A concern I sometimes hear among fellow yoga practitioners is: I’ve been practicing yoga for a while (like over ten years) now, and I don’t feel like I’m advancing in my yoga practice. I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on this. What are yours?
🌈Something to consider: How does your yoga practice affect how you relate to the world? And to yourself?
The Kleshas, literally "poison" in Sanskrit, are the root causes of suffering as explained by the sage, Patanjali, in The Yoga Sutras. In understanding these mental disturbances (listed in the image below), we can become more self-aware and not get entangled in them. As writer, Adam Brady, said, "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." We have a choice to remember that we are the seer of the ongoings within the mind, the body and the material world. Like yoga, this cultivation of empowered awareness takes consistent practice. Yoga Sutra 2.6 points out the misperception of identifying "the power of the seer" with "the instrument of seeing." Through meditation and self-study, we can identify the thoughts that cause us suffering and regain our perspective, as the witness, a pure consciousness that is peaceful by nature.
Isvara pranidhana is the yogic practice, with the second limb of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, of surrendering to divine will or offering up your efforts for greater humanity. In so doing, you become a conduit of pure love abundantly flowing, and you realize your efforts are not initially your own but you feel fulfilled and humbled by the honor of being able to participate in the dance of the Universe circulating positivity.
For over five years, I had a pretty predictable life as an elementary school teacher. While I loved concocting new ways to engage my second-graders in problem-solving, creative writing and even yoga, each day, a deeply growing yearning urged me to drop everything and transplant myself somewhere completely foreign, where I had to learn how to swim in new waters, without the safety net I had been carrying since childhood. Having lived a very sheltered life of routines and obligations, the fear of the unknown felt like the terror of jumping off a cliff into a dark abyss. Terrified, I jumped, listening to the persistent inner voice telling me to just trust. And so I offered up my comforts for something I felt was greater than myself at the time.
Over a year spent volunteer teaching abroad in a little country I had never known, called Costa Rica, proved to be one of my greatest life challenges and blissful awakenings. It was there that my yoga practice transformed into a daily refuge and what colored the lens of that year’s experiences with so much grace and many epiphanies.
Returning to California in 2010 began the struggles and rewards of becoming a full-time yoga teacher. Through much financial hardship in trying to follow my newly integrated passion, on several pivotal moments of distress, I questioned divine will: If this is not my path, then I accept that; But let me know if it is. A reply always manifested in a new opportunity to continue pursuing my vision of sharing yoga—that is, union with one’s inner light that enables one to thrive. And so I continued, surrendering my efforts to divine will, experimenting with new ways to be of service and integrate my variety of passions, like travel and cultural immersion, outdoor adventures, healthy plant-based eating, active lifestyle and spiritual connection through movement and the arts.
Now, 10 years into following that passion, here we are—practicing a new way to flow with the ever-changing river of life—live-streaming community yoga. “When there’s a will, there’s a way,” should be replaced with “When there’s divinewill, there is a way.” As Rumi said, “What you seek is seeking you.” Our passions, what we love, are our roadmap to our purpose, and when we can trust and use our gifts and talents to pursue them, we play an important role in uplifting humanity. A grace flows through us, with which we are supported by unlimited resources within life’s synchronicities, when we offer up our efforts to divine will.
Michelle facilitating a women's yoga retreat in Monrovia, CA in 2015
What does surrendering feel like to you? I find that it’s often perceived as a weakness, like quitting or giving up on an important fight. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.” But what if the “enemy” or “opponent” is your best self or divine will or true peace? What if the struggle is against yourself and is motivated by fear of not being enough, anxiety about not trusting that the Universe has your back or underestimating your ability to adapt to change? Then, what would surrender look and feel like?
Let’s view this through the lens of physical yoga. For the first few years of my practice attending yoga classes, I would often mentally cringe when I realized that the next posture to be held for a while was revolved chair pose or Parivrtta Utkatasana in Sanksrit. I had an aversion to holding still for more than ten slow breaths in this belly-compressing pose, so I felt anxiety, like an 8-year old on the way to the dentist. My mind became turbulent, seeming to suffocate my ability to breathe deeply. Stillness in discomfort felt like torture. Oh, the inner drama my ego was creating, and thus, my body was experiencing!
