the contents of my Soul: santosha

When I picture my Soul, I often picture it as a treasure box. As I move through my life, I collect trinkets to store in this treasure box for safe keeping. I’ve collected experiences of mountain-top serenity, phenomenal sunsets over the ocean, memories of juicy summer-ripe fruit shared with my grandmas, hilariously weird and awkward moments with my girlfriends, minutes of complete and utter bliss in meditation. I’ve also collected outbursts of anger, unjustified frustration directed toward the wrong (mostly innocent) person, days and days and days worth of worrying over future life and career choices.

Yoga philosophy tells me that every word, thought, action or impression I come in contact with is stored in my citta, which is the fancy Sanskrit name for ‘heart-mind-Soul consciousness’. (You can read more about it in this post.) I’m continually accumulating experiences to keep in my Soul treasure box, so what I want to know is: can I find contentment within the contents of my Soul?

Santosha, the personal practice of contentment, has to do with who I am, not what I have. (Remember how I need to stop buying jackets?)

This means I choose what I want the contents of my Soul to be. And you know what?

When I look inside my Soul Treasure Box, I want the contents to be bright and shiny and pure and free and full of love and light. I don’t want to carry around resentment toward the awful landlord who screamed his fool head off at me. Or unresolved grief over the loss of a dear friend. Or self-judgment over a job-half-well-done. These feelings are part of me being me (a human!) but they aren’t what I want to see when I open the contents of my Soul to examine them.

When learning santosha, reflect on these questions:

  • Do I feel contentment with the contents of my Soul?
  • What have I collected in my heart that makes me feel discontented?
  • What can I toss out in order to feel more contentment and fulfillment?

Happy Collecting,

-lisa

not needing more: santosha.

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“Contentment is the fragrance of present moment awareness. Contentment reflects a state of being in which your peace is independent of situations and circumstances happening around you.” – Deepak Chopra


I have 5 rain coats, approximately 63 sweatshirts, 3 puffy vests and a thousand reasons to stop buying more clothes. And still, I open my closet
and think: “I need a new jacket.”

What is it about being a human that makes us think, “I need more”?

Is it that we are truly lacking? Or just that contentment with what we have right in front of us is dulled in comparison to our feverish desire for more?

It’s not easy to feel contentment: it’s easier to believe that happiness will magically descend upon my life when I’m wildly successful/ can do a handstand perfectly/ lose the last five winter pounds/ have a new jacket/ the sun is shining every day/ yoga classes are filled to the brim.

I do it constantly, this ‘wanting more’ business. I want more students, more money, more hobbies, more free time, more Girl Scout Cookies, more puppies, more flowers for my front porch, more friends, more tattoos, more sunny days, more Instagram likes.

And yet, the wisdom of yoga tells me that I will still not feel content even if I have all these things. Ridiculously, I’ll still want more.
The practice and philosophy of Yoga teaches me that true contentment, called santosha, is independent of external factors and must derive its potency from my internal state.  Not what I have, but what I am. 

Contentment is inaccessible if I am living in the future, hoping for life to be perfect one day when I have more of everything I don’t really need.

Santosha requires me to examine all the reasons and all the ways I look for fulfillment, validation, praise and worth outside of myself. And instead, look for contentment in the exact present moment, with exactly what I have and exactly who I am.

One thing that helps me find contentment is to meditate on the gift of the Present Moment with this Guided Meditation:

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

What does contentment (santosha) mean to you? How do you find it in the present moment? I’m looking forward to your answers,

-lisa

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

saucha: the one-minute rule of tidiness

I truly cannot work if my bed is not made. It the first thing I do when I come home from teaching and prepare to sit down at my computer. My ‘office’ is in my bedroom, which is great for Russell Clive because he can snuggle on my pillow and watch me type from across the room. But it’s also not great, because if my bed isn’t made, my work space feels messy, untidy and overwhelming.

I recently read Gretchen Rubin’The Happiness Project; I highly recommend it. In her experiment to generate more happiness in her life, Rubin adopted the “one-minute rule.” Which means: if it takes one minute or less to do it– do it now. File the paper, put the plate in the dishwasher, make the bed, wipe up the salt your snow boots tracked in. She found that this “one-minute rule” significantly decreased clutter, increased her sense of ease and helped her focus when it was time to work. I adopted this “one-minute rule” in January and found that it truly helped me appreciate and practice saucha (cleanliness and self-care), which is the first niyama (personal consideration) of the Yoga Philosophy.

I also adopted her “ten-minute tidy rule” (that’s the cutest name for cleaning ever invented). I often experience a moment of anxiety when I come home and my house is cluttered– instead of actually working during the workday, I feel like I’m just walking around my house putting things away. The “ten-minute tidy rule” means I take ten minutes to put the house to bed before I go to bed myself. I’m not up at midnight deep cleaning, I’m just turning off Netflix ten minutes earlier each night to tidy up my living space and practice saucha as a way of caring for myself and my belongings with greater tenderness.

Saucha asks us to look at all our little “one-minute” actions throughout the day and ask: is this an action of self-care? Does it contribute to my health and happiness?

Cleanliness is a perfect entry point to this: do you feel happier and healthier when your home is dirty and cluttered? Or do you feel happier and healthier when your home is tidy, clean and fresh? What contributes to a greater sense of ease?

