learning to polish the mind.

When I was a little girl I collected every shiny gemstone I could get my hands on.

I LOVED those big bins of polished rocks at old-timey stores; I loved the treasure hunt of sifting through all the precious “gems” (probably just rocks put through a tumbler and not that precious at all) and finding the perfect one to add to my collection.

According to yoga philosophy, my thoughts, my emotions, my vrtti-s are just like these polished rocks.

In English, we loosely translate “vrtti-s” as “thoughts.” A more accurate translation is “turnings or cyclings of the mind.” Every thought or emotion is a little gem of energy cycling through my field of awareness. In Yoga, the aware mind encompasses both heart and mind—it’s called the citta. Everything I see, hear, feel and experience throughout the day is absorbed within my mind and is turned, over and over again, like rocks in a tumbler.

So, when the Yoga Sutras define for us in chapter 1 vs. 2 the primary aim of yoga as:

“Yogahcitta vrtti nirodhah”

What it means is NOT that we should completely cease, stop and abolish the turnings and thoughts of the mind, but that we should use the techniques of yoga to polish the vrtti-s until they gleam and point us toward the True Light of Inner Awareness.

Vrtti-s aren’t necessarily a bad thing; we need to be thinking and feeling and perceiving to enjoy living this life as a human. But vrtti-s, when left unchecked, can cycle out of control. If the rock tumbler is left on high all night long, it’s going to start smoking and burn an engine belt. If the vrtti-s are left to their own devices, they can easily spin out of control.

I’m sure you can remember a time when your thoughts were spinning pinballs and your emotions were all over the place and smoke was coming out your ears and your mind was completely trapped in a cycle of unhelpful thoughts. I’m usually an incredible sleeper, but every once in a while, my brain just WON’T shut off when I lay down at night.

I have so many ideas! And so many worries! And so many things to do! And probably I won’t get them done! And even if I do, they will probably fail! And I’m not really sure I’m qualified to do all these things anyway! 

These are the times when the vrtti-s are less than helpful, when the constant turning of the mind does not enhance my ability to be happy, healthy, and whole.

We use the techniques of yoga—the breath, the concentration, the meditation, the poses—to help us refine and polish our thoughts and emotions (vrtti-s) so that they do not distort our perception of the world, but instead enhance our perception of the world as being a place of unity, trust and abundance.


The techniques teach us to take in all the things that we see, hear, think and feel throughout the day and polish them up so that our mind is not preoccupied with raw, ragged and rough misconceptions about the world, but instead our mind sees what is true: that there is enough, that we ARE enough, that the inner light of awareness inside our heart is connected with that same light in others. That the Universe wants us to be in yoga, in union, with it at all times. That is a pretty little gem of wisdom worth collecting. 

Here are some yoga techniques to help you polish the mind:

Letting Go of Thought Meditation

Be Still and Know Meditation

Happy Polishing,

-lisa


Guided Meditation Teachings

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2016 round up.

What an incredible year 2016 was. Looking back, I’m proud to say that I fulfilled my Big Dreams set last January: to teach, to travel and to love.

In the teaching realm, I offered six very successful and special workshops on yoga philosophy, meditation, pranayama and yoga alignment. Continued thirst for this knowledge means I’ve got Spring 2017 Workshops already on the books. Check out my 2017 Workshop Schedule here. I’d be honored to be your guide as you deepen your understanding of how yoga can offer healing for you and your community.

I also expanded my offerings on my website to include Guided Meditations. Feedback has been profound. Listeners say they’ve used these free audio tracks to find a moment of peace during their lunch break, focus before a big meeting, and relaxation at the end of the day. One listener even shared that she and her daughter listen to them together!  Adorable. If you haven’t made a habit of listening to a 5 minute meditation as part of your daily routine, consider adding it to your New Year’s Goals. A little relaxation does a heart good. Find free Guided Meditations here. (Also, did I mention: they are FREE?)

My blog has expanded its reach exponentially, bringing more hope, heath, and happiness to your inbox. I’d love to reach others with these teachings; please consider sharing with friends and family. In addition, I’m now freelance writing for Maya Yoga KC and EA Bridal Magazine. I’m humbled by these opportunities to share my voice and teach outside of the studio walls.

In the traveling realm, I spent a week in Sedona, Arizona studying with Yoga Medicine Founder Tiffany Cruikshank and came home with a vast storehouse of yoga therapeutics for healing hips and spine which I am eager to share with you in my upcoming 2017 workshop Yoga for Pain Relief.  I spent July exploring the Great Northwest with my Ironman during my sabbatical and nabbed spectacular yoga photos to add to my yoga-asana gallery.  I even visited three brand-new states on my honeymoon (yes, in yoga pants) to revel in the remarkable transformation of colors in the White Mountains.     file_0001

In the loving realm, I spent incalculable hours laughing over lunches with girlfriends and had a blast with my bridal party at all my pre-wedding festivities that littered the calendar. I moved into a new house (remember this post?) and created a nurturing environment for my little family. I married the person I love most in the world, officially acquiring a new family and even a new last name. You’ll want to look at our gorgeous wedding photos on Jana Marie Photography’s blog. Her photos truly captured what a truly magical day it was. So yea, 2016 has been incredible.

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Now, on to 2017: For two years I offered #MeditationThoughtMondays on this blog, hoping to spur a moment of reflection to start the week off right and conquer any residual Cases of the Mondays.  I hope you’ve found inspiration and solace in these teachings. I truly believe that meditation is life-changing. I truly believe that peace is inevitable when we learn to heal our inner lives through meditation and prayer. However, in 2017 I’m moving my blog in a new direction: teaching the philosophy of yoga and how it informs our self-care.

