be bit creative with your route and your end goal. Stay safe, but let your dreams run wild and free. Seriously. Do the things that most inspire you and do them with passion. You may not have a 9-5 job, you may not wear a suit to work, you may not have a giant house or even a giant ego; be creative and courageous find what really makes you come alive. The view from ‘the top’ will be priceless.
It’s about the journey. Sometimes, things are worth doing simply because they are beautiful and interesting. The spiritual journey of yoga is one of those things. The poses themselves are fun, but the inner journey of discipline, strength, flexibility and being willing to travel light is what matters most. Every step forward on the spiritual journey of healing the mind from addictions, cravings, compulsions and falsity is worthwhile. Every step forward into the Light is worth it—difficult and sometimes scary and sometimes hard as heck—but worth it. Keep walking. Try to enjoy the journey, because you’ll really never get this day, this trail, this hike ever again.
Don’t be annoyed when a 3-year-old summits faster than you do. Refer to Number 7.
Pack a chocolate bar. There is nothing sweeter in life than taking a moment to savor your hard work and delight in all your senses. When you achieve even a minor life goal (like putting all the clean dishes away?), enjoy the sweet moment to its FULLEST. Open a Cadbury, snap a few yoga photos from the summit, gobble up that Freaking Fresh mountain air and then start walking back down the trail. It’s waiting for you.
My Ironman AND my parents were out of town, my private client cancelled last minute and my dinner plans with girlfriends fell through. I had zero plans after 12:15 pm. On a Saturday.
Immediately, my brain started its persistent forecasting, planning and scheduling: I should call Katie and see if she wants to hang out, and if that doesn’t work I’ll invite her to brunch tomorrow, and if that doesn’t work I’ll just show up at her work and beg to take her to coffee… and if that doesn’t work I’ll put an ad on Craig’s List for someone to PLEASE hang out with me and distract me from all that is going on in my life/brain/heart these days. And also..I have a HUGE e-mail list and housework list and gardening list that I should tackle.
Instead, I sat on my back porch, ate hummus and listened to squirrel chatter. I did nothing.
It was glorious. For about 8.3 minutes; then I was ambushed by an undeniable-pee-your-pants-urge to do something and be ultra-productive.
The idea of Spaciousness (‘kha’ in Sanskrit) is a valuable idea in Yoga Philosophy. As we’ve learned in the recent two posts, ‘kha’ denotes the spaciousness and the quality of the heart/mind (citta) and determines how we interact with experiences in our daily lives. When we feel like our minds are spacious, we feel free. When we feel like our minds/agendas/brains are crowded with ‘too-much’ and ‘you-need-to’ we feel confined, trapped, overwhelmed.
I like the idea that Spaciousness can be appreciated in three ways: Time, Form and Soul.
Space in Time is a gap between activities, agendas and to-do-list items. It’s a vacation from the incessant need to be efficient and put-together and follow-all-the-rules. Time Space is priceless because it doesn’t happen all that often in my life, during which I yearn for space to rest but instead fill up my hours with appointments and classes and clients and laundry and e-mails. Time Space for me is permission to sit still and withdraw from my addiction to efficiency.
Space in Form is that unbelievable feeling of sprinting into a spacious field, flinging my arms wide open like a nut-case and breathing BIG into the uncluttered world that holds me. It’s why I YEARN to be in the mountains every summer and why I will endure 10 hours of hiking to get to the top of a 14er in Colorado. It’s why I MUST, for my own sanity, get out of Westport and into trees and on the trails weekly. Space in Form is necessary for my survival, I think.
Space in Soul is, literally, my mental salvation. It is freedom FROM. It’s learning to listen to my Inner Voice that says: Um, maybe don’t be so stressed about this, Lis, it’s probably not a big deal. At all. (It is, usually, never a big deal.) Soul Space for me is freedom from having to re-act with defensiveness or insecurity when someone criticizes me or what I choose to share on the omniscient inter-web. Soul Space for me is freedom from judging and disapproval when I look in the (fun-house) mirrors at Westport Yoga and instead just being glad that I even remembered to take a shower and put on my shirt right-side-out. Soul Space for me is learning to celebrate other yoga teachers and yoga studios instead of feeling jealous or inadequate. Basically, it’s freedom from having to react from fear because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to do and instead being free to respond from a place of worthiness and love. Oh, that is a sweet, sweet space.
