Yoga is an opportunity for self-reflection. Self-reflection means purposefully paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, decisions, and behaviors. It enables us to make meaning of all of the great and not so great experiences we’ve had in our lives.
Just like a yoga pose, self-reflection is challenging and requires us to be open and honest with ourselves.
When we, as yogis, are unwilling to self-reflect, we project. We project those things that we are reluctant to turn inward, sit with, and change.
Change Is Hard
Change is hard but change is a necessary and pivotal part of life. When I think about all the different ways to discuss or even label change, several ideas come to mind: growth, transformation, letting go, and acceptance. All of these things require us to go within ourselves and do some sort of work–some kind of self-reflection. You can’t grow from your experiences if you don’t understand them. Once you understand the why behind your decision-making, you can make changes based on what you’ve learned.
I spent a big part of my life projecting so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my core issues. Everything was everyone else’s fault. Everything that was happening to me, around me, and within me, was always the result of someone else–at least in my mind. It was a defense mechanism to protect and preserve the only thing I knew and the only thought process and outlook that I was comfortable with accepting.
How Yoga Forced Me to Dig Deep
When yoga came into my life, it was both liberating and frustrating. Yoga gave me the freedom to feel but it also forced me to see myself for who I was. I had to look at what I was doing instead of pushing the blame onto others. I had to take a real look at myself and the real reasons behind my actions.
I say to my students each day that yoga is a mirror reflection for our everyday life and that reflection is available for us to see when we finally decide to see it. I will be the first to attest that the reflection will not always be quaint and pretty. It will most likely be uncomfortable and even sad at times. However, that is how growth happens.
Growth happens when we let go of our expectations on people, situations, and life. Letting go of our expectations does not mean that we no longer hope or desire anything from life anymore. Rather, it means that we come at our life (our mat) in a way that opens the doors rather than lingering in the doorway, just waiting for it to close or prove others are wrong.
Merriam-Webster defines compost as “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter.” Compost is used for fertilizing and conditioning land. Your compost is a mixture of your stuff, your baggage, your mindsets, your hang-ups, your habits, and your ego. When you practice self-reflection, you take your compost and use it to fertilize your life and the conditions of others. You take the mixture of your life, your actions, and your situation, and you compost it.
My yoga practice has taught me a lot about my compost and digging dip into my own “mixture.” It has allowed me to get real with myself. Moreover, once you are genuinely able to see the mess you are in, only then can you begin to transform.
When things don’t go my way or are not to my liking, I first ask–Why? I then take a step back to reflect so that I can see how much of my compost is altering my experience. Coming from a place where I took everything personal in my life, once I realized how my compost was affecting what I was doing, I was better equipped to let others off the hook for my shortcomings. Seldom is it ever really about others but rather how we received those experiences and how they reflect upon us.
Don’t Give Up
I urge you to keep coming to your mat, keep getting uncomfortable, and keep taking classes and stepping into poses that ruffle your feathers. Resist the urge to roll up your mat those five minutes early in the hopes of avoiding discomfort. Instead, sit in those poses as your mind stews–allowing your mind to sift through your thoughts, emotions, and reactions to truly get to the bottom of why you feel the way you do.
From my heart to yours, from my soul to yours, from my compost to yours, and from my mat to yours, Namaste.
It shouldn’t be just once a year that we consider our planet and how we can serve Mother Nature in her quest to support life. I am always amazed when people throw trash onto the ground or out of their car window. It is just plain disrespect toward the very planet that is allowing us to have an existence here.
From day one I have taught my kids about the importance of respecting Mother Nature and this planet we live on. When we go for walks, we pick up cans and collect an extra bag of trash. It’s become a regular affair for our family.
Taking care of our planet is more than just picking up trash. It’s about creating consciousness around how we live here on this planet we call Earth.
There are dozens of ways we all could do more, but if you are anything like me, when someone gives you dozens of ideas it becomes overwhelming. Then I end up not even doing one.
So in an effort to give a little bit more love to Mother Nature and to show our amazing planet bit more respect, here are four ways to connect with Mother Nature:
1. Get your shoes off and get the ground of the Earth between your toes.
Connecting to Mother Nature with no barriers is essential to our own energetic balance and unifying harmony. So much of the world today tells us to never leave the house without shoes on. When we get outside and connect with nature and become nature, all that is unnecessary falls away. Take those shoes off and don’t be afraid to get the bottoms of your feet dirty. Massage those sore feet with uneven surfaces, even rocks. Enjoy feeling the soft grass between your toes. Your entire being will thank you.
