Friday, March 29, 2013

Being Flexible, Adaptable, and Optimistic

Flexibility, adaptability and optimism.  
Sounds so nice, doesn't it? What's the first thing you think of? Your friends? Colleagues? Your mind? Pet? 

Since this is a yoga blog, I'll first liken the phrase to a yoga class.  

You have to be flexible in a yoga class. No - I don't mean the physical kind.  In fact, it's much easier to teach people who are less flexible physically because they actually feel the correct alignment a little easier.  I'm talking about the being-able-to-change kind of flexible.  You have to come willing to be flexible in mind, and open in spirit. New sensations may arise in your body.  Be okay with this.  Someone's mat might be too close to yours because the class is too big. Be okay with this.  You might hear a lawn mower outside. Be okay with this. 

Adaptable.  You might not think your body is capable of becoming more physically flexible.  You may enter yoga class with the mental blockage: "I know I can't do this pose - I'm just going to stay in downward dog for a while," or "This teacher's style is not what I'm used to - I probably won't like it." 
If you know a pose will be too hard for you, adapt.  Grab a block or a prop of some sort and try it anyway.  Who cares if you don't go as deep as everyone else.  Adapt to your surroundings - surrender - and allow yourself to learn something new.  

Optimism. You know how you have those bad days once in a while and even though that smiley person on the subway annoys you sometimes because they talk too much, they always, at some point, make you laugh? Be that person that makes other people laugh.  I'm not talking about bouncing into the office and saying "Good Morning!" really loudly to everyone you see first thing in the morning - but take any inner turmoil that you may wake up with in the morning and meditate on this: Everyone you meet today is going through something worse than you.  Since you have the awareness that all it takes is a conscious decision to be happy, you need to be the one to turn their frown upside down.  

I heard these three words from a friend who was a fire fighter for many years, later became fire chief, and who himself heard these words from the chief of the London Fire Brigade.  When describing how the LFB tries to maintain an organization that is dedicated to effective public service the Commissioner said that "the organization tries to hire people who are flexible, adaptable and optimistic."

I looked up the London Fire Brigade website just to confirm that it was true.  On their application for employment the following was a qualification for hiring a Deputy Head:

Demonstrable influencing skills, able to be flexible and adaptable to different people and situations, using empathy and perception to instil confidence in others
- London Fire Brigade 

I got to thinking what it would be like if every place of employment hired employees in this way - instilled these principles in their teams and fostered these sentiments in team meetings.  If every school instilled them in their classrooms.  If every parent reminded their children....  

I decided to break each point down and really study each word - Influencing: The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.  Flexible: Able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances or condition.  Adaptable: Able to adjust to new conditions or to be modified for a new use or purpose. Different: Unlike in nature; novel and unusual. Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Perception: The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. Instill: Gradually but firmly establish (an idea or attitude, esp. a desirable one) in a person's mind. Confidence: The state of feeling certain about the truth of something.
If you really took each of these definitions to heart and truly demonstrated what the LFB looks for in their employees...

Do you know what would happen?
Your confidence would flourish (something the universe desperately needs); your ego would disappear; your heart would open fully; you would serve others selflessly; collaboration would create beautiful things; you would understand that there are others - humans and non-humans on this planet - that are made up of the same stuff you are - that they essentially are you; that your positive influence can have a major impact on someone; that it's not so hard to modify slightly in order to create positive change; that you are unique; that the world needs you to share and speak your truth; that this can all be accomplished by Love. 

Gabrielle Bernstein does a great job of speaking the truth in this video

Now think of those words again: 
Flexibility, adaptability, optimism.  What do you think of now? Do you embody these at work? With your friends? With strangers? Your partner?

If not, it might be time to start opening your heart and speaking your truth.  

Be flexible - with yourself and others. Adapt.  Be optimistic.  It's hard not to be when truth is all you know. 


Monday, March 18, 2013

10 Things a Yogi-in-Training Should Start Today

Being a dedicated yogi means creating healthy habits every day.  In fact just by practicing yoga every day, you will find that some of your old habits will change and new ones will easily replace them.  Here are a few habits that have allowed my practice to soar to new heights.

