who are you?

The first week of my 2016 sabbatical was spent sharing a room with seven high school ladies and being responsible for the well-being of forty six female campers. The week was challenging: it was raw and real and really, really exhausting.

camp 1

teaching yoga to high school kids?  in this beautiful setting?  sign me up!

Every time I volunteer at this Community of Christ High School Camp, I lose my voice, I forgo sleeping for a week (this just in: kids stay up late), I laugh until I pee my pants, I sweat more than should be physically possible, I miss being at home, I miss the routine of my wonderfully full (and air conditioned) life, I am overwhelmed by too many people in one space and too many loud voices, and every year, I come back. 

Because in this week, I am witness to the incredible power of positive community.  I watch young people transform from awkward strangers into best friends, open up to the idea of loving themselves, learn something brand-spanking new, try something they would never before attempt, get bloody noses from getting smacked in the face with a pool noodle, attempt to beat the far-superior staff members in dodge ball tournaments, fall in love, and inch closer to the type of adult they desire to be.

Hands down, the best part of camp for both campers and for staff members is meeting new people.  I asked the question: “What’s your name, again?” about a million times a day.  Knowing someone’s name is intimate.  Isn’t it true that when we ask someone: “What’s your name?” what we are really asking is: “Who are you?” I’m actually really good at remembering names.  I learned 90 camper’s names the first day of camp, but definitely forgot most of them by the time we jumped in the pool that evening.  Name tags off, swimsuits on, hair wet;  I had no idea who these kids were.
“Who are you?” is a difficult question to answer.  For high school kids, that answer is usually a label. Sometimes, it’s even a label they didn’t choose for themselves;, it’s a price tag slapped on their back by their peers. This label: nerd, athlete, outcast, weird, smart, stupid, fat, pretty, popular can only go so far in its ability to describe who they are as changing, growing and maturing people. Adults still have these labels affixed permanently on our exterior, too.
We are still one word to new people we meet: immigrant, businessman, homeless, hipster, athletic, gay, rich. These labels we carry around may or may not be accurate. They may or may not be apparent to everyone we meet. They may or may not be damaging, but they are never the full truth of who we are.  They will never truthfully answer the question: “Who are you?”  (Read my personal take on Deepak Chopra’s “Who am I?’ meditation here.)
camp 3

In fact, that’s the whole reason we do yoga! To clear our minds of misconception so that we can re-connect with who we truly are.

In yoga philosophy, this label would be an accumulation of all your experiences and memories stored in your citta or ‘heart-mind field of consciousness.’ The citta consists of four components: outer mind, inner mind, ego and memory. Together, these components determine how we construct our identity and how we interact with the world.
The citta is a filter between our ever-changing external experiences and our inner light of awareness. Overtime, this filter needs to be changed: your citta or heart-mind-consciousness is clouded and dirty. You are no longer swimming in a pristine chlorine-treated swimming pool, you are stuck in the muck of a snapping turtle infested lake. And it’s easy to forget who you are.
Patterns of thought, impressions that are untrue, and experiences that are painful sully the lens of our citta and block our inner light of awareness. We forget who we truly are: we forget that we are made of light and in light. This forgetting is the cause of our frustration, our pain and our habits. However, with self awareness and courage gained through meditation, we can clear up our misconceptions and start to peel away the layers of grime until we feel clear again. The meditation, the asanas, the pranayama, the focus we gain through our yoga practice makes this possible. In fact, that’s the whole reason we do yoga! To clear our minds of misconception so that we can re-connect with who we truly are.

According to scholar Nicolai Bachman, “Purification and clarification of citta is the primary result of yoga practice and leads us to connection with our divine inner light of awareness.” -The Path of the Yoga Sutras

Every single day, we have the opportunity to answer the question: “Who am I?” with more clarity and freedom.
My challenge for you is to look closely at who you are and sit in meditation with yourself. Use this time to clear your heart-mind field of consciousness and move forward into the light.  When you do this, you aren’t changing yourself into someone new, you are changing yourself into who you’ve always been and simply allowing that light to shine.
Happy Shining,
-lisa 
2013-02-16 14.49.19

go sit yourself down and ask: who am I, really?

what are you afraid of? #MeditationThoughtMondays

cropped-seated-side-stretch-modfied.jpg

uncovering your Inner Light takes a little work, but in the end… you smile more :)

I am afraid of a LOT of things. And here’s the kicker: they may be fairly innocuous things. If I were to make a T-chart (I am an elementary school teacher at heart, after all) the list of items on the “Not Afraid” side would perhaps appear more daring and dangerous than the list of items on the “Terrifying” side. For prosperity sake:

Not afraid of: falling off the side of a mountain (it’s that’s how I go, I’ll be proud of my death-by-adventure), traveling to unsafe exotic locales, having my car stolen, starting a new career, spiders.

