Opening to Deeper Connection During the Holidays

One of the most valuable skills we learn through practicing yoga is how to feel calm inside a storm, how to be strong and steady and yet still “go with the flow”. We learn to balance opposing physical actions to find a sweet, spacious middle ground. We practice balancing “activity” and “passivity” (or, better yet, “receptivity”) inside the poses and in life. During the hectic bustle of the holidays, it often feels like there’s no time to be passive—got to get it all done! Here I offer a way to find a bit more balance without sacrificing anything on your to-do list.

In the poses we actively engage certain muscles to align and stabilize the pose. At the same time, we seek to be receptive to the sensations the body sends back to the brain. We then analyze that information and make adjustments to find a safe posture with the right amount of challenge. For most of us, telling our bodies what to do comes more naturally than hearing the quiet messages it sends…until those messages get too loud (painful) to ignore.

When we are active (busy, focused) we feel in control. When we are receptive (quiet, open) there is a sense of vulnerability. We humans are creative and have all kinds of ways to avoid feeling vulnerable, but in doing so, we block everything out—including opportunities to feel love and connection. The holidays are chock-full of togetherness, so there’s no better time to practice letting those walls down and feeling the love. (if the mere suggestion of this causes you anxiety, don’t worry—you will still be in full control of how and when you do it! Baby steps…)

Let’s use the simple act of giving and receiving gifts. According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, there are five primary ways humans show each other love. The first is giving gifts. (In case you are wondering, the other four are: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch).  Getting back to the idea of balance between “activity” vs. “receptivity,” the act of giving a gift is an example of willful activity. The giver thinks of the recipient and what that person might like, selects a gift, purchases it, then delivers it to him or her. The act of receiving a gift is inherently more…(you guessed it!) receptive and is perhaps the most important part of the exchange.

Now let’s be real here: Sometimes a gift is given out of a sense of obligation, sometimes to manipulate the recipient in the hopes of getting some favor in return, and sometimes out of a sincere desire to show love and appreciation. All three of these are an attempt to connect—on some level–with the recipient.

~RECEIVE not passively, but WITH INTENTION~
If you welcome a connection with that person, how you receive the gift determines the degree of connection created in that moment.  If you are focused on the gift itself you might open it and wish it were different in this way or that, but offer a half-hearted thank you because it’s the polite thing to do.  And you might even point out the gift’s shortcomings to empower the giver to make a better choice next time. These reactions thwart the giver’s attempt to connect with you to some degree. If instead, you see the gift as a symbol of this person’s desire to connect with you and show appreciation and caring, it is easier to feel more gratitude and receive the gift (and attempt to connect) more open-heartedly.

Is this an emotional risk? Absolutely. We all want to feel seen and understood, and getting a gift that is sooo not you can trigger feelings of being misunderstood.  We might even tell ourselves that this person didn’t care enough to try to find a nice gift. But the bottom line is that they were thinking of you and took the time to buy you something. You have the choice to reject, half-heartedly receive, or open-heartedly receive their attempt to connect with you. If you want to welcome and strengthen that connection, the most powerful way to do that is to receive openheartedly–to make room for all of life’s (and loved ones’) imperfections and allow them to flow in and through you along with all the offering of love.

Students in a yoga class often report feeling open, loving and connected during and after class. This is because as we move our awareness into our bodies, and let our awareness connect and flow with the breath, the illusion of separateness begins to fall away. Some of this happens naturally, and we can also set an intention to be more open and receptive. If you are lucky enough to receive gifts this holiday season, allow yourself to see every exchange as an opportunity to connect and generate more loving kindness in yourself and your relationships.

Tools For Crafting An Epic 2017

Was 2016 was a total bust and the thought of another year like that makes you want to throw in the towel?
Or, is “Life is Good” your personal motto and you are ready for new levels of awesomeness?
Where ever your are in life, here are some tools to make 2017 a great one:

Thanks to LiveYourLegend.net for these two free workbooks. Lick the link below and scroll to the bottom to download a goal setting workbook and a weekly planner. Both are chock-full of useful strategies to clarify your goals and execute a plan to make them happen.

http://liveyourlegend.net/2016-goal-setting-weekly-planning-workbooks-free-pdf-downloads-to-make-2016-the-best-year-yet/

Live Your Legend also offers an updated goal setting workbook plus several other free tools if you provide them your email address. I will update this post with more info after I review them.

 

 

Ahimsa (Nonviolence)

“At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Sanskrit word ahimsa means “non-injury”or “nonviolence,” and as B. K. S. Iyengar wrote in 1966 in the seminal Light on Yoga, “It is more than a negative command not to kill, for it has a wider positive meaning, love.Ahimsa is the first yama, the very first principle of a path to Samadhi (a state of “peace that passeth all understanding”) laid out by Patanjali 2000 years ago.

