I Am Light

When we learn to trust ourselves and our journey we are able to look beyond that which we are so quick to judge. We become brave enough—with practice—to stop falling victim to the shadows, the darkness, the doubt, the anger, the fear that lies within. With courage we use our breath to steady our heart and our mind and discover, finally, we are all light.

When you feel ready to choose courage over comfort, to put your judgments aside for even just a moment, allow yourself a time for stillness and quiet. Light a candle for your past, your trauma, your pain. Listen to this beautiful song by India Arie and with intention begin to let go.

Navasana Doesn’t Happen On Its Own

As we continue the exploration of creating a space for healing, let’s briefly recap some of those tips. First, we ensure that we find somewhere that we feel safe. This can include talking with a trusted confidant, a community where you can be yourself, or simply moments of quiet in your own private corner. Eventually it may be all of the above but take your time finding what fits for you.

Within those safe spaces we allow ourselves a regular, even daily practice to invest our time and energy to explore where we are. This can be journaling random things that come up, sharing your thoughts or story with others, or having a regular yoga and meditation practice to be present and observe. This is the time to open ourselves up to feelings of vulnerability to practice compassion and not judge what comes up. This is where we find the steady calm among the chaos around us.

We allow ourselves to experience that which this safe space cultivates with the intention of healing and meet ourselves as we are, where we are. Maybe it brings up old wounds. Maybe trauma we thought was healed has new layers to explore and address. Maybe this is where we finally see the shame, guilt, or fears we hold on to in the dark not wanting to share or let anyone see. Now is the time to do the work and this is what we’re discussing today.

Halfway through the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga we arrive at Navasana, also referred to as “boat pose.” Depending on how much effort has been put into the first half of this practice this posture can feel incredibly tough. In fact, this pose can show up in lots of different physical practices at different times and it IS tough! It just seems to stand out in the Primary Series as it is only the halfway mark–a lot of work has been done to get here and there’s still a lot more work to go before rest.

I have wonderful and inspiring groups of regular students who come to my classes on a weekly basis and they really put in the effort. It is a beautiful and humbling experience to watch them explore, focus, and grow. What’s important to remind all of us and anyone who begins the practice of yoga, of self-discovery, of personal growth, is that we all have to start somewhere and it doesn’t matter what that looks like…but none of it will happen on its own. These students really work and what they can do now physically, mentally, and emotionally they could not do the first time around.

There is a tendency when faced with this posture to not want to try. There are so many variations we can attempt to work where we are but for some reason this one makes people want to give up completely. This pose like so many others for most of us just won’t happen on its own and the same goes for our own healing. It takes time, energy, and consistent effort. In our Western Culture we much prefer the quick fix. We want the pill or procedure that “corrects” the problem. We want things to be “easy” and when it isn’t we see it as a “bad” thing and therefore anything that requires effort is something that has to be endured rather than explored.

If we waste our time concerned about how much work is required to see any results we will stop ourselves before we can start. If we waste our time worried about the judgement of others it is just another excuse to not take care of ourselves. If we waste our time finding explanations for not trying our best we are still making a choice. It’s important that we are honest with ourselves about this. We will always make the time and put in the effort to do the things we really want to do no matter what.

And once we arrive to do the work every moment in this space is an opportunity to try. We begin where we are, we make the effort to do hard things, we pay attention to our physical, mental, and emotional responses so we can address them as necessary and most of all we just keep going.

A child learning to walk doesn’t suddenly begin walking—they work for it. They don’t worry about what they look like or that they fall over, they just start and keep trying. It doesn’t occur to them that there’s an option to not try or to give up. The desire to move forward motivates them to pull and push and lift without the muscle to hold themselves up and this is exactly how they build the strength. It is quite simply the process of trying over and over and over again, it is in the effort, it is in the journey that yields results.

Whatever it is we’re searching for, reaching for, hoping for, we have to be willing to do hard things. We have to be willing to put effort into the journey to build strength, flexibility, and resilience of body, heart, and mind. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to others—you matter. It doesn’t matter if others hear you cry, see you struggle, watch you fall—you matter. Decide that you matter for yourself, commit to being the best version of yourself and once and for all just do the work.