Terrified of: going to the Doctor, driving in the fast lane, attending crowded sporting events, having uncomfortable conversations, blood-sucking ticks (I don’t think there exists any other type of tick, but ‘blood-sucking’ reaffirms their awfulness).

That’s just the beginning of the list. (I’m also a little afraid of frostbite, snakes in lake water and having my identity stolen.)

But the thing I’m most afraid of? Never doing ANYTHING fun or daring or epic because I’m afraid. Letting fear ‘win’ over courage and passion and excitement and wonder? Unacceptable. 

IMG_4459

look at all the fun you miss if you are too afraid to adventure!

I had a really tough beginning to spring this year. Illness, exhaustion, emotional distress and insecurity were my companions for a few months. There were days when fear and anxiety were the loudest voices I heard. There were weeks when I stayed in bed with headaches and body aches and I felt ill-equipped to handle even small tasks like eating breakfast or walking Russell Clive, much less repair professional relationships, teach willing Souls, move forward in my career and also plan a wedding. Let me tell you: I was really fun to live with.

2014-07-25 20.33.28

he’s not afraid of lake water, or a crabby mama

For a few weeks, I let fear win. And oh god, did it gloat. Fear infiltrated my meditation time and my (coveted) sleep time and freaking wreaked havoc. I was a hot mess. Actually…I wasn’t hot. At one point, my face was an allergy punching bag and my eyes were swollen shut (thank God for the makers of Benadryl and the good people at CVS) and what business did I have pretending to be a courageous, confident, spontaneously joyful yoga teacher? 

Well, I did have business.  I still do. And it is my business to be courageous, inspiring and real. Because we all encounter fear, we all experience suffering (thank goodness suffering is temporary, remember this post?) and we all feel like life’s punching bag every once in a while. So I made it my business to find a meditation that worked that helped me re-claim my courage, my light, and my confidence.  It’s short, it’s simple, it’s illuminating.  It worked for me, and it will work for you.

This is an abridged version of a guided meditation I found by Heather Waxman on the app Insight Timer.  If you download the app, you can listen to her talk you through this five minute meditation. You can also follow the script below. I sincerely hope that you feel its power in uncovering your Inner Light.

IMG_4557

“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.” -G.S.

“Own Your Light” Meditation for developing confidence and courage

“Sit in a comfortable position with palms facing upward and establish a steady pace of breath.  Inhale and exhale easily.  Imagine yourself covered by a big shell, like an egg shell.  See is covering you and surrounding you.

As you look at that shell, imagine that it begins to crack.  And as it cracks, rays of sunlight begin to pour through the cracks.  The rays of light extend out from your body and peek through the cracks in the shell.  This is your light.  The shells represent the ways you’ve been blocking it.  The cracks represent your willingness to see things differently.  Your willingness to look at your shadows and your willingness to own your light.

See the shell as it peels away and you are left surrounding in light.  See yourself shining and glowing with courage.  With every inhalation see yourself owning that light that is yours.  On your exhale, give that light to someone who needs it.  As you inhale, receive.  As you exhale, extend it to someone who needs it.

Inhale: “I own my light.”

Exhale: “I share and extend my light with others.”

The dark journey is not the way of the Universe.  Walk in your light and choose light.  The Great Light always surrounds you and extends out from you.  You are created of light and in light.

Finish your visualization with three deep inhales and three deep exhales.”

Happy Uncovering.

-lisa

IMG_4506

Own your light.

 

what you think, you become. #MeditationThoughtMondays

what you think, you become

I’ve had some water in my basement this year.  And by ‘some’ I mean a puddle big enough to go swimming in my basement.  I tried not to complain because the rain also watered my garden and lowered my water bill. Two thumbs up for these unexpected perks… but not fun to be in a musty basement using a broom to sweep water toward the (already full) drain.  And not fun to empty the de-humidifier every twenty minutes.

The other day as I was trudging through my sloppy backyard to get to my basement and empty the dehumidifier, I had this thought: “Man, I’m so efficient!”  My mind did the endless ‘task-ticking’ it does when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with my to-do list.  I mentally made a list of all the chores I’d just rushed through that morning to boost my confidence in my ability to maintain a (not flooded) household and work-too-much and, and, and, and.  But really, the mental list making made me feel slightly more anxious and overwhelmed.  I had to stop and think for a minute: What words did I actually want to use to describe myself?

The law of subconscious means that what we think—we will become.

