Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Happiness Levels

i've been reading the dalai lama's "the art of happiness" and working on creating a higher baseline level of happiness. while i do consider myself to be pretty happy, i get frustrated and upset pretty easily, so i think that it's worth my time to work on upping my baseline levels.

i'm obsessed with the book, its ideas, and am constantly spouting it now, even though i'm only a few chapters in. i find so much resonance in it. the dalai lama talks about letting go of feelings of frustration, guilt, shame, jealousy, etc., because they only further negativity in yourself and then are fed back to the world. by focusing on creating your own happiness (which he claims is totally possible), you can respond to others with compassion.

i've been exploring some of these issues through my yoga, as that was the first way that i found to personally create happiness. yoga is the only way i've ever found to calm my crazy mind or to be completely happy with my body. through the daily practice of yoga/breathing, i have found this intense connection to myself/my body, and i'm more able to connect to things around me. and i am more able to focus on things and people in my life, like billy, and be fully present when i'm with him.

my yoga practice has been blossoming, but i still struggle with how to incorporate yoga throughout the rest of my life. for example, when i take the train each day, i feel pangs of anger as people shove past me, or elbow me in their haste. i think things like "what's wrong with you?! look where you're going!" but as i've been reading "the art of happiness" i've been able to shift my responses. as i got off the train this morning, and was shoved away from the door, i thought "we're all trying to get where we're going. we're all in a hurry." i noticed the change in my response, from anger to compassion. i felt compassion for everyone's hurry, and i felt connected to all of the other people on the train.

i get stressed every day, and i can't change the world. but i can change my outlook ... and i think that can actually be done pretty quickly. the dalai lama is right: we all want to be happy: treating others with compassion allows that happiness.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ready or Not

As a teacher, I want my classes to experience what I experience from my personal yoga practice. I think this is a universal yoga teacher feeling, and seems simple enough, but is probably the loftiest goal one could imagine. My friend and co-teacher Sarah asked me for advice on getting college students to relax, like, really relax, in a yoga class. When I read her question, I smiled to myself, remembering experiencing this frustration while teaching. And then I smiled again, remembering myself as a student just a few years ago.

How do you make someone relax? The easy answer is, you can't. Until someone is ready, they're not ready. Just a few years ago, I would've walked out of a class that wasn't dynamic or sweat-based. I would've laughed at the thought that I wasn't getting the full benefits of yoga. And I probably ignored several teachers' instructions to relax.

In fact, I went to a class this morning that was sooooo slow, I found myself really struggling to stay present. In a 75 minute class, we did about ten poses. And most of the time was spent getting into each pose, with only a few breaths once we were completely in the asana. I ended up really enjoying the class, though it wasn't what I'm used to, nor was it what I expected. Mostly, I was struck afterward with my progression of my practice. I did it! I stayed through the whole class! I stayed present and committed to the experience! I'm finally ready to explore myself and my practice.

But if a student, or class, isn't ready, that doesn't mean you can't try to get them ready. My main point is that teachers can't take all the responsibility for their students' practice. We can only lead and offer what we have.

I think one good suggestion for teachers is to be patient and to keep repeating things class after class. I remember saying to an instructor after a class "I loved that cue you used; it really helped me move further into that pose," to which she responded, "I always say that cue; you just weren't ready to hear it before." I walked away thinking, "woah." But it's completely true: students will hear things as they're ready to, and we can't force them to hear things before that time.

Okay. So, other than breathing and progressive relaxation, how can we help people center themselves? (Sarah's question.) I think that providing visualizations works wonders. It can be really hard to focus and center yourself by concentrating on breathing when you're new to yoga. I have found that students really respond to mind-pictures, though. One of my recent favorites is to guide students to picture an old ghost town (a la the wild west). I then ask them to picture dust blowing through the town, to imagine their mind as that town, the dust as a visual representation of their breath, and that as any tumbleweeds, or troublesome thoughts, blow into the picture, to let the wind-breath ease them back out of the picture.

Guiding through pictures gives the mind an easy focus point, something that can fall away as students progress in their yoga practices. But give them (us) time. We'll hear when we can.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Meaning of Life

Yes. I'm blogging on the meaning of life. Easy cheesy.

Martine and I have added some readings to expand our yogic knowledge and deepen our discussions on yogic philosophy. The first book we read was "In the Company of the Wise" by Swami Sivananda Radha. Throughout the book, she talks about the lessons she has learned from her teachers. She also talks about the lessons she has learned about incorporating yoga into a western life. The main lessons that I took away from the book were related to how I could incorporate yoga more fully into my life.

