may the force be with you. #MeditationThoughtMondays

not our thoughts, viveka

I was all snuggled up on the couch, ready to brave the stormy night with Star Wars to keep me safe. The iconic yellow text retreated into the star field and I felt completely safe from Dark Forces; I high-fived my Ironman and settled in to watch Jedi Knights restore peace and justice to the galaxy. Without warning the thunderstorm seethed and the sound of hail bashing our house drowned out the unmistakable opening refrain.

First thought: How eerie and scary… Glad I’m safe inside. 

Second thought: I’ll check the radar to make sure it’s just hail and not a tornado. No tornado? … Glad I’m safe inside.

Third thought: Oh DEAR GOD my plants are outside!! I didn’t prepare my garden for this! I’m going to LOSE EVERYTHING! Forget about finding Luke Skywalker and restoring the Balance of the Force. I have to do something!

My garden wasn’t in a galaxy, far, far away, it was right down the road being pummeled with frozen marbles. I temporarily lost my mind; my adrenaline revved up to run to the rescue. I imagined myself darting out to the car, driving four blocks in a flash flood, sprinting to my garden plot… and then… what?

What could I possibly do to protect my baby spinach and my unborn beets?  Nothing. No rescue plan would be successful. If the storm as going to flood my seeds and pulverize my kale leaves then it was going to do it whether I was on my couch cuddling with Russell Clive or whether I was fighting my way through mud losing my mind trying to stop it. This wasn’t Star Wars and it wasn’t a real disaster.  This was just a Midwest thunderstorm.

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Some beets were saved, they were small, but they were delicious.

Sometimes during meditation, the mind does this ‘overreacting’ bit like it’s trying to win a freaking Academy Award. The mind identifies a small problem, turns it into a disaster and then creates an elaborate rescue plan. It’s exhausting. 

Thought: I’m feeling sad today.  Erroneous catastrophe: If I’m feeling sad right now, then I must be sad ALL the time and I must be depressed. Something is inherently wrong with me. Rescue Plan: I need to call a doctor immediately, check on my health insurance plan for covering anti-depressants and eat a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate chips while I’m on hold.

Thought: I’m feeling tired right now.  Erroneous catastrophe:  There must be something wrong with my metabolism and I probably have cancer of the thyroid.  Rescue Plan:  I’ll start planning my own funeral so my cousin won’t feel entitled to play a Prince cover as my eulogy.

Thought: I’m feeling annoyed at this person. Erroneous catastrophe: This person is the bane of my existence and I’ll never be happy if I have to stay on the same project team as him.  Rescue Plan: I’ll devise a way to get said annoying person fired so I never have to work with him again.  Then, I’ll rule the world.

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One tool yoga philosophy gives us the ability to use discernment, or Viveka, to realize that we are not our thoughts. We can have a thought without being defined by that thought.

Sometimes, though, we don’t need to fix a problem, or come to the rescue. Sometimes, we just need to sit back and become a ‘watcher.’ One tool that yoga philosophy gives us the ability to use discernment, or Viveka, to realize that we are not our thoughts. We can have a thought without being defined by that thought.

I mean, we can hit our funny bone and feel a startling pain in our elbow, but we do not become that tingly sensation. Similarly, in meditation, we can have a thought without becoming the thought. 

As Sharon Salzburg writes, “Most of the time, we think we are our thoughts.  We forget, or have never noticed, that there’s an aspect of our mind that’s watching these thoughts arise and pass away.”  Meaning, we don’t always have to create a rescue plan and rush to the scene. We can often allow ourselves to watch the movie and the story will unfold.

The Sanskrit term for this is Viveka.  It means ‘keen discernment.’  This is when we hone our ability to consciously discern one thing from another and exercise clear judgement, which can help us avoid unnecessary suffering. Viveka helps us make healthy choices by stepping back, observing the situation, and then acting with clarity in order for our Purusha to shine through.

One impressively simple and deceptively effective way to become the ‘watcher’ and engage in viveka is to use the technique of ‘naming your thoughts.’

For example, when you are meditating, notice what you are thinking about and then categorize it: plan, worry, remembrance, distraction, anticipation, new idea.

It’s easier and harder than it sounds; it is very relieving to know that whatever you are thinking about doesn’t have to be addressed right away. You don’t have to jump up and try to navigate the Millennium Falcon to the Resistance Base. You can just sit with your thought, notice that it is a thought, and then continue sitting and ultimately relax.

