The journey is what we make of it…

Journeys are a funny thing, aren’t they? Sometimes we move along our paths so quickly in pursuit of our goals that we lose the true meaning of the journey itself. Goals are awesome because they come from a place of want, of desire and wanting things that are important to us isn’t bad at all. The problem shows up in other ways, for instance, have you ever been reaching so hard for something that you fall trying to get it? I have, in fact, sometimes I’m doing something seemingly simple, like untying a knot and the harder I try to find and loosen the tangle the more often I drop what I’m holding. Or, imagine being a baby again or someone else who isn’t able to communicate with words or in writing like we do within our cultural norms, and knowing exactly what you want, but you don’t have a way to ask for it that anyone around you understands.  — UGH, these things are so frustrating!

Sometimes when these types of situations happen in my life I’m lucky enough to stop myself before the point of frustration and remind myself to slow down, take a deep breath and just let whatever I’m trying to do happen. And sometimes I get mad. Either way, it’s a journey, a stop along my path towards what I’m trying to achieve, my purpose. Dharma is our purpose, but not just our personal purpose it’s our universal purpose. When we live our purpose we contribute to the larger goal of creating a world in which all beings are happy, healthy and free. The Universe after all wants us to be one, because we are all born from one framework. In yoga we identify that we live in all things and that all things live inside of us, that we are not what we seem to be, we are not separate beings who just happen to live amongst each other, we are one being living out different manifestations of a single existence.

To me, that is the coolest thing about life, we get to live out our individual journeys so that we can share collectively in a common goal! It takes work, of course, we can’t just live our purpose, we first need to know what our purpose is. That’s part of the journey, to create a space in which we can hear our heart’s desire and, with a little intention, live out our dreams and achieve our goals. This process of living our goals in yoga is known as Sankulpa, a commitment to live out our highest truth, the truth that drives our universal goal to be a better community. Sankulpas are our personal way of identifying what we want and creating a goal to get what we want. That’s when we start to make progress on building a better world, through being the best we that we can be. Write your intention, your purpose, and when you’re ready share it with us, we’d love to know what drives you.

A most wonderful (eh-hem) time of year…

What a wonderful time of year! I mean the snow is falling and friends are calling after all, aren’t they? It’s December and with it comes ever-shortening days (leading up to the solstice) and the pressure to deliver – and no I don’t mean the big guy’s one-night only appearance at every stop around the world, I mean the pressure to be “on.” Whether we are two or 92, there are expectations placed upon us to perform, and that can be daunting, overwhelming and downright humbuggy even. I love this time of year, truly I do, and I, like many of us, feel the fuss and often drain that this time of year brings. So, what do we do about?

Well, that depends on you. — Not what you thought you were going to read, was it? You see, from an Ayurvedic, the sister science to yoga, perspective we each experience the world through the lense of our doshic, the three genetic constitutions which define our own beings, the world around us, and everything in it, makeup, and each of us has a unique constitution, and set of imbalances. As such it is nearly impossible for me, or anyone really, to tell the masses how to feel better when they’re feeling down, because each of us experiences “down” in different ways.

Some of us might be sad, some mad and some may seem utterly giddy, and yet really what you may be seeing is their nervous energy seeping out of every pore. *Deep breath* that’s a lot to take in. What I can say, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind is that yoga will fix it, whatever ‘it’ is to you, today. Yoga, union or to yoke, is the practice (yes, practice – it takes time and effort to master) of coming together as one. Not the oneness of sharing gifts, or even a meal with one another, but the oneness that presents itself through the practice of sitting together in complete comfort and steadiness.

Remember last week, when I wrote a little bit about sutra, thread, 2.46: sthira sukham asanam, calmness and steadiness in posture, this comfort and steadiness are needed throughout our experiences and perceptions, especially when we feel overwhelmed, so that we may respond instead of react and love rather than h*** (I don’t say/write the H-word, because it serves no purpose, except to remind us that we can and should(!) do better) and in turn create a world in which every time of year is wonderful, just because we treat each other wonderfully.
***NOTE: No matter how muddy life feels or stretched you feel, if you are feeling anything other than love for yourself today, please know that we at the Playful Yogi love you and you are not alone, please reach out to someone for help!       

Where comfort meets steadiness, we learn

I am by no means a Sanskrit, the original language of yoga, expert nor do I claim to be a scholar of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a set of texts which guide us towards living a yogic life, but through my yoga teacher training I’ve learned a little bit about one sutra, thread, in particular: sthira sukham asanam, Sutra 2.46. This yoga sutra is used to explain the concept that in yoga posture we should feel comfortable and steady, always. In yoga and in life, comfort and steadiness aren’t always an easy thing to come by. What if, though, we were to manage our expectation of these things, would they become easier to gain?

