Happy International Day of Peace.

Today, September 21, is the best day of 2015.  (So far. I’m assuming Christmas 2015 is going to be epic.)  But today is the best because It’s the Official International Day of Peace.  

peace day

The first International Day of Peace Day was observed in September 1982 by the UN and is held annually in September.  You can read more about it’s inception here.  The basic premise?  Teach Peace.  “The United Nations invites all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.”  My kind of day.

Even though it may sound naive, I believe if each individual practices discernment through meditation and compassion in action, peace is not only possible, but it is inevitable.  Someone has to believe it.  Someone has to live it. If we all believed it, it would be true.

I’m not the only one who believes it.  Ever heard of His Holiness the Dali Lama? Here’s what he has to say in the foreword of a book you need to buy, Peace is Every Step:

“Although attempting to bring about world peace though the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.  Peace must be first be developed within an individual.”  -Dalai Lama

Today, you don’t have to create world peace.  You just need to try your best to create inner peace.  Start your day off with the right intention.  This one works well for me!  Know that today is a precious gift.  Remind yourself that you have 24 hours to bring peace, joy and happiness to ourselves and others.  Radiate loving kindness to every person you meet.  Make today the best day.  If you really love, peace is inevitable.

“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live.  What a precious gift!  We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

Happy Peace Day,

-lisa

every day that I laugh, I am grateful.

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gratitude challenge day eleven: November 17.

“Every day that I laugh,

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.

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

With gratitude,

-lisa

 

who do you practice for?

who do you practice yoga for?

“Since I started doing yoga a few months ago, I feel like a new person.  I want you to know that now I consciously try to be peaceful.  Even when I’m not doing yoga, I think about what you say in class and I try to make a conscious decision to be peaceful.  It’s not easy,” Erica told me one Monday after savasana “I think: what would I want my daughter to see?  Then I make a conscious effort to be peaceful.”  Erica’s daughter is 18 months old and adorable.  She wears twirly dresses and glitter shoes and her grin is obscured only by her big white pacifier.  Erica works in a high-stress environment with pre-schoolers who are in the foster care system.  ‘Peaceful’ would be the last word I would choose to describe her daily schedule.  But Erica is motivated by a deep wellspring of love, which only outlasts her wellspring of patience once in a while.

Erica does yoga for her daughter.  In a moment of silence at the end of every yoga class, Erica experiences a profound peace.  Her intention, or sankalpa, of peacefulness acts as a ‘call to awakening,’ in her daily experiences.  Without an intention, yoga poses are merely movements of the body.  But with an intention, it is the backdrop to an inner awakening: we often feel like a new person.

New people have new habits: new responses to frustrations (traffic?), new reactions to stressors (children? bosses?), new judgments on failures (ending a relationship?), new answers to questions (life’s meaning and vocation?), even new opinions on collective actions (communal conflict?).  Other people tend to notice these new responses and habits—transformation does not go unnoticed.  Penny says that she channels all her work frustration into a big, big, big, yoga breath: just when she’s about ready to yell at her (much younger and slightly annoying) co-workers, she instead, remembers her yoga.  And takes a big breath.  And calms down.  And responds like a leader and mentor should respond: with compassion.

Yoga simply makes you nicer.  And people notice.

Author and yoga teacher Max Strom writes:

“To choose to transform, heal, and grow is the dynamic and noble path that so few take but all of us admire.” – M. Strom, There is no App for Happiness

In other words, when you change your life by becoming happier, healthier and more whole, people notice.

So my question is: who are YOU practicing yoga for? 

Erica practices for her daughter: she wants her daughter to experience happiness, kindness and peacefulness in their household.  Penny practices for her team at work: she wants to mentor and inspire her co-workers and manage her team with integrity.

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Who do you practice yoga for?  Ask yourself this question every time you practice.  You breathe for yourself, yes.  You breathe to regain balance, kindness and truth in your life.  But you breathe for others too.  For your grandson, because you want to be able to sit on bleachers and watch his baseball game.  For your sister, because she annoys you so much you want to scream.  For your co-workers, because without yoga you might go insane. For your husband, because you cherish his love even when he leaves all the dirty dishes in the sink and forgets to take out the trash.  For your boss, because you wish her good health and good fortune, even if you find her work ethic absurd.  For your community, because you wish for safe neighborhoods.  For humanity, because you believe that peace is possible.  You are breathing for hundreds of generations before you and hundreds of generations after you.