Here’s your Meditation Challenge:

“Naming Your Thoughts: Developing Discernment Viveka”

  1. Find your Meditation seat and set your timer for 8 minutes.
  2. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  3. Sit with only breath awareness for a few minutes, just notice your breath coming and going without changing it or judging it.
  4. Notice what thoughts are present in your awareness.
  5. When a thought arises that is noticeable enough to distract you from your breath, label it ‘thinking.’
  6. If it is more distinct, then you can label it specifically: ‘planning, worrying, anticipating, remembering, ruminating.’
  7. Either way, the thought it just a thought. Return to your easy breath awareness.
  8. And remind yourself: you do not need a rescue plan. Just a moment of breathing.

At the end of the 8 minutes, take a few cleansing breaths and notice how to you feel. If you still feel like there is an impending disaster that needs a calculated rescue plan, then write about it in your journal and notice if your emotional response to this problem has changed after your meditation time.

It’s likely that you will be feel less worried and have greater clarity about the problem. This will help you realize if it’s more helpful to allow the movie to continue playing or if you need to be an actor in the story line by jumping in and fixing it yourself.

Either way, May the Force Be With You.

Happy Discerning,

-lisa

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One impressively simple and deceptively effective way to become the ‘watcher’ and engage in Viveka is to use the technique of ‘naming your thoughts.’

Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage part one: the essence of learning.

Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage, part one: the essence of learning.

At least a hundred of you asked: “How was Peru?!  Was it fun?” when I returned from a seventeen day pilgrimage to Peru in August. It was difficult for me to answer with integrity: I felt, for the majority of the trip, ‘one step away from miserable.’ 

I underestimated the rage of altitude sickness (getting off the plane at nearly 12,000 feet above sea-level for the first stop on our itinerary at the legendary Lake Titicaca may not have been the wisest of choices).  I underestimated the magnitude of the Salkantay Mountain Pass Trek, which took my poor little legs three days to cover 40+ miles and 15,000 feet of altitude gain (and descent).  I underestimated the number of stairs in the sacred ruins of Macchu Picchu, the last Incan stronghold in the Cusco Region (last because the Spanish horses couldn’t manage to walk up the steep mountain switchbacks to find this gem of a palace city.  Smart horses.).  I underestimated the inevitability of traveler’s GI unpleasantness, the chill of the South American winter (no buildings have heat and windows don’t close) and how tiring it can be to pack and re-pack my one little backpack  every morning at 4:30 am to catch our next bus/plane/tour.  Saying the physicality of the trip was difficult is like saying Justin Bieber is a little bit popular.  But in the end (hindsight is reassuringly forgiving, isn’t it?) the trip was an invaluable learning experience and a cathartic spiritual pilgrimage. 

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photo cred: ME!

And I discovered something new about myself, about my connection (read: awe) of the earth and its sacredness, about the quality of my personal relationships, and about how I really want to spend my time in this life.  I learned.  And I was changed.  And, of course, I’ve got stories.  And some sweet pictures.  I read in a guide book that Peru will make a professional photographer out of anyone.

I only used my iPhone to snap pictures and they are incredible.  Maybe not as incredibly focused or detailed as Mr. Travel-guy with his 8-pocket vest, zip off pants, and water-proofed-four-lensed-nine pound-camera; but my little digital shots are fairly epic.  And certainly good enough for my travel-asana slideshow (go here!)

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my Ironman

My adventure trip to Peru was planned with my favorite person, my Ironman, who has set the lofty goal of taking an international trip every year.  He wants the total number of countries he’s visited to always be greater than his age.  So far, so good.  A year ago we started saving (read: selling lots of clothes on eBay, Aparigraha at its finest) for this trip to Peru.