Through working with countless private clients and students, I’ve learned that an integral part of yoga teaching is missing from most classes we attend. It’s the real stuff: the teachings from the Yoga Sutras about how to relieve suffering in body and in mind.  So, not more #MeditationThoughtMondays. Together, we are moving on and moving deeper. I’ll still be totally authentic and share with you details about my yoga journey; I’ll still share adorable photos of Russell Clive Drackert; I’ll still ask you to meditate daily. But basically, I want to focus on bringing all the pieces of yoga together for you: why we do the poses, what’s the philosophy wisdom in this tradition, and how uniting body+ mind+ spirit helps you live your life more fully.

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(Russell Clive will still make periodic appearances on the blog, because he’s the cutest Yoga Dog in the world and he REALLY wants you to meditate and live a full +healthy life.)

So, readers, I’ll catch you in 2017 with all new teaching and inspiration; but for now, here’s my 5 favorite posts from 2016:

Lisaashyoga.com 2016 Round Up:

Happy Holidays (please do your yoga so you can actually enjoy your family) and see you in January.

Love, Love, Love!

-lisa (with a new last name)

how to practice daily.

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It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.

Sometimes, I feel like ‘doing yoga’ (aka, practicing weird and challenging asana poses that an Indian guy conjured up a few hundred years ago or that a random yoga teacher put on YouTube yesterday) is like eating caramel ribbon brownies and homemade ice cream every day.  It sounds like a good idea, until you do it every day.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love moving my body with my breath and finding a moment of complete flow with life, but sometimes I just want to sit down do nothing but watch robins hop around in my backyard. (Or more accurately, I want to sit with Russell Clive on the couch and watch The Office on Netflix.)

A few students reached out to me recently and asked for help structuring their yoga classes into their week and figuring out an attendance routine that works for them. (You can read my post here about how to stay accountable and make time for yoga.)  Unfortunately, their requests started off with apologetic/delirious guilt-talk:  They were feeling guilty and not like a ‘real yogi’ because they couldn’t practice the Ashtanga Primary Series every day because they had kids’ karate lessons to attend, low backs that felt pain after three consecutive days of practicing, animal shelter benefits to run, ailing parents to take care of, or generally had any semblance of a life outside of a yoga studio. (I think this life exists… I’m not sure, though. Actually, I was just at the airport and I noticed everyone wearing yoga pants except for the TSA agents. So maybe everyone does spend their entire day running between yoga classes. All signs point to yes.)

And then they had other questions about how to schedule their yoga practice: What if they just wanted to do something different???  What about a hard-core sweaty Vinyasa class?  What about a deep stretch yin yoga class?  What about a relaxing restorative yoga class?  What about a yoga sleeping-laughing-toad catching- metal forging-class set to a Pearl Jam soundtrack? Choices: endless.

So my advice?  Find something to do every single day that makes you HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY! (That’s three times, so you know it’s important.)

Tradition are great; they are evidence that some person, somewhere, at some time, made up a routine of doing something and found enlightenment. Or at least found their day to be easier.

Traditionally, yes, maybe the original Ashtanga Yogi’s practiced the Primary Series at 4:30 am 6 days a week and then took Saturdays off.  Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t have 3 kids in elementary school, two fluffy dogs that never stopped shedding, an SUV that needed maintenance, Facebook accounts to keep updated, and a fulfilling career.  Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t fly to work Monday through Thursday in Toledo and then jet back to KCMO for Friday Night Buck Night at the Royal’s with their grandkids.  So maybe their tradition isn’t very useful to you, to your low back, or to your happiness quotient.

It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.

Remember, yoga isn’t exercise.  Yoga is a study and a science of calming the mind waves in order to achieve freedom from our habits, our un-checked assumptions, and our fears.  It’s a calculated system of ethical living, breathing, attention, concentration, moving and meditation that just  makes your life happier. (There are a bajillion physical healing benefits to the poses as well: lowering blood pressure, healing nerve issues, strengthening bones and alleviating pain of all types, but that’s a different topic for a different day.)  So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

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So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Practice asana gently to avoid intentional suffering  and do something that makes you feel happy.  Yesterday, my yoga was an hour spent weeding my neighborhood organic garden plot.  (Happy and dirty!)  Today, it was one hour of Ashtanga Second Series with fifteen minutes of pranayama followed by a walk with my Russell Clive through the Kansas City Rose Garden. (Happy and sunkissed!) Tomorrow, it may be two hours of sweaty asana practice at Maya Yoga followed by mindfully cleaning my kitchen. (Happy and clean!)  The next day it may be ten minutes of breath meditation before I teach followed by a road-trip to St. Louis during which I say hello to every cow we drive past and delight in the robust green of Midwest Spring.  Maybe I’ll get out of the car and ‘yoga-stretch’ at Quick Trip, but whatever, the point is: Your Yoga can be ANYTHING.  On the mat, off the mat, in the morning, in the evening, in your body or in your head.  Anything that brings you into mindful, present-moment, wonderful awareness and draws you to a place of stillness where you practice compassion and self-care is YOGA.

So, please do this every day.  You will feel happy, happy, happy!

(And, please, come to my classes. That too. You should definitely come to my classes.  As often as you can. You’ll be happy, trust me.)

Happy Practicing,

-lisa