This is My Body

When I arrive at the top of my mat I am granted a moment of self-reflection. It is here that I can quiet the outside world and begin to focus on what I am bringing to my practice–my body, my breath, and my mind just as they are. It is also here that one can begin to tailspin into a thought process of attaching to whatever comes up and the chances of that can continue until the very end:

I’m so stiff. This will be tough. Why am I so tired? I shouldn’t have eaten so much last night. I can’t do this….but I know I can do this! Why is this so hard?? I should be able to do this. Am I doing this right? This is so frustrating. What is wrong with me?? It’s because I’m too fat. I’m too weak. I’m too tight. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. What am I doing here? I’m not good enough for this. Why am I even trying? I look ridiculous. I should just give up….

Initially these thought patterns come up without us even noticing them. When that happens our behaviors and reactions to them will show us where our mindset is and then we have to work backwards to figure it out: We quit before even trying. We make excuses for ourselves. We resist the things that seem too hard, too difficult, too challenging. We give up before anyone notices that we have failed. We make jokes at our own expense.

If we want to change anything about the life we have created thus far, we have to draw these self- sabotaging patterns up and out of the dark. For many of us, this is why we practice yoga.

There will be a method of yoga asana that sparks something within you and the result will be a desire to seek out your truth. It will force you to see yourself so clearly that your choice becomes whether to keep going and dig deeper, stay exactly the same, or walk away. It will mirror your choices and the patterns you repeat and it will give you a chance to practice a different way of being, of seeing, of living.

What do you do when you feel challenged? What do you do when you feel threatened or afraid? Do you compare yourself to others to determine your value? How do you respond when you feel insecure or believe you are not enough? What do you do when you don’t believe in yourself?

I encourage you to listen every time you tell yourself “I can’t.” Hear yourself every time you say “but it’s hard.” Hear yourself when you settle for bare minimum or make excuses for why you do what you do and why you are where you are. When you do, I encourage you to explore where that thought process is coming from and shine a light. Bring it to the surface so you can recognize it for what it is: a thought process that does not serve your journey for growth.

Then take that next moment to pause and slow down your breaths as you continue your practice. Make each breath more intentional and make them deeper to still your mind as you move. Feel what comes up in your heart and with that pure light of awareness, shift your attention to the thoughts that can serve you: This is my body. This is my practice. This is where I am today and I am doing my best.

“Pay Attention to Your Inattention”

I first heard this quote from Dr. Vasant Lad in his beautiful book of poetry, “Strands of Eternity.” It is within his poem about meditation that he talks of the space between our thoughts which is where we find peace. It has taken a lot of time and study to grasp this but now I often return to this quote when I find myself wrapped up in anxiety, worry, frustration, and stress about anything, big and small. Like many of us I have a strong tendency to over-analyze and over-think random thoughts to death especially in the heat of any emotion….until I remember I can refocus my attention at any time.

When I first realized that my beliefs and habits possibly contributed to the suffering I experienced I was in my late twenties, divorced twice, living alone in a small 555 square foot apartment barely eating and hiding myself from the world. Filled with shame and embarrassed about the life I was living, I isolated myself from family and friends drowning in self-pity.

Upon serious reflection of my situation, it occurred to me that every decision I made up until that point was exactly how I ended up there. While I didn’t know how to actually “fix” things I decided it wouldn’t hurt to just start doing the opposite of everything I had been doing my whole life and see where that would lead me.

I decided I would start taking better care of myself when it was always so much easier to focus on what other people wanted and needed from me. Rather than trying to manipulate certain situations to look and feel the way I thought they “should be” I decided to step back to let things happen more naturally and let things be as they were.

I began to set boundaries, creating space where I felt safe, not letting just anyone in and not keeping myself completely isolated either. Within that space, I began to try new things no matter how vulnerable it made me feel. I learned very quickly the people, places, and activities that did and did not seem to support my new intention of nurturing myself and it became easier and easier to see the signs and shift my actions and choices accordingly.

I learned that my thoughts and feelings were separate from myself, separate from who I am at the core. I started to understand that I am at the center a neutral human, an individual, doing the best that I can with what I have and what I know and the thoughts and feelings I experience can actually exist without me judging them and more importantly without me attaching to them.

