#YogaEveryDamnDay 12: Balance

balance

bal·ance (noun) \ˈba-lən(t)s the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall, the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling, a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance

Oh, the oft-mentioned, rarely-attained dream of balance. I like to imagine that balance is similar to my favorite breakfast -- peanut butter toast. I wake up most mornings with the intention of having breakfast in general, and specifically, peanut butter toast. It goes with everything, which I appreciate when deciding between iced versus hot coffee. It is nutritious and tastes delicious. It's relatively cheap (unless you decide to swap out peanut butter for overly priced almond butter, which sometimes is necessary) and easy to make. It's portable; I can eat it standing up in the bathroom, sitting on the couch, at my work desk, in my car. It can also sub for lunch or dinner in a pinch.

(Stay with me.)

On ideal mornings, my peanut butter is distributed evenly and perfectly across my toast, which I eat as slowly as I like. But most mornings aren't "ideal" in the least. When I spread peanut butter across a piece of toast, it's rarely even. It often depends on the type of butter purchased -- smooth and creamy, crunchy and thick -- and inevitably it gets too thin on some corners of the toast and overly slopped on others. Every day, the peanut butter spreads a little differently, but it's still delicious and still counts as breakfast. And some mornings, I don't have time to make or eat it at all; it just doesn't happen, even if I want it to.

Balance is kinda like that. According to the above definition, it's a state where our weight is spread equally so we do not fall or lose control. So we don't fall off our bicycles. So we have the perfect ratio of peanut butter on our toast.

But if I imagine a balance scale, my life needs about 25 little bowls. Like you, I've got multiple categories vying for importance. Family. Friends. Health. Faith. Career. Relationships. Bills. Cleanliness. Rest. Activity. Inspiration. Creative Output. Appointments. Pets. Homes. Food. Community. Hobbies. Schedules. Etc. Not to mention how these categories adjust based on the time of year, with school and sports and vacations and holidays.balance scale

And I'm supposed to keep them all at the same level, all the time? It's impossible. Usually one is overflowing, one is totally empty, one's chain snapped in half, one is half-heavy, two are aligned at the same level, and one has completely disappeared. I mess up and say the wrong thing and forgot my to-do list and don't live up to my intentions and eat too much chocolate and sleep through alarms and spend money over budget, and more.

Which basically means that I "fail" at balance all the freaking time -- because I fall and lose control a lot. That's okay. The problem is that "balance" is too big of a concept. We hear "balance" and think "do all the things, perfectly and at once."

In yoga, we practice our balance during certain poses and the temptation is the same -- hold balance with ease, without a single wobble. I may try to move to handstand by gently lifting my leg instead of throwing it or kicking it up. I may try to find a slight pause, stacking hips over shoulders, and when my feet reach skyward, I may press into my hands to feel more grounded. I might pull my core in tight, flex the soles of my feet toward the ceiling and focus on all the little things I can do to STAY UP AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. And usually after about one breath, I come down, and think about all the ways I didn't do it "right." I admire the yogis who can go up in handstand easily and hang out there for what seems like forever, and handstand seems like such an "ideal" yoga posture -- because, all "good" yoga students need to be able to do handstand, right?

This is how we typically think of balance -- as if it's a place we can get to, if we do everything right and carefully, and once we arrive, we STAY there with all the other good, perfect people who have managed to figure it out.

Except ... we're wrong. Balance isn't a place; It's an ideal state, an archetypal idea. Balance isn't a set point of arrival; it's a back-and-forth, short-term position. Really, I think the only thing we should be aiming for is the third part of that Merriam-Webster definition, in which balance is when different things have an equal or proper amount of importance. But what happens when something is important to you, and yet you only prioritize it half the time? Does that mean you're not balanced? Does that mean you're failing?

dr. seuss

No. Lots of things are likely important to you, and these are probably the things that theoretically you want to give equal weight in your life. Maybe some days you do, but lots of days, that's probably not the case because it isn't realistic. Nobody can give 100% at all times to multiple priorities. That's why you must make choices as you see fit; balance shifts all the time -- based on different periods of your life, different times of year, different challenges and endeavors. Balance also looks different on every person; the things you might choose to prioritize may look like the opposite of balance to someone else.

Life also gets in the way. How often have you planned out your day to be just so and then the universe doesn't adhere? That happens to me constantly, and it can be frustrating, until you accept that balance is only an intention, and you can only do your best at prioritizing what's important to you each day as it comes. Sometimes that priority takes shape for an hour, or five minutes.

In yoga, poses always balance each other out. Inhales are followed by exhales. You push your body, and then you pull back to rest. Over and over. You find strength from the ground up, whether your feet are on the ground and everything looks normal, or your hands are on the ground and your world is upside down. You make small adjustments here and there, and learn where to hold on, and where to let go.

