A guest blog by Caryn O’Hara
Isn’t that interesting?
It’s a question we ask ourselves often when we traverse the mindful path. The mindful path is a phrase we use to describe our chosen lifestyle of regularly opting to observe, listen, and surrender as daily practices that inform us about ourselves, the world, and people within it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment on purpose. The overarching goal is to do this without judgement. We set our intention on becoming a witness, which is not an overnight shift given the human brain is naturally wired to judge and discern. To add to the challenge, modern western culture is “more” obsessed, which essentially makes an awareness-based lifestyle the wise person’s way of experiencing a life of rebellion.
Simply stated: it’s time to stop glorifying more is more. The truth is less is more.
Understanding the neurobiology
based on base
According to a poignant Psychology Today article from 2009, “humans have two distinct ways of interacting with the world”. The first is the default network, which is filtered by a narrative we have threaded through our minds based on our past experiences and samskara, or epigenetics. Samskara/epigenetics explains how trauma gets passed down through generations, how it affects DNA and changes its expression from parent to child. Of course we aren’t only affected by our parents’ and their parents’ trauma; we might say we are positively injected with components from uplifting and supportive experiences had by our ancestors.
Conversely, the direct experience path is the other network from which we interact in the world and it is essentially the practice that takes place along the mindful path. In this type of interaction, senses like sight, smell, touch are used to bring us into the present moment to fully experience the essence of what is happening right now, less a connection to any previously experienced moment in time.
Isn’t that interesting?
Minding the lifestyle
Living with present moment awareness might not be the mainstream way of living. Moreover, when we choose to live more mindfully it isn’t for the sake of being socially disruptive; it just happens to shake out that way.
Here are five reasons to live with awareness:
- honor our fundamental needs as humans,
- recognize where we are on the path of evolution as a species,
- identify the neuroses we all carry from time to time,
- acknowledge how we set ourselves up for failure and not feeling like we are enough when we expect ourselves to operate at maximum productivity at all times,
- and come to terms with the inner and outer destruction we cause when we force ourselves to live the go, go, go lifestyle.
Perpetually living in “more is better” mode isn’t natural. It certainly isn’t sustainable from a neurobiological perspective since our mind and body need to spend time in rest and repair mode to maintain long-term health. This isn’t to say we can’t indulge or enjoy sensory pleasures (these are non-negotiables for me!); it’s more about noticing our choices, how they affect us, and whether or not making certain choices truly benefits the lifestyle we crave.
This is the conundrum we all face. The million dollar question… How do we live in this fast-paced world and remain authentically connected to an inner sense of health, joy, contentment, and peace?
Reaping the benefits
Quite honestly the list is endless, but if we can wrap your head around making the commitment we will be greatly rewarded no doubt. According to research, “people high on a mindfulness scale were more aware of their unconscious processes”. This means we’re more likely to catch ourselves before we say or do something that would typically cause more strife in our lives – even when we’re triggered during a disagreement. The key here is to practice mindfulness regularly. It’s not a one and done type of cause and effect.
World-renowned psychiatric research scientist, John Teasdale, reminds us:
“Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort… it’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”
Dipping Our Toes Into Mindful Waters
If you’re wondering how to become more mindful, how to make conscious decisions to move from a life that is constantly spent intellectualizing to make decisions to a more heart-centered approach to life, there is a much less stressful, much more freeing way to live.
Here are a handful of quick pointers on how to begin living with greater health and contentment, more joy and peace:
- Start with one thing. One 10-minute period for yourself to breathe mindfully before others wake up? Write down one thing for which you are grateful before you lay your head down each night.
- Breathe. Mindfully take in a slow, deep inhale for a count of 5. If you are stressed or wound up, extend your exhales longer than the inhale count and slowly release. Repeat at least 3-10 times.
