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.



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—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.

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…

Yogaville retreat: a retreat for everyone

Getting away to meditate, breathe, and reconnect to your practice is easier (and cheaper!) than you might imagine.

Yogaville, 2014

You deserve to get away, take time to breathe, meditate, and think. It’s challenging to find the time, space, and finances to make this happen. That’s where Yogaville comes in. Later this month (the weekend of July 29-31), I’ll be leading a Yoga for Athletes retreat at this beautiful Virginia ashram. My weekend program is incredibly affordable ($240 for the base retreat; a little more for a dorm, private room, or tent site), and it includes 4 long yoga-and-athletic philosophy sessions with me (Friday evening, twice Saturday, and Sunday morning), all of your meals (awesome vegetarian fare), and additional (free!) yoga, kirtan, and meditation sessions. You’ll also have plenty of time to hike, run, walk, and enjoy the beautiful mountainous landscape. Join me! You don’t have to be a student of yoga or even an athlete to enjoy this offering. This is a retreat designed for people who like to move and want to know a little more about how yoga can complement movement.

07.29.16 Alexandra D. Yoga for Athletes V2

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.

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.


Hungry for emotional popcorn?

Emotions pop up as quickly as a kernel of popcorn goes from inedible to fluffy goodness.

Every day, all day we’re inundated by emotional responses. Some of these are groovy, sweet emotions and some of these are lame, annoying emotions. (And sometimes all the lame emotions flood in at once, like when you’re on one of those customer service phone calls from hell. Just the worst.)

These little jabs of feeling? I like to think of them as emotional popcorn. Yep.

I ate all of that. Every bite.

I really like popcorn. At least once a week, I make it on the stove the old-fashioned way: in a pan with salt and oil. It’s a pretty fun snack to eat, and it’s just as much fun to cook. The kernels heat up, the sizzling starts, and then anticipation builds until ping! pop!—the popping begins.

Emotions often come over us as quickly as a kernel of corn goes from inedible to fluffy goodness. Ping! Anger. Pop! Frustration. Ping! Anxiety. Ping! Pop! Pop! When we feel the emotions start to pop up, we get to make a choice: are we going to eat the popcorn?

Much of the practice of yoga centers on this idea—noticing that there IS actually space between provocation and reaction. You can feel an emotion (anger, for instance) and not eat that emotional popcorn. You can feel it and see it and choose not to engage it at the moment. The starting point is to be aware. To notice. To feel the emotion begin and then choose whether or not you’re going to shove it in your mouth. (Sometimes it’s just too damn tempting. Sometimes you eat a big bowl of popcorn, handful after handful. And that’s okay, too.)

But that space? That pause? That path between action and reaction? That comes from breathing while you move. From staying in a pose a smidge longer than your quads want you to. That comes from being present, even in challenging poses. And then really letting go in savasana. Your practice on the mat is a microcosm for your life.

So this week, whether you’re on your mat or on the phone call with Time Warner, just notice. Just notice the pop of emotion. And see what happens next.

Have 10 minutes? Do some yoga:

Simple Yoga Sequence for Waking Up the Body

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose; play in Cat-Cow: move your spine and stretch your body, finding what feels good
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; squirm around in this pose, and stay here for 5-10 breaths
  • Move back to Table Pose
  • Rest in Child’s Pose
  • Move to standing and come to Mountain Pose
  • Inhale, lift arms overhead; exhale, clasp your hands and lean to one side. Take 3 breaths. Inhale through center and exhale, lean to the other side. Take 3 more breaths. Inhale through center and exhale, release your arms to your side.
  • Inhale, lift arms overhead; exhale, fold forward
  • Inhale, lift halfway (hands can come to shins or higher; lengthen your spine); exhale, fold forward
  • With your next inhalation return to Mountain Pose
  • Inhale, step your left foot back and move to Warrior I; stay in Warrior I for 3-5 breaths
  • Shift to Warrior II; stay in Warrior II for 3-5 breaths
  • Return to Mountain Pose and repeat Warrior I and II, this time stepping your right foot back
  • Return to Downward-Facing Dog and and move your spine again, stretching any places that still need to stretch, 5-10 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose or transition to Resting Pose (Savasana Pose) for at least 2 minutes.