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.

Resisting change

I am a creature of habit. I find a lot of comfort in routine. I try to sit in the same place in my yoga classes. I like to order the same dishes in my favorite restaurants. Every night, I change into my PJs, take my vitamins then take out my contact lenses. In that order. Every time.

I also drive the same route to and from work everyday. It is a short cut through back roads that shaves about five minutes off of my commute. But on Friday, I noticed a few new signs on my way home. Access during rush hour has been restricted on the roads I was using! I could no longer drive that way to work. I would have to use the already heavily congested main roads!

AND I SAW RED!!!!!

Do Not Enter Sign

“What the hell? Why would they do that? So that a few of the more affluent people in the neighborhood could walk their precious ugly little dogs in peace? We live in a CITY. If you want quiet suburban roads, then move out! You don’t get to choose who does and doesn’t use your streets. I pay taxes in this county, too!” (Pepper it with a few choice expletives and you come pretty close to what I really said).

AND IT JUST GOT UNDER MY SKIN… That night I couldn’t focus, couldn’t relax into my weekend, couldn’t stop talking about it… I slept poorly… In fact, I slept poorly all weekend! Every time I thought about it, I got upset all over again. Who the hell did these people think they were?!? Evil thoughts were running through my head like egging houses in that neighborhood. Or hoping they all got robbed. This feeling sat like a brick in the bottom of my heart and it weighed me down.

This morning, I headed to work and took a different route. It was as annoying as I thought it would be. But I got to work and got a sweet parking space. There was no apocalypse. Dead puppies and unicorns didn’t litter the streets. Nothing had changed for anyone else. And I got to work just fine. A little later but just fine.

I tortured myself all weekend over this thing that wasn’t personal. And over something that I could not change. Something I could simply adapt to. But I resisted it as hard as I could… to my detriment and to no one’s benefit. And I paid the price… I needlessly suffered instead of adapting to the change.

So the next time you run up against something that is or will disrupt your life, ask yourself and answer the following questions:

1. What is it about this change that bothers me?

2. Can I do something about it? (Like write my representative?)

3. How can I integrate this change into my life?

Then take a deeeeeeep breath and play Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”

The more quickly you go through the process by answering these questions, doing what can be done and accepting the change, the more quickly things can become smooth again. I am not suggesting you turn yourself into a doormat but some suffering stems from resisting change that we cannot do anything about. And there is no purpose to that kind of suffering.

Now, it’s your turn: How do YOU adapt to change?

The perils of watching the clock

While exchanging emails with fellow gym instructor, Curtis, I was lamenting how quickly the summer was passing me by. His response was:

“I try not to mourn the passing of summer until September…”

It both shamed and inspired me.

You see, I constantly fail at enjoying the present because I am already dreading the end. For example, when I visit my family, I feel sad about the inevitable goodbye. And I have actually thought to myself that if I don’t see them at all I won’t have to say goodbye! Problem solved! (Stupid, huh?)

I am most guilty during the warm months. It is my favorite time of the year. I am fearless when the sun is darkening my skin and I have a tasty Margarita in hand. I eagerly anticipate this awakening… I talk magnanimously about all the wonderful things I am going to do with my friends… Then the days and months pass by in a blur. Before I know it, it is time to don a jacket again and face shorter days with less sunlight. I am left unfulfilled, incomplete and a little depressed… Great. Just great. Year after year the best season seems to catch me unprepared.

After all, time flies when you are having fun, yes? But the real injury is that I am missing out on fully enjoying the present. On love. On life. On unadulterated joy. I am not allowing myself to completely experience moments so that I can learn from them and be refreshed!  Life is passing me by!

I know I can’t enjoy the present when I am living too far into the future. And I have to stop myself every time from looking at my watch and thinking “oh it will be time to go again soon.” (Unless I’m in a meeting then staring at the clock is a MUST).

A picture of my watch

I need to change this behavior. And Curtis’s statement reminded me that I need to work harder to do so. I can’t keep worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. {Insert cliché on worrying HERE}

I don’t yet have a solid solution to my self-jeopardizing tendency but awareness of the behavior and knowing my penchant for doom and gloom will hopefully keep me in check. I am patiently training myself knowing that it will be a dance of two steps forward, one step back.

Have you kicked this habit? Do you have any advice to share? Or are you (like me) still in the throes of fighting it? I would love to hear about it.

