how to balance your mind in an unbalanced world.

Springtime. I come out of hibernation and act like a maniac. I want to take all sorts of yoga classes all over town, attend all sorts of events, run all sorts of trails with Russell Clive, plant all sorts of herbs and be ridiculously active until the sun goes down. I think, “I have so much energy now that the sun is shining! I am invincible!”

And then the next day, I need a 2 hour nap and am wearing pajamas by 3 pm.

My reality slackens its grip on the wisdom of “a balanced lifestyle,” something I wholeheartedly endorse as a yoga instructor. In yoga, we call wisdom “ishvara.Ishvara is the collective consciousness that we all have access to if we are quiet enough to listen. However, if we are unbalanced– if our energies and attentions swinging wildly between frenetic activity and forced hibernation, then we are not listening to this wisdom.

Ishvara is a wisdom tradition and also a teacher. Ishvara teaches us to humility by reminding us that there is a wisdom bigger than our individual ego. Each of us has direct access to these teachings through yoga and through meditation.

Isvara doesn’t demand or cajole or plead, it teaches and leads our life back into balance when we are at the end of our tether.

My go-to fix for finding balance in an unbalanced world is a pranayama technique designed specifically to restore balance to the mind and increase focus.  

Nadi Shodana: Alternate Nostril Breathing

  1. Use your right hand. Make a ‘mudra’ of first two fingers extended, other fingers lightly folded in to the palm.
  2. Rest the first two fingers lightly between the eyebrows. The knuckle of the thumb rests lightly on the right-side bridge of nose and the knuckle of the ring finger rests lightly on the left-side bridge of nose.
  3. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  4. On an inhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and inhale through the left side of the nose.
  5. On an exhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and exhale through the left side of the nose.
  6. Continue alternating the breath in the nostrils for 10 rounds.
  7. To finish, rest your hands lightly in your lap. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  8. Quietly affirm to yourself: “I maintain focus and balance.”

Emerge from this practice feeling focused and balanced. Use it as often as needed throughout the day. It’s perfect before an important meeting, after lunch break or anytime your mind slides towards imbalance.

Happy Balancing,

-lisa

(editor’s note: a version of this story was published April 10, 2017 on mayayoga.com. used with permission.)

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.

 

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 Challenge #2: Save your Energy.

Aparigraha April Challenge #2:  Turn it Off.

If we are working from the framework of aparigraha as “trusting that we do not have to hold on to things for dear life, because life is already dear”, then we do not need to hoard the world’s most precious resources. 

These resources are buzzwords in environmental conservationist conversations. ‘Going green’ means using less resources like petroleum, water, and electricity.  And ‘going green’ is a natural extension of your yoga: realizing our innate connection to all living beings, including the Earth, compels us to live an ahimsa (non-harming) and aparigraha (non-hoarding) lifestyle.

Put simply: please stop hoarding the natural, or unnaturally and disastrously produced, precious resources.  We only have one Earth.

“What if our religion was each other,

If our practice was our life

If prayer, our words.

What if the temple was the Earth

If forests were our church

If holy water—the rivers, lakes, and ocean

What if meditation was our relationships

If the teacher was life

If wisdom was self-knowledge

If love was the center of our being.”

– Ganga White.

Blue Mountains, Australia photo cred EMA

Blue Mountains, Australia photo cred EMA

Wisdom in this case means seeing the intimate connection between honoring Earth’s resources and our yoga lifestyle. Overconsumption of the Earth’s resources is not yoga.  Overconsumption can be extremely disastrous (think landslides on over-logged hillsides and severe storms spawned by changing weather patterns and global warming) and even extremely violent (think communities of the Mexican desert who are downstream of the Colorado River and are limited to a trickle of water thanks to the massive hydroelectric dams providing electricity to Las Vegas).

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the popular lists of ‘Do This! to Go Green.’  I checked out over fifteen books from the library about this.  My book bag included a book titled something like ‘1,001 ways to Be More Eco-Friendly.’  (Are you kidding me?! One thousand and one things I need to do?!  Every day?!  No wonder people throw up their hands and say: ‘To hell with this environmentalist crap.  I’m just going to live my life.’ I was overwhelmed by page six!)

So, never fear, dear readers.  I’ve done the heavy lifting for you, and distilled 3 resource saving techniques to recommend.  I’ve tried them all and they seem… manageable.  Took a little getting used to, but I gave it a good shot, and I think you should too.

Aparigraha April Challenge #2: Save your Energy.

