Leave some space in your resolution for surrender

Unlike the festive resolution-setters, yogis set intentions (sankalpas) year-round, at the beginning each practice. According to tradition, the student is to work with the same intention consistently until it manifests. For me that means that my intention is present with me at the beginning of each and every day. And I almost never have a glass of champagne in my hand while setting it. Unless you count kombucha, which I sort of do.

This week, as I prepare to present the idea of sankalpa to my students in class, I feel the familiar pull to be a yogic cheerleader. It's par for the course this time of year, right?  I have tales to tell of how yoga helped me climb the mountain, lose the weight, come back from the brink, get my life back on track... you know. I know how to tell those stories, and I do tell them, sometimes. But if I'm being honest about how I'm living my yoga practice at the dawn of 2014, I am compelled to tell a different story.

This year I move into the new year working on an intention that is one of those big, life-sized doozies. You know what I mean, right? We all have those great, closely held hopes that, if realized, would change our lives completely, unimaginably. Many might say it is improbable. If it is to take place, I will have to go into the darkest places and face my greatest fears. I will need unwavering faith and steadiness and maybe a little magic. And, still, it might not happen. That's the reality. The greatest hope I hold might not happen even despite giving everything I have.

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It's uncomfortable times like this where I find my yoga practice is most essential. Each morning, as I sit down on the cushion, I practice ishvara pranidhana. This is a yogic principle that asks us to surrender to something bigger than ourselves. Yoga asks us to set a goal, work hard at it, and then let go of the specific way that it's all going to turn out. We all have a dharma or a purpose for being on the earth. In order to fulfill this purpose, we have to be trained. This training is sometimes easy and sometimes hard and sometimes mundane and sometimes heartbreaking. But whatever happens, it is part of the path; it is part of our training as yogis. Hence, my new mantra throughout my practice and my day, "This is part of the process."

I truly believe that a yoga practice can help us reckon with this seemingly mind-exploding idea of both trying and letting go at the same time. Here are some practices that I do to help create a calm surrender to what arises, even if it arises in the way of my Big Goal.

Six (Practical) Ways to Practice Ishvara Pranidhana

1. Mantra. I use a form of meditation daily that is called japa meditation. During this meditation, you use the mala beads to repeat a mantra 108 times. You may use the mantra of your choice or a traditional one. I like the invocation to Ganesha om gam ganapataye namaha. In yogic mythology, Ganesha represents the remover of obstacles along your path.

2. Write it down. This advice comes directly from Pema Chodron. Write your intention down on special paper and place it somewhere you consider sacred. As you do so, you symbolically surrender this intention to this sacred place.

3. Reach out. My closest yoga friends and I practice for each other in time of need. We dedicate our practice to the other, making each movement a meditation of hope for the other.  If you have a friend who practices yoga, ask that person to dedicate their practice to this intention you're setting. Don't have a friend that practices yoga? Yes you do. You have me. Ask me. You can say your intention or keep it private, but either way you're soliciting the support of another on the path.

4. Be nice to yourself. Please be nice to yourself. It is really, really hard to be happy when someone is constantly berating you. If you don't meet your goals, it is not because you are a bad person. In fact, yoga philosophy completely rejects this idea. At your true core you are wisdom. I didn't make that up. They figured it out a couple thousand years ago. This means you are enough, just as you are. You are enough if you complete your resolution and you are enough if you do not. Treat yourself accordingly.

5. Trust that all is unfolding, just as it should. I have to credit one of my favorite teachers, Daren Friesen, for that one. He often includes this sentiment in his grounding meditation and I still hear these words in his steady voice. Maybe all is going as planned. Maybe everything feels out of control. Maybe you're not meant to get that job. Maybe that guy isn't the right one. Maybe this year's "disaster" is a blessing in disguise, nudging you to something even greater. According to yoga, you are being trained for bigger things and everything is running right on schedule. Trust.

6. Yoga nidra. At least once per week, I practice yoga nidra, a guided form of relaxation. This practice allows the seed of intention to be planted deeply into the fertile ground of the deepest parts of the mind. This helps to facilitate cooperation with the subconscious realms of the mind, which can sometimes undermine the best intentions. I teach this practice as part of my Sunday gentle flow class quite often. Mia Park teaches this practice at the West Bucktown location. Come.

Come to class and practice this year for more. The more effort you put in, the more you will get out of the practice. (Look! There's my yoga cheerleader quote after all!)

