just stop waiting for unicorns.

“True space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.” -GM


‘Waiting’ (i.e. thinking and worrying and meditating and worrying and praying for days) is generally how I operate.

It’s how I make big decisions and small decisions. It’s how ensure that I am living a life of integrity and not a life of greed or compulsion or defensiveness or (god-forbid) absurdity. Waiting is how I make Soul Space, a place for sweetness and relief, for intuition; a place for sukha.

Soul Space is something most of us are missing in our lives.

Why? Because making Soul Space is demanding and messy and uncomfortable and requires just about as much patience as putting a buttoned-down Christmas sweater on a llama.

What I discovered about Soul Space during my very big emotional inhale the past few months, was that it required me to wrestle with suffering (duhkha) and stop waiting around for my Present Moment to be a magical unicorn-rainbow-puppy parade. Instead, I needed to start making my Present Moment as free as possible given the present circumstances (with puppies, sans unicorns, naturally).

The head/heart/Soul space (in Sanskrit ‘kha’) I lived in last spring was far from inner contentment. It was grieving and frightened and nervous and doubtful and overwhelmingly stressed. I didn’t write about it ‘real-time’ because living it ‘real-time’ was enough; but here’s what happened:

  1. I quit teaching at my home Ashtanga Studio, the place where I launched my yoga teaching career in Kansas City, learned to structure my life around the discipline of yoga and even met my husband. (Sad, but not overwhelmingly so.)
  2. I purchased Westport Yoga, the place where I transformed from a good yoga teacher into a great yoga teacher, learned how to be a leader in the industry and delighted in the invaluable mentoring of my boss Kate who taught me to lead with integrity, creativity and wisdom. (Exuberant, almost overwhelmingly so.)
  3. Two days after the deal closed, as I was still wrapping my mind around the 11-day whirlwind of legal crises, bank accounts and paperwork required to purchase Westport Yoga, my mentor, colleague and dear friend took her own life. After decades of battling bi-polar disorder and depression, Kate’s decision was not unexpected but it was still extremely, horribly shocking. (Devastating, decidedly overwhelmingly so.)

Within me clashed momentous emotions: shock, devastation, excitement, determination, grief, anger, disbelief, anguish… duhkha. Immense suffering.

I did what any sensible person would do: I shut down my Soul Space, repressed a whole lot of emotion, turned into an efficiency robot and disconnected from any hope of grace.

I did what needed to be done: I called teacher meetings, I presided over Kate’s memorial service, I taught 15+ classes a week, I held students as they cried, I wrote lesson plans, I planned professional development and wrote contracts for teachers, I organized insurance policies, I went to therapy appointments, I rain trails with Russell Clive, I drank wine and binge-watched three seasons of Scandal and I even tried to learn tax laws (remember that post?). I filled my hours until I didn’t have to bear the discomfort of my Soul Space. I told myself I was WAITING for life to get back to normal, waiting to feel free again.

And then I read this, about repression of the Soul Space:

“…the more we repress, suppress, procrastinate, or anesthetize, the more resistant we will be toward space. Conversely, the more true space we give ourselves, the less we will repress. And to the extent that we consecrate our spaciousness, intend it for love, point it toward love’s source, space will be merciful. The unpleasantness of space will never be more than we can bear.”

-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

And my Soul Space demanded to be opened back up and directed toward Love, immediately. What I needed was not more WAITING to feel the right thing or to find the right words to put down on paper about this experience, but more courage to consecrate my Soul Space toward love so that I could heal from it. I needed more Safe Soul Space, more sukha.

In the first post of this series, I introduced the Sanskrit term ‘kha:’ space or spaciousness. Yoga philosophy insists that duhkha (bad space, suffering) is a shared and unavoidable human experience, but yoga teaches us techniques to alter our reactions to suffering so that we can experience a space of relief and sweetness, sukha, even in the midst of suffering.

Meditation master Jack Kornfield writes, “The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the way we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom.”

In the mayhem and the emotional inhale of the last few months, I worked directly with the fear, grief, and anger in my very real and very temporary state of mind.

What I found was this: I only started to heal when I stopped waiting for things to be ‘back to normal’ and just acted like they were. I stopped waiting for things to be funny and just started laughing (loudly, probably obnoxiously). I stopped waiting to feel confident and secure and just started acting like I was a freaking Rock Star. I stopped waiting to feel like I could take a big, deep, FREE breath and just started making space for freedom in my body and my mind. I stopped waiting for the Present Moment to be a perfect one and just started seeing the present moment for what it actually was.

