the llama blog
practicing yoga off the mat.
Planning any trips, I always jump on TripAdvisor for tips and suggestions on restaurants and attractions. It is filled with critics who give their opinions on customer service, food, best times to visit and overall quality.
There’s also a critic that lives within us. She’s quick to tell us “Great job on folding the laundry before bedtime” or “You’re a bad person. I can’t believe what you said to your partner.” This critic’s name is the ego, and it likes drama – good and bad. It’s the inner voice that compares you to everyone else, and lets us know when we don’t measure up. Deepak Chopra defines the ego as “not who you really are. The ego is your self-image; it is your social mask; it is the role you are playing. Your social mask thrives on approval. It wants control, and it is sustained by power, because it lives in fear.” Just as all of these businesses on TripAdvisor depend on their outer impression so does your ego.
It’s hard to separate the mask from who we really are. I, myself, may identify as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a mother, a friend, a yoga teacher and so on. But really, what I am is just me. No titles. No definitions. Just me. I am.
Softening the ego’s grip, and taking the mask off is a process that can be achieved by everyone. Mindfully moving throughout your day and taking time to connect through meditation are deeper ways to bypass the ego and catch a glimpse of who you really are. Meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg teaches a Loving-Kindness meditation, which I feel is a great first step to quieting the ego. Giving love to our self helps build trust and confidence removing much of the fear the ego feeds on.
Try this meditation on your own. Sit or lie comfortably with your spine long. Hands can rest on or beside the body. Repeat the following internally:
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be filled with love.
May I be free.
On your second round, picture someone that you love dearly. Replace the “I” with their name. Continue the next round with picturing someone you have neutral feelings about or don’t know well such as a new neighbor, a barista or a teacher at your child’s school. On your last round, picture someone who you have strained relationship with. Notice how you feel in each round. What thoughts, judgements or emotions came up? Allow a moment to process these observations as many of them are tied to the ego.
My theme for 2019 was centered around the word freedom. In the beginning of the year, I made observations as to where I needed and wanted more freedom in my life. One of my complaints was I never felt I had enough time to do all of the things I wanted to do. I wanted more time to complete projects and space to enjoy them.
I started with re-evaluating what I did day-to-day and compared that list to what I wanted to do daily. Many of the tasks that appeared on my list were tasks I had to do, but had grown bored with them. Cleaning the house, helping with homework and preparing meals were draining my energy and taking up too much space in my day and my mind.
I refocused my energy on meditation. (Let’s be honest for a second. I’m like everyone, and fall off the meditation wagon for a few months at a time.) However, when I started meditating, I began to see how much I was just moving through the motions and not actually “being” in the moment. Meditation helped me see the problem, but I needed a jolt to wake me up.
In the fall, with both of my children in school, I decided to take on a few creative projects. I dedicated time to studying Spanish and began teaching yoga to preschoolers at Head Start of Washington County through Open Minds. Challenging my mind in a different way on these projects helped me enjoy those quiet moments of wiping down a countertop or reading a new book to my children. I even felt more energetic to experiment with new meals at dinnertime.
I am grateful to the tools I have within. They’ve created more freedom and enjoyment to be in this moment. I’m not sure what lies ahead in 2020 for me, but for now, I’m sitting with eyes wide open and savoring this moment.
What word or phrase will you choose for 2020? Open your yoga toolbox and use everything within to have a most wonderous year.
The present moment has many gifts to offer. It fills us with gratitude, love and compassion. It deepens our personal relationships and connects us to the places around us. It is now – not the past where we hold grudges and pain. It is now – not the future where worry and fear of what’s next lie. It is “now” that gives us the greatest pleasure in life.
Sitting in the car rider line at my children’s school, I tend to fill up that time waiting with work or studying. Today, I decided to just sit and be. The moment wasn’t profound. However, because I chose to be present, I noticed how rain drops create a unique pattern on the window and how despite the grey and gloomy day, the leaves still glowed brilliant oranges and yellows. Sitting in silence calmed my nervous system as my breath deepened. At first, my mind jumped from thought to thought like commercials on tv. After several minutes, I found space between them, and honestly, seemed to forget about some of them. This being present practice was a wakeful meditation for me.
We can practice mindfulness in any aspect of our life at any time. Here are a few to get you started during the holiday season.
PRESENCE Gift Ideas:
After an exhilarating hour of asana practice, I settle on my mat for a well-deserved savasana. I place my sweatshirt over my torso to mimic a blanket and begin taking deep breaths. Within a minute, I fall into a deep meditation. When the teacher’s voice resumes and asks us to return to the present moment, I feel revived, refreshed and refocused.
When life is going great like this asana practice, it’s easy to tap into our inner peace. We breathe deeper and choose to pause rather than immediately react. But life is not a vacation every day. Our everyday life is not as perfect as the last yoga class.
