What IS the Take-Time Challenge? Read about it here.

So I messed up a little. Here we are coming into week 8 (today) and I haven’t written a post for neither weeks 6 OR 7 yet. I hope you have all been continuing to take time while I’ve been searching for time. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Just a recap, if you’re interested… the last two weeks had us pulling two different, but oddly similar, soul challenges:

Take time to be creative.

and

Take time to dare.

So today and tomorrow, while you wait for my next post, I hope you can combine the two, and dare to be creative. For me, creativity has always been a dare. Creativity is the hard way out. I know it shouldn’t feel that way, but that which I crave most always comes at the bottom of my to-do list.

I’ve always identified myself as “an artist”. Deep inside, I can feel the fires of passion and creativity burning hot, bringing words and images into my head, ready-to-spill. Pen, music, dance, paint, digital - I crave every medium… in fact, I feel quite ready to take on any medium. However, once I open my mouth/pick up a brush/strike a pose, it all sputters out. This blockage – a severe’s form of artist’s block – has plagued me as long as I can remember the feeling of self-consciousness. Words on paper have always been the only form that don’t seem to escape me – that is, words on paper that no one sees but myself. There is a dam, filtering all that threatens to spill from my mind out into the real world. This dam includes negative self-talk, timidity, fear, ego. This obstacle tells me that I should stick to “easier”, “tangible” expressions. If that which comes out of my mouth is a number, a fact, a citation, I do not have to step into that dark, scary unknown where I’m putting my soul up for scrutiny… and possibly criticism.

Because of this ultimate obstacle to the expression of my creativity deep inside, I was always more confident in mathematics, physics, science. Because of this obstacle to expression, I tried to keep my creativity somewhat solitary. Because of the obstacles, it is (more and more, as I get older and more trepidatious)  just so much easier to ignore it.

A beautiful way to end this might be to say: “…but now, in the past two weeks, I started painting again!” or “I picked up my husband’s guitar to try one more time to learn!”. But, alas, I have done neither. And, consequently, my scores in the past two weeks went from a little low to worse.

My total (week 6): 27 (ok, this week wasn’t terrible – I actually did end up making a card for a friend and taking a lot of time for my soul with the help of others)

My total (week 7): 21 (a record low!)

So the last two weeks’ challenges will continue to ring in my ears as I approach this new week (and this time, will let you know sooner what our soul challenge will be). I have to dare. I have to step a little above and beyond my “safe spaces”, and take some chances. It will take more energy, it will take some courage, and it will take some inspiration, but it’s time I push myself a little.

If you keep following your own footprints, you will end up where you began, but if you stretch yourself, you will flourish. ~ Donna Basplay

I apologize to those waiting for our soul challenge this past week. Hopefully, you have found some time for your soul, in whatever ways that resonate with you, over the last week. Our soul challenge (and that which you can use for the next week) for week 5 is:

Take time for your intuition.

This challenge, for me, came at an opportune time. My intuition has always been a piece of me that I deeply respect but so often a piece with which I feel disconnected. My intuition sputters – sometimes I’m on, I’m connected, and I’m making some amazing decisions through life. And then, like writer’s block, something starts to clog up the tap, I start over-thinking, and I’m faced with indecisiveness, uncertainty, and a lack of trust in myself.

Intuition is the product, in my opinion, of life experience, learned knowledge, personal wisdom, and, most importantly, that mystical “universal consciousness”. And, contrary to what my rational mind tells me, intuition has a deeply important place in health, in medicine, in business, in relationships, and in any other sector of life that requires decision-making (I even use it when choosing oranges at the grocery store). The key to tapping into one’s intuition – to taking time for intuition – is space.

We use only 3% of our brains in conscious life. That 3% certainly gets crowded through the day – deadlines, worrying, planning, goals, expectations.  With so much running through our conscious minds, how can we hear the subtler messages? How can we expect our minds to retrieve information and lessons from our past, if so caught up with the future? And how can we open the lines to something bigger – a universal knowledge – if our worrying minds are overcrowding the switchboard?

