This is a quote from the book “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle which is all about the ego, the thought-filled mind and who we are truly and deeply (I’ll give you a hint. Who we are is not related to what we have, what we do for a living or what we’ve accomplished). This book changed my life on a profound level and really altered the way that I look at all life. It awakened me to a higher level of awareness and I recommend it for anyone and everyone on the path to further enlightenment (not saying I’m enlightened but this book definitely brought me one step further in my journey). “The ego wants to want more than it wants to have”. We are constantly in a state of wanting; wanting to have that beautiful pair of shoes, or respect from our colleagues, approval of our parents, to lose that last 5 pounds. We believe that these things will make us happier. Often, this is not true. I’ve gotten that new pair of shoes and been exited for a little while, then moved onto wanting something else. That’s because the ego wants to want, more than it wants to have. What we want, is often what propels us to continue achieving, moving forward, striving and so this “wanting” is not necessarily a bad thing. Just remember that the “having” is overrated, that losing those last 5 pounds won’t change the way you relate to your body, that executing that yoga pose perfectly, won’t make you a happier person after a couple of hours. That the joy is often in the journey and just be aware when you find yourself believing that you “need” something that the ego wants to want more than it wants to have. See if this perspective helps you change the way you spend money, or if it helps to calm you in moments of jealousy and envy, if it helps you to remember that this “wanting” is simply a part of the ego and dependent upon the external. True joy comes from within, not from without.
I watched an interview with Sean Corn a while back where she discussed the connection between the yoga mat and life. Sean explained that how you practice yoga translates into how you live your life. The two are connected. What you need to work on in life often expresses itself on your mat during a yoga class. For example if you are someone who pushes themselves too hard, injuring yourself in yoga as a result (e.g. a pulled muscle) you probably take on too much in life, put too much strain on yourself outside of the yoga studio. If you often give up during a class, tell yourself that this pose is “too hard” or that you are “too weak” you most likely defeat your own self in the outside world as well. Maybe you make excuses for why you can’t make it to the studio, putting everyone else’s needs before your own.
Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, and this union between the practice of yoga and the practice of life is one of the reasons I have fallen deeply and consumingly in love with the practice of yoga. The practice of Yoga doesn’t always refer to the postures themselves, but rather everything else that goes into the postures (e.g. the mental strength, the need to have a connection to your breath, proper hydration and nutrition, the connection between your mind and body)
I recently finished the book “Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga” by Benjamin Lorr which was all about the author’s immersion into the Bikram Yoga world. This book was soo wonderful. It was funny, honest, insightful and informative. It was entertaining from cover to cover, and there were often times when I would laugh or gasp aloud from what I had read. Lorr made connections between small experiences/concepts and larger existential questions.
In “Hell-Bent” there is one part where Lorr describes a particular Bikram class he took. A large, linebacker-type man was taking a class for the first time and appeared to be suffering and wheezing, right before bolting for the door. The teacher, Esak, (Esak is a Bikram champion, and celebrity of sorts in the Bikram yoga world) stops the linebacker right before he is about to open the door and exit the studio. Esak tells the man that he’s free to go but has a choice. He explains that “Sometimes your yoga is in the postures. Today, your yoga is recognizing that you have a choice”
Esak turns to the class and orders them to “stop listening! Stop thinking! Don’t imagine his class is easier than yours. Don’t flatter yourself with your effort. Right now, this is the person working the hardest in this class. He is getting every benefit he can.”
For the linebacker, his yoga that day was to simply recognize that he had a choice whether or not to leave the hot room. His yoga was to work on the mental aspect of the practice, because that was the issue that arose for him on the mat that day. Esak explained to the class that even if they were doing the postures perfectly, if they weren’t “putting the same effort into it” they weren’t getting the benefits from the yoga. Yoga isn’t about the postures, it’s this “union” between the mat and life, mind and body, you and the universe. It’s about doing “work”, and maybe your yoga for now is just to identify what your “work” should be, what issues you may need to work on. Maybe your yoga is to back off and let yourself sit out once in a while, or to stop comparing yourself to the other yogis in the room, or to become comfortable with the way your body looks in the mirror during class. Benjamin Lorr explains that
“It’s a funny thing that way. Someone standing and looking very impressive in the mirror and someone sitting hunched over doing almost nothing. Same yoga.”
