Hello and Happy Monday,
Wishing you a very Happy Mother’s Day! I taught my annual class at Lululemon Old Town with my kids and every year seems to get better. This year my kids didn’t climb all over me, run and hide in the big dressing room, or ask me to take them to the bathroom. In some ways, I missed that part of teaching the class. The thing is, everything is changing all around us whether we want it to or not, and we will miss it if we aren’t paying attention. As annoying as those interruptions are, that’s what I wind up missing the most when they don't happen.
This week the focus is still on Tapas (discipline), the third Niyama (personal observance), and this week I want to talk about the breath. Specifically, Ujjāyi Prānāyāma. First, Prānāyāma – Prana, life force or energy, Yama – control. Yet, in Sanskrit when there is an “a” in front of a word, it changes it to be the opposite. So Pranayama could be defined as “Free Life Force”, or one I like better, “direction of the force”. Ujjaya means victorious. “The prefix ud attached to verbs and nouns means upwards or superiority in rank. It also means blowing and power. Jaya means conquest, victory, triumph, or success. Looked at from another viewpoint it implies restraint or curbing. Ujjāyi is the process in which the lungs are fully expanded and the chest puffed out like that of a proud conqueror.” – Light on Yoga – B.K.S. Iyengar Ujjāyi Prānāyāma - victorious breath!
Ujjāyi Prānāyāma is used in most flow classes. It’s used for many reasons. Some of the reasons I use it and was taught to use it was for help in calming the nervous system and for building heat in the body, stoking the fire (agni) with the tapas. Ujjāyi is that Darth Vader breath, it’s the ocean like sound breath we make when we constrict the back of our throats. It’s the breath I was taught to try to maintain throughout the class, or at least keep coming back to it. To help me stay focused and aware.
Our breath is powerful, on average we take about 25,000 breaths a day, most of those are involuntary – meaning, we are not even aware that we are breathing or even the quality of our breath. Yoga is a path to awareness and it starts and ends, with the breath.
The questions I ask myself as I practice the postures are, “How does this feel?”, “Where do I feel it?”, “What am I feeling?”, “Can I change it with my breath?”. This allows me to not only slow down but to really pay attention. When we are aware of what is happening on the inside we can be aware of what is happening on the outside.
Take the next few moments – notice how you are sitting or standing.
This is a simple practice that can be done multiple times a day. It’s not only a great way to create discipline and focus, but it can help to re-direct you and keep you calm where you might not have been.
Try it and let me know,
Hello and Happy Monday,
We are on to the third Niyama (personal observance) and it’s one of my favorites, not just because it is the first Sanskrit word I remember learning. Tapas. Tapas comes from the Sanskrit verb Tap meaning to “to burn”, and the traditional interpretation is discipline and intense commitment constantly focused in order to burn off the obstructions holding us back from our true self.
When I started yoga in the late-1990s my teacher graciously suggested that if we wanted yoga mats we could put in a big order together through Hugger Mugger and get a sticky mat for $25 each. I remember when that purple sticky mat arrived. We all showed up to class and collected our individual mat and when I rolled it out it said at the top “Tapas Mat”. I had no clue what that meant. My teacher did not teach us about tapas that night in the sense that she used that word, but later after I found out what it meant, I realized she had always been teaching us about tapas, and all the other niyamas and yamas for that matter, every time we met her on the mat. For the next 9 years, I continued to learn from Maureen Murry and Theresa Rowland. I practiced Iyengar yoga, it was an exhilarating and quite humbling experience.
In many forms of yoga, there is discipline involved. Most of the time, just showing up to take a class takes discipline. In the style that I was learning in (still learning in), we worked on one pose at a time for a long time until we put the postures together. This took tons of focus and strength and stamina. Quite honestly, those were and are three things I still struggle with today. I was a serious student, eager to learn, practicing at home so I could show up prepared. After about one year of practicing regularly, I asked my teacher what the level II class was like. I had overheard people talking about it and thought I could try it. My teachers told me I wasn’t ready that I couldn’t do most of the requirements needed to enter a level II Iyengar class. Which included but were not limited to, a freestanding head stand for 8 minutes, full wheel pose with straight arms, and a handful of other inversions. (the requirements might have changed slightly, but not much) This was so disappointing and humbling. Here I was showing up a few times a week, practicing at home, basically, every single day consisted of my yoga practice and I wasn't ready for the next level.