My beautiful friend and naturopathic doctor describes the mind (and the parts of the mind) as muscles: just like muscles, some get used more than others, some areas bulk up faster than others, and some can atrophy and become weak if not used. Are you training your intuitive mind? How often do you take time to step away from the mental workout of “when? why? how?” and breathe into the space of now? Are you listening to the messages that can only be heard in the silence of breath alone?

Good luck with your next week.

(By the way, my week 4 scores…

My total: 28 (out of a potential 35) (again!)
Feeling a little more connected to spirit, a little more congruent in body, mind and spirit… May I suggest that everyone go out and get a massage, bodywork, hydrotherapy, or any other therapy to connect your body, mind and spirit? Sometimes we all need a reminder…)

Apparently, doing nothing is a good theme for me. I achieved my highest score yet, this past week…

My total: 28 (out of a potential 35)

On analyzing this week’s successes (and challenges), it becomes clear that it is no coincidence that we Canadians celebrated our last long weekend (until the winter/Christmas holidays). Thanksgiving. A time for nourishing our souls, our tummies, our relationships.  The waning of the moon further contributed to the feeling of yin: peace, settling, the exhale. And an excellent time to practice “doing nothing“.

Thanksgiving for my husband and I was a little different this year: because we are currently on our fall cleanse, we were unable to participate in the voracious gorging at a couple of family Thanksgiving dinners. We brought our own delicious, detox friendly food to one, and on thanksgiving itself, ended up making our very first Thanksgiving for two. A gluten-, dairy-, soy-, processed-, alcohol-free thanksgiving, full of delicious autumn foods done perfectly: home-cooked and extremely nourishing. And, they lasted for meals after. :) Score for taking time for body.

The energy of the weekend - gratitude – was quite dominant and palpable, everywhere I turned. And when that feeling is so overwhelming, it is difficult NOT to sit with it a little… bathing in this happiness. We found ourselves in peaceful quietude more often than not, breathing in the air, doing walking meditations, and feeling soothed from deep within. Emotions ran high and flowed with a cleansing feeling. In fact, I even wrote a poem. Now how is that for taking time for the mind?

Doing Nothing was also soul-soothing. We did not touch our work all weekend. As I mentioned, the quiet moments were many. this past’s week’s challenge to “take time to do nothing” was a nice change, and, as I mentioned in my last blog post, made me rethink my definition of productivity. This week, I feel refreshed and more ready to take on what the days have in store. I did take time for soul this past week, and I can feel the difference.

(And lastly, it is hard to avoid taking time for others during this thankful holiday. Perfect score there!)

What is our theme this week?

Take time for your spirit.

Vague, yes. But ask yourself this question: how do you nourish your spirit? Spirituality is a word that can garner quite opposite reactions. When approaching the subject in yoga classes, there can be undesirable reactions: mental (or physical) fleeing, reading “religion” from “spirituality”. But spirit is universal. Spirit is removed from religion – religion is just one of many ways some human beings nourish their spirit. Spirit is whatever you want it to be: it is that “je-ne-sais-quoi” that flickers deep inside, that moves you and gives you purpose. And this week, I want you to fan those flames, feed that fire, and remember your spirit.

Express yourself.

Make art.

Dance.

Enjoy your own rituals – religious or not.

Write (another) poem.

Just put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard. ~Anne Sexton

A day later again… I must have been practicing this week’s mantra:

Take Time to do Nothing.

Can’t blame me, I was busy doing nothing.


Before we get into this week’s soul challenge, I suppose I have to report my results of Week 2. Week 2 was regrettably a little worse than Week 1. Yes, I should have learned some lessons from Week 1. Yes, I should have been able to pull myself out of those patterns I identified last week. However, I did not. But, you know what? That’s okay. This is a learning process, and each week I am more mindful of my daily “health practices” and my obstacles.

