How yoga empowers you

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”– Nora Ephron

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The late writer Nora Ephron said this: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” When I happened upon that quote years ago, I instantly connected to it. I was at the confluence of several life-altering events, and I was feeling hurt and injured by circumstances that were not in my control. I had been victimized.

Around that same time, I was beginning my yoga journey.

Ephron’s quote resonated because it, like yoga, gave me a chance to see that victimhood is often a choice—a way we’re choosing to frame our personal narrative. Her quote reminded me that I could choose to be the master of my life, despite what was thrown my way. Her quote became a personal intention. I wrote it in my journal and often recited it to myself in meditation or at the start of my yoga practice. It was my mantra.

Victimization is very real. In our society, we’re having an important discussion right now about the myriad of ways white culture victimizes minorities. Women have talked for 100+ years about the ways that patriarchy oppresses. LGBT citizens can now legally wed in the United States, but they still aren’t protected by equal anti-discrimination laws in every state. Not all oppression is equal, and I’m not suggesting we make light of systematic, cultural oppression. Being victimized is a great equalizer, though: it isn’t a unique circumstance. Everyone is a victim at some point: a victim of interpersonal cruelty, infidelity, abuse, neglect, dishonesty, or poverty. It’s not a pleasant, comfortable, or safe role. But it also doesn’t have to be a defining one.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim,” because despite circumstances, despite limited power over much of your life, despite your family, wealth, health, or background, the perspective you choose becomes your narrative. Your perspective, your personal choice, determines if you’re going to be the victim or hero of your life story. You get to choose.

Yoga helps us see this choice, too.

In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as the ability to control the mind. In Sutra 1.2, we’re told yogas chitta vritti nirodha: yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind. The Sutras continue, and a path (and potential obstacles) are explained. But what’s clear immediately is this:

Your meandering, anxious mind causes suffering.

There is a way to quiet your mind and find peace.

The steady and dedicated practice of yoga is that way.

You can choose to be a victim of the internal pushing and pulling or you can choose to forge another path. The root of your suffering is within you. The path to contentment and peace is within you, too. It’s you, yoga says. It’s all you. Whether you suffer or you find peace, the choice is yours. Whatever happens outside your mind, you can cultivate control of your mind and your perspective. What could be more empowering ?

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

You get to choose.

 

 

 

 

The push and pull of attachment and aversion

Raga and dvesha are at the heart of your suffering.

In yoga, the self-derived causes of suffering are called kleshas. There are five of them, but the two I’ve been thinking a lot about lately are raga and dvesha: attachment and aversion.

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Raga

Raga—attachment—means, essentially, attachment to pleasant things. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life and all the sweet parts of it. Raga occurs, though, when you suffer because you want pleasant things. At the heart of raga is unmet desire: raga occurs when you experience suffering because you can’t have what you want. The enjoyment of good things is fine; the attachment to good things is problematic.

When I think about raga, I recognize a particular (routine) moment in my life: Sunday night. Without fail, on Sunday night I feel down, mournful, cranky. On Monday, the week begins again, which means less time with my family and more time doing work. Even though I enjoy my job, I’d still rather be experiencing leisure. I’m attached to the pleasant experience of the weekend. I suffer because I can’t have more of what I desire: the sweetness and ease of lazy, connected family time.

Dvesha

Dvesha—aversion—is the inverse. You probably have things, experiences, and people that you find unpleasant. Like any normal person, you generally try to avoid these things, of course. You probably don’t enjoy having to come face-to-face with unpleasantness. But because life inevitably makes you confront sources of displeasure, you suffer. You experience suffering because you are averse to these particular aspects of life.

When I think about dvesha, I think of the tasks that have remained forever at the bottom of my to-do list. I keep avoiding them; I keep putting them off. I find more enjoyable tasks to complete whenever I’m doing work. But these unpleasant things really need to be done; these things I don’t want to deal with must eventually be dealt with. I suffer because I have created an aversion to these necessary, normal tasks. The problem is with me and my attitude.

So, what’s to be done?

At the heart of most change is this: awareness. Recognizing the cycle you’re in begins to change the cycle. That’s the miracle of mindfulness. You get to slow down and see what’s really pulling and pushing you in various directions.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that the way out of the kleshas is through meditation. Sitting in stillness, choosing to let go of the thoughts that come into your mind isn’t easy. But practicing meditation is just that: a practice. It takes time to get comfortable with sitting in quiet, but the effects continue long after you leave your seat. Whether you choose a formal meditation practice or you just take some time to sit quietly, observe and breathe, this little bit of space will allow you to get more perspective on the pushing and pulling of your mind. The next time you experience suffering connected to the idea of “I want” or “I don’t want,” you might find a little buffer: that’s your chance to choose a different path than the habits of raga and dvesha. It’s your choice to choose not to suffer.

 

Reblog: Postnatal Core Strength

After baby comes, building core strength will make you feel better.

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38 weeks pregnant with baby S!

A few months back, I chatted with with the folks at Fit Bottomed Mamas about the best ways to regain core strength after pregnancy. This is helpful stuff for new moms, and I promise this information comes your way without the attendant “get fit now!” drumbeat behind it. Postnatally, building strength and reintegrating your core will make you feel better. But be sure to do it on your own terms and in your own time frame. When you’re ready, here are some useful tips about regaining core strength after baby.

