Is Wealth A Burden?

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I read an interesting article in Vanity Fair magazine the other day about Perfection Anxiety, and it discussed how extreme wealth may actually be a burden. The article proposes that when money is limitless, it ceases to make one happy. We’ve all fantasized about winning the lottery, (I know I have) and becoming rich beyond our wildest imaginations. Rich enough to quit our 9 to 5ers, rich enough to buy that expensive sports car or take your friends to a fancy dinner….every night. What if this fantasy was just that, and if extreme wealth was really a burden?

Statistics show that money does make you happier, but only up to about $50,000/year. After that, the more money you have, the less it matters. Think of it this way, if you gave a starving man a cheeseburger, that one cheeseburger would make him really happy. If you gave a starving man 2 cheeseburgers, the second probably wouldn’t make him as happy as the first, but it may make him a little bit happier in comparison to how happy he felt after the first one. If you gave a starving man 8 cheeseburgers, he would not feel 8 times happier than he did after the first one. It’s the same with money. Money can give you the things that you need and want, and this will make you happier, however only to a certain extent.

            The Vanity Fair article explains that when one has too much money, it “stops working” to make you happier. I wrote a post about happiness and how we don’t just want to experience happiness, but we also want to achieve it. In fact, in order to feel truly happy, we must also experience sadness in contrast. Think of how happy and excited you feel when you buy something you’ve been lusting after for a while, something you’ve saved up for. Think of how grateful we feel when a loved one buys us a present we’ve really wanted for a long time; that high you get when you get that new iPhone or super nice yoga mat. Now, imagine you could buy anything you wanted, always and forever, and suddenly that excitement, anticipation, gratitude is lost. It’s important to have goals, things we can’t yet attain, because we feel a sense of pleasure in working towards these goals and then a sense of accomplishment when we reach a goal.

If you are among the extremely wealthy, I’m sorry. Let me know if I’ve gotten it wrong. If you are not among the extremely wealthy, you get to take this moment to be grateful that you can still derive pleasure from things. We get to feel grateful that we have things to work for, presents to give, and get, and we can still derive simple pleasure from saving up for a special treat. And remember, winning the lottery probably won’t solve your problems, so enjoy the moment : ) Happy Weekend!

The Importance of Setting Intention

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I was in final savasana the other day at yoga, laying on the floor, legs and arms resting, palms up to receive, when the teacher discussed setting your goals for class. He explained that not everyone will have the same goal, and that our goals can change from class to class. Some people come to yoga to get in shape, some to relax, some to connect their mind and their body, some come to heal physically and/or emotionally. Of course, yoga will give you gifts that you may have never hoped for, but it is always good to have an intention, or a goal, and remember what that goal is so that you don’t get discouraged when comparing yourself with others. You may have a different goal than the person next to you.

Matt and I have also recently gotten into the show Scandal, for those of you who don’t know this show, it is basically about a group of lawyers, working for the main character (who is also a lawyer) Olivia Pope. They call themselves gladiators in suits, and “fix” problems that need fixing (mainly hired by politicians and other power players that reside in Washington. Olivia always asks her clients what their “end game” is, meaning, what are their goals. What is best-case scenario for the end result of their work together? What Olivia is really doing is setting an intention and a goal to shoot for.

This concept of goal and intention setting is so important for life as well. What is your end-game for your day, or your job, or your yoga class, or your conversation with your husband? Setting your intentions can be such a powerful step to take prior to entering into an experience, because it gives you something to aim for. This simple step of setting your intention/goal, can also prevent you from becoming side-tracked, or disappointed with the end results. For example, I recently competed in the Yoga Asana Regional Championship, and my goals while training were focused on my postures. My intention for the competition was to provide a graceful, strong demonstration of the postures that I could perform. It was to perform my postures to the best of my abilities. There was no strategizing to score points, or maximize my overall score. However, when I checked the results of the points, I found myself disappointed with my overall point score, and feeling discouraged as I compared myself to all the other amazing yogis’ points. Timeout. My postures were awesome, and I had left the competition feeling inspired, proud, and as if I had conquered something major. My “end-game”, my intentions and goals revolved around my postures, and I had reached my goal. Reminding myself of my original goal, helped to re-frame the entire experience for me, and reminded me of what a powerful tool intention-setting can be.

Remember this very simple concept before you begin something (even something as simple as a yoga class). Some days, my goal for yoga class is to really push myself, to conquer the monkey mind that tells me “I can’t do anymore”. Some days my goal for yoga class is to have compassion for myself because I am prone to believe that I have to do everything perfectly. I often put a lot of pressure on myself in life, a byproduct of which is pain and suffering, so some days, allowing myself to sit down and rest for a posture is my goal. Some days, when my life is crazy or I’ve had a particularly negative thought process for the day, my goal is simply to be in the moment, and to connect my body with my mind. The point is, that your goals can change, and simply by setting an intention prior to beginning, gives you a purpose.