2. Strike a Pose: Tree Pose!
I love yoga in nature, and there is nothing like striking a Tree Pose out among the very trees that balance our abilities to breathe. Whenever I get a chance to teach an outdoor yoga class, I love to get my students hugging a tree and striking Tree Pose right alongside that tree. Remember, trees are just as much alive as you are.
3. Plant a tree, a flower, a vegetable, or two…
Everything is an exchange of energy. For some of us, we may have lived much of our lives out of balance. Taking more than giving, and then wondering why we are lacking when there is nothing left. And although I am just talking about Mother Nature and all her glory, this concept does extend beyond the plants and trees that blanket our Earth. This month I want to encourage you to plant a flower or two. Maybe even plant a tree and nurture this fragile life like you would a newborn baby. If you nurture that plant just right, it will more than likely outlive you.
4. Pick up garbage and let others know it’s not okay to trash the Earth.
My kids and I regularly pick up trash, and it saddens me when I see whole trash bags tossed to the side of the road. I regularly see McDonald’s bags filled with wrappers and wasted food littering the roadsides and the environment our animals are supposed to live and prosper in.
How is it that we as a species have come think we have the right to disrespect other species that roam the same planet as we do?
To be honest, they were here before we were, and if they can respect Mother Nature and this very planet for thousands of years, then we can too. When you see trash on the ground, why don’t you pick it up? When you see another throwing trash on the ground, ask them to consider waiting the few minutes until they get home or see a trash can to dispose of it. I have traveled to many places, most less fortunate than the United States. If they can control their trash and waste with less access to public disposal, then we can too.
Stress can be overwhelming and even debilitating. It can cause headaches, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and irritability. Obviously, we all know that stress isn’t good for us physically or mentally. So, how do we banish stress in our every day lives?
As a yoga teacher, I encourage others to live a life where they can stay grounded, focused, balanced, and content. Yoga has helped me a great deal with handling stress and the side effects of stress. It helps to relieve tension by keeping me focused on my breath rather than all the thoughts racing through my heads.
Whether you are at home, work, or somewhere in between, yoga is a great way to find stress relief. So, to help you on your journey of finding ways to banish stress, here are three of my favorite yoga poses.
3 Poses to Banish Stress Instantly
This pose is such a surrender for me. When I go here, I instantly let go. As I work to widen my knees slowly, I feel relief to feel such space (even if it doesn’t look like it). The freedom of my body letting go into the safety of the floor for a few minutes is all I need to feel a bit more like myself.
Legs Up With Support Pose
Legs Up With Support Pose
This pose is a go-to to help relieve the physical, emotional, and mental symptoms of stress. The feeling of my sacrum flat to the hard floor and my spine realigning without the burden of gravity is genuinely liberating. This pose allows me to let go. I totally give in to the fact that, at that moment, I am only human and not superwoman. What often starts as just a minute on my mat quickly ends up as ten, and trust me, you won’t be complaining.
Seated Forward Bend Pose
Seated Forward Bend Pose
This pose is often used in yoga therapy to help manage depression. It is also known to soothe headache and anxiety and reduce fatigue. The feeling of bending forward eases the mind. My warm breath against my thighs brings me full circle to the simplicity that I am okay the way I am.
Be gentle to yourself so that life can be gentle back to you. Never force yourself into a forward bend, especially when sitting on the floor. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly, with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. If you are new to this pose, it helps to hold a strap around the feel. If you are incredibly tight, place a rolled-up blanket under your knees for added support. The more you relax in this pose, the more naturally your body will open up.
You Are Worth It
Making things drawn out and complicated only stresses us out more. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes you don’t have the time or the mental discipline to hop onto your mat, and that is okay. I get it. However, what I have discovered is that if you do make the time for yourself, you will see how yoga can help you physically, mentally, and emotionally. You are worth it and you owe it to yourself to make time for you.
And if you want to get professional, inspiring, functionally-safe classes all in the comfort and privacy of your own home. You must check out my online studio. No travel, no hassle, no sitters, and no fuss. This is not your typical yoga or fitness studio–it’s a fresh approach that I know you will enjoy.
