PLATEAUS & PERSPECTIVES

DSC_9509-Edit_preview.jpeg

My asana practice has felt a bit stagnant lately. I feel like I've been stuck on a plateau with no clue how to get to the next level. I do a daily practice at home, but almost begrudgingly because I know that if I don't there will be unfortunate consequences.

Dealing with anxiety flare ups is among those consequences. Daily asana practice keeps me not only feeling better physically, but it keeps me mentally and emotionally balanced as well. I am less reactive, more patient and more in control of my responses in general.

These past few weeks have been a bit mad...our "dependable" vehicle bit the dust, I started 300hr Yoga teacher training (which involves me driving to 2 hours to St. Louis few times a month), I started recording a new podcast with my sister-in-law (@hathasisters if you want to check that out), and I've been focusing on transitioning our household to Spring (which means lots of cleaning, organizing, and gardening).

How is it that with so much going on I have not had one anxiety attack? I didn't even freak out when my car was smoking on the side of the road leaving me stranded off of I-70. I also didn't allow worry about how I would get to my Yoga classes in St. Louis. In the recent past, that would have been the first thing on my mind. It's pretty liberating living in the present moment. Especially when shit hits the fan. At least if you are paying attention you have a chance at dodging the poo.

We can't stop shit from hitting the fan, but we can work on how we respond when it happens. Mastering asanas is possibly the best way of going about this. Even a fairly straightforward posture like Downward Facing Dog can reveal so much about how we handle conflict. I used to get SO ANGRY in that pose, now I could stay in it for 15 minutes, no problem.

There are a lot of postures I can do now with no trouble that used to be really hard for me, but that doesn't mean I should stop reaching for new levels of body and breath control. I have been doing more pranayama and applying bandhas to improve my focus and concentration. I have also been working on strengthening my core in back bends and working on difficult inversions, like Scorpion.

This image of me doing scorpion makes me cringe a little. All I can see are my weaknesses and where I need to improve. It's hard for me to appreciate where I am because I have been stuck here for so long! This is what a plateau feels like, you think to yourself “there's no way I could go any further” and yet in this case I know in my gut that it's not true!

I realize that to some people this already looks impressive. I am definitely proud of the changes Yoga has brought about in my body. I NEVER would have guessed I'd be doing poses like this when I was in my early 20s. Now I'm 30 and I feel like my body is just getting better with age (and the wisdom that comes with it).

Of course, I have to work at it. I get on the mat daily, but I am finding that I need to spend a bit more time there in order to really find what I'm searching for. I want a new perspective on things. I want to be able to look at my problems and then flip them and turn them in my mind easily, without attachment, fear and worry.

I want to promote ease in my mind and body. This means searching for dis-ease and liberating myself from it gradually. That is what asana allows, a gradual, steady change, that not only affects your body, but your mind as well.

A New Yogi's Best Friend: The Yoga Handbook

I love books. Walk into my house and you will immediately see books everywhere you look. I have a hard time reading one book at a time. I flutter from book to book taking what I can use to improve my life.

Most of the books I read are non-fiction and centered on spiritual and personal development (shocker, I know!). There are some books I come back to again and again because the content is so useful. The Yoga Handbook by Noa Belling is one such book. 

 Model: Beginner Yogi, Natalie Burke, owner of  Natalie joseph's  salon in McLeansboro, IL

Model: Beginner Yogi, Natalie Burke, owner of Natalie joseph's salon in McLeansboro, IL

The Yoga Handbook: Great for Teachers and Students

This book was assigned in my 200 hour Yoga teacher training with West East Yoga in St. Louis. We used it in class along with a few other resources to break down each Yoga position for study and reflection. It is a great tool for teachers, but I also see it as a welcome mat companion to anyone who is developing their home practice. I often refer it to my students to help them take their learning to a deeper level. 

Grouping Postures to Learn with Efficiency

The most helpful feature of this book is the layout. It is color coded by asana families. Asana is the Sanskrit word for Yoga positions, or postures. An asana family is a grouping of postures that share a similar theme. For example, the book groups several back bending postures in the section title Back Bends. There are also seated postures, forward bends, standing poses and so on. It helps give someone who is new to Yoga a way to remember the alignment for postures not simply one-at-a-time, but as a posture family. 

