When you practice yoga, there is always somewhere new to go. I remember the first time I was in a yoga class and the teacher called “Crow.” I had no idea how these people were balancing all of their body weight on their hands. The teacher kept saying “Christen, just do it.” I was absolutely dumbfounded on how this was even a possibility. The reason I could not get into crow that day was because I believed it was impossible. When we don’t think we can do something, we typically don’t even try. That was me over 10 years ago.
Then there was Level 1 Teacher Training with Baron Baptiste. We were working on our handstands. An assistant was working with me on getting my hips over my shoulders in handstand. I remember saying, “I just can’t.” Out of nowhere, Baron comes over from across the room and says, “did you say I can’t? Because if you believe that, you never will.” It was absolutely true. I could not imagine that I had the strength to hold a handstand in the middle of the room. That was me about 6 years ago.
Today I can do crow and many variations of crow including jumping into it from downdog. I am still working on holding my handstand in the middle of the room but now I can hold it for at least a few seconds. The difference between then and now is that I believe that anything is possible. I now see possibilities everywhere. If someone is trying a challenging combination of poses instead of giving up on myself, I just start playing and see what happens.
I often tell my students “You can’t until you believe you will.” I have many students who say they will never jump back from crow until I assist them and help them see what is possible. Once they start to see some possibility (perhaps through an assist) then they are able to do it on their own. Conversely, I have beginner students who believe they can do anything and they are doing advanced poses within weeks of starting to practice.
Just like everything else…what happens on the mat, transfers off the mat. When you stop limiting yourself and start living from a place of possibility, your entire world begins to change. Opportunities start to present themselves everywhere. Even more importantly, your way of being starts to inspire other people around you. They stop giving up on themselves and start believing in possibility. All of this is related to the law of attraction…what you focus on, you give energy to. Start focusing on possibility and let me know how that turns out for you
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are basically like the “yoga bible.” In the Sutras, the entire science of yoga is clearly delineated. Many yoga students do not know about the Sutras until they embark on a yoga teacher training. We are going to start to explore 2 of the main Sutras here.
The Yoga Sutras teach us that the goal of yoga is “the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” Yoga teaches us that we are more than our thoughts. The goal of yoga is to be able to witness and control your thoughts as opposed to being controlled by your thoughts. Yoga helps us see that the entire world is based on our thoughts and thus, the entire world is a complete projection. Our stress does not come from an experience, it comes from our thoughts/interpretations about the experience. Once we start to become aware of our distressing thoughts, we can choose to not let them control us. “Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude towards them does that.”
Patanjali tells us that “practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” Just like anything else, we need to practice yoga for a long time, continuously, and with full attention and faith. Yoga is a daily practice. It is a discipline. Controlling the fluctuations of the mind is not an easy task so why would it just happen. It doesn’t. It takes patience, devotion and faith for us to start to experience the benefits of yoga.
In our practice at PYT, we say practice 3x a week to change your body and practice 5x a week to change your life. The more you practice in earnestness, the more likely you are to experience the benefits of yoga. In our society, we like things to happen fast, quick fixes. I have heard it said that you are a beginner yogi for the first 10 years of practice. Yoga is a discipline. If you want to attain the goal of yoga and live a peaceful, joyful life, you must practice “for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” Commit to your practice, commit to yourself and see what the magic of yoga is really all about.
Yoga has so many benefits ranging from physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual. No matter what your reason for starting yoga was, you probably have noticed that yoga can definitely help with reducing your stress level. Studies have found that yoga affects your brain chemistry even after one class. Research has shown that yoga increases a chemical called GABBA that stimulates ares of your brain that stop you from feeling depressed and anxious. That “blissed-out” feeling after your yoga class is not just from exhaustion, you are actually changing your brain when you do yoga!
Okay, so what do you do if you can not get to a yoga class and you had a stressful day? There are a few breathing techniques and yoga poses that are specifically designed to activate the relaxation response in your nervous system (specifically called your parasympathetic nervous system). First, start by breathing in and out of your nose through the whisper muscles in the back of your throat. We call this an Ujjayi breath. Another type of breath is belly breathing- put your hand on your belly and when you breathe in, your belly goes out and when you breathe out, your belly goes in. Now try to count your breaths. Breathe out twice as long as you breathe in. So if you breathe in for a count of 3, breathe out for a count of 6. Do this for about 5 minutes and you will notice that this will calm you. A great restorative and calming yoga pose is legs up the wall. You lay on your back and put your legs up the wall for 5-15 minutes. This will send oxygenated blood to your brain and also restore your nervous system. When you combine the breath and the “legs up the wall” pose, you have a great stress reduction tool. This works for anybody so pass it on to your friends, family, kids and co-workers. Everyone can benefit from less stress and more yoga in their ives.