If you are experiencing stress right now, here are some other helpful resources:
Meditations for Stress Relief
Mindful Ways to Reduce Stress
Navigating Stress In Life
Everyday life can be stressful.
Job demands, relationships, life events, and social media drama are daily occurrences. These things can often have you feeling like you are traveling down a never-ending, bumpy road called LIFE. It’s easy to see how stress can suck you in and not let you go.
While stress can help some people perform under pressure, too much bad stress can negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health. It’s common for most people to focus on the negative side of stress, but sometimes stress can actually be a good thing. Good stress can motivate a person and help them achieve more goals. BUT how can a person tell the difference between good stress and bad stress?
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Good stress, often called eustress, is stress that pushes a person to accomplish more. It helps a person achieve those hard-to-reach goals. Good stress also helps a person learn new things, adapt to change and engage in creative thinking. In a situation where a person is experiencing good stress, they always have control over the outcome of the issue.
Bad stress, often referred to chronic stress, can slow a person down and prevent them from doing the things that they need to do. It can often lead us down a winding road of helplessness and despair. Bad stress can be things like staying in an unhealthy relationship long-term, living with a difficult person, continual high paced (stressful) workplace, taking on too many things and continuously unable to complete them. That continual saying “yes”, when you should be saying “no”. When the body feels like it is under too much bad stress, symptoms such as excessive sweating, anxiety, headaches and rapid breathing begin to appear.
As a yoga teacher, I encourage others to live a life where they can stay grounded, focused, balanced and content. However, sometimes I fail to implement these strategies into my own life. I take on too many things, try to please everyone else, and neglect my own personal health and self-care. It’s a downward spiral and before I know it, my daily life is fueled by bad stress. Can you relate?
Unfortunately, the bad news is that stress is inevitable. It’s just a part of daily life. The good news is that stress IS manageable. In order to manage the stress in your life, you must relax your body and mind.
Here are 3 ways to manage stress so that you can live a healthier, stress-managed life.
1. Take a Break
When I say take a break, I don’t mean a break where you are scrolling through social media or watching videos on your phone. I’m talking about unplugging and walking away from all the distractions in your life. Do something for five to fifteen minutes that requires very little of you other than for you to just be yourself and to be present. Sit outside, take a quick five or ten-minute walk, play a quick game of “Go Fish” with the kids, or engage in meditation. Counting Breath for Stress Relief & Relaxation is a guided meditation that helps focus the mind and relax the body.
2. Put Away Your Electronic Devices
If you think about it, we live in a world where we have immediate access to almost anything we need. Instant information is available to us with the simple touch of an app on our phones or tablets. But at what expense? Being over connected has created a huge epidemic in our world today. An epidemic that has produced anxious, stressed, and technology-addicted teens and young adults that are not ok with doing nothing or being alone. The only way to break that cycle and bring more Zen into your life is to put the electronic devices down and slowly back away. Have a no-phone rule at the dinner table, limit screen time, keep your device in your pocket or bag when you are out with friends–whatever you need to do to stop looking at your device–do it. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Be Positive
Is your glass half-empty or half-full? If it’s half-empty, it’s time to change your thinking. Keeping a positive attitude, shifting your negative thoughts to positive ones, and keeping your self-talk encouraging are great ways to reduce stress. For example, instead of thinking “I can’t believe I made the same mistake AGAIN” think “Everybody makes mistakes. It’s ok. It is something that I can fix.” Developing an attitude of gratitude toward the people, things, and events in your life is also a good way to reduce stress. Write it down or just take time to tell the people in your life that you appreciate them–trust me, it goes a long way! Finally, smiling and laughing also helps to reduce stress. I guess laughter really is the best medicine.
AND if you are ready to get crystal clear on your life priorities, health needs, and how to achieve your goals, my Practices for a Positive and Productive Life Masterclass is for you! In this sixteen-week program, we cover three key areas: Breath, Body and Belief. All three of which are necessary for sustainable success!
Hopefully, these three tips will help you begin to walk down the path of life a little less stressed and with a bit more positivity.
Much of my life has been as an addict. And many of us on some level are all addicts. But for others, their addiction becomes who they are: their identity, their only lifeline.
It may be slowly killing them, but it is also what is keeping them alive.
