practice loving-kindness

loving-kindness.

Your yoga practice is a great teacher because it presents this lesson: how to accept what our bodies are able to do (and how they look!) while simultaneously challenging our bodies to move beyond their perceived limits to find more freedom of movement and mobility.  In the process, we learn to be gentle with our self-judgments and with our lower backs.  We learn to love our bodies and love the simple fact of being able to move.  And we do the best we can.
The Yoga asanas are just one way we learn, through trial and error, through sweat and success, how to stop striving to find love outside of ourselves, and instead, find love inside.
This can only be done by practicing loving-kindness.  World-renowned author and Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön presents the talk “The Freedom to Love”, where she elucidates her modern-day interpretation of the ancient practice of loving-kindness.  This is also called metta meditation.
It’s worth the watch. 

In this short video, she explains how learning to practice loving-kindness changes your perspective on life.  Loving-kindness makes “a big difference in terms of your ability to be able to relax with yourself… It’s sort of like connecting with the best of ourselves,” Chödrön explains.
Yoga is the same way: it offers us a chance to connect with the best of ourselves.
I’ve found, personally, that when I connect with and appreciate ‘the best in myself’ I’m more appreciative and accepting of ‘the worst of myself.’  When I’m practicing loving-kindness toward myself I’m more accepting of my own flaws.  When my anxiety is high, or my self-esteem low, or when I’m feeling guilty and overwhelmed trying to meet the impossibly high expectations of others, I take a big yoga breath and remind myself: I’m doing the best I can.  This is the same thing I learned to say when I repeatedly fell on my face trying to learning pincha mayurasana (forearm stand) for three years.  I’m doing the best I can, I’d say.
When I learned to say this, to love myself despite my biggest anxieties, I also learned to accept (with more ease) people in my life who triggered my anxieties. This was not easy.  But, the more I practiced loving-kindness towards myself, the easier it was for me to realize:
 “That person is probably doing the very best he can… even if it’s not what I would want him to do.”  
Then I could relax (a little bit more).  And love (a little bit more).  Want to be able to relax into yourself?  (Even it it’s just for a few blessed minutes?)  Well.  Here’s your chance.
Finish February, the month of LOVE, by learning this metta meditation.

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Say it every day.  With sincerity.  Start loving yourself a little more.  Let me know how it goes.

*Note: parts of this blog post and this image can be found on Westport Yoga’s blog accessed here. 

-lisa

intention.

intention.

I firmly believe that the most powerful way to deepen your yoga practice is to confidently set an intention before the class begins.  In the Ashtanga tradition, we set this intention while standing in samastitihi (equal attention pose) which grounds us in the space before we begin moving.  Standing tall, pressing equally into the four corners of our feet, we listen for the sound of our breath to experience present moment awareness.  Your intention, or sankalpa, can be set while you are seated, while you are lying down, or while you are parking your car on the street before even entering the studio.  It is important to set an intention for each practice that is deeper than ‘I’d like to tone my inner thighs, please,’ or ‘Today I will master handstands.’

The Buddha is attributed with saying, “Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.”  This is meant to remind us that our bodies are a physical manifestation of our thought energy.  Your practice is only as deep as your intention for it.  If your mind is busy planning your grocery shopping list (like mine often is on Thursday mornings before I head to Trader Joe’s that evening) then your practice will be superficial as well.  If all it took was a strong handstand to achieve enlightenment, then every college mascot would be living the high life.  My undergrad mascot happened to be played by a very close friend of mine, and I would absolutely attribute Zac as being (top 10) one of the funniest people I know, but perhaps his ability to walk down a flight of stairs on his hands (true story) didn’t ultimately lead him to a state of blissful Union.  In other words: our practice is intimately influenced by the quality of our thoughts. 

I ask students to choose one word that represents a quality they would like to cultivate in their lives.  Patience.  Kindness.  Healing.  Energy.  Strength.  This thought can be your intention.  After a few months of practicing with me, my friend Adelaide confided in me that her recent move back to the Midwest and recent job change in the competitive world of advertising had resulted in a sense of insecurity.  For several years she’d practiced yoga on and off, but now had re-committed to daily practice, and this had changed everything.  She sent me this e-mail:

“You have honestly made a difference in my life and helped me restore confidence and self-acceptance that I had let wane during recent tense life moments.

 I feel immensely better about myself and my surroundings since I’ve chosen to incorporate yoga and your teachings into the flow of how I live.”

 The movement of your practice is not what is special: what is special is your intention behind the movement.  Yoga designed to develop faith, grace, and reconciliation with your own body.  Yoga is designed to heal. 

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Set an intention at the beginning of every class.  Every practice.  Every time.  It may be helpful to repeat a personal script that firmly sets an intention.  You can write your own, or you can just use mine.  I think it works pretty well.  (I mean, I’m not enlightened yet, but I’m working on it!)

“With my breath, I set my intention for this practice.  I renew my commitment to practice with integrity and with passion.

With my breath, I set aside this time for me.  Everything that happened before this practice and everything that will happen after this practice can wait outside.  I dedicate this time to healing myself so that I can bring healing and hope to my community. 

May I breathe for myself and also for my neighbors.  May I be a vessel of Divine Love and Grace.  May this practice be a blessing of health, happiness, and wholeness.”

 

Happy practicing,  with love,

-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

sleep easy

sleep easy

I love hearing good news stories from my students.  Thank you for sharing your kind words!  

“My very sedentary job causes problems with my shoulders and back getting tight and then having pains from the tension.  Yoga has helped tremendously.   I can just feel the tension leaving my shoulders when I am doing bridge pose.

Now that I’m in my middle 40’s, aches and pains are becoming more frequent.  Legs-up-the-wall pose has helped me fall asleep at night since it stops my knees and ankles from bothering me.  I don’t have to rely on Ibuprofen anymore!” – Debbie, student

Viparita Karani is Legs-up-the-Wall Pose, and is a fantastic antidote for restless leg syndrome.  It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, aids in digestion, and induces sleep.  It’s the perfect “right before bed pose.”  Here is a link to yoga journal’s Yoga Basics article with detailed information about this pose and its benefits.

http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/2336

photo cred Yoga Journal online mag

photo cred Yoga Journal online mag

Enjoy sleeping easy.