You can’t log on to Pinterest or Facebook without getting bombarded by inspirational quotes. Social media becoming a tool to spread good will and encouragement. But, here’s a question to ponder — why do people post those quotes? Is it because they really want to share the positive energy with others, or are they doing it for themselves in the vein of ‘write it down make it happen’, or is it for a sense of accountability? After all, if you’re going to blast it to the universe that you’re this spreader of positivity, you’d darn better be positive!
I suppose the answer is, all of the above.
I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who tends to post more than a few of these feel-good messages. She explained that her Facebook timeline is usually a pretty good indication of the type of day she’s having. The more motivational messages, the worse the days she’s probably having. Her theory here is that if she puts it out there, the words serve as a source of encouragement in her own mind.
We went on to talk about her bad days, and specifically something she posted recently about giving someone else the power to ruin her day.
This is where the yogi in me kicked in.
I suggested the idea that just as somebody else’s behaviors are taken with a certain meaning and given meaning based on our own thoughts, so too are motivational quotes. We are drawn to and assign maning to these quotes based on our own thoughts at that moment and how they can apply to our own lives. All of this is counter to the teachings of yoga about non-attachment.
Yoga Sutra 1.12 says:
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah: These thought-forms are mastered through practice and non-attachment.
Explained, this says that it is through two things, (1) the practice of yoga and (2) the practice of non-attachment, that we are able to control the rippling thoughts of the mind. In other words, if you can separate yourself from action that take place outside yourself, then you can gain control of your mind and ultimately reach a state of peace – or samadhi.
Of course, nobody is saying non-attachment is easy. Sometimes just putting happy thoughts in our heads and even posting them on facebook seems a whole lot easier! But, for one, this is temporary, and, second, it’s really just sort of a band-aid and doing nothing to actually help you deal with the reason you need encouraging thoughts.
Here’s another way to think about non-attachment. It’s the idea of reality versus our story. Something happens, and we assign meaning to it. In the case of a comment or a shrug by someone else, it’s usually a negative meaning. In the case of positive affirmations, it’s a meaning that encourages us to cheer up and think happy thoughts. Either way, the meaning is colored by our minds.
The idea of non-attachment takes the meaning out and allows us to look at whatever event is driving us to the affirmation as simply an event, void of meaning.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying affirmations are bad. In fact, they’re great. They serve a wonderful purpose in helping us average humans who still struggle with non-attachment, find positivity in challenges. And the fact that they’re blasted all over Facebook with people sharing positivity with others is super encouraging. But, what I am saying is that if we’re seeking the words of others as a way to find happiness, well, that’s about as bad as looking to others to find happiness within ourselves.
And with that, I leave you with this quote from Maya Angelou, that, yes, I applied meaning to and it seemed apropros:
Have you ever noticed how powerful messages that you really need to hear keep repeating themselves?
A few months ago, coincidentally right after I got a speeding ticket, someone at my acupuncturist’s office repeated a favorite – and profound – quote to me about the healing process. She said, “slow down to hurry up.” Meaning if you take the healing process slowly, it is likely to happen in less time than if you try to rush through it in a way your body isn’t ready for. By rushing, you will only cause more damage.
Then, today, the same message repeated itself, and, of course, the timing couldn’t have been more apropos.
I heard Allan Hamilton, M.D., a neurosurgeon and author of Zen Mind, Zen Horses, talking on NPR. One of the questions he was asked was about his quote regarding moving slow to move fast. It was the same sort of idea, telling patients that a treatment or therapy will take potentially a longer period of time than it really is likely to. By doing that, they don’t expect quicker results and they can be more patient with their bodies.
It occurred to me how many places in our lives this can be applied.
I am currently in a situation where I have a particularly hectic month coming up. I oversee special projects at the 24 hour news channel where I work. This includes political coverage. That means 2012, being an election year, would be quite busy regardless of other events. Now, add to it that the Republican Convention is in our city; and, suffice it to say, that ante just went up by a magnitude I can only begin to imagine.
There are plenty of people I work with who are excited about the event and the onslaught of 50,000 people to Tampa.
Me? I really want it over!
Don’t get me wrong, it will be exciting. But one thing I’ve learned about politics is that it can bring out the extremes in people. Politics, for all the good it is intended to do, somehow reaches deep down and finds the most emotional chord possible in people and tugs on it hard.
People get mean. And, thanks to electronic communication which allows for some anonymity – or at least faceless communication – people are not afraid to say what they think… forgetting that there’s someone on the other end hearing it or reading it.
It’s this part of politics that I really struggle with… and I can only imagine what that’s going to mean for the RNC coverage.
