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Paramahansa Yogananda: Focusing The Power Of Attention For Success

I bought Paramahansa Yogananda’s book, “Autobiography of a Yogi” earlier on in my yoga journey, but didn’t actually get around to reading it for a couple of years. I had developed a consistent yoga practice from the second I hit the mat. I’ll never forget the first thought that entered my mind when I picked my head off the mat that first time in the studio, “I am going to do this practice everyday, for the rest of my life.” I have been averaging 5x per week, every week, since I started 4+ years ago. I started during a rough patch in my life, like many who find yoga, and it changed everything in the best possible way.

When I first started, I didn’t know who Paramahansa Yogananda was. I didn’t know this great teacher, who sailed thousands of miles away from his home, crossing a massive ocean, to bring the science of yoga to the west – all because his teacher, Swami Sri Yuketswar, asked him to.

I started reading “Autobiography of a Yogi,” after a couple of years of practice on a whim. Right after I was about to finish the book, one of my favorite teachers asked me if I wanted to meet a Kriya Master at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Oceanside, CA – Yogiraj Satgurunath Siddhanath. After reading that book, I jumped at the opportunity.

Ever since then, I finish every book I read by Paramahansa Yogananda within a couple of days. Especially this book, “Focusing the Power of Attention for Success.” In this book, he talks about some of the spiritual loads behind our thoughts, and how we can focus them for success through meditation (available on Amazon for $1.)

“These informal talks and essays offer inspiring and practical guidance for living our lives in a spiritually harmonious way—with grace and simplicity, with an inner equanimity in the face of life’s seeming contradictions, and above all with joy, secure in the knowledge that we are at every moment in the embrace of a loving Divine Power.”

Here are 7 quotes from the book below, that I found to be very helpful and interesting for focusing the power of my attention for success.

1. Sharing Your Success

Success has a relation to the satisfaction of the soul in the context of the environment in which one lives; it is a result of actions based on the ideals of truth, and includes the happiness and well-being of others as part of one’s own fulfillment. Apply this law to your material, mental, moral, and spiritual life and you will find it a complete, comprehensive definition of success.

Our success must not hurt others. Another qualification of success is that we not only bring harmonious and beneficial results to ourselves, but also share those benefits with others.

Likewise, the attainment of material success means more than that we are individually entitled to enjoy our prosperity; it means that we are morally obligated to help others to create a better life as well. Anyone who has the brains can make money. But if he has love in his heart, he will never be able to use that money selfishly; he will always share with others. Money becomes a curse to the miserly, but to those who have heart it is a blessing.

Henry Ford, for example, makes a lot of money, but at the same time he doesn’t believe in charity that simply encourages people to be lazy. Rather, he provides work and livelihood for many. If Henry Ford makes money by giving others prosperity too, he is successful in the right way. He has greatly helped the masses; American civilization owes much to him.

Even the greatest saints are not fully redeemed until they have shared their success, their ultimate experiences of God-realization, by helping others toward divine realization. This is why those who have that attainment are dedicated to giving understanding to those who don’t understand.

2. Meditation Removes Mental Limitations #1

Reading worthwhile books is much better than spending time on foolishness. But better than reading books is meditation. Focus your attention within. You will feel a new power, a new strength, a new peace – in body, mind, and spirit. Your trouble in meditation is that you don’t persevere long enough to get results. That is why you never know the power of a focused mind. If you let muddy water stand still for a long time, the mud will settle at the bottom and the water will become clear. In meditation, when the mud of your restless thoughts begins to settle, the power of God begins to reflect in the clear waters of your consciousness.

Do you know why some people are never able to acquire health or make money, no matter how hard they seem to try? First of all, most people do everything half-heartedly. They use only about one-tenth of their attention. That is why they haven’t the power to succeed. In addition, it may be their karma, the effects of their past wrong actions, that has created in them a chronic condition of failure. Never accept karmic limitations. Don’t believe you are incapable of anything. Often when you can’t succeed at something it is because you have made up your mind that you cannot do it. But when you convince your mind of its accomplishing power, you can do anything! By communing with God you change your status from a mortal being to an immortal being. When you do this, all bonds that limit you will be broken. This is a very great law to remember. As soon as your attention is focused, the Power of all powers will come, and with that you can achieve spiritual, mental, and material success.

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Meditation Removes Mental Limitations #2

When a problem thwarts you – when you can find no solution and no one to help you – go into meditation. Meditate until you find the solution. It will come. I have tested this hundreds of times, and I know the focusing power of attention never fails. It is the secret of success. Concentrate, and don’t stop until your concentration is perfect. Then go after what you want. As a mortal being you are limited, but as a child of God you are unlimited. Connect your concentration with God. Concentration is everything. First go within; learn to focus your mind and to feel the power of God. Then go after material success. If you want health, first go to God and connect yourself with the Life behind all life; then apply laws of health.

Commune with God and then go after health or money or seeking a partner in life.

To get response from God, you must meditate deeply. Each day’s meditation must be deeper than the previous day’s. Then you will find that as soon as your attention becomes focused, it burns out all deficiency from your mind, and you feel the power of God come over you. That power can destroy all seeds of failure.

3. A Universal Religion of Love is the Real Answer

“He who watcheth Me always, him do I watch; he never loses sight of Me, nor do I lose sight of him.” In every nook of nature, hidden in the flowers and peeking through the sparkling windows of the moon, my Beloved plays hide-and-seek with me. He watches me always through the screen of nature, the veil of delusion.

Never ignore the Lover behind all lovers. Let not your heart beat with the emotion of the world, but with the thrill of divine love. That love is unsurpassable. The moment divine lose possesses your heart, your entire body becomes blissfully still: “When the Master of the Universe came into my body temple, my heart forgot to beat, the cells of my body forgot their duties. They were transfixed, listening to the voice of Life Immortal – the Lover of all life, the Life of all lives. My heart, my brain, all the cells of my being were electrified, Immortalized with His Presence.” Such is the love of the Lord.

A universal religion of love is the real answer. Love makes you victorious; it makes you a conqueror. Jesus was one of the greatest conquerors of all, wasn’t he? A conqueror of hearts.

Photos from:  http://www.paramhansayogananda.com

4. The Power Behind All Power

First and foremost, be successful with the Master of the Universe. You become so engrossed in material duties, you say you have no time for God. But supposed God says He has no time to beat in your heart, to think in your brain. Where will you be? He is the Love behind all loves. He is the Reason behind all reason. He is the Will behind all wills, the Success behind all success, the Power behind all powers; the blood in your veins; the breath behind your words. If He takes His power away, my voice will be silent and I shall speak no more. If His power doesn’t express through our hearts and brains, we will lie dumb forever. So remember, your most important duty in life is your duty to God.

5. The Practicality of Seeking God First

Faith is intuitive conviction, a knowing from the soul, that cannot be shaken even by contradictions.

The practical purpose behind the scriptural injunction to see God first is that once you have found Him, you can use His power to acquire the things your common sense tells you are right for you to have. Have faith in this law. In attunement with God you will find the way to true success, which is a balance of spiritual, mental, moral, and material attainment.

6. Let No One Take Your Happiness Away From You

“Your happiness is your success, so let no one take your happiness away from you. Protect yourself from those who try to make you unhappy. . . . Conscience is intuitive reasoning, reporting the truth about yourself and your motives. When your conscience is clear, when you know you are doing right, you are not afraid of anything. A clear conscience mirrors a certificate of merit from God. Be immaculate before the tribunal of your conscience and you shall be happy and have the blessing of God.

