LIVING IN BALANCE
by Lynn Theodose
A popular proverb says, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I respectfully disagree. I understand the sentiment behind it …the idea that what you actually do is ultimately more impactful than what you meant to do. But, I feel certain that if there is a final judgment awaiting us at the end of our lives, the jury will weigh the contents of our hearts along with the results of our actions before rendering their final verdict. Intention is the essential seed for implementing positive change in our lives…and that change is pretty much doomed without it. Sadly we don’t generally stumble into greater health, happier relationships, clarity, and peace of mind without deciding and determining to create them. Intention is the vital first step in creation. The problem is, without consistent action to back them up, these ideals rarely breach the realm of thought to produce measurable results in the material world. You can fully intend to become a concert pianist, but you must actually sit down and practice, again and again, to learn how to play.
The Sanskrit word Bhavanam translates to “dwelling in the mind”, and refers to the magic of intention fused with action.The powerful union of the two is how we create miracles in our lives. First we decide that we are going to pursue a chosen goal…a healthy body, a calm, clear mind, a deeper relationship with spirit…and then the practices of yoga give us an opportunity to put these powerful intentions into concrete, step-by-step action. It is through bhavanam that our goals are manifested. The inspired visions conceived in our minds travel out of the confines of our thoughts and solidify into real world experiences. We can intend all day, but without putting our money where our mouths are, we just end up treading water, bemoaning our unchanging fate. We can run around frantically doing all the things we think we should do, but without a clear intention behind them, we might be surprised to find ourselves exhausted, even as we experience little real change. The measurable actions we take and the sacrifices we make at the altar of our dreams are what breathe them into life. The sacred marriage of a clear and pure intention enacted with methodical precision and consistency makes the previously impossible possible.
This is why yoga is so valuable. It is both practical and sublime. If you practice asana with the unwavering goal of greater physical health, you will pay close attention to the needs and limitations of your body in every moment. If you come to the meditation cushion with a crystallized intention to corral and learn from your unconscious thoughts, you will be better able to notice when you’ve gone off track. If you embrace the yogic practices as a ticket to an intimate relationship with your personal vision of divinity, every effort becomes a prayer. You absolutely must keep practicing, but sincerity is everything. One fully present sun salutation performed in the spirit of devotion will yield far greater rewards that a hundred done mindlessly without the full participation of your body, mind, and heart. All the striving the world will not lead the un-aimed arrow to the target.
There is a Zen teaching story that tells of a seeker who travels far and wide in search of a teacher. When he finds the teacher, at long last, sitting quietly by a river, the seeker pleads his case as to why the teacher should instruct him. The student talks a good game, but the teacher can hear beneath his words. ‘Here is your first lesson,” the teacher says, as he grabs the student by the neck and plunges his head into the river. The student struggles and flails. After what seems an eternity, the teacher pulls the student, gasping and sputtering, from the water. Finally, before walking away, the teacher declares, “When you want a relationship with God as much as you wanted that next breath, come back and see me.”
Yoga always comes back to balance. To progress on the path you need a heart and mind pure and clear in their desire, and then you must do the work to make your desires come true. Intention is the handlebars, and action is the pedals. When they work together, you are certain to reach your destination. Patanjali tells us, “For one who is deeply invested, success is close at hand.” (PYS 1.21) Practice, practice, with your eyes on the prize. Make your yoga practice an offering to your best self, as yet unrealized. Manifest the health, peace, love, and joy you desire in your life through your sincere efforts. Take heart, Dear Yoga Seeker. The recipe is tried and true. Get clear about why you are on this beautiful, challenging path, and do your work. The yoga will take care of the rest.
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we need to do it keep on walking”
– Gautama Buddha-
“Follow the truth, and then the truth will follow you.” –Swami Satchidananda
Dishonesty is having a moment right now. Misinformation, disinformation, and Fake News are running rampant and unchallenged, poisoning everything they touch and plunging us into ever-deepening darkness. The warping of the truth for personal gain or ego aggrandizement has become so commonplace, that when people dare to simply be honest, we are quick to call them courageous heroes, or grind them into dust… Public officials who refuse to let lies go unchecked, celebrities who brazenly post photos free from filters and make-up, the exhausted mom who has the nerve to publically admit, “This is really, really hard.” We’ve been sold so many lies created to help a chosen few collect power, money, and admiration. The bright, shiny lies come so hard and fast that we could never manage to unravel them all. We just know they make us feel yucky. To combat them, we need to turn inward and deepen our personal relationship with honesty, commit to creating in our own lives, and get to know it so well that we can quickly recognize imposters.
Truthfulness, known as Sayta in Sanskrit, is the second of the Yamas, (moral codes) laid out in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. It is second in importance only to Ahimsa, our commitment to non-violence. Yoga is the process of truth telling. It demands that we be completely honest (and loving) with ourselves at all times if we truly hope to find peace and contentment. We do this by turning down the volume on our thoughts, and diving deeper into the wisdom of our bodies and breath. We practice tuning in to the way we feel when we are honest, and the discomfort we experience when we are not. We learn to listen to the clues that tell us when we are less than fully honest – tightness in the belly, guilt, shame, fear of discovery…
Our minds are masters of Spin. They can quickly concoct a lie, rationalize it a half-dozen ways, and buoy it with additional dishonesty – before we even realize what’s happened. The cheater tells himself that he deserves some happiness or excitement, but it’s a kindness to keep it from his partner. That way nobody will get hurt, the family can remain intact, and it might even make the relationship stronger…”Oh, and by the way, I’m working late again tonight, Honey.” No chance of unnecessary pain and suffering here!
