Eastern philosophers always speak of water because of its unique qualities. Water is soft and flexible. It always chooses the path of least resistance, and yet, it carves paths through rocks, creates canyons, and holds up ships. A ripple in water, effects every other water molecule associated with that body of water, regardless of distance. Water soothes and heals. It washes and renews. Water can slip through fingers, but hold up ships. In your life, try to be more like water. Flexible, soft, but strong. It can be done. Happy Weekend!
This theme continues to pop up in my life over and over again. You can’t give 100% for 100% of the time. You need to create space because space is necessary for creativity, spontaneity, connection, and peace. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I recently read Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr, and I have randomly been posting thoughts that arose from this book. In Hell-Bent, Lorr describes a yoga experience he had while taking a teacher training class from Tony Sanchez. Tony asks Lorr to back off of his practice, not to give 100 %. He explains that you cannot give 100% all of the time; that 100% is an illusion. Tony is quoted explaining “One hundred or even ninety percent is impossible to maintain. You will become exhausted. Mentally if not physically. Terrified of practicing the yoga you love because it is draining you not replenishing you…But even if you could practice at that intensity-even if you were so strong, you would never become exhausted-it would be undesirable. You can’t make adjustments at your edge. You can’t listen to your body. For regular practice, seventy-five percent is fine-you will never tire out and in the long run you will grow much stronger”. Tony tells Ben that many people have a beautiful practice in the Bikram world and then burn out because of this accepted belief that you should give 100% in every class.
This idea is true not only in the yoga studio, but also for life. If you are too busy, if your day is too full, and if you are giving 100% of your energy, there is nothing left for reflection. There is no time to make adjustments, to improve, learn, transform. Yoga is a practice. Life is a practice. Practices are meant to be practiced everyday, forever. They aren’t destinations that you arrive to. This is true for health as well. Americans look at health as a destination, a place that you get to, and then you get to relax, but health is really a practice that must be done everyday through lifestyle choices.
If Tony Sanchez is right, then slowing down, backing off, giving a little less each time, and creating space will actually make you stronger in the long run. In the yoga studio, it means you have more space to make adjustments, to improve postures, to focus on your breath and your mind. In life, it means you have more space to reflect, to improve, to make changes in your thinking, or behavior patterns, or the way that you relate to others. Or, the way you relate to yourself.
“You can’t make adjustments at your edge. You can’t listen to you body. For regular practice seventy-five percent is fine-you will never tire out and in the long run you will grow much stronger”
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!
I have been a very lucky grad student in that I have a lot of financial support from Matt and I have been lucky that I’ve been working only 1 day/week during the school year and 2 days/week during the summer. Of course during the school year I also have to work an additional 16 hours unpaid as an intern, but I still feel like I have more free time than my classmates who are also working part-time paying jobs, and raising children. It’s been two years, and I had forgotten how miserable I was when I was working 40 hours/week and taking a prerequisite statistics course in the evenings for the social work program but reading this article brought it all back for me.
I remember that when I quit my full-time job and began school, I felt this tremendous amount of space open up in my life. I felt joy, I felt relief, and I felt a lot poorer. I began going to yoga in the mornings, keeping the house clean, cooking healthy meals, and taking the scenic drives more often. In the raptitude article David talks about how he found he was spending a lot more money when he was working, than when he was traveling because what he found was that he had a lot more money and a lot less time. The things/activities that fell to the wayside when he began working 40 plus hours a week again were the activities that cost no money but took time. When you work full-time, what you get is more money but less time (forget about it if you are also trying to raise kids and care for a house at the same time. I don’t know how you mothers and fathers do it. You are superhumans!) This was true for me, as well. Although I had less money, I was able to fill the space with taking care of myself (walks and yoga), planning and cooking healthy meals, taking a drive for pleasure (not just to get from A to Z in the shortest amount of time possible). Suddenly, an hour long $2 cup of coffee at a café was a great luxury that I was able to afford. While it cost just a small amount of money, what it took was time, but this was time (that was time enjoyed).
Matt works only 4 days/week and we get to spend 3 days off together. What this means, however is that we are only able to afford renting a very small, 1 bedroom cottage, we often split meals out at restaurants, and I always pack my lunches on days when I’m working. Forget about going clothes shopping, or getting drinks and appetizers when we’re out for dinner. Forget about having cable television (instead we rely on Hulu and Netflix), but what we do have is time. This weekend we went out for breakfast and the bill came to $20 (excluding tip). Then we went to Earthbound Organic Farm and walked around the garden, shared a $5 cup of coconut chocolate ice cream and just felt grateful for the weather, for the way the garden flowers smelled, and for the time that we have to spend with each other. It was a simple pleasure, but it felt real, and powerful, and pure. It felt like I was living life exactly the way I was supposed to, that these types of simple moments would be the ones that I look back upon with gratitude some day.