I had a fire inside of me, I wanted to progress, I wanted to do more yoga postures, get better at the ones I was learning, and I wanted to obtain this “bliss state” my teachers spoke about regularly. I worked hard. I had now learned what Tapas meant and every time I rolled out my mat at my home I sat and stared at that word. It became my first mantra. Theresa and Maureen told us that Tapas meant austerity. They also told us that tapas was the first step of transformation. At that time, I was working at Prudential Financial. I was the Director of Long-Term Compensation Benefits, single, and desperately wanting a family of my own. I even had this thought that I could maybe be a yoga teacher but was worried that that was just silly and not reality. I was looking for a change, for transformation. I worked for months on headstand, falling so many times. I worked on full wheel, splits, shoulder stand, chatarunga, so many poses, so many tears, so many breakthroughs. When I finally was invited to attend a Level II class, I was almost jumping up and down. When I attended, I almost immediately wanted to go back to Level I. All that hard work, and I had more work ahead of me. Turns out the work never ends. Turns out, you need the discipline always, not just to level up.
I learned a lot in those years with Maureen and Theresa. When I moved to Virginia from New Jersey, I practiced on my own until I found a studio to call home. Each time I rolled out my yoga mat, which was in great condition even after all those years of diligent, consistent, intense commitment to this practice, I sat and stared at "Tapas Mat". Sadly, in 2010 I retired that mat, 11 years after I got it. But I’ll never forget the lessons I learned on it.
Hello and Happy Monday!
I can’t believe April is winding down and May will be here in just a few days! Since we almost split this week between April and May I am choosing to write about my reflections of yoga these past few months.
I’ve been putting a lot of focus on the philosophy of yoga and I love this side. Patanjali gives us this self-help book of inquiry (book of sutras), offering to us what yoga is, how to do yoga, what yoga can do for you, and what yoga does, all while asking, “what do you think”. I’m paraphrasing here as none of the translations I have read said, “what do you think. If you read them and try what the sutras suggest you might just find yourself asking "what do I think" and agreeing that it works. The sutras work for me. Putting them into practice and finding a balance between doing them the way I interpret them to be done and the way they wind up working out. These yamas and niyamas are sutras – each one on their own, but as we can see, they work very well together.
The other side I love is the scientific side. Anatomy, kinesiology, physics, psychology and how they apply and work with the yoga. Over the past few years, I have done a lot of research on how the body works, how it moves, why it moves the way it does. The research is rapidly changing and being updated and I believe it’s a fascinating time to be learning this information. However, the more I put into practice what I’m learning the more I realize how it all connects together.
One of the words I use in yoga class is proprioception. It means knowing where you are in space. I teach this when I ask us to close our eyes in tree pose and we still are aware that we are in tree pose – one foot on the inside of the other leg and arms above head or at heart or wherever they are. This is an important sensory receptor that we need to have in order to be aware of our body and where we fit in our environment. If we have a lack of these sensors it can show up as not knowing our own strength, pushing a door open and slamming it into the wall, or not knowing how heavy something is and reaching for it and dropping it.
The other part of this is interoception. This means understanding how you feel and where you feel it. Have you ever been asked in a yoga class, “notice where you feel this?” Or as my meditation teacher and friend, Aurora Hutchinson always inquires after she asks how I’m doing, “where do you feel that?”. Knowing how we feel and where we feel it can be two separate things. Knowing where we feel what we feel has great benefit. It can connect us to our bodies and help to heal pain and trauma as well as embracing joy and love. Those lacking in these sensory receptors can’t tell if they are hungry, thirsty, hot or cold or have a lack of body awareness. Those with high interoception may feel anxiety, for example, if you could hear your heart beating all day long or were so body aware of everything happening in your body it might make you feel overwhelmed.
Both are necessary and important in yoga. Not all of us are arriving the same to class and the asanas are not a one size fits all. While some of us need more grounding, some may need to go more inward. It’s a balance. I think when we can use even this one concept, we can apply the sutras and ask ourselves, “what do you think?”
The yamas and niyamas are just one small piece of the yoga philosophy, just like proprioception and interoception are just a small piece of biomechanics. And even in these two small pieces, we fulfill hours of learning. Each time I learn or relearn and apply to yoga I remember how everything is a balance.
Thanks for reading,
Hello and Happy Monday,
What a week! My children were on Spring Break and we all got a taste of summer. Admittedly, I love when they are home with me and there is no school. I also love school and have the highest respect for teachers! But there is something special about having the entire day together, sleeping in and not rushing. We had a laid back week – playing in the yard, making soap, creating and planting “Melissa’s Garden”, watching movies, and going on our first family bike ride.
It’s the last full week of April and I’m still focusing on Santosha – complete contentment. It's definitely a concept that is difficult for me.
