every day a gift: santosha

My natural inclination is to hit the ground running the moment my alarm goes off. And sometimes, I have to– teaching 6 am yoga classes means arriving at Westport Yoga KC at an indecent hour. 

But what I really crave is A Slow Morning. A morning that I can unwrap slowly, deliberately, with care and attention.

Years ago I was inspired by this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh and have held it close to my heart since. He says,

Every twenty-four hours is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy possible.”  

I’ve found that if I unwrap my morning slowly, like a precious gift, the possibility for joy, fulfillment and contentment increases exponentially. If I cherish my first stretch, spend an extra moment cuddling with Russell Clive, meditate first thing and drink my coffee slowly (from a real mug, not a travel mug), I start my day feeling tremendous contentment. I am ready to receive whatever the day has to offer.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll be HAPPY! every single moment of the rest of the day. Santosha, or contentment, is a difficult attitude to maintain. Because, let’s face it: happiness doesn’t always present itself tied up with a pretty ribbon every day. Some days go terribly wrong (hello, influenza B) and I’m frustrated, stressed and suffering.

Santosha is a possibility when I relinquish my expectations and choose instead to be grateful that I even get to open the gift of the day, regardless of what’s under the wrapping.

One way I increase my possibility for santosha is starting every morning in meditation– setting my intention that I’ll be open to receive. Whatever the day brings, I strive to stay open, grateful and aware of the preciousness of this day.

I hope this audio guided meditation helps you open to the possibilities of joy and santosha today.

“Open to Receive”

Happy Opening,

-lisa

Every twenty-four hours is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy possible.”  -TNH

“yes please!”

At Westport Yoga KCwe have these little green consent cards that say “Yes, please” on one side and our logo on the back. We use these cards so students can communicate with our yoga teachers to tell us if they consent to hands-on adjustments or if they really just want to be left alone. (Often, our students really just want to be left alone. I get it; me, too.)

I love these “Yes, please” cards because they remind me to be very clear about what I am saying, “Yes, please” to. The cards are a perfect example of practicing brahmacharya, which means moderation and conservation. Brahmacharya is an appeal for a balanced lifestyle and healthy self-care, as we discussed in last week’s post.

Brahmacharya asks me to conserve my energy, refusing to spend it on worry, shame, frustration, crappy coffee, donuts and Twitter, saving it up to use it only on what’s really important. (Coincidentally, love, acceptance, humility, Roasterie Coffee, pumpkin bread and Instagram are pretty darn important.)

Asking myself what I’m actively saying, “yes, please!” to helps me simplify my intentions, my practices and my daily choices. It helps me live a full, abundant life and say ‘no thanks’ to the things that tend to drag me down and deplete my energy.

Are you saying, “yes, please!” to self-care, simplicity,mindfulness and grace? Are you saying, “yes, please!” to conserving your energy in order to spend it on what’s precious and beautiful and life-affirming? Are you saying, “yes, please!” to living a balanced, whole and consecrated lifestyle?

Literally, what are you saying “Yes please!” to? I’d love to hear from you?

-lisa

balancing self-care: brahmacharya

I absolutely, unequivocally adore food. I love the scent, the crispness, the decadence, the savoring of chopping, baking and broiling. I LOVE big grain bowls overflowing with veggies and salads for breakfast and cookies for all meals. And yet, bizarrely, I barely eat anything from Monday morning to Wednesday night. It’s a very, very bad habit that precedes crabbiness, constipation and an overall sense of impending doom for the whole of humankind.

Left to my own devices, from Monday morning to Wednesday evening, I am completely and utterly absorbed in my work: in teaching, in managing, in cleaning, in advertising, in inviting, in begging, in writing, in transmitting the extraordinary teachings of yoga. I am, completely and utterly, out of balance.

