Yoga Strengthens Your Weakest Links

I recently started practicing yoga asana again after a 9 month hiatus. Life got busy so I spent my time doing things aside from heading to a warm yoga studio to sweat and breath deeply. Over the past few weeks I’ve rolled out my mat several times. I’ve re-discovered how my yoga practice illuminates and challenges my “weakest links.” Right now these weak links are my ability to breath deeply, flex my spine and maintain a steadiness of mind. What I love is that even though I’m challenged now, I know that what is challenged will inevitably react and strengthen.

 

Mountain Pose

Mountain Pose aka Tadasana aka your “True North.”

It is the physical foundation of any yoga practice.

A simple pose that aligns your body, mind and breath towards a singular purpose.

All you need to do is stand tall, with legs active, shoulders back and down opening the chest and heart, with a deep breath in and out through your nose.  Keep your eyes closed or lightly focused on one-point straight ahead.

Yoga does not and should not be complicated.

Floating into handstand can wait….for now just focus on standing tall and strong in Mountain Pose and you will get ALL the benefits that yoga has to offer. Complications just mask the true purpose, which is to notice what is showing up in your own body, mind and breath.

Wait…isn’t there some trick? Some advanced variation that will deepen the experience?

No, there is not.

There is power in the simplicity.

Surrender

Yoga literally means “union”, but in practice it is the art of surrender or letting go.

Like peeling an onion, it’s about stripping away everything that is not needed and getting to the heart of things.

Extra effort, mental strain, random thoughts, labored breath, emotional attachments, stories about why something is the way it is….it’s about letting go and surrendering all of these things.

A 5 minute long warrior II pose or 3 minute wheel pose (both of which I did in Jason Magness’s “Jedi Training” class during the Estes Park Yoga Journal Conference!) can help simply because after putting in so much effort for an extended period of time, you have no choice but to surrender and drop away extra thoughts or movements that drain your power.

I see the same thing in endurance triathlon or running. One path (though definitely not the only one) to deep surrender and Yoga (an experience of the interconnectedness of all things) is through intensive effort.

A Bull Elk and his "harem" hanging out in the lawn at the Estes Park YMCA during the 2011 Yoga Journal Conference. I walked by him on the way to/from yoga classes several times.

 

Baptiste Power Flow Immersion 2011

The 2011 Baptiste Power Flow Immersion is complete!

500 + yogis gathered in Estes Park, CO for a three day immersion in Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. Led by Baron Baptiste, this gathering included Master Teachers from around the country leading workshops in addition to plenty of teachers and students of all skill levels coming together to practice.

Each day began with a four-hour master class led by Baron that included mediation, intensive Vinyasa Yoga practice and plenty of time for group dialogue, sharing and partner work (handstands anyone?!). Following lunch, students could choose from a wide variety of afternoon breakout session. Some were discussion based while others involved more practice – all led by remarkable master teachers from the Baptiste community.

Each evening following dinner there was a different event – including a premier of the new documentary for the Africa Yoga Project and a Yoga Dance Party on the final night.

I’ve been to many yoga workshops and multi-day trainings but the Power Flow Immersion was unique. It was unique in the size and welcoming nature of the community that gathered to practice each day. It was unique in its setting – with Estes Park being the gateway to the gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park (where else do elk walk by you on the way to yoga practice?!). It was also unique in the balance between intensive practice and discussion sessions with just enough free time that allowed things to really “sink in”.

For me, the most unique thing was the overall quality of the teaching.  Each Baptiste training I’ve been to has been more impactful than the last. Part of it might be that I’m becoming more receptive to the teaching and as such – things are starting to really “click” for me, and it’s also true that Baron and his committed teach of staff and master teachers are continually evolving and improving their approach. That’s part of what I really like about this community – everyone really seems committed to constant and never-ending improvement – and that includes Baron and his teaching!  