My total: 25 (out of a potential 35)

As I look to where I did not earn points this past week, a pattern does begin to emerge. The days that I am in the office are definitely the days I do not always get in all aspects of our challenge. The days that I am in the office, I wake up panicked from the beginning – planning, over-thinking, and shuffling my own health off to the side in order to worry some more. And these days, in the office, are also the days I tend to sleep-in in the mornings (and miss my morning meditation) since I started the planning, over-thinking, and worrying the night before.

(Warning: Attempt to (over-) simplify some pretty complicated theories below…) 

In traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver is the organ of “planning” (next to many other things). When one is “stuck” in a pattern of over-planning, especially in bed at night, we look to the Liver. In the body, the Liver is responsible for orchestrating the smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) around the body. It also stores blood, controls our tendons and sinews, and houses the “Ethereal Soul” – the Hun. If this smooth flow of Qi is not optimized, things get stuck, stagnant… including our Hun. The Hun gives us the drive, the direction, and the purpose for, well, our lives. Of course it does – it is the conductor, the overseer of plans. Thus, if Qi is not flowing as it should, we not only experience physical symptoms of “stuckness”, but also, emotional symptoms of “stuckness”. Some people are constitutionally more prone to imbalances in the Liver. And, through the years, I  have discovered that I am certainly one of these people.

So, the more I plan, over-plan, and re-plan… the more stuck I get. It’s an ironic concept. That phenomenon which I am trying to prevent by “over-planning” (wasted time, inefficiency, lack of productivity, unpreparedness) is actually WORSENED as I think myself into a loop. (Yes, there are physiological reasons and treatments as well, but emotions are often a large part of root cause.)

And so, we come back to our “soul” challenge of this week:

Take Time to do Nothing.

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. ~ A.A. Milne

Okay. Some people may not like this. If you start searching for quotes about “nothing”, you start to come up with things like “If you want to be nothing, do nothing” or “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing”. However, I don’t mean do NOTHING nothing. I mean: take a little time out each day for silence. Take time for something that is not conventionally “productive” (though, according to me, it is much more productive in the bigger picture). Take time out to be present with LIFE – imagine being an infant again. Observing, watching, taking in… seemingly doing nothing productive, yet growing by the minute. It is when we allow ourselves to stop that we can let our bodies talk. When we stop over-thinking things, ideas emerge. When we clear our heads, we make space for more.

Ideas on how to do nothing:

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky is by no means a waste of time. ~ J. Lubbock

More ideas here: http://amolife.com/character/the-art-of-doing-nothing.html

Oops.

Tuesday marked the end of our first week of the “take time challenge”… and I was afraid to tally up my results. As a teacher, a naturopath, and a potential role model, I am acutely aware of the importance of “walking the talk“. Authenticity is for what I strive every day – and, when there is a disconnect between what I believe/teach and what I do, there is a deeply unsettling feeling. A mixture of anxiety, shame, guilt, and the other emotion that has no name that comes around from my core knowledge that those are all life-sucking emotions to feel.

This, unfortunately, was the feeling I walked around with over the last week.

This, alone, is an unfortunate turn in my own “Take Time Challenge”. However, on adding up my own results, the clouds cleared. Things aren’t that bad.

My total: 27 (out of a potential 35)

Where I earned points: A Wednesday night chamomile bath with a book, a fairly regular meditation practice, small breaks for sunshine even if I didn’t have time for a full “workout”, lots of connection with people

Where I lost points: A lunch skipped, a few days of not leaving my work for anything, forgetting our theme some days, procrastination

I can learn to celebrate the little achievements, and now I am conscious of my “learning objectives”.

  1. Work can often overpower my need for nourishment – in body, mind, and soul. However, to be the best that I can be in my work, I must be nourished. I must feel complete. I must be present and awake and balanced.
  2. Though it is important to walk my talk – it is more important to move forward without shame or guilt or those other unnamed feelings. Kindness and compassion towards one’s self are the answers. If the path to optimal health and balance in boy, mind and soul were simple, then we would all be there. There will be obstacles - celebrate not only when you have crossed them, but also when they become visible. This is the first step to formulating your way over, under, around and through.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

So, let us introduce the theme for week 2 (sorry I am a day late!)…

TAKE TIME FOR THE HERE AND NOW.