Love and Compassion vs. Fear and Violence

Imagine that there is a spectrum of thoughts, words, and deeds ranging from love and compassion on one end to fear and violence on the other. The midpoint represents actions that are neutral—they neither generate love, nor do harm. Every interaction is an opportunity to diffuse negativity and generate more love in the world. Consider the effects of offering a friendly “Good Morning” to a stranger versus staying quiet. Consider the effects of reacting calmly to a frustrating situation versus “dishing back” the anger or negativity someone throws at you. It is not always easy, but we always have the choice to react with love and compassion for ourselves and others. Through practicing yoga, we become more fully aware of what is happening inside ourselves physically and emotionally in any given moment. If a situation causes us to feel fearful or angry, it is common to react in a way that only generates more fear and anger.  Yoga offers us tools to improve our ability to pause before reacting and decide which response will likely generate the best outcome, which response might diffuse that negativity and foster more love.

 “Violence arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance or restlessness. To curb it, what is most needed is the freedom from fear. To gain this freedom, what is required is a change of outlook on life and reorientation of the mind.  Violence is bound to decline when men learn to base their faith on reality and investigation rather than upon ignorance and supposition.”
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga

Yoga as a Pathway to Love and Compassion

How do we attain freedom from fear and begin to operate from a place of love and compassion? Yoga teaches us how to:

  • use the breath to become calm
  • cultivate awareness of mind and body
  • develop a habit of pausing before reacting
  • allow our best self to shine through

Just Breathe:  Finding a steady, deep, relaxed breath has a calming effect and affords us an extra moment before reacting.

Mind/Body Awareness:  When practicing forward bends, back bends, and twists, we increase our awareness of our internal terrain, including our heart. Paying attention to physical sensations in our chest area in particular can provide clues to when we are operating from fear versus love. For example, in situations where one perceives danger, it is instinctual to hunch forward to protect the throat and vital organs. Whether the danger is perceived as physical or emotional, the physiological reaction is the same. So even in typical everyday interactions, it is not uncommon for the nervous system to perceive innocuous events such as a criticism or getting the cold shoulder from a loved one as a threat to one’s well being. Thoughts often pass through the mind so quickly we don’t notice them. Other times, we dismiss thoughts that seem irrational or inconvenient and push them into the shadows, where they operate in the darkness. This is why taking note of our physical posture can offer some insight into our underlying emotional state.

Pausing Before Reacting:  The real key here is to notice our physical and mental reactions and ask ourselves questions such as, What have I just told myself about this interaction?  Was it a fear-based thought? (e.g. “This person is upset with me. What if she never forgives me and I’m alone forever?”). Or, did my reaction come from a place of love and compassion? (e.g. “Wow, he seems grouchy. I wonder if something is bothering him?”)

Sometimes our thinking patterns become habitual, and we are (at first) so convinced that our perception of reality is true, we cannot even entertain the possibility that we are reading a situation wrong. Perhaps this is an example of what Iyengar meant in the quote above regarding learning to “base their faith on reality and investigation rather than upon ignorance and supposition”.

Non-violence, which is the quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.
                                                                                                                                      Mahatma Gandhi

Developing increased body/sense awareness is also valuable in that compassion is centered in the heart. Many notice a warm, open feeling in the chest when feeling compassion, versus a hard, tight feeling in the heart space when afraid. So rather than utilizing the brain’s logic to decide if you are about to react from compassion, instead try feeling into your heart. Notice the sensations there, and if possible take a little extra time if needed to relax and connect with your breath and your heart.

Allow Your Best Self to Shine Through:  Ultimately, the concept of nonviolence is one more lens through which we can view our relationship to self and the world, and create more ease and contentment in life. As the turmoil of fear and anger give way to steadiness and equanimity, we become clear and bright. Our inner light can shine thorough from deep within, like the crystal depths of a lake visible through a calm, glassy surface.

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Yoga in New Hampshire

If you want to learn more about how Eden Yoga can help you reduce stress, increase your fitness level, and create a life you love, contact us or visit our website.

The Yamas & Niyamas: A Guide to Happy Living

Every moment is an opportunity to change, to make different choices, shift our path toward positive, meaningful goals. Yet there is something about the beginning of a new year that feels fresh, full of opportunity. This winter session at Eden Yoga, we will be offering tidbits of inspiration and guidance to help you craft a blissful 2017.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have been a source of guidance and inspiration to yogis for around 2000 years, so it seems a great place to start. Patanjali codified a system referred to as the “Eight Limbs of Yoga”.  The path begins with the yamas (moral codes) and niyamas (personal observances), on which we will focus here. The path then leads to asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), darana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and finally, samadhi (enlightenment).