So, if we make a list of all our greatest attributes and constantly describe ourselves as such, we will eventually manifest these attributes in our life. 

what you think, you become

Yes, I’m efficient.  But, when I look back at my life in 87 years (yoga makes you young and Beet Smoothies make you healthy, so I’m planning on living to 116 years old, thank you very much) how do I want to describe myself and my life? 

This is a really important question.  What you think, you become.  Turns out, I don’t think I want to be described as ‘efficient.’  That’s a word used to describe a process– a machine.  My world is highly mechanized, that’s true.  I spend many hours with my fingers on my keyboard and my mind hooked to the internet.  But I wish for a world that is more human and less mechanical.  I wish to cultivate attributes that are more empathetic and relational.  So, I’m going to start thinking about what I wish to become.

I wish to describe myself as:

Flexible and Fun (I think I’m one of these)

Caring and Courageous  (again, I think I’m only one of these)

I’m challenging myself to imagine these attributes in my life and start describing myself with these words.  I’m challenging myself to imagine cultivating flexibility and courage in my own life.

I’m challenging YOU, my dear reader, to answer this question:  “When I look back at my life in 87 years, how do I want to describe myself?”  Write 4 attributes you WANT to be able to use to describe yourself, even if you ‘think’ they don’t apply to you right now.  And then—apply them. 

Dare to think of what you can become.  Use these words in your morning meditation, your morning mantra, or just throughout the day when you are confronted with a stressful situation.  After a month, reflect on how you have changed.  If you think it – then you can become it.

Happy thinking,

-lisa

how to draw light into your life. #MeditationThoughtMondays

???????????????????????????????

Author’s Note: this article was written while  Lisa was working in Zambia with Health-Ed Connect, a community-based organization committed to empowering women and children through Health, education, and advocacy.

Her house was surprisingly large for the neighborhood.  It featured a fenced-in patch of lush grass, something very uncommon for the neighborhood in Kasompe, Zambia.  The cement walls were painted a once-lively yellow, now faded and peeling with weather and wear. The front door was open; the white lace curtain was pulled back in invitation.  And the area was teeming: enough children to fill a soccer team played on the dirt path just outside the gate, a momma and baby girl sat on the front stoop snapping okra.  It was clear that life was difficult for these women; but in spite of this– the home glowed with happiness, lightness. 

New 028

It was a Friday afternoon and I was visiting this particular home with my friends the Kafwa, a group of women trained by HealthEd Connect with home health care and first aid practices on the outskirts of Chingola, Zambia.  The Kafwa women are truly the hands of God.  They volunteer faithfully– two days a week– seeking out the elderly, the sick, the hurting in their community and spend time in the homes of these people, bringing healing in the any possible way.  We were at this particular home to see Amiyah.

Amiyah, I was told, was born in 1912.  Which meant, at the time of my visit, her one hundred years of age had thwarted the average expected life span in Zambia by more than six decades.  On the way into the home, we were met with a warm welcome from Priscilla, Amiyah’s widowed daughter-in-law.  Priscilla, who runs the household, apologized profusely for not having time to sweep the stone floors of her sitting room for a second time that day, explaining that her morning was instead spent walking to the clinic for her ARV (anti- HIV) medication.  You see, even Priscilla was sick.

???????????????????????????????

We took seats on the small couch, careful not to disturb the hand-crocheted doilies covering the cushions, and waited.  Occasionally, a child would filter in to the room to be introduced as a great- grandchild of Amiyah.  Several women, dressed in T-shirts and the traditional ishtenge skirt also snuck in a greeting:  gingerly extending their hands to me, bowing with hushed respect.  These were not fellow “visitors”; in fact, all fourteen people lived in this humble home.  From behind a Power Rangers bed sheet hung as a door, Priscilla and her niece carried Amiyah out into the sitting room, gently settling her frail body on a sofa across from me.  This had been rehearsed many times: Amiyah had lost the ability to walk.  Amiyah came to be a patient of the Kafwa seven months prior, just after she took a fall in the marketplace, breaking her hip.  Because of her extraordinarily old age and the condition of her bones the doctors at the clinic were unable to help her: she was sent home to “recover” on her own—without treatment.  Amiyah is invalid, in pain, and mostly blind.

Despite this, her faith is strong.  She enjoys the regular visits from the Kafwa women and is humbled to receive guests in her home.  “Amiyah,” I said, “You have a lovely home and a beautiful family.  You must be very proud to have your great- grandchildren playing happily in the same home.”  She beamed with pride, her cataract eyes tracking the face of the Kafwa interpreter searchingly.  Amiyah replied, “Oh yes, I am so very proud to be alive.  I am proud of my family.”

???????????????????????????????