“Whatever I’m doing at the moment is the biggest thing in life — whether it is conducting a symphony or peeling an orange.” – Arturo Toscanini

Ideas for how to do this daily:

  • This is an easy one, if you read the quote. The key is presence. Mindful action. Being here, now. Going a little slower to take time and “smell the roses”. Noticing the details, and delighting in them.
  • Be Here, Now.
  • Another quote for some hints:

“If you can see it, hear it, feel it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, you can be present with it. It is of the present moment, and so it brings to you the opportunity to be present with it.” - Leonard Jacobson

Enjoy!

ImageTake Time.

What does this mean? I considered the title “Make Time”, but let’s be honest: in order to insert time for “x” activities, we (as the busy people we are) have to TAKE time from other activities. Time (as energy) cannot be created or destroyed. But it can be repartitioned (like space on your hard drive) to include other (more life-affirming) activities.

What is the “Take Time Challenge”?

One of the weekly yoga classes that I teach takes place over 10-week sessions. I’m constantly looking for ways to link classes together, to theme, to further motivate yogis to take yoga off-the-mat and into the world. Yesterday, on September 18, was the beginning of approximately our 15th round of 10-week sessions together. What could I possibly do that hasn’t been done before?

Seriously, this is what my yoga-class planning looks like at times.

In light of all the online “challenges” that I have been seeing online (the “Whole Life Challenge“, “Vegan Challenge“, “1-week Veggie Challenge“, “Whole30 Challenge“, “10,000 Steps Challenge“… I need not go on), I wanted to create one that I know is needed amongst my family, friends, students, patients, and… well, me. I was inspired by a book my good friend recently gave me as a gift (a.k.a. a friendly nudge in the right direction).  A (seemingly simple) little book by Dan Zadra called “Take Time“. In it, each page is dedicated to something else for which we must “take time“. Simple, no? Easy? No. Not in true practice.

Here are the “rules”:

  1. Each day, a maximum of 5 pointscan be rewarded:
    • Take time for Body (1 pt)
    • Take time for Mind (1 pt)
    • Take Time for Soul (1 pt)
    • Take time for Others (2 pts)
      • Note: for those who attend my yoga class weekly, you receive an automatic 5 points on the day of our class!
  2. The points can be achieved in the following ways (but creativity is always encouraged!):
    • Take time for Body examples (do one per day):
      • If you are a person who skips meals, take time to eat lunch
      • If you are a person who eats on the run, take time to sit and eat, no distractions
      • If you are a person who makes poor food choices (due to time restrictions), take time to cut up some fruits, veggies, or prepare your own whole food snacks
      • If you make excuses to avoid daily movement, do something (anything!) active for at least 20 minutes
      • If you work inside, go outside for at least 10-20 minutes
    • Take time for Mind examples (do one per day):
      • Meditate, at least 20 minutes. Note – meditation can mean any of the following:
        • Sitting outside or inside, in silence
        • Walking mindfully, in silence
        • Sitting alone, breathing, in silence
        • Any meditation technique that you have previously learned
        • Any meditation technique that you have been meaning to learn
      • Take a bath and relax the nervous system, at least 20 minutes
      • Take 50-100 mindful breaths (in one “session”)
    • Take Time for Soul:
      • This is determined weekly by my little book. I read a random page and quote in class, post it online here afterwards, and we keep it in mind ALL WEEK LONG. This is your chance to be creative with your “take time activity”. Keep it simple and achievable, and aim for 10-20 minutes per day.
      • THIS WEEK’S TAKE TIME CHALLENGE:
        • Take time to IMAGINE. 
        • “Let your mind fly toward ‘what-if?’ Let your what-if become ‘why-not?’ Then you are on your way. ~ Earnie Larsen and Carole Larsen
          • Examples of activities:
            • Start making your vision board.
            • Write down a vision of yourself at the end of 10-weeks.
            • Do something creative – draw, paint, sing, play.
            • Play make-believe with children.
            • Play make-believe with adults.
    • Take time for Others (bonus points!):
      • To achieve these points, you must take 2o minutes to be fully presentwith another living being in a day. This means:
        • no distractions (tv, internet, movies, video games)
        • no multi-tasking
        • just you and ______ (and ______, and ______ …) time to CONNECT
  3. We strive to be honest with ourselves.

