Tag: joy

How To Stop Sitting Yourself To Death

The very first instruction of the Bowspring practice is to create a Radiant Heart. Sound a little “woo-woo?” It’s not. It’s practical and absolutely critical.

Our society sits. We sit when we eat, when we work, when we drive, when we binge on Netflix — we sit so much it affects our posture, our strength, and even our mood. The Harvard Business Review, New York Times, and Huffington Post have all declared: Sitting is the new smoking.

This sedentary lifestyle doesn’t just lead to poor fitness, heart weakness and obesity – if that wasn’t enough – it also hurts. It encourages upper back to round and collapse, shoulders to hunch and curl forward, and the head to hang heavy on top of the neck. Physically, this posture contributes to headaches, jaw clicking and soreness, neck and shoulder pain. The head exerts progressively more pressure on the spine (an extra 10 pound force for every inch forward) making back and shoulder pain worse — and tragically this shape impedes the muscles that support the head.

So if you have headaches, shoulder aches, neck pain, or TMJ, get serious about your sitting habit.

And it gets worse.

The physical pain and soreness are a problem. The health impact is an epidemic. The emotional and spiritual impact are devastating.

This is a dejected posture of depression and sadness. Our head hangs down, our heart heavy. These phrases are idiomatic for a reason — ours is a posture of rejection. It’s the shape we make when our boss yells at us in the staff meeting. It’s the protection our body takes when we finally muster the courage to ask that cute guy out… and he says no. It’s a primal posture that says “Don’t mind me — I’m trying to disappear.”

The tragic irony of this should not be lost on us: our sedentary lifestyle reinforces the creeping feeling that we don’t matter. We could just disappear, and maybe we should.

Just as that feeling creates this posture, the posture reinforces the feelings of rejection, collapse, worthlessness. And to avoid the pain of those feelings, we eat (sitting at a table), drink (sitting at a bar), and scarf down 13 hours of Orange is the New Black — stuffed as far back into our sofas as we can possibly get.

What if creating a feeling of worthiness was as simple as changing the way you stand?

Bowspring teaches us to fill ourselves up from the inside – not from the outside. We learn to fill up from the center of us – from the place in us that’s always there, the place yogis have called on for millennia. You may have heard “namaste” translated as “The light in me sees the light in you.” That’s a poetic translation, but the message is clear: don’t forget the light that lives inside you. I don’t forget it. And in remembering your lightness, I remember my own.

That light radiates into the Radiant Heart. When you fill your ribcage, you remind yourself physically and experientially: I’m bigger than this. I have enough. I’m brave enough to take up space.

I’m full enough to share, to help, and make new space.

You take a stand and say: I am worthy.

Come learn Bowspring with me in five playful mornings starting August 29 at Wild Lotus Yoga.

Does Practice Matter?

“You get good at what you show up for.”

My teacher Mitchel shared this with us in my teacher training, and it has stuck in my craw ever since. It’s not just my craw – I’ve shared it with my students, and my friend Tracey Duncan even wrote a great post about it.

It’s a gem almost so obvious that it hides in plain sight: you get good at what you show up for. So if you want to get good at something, show up for it. Again and again.

Perhaps the more painful realization is what we’re getting good at through repetition. For me, it’s watching Nurse Jackie and hitting snooze on my alarm 5 times every morning. But it’s also showing up to teach, voraciously researching music for practice, and studying the human body.

The hardest part about this is showing up — instead of being partially present, or half-invested, to commit yourself totally to one task. In our society this is almost impossible. Phone notifications, emails, texts binging, constant noise of TV or radio in the background — how could you be fully present with any one thing for even five minutes? It seems almost superhuman!

Showing up asks us for humility. It asks us to come to a task – whether it’s washing the dishes or sitting for meditation – with an open mind. It asks us to participate fully and receive all the information that we’re being given. To show up, we have to see our strengths and weaknesses with equal attention. We have to release our expectation of what might happen, surrender our demands of a particular task. Two days ago, you ran three miles effortlessly? Today, just one will be a slog and a struggle.

Showing up requires we surrender our evaluation, because we’ll never fully understand why balance comes so easily one day and is elusive the next. In fact, trying to “figure it out” is just another distraction — our sneaky brain’s way of short circuiting the power of focus.

Animals are great teachers of showing up. My dog Bodhi and my cats are fully committed to everything they do. Watch a dog focused on a squirrel — this is the guidepost for practice — total commitment, dedication, focus; the rest of the world fades away. In thousands of walks, my dog has never once caught a squirrel. But every time he sees one, he is just as committed, just as dedicated, just as focused. He doesn’t lose hope. He doesn’t lose sight of what he’s after. He’s simply showing up to get that damn squirrel.