1. Get up before you normally do. 
This might mean going to bed early, too.  I know, I know...I'm a late-night type of gal myself but *expletive* is the early morning sweeeeet!  According to Ayurvedic Science, the time just before the sun is starting to rise is the Vata time of day and is when we dream, then wake, eliminate, meditate, and exercise.  If you're like me, and most of your life have been working or playing late until the wee hours- checking email, reading news, drawing, creating - you go to bed feeling energized and sometimes your mind can be too filled with thougths to really get a well-rested sleep. 
Try going to bed early.  Your body will naturally wake closer to the rise of the sun - and you will feel like a million bucks.

2. Meditate every day.
Five minutes at first. That's all you need to start cultivating this beautiful little life force called Prana.  When you meditate, you literally call upon all that wicked positive energy of the universe and you add to this gigantic pool of beauty.  Not sure how to meditate?  Sit in a quiet spot (if possible) with your butt not too high and not too low.  I like to sit on a rolled-up yoga mat with a blanket on top so my hips are higher than my knees, and my folded legs/knees are touching the earth.  You can also sit comfortably in a chair.  Your back should be straight, and your spine in line with your head for optimal pranic flow. At first do whatever you can to clear your mind: Take a few deep breaths; if your "to-do" list keeps popping up, write it down and be done with it for the next 5 - 10 minutes.  Try repeating silently any of these mantras:
  • Om mani padme hum - a universal mantra known to contain the essence of buddha teaching
  • Om Namah Shivaya - "I honor the Spirit within"
  • Soham or Hamsa - "I am that"
  • Om Tat Sat - a purification mantra
  • Or you can create your own mantra such as "I am love," or "Breathing in, I smile to my breath, breathing out, I shine love all around me," or just as simple as, "In-breath, out-breath." (See Thich Nhat Hanh's site for more insight on breathing mantras)
Many thoughts will arrise. When I tried this for the first time as a teenager, I thought I would never be able to quiet my mind.  Finally, however, you begin to "train" your mind to be calm and you will start to feel the physical effects.
When you meditate, you tune into this crazy universal energy and your body naturally begins to choose positive lifestyle habits and foods that better support your life!

3. Practice poses you don't necessariliy like.
Parsva Tadasana with feet together, Utkatasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana were some of my most dreaded poses when I started! I avoided them at all costs.  Now they are all regular, simple poses in my practice.  I have now begun practicing variations on the full backbend, do inversions freely (which I also always hated, because of years of back trauma) and love bending myself into a pretzel!
When you just try poses you're not fond of, it's amazing what opens up in your heart, in your practice, and in your daily life.

You tell 'em, Des:

4. Remove processed food from your diet.
I'm not Catholic but for the first time in my life, I decided to give up something for Lent.  Processed Sugar.
I've never been one of those "junk-food junkies" and am not fond of any of that chewy candy anyway like gummy worms or starbursts or swedish fish.  But I do love that tasty hazelnut spread (sugar, artificial flavor) any kind of dark chocolate bar (sugar, sugar) and of course that "Chocolate bar that satisfies" (sugar, corn syrup, milkfat, more sugar) and although all of these things do satisfy in the moment, I find more and more that it takes my body extra time to feel "normal" again.
I put this little sugar tale to the test.  On day 13 of Lent, it was my mom's birthday and we had a little celebration.  A friend showed up with Ice Cream Cake - you know - with that extra gooey gel frosting stuff? (MMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmm my weakness!) Well everyone around me was wolfing the stuff down and, usually one with impeccable self-control, I ask, "Should I have a little?" In unison, my very supportive family and friends exclaimed, "YES."
No further questions. I dove in. I'm not Catholic anyway - a little bit won't hurt me and I won't even have the guilt to follow!
Was I wrong.
Not to get too graphic and detailed, but I don't remember the last time my food followed me to say hello again the next day. If my memory serves me correctly, it was when I was about 8 years old, choking on a cheese stick.  That next morning, after ridding my body of sugar for the past 2 weeks, my big piece of ice cream cake came back to say hello. I felt awful.
After that, Lent is proving to be much easier and not only do I now avoid processed sugar quite easily, I have also had to be very creative in the kitchen, finding sweets that don't contain sugar, finding much healthier alternatives and eating much more fruit.