The Power Triad…

And then what…?

Each week, I will be posing MY results of the week and the next “soul challenge“. (Follow my blog to receive email updates!) At the end of ten weeks, we tally up our results, and see what happens. :) Perhaps a prize for the highest points? Perhaps the prize will be greater personal connection, within and without? ;)

Best of luck to you all. I will try to think of ways to make this more interactive and fun as we go along! Stay tuned…

It may be argued that these days, our society is much too focused on “self”– the self has become the important idea, and community has been forgotten. However, in contemplating this, one realizes that self-esteem and self-confidence– or what I like to refer to as strong inner posture – is far beyond “selfishness”. These ideas are deeper than the modern-day definition of “ego”. When we speak about raising our children to love themselves and be strong within, we don’t mean to encourage undeserving accolades and award or to have children link success with external reward. Building self-esteem and self-confidence – though these words can be overused – requires some planting and gardening at the very core.

Self-esteem, in my opinion, runs much deeper than simply “feeling good about one’s self” (and we could also argue that selfishness, self-entitlement and self-centeredness may actually stem from feelings that lay on the opposite end of self-esteem). I want to extend self-esteem to include self-belief, self-trust, faith in one’s self… strong “inner posture”.

Yours is the energy that makes your world. There are no limitations to the self except those you believe in. ~Jane Roberts

As a naturopathic doctor, I get to meet a lot of people and learn a lot about causes and contributors to disease and dis-ease. Something that I come across quite frequently is a hard outer shell, but a deficiency within. A deficiency in trust in one’s own abilities and capacity – sometimes physical, sometimes functional, and often mental. A deficiency in the sincere belief that we can attain our visions (truly can) and achieve ________ (insert vision here – good health, success, a good partner… etc.). Faith in our bodies and mind and the human capacity. Respect for our Selves and for all that we are. And THIS, to me, is strong inner posture, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are. ~Malcolm S. Forbes

This week, I challenge you to assess, understand, and strengthen your inner posture during your yoga practice. I challenge you to see beyond the hard outer shell, and begin to cultivate not only vision, but trust that you have the resources required to achieve that vision. Let’s marvel in the human body and mind and it’s capacity to overcome so many obstacles. And then, we will take it off our mats to achieve even greater things.

When I’m trusting and being myself… everything in my life reflects this by falling into place easily, often miraculously. ~ Shakti Gawain

Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on. ~ Unknown

Asana of the week:  To achieve this week’s asana of the week, it is important to work from the bottom up to find stability, security, strength, and, most of all, trust. The first chakra, located at the base of our tail bone, is responsible for feeling grounded, safe, secure. With a deficient first chakra, the core cannot fully form. The first chakra is where we learn to trust. So, take a seat today, before your practice, tall and perched on your sit bones. connect to this first chakra by rocking back and forth, left and right, to find your sit bones. Breathe here to begin. In any core conditioning posture, first bring your attention to your inner thighs and pelvic floor, firm those areas, and then move up from there. This approach will help you more effectively activate your core and will help ensure proper spinal alignment as well.

Kakasana (Crow) and Bakasana (Crane) are our apex poses today. For many people, this can be a tough one. “I don’t have the arm strength,” “I’m going to fall flat on my face,” – these are comments every yoga teacher has heard a thousand times from students. And those are the comments that are expressed aloud. I like to start with kakasana (crow) pose, as there is a very slight difference (which I cannot seem to find a resource for anywhere online) from crane, and requires more core, less brute strength, and can be a little less scary.