If you don’t make money, it is because you don’t really concentrate on it; similarly, if you aren’t happy, it is because you don’t concentrate on being happy. The mule that carries a bag of gold on its back doesn’t know the value of that load. Likewise, man is so absorbed in toting the burden of life, hoping for some happiness at the end of the trail, that he does not realize he carries within him the supreme and everlasting bliss of the soul. Because he looks for happiness in “things,” he doesn’t know he already possesses a wealth of happiness within himself.”

7. Keep Your Attention Concentrated

Watch your time. Don’t waste it. You decide to make a quick trip to town to get something you need, but how easily other things distract you. Before you know it you have been gone for hours. At the end of the day, you see how your attention was scattered. It lost all its accomplishing power. The mind is like a bag of muster seed. If you spill those seeds on the floor it is hard to pick them up again. Your concentration must be like a vacuum cleaner, drawing those scattered seed-thoughts together again.

When you have finished your duties at the end of the day, sit quietly alone. Take a good book and read it with attention. Then meditate long and deeply. You will find much more peace and happiness in this than in restless activities in which your mind runs a riot in all directions. If you think you are meditating, when all the while your mind is scattered, you delude yourself. But once you learn to concentrate on God, there is nothing like it. Test yourself. Go on a picnic, go into town, socialize with friends; at the end of the day you will be nervous and restless. But if you cultivate the habit of spending time alone at home in meditation, a great power and peace will come over you. And it will remain with you in your activities as well as in meditation. Seclusion is the price of greatness.

 

 

Yogi, teacher, DJ, writer. Fascinated with experiential study of yoga, meditation, neuroscience, & spirituality.

Connect:

http://shamsandtabrizi.com 
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From Perfectionist To Perfect

“Yoga is about progress, not perfection”.

I see this phrase – and others that say essentially the same thing – a lot on social media, and at first glance, I like it. I like it a lot. Finally, someone is telling me that I don’t have to be perfect! I can screw up, and no one will mind! I can fall out of Headstand rather than elegantly lowering myself back down into Child’s pose, and it’s ok. I can wobble in Tree pose, and fart in Happy Baby, and puff rather than glide my way through Surya Namaskar (and, by the way, I don’t even have to use Sanskrit names that I can’t pronounce, let alone remember), and it’s all fine. And as a relatively new yoga teacher, the initial idea of progress not perfection is doubly appealing. It means that next time I lose track of which leg goes forward first, I shouldn’t worry about it. If I forget where we are in that sequence I so carefully prepared, and a class of 40-odd students are sweating in Downward Dog while they wait for me to tell them what to do next, it’s ok. I can laugh it off. I can demonstrate firsthand to my students that even yoga teachers don’t get it right all the time. Everyone messes up occasionally, and it’s all ok.

It felt great, until I realised something…that implicit in that phrase, there was an assumption that it wouldn’t always be this way. I would progress. I would get better. Not only that, but that I would want desperately to get better, and that I would work hard to do so. I would put in the hours on my mat until I became more flexible, stronger, and able to come down out of headstand like the textbooks say you should. I wouldn’t fart in Happy Baby, and my Sun Salutations (or Surya Namaskar, now) would be effortless. And I definitely, definitely wouldn’t forget what comes next in the sequence I teach.

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I realised that, in today’s western (yoga) world, being imperfect is acceptable up to a point. After that – if your progress isn’t fast enough or good enough – yoga becomes just one more thing that you can’t do. Time to give up and try something else that you might have better luck with.

Yet this is almost the exact opposite of what yoga teaches us (or is supposed to teach us), and that is that everything is already perfect. Not perfect for now, or good enough for now, but perfect in the present moment.

We are all already under so much pressure in our lives to be perfect….or at least, if we can’t be perfect, to at least want to be. We are always striving to be better in some way. To have more money, to have a better house, to get a better job that’s higher up the ladder, to be better parents, better siblings, better children, better teachers. To be better people. And in a way, that’s natural and good. Ambition is what gets us out of bed in the mornings. The desire to grow is what keeps us learning and exploring. The desire to nail that headstand is, perhaps, what keeps us coming back to our mats, at least to start with. Without progress in some form or another, millions more of us would still be dying of the flu, and I wouldn’t be typing this now.

But our desire for progress has become all-consuming, and the word “progress” itself cannot be criticized. If something is labelled as “progressive”, then the overriding feeling is that it must be good whether we like it or not. Sometimes, it feels like the worst thing we can do is to “not progress”. We must always be moving on to the next even better thing, and we become very attached to doing so. Then if, for some reason, that progress doesn’t happen, we suffer. We suffer even if it does happen, because it’s never long before a new desire for something even bigger and better and “more progressive” kicks in, and the whole cycle starts over again. We very rarely stop and take a moment to appreciate what we already have, and to appreciate where we already are….and even rarer is the feeling of being satisfied with that.

If we let it, yoga gives us that feeling. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to improve our asanas, or that we don’t want to grow and learn in our practice. But those precious hours on the mat are our time – perhaps the only time some of us get – to be ourselves, warts and all. Yoga gives us the space and time to be who we are, not who we pretend to be. It gives us the opportunity to discover who that person is. It isn’t the time to push, or to berate ourselves for, yet again, not being good enough or not making fast enough progress. Maybe we will eventually be able to do headstand without crashing down out of it….in fact, if we keep practicing, the likelihood is that we will. Yoga, though, can also show us that it is futile to become attached that hope. Instead of constantly chasing after a new goal, yoga shows us that we have a choice, and we could choose to believe that wherever we are in our practice is perfect. It’s where we are now, in the present moment – and being aware of the present moment and acknowledging it, candidly and truthfully and authentically, is part of what yoga is really about.

Progress? Or perfection? I’m going with perfection…..just not the type of perfection we are so used to thinking about and aiming for. Not a perfectionist style of perfection, but a perfect-in-the-present-moment type of perfection. It’s hard. I haven’t managed it yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. I suspect there will always be a part of me that worries about making mistakes as a teacher, that pushes to be better, stronger, more flexible, and that berates the other part of me for not doing well enough. But I am starting to accept that all I can do is show up, in the moment, as I am. Perfect.

Or, at least, good enough.

 

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Ali is a certified yoga teacher, crystal healer, writer, editor and dreamer at http://kriyashakti.net. When not on the yoga mat, she can usually be found reading, drinking tea, or on a beach (ideally all three). She is currently based in the U.K.

Practice With Consistency

Patanjali tells us that practice becomes grounded when it is pursued consistently, with earnestness, over a long period of time. For many of us, we feel as if this is almost impossible. We may have a busy work and/or school schedule, or maybe kids, family and pets that demand attention. So how are we able to maintain our daily practice consistently despite our daily lives? Now this is where Sutra 1.12 comes in- abhyasa and vairagya. Effort and non-attachment.


In order to create or maintain a practice with consistency, we first must make sacrifices. We need to practice vairagya, non-attachment. Letting go of expectations. If you believe that your practice is only your practice if you have a full hour to move through a flow or have a lengthy warm up, cool down and 10 minute Savasana, this is one of the first sacrifices we need to make. This expectation needs to be released. Some days we may only have ten minutes of free time; so we step on our mat, do one round of Sun Salutations and we’re out the door. Or maybe we only have time after a long day at work when your energy seems to be spent, so it’s legs up the wall and supine twists before you’re off to bed.