10 Tips for Bikram Yoga

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1. Hydrate before class! I like to begin hydrating 2 hours before class, and stop drinking water one hour before. This gives you enough time to drink plenty of water, and then enough time before to urinate most of it out so you don’t have to go during class. Seriously, hydrate. Your urine should be clear. Enough said on that subject. Hydration is non-negotiable.

2. Electrolytes can be a game-changer. I’m so grateful an experienced yogi let me in on this secret early in my practice. I like to take one electrolyte capsule an hour before class. Since I started taking these before class, my tendency to feel nauseated or dizzy decreased drastically. I have been using these for a couple years.

3. Breathe. Slowly. Through your nose. And with control. This is key. This is crucial. Your breath is what links your mind to your body, and if you lose control of your breath, you cannot gain control of your mind. If you notice yourself panting, or breathing uncontrollably, stop and rest until you gain control of your breath. When I first started Bikram yoga, I couldn’t get enough oxygen, ever and thus, I breathed with my mouth open. The teachers would always yell at me to close my mouth and breathe through my nose from their podiums and I thought to myself “If I close my mouth, I will die”. Eventually, I closed my mouth, and I didn’t die. Actually, I became calmer, stronger, and more relaxed. Breathing through the nose is key, even though it’s counterintuitive. Try it even if you think you might die.

4. Cold water is worth its weight in gold. A lot of Bikram devotees will tell you that cold water is a cheat (in fact the hardcore yogis skip water all together during their practice) but let me tell you, when I was first starting Bikram, cold water was a godsend. During first savasana, I would lay down, take a deep sip of cold water and almost cry in gratitude for that little treat. Many times I contemplated how amazing it was to feel so grateful for something as simple as cold water. I like to fill a 32oz Nalgene bottle to 12 oz and then stick it in the freezer, then in class I have 1/3 of the water bottle full of ice to keep my water nice and frosty. Also…don’t drink too much water at one time during class because it will make you feel sick, especially in camel posture.

5. Don’t judge. Don’t judge your practice, just try to notice where you are at (e.g. flexibility, mental strength, stress level) and enjoy yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do your best and be present in your body. Your best today will not be your best yesterday. Everyday is different. Judgment takes you out of the moment, and out of that mind/body connection. “Judging” pertains not only to your postures, but also to your body. The mirror in Bikram can be your worst enemy in the beginning, but learn to use it as a tool to see your postures, not to compare your Body Mass Index to the girl (or guy) next to you. Use the mirror as an opportunity to learn how to love and accept your body.

6. The Golden Rule. Be a good yogi neighbor. Don’t grunt, pant or invade your neighbor’s mat. Breathing should not be audible during your practice. Refer to tip #3 if you have anymore questions on this one. If you can, please brush your teeth before AM yoga practices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve smelled morning breath during pranayama deep breathing. This is avoidable with 2 minutes and a toothbrush. Don’t drink water while your neighbors are balancing. Don’t walk to the bathroom or leave the room while your neighbors are balancing. Wait until the posture is over to do these things. Balance takes focus, and focus takes a lot of energy, so be courteous when your neighbors are in the zone. Don’t come to class drunk, buzzed or on drugs! I’ve seen some wrecks in the studio and it’s not fun for anybody when someone faints during the second posture because they decided to get high before class. Hangovers never make for a good yoga class either (refer to tip #1).

7. Wear clothing made with athletic material and bring a change of clothes. Cotton will just weigh you down, especially when it’s drenched in your own pungent sweat. The less you wear, the better you’ll feel when the room is 105F. You will not want to wear your clothes home whether you shower or not because they will be disgusting. The person who introduced me to yoga explained “it’s like you jumped into a pool of your own sweat” and though I didn’t believe him before trying Bikram, after my first class I realized it really is like you “jumped into a pool of your own sweat”.

8. Bring two towels and a hand towel. One regular towel to place on your mat during practice, one for drying off after class, and a hand towel for placing under your face during the spine series or for wiping your hands before standing head to knee, standing bow, bow, and rabbit.

9. 100% correct for 40% of the time is better than 40% correct for 100% of the time. If you practice Bikram regularly, you’ve heard this line many times. Unfortunately, many people don’t follow this rule. What Bikram meant when he coined this phrase was that you want to do the postures correctly, even if it means you must rest for half the time in order to muster the strength for the correct postures. Yoga is about honesty and integrity. It’s about connecting the mind with the body and leaving your ego at the door. I’ve seen too many people kicking their leg out in standing head to knee pose before their standing leg is locked. Don’t be that person. It took me an entire year before I even tried to kick my leg out. I didn’t have the strength or the flexibility yet, and now I kick my leg out every time. Be patient and be honest refer to tip #5. Just accept where you are at in each posture and be honest about it.