I like to start in a wide-knee squat, toes and heels together. Take the time to stretch here – walk your arms forward… way forward… while you press your sit bones back. Then drag one hand back, bending your elbow towards the back of the room, and snuggle the upper arm (tricep) into the upper inner thigh. Try to get it as far back as you can, as high up the arm as possible (yes, this is a big hip opener too). Drag the other arm under the other thigh, and get compact. Use those strong inner thigh muscles to squeeze the arms.

Then, look past the front of your mat, and start to move forward in space. Don’t think “up” with your hips yet, and don’t think “down” with your face (whatever you do!). Slide along a horizontal plane with the earth. You’ll reach a point where there will be no more movement.

Experiment by picking one foot off the floor – but keep squeezing those thighs! Try the other foot. And then, with courage and trust in your heart, see if you can bring both feet off the floor, heels and toes together. Keep thinking “forward”, not back or up or down. Keep the body compact, heels and buttocks close – don’t aim for lifting the buttocks high. Keep using the strength of the legs to secure you to your arms. The more you engage your inner thighs, the more you engage your core.

The next step would be to squeeze those thighs so much that your abdomen and bottom start to rise up towards the sky. Here is where I say bakasana (crane) begins. In bakasana, the hips are raised higher, the spine rounds forward, and the knees are sitting on the shelf of your triceps. BUT, you are still looking FORWARD. Then, for the full expression of the pose, you start to straighten your arms.

You are very powerful, provided you know how powerful you are. ~Yogi Bhajan

When we think of core strength, our society often envisions hard, flat abdomens. This, somehow, has become the embodiment of a healthy physique in our culture and sells everything from yogurt to underwear. But is this healthy? And most of all, is this important? If we look at the most prominent yogis of the past (including the Buddha himself), we see that not one is “blessed” with a six-to-ten-pack. In fact, many have quite the ‘Buddha belly’. But does that make them weak? According to yogic, Ayurvedic, and even traditional Chinese medical philosophy, it is quite the contrary.

The belly, or the abdomen, is a centre of power, and where a large reserve of energy/qi/prana is held. Thus, if one has worked to develop a supple, flexible, and innately strong midsection (not tense, hard, and blocked), they can tap into an infinite resource of energy. This does not mean that the bellies we see in IHOP or at a buffet are healthy – too much belly fat is detrimental to health. However, the opposite – overworking the abs to eliminate all fat and harden the muscles beneath- is also detrimental to health. Women, especially, are not usually made for six-pack abs naturally. And striving for this is quite unrealistic. If you think of a healthy muscle or muscle group, it is at it’s optimal strength when it is both strong AND flexible – springy and elastic. A tense muscle, especially a stabilizing muscle, cannot attain its optimal strength.

Not only does overworking the abs harm us physically, but it also creates some psychological blockages as well. It only overemphasizes “control” – making our bellies hard to try to “keep it together” and avoid vulnerability. It causes a sort of “mental constipation” – where we are not following intuition, only rules and order… where we are not free to act on our will, but according to standards or society. Yogis, though also warriors and soldiers, require a supple belly in order to connect to a strong core of space and calm within.

In addition, the core encompasses much more than just abdominals. Our posture is greatly determined by the balance of local and global muscles around the spine. Some shorten as they weaken, some shorten as they are overused. Some become overstretched, while others need a good stretching. It is the balance of these muscles that determine what our default posture becomes. And often, in our society, it can be an ugly balance. Again, yoga practice does not only physically attempt to bring the body back into alignment, but in strengthening the core, we are also strengthening a mental core as well. Our internal strength translates in our integrity of character and the ability to remain stable, calm, and authentic despite external conditions. By reconnecting with our body’s optimal alignment and strength, we take stress off of the nervous system, we create space within, and we feel good about ourselves.

