write yourself a Positive Review.

write yourself a Positive Review.

Being an avid book reader, I’m constantly scanning book reviews for new reads. (See my list of best yoga books for 2018 here.) If the reviewer spends her entire paragraph criticizing the characters and plot, then offers a backhanded comment on how it’s a pretty good book and worth the read, I’m not into it. If the reviewer praises the book overall and offers poignant suggestions for improvement to the author, however, I’m on my way to the library. I’m all about the Positive Review.

The great thing is, in my life, I’m the Reviewer. And every single day I can write a Positive Review about my life. Sure, I could spend hours reviewing all the things that aren’t going well and are stressing me out (the vrittis of the mind will spiral continuously if we let them) or I could treat myself compassionately and practice non-harming by writing a Positive Review.

Ahimsa, which means non-harming and compassion, is the first Yama and most important tenant of Yoga Philosophy. (Remember this post about the marmots?) We practice ahimsa every day (and especially during every yoga practice) by choosing self-talk that is compassionate and non-judgmental. Since our confidence is intimately connected to the quality of our self-talk, I think it’s really really important to spend time cultivating compassionate and positive comments and reviews.

Sure, we can always pinpoint areas of our lives to improve and ways to grow; but today, practice a little more self-love than usual and write yourself a Positive Review.

You deserve it.

Happy Writing,

-lisa

don’t feed the marmots: ahimsa

You’ve seen marmots, right? I mean, besides holding the title of cutest rodent name, they truly are the cutest. Their little noses never stop sniffing, they bounce down trails like plink-o balls and they steal smelly hiking shoes for snacks. Adorable, svelt, glamorously silver and long legged. I want to share snacks and stories and sunbathe with marmots.

But omygosh did you know you can kill a little furry creature by sharing trail snacks? Consuming human snacks (on purpose or inadvertently) disturbs the natural cycle of sustenance and wild ecology so deeply that one cheeze-it can kill a marmot.

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I was recently reminded of the power of ahimsa (non-harming) during my two week camping trip in the Canadian National Parks. These landscapes are breathtakingly momentous and magnificent. They are pristine; hundreds of miles of wild forests and mountains and waterways are preserved perfectly.

And because Parks Canada treasures their wildlife so deeply, campers are continuously reminded how damaging it is to feed furry critters. I’m an animal lover. My first instinct is to call and cajole and cuddle them… even the ones with sharp little teeth. So I had to pay careful attention to all my actions: I couldn’t and shouldn’t just do whatever I wanted, which mostly consisted of having high tea with marmots and sharing chocolate with bears. I needed to appraise my actions from the viewpoint of ahmisa first.

Ahimsa, which means compassion and non-harming, is the first of the yamas (ethical considerations of yoga, discussed in previous post) and is the cornerstone by which we build and measure all of our actions. Our marmots, our snacks and our yoga practice are all connected.

We learn ahimsa on our yoga mat when we pay attention to the intimate connection of our breath and our emotions and practice in a way that is laced with gentleness and compassion. The more we practice yoga, the more obvious it becomes: we are SO connected with other living beings. And our actions are extremely important because we are a microcosm of the macrocosm.

Deepak Chopra says it so perfectly:

“If you recognize your individuality is intimately woven into the fabric of life—that you are a strand in the web of life—you lose the ability to act in ways that are harmful to others.  Acting from this level of your soul, you are incapable of being violent because your whole being is established in peace.”

And that is how yoga changes the world. We LOSE the ability to act in harmful ways. We are INCAPABLE of violence because we are established in peace in our hearts and truly, honestly, want to choose compassion in each and every way.  Take your next breath and notice: you are sharing this breath with millons and gazillions of other sentient beings and you are one amazingly awesome strand in the web.

Go establish peace amongst yourselves and your marmot friends.

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scrunchies are back in?!?