Who do you practice for?

Think about it and let me know,

-lisa

 

learn to meditate. your way.

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Most often, students who are new to yoga and meditation are told to simply, “sit there and still your thoughts.”

When I first learned to meditate, my thoughts could only stay still for about 0.03 seconds. I’m a list-maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier and a dreamer. Even if my body was still, my mind was anything but.

In my experience, my thoughts don’t completely cease, but they do slow down a little bit after a few moments of meditation. I visualize my neural pathways as cars speeding across interstate overpasses and then very gradually slowing down … consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace. Still going somewhere, but taking a slower pace with time to enjoy the scenery.

I’ve learned that meditating is an integral part of a holistic yoga practice. The asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation. But here’s thing: you don’t just sit there.

Seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your thoughts with skillful attention. It is the skill of consciously slowing down your thought processes so that you can live a sustainable life and take time to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.

Start Here:


Focus on Your Breath.

Focusing on your breath reaffirms your mind-body connection. Typically, your mind and your body are in two different locations: your body is one place and your mind is elsewhere, trapped in rumination of the past or worries about the future. Your breath is the bridge between a focused, present, mind-body connection.

This 3-part breathing meditation works wonders for stress relief.

Complete Breath Exercise


Enjoy a Relaxing Visualization Practice.

Visualization works wonders. One of my favorite techniques is a Systematic Relaxation Exercise from Dr. Rolf Sovik of the Himalayan Institute called “61 Points of Light.” Most Guided Meditation experiences share the primary aim of total relaxation, so go ahead and lay down in a comfortable place, snuggle in and enjoy 10 stress-free minutes.

61 Points of Light


Listen to a Guided Meditation.

Don’t feel like you can make your thoughts “be still-er” on your own volition? Utilize a guided meditation audio file that you can take with you, wherever you are. Listen and remember that you are here, and this is now.

“I am here, this is now” Meditation

Head to this page on my website for more resources: Guided Meditation


Just Do it.

Don’t worry about doing it correctly or incorrectly.  Start by sitting still for 60 seconds. Appreciate your breath for one minute. 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.

“Trust Your Inner Knowing” Meditation


Guided Meditation Teachings

Love these Resources? Consider partnering with Lisa to continue providing valuable teachings that promote hope, health and happiness here:

$4.00

Aparigraha April 101: introduction to the how and why of life.

Aparigraha April 101: introduction to the how and why of life.

“You know,” Eric confided in me the other day, “I sorta wish my family wasn’t used to the lifestyle we live… my kids have so many toys that they are constantly bored. We are constantly stressed about cleaning our house and maintaining everything.  I get up every day and go to my J-O-B, but that’s all it is: a job to keep the money rolling in.”  Eric told me he wished that he could do something different with his days, perhaps become a personal trainer or a physical therapist, but he felt like there was too much baggage holding him back.  I told him: be patient, go for it when the time is right, and take the Aparigraha Challenge… maybe he’d discover that he didn’t have to hold on to all the things holding him back.

Aparigraha is the Sanskrit word for the yama commonly translated as non-hoarding. (Side note: I’m not talking about obsessive hoarders like that TV show…. I know Eric’s wife and she keeps a clean house; I’m talking about the simple non-relinquishment of all the ‘excess stuff’ in your life that magnifies discontent).  I’m challenging all my students and readers, for the month of April, to take my weekly Aparigraha Challenges.  Every week, I’ll post one 5 point challenge.  Read the post, (feel free to commiserate with my failures and celebrate with my successes when appropriate), reflect on your current lifestyle, and then follow the directions for one week.

Ok, so what does aparigraha look like and why would the yoga sages even care about how disorganized my closet is?

First is the obvious: having more ‘stuff’ in your life requires more energy to take care of that ‘stuff.’  Do you need one car?  Possibly, probably.  In Kansas City, Missouri, the answer is probably yes, because this is a geographically expansive city and distances between work and home are likely to be too far to bike or bus for most people.  But, do you need three cars?  Probably, no.  If you own three cars, you spend an exorbitant amount of time and resources taking care of those cars, licensing those cars, changing the oil in those cars, etc.  Time that could instead be spent loving your family, engaging in acts of personal healing such as yoga and meditation, or in service to others.  All actions that will, undoubtedly, enhance the quality of your lived experience and your community.  With the money you are not using to take care of three cars, you could save someone’s life (countless national organizations are looking for cures to chronic diseases like the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society) or create a more just and sacred community where all children are embraced as people of worth (check out The Children’s Place KC and Operation Breakthrough, which are outstanding local non-profits providing children a safe place be loved).