Here are my thoughts as to why this is a journey of incredible opportunity:
Whether you have been practicing for many years, or you are new to yoga, or somewhere in between, participation in the 40 Days program will be life changing.
We all know the amazing feeling within our body as we discover a reawakening when we begin to practice yoga. We experience the joy of movement and breath, and the surprise of what we are capable of, and how great we can feel. That’s the physical practice, and through having participated in the 40 days program, I am beginning to understand why that it is just a part of yoga.
The 40 Days Journey To Personal Revolution helps to take yoga off the mat and into your life. It is the joy of waking up, but in so many ways that far exceed the physical. We are very fortunate to have our teacher Christen Scott,Psy.D. to lead the group. She sets a great example, sharing what she has learned with candor, while always being open to others. This journey is definitely unique for everyone, as each person learns different things about themselves, and how they create their world. Members of the group may choose to share some of their experiences, thoughts and feelings with each other, while others may choose to just listen. Either way, it facilitates even more growth for everyone, and creates a strong bond within the group.
For me, what resonated the most in my most recent 40 Days Journey was the awareness that with challenge of any kind you can tap into the resources within yourself that have been there all along. We can choose to be free of the limitations that we impose on ourselves. It is transforming to realize that life is what we perceive it to be, and we can make it what we choose.
The 40 Days To Personal Revolution Program heightens our awareness and provides the perfect spark to move forward and grow. It is not 40 days to the end of the program, it is 40 days to the beginning of new possibility and growth.
Yoga is more than asana, the physical practice of yoga. Although we practice asana, that is only one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Oftentimes in class, I will speak to the other limbs (e.g., meditation, breath control). Yoga is a way of being, a way of life. At the studio, we run a program called 40 Days to Personal Revolution and that takes yoga off your mat and into your everyday life. You learn how to access the peace you feel after a yoga class all the time. It is about living yoga as opposed to doing yoga.
In our teacher training, I often say “teach all the time and sometimes teach asana.” It means that you teach people yoga with your way of being. For example, instead of gossiping, you address your issues with the person who are having the difficulty with. You live from abundance and not scarcity. When you are in fear, you notice it but move into action anyway. You grow by stepping outside of your comfort zone. Those are ways of living and teaching yoga.
You do not have to be a yoga teacher to teach yoga. If something in yoga has helped you find more peace and less emotional reactivity, share it with others. I have been known to teach yoga in the waiting line at Comcast and even at gas stations. Remember that a Great yoga teacher teaches all the time and sometimes teaches asana!
Many times in our yoga programs we do this thing called “manifesting.” Someone says “I am” or “I will” and then they say what it is they want. For example, “I will be more patient,” “I am inspiring,” and “I am living in abundance.” Then the rest of the group says “Yes You Are” or “Yes You Will.” It is like the person is putting out into the universe an intention and the group responds as the universe. It is always a powerful and amazing feeling when we do this as a group. Oftentimes, what is manifested in the group is then manifested in reality. Recently, a teacher trainee stated that “I will get a job” and she got a job that week. All of this is about the Power of Intention.
This weekend when I was teaching class a student said, “This year I will wrap my foot around my leg in eagle.” and I responded “Yes you will.” Well low and behold, a few seconds later, she had wrapped her foot around her leg in eagle! She was so shocked and so excited. It is really that simple. If you want something, Say it! Say it out loud to the world. Believe that it is already happening and it will be.
With the start of 2014, have you thought about what it is you want to create in your yoga practice and/or in your life? Then State it! I put my intentions for 2014 on my yoga shrink blog (www.theyogashrink.com). I would love for you to share what your intentions are 2014…
“Instead of you doing yoga, let yoga do you.”