10. Yoga mirrors life. What I mean by this is that the lessons you need to learn in yoga are often the lessons you need to learn in life. Use your yoga practice as a growing opportunity ALWAYS. Do you compare yourself to others in class, do you notice that you think self-defeating messages, do you refuse to allow yourself a break even though you are dying, do you panic during uncomfortable postures? How we practice yoga is often how we practice life, so take notice. Your yoga mat is the perfect place to begin making life changes and personal transformations.

Happy Weekend!

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Everything starts with you, within. This is a lesson I’ve only recently learned. Before, I always believed in waiting for the external to fall into place before I could be truly happy. Now, I realize that the external is often, determined by what we think, how we act, how we react, and what we believe. Wayne Dyer says “we don’t attract what we want, we attract what we are”. Therefore, if you work on the internal, on the self, on your thoughts, and your beliefs, everything around you will change as well. Peace and happiness come from within, from a life well-lived. Happy Weekend.

The Yoga Regional Asana Championship!

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This Saturday was the Yoga Regional Asana Championship for California, and it was my first year competing. I’ve only been practicing Bikram for a little over 2 years, and I’ve never watched a yoga competition before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was scared shitless. However, I reminded myself of a lesson I learned in yoga “if you feel uncomfortable in a posture, that’s good. It means you’re changing your body. Sharp pain means back off”. Discomfort in a posture is often a sign of stretching or strengthening. In life discomfort is often a sign that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and growing. Competing was definitely out of my comfort zone. In yoga class, when I would demonstrate my routine, my heart would beat wildly and my entire body would shake from nervousness. It’s scary.

Two weeks before competition, the reality of it all hit me and I got scared. Then I got injured. I’ve written about this in recent blog posts. Then, I got over it and lived my life for the last week. The day before competition I was scared again, worried of falling out of postures, but when I arrived day of and met with all of the other competitors I felt relieved. Everyone is so nice, and gracious. Everyone is rooting for you to nail your postures. It doesn’t feel like a competition based on the attitudes and actions of the yogis. I think of it as one big celebration of yoga, everyone who takes part is demonstrating what they have been working towards for months/years. We all just want to do our best, not necessarily with the goal of doing better than the other yogi.

The entire experience is so inspiring. Every competitor was amazing. Every competitor was beautiful and graceful, and the event was a true celebration of yoga. There were 3 masters (55years +), 10 men, and 30 women in total. What’s amazing to think of is that I was one of these 30 women in the entire state of CA to be a competitor. That’s an honor. I returned home feeling like I had been part of the yoga community, like I had been part of something great. I feel inspired to see how much better I can get in another year, and inspired by all of the amazing yogis I was able to watch during the competition.

Also, I conquered my fear and I am stronger for it. I am more confident in my abilities to compete again next year. I am more confident in my abilities to perform those 7 postures, and I learned a lot about strategy. In Bikram yoga, we do 2 sets of each posture. I’ve heard it said that the first set is your diagnostic set. It’s like when you walk into a room and take measurements, get a feel for the lighting and the layout. The second set, is the set that you own. The second set in a posture is when you walk back into that room and you’re rearranging furniture, fluffing throw pillows and kicking your shoes off. That’s how I hope next year’s competition is. This year was the diagnostic experience. Next year, I’d like to rearrange furniture.

Happy Weekend!

Sorry about the late post (Happy Weekend is usually posted on Saturday not Sunday) but I was at the regional yoga asana championship in Petaluma, Ca yesterday competing for the very first time! It was such an awesome experience and I will do a blog post on this later in the week.

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This quote is so true. For example, the anxiety I wrote about in my last post “Don’t Take Things Personally” was consuming me. I’ve heard it said that things start out as a whisper and then turn into a scream. I believe I had been taking things personally for a while, probably my entire life, but it was time to learn that lesson, and thus became a scream, so loud I couldn’t ignore it. If you find yourself placed in situations repeatedly that feel negative, ask yourself “what is the lesson I haven’t learned yet”. For instance, do you always feel like the victim, do you always feel disrespected by others, or alone, or left out? What part are you playing in placing yourself back into these situations? What lesson haven’t you learned yet? Or, is there someone in your life that drives you crazy with resentment, anger, annoyance? What can you learn from them? I believe that life is a journey in which we are constantly provided with opportunities to learn and grow if you know how to recognize these opportunities. Often pain and suffering is a growing opportunity disguised. “Nothing ever goes away, until it teaches us what we need to know”.