I believe that we have the entire universe within us, in a sense. Thus, we hold within us all the possibilities within the universe. Anything that is possible for another is possible for us. We are all so special, but most people don’t realize it. When you are feeling down, or particularly hopeless, remember that you are the entire universe in a drop! Happy Weekend : )
I haven’t posted in over a week! Sorry everyone. We have been traveling for the last two weeks, in and out of town, and then I had my b-day yesterday so that kept me occupied. Today I’m kicking off the week with a sweet treat that’s easy to make at home, gluten free, and vegan. Matt has been obsessing over kettle corn lately and so he decided to make it tonight for the first time. It was delicious and I thought I’d share the recipe with you. For a large bowl of kettle corn we used 1/2 a cup of (unpopped corn kernels). Popping your own corn over the stove is so much cheaper! you can get a bag of organic popcorn for 5$ which yields prop about 15 large bowls of popcorn (maybe more) compared to the bagged microwave popcorn which is typically 3 bowls/bags for the same price. This is the popcorn we bought. Here’s what you need.
3 tbsp of coconut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
4 tbsp of sugar
Directions: Place a large pot over med-high heat on the stove. Add the coconut oil and allow oil to heat. Pour in the sugar and then shake the pot to distribute the oil and sugar evenly. Throw 3-4 kernels in until they begin to pop, then add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover pot with the lid and then once the kernels begin to pop just shake the pot periodically until all the kernels are popped. Add to a bowl and then sprinkle with a little salt. This is so quick and easy. We always have sugar, oil and popcorn in the house so this is something to remember if you need an impromptu dessert/treat for guests or kids. Enjoy : )
This quote just reminds me of the idea that everything is made of love. Interesting, since my last post was written with the idea that suffering is what connects all of us. I believe, too, that we are all connected by love. I know that I wouldn’t be here if love hadn’t existed in the generations before me. Love is what keeps us going and what has allowed us to enjoy this very moment. Practice love until you remember that you are love : ) Happy Weekend!
“What?” you might ask “how is having a bad day pleasurable?”
Just hear me out. This week I had a bad day. It wasn’t the kind of bad day where you spill coffee on yourself or get stuck in traffic. It was the kind of bad day where everything feels hopeless, you doubt whether or not you are on the right path in life, and whether you will ever obtain your goals. It’s the kind of bad day where all of your fears, doubts, and stressors for the past month culminate and simultaneously express their presence. It’s been depressingly foggy here for the past month, which probably hasn’t helped my mood and I had to go pay my tuition for the fall semester of graduate school, which is always stressful.
Matt and I went to the beach. Our favorite beach and I told him how I was feeling: everything that I was afraid of at the moment, and everything that had stressed me out over the past week or so. I almost cried but didn’t (this wasn’t quite that kind of bad day) but I still felt a release and Matt pointed out that I was so far into the future, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. He said “you’re just like me Hun” and I said “I’m just like everyone” and in that moment I remembered that this doubt and this fear, if nothing else, is what connects every human to one another. Of course, some suffer more than others, and about different things, but everyone, at some point, and probably often, suffers and fears, and doubts. In the social work program people speak of “the worried well” as a snide way to dig at the wealthy who seek therapy or at the therapists who treat the wealthy. It’s a term that denotes the idea that those with monetary wealth don’t have “real” problems, or don’t suffer. I would argue the contrary. I believe that we all suffer and must suffer. If we don’t have money to worry about, our mind will find other insecurities to focus on.
In “The Geography of Bliss” Weiner has this poignant moment where he’s smoking marijuana at a café in the Netherlands and wondering if being high is the reason the people there are so happy. He poses a question to the reader asking something like “if you could have a procedure done to your brain that caused you to feel pleasure always, and there were no possibilites of complications, would you do it?”. Think about this question for a second. Would you have the procedure to feel pleasure every second of every day? If the answer is no, then Weiner explains that you believe happiness must be earned; that in order to truly feel happy, one must not only earn this happiness, but also, at times, experience unhappiness. Everything experienced is relative. Following this philosophy, without unhappiness, one cannot have happiness. Without bad days, one cannot have good days, or even great days.
Without a really shitty yoga class, one cannot understand the elation felt after truly being in the zone, going through the asanas with a clear mind and relaxed body. Without a good, hard cry now and again can we have a truly good hard laugh? Rumi said that even grief and sorrow was a cause for rapture, I believe, because these extreme forms of emotion are also extreme forms of expression; a sign that we are truly and vividly alive.