The most significant shift of all was learning how to focus my attention. Through practicing and studying yoga and surrounding myself with individuals who were stronger, wiser, and more compassionate than I was I began to objectively observe my own patterns. It still requires consistent practice to work on changing those thoughts when I recognize they no longer serve me but this ability to shift my perspective has been the most valuable skill by far.

I started to notice that when I found myself frustrated about another person’s behavior or treatment of me, it was so much easier to blame the other person and excessively focus on their faults. When I looked deeper, I discovered that I was allowing myself to be mistreated because I had not yet established my own value or self-worth. It was up to me to be honest, to stand up for myself and speak up or walk away.

When I worked for someone who belittled me and refused to recognize my contributions, all of my attention was focused on that difficult person and that job being a bad fit for me. But once I uncovered the fact that I needed to believe in myself for myself and no one else, it was easy for me to disconnect so I could finally move on. I had to decide I was worthy of respect before I could receive it from anyone.

The things we tend to focus on when we get upset, feel mistreated, or stressed out rarely have to do with what’s really going on underneath. When we shift our attention to what we’re not paying attention to we often find deeper, darker, much more difficult issues we can’t or don’t want to see.

When we do look deeper and see the fear of being alone, of not being good enough or that we are undeserving, of being seen and judged, of being left behind or abandoned, of losing ourselves or a loved one, and on and on……we often default to distractions because it’s easier and it feels safer, but I argue that idea is an illusion in itself. It isn’t easier or safe at all, we just don’t believe that we’re worth the effort yet.

I’m telling you again, now and always, you are worth the effort. To live the best version of yourself and your life you are worth the hard work, the difficult conversations, the attention to the scary layers underneath. You are worth seeing yourself and your life without judging every second, every emotion, every thought. Feel all the feelings, allow them to flow and process through you, but don’t feel like you have to label them as good or bad, awful or amazing. Let all of it, the ugly and the beautiful, exist all around and within you and learn to embrace your HUMANness. Then little by little, notice what you are not paying attention to and shift your focus to that empty, pure, peaceful space between the chaos of your thoughts. Allow that space to expand more and more each day and feel your heart, mind, and spirit grow with it.

Creating the Space to Heal

When I sit down to write a new post I am motivated by the passion to create a space for healing. Sharing my own struggles and challenges through writing has become the natural progression of my own journey to heal myself…..and it is absolutely terrifying.

The thing is, the journey wouldn’t really be so powerful if it wasn’t at least a little bit scary. We already know we don’t grow and evolve when things are easy and comfortable, and yet it is human nature for us to resist that which feels difficult or causes discomfort—especially a process such as this.

As regularly practicing yoga allowed me to begin seeing myself more clearly, it wasn’t until studying and practicing Ayurveda that actually created such a space for me. I have learned and implemented a lot over the last five years and as I continue to learn and grow this space for myself, I become more and more passionate about sharing it with others. I did not know it at the time but first working with Courtney Miller Morris and Debby Andersen, Co-Founders of Hamsa School of Yoga and Ayurveda, would undeniably change my life forever.

There are a number of elements and qualities needed to create a true space for healing whether it is for yourself or for anyone else. We’ll go over each of these in detail over the next several posts. With the ability to keep even a few of these guiding principles in mind, the greater chance we have to help ourselves and those around us to heal.

Safety First: No matter what we are going through we must believe without a doubt that we are absolutely safe when we are trying to heal something within us. It’s important to note that feeling safe absolutely includes our physical body and our environment but it goes much deeper than that as well. As healing often means drawing up our wounds, the pain can be excruciating and if we aren’t free to express ourselves openly and honestly, the ability to heal is often hindered.

Recognize the more subtle areas and times in your life where you do not trust how you will be treated or excessively worry about how you or your behavior will be received. This may include experiencing a difficult relationship, a hostile work environment, or even just catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Being constantly distracted by judgment of yourself and others continuously draws your attention outward–while healing must begin within ourselves.