I will write in more detail about each of the ten yamas and niyamas each week during this session, and we will briefly discuss them in class. For now, here is a list of the five yamas and five niyamas and their translations:

Yamas (morals codes):
~Ahimsa – nonviolence
~Satya – truth
~Asteya – refrainment from stealing
~Bramacharya – self-control, celibacy, directing your energy & efforts mindfully
~Aparigraha – non-hoarding, renunciation of unnecessary possessions

Niyamas (personal observances):
~Saucha – cleanliness
~Santosha – contentment
~Tapas – austerity
~Svadhyaya – self-study, study of scripture
~Isvara Pranidhana – surrender to God or the infinite, humility

 

Buddhism & R.E.B.T.: How to Be Happy

Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön writes “Meditation helps us to clearly see ourselves and the habitual patterns that limit our life”. (Yes it does, and that is rather uncomfortable at times. It is so much easier to blame others for my discontent!)

Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy asserts that feelings come from thoughts and we can control our thoughts. We are therefore responsible for our own emotional state. (Geez, always???)

This is a tough one to talk about, but through meditation, I’ve noticed that one of my limiting patterns is how readily I close my heart if I perceive a possibility of rejection. So I’ve been paying close attention to it lately…to how my heart feels (via sensations inside my chest) in various situations, and how my behavior correlates. It feels wonderful when my heart is warm and open, my breathing soft, full and relaxed. I feel light, loving, connected to those around me, and generally at peace with myself and the world. Situations flow with ease, and I welcome interactions with others.
Then the tide changes and the happy-go-lucky attitude gets whisked away. I grasp at it like a candy wrapper zig-zagging across the boardwalk on a windy fall day. It escapes. Carefree summer is gone, winter storms in. I notice a hardness or heavy feeling inside my chest. Thoughts are predominately negative. I avoid social interaction.

Is this re-frozen heart inevitable like the changing of the seasons? When I look at the alleged cause (maybe a casually dropped criticism by a loved one) I’m inclined to think that it is NOT inevitable. Other people seem to let criticism roll right off their backs. They do not appear to agonize over others’ choice of words. How can I do that too? It feels impossible sometimes.

There are two very different approaches I know of to resolve this problem:
1. Pay attention to the negative thoughts that cause the negative feelings then change the thoughts. (As prescribed by Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy approach). I love Ellis’ concept that suffering comes when we deem others’ behavior “intolerable”. Their behavior is what it is. If we choose to view it as intolerable, we are simply setting ourselves up for a boatload of discomfort.
Or, 2. Take a more Buddhist approach and accept that emotional distress is a part of life. It can be very effective to sit down, relax my breathing, and let my mind settle into “observer” mode, wherein I notice my thoughts, emotions, and sensations in my body. I observe whatever is there without mentally engaging with it, without trying to solve the problem (because there likely is no true problem to be solved). Chödrön writes that “a quality that seems to organically develop within us (through regular meditation) is the cultivation of courage…the courage to experience your emotional discomfort”.

Despite these wonderful tools, I sometimes find myself on my soapbox, shaking my fist, enraged at intolerable behavior.  Behavior that hurts me, dammit, and is thoroughly unacceptable.  When I try to think my way out of this negative mindset, it’s as if  I’ve provided a stage for the negative thoughts to put on a show. It gets out of hand, growing into an epic spectacular of misery.

In those moments I have created a double whammy: I have declared the offending behavior intolerable, AND I have deemed my emotional discomfort itself “intolerable”.

When my mind is betraying me and rational thought is nowhere to be found, I move my body. I go upside down to clear my mind…perhaps try a challenging pose that requires strong concentration. It is the best remedy I know to quiet the indignant, know-it-all voices and make space for more productive thoughts. Only then does it work to take a few deep breaths and remind myself that everything is temporary, that positive and negative emotions come and go. This thought decreases the perceived enormity and finality of the disturbance. Then I move to a place of humility, in which I remember my own transgressions and become grateful that we are all allowed to make mistakes. We are all imperfect (not that “perfection” is a real thing, anyway). This helps soften any perception of victimhood or injustice. Then I recite (as many times as necessary until I feel the truth of it) the greatest heart-opening, peace-generating mantra I have found to date: “I am grateful for everything. I have no complaints”.

(Thank you to Richard Kronick for sharing the above parting mantra. Check out his discovery of it in Zen Buddhist book “A Flower Does Not Talk” here: http://completedthoughts.com/one-simple-phrase-can-bring-joy-peace-happiness/)