the uphill part is really, really hard. and also worth it.

I’m not the biggest fan uphill. Even if it’s in a spectacularly gorgeous place, like Sequoia National Park, (which, thanks to my recent back country trip is my new favorite U.S. National Park) the “uphill” part of hiking isn’t my favorite.

Sequoia National Park was everything I wanted it to be: bursting to the brim with gargantuan trees and switchback hiking trails and boulder-strewn valleys and jagged horizons. I reflected on my Instagram feed about how quiet it was, noting: “There’s just something about being on trails where the only sounds are bird calls and insect conversations and rushing mountain streams. hiking boots crunch shale and the occasional breeze whistles through, but otherwise it’s just us and the trees standing proud, reverential and silent, surveying our descent into the valley below.”

And, let me tell you, the descent was steep. I know this, because I struggled with the weight of my backpack and a healthy dose of altitude sickness on the uphill part. )Of which, as previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan.) Mostly because of the short-of-breath-ness, and the fact that it usually looks impossible to walk to the top of the mountain pass from my vantage point, and also, it’s just plain hard work.

But, it is worth it. Because the views are insane. And there’s a power in rising to the challenge. And there’s a power in moving just one step beyond my perceived limitations. And there’s usually chocolate at the top.

One Mindfulness trick I use when I’m struggling to keep moving forward on a big uphill climb is the Counting Backwards method, courtesy of yoga teacher Erich Schiffman.

It works on a simple premise: When I’m in a place of mental discomfort, it’s nearly impossible to draw my attention inward and stay in the present moment. So my mental limitations and “freak-out thoughts” just get louder and louder and louder (and a little outlandish) and I experience a moment of anxiety. (You’ve probably experienced this sensation when you were stressed and couldn’t fall asleep at night. Ammiright?)

However, focusing on Counting Backwards anchors me in the present moment and allows me to practice pratyahara, the temporary withdrawing of the senses in Yoga Philosophy. In addition, letting the breath flow freely without the need to control it or change it helps me maintain mindful awareness. It’s a way of moving into the mindset of the “Observer” and regaining, well, a moment of perspective and sanity.

To practice Counting Backwards Meditation:

  1. Start by taking 3 Cleansing Inhales and 3 Cleansing Exhales, as big as possible.
  2. Remember that you are not going to change or control your breath, you are simply going to count it as it moves in and out of your body.
  3. Starting at 50, count backwards with each inhale and exhale until reaching the count of 1.
  4. The inhale is 50, the exhale is 49. The inhale is 48, the exhale is 47 and so on and so forth. If you lose count or become distracted, just start over at 50.
  5. When you reach 1, pause for a few moments and notice any positive changes and shifts in your body, mind and Spirit.

I use this technique often: to slow down the turning vrttis of my mind, to get me up a steep hiking trail, to help me fall asleep and to drop me into meditation mode.

Try my Free Audio Guided Meditation “Counting Backwards” 

Let me know when you use it and how it helps you. Happy Counting,

-lisa

p.s. please for the love, promote our National Parks System! Protect some of the most stunning places on Earth.

recommended yoga readings 2018: svadhyaya

At any one time, I’m concurrently reading a slew of books: half-finished books about yoga, spirituality, meditation, brain-based research, Harry Potter and random novels litter my house. (It’s immensely more reasonable now that I have a Kindle and can check out as many e-books as I want. I can hide an entire library in my backpack!)

This natural inclination toward curiosity, seeking and reading led me to hundreds of inspiring texts when I first started teaching yoga and studying philosophy. Twelve years later, my bookshelves are bursting with insight and wisdom.

In yoga philosophy, the study of great texts is called svadhyaya and it is one of the five niyamas (personal considerations). The other niyamas are: saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (exploration) and isvara-pranidana (devotion). Svadhyaya invites serious yoga students to continue their study of yoga off the mat on your own time— seeking out wisdom from sources other than your direct teacher.

This is practiced by studying texts from your personal faith tradition, from the yoga tradition or any other work that inspires and deepens wisdom. It also means “self-study,” as in, literally studying the self.

Svadhyaya is any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness. It means developing the reflexive skill of refining your perpetual thoughts and habits (vritts) to live more authentically and in line with the yamas and niyamas.

Because I love love love books, I always have a list of recommendations — these books are approachable reads that will inspire your continued study and a happier, healthier life.

You are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh

Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein

Real Love by Sharon Salzberg

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

Finding Your True North Star by Martha Beck

The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman (this one is for sale at Westport Yoga KC — come in and grab one after your next yoga class!)

Also, check out my recommended svadhyaya reading list from 2014 (start with these books if you are interested in learning the roots of yoga.)

Happy reading, can’t wait to find out what you learned!

-lisa

do it with passion, or not at all: tapas.

Right after I announced that I was purchasing Westport Yoga KC one year ago, my student Ginny gave me this card. I taped it in the front of my lesson plan notebook; so I would see it every day.

Do it with passion, or not at all.

This just about covers the idea of tapas from our study of yoga philosophy. Tapas is a niyama, a personal consideration. We’ve already discussed the first two of the five niyamas: saucha (self-care) and santosha (contentment) in previous posts. Both saucha and santosha sound pleasant and gentle and a perhaps a slightly idealistic: character traits developed by spending my days lounging in daisy covered hillsides singing show-tunes with Olaf and Julie Andrews.