Four ways to practice pratyahara in the modern age

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Eighties movies set me up for disappointment. Whenever the main character had to transform in some way there was this awesome music montage. A power ballad played as the plucky girl got a makeover, got into the college of her dreams, got the man of her dreams, and so forth. Change was visible and fast and pretty. When I arrived at adulthood seeking to transform, I wondered: Where is my Air Supply? OK, I"ll settle for Boston. Nothing? Transformation is not always observable from the outside. You can't always write the fiercest, proudest moments in the holiday card. You can rarely see them.

This is highlighted as we approach the darkest day of the year. Traditionally, this has been a time when humans throughout the centuries have drawn inward: the harvest is done and it's time to reflect on the year behind and the year ahead. It's a time to be close to those we love. It's a time to un-do and maybe even move into the dark places a bit more bravely.

We might have lost that connection to this quiet, introspective time in the modern era of blinking lights and screens brighter than the sun. However, I'd like to suggest that it's important to take some time to go inside. Into the quiet parts. Into the dark parts. I have experienced beauty, awakening, and transformation that no Cyndi Lauper montage can emulate. Seriously.

In yoga we call this pratyahara (drawing the senses inward). It is one of the eight limbs of the yoga practice. I'd like to offer you four ways to take a little time to draw into the quiet, even as we have a holly jolly time over the next few weeks.

1. Turn off the phone. No, really. Turn it off. My husband and I have a saying around the Brommel abode. When we are with each other and one of us is absorbed in Buzzfeed's funniest cats wearing Santa hats (totally hypothetical...totally didn't happen...last night), the other says, "Hello, I'm a real human. Want to go on airplane mode and talk to me?" When you're with your family and friends, see if you can really be with them. Maybe it's just for a few hours, but take the time to unplug and really be there. Use your breath as an anchor to the present moment and cultivate the attitude of explorer (I wonder what Aunt Bertha might say next...). I have the intention of turning off my phone at 9pm so I can light some candles and enjoy some restorative practices before bed. This is a nice time to check in with any residue from the day and perhaps meditate. (Tips on how to do that here.)

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2. Wrap your head. It's really as simple as that. You want a clean, breathable bandage that you can wrap around your head comfortably. I like the Indian-made bandages from the Iyengar tradition, but I hear ACE wraps work just as well. After you wrap, sit or lie comfortably and focus on lengthening and smoothing your breath. The slight pressure on your eyes helps to activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) part of your nervous system. It's amazing how immediately restorative this practice is, and it gets special points for helping with those holiday headaches. This is something you can do absolutely anywhere you don't mind looking like a mummy, too. (I'd do it on an airplane. Don't think I wouldn't.)

3. Allow time for un-doing.  Maybe you have to say "no" to a holiday party invitation or two. I have. That's OK. Find space and time to un-do. Maybe for you it's watching a movie, reading a book, going to yoga practice, watching the moon rise, or taking a hot bath. Use your mindfulness practice to assess when you are ready for more activity and when you need to just...be.

4. Meditate on the koshas. The koshas in yoga are the layers of our beings. Think of a Russian doll, with one inside the other. Seated quietly (anywhere will do... passenger side of a car works!), move through the layers of your being with the simple goal of sensing and feeling how that part of you feels today. Use the breath to air out any sensations that feel stagnate and send compassion to yourself as you move through. Systematically move through with an attitude of curiosity.

  •  Annamayakosha (physical sheath): How does your physical body feel? What sensations do you notice?
  • Pranamayakosha (breath sheath): How is your breath moving? Where does it fill your body? What is the texture like?
  • Manomayakosha (mental/emotional sheath): What patterns of mind are you experiencing? What emotions are with you? Where do you feel those emotions in your body?
  • Vijnanamayakosha (wisdom sheath): Can you connect with the part of you that feels the wisest? What does this part of you feel like? Does this part of you have anything to say?
  • Anandamayakosha (bliss sheath): What are you most grateful for in your life?

How do you get better at drawing inward and allowing space in the quiet? You practice, of course. Come practice with me this weekend, as we explore various yogic techniques which will allow us to savor some quiet space and prepare for a powerful 2014.

Saturday, 8:30a

Sunday, 2pm

Sunday, 6pm

Monday, 10am

All details here.

 

Holiday Season Yoga

Daily practice tips for those who don't have time for a daily practice.

*       Identify the minimum amount of time you are able to spend each day. Start small, perhaps five minutes to begin. A little bit goes a long way. Something is better than nothing.