If you have children or pets that want your attention, work them into your practice. Instead of disturbing your peace by shooing them away, let them be. Even try to include them if you can. For me, I know my home practice isn’t complete without a cat laying on me and joining my Savasana.


Or maybe distractions aren’t your problem, the only time you have free is after a long and grueling day at work. Is the first thing you want to do when you get home from a busy day to jump onto your mat, flow through vinyasas or power through standing poses and inversions? Well, maybe. But for most people, that’s not the reality. You’re drained, unmotivated and tired. You just want to lay down. So what do you do? Work this into your practice! Take any last drop of abhyasa (effort) you have left. Practice vairagya (non-attachment) by letting go of the belief that a practice only counts if you flow through vinyasas and inversions. Sit your legs up the wall, stretch out the day, then head to Savasana. Is this any less “yoga” than going to class and breaking a sweat or handstands? Nope, it’s not. Sorry to break it to you, but Yoga isn’t simply a workout routine. Yoga isn’t something that fits into a box or category and it sure isn’t something that is the same for everyone. “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” (Sutra 1.2)

Yoga is simply taking the time to tend to your body, release that which no longer serves you and slow (if not stop) your racing thoughts. So whether to you this means flowing through a well rounded routine or taking ten minutes at the end of the day to surrender, any cultivation of mindfulness and release of “the mind-stuff” is Yoga. Any practice is still a practice no matter how small, and consistency is still achievable even with only ten minutes to spare. Remember that.


In conclusion, the biggest key to consistency is practicing with non-attachment. Letting go of the expectation that you need a full hour or rounded flow to practice. Let go of the expectation that you need complete silence or solitude to practice, and begin working with what you have; whether it be pets, kids, or a busy schedule. Adjust your practice to your own needs, and treat yourself gently when your energy is spent elsewhere. Approach your mat with an open mind, adjust your practice to your own needs, and peace will soon follow.

 

 

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After her battle with anxiety and depression led her to seek alternatives, Maddy has been practicing yoga daily for three years. Now she is training to become a certified instructor and shares her journey through YouTube: Sacred Synchronicities and on Instagram: @sacredsynchronicities.

5 Reasons to Teach Yoga for Free

Cover Photo: Shaunte Ditmar Photography

The new year is in full force and instead of adding any more weight to the unpredictable future, maybe introducing a softer approach to our world view could create some lasting ripple effects.

As the world seems to be getting smaller, faster, and cloudier, at the same time, more dreams are coming true; love is forever being found, and the possibilities of a change in consciousness on a global scale is becoming a reality — Instead of focusing on things that separate, we must look outside of the norm, think for ourselves, and strive for a different set of values if we are going to be able to come out of this era of uncertainty and thrive.

Simply put, to teach yoga for free is GOOD. To do anything for free is good. But as a viable construct of our society it becomes a commodity and therefore;

1) To teach yoga for free or within an exchange system is a little piece of CHANGE in SOCIETY that we’ve got our hands on.

A healthy wide-spread yoga practice is a veritable KEY to opening the door to less reliance on the systems that separate and discourage people. You scratch my back I scratch yours. The more we incorporate this into our communities the more networking we can have outside of stereotypes and economic standing. Going against the grain and being a free thinking individual will help bridge the gap in ways unimaginable.

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2) Teaching a free class, or pushing our own boundaries and maybe traveling to a different country to teach yoga, we consciously OPEN ourselves up to an abundance of new possibilities.

You teach, you travel, you learn; and the whole world becomes your oyster. The pearl of who you want to be emerges. Stepping into the direction of service, you ultimately free yourself from value restrictions and the flow of goodness cascades into all corners of your life. You never know who might enter your class, or what opportunities may arise.

The universe always provides…

3) Teaching yoga classes literally ADDS PEACE to the world–teaching classes for free reaches the many individuals who haven’t tried yoga yet or aren’t willing to pay for a class.

You don’t need to watch the news or read the paper to know that (even in regards to your own mind), peace is needed.

Pranic breathing, literally increases your AWARENESS of yourself, and your own personal awareness is where peace resides. To share the possibility of awareness for others in a group setting is the seed to growing the PEACE in the world.

4) Teaching a free class a week (even just once in your life) or taking a trip to somewhere through a yoga teaching exchange network is a way to LEARN and expand in new ways.

Being a teacher doesn’t take away the fact that you are forever a student in the classroom of the world, and in every direction we have a lesson to learn. To accept and give freely in an exchange outside of monetary currency allows a free form energy circulation, softly opening yourself up to new patterns, new traction; humility. You discover the strength of SERVICE which as a tenet of yoga philosophy, takes your tangible yoga practice to a higher level.

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5) Free yoga and exchanging classes can CREATE a NETWORK of other wellness practices that are not reliant on the monetary exchange.

If, as a community, we collectively are able to rely on our knowledge and bring our talents to the table, we are diversifying and enriching our ability to prevent illness and stimulate the effectiveness of alternative medicines. Through herbalism, chiropractic adjustments, massage, home services and even home-grown goods, the possibilities through bartering is unlimited.

These ideas are not farfetched or utopian. We are justly apt to creatively bend deeper into characteristics that we want to see emulated in society. The more we work together in a constructive way the more we can actually see changes in the world. The horrors of greed need not reach your inner sanctuary of well-being. Peace and tranquility are knocking at the entire neighborhood’s doorsteps and our limitless existence is unfolding right before our very eyes. Humans as a whole are no-doubt evolving, let the evolution include your dreams and may your dreams become reality.

Let the broken systems of society be mended by the strength of the systems that we know have worked for thousands of years.

 

 

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Abigail Tirabassi: writer, dreamer, believer, artist, ocean lover, finding joy daily.

IG: @scrambby

9 Yoga & Mindfulness Podcasts That Will Feed Your Soul

Have you heard of “beginner’s mind?”

It’s the Zen Buddhist notion that we should approach the world as novices, childlike, open to learning, no matter how much we know about a certain subject. Beginner’s mind means stepping into our lives with a brand-new, wide-open mind, eager to receive, ready to evolve.

This is how we stay young.

This is how we stay open.

As teachers, one of our most important responsibilities is to keep learning.

In yoga philosophy, we call this svadhyaya, or self-study.

These days, for me, svadhaya means a couple of things: home practice, and podcasts.

For wellness professionals and yogis who are teaching or working overseas, or living in isolated rural areas, these are two essential tools to keep in your self-study toolkit.

Home practice can be self-led or guided by any number of the awesomely-diverse and accessible streaming resources we’re lucky to have these days: anything from YogaGlo to YogaDownload to Yoga International to Yoga My Love.

Since I’m a teacher and have a pretty strong self-practice, I tend to just unroll my mat and do my own thing, especially since oftentimes I don’t know whether I’ll manage a 20-minute or a 2-hour practice (depending how my kid’s naps go).

As for podcasts: it’s easy to give technology a bad rap, but podcasts are such a great populist development. Most of them are FREE (whaaaa?!?), they’re available when you are (2am or 2pm, either way, they’re right there), and you can listen to them anywhere from Cambodia to Costa Rica to California, as long as you’ve got a device and a WiFi signal.

Whereas back in the day you used to have to travel for hours or days to learn from many of the world’s most studied experts, nowadays all you have to do is turn on your phone. It’s pretty righteous.