I’ve walked away from the past three days with a new found sense of possibility for what I can create in my own life. I’ve been inspired through witnessing the transformation of others around me in the Baptiste community. I’ve also learned the difference between power (good!) and force (not good) and how these energies show up in my own practice and everyday life.

I have a few more days remaining here in Estes Park as the Yoga Journal Conference kicks off today and continues through the weekend, but already the experience has greatly surpassed my expectations. If you have an opportunity to attend at Baptiste program, don’t hesitate to do it!  Whether you have a desire to teach yoga or not, you will surely come away with direct experiences and practical tools that you can apply to create massive progress throughout all aspects of your life.  

 Here’s a video recap of day 1 (I’m in the video about half-way through!).

Team "Shaki Vinyasa" at the Power Flow Immersion!

Focus

In a world of abundant distraction, focus has become a more valuable skill than ever.

I use the word ‘skill’ because focus is something that can be practiced and improved over time.

In yoga, we call this ‘dhristi’, one point of focus. It starts with physical focus, fixing your gaze to a single point. From the physical focus, your mind becomes more focused, with your awareness moving to a what is happening in the current moment. From this mental focus you’ll find deeper levels of meta-physical focus.

When you look at things worth appreciating in this world; be it nature, new technologies, art, books, movies, music, meaningful relationships, etc…they were all created through some degree of focus. Scattered energy and attention doesn’t accomplish much and over the long-term can actually be destructive in terms of physical, mental and societal well-being.

Yoga and meditation practice is just one way to improve focus. Any act of doing one thing at a time works. Write a blog post, knit, go on a hike, spend time with family, play an instrument. The key is to just be present to what you are doing without letting your mind wander.

Dancer pose 'Natarajasana' is great dhristi practice. Here I am at the southern tip of India, where three great seas meet (Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal).

Finding and Surfing Your Growing Edge

Friends and I (third from left) several years ago standing on the ferry-boat just moments before we jumped into the 51 degree water and swam across Puget Sound! That definitely pushed my edge physically and mentally.

In yoga class I teach that all the benefits begin to show up when your mind says “it’s time to leave” but you stick with it anyway. This is the growing edge that we need to “surf” if any kind of growth is going to happen, physically, mentally or otherwise. I see so many people leave when things get uncomfortable and that is a shame (in a yoga class, it’s not that people leave the room, it’s that they come out of the pose or back out of it so it isn’t as intense). I see the same thing happen in the workplace.

All the benefits begin to show up when your mind says “it’s time to go,” but you stick with it anyway.

People get fed-up with a job, a boss or some other situation; and find it easier to just switch projects, change roles or leave the company as opposed to finding a way to make things work for the best. In many cases, the issue wasn’t any external factor. It was simply that the person was not willing to put in the effort (and perhaps time) required to come up with the solution. In other cases (less common in my experience), people do lack some skill or resource, but find it too inconvenient to ask for help (or maybe it’s just too humbling to ask for help?) – and instead just move on to something else.

In the course of the past 10 years I’ve been at Microsoft, there have been literally dozens of dreadful times where I totally was not looking forward to dealing with some project or person. In each case I stuck it out and in each case the thing that seemed dreadful at first came to past and everything worked out for the best. I think the ability to endure and see things through is a lost art. We get so caught up on the need for a quick fix (fast promotions, 6-pack abs in 5 minutes a day, etc.) that our own latent skills and capabilities atrophy due to lack of consistent and prolonged use.

If you spend any time in a gym this principle becomes obvious. In order to grow muscle, you must tire the muscle and then go a little further. Only then will growth happen. You could even say that first few reps and sets of an exercise are essentially useless and it is only the final effort hat causes any real adaptation. Instead of running from this place of growth, your edge, why not make it a point to find it and push against it? If growth is an objective then doing this is a necessity. Running away from your edge guarantees that growth will not happen. In fact it guarantees that you will degrade over time as your body adapts to a new and lower state of performance.