Balance is really a dance. So as you seek that equilibrium, in life or in your practice, find peace in the fact that it'll always be fleeting.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 11: Comparison

(One of my best friends from Chicago shared the above quote with me a long time ago, when we worked side-by-side in a tiny downtown office overlooking Michigan Avenue. We met as strangers fresh out of college -- eager to make a difference, passionate about words, curious about our faith-- and when we both moved on to other endeavors, stayed close. She is a soulmate friend; we don't talk or see each other as frequently as we'd like, but when it happens, it's like no time has passed at all. And every time I read or hear this quote, I think of her, grateful for our deep connection and the different things she's taught me.) comparison

In today's world, it's easy and tempting and common to get distracted by how something looks instead of how it feels. We pin our dream kitchens and brilliant craft projects. We tweet our accomplishments and funny jokes. We post professional photos of our families and positive life changes. We instagram our beautiful meals, our perfect relationships, our uncluttered desks, our carefully curated outfits, our commitments to exercise or positive thinking. We like to share using these mediums because we think it allows us to connect, and we end up spending an inordinate amount of time looking at what other people choose to share.

A fine line exists between connecting and comparing; the two may look identical, but one feels good and the other doesn't. It's that simple, and yet, it's more complicated. Connecting can bring about feelings of warmth, vibrancy, inspiration, closeness, joy, love, humor. Comparing often results in jealousy, pettiness, bitterness, angst, depression, paralysis. And every time we're presented with the snapshots of someone else's life, we likely feel the comparison part FIRST. Because we're human, and human beings are always on the lookout for ways to be better and have more.

  • Maybe you read something fantastic by a writer, or see some incredible photographs (insert creative product here), and think, Wow, he/she is so talented, this novel/photos are great, which means I should probably never try to do XYZ again because all the good things have already been said or done and it'd be a waste of time.
  • Or maybe you go to a yoga class, and the person next to you is offensively flexible, choosing all the up-levels for every single post, in a trendy yoga outfit, or you see a cool yogi picture online somewhere, and you think, Must be nice to just go to yoga all the time, this person probably doesn't have responsibilities or a job and that's why he/she can look so good and spend so much time being good at yoga, plus he/she was just BORN flexible which isn't even fair, how come I can't do handstand that gracefully? I suck. 
  • Or maybe you get a text from your college friends at a party six hours away from where you live, and think, Now they've got all these inside jokes that I won't ever be a part of, why do I live so far away, I hate that I can't go to everything and see all my friends all the time, my friends here are just not the same so this weekend I'm just going to stay home and pout about it, I mean it's cool that they had a good time but they didn't have to flaunt it all over Facebook.

Truth time: all those examples are my own. I'm human so I think not-nice thoughts sometimes. I know you do, too, because we all do.

But do I really believe that because other people wrote great books, the universe is like, "Oh, sorry, our quota has now been met for books written, you're out of luck." Of course not. I remind myself that someone else's creative journey or output has nothing to do with my own. The time I spent feeling sorry for myself? Could've used it for writing. Can I still be inspired by the things I read? Absolutely. But I want to use it as fuel for fine-tuning my own voice and encouragement for sticking to my writing habits and goals.

Do I really believe that I am terrible at yoga because of the person's practice next to me? Of course not. Focusing on someone else during yoga is the opposite of the whole POINT of yoga. It can also be the quickest route to acute distraction, or maybe even getting hurt, and therefore cultivating nothing positive out of my own experience. I remember one of the first classes I ever went to, where I felt dumb because I didn't know where to put my stuff in the studio, and self-conscious because the lady on the elevator was all decked out in expensive yoga clothes whereas I was wearing a t-shirt and random capri pants, and embarrassed because I had to take about 47 million breaks in class because I forgot water and didn't know it was even going to be a hot class plus could hardly hold myself up in plank.

Seriously -- I came across this anecdote in an old journal recently, and laughed out loud at my pitiful self. Because the thing is, that lady on the elevator probably didn't even give me a second thought. Everyone in that class probably didn't give me a second look, because they were (hopefully) focused on their own practice. It's not like that teacher from so long ago says to her friends, "Ha! Remember that one girl who came to class once and totally sucked? Man, I hope she's not out in the world, still practicing yoga." I mean, at the time, thought I was terrible, but it had nothing to do with anyone else. Other people spend way less time thinking about you then you think they do.

And do I really believe my friends should never get together unless I'm in town, and that they should hide evidence of doing so online to protect my delicate feelings? Of course not. I just miss them, that's all, and I wish I could be there, too.

highlight reel

On the other hand, I also forget that the highlight reel I choose to share can cause other people to have these same reactions. For example, during a recent dinner with friends, we got on the topic of the mermaid pose I had put on Instagram. Someone said, "Oh, I saw that, and then I thought, great, good thing I just sat on my couch all day like a loser instead of working out. Thank goodness you said how long it took you to get that pose!" She said it with kindness and laughter, but it got me thinking: when I share things online, I don't think about how it might make other people feel. I assume everyone else is just living their life. What I choose to share online is the good stuff of my life, the I-wanna-share-this! stuff, and the same goes for everybody else. So why do I insist on an apples-to-oranges comparison, one that brings me down?

I mean, I want a life that feels good to me, no matter how it looks to anyone else. And I want that same thing for the people I love as well as total strangers. How things or people appear is just that -- how they appear. Maybe true to real life, or maybe not. What we highlight in our quick conversations with coworkers and friends and family, what we share on social media -- those things are usually completely different than the behind-the-scenes footage of our lives.