Don’t Take Things Personally

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In my last post I mentioned the injury that occurred while I was practicing my headstand. I went to the chiropractor and, thankfully, I’m better now, but the injury put me into my own head. It phased me. I thought to myself “why me” and “why now” so close to the yoga competition. I got into a place where I wasn’t in the moment for a few days after the injury and I felt this weight on my mood and my mind. Then I listened to a podcast where Oprah interviewed Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man credited for bringing mindfulness to America. He discusses the concepts of mindfulness, which he defines as “paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgmentally”. While I had the awareness part right, the piece I had been missing was the non-judgmental aspect of mindfulness. I had the awareness that I felt fear and anxiety about the competition, fear about my injury, and some resentment as well towards the injury. I knew I wasn’t living in the present moment, and so while I was experiencing these thoughts and feelings, I was also experiencing dismay by these thoughts and feelings. The dismay was caused by my judgment that these thoughts and feelings were bad, wrong, unwanted. Eckhart Tolle says “What you resist persists, and what you fight, you strengthen”. By fighting my feelings and emotions, I was actually making them stronger. Part of being in the present moment is accepting whatever is your reality at the time and one of the core components of mindfulness is that when you simply notice a negative thought or emotion, the thought/emotion will fall away naturally. I stopped resisting and moved to a place where I simply noticed negative thoughts and negative feelings. The thoughts/feelings fell away (seemingly magically).

The second component of the interview was Kabat-Zinn’s description of our tendency to “take things personally” (not just actions from other people, but also, with experiences). I often get this concept in social situations, however I had never thought about the concept of “not taking it personally” in life situations. For example, I was taking my injury personally asking myself “why me” and feeling sorry for myself. It wasn’t personal. Shit happens. The better question is to ask “why not me”. Eckhart Tolle talks about how the situation is always neutral but that our thoughts and reactions to the situation are what make us deem the situation either good or bad. Accordingly, our emotions are affected by our thoughts on the situation. We cause ourselves so much more suffering by taking it personally.

If you find yourself stuck in a negative rut like the one I just described, where you realize that you are not living in the present moment. Stop. Take a few deep breaths and just observe. Let yourself stop judging or fighting whatever it is that you are thinking or feeling and just notice. Observe. Whatever you are feeling or thinking is okay. If you do this, you will truly be in the present moment, and I bet, you will begin to feel better, lighter, and freer.

Happy Weekend!

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I was feeling sorry for myself this morning because I injured myself in headstand a few days ago while practicing my yoga routine for competition. I went to a chiropractor and I’m going to be fine, but for a few days I can’t practice my full routine. The choices we make consistently, everyday, speak more about our values, beliefs, integrity, faith, and character than words ever could. Remember that today is your temple and you have the opportunity to fill it with whatever you want your religion to be. I want to fill my temple today with gratitude, happiness, love, integrity, and faith that everything will be okay. What will you fill yours with today? Happy Weekend!

There’s Power in A Decision

One lesson I’ve learned from training for the yoga competition is that there is power in a decision. My body has changed drastically in just a few simple months and my postures have improved as well. I’ve become stronger, mentally and physically, and while I have been doing more yoga than I typically would have, I think the real power lies in having a goal to work towards.

I have heard time and time again artists and musicians say that there came a time when they had to decide their occupation was going to be their art. Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows discussed his decision to be a musician in an interview. He reported that he had to make the decision that he was a musician (not someone who wrote songs or played music on the side). After he made that decision (that commitment), things began to unfold for him and his musical career.

If I had waited until I was “good enough” to compete before I committed to competing, who knows if I would have ever been “ready”. There is power in a decision, and sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. With yoga, as with life, so much of what we do is based on faith. You work on a posture everyday in class and change happens so slowly sometimes, that you don’t even notice it until one day, suddenly, you can touch your toes in triangle, or kick your foot above your head in standing bow. This is true of life as well. You can’t only begin journeys when you can see the finish line from the start. Often, you must take single steps, with faith that one day you will get to your destination.

These two pictures show the progression in just a couple of months of standing bow pose. Remember: there’s power in a decision…in a leap of faith.

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Standing bow at the end of October/beginning of November

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Standing Bow end of December/beginning of January

Can Money and Success Satisfy the Soul?

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I was thinking about this the other day as my graduate school nears the end and I begin thinking about my future career. There are so many choices to weigh as far as careers go, especially in the psychology/social work field. Should I choose a job that pays well but is not so enjoyable, so that my day-to-day may be a little less joyful, but I’m able to afford vacations, self-care, nice dinners out. ? Which will make me happier, or is there a balance? Continue reading