- Try catching yourself in a space of shame. What are you ashamed of? Why? Does anyone else care that you did/said what you did/said. If not, the practice is to notice the shame and remember you don’t have to live with it anymore. If you have hurt someone in the process of doing/saying what you did/said, ask yourself if you can make it right. If yes, do it. If no, apologize authentically and do your absolute best not to do/say it again.
- Get quality sleep. Our long term health will be affected – for better or worse – as we connect to circadian rhythm, the natural rhythm of waking and retiring with the sun as much as possible.
- *Try out a workshop (such as Ayurveda’s Winter Survival Kit) with someone with extensive training and many hours of personal experience who can lead you to a place of calm so you gain the benefits of the experience. A bonus here is the ability to then repeat these experiences with the same trained professional or on your own using the techniques you learned.
*Ayurveda’s Winter Survival Kit is not a workshop that only supports your health if it’s snowy and below freezing. The workshop is designed to support your nervous system, to de-escalate its excitement, reducing stress, and increasing the body’s natural immunity to unwellness. Each Tuesday for four weeks, you will be guided through an hour that will rejuvenate and bring mindful moments into your wellspring of intelligent ways to heal and feel inherently good.
Edward (not his real name) had been practicing with us at Mission for a while. Struggling with the isolation of early adulthood, he was determined to uncover a better way to move through the world.
Edward is tall and lithe, intelligent and perhaps a bit neurotic, as many hyper intelligent people are. He is also hyper mobile in his joints. He can do that terrifying thing with his arms and shoulders that break-dancers do sometimes where it looks like they have no bones. He is always collapsing into his postures, losing stability and lacking support.
On one particular day during a two-hour practice, I asked everyone to move to a spot on the wall to work on different layers of a possible inversion. Upon approach I can see that he has the strength to kick up and hold himself up but his chest, hips and head are going indifferent directions and his legs are sort of flailing apart.
“Press into your hands Edward and find your midline,” I say. He can’t find it. He can’t seem to find himself, his distinction, his stability.
After gaining consent, I place a balled up hand in between his legs at the inner thigh and ask him to squeeze my hand. His body organizes quickly and for a moment he is a strong and stable. It’s just a glimpse, a flash of recognition for him. He comes down smiling. You have weak boundaries Ed….. am I right, I say. He laughs then gets serious for a moment as it lands. Yes, he says. Yes, I do.
Edward is learning how to apply boundaries in his body. Boundaries come in many shapes and forms and we must learn and understand them all. A boundary is something that indicates or fixes a limit according to Merriam Webster.
The idea that freedom is a complete eradication of limitation is a misinterpretation of Yoga entirely.
Unlimited flexibility in a body creates chaos in the same way that a lack of emotional boundaries creates chaos in your personal life. The desire to go deep into poses at the expense of integrity is destructive NOT liberating.
Types of Boundaries in the body:
Tissue and joint limitation that arises from habits and repetitive activities/beliefs or injuries.
Tissue limitation that is an expression of a nervous system stuck in a stress response tone.
Joint/bone limitation that is structural and based on unchangeable forms we are born with.
Body limitations that are imposed purposefully to maintain stability and a sense of organization and ultimately freedom.
In Psychology, positive boundaries help us maintain autonomy and a healthy sense of self.
Personal accountability is hard to access when we aren’t able to say no to others and to situations in life. Resentment builds as we give away our autonomy. Blame and a lack of accountability grow and we suffer. Applying boundaries means taking responsibility for our lives.
The overlap between the physical and the psychological is the domain of the Yoga practice.
Framework of the practices of Yoga through the lens of Boundary work:
Work to shift patterned restriction and heal the nervous system creating more mobility and function. This is done through asana, and therapeutic techniques as well as making changes in your daily habits.
Practice accepting and honoring the inherent limitations of your body and circumstances that can’t be changed.
Work on pulling back from over-reaching and instead apply isometrics, use props, and prize stability and ease. In Sarayana Yoga we learn to uncover universal and personal boundaries through GRID ALIGNMENT and CORE ALIGNMENT techniques. Postures often become less dramatic but more fully inhabited and embodied.