And I’ve discovered that just listening to teachers’ stories can often be the most instructive. I love hearing about the circuitous paths that have taken wellness professionals from former careers in business and finance, academia and medicine, coffee shops and surfboards, to lifelong vocations in Sanskrit studies and Bhakti Flow. It’s truly inspiring to witness the way in which each of these renowned teachers has arrived upon his or her dharma. (Not to mention that it sure makes you realize that even in the moments you feel like you’re totally lost, you’re still on the path.)

Listening to these yoga pros is also a great way to find a sense of connection and a spirit of sangha (or community), especially if you’re living in another country or a rural area without a ton of colleagues who “get” what it’s like to be a yoga teacher. I’m amazed by how a podcast conversation with a studio owner in Boston or a longtime teacher from New Mexico can leave me nodding my head in agreement, saying “YES, that’s exactly it.”

Sometimes just knowing you’re not the only yoga teacher who struggles with things like commodification, the influence of social media, or the increasing fitness-emphasis of the yoga world can be a total balm for the soul. And in this turbulent political moment, I’ve also been comforted to hear teachers and writers get a little more explicitly political in their conversations. Podcast interviews often offer an intimate, unguarded look into the minds of some of the world’s most respected thinkers and teachers.

That said, here’s the list of my favorite nine smart, thoughtful yoga, meditation, and mindfulness podcasts. These are my go-to episodes. They will feed your soul and make you feel connected in moments of despair or disenchantment.

Listen to them driving to work, walking to the grocery store, riding the bus, cleaning the kitchen. Dial one up when you roll out your mat and you’ll get an hour’s worth of learning while you do your moving meditation, too. You can’t go wrong.

Finally: a big shout-out to the hardworking, dedicated folks curating these podcasts, who do so much to create intelligent content, provide a sense of connection, and share learning opportunities for so many of us listeners out here.

We are grateful.

Yogaland Podcast

https://www.acast.com/yogaland

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This new-ish podcast comes to us via San Francisco-based global teacher Jason Crandell and his wife and business partner, Andrea Ferretti, a former editor at Yoga Journal. I’ve been delighted to follow each episode since Yogaland debuted last year as “a place where you’ll hear uplifting yoga stories, conversations about life issues and how yoga can help, sound health and wellness advice, and occasional super nerdy yoga talk.” Andrea’s interviews are smart and well-informed, her guests are top-notch folks from across the yoga world, their topics range from anatomy to nutrition to yoga philosophy, and Jason & Andrea’s rapport is sweet, self-deprecating, and down-to-earth. Fave past episodes include Andrea’s interview with Kate Holcombe on breast cancer and the Yoga Sutra, and Stephanie Snyder’s two episodes on mothering, loving your whole story, and using chanting in class.

J. Brown Yoga Talks

http://www.jbrownyoga.com/yoga-talks-podcast/

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This is another can’t-miss series featuring “candid conversations about yoga and beyond with outspoken teacher and writer J. Brown.” His guests range from old-school teachers like Mark Whitwell to NYC yoga-scene icon Cyndi Lee to “restorative yoga queen” Judith Hanson Lasater. I appreciate that he bookends podcasts with his (sometimes very personal) reflections. I’ve never met J., but listening to his podcast and hearing how he juggles owning a studio, parenting, and deciding whether to stay in gentrifying NYC or move his family somewhere more affordable make me feel connected. His podcasts have become a sort of “living history” of folks from the 1990s NYC yoga scene in particular, many of whom have transitioned from teaching butt-kicking power vinyasa to gentler, more sustainable flows. I’ve learned so much just from listening. Do give it a try.

Chitheads: Embodied Philosophy

http://www.fivetattvas.com/chitheads/

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Jacob Kyle’s new podcast also debuted fairly recently (last year, if I remember correctly), and it’s also excellent. (Props for the clever tongue-in-cheek name, too.) Chitheads features “interviews with leaders, elders, and teachers from the yoga and wider wisdom community on eastern philosophies, consciousness studies, social justice, and the human spiritual condition.” Kyle comes from a background in legit academic philosophy, which lends a sharp critical eye to his approach (much-needed in the yoga world these days). I appreciate his intelligence and his emphasis on the intricacies of yoga history and philosophy. Past episode highlights include his interviews with Sharon Salzberg, Philip Goldberg, Edwin Bryant, and Michael Stone.

Awake In The World: Michael Stone

https://michaelstoneteaching.com/podcasts/

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Speaking of…Michael Stone is the best of the best, “a cross between a spiritual teacher and a public intellectual.” Whether you’re reading his books, taking an online course, or following him on Instagram, you’re going to find rich, thoughtful, grounded material. Michael’s original Centre of Gravity podcast (now “Awake In The World”) was one of the first I discovered years ago. It’s a collection of his lectures and teachings delivered in Canada and at various global sanghas and retreats. They’re fantastically-rich in yoga philosophy, rooted in ancient texts, and peppered with fascinating insights from Buddhism and psychology. Not to mention a gentle sense of humor and a deep recognition of the fact that our relationships and our families are fertile ground for waking up. Check out Michael’s stellar series of lectures on Yoga & Trauma Sensitivity featuring Molly Boeder-Harris for some much-needed insights on this current hot topic in the yoga world.

10% Happier with Dan Harris

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/10-happier-with-dan-harris/id1087147821?mt=2

 

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Dan Harris is a gem: “a fidgety, skeptical ABC newsman who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America, which led him to something he always thought was ridiculous: meditation.” Totally self-deprecating, totally at home in the television world, this ABC anchor has done much to take the “woo-woo” out of meditation. Check out this excellent podcast, in which he interviews Average Joes like the Dalai Lama (what?!?), Robert Thurman, and George Mumford, famous NBA meditation coach. Harris is as committed to his practice as he is humble and funny, and he curates a great interview. Can’t recommend this one highly enough for the down-to-earth factor alone.

Meditation In The City: A Shambhala Podcast

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/meditation-in-city-shambhala/id635143127?mt=2

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This podcast series from Shambhala NY is a fab resource for the urban-dwelling Millennial, with lecture topics like “Buddha With A Smartphone” and “If the Buddha Grew Up in New York.” Its aim is to “help dispel the myths about meditation, with down-to-earth, real life teachings that show us the benefits of meditation in our everyday life.” Seek out lectures from folks like Ethan Nichtern and Lodro Rinzler, two of my favorite thirtysomething Buddhist teachers, who both do wonderful work merging old-school philosophy with new-school realities.

Tara Brach

https://www.tarabrach.com/talks-audio-video/

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Tara Brach’s bio describes her as “a leading western teacher of Buddhist (mindfulness) meditation, emotional healing, and spiritual awakening.” That about nails it. Tara’s podcast was one of the first I discovered several years ago, and I quickly consumed her entire podcast library, which is a lovely blend of lectures and audio meditations. Come for her calming, gentle voice, and stay for the timeless, psychology-infused wisdom.

Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg

https://sharonsalzberg.com/metta-hour-podcast/

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If you’ve studied Buddhism, you’ve heard of Sharon Salzberg. Sharon is one of the premier teachers of the generation of folks who really brought Buddhism to America in the 1960s and 1970s. She’s as humble and unassuming as she is brilliant and perceptive. This collection of her talks, which “feature Buddhist philosophy in a practical, common sense vernacular,” includes lectures with Ethan Nichtern and Congressman Tim Ryan. You can’t go wrong with Sharon, especially as you are building a foundation for a lifelong practice. She is a gift to the curious student, young or old.