I was watching an Oprah episode years ago that she did on Denmark, and it is, supposedly, rated to be the happiest country. She took a tour around a “typical” Danish apartment which was very small and very simple compared to American homes. The Danish had a saying “less things, less space, more life” and this saying has stuck with me ever since. More life. Life is what is important right? I remember when I was working 40 hours/week and then attending classes in the evening two days/week. On those days I would get home at 9:30, get ready for bed, and then get up and go back to work. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life, like my life was filled with obligations on those days, and I often felt like I was failing at living life to the fullest. I wasn’t doing any activities for pure pleasure. I wasn’t feeling joy.
I’ve realized that, for me, “less space, less things, more life” is really a mantra; one that makes me feel like I am living life to the fullest. I would rather have a house someday with one less bedroom if it means one less day of work/week. I’d rather forgo a fancy vacation if it means I can pay for a year of unlimited yoga (something I get pleasure from all year round). I’d rather pack my lunches and then go out to eat with Matt after work instead because this will give me the most pleasure for my money. We are all different, however and I think it’s important to discover for yourself what makes you happy. Maybe you get real pleasure from ordering that glass of wine at dinner. Great. Maybe you would get more pleasure from a fancy vacation than a gym membership. Cool. I think that the most important thing is to ask ourselves “will this make me happy, and is my money being spent in a way that provides me the most amount of pleasure?” When we think about it, money is basically an exchange for our time right? Is the cost of that new item worth giving up whatever amount of time you have to exchange of your life to pay for it? Are you spending your money in the most efficient way? The part of our brains that is responsible for the wanting is very minimally in communication with the part of our brain that processes emotions. Therefore, we often want things without really thinking whether they will make us happy, and that’s the problem. We think we need something, or want something without really thinking whether it will contribute to our happiness and what we unknowingly exchange for that shitty new nail polish that we won’t even wear again is time and life.
I remember one yoga class about a year ago where we were all getting into Standing Head to Knee pose, standing leg locked, right knee bent, hands clasped under our foot, staring…more like glaring into the mirror with intensity and determination. Nobody was smiling (not that smiling is a common practice during a Bikram class) and everyone was taking the class waaaay too seriously (including me). As our teacher was verbally leading us into this pose she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She instructed the class to “be sincere but not too serious” because we were all too serious at that moment. After hearing this, I remember becoming aware of how seriously I was taking this particular yoga class and this particular yoga pose… and I relaxed, smiled a little to myself, and tried not to take the class too seriously after that. My yoga teacher (a different one) reminded me of this philosophy a couple of days ago when she instructed the class not to judge themselves too harshly ESPECIALLY in the yoga studio and I thought to myself “be sincere but not too serious”.
Can’t we take this mantra to our everyday lives? We will all be dead someday (sorry if that is too morbid for you but it’s true) let’s have some fun along the way. The perspective that we take in life is our choice. Some people make life into a joke and others never have any fun, taking everything too seriously. Sometimes, I know, that I take the latter perspective and feel like I must do everything perfectly in order to “be good”. There is a balance between these two perspectives, however and that is to be sincere in life, to try and remain true to who you are, to live your life with intention, but not to take life too seriously that you miss out on the fun that can be found in everyday activities. The yoga studio is certainly a place where fun should be had, and judgements should be left at the door. Not everything is life or death and if you can’t get into that pose, or if you need to rest, this should not be taken as an extension of your self-worth. If you fall out of a pose, smile to yourself and get back in. In the outside world ask yourself “will this matter in a year?” and if the answer is “no” don’t sweat it…Be sincere, not too serious.
Something that I learned through yoga is that so many things in our life are practices, not destinations. A practice is something you do regularly, like yoga, whereas a destination is a place to which you arrive. In America, especially, we think of things as a destination rather than a practice. Health, love, happiness…the things that are most important are practices. These states are not a place that we arrive to, because they are active, requiring consistent effort and intention. Health depends on the choices we make everyday and in the words of John Mayer “Love is a verb”. The same is true of yoga and of balance. Balance is not a place that we arrive to, but rather something that we can maintain through constant effort, movement, and change.