Last week I got some great advice from one of my favorite people. We were talking about opinions and I was sharing some feedback I recently received, and he told me “what other people think of you, is none of your business”. It’s been resonating with me and I’ve been thinking about it every day. In fact, I’ve written down every time someone shares with me their view of me, then I rip it up and throw it away. As I have written in the last few weeks, I do not handle receiving criticism well. In fact, I can become defensive about said critique and can’t let it go. I’ll share the criticism with my friends and keep bringing it up until I’m over it. Which can take a while. I think, like most, getting negative feedback can be difficult. With that said, I am also not great at accepting compliments. While I may brush them off, I have learned to say thank you, meanwhile inside there is a whole story happening.
We can never be truly content if we allow others to determine our value. Remember, what other people think of us is none of our business. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. Could we actually do this? Could we stop caring so much of what others think of us? We are our own worst critic so why do we need other opinions mucking it up? Could we build up ourselves on our own? Could we find contentment there, minding our own business?
What do you think?
Hello and Happy Monday,
It’s tax day! It’s also halfway through April and it’s Spring Break for us this week. Lots of things happening. I’m still focusing on Santosha - complete contentment - and what that means. In one of my yoga books in reading about Santosha, non-grasping is mentioned. I’m going to define that here as not grasping for perfection. We sometimes have the tendency to forget that we are human, full of imperfections. Perfect synonyms are ideal, model, without fault, flawless, best, and ultimate to name a few. I'm pretty realistic and know that none of these words define me or my life and I'm really ok with that. But what happens when I'm imperfect, not burn what I'm cooking, miss teaching a side in yoga, forget to do something, but something big, flawed, second-rate, broken. Have you been imperfect like that?
I have. I have made mistakes, big mistakes. I have lied, I have stolen from others, I have hurt friends and family, I have judged others unfairly, I have been selfish. But the biggest mistake has been that I have not forgiven myself for these errors. Instead, I feel shame, guilt, and regret. I cower when I see those I have hurt, I avoid those I have stolen from, and I ignore those I have judged unfairly and in turn, I give them all my power. So, what do I do? Compassion. It starts with compassion.
For me, this has been a LONG process. I have these high expectations for myself. I tell my kids all the time, we all make mistakes, and it's ok. And I really do believe that. For them, any mistake they make will be ok, for me, only the little ones are ok. I would like things to be different so I'm changing them. Day by day. I like to think of slow progress as pieces of sand. I drop more and more sand until... there is a hole in the wall and I can escape from Shawshank. But really, I forgive a little at a time until I gain my own freedom. Free to be me no matter where I am or who is around me.
Once again, I'll ask you. How do you find compassion and kindness for yourself when you have made a mistake? I know there are no shortcuts, but I'll gladly reach out my hand for help.
To complete contentment and with love,
Hello and Happy Monday,
Spring is here! I hope everyone got to experience the beautiful weather over the weekend. I heard from some of you about your 5 frequent positive actions to conquer the negativity and it was very inspiring - please keep the emails coming!
I have been thinking a lot about Santosha and complete contentment with myself and with others. It brings me to our "stories". We all have a story. Our stories are filled with heartache, love, failures, accomplishments, all our stuff. Sometimes we get stuck focusing on what didn't go our way (there is that negative bias again), or we create patterns from our experiences - since this hasn't happened or didn't work out x amount of times, then I'm not trying again. And this creates limits.
There is no way we can find contentment with ourselves if we place limits. We do it with others too. We meet someone and sometimes our brain starts making assumptions.
I remember my interview process at Prudential. I was in my early 20's and I spent the day being asked many questions and finally passed up to the VP of Information Technology for a job as a financial analyst. As I sat in front of this Vice President of Information Technology, such a lofty title, I noticed the ring on her finger and it was beautiful. It was a sapphire stone in an emerald cut with two diamond trillions on each side, I can still see it. She looked like she was pregnant (I said nothing) and I immediately started creating a story as she reviewed my resume. I thought to myself it wasn't a typical engagement ring so maybe her husband gave it to her as an anniversary present. And I started imagining their life, what did he do, did they have other children, where did they live? Lots of questions and assumptions entered my mind. After I accepted the position and was working for a few months with her, I was invited to our department party where we could invite our significant others. Turns out she was pregnant, with her third child, and her husband I had imaged was imaginary - she had a wife. (Really her partner, because same-sex marriage wasn't legal in NJ then.) I remember feeling judgemental and presumptuous to make up such a story about someone I knew nothing about. About a year later, after we were closer, I told her about how I made up that story and she told me she made up a story based on how I looked and dressed. At the time I had a very short haircut almost shaved sides of my head and just like now, I dressed in mostly black - she made the assumption that I was gay. I can tell you this - we laughed for a long time and we made a promise to each other not to make up stories anymore but instead to be more present in our interactions with others.