Why?  I used to work for an anti-poverty, sustainable community development organization called Outreach International.  Outreach International (my friend Josh is their brand manager, check out their website!) has several promising reforestation projects in Bolivia; the pictures of the highlands and the communities who are involved in these development projects captured my heart.  I need to go there, I thought.  And see the intricately colored textiles and meet these hardworking people and eat their quinoa.  And also pet llamas.  But then I remembered that it’s ridiculously cold and windy and barren (there’s a reason Bolivians literally wear blankets)… so my thoughts shifted to Peru, Bolivia’s next door neighbor.  Where I knew I could step foot in my fairytale of a heaven: The Amazon Rainforest. 

lisa in kindergarten

little lisa in kindergarten

As an educator, my favorite definition of ‘learning’ is a change in an individual caused by experience.”  My most formative learning experience? I’m six years old, my hair is not yet permed, I’m wearing a black polka dot party dress and jellies, sitting next to my friend Bekah in circle time, and my kindergarten teacher pulls out a Big Book about The Rainforest.  I’m hooked.  Our kindergarten class created the rainforest within our classroom confines: covering the walls with trees, hand-painted animal portraits, tissue paper flowers, and creepy-crawly bugs.  We listened to cassette tapes called ‘Sounds of the Rainforest,’ we read books about the ecology of water cycles and life cycles of the flora and fauna, we watched video tapes featuring panoramics of the Amazon Rainforest, and we even researched our favorite rainforest animal (hello, Mr. Three-Toed Sloth, your smile is gorgeous!).

Then.  The truth came out: thousands of miles of this rich ecosystem, which harbors countless unique species and plants were and are being destroyed by logging, mining, and agriculture companies.  Little kindergarten Lisa?  Devastated.  (I’m sure I cried.  I cry pretty easily.  Remember this post?).  What I learned about the destruction of the rainforest changed me for life:  I spent my elementary career organizing penny fundraisers to buy parcels of rainforest in Bolivia for protection, I contributed my allowance to the World Wildlife Fund, I even started the first neighborhood environmentalist club.  Some called me a nerd.  I called myself an environmentalist.  (Pause: do you have time for the BEST part about this story?  I wrote a monthly newsletter for our club, E.K.A.D. “Earth Kids All Day” and totally misspelled the word “environment” in all of the issues.  Where was spell-check when I needed it?  Wait… where was my professional proof-reading dad?  Looking back, that spelling mistake is honestly the only part of this episode that I’m embarrassed by.  Not the hilarious pictures of me posing by the pile of trash that my ‘club’ picked up in our neighborhood one summer day.  No, definitely not those.)

Today, I’m still influenced by the experience of learning about the rainforest.  I try to live gracefully, so that my actions have little negative impact on the Earth.  I eat vegetarian to reduce the demand for more ‘wild’ land to be converted to meat-producing-agriculture.  I reduce my waste by recycling, reducing, and reusing as much as possible and I practice aparigraha (non-hoarding) of the Earth’s resources in countless ways.  If you are interested, check out my April Aparigraga Series which offers advice on how you can also live more gently on this Sacred Earth.

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photo cred MAD

My learning experience in kindergarten (thanks, Mrs. Moore) set me on a path that clarified my life’s choices into adulthood.  And stirred within my soul a longing that inspired this pilgrimage to South America.  To the sacred sites of Peru.  To the heart of the rainforest.  To the base of a tree where a three-toed sloth stealthily made its way to its morning napping hammock, grinning at two ogling Americans and their silly little iPhones.

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If you ask me “How was Peru?”  I will tell you: It was not a vacation, it was a learning experience.  I learned about the traditional cultures of the Peruvian highlanders, about the medicinal potions of the rainforest shamans, about the sacred ceremonies of the Incan travelers on their pilgrimages to Macchu Piccu, about the Andean religion and the customs of the Guinea Pig delicacy, and about travelling with the person you love (and how to still love them when the travelling experiences are less-than-ideal.)  But more importantly, what I learned was this:

If you have a dream, follow it.  Focus, commit, choose a badass travel partner, and make it a reality.

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the walls in our Eco-lodge room were open to the Rainforest!

What learning experience has caused you to change as an individual?   Can you think of one specific ‘learning’ that changed your attitude, your perspective or your habits?  I’m so interested: tell me about it!

Stay tuned for Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage Part Two (just a few days away!).  Thanks for your interest, support, and hunger to learn.

-lisa

 

the language of yoga: karma.

The Language of Yoga: Karma

The language of yoga: karma.

“Karma-a-a!” the teacher hollered across the pre-school classroom.  I looked up, expectantly, wondering: what the hell happened?  A little girl in wearing a backwards purple shirt and Pebbles Flinstone hair rushed past me, rushing to hug the teacher’s knees. The teacher wasn’t yelling “karma” in exasperation as I expected… she was calling the name of an adorable pre-schooler with an under bite.  Seriously?  Seriously.  Someone named her little girl Karma.  Oh dear God, I thought… What an unlucky name.  Or, wait, maybe it’s a really lucky name.  Was this Karma a good karma or a bad karma consequence?  