Brahmacharya is the fourth ethical consideration of Yoga as found in the Yoga Sutras. (Brush up on the first three we discussed: ahimsa, satya and aparigraha.) It means “moderation and conservation.” It is, in my opinion, the most difficult yama to uphold. Because it is (surprisingly) easy to live an unbalanced, impulse-motivated lifestyle. It is, if you can believe it, much easier to eat oatmeal-butterscotch cookies for every meal than it is to plan, prepare and eat healthy food every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

And, brahmacharya is an essential aspect of yoga philosophy that informs the practice of self-care. It reminds me that I must make my own well-being a priority before I can take care of anyone else. It reminds me that I MUST step away from the chaos of immoderation—by sleeping well, eating well, resting well and loving well—to lead a balanced life.

One thing that helps me practice brahmacharya is to identify impulses, actions, anxieties and perceived expectations that make me feel out of balance. When I write these down and compare them to things that make me feel awesome, energetic and balanced, my steps toward greater self-care seem pretty obvious.

Try this simple exercise to approach brahmacharya:

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes and jot down notes and observations that finish these two sentences:

  • After your five minutes, close your eyes and take 3 big inhales and exhales.
  • Open your eyes, circle 3 things in the “I feel balanced and whole” column that you are going to do THIS WEEK.
  • At the end of the week, notice how you feel and congratulate yourself on your commitment to greater self-care.

“We see that the chaos of immoderation brings us pain and anguish—and that the calm, clear energy released by moderation actually affords us the opportunity to realize our dreams.” -Rolf Gates

“so, you don’t eat meat?”: satya and speaking truth.

I used to be shy about eating vegetarian when someone questioned me about it; I was so worried about making the other person feel ‘ok’ and ‘not-judged’ with my answer that I’d shrug it off and mumble something about “I just don’t eat meat. I never really liked it, even as a kid. Except, you know, my grandma’s fried chicken.” (Looking back, let’s be honest, I didn’t actually like the chicken, I just liked the fried and the mashed potatoes that came with it.)

But lately, I’ve discovered that curiosity, discussion, disagreement and dissent play vital roles in authentic living. So I’m more willing to speak truthfully and actually share my opinion and my reasoning for eating vegetarian.

Satya is the second of the ethical considerations (yamas) of Yoga Philosophy. (We talked about it last week, too. Read it here.) Practicing satya is standing in our own truth and aligning what we say, think and do. 

Eating vegetarian is one way that I embrace satya and practice ahimsa (non-harming and compassion to all living beings) which is the basis of my ethical and spiritual life. I’m actually totally and completely passionate about animal rights; and totally and completely obsessed with creating peace on Earth. And yet, when someone asked the question, “Oh, how come you don’t eat meat?” I felt scared to share my True Self and talk about what matters to me. But here’s the thing: NOT sharing actually made me feel disconnected and a little bit lonely, it made me feel insincere.

My favorite author and spiritual soul-sister Brene Brown writes about Satya and Integrity in the form of True Belonging in her newest book Braving the Wilderness.

She writes, “when we don’t risk standing on our own and speaking out… we perpetuate our own disconnection and loneliness. [However] when we are willing to risk venturing into the wilderness, and even become our own wilderness, we feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters the most.”

Satya, truthfulness and integrity, holds a newly appointed and important position in my life as I try to be authentic to myself and also to connect with people on a meaningful level. Satya now means holding honest conversations about things that matter to me and that reflect my deepest values, as opposed to glossing over these tough conversations.

How can Satya motivate you to live more authentically? Where in your life do your actions not align with your words and thoughts? How can you connect more deeply to your true self?

I’d love to hear your conversations…

-lisa

yes, we are kissing!

integrity and satya: so no to junk e-mail.

I get about 50 gazillon junk e-mails, promo mailings and annoying calls a week now that I own a small business, all of them trying to tell me how much I NEED to advertise with them or offer their product or sell their junk. The impetus to sell more and use CAPS! And promote THIS! And ADVERTISE with US! (for free, after I invest $172) is insatiable and it is WAY out of line with my integrity.

