I believe…

…that there is no such thing as a panacea (not even yoga). That to be better takes concerted effort using a myriad of solutions and tools.

…that suffering is a necessary evil. We are better people for it.

…that denying yourself builds character but occasionally giving in generates more happiness.

…that you can never be too kind to yourself.

…that you can have happiness NOW.. not when you’re thinner, richer or partnered up.

…that being happy doesn’t mean never being sad (or angry).

…that gratitude will change your perspective. Every. Single. Time.

…that embracing the unknown can be incredibly liberating.

…that surrounding yourself with people and things you love is medicine for the soul.

…that it’s up to us to define and shape our lives. Not societal precepts.

Sunset

“…above all treasure love, moderation and humility. Love begets courage, moderation creates abundance and humility generates power. Courage without love is brutish. Abundance without moderation leads to over-indulgence and decay. Power without humility breeds arrogance and tyranny.” – B. K. S. Iyengar

What do YOU believe?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by DavidYuWeb.

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Resolution! Schmezolution!

Ever hear the joke that “my last New Year’s resolution was to stop making New Year’s resolutions?”

Okay, okay, you probably heard ME say it. (It just doesn’t get old!)

Frankly, I find resolutions to be a little silly so I don’t make them. Instead I set an intention for the new year with a list of actions that will help me with that intention.

For example, last year my intention was to become more courageous. So I  thought about what I have been afraid of (mostly failure) and how it is holding me back. Then I thought about some courageous actions I could take to encourage the behavior. Two really big ones were finally teaching my first Spinning class and learning to cook a dish (any dish). I accomplished both during the last quarter of the year. (The intention was to find more courage – not stop procrastinating after all). Taking larger chances, committing to things that are outside of my comfort zone and making new connections are a few other actions that contributed to my intention. It has made 2012 a phenomenal year.

But what is the difference between intention-setting and making resolutions, you ask? Well, I find resolutions to be uninspiring and a bit cliché – as cliché as breaking them. Most people promise to lose weight or “get in the best shape of their life” in the new year. But it doesn’t answer WHY? To what end? For what purpose? Or even how! The “why” is the motivation to keep going when temptation is just too… well, tempting. And without a clear call to action for sticking to the resolution you’re almost guaranteed to fail.

Losing weight just to lose weight without clear, measurable steps can falter in the face of a lot of beer and chicken wings paired with the best blue cheese you ever put in your mouth. (Sorry, I got distracted). On the other hand, setting your intention and then listing the actions to support that intention will expand your ability to get to where you want to go because you’re not limited to one action. After all, there are many ways to complete a journey.

So in a life where you have set an intention, imagine painting a bigger picture of your world! Imagine better things for yourself! Imagine expanding your sphere of influence! Then let’s go and make it happen!

Now tell me, what are your intentions for 2013 and what actions will you take to fulfill it?

Fireworks

Happy New Year!

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Bayasaa.

Don’t just get by – THRIVE! (How not to go postal this season)

During this time of the year I turn into something that would make the Grinch cringe (or at the very least take notes). The stress of getting everything done at home and at work so I can take the week off sits heavily on my shoulders.

I know I’m not the only one.

It’s the dreaded holiday season. It’s filled with shopping, crowds, parties, alcohol, social obligations, travel, too much food, not enough rest and the worry that your wallet is hemorrhaging money. Who wouldn’t be stressed out?

And if you’re like me, this happens every year.

Here are a few tips on not just surviving this season but THRIVING!

#1.  Get organized. Make a list of everything you need to do. Great or small. Then maybe do a little dance every time you check one off the list. You will feel a lot less overwhelmed when you don’t have tasks floating around in your head – worrying if you’ve forgotten something. Bring this list with you and refer to it often so you can tackle something on it whenever you have a moment. But when you don’t, set it aside.

#2.  Plan your schedule. Know when the next party is coming up. Know when you have a social obligation to fulfill. Let yourself be emotionally ready for the social interaction (looking at you, introverts!). Allow yourself to enjoy the moment with friends and family rather than being distracted by all the things you still have to do. Some things won’t get done. Plan for that. That way you don’t let it hang over your head.

#3.  Get some sleep. This is not the time to run yourself ragged. It’s cold. More people are getting sick. And it’s the last thing you need when there is so much to do. While you’re planning your schedule, put in for a little down time so you can get some rest and sleep in preparation for all the festivities.

#4.  Don’t skip the gym.* I know. Who has time for exercise? But more than ever your body needs exercise… When stress levels are high… When food consumption is out of control… When energy is low… Exercise will help bring everything back to the center, improve your focus and even boost your self-control. Very useful when you discover that there is a second plate of brownies.

*There is a caveat to this. You should not sacrifice sleep or rest for the sake of exercise. Don’t put more stress on your immune system – especially if you aren’t getting enough rest. Studies have shown that people who sleep more, eat less. It will balance itself out. Relax.