Here's another example, one that has to do with minimalism. I love to think that I want a white, empty home with beautiful furniture and glossy countertops and everything in its ideal place, and I will pin the shit out of those images online for some reason. In my mind, that kind of style equals a type of person I want to be, or a point in time I want to reach -- one that is clear and direct and without mess or fuss or distraction. Which is an illusion, because I've never been that type of person.

living room

I'm a let's-take-the-long-road kind of person who sometimes isn't as direct as she needs to be, who often creates messes and enjoys the spontaneous nature of them, who likes stories and vibrant people and big love and exciting adventures, who is constantly distracted by the thirty different projects she's got going on. That means my home is always going to be a bit cluttered and eclectic and lived in. Do I ever wish I weren't like that? Sure. Am I always like that? No. I'm a complicated individual, just like everybody else.

All those people you've ever been jealous of, that you've compared yourself to? They've got their own smudged facets of life. Their own stories of love lost or deep depression or fear or loneliness or insecurity. When I remember this fact, I stop the comparison game. I can make all the assumptions and judgments I want about a person, but I actually never know what else they might be dealing with. I don't know all their stories, and vice versa. Still, our minds immediately jump to comparing, so it takes real mental strength and sense of self to slowly back away from that negativity. It's also a never-ending practice. Your ego wants to fluff itself up and hold fast to the comparison; heck, sometimes it's even satisfying to give into the jealousy and spite for a short moment. But it's not productive.

Or think of it this way: there's literally ALWAYS going to be someone that is "better" than you -- more attractive, smarter, funnier, richer, more organized, kinder, more stylish, more eloquent, more popular, more talented, and on and on. Always. So let the comparisons go, because you can't win. Which is sort of a relief -- when's there's no prize, you get to stop playing the game. In the game of comparisons, when you stop, you get to simply be you. 

All that time you've spent in the past comparing yourself and your life to other people is gone. You can't get it back. You wasted it. All that time you spend throughout your present days scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through all kinds of feeds to see what everyone else is saying, thinking, creating, doing ... that's also gone. And you have little to show for it. All that time you spend considering the future, when you'll be better or more than, is a distraction.Because all you have is right here, right now, with the body, mind, heart and soul you were given.

Don't let comparison steal your joy.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 10: Rest

rest 2Wednesday night, I went to dinner with a few awesome girlfriends. Our conversation veered in all kinds of directions: blogging, digital strategy, writing, co-working spaces, career goals, conferences, social media and so on. I noticed two things.

First, the subject of relationships hardly came up (except for a quick Tinder story and a breakdown of "significant other" v. "life partner" titles). I found that refreshing; though I love talking about relationships, sometimes there's an assumption that that's all women do talk about. Which isn't true. I remember watching Sex and the City in college and thinking, don't they talk about anything else, ever? One of my favorite episodes is when Miranda calls her friends out for that exact thing. I talk about all sorts of things with my female friends, and while sometimes relationships dominate the conversation depending on what's going on, there's also plenty of other things to discuss, both mundane and serious.

Second, one friend shared an excellent tip for business brainstorming: read as much as you can, on all sorts of topics, and then use post-it notes to jot down the key concepts, ideas or thoughts you come across. Save notes in one place, and every so often, just look at all the notes together. Notice patterns and see where your mind wanders, because you might stumble onto something novel. (This is apparently how the founder of Priceline came up with his idea.)

I like this idea so much. There is so much to read, all the time -- articles and books and stories, online or not -- and it can be hard to remember to go back to the things you've already read and actually use the tips, think about the ideas, and so on. You have to take time to see how the pieces of information might fit together. It's why creative types recommend taking long showers or walks or breaks throughout your process -- because you need time to just let it all sink in, and that's when you usually have the next breakthrough.

pause 2

Similarly in your life, it's so important to take the time to reflect what you've already done or experienced, instead of moving full speed ahead with blinders on. And in yoga, savasana is one of the hardest poses because you're not supposed to do anything during it. Your only job is to ... relax, rest, and enjoy the benefits of your practice.

So instead of fitting in a yoga class on Wednesday, I did a couple Sun A salutations at home and then focused on nourishing a few new friendships. And there was a moment at dinner, with our wine and pizza, where I looked around the table and felt grateful to be surrounded by such bright energy. Physical rest rejuvenates our bodies, but resting in the presence of other people sustains our spirits.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 9: Vulnerability

IMG_1973 Six years ago, when I went to my first yoga class, I would have looked at the above pose (also known as mermaid) and thought: uhh, no. I've always had super tight hips, hamstrings and quads, so this pose seemed like it was only for crazy flexible people. Since then, every time it came up in class, or I saw someone else doing it in real life or online, I thought the same thing: nope. Occasionally I would try it again to discover that ... yep, still couldn't do it.

Then I just stopped trying altogether.

But on Tuesday night, after an incredible heart-opening practice, we transitioned to half-pigeon and my instructor offered the variation of mermaid. I didn't think about it, I just ... started to move into it with my mind offering casual commentary.

Bending my knee ... that actually feels like a good stretch, for once ... leg lifts, reach back ... oh, here's my foot? weird okay other arm is lifting ... I'll just reach back and ... hello, hand. 

Then of course my ego was like F*CK YEAH! and I completely lost my focus and breath and came out of it. But for a few moments, it was like the puzzle pieces of this one pose I never thought I would ever do gently snapped into place, and all of a sudden I was doing the impossible.

It felt great to accomplish something like that, but more importantly, I noticed how surprised I was. I had no intention, before class or during, to try that pose. I guarantee if I had been stressing about getting into the posture, it wouldn't have happened. Chances are, if I had started stressing about exactly how my body should move or what it should look like or how can I force my way into it, I probably wouldn't have even tried.