Gerald May, that blessed genius, came to my rescue again by reminding me that, “true space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.”

I just had to stop waiting for those love-filled rainbow unicorns to arrive on the scene and just go ahead and consecrate the Present Moment toward love, hope and freedom all on my own. That’s a Soul Space worth not waiting for.

Are you feeling the same way?

Here are 3 Guided Practices to help you encounter and maintain Soul Space today:

Equal Duration Breathing

Body Scan Relaxation

Extended Exhale Breathing


Pranayama Guided Teachings

$4.00

i appreciate you scooting over.

I haven’t been able to write much lately, not because I haven’t made time, but because I haven’t made space.

Like the genius warrior/writer Glennon Doyle Melton, reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. I’ve been inhaling everything I can get my hands on for the past two months: self-help books, leadership books, spirituality books, yoga books, chick-lit-Savannah-wedding books, don’t-send-your-business- down-the-drain books. I’ve been inhaling so long and so deeply, I haven’t taken one exhale in months. Do you know how awesome it feels to be so full of breath that your eyes are popping out of your head and your lungs are Blimping it to anywhere but here? There is no space. There is absolutely no grace or conscious awareness or invitation for emotional healing when I hold my breath for two months straight. And definitely no space for writing about it.

In Sanskrit, the idea of space is defined by one little syllable: “kha.”

In the Yoga Sutras, we learn early on that the whole idea of yoga is to teach humans to mindfully breathe their way from duhkha, suffering, (literally: Bad Space) toward sukhaSafe Space.

In yoga practice, we discover sukha almost immediately. We learn that we find sukha through releasing physical pain, tension and fatigue with yoga poses that stretch and open our bodies. We learn that we feel a sense of sweet serenity when we finally trust our yoga mat enough to hold us safely in final relaxation pose, savasana.

And we also learn about Bad Space, suffering (duhkha), very early on in our yoga practice. We learn that pushing ourselves into a pose is a very, very bad idea because we wind up so sore we can only waddle the next day. We learn that holding the breath beyond the natural inhale and the natural exhale brings us face to face with our aversions, our desires, our addictions, our cravings. We learn that the mind will trick us into duhkha with its infinite configurations of distractions and illusions and lies, yelling things like: ‘You have no business being here! Get out now while you still can—before all the perfectly-clothed-bendy-peppy people in this room figure out you’re a big giant faker!

Being in a Safe Space versus a Bad Space is a big deal. It feels like the difference between being a weirdo robot about go berserk and being a real-life functioning person. It feels like the difference between crouching in a dank dark hole and cart-wheeling through a brilliantly sun-drenched glade. It feels like the difference between filling myself with more and more and more and more, still unable fill the void of yearning in my heart, no matter how much I fill it with, and being a person who can sit with herself in silence and actually enjoy it. It feels like the difference between living through the days and actually LIVING LIFE.

And here’s the thing: practicing yoga doesn’t prevent suffering in life—it doesn’t, actually, (even though I really want it to) prevent really crappy things from happening. Practicing yoga doesn’t earn me a free pass from turmoil; it just teaches me how to lead my thoughts away from a continuous loop of turmoil and get my head into a Safe Space where I can find sukha, relief, sweetness.

Over the next few posts I want to explore the concept of kha; what it looks like and feels like to find spaciousness in our lives.

I’m finally ready to explore exactly what kind of kha I’ve been hiding in the past few months as I’ve transitioned from yoga teacher to business owner, left my Ashtanga Yoga home and shepherded a community of grieving students through the loss of our former owner and the change in leadership at Westport Yoga.

I’m finally ready to exhale my way into the spaciousness of sweet, forgiving, Soulful living… and since writing is my exhale, I suppose I’m inviting you along for the ride. I appreciate you scooting over and making space for my Blimp-sized emotional exhale.

-lisa

 

the most important yoga pose.

sitting

An organizer and lesson-planner at heart, I try to be 110% prepared for each class I teach. My notes are illegible to anyone else– lots of arrows and stick figures and Sanskrit abbreviations– the usual. But lately, well… my lesson planning book has been 110% BLANK.

It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about yoga all the time: I immersed myself for 5 days by studying with my Ashtanga yoga teacher in Philadelphia and you know, that whole owning a yoga studio thing. But somehow last week, I found myself showing up at Westport Yoga KC with a blank lesson book.

My mental chatter went something like this:

Me: Uhhmm… lisa? What the heck are you teaching today? You don’t have a detailed lesson plan?!? What have you been doing all day?

Me: Yeah, I know… don’t rub it in. I’ve been working all day.