For me, there is no question that yoga saved my life. Yoga found me when I couldn’t pretend to save myself any longer. Ever been to a high-security prison? That is what a full-blown addiction feels like-24/7, except you are trying to live a normal life at the same time. You are usually trying to hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. My life was much to this drum, a ten-year battle with a wide variety of eating disorders, depression, drugs, and anxiety. Ten years ago I would be asking for your pity, now I am hoping to help.
Yoga Showed Me Addiction is Not a Choice
Imagine having an evil twin that never leaves your side. Imagine that every move you make, every bite you take, every breath you take is being ripped apart constantly by someone else.
Addiction is not a choice, you don’t wake up one day and decide, “Hey I am going to start bingeing and purging all my food from now on,” or “Maybe today I will starve myself to get attention.” Addiction doesn’t work that way. As an addict forever in recovery, I get this.
I did not choose to starve myself, to drop 32 pounds in 60 days at the age of 15. I didn’t choose to relapse and binge and purge up to eight times a day, as I put stress on my heart, rot my gums and teeth, kill my stomach lining, messed with every system in my body. I, like many struggling with addiction, spent many hours, days and months in this horror. I was trying with all I had to be normal, to fit in, to hide the only thing at that time in my life I could control.
As an addict, you realize that the numbed feeling or “high” you get from your drug of choice (food, alcohol, medications, exercise, restriction of food, smoking) is what you have been searching for. Nearly half my life I spent in addiction, where I cycled anorexia and bulimia. I dabbled with drugs, found myself binge drinking (under age of course), made several attempts at suicide, experimental cutting, and was obsessed with calorie counting, exercise, my weight, my size, every pimple on my face, every imperfection possible… I was obsessed with it.
And at one of my lowest points, this craziness wound me up in the hospital with gastric obstruction surgery after I swallowed a toothbrush, desperate to purge just one more time. To many, you may not understand, but for some, this rundown seems like a horrible mirror.
Yoga Was My Path to Recovery
If you are struggling with addiction and are at a place that you know you want to move forward, you probably already know that it’s one tough uphill battle. Yoga was what kept me holding on to that tiny microscopic string. My Wednesday night yoga class kept me hoping and praying I could do this. I could survive. In my first few classes, while still struggling with an eating disorder, my mom and I attended yoga together. That one class each week was a new chance. I remember many nights walking out praying to God, “Please help me to go home and not binge and purge, praying with all my might that tomorrow I’d wake up and be normal.” I probably wouldn’t have gone each week if my mom wasn’t going. Not knowing, she kept me accountable and kept giving me my string of hope each week.
You can’t think straight as an addict. The Yoga Sutra talks about eliminating the dualistic mind – you ask any addict, and they totally understand the double mind. You have your “eating disorder mind” saying one thing and your “sane mind” saying the other. For many years, I couldn’t even hear my sane mind.
Yoga has saved my life. Yoga has given me a second chance, and has taught me to live in the most in-touch, real way possible. Yoga has taught me how to breathe again, feel again, and somehow someway it has helped me loosen the grips on life a little and trust a little more.
For a long time I didn’t believe that there was anything from my past that could have triggered this experience in my life, but yoga has helped me to realize that some of this was learned behavior. Some of this was the reaction to cruel kids in school, and some was simply fear of not being enough in my life. At some level, we have all been there. We have all cried tears of fear, control, sadness, imperfection. And to all of you out there still walking up hill – it’s way easier with a yoga practice.
Yoga teaches you to want to live again. It teaches you what it really means to be in the moment. Those struggling with addiction know better than anyone what a moment is. Because on the same note, you are trying to stay alive or sober for just a moment.
Yoga lets you know it’s not your fault; even when you feel alone you are feeling, and that is a start. Don’t stop feeling, let the feeling pass, and they will.
Yoga gives you a second chance a million and one times. It reminds you that your life is just as valuable as everyone else’s, in your own unique way.
Today is a call to action.
If you struggle with addiction, I beg you to try yoga.
Be careful – us addicts gravitate to that which can feed the need. So mix it up, most recovery programs that incorporate yoga use styles like Yin, Hatha, or Restorative. These styles are great to really help you learn how to be present, be still and be in the feeling. Don’t throw in the towel and don’t hate your first class because it asked you to step out of your comfort zone. Keep at it. If you want to live, if you want to come out on the other side… for me it wasn’t a choice anymore, it was a matter of life and death. And I chose life, and I continue to choose life each day.