We are experts at adaptation. Relax and you will become use to that and your edge will soften. Regularly push up against your edge and over time it will become easy and your growth boundary will move. Use this principle to your advantage. Make surfing your own edge a game. Consciously and regularly pick things that will challenge you on some level. When was the last time you did something that pushed you in a meaningful way? Let me know in the comments to this post!

A Week in the Life of Ravi

I had a recent conversation with a friend around the captivating nature of reality TV. How it is so interesting to get a glimpse into how others live their lives, whether the lives are boring or a total train wreck. Given that some of you have been reading this blog for a few years now, I figure it might be interesting for you to get glimpse into my day-to-day life. I’ll warn you up front my routine is fairly straightforward. If you still want to know what I do…read on:

Weekdays

I am a team leader at Microsoft and have been there for almost 10 years. My job is that of a Principal Product Planner Lead. I lead a team of eight incredibly talented and ridiculously bright Product Planners that work on the future of our Windows Live products. This includes Hotmail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mesh and many other services that make up Windows Live. As part of this role, I work super closely with the Windows and Internet Explorer teams as well (we are all in the same division). My job is all about making sure that we have a compelling vision for our next “wave” of services and software, and that we are able to build and deliver on a plan to achieve that vision.

In a day-to-day capacity, my team seeks to understand customer needs, what the competition is up to, and then works with engineering teams to figure out the right end-to-end scenarios to invest in. It’s a super-fun job, and something I’ve been doing for most of my nearly 10 year career at Microsoft so far after a few years doing business planning and strategy in the finance team (I joined straight out of college).

  • 6:45 am is when I wake up on most days, and after using the rest room, sit down to meditate. I do this every day no matter what. Right now, I just sit for 10 minutes, setting the timer on my phone to beep when the time has elapsed. I get up and then return to the bathroom to get ready.
  • 7:15 am I’m in my kitchen (I live in a small but nice 1 BR apartment) making a vegan power smoothie. Usually it has a bunch of bananas (anywhere from 2-4) and frozen blueberries or whatever other fruit I have around. Sometimes I throw in some kale for good measure. Occasionally I add in some vegan protein (I make custom blend of hemp, brown rice and pea proteins). I eat a crap load of fruit. Sometimes 10 or more bananas a day, a bunch of apples and other fruits.
  • 7:30 am I am in my car and drive 20 minutes to work at the Redmond, WA Microsoft Campus. It’s a great place to work.
  • 8:00 am I am in my office sorting out my schedule for the day, checking in on technology news (I like Techmeme). Lately I’ve also been drinking some coffee in the morning while I do this. I also figure out one big thing I need to get done during the day. I’ll write this down on a slip of paper or Post-It and stick it in my pocket and look at it a few times during the day.
  • 8:30am I start working on whatever the most important thing is to get done during the day.
  • 9:00am – Noon Let the games begin! If I am lucky I will have just 1-2 meetings before lunch. Often, I’ll have back-back-back meetings straight from 9am to lunch. This will include 1:1 meetings with folks on my team, meetings with other Planning Leads and meetings to review progress on projects to meet with folks on other teams regarding some sort issues that arise. It can actually be an endurance event to make it through!
  • Noon-1 pm I will walk to our cafeteria (5 minutes away) and get something for lunch. I’ll bring it back and eat at my desk while I either read e-mail or browse the web aimlessly 🙂 (MSN’s Wonderwall is a brilliant way to totally kill time!)
  • 1-5 pm Usually 1-2 more meetings happen. In general, I have around 20 meetings a week, usually half of them are 60 minutes long and the rest are 30 minutes or so. A few might be longer. Every now and then we’ll have all-day checkpoints to projects that spans a lot of teams. Given my role as a team lead – a big part of my job is collaborating with other teams and helping to coordinate projects. Before I was a manager, I had half as many meetings.
  • 5-6 pm With no meetings after 5pm (usually not at least!) I will get work done in peace until 6pm or so, and then head out for the day. Sometimes I’ll leave work at 5pm (usually to catch a yoga class), but that is rare right now. Monday’s I leave work at 4:30 pm since I teach 3 hours of yoga in the evenings on Monday.
  • 6-6:30 pm Drive home
  • 6:30-7 pm Putz around at home! Prepare for whatever workout I’ll be doing and generally procrastinate. Running is what I’m into now. I also practice a ton of yoga (and also teach).
  • 7-9 pm Workout of some sort, and then come home and clean up and get ready for dinner. Sometimes I’ll workout in the morning instead, which shifts my whole schedule a bit, but 80% of the time I train in the evening.
  • 9-10 pm Prepare and eat dinner
  • 10-Midnight at the latest I don’t own a TV (sold it years ago) so I will browse the web, blog, read books and get work done until midnight or so. I’ll often respond to e-mail I didn’t get during the day in the evening, or finish reading messages and prepare for meetings the next day. While working I’ll usually have some kind of music playing, or an audio book. If I am wiped out from my workout, I will just go to sleep at 10pm, but that usually only happens a few times a week.

