Archive for the ‘flow’ Category

Sh*t Happens, So Be In It

For those of you that know me, this blog post title is probably a surprise.  For those of you that don’t know me well, let me state upfront I don’t curse (well at least not 99.9% of the time).  Thanks to my parents & grandparents, I’m just not a fan of it.  Though I’m sure we can all admit every now and then it’s appropriate because every now and then sh*t happens!

Stuff happens all the time, right?  You’ve made it through airport security and you find out your flight is delayed 3 hours, how do you react?  Or you paid a bill online (on time) but for whatever reason the new statement you just received shows you’re “past due” with a finance charge…what happens?   Or picture this…You’re working on a big project for your company and you find out either a) it’s well exceeded the budget and/or b) a main contributor has just quit (or been fired, transferred, whatever).  Or how about…You wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning geared up for yoga class (dressed in your new lululemon or Athleta with your Manduka in tow) and in route to your neighborhood yoga studio you get a call from a good friend (insert family member, neighbor, whoever) who really needs to talk with you about a rough patch in his/her life.  How do you respond when life throws you a curve and interrupts your pretty plans?

When unexpected things happen, shifts within us happen whether we are aware of them or not.  We have multiple systems within us (think nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system, muscular system, immune system, etc.) that often go haywire simply based on how we chose to respond in the moment.  It’s natural to run the other way or emotionally react – fear, anger, anxiety, loss, etc. – but often this can be unhealthy.  It’s not just bad for our health to emotionally/automatically react but it’s bad for the health of what’s to come next.  We clearly can’t control the external stuff, sh*t and shifts.  What we can control is how we respond (or don’t respond).   When we take control of how we react, we are in control of the internal shifts and space within.

Let’s take it a step further.  I’m a huge believer that things happen for a reason.  So when sh*t happens, it’s better to go with it vs. against it, and not just for physiological reasons.  I’m not saying that you need to agree with it all but take the time to sit in it, be in it.  Be in the the space of “being uncomfortable”.  Be in the space of learning something new.  Be in the space of seeing something different than what you’ve been use to.  Be in the space so you can create new space for you to grow.  Sh*t happens because it’s often serving (not always) as the healthy manure your little seed that the universe planted needs to flourish.

Two personal examples.  First, I wouldn’t be teaching yoga today if I hadn’t been laid off from my last corporate job.  I lived and breathed marketing for over 10 years in various tech/telecom companies.   The truth is I lost my passion for it the last couple years I was doing it.  During that time, I did my first 200-hour yoga teacher training in Washington, DC and started teaching a Sunday morning yoga class at a local gym.  During this time, I never really thought teaching yoga was the end all/be all for me.  It was when I was walked out the door at my last corporate gig, I took it as a sign to sit and be.  I took it as a sign that maybe sitting at a desk all day was not my calling anymore.  It was through the sitting and being that I figured out teaching yoga really was my calling.

Another example is I was recently working on launching a 200-hour yoga teacher training program.  My web designer even created a new webpage for it (that will be up on the new abellaYoga.com website launching in June).  However, the brakes were slammed on the 200-hour teacher training (out of my control) and I took some space to think about it.  I took it as a sign to use this new space to help nourish a little thought-seed that’s been rolling around in my head for a year or so.    As a result, I’m in the midst of creating a yoga teacher guidance program (you could say yoga teacher mentorship program but I don’t like the word mentorship) to answer questions like…What are the differences between teaching private yoga clients vs. studio classes vs. office yoga classes?   Do you “Om” in corporate yoga (office yoga) classes?   Do you offer hands-on assists with private yoga and office clients?   How many classes do I need to teach a week to go full-time?  How much do I charge?  The list of questions is endless so back on subject with the post.

This “being” thing takes practice.  For me, the “being” alive in the midst of both the good and messy stuff is what my yoga practice has taught me.  My favorite quote from Swami Satchidananda captures the essence of this post:  “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”  And I say “roll with it, flow with it, be in it.”