But our bodies and breath don’t lie. The work we do on the mat within the laboratories of our bodies yields instant feedback that leaves no room for manipulation of the truth. You can tell yourself you are a hotshot yogi ready to plunge into the perfect, deep, photo-worthy forward bend, but if the truth is that your hamstrings are not ready, pain and injury will surely follow. When we fail to make our best honest effort, our bodies are slow to change. When we push beyond what is appropriate in the moment, our breath becomes shallow and labored. The only way we can truly transform is by getting real about our strengths and challenges, without judgment. And as we experience the value of complete honesty in our practice, it begins to spill into our relationships.
The path to real intimacy with our family, friends, and partners requires that we voice our truths. Sometimes we tell small lies to spare someone’s feelings, make ourselves look better, or avoid conflict. Sometimes we fail to be honest with ourselves, and end up resentful when an unspoken boundary is crossed or we feel like we are not being seen or understood. All of this can be avoided if we speak clearly and openly about our wants, needs, and expectations…and listen and acknowledge the same in others. Of course, like everything on the yogic path, Satya is a practice. And anything we practice with regularity and sincerity is destined to improve.
We feel the contraction in our bodies when we are dishonest. Deep down, we always recognize the honest thing to say or do. If we want to grow, we must have the courage to choose what is right over what is easy. A quick gut check can help keep us on track. There is a palpable lightness and freedom to the truth. Being truthful with ourselves creates peace within our hearts. Honesty in our relationships yields deeper connections and real trust. I know that I most value the friends who will tell me what they truly feel instead of what they think I want to hear. Honesty is a gift. As we stand unarmed in transparency, we grant permission to others to do the same. And according to Patanjali, Satya perfected transforms our words into benedictions made manifest. (PYS 2.36) As we share our truth bravely and lovingly, we gain trust in ourselves, and the trust of everyone we interact with. We slip into the refreshing stream of universal love and openness. We lose our fear of being exposed, and gain a deeper sense of self-respect and personal empowerment. We become warriors of integrity, unashamed and undaunted, as the words we think and speak from our deepest source of loving truth materialize into countless unimagined blessings.
The honor of your presence is requested on the illuminating path of Yoga…
When: Now. Yoga, union with your highest consciousness, is available in every moment. Any time you sit and examine your thoughts, take an aware and curious breath, observe sensations in your body, question your thought patterns, or open yourself to experience any moment in its pure expression, you are entering the sacred realm of yoga. Come early, come late, come and go as your life situation allows. You will never be turned away at the door. You will never be asked to leave. Come for an hour and stay for a lifetime!
Where: Anywhere. Yoga can be found anywhere you look for it. You can come into silence in a crowded bus station. You can turn inward during a packed sporting event. You can find it in a studio, your living room, in a quiet corner…standing on your head, or sitting on a cushion. It is in the forest, by the sea, and on a mountaintop. The potential for peace and connection is always within you, wherever you are.
Why: Because, quite simply, Yoga makes everything better. Your body will become healthier, stronger, and more flexible. Your mind will begin to quiet. All those limiting thoughts that play on a continuous loop, often without notice, will start to wilt under the spotlight of your scrutiny. And in the silent spaces they leave behind, new and inspired ideas will arise. Your emotions will level out as the habitual thoughts that drive them slowly fade. In stillness, you will recognize that feelings ebb and flow, that all are worthy of notice, but none need to highjack your experience. In silence, you will gain a deeper understanding of your spiritual essence. You will become increasingly aware of your connection to all of creation. You will experience greater compassion for the suffering in the world. You will become a master of accessing your deepest internal wisdom. Your relationships will transform. As you learn to recognize your triggers, and notice when you are outsourcing your peace of mind, you will change the way you interact with the people in your life. When somebody disappoints or upsets you, you will turn the finger you are pointing back to yourself. “What’s WRONG with him?!” will give way to, “Why is this upsetting me? Do I have unrealistic expectations? Have I let a boundary be breached? Have I failed to communicate my truth clearly?“ You will carry the personal responsibility you develop on the mat into your interactions with others. You will recognize the madness of trying to change other people, and embrace the opportunity to allow them to introduce you to unexamined aspects of yourself. You will naturally gravitate towards supportive relationships that nurture you, as toxic people fade from your life.