But tapas? Zest, zeal, curiosity, unrestrained passion and discipline? THAT, I can get behind. My eyes light up when the words “curiosity, challenge and exploration” are thrown into the game. I’m notorious for doing things with passion or not doing them at all. Go big or go home.

Like this yoga studio I decided to purchase, which was my home base for offering yoga teachings in my community and was also totally floundering financially when I stepped in. Or when I decided to compete in my first trail race and ended up running one at altitude in Salida, Colorado the day after climbing a 14er (and of course, sleeping in a van). If I’m going to do it: I’m going to do it really, really big, which lots of passion, zest, zeal and a spirit of curiosity. Tapas.

The spirit of tapas asks: What are you doing when you feel most fully alive? And then says: Go do it.

In yoga, we call it ‘living your dharma.’ Dharma doesn’t necessitate that your passion is your profession. (This can often lead to burn out; remember this story about caramel brownies?) Understanding dharma is understanding that we each have something significant to contribute to the larger macrocosm of the world; we each have the potential of living our fullness on an individual level. It’s finding the way to express our tapas, our curiosity, our unique talents and then doing it with passion.

“When you are thriving, when you are serving your highest purpose, you are, in fact serving the highest purpose of everything else.” -Rod Stryker

This month in my blog series we’ll discuss how tapas (zeal, exploration) and dharma (meaning, purpose) interrelate and how these concepts help you Follow Your Bliss.

Our jumping off point is Saturday April 7, 2018: “Follow Your Bliss” a Stay-Cation Yoga Retreat. Together we’ll delve into the ideas of dharma, tapas and personal fulfillment, learning how to use rituals, meditation and yoga to follow bliss and potential.

Registration includes: 5+ hours of yoga practice, healthy snacks, fresh-pressed juice, take-home exclusive essential oil blend for self-massage and a day of soul exploration.

Register online:Westport Yoga KC (spots are extremely limited and these retreats always sell out!)

Happy Passionate Living,

-lisa

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

cancel your cable TV.

TV Commercials are my downfall. Advertising firms should be proud– every time a commercial comes on, I am immediately sucked in: slack-jawed, eyes glued, ears tuned in to the Very Exciting! Limited Time! Opportunity to spend money!

Canceling cable TV was a game changer. A conscious choice to reduce my mental clutter by limiting TV and its addicting commercials (and wearying newscasts) helped me commit to saucha.

Saucha, as introduced in the previous two posts, means clarity and self-care. It is not a directive to condemn anything as ‘dirty’ or ‘impure.’ It is simply the practice of reducing mental and physical clutter so that your mind is clear and focused.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with TV, but omygosh who can focus after watching  neon flashing signs and political rivalry and New Cars! and all the incredible cleaning product demos that are like MAGIC?

Cancelling cable TV was one extremely effective way to reduce mental clutter and practice saucha. And, four years later, I’m happier for it.

What is yours?

Culling your Facebook feed? Turning down the radio? Deleting your Twitter app? Limiting social media to once a day? Taking a walk? Practicing yoga outside?

This article series examined 3 aspects of saucha: keeping the house tidy, making loving food choices, and reducing mental turbulence. I’d like to hear your stories: what actions are you taking to promote clarity, self-care and self-love?

What small “one-minute action” will you take to reduce mental turbulence and increase health and happiness?

Happy Cancelling,

-lisa

saucha: is eating this cinnamon roll an action of self-care?

I absolutely love cinnamon rolls. My mom’s are the best because they are covered in homemade caramel sauce and walnuts. McLain’s Bakery wins a close second and third place goes to Happy Valley Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, California. (Where I have the privilege to teach at the Awakened Heart Spiritual Development Retreat this weekend!  And I will undoubtedly eat WAY too many cinnamon rolls.)

As I introduced in my previous post, the study of the niyama saucha, invites us to continually ask the question: “Is this an action of self-care?”  

Traditionally, saucha translates as ‘cleanliness or purity.’ That may sound restrictive at first, but I believe saucha is actually about indulging in quality self-care. Saucha is meant to help us cultivate self-care by examining what we are actually putting in and on our bodies to then make conscious, loving decisions.

For example: a huge cinnamon roll slathered in decadent, tantalizing icing? Um, probably not the cleanest lunch choice. I probably won’t feel super energized and self-loving after scarfing it down. But an herbal-cinnamon hot tea and a nooner yoga class? Yes, thank you very much, I would feel very well cared-for after indulging in that choice.

I practice saucha not as a list of things I shouldn’t do (that sounds like a morality issue and makes my inner rebel want to rebel) but as a list of things I CAN DO to show my body, mind and Spirit greater tenderness and self-care. I CAN decide to avoid dairy to keep my skin glowing and my allergies under control. I CAN decide to use only paraben-free and fragrance-free products to keep my hormones balanced. I CAN decide to eat a kale salad to keep my energy up. I CAN decide to keep my office, my yoga studio and my yoga mat clean to keep me feeling healthy, energized and focused.

Again, I choose these actions not because they are inherently ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts,’ but because they invite me into greater self-care and tenderness.

As you move throughout your day, challenge yourself to pause, take a breath and ask: “Is this an action of self-care?” then proceed with tenderness.

Happy Self-Care Day,

-lisa

“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