Asana of the week: We begin with breath. Our asana this week, is easy seated pose (or Sukhasana). We are going to connect to our core with breath. A supple (but strong) belly is needed to use one’s full breath capacity. Activated core muscles are required to sit tall, without back support, with our legs crossed. (If you feel as if your sit bones are rolling forward when you sit, roll up your mat, use a blanket, or a cushion/bolster to prop up your bottom. Your knees should fall below your hip bones, and you should be seated right on your sit bones, spine long.) Keep in mind that deep, diaphragmatic breathing does not entail pushing your belly out deliberately. Full belly breathing just requires a naturally alternating engagement and release. To assure deep diaphragmatic breathing, first engage the abdomen in a complete exhalation, then allow your lungs to fill up naturally, relaxing the abdomen but not pushing it outward.

Place your right hand on your abdomen so that you may feel your breath moving your diaphragm, your left hand at your heart centre. Breathe slowly and deliberately, sensing the strength of your inner core as your obliques and deep transversus muscles compress to expel the air from your lungs completely. Then enjoy the flow of oxygen that fills your chest as these muscles release, creating space for prana to stream into your heart like water flowing into a basin. After a few minutes, allow your breath to resume its natural pattern. Observe it without criticism or effort. Imagine your abdominal cavity as the fluid container of your deepest wisdom and feel the energy at your navel radiating throughout your body.

While finding myself falling into an old pattern, rushing frantically to teach yoga this evening, I realized that it was no big surprise that most of my yoginis had “balance” as a part of their yoga vision for 2012. Whether it was physical balance – one-legged poses, arm balances – or balance in other forms, I found an essence of this theme in practically everyone’s goals. And for a good reason: yoga IS balance.

Yoga literally means “to yoke” – to yoke two opposites together, to yoke together mind and body, to yoke together sky and earth. It is the practice, the discipline, that helps to join these together. I like to interpret it further and to apply it to modern day life – to me, it is the discipline that we can use to aid in balancing our spiritual life and our day-to-day life. It helps to create balance between effort and relaxation, between suppleness and strength. And most of all, it helps to reach more of a balance within our bodies – a balance of the elements, of health.

What is balance within? We all have constitutional types, and we contain different proportions of the elements within. We each have individual susceptibilities to individual imbalances. Some of us tend to over-accumulate fire (stress, overwork, migraines, heat symptoms), some, tamas (sluggishness, weight gain, lethargy). Some of us have too much air/wind  (anxiety, lack of grounding, constipation), some may have an overactive water element (oedema, lack of drive, emotional). Our constitution makes us individual, gives us some character, and determines our body types. However, we CAN reach our optimal health within these different tendencies and constitutions.

Although the simple act of yoga certainly does inspire balance, I would say that the FIRST effect we see from yoga is likely the AWARENESS that yoga brings us. Yoga gives us the space to observe our own bodies and minds, their relationships with the world around us, our actions and reactions, and, most of all, where we might be “out of balance”. Identifying our susceptibilities and patterns is the first step to knowing where and how to adjust when we’re feeling “off”. This is why yoga is fantastic: regardless of our individual makeup, our practice can be modified to rebalance our unique internal environments. A balanced yoga practice will work on the core requirements for balance: strength, flexibility, endurance, and calm. We will all experience a class differently – within our bodies and minds. Depending on your individual body composition and needs, you will feel a balanced yoga class where you need to feel it. (This being said, it is best to be in a class that is mindful of your individual constitutional makeup and is geared to ou as an individual – smaller class sizes, more attentive, with modifications, knowledgeable teacher. Many classes in our society are only right for one constitutional type… and often not the most needed.)

So, lets hear it for yoga and balance. Let’s toast to our individuality and to the development of awareness within. When you begin to learn more about yourself and understand the way your body works, it makes it that much easier to rebalance – within and without. We strengthen what needs to be strengthened, and relax what requires relaxation. The result: health in body, mind, and spirit.