It’s in these moments that our perfect practice is put to the test. Can we stretch and grow our patience while speaking with a difficult friend or family member? Are we able to breathe and create space while sitting on I-70 in morning traffic? And can we stay focused on the task at hand even if it’s difficult? Getting out of our comfort zone and applying our breathing and mediation training in real situations turns our practice into a lifestyle.
We cannot grow and fully embody the benefits of a full yoga practice (asana, breathing and meditation) if we only practice in perfect environments like class. We can see challenges in our everyday lives as opportunities to practice what we know. Sometimes we’ll succeed, and sometimes we’ll fail. But every time we’ll learn something new about ourselves.
We are a stressed-out nation. In 2014, nearly 77% of Americans claimed to be affected physically by stress (stress.org). They reported more aches and pains, more trouble sleeping and lack of happiness.
Stress affects every cell in your body. It puts the body in a fight or flight response meaning the body sees this stress as a threat and must protect the body. This is a great response system if we were face-to-face with an emergency like providing CPR to a stranger. But, if they are constantly placing unnecessary pressure on the body, it changes the cell’s structure making it harder for the body to relax when there is no danger.
Chronic stress can begin as early childhood. Young kids feel pressure to please adults and behave to social norms. As they become teenagers, they have to manage their own emotions and changing bodies. They navigate friendships and personalities. They balance their own expectations as well as their parents’ and teachers’ expectations of them. They are transitioning from young children to mature adults.
Stress is not good for us or them. Awareness of this stress and its effects on the body is the first step in reversing this chronic disease. (Yes, I call it a disease as it has been cited as a root cause of diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and mental illness.) Starting alternative healing methods such as yoga, mindfulness and breathing at a young age gives one the tools he/she needs to handle the endless amount of stress thrown at adults.
Yoga, in its physical practice, allows a teenager (or adult) or become aware of their body and listening for warning signs its gives. It also builds strength and flexibility creating more self-confidence to trust oneself. In addition, breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation settle the mind by allowing one to focus and create space between their thoughts. These are life-saving tools our youth can take with them to be more successful and happier adults.
Here are a few tips on how to get a yoga practice started for you or your young adult.
If it drains our energy, it is causing stress. The more aware you become of yourself, the more you will notice what causes the stress and how you can better manage it.
Om Shanti. Peace to you.
If you are looking to expose your child to yoga, I welcome kids ages 10 and up in my regular classes. First class is free!
September will forever be “back to school” season for me. I always associate this time of the year when summer cools to fall as a mini New Year or even just a time to check in with myself. I love leaving behind the laziness of summer and finding a fall routine.
This summer, I heard about the book, Do Less by Kate Northrup. Kate and her husband both work from home. When they had their first child, they couldn’t take off time or didn’t have a ton of money to afford childcare services. So, they reworked their schedules so they alternated days when one would work and one would be with their child. They did the same about of work and made the same if not more money by working less hours. They were focused and had a clear vision of what they wanted out of their work and home lives.
I wanted that clear vision that naturally gets foggy after savoring long warm nights and jumping into cool pool waters. And I was ready to listen and notice the patterns in my days, weeks and months.
Kate offers 10 experiments in her book to practice and realign your focus. I especially liked the one titled “Discover What Really Matters to You.” In part one, she asks you to answer the following questions:
In part two, she asks that you make two columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, write down all the tasks that occupy your day. In column two, jot down what you consider your biggest wins to date. I found the second column harder to quantify for home life than for work. For me, some of my biggest wins were creating a peaceful home environment, enjoying a deeper relationship with my children and thriving during the day. Other ideas may include developing new friendships, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and changing a bad habit.
Once you make your lists, you then draw a line from each task that directly contributed to your win. Those are the activities or tasks you should focus on 80% of the time. In my own personal list, I noticed I spend a lot of time with technology, and not getting much in return. This month, I’m monitoring how I use my media time and if it directly helps me achieve what I want to do. When it does, I’ll continue the behavior, and when I find myself scrolling on Instagram because I’m bored, I’ll put down the phone and meditate or read.
In all, I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to refocus this fall. Do less and feel more empowered.
In a middle school dance room, twenty girls move from Downward Facing Dog into Warrior 2 while concentrating not only on stepping the right foot forward but also on their breath. They lengthen their spines in Locust pose and quietly hold a wobbly Tree Pose. After 45 minutes of moving, they lie down on their backs and follow a guided meditation about cloud thoughts.
I taught this class a year ago, but what stuck with me the most was the one young girl who approached me after class. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to feel silence. She said it was so wonderful to breathe without the background noise.
Surprisingly, when I ask new students what they want out of a yoga class, they reply relaxation. I feel what we are all seeking is a little quiet time. In our daily lives, we are so consumed with distractions and noise. From smartphones to binge watching, we keep a steady flow of entertainment and news at our fingertips. We may feel all of this communication is helping us, but perhaps, we don’t need as much as we utilize.