Years later, practicing yoga alone each morning during a very challenging year living abroad, my physical postures, or asanas in Sanskrit, became a place to try out my courage, self-trust and faith that life was supporting me. I integrated the long holds of revolved chair pose, intentionally slowing down my breath. In my commitment to trust I was going to be okay, I surrendered the struggle. It was a struggle against acknowledging my own power, ironically. And I gradually felt liberated from my own aversion. I began to see how my self-created drama induced the resistance against my own well-being and peace of mind. When I just let go of fighting or resisting and accepted the situation, in this context, the pose, as it was and focused on breathing my way through it, my act of surrendering translated into self-empowerment. I could be just fine, not having to control the outcome of the situation. I understood that I was resilient and that no situation is permanent.
Parallel to and coinciding with that year in my life, I realized I perceived the challenges and discomforts of living humbly as a volunteer in a developing country with a very similar aversion. My ego had been clinging to the way I thought things should be as I was accustomed to back home, and I resisted change, which only brought me more suffering. As I applied my yoga discovery of surrendering to situations I could not control, I began allowing myself to see and gradually appreciate the beauty and blessings of the new landscape and culture I was immersed in. Not knowing what was next became an exciting adventure, at times. And my perspective was open to tasting a new way of living and being. My heart was open, and everything changed from there.
Living in Costa Rica, July 2009
In the following recordings, Michelle Chua of Root 2 Rise Yoga interviews (live on Instagram @root2riseyoga) Monisha Garner, Colon Hydrotherapist, about how our habits affect our mental, physical and spiritual well being--a dive into our yogic practices of self-study, nonviolence and truthfulness. She’s the owner of Moya Body Care in Torrance, CA. Connect with her at: https://linktr.ee/moyabodycare
How do you start your day? How does that affect the quality of your life and interactions? In my early adolescence, my mornings began with a horribly glaring alarm, on which my roommate would hit snooze several times. Groggy, I would scramble to eat, shower and get ready for a busy day at school. Mornings felt like anxiety and rush, as if I was already behind. Gradually in my adult years, I developed a morning routine in which I woke up before the alarm to move my body, enjoy sunshine and fresh air, eat a healthy breakfast made with love and set out for a fulfilling day, already having treated myself to doing a few things I loved. This positive feeling inspired presence and productivity at work. How you start your day routinely can impact your wellbeing and happiness in the long run.
If we are creatures of habit, and habits are building blocks of character, how can we be purposeful with what we choose to do repeatedly to live a life we enjoy, sharing our best selves with the world? How do your actions first thing in the morning reinforce your values, such as physical vitality, mental clarity and spiritual connection? In yoga, the Sanskrit word sadhana refers to daily spiritual practices to maintain mental and spiritual “hygiene,” much like brushing your teeth is to dental health. I believe having a daily ritual of aligning your inner and outer being empowers you to live consciously, rather than on autopilot, and aligned to what’s meaningful to you. Also, when unexpected life challenges occur, such as a worldwide pandemic, your strengthened willpower and sense of health through daily ritual enhance your ability to feel grounded and resilient. Moreover, your devotion to integrity through regular discipline permeates daily interactions and shares a centered presence with those around you.
Here are things to consider when designing your morning ritual:
1. Personally meaningful– Choose meaningful actions that inspire you or reinforce something you value, so as not to simply become another laborious task on your To-Do list or a routine performed mindlessly. That’s why I chose the word ritual, implying that it is sacred to you.
2. Positively impactful- Through consistent practice, evaluate how the experience of your daily ritual affects you immediately after, throughout your day, during your week and long-term, and determine if it needs to be tailored. But first, commit to practicing it regularly for at least seven days, so that you are not just fluctuating between different practices and can notice a true pattern in your experience, like if it’s enhancing a character trait about you that you want to strengthen. Do you feel spiritually uplifted?
3. Make it doable.– Choose a realistic time of day, duration and location with which you can practice regularly and with full presence. I find that first thing in the morning is optimal, when my mind is more of an open slate and my body could use a balancing rejuvenation. Making it a consistent priority may entail waking up a few minutes earlier than before and sleeping earlier the night before.
So what are examples of activities to include in your morning ritual?