Note:  Though this post didn’t mention a single yoga sutra (something I’ve been focused on the last year or so), Swami Satchidananda offers a great translation of The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.

The Business of Yoga (part 3)

Part of the fun of being a small business owner is every single day is different.  And as much as I am in control of my own schedule, sometimes I’m just not.  Running a business forces you to learn how to literally “go with the flow.”  For instance, this morning I had a private yoga client cancel which opened up time for me to blog.  After this, I’ll head into Washington, DC (in the pouring rain) and teach a corporate yoga class.  I love what I do.  I also love that on Fridays my day is done by 1:15pm.  There is no denying the amount of freedom and flexibility my business offers me.

As a full-time yoga teacher with a mobile yoga business (abellaYoga – travels to teach yoga in homes & offices)  I primarily teach yoga Mon-Fri.  It’s the behind the scenes stuff that many new business owners (particularly yoga teachers) may not know needs to happen to keep a steady schedule of clients.  I do things like drafting contracts, writing proposals and creating promotional handouts for office yoga programs.  I attend networking events, run to the bank to make deposits and often function as my own IT guru (who really should be fired; technology is an area I struggle with).  Currently, I’m in the midst of working with a web designer to revamp my website as well as prepping for the City of Alexandria’s Employee Health Fair that I’ll be exhibiting at a few weeks.

As much as I love the variety each day offers, sometimes it can be challenging to keep myself on track.  To keep some structure in my fluid schedule here are a few things over the years I have found helpful.

Do Your Yoga – Schedule your own yoga practice.  Write it down in your calendar or on your daily “to do” list.  I’m serious.  If it doesn’t get booked, it won’t happen.  You’ll feel better and your students will have a better experience.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s through your own personal practice you’ll find your creative expression as a yoga teacher.  No practice = no expression.  It’s that simple.

Clear clutter – Clutter in our homes and offices mentally weighs us down.  As soon as the mail comes each day, I go through it right away and recycle most of it or file the bills in the “to be paid” folder.  The few catalogs I get, I try to flip through that evening and recycle immediately when finished.  Visit dmachoice.org to stop getting junk mail and catalogs you don’t want or need.  Online banking & billing is another great way to lighten your mailbox and keep your counters/desk clean.

Use a calendar – You need to find a system that works for you.  Believe it or not, I use a paper calendar.  I’m certain I could be more efficient by moving my scheduling system online but there is something I like about just quickly being able to open my paper calender when a client needs to make a quick change.  Often iPhones/iPads/computers take a little time to pull up the calendar.  I also keep a list of monthly “to do’s” that happen every month each year.  For instance, I know my corporate business tax is due every September and my Yoga Alliance renewal is every May.  This way I’m never surprised about money that is due or risk missing an important deadline.

Get Outside – All my yoga classes are taught inside.  Most of the “behind the scenes” things I do are done inside.  I find it key to get outside at least 20 minutes a day.  Whether its to walk the dogs or sit outback to read an article, I make sure I get some fresh air so I can return to the indoors with a clearer perspective.  Remember, nature is powerful medicine.

Again, these are just a few things I’ve discovered over the last 6+ years of running my own business.  If you have other ideas, please share!

Santosha – Discovered in a Bad Yoga Class

“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”  sutra 2.42

“Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and self-surrender.  sutra 2.32

Santosha is Sanskrit for contentment.  The word contentment/santosha is first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras among the list of five niyamas (sutra 2.32)Side note:  My take on the niyamas is they guide our internal compass.  They’re ethical principles (or observances) that strengthen our character and guide us to live life in the best, most purest way possible.  As a result, they help us shine in a way that inspires others to live richer lives.  Richer meaning all the wealth we truly need is deep within, and not found held in a bank account.

