Meditation – A 30 Day Challenge

Bellevue Buddha

Every now and then I do challenges to either learn something new or re-commit myself to something I already do – but not enough. They say that 30 days is just enough time to make a habit and from my experience it is long enough to get “over the hump” that usually comes with any kind of change in routine – and actually start to see the benefits.

I have been meditating on and off since late 2003, having learned a technique from John McAffee at the Relational Yoga Mandiram. You can read about one of my fasting and meditation retreats a few years ago. Since that time I maintained a regular twice-a-day meditation routine. 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. On occasion I would sit longer, but this was the typical day.

However, for the past couple years I’ve been slacking. Sometimes I will sit for just five minutes before getting distracted. Sometimes a week would go by without sitting at all! While I do practice yoga regularly (and during 90 minutes I do experience a heightened flow-meditative-state), there is still nothing like sitting still for a few minutes. It is perhaps the most challenging of all aspects of a well-rounded yoga practice.

So, I’m starting a new 30 day challenge. Here it is:

I commit to, starting today and for the next 30 days, meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each. Once in the morning and once in the evening.

I’ll blog about my experience as the days go on. I sat already for my two sessions today. They went by surprising quickly, and my mind was quite still. I’m guessing not all days will be this easy 🙂 . If you have never meditated before, here are a few tips:

Find a spot that is flat and firm, use this spot consistently for all of your sessions. Don’t meditate in a bed or on a cushy couch. If you get cold in the morning wrap yourself in a shawl.

  • Try to sit cross-legged, but if your legs and hips are two stiff, fold up a blanket and sit on it, allowing your ankles to rest of the floor with crossed legs. Use as many blankets as you need! If this doesn’t work for you, find a stiff backed chair to use.
  • Set an alarm clock for the allotted time. Start with 5 minutes and build up to 20 minutes. Do not open your eyes until the alarm goes off. Resist the urge to peek!
  • Find your spine in a position where it’s straight, with natural curvature. Avoid the tendency to slouch. This will just induce sleepiness! Imagine that you are balancing an apple on your head 🙂
  • Rest your palms on your knees face down. Alternatively, you can rest your palms one on top of another in your lap.
  • Breath in and out through your nose. It doesn’t have to be a loud and audible breathe like they teach in some yoga classes. Just breath normally. Allow your mouth to close and bring the tip of your tongue to the upper palate, and rest it there.
  • Continue to notice your breath, if you mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. No matter how many times your mind wanders, keep bringing your awareness back to your breath.
  • Try to remain motionless, no matter what! Even if your body tingles or tickles. This is the point, don’t get distracted. You can do pretty much anything for 20 minutes.

That’s it! There are other techniques that people use as part of a meditation practice, but this is the most simple approach. It is highly effective and infinitely challenging. Give it a shot!

Get Your Mind Out of Your Way

Hiking is a great way to get your mind out of your way
Hiking is a great way to get your mind out of your way

You are capable of doing far more than you think you can do. So stop thinking.

You brain will take you out of the game if you let it, so don’t! I spent the past week as an assistant at a yoga teacher training. I was witness to literally dozens of transformations during the program. I saw people get into poses they didn’t think they could do, find deep stillness and happiness and uproot lifelong bad habits.

Most of the magic happened halfway through the program. By that time, the marathon yoga classes, lectures, meditations and disconnection from distration (like phones and computers) had created an environment where people could let go, stop thinking and just be. Like magic, once the mind was put to bed, the real work began and people lit up and really found their personal power.

Our minds are wonderful tools and knowledge is valuable, but finding your own truth and personal power is not a journey of thinking by the mind, it is a journey of your being. So put your mind to bed – go for a run, practice yoga, meditate, play with your kids, go for a hike – do whatever it takes, and let your journey begin.

Assisting at Level 1 Baptiste Yoga Teacher Training

During one of my many daily practices at the 2008 Level 1 training
During one of my many daily practices at the 2008 Level 1 training

I’m headed back to Level 1 Teacher Training for Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. I attended last year as a student, and this time I will be an assistant, supporting the other students and teachers in the program.