Me: Great… but …still?? What are you going to teach today?

Me: Calm down, lady. I know Yoga. I know breath. I know meditation. I know how to connect with Divine Light. That’s what I’m going to teach.

Because what I did I need to remember? YOGA is a mental skill. Yoga isn’t cool arm balances and super-detailed sequences leading to a brilliant peak pose.

The poses are just some ways to PRACTICE my yoga, so that when I show up for life, sometimes unprepared, I still respond with compassion toward myself and toward others.

I’ve found repeatedly, that the most important yoga pose, of all time, is sitting and getting prepared to approach the chaos within myself with a sense of grace and compassion.

It’s difficult. It requires so much vulnerability. It requires so much forgiveness. It requires so much tenacity and so much courage. But, I promise you: it’s so worth it. Because you’ll learn to approach the chaos within and the chaos without with grace and gentle curiosity.

Try these Guided Meditations


Be Still and Know:

Contentment Meditation:

Breathing in, Breathing Out:

Body Scan Relaxation:

More can be found on my guided meditation page.


Guided Meditation Teachings

Love these Resources? Consider partnering with Lisa to continue providing valuable teachings that promote hope, health and happiness here:

$4.00

 

yoga for pain relief. 


Calling all allergy sufferers! (Excuse my stuffy nose-nerd-voice.) Yes, you! This yoga magic in the picture above is seriously the best remedy in the world for the headaches, stiff necks and swollen glands rampant in the oh-so-fragrant springtime.

I’ll be teaching this, along with a dozen other magical yoga tricks for healing your painful aches, this upcoming Saturday, April 29, 2017 in my Yoga for Pain Relief” Workshop. The workshop is held at Westport Yoga KC and runs from 2-4 pm. You can find details and registration links on our brand-spanking-new website: www.westportyogakansascity.com 

Yoga is a system of thought (science) and worldview (cosmology) which originated in the Indus River Valley about 5,000 years ago and evolved to include:

  • A medicine component: called Ayurveda
  • A movement component: called Asana
  • A breathing component: called Pranayama

All 3 of these components of yoga can contribute to a healthy mind and body. Yoga is primarily a way worldview that orients oneself in the universe to be free from suffering (or self-inflicted frustration.) In this workshop, we will learn how to use the therapeutic poses in the yoga system to relieve pain in the places we most commonly experience chronic pain: neck, shoulders, back, hips and heart. Stress manifests in our bodies as discomfort; learning techniques to relieve pain and discomfort opens a world of healing.  I’d love to share with you the ways to relieve pain and suffering in the mind and in the body– the workshop is filling up quickly, so please register soon! (Open registration is $35 (WY Members are $25).

See you soon,

-lisa

 

how to balance your mind in an unbalanced world.

Springtime. I come out of hibernation and act like a maniac. I want to take all sorts of yoga classes all over town, attend all sorts of events, run all sorts of trails with Russell Clive, plant all sorts of herbs and be ridiculously active until the sun goes down. I think, “I have so much energy now that the sun is shining! I am invincible!”

And then the next day, I need a 2 hour nap and am wearing pajamas by 3 pm.

My reality slackens its grip on the wisdom of “a balanced lifestyle,” something I wholeheartedly endorse as a yoga instructor. In yoga, we call wisdom “ishvara.Ishvara is the collective consciousness that we all have access to if we are quiet enough to listen. However, if we are unbalanced– if our energies and attentions swinging wildly between frenetic activity and forced hibernation, then we are not listening to this wisdom.

Ishvara is a wisdom tradition and also a teacher. Ishvara teaches us to humility by reminding us that there is a wisdom bigger than our individual ego. Each of us has direct access to these teachings through yoga and through meditation.

Isvara doesn’t demand or cajole or plead, it teaches and leads our life back into balance when we are at the end of our tether.

My go-to fix for finding balance in an unbalanced world is a pranayama technique designed specifically to restore balance to the mind and increase focus.  

Nadi Shodana: Alternate Nostril Breathing

  1. Use your right hand. Make a ‘mudra’ of first two fingers extended, other fingers lightly folded in to the palm.
  2. Rest the first two fingers lightly between the eyebrows. The knuckle of the thumb rests lightly on the right-side bridge of nose and the knuckle of the ring finger rests lightly on the left-side bridge of nose.
  3. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  4. On an inhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and inhale through the left side of the nose.
  5. On an exhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and exhale through the left side of the nose.
  6. Continue alternating the breath in the nostrils for 10 rounds.
  7. To finish, rest your hands lightly in your lap. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  8. Quietly affirm to yourself: “I maintain focus and balance.”