What makes this first quality for space so difficult is that we do not always recognize when we are choosing judgment or self-criticism because it has been so ingrained in our mindset for so long. We have to be willing to be honest about these triggers and have the courage to face them as well. Whether it is how we judge ourselves in any given moment or how we choose to see life as either “wonderful” or “awful,” these judgments are simply mental habits that have been created over time….which also means they can be broken.

Once we become aware of the areas in our lives where we don’t feel safe, it is up to us to carve out some space for ourselves where we do. A daily practice of self-compassion and non-judgement is essential. A time in which you make a conscious effort to not judge anything as “good” or “bad” including yourself and therefore not attaching to that desire or resistance is incredibly powerful.

Sitting quietly, writing out your feelings, moving meditation, silent prayer, expressing yourself creatively, talking with a friend, counselor, or loved one you trust explicitly are all just a few ways you can create a safe space for yourself to heal. Start small and keep it manageable. Even just five minutes each day can make a significant impact.

Do not underestimate the words you choose to use on a daily basis and encourage yourself to seek out and provide room for trust and self-acceptance. Notice where you and others judge and criticize the most and allow yourself to begin letting that habitual mindset go. As you nurture this practice for yourself you can lengthen the time and expand the activities so that creating a safe space replaces old behaviors and becomes the greater habit towards self-love and healing.

Protecting Your Energy

It has taken many years for me to recognize within myself the amount of energy it can take to do relatively simple things. I believe it was reading Caroline Myss several years ago which first introduced the idea to me that we only have so much energy within ourselves to maintain our own physical, mental, and emotional health. Because of this, it is our responsibility to draw back that energy that we expend on anything or anyone that does not support our journey in living our best life.

So what does that even mean? It wasn’t until discovering Ayurveda and putting its principles into practice as much as possible on a daily basis that I really understood it myself.

Ayurveda is a sister science to the philosophy of Yoga. With these practices, we learn how to use a self-care lifestyle to maintain a healthy state of being. It teaches us–or reminds us–that we are all made up of some degree of all of the elements as is everything else on Earth. Each of those elements function in a variety of ways and then work together within us which is then reflected in our daily life.

Our goal when practicing Ayurveda is to consistently find and maintain the balance of each of those elements and their functions within ourselves. This is where our Western mindset can get tripped up with this practice. Because each of us have a different elemental make-up, both in nature and in any current balance or imbalance of those functions, there is no blanket rule to say what one can or can’t do for optimal health. There is no way to generalize that one should only eat/drink/do/etc. ____________ and shouldn’t ever eat/drink/do/etc. ____________ because it’s going to be different for everyone, even at different times from day to day.

This puts the onus back on ourselves as individuals to get to know exactly who and where we are at every given moment in order to work towards our own version of what optimal health looks like for us. One simple way to implement this without countless hours of studying such an ancient practice is to begin to pay attention to and learn to protect your own energy.

If we can accept the concept that we are more than just physical beings, we can begin to observe the use of our energy in a variety of situations. When I was at my unhealthiest state I was also the most disconnected from myself and my body. I was in relationships with people who I could feel drain my energy away from me just by being around them but I didn’t see that as clearly as I do now–hindsight being 20/20 and all.

Oftentimes we’ll have to learn to deconstruct the use of our energy after the fact to recognize if something or someone energized us or left us feeling lost or depleted. This is where awareness and then acknowledgment comes into play. When it comes to the work you do, the activities you engage in, and the connections you have, consider how you feel afterwards and what that might mean. Again, there aren’t any hard and fast rules to say “If this, then do that.” You have to decide for yourself what is worth your energy and what isn’t.

Keep in mind, this isn’t to say that there is anything to judge as we make these discoveries. It isn’t that some people, places, or things are either “good” or “bad” for us necessarily. Life isn’t that black and white and neither is Ayurveda. What we can do is determine, objectively, what is happening with our energy (physically, mentally, and emotionally) in any situation and then decide what that is saying about where we are. Only until we have a clear picture of that can we determine if it is in line with who and where we want to be.