I’m looking forward to spending another 8 days in the Catskills at Menla Mountain Retreat Center, disconnecting from technology for a while, helping others to learn and grow and I’m sure I’ll also pick a few things up myself. I am always amazed at how the act of teaching others can help you to learn so much.

See you in a week or so!

Never Stop Learning

I sat in a few teacher training classes during a workshop held at my yoga studio this weekend. The training is geared for those who are not yet teaching but have the desire to do so.

Since I am already teaching I’ve had several folks ask me why I would sit on a training session that I’ve already done and progressed beyond. My response has simply been that even if the training is a repeat, I am bound to learn something new. It is like going out on your favorite hike for the fifth time or walking into your favorite restaurant for the second time in a week. Just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean your experience the same as it always has been.

There is always a new experience to be had and new lessons to be learned.

In this training, we spent time doing personal introductions and getting feedback on them. I realized how my body language and tone and filler words (and, but) were keeping me from connecting with people in a powerful way. I’ve done literally thousands of introductions at work, in social settings and to begin yoga classes, but never really thought about how important those first few words I say about myself can really shape others impressions of me. Boy am I glad decided to do this workshop again!

3-Day Fruit Fast Recap

Earlier this week, as part of the 40 Days to Personal Revolution program, I did a 3-day fruit fast. As I love to eat fruits, I was really looking forward to this. I considered it more of a fruit feast than a fruit fast!

The picture above shows the entire array of fruits that I picked up for these 3 days. In fact, there was more than enough fruit here to last me over a week! I still have a few mangoes and oranges left in fact.

You might be wondering what I broke my fast with? After teaching a yoga class in the morning, I enjoyed some Idli that my mom made before going to work!

So how did I do on the fruit fast? Here is the scoop. Keep in mind that I entered this 3-day fast after having gone without caffeine or any processed sugar for over 3 weeks. I also have been practicing yoga 6-7 days a week for quite a while and have been following a 100% plant-based diet for many years. As a result of this, I think my detoxing symptoms were a little less severe than others. Your mileage will vary!

Continue reading 3-Day Fruit Fast Recap

3-Day Fruit Fast & Cleanse

I’m participating in 40 Days to Personal Revolution at my yoga school. This program, developed by Baron Baptiste, incorporates regular asana practice (6 days a week) with regular readings from the book, journaling/writing/reflecting, weekly group meetings with other participants, twice daily meditation and observation of certain dietary restrictions (for the sake of cleansing). For me, I have eliminated all caffeine and processed sugar from my diet for the entire 40 days.

As part of the program, we embark on the fourth week (we just finished week 3) with a 3-day fruit fast. I might as well call this a fruit “feast” since I truly enjoy eating tons of fresh, ripe, juicy fruits! During these 3 days we eat nothing but fruit. This begins tomorrow (Monday) morning and ends on Thursday morning.

I just re-stocked my fruit supply. Here is what my kitchen counter looks like right now. I don’t know if I will finish all of this in 3 days, but it will be fun trying! Most of fruit is organic (except for the berries, papaya, avocado and mangoes).

  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 4 avocados
  • 2 x 2lbs strawberries
  • 4 x 5oz blackberries
  • 7 kiwis
  • 4 large mangoes
  • 4 apples
  • 2 pears
  • 25 clementine oranges (small ones, about 5 pounds)
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 huge pommelo
  • 3 medium papaya
  • 22 mini-banana
  • 22 regular bananas
  • 1 large pineapple
  • 25 kumquats (8oz)

High Quality Breathing

I have written a lot about breathing, perhaps because it matters so much.

We can go for weeks without food, days without water but only a few minutes without breathing. The world record for breath holding is currently held by David Blaine – a famous magician who got his start doing street magic. The time? 17 minutes and 4.4 seconds.

The quality of our breath tells us a lot about our mental and emotional condition. It is something worth reflecting on. What is the quality of your breath? When do you tend to hold your breath without even knowing it? Are you breathing fully?

It is common for people to spend thousands of dollars on beauty treatments every year, and even more money on supplements. Perhaps the more important thing to consider is the quality of air that you breath, and the quality of your actual act of breathing.