In an article from Market Watch, we spend more than 11 hours a day watching, reading, swiping, and listening to our devices (smartphones, computers, televisions, etc.). When I read this, I was curious how much time I was spending tuned into a device. The answer: an average of 6 hours a day.
Don’t get me wrong. Technology is wonderful and can assist on so many levels, but my meditation practice reminds me just how important silence is. Meditation brings our awareness to the present moment while binge watching “Game of Thrones” distracts us from our emotions and thoughts from the day. Sitting in silence allows us to process our day, and helps us manage our stress. It gives us a tool to better handle relationships, situations and our emotions.
If we are spending more than 11 hours a day online, try scheduling just 30 minutes of quiet time in your day. It doesn’t have to be all at the same time, and it doesn’t have to be a formal meditation practice. Turn off the electronic. Walk, sit or move while you focus on your breath. Allow your thoughts to bubble to the surface. Notice them. And then like a cloud, let them float along.
On a recent to trip to Florida to visit family and friends, I noticed how many of our conversations revolved around our health. I guess when you hit a certain age (ahem, 40) you start taking your health and your body’s warning signs more seriously. One ailment that kept coming up was poor digestion. Walk into a pharmacy and you’ll notice multiple aisles of medicines and health aids to ease stomach ailments. From antacids to constipation relief, there are a lot of choices for these issues we all seem to be experiencing.
One way to heal digestive woes is to practice Ayurveda. Ayurveda, the science of life, states that all of our ailments are linked to how our body interprets and digests emotions, thoughts and yes, food. Think about it. If you don’t have a strong digestive system to break down a delicious ice cream sundae then where does the unprocessed food go? Science has shown us that fat from the ice cream gets stored in our body, and Ayurveda would also agree that other unprocessed elements remain causing us other issues down the road.
While I am not an Ayurvedic consultant, I do practice and recommend the following Ayurvedic principles.
Making a few changes can do wonders for your belly. Try one, and let me know how it works for you.
On my path to awakening, I often wonder, “Is this working?” and “Am I doing it correctly?” I’ve read countless personal growth books and put various methods into practice keeping the ones that resonate with me. But at the end of the day, I still wonder, “Have I grown?”
Let’s take a step back and understand what is “awakening.” Awakening reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou, “when you know better, you do better.” Each time we pause and reflect, we gain knowledge. We start to understand what soothes our soul and what sets our tempers off. At times, it almost feels as though we are in a book, and we can hear the narrator calling out our inner feelings allowing us to process before we respond. “Jennifer’s heart filled with sadness to hear her friend’s unkind words. She wanted to yell back, but she paused. She took a breath realizing her friend too was sad, and didn’t know how to handle her pain.”
Life gives us opportunities to gauge our personal growth. These occasions may come in the form of a difficult conversation with a family member or friend. They may show up as heartache and loss. They may present themselves as social drama. With each of these challenges, we get a glimpse to see how much we’ve grown by how we respond to the situation.
On a recent trip to New York City with the family, I had a moment of evaluation. It had been a long day of walking, shopping and taking in a Broadway show (go see Frozen, it’s wonderful!). My husband left to meet a friend while I took the little ones back to the hotel. They were still full of energy from the day and it took all the patience I had to get them bathed and dressed for bed. Normally, I wouldn’t allow my children to take in late night television, but I needed a moment to process my own needs. It was then I could hear the narrator speaking, “Jennifer was also tired from a long day of exploring. She, like her children, had become overwhelmed with all the noises and distractions they saw and heard all day. What she really needed was silence.” With the tv on low, I was able to find a quiet spot in the hotel room to sit and rejuvenate.
In that moment, I knew I had grown. The easy way would have been to yell and break down, but not really solving the problem. Take a moment to tap into your narrator’s thoughts during your next opportunity. How far have you journeyed? How much have you grown?
Right now, I’m sitting on my screened in porch. I’m listening to the sweet sound of windchimes each time the wind blows. My eyes feast on lush green grass and peony stalks stretching out of the ground. In the distance, a field of winter wheat rolls like sea waves in the breeze. I am sitting, grounded in this awareness around me.
A moment like this doesn’t happen all day long for me. Many times, I am rushing to an appointment or tuning out a child’s tantrum. Other times, I may choose an alternate route to my destination and see a wonderous tree just bursting open with pink blooms. Life is sometimes slow and sometimes it’s go-go-go.
Author, Rob Bell, states that being in the moment can make you “grow younger.” I agree. In those slow moments, I notice I feel more playful, more energized, more youthful. It’s like experiencing the world for the first time. Author and meditation teacher, Deepak Chopra, adds that growing younger is achieved by “minimalizing toxic and unbalancing influences on our bodies, mind and emotions.” He states that most people who feel young and vibrant in their everyday lives have these traits in common:
Youth has not been lost with the first sign of a wrinkle. It really is a state of mind, and feeling youthful, joyful and wise is all within us. The more you practice growing younger, the more you will enjoy your life.