Back to contentment/santosha.  In my yoga studies, I’ve seen many deep definitions on contentment.  From a simple idea like contentment is being able to appreciate and live in the present moment to a more thought-provoking description of “Contentment is perfected in the absence of cravings.  It is the experience that nothing is lacking, that everything happens is an integral part of a Divine Plan.” (quoted from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera)

It’s often said that we already have everything we need.  Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says “all is within.”  Though our culture wants us to believe we need “things” or other people to make us happy.  The “things” list is long but a few examples:  new toys (cars, bikes, clothes, accessories), fancy restaurants, botox, a different boyfriend/husband/family.  You get the drift.  I have many friends who are always seeking beyond what they have and at the same time they’ve yet to take time to fully appreciate what exist in their lives.

The path of yoga leads us in the opposite direction…let go of external desires and internal contentment will be discovered.  Though the process of discovering contentment requires a huge mound of trust, courage and attention.  It takes a lot of trust to follow a notion, such as the niyama contentment, when no one is there to hold your hand and lead you through the dark moments of life.  It also takes a lot of courage to fully step in and feel life as it is happening – feeling the awesome, okay, bad, scary and all the sensations in between that show up.  It takes a lot of paying attention to the present experience – being in it, as it is and not mentally jumping ahead to what’s happening 5 hours later the day.

Total confession here…I took a not so great yoga class this past weekend in DC and it was there that I experienced santosha in a new wayLast side note:  My new goal is to try 2 new (new to me) yoga teachers a month in the DC area.  Not a tough challenge given there are sooooo many studios now in the DC Metro Area (defined in my mind as Arlington, VA;  Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC;  Bethesda, MD).  So I signed up for what was listed as a vinyasa yoga /intermediate level class.  Let’s just say after starting in a restorative pose for 10+ minutes and not getting into my first Downward Facing Dog until 20 minutes into class, I was not content.  Thanks to my Grandmother’s constant words of wisdom, I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn in every situation in life.  Though I continued to find myself way too often checking the clock, realizing I had no idea the end time for the class and feeling I was stuck there.  Then I thought “I’m stuck here for a reason”.  That’s when I settled in and tried to make the best of it.

I can’t say I learned anything “new” from the teacher but I had a total realization that my life could be way worse.  Here I was on a Sunday morning surrounded by 40 or so others in a yoga class, bending and stretching in ways that many people aren’t able to do.  I have a healthy body and a great life.  The sun was coming out and I had a full day off ahead.  Life could be so much worse.  It was there and then I reminded myself of santosha.

OM, OM, OM (sutra 1.27 & 1.28)

Yesterday morning after my 20 minute pranayama & meditation practice I picked up The Yoga Sutras and thought “I will open them and whatever sutra my finger lands on I will write about that sutra this week.”  My first attempt I landed on sutra 2.7 (attachment) which I recently wrote about.  My second attempt I landed on sutra 1.27The expression of Ishwara is the mystic sound of OM.  (Note OM is God’s name as well as form).

Two thoughts crossed my mind 1) Oh no, I’m not going to get into the God discussion.  2)  Didn’t I already write a post about OM (see Why OM? crafted Sept 2008).  Though as the day wore on a few things confirmed that this is the sutra for the week.   My private yoga client asked at the end of her session “why do we OM?”  Then I was sad to read last night that OM Yoga Center in NYC is closing the end of June.  And after wearing my Juil sandals (known for their energy grounding benefits) all day yesterday I realized OM was definitely the sutra for me.

I’m adding sutra 1.28 to this posting since I believe for each of us OM represents something different (sutra 1.28 To repeat it in a meditative way reveals its meaning.) especially once we begin to chant it on a regular basis.  During my Dharma Mittra yoga teacher training last Fall, I chanted OM for 10 minutes every morning for 30 days.  For me, it had a very internal cleansing effect.  It’s really hard to describe but I felt as if some negative vibes were being scrubbed out of me.

At the beginning and end of every class I teach, we OM as a group.  I tell my students we do it as a way to connect with one another.  For some it has a calming effect.  For others it gets them comfortable with their voices.  Chanting OM is also a way to feel the aliveness throughout every cell in the body.