*       Identify a period you already spend waiting. Maybe it’s while you’re waiting for the bus, waiting for your tea to steep or your toast to cook. This is a perfectly good time for self-care and daily practice and you know you already have the time.

*       What self-care strategies are essential to you? What daily rituals remind of you of your center and allow you to stay grounded? Some common ones that work for many: expressing gratitude, reading inspirational books, pranayama, visualization, mindfulness meditation, self-massage, gentle asana, aromatherapy. We’ll practice all of these and more in class---so jot down what feels the best to you.

*       Create a beginning/ending ritual to mark this time as special. You may chant OM (out loud or silently), repeat a personal mantra, centering thought, or take a whiff of some soothing essential oils. In some way, set the space for practice, even if you are at the bus stop.

*       Set an intention for your day during your practice. Intention is a powerful tool to focus your mind and energy throughout the day.

*       Be open to experimenting. What works for one person does not work for everyone. Give yourself permission to experiment a bit and be gentle with yourself. This is not easy!

Meditation: A cup of tea. Engage the senses and focus in on the present moment with this simple and enjoyable mindfulness meditation. Meditation and daily routine need not be separate!

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*       Smell. Choose a tea. Take the time to smell the aroma and focus all your attention on discovering the subtle smells of the tea.

*       Hear. As the water boils, focus your mindful attention on sound. First perceive sounds in the distance and gradually move closer toward where you are, eventually focusing all of your attention on the sound of the water beginning to boil on the stove.

*       Steep. Take this time to check in with your breath. Focus on smoothing the breath and creating equal length inhales and exhales (samavritti).

*       Feel. Allow the steam from the teacup to moisturize your skin. Allow the cup to warm your hands and feel each sensation with mindful attention.

*      Taste. As you take your first sips of tea, allow your attention to explore the subtle taste of the tea. What flavors do you notice? Can you be attentive enough to taste each flavor in the tea?

Practice with me this week and warm up from the inside out while preparing to enjoy your holiday! All the details here.

Saturday, 8:30a-10a, mindful vinyasa

Sunday, 6p-7:30p, mindful vinyasa + live music

Monday, 10a-11:30a, mindful vinyasa

 

Resilience takes practice. Practice takes planning.

Sutra 1.14: sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih

One of my greatest joys as a teacher is when a student shares with me how the practices of yoga are working (or not working) in daily life. That's where it really counts, right? One of my students approached me last week with a question we all (including yours truly) struggle with to some degree, I suspect. She says, "I have a daily practice and a regular class schedule...and then the holidays happen. How do I keep my practice going through the holiday hubbub?" I'm here to help you. You can do it.

I love to strategize with students to see how the practices can best fit into the everyday.  This way, the benefits can continue throughout the week until we see each other next. It's true that yoga has tremendous power to transform. It's also true that a little goes a long way. But do you know what I've found to be the most important ingredient? Consistency. I didn't come up with that one. Patanjali was all over this a few thousand years ago. He writes in the first book of yoga sutras that a firmly established practice occurs when (1) we practice over the course of years; (2) we practice with enthusiasm; (3) we practice without break. In my observation, the first two qualities are easier to come by and the last quality tends to derail when life gets sticky (ie when we need the practice most).

Alright, a confession. I found developing a sadhana (daily practice) to be really, really (really) challenging to implement daily. It took me years to find my rhythm. I have a very active mind which sometimes gets restless in routine. However, with some experimentation, I did find what works for me---and so can you. Believe me, I know. You're busy. Your routine is off. You are bored of sitting in meditation (is it even doing anything, I remember thinking, just sitting here?!). There are shiny things and cookies everywhere. I know.

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So as the holidays come bounding at us with all their fun and chaos, my goal this season is to give you very simple yogic practices you can implement on a daily basis to stay centered through it all. After all, when you're centered you can enjoy the wonderful gifts the season has to offer with a healthy body and mind. This holiday season, I'm teaching four times each week at Moksha Yoga Center (with classes for everyone).  As usual, each class will be a balanced practice, but I will take extra care to focus on the areas which often get out of balance during the holiday rush. We will discuss ways to incorporate the techniques into daily routine, and each class will also include a small handout of practices you can try throughout the week to find what daily rituals help you stay at your best. As always, I will be available for questions and brainstorming sessions---so don't be afraid to start a dialogue.

See you on the mat this week for part one of...many. Put a class on your calendar (with me or someone else) and make a commitment to your well-being. You are worth it.