BYOB: Bring your own Beliefs. Yoga is a spiritual path to self, not a religion. It is compatible with all belief systems. Come inspired, or skeptical. Dedicate yourself to the practice and watch it wind its way into every crevice of your life experience. Regularly coming into still and curious presence can completely overhaul your life! Bring your own Body. Yoga will meet you wherever you are…healthy, hale, injured, frail…there is a practice for YOU! Bring your own Breath. It is the magic key that unlocks limitless possibilities. You can use it to increase your vitality, reduce your anxiety, and place yourself squarely in the center of the moment you are in. You will be shocked to discover how much you’ve been missing! Bring your own Burdens. Apply yourself reverently to your practice. Allow for the possibility of healing. Stop the endless analysis, and surrender to the practice. Be patient and optimistic as unexamined trauma unravels, unexplored agendas are released, and unexpected grace fills your heart. The door of the cage must be uncovered before it can be opened. Yoga will help you see that you are trapped in a prison born of ignorance. As you gain wisdom and insight into your hidden drivers, you will take back the reins of your life and your healing.
The Yogis believe that if you have found your way to yoga in this lifetime, you have been here many lifetimes before. You are a card-carrying member of the community of seekers. You deserve to be here. You are so very welcome. Perhaps yoga is not for everyone, although I believe it is. But for anyone interested in a life of self-reflection, and ultimate freedom from habitual unconscious limitations, this party is not to be missed. We’ve set a place for you at the table. No need to RSVP.
We’re not there quite yet, but it’s beginning to look like this strange life in the time of Covid might actually end someday. All things must pass, and this is no exception. Vaccines are ramping up, the weather has finally turned, and we are slowly moving towards some semblance of the “normal” life we so sorely miss. But we can’t jump right back in until we’re certain it won’t lead to further unnecessary sickness and death. With the end in sight, some of us are feeling more antsy and trapped than ever. My friend likens it to needing to use the bathroom on a road trip. The closer we get to the rest area, the more desperately we need to pee. We’re stuck in a strange limbo between still living in the discomfort of limitation, and being far enough past it to recognize the gifts it’s yielded. It’s hard to see around corners when we’re marinating in the emotional experience of upheaval. I know that with the clarity of hindsight, we will be able to recognize the valuable lessons gained from this experience… acceptance, compassion, patience, fortitude, the beauty of simplicity, renewed respect for our ability to adapt and thrive…but first we just have to hang on a little bit longer. Ugh!
The insights we gain on the yoga mat train us for difficult times like these. I studied with my incredible teacher, Bhavani, on the north shore of Kauai for many years… two hour asana classes, five to six mornings a week. Bhavani is a LION, who offers yoga as a tool for psychological and emotional transformation. She famously begins almost every class with five minutes in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). It’s hard and illuminating, and not terribly fun. I’ve watched many a visiting student roll up her mat and leave class a few minutes into that journey. There’s a reason why fast moving flow classes with a pumping soundtrack are so popular. We are not very good at being quiet and still. We are doers and movers and multi-taskers, who want to get our cardio in while we’re getting our yoga on. There is plenty of value in this type of practice, but if you want to get down and dirty with your resistance patterns and self-limiting habitual thoughts, HOLD YOUR POSES!!! The way to expand your comfort zone is to practice being uncomfortable.
Five minutes in Down Dog will teach you some things. You will quickly discern your energy level. One morning I would breeze through it, feeling strong and powerful, and the next day I would crumble 90 seconds in. It can highlight how you handle discouragement, “What’s wrong with me today? Why am I so weak? Am I even capable of improving?” Or maybe you just get mad at the mean teacher who is keeping you in the stupid pose forever. It will teach you about self-care. Can you allow yourself to come down and take rest in child’s pose when that’s what you need? Or will you muscle through to the detriment of your breath and alignment in order to prove something to yourself, your teacher, or your fellow students? Eventually, it will show you the power of surrender. Maybe your arms are shaking and your legs are burning. But what if instead of fighting with the pose, you just dropped into the experience of your breath? As it deepens and lengthens you might discover a new ease and vitality, because ultimately the asanas are there to serve as hosts to the universal energy of prana.Once we start to tap into that limitless energy, we realize that we’ve been trying to do all the work ourselves, when universal assistance has been patiently waiting for an invitation to help.
Long holds remind us that time is elastic and suffering is optional. Five minutes can last forever, or pass in the blink of an eye. You can spend it in a battle of wills between you and the pose. We’ve all done it. Or you can use that time to refine your alignment, focus on your breath, and observe the whirling dervish of your monkey mind. You can certainly give yourself permission to take rest and regroup when you’ve slipped back into combat mode…your breath will let you know. You can strengthen your “Hanging On” muscles by picking a challenging pose, setting a timer, and living with that pose for the allotted time, regardless of your experience there. And then do it again tomorrow.
It kind of makes me sad when I see yoga marketed as FITNESS. “Come on in and get your Yoga Buns, or A Beautiful Yoga Body!” “Yoga will make you lean, sexy, and desirable!” While all that might be true, it really misses the point. One of yoga’s greatest gifts is the opportunity to redefine our relationship with our bodies. For most of us, that relationship is complicated. Far too often, the way we feel about our bodies is based on how they look, or how we imagine they look, especially compared to whatever the accepted societal standard of beauty happens to be at the moment. We decide our bodies are too old, fat, thin, weak, short, tall, etc. Or maybe we’re just good and pissed at our bodies…they are injured or ill, they can’t produce children or do the things they used to do, or they don’t match the gender we identify with. We feel so betrayed! We identify them by their list of flaws. And even when we have to admit there are some things we like about our bodies (I have great forearms!), we are much more likely to fixate on the things we believe are wrong with them (I wish my legs weren’t so short!).