5. Start reading the dharma.
How do you feel after watching reality TV shows? After hours of celebrity gossip? After scanning social media sites all day?
When I tell people that in my spare time, I enjoy reading the "Indian Bible" I definitely tend to get a few eye rolls.  I'm not saying that everyone has to drop their "chillax" time in front of the tube and get down to studying spiritual philosophy.  But a few Rumi poems now and again won't hurt.  In fact, it is said that just by reading this type of enlightened work, pranic vibrations start to enter your energy field.
Other books that'll make you go Hmmmm:
Light on Yoga - B.K.S Iyengar
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice
The Poetry of Yoga

6. Smile. Every day. A lot.
To yourself in the morning, to whoever the first person or creature is that you set your eyes upon today, even during that yoga pose that makes your thighs burn.  Smiling is contagious.  Smiling makes others "get out of their head" and pull them into the present moment.  Smiling makes you realize that this difficult pose can actually be a lot of fun! 
You'll be more attractive to everyone around you, too.  You'll have that special glow and people will think, "I wonder what she/he is so happy about." 
And to know all they have to do is turn up the corners of their mouth.... :)

7. Set an Intention.
We do this before every yoga practice.  There's a reason you show up on your mat every day (or however often you do).  It could be to become stronger.  It could be to feel more energetic.  It could be to quiet your mind or to find 60 - 90 minutes of peace.  Ultimately, we come to our mats to feel good or to cultivate more awareness.  We might practice to cultivate love and to be able to make someone else feel good.  Lately, I've been dedicating each practice to a friend of mine who is going through a hard time and since I know he doesn't have a yoga practice of his own, I try to build up the strength and send it to him.
It could be something very specific too: "I am practicing these poses to cultivate kindness to my colleagues today," or "I dedicate this practice to eating healthy food all day."
Whatever your intention is, setting one will make your practice that much stronger and valuable.  You will also be more apt to carry that intention with you all throughout the day.

8. Do What it is you were put on this earth to do.
When I was 11 or 12 I remember my mom listening to me sing along to the radio. "How can you hit those high notes?"  "I dunno," as I shrugged my shoulders.  She saw a talent and a desire in me and signed me up for voice lessons almost immediately.  I remember being ecstatic after my first lesson.  Singing, and now writing, playing music and performing has given me that same happy adrenaline rush since elementary school and I try to practice a little every day to cultivate one of those things I was put on this earth to do. 
I played sports my whole life but when we started practices for field hockey in high school, we ran around the gigantic field for miles.  We would always stretch a little before we ran, but I really got into it.  Then after practice, I would sit on the field, stretching deeply into the pain and tightness in my legs while the sun was setting and everyone else trekked up the big hill to their cars.  The next day in school while everyone was limping and barely able to make it up the stairs, I would bounce along like gumby. For anyone who would listen, I loved explaining the benefits of stretching and showing them what I had learned.  
Later, I realized I could stretch right along with a passionate group of people who just loved to stretch all day!!!! And you could make a career out of it! 
Yoga became a huge part of my life and, again, I cultivate this practice on a daily basis, teaching others and learning more about it every day. 

9. Listen.
People love to talk.  About their kids, their dog, their accomplishments, their problems.  Sometimes they want to hear about your stuff to, but mostly, they just want you to listen.  So do that.  And in your silence, they will find a true friend, a true mentor, and they might learn that sometimes it's okay for them to be silent, too.

10. Be Grateful.
I've mentioned before: the Buddhists say, "If you wake up and you don't have a toothache - be happy!"
True dat.
It's true that "gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions." (Thanks, Zig) it actually feels good to be grateful! It makes you give back more, which also feels good and actually makes you smile more (see point #6). 

Now let's see - I rose out of bed while the sun was just peeking over the horizon, meditated with a new mantra, "Om Tat Sat," practiced some poses even with burning muscles from this weekend's workshop,  had some lemon water and oatmeal with bananas blueberries, read some beautiful articles which inspired this post, smiled (I always do during meditation), and set the intention to focus on my blog and websites today.  I have a plan to practice my music in a little bit for a gig coming up and I am so grateful that you made it to the end of my blog post!

Now if I see anyone on my day off or if you have any comments for me, I will be sure to take my own advice and listen with open ears.

Om Namah.