Often, the Kafwa women are able to bring a small gift to the family on their home visits.  These small gifts in the form of charcoal, cooking oil, or corn meal are purchased from a small emergency fund budget and are the physical effects of healing ministry. They are the necessities for life.  Today, we had nothing to give Amiyah or her large family.  As the head of the household, taking care of a 100 year old mother-in-law and seven grandchildren, Priscilla was obviously disappointed that our hands were empty.

Amiyah was the official patient of the Kafwa­­– her name was the one entered diligently in to their record keeping book; but Priscilla was just as much a patient.  The ministry of presence extended to the entire family struggling to survive and keep hope alive in the midst of strenuous circumstances.  As our visit drew to a close, gratitude was passed around in both English and in iciBemba.  I wondered what we could give to Amiyah, what we could give to Priscilla, what we could give to the rest of the family–the moms and the children?  I looked down at my lap, embarrassed and humbled.  The beautiful words from the mystic poet Rabia came to mind:

 “Our hands imbibe like roots,

So I place them on what is beautiful in this world.

And I fold them in prayer, and they draw from the heavens

Light.”

A prayer for hope, for healing, for strength, and for thanksgiving: that is what we had to give.  I held the hand of Priscilla, my Kafwa friend Doris held the hand of Amiyah, and together we “drew from the heavens light.”

As I prayed for healing to light the life of this family, I knew that full recovery of Amiyah’s mobility was not realistic, but I also knew that this was not what mattered most.  What mattered was that we were growing the roots of hope deeper into the soil of this home.  We were drawing light into our hearts, and together offering thanks for that light which sustains life, even in the midst of loss.

???????????????????????????????

From the heavens, draw light today.

-lisa

live with intention. #MeditationThoughtMondays

Image

View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yogaLast year, I proposed this question: “What would you do if nothing stood in your way?”

I got great responses from friends and students: “Travel the world… spend more time loving my family…worry less about what other people thought of me… learn to cook… take better care of my health… quit my job and move to California… run a marathon… set aside more time for myself…start a new hobby and stick with it… practice yoga every day”

But the question still remains: are you living with intention?  Intention is powerful. (read my suggested intention at the beginning of yoga class).  Thoughts are powerful.  Your thoughts are powerful.

Sometimes bedtime arrives and I can’t remember how I spent my day.  Or I arrive at work and can’t remember driving there.  The ‘monkey mind’ is always wandering. That’s it’s job: to think ahead.  To plan and problem solve and be in constant motion.  But it can be exhausting.  When our thoughts distracted, our bodies feel fragmented, anxious, and bored.  We may walk through our entire day thoughtlessly.  But: What if everything you do today had a specific intention?  I call these: ‘micro-intentions.’  For example:

“I intend to eat this breakfast and savor each bite.”

“I intend to start my car and drive to work safely.”

“I intend to be productive, efficient, and compassionate during this meeting.”

“I intend to rest soundly and sleep deeply for eight hours.”

I believe that with these micro-intentions, life runs more smoothly.  And my day takes on more meaning.  And I have more energy to devote to moving forward to achieve my goals, as if nothing stood in my way.

Here’s your challenge for the day and your first #MeditationThoughtMonday

live with intention.

View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yoga

I dare you.

-Happy Meditating,

-lisa

(Have you heard about #MeditationThoughtMondays?  Check out ‘How to rid yourself of the ‘Case of the Mondays’)

how to rid yourself of the ‘Case of the Mondays.’

Image

Russell Ash being tired

classic “Case of the Mondays.”

Look at this guy.  He’s a got a classic Case of the Mondays. 

(Don’t ask me who coined that term.  I’m not entirely sure, but I presume it’s a combination of my dear friend Brittany Hettrick Jensen and the movie Office Space… Either way: generally hilarious.)  Seriously.  Look at this guy!  He can’t even hold his head up! 

Monday is actually my favorite day of the week.  I posted something about this on Facebook a few months ago and the reaction was shocking.  “Seriously? Who ARE you??” my friend Katie asked, apparently appalled that Mondays are my absolute favorite.

Well, for starters, some of my most joyful/ joy filled/ Spirit healing yoga classes happen every Monday.  I work with these kiddos:

kids yoga class

these kiddos are always so excited to have FUN doing yoga together!

(look at their cute downward facing doggies with wagging tails!), who are exuberant reminders that yoga heals hearts, strengthens bodies, and is downright FUN.

(Also one of my favorite bands, by the way.  Whoever decided to title their band ‘FUN’ with capital letters is a genius in positive thinking.)