All of this is bad enough, but now factor in the modern western idea that the state of your body defines your general worth as a human being. Our culture has become so focused on our physicality that we tend to pass judgment on each other with a glance. We assume the fat person is lazy, the muscular gym rat is vain, the person with an illness is pitiful, the tall man is powerful, the old woman sitting by herself is lonely and sad… Even when we know better. Our self-image becomes inextricably linked to our body image, and we decide that if our bodies are obviously “flawed”, then we must be, too. And we might not even realize we’re doing it. We just know we feel bad about ourselves.
But there is a different way. Through yoga practices, we learn to examine our bodies from the inside, instead of the outside. We become more interested in how they feel than how they look. We get excited about discovering what they can do. We begin to separate body image from self-image. As we work to gain mastery of our bodies and a deeper understanding of our inner essence, we start to remember that our bodies are simply vehicles for navigating life on the material plane. They don’t define who we are. They contain who we are. And instead of judging them or obsessing over them, what if we just had fun experimenting and playing with them? Our bodies can do remarkable things!!!
Yoga teaches us that our bodies can change. They can grow stronger and leaner, or softer and more open. They can release long-held tension, and move with greater fluidity and ease. They can heal and function more efficiently. Through compassionate and consistent effort, they can accomplish things we never thought possible.
Yoga helps us discover a new appreciation for the unexplored nooks and crannies of our bodies. When we learn to feel our way under our shoulder blades, we can recognize when tension is setting up shop there. When we explore the movement of our diaphragms, we can learn to draw in more healing breathe to revitalize our bodies. When we come to know the souls of our feet, we develop a deeper appreciation for our connection to the earth. When we identify and relax tension in our muscles, our manic minds begin to still.
Yoga shows us that how we move our bodies can affect our emotions. Backbends invigorate us. Forward folds soothe and calm us. Standing poses make us feel powerful. Restorative poses remind us that we are held and supported. Balancing poses help us find center. Inversions can flip our perspective.
Yoga reintroduces us to our souls. It reminds us that our bodies are impermanent…they will change, breakdown, wear out, and eventually decay. But our inner essence is timeless and unchanging. When we can identify and love the Selves who are piloting our bodies, we begin to spot and love the inner Selves in everyone else. Namaste! Yoga encourages us to take loving care of our vehicles while we have them. It makes the ride smoother and more enjoyable.
Oh, what a year it has been. When Covid-19 became an undeniable reality last March, it was hard to imagine we’d still be stuck at home a full year later, with hundreds of thousands of people dead, countless others with long-term health problems, millions still out of work, and thousands of small businesses shuttered. Every single one of us has suffered during this pandemic. We’ve gotten sick and lost people we loved. We’ve watched our kids struggle with remote learning and the pain of missing their friends and activities. We’ve worried about our health, our finances, our futures, and the fate of the elderly and compromised. Maybe we’ve lost our homes or couldn’t afford food. We’ve missed weddings, graduations, celebrations, vacations, face-to-face time with our social support systems, and hugs. We’ve really missed hugs! And we’ve all had to face one of our deepest, darkest fears, unable to shake the knowledge that most who have died from Covid, left this earth without their loved ones by their sides
My point here is that, regardless of how the pandemic has affected you personally, we have all been living through a collective trauma. And while we can finally see the hint of a light at the end of the tunnel, I think it’s safe to say we are all experiencing some degree of PTSD. The ramifications of this year will extend far past the point of mass vaccination and herd immunity. Whether or not we’re aware, the fear and suffering of the entire world has set up shop in our bodies…lodged itself in the tissues of our muscles, decimated our nervous systems, and broken our tender hearts. As we move towards a closer approximation of normality in the coming months, it is imperative that we take the time to tend the wounds we have acquired during this destabilizing time. Initiating, or ramping up, a Restorative Yoga Practice is a powerful way to nourish ourselves as we begin the healing process.
Restorative yoga involves spending several minutes in predominately seated and reclined poses, often supported by props. The goal is to surrender completely, connect deeply with the breath, and allow the body to release in its own time. The time and care we take to come into stillness is a radical act of self-love. It is an opportunity to discover where we are holding physical and emotional trauma, send those places the loving light of our breath, and release the trauma in a safe and supportive environment. It can be very uncomfortable, but the potential for healing is enormous.
Restorative Poses for the Crisis Weary:
Supta Badha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose): With our torsos supported on a bolster, blankets, or bricks, this delicious pose is a gentle heart and hip opener. We hold grief and sorrow in the upper back, chest, and lungs. This pose allows us to feel held and safe as we slowly release sorrow from our bodies, and continue to open our hearts. It helps relieve the tightness in our necks, shoulders, hips, and low backs from too much time sitting in front of computers.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose): This pose is the antidote for sitting around and worrying. It relieves pain and tension in the low back by opening the front of the hips, and allows the psoas muscle to release. The psoas is considered the seat of our anxiety. It naturally contracts when we’re preparing to flee, play dead, or fight for our lives. As we invite breath deep into the low belly, the fear and tension we’ve been holding, perhaps unaware, will slowly begin to unravel.