Sutra 1.27 states OM is God’s name as well as form.  Again, not that I want to get into the God discussion here but God to me represents your highest, best Self.  This is the meaning that has been revealed to me.  Some also say divine Self.  I like to think of OM as a way of connecting to our highest thoughts, words and actions as well as a way of grounding us in the moment.

Speaking of grounding, this is where the mention of Juil sandals comes into play.  I received a pair of Juil’s “hera” sandals and they’re amazing.  With the early summer weather we’ve had recently here in DC (yes, it was 90 degrees last week) I’ve been able to really take them for a few good test walks.  They are extremely well made, stylish and oh so comfy.  Our feet are our connection to the earth and the foundation of our bodies.  For many of us (and there is plenty of research to support this), we are wearing shoes that cramp our feet and prohibit our connection to the ground below.  When our feet are out of sorts, our body eventually become out of sorts (i.e. knee issues, hip concerns, lower back pain).  If you’re in need of a good-looking shoe that also has the added benefit of making you feel healthy and happy (please see this link for those details), I definitely suggest checking out Juil.

Being Yoga (sutra 2.2 – 2.9)

With yoga studios popping up on every corner in Washington, DC and Arlington, VA these days, there’s definitely a lot of talk about going to yoga.  Jump online or open a magazine and you are sure to find  talk about doing yoga.  Stand in the midst of voices buzzing at your local coffee shop and you’ll hear people chatting “Do you do yoga?  I do yoga.  I’m going to yoga.  I went to yoga.”  Blah, blah, blah.

On my morning dog walk yesterday it hit me that I don’t do yoga and I surely don’t go to yoga.  I am yoga.  Since I started studying with Sri Dharma Mittra last year in NYC, yoga has really become a way of being for me.  Sure I do asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), meditate, study yoga texts and try to follow the yamas/niyamas (note:  this list of yoga I’ve incorporated in my life is nicely explained in book II of The Yoga Sutras.  Of course, I will give my spin on it all in due time).

Beyond all I’ve just listed though, the nitty-gritty of yoga is really about letting go and surrendering to what is, as it is.  It’s about being the best version of you, just as you are.  The letting go/surrendering concept is tough, particularly for those Type A’s (probably you!) out there.  So let me just clear this up by saying surrendering/going with the flow doesn’t mean to give up and be ball of mush.  As Dharma always says (with a grin) when there are 30+ people in his class attempting a challenging posture “you must have angry determination.”  He also sometimes says “you must find your own tricks.”  And really this is true even off the yoga mat.  Yoga is about “finding your own tricks” (another Dharma-ism) to keep you calm, cool and collected in every situation in life.

Even with angry determination and a bag of tricks, there are plenty of roadblocks to being in yoga.  I face them everyday, but I’ve also been lucky enough to become more aware of what holds me back from showing up and being my best (not doing my best but being my best).

As sutra 2.3 points out there are five obstacles to yoga:  ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion and fear of death.  I’m not going to dig deep into each of these at this point (see sutras 2.2 – 2.9 for details).  I simply want to open your eyes to them.  Start paying attention in your life as to how these are present for you.  Notice your habits.  Recognize your reactions in situations.  Do you crave coffee every morning?  (attachment)  Do you curse when someone cuts you off in traffic?  Do you avoid unpleasant situations?  (aversion) Do you not try something (i.e. handstand in the middle of the classroom) due to fear falling over or dying?  (ego, fear of death)  What is it that holds you back from being the best version of you?  (ignorance)

Trust me, this is a tough batch of sutras (2.2 – 2.9) to write about as I’m still struggling with them in many areas of my life.  Hopefully though with some angry determination and a few tricks I discover along the way, these sutras will be a bit easier to write about and discuss.  Until then, I will keep trying.  As Dharma says “repetition is key.”

What is Yoga? (sutra 1.2)

Pure coincidence…3 years ago I wrote a blog post with the exact same title “what is yoga?”  Clearly, this is a popular writing because I also blogged on the thought “what is yoga?” back in 2007 too (read it here).  The 3rd time is a charm, right?