Post-pregnancy, it’s completely normal to feel like your entire midsection is a big ball of mush. Think about it: Your muscles have been stretched farther than they’ve ever been and your pelvis has been supporting lots of extra weight. Not to mention you’ve got a little extra fat stored that has and will continue to provide for your wee babe. While you may be most concerned about looking like you did pre-pregnancy, the more important issue should be regaining your core strength and stability. Read more…

Be gentle

When I tell my daughter to be gentle, I’m asking her to begin a lifelong practice of kindness, politeness, civility, patience. I’m asking her to start working on the things that I continue to work on in adulthood.

This month, my sweet and silly 11-month-old baby has developed a new habit of swatting. She does it when she’s tired, excited, or frustrated, and it’s her way of communicating that emotion or need to us. Regardless, being swatted in the face isn’t pleasant, so 3-4 times a day my husband and I lightly redirect her hands and encourage her to be gentle.

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That’s a powerful little hand.

Be gentle. I’ve repeated that phrase so often lately: patiently, calmly again and again.

I’m not always the most patient. I don’t always communicate my needs with grace. I can be downright demanding. I can approach a disagreement with a certain amount of righteousness. I’m often quick to judge and quick to speak, and the result is sometimes that I say things I wish I’d said kindlier—or not at all.

When I tell my daughter to be gentle, I’m asking her to begin a lifelong practice of kindness, politeness, civility, patience. I’m asking her to start working on the things that I continue to work on in adulthood. When I think of it this way, I feel humbled. I also feel tremendous empathy for my swatting little daughter at the start of her life-long journey toward impulse control and gentleness. Her lesson—at 11 months—is a lesson for us all. It’s a reminder to cultivate more empathy, more patience. It’s a reminder to continue to strive for kindness toward others.

Be gentle. Be gentle when communicating: your loved ones will more easily remain open to your needs if you tread lightly.

Be gentle. Be gentle in your approach to others. They may have had a hard day, a long day. Give them a buffer, too.

Be gentle. Be gentle with your family and friends. They are the ones you’re closest to.  Don’t take their presence for granted. Treat them with love.

Be gentle. Be gentle with others—and be gentle with yourself, too. The way you treat others often mirrors the way you treat yourself. Whenever you can, be kinder, be gentler, be more loving.

Be gentle.

 

Ahimsa: compassion starts within

Ahimsa is the yogic notion of non-violence. Even when our actions are non-violent, we might feel violence in our hearts.

Ahimsa is the yogic notion of non-violence or non-harming. It’s the first of the Yamas, the yogic ethical precepts that suggest the right path for a yogi.

When I teach the concept of ahimsa, I often joke that it’s an obvious one: if you’ve showed up in a yoga class, you’re probably not a violent person. You’re probably already on a path toward kindness. You’re probably already seeking to be more compassionate in your actions toward others.

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Open your heart! Even when it’s cold and snowy, open your heart!

But while external manifestations of violence certainly belie a violent heart, the reverse is not always true. We think of violence as grandiose, but internal violence can be quite subtle: we might be walking around with a lot of violence in our hearts—resentment, guilt, anger, fear, shame.  That internal violence may never manifest as an outward expression. That’s a good thing, of course, but it doesn’t mean we should leave that internal violence to rage on without check or change.

Indeed, it’s only by ceasing to struggle internally that we can cease to struggle externally—as individuals and as a collective society. That’s the true teaching of ahimsa: non-harming, non-violence starting internally. Starting with ourselves. Moving from the internal to the external. True compassion for ourselves to true compassion for others.

This is where the practice of yoga comes in: yoga allows us to acknowledge, confront, and address inner brutality. The practice of arriving in your body, moving with grace, accepting your body’s limitations; this is the practice of compassion. Being present with discomfort, being honest about your thoughts, being aware of what you’re feeling; this is the practice of compassion. Accepting yourself as you are: the most radical practice of compassion. Accepting others as they are. Even more radical, I know.

Acknowledging that inner violence exists is not the same as expressing that violence. When we act from a space of violence we cause violence to others. The destructive cycle continues. But when we acknowledge the pain in our heart, we are often amazed to see how quickly it melts away and how easily we become free of it. And more: we see then how big and full and beautiful the heart can be when the little thorn of himsa (violence) is removed.

 

Have 20 minutes? Do some yoga!

Heart-Opening and Super-Stretchy Seated Pose Sequence

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose; move your spine and stretch your body, finding what feels good
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Move back to Table Pose and slide onto your belly for Sphinx Pose; stay in Sphinx Pose for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slide onto your belly and as you inhale float into Locust Pose; stay in Locust Pose for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Transition to hands and knees in Table position and stretch your spine with Cat-Cow for a breath or two
  • Sit down and move to Seated Forward Fold; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Cross your legs into Cow-Faced Pose; stay here for 3-5 breaths; switch the cross of your legs; stay for 3-5 breaths
  • Draw your feet together for Bound Angle Pose; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Lower onto your back and practice Bridge Pose 3 times; hold each pose 3-5 breaths; rest in between
  • Rest in Corpse Pose for 5-10 minutes