Sounds True: Insights At The Edge

http://www.soundstrue.com/store/weeklywisdom

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Tami Simon “interviews spiritual teachers, visionary writers, and living luminaries about their newest work and current challenges.” You’ll find a rich cross-section of spiritual activists, teachers, and writers interviewed here. Just listening to this excellent podcast alone will provide a powerful, diverse spiritual education. Check out episodes with Jack Kornfield, Seane Corn, Thomas Moore, and Marianne Williamson for a start.

 

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at http://www.rachelmeyeryoga.com/ or @rachelmeyeryoga.

Hot Yoga Isn’t Punishment: 10 Tips for Making Friends With Your Body During a Hot Yoga Class

Friends, friends: it’s that time of year.

I’ve taught Saturday and Sunday mornings for seven years now, and every December around this time folks roll into class ready to sweat out every canape and martini they half-drunkenly inhaled at the office holiday party the night before. Sometimes they’re wearing six layers of clothing in a 99-degree room so as to “detox” all the pinot and the feta and the gingerbread, armed with liters of coconut water and a couple of big towels for mopping up the evidence.

This always makes me a little bit sad.

I mean, I totally get it. I remember countless hazy, hungover twentysomething mornings spent rolling into Bikram classes feeling like I needed to do the same thing. Too many yoga practices that felt like atonement for the night before.

A decade later, as a hot yoga teacher myself, I cringe to think that my class could ever be complicit in my students’ self-abasement.

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So here I am to remind you: hot yoga is not a punishment.

You are not here to flog yourself for everything you consumed last night — especially in this season of overindulgence. You’re not here to beat your body into submission. You’re not here to burn enough calories that you “can have” that extra slice of pie tonight at Grandma’s.

You do not have to “detox” every bit of sugar you’ve eaten in the last month. Your body already has a great built-in system for that. It’s called your liver.

Get this: your body is your friend. Gulp, what? Yes, your friend. Your ally. Your buddy-for-life. Why not start celebrating it rather than shaming it?

Rather than making your yoga practice a participant in the kind of soul-sucking cycle wherein you eat and drink delicious things and then punish your body for eating them, how about you shift your mindset? Then, your yoga can become less a fitness regimen and more an opportunity to lovingly check in with your body and your mind in the midst of what is already often a frantic, busy holiday season. An opportunity to get quiet. To listen a little more. To offer your body grace for getting up in the morning and getting dressed and trudging through ice and snow and staying healthy and awake and alive in some of the darkest, coldest days of the year.

Portland, Oregon studio owner (and former Olympic ice skater) Jamie Silverstein has written a powerful article about this. In “Cut the Fat Speak: An Open Letter to the Yoga Community and Message for the Holiday Season,” she writes:

“Every time we speak in terms that portray food, exercise, reward, even love (!) as part of an economy of exchange, we are latently affirming a message of, “You are not good enough as you are.” Every time we employ a rhetoric of action-consequence we effectively say, “You are not enough.” Simply, this is not yoga….

On a more personal note, as a recovered anorexic/bulimic and eating disorder (ED) recovery advocate, I feel that this language is not only maladaptive, but that it also reinforces a dangerous ideal. Both from my personal practices and my work in the ED recovery field, I’ve encountered how the negative conditioning an exercise-exchange economy adversely affects people. It is often tantamount to verbal abuse. This is ironic, because as yogis, we are committed to ahimsa.”

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And living with ahimsa means creating less suffering, even for ourselves, right?

One of my favorite meditation teachings (I think it comes from Ethan Nichtern, but it might’ve been Susan Piver, too) is the notion that meditation is the process of making friends with ourselves. How beautiful is that? I know, I know; it sounds kind of cheesy at first. But when you really think about it, meditation (and yoga) are all about shifting the kind of negative self-talk that many of us are already pretty good at into a more compassionate, patient voice that greets ourselves as a beloved friend.

Here are a few tips for making friends with your body during a hot yoga class:

1. Use a witness-observer mind.

Notice what you’re thinking, without getting stuck in it, or thinking it’s you. Your thoughts are just thoughts. They come and go. They’re not YOU. (This is pretty much the whole definition of yoga: learning to no longer identify with the fluctuations of your mind.) And once you figure that out, life is so much easier.

2. Remember that hunger is not your enemy.

You don’t have to resist it, or avoid it, or chew 17 sticks of gum or drink 8 Diet Cokes a day to avoid actually eating anything. Hunger is actually a good thing. It reminds you to nourish yourself! Food can be a friend. Food can be celebration, and solidarity, and community, and holiday ritual. Food is here to fuel you, not punish or taunt or numb you. You don’t need to sweat it all away.

3. Treat yourself like a toddler.

Picture your favorite 1-year-old learning how to walk. They fall on their cute little butts constantly, don’t they? They wipe out and belly flop and totally lose it all the time, and what do they do? They giggle, push themselves back up, and try again. Can you imagine if you spoke to a toddler the way you speak to yourself when you fall out of a tough balancing pose? (“Come on, dummy, you are a such a failure! You suck. You might as well just give up because this yoga thing is so not for you.”) Of course not, right? When they wipe out, you just smile and help them up and say, “Way to go, buddy! You’re doing great. Keep trying. You’re doing it!”

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4. Three key words: Isn’t that interesting?

When you fall out of Pincha Mayurasana and CRASH, shaking the whole studio with your stunning wipe-out, notice it and smile and say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” When your muffin top spills over the waistband of your yoga pants more than it did a month ago, rather than beating yourself up, notice it and say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” This notion of “interesting” cuts the judgment: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. It can shift everything in your day-to-day.

5. Be tender. ‘Nuff said.

With yourself, with your body, with your practice, with one another. Silverstein adds, “If you are struggling with self-acceptance this holiday season, as many of us do, let that be okay, too. Unfortunately much of our body-rhetoric and internal dialogue is harsh and prescriptive. Know you are not alone. Self-compassion cannot live in an antagonistic environment. The healing comes when we learn to acknowledge these voices without doing what they say.”

6. When you fall out of the pose, just get back in.

No big deal. No drama. No judgment. Whether we’re talking about a pose, or a healthy lifestyle, or anything else you’re trying to make into a positive habit. You are not the worst yogi that ever was. You just fell out, and now you’re gonna get back in. Get lost, start over. As Pema Chodron says, “Feel the feeling. Drop the storyline.” And then move right along.

7. Let go of the idea that a hot yoga practice is a detox.

I’m pretty ready to scrap that loaded “D” word already. Try to release the notion that your yoga practice is atonement for everything else you put into your body. It’s not here to wring out every “toxin.” It’s not here to sweat your “sins” out. It’s here to lovingly, patiently bring your body into balance, unraveling the knots, letting the prana (or life force) flow freely again.

8. Think of this practice as a celebration rather than a punishment.

I’m ever-grateful to my longtime friend and student Stacy, who suggested this to me once when we were hiking in Point Reyes. She noted that when I teach I often respond to people’s pained faces (when they’re clearly being hard on themselves in a pose). And then she said, “Rachel, what about the opposite? What about the moments wherein you maneuver yourself into a new pose for the first time, and you’re bowled over with awe and excitement at the amazing things your body can do? Things you never thought it capable of doing? So much that you just want to cry from the wonder?” I love this. Try approaching your practice with a spirit of “Holy shit, this is amazing!” rather than “Dammit, I suck.” Everything changes.