We do this a lot in life -- try something new, and if we're not amazing awesome perfect at it the very first time, we call it quits. Somewhere along the way, we internalized this idea of excellence and action: that we should only do the things we're great at, and stop doing anything we're immediately not great at. Or we take it a step further. We try something new, experience a challenge or feeling of frustration, and that often feels icky, so then we assume all new things equal that negative feeling. And we stop trying, unconsciously or not. We don't like feeling vulnerable or less than for even a SECOND, not at our jobs, not with the people we love, not at our hobbies, not with our goals. Not ever, really.

Tara at Tea and Cookies tells a story about this: once she heard about a fantastic writing fellowship, and she really wanted it. But she didn't apply, because she was scared of not getting it and she didn't think she was good enough. Since her fear prevented her from applying for it, that meant she absolutely didn't get it, because she didn't even throw her hat in the ring for the chance.

After that, she decided she would apply for anything and everything she wanted. She would always give herself the opportunity to be selected. Tara said,

"Because, at the end of the day, they can still say no. The powers that be can tell me I’m not a good fit—but I shouldn’t be doing that job myself. Who knows if I would have been picked for the fellowship, but I made sure that I wasn’t. I rejected myself [let me repeat that: I rejected myself]."

How often have you rejected yourself before anyone else gets the chance? It happens when you tell yourself something you want won't work out, that you're not good enough, that you shouldn't even attempt it. We want to be open to love and change and growth and newness, because we know that's what makes life worth living, but we get in our own way all the time.

There's a running joke in my family about my mom and her sunglasses. She always has a pair on her head, sometimes even two pairs, but once in a while, she'll be running around the house frantically looking for her shades. And then one of us tells her, "Mom, they're right on your head!" And she reaches up, laughs, and discovers that, oh, yes, they are, because that's where she put them and that's where they always are. What helps her see, what she thought, was right on top of her head the whole time.

That moment of panic, of searching -- in yoga, it's when we start to lose our breath. It's that feeling of, I'm going to fall, I'm going to collapse, I'm going to look stupid, I can't do this. It's overwhelming, like when you dive into a deep swimming pool and on your way back up, you realize you don't have enough breath for a few seconds before breaking through to the surface.

In life, the feeling is called vulnerability. Its the times where you try something new, tell the truth, change up your routine, fully connect with someone, offer up your heart or your vision. It kind of sucks, in an exhilarating sort of way, but there's something beautiful on the other side of the uncertainty if you simply stay to see. Every time we are vulnerable, we take a risk, and the risks we take are in direct proportion to the fullness of our lives.

Part of being vulnerable means trusting that the things you want -- the things you are desperately seeking -- are already within you. Or they were right in front of your face; you were just too busy pushing and pulling your gaze elsewhere. It means allowing yourself to enjoy something whether or not you're any "good" at it, and it means taking chances on the things that really move your heart, mind, soul and spirit, just to see what happens.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 8: Can't Fake the Core

When my high school boyfriend broke my heart, my best friend sent me a note with this quote: door closes

That started my life-long fascination with doors. Like this Death Cab song. And the set of Clifton Henri prints I recently bought at the Des Moines Art FestivalI like how doors represent choices; it's reassuring to know that there is always another one around the corner, and at the same time, it can be a little terrifying if you're like me and ... want all the options, all the time. It's not that I'm indecisive. It's that I don't like the finality of closing doors; I want it all, or at least, the possibility of it all. I want to travel and yet feel grounded in a single place. I want commitment and freedom. I want a lot of things that run alongside each other or are perhaps exact opposites, and that can be hard to manage.

Even if I know which door I'd like to choose in a given situation, I still have that knee-jerk, panic button reaction of, Wait! What if I want this one instead?! And then sometimes I try to select all the options, and that just never works out because, well, you can't walk through multiple doors at one time. You don't get unlimited opportunities to explore everything -- as others have put it, you can do anything but not every thing. 

door prints

I heard once (in yoga class, obvs) that for a strong core, you need a strong spine, because your gut requires your backbone. That visual really connects the dots in terms of decision-making: if you feel something in your core, people often say it's your truth, your third eye, your intuition. But it's easy to ignore that voice or sense, which can have minor or major consequences. Acting upon a core feeling means trusting in your own stamina to get through whatever hurdles or challenges might come along the way.

To make matters even more difficult, sometimes the right door is really ugly and beaten-up and the exact opposite of the door you thought you wanted, the pretty, shiny, new one. You can't see what's behind each one, so you might try to guess, and you might guess wrong. That uncertainty is part of life, part of living and growing. Because if you simply stand still and pretend like you don't have to walk through any door, you end up ... in a boring room standing still all by yourself. That's no fun, is it?

On Monday, I taught two classes that were very different: one in a small place with three students, and another at a corporate gym with five times that many. One of the coolest-- and scariest -- aspects of teaching is that you never know what you're going to get. And when I say "get," I mean, teaching is not about you at all, so it's not about what you literally "get" out of it. It's that you can plan an incredible sequence, with great music, and the perfect quote to share ... and then you show up, and half your class has no clue what you're talking about in downward-facing dog, or the stereo isn't working, or you were going to do boat pose on a block but there aren't enough blocks, or people keep talking to one another during class, etc. (Aka, this may have been exactly what happened between the two classes...)