If you are an outsider to a person with addiction, most likely they know there is a problem. Don’t shove food in their face, point out their appearance, or tell them they are killing themselves. Ask yourself this: “Am I helping or hurting?”
Addiction hurts loved ones too, but be a forklift as a friend, bring your friends up with you.
Take them to a yoga class and keep taking them.
In Savasana, hold hands with them.
Say “I love you” with no strings attached.
Be there for them instead of telling them where to be.
Most importantly, don’t give up.
This content was originally published in the June 2012 edition of MindBodyGreen.
Yogic philosophy and the Yamas and niyamas (the first and second limbs of yoga) offer us a roadmap on how to treat ourselves and others, and as a result, connect more fully with our inner truth. The eight limbs of yoga offer anyone who is willing to partake a wonderful guide to more mindful living, and they teach us the ethical practices of yoga. This pathway to absolute truth is one combining inner and outer work, physical practice, our breath, mindfulness, concentration, and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but it is an opportunity to live a better quality of life, and a more purposeful one at that.
1. Yamas: Restraints for One’s External Tendencies or Behavior.
- Ahimsa – non-violence. Are you a bulldozer or a forklift to those around you through your thoughts, words, and actions? Ask yourself if this is lifting people up or crushing people down.
- Satya – truthfulness, honesty. Ahimsa helps us to not use truth as a weapon. Satya questions us being nice vs. being real.
- Asteya – non-stealing. We steal others time, attention, power, and confidence. ADHIKARI: the right to know or the right to have; you are a visitor in life, not an owner. Take note of all that you take that is in fact not yours. Reflecting on the first two yamas, we may steal more than just someone’s property.
- Brahmacharya – nonexcess. “Acting in Brahman (Holy Spirit)” means entering each day with a sense of holiness rather than indulgence, remembering that everything is sacred.
- Aparigraha – unselfishness, non-possessiveness. Non-attachment and being able to “let go.” We are like a monkey in a cage with a banana; we choose our attachments rather than our freedom. Why?
2. Niyamas: Self-Control Over One’s Internal Tendencies.
- Saucha – internal and external purity. What is your process of purity? Think about what used to be our “Sunday best” purity in each moment? Focus on consistent purity rather than selective purity.
- Santosh – contentment. Gratitude will keep us out of our own pettiness and allow us to receive our own abundance from the Universe. We tend to “play things up” when we don’t feel content with what is; here we must take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
- Tapas – austerity or self-discipline. You are not rocked by the external world. Here we are offering the next higher version of ourselves. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste …
- Swadhyaya – scriptural study or self-study. Knowing our true identity as divine. The world reflects what we are seeing, not what is actually there; it is a mirror. Self-study breaks the ego (Ahamkara). Take some time each day to read and study that which invokes the greatest good in you.
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God or universal consciousness. Life is not meant to be a battle. We are not here to have to “prove,” but rather to become one. Here we no longer need the moment to be our way; we see a higher purpose for us.
3. Asana: Physical Exercises.
We can use asana to help train the physical body and teach discipline and all that is reflected in the Yamas and niyamas. We treat ourselves as an aspect of the divine.
Our breath is everything; without it, we do not exist here on this earthly plane. Our breath is the gateway to the many dimensions and layers of the self and higher consciousness. (Note that Ayama means a dimension, not control.)
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawing the Mind.
Understanding that this is not just our senses but the mind as well. Iyengar says pratyahara means “to draw toward the opposite.” The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain; a difficult reaction. Our minds are flooded with negativity; we must work to move towards the opposite.
6. Dharana: Concentration.
We are a society of quick and CliffsNotes. Unfortunately, we can miss out on valuable knowledge and relationships by skimming over everything. The value of pointed thought, self-analysis and introspection cannot be understated. Time spent on self-observation of inner thoughts, desires, and conduct helps guide us toward Dharana.
“Dhyani,” which means “to think of.” In the process of meditation, we calm the mind, which leads to the realignment of our inner self to the right path. Meditation is everything we engage in; initially, we sit to meditate and eventually, we live to meditate.
8. Samadhi: Enlightenment.
There are different stages of Samadhi and one can experience it at any moment: a blip, a moment, that takes you towards your bliss. We all experience these blips. The goal of the above practices is to attain Samadhi infinitely.
This post was originally written for Nature’s Pathways.