Each time I read the parts of the book, whether it was on the train, bus, or in my bed, I felt that I was connecting back to myself and my purpose in life. My favorite part of the entire book is when she said "By the time Dadaji had finished talking I had learned another lesson: no matter where we are, it is our duty to remind people of the purpose of life" (p.92). What I found most interesting about that sentence is that she either assumes that the reader knows the purpose of life, or she has intentionally left it out to allow more room for the reader's exploration. Either way, that sentence had the most impact on me than any other in the book. I thought to myself, do I have an answer for that question? Do I really know what I'm doing here?

And, funnily enough, I found an answer hovering just below my consciousness. I thought, yes, I do have an answer. I decided that my answer was, "to make life better for others." To me, that answer made immediate sense, and felt right. As I thought about it over the next couple of days, I felt happy with that answer. And, even more strange was that I had someone ask me what the meaning of life was within 24 hours of reading that. I felt these little pieces of my life coming together, I felt that the world was sending me messages, and I felt that my yoga has really become more entrenched in my life.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Full Expressions of Offering

Saturday afternoon I went to a 2 hour workshop with Kelly. I could not have been more excited about the topic (which was a surprise when I got there) or the approach she took. She taught a class on backbends, especially focusing on inversions into backbends and dropping back from camel and standing into backbends. These are some of my favorite things, and some of the things I wanted to work on deepening in my practice. The approach she took was one of being our fullest selves--puffing out our hearts and fully expressing ourselves in an offering. This approach was also exactly what I was aiming to do in my practice and life (see last blog post!). When I realized what she was saying, about what the class was and the approach we were taking, I felt the alignment of the universe; I felt like that was exactly where I was supposed to be at that time. It's amazing to have those glimpses of samadhi; I felt the perfectness of being as I set my intention for the practice.

The class was beautiful, and I enjoyed meeting a new friend and working with her as a partner a few times throughout the class. I tried some new things that I was afraid to try, and I tried some new things that were challenging and fun. The class exhausted me, but I still felt full of energy when I left. Through Kelly's direction, I was able to stay fully present and fully offer myself to my practice and to a greater offering of love and being.

The practice on Saturday was just what I needed to kick-start my want to incorporate more offering into my practice. The excitement I felt around the opportunities created in the class were radiated through my practice, and I was able to continue that sense of offering my fullest self when I left the mat.

Throughout my weekend, I've been practicing being full; offering what I have in each situation and to each person. I'm sure I haven't done it constantly, but I have continued to go back to that intention. I did a short practice Sunday afternoon and again this morning, but both practices felt full as I kept pushing myself to offer fully.

Thank you, Kelly. And I offer my thanks back out as an offering to anyone reading this. Be full and offer back.

Friday, August 6, 2010


The most intense teaching experience I've had recently was when I taught the class while on vacation in State College: I felt like I was back home. I was teaching in the room where I had begun a regular practice, where I first began my yoga teacher training, and where I had often escaped to after a hectic day. I was there with one of my best friends and my sister, and I felt intense emotional connections surrounding me. The class felt easy to teach. I was in a small room where I could easily jump on and off the mat, offering personalized attention to each student several times. In this class I was really able to feel as if I was giving, sharing, and experiencing all that yoga is. Teaching a class that feels good on multiple levels is extremely rewarding.

In contrast, I've also recently covered a few classes that were not my own, and so the individuals coming to the classes were also unfamiliar to me. Teaching this type of class, where I am unfamiliar with the room, the students, their practice, and their expectations is extremely confronting. When teaching these classes, I try to be authentic to my teaching style while reading the class and their responses to the practice. Regardless, I tend to feel a little uncertain after these classes.

I'm continually trying to deepen my practice and thus my teaching. Working with Martine, reading various texts, and continuing my daily practice all contribute. But after teaching my class this past Monday evening, I felt a little off. I had practiced reading my class, I gave them what I thought they could handle and needed, and I think that the class went well overall. However, after the class my personal well-being felt a little challenged. I reflected on the class, couldn't identify a reason for my feelings, and then went to do some reading on Yoga Journal's website to work toward an answer.

The article I was drawn to was one on surrender. I read about shifting my perspective from my own inner-world to the larger big-picture. I know I'm often an emotional person, but I started to cry as I read this article. I felt like my own practice needed more "heartfulness" practice (similar in concept to "mindfulness," but in a spirit of offering). A practice as an offering is a hard concept for me to grasp. I'm used to practicing for myself and to better myself; which in turn will be reflected in how I live my life and interact with others. However, shifting to think of my practice as an offering to the world made me feel excited. I felt like I had been drawn to this article to deepen my practice (and teaching) to allow the next "breakthrough." I think that the feeling I had Monday night was one of stagnated contentment. I was happy with the class, but I felt a little stuck.