Then you're all, OKAY, universe, I shall scrap my plans.

cat hands

Now, that doesn't mean you literally throw up your hands and walk out. It just means when you entered the space and came through the door, figuratively or not, you had some preset expectations, and today maybe you were wrong, because you can't predict the future. (I have to remind myself that I can't predict the future, like, three times a day.)

When I finally made it to my own mat Monday night, wooooooo, boy. She asked us to think about our comfort zones -- how the thing we really want to do can be super scary, because we don't know exactly how it will turn out -- and how venturing outside of them often leads to the biggest rewards. Then I realized that class might be kinda hard. And it was. About halfway through, I was about 16 miles outside of my comfort zone. I was so tired and hot and sweaty. I kept waiting for half pigeon, but we just. continued. flowing. Afterwards, a friend echoed my sentiments exactly: "Wasn't there a point when you just thought, there's no way we're not done yet?" Ha. I got home and immediately showered, ate dinner, then relaxed on the couch with a magazine and a pint of ice cream (<-- buy this now)*.

Today I'm sore in weird places, which is a good thing. It's a reminder. In yoga, we get really set in our poses, we think we've got them down pat, so we stop trying as hard. Same with life. Everything gets routine -- our meals, our conversations, our relationships, the things we read and watch and see and experience -- which can cause us to slack off, to anticipate comfort and ease at all times. But I don't think that's really what any of us want in this one, short life we get to live, and it's not how life works. **

Go outside your comfort zone. Choose doors that you normally wouldn't, and let the ones you've already chosen or not chose slam shut. Honor your core and your spine, your truth and your strength. Make choices based on the knowledge you have about yourself and your situation and the world in the present moment, and then move on. (Shout-out to my mama for that advice!) Know that walking your own path will absolutely feel uncertain and scary and wildly uncomfortable at times, but:

don't look back

*Not an affiliate link 

**The kinds of ruts I'm describing have nothing to do with depression or anxiety; I'm focusing on the normal ebbs and flows of life. I feel like this is important to say in light of the tragic death of Robin Williams, and the difficult journeys so many people are on.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 7: Music to my Ears

2012-music-topic-al-green (I'll get to Al Green in a moment...)

Sometimes I forget that yoga is fun and just feels damn good. I get too caught up in doing all the poses perfectly instead of just, you know, enjoying it. It's a life lesson in general -- sometimes we get caught up in our routines and forget to have fun and feel good whenever possible.

My teacher for Sunday night's class described yoga as sensual, and she's right, though I've never thought about it that way. I mean, we learn about senses in preschool and kindergarten, but somewhere along the way, it's easy to hardly give them a moment's thought.

But yoga is allllll about being in tune with your senses.

Consider how you see, touch, taste, smell and hear during yoga. You see yourself in the mirror, maybe adjusting your alignment, maybe noticing that you're checking your fellow yogi out a little too much! At least one part of your body touches your mat and the ground at all times. You taste a cool sip of water during a quick break, and smell incense or essential oils during child's pose or savasana. (Or maybe you smell some sweat and B.O., that happens too.)  You hear the voice of your instructor, the whoosh of your breath, the notes of a music playlist, or complete silence.

That's called being present. At the bare minimum, if you're alive and your senses are intact, then you should cultivate gratitude for that fact alone. I know I take my senses for granted until they're  momentarily threatened: when I have a stuffy nose like last week or burn my taste buds on something hot or feel a pain in my foot or get something in my eye.

So back to Sunday night, which featured Al Green and lots of R&B grooviness, and it rocked. There's nothing quite like being in the middle of a packed room singing to Prince during a long prayer twist! For me, music is one of the best parts of yoga, and life. Music can touch your heart and soul, make you laugh and dance, articulate something you're feeling, and cause you to forget all your problems. In yoga, it can help you slow down your breathing, feel grounded, move with intention and grace during Sun B, power through a chaturanga, find your focus during balance series, fully relax into a spinal twist, and more. I love attending classes with great music, and it can really vary: top 40, indie, rock, oldies, instrumental, EDM, or no music at all. Each adds its own unique benefit to the vibe of your yoga practice.

In the spirit of music, here are my top one, two, three, four, five, okay six, favorite tunes right now for yoga and ... singing in the car.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 6: Seeing through Feelings

Before owning a dog, I looked forward to the gloriousness of Saturday mornings, where I could sleep in as long as I wanted. Those days are gone. Stanley wants out at 6 a.m. at the latest and to eat by 7 a.m., so lately I am becoming a grown-up and slowly understanding the beauty of weekend mornings. Gratuitous puppy photo:

IMG_1960

The best thing about going to yoga at 7 a.m. on a Saturday? You're done with your workout, you feel all loose and limber and relaxed, and you get to take a nap later (well, I bribe myself with this sometimes). Then by noon, it feels like you've been awake FOREVER and you end up being pretty productive because there's just so much time to DO things all day.

Class was super hot, super packed, and taught by a favorite instructor. She mentioned "seeing through feelings" -- how we create a lot of stories, full of feelings, and we bring those to our mats. But lots of times, those stories are false. They are just feelings. It's up to us to see through them, and know that all feelings are fleeting, particularly negative ones.