I’d like you to take 5 minutes of quiet time and think about appreciating space in 3 different ways:
Time, Form and Soul. How do these qualities of space (kha) show up in your life? How can you make more spaciousness, more sweet space (sukha) in your day today?
“True space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.” -GM
‘Waiting’ (i.e. thinking and worrying and meditating and worrying and praying for days) is generally how I operate.
It’s how I make big decisions and small decisions. It’s how ensure that I am living a life of integrity and not a life of greed or compulsion or defensiveness or (god-forbid) absurdity. Waiting is how I make Soul Space, a place for sweetness and relief, for intuition; a place for sukha.
Soul Space is something most of us are missing in our lives.
Why? Because making Soul Space is demanding and messy and uncomfortable and requires just about as much patience as putting a buttoned-down Christmas sweater on a llama.
What I discovered about Soul Space during my very big emotional inhale the past few months, was that it required me to wrestle with suffering (duhkha) and stop waitingaround for my Present Moment to be a magical unicorn-rainbow-puppy parade. Instead, I needed to start making my Present Moment as free as possible given the present circumstances (with puppies, sans unicorns, naturally).
The head/heart/Soul space (in Sanskrit ‘kha’) I lived in last spring was far from inner contentment. It was grieving and frightened and nervous and doubtful and overwhelmingly stressed. I didn’t write about it ‘real-time’ because living it ‘real-time’ was enough; but here’s what happened:
I quit teaching at my home Ashtanga Studio, the place where I launched my yoga teaching career in Kansas City, learned to structure my life around the discipline of yoga and even met my husband. (Sad, but not overwhelmingly so.)
I purchased Westport Yoga, the place where I transformed from a good yoga teacher into a great yoga teacher, learned how to be a leader in the industry and delighted in the invaluable mentoring of my boss Kate who taught me to lead with integrity, creativity and wisdom. (Exuberant, almost overwhelmingly so.)
Two days after the deal closed, as I was still wrapping my mind around the 11-day whirlwind of legal crises, bank accounts and paperwork required to purchase Westport Yoga, my mentor, colleague and dear friend took her own life. After decades of battling bi-polar disorder and depression, Kate’s decision was not unexpected but it was still extremely, horribly shocking. (Devastating, decidedly overwhelmingly so.)
Within me clashed momentous emotions: shock, devastation, excitement, determination, grief, anger, disbelief, anguish… duhkha. Immense suffering.
I did what any sensible person would do: I shut down my Soul Space, repressed a whole lot of emotion, turned into an efficiency robot and disconnected from any hope of grace.
I did what needed to be done: I called teacher meetings, I presided over Kate’s memorial service, I taught 15+ classes a week, I held students as they cried, I wrote lesson plans, I planned professional development and wrote contracts for teachers, I organized insurance policies, I went to therapy appointments, I rain trails with Russell Clive, I drank wine and binge-watched three seasons of Scandal and I even tried to learn tax laws (remember that post?). I filled my hours until I didn’t have to bear the discomfort of my Soul Space. I told myself I was WAITING for life to get back to normal, waiting to feel free again.
And then I read this, about repression of the Soul Space:
“…the more we repress, suppress, procrastinate, or anesthetize, the more resistant we will be toward space. Conversely, the more true space we give ourselves, the less we will repress. And to the extent that we consecrate our spaciousness, intend it for love, point it toward love’s source, space will be merciful. The unpleasantness of space will never be more than we can bear.”
-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart
And my Soul Space demanded to be opened back up and directed toward Love, immediately. What I needed was not more WAITING to feel the right thing or to find the right words to put down on paper about this experience, but more courage to consecrate my Soul Space toward love so that I could heal from it. I needed more Safe Soul Space, more sukha.
In the first post of this series, I introduced the Sanskrit term ‘kha:’ space or spaciousness. Yoga philosophy insists that duhkha (bad space, suffering) is a shared and unavoidable human experience, but yoga teaches us techniques to alter our reactions to suffering so that we can experience a space of relief and sweetness, sukha, even in the midst of suffering.
Meditation master Jack Kornfield writes, “The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the way we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom.”
