Tuesday, October 6, 2015

3 Lies Your Yoga Teacher Tells You

yoga class on the beach

Are you ready for a truth bomb?

In yoga, we have these things called the yamas and niyamas that are meant to guide our lives. It's good stuff, things you'd do (or not do) if you want to be a good person anyway, you know? Don't harm others, don't steal, have discipline, take time for self-reflection, tell the truth...

As basic as they may seem, we all struggle with one or another. And yoga teachers? Well, we don't always tell the truth, especially when we're trying to get you to pay attention to something, to buy something, or click on something.

The following list is really just a bunch of white lies we tell you because it's our job to motivate you to keep practicing. We don't want you to get discouraged. We want you to COME BACK to your classes. However good intentions, a lie is a lie (besides, you're smart people and you probably know the truth anyway) so let's set the record straight.

Lie #1. "There's no prize when you can _ press up to Handstand/backbend so deeply the back of your head touches the bottoms of your feet/ put your leg behind your head__." There are many prizes or we wouldn't spend so much time trying to accomplish these feats, now would we? The most meaningful prize is the satisfaction of knowing you're growing and progressing. Then there's the confidence you might feel when you've made that progress (sometimes you'll also get an inflated ego—there's a fine line). And now that people are all social-media crazed, there's also the many followers who you can attract to your accounts and, if you're really savvy, free products, endorsement deals, and book and DVD deals, and more. Will it help you reach enlightenment? No. Will it make you healthier, more Zen, a better person? Nope. But is there a prize? Yes. There is a prize.

Lie #2. "These 10 poses will magically make you __sleep like a baby/melt your stresses/fix your back pain/lower your blood pressure/change your life__." This is a headline I see on yoga blogs ALLLL the time (and I know I'm guilty of it, too!) because people click on them like crazy. Of course! We all want to be able to fix all sorts of problems we've accumulated in our bodies and our lives through years of bad habits, bad alignment, inattention, etc. And a cocktail of 10 poses might make a difference if you practice them religiously every day for, say, at least 3 months or so. But one time (which is the implication of the headline, isn't it?)? Sorry, Loves. Yoga is not a magic pill. And it sure as hell isn't a short cut. It takes time, and usually lots of it, to see results.

Lie #3. Everything is yoga. It's a sweet idea, isn't it? That you don't have to get on your mat each day to be practicing yoga because yoga isn't just poses, after all, it's a way of life. So, you can be mindful throughout your day and it's just as good as a two-hour asana practice. This is a lie I've told my students, and it's a lie I've told myself to justify NOT PRACTICING. And you know what? While it's absolutely beneficial to "practice yoga off the mat" it is NOT THE SAME. It just isn't. Because I run around like a crazy person trying to check things off my to-do list all day every day, I need to work off my crazy energy in order to calm my mind. I need to prepare my body to take a quiet seat—whether that's on my meditation cushion or just on my couch at the end of the day. You have to DO THE WORK. There's no way around it. Get. On. Your. Mat.

You know I'm right.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How to Help Others During Disasters: Loving-Kindness Meditation

Unless you haven't been paying much attention to the news lately (no judgments, here), you've probably heard that most of my beloved adopted hometown, Charleston, SC, is pretty much under water right now. We've had so much rain dumped on us that it's been scary—streets look like rivers and in some places are collapsing, people are being evacuated from their homes, destruction and loss everywhere. 

Meanwhile, I'm safe and cozy in my house with my family and pets. Somehow, thankfully, our neighborhood, which is in a suburb outside of Charleston, is soggy but there's not much standing water. It's still raining. I've been inside for three days straight, but I am incredibly thankful for our good luck when there's so much destruction just miles away from where I sit typing right now. (And, I think other parts of our state are going to be hit just as badly, if not worse.)

We've had a rough few months here in the Lowcountry. First, there was the tragic shooting of 9 innocent churchgoers at the Charleston Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church back in June. Now, this. Two very different tragedies, to be sure, but both making a very big impact on the community here.

In my life, I've seen other big, unthinkable catastrophes strike from afar. I've always felt sad for the people affected, but it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the magnitude of these events because they seemed far away. This is different, of course, and yet somehow I still feel removed. Authorities are asking people in safe, dry homes to stay off the roads, so I'm seeing the worst of it through my social media feed. I know it's bad out there. I know there are people losing everything. But I haven't seen it first hand yet.

I feel paralyzed. I want to help the community heal from both tragedies, but I don't know how yet. 