Karma is probably the most-used and least-understood concept in the Yoga philosophy.  Its meanings are many, and do in fact, vary across Religious traditions.  (e.g. ‘karma’ means something different in Buddhism than in Taoism.)  A few months ago, I stumbled across this article which explains the Sanskrit term of Karma.  It isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start… and it may inspire you to re-think the next time you pull out the old shrug-and-sing ‘karma’ when your friend gets a parking ticket.

This article is re-posted from Yoga Glo.  Its original format can be found here.  Written by Alice G. Walton, PhD

Karma may be one of the most colloquialized expressions from the yogic tradition, and unfortunately it’s also one of the most misunderstood. It originally comes from the Sanskrit word “karman,” whose root “kri” means simply “to do” – no morality or ethics implied. In fact, Karma itself is usually just translated as “to act.” But we tend to think of it as having more significant undertones, with god or fate in there as a mediator between action and consequence. And this is actually not so close to the original meaning, which is much more straightforward.

Maren Showkeir, who co-authored the book Yoga Wisdom at Work, points out how misinterpreted the word often can often be today. “I think people get really confused about Karma,” she says. “Many people have the misconception that it’s about the Universe or the Cosmos or even god rewarding/punishing based on actions we take.” It’s not about this at all, she says, and there’s no third party judging or orchestrating the actions we do.

Karma is just about what happens in the world after we take action of any kind – and the fact that our actions do have consequences, though we may not always be aware of what they are. “It’s nothing more than the connection between action and consequence,” she says. “That is always neutral. It’s our perceptions and judgments that label ‘good and bad.’” Some have pointed out that it’s really just as basic as Newton’s third law of motion (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”). And if we can get on board with this simplicity, we’ll understand the essence of Karma pretty well.

The problem is that we’re not always aware of how our actions will affect others, so there’s always some element of unknowing – and this can give way to the feeling that there must be another force at play. “We can’t really shape karma because we can never know the consequences of our actions,” says Showkeir, “which may be why people want to chalk it up to ‘the universe.’ However, we can be mindful about the actions we take.”

In other words, it’s about keeping intention, rather than consequence, in mind as we decide on our actions. There’s no guarantee, of course, but we can hope that decisions that come from a place of kindness will – in most cases – end in positive results. Showkeir agrees that for her, “the challenge is to try not to get too hung up on the potential consequences. If I act with the assumption/expectation that if I do X, we’ll get Y positive result, I am setting myself up for disappointment. The thing that drives my actions is my intention, and that is where the focus belongs. It is a fine distinction, but in my mind, an essential one.”

Acting from a place of intention frees you up to make better decisions, because you’re not overwhelmed – or worse, paralyzed – by all the potential outcomes. In those cases, like Showkeir says, your brain sort of shuts down because it’s impossible to predict the future. But acting with the assumption that good intentions usually lead to good outcomes is a lot more logical and a lot more liberating. “We can recognize that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions,” says Showkeir. “And that will lead to more peace.”

Alice G. Walton, PhD is a health and science writer, and began practicing (and falling in love with) yoga last year. She is the Associate Editor at TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com and a Contributor at Forbes.com. Alice will be exploring yoga’s different styles, history, and philosophy, and sharing what she learns here on the YogaGlo blog. You can follow Alice on Twitter @AliceWalton and Facebook at Facebook.com/alicegwalton.

This article is re-posted from Yoga Glo.  Its original format can be found here.

learn to meditate. your way.

learn to meditate, your way.

Meditation is a life-changing practice.  When we sit in stillness, we learn to trust our own wisdom and insight.  This inner wisdom supersedes the demands of anxiety and fear, which allows us to act with greater care for ourselves and for others.  This is what yogis call “mindful living.”

Most often, beginners to meditation are told to “Still the Mind.”  When I first learned to meditate, my mind could only stay still for 0.3 seconds.  I’m a list maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier, and a dreamer.  Even if my butt was still, my mind was anything but still.

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photo cred SFA

I first approached the art of meditation with the dual intent of calming my anxiety and healing a hurting heart.  I found that the use of a mantra, or repetition of a phrase, worked well for me.  The constant, gentle, repetitive reminder gave my mind something to focus on.  My mind wasn’t ‘still’ per se —because I was busy repeating the words: “In… out… calm… ease” – but my thoughts were still-er.  (Which was an improvement).