Meeting Yourself Where You Are

There are also plenty of variations and safety precautions listed in this book. One of the things I worry about with new students is them taking things too fast and accidentally harming themselves. In Yoga we do things gradually and with respect for the current state of the body and mind. This book help a beginner Yogi adjust the postures to meet their needs and reminds them about proper warm-ups and proper relaxation as part of the balanced Yoga practice. 

An Ancient Practice

It also includes a brief history of Yoga which helps the new Yogi connect to the roots of the practice. Yoga has withstood the test of time and continues to help humankind better themselves. I think it is important to take a moment to appreciate the influence Yoga has had on humanity for centuries. 

More Than Just Poses

Finally, their is a section called Yoga Principles that explains how Yoga differs from other forms of exercise. This section helps one cultivate the mindset of a Yogi and can set you up for a better experience of the asanas. 

If you are new to Yoga I hope you order yourself a copy of this book. Let me know how it works out for you! 

 

The Transformative Practice of TongLen

the four noble truths

Before I begin telling you about Tonglen, I would first like to walk you through some Buddhism 101. In my experience most Westerners don't really understand what Buddhism is really all about, so this short introduction may help some of you connect with Tonglen more deeply.

The foundation of Buddhism is a doctrine known as the Four Noble Truths. Very simply stated they are:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

Humans are not perfect beings, we make mistakes which lead to our own suffering. Much of our suffering is due to our desire to have things or to control things. For example, sexual desire leads some men to take advantage of women, which leads to suffering for both parties. Sometimes we repress sexual desire, but never really release it in a healthy way, which also leads to suffering. 

In Buddhist teachings, we can liberate ourselves from suffering by practicing non-attachment. By letting go of our desires we also let go of the suffering that comes from our attachment to having and controlling. 

We see this all the time in intimate relationships. People act is if being in a monogamous relationship means ownership of the other person. The desire to control what the other person does, who they speak to, how they dress, act, speak, etc...this kind of attachment, this desire to have the person, to make them our own is not healthy for either party. It ultimately leads to suffering. 


tonglen meditation

Tonglen meditation was introduced to me by my cousin Emily on a recent trip to her farm in Avon, IL. She mentioned it in passing and I was struck by the sound of the word. It seemed familiar to me, and yet I am sure I have never practiced or discussed it before. 

I immediately set the intention to learn more about this practice of compassionately transforming darkness into light. As I looked into it, I realized I have intuitively done meditations like this without formal training or study of this concept. I am sure many other Reiki practitioners and holistic healers have done the same, but I believe it does help us evolve our practice to learn more about ancient techniques that have withstood the test of time. 

This description from the article How to Practice Tonglen struck me as a wonderful introduction to this meditation practice, 

Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we become liberated from age- old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others

Try it for yourself

Learn how to practice Tonglen Meditation with Pema Chödrön. Pema Chödrön is a well known teacher who brings the practices of Tibetan Buddhism to Western audiences with skill and grace.


Book Review: Anger, Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorite spiritual authors. His words are soothing and simple. I can feel his kindness eminate through his writing.

His book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames has been especially important to my self-healing journey. In this book he teaches how to have compassion for yourself when dealing with the heavy emotional weight of anger. 

There is of course no quick fix for most of life’s big problems, and dealing with anger is no exception. The seeds of anger are often planted during childhood and remain hidden from our conscious view for many years. Each time we become angry those seeds are watered and the tree of anger grows within us. A tree is a much harder thing to remove than a seedling, and so it is with long-held anger, it’s  real son-of-a-bitch to get rid of!

My favorite part about this book is that in its simplicity it offers hope. Just because we have allowed the seeds of anger to grow in us does not mean we have to live out our lives as angry people. He teaches us to separate who we truly are from the anger we carry. This objective view of our emotions is helpful when it comes to altering our behaviors. We can take the same approach with the thinking mind, learning to step back and form an objective view of the happenings of the mind. Most of our human suffering stems from overidentification with the mind. 

Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we view our anger like a baby who is crying for attention. Instead belittling ourselves because of our anger, which only serves to feed the problem, he suggests a more compassionate and gentle approach. When angered we must learn to self soothe, in much the same way we soothe an infant who is having a hard time. 