I have friends and colleagues who have taken up the issue to rally for gun control in the months since the shooting. I have neighbors who have had to drive through the flood waters to get to their jobs at local hospitals. There are police officers and fire fighters who live just up the road who are putting their lives on the line to help people who were stranded in their cars and homes. There's a church on the other side of town has taken in evacuees and has asked people in the community to pitch in to help serve meals. I want to volunteer, but I'm not sure if the roads between here and there are safe, and I have my 3-year-old. So I'm just waiting it out. I'll have to find my own way of contributing that makes sense for me, my circumstances, and the issues I care most about (How does one choose a cause?) ...

In the meantime, all I know to do to is this:

I've been practicing metta (or loving-kindness) meditation twice a day, sending as much love, compassion, peace, and blessings as I can toward others in the hopes that it will make a small difference (even if that difference only starts within me). Whether you're here in Charleston or across the world, I invite you to do the same. 

Photo by Leo Hidalgo

Here's how:

Take a comfortable seat and feel your breath move in and out. Bring your attention to your heart center and feel the breath move there. Then, begin the practice of metta toward yourself, sending love, peace, and goodness toward yourself because you must first love yourself before you can love others.

Take a moment to repeat to yourself something to the effect of: May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be at peace. May I be free. 

Move on to those who are closest to you. Your loved ones, your family, your best friends. Repeat the same blessings toward them, feeling them coming from your heart directly to theirs. 

May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be at peace. May you be free.

You'll continue the meditation in this manner, broadening the scope slowly. Include your acquaintances, strangers, your enemies, all people everywhere, and finally all sentient beings. 


5 Common Meditation Mistakes

I've been a yo-yo meditator for a very long time. I go through phases when I'm really consistent, followed by long stretches when I don't meditate at all (other than the mindfulness I practice on my yoga mat, during a run, as I'm rocking my daughter to sleep, etc.) That brings me to the most common mistake I've made as an aspiring meditator.

1. Believing that meditation has to look a certain way. In an video a while back, yoga rebel Tara Stiles said, "You don't have to sit up like a Buddha statue to meditate." (Check out her 4 biggest meditation myths here.) This is something I try to remember during the phases when my meditation cushion isn't getting much use. I can meditate as I move through Sun Salutations, take a shower, or even drive my little one to her ballet class. It might not be the same as those times when I sit for 20 minutes, completely focused, but it COUNTS because I'm in the present moment, slowing down, paying attention, just the same.

2. Beating yourself up when it doesn't go how you hoped. Think back to why you want to meditate in the first place. Chances are, you want to find a little more peace in your life—maybe you want to be more compassionate, increase your focus and productivity, and improve your health, too. Do you think getting upset with yourself over a wandering mind or a missed session or two is going to help? Of course not! If you miss a session or have a particularly rocky one (we ALL have times when it's hard to turn off the monkey mind!), use it as a way to practice compassion toward yourself. Be gentle. Accept it as a part of the journey. Try again tomorrow.

3. Expecting it to be easy. Meditation is sitting still and paying attention to your breath. How hard can it really be? Ummm.. Crazy hard! But it's SO worth it. Here's the deal: Meditating is deceptively simple. And that is what makes it such a challenge. It seems like it should be a piece of cake, so when it isn't a lot of people get frustrated and give up. Lose the expectations of what it's supposed to be like and try to go with the flow and accept what it—that's a practice in itself!

4. Going it alone. I'm a DIY kind of gal. While there are definitely some positives to that attitude, it also means I do a lot of things in isolation. I depend on Google and YouTube tutorials to help me figure out new things instead of signing up for a class. That works out when I want to learn how to sew a seam, but when it comes to mindfulness practices, it's really nice to have a group of people who I can call on to compare notes. Do your hands ever feel huge when you meditate? Do you ever get disoriented and feel like you're facing a different way? How do you manage to fit it into your busy schedule? Google doesn't have all the answers. Your friends might not either, but it definitely helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of and laugh with when you're feeling stuck.

5. Sticking to one meditation method. For the longest time, the only way I knew to meditate was to sit quietly and follow my breath... Breathe in. Breathe out. But there were times when it was a REAL struggle to sit still. That's when I started researching mantras (I have a LONG list of different ones I use different days. I will share those in another blog post). I bought some beautiful mala beads. I tried meditating with music. I found some amazing guided meditations online (I'll share these in a different post, as well.) Now, when I sit to meditate if one thing doesn't work after a few minutes, I switch gears. It has helped me SO much!