#5.  Eat well when you can. I can’t resist a bowl of chips and salsa and will eat it all. It happens. But between get-togethers I eat well. When I am at home, I eat the normal healthy things that I eat. I don’t lament over the excessive amount of cheese I consumed over the weekend. I don’t starve myself during the week. I get back to my normal healthy eating habits. And I drink a helluva lot of water!

#6.  Avoid the mall. I know. It’s so un-American of me to suggest this but there are so many alternatives to the mall like buying locally at a small business, buying online, making your own gifts or give the gift that keeps on giving – CASH! Just the idea of going to the mall makes me hyperventilate. People are not at their best in the mall during Christmas shopping. We turn into less civilized versions of ourselves so don’t do it! But if a trip can’t be avoided, go during off-peak hours.

#7.  Listen to holiday music. It’s a mood booster. Trust me. The cheesier the better. Or even try some holiday-themed movies like Love Actually. Personally, I could listen to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You over and over and over again. It is impossible not to get carried away with all the wonderful and beautiful holiday music. It is also a good reminder of why we drive ourselves crazy this time every year. It is all worth it in the end.

Now sit back on your couch, put your feet up and wrap your fingers around a nice cup of hot chocolate… With whipped cream, please!

Keep Calm & Carry On Coffee Mug

Do you have any additional tips on surviving the holidays that you’d like to share? Leave them here!

PSA: Beware the yoga voice!

This is a public service announcement!

Caution Tape

At some point during your practice, you have been subjected to “yoga voice.”

It comes in the form of a well-meaning yoga teacher who, in attempting to create a certain atmosphere, will use a heavily affected, drawn out, sing-song tone during class. It may go something like this…

“And you raiiiiiiiiiiise your arms aaaaaaaaaaall the way up to the ceiling…
Reeeeeeeeeeeaching as faaaaaaaaar as your fingertips will go.
Exhaling slooooooooowly as you continue to streeeeeeeeeeeetch as far as you can goooooooooo…” While cooing reassurances all the way.

You get the idea. It drives me nuts… and to distraction.

Why would a perfectly good teacher feel the need to put on a performance like that? Just last week, I had the displeasure of being taught by a yoga voice-using teacher. There is no way she talks like that in the “real world.” Her sequence of poses were fine but I couldn’t focus because I was wondering how bad yoga voice happens to good teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish I could be and sound like the gatekeeper to Nirvana but it just ain’t happening. That’s not who I am. Yoga voice smacks of insincerity. Your knowledge of yoga, your carefully chosen words and the sequence of poses you put together is all your students need to create their own internal yoga practice. A little incense, essential oil or soft music might be nice but mostly just you in all your authentic glory. Just like you don’t need an expensive yoga studio or mat to make beautiful yoga happen, you don’t need an affected voice to inspire your students.

I have run into a few yoga teachers who use this alternate voice to teach. I don’t know where they learned it or who encouraged them to do it. But it isn’t necessary. If you don’t speak that way outside of the yoga studio, don’t do it once you’re inside. Voice and tone is important. It sets the tone in the room so that a student knows it’s time to turn his gaze inward, let go of the outside world and begin his practice. But leave the sickly sweet voice out of it. You sound totally ridiculous. I don’t think your students are buying it either.

So my dear beloved fellow teachers, new and old alike, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of using a yoga voice. Our students deserve better than that. You are beautiful and wonderful without adding any affectations to your style.

Namaste.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Picture Perfect Pose.

When pride is a good thing…

A few days ago I went surfing for the first time in my life.

I love the ocean… From afar, that is. Getting into the water without the protection of a boat or inflated arm floaties is something I never do. I have always been very afraid of submerging my head under water. Be it in a pool, the ocean or a river, I absolutely hate the sensation of water up my nose and not being able to breathe. In fact, I still pinch my nose and squeeze my eyes shut when dunking my head to get my hair wet.

And so it was with a lot of trepidation that I approached my first ever surfing class. Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Eyes dilated in sheer panic. But I knew I had to do it. It was not a question of whether I would try it but whether I would make it. I am happy to report that the only damages incurred were one lost contact lens, a huge intake of salt water and a bruised right hip.

Floaties

When I tell people about my surfing experience, their instant reaction is to say how impressed and proud they are of me. I would modestly smile and brush it off. But for whatever reason, when my friend, Rachel, told me she was proud of me, something clicked. It occurred to me that though I was hearing people saying this, I had not said it to myself. I had not acknowledged my own good work.

When she drove away, I took a moment and said to myself, “I am proud of me.” And this warm feeling started in my heart, spread out to my arms and legs all the way out to the top of my head and I felt giddy! “Holy crap! I am awesome!” I practically skipped up my driveway!

I had overcome this super scary thing – way out of my comfort zone… When in the past I had let my fears dictate my decisions. I needed to recognize that I am this person who pushes up against her very edges. So I deserved a pat on the back – not from others but from myself. I don’t tell myself enough how proud I am of me. I don’t always make big courageous decisions but I make brave choices all the time. Whether it’s trying a new dish, learning to do something or going up to a complete stranger. I take the harder road when easier ones are available. I continue on when many might have given up.