Sukhasana (Sweet Pose): This is a gentle, seated hip opener that most people can comfortably explore. It helps release the hips and lower back, and stabilizes the sacrum. If the hips allow for a forward fold in this position, it provides a fantastic opportunity to breathe into the lower back ribs to support the adrenal glands.
Reclined Twists: Twists help access and release tension deep in the back and abdominal muscles. They encourage breath to move into unexplored areas of the lungs, which increases our capacity to receive and harness prana. As we literally wring tension out of our bodies from the inside out, our spines gain flexibility and freedom.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose): This gentle inversion is famous for settling the nervous system and nourishing the internal organs. Extra blood flows to the torso, stimulating digestion and infusing the vital organs with oxygen. Extended time in Viparita Karani will shift us out of fight or flight mode, and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for relaxation and release.
The post is for anyone who is new to yoga, intimidated by yoga, disillusioned by yoga, or uninitiated and curious. Maybe you’re drawn to the idea of carving out more peace in your life, or just wondering what all the fuss is about. Maybe you’ve tried a few yoga classes and felt way out of your depth. Maybe you started looking into it, but felt put off by glossy photos of beautiful young women, or sweaty chiseled men in complex arm balance variations, or contorted into pretzels, and thought, “Well, that’s obviously not for me! How could I ever be good at yoga? I can’t even touch my toes!”
If that sounds familiar, you’ve fallen prey to a common misconception – mistaking the container for the contents. As we are wont to do in our selfie-obsessed culture, sometimes we become dazzled by the beautiful wrapping, and never realize, or simply forget, that the real gift is actually inside. It’s easy to get caught up in the physicality of the practice. You can set your sites on achieving or mastering a certain asana (yoga posture), or reaching some arbitrary goal, and in the striving, misplace yoga’s ultimate benefit…peace of mind. So, if you’re interested in yoga, but feel like it’s out of reach, please consider the following:
· You can’t judge a book by its cover: The Yoga Sutra reminds us that the physical pose is just the vessel. Yoga is what happens inside of it. (PYS 2.47). Picture this: Student A forces herself into an advanced posture, huffing and puffing, sacrificing the integrity of her alignment for the glory of the pose. Meanwhile, Student B reclines in Shavasana (corpse pose) in a state of calm, open curiosity, connected to his breath. By all traditional measures, it is Student B who is “Good at yoga.”
· Comparison is pointless and misguided: Focus on your own practice! You can admire others’ physical prowess, but it is impossible to know how they got there, or to gauge their internal experience. Every body is different. Some people have naturally open hips, or long hamstrings, or the perfect proportions for ease in a particular pose. Maybe their poses are beautiful, but their mind is in chaos. Other people have started out stiffer than you, and then put in years of consistent practice to get where they are today. Some may need modifications and piles of props to approximate the pose they are working towards, but are in love with the journey, free from self-judgment, and learning how to let go.
· You are probably the only person judging you: It can be easy to feel self-conscious in a group class, especially when it seems like everyone is more advanced than you are. But yoga is so very personal, and chances are good that the other students are too focused on their own practices to pay much attention to yours. Group classes are fabulous for the camaraderie and collective energy they create. But if you feel shy or embarrassed as you’re learning the ropes, online classes can be a great option to explore yoga without feeling so exposed.
· Strength and flexibility are not prerequisites for yoga: Nope! They are side effects. There are so many ways to practice, and thousands of known asanas, variations, and modifications. You can start wherever you are, in whatever condition, and through dedication and practice, strength and flexibility will come. The great news for beginners is that when you go from zero to committed, change comes quickly. Initially, your practice will improve by leaps and bounds. As you advance, the path becomes progressively narrower. Refinement gets more and more subtle as you become increasingly intimate with your body. Prepare to fall in love with the details!
· There is no hurry and no destination: Slow and steady wins this race. Hopefully your practice will span the remainder of your lifetime, and bit-by-bit, your body will continue to open and align. Perfection is a myth, and a pose is never mastered. Yoga asanas are not a list of goals to check off. They are living, breathing laboratories for self-exploration. They are ideals to strive for, and endless opportunities for deepening levels of peace. Simple poses are just as valuable as fancy ones.
· The target fades: If you are doing yoga as originally intended, to quiet the turbulence of the mind and reconnect with yourself and your source (PYS 1.2), you will eventually lose the will to label. It is part of the natural progression of the practice for the poles of opposites to lose their pull. (PYS 2.48) Extremes like “good and bad” eventually dissolve. As the mind settles, and the habitual thought patterns unravel, you will start to live in the moment of each experience. You’ll begin to inhabit the poses and connect with them directly, without the filters of judgment and commentary that keep them at a distance. So, by the time your poses progress to the point where your pre-yoga brain might have thought they were “good”, hopefully you’ll be too busy merging with your body and your breath to notice.