1.    Unplug everything.  David Bach, author of Go Green, Live Rich, thinks I could save $94.00 a year on my electric bills by unplugging everything in my house.  He also thinks I can reduce my home’s carbon-dioxide emissions by 1,430 pounds a year.  I wasn’t not sure about this.  But, because I rent a house (therefore I will not buy an Energy Star dishwashing machine, or replace my refrigerator with a highly efficient model) I had to start somewhere.  We’ve all heard of phantom energy by now: even when your appliances are turned off, they continue to suck energy out of the socket, accounting for 27 million tons of CO2 emissions a year in the United States.  Your phantom load is also known as your Stand By or Idle current, and can total up to 15% of your monthly electric bill.  That sounds alarming and outrageous.  I really thought I was good about unplugging things when I left the house: my two space heaters, my standing lamps, my straightening iron, etc.  These are all double-checks before walking out the door.  But what about when I’m sleeping?  I can’t believe I never thought of this: electronics do not need to be plugged in at night.  Unplug everything when not in use, you say?  Here’s what worked and didn’t work for me:

Worked:

  • Electric kettle.  Unplug unless you are, literally, boiling water for a hot drink.  Also, do not fill the kettle (stove top or electric).  Only boil as much as you need for the drinks you are about to enjoy.  This can be a huge energy saver.
  • Phone Charger.  Like most of you, even though I know that small electronics use up an exorbitant amount of electricity, I will not give up my iPhone.  But for God’s sake, do not leave your phone charger plugged in the wall when your phone is in your purse.  What are you charging?  (Just your wallet.)  This one is easy.  Every time you remove your phone from the charger, take the charge out of the wall socket.
  • Computer.  A few times, I’ve closed my laptop (idle, schmidle) and plugged it in to charge.  And then left it charging overnight.  This seems like overkill.  Now I check every night to make sure nothing at my desk is plugged in, including my small desk lamp.  Most Green Guides suggest a power strip that can be turned “off” with one switch, controlling your electronics.  You don’t need your internet wireless router on all night either!

Didn’t work:

  • Dishwasher.  This is a huge, energy-sucking, appliance.  And I turn it on once a week (usually less, mine is terrible so I end up hand-washing anyway).  Is it draining energy the other six days a week when it’s empty and idle?  Actually. Yes.  But I couldn’t manage to unplug it… It’s behind the cupboard with Russell’s dog food and dog treats. It was an ordeal just to look for the plug/socket combo.  I’m not going to do this every time I want to wash my dishes.  #fail
  • Clothes Dryer.  Same thing as the dishwasher.  My small storage/ laundry room is packed too nicely for me to move the dryer away from the wall to unplug it.  It’s just too heavy.  But there are loads of other energy-saving tips I learned about drying clothes: choose the Air Dry setting because it uses less energy to heat the dryer, hang-dry all delicates, and always use the ‘less dry’ setting.  #50%fail

Here are some phantom energy vampires to look for in your house:

Window A/C units, air humidifiers, air purifiers (which don’t need to be on when you aren’t home to breathe.  Better yet: buy a plant), your massive TV (no one should be watching it while you are sleeping.  Unplug it.), your DVD/Blue Ray player, your Xbox, your wireless router, your coffee pot, your microwave (that one is obvious: you can nuke something in your microwave in less than four minutes… why is it plugged in the other 23 hours and 56 minutes of the day?), your blowdryer, your curling iron, your bathroom fan, your electric toothbrush holder, your electric shaver.  It may seem like a lot.  That’s because it is.  Stop hoardingStart Unplugging.

 2Cook smart. I learned about a bajillion things from the book How to Reduce your Carbon Footprint, by Jane Yarrow, about how to conserve energy in my kitchen.  I usually bake 2 or 3 things at once when I’m using the oven to save energy, but here are other tips I tried (that worked!) to use less energy:

  • Size your pots and pans.  Use a pot that fits the stove-top heating unit.   Yarrow says that choosing the right size pan and keeping the lid on for most of the cooking process can reduce energy use by up to 90%.  I realized how often I let my veggies cook and my beans warm up without a lid on the pot.  Easy fix.
  • Don’t preheat your oven.  What a huge waste of energy to cook nothing.  Unless you are baking a soufflé or a pastry/goodie, you don’t need to pre-heat your oven.  You shouldn’t have to adjust the cooking time, either.  The food will heat up as the oven heats up.
  • Turn off the oven four minutes before the cook-time ends.  The food will continue to cook through residual heat. 

3. Chill out.  Fridges and freezers account for about a quarter of domestic electric consumption (Yarrow).  I’m not great at fractions (sorry, Dad, your tutoring helped me get good math grades, but I still don’t really get them), but that seems like a lot.   I’m not ready to forgo a fridge (this podcast about the No Fridge Movement is awesome, by the way) so I better look for ways to make it more efficient.

  • Check your Temperature.  Fridges don’t need to be colder than 37-41°F.  My fridge doesn’t have a thermometer… it just as a dial that says ‘colder’ and ‘warmer.’  I guessed and put the dial in the middle.  Guess what?  Nothing rotted.  Turn your fridge down.
  • Spring Clean.  Dust the coils at the back of your fridge and increase its efficiency by 30%.
  • Organize.  Lots of cold air escapes when the door is open.  Keeping your fridge organized makes it easy for you to grab what you need quickly and seal it back shut.

Ok, friends, that’s only 3 challenges, but each of them has a few parts.  I can’t wait to hear what you come up with.  (I bet you can find at least 6 things in your house to unplug.)  Happy Saving.

-lisa

Berkeley, California photo cred EMA

Berkeley, California photo cred EMA