Right now I'm obsessed with mindfulness. I am meditating twice a day, making it a top priority over everything else, and I'm reaping the benefits. Obviously, I'm super inspired right now, but I know from experience that it will get harder for me soon enough—it always does.

So, I'd love to hear from other meditators our there—what are some of the biggest booboos you've made in establishing a meditation practice? How have you overcome them?

Things Moms Think about While They Meditate
Monday Mantras
Quality vs. Quantity

Friday, October 2, 2015

Remembering the Newborn Days

I have dried milk on my shirt, a poop stain on my yoga pants, bags under my eyes, and a big grin on my face. That’s because about a month ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and entered a new phase in my life all in one amazing, surreal moment (OK, the labor part lasted a little longer than a moment, but you get the picture). In that “moment” everything changed.

First of all, I became a mom. Aside from being completely awed that the universe decided I was ready for such a giant blessing (and giant responsibility), I’m pretty stoked that my new title makes me seem a little less like a crazy dog lady and gives me clearance to say thing like “because I said so”—both topics for another blog post.

Yes, there are many new and exciting things that come with being a mother for the first time. One of the most profound is that after years of writing about how important it is to make self-care a priority no matter what, I finally understand why so many mothers stop doing even the smallest things for themselves. Showering and putting on clean clothes everyday seem like daunting tasks for me right now—much less make time for little luxuries such as date nights with my husband, outings with friends, and yes, yoga classes. And suddenly, even though I know it sounds a little crazy, it doesn’t matter if I look like I haven’t washed my hair in weeks or bothered to launder my own poop-stained clothes, as long as my little one is a healthy, adorable vision in pink ruffles. Just days before I went into labor I recall telling my husband I didn’t want to neglect myself, and yet here I am.

When I once obsessively refreshed my email to check for new messages, now I obsessively inspect my amazing little girl just to make sure she’s breathing, warm (but not too warm), and safe at all times. I don’t want to take my eyes off of her … What if she does something cute and I miss it? Or worse, what if she cries and I’m not there to scoop her up and comfort her?

But just as I know my yoga poses will change and shift as I get older and my body changes, I realize that things will change and shift as I enter new life phases. I’m new to this whole mommy job, and it makes sense that I would be a little over protective about this little being that I grew from scratch in my own body (can you believe that?!). As with anything, balance is key. And while this new responsibility is sure to take up lots of time and energy, I know that eventually I’ll have to find a way to squeeze in more of the things that energize and fuel me into the day too—like my yoga practice. But for now, I think I’ll just enjoy the fleeting moments when my daughter is a newborn and realize that self-care doesn’t always have to mean a long asana session, a massage, or even a hot shower—it can just as easily be a short nap cuddled up with someone you love. Because right now, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

This post was written on June 5, 2012, originally published on YogaJournal.com.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Things Moms Think about While They Meditate

Photo by Ben and Kaz Askins

My mind needs a break. I'm going to get use nap time today to really get centered, focused, and find my calm. I really need more calm.

Here goes!...

Breathe in, breathe out.

Bubba-bubba-bubble, guppa-guppa-guppies—Bubble Guppies!

Was that the baby monitor? No, it can't be, she just went to sleep. Please, oh please, oh please, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, just go back to SLEEP!

That's OK. This is a new reason to be. very. still. and quiet. If I don't move at all, maybe she'll stay asleep.

Wait. Did I put the sign on the door that warns the mail man if he so much as comes close to my front door, he'll die. I better go do that. I'll walk down the stairs mindfully, quietly, and make sure my death-threat sign is in clear view.

Finally, I'm ready. Breathe in, breathe out.

Did I remember to put the laundry in the dryer?

When I'm done meditating, I better eat all the Oreos that are left downstairs. If I don't eat them my child will.. and that's a lot of sugar and processed crap for her. I know it's a lot for me, too, but it's my maternal duty, a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the health and wellbeing of my child ...

How much time is left on my timer?  How is it that I still have 7 minutes left on my timer? All that and it was only 3 minutes?

I'm pretty sure being a mom has completely ruined my attention span. I wonder how many brain cells die during childbirth. I'm going to look that up after I meditate. Well, maybe after the Oreos.

Breathe in, breathe out.

I better go check to see if I put the laundry in the dryer. Then, when I come back, I'll be able to focus.

You know what? I could just mindfully move the laundry instead. Then, I can mindfully eat a snack. Maybe do some mindful Netflix binging? Yep. That's totally the same thing as meditating.


Bubba-bubba-bubble, guppa-guppa-guppies—Bubble Guppies!

Screw it. I give up. I'll try again tomorrow.