Barring any extenuating circumstances that are truly out of our control, there are plenty of ways from day to day, even moment to moment, that we can conserve and ultimately protect our energy:

  • In Ayurveda we learn that a consistent daily routine that fits our current lifestyle to the best of our ability is key. Trying to wake up, go to sleep, eat and drink at the same times every day will go a long way.
  • Remember that if something becomes stressful–even the attempt at doing something “healthy”–it is no longer beneficial. The ability to minimize and manage stress well is an integral part of Ayurveda and an individualized self-care lifestyle.
  • We can observe our body’s physical reaction to conflict and challenges to begin gathering the data we need to learn about ourselves. Signs like our heart rate increasing, or palms becoming sweaty, or even lethargy can tell us a lot about how we are receiving an experience.
  • Once we recognize physical sensations, we can turn our attention to our mindset and how we feel about something in our hearts. Is my heart rate increasing because I’m excited and anxious to do something that I really want to do? Am I over-thinking/worrying/feeling lethargic/etc. about something because the habit/experience/relationship isn’t really serving me anymore?
  • Being truthful with ourselves and then taking action as often and as much as we can will help us create a lifestyle that protects our energy. Once we are able to set up and maintain those boundaries with compassion for ourselves and others, only then can we truly be there for that which we choose to invest our time.

These are about the broadest strokes that can be made on a practice as vast and expansive as Ayurveda. Just as the practice of Yoga requires us to simply show up and do what we can, so is the practice of self-care.

When We Lift Each Other Up

In the lowest points of my life, I would not let anyone in. It was always the safer, easier choice, to stay small and not even bother trying to experience more than I had or more than I was. The feeling of being unworthy or not good enough was so overwhelming that reaching out to others was the scariest thing to do. That level of exposure and vulnerability felt like it would end the safety net of my world as I knew it and everything would come crashing down. Come to find out, there is more truth to that than I would ever imagine–but in the best possible way.

There are times that we are so sure about ourselves and the world around us that we are convinced there isn’t any other way to exist. When I hear students and trainees I work with tell me they are a certain way and incapable of anything else, I recognize their insecurity in themselves like a mirror to my past and I long to connect with them to help light a new way of thinking.

What’s helpful to recognize, I think, is that we are always going to be motivated by our own beliefs. The choices we make and the habits we create, including the people we spend our time and energy with, is almost always going to be a reflection of how we feel about ourselves, what we judge within ourselves, what we think we deserve and what we think we desire. The thing is, our Citta, or heart-mind complex, is full of memories and experiences that constantly influence us and without fully acknowledging them or taking the time to still all that comes up with silence or meditation it can easily be distracted by stories and illusion.

I come across a lot of motivational reminders in social media that focus all the attention on another person or something outside of the self. The quotes might have to do with not letting negative people bring you down, or how to avoid drama or toxic people. What I’ve come to believe is that, for the most part, people treat other people the way they see or feel about themselves and therefore their drama really has nothing at all to do with us. “Misery loves company” is a saying for a reason.

If that is to be believed, then in reality there is nothing to take on ourselves or to take personally from other people. We do not have to own other people’s thoughts or opinions. Furthermore, there will be some situations in which addressing the treatment is necessary and others in which it is our choice to walk away as we no longer need them–and both of these actions can absolutely be done with compassion for the other person and their journey. “Peace be with you” is another saying and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Looking back I recognize that the times I felt the worst about myself were the times I was surrounded by people who challenged and/or intensified those feelings the most. I truly believe that the people we attract and those who we come across in life show up exactly when we need them and at the very least teach us something and vice versa. The question then becomes, do we avoid, criticize and judge the person or do we choose to learn more about ourselves and our own issues in order to grow?

For me, refocusing my attention towards being the best version of myself rather than on the chaos around me has created a world full of unlimited potential, a tremendous amount of joy, and some of the most loving, inspiring, encouraging, supportive people I have ever known. When we lift each other up we lift ourselves up as well and that can make all the difference in how we experience the world.

When we learn that love, compassion, and kindness never run out when we share it with others we hopefully inspire those around us to do the same. Maintaining that intention of embracing that which challenges us can be the most powerful way to generate peace within our hearts. It is up to others to choose that path for themselves and if they do, we potentially create a cycle of healing that continues on throughout the rest of the world. It’s because of this that I can’t imagine a better way to support ourselves and our own healing than to continuously share that peace with those around us as much and as often as possible.