The reason it is so important to address anger is obvious to anyone who has ever done something they regretted while in an angry state. Anger robs us of our higher mental functioning. When we are angry the animal part of ourselves takes control, and depending on how much we have fed our anger we may lose control completely. The things we regret doing in a state of anger can lead to shame and guilt. All these unresolved, painful emotions can build up over time and damage our self esteem and our relationships. 

If you want to understand your anger better, and learn simple techniques for howto resolve that anger then I suggest reading this beautiful book. You can order it on Amazon or check it out at your local library and start healing your pain with mindfulness and self compassion. 

 

 

Intention Setting: My Home is My Sanctuary

Intention Setting: My Home is My Sanctuary

"Every action, thought, and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intentions is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect. In this most profound way we are held responsible for our every action, thought and feeling, which is to say, four our every intention." - Gary Zukav (The Seat of the Soul)

Social Fearlessness

Human beings are social creatures. How we feel about society, and how we feel about ourselves within our community is a very, VERY important thing. This shit is hard-wired in us, so it is important that we learn our programming. 

The concept below is some personal philosophy I have been working on for a few years now. I hope you find something in these thoughts useful to your own personal growth. 

 I couldn't help but think, "oh God what will people think?" as I took off my boots...

I couldn't help but think, "oh God what will people think?" as I took off my boots...

Social Fearlessness

An old friend of mine taught me about social fearlessness. He was an exceptionally good teacher of this particular lesson because he really walked his talk most of the time. I learned to stop giving a shit what people think of me when I am in the middle of learning something new, which is a very vulnerable place to put oneself. 

Becoming fearless means learning to be vulnerable when the stakes are high. It's about being honest, having integrity and knowing what you stand for. When you are faced with a moment of social pressure to go against your own beliefs, what do you do? Do you cave immediately in order to fit in? Do you ignore your inner feelings telling you "no! stand up for yourself!" Do you pause and reflect, looking closely at your beliefs and decide carefully how to proceed? 

We first have to be mindful in order to become more fearless.

We must know what things make us comfortable, and what things put us off. Being put off is a really uncomfortable feeling. Lots of things can make us feel a bit off. Somebody looks at you in a funny way that makes you feel judged. You feel put off. You go to a Yoga class for the first time and feel unwelcome by the teacher. You feel put off. You stand in front of the mirror and a voice in your head declares "you're not good enough." You feel put off." 

When you are off, you are not your most powerful, truest self. You are...well a bit off. Drinking puts people off in a big way. It takes away our control and dulls our senses. It is not a drug of awakening or transformation. It is a downer and we must be mindful of this each time we indulge in it. 

When you are off, you are less likely to speak your truth. You withhold your own voice. You silence yourself. You shut down. You become aloof or defensive. What is holding you back from saying what is really on your mind? Why can't you find balance between what you think and what you say? Communication is like a super power. If your mouth, heart and mind are not communicating properly then your super power is being blocked. When you align these three centers of energy you can become a truer, more powerful version of yourself who appears fearless. 

 This is an example of head,  heart and mind being aligned...it was such an enjoyable moment. I did not feel "off" at all. 

This is an example of head,  heart and mind being aligned...it was such an enjoyable moment. I did not feel "off" at all. 

I don't know if we ever really stop being afraid, and maybe fear isn't totally "bad." Things will arouse fear anytime your consciousness is in a state of change. You are always going through some stage in the transformation process. Sometimes the transitions between phases in our cycles can be, well, scary. We manifest things that challenge us. To me it feels like a test from the Universe to see if I am really ready for the next stage. 

When fear arises, especially the fear of not belonging, it is important to continue practicing mindfulness.

Observing the way you feel. If you feel off you must do what you can to bring yourself back into alignment. All parts of you must be communication clearly for you to navigate these shifts as your best possible Self. 

You must find your personal power. You must connect to your true voice and let it come through without letting your fear block that growth. 

Practicing social fearlessness means bringing your best Self to the stage whenever you feel challenged or afraid. It means not getting defensive, but instead choosing to become more self reflective. I think of it as taking my power back. When I am angry at someone it is like giving them a power over me. I do not like that feeling and so I have decided not to anger, but rather to reflect and choose compassion and understanding instead of anger. 

It is a process, so be patient and kind with yourself as you navigate your abilities to consciously evolve your Self. 

I love you. Journey on.