Weekend

My weekends are focused around an adventure of some sort. Since I am starting to get into ultra-marathons now, I try to get in an epic long run on either Saturday or Sunday (2-4 hours long). I’ll also get in 1-2 yoga classed and I teach yoga on Sunday mornings (and Monday nights).

I’ll wake up at the latest by 9 or 9:30am at the latest. I don’t set an alarm on the weekends, this is just when I end up waking up. After my training, I’ll usually eat some nice vegan food somewhere and then find a coffee shop where I can read for a few hours (I try to power through one book a week).

I’ll head home in the afternoon and then write a blog post and read other blogs. During the winter I’ll deviate from this schedule and go snowboarding on Saturdays.

In the late afternoon I’ll see what my friends are up to, and usually have kind of social thing going on in the evenings. A music concert, movie, dinner, or something. Last night I went to a Warren Miller ski movie with a friend. A few weekends ago I went to the Ballet (they performed “Dracula” believe it or not!). There is always something interesting happening around Seattle.

On weekends I’ll usually go to bed a little later, often after Midnight (again, unless training kicked my butt!). I sleep when tired and don’t worry about forcing myself into some kind of routine on the weekends.

On Sunday nights I’ll work for 4-5 hours. If a big project is looming, I’ll work 5-10 hours spread across Saturday and Sunday. This will basically replace my reading time for entertainment and some of my training time.

Over the course of the week I spend around 55 hours a week working, with some weeks bursting to 80 hours (when I travel for work, or when a big project is looming near). I spend about 10-12 hours a week training (mostly running and yoga right now) and the rest just hanging around doing whatever I want to do.

So that’s it, my weekly routine! If you want to know more about anything in my routine, drop a note in the comments and I’ll get to it in a future post. Thanks!

The best place to meditate

Rush hour in Manhattan, New York City
Image via Wikipedia

In the middle of busy street at rush hour.

If you can find some peace of mind in the middle of madness, finding it in everyday life will that much easier. If you keep putting off a meditation practice because you don’t have the right meditation pillows, music, incense, etc…you’re making excuses.

Just sit down and do it. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining on your eyelids. It doesn’t matter if there is noise from the street outside. It doesn’t matter if there is a kid running around and distracting you or a baby crying in the distance.

Just start and embrace the distraction. It is all part of the practice.