In my opinion, Integrity is a primary goal of human development.
A good therapist and a skilled yoga teacher can help you ask the right questions but only you can find the answers to your own growth. Be courageous and get your shit together☺
“No is a complete sentence.” –Anne Lamont
You have probably heard of the Slow Food movement. Our fast food nation is faced with a health, heart, and planetary crisis that slow food can help heal. If we eat what grows locally, and cook that fresh and local produce at home, we not only eat healthier food, but we learn to slow down and take nourishment form a real meal, eaten with attention.
Convenience gives the illusion of more time and more ease but we are learning that the opposite is true. The more convenience we have, the more we cram into our lives with less value and connection overall to our lives and our communities.
The Yoga world is also becoming a Fast Food environment with random classes everywhere, drop ins on ClassPass, and the overall speed and intention of practice designed for mass consumption and instant gratification. Harder, faster, louder styles of yoga are becoming the norm and students expect to be entertained and applauded just for showing up.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there is another way.
Slow Yoga is like slow food. It requires you to pause and look around long enough to find a studio and a teacher you are willing to settle into practice with. Slow Yoga is both the speed of asana you practice as well as the container you choose to practice in.
Like the Slow Food movement, the rewards of slow yoga are profound and deeply rebellious in the best way.
Slow Yoga is yoga practiced consistently in community.
Slow Yoga is yoga seen as a wholistic practice that heals us first and foremost.
Slow Yoga is Yoga that isn’t about gimmicks or quick fixes.
Slow Yoga is asana practiced at a speed that allows feeling and reflection whether the asana is vigorous or gentle.
Here are some of the benefits of a slow practice:
1. Safety and Sustainability – When you take time to come into poses slowly you can set up your base well and make better choices. Coming out of poses mindfully increases your safety and lowers your chance of injury overall. You should be able to stay calm and stay in your breath throughout practice. Your nervous system is in flight or flight a lot and yoga should not be more of the same. If you practice yoga the way you live your life, you will reinforce patterns that aren’t serving you.
2. Improved Alignment – Within every style of Hatha yoga asana there are specific alignment rules that we learn and practice. Over time we gather the requisite strength, flexibility, and attention to execute a semblance of those rules which hold together in a recognizable pattern. When we take the time to set up the base of the pose and we linger a while, we get feedback from our own bodies and our teacher. We can continue to move more fully into a healthy and balanced expression of the posture. Muscular engagement, isometric actions and cross-referencing the body takes time and a skilled teacher/focused student to implement.
3. Improved Awareness – All of this attention to detail expands your internal landscape and helps you uncover a roadmap for your system. In Hatha Yoga we start by paying attention to the body in the most obvious ways but this practice leads towards a greater depth of experience overall. Through attention we shift patterns and grow.
4. Opportunity to Explore Personal Alignment/Core Alignment – Those rules of alignment mentioned above are sometimes standard, but often have more to do with a specific goal or general safety than overall correctness. Alignment is always changing and is often arbitrary. Because of this fact, not only do we need to go slow enough to refine the standard alignment but we also need to have the time to uncover a more personal and universal alignment. In Sarayana Yoga we call your personal alignment CORE ALIGNMENT. It is comprised of three experiential elements, ground, center, and sky. This core alignment is applicable to all poses, all movement, and once it is uncovered it is never lost.
5. Better Relationship with your Feelings – When we live in a state of auto pilot on overdrive we don’t have the time to feel what we are experiencing. The longer we live in this way, the less equipped we are to deal with intense emotions when they do arise. Social media, food, alcohol, sex, shopping, and entertainment of all kinds are used like a super destructive drug of avoidance. Our practice though, offers big medicine for this cultural ill. As we slow down and get quiet, all of those feelings come up. We learn to befriend difficult emotions and eventually clear old stagnant ones that have been clogging up the system.
While Yoga is for EVERYBODY, not everybody actually wants to practice yoga. If you are called to the transformational study and practice of Yoga, I encourage you to slow down and do the work. The rewards are endless.