This icky, growly, stay-away-from-me-response bubbles up when I start listening to voices that promote scarcity and sagely explain why my worthiness depends on Facebook Ads and staying relevant on omniscient Instagram. No experience has led me more to refining my integrity and drawing boundaries to stay within my integrity than registering an LLC.

Satya is the second of the ethical considerations of the yoga philosophy. There are five ethical considerations given in the Yoga Sutras which guide our social and communal actions. These are called yamas and we examined the cornerstone, ahimsa (non-harming and compassion) in previous posts.

Satya is defined as Truthfulness and Integrity. It is the impetus for aligning our thoughts, words and actions so that we are effective and living with sincerity. It’s the opposite of living a false or shallow life where we say one thing… and then do another. I love what writer and researcher Brené Brown says about satya because she takes it one step further from just ‘telling the truth’ to ‘living our truth.’ She says that truth telling is integral to upholding integrity and that it also takes courage. She writes,

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”   

One of my values is living a life of simplicity and generosity. So when I am bombarded with messages telling me to DO MORE and BE MORE to BE MORE WORTHY, the pit of my stomach fills with molten hot revulsion. It’s difficult not to give in to messages and ideas that seem culturally customary; my boundaries are often affronted and I find myself fearful, but then I get on my yoga mat and meditate and my courage is bolstered.

I remember that choosing courage over comfort is part of living satya and that whenever I am in line with my highest Good, which is always Light and Love, then I’m living a meaningful life. And I just say “No, thanks” to every bogus e-mail that comes my way.

When are you living in integrity with your highest good? When do you find your words saying one thing and your actions saying the opposite? In contrast, when do you feel most aligned, truthful and sincere?

“By abiding in truthfulness, one’s words and actions are subservient to truth and thus whatever is said or done bears the fruit of sincerity.”

–Yoga Sutras II 36 (translation M. Stiles)

 

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

waiting for something miraculous to happen.

I’m one of those people who experiences anxiety over events on my calendar which are scheduled months in the future. I say things like, “Well, after that workshop, things will slow down and I can really enjoy life again. I’ll have time to cook and take naps have coffee with friends and enjoy leisurely walks after that big event.” What a profound realization when one day I realized: why am I waiting for life to slow down in the future? Why don’t I just slow down life right now? Why don’t I just enjoy the little leisurely times in my day today, instead of waiting for them to show up in my calendar in the future?

And thus begin an intense commitment to spend 1 hour every afternoon in silence. Not in ‘anticipatory waiting tense’ silence. But in leisurely ‘I’m going to enjoy every single little gift of this moment’ silence. Because waiting for fulfillment or waiting for the clock to slow down or waiting for this big event to take place before I enjoy life again gets tiresome. And frankly, it feels silly. This is actually a very intense spiritual practice in discipline; because TV is so much more fun! Because it’s sometimes difficult to not pick up my phone and tune in to frenetic internet activity. Because being silent feels a lot like just waiting for something to happen. But it’s not. It’s witnessing that something.

I believe that the biggest and best miracle of each day is the miracle that we get to be alive this day. I believe that I was meant to live every moment fully awake, fully alive in grace, fully in love with this gift of being alive today. I’m not rushing into the next thing. I’m not rushing to get something done. I’m not rushing through my day. I’m witnessing the biggest and the best miracle unfold right in front of my eyes.

One of my favorite, miraculous techniques of tuning into this silence is called “Follow Your Bloodstream.” It is the ultimate practice in pratyahara a yogic practice in turning senses inward. Here’s my guided meditation, adapted from Martha Beck.

Also, you can find more Guided Meditations here.

How can you take a few extra minutes of silence today? How can you tune in to the miracle of being alive? How do those minutes change your perspective?

Happy Silence

-lisa

(please note: an edited version of this article also appears in Community of Christ Daily Bread.)