 

In my experience, thoughts won’t ever completely cease, they will just slow down.  My mind whirls at breakneck speed.  It always has, and it probably always will.  Nerd Alert: I like to picture my neurons as cars speeding across interstate overpasses alarmingly fast… and then slowing down, together, consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace.  They are still going somewhere.  But they are going slower, taking time to enjoy the scenery.  (By the way, if I were queen of the world, I would decree that every driver must follow the speed limit.  Slow down, you fools, I’m maneuvering my refrigerator-box-on-wheels-vehicle just as fast as I dare to, and that happens to be the posted speed limit. Back to meditation…)

Meditating is an integral part of your yoga practice: the asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation.  Coincidentally, the word asana translates to the word ‘seat’.   But here’s thing: you don’t JUST SIT THERE… seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your emotions, your breath, your own inner divinity.

Yoga and meditation go hand in hand.  Leading yoga teacher Eric Schiffman writes, “Yoga is a way of learning to be in meditation all day long. In other words, listening inwardly with a quiet mind as many moments of the day as you can for the guidance and wisdom of Infinite Mind, God.”  You can access his entire article here.

Even if you aren’t in a yoga class, you can and should, still meditate on your own. Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.

I suggest starting here:

  1. Focus on the Breath.  All beginning meditators need to begin here; learning to listen to your breath teaches you the miracle of the present moment.  I like to remind my students: “You can’t breathe in the future, you can’t breathe in the past.  You can only take this breath, right here, right now.”   Here is my favorite breath mantra: (adapted from Tich Naht Hanh’s meditations for peace.)

“In.”  <Inhale>

“Out.” <Exhale>

“Calm.”  <Inhale>

“Ease.”  <Exhale>

Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat.  Don’t worry about how your breath sounds or how long it is.  Just sit and savor the feeling of ease in your body.

  1. Try Guided Meditations:  Mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg shares 6 different meditation techniques on her website.  The techniques draw from varied philosophical backgrounds. You can access these meditations here.  My favorite can also be found in her book Real Happiness.  It’s called Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation.  It’s super easy to wish metta for yourself (May I be safe, May I be Happy, May I be Healthy, etc.) and (slightly?) more difficult to wish metta for other people in your life (especially the difficult ones… like that guy who honked at me for stopping at a stop sign the other night.  Sir, it’s a STOP sign. I’d like to amend my Queen of the World ruling to decree that all drivers must obey all traffic laws, speed limit notwithstanding.)  Salzberg’s site is a great place to start because it will teach you different meditation disciplines and guide you through each one.

3.  Make your Meditation Portable: Download the ‘Stop Breathe & Think App’ (it’s free) on your phone and carry your meditation with you everywhere.  The App explains how to practice mindfulness and helps you track your progress in learning to meditate.  Some of it is a little cheesy (you earn stickers every time you complete a guided meditation, for example) but the App is straightforward and helpful.  The meditations are short— some even less than five minutes long.  I listen to these meditations in my kitchen as I’m chopping vegetables.  (I’ll never be a Buddhist Monk who accesses liberation while chopping onions… I’ll just start by being more mindful to not chop my finger off while I’m making soup.)  You can listen to a meditation or use the App to ‘check in’ with your emotional state while waiting in line at Target.  It might remind you to extend compassion to your check out-person, because kindness is contagious.  (Don’t pretend you don’t check your phone the instant you have to stand in a line.  You do.)  Search for the ‘Stop Breathe & Think App’ on iTunes or visit the SBT full site here.

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photo cred EMA

  1. Just Sit.  Don’t worry about doing it correctly or incorrectly.  Start by sitting still for 60 seconds.  Slow your breath for one minute.  Appreciate the joy of simply being alive.  I learned to meditate by using the timer on my phone.  That way, I wasn’t tempted to check the clock and see how long I’d been sitting. If you use a timer, you won’t cut your session short thinking you’re running out of time and frantically jump up to straighten your hair before someone else is in the bathroom so you won’t be late to work, etc. etc. etc. (See how fast those anxious thoughts sneak up on you?)  My go-to is an App called Insight Timer (free on iTunes).  I even use it when I teach because it indicates the end of meditation time with a lovely, resounding Tibetan Gong (relaxing), instead of my daily wake-up alarm (not relaxing).  Start with one minute a day.  And work your way up to four minutes.  And then ten minutes.  (Ten minutes?  For total freedom, bliss, spiritual wellness and emotional health?  Yes, Please.)