Here's a story: as a kid, my parents encouraged me to try lots of different kinds of extra-curricular activities. But they had two rules:

finish what you startmove

I learned pretty quickly that ... Mom and Dad were serious about these rules. Even if my sisters and I HATED whatever we signed up for within the first day or week, we had to see it through the end of the season or session. And looking back, my parents didn't really seem to care what we chose, within reason, so we had the freedom to choose what sounded fun.

Over the years, rule #1 taught me the value of commitment: when you say you're going to do something, and you verbally make that commitment to someone else, it's important to follow through. And if you're paying money for something, that's another good reason, but mostly, it's less about the money and more about character-building. Rule #2 introduced me to a love of moving: not for the sake of exercise, but to be healthy, to respect your body, to push your physical limits and cultivate endurance, strength, agility for a longer life.

So in sixth grade, I joined the basketball team. I mostly wanted to hang out with my friends, many of whom were on the team, and I probably wanted to be liked as well, and many of the "popular" girls played basketball.

Except ... I was terrible. Stick-thin, gangly, and afraid of the ball hitting my face, I avoided the playing aspect of basketball as much as possible. (Unsurprisingly, I also avoided volleyball, kickball, four square, etc.) I remember desperately wishing that nobody would pass me the ball, a wish that usually came true, because I would just pass it off to someone else as quickly as possible.

My mom recalls that one day, the coach called her over and said, "Do you think Julia is enjoying being on the team? And playing?" And Mom said, "Yeah, I guess ... what do you mean?" Coach: "Well, during a game the other day, she complimented someone's hair bow." (What can I say? Politeness was also prioritized in our home.)

I made one basket the entire season, and it was for the other team. Ha.

exasperated

Being an awful basketball player didn't traumatize me; in fact, I only remember the little I shared above. But that experience happens over and over again in life. We try something. We're not that great at it. We hate it and want to quit. Sometimes we stick it out, and discover we want to keep trying, or something we realize it's not for us.

Even the stuff we do that we love can be a struggle or flat-out boring sometimes. I love writing, but most days, I don't like the process of sitting down at my computer. I like having money in the bank, but I don't like sticking to my budget. I put off calling my grandma, but I don't like feeling disconnected from her. I would rather eat a cookie than a salad, but I also want to feel good and energetic. And so on. It is never-ending; excitement goes hand in hand with practicality.

In yoga, we practice using our breath to move through challenging postures. I can't tell you how many times I've been in half-pigeon wondering when the F it is going to be over. When a teacher makes me hold Warrior II for five breaths instead of three, I'm like OMG YOU LIED. Some days, the second I get to my mat, I want to get up and walk out. The tedium of practicing every day, of doing the same postures, can get to me.

This, of course, is where the real work -- the real yoga -- begins. I stay. I do the work. I show up. And it gets better, because all that resistance and negativity and general feelings of Ugh, I don't wannaaaaa eventually passes.

Because commitment is kind of boring sometimes. That's the reality nobody likes to talk about; we would rather talk about the shiny, fun, pretty parts. But commitment has its ups and downs. There are days when we don't really feel like doing the work. There are moments when we are full of fear and discomfort and self-criticism. There are times when we are angry with ourselves for not being perfect like, all the time. But guess what? It all passes, sooner or later. Even the good feelings of happiness of contentment, they too slip through our fingers, which is why we need to be present in order to cherish them.

Those pesky negative stories and feelings will blind us at first, and when they rise up, we start to think we will always feel this way. That can be terrifying or paralyzing or both. Seeing through feelings, in a sense, is that pause or moment when you realize that it (whatever it is) will pass. Even if the feelings come back (chances are, they probably will). It doesn't mean shove them under a rock, ignore them, deny them.

Basically, it's treating yourself as a toddler, as one of my wise yogi instructors described it. Its saying to yourself, kindly, "Wow, that was a lot of self-criticism/anger/fear/sadness right then. Whew. Am I done now? Okay, good. Moving on." It's rising above to actually SEE your small human self being a petulant child in the corner -- the self that really just wants to be liked and accepted at all times -- and then giving yourself some love. It means accepting that grief, anger, sadness -- pain, in a word -- will not last forever. Feelings come and go for a reason, but you get to decide how long they stick around.

See what's on the other side of your feelings. Move from that place.

 

#YogaEveryDamnDay 5: Speak Your Truth

Noticing your breath helps you notice your inner light -- you know, the one that (as Cheryl Strayed puts it) goes blink, blink, blink when you're on the right track, when you're aligned with your values and integrity. Using your breath helps you use your voice to speak your truth. And there's no way around it: speaking your truth is hard, and sometimes it's confusing to know which truth is the real truth, because usually a few exist simultaneously.

fear and growth

It's really, really hard to locate and speak your truth, and anyone who has jumped over the cliff doing so will not tell you otherwise. It takes work, because you will find that you will go to speak, the words might get lodged in your throat -- for a day, maybe for forever.

Fear makes speaking truth difficult. It's naturally not enjoyable to hurt other people, or inconvenience them, or make them uncomfortable or rock the boat of what's familiar. It can be downright excruciating. I personally hate it.

That's why it takes practice. And practicing means that sometimes you won't get it quite right. You'll mistake the wrong truth for the right one, you'll hurt somebody along the way, you'll mess up and fall down.