Mid- February. Ugh! Even in “normal” times, for me this time of year has always been about Holding On. Winter has settled in, and shows no sign of ending. It’s been extra cold and snowy up here in Pennsylvania. The ground has been covered for weeks, and I find myself nostalgic for the green of grass and leaves in this grey and white world. Add to that the very real phenomenon of Covid Fatigue, after a yearlong collective trauma parade, and sometimes I’m not sure I can make it! Even my introvert’s delight at tucking in has soured. I’m cold and bored and antsy and a little blue…longing for daffodils and a vaccine. Now, more than ever, I must tend to the fire of Tapas.
Tapas, derived from the word tap,which means “to burn”, is the third of the Niyama (personal practices) laid out in the second chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. It’s many translations include discipline, austerity, sacrifice, devotion, passion for transformation, and the burning away of impurities. Tapas,along with Svadhyaya (study of self and sacred texts), and Ishvarapranidhanat (surrender), is the cornerstone of the yoga path, and like the journey itself, shifts to accommodate wherever we are in the moment. Sometimes we are on fire – wildly in love with our practice, eager to temper ourselves in the flames of transformation. We are hungry for change and growth, and excited to jump on our mats and burn. At these times we happily sacrifice our time and comfort in the pursuit of higher goals. And there’s nowhere we’d rather be than in the center of the flames of metamorphosis. Oh, how I love these times!
But what about when life gets busy, or we just get tired or apathetic about our practice? Maybe we hit a plateau, or suffer an injury, or find some unexpected obstacle in our path. This is when the less sexy version of tapas comes into play. Discipline. These are the mornings when you’d rather stay in bed, but you get up, roll out your mat, and do a couple of uninspired sun salutations. This is when we have to dig a little deeper, and forfeit comfort for growth. We relax and KEEP GOING. We acknowledge the importance of honoring our commitment and keeping the faith. We must remember that yoga is always working, even when we cannot see the fruits. Tapas as discipline sustains us until our passion is reignited. Sometimes the fire rages, and needs to be contained. Other times it is reduced to smoldering embers that require a bit of oxygen to catch. The life of our practice is a study in tending the flames.
It’s perfectly realistic to assume that your yoga practice will change throughout the course of your life. And varying levels of commitment will yield different results, just as the quality of wood will determine the fate of a fire. Sometimes you may be Green Wood…mildly interested, but never really able to ignite. There might be plenty of smoke, in the form of a fresh class pass or cute new yoga clothes, but after dabbling for a bit, you lose interest, often when things start to get uncomfortable. Other times you might be Dry Kindling. You dive headfirst into a training, retreat or immersion. You ignite quickly, and rapidly burn out. Maybe your enthusiasm leads to injury or exhaustion, or perhaps you simply realize that you’ve set a pace you cannot realistically sustain. Hopefully, you eventually become Seasoned Wood. You light the fire slowly and carefully so it can burn long and steady. If we want yoga to last a lifetime and create real change, we must strive to become seasoned wood. By remaining present and vigilant, we can turn the heat up or down as needed to keep our practice at a slow, sustainable simmer.
I’m not going to lie. I am really struggling with my blog this week. After cranking out posts week after week, I suddenly feel like all my inspiration has dried up. It’s not that I’m out of ideas. I keep an ongoing list of topics to write about, and at one point I found them all very exciting. I love yoga, and I love writing about it, getting to dive more deeply into the nuances and subtleties. I adore doing research and fleshing out ideas…sharing insights, and gaining new ones. But, I just can’t seem to get excited about anything right now. In this grey, cold Pennsylvania January, I find myself squarely stuck in the doldrums, waiting for the breezes of inspiration to blow. They refuse to comply, but my blog is due, so there’s nothing for it but to sit down and write. As I’ve stalled, motionless on this frustrating plateau for too many days now, I’ve mastered the art of avoiding my computer. But with time running out, I started working on two different posts this morning. I couldn’t get a purchase on either one. My words felt forced and stilted, my brain felt mushy, and I just couldn’t seem to find anything interesting to say. So, I was left with just one choice…to write about what I’m living in this moment. And what I am living is Resistance. Do you know anything about that?
I love how yoga brings our tendencies into such sharp relief. Before I even step on the mat, I often get a front row seat to my old friend, resistance. Yes, there are many times when I am super excited to practice, and I can’t wait to get down to it. Those days when I wake up feeling strong and energetic and powerful, ready to challenge myself and set the world on fire. But, then there are days when I just feel tired and uninspired. I just want to stay in bed with a good book, and maybe some mashed potatoes. I know that practicing will perk me up and calm me down, and make me feel better in a million ways. I know that I am ultimately responsible for my own health, happiness and state of mind, and that I have the keys to kingdom at my disposal. So why do I resist? Is it just inertia, or something more insidious like self-sabotage? I know that left unchallenged, I lean towards laziness. I also know that when I am inspired I am a force of nature. I know that it just takes the smallest action to get the ball rolling…and sometimes you just have to move in the direction of inspiration for it to appear. I know that energy feeds on itself. I KNOW all this, and yet… I think it might be time for a nap.