9. Picture yourself as an eighty year old.

If you’re lucky enough to live that long, you probably won’t be able to do any of this asana stuff. But you’ll still be trucking around this same old body, and you can choose to beat it up or love on it. Your call. I don’t know of anything that ever gets softer or kinder or more open from being beaten down, though. (At the risk of being a walking yoga cliche, let me quote Rumi, who said it best: “Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.”)

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10. If you’re a teacher, commit to using body-positive languaging.

Silverstein offers an inspiring pledge for teachers: “This season, I am committing to nourishment. I am committing to nourishment not just through physical food, but through language and action. I and my studio (The Grinning Yogi) promise to offer a message of acceptance and nourishment starting NOW. We are pledging the following:
* We will NOT teach from a voice rooted in an exchange economy of food, guilt, calories, indulgence, or anything related to not “being enough” as you are.
* We will create a safe-haven for our friends to feel empowered so they can take effective steps in promoting their own self-care and overall wellness.
* We will open a dialogue about what real nourishment is.
* We will remind our friends that food is food, love is love, and yoga… yoga is a GIFT!”

I am proud to commit to this pledge, and to make my hot yoga classes a sanctuary and a refuge from body-shaming. So come on in. Bring your perfectly-original body along. Share the love. You’re all welcome here.

 

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.

4 Ways To Find More Santosha In Your Everyday

In yogic philosophy, the word Santosha basically translates as “contentment.”

This isn’t contentment as in, Hey, let’s get stoned and sit on the couch eating donuts and bingeing on Netflix for the next five hours.

It’s not contentment as in Eh, my life is pretty decent as it is, so why bother learning a new language or playing piano or planting a garden or traveling to Greece?

This is contentment, as in looking around at your perfectly-imperfect life, waking up to the little graces, and being ok with it, instead of constantly seeing happiness over there, once you get that body or that car or that job or that partner or that kid.

Buddhist scholar David Loy calls this grass-is-always-greener phenomenon LACK. It’s the ubiquitous, unsettling sense that there’s something intrinsically missing, a perpetual void, always the experience of not enough.

You see this everywhere. Capitalism stokes the fire. Our economy is fueled by the message that YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. That if you just buy this moisturizer or that Tesla or that pair of sneakers, you’ll be lovable, you’ll be popular, you’ll be complete.

BULLSH*T.

We all know that’s not true.

Because as soon as you get the Tesla, you’ll want the newer model. And as soon as you get the McMansion, you’ll want the one with the pool next door. And as soon as you get the trophy wife, there’ll be a younger one with fewer wrinkles and better boobs around the corner.

So we practice cultivating santosha.

And you know what one definition is for enlightenment, right?

That’s right: WAKING UP.

Here are 4 things you can do to find more santosha in your everyday:

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1. Sit on a bench with a cup of coffee in your hands.

Plop your tired ass down anywhere: a park bench, your front stoop, a random tree stump. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and feel the sun on your face. Look around at your surroundings, beautiful or ugly, and say to yourself, in spite of anything going down in your life right now (and we know there’s always something going down):

“It is enough.”

It seems so clichéd, I know. But in this culture, practicing enoughness is quite radical. It’s a countercultural move.

In 2002, I left my life in Delaware and moved to Europe. I didn’t have a job or a home or a family. It was just me and a lot of books and benches and train rides and church pews. And in the spite of all the wonders I visited, my main takeaway all these years later is of sitting on a bench in Amsterdam and Berlin and Paris and Madrid with a cup of coffee, closing my eyes, feeling the sun on my face, and saying “It is enough.”

It was simple and poor and quiet and unwashed.

But it was humbly enough.

Traveling solo as a 22-year-old was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Seeing the world beyond your fingertips is doubtlessly life-rocking. And I love, love the work Yoga Trade does to make those kinds of incredible adventures possible now.

But it’s also easy to romanticize life on the road. The truth is, wherever you are, there will be struggles, and there will be joys. The glittering sunsets and the rad globe-trotting folks and the fab food will rock your world. But sometimes, it’s tough. You’re lonely, you’re broke, you’re carrying along an unrequited love or career fears in your racing mind. You’re comparing your poor bohemian nomad’s life with that of your college peers who graduated and bought a house and married someone and got a 401k before age 25.

Your job is to find the middle ground. So you pause and take a moment to look around and say, “It is enough.” Because even if you’re living in a pimped-out van down by the Nile River, there’ll always be aspects of an everyday grind. And it’s up to you to re-brand them.

2. Practice Up Dog, and stay.

I love Urdhva Mukha Svanasana so much lately. Most vinyasa practitioners literally roll right by Up Dog, practicing it what, 20 or 30 times in the course of one vinyasa class, right? We blow through it, not even appreciating it for a breath while we’re on our way to Down Dog.

So the last few months I’ve been purposely, consciously, holding it a solid 5 breaths. And MAN, is it tough! Man, does it feel great! And man, does it feel like a revelation and a relief to flip my toes and head back into Down Dog when it’s over.

This is practicing santosha. This is pausing to notice the things we usually blow right by.

Another easy way to do this is to walk on the different side of the street. You always stroll to the grocery store the same way? Cross the street. It’s a brand-new experience. An alternate universe. Turning off the cruise control.

Read the signs on the shop awnings. Notice the house numbers on the little bungalow down the street. Walk inside that antique shop you usually run right by. You’ll be surprised by how much you usually miss.

3. Before every meal, say three things you’re grateful for.

Even if you’re not into praying, this is a simple way to work in a little santosha. Your three things can be mundane or dramatic, anything from the burrito in front of you to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a sweet, playful way to get to know your dining companions a little better, too.

You can do this on your iPhone, too, using your Notes app. Just jot down thoughts as they come to you. Or you can go old-school and carry a notebook and pen around with you. Sit down and scrawl “In this moment, I am thankful for…” and then just let the pen run wild.

Don’t overlook the power of simple, mundane practices like this.

4. Sprawl out in savasana.

Let your palms fall open and your feet flop. Settle your weight and drop in. For maybe the first time today, notice the miracle of your heart beating in your chest and your lungs breathing, without you having to tell them to do so. Know that you are alive, and you won’t always be.

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This body will be a corpse.

So, in this very moment, just let your aliveness be enough.

For seven years now, I’ve offered the same blessing at the end of each yoga class. It goes like this, palms in prayer:

“Inhaling, we lift our hearts, and
Exhaling, we bow forward,
In very simple gratitude:
For this body, this breath, this moment, this life,
For, as the yoga reminds us: each of these will pass.
That we might never take any of those breaths, or any of those moments — even, and especially, the most challenging ones — for granted.”

Isn’t it hard? I mean, damn. Don’t we just want to get past those difficult moments as quickly as possible?

Not really. The alternative, of course, is that we’re dead.

If you’ve ever had a broken limb before, you get this. The revelation and immense gratitude you feel after getting your cast off, or throwing out the crutches and walking down the stairs again by yourself. A decade ago, living in San Francisco, I sprained my ankle. I tromped around miserably in a walking cast for several weeks, bartended in that beer-covered walking cast, and sat in the back row of a yoga class and faked my way through the whole thing on the floor. I felt so deeply grateful the first time I got my boot off. I promised myself I’d never again take for granted the ability to carry my groceries up the street or climb the stairs or go to work.

(Of course, now, I do.)

Last month, we ended up at the ER with my 2-year-old son. For over a week, he’d had a mysterious swelling of both eyelids that made it look like he’d just walked out of Fight Club, or an Olympic boxing match. We saw five different medical professionals over the course of a week, and they all offered different potential diagnoses, but no one was able to cure it, even after meds, shots, and time.