Your Breath Tells All

When I listen to someone breathing, I know everything I need to know about their mental and emotional condition in that moment. As a yoga teacher, I spent a lot of time listening to people breathe.

Fast and quick breathing is indicative of an unsettled mind. A mind that is still thinking about the workday or the commute to the yoga studio or what they are going to eat for dinner or what they are going to do over the weekend.

An even and steady breath is indicative of a balanced and calm mind. A mind that is at peace with the current moment, and probably is well rested, nourished and present.

If the breath is such a strong indicator of one’s emotional and mental condition, could it not work in reverse? Could one bring about a more balanced and supportive mental and emotional state by simply focusing on the breath alone?


Make Progress By Pushing Through

I love the science of fitness and weightlifting. In most cases, you spend a ton of effort and time to tire your body out, just so the last few moments of work can cause your body to grow.

In weightlifting, it is only last few reps that cause your muscle to grow, everything else is a glorified warm-up.

In my yoga practice, the same is true for building not only mental strength, but a stronger mind. B.K.S. Iyengar, who is largely responsible for popularizing yoga in the West, says that “your yoga pose begins when you want to come out.” This is absolutely the truth.

In any physical practice, I’ve found the best results by sticking with something when I feel it is time to quit. 100% of the time, my body can go further, it is my mind that takes me out.

In my workplace, it is often by sticking with the uncomfotable situations that I am able to make a breakthrough on a project, or in bridging the gap in a relationship with someone I need to work with.

Make progress by sticking with it and pushing through, not by checking out.

For more on this topic, check out Seth Godin’s great book, The Dip. I like the audiobook – he has a great delivery (it’s a short listen just over an hour).

Baptiste Level 1 Teacher Training Complete!

Me and Baron Baptiste, on the last day!
(Baron Baptiste and I on the final day!)

I re-entered my orbit this week, after a wonderful week of yoga followed immediately by a few days of business meetings. Baptiste Level 1 Teacher Training was incredibly challenging, in all the right ways. Physically, emotionally, mentally.

A few key distinctions I picked up from this week with 142 amazing yoga friends:

  • Your body can go farther, longer and harder than you think.
  • Your attitude and outlook on life will determine your reality.
  • The most important question we have in life is “Who am I?” Ponder this daily.
  • Approach every moment with an “empty cup” and the world will fill it with more that you’ve imagined.
  • Our “stories” have run or lives in the past, but the future can be different.
  • Teaching in fun and I have an gift for doing so that must be shared.

I head to Level 2 Teacher Training in a few weeks (in Montana). Round 2 will focus on even more “inner work,” that is to say, improving our ability to be present and teach from our hearts.

Baptiste Power Yoga: Level 1 Teacher Training

Tomorrow evening I head off to start my Level 1 Teacher Training in Baptiste Power Yoga. I’ll be away for about 9 days, in the Catskills (upstate New York, near Albany) with no access to a computer. This means no blogging.

I’m looking forward to this training and whatever may come from it.

Talk to everyone when I return!



Transitioning From Yoga Student to Yoga Teacher

This weekend I finished a teacher training intensive at my yoga studio. This intensive was 12 hours of yoga over the weekend (Friday night and 2 practices a day on Saturday and Sunday), with 25 other teachers and soon-to-be teachers from the Seattle area (though 1 person came in from Montana!).

My studio, Shakti Vinyasa, is a Baptiste Affiliate Studio, and this style of Power Vinyasa Yoga is quite popular nowadays. The training pushed us all to discover our own inner voice, our reasons for teaching and some of the key building blocks to leading an outstanding class.

Perhaps the most unnerving part of class was leading other students through small 3-5 minutes routines! In fact, at one point during yesterday evening’s class, while all of us were hanging out in downward dog waiting for the teacher to lead us to the next pose, we were asked to raise our leg if we wanted to teach the class.

Of course I did.

And of course I was then called on, and led the class through a little Sun Salutation B (with Crow thrown and a few Lion’s for good measure!). This was my first attempt at teaching a class this size at an actual yoga studio (in front of a bunch of other teacher’s no less!). It was a lot of fun.

