It is always my honor to share the teachings of yoga. Sometimes, I look at out the class of students gathered together at Westport Yoga KC and am stunned; I think, “This is so cool! These people are so eager to learn! They CHOSE to put their self-care at the top of their already-full ‘priority list’ and show up on the yoga mat to practice and learn these incredible teachings!”
And I know– life’s ‘priority list’ does fill up quickly. Mine does, too. But here’s the thing: the teachings of yoga show us how to navigate our lives with grace and commit to a gentler way of being that is grounded in self-care, care of others and care of our communities. As Donna Farhi says:
“Yoga does not remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life but rather places our feet firmly and resolutely in the practical ground of experience. We don’t transcend our lives; we return to the life we left behind in hopes of something better.”
“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:
Time to make all sorts of New Year’s Resolutions … and work on them for a hot minute before promptly moving on to something else! Just kidding (hopefully). I know that “Resolutions” conjures feelings of stealthy anxiety, so I’m not going to suggest you make any brash commitments this year… but I will happily suggest 5 things that make my life happier, healthy, and more whole. Lisa’s tried and true: 5 things to try in 2017.
It’s not free, but the CalenGoo app is worth its weight in gold. This alternative to the ubiquitously incomplete and unhelpful iPhone calendar app is a life saver. It shows you the whole month’s calendar at first glance with a blessed white box for every day filled with your events. You know exactly what’s on your schedule and can toggle between month mode, week mode, day mode, or list mode. My life became infinitely more organized the day I downloaded this app. Find it on iTunes.
Rawxies Smoked Paprika Crunch
Gluten Free, Soy Free, Dairy Free and full of flavor, these awesome Raw snacks are a must! Smoked to perfection and spicy enough to satisfy by salsa-cravings, these little babies come in handy when I need something to crunch in the afternoon. They are seed based, so not a low-calorie snack, but pack 7 grams a protein per serving and are actually delicious. Plus, creator Callie Edwards is a KC Girl, so you are supporting local entrepreneurs and our growing health-food scene! Find them at grocery stores in KC like Whole Foods and Hy-Vee.
Guided Meditation with Lisa
It’s the most productive and refreshing five-minute break you’ll ever take. On days when the clock is travelling at breakneck speed and your brain is complete mush from laboriously checking off your to-do list, pop on your headphones and listen to a guided meditation. It’s easier to stay focused when you have someone else telling you what to think about, how to breathe, and what to imagine. Listening to an audio file is indiscreet: you can do a guided meditation in your car, at your desk or on a walk around the office. Find them on my website: lisaashyoga.com/guided-meditations and on the Free downloadable App ‘Insight Timer.’
Human Planet Documentary Series
These beautiful documentaries are “Planet Earth meets This American Life.” Each episode features humans living in the harshest environments on earth and their struggle to survive in the unpredictable and often dangerous environments. You’ll follow a young Brazilian boy learning to kill spiders for snacks in the Amazon Rainforest, an Ethiopian farmer protecting his grains from invading monkeys and Polar Bear Police protecting the residents of a Canadian town in arctic conditions. Don’t be surprised if your daily stresses seem like mere annoyances compared to snake fishers in Indonesia and cow herders in Nigeria. The footage is absolutely spell-binding and you’ll want to watch a few episodes at a time, so grab some snacks and take a night in with your family. Find it on Netflix.
If you’re “the active Yogi” who considers your yoga class part of your daily Fit Bit movement quota, then I implore you to take a gamble on Restorative Yoga. Restorative Yoga is a gentle, contemplative, relaxing style of yoga that takes all the pressure off you to perform, do, or be the best. It’s low-to-the-ground and looks a lot like ‘enforced nap-time’ with its myriad of blankets, pillows, straps, and heavy sandbags. You’ll experience more keenly the effects of the breathing techniques in yoga which calm and renew the nervous system. There is nothing more beneficial for you and your stress level than taking a moment to slow down, enjoy life, and emerge refreshed. Try it at Westport Yoga Wednesdays at 6 pm and Saturdays at noon.
Ok, readers go for it: Happy, Healthy and Wholesome Living for 2017. Love!
I love talking about myself (who doesn’t?) and, surprise, surprise, I love talking about yoga. So when my student Angela Lutz, freelance writer for The Pitch KC, contacted me asking for an interview for a health article about yoga, I jumped on the chance. She suggested we talk about a specific yoga posture and how this posture can enhance your health. I suggested we talk about the posture of ‘sitting still.’ Because mental and emotional health are just as important as a toned yoga body.
After reading my blog article, 5 benefits of meditation, Angela was intrigued… she’s been an Intro to Ashtanga student of mine for a few years, but these classes are so short (one hour is NOT enough time!) that the meditation time is limited to a few short moments of silence at the end of class. Angela is a smart, driven, part time writing teacher and full time graduate student. She’s busy. Her schedule is packed and she has deadlines to meet. But she tried it. She tried sitting still. What did she discover? You’ll have to read her article in The Pitch KC to find out.
Master my thoughts? Lisa Ash helps me meditate on that idea by Angela Lutz March 2015
“When I worked in a dreary corporate office, I used to meditate during my lunch break. I’d park my car in an empty strip-mall parking lot, close my eyes and focus on the sound of traffic whizzing down the nearby highway, trying desperately to think of nothing.
My brain would not cooperate.
Instead of relaxing, I found myself fixating on the e-mail I forgot to send, the résumé I needed to update, the money I wasn’t sure I had enough of to buy groceries at Whole Foods that week.
According to Lisa Ash, lead instructor at Maya Yoga (215 West 18th Street) and studio manager at Westport Yoga (4304 Bell), that inability to silence such distractions isn’t such a bad thing.
“Your brain is not supposed to stop,” she says. “If your brain stops, you die. You’re supposed to gain mastery over your thoughts.” Read Full Story Here.
Today: exercise discernment. Acknowledge feelings as they appear. (Even the anger toward the horrible driver at QuickTrip) and then consciously choose to keep that feeling, or let it pass through you. Choose what is healing. Happy #MeditationThoughtMondays