But wait!!! Here’s the inspiration I’ve been waiting for: What we resist persists…and I’ve been resisting Resistance! The internal dialogue sounds something like this, “Okay, you need to get off your butt and start working on your blog!” “But, I’m feeling so tired and uninspired. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just get moving? What makes me think I have anything interesting to say, anyway? I think I have the winter blahs, and I didn’t sleep very well last night. I think it would be better if I wait until I’m really feeling it!” I’m prone to sudden windows of creativity, and this technique can work quite well sometimes…but there’s no guarantee the window will open in the allotted time frame. And it’s far less likely to open when I’m busy beating myself up over my procrastination. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit down and start writing, or get on your mat and start breathing, or bundle up and take the damn dog out, and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes you just need to look resistance in the eye and say, “Hello old friend! I see you, and I’d love to stay and listen to all of your very convincing arguments for inaction, but I’ve got things to do!” And with practice and perseverance, maybe we can start to tip the scales. Maybe we can learn to recognize and welcome resistance, without letting it tell us what (not) to do. Maybe we can even befriend it. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something. Maybe it’s there to provide us with an opportunity to recommit ourselves to something we value…to strengthen our muscles of fidelity. Maybe it lands in our path to help us buoy our self-confidence by stepping over it, to seize our independence by declaring, “You’re not the boss of me!” Maybe we should try saying, “Thank-you”?
As many of us still work from home and the world is ever-changing, some of us feel like there’s no escape from home. You might be looking for a way to relieve some stress with some peace and serenity in your home. The answer could be as simple as finding the perfect place in your house for a yoga space.
Whether you live in a studio apartment in Seattle, WA or a large home in Dallas, TX, all you need is a little space and some calming decor for the perfect at home yoga space. We’ve reached out to yoga experts across the country for their easiest and most serene tips for designing the perfect at home yoga space for your practice.
Have the right space. To create the ideal at-home yoga space you’ll want to pick a room with enough space. You should be able to stretch your hands up and all around without touching any walls or furniture. Then place your laptop or tablet about 9 feet away from your mat, so your online teacher can see you from head to toe, even when you’re standing. – Will Allen, Co-Founder of myYogaTeacher
Find the place with the most serene energy. Scan your house for any potential inside or outside areas that have the most serene energy. Sometimes, that is not as easy as it may seem, but it just takes dropping in and really feeling the energy of each space. Quiet is key, but also the sounds of the birds can be really beautiful. Add some design elements and nature to the space like beautiful plants or flowers, some crystals or put up some inspiring art. Just make sure everything you choose has calming, focused energy. You don’t want to put up a chaotic, red painting for example. It’s important to have the space and mat feel clean before beginning a practice. Listening to classical music or something soothing can also help to calm the nervous system and focus. – Erica Simone, Sacred Yoga Shop (use coupon REDFIN10 for $10 OFF any mat)
Limit the noise in favor of soothing sounds. When you are creating a space in your home to practice yoga you want to focus on creating peace and limiting distractions. I suggest using a space in your house where you won’t hear a lot of noise or be disturbed easily by those who live with you. It is a great idea to use soft lighting, include a little water feature or find some pretty candles to set the mood- whatever will help bring you peace and joy. – Jessica R. Fuller, The Hot Yoga Spot
Having a private space will limit distractions. Make sure to find a space where you can close a door or create privacy so that there are no interruptions. Also try to find a place that is non-carpeted so you don’t slip. – Amy Vetter, Owner, eRYT-200 DRISHTIQ Yoga
Have everything nearby so there’s less distractions. Before I practice Yoga, I make sure my space is clean, smells good (I burn incense or a candle), have appropriate props (blanket or bolster),a glass of water nearby, and silence my phone. That way there’s less reason for me to have to pause my practice because I have everything I need surrounding me, with no distractions. – The Pure Bag
Store your yoga props where you can see them. If you’re short on space and don’t have the luxury of a yoga room keep all your yoga props in an easy to access bin, box, or basket where you can see it. The key is, where you can see it. This way you’ll always have the reminder to get on your mat. Plus, yoga props nowadays are pretty beautiful with bright colors and designs, no need to store them in a closet where they may not see the light of day. – Sarah Bodnar, Co-owner of Three Birds Yoga Studio
Keep your yoga mat rolled out. Our top recommendation for new yogis trying to create a healthy yoga habit is to always keep your yoga mat rolled out. If the yoga mat is rolled up in your closet, it’s easy to forget about it. Having it out in the open means that practicing yoga is always just a few steps away. – Shayna Hasson, Yoga Beyond the Studio
Get the whole household involved. If you have kids, creating the yoga space together encourages them to practice yoga with you and/or by themselves, as well as to respect the yoga room or corner as a special place of calm in your house. Give it a fun name like Relaxation Station, or Zen Den, and have everyone place a unique object in the space that represents love, peace, and happiness. – Sünje O’Clancy, MA, E-RYT, RCYT Founder of Yoga Rascals