Have you ever heard the motto, attributed to Mother Theresa, “Live simply so that others can simply live”?  That’s what we are going for here.

The second perspective of aparigraha is internal.  Practicing aparigraha, at its finest, is practicing letting go of everything that is no longer serving you.  This means abandoning anger, righteousness, egotistical desires, frustration, and complaining.  It means letting go of worn out beliefs, deserting societal structures that you feel are unethical, and maturing your spiritual understandings.

This month, we will delve into the nuances of aparigrahaAparigraha doesn’t necessitate total renunciation of material items.  (I happen to think that, yes, I do need all four tubs of Christmas decorations that are stored in the basement, Mike.  And yes, I do need an entire set of Pyrex dishes, not just one bowl.  I’ll hold on to those, thank you.)  Instead, aparigraha is about letting go of things accumulated in our spiritual lives, emotional lives, and physical lives that no longer bring joy.

The Yoga Sutras say: “If you persevere in overcoming possessiveness, you will wake up to the how and why of life.” (adapted, II.39)

When my life is overrun by ‘stuff,’ I can’t see clearly in my busy, hurried, overwhelmed life.  It’s like looking for my missing sock in the depths of my sock drawer and realizing that my sock drawer has been invaded by scarves.  I can’t see to the back of the drawer to find the object of my desire (my REI merino wool socks, as it turns out) until the scarves are removed, re-folded, re-considered, and returned to their rightful place.  Overcoming possessiveness means learning through your yoga practice (that you don’t need socks? … we practice barefoot, after all) that the bigger picture in life is much less complicated than it seems:

You are perfect, whole and complete.  You are nothing less than a manifestation of Divine goodness and are created to exist in a state of authentic love.  You are meant for health, happiness, and wholeness at your Soul’s level.  That is the promise of yoga. 

Everything else is just stuff.

Time to wake up to the how and why of life.  Take the Aparigraha April Challenge:

  1. Read.  Each week, I will post actions YOU can take to live a simpler, aparigraha-inspired lifestyle.
  2. Try.  Follow my recommendations.  At least try one.
  3. Share.  Tell me how it’s going.  Individuals succeed at a higher rate when we are accountable to a community.  Share your successes, frustrations, failures and ‘aha moments’ with me through the comment section of this site, or email me at ash.lisamarie at gmail.com
  4. Breathe.  Making a lifestyle change takes longer than one week, and often longer than the required habit-changing 21 days.  Give yourself time.  Be Patient.  But go for it.  (Even you, Eric.)

The challenges will include everything from cleaning out your closet, healing your heart, reducing waste in your home, conserving the Earth’s precious resources, and relinquishing habits that no longer serve you.  Challenge yourself to live simply and tell me all about it.  I double-dog dare you.

-lisa

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photo cred EMA

 “If you persevere in overcoming possessiveness, you will wake up to the how and why of life.” (adapted, II.39)

yoga habit to yoga blessing.

 habit to blessing.

Yoga is so much more than our Tuesday night 90 minute stretching at our yoga studio.  It has the possibility to be the most important habit that you will ever undertake.  Here’s why:

“Yoga becomes a habit when we realize our body simply feels better after we practice.

It becomes a habit when we return day after day to our mat, yearning for courage and strength in our lives.

It becomes a habit when we yearn for the moment of ease and serenity that we experience after our yoga practice and wish to carry it with us when we leave this place.

It becomes a habit when we yearn for this feeling of all-encompassing grace and delight in the healing it brings to our Spirit.

It becomes a blessing when we yearn for others to experience the same things.”

-lisa

At the beginning of class a few months ago, I challenged you to spend time thinking of all the ways your practice has been a blessing in your life.  I asked you to write these down on a piece of paper and bring it to class the following week.  A few of you smiled, nodded, and then promptly forgot your homework (or ignored my directions? I’m not sure which…).  So, now, here’s your chance.