I practice yoga everyday. It doesn’t matter if I am injured, sick or tired. I practice everyday because I believe yoga is a daily practice, a lifestyle. I used to come to my mat expecting to have the same if not a better practice than the last time. Practice makes perfect, right? Not in yoga because you are already perfect. So whatever practice you have on a given day is the exact practice you are meant to be having. It is our ego that tells us that we need to be in a pose a certain way, that we have to do it perfectly right, and maybe even that we need to be the best in the class. When we start to become aware of our ego, we can drop it and focus on what our body is telling us. So how does this transfer to our yoga practice? I will use myself as an example. Yesterday in my practice, I was able to pop into a bunch of arm balances and jumping forward and back on my mat came very easily. Today on the other hand, when I got on my mat, I noticed a heaviness in my body and numbness down my right leg. So my practice was different today. When we went into Crescent Lunge Twist, I chose to drop my knee. I chose to drop my knee in the moment because that is what felt right in my body. Yoga told me where my body was at and what it needed. This is very different than listening to what your mind (ego) is telling you. If you have ever been injured, you will know what I am speaking about. Injuries allow us to be present to what our body needs.
So the next time you come to your mat, notice if you listening to your body or your ego? Are you doing yoga or are you allowing yoga to do you?
Last Saturday, a student and I were having a handstand practice at the studio. After a couple of minutes, we were both lit up, laughing, and just feeling joyful. We started to talk about how handstands often shift our mood to a more joyful, positive place. I know there are many physiological benefits when we invert. But beyond the physiology, what makes handstands so joyful and fun? Yes, it could remind us of our youth when we did things like handstands with little to no fear. Maybe it’s recapturing a sense of freedom. What it is for me is how Present I have to be when doing a handstand. When you are in a handstand, you are not thinking. All you are doing is responding immediately to the present moment and what your body needs in that very moment to sustain your handstand. Presence is why handstands bring me Joy. When we are fully immersed in the Now, we are completely at peace and in joy. When are you fully immersed in the present moment? I often wonder what would be possible if we approached every moment this way, fully present, empty, and open.
There is a story of a Chinese farmer whose wild stallion ran off one day. All the neighbors gathered around saying “Very bad luck.” The Chinese farmer said, “bad luck, good luck, who knows?” A few days later the stallion returned with a herd of wild horses. The neighbors gathered around saying “Very good luck.” “Bad luck, good luck, who knows,” said the farmer. A week later the farmer’s son was trying to break in one of the horses and was thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbors gathered and said “Very bad luck.” “Bad luck, good luck, who knows,” said the farmer. Several weeks later the Chinese army came to the town looking for able-bodied youth to join the army and fight. When the soldiers came to the farmer’s house and saw the boy’s broken leg, they left him alone and moved on. The neighbors gathered saying “Very good luck.” “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”
This story comes to mind when I consider the events from this past weekend. The studio was involved in a motor vehicle accident and everyone in the studio was okay; no one was seriously injured. People could say this was “very bad luck.” But is it really? It actually means nothing other than the meaning we give it. If you think about it, we really don’t have experiences in life. We have reactions to our experiences. If you talk to all 9 people who were in the room on Friday night when the accident occurred, you are likely to hear 9 different interpretations and reactions to the experience. The studio is now in the midst of a huge make-over with different paint colors, new floors, new glass window with our logo on it etc… Now I wouldn’t say the accident is “good luck” but I also wouldn’t say it is “bad luck,” it just is. This is what we call Equanimity in yoga. It means non-reactivity. We are present to what is, make no meaning about it, and then be present to this moment. So the next time you think something is bad luck or good luck, let it all go and just say “who knows!”
This past weekend the PYT teacher trainees experienced the power of the word YES. Have you ever been in a yoga pose and all you wanted to do was to get out of it? It is torturous. All you can focus on is pain or discomfort and how that should not be. All of this creates a negative experience. Now imagine this… you are in a challenging yoga pose and you are breathing and accepting the experience just as it is right now. You embrace the whole experience- the body sensations as well as the thoughts and feelings about the pose and the body sensations. When you say “yes,” you are saying that you are not going to resist what is: you are going to Let It Be. As much as this shows up on the mat, it also shows up in your life. Have you ever felt angry and resisted the anger so much that you were angry for being angry? Or feeling depressed because you are depressed. When we interpret something as negative (a feeling, thought or experience), we resist it by saying “this should not be.” It is the resistance to what is that causes the suffering. Can you just say “yes” to what is? Yes to the fact that I am angry. Yes to the fact that I do not like this yoga pose. Yes to all of it. So the next time you are suffering on the mat in a pose, try accepting all of it- the pose, the sensations, and even your suffering. The more you practice acceptance on the mat, the more it will show up in other areas of your life.