When I talk about pride, I am not talking about switching teams. I am talking about more than just accepting compliments from others but recognizing all the good things within ourselves and projecting it out to the world. We are good whether or not others see us and shower us with accolades. It is most important that we recognize within ourselves the work we have accomplished, the work we continue to do and the work we WILL accomplish.

So be proud of yourself and let your freak flag fly!

How have you celebrated yourself today?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Board Shanty.

Yoga vs. Religion

Do you have to believe in God or a higher being in order to practice yoga?

Newcomers (and maybe not so new ones) delving deeper into yoga often come up against that question. The books that I have been reading assume that a yogi believes in a higher being (at the very least). But we all come from different religious backgrounds. Some of us don’t have a solid definition of God while others are flat-out atheists. So isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume a belief in God? And if I did believe in God, what if my God isn’t the same as your God?

I was raised Roman Catholic (with all the baggage that comes with that). I attended Catholic school for most of my life and even went to a Jesuit college. During college, I was a Eucharistic Minister and I attended and led religious retreats. I was not a religious zealot by any means – I more enjoyed being part of the Catholic community. After college, I removed myself from that community and I only go to midnight mass now because I can’t say no to my mother.

Through yoga I have become exposed to a different spiritual experience. Yoga is rooted in eastern traditions but not necessarily tied to a religious system. Statements like “the universe is conspiring to make your wishes come true,” “humans are intrinsically good beings” and other similar themes are common when talking about the full expression of yoga. But I have to admit that as a yoga practitioner I don’t buy into all of that. I can appreciate the spirit in which it is shared but I have my own beliefs that I am working to refine based on what works for me, my experiences and what I perceive as the truth. And that in no way hinders my practice. I am not less of a yogi.

I asked one of my teachers, “What if I don’t believe in God or a higher being?” And her response was, “Well, whether or not you believe in a higher being, there is something outside of yourself that you are working towards, working for or answering to – be it your family, your dreams or something like that and so even in that context we are not functioning in isolation.” And that made a lot of sense to me within the context of my practice.

So can you continue with your yoga practice while having a completely different belief system?

The answer is a resounding YES!

Ultimately, yoga is  a personal journey and is open and flexible (pun intended) enough to accommodate your religion or lack thereof.

If you are a yogi, I encourage you to learn a little bit more about the history of yoga and its traditions. But don’t be afraid to explore, push boundaries and ask questions. You can ask them here or share your experience with religion and yoga.

Candle Flame

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Peter Zoon.

Why do you yoga? by Crystal Ellis

I know why I practice yoga. But I wanted to know why others do. Are they the same as mine? What is their story? What can I learn from other people’s experience with yoga?

So I asked the Twitter-verse WHY DO YOU YOGA?

Crystal Ellis (aka YogiCrystal) shared her answer with me. You can check her out on her blog and on Twitter. She’s also on Facebook.

A picture of Yogi Crystal

A couple weeks ago Samantha posted a tweet asking “why do you yoga?” and because I am so passionate about how yoga has helped me, I jumped at the chance to share my story and tell you why I yoga.

I started yoga in January 2008 after much deliberation and critical self talk. I had been in a car accident in 2006 and suffered whiplash/soft tissue damage to my neck and had myself thoroughly convinced that I did not belong in a yoga class.

You see, back in that time I didn’t know anything about yoga and I believed that it was only for the flexible and strong. I had been weakened from the accident and couldn’t touch my toes, so in my mind, I would look like a fool in class. Good thing that a friend of mine had just graduated from teacher training and listened to my story. First thing she told me was that there’s no ego in yoga and most people are doing their own thing, so they don’t really see you. Well, that was enough to get me to my first class and I have been hooked ever since.

I am glad that I had a great teacher from the start that supported me and offered adjustments according to my injury. This helped me gain strength and confidence in my practice and pushed me to never give up. I quickly grew quite interested in yoga philosophy and anatomy and I completed my teacher training in 2009. I believe this helped me gain understanding and awareness on a whole other level that I am extremely grateful for.

I started yoga for injury rehabilitation, but now it has grown into so much more. Pain relief, strength, energy, flexibility, and most of all, peace. Yoga takes me away from the world for just a little bit. Away from the rush, stress, noise and occasional craziness of life. It’s an escape for me, like a mini-getaway. Like most people, my life can be busy and it always feels like I am on the go. I get to stop in yoga. Get to breathe. Get to relax. And these days, it’s so important to have yoga in my life for these reasons and more.

Yoga brings me such a sense of serenity that I can’t imagine my life without it now.

I sometimes laugh at my old self and all those nerves I had about taking a class, because now I am the one helping unsure people get to their first class. I feel great doing yoga, but it also feels amazing sharing this practice with others and seeing how they change and grow.

These are the reasons I yoga, have you thought about yours?