That's a harmless story and one that I hold so close because I learned so much from that initial experience and much more throughout my 11-year career at Prudential. We know there are plenty of stories that we can create that are much more harmful to others and to ourselves.
Here is what I believe, there has to be a balance. There are parts of my story that I do not like, but without those parts I would not be here, sitting in my kitchen, writing this blog. Every part of our story has helped shape us into who we are today. In order to create the contentment, the story doesn't have to change, but the filter in which we view our story, the way in which we tell it, could change. What is your story? Do you create a story for those you've never met? How much do you rely on your story to dictate how you make decisions? Let me know!!!
Hello and Happy Monday,
It’s April! This has always been my favorite month - it's even better this year because today, the first, falls on a Monday. For me, the first on a Monday is just a sign to start something new.
We have a new Niyama (personal observance) to focus on – Santosha. Santosha is made up of two Sanskrit parts: sam meaning completely or entirely and tosha meaning acceptance, satisfaction or contentment. Santosha means complete satisfaction or entirely content with ourselves and with others. Like me, you might be thinking how does one obtain this? This is a tough concept. I have been on the receiving end of negative feedback; being told I could do better, how I was showing up wasn’t enough or that I wasn’t professional. All those things do not allow me to feel content or even close to satisfied. Instead, they feed into my doubts of lacking. I am grateful to have very appreciative practitioners and teaching yoga leads to a lot of accolades after class. Yet, even with the recognition and gratitude from students taking my classes, I still focus on the negative comments, I focus on the students that get up and leave in the middle of class, the students that tell me my music is too loud, who see me teaching and turn the other way, and who never show up for class again. With this focus, how could I ever be completely satisfied??
As humans, our brains function with “negative bias”. Our brains are built to have greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. I’ve read that the ratio of positive to negative feelings to create balance is five to one and positive events more likely to tip the scale are frequent small experiences. (This is based off studies done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago.) So lots of little things negate the negative stuff. And despite what we may think, it's not the one big positive event, it's all the small frequent ones.
So – how do we get content? How do we become satisfied? How do we obtain acceptance? Let's start today with doing little things, turning the five small things into 10, 20, 30, etc. Doing small things for ourselves, for others and reaping the benefits. I can tell you this, I experience Santosha a lot, but not consistently all day, week, or month long. Which just reminds me, this journey is step by step – pade pade. A few years ago I lead a "pay-it-forward" challenge, and was overwhelmed with the outpouring of people that wanted to participate. Let's make this our focus for April. It's just groups of five small positive events throughout the day. Let me know if it makes a difference.
And I almost ended without an April Fools joke! Maybe that’s why I love April so much. One of the things I love most about April Fools jokes is that it’s a great reminder not to be so serious – which definitely helps with being more completely satisfied. How about not taking everything so seriously today and see how much you can laugh at?
Hello and Happy Monday,
What a week! I started last week in Old Town and ended the week in Peru! The trek here was exhausting but so worth it. My international retreat has started off wonderfully, and I am thrilled with how the week will unfold.
I was slightly concerned with the altitude here in Peru and getting sick. I read a few articles on what altitude sickness feels like and when we arrived in Cusco – after being awake for over 24 hours – I was wobbly, getting a headache, and maybe even a little nauseous. Immediately, my mind went right to the articles I read and I thought for a moment, I have altitude sickness. Then I remembered I was exhausted, and I needed sleep. I quickly changed my thoughts, thoughts have power. Remember, where we put our focus we give power. “I feel great” is what has been buzzing in my head since that moment.
Saucha, our focus this month, encompasses this and so much more. Since I am not at home and we are staying at a retreat center for a week, as soon as we checked in, before we napped, Joe and I took all our clothes out of their bags and put them away. We cleaned up the areas in our room so they are tidy. It feels really good when things are clean and organized. I tend to be messy, it's something that I don’t like about my habits. What I've realized is, being consistent with cleaning up is one of those things that I don’t prioritize. In the beginning the mess is little, I forget to put one thing away then two, then 10 and there is a mess. Papers everywhere, pens everywhere, piles. It defeats the purpose, as I work much better in a clean space than a messy one. Saucha is just that - in order to get to a place of calmness, surrender, and peace, we’ve got to clear out the clutter. Not just the papers and pens, but the incessant thoughts. How could you practice yoga with stuff all over your mat? How could you meditate when your mind is filled with everything happening in your life? I’d say it’s pretty difficult. Even if your desk is clean, are you facing a window? What does it look out on? Construction or a landscape? Everything we see we are taking in, and we know that makes an impact.