The thing about yoga is that is 100% meant to be learned on the yoga mat and then 110% meant to be practiced off the yoga mat. I mean, it’s not really something that I “do.” It’s something I practice. Because practice means: ‘to do that which is not yet fully accomplished.’

Yoga is something that, like being kind and courageous, I get to practice every single day of my life. I can get better at it, but I probably won’t accomplish it fully 100% of each minute, each day.

The practicing of yoga-ing, is the practice of yoke-ing. It’s the act of binding my Spirit with the Divine Light that precedes all creation and to the principles of compassion and ethical living. In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth used that same word: yoke. He was talking about how ‘his yoke was easy’; meaning that deciding to live out his teachings grounded in compassion was something that any body and every body could get on board with. Any body and every body is and was invited to take time to go inward, in prayer, in meditation, in mindfulness with humility and a yearning to yoke to the Divine.

“To yoga with the Divine” sounds slightly bizarre, but ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit actually means ‘yoke’ or ‘to find union with.’ So, yeah, you can yoga with goats or yoga with Pearl Jam or yoga with Sangria or yoga with whatever is the new-bizarre-yoga-class-combo popular right now (real talk: don’t ask me what is popular… I just found out that scrunchies are back in and Justin Bieber is out. For the record, I don’t like scrunchies. And I LOVE Justin Bieber.) but if it doesn’t change your heart to be more:

  1. Kind and compassionate
  2. Truthful
  3. Generous
  4. Humble and Courageous
  5. Trustworthy and Trusting

then WHAT IS THE POINT in doing yoga??

The ethical principles of yoga are called ‘yamas.’ There are 5 of them and they are the primary foundation of yoga practice and yoga living. The eight important pieces of the yoking-to-Spirit-to-discover-ease-in-mind-and-enlightenment-puzzle-called-life are often called the Eight Limbs (Limbs as in, like, limbs on a tree. Not as in, you grow extra appendages.)

For thousands of years, humans have individually and collectively asked the questions: Who am I at my deepest level of Being? How do I live my truth in this community with other flawed-but-awesome humans?

These are the questions, we, as yogis and seekers of wisdom, ask in our Yoga Practice. These are the questions that the Yoga Tradition wants us to look for on the yoga mat; and then practice our answers off the yoga mat.

Over the next few months, I’ll be leading you through the five yamas and discussing how they can positively affect your life on and off the yoga mat. We’ll discover what these ethical principles mean and how they inform our vision of self-care, of care for our families and care for our communities. Together we will learn how to yoke ourselves in mind, body and Spirit to a way of living that affirms the world is abundant, gracious, loving and sustaining.

Send me your questions about the yamas and I will do my very best to point you in the right direction.

Also, don’t forget to do your own investigating; I suggest The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra.

Happy Yoking,

-lisa

Aparigraha April Challenge #1: make room in your closet and your heart.

Aparigraha April Challenge #1:  Make room in your closet and in your heart.

I am a big proponent of ‘less stuff.’  I’m also a big proponent of holding on to keepsakes and seemingly useless items that have accrued deep sentimental value. Actually, I’m a big proponent of never throwing anything away.  I think I get that from my grandma.  (While cleaning her basement a few years ago, I recycled 3 boxes of Better Homes and Gardens magazines.  From pre-1982.  Seriously?  Seriously.)  So how can I reconcile these two incongruent predispositions?

This is what I’ve set out to do over the past few years.  In three years, I’ve moved houses four times.  Moving all your earthly possessions is serious evidence for the case of aparigraha.  The experience of living out of a hiking backpack in sub-Saharan Africa for five months, a constant house-guest of families living meagerly, only adds to that case.  The basic rule is this: Life is not about things.  If you have less things, you have more life.  Aparigraha is about learning to trust that we do not have to hold on to material things for dear life.  Life is already dear.

“Most of our energy goes into upholding our importance. If we were capable of losing some of that importance, two extraordinary things would happen to us.  One, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur; and two, we would provide ourselves with enough energy to catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe.”  – Carlos Castaneda.

