Music! “No room for doubt”

It was a sunny day in Fez, and after wandering the narrow Medina streets this light-hearted song by Lianne La Havas put me in my happy place.

A gentle reminder to set perfection aside and appreciate – even pay homage to – the mistakes we make as we create our purpose.

Happy day 🙂

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Image Credit: La Blogothèque

 

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On balancing: “be here now” or “work for your future”?

I’ve been thinking lately about Effort vs. Being Present. Which is it all about anyway? Is it about being accepting and enjoying where I am? Or is it about working hard for what matters to me?

Lao Tzu, the author of Tao Te Ching, says

If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich

On the other hand, there’s a Zen proverb that states

When you reach the top of a mountain, keep climbing

So which one is correct?

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Then this game changer came along: both are correct. WHAT. These are conflicting viewpoints, right? If my mindset says productivity is what matters, then doing nothing=being unproductive=laziness. Or I have the mindset that enjoying the present and letting go of the attempt to control things is where it’s at, and effort seems like fighting against the current of life.

Yet this new perspective rings true because I experience the truth of them both: there are days when “just being” feels right, and there are also days when working towards my goals feels great. I hadn’t before thought that both could co-exist in harmony because from the outside I’d heard people telling me either one way or the other. Work hard! Relax! Reach for the stars! Sit back and enjoy!

It’s like Yin and Yang. The moon and the sun. Chandra and Surya. Rest and effort. Both are needed to provide balance. Many of us have experienced too much of one or the other: the feeling of burnout when we don’t get to restore and recharge, or the feeling of stuck-ness/laziness when we’ve been inert for too long.

I’ve identified two new skills to practice based on my new perspective:

1. Discerning which action is appropriate at any given moment

This means tuning into where I am at a particular moment and then figuring out what it is I need. This applies to both the physical body (exercise and movement vs rest) and the mind (thinking/planning/analyzing vs meditating/releasing control). In terms of the spirit, that’s still being explored 🙂

2. Embracing the two distinct energies within

It’s no longer an inner conflict between two sides or a battle of right over wrong. Instead, I now practice accepting that there are two rivers that flow in opposite directions, both of which are necessary for a balanced life. Most importantly, it’s about loving whichever energy is flowing that day without the voice of the other side singing the shoulda-woulda-couldas.

 

Traveling yogi: planning ahead while staying present (on a budget)

The last couple days M and I have spent about 3 hours each morning to plan for our upcoming travel: our journey from Luang Prabang, Laos to Singapore in two weeks, our first week in Europe (Amsterdam+London/Essex+Bruges) coming up in a month (!!) and now our month in Morocco in March (post-Italy, pre-NOLA for my friend’s wedding)…this shit takes time! Doing all this on a $50/day ($75/day in Europe) budget can be challenging.

But it leads to finding gems, such as staying in a small artsy town outside of the big city for less than $500 a month and renting a motorbike to explore more of the region — and local life.

What brought me here to Luang Prabang was yoga teaching. What this opportunity has brought to me so far is a Gorgeous 2-day boat ride down the Mekong River, an unforgettable teaching experience at Luang Prabang Yoga, and a long weekend  of trekking and chilling in the luscious and local mountain town of Nong Khiaw.

Sometimes my soul is pulled forward: where will we be next year? What if my plan of applying to grad school in Italy falls through? What will we do if we run out of money? Or, on the flip side, look at all the possibilities! I could teach here, or there, or gain knowledge studying at this center, with that teacher…And sometimes my soul is so content exactly where it is: absorbing my surroundings with a good book and a cup of tea. Going to bed when I’m sleepy and waking up when I’m rested. Being in the moment, connected with my students during class. This is where the yoga practice comes in for me: understanding that life is about balancing and flowing with opposing forces. Prana and Apana. Drawing the outer left heel back but rotating the left hip forward. Letting there be “good” days and “bad” days, productive days and unproductive days, hard days and easy ones.

The bottom line is, whether I’m flying or falling, it’s all part of the yoga practice. It’s all part of life.

Look ma! It’s my ego (again)

“When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something … but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen.”

— Joan  Didion

What is success?

This video about Hayao Miyazaki’s work came up as I was browsing YouTube today. I’ve been a huge fan of his movies for years; they speak to me as deeply as they did when I was 10 years old, but in different ways.

As I travel, I’ve been trying to figure out how I define success as a yoga teacher. What I’ve seen is: marketability + popularity –> success. And that frustrates me because that’s not how I define it.