In the mayhem and the emotional inhale of the last few months, I worked directly with the fear, grief, and anger in my very real and very temporary state of mind.
What I found was this: I only started to heal when I stopped waiting for things to be ‘back to normal’ and just acted like they were. I stopped waiting for things to be funny and just started laughing (loudly, probably obnoxiously). I stopped waiting to feel confident and secure and just started acting like I was a freaking Rock Star. I stopped waiting to feel like I could take a big, deep, FREE breath and just started making space for freedom in my body and my mind. I stopped waiting for the Present Moment to be a perfect one and just started seeing the present moment for what it actually was.
Gerald May, that blessed genius, came to my rescue again by reminding me that, “true space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.”
I just had to stop waiting for those love-filled rainbow unicorns to arrive on the scene and just go ahead and consecrate the Present Moment toward love, hope and freedom all on my own. That’s a Soul Space worth not waiting for.
Are you feeling the same way?
Here are 3 Guided Practices to help you encounter and maintain Soul Space today:
I haven’t been able to write much lately, not because I haven’t made time, but because I haven’t made space.
Like the genius warrior/writer Glennon Doyle Melton, reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. I’ve been inhaling everything I can get my hands on for the past two months: self-help books, leadership books, spirituality books, yoga books, chick-lit-Savannah-wedding books, don’t-send-your-business- down-the-drain books. I’ve been inhaling so long and so deeply, I haven’t taken one exhale in months. Do you know how awesome it feels to be so full of breath that your eyes are popping out of your head and your lungs are Blimping it to anywhere but here? There is no space. There is absolutely no grace or conscious awareness or invitation for emotional healing when I hold my breath for two months straight. And definitely no space for writing about it.
In Sanskrit, the idea of space is defined by one little syllable: “kha.”
In the Yoga Sutras, we learn early on that the whole idea of yoga is to teach humans to mindfully breathe their way from duhkha, suffering, (literally: Bad Space) toward sukha, Safe Space.
In yoga practice, we discover sukha almost immediately. We learn that we find sukha through releasing physical pain, tension and fatigue with yoga poses that stretch and open our bodies. We learn that we feel a sense of sweet serenity when we finally trust our yoga mat enough to hold us safely in final relaxation pose, savasana.
And we also learn about Bad Space, suffering (duhkha), very early on in our yoga practice. We learn that pushing ourselves into a pose is a very, very bad idea because we wind up so sore we can only waddle the next day. We learn that holding the breath beyond the natural inhale and the natural exhale brings us face to face with our aversions, our desires, our addictions, our cravings. We learn that the mind will trick us into duhkha with its infinite configurations of distractions and illusions and lies, yelling things like: ‘You have no business being here! Get out now while you still can—before all the perfectly-clothed-bendy-peppy people in this room figure out you’re a big giant faker!’
Being in a Safe Space versus a Bad Space is a big deal. It feels like the difference between being a weirdo robot about go berserk and being a real-life functioning person. It feels like the difference between crouching in a dank dark hole and cart-wheeling through a brilliantly sun-drenched glade. It feels like the difference between filling myself with more and more and more and more, still unable fill the void of yearning in my heart, no matter how much I fill it with, and being a person who can sit with herself in silence and actually enjoy it. It feels like the difference between living through the days and actually LIVING LIFE.
And here’s the thing: practicing yoga doesn’t prevent suffering in life—it doesn’t, actually, (even though I really want it to) prevent really crappy things from happening. Practicing yoga doesn’t earn me a free pass from turmoil; it just teaches me how to lead my thoughts away from a continuous loop of turmoil and get my head into a Safe Space where I can find sukha, relief, sweetness.
Over the next few posts I want to explore the concept of kha; what it looks like and feels like to find spaciousness in our lives.
I’m finally ready to explore exactly what kind of kha I’ve been hiding in the past few months as I’ve transitioned from yoga teacher to business owner, left my Ashtanga Yoga home and shepherded a community of grieving students through the loss of our former owner and the change in leadership at Westport Yoga.
I’m finally ready to exhale my way into the spaciousness of sweet, forgiving, Soulful living… and since writing is my exhale, I suppose I’m inviting you along for the ride. I appreciate you scooting over and making space for my Blimp-sized emotional exhale.