Throughout the rest of the intensive, we had several practice rounds of teaching amongst smaller groups, with feedback (intense feedback I might add!) on what we did well and what we could improve on.
Feedback was a critical aspect of the training, and we were pushed to give feedback that focused both on “gems” (things we do well) and “opportunities” (things we could improve on). We were also repeatedly coached to not react to the feedback, and to just accept it.

I must say, that if you have never had to sit and listen to someone praise or critique you and SAY NOTHING… would not realize just how tough it is. No nodding the head or laughing or telling your story about why did such a thing…just sitting and accepting it quietly.

Through this experience, I have had a few realizations about making the transition from Yoga Student to Yoga Teacher:

It is far harder to teach a class (effectively) than I thought.

It is one thing to take class on a regular basis, and another thing altogether to remember the sequencing and cues for proper alignment that are needed when teaching. Remembering the proper breathing pace and cues also takes practice. From my own experience, it was as if there was a barrier between my brain and my mouth….and when I tried to teach, I smacked right into it! Already after just a few days of practice I can see that I’ve improved a lot. It’s also clear that I need to “study” more of the asana sequences and Sanskrit names more rigorously.

It is far more rewarding to teach a class than I thought.

It is a feeling that words cannot describe. On a practical note, teaching is an excellent way to really dial in your own practice. You also get to see many more people doing poses as an observer, which gives you insight into alignment issues you may be having in your own practice. It is also just so much fun. It’s like a runner’s high. I can also see how much you can contribute to society through effective teaching. You can help people remove stress from their lives and bring their bodies back into harmony. I’m so glad I’ve started out on this journey to become a yoga teacher.

For those of you who have read this far, are you a yoga teacher or student? If so, what is your motivation for practicing and/or teaching? Leave a note in the comments please!

Yoga Injuries Stink

I know sounds like an oxymoron but yes it is possible to get injured doing yoga. Especially the kind you find being practiced at most gyms and advanced yoga studios in the US.

I consider myself a pretty advanced asana practioner, but for the past 4 months or so have maintained a consistent 6-7 day a week practice. Many of my classes are very physically challenging (Baptiste Power Yoga is the style).

Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue as my body would have time to heal, but I started developing a bit of aching in my wrists. Instead of doing the smart thing and modifying poses (which you are told to do in case of soreness or injury) or taking a few days off, I just decided to power through.

Using a laptop computer 12 hours a day didn’t help matters.

In the end, one class was especially challenging, and I my right wrist was super-sore afterwards.

I continued to going to class for a week or so, modifying poses whenever arm balances were in order. The pain was not and is not that bad, in fact, I could practice through it without a problem, but I fear it getting worse.

Therefore, I took 3 days totally off, and did an Iyengar practice that  was much easier on my wrists. Iyengar practices focus on alignment, and I figure it would be a good thing for me to really delve deeply into to prevent any further injuries.

I figured out that my injury was caused by improper hand position and pressure. My position was just a few degrees off, but after hundreds of Sun A and B’s. this eventually wears you down.

Moral of this story is to never stop focusing on the basics, even if you are advanced. Really nail technique and you’ll go much farther over the long run and be more likely to avoid any injuries.

Yoga Never Gets Easy, That's Why I Love It

(me doing Natarajasana “dancer pose” at Badlands National Park in South Dakota)

I’ve been practicing for almost 7 years. The past 6 months my practice has been very consistent, making it to a studio 6 days a week on average. For yoga, I have found that practicing more frequently really does yield superior results. I’d go so far as to say it is better to practice 20 minutes every day than for 90 minutes 2-3 times a week.

Yoga is infinitely challenging though. My studio, Shakti Vinyasa, recently switched up a few of their classes, substituting a couple of my the normally “advanced” level II/III classes with “beginner” level I/II classes.

(me doing Trigonasana “triangle pose” in the Grand Tetons)

From my perspective, the levels don’t mean much. I sweat about the same in any class. I also come out of any class feeling worked about the same amount. In a level I class I might go deeper into poses or be able to make some more advanced modifications. With a level III class I might take some modifications to make certain poses easier (e.g. dropping a knee in “twisted crescent lunge”). Either way I get the same “workout” physically, mentally (focus) and emotionally (dealing with ego and expectations).