Gravity Cowboy Workshop with Brock and Krista Cahill

Brock and Krista came to town for a three day yoga workshop. Learned a ton. Highly recommend checking out their classes. It will be different than anything else you have done yoga-wise. They have amazing methods for teaching inversions, arm balances and handstand variations. These were easily some of the most challenging yoga asana classes I’ve ever done. Some random things I’ve come away with from the weekend:

  • Fear is by far the biggest limiter to doing a handstand or inversions of any kind.
  • Raw strength is less important than core stability and muscle awareness.
  • Pressure through the fingers (hasta bandha) is useful for maintaining balance in handstand and other arm balances.
  • Have fun AT ALL COSTS 🙂
  • Staying hydrated – before class not just during – is super important during intensive weekend trainings.
  • Learn to fall and be ok with it….if you are going to do handstands, you are going to fall!
  • Let your hips lead the way when jumping forward from downdog to forward fold.
  • For me, tight hamstrings are a limiter when it comes to moving into certain poses. Need to work on that.
  • Have fun with transitions into and out of poses…try new ways to get into and come out of poses.

Have another session with them tomorrow…will add any other tid bits to the list after that.

[updates after our final sessions]

A few more thoughts after a final 2.5 hour practice:

  • Proper fuel and hydration are so important. I did a 90 minute vinyasa practice prior to the 2.5 hour intensive sessions with Brock and Krista – and sweated through several yogi-toes towles and several changes of clothes. Having proper hydration is critical. I am using Amino Vital right now, with nuun tablets in a separate water bottle and a PowerGel between classes.  In retrospect I should have drank more water last night or in the middle of the night to prepare. Oh well.
  • Building strength around an injury can help an injury heal.
  • Play around with variations – e.g. handstand with one hand on a block, arm balances with one hand turned out, etc. keep it interesting.
  • Some might say doing so many inversions is not part of the traditional practice of yoga – but Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and others had incredible practices and frequently went upside down.
  • Some teachers might not be cool with you doing things (like jumping int handstands from downdog) outside of the norm – don’t worry about that – if you want to do interesting variations – do it and find a teacher that will support you.
  • Again…I realized that tight hamstrings can be a limiter in getting my body into certain poses. Find your limiter and work on it (in class and outside of class).
  • Interesting transition: go from forearm plank to low-plank using your back muscles! This can also work with a scorpion to low-plank transition.
  • Interesting transition: go from headstand to tripod headstand and back by just moving your arms.

Get out of your mind

I asked a student in yoga class today “why are you here” and she replied “to lose my mind!” It sounds funny but it’s right on.

Losing your mind is great thing. When you are thinking you aren’t noticing what is really going on, and there is always much going on that is worth noticing.

Yogis practice for years to perfect this skill. Zen monks do austere meditation and rituals to cultivate present moment awareness and lose their minds.

The cool thing is it doesn’t need to take a long time and tons of effort to do this. Every day you spontaneously lose your mind. It happens when you get out in nature. It happens during bouts of intense physical activity. It happens when you express your creative potential.

Discover the ways of being where you can lose your mind. Bring more of that into your life. See all the cool stuff that is really happening when you are not caught in a web of thought.

(Below: losing my mind on the beach in Santa Barbara, CA)

Yoga Poses on Bing

This is ridiculously cool! I love a lot of things about Bing (great shopping and cashback, travel fare comparisons, best weather summaries around, etc)….but this takes the cake!

Great visual image search of The Yoga Journal pose gallery. You can sort the poses by difficulty, focus, therapeutic benefit, etc. Check it out!

Bing yoga pose visual search

Step Through the Fire Without Fear

The Dale Chihuly sculpture at The Bellagio in Las Vegas.

I have a friend who works for master glass sculpture artist Dale Chihuly, and we were talking about the sculptures a bit. It got me thinking about how amazing this art is. If you’ve ever been to the Bellagio, that’s his work hanging on the ceiling as you enter the main lobby. The thing about glass is that it can be incredibly brittle (I am well-known to break wine glasses all the time). Glass sculptures can be oh so delicate. However, add a little heat, and the glass becomes fluid like a syrupy liquid, you can bend shape and transform it into the most fanstastical creations. Heat can be freeing and liberating.

In my yoga classes I spend a lot of time generating heat in the physical body, so that we can move safely and deeply into back-bend and hip-opening postures. After a few sun salutations, even stiff legs can feel quite loose.