So, I had a shitty day. I felt hopeless. I felt doubt. I felt fear and despair and sadness. But it also pushed me to realize that I was too far into the future. It forced me to stop and refocus my energy on the present. It caused me to make a mental list in my head about all of the things I was grateful for, and I realized that according to my values I really did have a lot. I am rich with love and I feel like I know who I am. I know where I want to go in life but am also open to the possibility that life could take me in a different direction. So, in the end the bad day changed me for the better, if not in the long run, at least in that moment. It made way for me to have a good day, and reminded me that perspective has the power to define a moment. I was able to change mine, and so my simple pleasure for the week was that bad day.
I was in yoga the other day, in the middle of a pose, and probably tensed up, pulling or pushing in some type of attempt at increasing my flexibility when my teacher explained that a real breakthrough happens when you are able to find the balance between strength and relaxation. If you are a seasoned yogi, you know that something magical happens in your practice when you are able to stay relaxed throughout your practice. This “relaxation” begins mentally/spiritually, and then translates to your body. It is possible to be exerting strength in the places of your body you use for the posture and relaxed everywhere else. Now, in Bikram yoga, I believe relaxation may be even harder because you have more to overcome. You have the heat (a 100+ degree F room), you have the poses (who knew holding your arms over your head could be so challenging!), you have the mirror (if you have body issues, get ready), and you have yourself (yoga is really a journey in and through yourself and we are all our own worst enemy). If you go to a Bikram studio where the teachers tend to be militant and dialogue-based, then you also have to overcome someone yelling at you at an auctioneer-like pace, clapping to queue the beginning and end of every posture, and ordering you to correct specific postures when you may believe you’re using every ounce of energy just to move your body into a resemblance of whatever posture you’re supposed to be in already. So much of this practice is mental and we can choose to fight the practice mentally or to accept it, relax, and stay connected with our breath and our body. Sometimes, I’m in the zone. I’m relaxed, connected to my body, flexible, and feel like I can do anything in that room. Other times I’m distracted, nauseated, and feeling like every part of my body is tensed, un-relaxed. Often, I notice that any type of emotional baggage I’m holding onto weighs on my practice. If I’ve had a particularly stressful day, I can feel it in my muscles and in my body occupying space.
So how do you relax in stressful conditions ? In my personal experience, the breath has been the key. Being conscious of the breath, connected to the breath, and breathing with the intention of releasing tension is the beginning. Also, letting go of your attachment to the result of the posture helps. Go into the room with the attitude that you will give your all and that your all is good enough. Yoga is a practice, it’s a process, not a result and therefore, you don’t do yoga to get to a specific place. You do yoga for the experience each day, to release tension, to connect with yourself, to clear your mind, and maybe to get a nice tush in the process : )
One thing I have noticed in retrospect is that when I was a runner, I thought of my body in a Cartesian sense. It was something that I conquered, used, and exploited. I felt superior to my body, like I was in control of it and used it to take me places I wanted to go. Now, my body and I are in a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. I listen to it, care for it… I eat to make my body feel good, and yoga has become both a means of communication and a way for me to give back to my body. I’ve noticed that when I eat gluten, I’m much less flexible, so I don’t eat it anymore. I try to go into the room with the goal of releasing tension and creating space, rather than with the goal of dominating my body into the perfect form of each posture. Of course, the ego still pops up in certain classes and I have to remind myself of this goal. Letting go of the ego and staying connected to my body is part of the practice of yoga (notice I said practice as it is something I have to continue to do with intention behind it).
Finding the balance between strength and softness is something that we can learn on our mat and then use in life. When should we stand our ground or back off and let it go? I’ve heard it said that our bodies hold onto every pain we’ve experienced, every heartbreak, and injustice. The body holds the story of your life through tension, disease, anxiety, depression. Healing that relationship with your body is a good place to start in the process of learning this lesion, and the breath is a road that can lead you there.
We are constantly bombarded with messages regarding what we should want or should prefer, or should be happy with. None of this is necessarily true. Everyone is different and there are many roads to take, many modes of transportation to happiness, meaning, authenticity, success, and love. Question everything and maintain constant communication with your emotions and your body as these are often the first to react if something doesn’t feel right. Happy Weekend!