what are you afraid of? #MeditationThoughtMondays

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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“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

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Own your light.

 

what you keep forgetting. #MeditationThoughtMondays

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I’m great at forgetting things.  One time I left the mop by the front door to remind myself I needed to clean my entryway and it was still there two weeks later.  (I put the mop away. Without cleaning.)

With forgetting comes the nearly oracle act of remembering the most mundane, ordinary tasks at the most inappropriate times. Like when I’m with a private client talking about their chronic back pain and I suddenly remember I didn’t put the sheets in the dryer. Or when I’m in savasana at the end of yoga class and realize I forgot to pay my rent and return a phone call from last Tuesday. Not game changers, but definitely not ideal to forget.

My mind is such an dexterous venue; I’m grateful that it can multi-task and hold incongruent thoughts simultaneously, but sometimes, man, I wish it could focus on one thing. I’m always looking for more ways to be mindful, to train my mind to be actually present in the moment, as opposed to hurdling wildly from one thought to the next. ‘Mindfulness’ is surprisingly trendy right now…at least that’s what trendy people tell me. The act of being mindful is hard remember, because… I just forget.

Even if I wake up with the intention of being mindful and present all day long (even while driving!), I’ve forgotten by 9:30 am when I sit down at my computer, with my breakfast and my iPhone and start multi-tasking.

One mindfulness training exercise that I’ve used for years and I absolutely love is called ‘Bells of Mindfulness.’  It involves choosing a sound— like a chime on a timer— to bring your attention back into the present moment. 

In his gem of a book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about his ‘Bells of Mindfulness.’  He says that he and his fellow monks living in the monastery at Plum Village always stop what they are doing when they hear the monastery bells ringing. Upon hearing the sound of the bell, he pauses, takes a deep breath and thinks:

‘The sound of the bell brings me back to my true self.’   

this is me, not being mindful, just doing an annoying 'tourist' yoga-gram in front of a church in Europe.

this is me, not being mindful, just doing an annoying ‘tourist yoga-gram’ in front of a church in Europe.

This probably works well if you live in a place like Europe where cathedral bells toll on the hour, but I don’t hear church bells every day. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests choosing a different sound, such as the dinging in your car when you forget to buckle your seat belt, as a ‘bell of mindfulness.’ I suggest using your smart phone or your genius watch or whatever the heck tells you ‘you have too much to do!’ all day long.  Remember how I have my phone remind me to de-stress every few hours?

 

Here’s a quick, 5- minute mindfulness practice that will help you train your mind.  (You’ll want to download the free app “Insight Timer.”) 

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes, with a 1 minute interval chime.  
  3. Breathe naturally, enjoying the natural rhythm of your breath. Focus on the place where the breath enters your body, and just enjoy sitting.
  4. Start your timer.
  5. Every time you hear the interval chime, repeat silently: “The sound of the bell brings me back to my true self.”
  6. After five minutes, notice how calm you feel. Smile, extend gratitude for the time you spent ‘not forgetting’ your true self, and move on with your day.

I suggest practicing this Meditation Moment in the middle of your work day and also before your formal meditation practice in the evening.

Let me know what you forget.

-lisa

bells of mindfulness

experience a sense of ease. #MeditationThoughtMondays

sense of ease (schiffman)

“As you immerse yourself in stillness… you will experience an unexpected and immensely satisfying sense of contentment and ease.”  e. schiffmann, “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness”

I’m not a very ‘still’ person.  Many days, I look back over the events of the day and remember that the only time when I sat ‘still’ was when I was eating lunch (on my couch, cuddled up next to my Russell Clive)… and this doesn’t even count because this time was spent stuffing my face with vegetables like the #NutritionNerd that I am.  (Did you make my favorite roasted veggie salad yet?).  I sit in the car a lot– that comes with the territory of teaching yoga at several studios and having a home office– but even in the car I’m constantly in motion. Needless to say, Sitting Still is profoundly healing, but often profoundly elusive.

Sitting still doesn’t happen in our lives because

a) we are busy.

b) we are tired. (we fall asleep every time we try)

c) it’s hard.

The stillness-phobic among us are terrified to even try meditation because ‘it’s hard to be still and I’m not good at it.’  (Join the club.)

Well, it is hard.  But because sitting still, being still, and stilling the Mind are difficult feats to achieve, many meditation techniques have been developed to teach us how.  One technique I’d like to share with you is profoundly helpful for me.  (If you are brand new to Meditation, you’ll also want to read these posts:  5 benefits of Meditation  and learn to meditate. your way.)

It’s called “Counting Backward.”  In this meditation technique, breathing is the primary focus.  We always begin with the connection to the breath, because it is our connection to the Present Moment and to the Spirit within.  The technique will help you move into stillness.  Erich Shiffmann, leading yoga teacher and author, writes: “Sitting absolutely still –practicing brief physical immobility– can teach you how to be in the conflict-free, higher-energy, ‘stillness’ state for more of your daily life.”

Steps to “Counting Backward” Meditation:

1.  Sit very comfortably with your back straight.  If you can’t sit on the floor with your back straight, then sit against a wall or on a chair.

2.  Close your eyes.

3. Breath normally, gently, fully.  Experience the room you are in and experience your body for a moment.

4.  Begin to count your breathing, mentally, silently.  Begin with 50 on an exhale.  49 on an inhale.  48 on an exhale.  47 on an inhale.

5.  Avoid elongating or changing your breath.  You are learning to NOT be in control.  Let the breath be very gentle, full, and soft.

6.  When you lose your count, come back to 50.  Continue counting every breath silently backward until the count of 1.

7.  When you reach zero, stop counting, but stay aware of the natural intake of breath.  Sit for a few more moments and enjoy the ease.

8.  Immerse yourself in the stillness.  End the exercise any time you feel ready.  Extend your deepest gratitude for this moment and for all of the many blessings which bring you joy in this life.

“As you immerse yourself in stillness… you will experience an unexpected and immensely satisfying sense of contentment and ease.”  e. schiffmann, “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness”

One day, you won’t need the tool of counting backwards… maybe you can just slip into stillness.  I first tried this technique two years ago and it is still one of my favorite ways to begin a meditation moment; I use it often.  If I only have a few moments, then I begin counting backward from 10.  Give it a good try; if you find it helpful, then keep trying it.  If you find it unhelpful or distracting, try something else.  Remember, you are your own best teacher!

If you would like to practice this technique with me, you may take a Meditation Class with me Sundays at 11:00 am at Maya Yoga KC and you may sign up for my 3 Week Workshop: Introduction to Meditation at Westport Yoga KC Sundays April 12, April 19, and April 26, 2015.  See my teaching schedule and events page for full details.

ASH intro to Meditation April 2015

Happy Stillness,  Much love,

-lisa

how to draw light into your life. #MeditationThoughtMondays

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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. 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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From the heavens, draw light today.

-lisa

live with intention. #MeditationThoughtMondays

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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

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