But as I watched the video, it inspired me to define success for myself, much like Hayao Miyazaki did as he told his stories. Maybe success isn’t a rigid definition at all, but a journey carving out bit by bit as I go.

On being myself

Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
(vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah)

Yoga Sutra 1.30

 I’m halfway through spending a week with my family in Ann Arbor, MI. Man, has this place changed! Lots more young professionals here, which bring more yoga studios, high-end coffee shops, bistros, and shopping, and a LOT more loft apartments. I’m happy to see my hometown thrive, and also mourn a bit the loss of the grittier side of this town.

At my parents house, the little sapling that swayed in the front yard is now twice as tall as I am! Coming back to the place I grew up, I see how much I’ve changed too. I’ve overcome challenges, learned about myself and the world around me, and I keep learning about the person I want to be.

When I interact with my parents, it is obvious how much I’ve changed. I see their perspective with adult eyes: I can understand and discern opinions and beliefs of others from those of myself. I see that the way they see the world is not the way I see it. This led to me feeling frustrated and misunderstood, which is the topic of Yoga Sutra 1.30: distractions and obstacles that come up in life.

The obstacles listed in the sutra above are pretty broad, but at the heart there are two ideas: seeing clearly and practicing. These ideas are useful in yoga, and they’ve translated well to my life too. For example, the root of my frustrations this week with my parents became clear after a chat with my sister J and my partner M, meditation and asana practice (and that beer I had with dinner last night ;)). I need to express who I am, and I need to be heard. I now see that their lack of communication is their limitation but it doesn’t have to be mine.

There is a Hindu principle, abhyasa, that Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, also prescribed to yogis. It means sustained practice. Each asana (pose) I do, each breath I take in meditation and pranayama, each obstacle or piece of joy I come across are all part of the practice.

Here’s to enjoying the day today and looking forward to a connected and grounded rest of the week!

On Stillness

Imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed.

Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced whenever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in — when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you’re doing.

– Erich Schiffmann, Yoga: The Spirit and  Practice of Moving into Stillness

This morning, I meditated in my hosts’ garden. It is filled with trees, flowers, fruit, and herbs, and butterflies and hummingbirds often come to visit. As I closed my eyes and began to listen to my breath, I also heard, smelled, and felt the alive-ness of my surroundings. The soft grass and uneven dirt underneath my feet, the smell of the flora around me, the hum of a hummingbird’s wings (so I imagine with closed eyes), the gentle fullness of a summer breeze grazing me as I sat. I felt at peace and at ease.

Afterwards, I sat on the patio overlooking their garden and read those words above. It’s been awhile seen I’ve seen or even thought of a spinning top — is there an app for that? — and I’d never thought of stillness that way. Stillness to me was the calm surface of a lake or the quiet of the deep ocean. But Erich’s words resonate. Because after all, doesn’t a lake, pond or ocean always have little waves, no matter how calm the winds? Doesn’t the deep sea move in a conveyor belt fashion and transport nutrients to the upper layers? In fact, a big misconception of meditation is that you’re supposed to empty the mind, quiet it of all thoughts. Good luck with that! Meditation is actually the practice of allowing thoughts to pass through, letting go of the holding-on of these thoughts and the feelings that follow. Meditation is about checking in with your internal weather and allowing that weather to exist.

And so it is with yoga asana. I do the same poses over and over again to practice being in the moment, letting go of judgments or assessments and honoring how my body is feeling that day. I practice being uninhibited, unconflicted and fully present in what I’m doing. I get better at it each time I try.

I’m intrigued, Erich. What else will your words teach me?

Compassion Course: Weeks 1 & 2

I plan to do a weekly series on my thoughts and a-ha moments from my Non-Violent Communication course, published every Friday to kick off the weekend with some love for yourself and those around you. Jai!

I’m currently two weeks into a one-year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with New York City-based Thom Bond, founder of NYCNVC. I chose to take this course to deepen my understanding of myself and how I interact with the world around me. I think it will be especially enlightening as I am traveling around the world, beginning in two months!

In this last month that I’m in Champaign, IL, I also meet once a week with other NVCers at Green Yoga Spa, a lovely house and spa run by longtime yogi Mary Wolters. In the last two weeks, we focused on needs and judgements. The main idea is: everything we do, we do to fulfill a need. This is an eye opening concept to me, something I’m pondering as we delve deeper into the course. It’s a simple statement, but woooosh! It’s powerful. Pretty regularly, I meet people who do or say things that baffle me. People that have had vastly different life experiences than I, with different (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives and attitudes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see where they’re coming from. That’s when the judging happens.