Falling into emotional traps

When I step through my door at home I always feel like I’m taking a giant exhale from a long day of holding my breath in. It’s like switching from fancy pants to ones with an elastic band. Or swapping high heels for flip flops. Or simply wiping off makeup. It’s a slow unraveling of the day… Divesting a little bit at a time to a more recognizable me.

Then I sit on the couch and let my mind go blank. I don’t think about what happened earlier – what was said at work – something I did that I wasn’t proud of – not even conversations I had on Twitter or Facebook. Just a nice blank thoughtless few moments of peace… At this point my mind is healing from the ravages of the day – from the unpleasant thoughts that have come in and the worry cobwebbing various corners of the day. With a sweep of my mental broom I attempt to brush out the ugly things.

That is my usual after work mental routine…

But not yesterday…

Yesterday something happened at work in the early morning that really made me angry. Someone acted poorly and it pissed me off. I was upset but I did my best to let it go. I did eventually brush it off but it took a while.

When I came home later that day, I recounted the offense to my husband and found myself getting angry and worked up all over again. All the emotions that I felt that morning came rushing back. My heart was racing. My face was flushed. I was yelling. It felt like the incident just happened all over again.

After I was done “venting” I felt terrible, spent and empty. My anger turned inward. What the hell??? Why did I just do that to myself? I didn’t need to feel those emotions again. It wasn’t like my husband could have done anything to help me. I had already planned to talk with my supervisor the next day so what was the point? Was there some sort of masochistic satisfaction in repeating the story?

I ended up nursing a headache for the rest of the night.

I completely regretted re-living the emotions and even now I fail to see any reason for needing to. The smart move was to let go and move on. I definitely lost more than I gained. In fact, I didn’t gain anything – unless you consider a headache a gain. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying to yourself, “It’s okay. I’m done with that.”

I tell my students all the time that we can only be as strong as our ability to let things go. That when you free yourself of constraints your ability to expand is limitless. I forgot that yesterday but it was a lesson well re-learned.

Emotional traps are easy to fall into. But when you pay closer attention to your emotions, you will get better not only at not setting emotional traps but avoiding them as well.

How often do you do this to yourself? Are you able to recognize them? Do you make the conscious decision to avoid rehashing old negative feelings? What tricks do you use to get around emotional traps?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Billaday.

My motivation

Why do I exercise?

  • Because I feel like a badass after pushing myself harder than I ever have before…
  • Because it’s not called an adrenaline rush for nothing…
  • Because I don’t want to feel my age when I’m over 50…
  • Because I love myself more than my couch…
  • Because I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe every six months…
  • Because my family and friends deserve me at my best…
  • Because vanity won’t allow me to do any less…
  • Because donuts and cupcakes aren’t going to eat themselves…
  • Because heart disease and diabetes are not my friends…
  • Because I want to live long and I want to live well…

Why do YOU exercise?

Never say never

I am not a quitter.

I am opposed to the idea of all or nothing.

I believe in MODERATION.

Even when we’re talking about bad habits. After all, everyone has one (or, in my case, five…… thousand).

One of them was my dependency on soda. A can of soda first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I was having about 3 to 5 a day. It was my pick-me-up, my panacea, my crutch… If I didn’t get any, I would get cranky — okay, MORE cranky.

Finally, two years ago – after much nagging by family and friends – I made the bold decision to cut out soda from my life. I was getting older, gaining weight, my sleeping pattern was wacky and I was not bouncing back as quickly from the abuse I was giving my body.

At the beginning, I kept failing at it. I was sneaking it in when no one was around. I would lie if anyone asked if I had had any soda. Then I’d be plagued with guilt and shame. I felt pretty pathetic. And I really thought I couldn’t do it. That I was doomed to age badly with osteoporosis.

But then a friend pointed out that if drinking soda was one of the worst things I was doing to myself then maybe I just need to relax – to quit being so hard on myself. There were worse things I could be doing. And so I thought, “What if I just cut back instead?” A little soda wasn’t bad. It was that I was drinking it like water. Suddenly a gigantic eco-friendly light bulb went off in my head!

So when I said cut out I didn’t mean never ever. And it’s that distinction that has allowed me to dramatically cut down on my soda intake. I went from having soda every single day to once a month – if that.

The key has been not saying NEVER. Allowing myself to have it on very rare occasions has made avoiding it so much easier. It’s not draining on my self-control and I feel a lot happier. It’s a little way of tricking myself but it has made all the difference.