Notice what's around you this moment. Notice if it has an influence on how you feel and on what you are thinking? What steps can you do to change what you see, to clean up things on the outside to help with all that's going on on the inside.
Let me know what tips you have in keeping organized - I can use all the help I can get, and I know Joe would appreciate it.
Hello and Happy Monday,
It’s a new month! It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I love the change of the seasons. And I just love March – Spring represents a time for renewal, new life is growing all around us, the birds are chirping, and the warmer weather is just around the corner. I am happy just thinking about it. I’m also very excited as this month as I lead a group of 21 amazing humans on a journey to disconnect in Peru.
We have spent the last 5 months diving into the yamas and now it’s time to dive into the niyamas. The yamas and niyamas are ethical principles, or guidelines. In short, the yamas are social retrainsts, or ethics and the niyamas are self-disciplines, or personal practices. Niyama means positive duties or observances. Just like the yamas, there are 5.
The first niyama is saucha means purity, clearness, or cleanliness. It refers to much more than mind and body. For today, I’m going to focus on saucha in regards to the mind and the removal of impure thoughts, like conceit, arrogance, malice, and so on. The issue is, we are human and these thoughts can and will arise from time to time. You might have heard, “Where the attention goes, energy flows” (T. Harv Eker) or “what you focus on, you give power to” (derived from Ralph Marston). Last week, I wrote about seeing the “I can’t” faces in class and how when we think something we make it true. And as I have said many times in class, our perspective creates our reality.
I googled “how many thoughts do we have a day” and there were lots of different answers. anywhere from 12,000 to 90,000 thoughts in one day. Most days I feel on the high end of that. What we have to remember is that not all these thoughts are conscious and most of the thoughts are repetitive. A lot of these thoughts are the “what if” thoughts. I know these fill my head all day long. Whenever something happens and I say “I knew it!”, Joe has a nice way of reminding me that it’s a small percentage of my “what if’s” that actually realize. Keep in mind, most of the “what if’s” I’m writing about are the negative ones, fear-based ones.
So how do we shift our thinking? I’d like to just say, slowly, day by day, and practice makes permanence. While that is true, it’s misleading. If you are anything like me, you want steps, a process, something that has some clear lines.
Here are some steps to take when wanting to create healthier thought patterns that have worked for me:
Let me know how it goes. I love hearing from you. Please share what has worked for you in shifting your thoughts.
Happy (Almost) Spring,
Hello and Happy Monday,
It’s the last week of February. For being such a short month, it felt very long to me. Turns out the flu turned into a sinus infection and acute bronchitis. Sigh. While I like going down the holistic path, a few hours after that first antibiotic, I remembered what it felt like to be me. Some would call me stubborn. I would probably agree, but really most of the time, it’s very hard for me to get out of my own way.
This is another great example of Aparigraha. Getting out of our own way implies putting aside our habits, feelings, and behaviors, that we are the ones stopping ourselves from being successful, creative, our best version. This is easier said than done. We get attached to our ways. We cling to who we are – what defines us – a mom, a yoga teacher, an entrepreneur, and the meaning of all of those things – meanings we have heard, meanings we have created, meanings we think other people have defined as those things. What are we without those things? Who are we without those things? I know the answer to this one – we are us. We are our core selves. The “I” without all the history, without the definitions. This “I” is always there, but most times hidden under stuff. That’s what I think I love about yoga the most, it sheds the layers of the stuff.
However, it goes beyond what I just wrote, it’s all the things we claim we are bad at, “I’m not the best at communicating”, “I don’t have a great memory”, “I can’t.
“I can’t” comes up in yoga ALL THE TIME. I don’t hear it, I see it. I see the shaking of heads from side to side, I see the eye rolls, I see the sighs with the shoulder drops. As soon as I see this, I know that that person won’t go into the posture I am asking of them, not that day. I recognize the body language, because I’ve mastered those looks. But, I’m making a conscious effort every day to nod my head up and down, to smile when a challenge arises, and to keep trying to communicate in the best way that I can. I use tools, I found out my love language, my apology language, my Myers Briggs, my enneagram, my astrology sign and rising signs, all so I can learn how to forget what I’ve learned and just be me. I ask all my friends their data, to help me with them. In the end, all I really want is to feel connected and have healthy relationships.
I can tell you this, I don’t know what I don’t know – so help me – do you have a way in shedding layers, in becoming more of you? I’d love to know!
P.S. Physical Touch & Words of Affirmation; Expressing Regret, ENFJ, 2, Virgo Aries Rising – Moon in Aquarius – what’s yours?