The dreaded parental rite of passage of your first trip to the ER is pretty, well, awful.

Being there was such a reminder of impermanence and the fragility of these aging bodies. You walk through the doors under that big red EMERGENCY ROOM sign and know you’re gonna see sorrow.

But being there with your KID takes it to a whole new level. My mind kept slipping toward anxiety, running off to heartbreaking imagined futures. It was a constant practice of having to corral it again and again, bring it back to this moment.

After several hours and a battery of tests that revealed everything was going to be ok, and it was just a simple blocked oil gland in his eyelid, I’ve never felt more awake to the fundamental blessings of my life. Like being able to make eye contact with my son. Like being able to cut that ER bracelet off his leg. Like knowing he’d be able to see and walk and kick a ball and play an instrument and read books.

Santosha. Waking up.

Stay woke. This life is short.

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, Tricycle, The Huffington Post, Yoga International, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com

Instagram: @rachelmeyeryoga

Get Lost, Start Over: Why Yoga Starts When Things Fall Apart

It’s a cool, grey Saturday morning in Portland.

7:45am.

I’m on the road, cruising along about 45 mph, pleasantly caffeinated, smoothie in hand, headed to teach my 8:15am class.

Life is calm and quiet and good. (The caffeine helps).

Good, that is, until, out of nowhere, smack in the middle of the road, surrounded by other metal deathboxes zooming along at 45 mph, my car just dies.

Shuts off. Loses all power. Sayonara, baby.

The dashboard lights flash once, ominously, and then they die, too. All of them.

Holy shit. What’s going on?! What am I gonna do?!

I shift the weirdly-energyless car into neutral. There’s a parking lot just a few hundred feet ahead to my right, if I can just manage to get there. Deliberately, clenchedly, I steer that lifeless monstrosity of glass and leather and steel into the parking lot, shove it awkwardly into Park, sit for a breathless moment hoping nothing explodes, and turn the ignition off.

Exhaling, I think to myself:

This is why we do yoga.

*

I’m a vinyasa teacher these days, but long before I’d ever stepped foot in a Flow class, I spent six years practicing Bikram-style hot yoga daily. It was my balm and my sanctuary, a delicious, addictive torture that cracked me open and slowed me down.

The first time I took a hot yoga class was in September 2003.

Age 24. I’d just moved to San Francisco, and my sweet Japanese roommate of two weeks, Hitomi, told me I just had to try this yoga thing. I’d been running the City’s hills to tackle the anxiety of trying to find a job, so my shin splints were screaming and my hamstrings tightening by the day. There was a studio just down the street, so one evening I went with her.

I’d resisted yoga for years, even after folks I respected had recommended it, figuring it would just be a bunch of middle-aged ladies stretching to hippie flute music. Not my jam.

Tim was my teacher; Tim, who all these years later, is now a dear colleague and friend. Tim, who was sweet and light-hearted and called Locust Pose “Superfriends Pose.” He led us confidently through the 26 poses, and there, in that sweltering, airless 105F degree room, I felt refreshingly at home.

The studio quickly became a refuge. There, I was allowed to be quiet. I was required to be quiet. I could roll in with messy hair and no makeup and ratty old sweats and stand in the back corner and be invisible. I could disappear into the breath, the silence, the rhythm of the practice, sweating and twisting and stretching out everything in me that was frantic or frazzled or stagnant or uncertain, balancing precariously on that sweat-soaked berber carpet.

The practice pushed me to no end. It was so hard to stay alive! So hard to keep breathing! So hard to not freak out or swear at the teacher or throw my arms up in frustration and stomp out of the room! So hard to fall out of Standing Bow Pose and just get back in, 100 times, without reacting, without making a face, without feeling like the most pathetic yogi that ever was.

Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.

This is yoga. This is meditation. This is parenting. This is intimacy. This is art.

This is that moment in the middle of the freeway when you’re lucky to be alive, and 17you’re not sure what to do, because your car just shut down, so you take a deep breath, and remember how back in the day you used to breathe through Half Moon even though it was exhausting and frustrating and impossible, and you take that same deep breath and steer the car over to the side of the road and call your husband to tell him to call AAA and he does and call the studio owner to pick you up and he does and you get to class with 10 minutes to spare while AAA tows your car and you step into that studio and feel calm and present and perfectly wonderfully fine (because it all is, of course).

We don’t come to the mat because life is peachy. Most of us come because of an ache in our hearts or our bones or a mind that won’t quite stop racing. We come and we just practice staying; staying and not reacting, staying and realizing the chaos is not us, staying and realizing we are clear blue sky.

Everything else? Just the weather.

(Thanks to Pema Chodron for that one.)

*

There’s a reason we call it practice. For a long time I felt cheesy about using that word.

“So, how long have you been, erm, practicing?”

It felt so pretentious. Precious. Silly.

But the more I showed up on my mat, the more I realized how perfect that word really is. We aren’t performing (that’s for damn sure). We aren’t exercising. We aren’t doing.

We are practicing.

We are practicing for all of those moments when shit falls apart, and the flight gets cancelled, and the package gets lost, and the heart breaks, and the car stops, so that when those moments come (and they will), we already know how to take a step back, watch our reactions, slow down, and choose how to respond, realizing that as long as we stay right here in this very moment, without letting our minds run off to some story about what might be or what should’ve been, we’ll be fine.

Patanjali outlines this mental training in the second yoga sutra, wherein he defines yoga as “Citta Vritti Nirodha.” In other words, “Yoga is the cessation of the misidentification with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Come again?

Put simply: yoga is realizing you are not your thoughts.

*

Steve Ross’s book, Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing To Worry About, was the first legit yoga philosophy text I ever found.

One afternoon shortly after taking that first class I wandered into the New Age section of a bookstore down by the Embarcadero. The yoga pickings were slim at the time, but Steve Ross’s book caught my eye. Its corny title grated me. But the content hooked my heart and my mind, all at once.

I sat on the floor and read the whole thing in one take.

In down-to-earth, relatable language, Ross laid out the basics of meditation, asana, and a yogic lifestyle. His simple, self-deprecating words changed my life.

Describing how to train your mind, Ross offers the example of what happens when you get a flat tire on a sketchy road at night. Your cell phone is dead and you can’t call or text anyone. (I’m adding this detail because the 2003 version didn’t assume that everyone had smart phones). In that moment, you can do one of two things: 1) Freak out immediately and hyperventilate and assume an axe-murderer is lurking just outside your passenger door waiting for you to walk out, or 2) Take a deep breath, keep your mind yoked to every step you’re taking, walk to the gas station a half-mile down the road, and call a friend. Then, sit down and wait and read the newspaper until he comes to pick you up.

No big deal. Problem solved.

The key moment here is when you make the choice to keep your mind from running off the rails like a runaway train. That crucial breath when you avoid getting sucked into the worst-case scenario and just bring your attention right back to what is.

*

Last weekend I led a yoga and hiking retreat in Point Reyes, California. This quiet little hamlet about an hour north of San Francisco is rich with local blue cheese and Tomales Bay oysters and the kind of thick coastal fog that rolls in about 5:30pm. The hikes that meander throughout Point Reyes National Seashore are rustic and lush, with killer blue-skied views of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

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I’ve led a few of these retreats in the last year or so, and it’s always a joy. There’s this particularly magical hike that winds up Inverness Ridge to the top of Mount Vision and back down again. Locals know it, but otherwise it’s pretty much off the tourist radar. My husband and I used to hike a portion of it daily when we lived in Inverness and I was pregnant with our son.