Choose calming colors and a clean space. If you are able to dedicate an entire room to your home yoga space, consider a repaint of the walls with a natural earth tone or calming color. If you need to dedicate a space in a room versus the entire room, try to get the space around you as clean as you can so you are able to come back to that consistent space each day. Simplify and declutter to make the space feel calming. Accent your space with plants or any meaningful object you would like such as a singing bowl and your favorite props. Make it feel clean and cleanse the space with fresh air, sage, vibrations from a singing bowl and sunlight. Create a special area where you can relax and enjoy your practice. – Keala & Nicole, In Balance Yoga Studio
Make it all about simplicity. Since I both practice yoga and teach yoga classes online, I see lots of spaces via video. Some look cluttered and others are almost the picture-perfect setup with a place for yoga props, a couple of mats, and beautiful decorative elements, like a Ganesha painting or tapestry in the background. You don’t need to go out of your way to create a ‘perfect’ yoga space at home. All you need is a clear section of a room – enough space for your mat, and your computer or screen. I recommend doing away with clutter to create a more peaceful atmosphere – a space you can carve out just for you. From there, you can add in a plant or two, a designated corner for your props and perhaps a ring light to cast more light on your space. As I like to tell my teachers: Less is more – Robyn Parets, Founder of Pretzel Kids yoga
Natural light brings peace to your space. Our #1 tip for creating the perfect yoga space at home is to find an area with abundant natural lighting. Natural light is soothing for the nervous system for all times of day – energizing you in the mornings and quieting the mind in the evenings. – Tiffany Pridgen, Glow Yoga
Make sure you have lots of light and air. Set up your mat in a comfortable space with as much light and air as possible and room to move comfortably. That sometimes means moving a few pieces of smaller furniture around, especially in smaller New York City apartments. Since many people don’t have practice at home I often recommend having rolls of paper towels or large boxes around that can be used as yoga blocks. And when I teach my Pilates classes if people don’t have small weights they can use soup cans. – Harlem Yoga Studio
Keep your space clear and clutter-free. When creating a home yoga space you want to make it clutter-free and clean. You need a space where you can breathe deeply, turn your awareness in and move freely. Sweep away the dust and roll out your favorite yoga mat and get started – Tarra J. Madore, Smart Asana Yoga
Determine what items resonate & inspire calm in your space. Maybe your yoga/meditation room is full of your favorite books, colorful crystals, totems, candles, and small ritual items thoughtfully placed throughout the space, or tucked away on a shelf for when you feel called to use them. Test out taking items in and out of your space because sometimes it’s best to look at what you need to take away that will distract you from turning your gaze inward while you practice. – Mala Yoga
Incorporate all the elements: water, fire, earth, air. An ideal yoga space includes connection with all of the elements, such as using the element of water to infuse cleanliness and aroma through essential oils. The stimulating element of fire can be enhanced through yellow dimming adjustable lights, candles, or a large window to bring in sunlight, moonlight, and starlight. Grounding through the element of earth can be found by mounting a soothing artwork on one wall, placing a tall house plant in the corner, and leaving one wall empty for stability in handstand and headstand prep. Finally, the element of Air carries healing chimes from singing bowls or vibrations of worldly meditation music (like Karunesh) on a surround sound stereo. – Hannah Faulkner Roman, Half Moon Yoga and Art
Three elements will maintain the sacredness of your practice. Clear as much physical and visual distraction as possible to keep your mind present to your body. Collect your mat and props in a basket for easy access. Create a small altar or a tray that holds two or three meaningful things such as a candle to hold your drishti or gaze, incense to engage your senses with aromatherapy, and a small plant as a reminder to breathe deeply. Rolling out your mat and routinely lighting your candle and incense as a ritual to signify the start of your practice will help your journey to your mat feel purposeful. – Wildlight Yoga
Make your space bright and full of color. Create a colorful sanctuary that makes you excited to get moving. Brighten up your space with a bold yoga mat that doubles as a gorgeous accessory to your at-home setup. – Courtney, MySolMat
Less is more, but choose items you like. A yoga space should be clutter free. Infusing a sense of calm as you step on your mat. You don’t need an elaborate space for your yoga, but it’s fun to add something that brings you joy like your favorite plant, a picture of a dog doing yoga, or a candle. Create one dedicated space in your home for your yoga and watch it become your favorite spot. – Aham Yoga
Your space just needs to be intentional. Setting up a dedicated yoga space doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; it just needs to be intentional. #1- Turn Off Your Phone: we need to disconnect to reconnect. Want music? Just put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ #2- Clear the energy in your space: burn Palo Santo, Sage, favorite incense, or light a candle. #3- Create an Altar: turn to what inspires you. A photograph of a loved one to dedicate your practice to, a picture of the mountains to focus on grounding, a rose quartz crystal to tune into self love, a statue of Ganesha: The Remover of Obstacles – Marybeth Brady, Owner/ Director of Wild Heart Yoga
Your yoga space should be a place that is relaxing and inviting to you. A place that makes you want to practice yoga. I have a ton of candles and incense that I light and a small altar off to the right that I place a crystal, mala necklace for meditation, and a picture of my late grandmother (symbolically reminding me to always be strong no matter what life throws at you). Next to your mat keep a block, strap and yoga blanket for use during class. And lastly a journal for reflection, my mind is so much clearer after a practice. – Alyson Leinbach, Owner of Serenity Yoga Studio
Originally published by Redfin