The kids at The Children’s Place KC, an early childhood therapy and education center in Kansas City which focuses on serving young victims of trauma, are always excited for Yoga with Ms. Lisa.  So excited, in fact, that they will push each other out of the way to get to their yoga mat.  (We’ve moved past that now… practicing ahimsa and self-control and such… but it’s the thought that counts.)

After this class, I work with the Staff and Teachers at The Children’s Place.  I transform their basement meeting room into a candle-lit sanctuary for renewal and rest after a trying day in a workplace that demands immense amounts of presence, patience, and compassion for its young clients.  In return, these yoga classes create a space for the ‘givers’ to receive presence, patience, and compassion.  (And sometimes sneak a ten minute nap.)  This one hour of yoga, conscious breathing, and resting provides an ‘centering time’ for Staff and Teachers to take care of themselves first, so that they can take care of others second.

One of my favorite authors, Andrew Harvey, writes about tending our own inner flame of health and joy as a way of inspiring health and joy in others around us.  A practice like yoga which empowers and ‘centers’ you is essential; we all run out of energy, we all get cranky, we all get frustrated, and we all get tired.  We have to take care of ourselves first and then we can take care of others.  He writes:

 “If we are going to inspire others, it will be by the kindness, balance, truth, and radiance of our presence…by the health and joy we radiate.  In order to bring such radiance to others, you need to tend its subtle and tender flame in yourself.” -a harvey, The Hope

So, why are Mondays my favorite?  I spend most of the day tending flames of radiance, kindness, balance and truth.  (I also take my Russell Clive on walks, practice my two hour Ashtanga ritual at dawn, and teach the best candlelight Vinyasa class at Westport Yoga KC. I’m serious when I say Mondays are the BEST.)

Not everyone has a Monday schedule like mine.  I get that.  I’m grateful that all of you AREN’T yoga teachers, otherwise no one would come to my classes. :)  But I want to give YOU, my readers/students/friends/family an opportunity to rid yourself of the Case of the Mondays.  Starting in February 2015, I’m committing to bringing you #MeditationThoughtMondays.

View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yoga

One thought.  One moment. One inspiration for tending the subtle flame of kindness, balance, truth, and radiance within yourself.  Read it.  Spend 60 seconds meditating on it.  Share it, pin it, snapchat it, Instagram it, (there are a MILLION social media outlets for sharing images these days and I don’t even know when and where #hashtags# are useful), but most importantly: pause for one moment.  Consider what a gift your Monday is.  Consider what a gift your job is.  Consider how you can turn your Monday into your favorite day.  Even if it is only for a Moment. 

Join me for #MeditationThoughtMondays.  You can follow me on Instagram, @ash_lisamarie or Follow this wordpress Blog (see below for the FOLLOW button).

Invite others to do the same.  I promise: you’ll get rid of the case of the Mondays.

See you on Monday,

-lisa

View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yoga

 

 

every day that I am hugged, kissed, and loved, I am grateful.

Image

gratitude challenge day ten: November 10.

“Every day that I am hugged,

kissed, and loved, I am grateful.”

Steps to completing the gratitude meditation challenge:

Read.  Breathe.  Smile.  Sit in stillness.  Read again.  Express your gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings which bring you joy in this life.

day ten

Why gratitude?  Because it’s the only reasonable response to being alive.  Read more here.

With gratitude,

-lisa

FALL in Love.

Image

2013-10-26 07.01.12

I found this sign, tucked inside the window display of a possibly-abandoned storefront, and simply had to take a picture.  Lately, I’ve noticed negative images, graffiti and advertisements scattered around town… and coupled with the change in daylight patterns and loss of summer, it’s been a little disheartening.  However, this sign, reminded me to Fall in Love today.  And every time I see it, I smile.  It’s great advice for the new season.

If, like me, you need a little pick-me-up today, you’ll enjoy this poem from my good friend Meister Eckhart who has a grand view of the Universe as being permanently In Love.

Always Kissing

They are always kissing, they can’t control themselves.

It is not possible that any creature can have greater instincts and perceptions than the mature human mind.

God ripened me.  So I see it is true: all objects in existence are wildly in love.

-m. eckhart

2013-10-26 07.01.12

What are you going to fall in love with today?  One year, my aim was to find something NEW to love every day.  One day, it was the copy machine in the teacher’s lounge.  (That must have been a bad day.)  One day it was my new coffee mug.  Another day it was a hug from a friend.  It didn’t have to be a life-changing event or a life-saving item, I just wanted to recognize that, even in times of turmoil or stress, all objects in existence were wildly in love.  My list looked ridiculous, but I did practice finding love in the innocuous.  And I practiced falling in love with life.

What are you going to fall in love with today?

Happy Falling.

-lisa