It’s interesting how the mind can create suffering by resisting what is or adding drama to the lens of perception around life events that can seem quite neutral to another person with a different history and lens.
Have you ever felt so attached to an expectation of how something should be, like a holiday celebration, that any arising event that didn’t fulfill that vision created dissatisfaction? And as one thought of dissatisfaction grows into the next, as the Law of Attraction goes, you sit in a puddle of disappointment, perhaps layered with a defensive mud of anger or resentment? I’ve been there.
Or, how about when you suspect you’ve been taken advantage of by someone you feel you’ve supported for so long? Then, one thought after another compounds into a narrative of betrayal, distrust and resentment? I’ve been there too.
Yeah, I’m human. And my mind, as is its nature, likes to tell stories. More specifically, the ego tries to narrate life’s events for its self-preservation, sometimes even elaborating stories with imagination and not truth. While our survival seems to be its priority, we can mistake the ego and its thoughts for who we are and forget our own power to oversee it and see life more clearly.
But what if I chose not to believe every single thought? What if I remembered that I have a choice whether or not to get strapped into the roller coaster of anxiety, worry and fear? What if I just sat still a moment to see the mind for what it is: in a state of constant change? Not to numb myself, but allow the feelings to arise as catalysts to pay more attention to the thoughts I’m fed without consuming them all. What if I cared about my well-being so much that I decided to just breathe, feel, observe and allow clarity? This is my yoga, and it’s an ever-evolving practice.
In January 2020, we'll gather in community live online to explore ways to integrate our yoga practice in our daily lives, through our book club reading, Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World. Join us in the yogic practice of svadhyaya, or self-study, as we apply our understanding of the kleshas, or root causes of suffering.
Winter Solstice is on Dec. 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s the longest night of the year. It marks the first day of winter, after which days of sunlight grow longer into spring. As with seasonal transitions, it’s an opportunity for self-reflection and setting intentions for the months ahead. Uniquely on the winter solstice, colder weather and darkness invite introspection about the darkness, or what some may call our shadow self, that resides within us, under the belief that we are intrinsically connected with the natural world and its changes. This inner darkness refers to the qualities, thoughts, beliefs and emotions that may cause us or others suffering, and they are often vulnerable parts of ourselves we have yet to make peace with and discover our personal strengths awaiting on their flip side. For example, someone who is constantly jealous of others’ happiness may realize they are longing to feel happy within themselves, and through consistent inner work, can learn self-confidence, a strong sense of security and ways of perceiving the outside world from a state of alignment to inner joy. The harmful jealousy was a signal for needed change to enable continued expansion or evolution.
Through self-inquiry, meditation, journaling and personal ritual, we can build self-awareness and awaken inspiration for any needed purification, release and redirection. Here are some practices to consider for your celebration of winter solstice:
However you may choose to celebrate, keep in mind the tone you are intentionally setting and how genuine it feels to you. May you enjoy peace, clarity and pure love this winter 2020 and beyond.
This was an intense moment, even though it was performance-based. I had to conjure up real thoughts that elicited true raw fear, the role I was dancing. And while dancing, shaking, running and screaming can be helpful outlets to channel stress impulses, can we stay a moment and lean into what's there--what's really alive in us--before trying to rid ourselves of it? Because, as with every earth experience, I believe, there's value in this pause and introspection toward our awakening from the sleep of our conditioning, i.e., the should's/shouldn'ts of how to be human.
Being vulnerable is something I've long been trained to avoid, having found myself already categorized as the weaker underdog in so many contexts growing up as a petite female immigrant with a heavy "un-American" accent in LA. And so, in building my internal defenses to feel stronger than I was perceived, my inner sergeant developed such competitive harsh mantras, like, "You need to show you're worthy. Do more! Always be productive and on the go! Don't let them beat you. You need to prove yourself!" I've learned that repeated thoughts become beliefs, even if they're not truth but merely tainted perception, sometimes born out of insecurities.
But as yoga has taught, while movement is important, stillness and deep listening are gold, too. Self-inquiry that questions my long-held beliefs has been essential to help unveil illusions I've developed as barbed wire around my heart; The barbed wire helped me feel tough but didn't give room to expand beyond the limiting familiar. It takes courage to sit with the discomfort of emotional pain, but in doing so with love, we can deconstruct the hurtful thoughts that imprison us. Moreover, we can realistically approach the yogic practice of pradipaksha bhavanam, or transforming negative thoughts into their opposite, without spiritual bypassing and ignoring that there's any internal disturbance altogether.