This has brought up in me a feeling of just wanting to get it over with. More than a few times lately I’ve uttered the line, “Is it Sept. 1 yet?” (for those of you lucky enough to not know, the RNC is Aug 27-30)
Then this morning, after hearing that interview it occurred to me Sept 1 is almost a full month away! 20-something days now. A lot can happen in 20-something days and by living with this mindset, I am living so far from the present and turning a blind eye to the possibilities and beauty in front of me. Instead, I am so focussed on these 20-something days being over.
The result of which is likely going to be:
1. A feeling like it’s really taking forever
2. Missing out on what’s happening in front of me
and, most importantly,
3. A reduced ability to really plan and put attention where it needs to be in order to create a good outcome.
Reality is, I can’t make those 20-something days go faster or slower. There are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. The more I wish each one of those seconds gone, the less time I’m going to have to set myself up for success. The more I focus on getting past it, the more I’m setting myself up for something less than excellence.
Time is what it is. Every second is a gift and only by being present in each and every second, can we really make the most of it.
Time is fragile. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and you can’t bring it back.
Nobody ever said being present is easy. It’s why we practice yoga… and then practice some more… and then practice some more, because being present will make the future that much better.
Ok, so I’ll admit… I may be a little presumptuous to 1. consider myself a runner, 2. say that yoga has officially ‘helped’ my running in the long-term sense, but what I can say with certainty, is that it did help my run today!
I used to run. At my best I could do about 9 miles without completely wanting to collapse and I did manage to finish a half marathon. It was an amazing sense of accomplishment, not to mention I was in probably in the best physical condition of my adult life.
And then, age hit. Or, maybe not age, but life snuck in. I wasn’t treating my body with the care that I probably should have considering the demands I was putting on it between running, yoga and a high-stress job in an insane work environment. My hip started to hurt. Then my toe started to throb regularly. Eventually, I threw in the towel, gave in to the aches and pains, and I put away my running shoes.
Lately though, I’ve had an aching desire to get out there and get sweaty. Or maybe it’s just that as much as yoga keeps my mind and parts of my body toned, my leg muscles seem to be wasting away and my the size of my thighs seems to be increasing.
So, on the weekends when I can get out on the road before the heat turns St. Pete into a sauna, I’ve been tying up my sneakers and attempting to run.
Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been easy. I struggle. A lot. And I walk. A lot.
Today, though, I tried to incorporate some lessons from the mat to get me through the run, and lo and behold, they helped.
1. Shoulders down the back, expand the heart forward. That’s been the greatest lesson I’ve taken from doing so much Anusara style yoga. The heavy concentration on sliding the shoulder blades down the back and extending the heart forward. It opens the chest and allows you to breath deeper. In life it helps to calm the mind. By applying it while running, I found it helps you take in more oxygen, breathe deeper and not get so winded.
2. Lengthen the body – top of the head toward the sky, ground the feet. Another really important lesson on the mat and on the road. Doing it in yoga helps keep you grounded. Doing it in day to day life does boosts your confidence. And doing it while running helps with posture. I find myself looking down and hunching over when I run. Normally, to get out of this habit, I end up just trying to look ahead, but I reazlied that by focusing on lengthening the body, I stand straighter and flow better.
3. You are a warrior. I recently completed a few Kathryn Budig practices on yogaglo that focused on strenght called “Summon Your Strength” and “You are a pillar of strength”. Part of the class had us holding warrior and goddess poses for an extended period of time until our legs were burning. And, if I recall correctly, Kathryn talked about persevering through the challenge, to feel what your body was doing and to push through it. She also talked about simply being present in the moment and focusing on the challenge at hand. When the run got especially challenging today, I started to think about Kathryn’s message, turned my mind inward, and went with it.
What I discovered is that I was able to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.
In the end, I still have a long way to go with my running, but by applying these tips continuously, I can see where yoga will not only continue to impact my life positively, but it will impact my running positively too.
Practice, practice, practice… on the mat, in life, and on the road.
Eat, Pray, Love is one of life’s guilty pleasures… kind of like watching, well, just about anything on Bravo.
Elizabeth Gilbert tries to sell herself as an every-woman struggling to deal with the upsets in life, coming to terms with the bad decisions she’s made and looking for a way to put her life on a more positive path. But, seriously, who gets to travel the world for an entire year without worrying about how it’s going to be paid for?
I, personally, spent 3 days in Rome and nearly went broke and would give my left arm to spend months at an Ashram in India!
All that aside, though, I see Eat, Pray, Love as a well-written story of a woman who is sharing her experiences and her very personal, sometimes raw emotions. She’s just lucky enough to be able to search for herself in some of the most incredible places on earth!