We have to practice tuning into our Witness (as my yoga teacher today so eloquently described it), our inner voice that is full of compassion and withholds judgment, the voice that guides us to clarity.

Elizabeth Gilbert describes it a different way; she says it's

this older part of me, this calm, sedate, affectionate, forgiving, wise soul that watches my comings and goings and my spastic fears and desires and anger and all the stuff that pulls on me and intercepts me before I get dragged too far away from myself. And she just says, very sweetly and with a kind of amusement, do you really want to go through this again? Because if you do, I'll do it with you. But, maybe we don't want to do this again. Maybe we want to actually remember what we learned and do a different thing. That's the central miracle of my entire life, I would say, is meeting that voice. I think that's the highest attainment of my life. And hopefully, that's mine to keep. But, I don't take it for granted. And I know how easy it is to be swept away from that. That's what spiritual practice is for. It's to solidify that channel and to make sure that you get to have it.

The more we hear that voice, and listen to it, the more we can grow. The more we speak our truth, the more we can break out of the silence of our old patterns and habits. The more we use our breath to find our voice with strength and honesty, the lighter we feel. Lightness lets us rise up, so that we can discover transformation, within ourselves and within the world.

But it's hard, and it's endless, and it takes practice.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 4: Priorities

drama yoga I remember when I thought practicing yoga once a week or once every two weeks was plenty. Don't get me wrong, that sort of frequency is completely fine, because everyone's yoga experience is their own, and how often you go to yoga or how much of it you do depends on all kinds of different factors that are all very personal.

After I went through teacher training and got used to practicing every day either at home or at a studio, #yogaeverydamnday became a life habit, something essential to my wellbeing and part of my routine. (That's why I chose the image above -- it's funny because it's true, once you embrace the yogi lifestyle, you become that weird person who is like, let it go! Breathe! Align yourself with the universe! About everything. And you look at people stressing and just want to hug them. Then non-yogi people give you the side eye.)

Anyway, I still take days off all the time, but being FORCED to rest this week due to illness was out of my control, and consequently, I haaaaaated not being able to at least do a downward facing dog.

I made it to class tonight, though, and it was hot and sweaty and perfect. We set a mantra at the beginning, talked about our "I Will" statements for the challenge, and focused on either that or a small one for the duration of class. Mine was, "I will take it easy." Which meant lots of breaks and lots of child's pose and few chaturangas. It felt so good to move, slowly and with intention, and the heat actually helped clear out some of the congestion in my head, throat and chest. Go figure.

Emily kindly snapped my polaroid for the studio challenge. It says, "I will . . . prioritize what's important to me."

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Doing that keeps me healthy, emotionally and mentally and spiritually and physically, and in turn helps me be a better person to everyone I love. It also forces me to grow with integrity and grace as an individual, so that I can hopefully make small, positive changes in the world and my community with the skills and abilities I've been given.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 3: Saying No

Today, I skipped yoga again. Because while catching up with my sister on G-chat this afternoon, I mentioned still feeling sick and complained about blowing my nose a million times and she replied, "Maybe you should back off from some stuff, and be a little lazy."lazy It's good advice. I'm often a people-pleaser, a yes-(wo)man, when it comes to participating in things, seeing friends, planning my days and weeks, and sticking to a schedule of short and long term goals.

For example, right now, here are my major commitments:

  • Working a full-time communications job
  • Teaching yoga 2-3 times a week
  • Serving as an Art Center Big Hair Ball event co-chair
  • Writing freelance articles for Silicon Prairie News
  • Teaching a composition class at Des Moines Area Community College starting in 2 weeks

I'm not complaining. I chose all those things and feel lucky to be a part of them. But it's a lot. And as much as I like to think I function best at high-speed, sometimes I over-commit. I'm guessing many of you can relate!

I end up with a packed schedule of great things, and then try to squeeze in seeing friends and family (who mostly live several hours away), going out for drinks or dinner with people here, focusing on my own yoga practice, going for runs or walks with Stanley, blogging, reading, volunteering, having a clean apartment, cooking, etc. I try to say yes to as much as possible, even when I know that saying no better serves my body, mind, heart and soul.

It's impossible to do it all, yet it's always tempting to want to experience every option life has to offer. Instead, I have to remember that doing nothing -- relaxing, being lazy -- is just as important as doing everything else.

So today, I said no wherever I could. I said no when my alarm clock went off for early yoga. I said no to the extra things that popped into my work email inbox, and focused on the priorities. I taught a yoga class, and figured that serving others counted for my practice today instead of trying to get to a class or to the gym. I went to a meeting with energetic, wonderful people and drank green tea. I said no to going out for drinks after. I bought chicken soup for dinner and watched Bachelor in Paradise (This show! So, so, so hilariously awful) and Pretty Little Liars on the couch. I ate banana soft serve with thin mints for dessert.

Tomorrow is a new day. (And I hope this cold is gone then, too.)

leo babauta

(image sources: 1 & 2, Pinterest)

 

#YogaEveryDamnDay 2: Backing Down

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Naturally, the second I publicly state I will do 30 days of yoga and write about it every day... I wake up with a terrible cold. The stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing has actually been slowly building over the past few days, and despite popping Day-Quil, drinking green juice and kombucha, and trying to get extra hours of sleep, it's now in full force. I think colds are particularly annoying because you're typically not sick enough to stay home and do nothing, which means you are still obligated to go to work or should probably get things done, but you feel miserable along the way.