Staying with the commitment I stated in my last blog post, 2012 is my year for digging deeper into my yoga book studies starting with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Given I touched on yoga sutra 1.1 in the previous post, it seems logical to move to sutra 1.2 which is where Patanjali offers his answer to “what is yoga?”.  Patanjali states:  yogash chitta vritti nirodhah   Translations of Patanjali’s sutra 1.2 include:

  • Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence (Alistair Shearer)
  • The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
  • Yoga is union -union of body, mind & spirit (which I touched on here back in 2007)

Over the years, the first image that has always frequently come to my mind when reading this sutra is a silhouette of someone meditating in a serene setting —such as by an ocean, on a mountain top or in a empty/quiet room painted in calm colors.  On the outside it appears in my image one can easily “settle the mind into silence” by being outside in nature or an empty space clear of daily distractions, technology or life’s dramas.

The reality is it takes a lot of sitting to catch just a few brief moments of silence (i.e. settling the mind) and no matter how peaceful the external environment may appear, the internal environment is constantly challenged.  Random thinking (aka modifications/fluctuations of the mind, vritti, thought-waves) is usually happening about a past event or the mind is fretting over a future task.  This is true whether you practice yoga or not.  Yogis and non-yogis alike are challenged every moment by mind chatter.

So I’ve come to conclude that yoga isn’t the only way to silence the mind.   When one just feels 100% connected to the flow of life, moment by moment in a way that can only be experienced, and at the same time not fully explained, one is in a state of yoga.  For instance, we’ve all read about athletes being in the “zone” —those brief moments where every movement just fell effortlessly into place (the mind is silent and the body just follows).

Or consider my Dad…this past weekend while I was home in Delaware for my Niece’s 4th birthday “princess” theme party, my Dad described how focused he is when he dances (he’s retired now so he dances daily & teaches periodically for fun —go Dad!).  Even though he has never stepped on a yoga mat or sat on a meditation cushion (and probably never will), it sounded like he’s experienced yoga.  When he dances he is so fully in the moment that nothing else matters (not event the chatter of my dear Mother speaking to him).

As for the 20 million+ Americans that practice yoga asana, I think the best (and most often) true by definition yogic experience according to sutra 1.2 that happens for many is in savasana (aka final relaxation or corpse pose).  It’s in this pose that one can sometimes catch a glimpse of being at complete ease in the body, still in the mind and connected to a deep sense peace.  I’ve often said if I could bottle this feeling, I’d be rich!

What I love about The Yoga Sutras is they are completely open to interpretation based on personal experience.  Given there are numerous translations available (my yoga library alone has 6-7), I think you’ll agree.  With that said, what is your definition of yoga?

Karma Yoga Defined

Yoga is Sanskrit for the word union.  Yoga means uniting body, mind and soul.  Yoga also means uniting with other souls.  This to me is where Karma Yoga comes in.

A main component of my yoga teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra is Karma Yoga.  So beyond just performing my hours of karmic duty to fulfill my training requirements, I’ve been really thinking a lot about how so many small and daily actions can be considered Karma Yoga.

Karma Yoga is defined as selfless service.  When selfless service becomes a natural extension of our everyday life, we are really starting to practice and experience yoga in its fullest sense.  Selfless service can be as simple as holding the door for a stranger at your local Starbucks, or lending a hand to a neighbor in need.  Though the most often talked about type of Karma Yoga seems to be around organized volunteer or giving opportunities (i.e. donating food to a local food drive or giving money to charity).  These are all great acts of service but with the later (donating) there is little human connection and often a low level of frequency.

To me Karma Yoga is most effective when we do it often and it flows naturally within our normal daily activities.  In this way, Karma Yoga becomes a path that constantly carries us to a deeper connection with others and ultimately a deeper connection within ourselves.

Touch the heart of others with a simple gesture and you’ll not only shine from your heart but you’ll shine light to help others realize the importance of giving each and every day.  Thank you.