I know that not every practice or every class I teach can feel like the class in State College. Every practice, every class, and every day is different. But I really like the idea of heartfulness, and hope that heartfulness in my practice, classes, and life will assist in creating experiences similar to the one I had at my "home" studio, where heartfulness was natural.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


it's true, i've always been a fan of periods. but if you take the first (or heaviest) day of your menstrual cycle as a HOLIDAY, you'll looooove your period. martine has been telling me this. and today it happened.

today i was planning to work from home, because of a meeting in the city in the afternoon. after a short run this morning, i did a little work, decided to get my hair cut (since i desperately needed it and my hair stylist was conveniently available), and then went into my meeting. instead of strictly planning meals and snacks for the day, i ate when i was hungry and enjoyed my day. (i know, i know, this doesn't sound so holiday-ish to you, right?) in the afternoon, i realized billy could come to the cafe with me to do work. we enjoyed sitting, sipping coffee, and dueling w our computers until i had to go to my mud wrap appointment.

now, this was pure coincidence--but an amazing one. i had a coupon for a 70% off mud wrap, and i had scheduled it for today about 6 weeks ago. luckily, this was a HOLIDAY.

i went to the mud wrap a little nervous--i've never had one and wasn't so sure about what would be involved. first i was scrubbed with salt, next the salt was removed with hot towels, then warm mud was spread all over my body and i was wrapped up in foil like a baked potato. i lay in my mummy wrap being heated. while lying there, i practiced some yogic breathing. i did several cycles of a few different breathing types until i was so relaxed my brain started seeing beautiful images of exotic places and people. i could feel happiness and warmth throughout my spirit.

finally, i was taken to a hot tub-bath tub where i was given a glass of champagne to relax with while the jets assisted in removing the mud. when i exited the bath, my skin was soft, my body was relaxed, and my mind felt free.

the mud wrap experience was fantastic--something i'd do each month if i could afford it! i felt as good as i do after an amazing yoga class. i enjoyed the wrap so much, and i didn't really expect to. i often have a hard time enjoying relaxing, or just being. but this experience showed me that maybe i haven't been doing relaxing things that i enjoyed as much; or maybe that i wasn't opening myself up to the experience of relaxing as much before. or maybe i just needed a good excuse to allow myself to enjoy it (HOLIDAY!).

... whatever the reason for the bliss i felt this evening, i feel grateful.

Monday, August 2, 2010

July Reflections

I've been feeling pretty bad about myself because I haven't been blogging. I have so many things to say! Where's all my time gone? Today I was reflecting about July, and feeling unaccomplished because I hadn't blogged about things. But as I started to think about July, I realized that I had done a lot: I successfully presented at an international conference; taught several fitness and yoga classes; gone on vacation; submitted a few papers to journals; reconnected with old friends; made new friends; celebrated my 2nd wedding anniversary; celebrated my 30th birthday; spent quality time with my sister; and ran 200 miles somewhere in between. But, most impressively, I kept up my daily practice throughout all of the (good) life disruption.

Keeping my practice going while traveling all over the US and while prepping and then catching up from my trip was difficult at times. Making sure that friends and family I was spending time with understood my needs was important--and sometimes difficult, because I felt like I was "cheating" them out of time with me. Some of my friends (and Sister) wanted to do yoga with me--and that was a bonus: I felt glad for the time available to do yoga, and I also felt excited to share such special time with my loved ones.

This past month of yoga, and my experiences with it on my trip, have given me further depth in my relationships. Sharing my yoga practice with those closest to me feels like ultimate intimacy. And having those people respond positively feels better than I could have imagined.

My sister paid me the best compliment while on this trip: she told me that I was the best yoga teacher she has ever had. I didn't believe her, but then I realized she was serious. When I was able to really hear the compliment she paid me, I began to cry. I think that I cried because I don't often really accept compliments--only I didn't realize it until now. I often smile, nod, say thank you, and then think to myself, "oh, they were just being nice." Accepting the compliment was a big step for me.

Reflecting back over July, I realized it was the opposite of what I had originally thought. I accomplished things, I deepened relationships, my yoga practice blossomed, and I learned something about myself.

Growing occurs when you don't expect it. Keep practicing, and all of the sudden, bam! Growth! Amazing.