You know that your yoga practice IS a blessing in your life.  You’ve told me that it  weaned you off your daily Tylenol for back pain. You’ve told me that it reduced insomnia and you can now sleep for six hours a night. You’ve told me that you caught yourself before falling on the icy sidewalk because your balance has improved so dramatically.  You’ve told me that your 10K split time was faster because your open hip flexors allowed a longer stride out.  You’ve told me that you were better able to handle the grief of losing your father to cancer because of your mindful meditation practice.  I want to hear more.

How has your yoga practice been a blessing to you?  Don’t just think about it.  Write it down.  Share it.  Leave a comment, email me, facebook me, text me.  It can be just one word.  It can be an essay.  Stretching our bodies is a good habit.  Appreciating the blessings in our life is an even better habit.

**Giveaway!  Responding in the comment section of this page enters your name into a drawing for a Free Giveaway:  A small book entitled 1,001 Ways to Live in 10001 waysthe Moment  by Barbara Ann Kipfer.

 

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

-lisa

n.b.d.

n.b.d.

Recently, over a soup and salad lunch at my favorite within-walking-distance café, a friend jokingly said to me, “So, what’s the deal with yoga?”

Me: “Oh, yeah. I teach yoga full time, now.  No big deal, really.  I love yoga and I love teaching, so my life is pretty much the best.”

Him: “So, no big deal, you just tell people how to stretch and relax…?”

Me: “Yeah, n.b.d.” <btw, n.b.d. is the only text-talk acronym that I condone in spoken conversation. It’s hilarious.>  “You just stretch, and learn to relax into yourself and eventually… improve everything in your entire life and begin to transform the way you perceive and react in the world to become more conscious and aware, more compassionate and whole, more happy and continuously healthy… n.b.d.”

Him: “Right. Everything in your entire life changes. And you can also put your legs behind your head. No big deal.”

Me: “Right.”

When someone relatively new to yoga conjures a mental image of a yoga class, he imagines a candlelit room filled with people in home-spun wool socks and tie-dyed bell bottoms sprawled on the floor in utterly impossible body configurations.  Or he imagines a mirror-lined multi-purpose gym room packed with sweaty guys in neon shorts and hott girls in spandex leotards spotting each other in handstands.  He may think that doing yoga will help him lose a few extra pounds or stretch out his shoulders from years of lifting and plyo exercises.  It probably will.  Come on in.  If you take enough yoga classes, you probably have a six-pack, a good butt, and flexible shoulders.  If you work hard enough, your body will let go of years of tension in the hips, recover from stress in the low back, and become reasonably flexible.  But you’ll be missing the point.

Yoga may appear to be merely (or impressively) stretching the muscles in the body; it is so much more than that. Yoga is actually a stretch of the mind, the breath, and the spirit.

 Why do I practice and teach yoga?  Because I’m captivated by the idea of healing my body in order to heal my mind, my heart, and my community.   Because I simply love the way my body feels after practicing yoga.  Because I crave the promised moment of stillness that is undeniably healing after a yoga practice.  Because I admire the communities within the walls of yoga studios, created by people of all sizes and ages who wish to create peace within their own hearts.

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photo cred EMA

Yoga invites the practitioner to undertake a beautiful journey to discover self-knowledge.  World-renowned yoga instructor Seane Corn reminded me that, as a yoga teacher, my job is not to teach anything at all.

My job is to create a space within a yoga class for my students to uncover what is already within their hearts: pure, divine light and love. 

So in some ways, yes, yoga is no big deal. Any person of any age and any shape can do it.  One of my favorite students, Shalimar, started her practice with me when she was six weeks old.  She wasn’t fit or toned; she didn’t even wear yoga clothes, just a diaper and onesie. Another one of my favorite students, Dale, is 72 and arthritic, so he definitely doesn’t put his legs behind his head or do handstands.  Any person, any time, any place: if you are breathing then you are reaching out with your Spirit, invoking healing and grace into our body.  If you are moving with awareness, which is what we practice in a yoga class by taking shapes with our body, then you are consciously transforming your experience with your life.

The deal with yoga is this: because you are alive, you are blessed.  Because you are breathing, you are blessed.  Because you are moving, you are blessed.  You are entitled to a life that is filled with compassion, with health, and with happiness simply because at your core you are nothing but pure, divine light and love.

Come take a class with me.  Go take a class with anyone.  No Big Deal: Just Breathe.  Heal.  Transform.

photo cred: SFA

~lisa