For instance, for some people standing on one foot is a very challenging thing to do, while for others it seems that those individuals could stand on one foot all day, never wobbling in the slightest. Does that mean that those people in the former category, the wobbly people, shouldn’t ever try standing one foot because they can’t do so easily, with comfort and steadiness? Of course not! Depending on what’s going on in our individual bodies at any given time, we may need more accommodations and/or more time in achieving our goal, to stand on one foot, but it’s a goal we can work towards, if we have the capacity to do so.

It’s important to remember, thought, that it is both possible to work towards a goal and never achieve that goal, and still have a very comfortable and steady yoga practice, and life. Above you read that the sutras are a series of concepts which guide us towards living a yogic life, yoga is life and life is yoga. It doesn’t matter if you can do fancy yoga poses, or even “easy” yoga poses for that matter, nor do you have to be able to meditate, or chant, or practice mudra, seal, you can live a yogic life simply by living honestly and practicing comfort and steadiness, always.

You see, math or reading might be a challenge for us, or perhaps sitting still during class is our biggest challenge, in those cases, sometimes we need more time or extra help learning how to find comfort and steadiness in those practices, but they are practices. Everything we do is an opportunity to practice being comfortable and steady, we might have an interaction with a friend, peer or an authority figure that is challenging, and our ability to stay comfortable and steady in our reaction is confronted. It’s then that we have the opportunity to choose to practice being our best selves and respond with comfort and steadiness, but it isn’t always easy to do so, and that’s the challenge.

The opposite is true, too. Maybe we easily know how to respond to, or navigate through a situation, but if we’re not awake to our response, if we respond without intention, we’re no more steady than we are in the face of a real challenge. It’s great to be relaxed in a situation, but we must also be aware to what’s going on around us. Our world isn’t one of isolation, every single one of our actions has a consequence, intended or unintended, and if we are unaware of our actions those consequences risk other people’s comfort and steadiness, even if our own comfort and steadiness remain in tact. We don’t have to be successful every time we try something, in fact, we learn more from failure than we do from success. But, for the comfort and steadiness of all, we must practice and be aware in order to continue to learn.

Unity, it’s not just a day — It’s yoga! 

Tomorrow marks the end of National Bullying Prevention Month, and while certainly bullying prevention and awareness are an every single day activity, there’s something kind of poetic about ending a month specifically devoted to this topic on Halloween. Halloween, a very fun day for sure(!), is a day on which we pretend to be someone other than ourselves. Imagination and playing pretend is an awesome way to light-up our creativity centers, and so absolutely be a superhero or a princess or a cactus for the day… Whatever you choose to dress-up as, if you have the opportunity to dress up this year, let it be something/someone that/who you admire, and maybe even try to learn a little more about that thing/person? 

And then, on November 1st, go back to being exactly who you are. It’s fun to sometimes pretend to be someone other than who we are born to be, but it’s just that, pretend; no matter how hard we work we can never aspire (try to become) a dog. We could aspire to be a firefighter or a scientist, and if that’s what you’d like to grow-up to do for work then great. Remember, though, that jobs are just jobs, test scores are just test scores, who we are is built into our soul, and that’s the part of us that needs the most nurturing. 

We need to like ourselves in order to be the best version of ourselves, and in order to do so we need to be built-up by those around us, or at the very least, we cannot be broken down by those around us. Enter in the concept of anti-bullying. A bully uses their power and status to diminish the power of someone else, and in doing so builds their own power even more. But, our individual power isn’t less just because someone else in our circle also has power, we can, and should each have the same amount of power, strength and confidence! 

Last Wednesday, October 25th, 2017, was National Unity Day, a day on which school-aged students across the country were encouraged and applauded for their appreciation and acceptance of other people’s differences. National Unity Day is an amazing day, because we get to tell the world how awesome it is to be an individual, and how in being unique we can build a stronger, more successful and happy community of individuals. When we celebrate each other’s distinct experiences, talents and voices, we have an opportunity to learn and advance our common goals. We come together as one, which is the point of yoga after all, Yoga, to yoke or union. Ask yourself, and comment below, how you can build community, union, with someone new today.  

Sticks and stones…

I remember hearing growing up, that words could never hurt me, and while the intention, to help soothe our tears when someone teases us, behind that phrase is an honorable one, this phrase should immediately be wiped from our vernacular! Words, how we say them and the order in which we place them, should always be precise because what we say does in fact matter, immensely. Please understand that I know how important it is to be comforted when we’re feeling sad about the words shared with us, but with the idea that words can never hurt us, we learn, knowingly or unknowingly, that words cannot hurt others as well…

Educational, and child development research is beginning to become more aware of the concept that when we are taught one thing, we inadvertently are taught the inverse, as well. For instance, think about how the word failure makes you feel: there’s a good chance that you were never expressly told that failure is a bad thing, but you probably feel badly about failure as an idea. Why is it that even the idea of failure brings up such strong emotions when in reality no one ever told us that it’s something of which to be ashamed? 