For all of us, heat can come in the form of literal/direct heat as one would find in a heated yoga practice, or generated internally through focused breathing. It can come from the intense heat of continued focus and effort. It can come in a deep way through meditation. It can come from emotional “heat” due to stress, longing or news both good and bad. Heat can be incredibly uncomfortable but it is also through this heat that we are able to bend and shape ourselves in new ways.

The Sanskrit term that best captures this notion of heat is called “tapas” which literally means “heat” but also references a practice of spiritual purification through the burning off of negative energy. In yoga it is also one of the “niyamas” or self-restraints that are mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Intense transformative fire is said to emanate from the third-eye of Lord Shiva, a powerful force that eliminates all evil. Evil doers beware!

Without heat, deep change is impossible. Welcome the purifying heat. When things get challenging and you feel the intensity build, understanding that you have a unique opportunity to grow in incredibly profound and new ways. It’s a chance for you to make your masterpiece.

Setting an Intention

In yoga classes I often ask students to “set and intention” for the class as we begin. This intention, or purpose, can set the tone of the entire class. An empowering intention can make be the difference between moving through class with “the wind at your back” and struggling through in a hope that it will come to an end quickly! Intention setting is not some esoteric principle. It is something that we do every day whether you know it or not.

Today my intention was to "tip-toe through the tulips" - mission accomplished!

Think about your own day (pick a day, like today). If you went to work or school or on a trip somewhere, when you walked out your door to start your day, you had an intention with regards to where you were going. Whenever I put the keys in the ignition of my car, I have a point to why I am turning on the car. Either it is to get to work, go to the store, visit a friend or do something else with a purpose. There is always a reason, even if the reason if to just go for a joy-ride!

In the same way, when students roll-out their yoga mat they are their for a reason, be it conscious or not. In making a conscious and directed purpose for practice there is an opportunity to create a positive meaning for the time and effort spent. It is also a chance to anchor a practice to something positive. After all, it is a lot easier to push through a physically challenging asana if there is a motivating reason for it! In the same reason, it is easier to deal with a challenging situation at work or while traveling if you have a motivating force behind your actions.

Red, red and more red! These tulips are incredible!

As with yoga class, there is power in setting an intention for your day. When I get up every morning, I  set an intention for how I intend to be to be during the day. The intention is never based on an outcome (which is impossible to control) but always centered on my own way of being (which is completely within my control!). Here are a few examples of empowering intentions – in the form of “Today my intention is to….”

  • …be an outstanding example for others
  • …see the humor in every situation
  • …stay present
  • …relax and have fun
  • …see the best in everyone
  • …focus on doing what matters
  • …serve without expectation
  • …to give it my best effort, nothing more and nothing less

Try this practice out for the next few days. When you wake up in the morning (perhaps after a meditation) make it a point to set an intention. Come back to it on a regular basis (perhaps every time you have something to eat or drink), and watch your days take on a whole new meaning.

Empowering intentions can indeed add some color to your life!

The Importance of Contrast

"Yin and Yang" photo from Eric Bardo

In the Yoga asana practice that I teach we spend a good portion of each practice in an energetic fiery flow that builds “yang” energy. Simply put, you get very warm, start sweating profusely and raise the overall energy level of your body. The closing portion of class is designed to be more cooling, contemplative and introverted energetically speaking – more “yin” in nature.

The “yang” however only exists relative to the “yin.” If the entirety of the practice was more gentle, a few sun salutations would be construed as fire-building. In the practice I teach, sun salutations are heat building, but could also be construed as more gentle given the numerous poses we do that build even more heat (extended side-angle pose, dolphin pose, plank pose, arm balances etc.). I remember being in a class with a master teacher last year, where after several hours of intense asana practice the teacher had us hold dolphin pose for a while. After a minute of struggle, she mentioned that if we wanted a break from dolphin, to just straighten our arms into downward dog! For those of you that practice yoga asana, you know that holding downward dog can itself be tiring if held for a while. However, in the context of all the other asanas we were doing during this particular practice, it seemed quite effortless. Downward dog felt as relaxing as child’s pose!