Is the book a litle self-serving and does she sometimes sound like the only person who has struggled with bad relationships? Sure. Do I see myself in her at times? Sure.
Did I finish Eat, Pray, Love feeling like there’s hope out there for me despite my, some might say, not-so-great decisions? Definitely. Did it speak to the yogi in me and the power of learning meditation and Eastern philosophies from the masters? Absolutely.
Eat, Pray, Love is a not a deep, life-altering autobiography that will have you ready to take on the world, but it is a light, easy-to-read, enjoyable story that had me smiling at the end and at least feeling a slight lift in my step and a more optimistic outlook on the future – not to mention it has me jonesing to travel even more!
It never ceases to amaze me that it doesn’t matter how often you practice and how many times you do the same basic postures, there’s always something new to learn and experience.
Today’s “wow” moment came while doing something as ‘simple’ as suryanamaskara B (warrior 2).
How many times do we do this posture in a practice, especially in Ashtanga, and just bring the foot to meet our hands then rise up without giving those movements much thought?
There’s a tendency to just swing the leg forward in a haphazard way, then lift the upper body, with the focus generally being on the breath, or making sure the knee is over the ankle and the leg bent to 90 degrees, or lifting the chest, or feeling the stretch in the pelvis.
Instead consider this…
– As you bring the right foot forward, keep the hands pressed firmly into the earth with the finger pads gripping the mat, ground the left foot and consciously place the right foot down near the hands, making sure all four corners of the foot make contact with the mat.
– Then, as you inhale, lift your hand off the mat and bring your shoulders in line with your hips, think about really grounding the right foot. pressing the earth away as you lift your body up, reaching the crown of your head toward the sky.
– Energetically pulling your feet towards each other and inwardly rotating the thighs. When you do this, you’ll create space between the sits bones, allowing you to tuck the tailbone under and sink your hips towards the earth
– Reach your heart forward while bringing the shoulder blades down the back in the space behind your heart.
– Keep the energy in your arms as your bring your hands together and gaze up past your thumbs.
For me, the posture suddenly became completely different.
Warrior is a strong posture and by following these suggestions, it goes from just a posture that feels strong in your front quadricep to a posture in which the whole body feels strong, grounded and energized.
It’s also interesting to think about how many things we do on a daily basis that we just go through the motions, treating life as mundane and activities as routine. Instead, with a little more awareness, you might see things you never saw before and feel more alert, stronger and more energized – like a warrior.
Let’s face it, much as we would like to have a crystal ball, when we step on the mat, we never know how the practice is going to go.
Will I be able to balance in Uttitha Hasta Padanghustasana?
Will today be the day I balance for a just a few seconds in a handstand?
Will my head reach the mat in prasarita padotanasana?
The ego in us likes to think we know. After all, we can look back at previous practices, weigh the way our bodies feel and think we have the ability to predict if it’s going to be a strong, solid practice or a challenging one with lots of lessons to teach.
The operative word in that sentence is EGO. Truth is, we can no more predict how our practice will go each day as we can the next day’s lottery numbers.
You know what else we can’t predict? Anything about the future – and especially as it pertains to other people and how they’re going to behave in any given situation. We – and by we, I mean our Egos – think we can. But, we can’t.
Each day we step on the mat and we take the practice for what it is – good or bad. We’re present in the moment. We’re taught not to beat ourselves up, not to worry about the past and not to worry about the future. In yoga, we ground ourselves, lengthen our bodies, take a deep breath and open ourselves to the possibilities of that moment – for better or for worse. We simply accept what is.
We practice this on the mat with the intention of carrying that attitude with us throughout our lives.
Why then, do we let our egos get in the way and make us think we know how a situation is going to go or how another person is going to behave?
I do this all the time to myself. I cancel plans because I think I know how the situation is going to play out, when, in reality, I have no idea. That’s just my ego that thinks it has a clue. No doubt, I’ve missed out on what could have been some really good times because I let myself believe I knew what other people were going to say and what they were going to do.
The trick is this: when our minds start to play the “he’ll say, then she’ll say, then I’ll say, then he’ll do this, then I’ll do this” game, is to stop, to take a deep breath, to trust in the moment the same way we trust in ourselves in our practice. Take a deep breath, stand tall and to be open to the possibilities the same way we have to trust that when we lift our legs over our heads, that we won’t go toppling over… and if we do, we smile, get up, and do it again.
After all, each stumble reminds us that we may lose our balance, but eventually we’ll find it again.
**Life is full of wonderful surprises, but only when we set aside ego and expectations can we find that which we didn’t even know existed.**
Parents, listen up.
Next time your teen starts, well, acting like a teenager, don’t send them to their room. Send them to the mat!