Well, the theory is that when we were told that we should strive for success, and praised for our successes early on, our brains automatically assigned the opposite of success, i.e. good, to be bad, i.e. failure. Yikes, that’s an unintended consequence, and the same principle of development and learning could be extrapolated out to reflect how we understand this sticks and stones business. Think about it, if we are expressly taught that the words that other people say to us cannot hurt us, then our brains might automatically learn that the words we use cannot hurt others either. But, that’s just downright silly, if you ask me. Words insight emotion, and triggers trauma and then we are hurt, plain and simple. 

This, of course, is a huge concept, and it’s going to take time to reframe our understanding to reflect this new knowledge, but really the underlying theme is to be more careful in choosing our words. Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and while we can apologize for the way the things we say hurt other’s feelings, we can never take back the words that were said. And to someone in crisis, words might just be what puts us over the edge. The good news, though, if words can hurt, they can also help in a big way, please choose your words to help build up, rather than tear down, and ultimately you’ll feel better about yourself, too.       

Think first, your actions will have more intention that way…

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it couldn’t come at a better time. This is the perfect opportunity to remind everyone, especially our (the United States) country’s leaders about treating all people with kindness and respect. In case you’ve missed it, our current leadership has played a role in bullying all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, but the one common factor of that bullying is that the people being bullied look or sound different than our President does. 

Difference is a state of mind, we can look at someone else and see how differently they look, sound or act from the way we look, sound or act, or we can begin to build a common ground by recognizing how we are the same, instead. Now please don’t mistake my comments to mean that we should ignore our differences, rather it’s important to acknowledge diversity from every perspective. And, it’s important that, in order to build community, we see how alike each of us truly is, too. We are blessed to have a rich tapestry of diversity around us, and we need to be better at being grateful to that diversity and for the tremendous opportunity to do so. 

Unfortunately, when we choose to focus our attention only on the differences, we miss out on finding common interests, and bettering our world. In turn, we are more likely to treat others disrespectfully, and that is isolating. We live in a society, in which it is easier to tear others down than it is to build them up, but why? Why is it easier to impose ourselves on others and make them change to suit our needs and wants? Probably because change feels scary and so it seems safer to create a space of putting down, but what if all we really needed to change were our thought patterns? 

Remember how yoga is full of intention, but patterns are the opposite of intention, patterns are mindless behaviors which we’ve cultivated, created, and which can be broken with just a little bit of work! Just like stopping a habit which isn’t good for us, like smoking, it takes planning and forethought, but once we’ve stopped to think we have the power to react differently, to treat other people better than we have in the past. Yoga can help us with this through the process of journaling; remember yoga isn’t just about the poses, it’s about always working to have the best intentions in everything we do. In journaling we can practice using our best words, and when in real-life we fell into negative patterns of behavior we can reflect on why and how to be more thoughtful next time. 

#PeaceDay 2017

Aum Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. This simple phrase is regularly uttered or chanted during yoga practices because it is an invitation of peace. It is a request that yogis, people who practice yoga, will find it possible to engage with Yoga Sutra 1.2 during practice, and beyond. The Yoga Sutras are a series of guidelines for living, you know like: be kind to others, and written by the sage Patanjali who also introduced us to the Ashtanga, the Eight Limbs of Yoga.    

Yoga Sutra 1.2 specifically reads yoga-chitta-vrtti-nirodhah, which has been directly translated by many Sanskrit, the language of yoga, scholars. I am by no stretch (pun intended) of the imagination a Sanskrit expert, but after reading a few of the direct translations by the experts, and through my yoga studies with some long-standing and well respected yoga teachers in my home state of Minnesota, I’ve come to understand this particular Sutra to mean the ability of oneself to clear the uncertainty of the mind, and live in a space of peace of body, mind and emotion.

For many of us that seems like a nearly insurmountable goal, and why would anyone create a goal for themselves that cannot be attained? I mean failing doesn’t feel good to anyone. But, if we look at the concept, the idea, that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, maybe peace isn’t all that unavailable to us after all? For instance, if we try for peace, and instead get caught up in emotional stress and react in anger or fear instead of reacting peacefully, but we sit and reflect about why we were truly stressed out in the first place, then we can learn to break the pattern of anger and fear and next time do better. Isn’t that what second chances are all about, anyway?