In our meetings, we identify feelings that we feel as a reaction to a conversation or action with another. Then, we connect those with needs that we had associated with those feelings. That is pretty eye-opening in and of itself. Kind of like “oh, so that’s what my feelings are for. I didn’t know they could be so useful!” The second part is an even bigger whammy: doing the same process for the other person. What were they feeling, and what possible needs were they trying to meet?

When I think about the violence happening this week in the US between police and Black Americans, my first reaction is frustration and helplessness. Frustrated that the problem is so deeply embedded in our law enforcement system, and at the lack of awareness and acknowledgement by so many in this country. Helpless because I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. What can I do to change things? I can voice my support to my black friends, to the black community, that I stand with them. But real change comes when we unite and see each other. Real change comes when we see our very real and very different experiences growing up Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, gay, straight. How can we make this happen? How do we unite the law enforcement community with all of those they vowed to serve and protect?

Compassion is a word I come across all the time, but what does it really mean? I love this take on it: compassion is love in action. It applies to actions toward yourself and towards those around you. I think if we practice this by being compassionate towards our own feelings and needs and by recognizing and honoring the feelings and needs of someone that seems so different from ourselves, then we have a chance of truly uniting and enacting real and meaningful change.

Living yoga: making money as a yoga teacher

So…lately I’ve been thinking about the financial viability of being a yoga teacher. The question that’s looming in my mind is, “can I make it as a yoga teacher?” During my year in teacher training, I focused on deepening my understanding of yoga and learning how to teach it — mindfully sharing my knowledge with others. This is what I’m deeply passionate about. I’ve also been lucky enough to have another job that allows me to study and teach yoga with minimal distractions and financial stress.

But now that I’ve received my certification and have begun getting paid for teaching, my next thought is “how do I shift a bigger part of my source of income to yoga?” My goal is to exclusively teach yoga. However, I’ve spoken to my yoga teaching friends and read up on salary statistics and yoga teachers’ anecdotes online, and most of them shout, “for your sanity and survival, don’t quit your day job!” Yikes.

So how do typical, non-celebrity yoga teachers make it work? A few ways: 1) they offer overlapping services such as massage therapy, Reiki healing, nutritional/lifestyle guidance, or physical therapy, 2) they offer workshops, retreats, or teacher trainings, or 3) they have supplementary income from another source. Often it’s a combination of these.

With the pragmatics of teaching yoga in mind, I check back with myself again. How do I define “making it”? What is my intention behind teaching yoga exclusively? What am I afraid of?

***meditation break***

Ahh, some clarity! My picture of success, after setting aside my ego, is to share the joy of my yoga practice with others, and to help others see themselves and live their dharma,  or purpose. My fears are not making enough money to live off of, and at the same time letting money and egotistic measures of success cloud my intention, my message and my teachings. Fear of uncertainty of the future.

So…what’s the answer? The answer is…I don’t know what will happen. But what I can do is set up ways to share yoga in the world we live in: through classes, workshops, word of mouth, online presence, and to track how much I earn doing what I love. Since I’ll be traveling around the world beginning this fall, I’ll have a unique opportunity to connect with people from many places and with many perspectives. If anything, this will help me become a better yoga teacher. Who knows where I’ll be in 5 years? For now, I will be here, practicing yoga.


Image credit: Hanson Mao

The Personality Myth

This weekend, driving home to visit my family in Ann Arbor, MI, I listened to a podcast that really resonated with me. It was an episode of Invisibilia, an NPR podcast about human behavior — what goes on behind the scenes that drive us to do what we do. In yoga, it is similar to looking inward during our practice. This episode was called The Personality Myth, and they asked this question: is there really such thing as personality? That is, are there enduring qualities of a person that remain unchanged for life?

I won’t give away the details of the episode, but the example they used in their story moved and compelled  me. It changed the way I think about people. Instead of thinking that people are tethered to their personality, i.e. “Well that’s just who they are,” I see great potential once we recognize just how much we are able to change and grow. Yes, we are born with a set of physical limitations, with mental and emotional foundations based on our genes and cultural upbringing. But that doesn’t mean we are stuck with certain personality traits for life.

The key to change? Understanding yourself! Meditation is a great way to understand your samskaras, or thought patterns. By taking time to look within, you can begin to untangle these “traits” and recognize parts of you that aren’t really part of you at all, but perhaps a reaction or a defense to your past experiences or what you’ve been taught. Then, freedom is yours! Create an intention, or sankalpa, to try something new. YOU get to choose who you want to be! How cool is that? 😎


image credit: Kristen Uroda for NPR