I aspire to show up that way, even though it’s incredibly scary. All my notifications and distractions are there because I’m afraid I might miss something: the perfect text from the guy I like, the next big media disaster about a gun rampage, a storm coming. I am reinforcing my constant fear that I might miss something, and somehow be left out, left behind, or left for dead. I’m afraid I’ll be left.

I undermine my practice by questioning, constantly, “Do I really want to get good at this?” or “Does it matter?” I saw a great meme the other day: the greatest question every artist asks himself is not “will they like it” or “will they understand” but instead “Does it matter?”

Does practice matter?

In the end, what we practice is irrelevant [sidenote: pick something you like]. What we’re really practicing is showing up. Committing ourselves to something or someone, dedicating ourselves to something bigger, and staying focused even when the going gets tough or it seems hopeless. To keep at it, keep moving, even when it’s uncomfortable or frustrating, disappointing or even painful. To stay in a relationship even when we’re terrified. To keep writing even when we think the novel is shit. Keep working, keep practicing. Keep showing up.

What we learn is that the JOY is in the practice. The fulfillment is in the commitment. We wake up in our focus. We transform in our attention. We show up.

Commencement — What I Wish Someone Had Told Me at My Graduation

I was invited to give the Commencement Address at Herzing University‘s December graduation last night.  It was one of those opportunities that came to me through a  series of unpredictable events (aka divine providence), but it meant I had just a few days to put together my thoughts for these graduates. I might have said something different if I had been given more time, but instead I just shared with them exactly where I’m living now. Check it out:

Good evening and welcome! I want to thank Jason for inviting me tonight. It is a deep honor for me to be among you, with your family and your friends and your partners and maybe even your children. I share with them deep pride in and inspiration by the dedication that got you here tonight. Please know that your work blazes a trail for everyone you meet – everyone who wants to make themselves better, their work better, and their world better. I want to a share a quote with you from one of my favorite authors, and it’s a quote I try to live my life by. Marianne Williamson says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

As you move forward after your time here at Herzing, you have two choices. You can move towards joy, or you can move away from fear.

We all have fears – even fears that we are powerful beyond measure. That power in us can be intimidating, and it encourages us to take risks – and sometimes those risks lead to failure. I don’t know about you, but I’m deeply afraid of failing. I might have been a little afraid to get up here tonight, afraid of what you think of me, afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, or that I’ll let you down.

But I made a choice – not to move away from that fear, but instead towards the deep joy of sharing with you something I believe so strongly. I know each of you were afraid to begin your studies here, I know each of you had moments when you thought, “I can’t do this.” And I know each one of you made a choice, with great courage in the face of that fear, to move forward.

I think you already know what so many people don’t know – you can live a life that you fall more deeply in love with every single day.

A very wise person once told me: if you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

And you know what I mean by happy – I don’t mean pleasure; I don’t mean sit on the couch eating bon-bons and binge watching “Orange is the New Black.” When I say happy, I mean so excited to get up in the morning that you’re simply thrilled to be alive.

If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

Sometimes when I say this, people argue. They always say some variation of these two things: One, “I don’t know what makes me happy,” and two, “I’m not sure I can be happy.”

I think you graduates know – I think you already have an inkling of what makes you happy. And it’s what got you to this chair tonight. It’s what got you through all those tough assignments, group projects, and the moments when you thought you couldn’t do it.

And if you’re still not completely sure – keep trying. Keep trying things on in your life; take risks. Get curious about the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to find things that don’t make you happy – but for heaven’s sake stop doing those things!

If you want to be happy, do the things that make you happy.

If any of you, any of you, fall into that second group, with a deep doubt that it is possible to be that happy – to be in love with your own life – trust me when I say it’s possible.  It’s not just possible for some of us.  It’s possible for each of you.

I learned too late in life that I had a choice to believe this. I could change what I thought about myself and my life. I was not a prisoner of my past, and I could instead embrace my future. And that’s what got each of you here tonight. If you can’t quite believe now, let me believe it for you: You can have a life and work where you are rewarded for being your complete, authentic self, and you fall in love with your life a little more every day.

Just like any other lifelong relationship, you will have doubts. You will wake up some mornings and think: “I’m just not sure I can do this.” That’s normal. It’s actually a great sign – because it’s a sign you’re about to grow. And you already know that because of how many times you maybe thought it in the last few years.

My mom went to medical school when she was 40 years old and I was 6. She once said, “the amount you learn is directly proportional to how uncomfortable you are.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

And I know you already know something about this. You know what helps you. I want to share what helps me, and what helps the people I work with every day:

Breathe. They kick me out of yoga teaching if I don’t remind everybody to breathe. Your breath can’t lie – when you get nervous it gets short, quick, and hard. When you’re content or relaxed it’s slow, steady and expansive. So when you’re scared or nervous, slow your breath down. It will trick your brain into thinking you’re content and relaxed. Trust me, it works.