Lots of people tell the story about how they were dragged to yoga class and hated it at first. They either begrudgingly continued on or didn’t try it again for years. At some point they felt a shift, things clicked, and yoga made sense to them and seemed good for them. That is not my story.
After my first yoga class I went home, plopped onto my bed, and told my boyfriend of that tender decade that I would be a yoga teacher some day. I bought all the books from Barnes and Noble I could find within the first month and spent countless hours in the studio practicing, bugging my teachers for extra help, and trying to build a home practice so I could more quickly progress. Many workshops, several certifications, and a few yoga conferences later I discovered that I was tired and stalling out on my growth trajectory. Exhaustion and even a sense that I didn’t fit into my practice correctly took hold. It was time for a change.
15 years later I can confidently report that the yoga practice is an integrated part of my life, which is inseparable from the rest of my experiences. The changes I can report are vast. The effects of a long and measured practice are staggering as I reflect back over the years. Here is my best advice for working through burnout and carving a personal path in the often standardized and limiting post modern commercial yoga world.
1. Recognize that the rose colored glasses of new love wear off.
If you choose the yogic path as a life path you will inevitably come up against the reality of a committed relationship or a marriage of sorts. In other words, the magic and specialness shift into a new normal and then the work of yoga begins.
Eventually you must come to look at the asana/pranayama/meditation practices as housekeeping for a larger exploration of your whole life. There are two Niyamas of the 8 limbs of yoga to consider here: Tapas and Svadyaya.
Tapas means heat, discipline, and dedication to the aims of yoga. Discipline isn’t always pleasurable and neither is scrubbing your floors. I always encourage students to practice finding the sacred within the mundane. Holiness in dailiness is an ongoing practice of yoga.
Instead of seeking out more and more extreme experiences in yoga, we have to get more and more willing to be intimate with the small normal moments of life.
Svadyaya means self-study and study of the context or philosophy of yoga. Burnout is a sign that you are ready to expand. It means the next layer of yoga is just around the bend!
2. Return to the place you started and know it for the first time.
If you love yoga asana and found yourself inclined to pursue a physical practice that focused on lots of gymnastic variations, chances are, you skipped over some of the really important “basics.”
Foundations are not just understanding the alignment of familiar poses. Building the foundations of both physical and conceptual yoga should happen together. The concepts, postures, and coordinations arise together so it is probably time to take some basic classes again and tend to your connection to the ground and your breath as you move.
Reach out to a trusted teacher and schedule a private session to work on your foundations. It will cost you, but it will be worth it. Drop in Yoga is not the best way to glean insight and gain guidance.
3. Expand your definition of Yoga practice.
Burnout may be an indication that the style of movement you were initially attracted to isn’t serving you. That isn’t uncommon. Many of us start in a system that mirrors our tendencies, likes, and dislikes. We choose a movement pattern and dogma that reinforces our natural patterns. Over time this creates imbalance. Shifting to different movement patterns and styles might be necessary. It was for me.
I’d also encourage you to look at therapy sessions, acupuncture, bodywork, journaling, and volunteer work as yoga practice. Again the practice of Svadyaya ( self-study) can be expanded very broadly as long as you are consciously choosing these things and seeing them as yoga.
4. Establish a working definition of Yoga and the goals of yoga.
You would think this is easy but people have been grappling with these questions for thousands of years and the inquiry is part of the practice. Ultimately yoga is not something quantifiable from the outside. It is a personal and ongoing exploration of the self, an uncovering of truth and freedom.
Studying up on The Yoga Sutras and some of the later Tantric texts can be helpful but look for a teacher and a community to study with.
I hope this advice inspires you to widen and deepen your connection to yoga if that appeals to you.
Know that if you leave the practice behind, you are not failing at anything. Your value is inherent and you don’t need permission to exist and thrive.
That luminous awareness within me
sees and honors that clarity within you.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
― Henry David Thoreau