And when I “slip” I’m a lot kinder to myself. There’s no beating myself up. There’s no disappointment. There’s no feeling of failure. There are no late night soda benders – where I’m up all night and I wallow in self-recrimination the next day. Because no one’s perfect. I would love to tell you that as a yogi I eat well and do well all the time but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. By taking the word NEVER out of my vocabulary I am loving myself better. I don’t get as easily derailed and I’m more likely to get back on and start again. To relax, relate and RELEASE!

So write NEVER on a piece of paper, rip it up and throw it away. You can thank me later. I accept cupcakes as a form of payment.

And if you have any tips that you use to stay on track, please let me know! Let’s get some ideas going!

Asking the tough questions – Who are you?

If a complete stranger asked “Who are you?,” how would you respond?

Would you respond with the roles that you play in life? Father, daughter, best friend, grandmother…

Or would you identify with your job? Engineer, yoga teacher, housewife, scientist…

Or would you describe yourself by your hobbies? Reader, hiker, karaoke queen, amateur spelunker…

Or would you deflect the question entirely? Maybe by asking in return “Why do you want to know?”

“Who are you?” is a simple yet important question because the response to it is so revealing. It tells others what you value and whom you value. Don’t consider a person’s answer as all-encompassing but it is a starting point in getting to know him/her. And it is your starting point to begin defining who you are – what you consider important, what you believe in, what to discard and eventually how you want people to think of you. There is no right or wrong answer, of course, just hopefully the answer that best describes you. It’s worth thinking about if only to help shape future decisions. Essentially it’s about your life defining who you are rather than the other way around.

So do you have a ready response or does the question stymie you? Do you respond with candor or do you recoil and consider it an intrusion?

My mind reels a little when I think about my own response to that question. “A yogi” doesn’t begin to encompass all of my idiosyncrasies, my obsessive need for efficiency, or my hatred for all things cheerful. I’m not my job. I’m more than Warren’s wife. I’m more than a sister or a daughter. I’m more than my creepy collection of nesting dolls (okay, that one is a gray area).  I’m even more than my bio on Twitter. So who the hell am I?

What I ultimately came up with is I am a flawed yogi on a journey – learning and loving as best as I can.

I feel the need to say something about my Russian nesting dolls but this isn’t a post about how to lose friends and alienate people. (That’s for another time.) I am also resisting the urge to tack on all the things that make me… well, ME – the fun, quirky things. In fact, the little voice inside my head right now is screaming, “For pete’s sake, please think I’m interesting! I’ll do anything!”

But I’m choosing to stand by that answer instead. Knowing that it is only the beginning and that my response will change over time.

I would love to know who you are right now… So I’m asking you, my dear friends, to think about and answer the question WHO ARE YOU?

How to deal with your non-drinking friend

As you know, a group of us are going alcohol-free for 30 days starting February 1st. There have been a variety of reactions to my plan ranging from a congratulatory hug to visible recoil. It is pretty interesting to see them and get a feel for other people’s relationship with alcohol.

But let’s not forget that drinking has a huge social component to it so here is how you can deal with your alcohol-free friend (whether her sobriety is temporary or permanent):

1.  Do not talk her into having a drink.

2.  Do not treat her like a social pariah or like she’s lost her mind.

3.  Do not give her the “head tilt – I’m so sorry” look every time you see her.

4.  Do not hide your alcohol from her or flaunt it in her face either.

5.  Do not explain to her why you would not give up alcohol.

6.  Do ask her how she’s feeling and provide encouragement.

7.  Do continue to invite her to your parties and get-togethers.

8.  Do treat her like nothing has changed.

9.  Do buy her a juice or soda if she’s at a bar with you.

10.  Join her. You might be surprised at what you will discover about yourself.

It’s not hard. It’s not weird. And  you will help your friend accomplish something good. If you’re on Twitter, follow along and provide support with the hashtag #dry or #drinkstrike. You can also leave a comment here or on my Facebook Page.

Below is the list of intrepid individuals joining me in February:

1.  My husband, Warren
2.  My sister, Mary Jane
3.  My friend, Joylette
4.  Danny Stewart
5.  Lisa Byrne
6.  Shonali Burke
7.   Vanessa French
8 .  Michelle Nguyen
9.  Krista
10.  Jeff (aka) Malnurtured Snay
11.  Danielle Ricks

It’s not too late to join us! February 1st  is only TWO days away… Are you ready?