It’s funny because on many occasions I’ve had people comment about how hard a level III class is or why I am going to a level I “intro” class (meant for people new to yoga). For me, it is all the same. Yoga is yoga. You get out what you put in.

Increase Your Endurance and Reduce Stress With One Simple Technique

Hi there…I just wrote another blog post with some additional techniques for taking your physical endurance to the next level. Check it out here.

For the past three weeks I have been applying a technique that has had more impact of my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being than any other product, system or technique I have tried out in recent memory. It is incredibly simple. It is free. It doesn’t require any props or accoutrement’s. It doesn’t disturb or distract anybody. You can do it while doing other things. You don’t need any special abilities to start doing it. You don’t even need instructions. Oh, and did I mention it’s free? 🙂

In my own experience, this technique has had a profound effect on my quality of life. My endurance throughout the day has skyrocketed. I rarely become stressed, and when I do, it seems to pass over me like a gentle breeze. My ability to focus on things that are important to me has increased significantly. I am less easily distracted. Do the benefits really match the claims by the title of this post? Yes.

Continue reading Increase Your Endurance and Reduce Stress With One Simple Technique

The Power of Raw Food

I’ve been on a 70% raw food diet for the past 1 week. I feel absolutely amazing. I have a lot to learn to get my diet really dialed in, but so far so good. I have no intention of keeping a 70% raw food diet forever, that seems a bit extreme for where I am in my life right now, but I do want to sustain a 30-50% raw food diet for the near term and see where it leads me.

Why am I doing this?

I have been lacto-ovo vegetarian for essentially my entire life. It was really the only diet I have known, and I suppose I have felt fine and am fairly healthy. A few years ago I was inspired to go-Vegan by a yoga teacher (Sharon Gannon) and after having educated myself on the issues of sustainable agriculture and mass-market egg and dairy farming, decided to give it a try.

During this period I lost quite a lot of weight, given the fact that I was already quite thin. I went from 145lbs to low 130’s. Many of my friends and family thought that I was getting too skinny. Looking back at pictures of me from that period lead me to believe them now, though at the time I was convinced that I was as healthy as humanly possible. I had insanely high energy levels compared to my vegetarian days, and completed two Ironman Triathlons and a few other ridiculous endurance events during the 1 and ½ years I was vegan. I was also working like crazy.

I eventually decided that vegan was not the best thing for me. The straw that broke my back was going to my sisters wedding, and feeling that I couldn’t eat any of the food (many Indian foods use clarified butter). I decided that I would be a responsible vegetarian, buying only organic eggs and cheese, and not stressing out if I had a piece of non-organic cake or some cheese pizza at Papa Johns.

That was about 3 years ago. It is amazing how subtle changes can cause major shifts over the long term. It had gotten to the point where I was really struggling to get back into good shape. Throughout the past three years, I have run a few half-marathons, and done some other long distance events (swam across Puget Sound), but I never really felt like I had the energy levels that I had when I was vegan.

Slowly reintroducing dairy into my diet had, over a few years, made me feel like crap. I gained about 20 pounds (some of it muscle as I was lifting) and while I felt much stronger, was more lethargic than I had ever been. Waking up in the morning seemed harder to do. I started drinking coffee to wake up and keep myself awake. I ate food but never really felt satisfied. When you start to think about it; if you sit down and have a Super Burrito at noon, should you really be starving by 5pm? Of course not. It just doesn’t make sense.

A few months I decided to make a change. I started to go back to yoga, and have been increasing the amount of aerobic activity I’ve been doing.

Last week, I made a radical change to my diet.

While I want to get back in peak shape, I want to avoid going to some extreme just for the heck of it. I want to eat in a way that gives me more energy than I have ever had before. I also don’t want to turn into a walking stick of skin and bones. I’ve been searching for the right answer to this question for a while. I don’t know if I have found it, but I feel like I am getting close.

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about the diet I followed for the past week, the effect it has had on me and the science behind it.