I’ve developed the following five rules.  Here are your challenges for Week #1:

1. Set Limits.  There are things in your closet that you need.  There are things in your closet that you don’t need, but that you want.  There are things in your closet that you want, but you definitely do not need four of them.  Start there.  Look at items you have more than one of and ask yourself: ‘Do I really need this many?  When was the last time I used this?’  For example, nail polish.  My feet are literally in people’s faces when I’m adjusting a yoga pose.  I need my feet to look well-groomed and to feel professional.  I need one, maybe two, colors of nail polish.  I do NOT need sixteen.  No one needs sixteen.  Use what you have, and commit to not buying any more.  (Side note: your extra items and your lack of needing these items will soon become apparent to you… after committing to this rule, I immediately broke two bottles of nail polish and caught my extra hair straightener on fire.  Apparently, I didn’t need those.)

2. “Well…” = Sell.  I’m in my closet, unpacking my tubs of spring clothes and folding sweaters to put in storage until next summer.  This is a great time to decide which clothes were useful to me, and which clothes I no longer need.  Here’s my rule: if your sentence starts off with the word, “Well…” then Sell It.  For example: “Well… I didn’t wear it this winter, but next year I might go to the symphony and need a dress like this” or “Well… I don’t really like this sweater, but maybe I’ll wear it next fall” or “Well… it’s just such a nice sweater, I don’t want it to sit on the racks in a thrift store forever.”  This is futile, and slightly ridiculous.  If you aren’t wearing that sweater, find someone who will.  Create an eBay account and sell your stuff.  It’s easy.  eBay takes a small commission when the item sells, but listing items is usually free.  I’ve learned that you don’t have to sit by the computer waiting for your item to be off auction.  You can use an option called “Buy It Now” and list your sweater for a fixed price.  It’s beyond exciting when something sells and your phone makes that “cha-ching!” sound.

3. Give one box.  Carry one (just 1!) empty box around your house.  Walk through your closet, your basement, your spare room, your kitchen, your bathroom, etc. and simply ask: “What can I give?”  You will be amazed at what you discover.  Those three extra towels that are unravelling at the edges?  Doggies and kitties at the GreatPlains SPCA could use a bath.  The board games in your upstairs cabinet that no one has played since 2001?  Kiddos in after school programs like the Boys and Girls Club would love to play them.  The random candles you stuffed in a drawer after Christmas?  Your yoga studio would love to burn them.  Most of us think we don’t have time to overhaul and clean out our entire house.  We probably don’t.  But one box is not overwhelming.  It’s only one box.  And the sheer act of giving is rewarding and heartwarming.  I promise.

4.    Forgive. Internally, aparigraha asks us to make room in our hearts.  The biggest culprit of emotional constipation is resentment.  Make room for more enjoyable, healthy emotions by choosing one grievance and choosing to forgive it. You may need to forgive yourself.  You may need to forgive another person.  You may need to forgive a situation.  Research is clear: forgiveness is good for you and good for communities.  You can expect to feel better immediately.

 5.  Make a List.  Every day, practice gratitude intentionally by writing down one thing you are grateful for.  I started doing this on my Notes app (because I’m attached to my iPhone) to save paper (because I love trees) and it changed my entire perspective on the day.  I still occasionally complained when things didn’t go my way, but my frustration level dropped significantly every time I remembered my gratitude note.  For example: dirty dishes– which I hate to wash.  One morning I heard myself sighing in exasperation at the sight of pots and pans in the sink… silently complaining.  And then I remembered: Lisa, you are lucky to have pots and pans, and you are more-than-lucky to have food to cook.  In other words: Get over it, be grateful.  Are you going to forget to do this?  My Notes app reminds me every day at 9:00 am.

Remember:  Aparigraha is about learning to trust that we do not have to hold on to things for dear life.  Life is already dear.

Take the challenge and share with me.

-lisa