Remember that Meditation is YOUR practice.  You will find a way to meditate that works well for you, and you will find a way that doesn’t work well for you.  If you are learning to sit in stillness, you are learning to trust your own wisdom. Listen to your own insight, and commit to a daily stillness practice.  It will change your life.

Still need more convincing? This article describes the scientifically substantiated benefits of meditation. And there are more out there!

I’d love to hear your stories; how do you like to meditate? What do you find helpful?

-lisa

 

lean forward, get upside down, and set a resolution.

“live with intention.

walk to the edge.

listen hard.

laugh.

play with abandon.

practice wellness.

continue to learn.

appreciate your friends.

choose with no regret.

do what you love.

live as if this is all there is.”

-Mary Anne Radmacher, Lean Forward into Your Life: Begin Each Day as if it Were on Purpose

Recently, my friend Jess confided in me that she was yearning for change in her life.  To the outsider, she had it all: fantastic and attentive husband, a blossoming career in a fulfilling vocation, a spacious urban loft, supportive girlfriends, two dogs, and several active hobbies that keep her healthy and strong.  On the inside, she was shifting slightly, looking for one decision that would “shake up her life” and lead to a transformation of happiness.  Jess wanted to change her career (she spends five days a week with third graders… most of us would want to change that, even if we were a super-excellent teacher like she is) in a way that would add more time for her hobbies and passions.  “I’m really thinking about it,” she said.  “But really scared that it won’t work, and maybe it’s a dumb idea… but I think I could be happier.”  I mean, who leaves a well-paying, salaried, stable job-with-benefits to follow our dreams of finding an utterly fulfilling vocation (piecing together two, three, sometimes four different jobs in order to make ends meet, but having a blast along the way)?  Answer: Lots of us do.   (read my friend Bonyen’s blog Series: “Uncuffed.”)

The more I thought about our conversation, I started thinking:  in a performance-driven society where competition is inherently necessary for our social and economic survival, it’s no wonder we are scared to take a leap into the unknown.  It’s no wonder we are afraid of failure.  On January 4th, I asked my favorite barista about her New Year’s Resolution.  She shrugged her shoulders and replied, “Yeah… I don’t really do that.  I don’t want to be held accountable… you know… if it doesn’t end up happening.”  I laughed uncomfortably.  (With her… not at her… hopefully.)

The next day, I asked one of my yoga students about her New Year’s Resolution.  “God, no!” she exclaimed.  “I don’t make resolutions because I know I won’t keep them!”  I smiled, knowingly, uncomfortably.

The next week, I taught a yoga class to a group of university students in Iowa.  A sophomore basketball player approached me after class, with obvious apprehension. “Ok, here’s what I want to talk to you about,” he rambled.  “I’ve got this big fear, of like, failing, and I know that like, you know, whatever happens, happens and I’ve got this motto of ‘It will be as it will be,’ but I don’t think I really believe that because I’m pretty nervous and pretty scared of failing all the time. And do you think yoga will help me with that? And what do you think I should do?”

Well, here’s what I think you should do Jess, barista, yoga student, and nervous 19-year-old:

1.       Get upside down.  You will, literally, see the world from an entirely new perspective. Things look much easier and goals look more manageable when you are standing on your head.  Try it.  (You will also activate your parasympathetic nervous system which heals your body, massage your endocrine system which regulates adrenaline and other stress hormones, strengthen and tone your shoulders/arms/head/neck which gives you the physical and energetic stamina to meet the world ‘head on’ with personal power and will… Need I go on?)  If you are new to inversions, check out the Step-by-Step Instructions from Yoga Journal Online.

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photo cred: JanaMarie

2.       Lean Forward into Your Life.  Life is now.  It’s never too late or too early.  Right now is a good time.  Mary Anne Radmacher wrote an incredible book titled Lean Forward into Your Life.  In it, she talks about beginning each day as if it were on purpose.  Her advice is basically this:  do what you love and act as if this life is all there is.  (And also: start now.)  The poem at the beginning of this post is Radmacher’s personal life motto.  It pretty much sums up my advice, too.