Emerge from this practice feeling focused and balanced. Use it as often as needed throughout the day. It’s perfect before an important meeting, after lunch break or anytime your mind slides towards imbalance.

Happy Balancing,

-lisa

(editor’s note: a version of this story was published April 10, 2017 on mayayoga.com. used with permission.)

quick fix: stress free in 60 seconds.

quick fix: stress free in 60 seconds.

You know those days that Nascar past you and leave you on the side of a dusty track feeling confused, jittery and not altogether sound of mind? The well-intentioned words “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll do that right after _____” are lost in the clamor of the day and ‘present moment’ or ‘mindfulness’ seem like ridiculous concepts that only used to matter to you. I definitely have those days. Usually involving surprises like, oh, a circuit breaker blew and the electricity is out, or oh, your colleague is in the hospital and needs all her classes covered or oh, Armageddon is on its way.

These are the days where finding time to meditate seems absolutely impossible because, well, frankly, you aren’t sure when you’ll find the time to even go to the bathroom.

On these days, I use a powerful ‘quick fix’ meditation technique that re-sets my brain as quickly as fixing a blown fuse. It is based on a Kundalini Yoga technique of combining a mantra (repetition of a word or phrase), a mudra (hand position) and breathing in rhythm.

When I’m caught in the whirlwind of activity on a break-neck speed day, I only need about 60 seconds to feel its benefits.


 

“I am peace and calm” 

How to do it:

Touch the first finger to the thumb: “I”

Touch the second finger to the thumb: “am”

Touch the third finger to the thumb: “peace”

Touch the fourth finger to the thumb: “and calm.”

Close your eyes, repeat rhythmically and breathe deeply for 60 minutes.

File_003

“I am peace and calm.” 

Why to do it:

Physiologically, the fine motor movement is a tactile reminder your brain to re-set its cascade of stress hormones and pay attention to the present moment.

Intellectually, the usage of present tense language of the mantra is a reminder you have the capacity to selectively create your awareness.

Energetically, the connection of the finger tips to the thumb creates a circuit that acts as a conduit for the Spirit to feel connected.


Try it here: “I am Peace and Calm”

You may not have 20 minutes for a full meditation practice, but you probably you have 60 seconds.

Happy Stressing Less,

-lisa


Guided Meditation Teachings

Love these Resources? Consider partnering with Lisa to continue providing valuable teachings that promote hope, health and happiness here:

$4.00


 


 

you are made of gold.

arkanas-reflect

A real wood-burning, smoke-producing, utterly-charming fire holds me captive for hours. I’m the kind of person who sits too close the fire: my frontside burning, my backside frigid against the chill of the air, but too intoxicated by the heat to move away.  On New Year’s Day sequestered in an Arkansas cabin with my Ironman, I watched solid logs gathered the day before from the rugged hillside turn into powder behind the fireplace grate. In a matter of hours, they transformed completely from substance to ashes. It was beautiful.

January 1, or 2, or 31 is really just another day to the calendar. But we treat every January with unwarranted importance as the one and only time we reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. This act of reflection on the recent past and looking forward to the near future is, in my eyes, of utmost importance. But it should not be confined to January (even though it’s the perfect way to spend the hours hiding from winter’s unrelenting peril). Instead, transformation, or parinama in Sanskrit, can and should happen every day.

The Yoga Sutras tell us that we are all made of same underlying energy, an indivisible and invisible but powerful energy. A person’s heart is like gold: it can change, re-configure as a new shape, appear in a different form, but its essence remains the same. It endures fire and heat, but it is still gold. Parinama is a process of moving into the fire, confronting the heat of loss, fear, confusion, pain, humility, anger, and injury but retaining your essence of pure, unaltered light. It’s the process of taking a new shape but remaining gold.

According to Social Media, everyone and their mom thought 2016 totally sucked. I thought it was fantastically wild ride—very high highs and very low lows—which sent me headfirst into the heat of transformation (you can read my 2016 round up here.) I definitely got burned a few times.  And I probably did some burning (that smoke detector in my new house works well, I assure you), but isn’t a wild and slightly uncomfortable ride totally worth taking, if at the end you step off a new and transformed person?