This month as we study saucha, ask yourself: “How can I make this one-minute action an action of self-care?” And whatever you are doing in that one minute– showering, trimming your fingernails, cleaning the oven, organizing papers, wiping snow and sleet off dogpaws, eating a snack or rolling up your yoga mat– do it with greater tenderness and self-care.

Happy One Minute,

-lisa

“When the body is cleansed, the mind purified and the senses controlled, joyful awareness needed to realize the inner self, also comes.” -Yoga Sutras

(i almost stole a dog): asteya.

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up and your first thought is: ‘I didn’t get enough sleep‘? And this snowballs into, ‘And I don’t have enough time today and I don’t have enough energy today and there’s SURE not enough sunshine today.’

When I have these days (usually it’s actually freezing and cloudy and the only things that can cheer me up are dance videos and Vitamin D) my ‘enough-ness’ is already deteriorating before I even take off my pajamas. In Yoga Philosophy, we recognize these automatic and unfiltered thoughts as mind-patterns which steal our energy. Coincidentally, one of the tenants of Yoga Philosophy is “asteya.It literally means: non-stealing. 

The foundation of practicing asteya is much more nuanced than, say… not stealing things. (Although, to be honest, I did try to steal a “stray” Ozark dog over New Year’s Eve… I guess I’m still working on the basic concept of asteya, after all. He really looked like he needed a home. And he was sweet and had a scruffy beard. I didn’t trust him to stay safe and warm running around the Ozark bluffs like a fool… but he didn’t trust my leash or the promise of a nice West Plaza home.) The foundation of asteya is TRUST. Trusting that we are enough and that the Universe is always working in our highest favor.

TRUST is the opposite of the scarcity-mindset that often dominates our mental landscape. In my experience, the two best ways to combat a scarcity-mindset of “not enough” are:

  1. Affirming that there is a greater power than me.
  2. Actively practicing a sentence of gratitude.

ONE: Affirming that there is a greater power than me. The healthiest people I know practice their spirituality every single day through moments of mindfulness. For example: when I am caught up in a snowstorm of not-enough-ness, I repeat this affirmation from Gabrielle Bernstein.

“There is a power greater than me, working on my behalf. I close my eyes, take a breath and tune into this energy.” 

This instantly changes my day; it invites me to get quiet and listen to: what actually matters. 

TWO: Actively practicing a sentence of gratitude. Can’t claim this one: positive psychology researchers, vulnerability expert Brene Brown and the great Oprah Winfrey all back this up. We are grateful FIRST, then we become more present and joyful. I stop whirly-twirly-anxiety-blizzard thoughts by saying out loud:

“I don’t want to steal from this moment or from my potential for joy. Right now, I am very grateful for ________________.” 

Use these two practices throughout your day. What do you notice about your ability to GIVE to the moment, instead of STEAL from it?  What can you learn about asteya from this practice?

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

satya: self-care and self-talk.

When it comes to self-care, chugging organic juices and getting tons of physical activity is the easy part for me. What’s most challenging (and perhaps more important) is listening skillfully and responding honestly to my self-talk. More important than massages, pedicures and all the other self-care rituals I absolutely adore is the practice of satya: truthfulness, integrity and sincerity in my own internal narrative. 

(We started talking about satya, the second yama of the yoga philosophy, in the previous two posts: satya: say no to junk e-mail and so you don’t eat meat?)

Practicing satya means that I listen to my self-talk with honesty and a healthy does of skepticism. For example:

I can’t EVER seem to make it anywhere on time, it just takes me FOREVER to get out of the house and I ALWAYS feel so unorganized.” Um, False. What’s true is this: some mornings, I’m really distracted and I spend time putting away dishes instead of getting organized to leave the house.

or

“I’m ALWAYS SO TIRED and NEVER have enough energy to be a good dog mom or good boss or good wife.” Again, False. What’s true is this: some evenings I’m really tired because I’m lucky enough to have a job that is physically active and I already walked Russell Clive three miles that day.

or

I’m ALWAYS missing important texts and e-mails; the teachers who work for me probably all think I’m a slacker.”  Double False. What’s true is this: it’s good for me to have a “no-phone day” where I’m focused on being with my family and actually, no one hates working at Westport Yoga because our community is so welcoming and our yoga classes are amazing!

or

“I CAN’T afford that. There’s just no way. And I’m NEVER going to be able to.” Possibly true, but mostly false. Some things (i.e. a new Subaru Crosstrek and daily acupuncture sessions) are just way out of my budget. But purchases are always a choice; choosing how to spend resources can be empowering. Saying “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” only plants seeds of frustration in my mind (and wallet).

or the last one, which is the kicker. And something I hear ALL. THE. TIME. (Not exaggerating.)

“I am SO BUSY, so overwhelmed, and I’m ALWAYS working… I just don’t have the time to do yoga or meditate.” False. Here’s what’s true: time is something I choose how to spend. And if I want to opt out of an activity because I don’t think it’s the best use of my time, then that is honest and a practice of satya. Opting out of an activity is different than lying to myself with, “I’m so busy; I can’t,” The true story is that I have the same minutes as everyone else in the day and I get to choose how to spend those minutes.

The practice of satya requires that I practice sincerity and honesty in how I talk to myself as a way of caring for myself mentally and emotionally. It asks me to listen to my self-talk with understanding and then respond with compassion as a way of self-care (remember the first yama: ahimsa.) It’s really important!

How do you practice satya in your self-talk? What limiting self-beliefs are you listening to that just aren’t true? How can you practice a self-care by listening with both understanding and skepticism?