3.       Stop Caring about Failing.  Social psychologist Brené Brown never thought that her TED Talk at Tedx Houston would be viewed by more than 12 million people.  In her speech, Brené shared a startlingly personal and uncomfortably vulnerable narrative about personal failure.  Listeners loved it: we connected with her on a personal level and empathized with her feelings of failure, because we, too, have failed (heartbreakingly?) at something in our lives.  Brené’s work is based on decades of research answering the question: Who is happy?  Her research found that, unequivocally, men and women who are extremely vulnerable are in fact happier and more fulfilled in life than those who are not.  In her research, vulnerable’ is defined as being honest, open, and forthright about the magnitude of your yearning to attain goals you’ve set, even in the face of failure.  Vulnerability is about living to the fullest, loving to the fullest, being present with both happiness and suffering, so that you can experience ALL that life has to offer.  Stop caring about failing.  And also start realizing that if you DO fail, others won’t stop caring for you. Listen to Brené’s TED Talk here and download the intriguing conversation she had with On Being’s Christa Tippet about the her research into the qualities that distinguish lives with a strong sense of worthiness here.

4.       Set a Resolution.  We’ve all heard about goal setting, the tried-and-true advice of ‘write a goal which is measurable, quantifiable and realistic’ should, in my opinion, be retired-as-false.  Reason?  We are afraid of writing a goal and then not attaining it.  (See 3, above).  Five years ago, my cousin gave me a book titled 5: Where will you be five years from today?  by Dan Zadra.  It is an inspirational book-turned-journal, which guides you through exercises to define your life values, write your 5-year goals, and strategize your next steps to realizing your life’s greatest dreams.  The book is terrifyingly motivating; it includes all sorts of facts and quotes that are really, truly inspirational.  It also includes this fact, attributed to Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech (who I do not know, but I trust that he did a study on goal setting), “people who regularly write down their goals earn nine times as much over their lifetimes as the people who don’t, and yet 80% of Americans say they don’t have goals.  Sixteen percent do have goals, but they don’t write them down.  Less than four percent write down their goals, and fewer than one percent actually review them on an ongoing basis.”  Guess what?  My book is completely, utterly, embarrassingly un-written in.  I open its pages annually (mostly because I move houses every year and have to pack this book) and re-read all these inspiring quotes about following my dreams and making a difference and following in the footsteps of modern American heroes… and I pick up a pen to write down my life-changing goals, and then I trade the pen for a pencil (does it have to be that final?)… and then I trade the pencil for a good day-dreaming session… because I’ll be mortified if I write down a goal like, “I will finish grad school in 2014” and then January 1, 2015 rolls around and I’m still three credits (and one degree) short of reaching this goal.  Mortified.  (Note to self:  see 3, above.)  So this year, I did something completely different.  I stole a third-grade-teacher trick (from my friend Jess, coincidentally… remember her from the beginning of this post?) and made a Resolution frame.

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Mounting blank paper in a regular 4×6 wooden picture frame and leaving it on my desk means I can write my goals in dry-erase marker on the glass, and then erase them in a month when I’ve accomplished them (or in two months when I haven’t… no evidence!).  It also keeps my Resolutions in the forefront of my mind, because I see them every day and am reminded that transformation is entirely possible.  It reminds me that I want to live with intention.  (See 2, above).  Personally, my resolutions are organized into four quadrants because my goals and interests are varied.  I have personal goals related to which yoga asanas I want to master, I have professional goals related to improving my skills as a teacher, and I have conscious living goals related to my spiritual and relational growth.  They can be changed, altered, and deleted instantly.  But they are there.  They are written and they are set.

So, yes, nervous 19-year-old basketball guy, I do think yoga could help you overcome your fear of failure.  And yes, yoga student, I do think you should make resolutions because doing so will teach you HOW to keep those resolutions.  And yes, Becky Barista, I think that accountability does inspire transformation, so you should hold yourself (somewhat) accountable to dreaming big.  And yes, Jess, I think you should Lean Forward into Your Life and walk to your edge and learn to find ease in risk.  And yes, all of you, get upside down.  Trust me on this one.

-lisa

“live with intention.

walk to the edge.

listen hard.

laugh.

play with abandon.

practice wellness.

continue to learn.

appreciate your friends.

choose with no regret.

do what you love.

live as if this is all there is.”

– Mary Anne Radmacher, Lean Forward into Your Life: Begin Each Day as if it Were on Purpose