If you're feeling called to explore this courageous inner work, it will be the focus of our Zoom workshop, Transform Obstacles into Opportunity (Tools for Clarity), Thursday, 12/17 @6-7pm PST. Learn more or request a recording of the workshop here.
How do you connect to your inner calm when you feel overwhelmed by worry, anxiety, anger or fear? Depending on the intensity of my anger or how disoriented I may feel in the moment, different strategies for grounding are more accessible than others. Like, taking a walk outside just isn’t wise at midnight in the dark streets of Hollywood. But box breathing can be just what I can pause to do where I am. It’s helpful to have a variety in your toolbox that you can use at any given moment. Here are 9 you may or may not have tried:
1. Box Breathing (Sama Vitti Pranayama, in sanskrit): Inhale 4 counts. Hold your breath 4 counts. Exhale 4 counts. Hold your breath 4 counts. Repeat slowly and as usefully as you can for 7-10 cycles.
2. Take a walk outside: Get some fresh air and sunshine and just take a break from the physical space and position you were in when you started to feel overwhelm.
3. Orienting (for self-regulation): Slowly scan your immediate environment, using your senses. Listen, see, smell, touch and taste to become more present.
4. Practice being a witness of your mind: Set a timer for 5-20 minutes and sit still silently. Allow your thoughts and breath to flow naturally as you observe them without judgment. Feel your quiet inner presence beneath the thoughts and breath movement. This is also mindful awareness.
5. Hum a monotone: Taking deep breaths, place your hands on your chest center and hum a repeated monotone aloud. Feel your soothing sound vibration, and focus your attention on the sound.
6. Move your body: Let your body just move freely as it needs to release the energetic impulse of stress or overwhelm. Check out soul movement here.
7. Self-Inquiry Journaling: Free-write in a state of open flow, or ask your inner guidance, "What do I need to know right now?" Write a letter to yourself from your inner guidance.
8. Observe nature: Sit or move in nature and pay close attention to a flower, leaf or another object or being that catches your eye. With childlike enthusiasm, take in the details.
9. Walking meditation: Walk very slowly nd feel each breath in and out. Feel your weight distribution in each step. Try silently saying to yourself as you inhale, "I am..." and as you exhale, "Connected to all."
As I’ve learned from practicing yoga these past 19 years, the more I use my grounding tools as a daily practice, the easier it is to remember they’re there and to use them when I fall into moments of overwhelm. Learning techniques on your own is one thing, but to have a like-hearted community to practice regularly with can help instill strong habits. Additionally, together you can share ideas, intentions, insights, questions, roadblocks, solutions and encouragement. Moreover, having a mindful relatable facilitator can also help you integrate theory into practice. Check out Tools for Clarity, our live online workshop exploring yoga, meditation and mindfulness techniques that apply yogic wisdom beyond yoga poses to help ground through life's overflowing river.
What stories do you tell yourself about other's behaviors or day-to-day events? How much of our mind's interpretations align with the truth of what we're observing? How much of our thoughts, especially habitual ones, cause us suffering, with emotions like anger, resentment, jealousy, self-hatred, guilt, shame, etc, that we keep hidden in the dark side of our moon? These questions were explored ages ago by wise sages, and their insights are still relevant in our common humanity. Under the yogic belief that all is one consciousness, forgetting this as our true nature was identified as the main cause of human suffering. In forgetting that we are not our bodies or even our minds, we succumb to other thought patterns that cause suffering: defining ourselves by our social or familial conditioning and fears, clinging to what's impermanent, resisting life's uncertainties and challenges and fearing death.
So how do we regain clarity amid the mind's tendencies? Cultivating self-awareness is an ongoing practice in yoga and mindfulness, and it's key to empowering our conscious choice to free ourselves from such suffering (as well as the suffering we may project onto others). This light of clarity nurtures the courage and pure love within us to be who we truly are, without demonizing parts of ourselves or each other. Just as the moon is always full, despite our changing perceptions that it's less than, we are more than the thoughts that label or narrow us.
This workshop session on Thursday, 12/17, is meant to plant (or water, depending on where you are in your journey) seeds of self-awareness, empower conscious choice and explore practical yoga and mindfulness techniques that help us to lead peaceful fulfilling lives, seeing beyond circumstance and allowing solutions to arise-- when we're in a state of grounded clarity and genuine self-love. Let's work together to build unity consciousness, starting within.
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