These will depend on your interests, goals, values, health needs and spiritual practices. Let me take you through my morning ritual to demonstrate its reasoning and logistics to spur ideas in constructing yours. Being a student and teacher of yoga for many years, my morning ritual largely comprises of yoga and includes Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing science that complements yoga. The following is my current morning ritual, as it has evolved through the years, with time allotments, identified purpose and origin of each action to demonstrate how they were acquired:
12 minutes – Ayurvedic practices, including tongue scraping, face washing with eyes open and oil pulling for oral health, followed by connecting nonverbally with loved ones at home and making the bed
3 minutes – Yogic techniques to promote digestion--Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal energy lock) and nauli (stomach churning)—followed by drinking a tall glass of warmed water with fresh lemon juice and dash of Himalayan salt
5 minutes – Soul movement, that’s moving my body intuitively to a randomly selected song, and a simple Tai chi sequence that welcomes energy flow with gratitude while admiring nature outside the bedroom window
3 minutes – Journal how I feel and how I’d like to feel today
1 minute – Bhastrika pranayama, or bellows breath, to energize the lungs and clear the mind.
20 minutes – Sit in silent meditation.
2 minutes -- Nadi shodhana pranayama, or alternate nostril breath, to balance left and right hemispheres of the brain and relax the nervous system
5 minutes – Focus Wheel writing to cultivate positive creative energy
1 minute – “Ego eradicator” kriya, which includes breath of fire in navasana, or boat pose
25 minutes – Set sequence of core-strengthening movements and yoga asanas, or postures, to activate navel (for willpower strength) and heart (for compassion and authentic connection) energy centers and promote digestion and clear perspective: bridge pose, upward-facing bow, forearm plank with leg lifts, bow pose, downward dog, jump through to seated spinal twists, seated forward fold, headstand and standing forward folds
Having shared the details of my personal morning ritual and qualities to consider when evaluating or developing yours, I hope you feel ready to start your days with intention and inspired action. Whether you set aside five minutes or over an hour, the bottom line is how does your chosen consistent habit affect your wellbeing? How do the conditions, such as time and logistics, allow you to wholeheartedly practice it?
If all beings shared their presence in the world purposefully aligned to their deep sense of self and overall health, I genuinely believe peace and joy would be a potent norm. Let’s continue to nourish ourselves daily, especially spiritually, to optimize the goodness we have to offer our lives and our world. Rooted in conscious ritual, let’s rise together vibrantly.
Michelle Chua offers private consultation in developing a sequence of yoga asana, breath work and meditation for your daily ritual. Email her here to inquire about this service.
Watch the recording below of our 30-minute @root2riseyoga Instagram Live interview with Ayurvedic Practitioner Anjali Deva, founder of www.RootedRasa.com. She shares practical tips for understanding your dosha-unique (specific to your body composition and energy) stress response and skillfully using your nutrition, sleep and eating patterns, movement, yoga, meditation and more to optimize your mental, physical emotional and spiritual health during stressful times like the pandemic. Spreading her teacher's message, Anjali elaborates upon the quote: When times get complicated, eat simple. Derive inspiration from Ayurveda, India's ancient healing system that continues to empower one's listening to the body's innate wisdom and harmony with Mother Earth for proactive preventative self-care.
Watch a recording of @root2riseyoga Instagram Live Interview with Jasmine Azouz Levi on 4/12/20. She shares her ideas on time and money saving tips for cooking healthy plant-based meals for your family during the pandemic and onward.
Part 1: 21 min.
Part 2: 11 min.
By Michelle Chua
Art from Instagram @charliemackesy
In globally stressful times, devoting your energy to regularly grounding and uplifting yourself is instrumental to cultivating inner and outer peace and well being. Here are ten ideas you might explore or already practice:
By cultivating our own peace of mind and vibrant wellness through committing to personal practices, no matter the circumstance, we project empowerment and vitality into the world around us. In sharing a similar hardship, we experience our interconnectedness on this planet. This heightened awareness of our oneness, coupled with our understanding of our true nature as infinite spiritual beings, both teachings from yoga philosophy, might offer some solace as we stay at home to care for ourselves and each other, including the most vulnerable. In the words of a spiritual teacher, Shunyamurti, I meditated with in an ashram in Costa Rica:
At a certain moment, one crosses past the fear and doesn’t let it hold one back, and then one realizes the true nature of the Self that one always was, that the river originally was the ocean that simply took a journey of ascent and then descent and then back to the Source.
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