Asana of the day: Dancer’s pose, or Natarajasana. What a beautiful pose! When you see someone in this full pose, it is impossible not to take in a deep breath of awe. And why? The balance of this pose is impeccable. Not only are we in a asymmetrical shape, standing on one leg, but you can literally feel the balance of energies here- reaching forward and back, stretching toward the sky while grounded below, strength and flexibility. The origin of this pose is exactly this: the god Nataraj dances the dance life – the delicate balance between creation, maintenance,  and destruction. Attaining this pose is all about working on that balance.

Begin always by standing in the most basic form of this pose: one hand on the hip, one hand holding the foot or ankle behind you. This may be your pose. The knee is slightly forward, hip flexors are relaxed. The bottom foot is grounded, toes spread out, connecting to something deeper below. Your head is tall, reaching toward the sky. You keep the hips square, and you breathe. You may reach the opposite hand up to the sky here.

If you want to go further, the foot begins pressing backwards into the hand. Feel the creativity begin to flow – this opens the heart and the front body. As you press the foot into the hand, you counterbalance this backwards movement by reaching forwards with the heart and the hand a little – move slow in order to tune into what is going on within the body. Monitor your stability, know your limits. When you have reached the point of balance, you pause and breathe. The chin is slightly lifted, eyes are soft and focused. Bottom leg is strong and stable, the energy is flowing in an arc from your outstretched arm through your back leg – reaching in all directions. Enjoy. Breathe. And come out as gracefully as you came in – balanced, calm, and strong.

Visioning Drifting, without aim or purpose, is the first cause of (perceived) failure.

Without a plan for your life, it is easier to follow the course of least resistance, to go with the flow, to drift with the current with no particular destination in mind. Having a definite plan for your life greatly simplifies the process of making hundreds of daily decisions that affect your ultimate success. When you know where you want to go, you can quickly decide if your actions are moving you toward your goal or away from it. Without definite, precise goals and a plan for their achievement, each decision must be considered in a vacuum. Definiteness of purpose provides context and allows you to relate specific actions to your overall plan. ~ Napoleon Hill

I often speak about our misled society – especially at the onset of the New Year. I speak about how we are too focused on goals, on moving forward, on failure and accomplishment. Yet, as the preceding quote has identified, there is also something unproductive about living without goals. It can make us indecisive, unsettled, unmotivated. Today we are going to celebrate goals – but goals in a new sense of the word. We will instead call them visions. And this doesn’t mean visions in “The Secret” sense. For these visions, we are delving deep into our authentic selves and seeing ourselves how we are meant to be.

Yes, this can be quite hard work.

However, once we can identify the vision of our Selves – with a capital S – we can more easily understand where our actions today, in this moment are leading us. We can see not only WHAT we are striving towards, but WHY we are striving towards it. We can more easily make decisions by asking ourselves, “Is this in line with my vision?”. It does not only help us say “yes”, but also “no” when necessary. It reduces the clutter of thoughts and miscellaneous, unrealistic “goals” that cause us anxiety and a feeling of failure. So, this class, let’s take the time to visualize our selves as we were meant to be.

You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction. ~ Alvin Toffler

I’d like to entice everyone to think about something you’d like to achieve in your yoga practice this year, and how it aligns with your larger goal. For example, if inner and outer strength is what you see in yourself, and you would like to start to show it to the world, perhaps your goal is something like being able to sit for 10 minutes a day in meditation. Or perhaps you see yourself holding bakasana (Crow pose) for 3 breaths.

Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but the absence of vision. ~ Anonymous

Asana of the day: Though class was full of reaching for the stars with challenging poses today, I would challenge everyone to do 5 mental sun salutations – surya namaskar – today. (There are several variations to sun salutations – use the one that you are most familiar with.) (Here is one version, to refresh your memory.) Watch your body as it achieves length and superb strength through each posture in the series. Imagine how it might feel to stretch as long and tall as you can in urdhva hastasana, open heart, feet grounded. See yourself as an image of strength and beauty in high lunge. Imagine your core in a full chaturanga dandasana. So, close your eyes, and get to it! (You can even add in a few real sun salutations if you’d like!)

Just me…

2010 Journey

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