In the same way, when I was in high school we use to train with all kinds of equipment to increase the intensity of our practices. We used to wear drag suits (old torn suits with pockets sewn in then) and tie inner-tubes around our ankles. We’d swim miles like this. When we’d take them off, we’d start swimming sets that would normally be grueling, but they would seem easy in contrast to swimming with all that darn equipment!

My friend asked me the other day what I would do if I could do anything I wanted, if I was 100% financially and otherwise secure. I didn’t have a great answer when she asked, and I still don’t. However, that question got me thinking. I have been thinking about what it would be like to live in a world where everything was great. Where nothing bothered me. Where I didn’t have a concern in the world. Where everyone was happy and I was always happy. Where nobody ticked me off. Where the bus always came on time and where days were always sunny. I started thinking about what this world would be like.

I didn’t like it.

I think it would lack color, energy and interest. I think it would get boring. I think that the surprises and excitement that I get from my life is partially the result it being full of highs and lows, good days and challenging days, tough luck and good luck. I think without the “bad” the “good” wouldn’t seem so “good”. I think the trick in this whole situation is then to just accept and deal with the challenges as natural events. Not get caught up or impacted by them in a major way (far easier said than done!), and understand that it is only through this contrast that life can have any color and interest at all.

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!

The Value of Sleep

Quick post – it’s been a while since I last wrote and I’ve recently discovered something so simple that I just have to share. Sleep. I’ve been very busy of late, with a new job at work, a bunch of travel, teaching yoga and taking some workshops, and getting ready for an upcoming trip to India. The one thing that has been lacking is sleep – and I’ve been getting by on 5-6 hours a night pretty consistently for the past several weeks.

I’ve noticed that I’ve definitely been a lot more irritable, less energized and haven’t been as mental sharp and generally optimistic about things.

Starting last Friday, I’ve been making it a point to sleep a LOT. This means getting to bed by 10pm at the latest and getting a solid 9 hours every day (over the weekend I got 12 hours a night….which was a bit too much). The change is dramatic. I find that my entire day goes better and I feel generally happier, mentally tuned in and my relationships with people also seem more connected.

Sleep is important….speaking of which…gotta go to bed soon…teaching yoga in the morning!

Be Responsible to Be Unstoppable

An unstoppable dude!
An unstoppable dude!

What is stopping you? Is there something in your life that you want that you do not have? If so, what is keeping you from going out and getting it? This could be something relating to your physical body, your job, your bank account, your relationships, your friends, etc.

I have little patience for people who whine. I think everyone is entitled to have an opinion and complaining might be cathartic to some extent – but I don’t enjoy hearing people complain about things, especially when the people complaining don’t take action to fix whatever is the issue.

People often complain about things because they pass ownership for a situation on to someone else. Someone else didn’t grant them a promotion. Someone else cooked the delicious cookies (that they over-ate). Someone else is ignoring them. Someone else cut them off in traffic. Etc.

During my yoga training last month we spend a lot of time taking ownership and responsibility for whatever  happened to us in our lives. Our job (or lack thereof), our relationships, our childhood experiences. All of these things were ultimately our creation – be they good or bad. Being responsible – at cause – for your life gives you tremendous power.

When you are at cause you take ownership for everything that has, is or will happen to you. This also means that you are control of creating the life situations that you wish to happen – and recreating the meanings for things that have happened in the past and were previously called “bad” into more empowering memories. If something doesn’t suit you, change it! If something is stopping you, choose to be unstoppable and resolve the issue.

The key to being unstoppable is therefore a simple one. Take responsibility for your life situation – the good and the bad, by accepting that you are a cause for whatever has happened, will happen and most importantly, whatever is happening in your life now in this moment.

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!