But the last time we did it, I got our group of 30 people lost several times and we had to backtrack to the trailhead instead of finishing out the full loop.

I was so embarrassed. Felt like an idiot.

This time, I was determined to redeem myself. Two days before the retreat, I hauled my ass to the trail for a test hike. With a fire in my belly, I started from the end and hiked backwards, determined to find the missing connection.

Got to the top, and BOOM.

Turns out, last time we were actually totally on the right path. Had we only walked ¼ mile further — and had I trusted my intuition — we would’ve stumbled right onto the rest of the loop and hiked back down to complete the circle.

Lesson learned: You are on the right path, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Trust your gut. Your body knows more than your mind will often give it credit for.

Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.

*

I don’t practice much hot yoga anymore these days, but I’ll always be grateful for the way it changed my life: how it taught me to stay with discomfort, to keep breathing, and to trust that the difficult moments would pass. Sweating there in Trikonasana, my mind couldn’t get lost in aimless worries about my career or my love life or my bank account. I had to be right there, struggling, exhaling, trying not to fall over.

This is yoga. This is why we practice. So that when we’re in the most awkward, sweaty, challenging moments of our lives, we can be there, and be ok. Not freak out. Not run out of the room. Not get lost in unhelpful stories.

We yoke the mind to the breath the same way you’d yoke a wild horse to a wagon. Keeping it steady. Keeping it focused. Keeping it centered on that drishti. And before we know it, the difficult moment has passed.

And there we are.

Clear blue sky.

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, The Huffington Post, Yoga International, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.

Waves of Experience

I was on the train to Cinque Terre gazing out the window at the gorgeous waters of the Italian Riviera and reflecting on my travels. I realized how traveling is a vast ocean of lessons and helps bring out the essence of who we truly are.

We’re all like rocks along the shore, molded by each wave of experience. Each wave brings new wisdom, new perspective, and new acceptance. It rounds our edges, helps form who we are, and what we bring to this world.

As we experience other cultures and learn from how others live, we gain insight on how we want to live and what we value.

In my travels so far, two things continue to have a profound impact: the ability to be flexible in my plans & the courage to ask.

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Be Flexible

Plan what you can, but also plan for all of that to go out the window. Whether it’s a train you need to catch, a housing situation that turns out to not be at all what you expected, or a change in itinerary, things will happen and it’s so important to be flexible. I’m not saying that it won’t feel frustrating or like your patience is being tested, but that’s all part of the experience. All you can do is make the best of the situation. Be willing to see where the new turn of events take you.

Just Ask

Have the courage to ask. It might feel intimidating to approach someone for help in a different language or for an opportunity to teach a yoga class, but the only thing you can do is ask. Maybe they say no, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone waiting to say yes to you.

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It’s common for people to feel afraid of looking stupid or of rejection, but acknowledge the fear and then do it anyway. Being brave isn’t about being fearless, but not letting that fear paralyze you.

I once heard that life is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth. You have to take action and even your so-called “failures” will propel you forward into success, whatever success means to you.

So take each wave of experience as it comes, be flexible, be courageous, and keep moving forward!

 

 

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Shannon Handa is a Yoga Trade Travel Rep and travels to teach and practice yoga in different countries to explore the similarities and differences in how it’s approached. She writes about her travels on her blog, Yoga Across the Globe, to share her experiences with fellow yogis.

Connect:

http://www.yogaacrosstheglobe.com/

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Movement, Evolution and the Unveiling of Dharma

When I first stepped up to the mat upon my mother’s request five years ago, I never ever expected my life to drastically change the way it did. That room full of 30 women and no men, scared the hell out of me, but with my mother by my side I fought with my body for the next 90 minutes until my ego was battered and bruised, until finally Savasana came and saved my soul. For the first time in my 18 years of existence I started to breathe, and with that the first stillness I had ever really experienced washed over me, I was both fascinated and hooked. It took me 3 years of practice to understand how much of an impact yoga was having on my evolution. My whole perspective upon existence was both simplified and enhanced by the healing yoga brought me, my Dharma began to be unveiled. Every time I lived outside my truth it brought me friction whereas when I was openly expressing and enjoying my expression, my life would flow freely and synchronicities would be more frequent. Yoga continues to ripen my existence and has unveiled purpose within my life. It has re-gifted me my profound connection with nature, not to mention to my higher self. Best of all, I have unveiled that my duty here is to share this beautiful tool of consciousness with the world.

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Fast forward five years and I am living in Guatemala, teaching my own open air yoga class in the mountains above Antigua. Yoga has helped me in the manifestation of a living paradise both internally and externally. It has taken me from the deepest depths of my consciousness to the most spiritually saturated pockets of India. The reason I feel so drawn to helping people find the true essence of the path of yoga is that it gifts me the opportunity to change people’s lives and helps in adding rungs to the ladder of a positive evolution. I praise people encouraging any sort of movement and connection with the human body out there in the world, as I believe they are going to be the pioneers of the new world.

Quantum physics theorizes that your external world is a projection of your inner world. This means that when we look at things collectively, the world is a reflection of the majority’s state of consciousness and to me that signifies an immense amount of suffering eminent within the human race. That means that every time I get the opportunity to connect somebody to themselves or something higher during a yoga practice, I do it as though the survival of the planet depends on it. If we humans continue our fascination with external sensory stimuli and the over-indulgence in the Muladhara chakra our future looks bleak. That is why being able to give someone tools for the cultivation of peace and the alleviation of suffering within themselves is so incredibly satisfying for the soul not to mention crucial for our evolution.

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I am quite new to teaching, having graduated Yoga school in early 2015, yet already I am beginning to look at yoga from a new perspective. I now see yoga as a stepping stone onto the path back to the unconditioned self, call it a tool for awakening. I am able to lift my head and peer beyond the structured and sometimes monotonous western Asana practice, shifting my focus more to the emphasis of movement as a whole. Bringing the deeply suppressed primitive energy into expression and converting darkness into light. I am looking to bring yoga out of the studio and into the world. This is why I feel such gratitude and burning Tapas towards the Yoga project here in Antigua. Practicing up on the mountain amid the clouds, active volcanoes, and old growth forests offers me something more than a regular structured studio practice. We are able to offer our energy straight back into nature for interconversion, we establish an entheogenic bond with the earth that just cannot be felt within anything other than nature. My Dharma is to assist in humanities cohesion with nature and I feel like more and more people are being called forward for this duty.

This is one of the most exciting times in history to have incarnated onto the earthly plain, and those being called forward to assist with the reconnection of man with himself and nature have a vital role to play in our evolution as a species. I thank everybody doing the work both on themselves and within the world from the bottom of my heart. May the path of Yoga guide us forward and shine light upon your Dharma. I implore you to begin practicing in Nature and to assist in breaking down the barriers of segregation between what is fundamentally movement. We all have our divine path awaiting us and I have Yoga to thank for unveiling mine. Keep moving, breathing, and connecting on all planes of existence.

Om Namah Shivaya

 

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Lewis is a Travelling Yogi and Entrepreneur from the Margaret River region of Western Australia. He teaches an organic infusion of Hatha Flow and Power Vinyasa at the Hobbitenango Community in Antigua, Guatemala.

Find him on FACEBOOK ~ or Email ~ yogawithlewis@gmail.com