Pray. Americans have a lot of baggage around the word God, so I try not to say it very much. I encourage you to find a deep, abiding connection with a power greater than yourself. Connect to the mystery and the miracle that your heart continues to beat every minute of every day. Don’t be afraid to get quiet. That leads me to the next one:

Be Grateful. Give thanks for the good things in your life, focus on the things that you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have yet. Your attention is one of the most valuable currencies you have: what you focus on grows. Remember and give thanks for the things that bring you joy. You might just find those things growing.

Be Kind. Be kind to people. Be kind to everyone. Even the people it’s hard to be kind to. I work with homeless drug addicts, corporate executives, and everyone in between. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: it doesn’t matter the circumstances of life, everyone is suffering. Be kind to the people you meet – everyone you meet. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

Laugh & Have Fun. Do things that make you laugh, just because they make you laugh. If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy. Laughter is like nature’s medicine – it’s also great ab work. Laugh as often as you can, and whenever possible, laugh with other people. Because the folks near you are struggling with all the same demons you are, and they need a laugh just as much as you do: maybe even more.

In closing, I want to say thank you. Thank you to your friends and your families for everything they did that got you here tonight. And thank each of you for not giving up when it got tough, but instead moving a little closer to your dreams every day.

The end of that Marianne Williamson quote I started with tonight is this:

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Congratulations. I can’t wait to see how each of you makes the world a little brighter.

Thank you, and good night.

The Challenge of a yogi

Nearly a year ago, almost to the day, I started my yoga teacher training. “Soul School” at Wild Lotus Yoga, in New Orleans.

Yes, it’s really called Soul School.  I’m not making that up.  Yes, you’re allowed to make fun of me.

I make fun of me, and laugh a lot about being “woo-woo,” and am self-conscious and self-aware, and simultaneously feel the pressure of being an evolved spiritual being.  Twice a week (or more, if I’m lucky) a handful of trusting folks sit in a room with me while I tell them to contort their bodies into odd shapes, and try to inspire them to live their lives in ways that make them the most fulfilled.

No pressure.

The past year has been the best and hardest and most inspiring year of my life.  But let me begin at the beginning:

I’m a smart cookie.  As a kid, I realized that if I couldn’t be pretty I could be smart.  As I got older, I hid behind “smart” — using it as protection from relationships, vulnerability, and other parts of life.  The trick about “smart” is that spirituality and smart don’t really go well together.  It’s tough to think about god, you can’t reason your way into faith.  God isn’t logical.  Faith doesn’t make sense.

I was a militant atheist in high school.  My lack of faith was a point of pride.  Nothing annoyed me more than the smug self-confidence of Believers.

In college, I found my depression.  Two years of sitting on the couch watching reruns of Law & Order when I wasn’t in class or at work finally sent me to therapy.  I had always been happy, cheerful, loved life.  Depression is an illness that strips away your joy — but that’s another topic of another entry.

I lucked out and found an amazing therapist who trained at the Jung Institute.  Over five years, I had the joy of being guided through reconnecting with all the aspects of myself — discovering that I didn’t have to be just “smart.”

About the same time, I started practicing yoga.  First, it was just “exercise.”  It was a good way to sweat, and I had a knack for it — I was naturally flexible, expressive, and introspective.  I was not interested in all the woo-woo Atman nonsense.

And then The Thing happened.  Everything I had believed about the way things work (governments, families, disasters, life…) was undermined in one fell swoop when the levees breached and my city flooded.  Faith is mandatory in situations like that.  Faith is what’s left when your beliefs are stripped away.

My practice continued.  I began hearing my teachers talk about things like “non-violence” and “lovingkindness.”  I learned sanskrit mantras and sang at kirtans.  My practice continued.  And after some length of time, I realized my practice was stalled.  I was stuck.  I knew I needed a boost, and I hoped that Soul School would do it.

Over eight months, I learned about my physical practice, I learned about my breathing, but I also learned about grace.  I learned some pretty simple ways to engage with my own spiritual side.  I learned about my faith.

I didn’t know what faith looked like, for me.  I still don’t know what god is, to me.  But now, I get to explore it, for myself, for the rest of my life.

Yoga means “to yoke.” It’s connection. Relationship.

Soul School taught me to yoke myself to faith, and to discover my spirituality.  It asked me questions about what’s really important, what brought me joy, where my power was.

This is not an essay about how you should go take a yoga class, or why God is good.  This is an essay about self-discovery.  And learning about yourself is the hardest and most inspiring thing you get to do in your life.  The best part?  You get to do it for the rest of your life.