Self care is self love

And don’t you forget it.

Taking care of yourself is the best way you can love yourself. And more than that taking care of yourself is also a good way to show love. Whether you are a mother, a father, a  daughter, a son or a best friend, someone out there is invested in your being healthy. You owe it to yourself and the people you love to be at your best.

When I see someone whose behaviors are detrimental to her health, I see someone who doesn’t love herself and certainly can’t love others.

Perhaps I am guilty of oversimplifying the psychology behind why we do the things we do. We all have varying motivations and we all have bad habits. We all do something that isn’t in our best interest. I have bad habits as well. The least of which is watching Ghost Whisperer religiously (Yes, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s show – you can stop laughing now). But I also have good habits. Habits that help lower my cholesterol. Habits that make sure I get plenty of rest. Habits that prevent me from spending more than I make.

Some would argue that eating and drinking anything and everything is a way of showing love. But is it really? The occasional indulgence? Maybe. But caving in day in and day out to whatever you want is not love. It’s a short-sighted panacea meant to temporarily fix a deeper problem or need. Sure, you could do it every day till you died which would be soon… if you’re lucky. At worst, it’ll catch up with you and lead to a prolonged, painful illness. Who can afford that? No one.

I’m going to boldly put it out there that my good habits outweigh my bad ones. I do all these good things because I want to be healthy and independent for as long as I can. I want to age gracefully. I want to make sure that my husband and my family don’t have to worry about me. I want to dance at my niece’s wedding. I want to drive through the country in an Airstream RV when I retire.

Love Mobile for the Epic Road Trip

You can’t fully love others if you don’t love yourself and if you truly loved yourself you would do as much as you could to be healthy, happy and whole. It sounds so simple but I know it’s not easy. But remember that sometimes the whole is made up of small, good decisions made everyday with a goal in mind.

But you have to start somewhere and you have to start now. There is no more time to waste. Whether the new year has inspired you or you’ve simply made the decision to start, I am here. To help. To love. And to support.

If you have any tips to help someone get on their way or if you have a story to share, I would love to hear it here.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, friends! May 2012 be your best year yet!

Image via Flickr (creative commons) by TonyHall.

You’re a mean one, Ms. Grinch!

For most of my adult life, I have considered the holiday season as hell on earth. It combines two of the things I hate the most – good cheer and shopping.

The cheerful well wishers, carolers, fake Santas and the “Isn’t it a great time to be alive?” folks all encourage me to be more creative about inflicting pain. (Where does one buy an anvil anyway?) Their clear joy and anticipation of the holidays grating on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. If I could hide out during the entire month of December, I would.

And oh, how I LOATHE shopping! I hate the stress of figuring out the perfect gifts… Of not having enough money to get it… And the crowds! For the love of God, the rabid crowds at the store! (Are we people or animals?)

Don’t get me started on the commercialization of Christmas!

Add to it all the stress of having to deal with holiday traffic, will my gifts (ordered online) arrive on time (if at all), did I forget to send someone a Christmas card, what about the obligatory holiday parties? It is complete and total madness! Silent Night my butt!

This season never fails to bring the worst out in people and I am no exception. As the temperature drops, I sink deeper into my sullen mood. When I happen to hear holiday music, it makes me want to drop kick cute puppies and kittens. I have my own personal thundercloud hovering over my head until I am safely ensconced in my sister’s house… A signal that all the holiday preparations and obligations are done and I can finally kick back , relax and enjoy.

But then it’s over too soon. And year after year I am left wishing that I could have enjoyed the holidays just a little bit more. Maybe sang along more loudly and more often when Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You came on. Or maybe even marinated just a little bit more in the gleeful anticipation of the holidays!

You see, my dirty little secret is that I love Christmas. I love celebrating Noche Buena with my family… Eating together, opening presents, playing Mahjong and Rock Band all day long in our PJs! LOVE IT! My heart could explode from the joy of Christmas. There is nowhere else I would rather be!

But I always feel like it’s over before I have even begun to enjoy it! This year though it is going to be different… I will get the business of gift shopping out of the way as soon as possible so I can revel in all the social celebrations that are to come. I can stay away from the crowds and sing along to all the holiday music with a clear conscience. And see? I even put up Christmas lights in my little apartment! So good luck to all of you this year… May you find a little bit more enjoyment in the spirit of the season.

Light Explosion in the Humble Abode

Happy Holidays, my friends! I hope it is a wonderful one!