Parinama: true inner transformation of thoughts, words, actions and habits takes time.  And trust. And a willingness to get burned. Transformation, on and off the yoga mat, begins with discomfort but ends with a stronger sense of respect for both yourself and the life you are leading.

arkansas-cabin

The Yoga Sutras tell us that every time we set foot on the yoga mat or have a seat on our meditation cushion is an opportunity for reflection and transformation. Everything in nature changes from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. Today, and every day of this year, set your intention to refine yourself. Take a moment to sit by a fire—you may already be sitting in one if you are reeling from stress, anger, hurt, or fear—and remember that everything is always changing and true reflection will move you forward into true healing. Set your intention to be open to change but remain gold. 

Happy Burning,

-lisa

 

may the force be with you. #MeditationThoughtMondays

not our thoughts, viveka

I was all snuggled up on the couch, ready to brave the stormy night with Star Wars. The iconic yellow text retreated into the star field and I felt completely safe from Dark Forces; without warning the thunderstorm seethed and the sound of hail bashing our house drowned out the opening refrain.

“Oh DEAR GOD my plants! I’m going to LOSE EVERYTHING! Forget about finding Luke Skywalker and restoring the Balance of the Force. I have to do something!

My garden wasn’t in a galaxy, far, far away, it was just down the road being pummeled with frozen marbles. I temporarily lost my mind; my adrenaline revved up to run to the rescue. I imagined myself darting out to the car, driving four blocks in a flash flood, sprinting to my garden plot… and then… what?

What could I possibly do to protect my baby spinach and my unborn beets?

Nothing, I realized.

No rescue plan would be successful. If the storm was going to flood my seeds and pulverize my kale then it was going to do it whether I was on my couch or whether I was fighting my way through mud, losing my mind trying to stop it. This wasn’t Star Wars and it wasn’t a real disaster. This was just a Midwest thunderstorm.


Sometimes during meditation, the mind does this ‘overreacting’ bit like it’s trying to win an Academy Award. The mind identifies a small problem, turns it into a disaster and then creates an elaborate rescue plan. It’s exhausting. 

The script:

Thought: I’m feeling sad today.

Erroneous catastrophe: If I’m feeling sad right now, then I must be sad ALL the time and I must be depressed. Something is inherently wrong with me.

Rescue Plan: I need to call a doctor immediately, check on my health insurance plan for covering anti-depressants and eat a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate chips while I’m on hold.

Thought: I’m feeling tired right now.

Erroneous catastrophe:  There must be something wrong with my metabolism and I probably have cancer of the thyroid. 

Rescue Plan:  I’ll start planning my own funeral so my cousin won’t feel entitled to play a Prince cover as my eulogy.

Thought: I’m feeling annoyed at this person.

Erroneous catastrophe: This person is the bane of my existence and I’ll never be happy if I have to stay on the same project team as him.

Rescue Plan: I’ll devise a way to get this person fired so I never have to work with him again. Then, I’ll rule the world.


The tool that yoga philosophy and mindfulness meditation gives us is discernment.

This is the ability to realize that we are not our thoughts; we can have a thought without being defined by that thought.

As Sharon Salzberg writes, “Most of the time, we think we are our thoughts. We forget, or have never noticed, that there’s an aspect of our mind that’s watching these thoughts arise and pass away.”

The Sanskrit term for this ‘keen discernment’ is viveka. This is when we hone our ability to consciously discern ourselves from the rescue plan of anxiety and instead exercise clear judgement, which can help us avoid unnecessary suffering. We don’t always have to rush to the scene with a rescue plan. Very often, it is a better choice to watch the movie and story unfold.

One impressively simple and effective way to become the ‘watcher’ and engage in viveka is to use the technique of ‘naming your thoughts.’

When you are meditating, your mind will wander.

Don’t create a rescue plan. Instead, simply notice what you are thinking. Categorize it: plan, worry, remembrance, distraction, anticipation, new idea. Then watch the thought trickle away.


“Naming Your Thoughts: Developing Discernment Viveka”

  1. Find your meditation seat and set your timer for 8 minutes.
  2. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  3. Sit with only breath awareness for a few minutes, just notice your breath coming and going without changing it.
  4. Notice what thoughts are present in your awareness.
  5. When a thought arises that is noticeable enough to distract you from your breath, label it ‘thinking.’
  6. If it is more distinct, then you can label it more specifically: ‘planning, worrying, anticipating, remembering, ruminating.’
  7. Return to your easy breath awareness; remind yourself: you do not need a rescue plan.

At the end of the 8 minutes, take a few cleansing breaths and notice how to you feel.


Try it. “Thinking Meditation”

May the Force Be With You,

-lisa


Guided Meditation Teachings

Love these Resources? Consider partnering with Lisa to continue providing valuable teachings that promote hope, health and happiness here:

$4.00