When preaching "inhale, exhale" yesterday to myself and students in class, I realized that I take for granted most days that I inhale, exhale just fine on my own. Until I can't breathe in and out very easily or practically at all -- and then I am envious of all the people who aren't blowing their nose 247 times a day.

So this morning, when my alarm went off at 5:40 a.m., I hit snooze. Because the thought of downward dog at 6 a.m. made me cringe, and I didn't think other yogis would appreciate me bringing a box of Kleenex to class, and I figured my body preferred the extra sleep. I might make it to my mat later today, or I might just do a couple Sun A salutations and stretches at home and call it good. Either way, it'll be okay.

If you're a type-A personality like me, then you often set lots of goals for yourself and overbook your schedule and say yes to everything and everyone and forget that at some point, your physical and emotional health will suffer because of all the moving and yes-ing. Every time I forget that truth, I'm quickly reminded: I get sick. I'm forced to cool it down, to back down, to take care of myself.

Shauna Niequist puts it perfectly; she writes,

"I love it when a day’s activities stack up on top of each other perfectly, from breakfast to work to lunch to grocery shopping to coffee, all the way through till I fall into bed. I love days when you’re always leaving something early to arrive just a touch late at the next place, like pearls on a string or Tarzan swinging on vines, feet never touching the ground. Or really, I love the idea of that way of living, so I sign myself up for it every chance I get. And then I realize in the moment that it isn’t what I wanted at all.... A full life is not the same as a full calendar."

So today, the lesson is this: it's okay that I planned to practice yoga every day for a month and then on day 2 I have to bail. Really. It's okay. Because I'm not actually bailing on my intention. I'm only "failing" in my own mind.

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See, the mind and ego want to say that stretching at home isn't a workout, isn't yoga, doesn't "count", isn't "worth it." But why not? Why doesn't that count? Who cares how it looks or what it's worth? Is it worth it to me? Does it feel good and right to me? Is this (whatever "this" is) the best thing I can do today, the best thing for my body today? (Ha - I automatically wrote "the most" instead of "the best" in that sentence . . . just goes to show how often our minds focus on quantity over quality!) Maybe, maybe not. But every person gets to decide that for themselves; that's one of the beautiful lessons of yoga.

Start to notice the fullness of your life versus your calendar, as well as how rest and activity intertwine. Are you pushing when you need to be resting? Are you racing around being busy in order to distract yourself from, well, yourself?

And if you are still resisting a moment of rest in your life, choose to be inspired by this guy:

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Puppies are good at resting.

(image sources: 1 & 2, Pinterest)

#YogaEveryDamnDay Challenge: Day 1

inhale exhale 2 One of the local yoga studios around here kicked off its "20 for 30" challenge, where the goal is to attend 20 classes in 30 days. This studio has held this specific challenge a few times before, and I think I was in teacher training during the last one, so I was already practically living at class most of the week and didn't make any major changes to my schedule.

This time, however, is different. I'm still practicing most days, but certainly not every day, and I notice -- physically and emotionally -- when I take a few days off. (i.e., I am stiff and cranky!) So I decided to up the ante and attempt to not only make it to my mat 30 times in 30 days, but blog about it every day (!) and reflect along the way.

The "20 for 30" theme this month is "I will . . . " -- fill in the blank with whatever declaration you want, something you will do or maybe will stop doing. There's a lot of great social media activity surrounding the challenge, with people sharing their "I will" statement. (Of course, upon seeing all the "I will" declarations about healthy living, I immediately thought about the connections to Lent, but I'll save that for another blog post.)

Mine is pretty simple: I will prioritize what's important to me. To me. 

Things that are important: family, friends, faith, sleep, writing, reading, eating energizing foods, drinking water, being active, yoga, enjoying the sunshine.

Things that aren't important: television, wasting time on the internet, lingering on social media (especially first thing in the morning or right before bed), gossiping, eating sugar, drinking too much alcohol, being lazy on the couch.

You get the drift. Part of the busy complex that's going around is that we're all spending too much time doing the things we think we should do, instead of what soothes our souls and is important to us. Everyone's to-do list has some core items on it, like go to work, brush your teeth, pay your bills, etc. But with the rest of one's day, the little pockets of free time, notice what you're doing. Are you looking down at your phone? Zoning out in front of the television? Basically, are you wasting your precious time, your present moment being alive in this body, in this mind, in this spirit, in this life? Or are you cherishing it?

Starting today, alongside that intention, I aim to practice #yogaeverydamnday and share thoughts about it here.

savasana

Today, I made it to a 6 a.m. class and had the honor of practicing right between two friends, which always feels secure and fun. We exhaled the old, inhaled the new, and listened to our bodies. I noticed that my mind was ALL over the place, likely because of a very busy work week full of meetings, teaching yoga classes, all the new stuff I mentioned above and plenty of social obligations.

And I thought of something I try to say in every yoga class I teach (this morning was a perfect practice what you preach moment!):

Everything your mind is racing to, all the long lists and obligations and fears and anxieties, all those things will still be there for you after this moment; your hurried brain and your ego will still be waiting for you after class whether you relax right now or not. So you might as well embrace this time for yourself, this gift of yoga that YOU chose to prioritize today, and breathe.

Exhale all the old, inhale all the new.