Yoga is the practice of second, third and 1-millionth chances. When we practice, whether in a studio or on or off our mats, we get to try again and again and again. Much like falling out of a yoga pose, when we get back up and try again, we’ve learned and adapted our way of practicing the pose to be better at it the next time. We can do the same with our practice of peace, remembering that there is always more than one truth available because we all come from different perspectives and experiences. This Thursday marks the 36th year of International Peace Day, and the United Nations has plenty of suggestions about ways to celebrate, check out their website and decide how you’d like to get involved, because if we’re peaceful on the inside then we’re more likely to be peaceful toward others on the outside, too. Feel free to let us know how you choose to be peaceful through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram; we’d love to share the peace with you!   

We (will be) all one, as long as we work at it everyday…

Yoga, to yoke, means union; yoga at it’s essence is the definition of non-dualism. Non-dualism is the concept, idea, that everything around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, are the very same thing as we are, and what we are is energy. According to the principles of yoga we spend our entire Earthly lives working to break through our perceptions of reality into what is bliss, true knowing. This is definitely a heavy topic, and not really the topic of this week’s post. It is however a good opener for the true purpose of this post: “We are all one.” It’s a pretty simple statement that packs with it a big punch, so to speak. 

You see, everyone in the Universe is made of the same basic components and we all come from the same Universal energy, whatever that energy looks like to you. And then, due to our own dualism, our perceptions, we have created a space in which we are only different, and because of those differences we’ve decided put people into categories, classifications. How silly is that? We classify, for the purpose of clarity, fruits, flowers and animals, but people… The classification is simply people. No one, and I mean no one is better than anyone else, we are all people, and with that we carry our own unique talents and strengths; we are truly better when we work together. 

And yet, sadly, there are some people for whom the skin-deep differences are enough to sub-classify human beings into a lesser category of people, and that is unacceptable. This month we, at the Playful Yogi, are hoping you will join us in celebrating all kinds of diversity. Diversity is everywhere, it is the differences we possess that makes us a whole community, complementary to one another, like puzzle pieces fitting together to be the best sangha, community, that we can be, all of us – together. 

Now, we could say, “We are all one,” and leave it at that, but that would irresponsible to the people who have not been treated like one since the beginning of this country, the United States. Celebrating diversity means seeing it, not ignoring it; we need to see what people have gone through, historically and culturally so that we can one day live up to the principle that we are in fact all one. Unfortunately, we’re not there, yet. We have a long way to go in helping our fellow sangha, community, members lift up to a space where we can live on an even-playing field, and until that day comes, a day in which everyone, everywhere is afforded opportunities and circumstances meaningful to their own lives, we are responsible for changing the playing field so that everyone can live well.    

We believe, do you? 

Welcome back to school! Sure, some of you have been back for about week already and others of you attend school all year long, but for many, like me, the school year started again today and that is very exciting! Each new school year provides an opportunity to begin again, to learn more and to show just how intelligent we can be. 

Intelligence is an interesting concept, it brings with it a particular idea about who an intelligent person is and what they might look, sound and act like. The good news, intelligence, just like any other characteristic can be a part of anyone. There is a learning principle called the growth mindset, and the idea is that learners are only capable of learning what our grown-ups tell us we can learn, i.e. if we’re told that we can learn anything, and are given the space to do so, we can in fact learn anything. 

Sure, we each have our own gifts, things we are predisposed to learn more easily than the other things we learn, and that’s in-part due to the fact that we have an interest in learning those things. It doesn’t mean though, that there are things we can’t learn, but we have to believe that we can learn something otherwise we give up often without having ever even tried. A growth mindset comes from a place in which the people responsible for helping us learn believe that we can learn the information, tell us that we can learn the information and then let us try without getting frustrated with the length of time it takes us to learn and master the information. What’s more they won’t let us get frustrated with ourselves either.

Believing in yourself takes confidence, but having confidence often requires that we first have patience and love for ourselves. We can seem outwardly, on the surface, to believe that we can do anything, but believing it’s possible and giving ourselves the time and space to achieve our goals is something else entirely… We know you’re smart, you know you’re smart, everyone who loves you knows that you’re smart, and now it’s time to treat yourself with loving kindness so that you can demonstrate your intelligence. 

Try working with your heart chakra, wheel, the Anahatha Chakra to give yourself more love. Consider taking a long blanket and rolling it up so that it’s the shape of a long tootsie roll, then lay it flat on the floor. Lay your body from tailbone to shoulders over the length of the blanket, and bring the bottoms of your feet together and knees reaching towards the floor for Supta Bhadda Konasana, reclined bound angle pose. Close your eyes and imagine a bright light holding and filling your heart, stay there for 3-5 minutes. While you’re there practice the breath affirmation: inhaling – truth, exhaling – uncertainty. 

Because the truth is that only you have the power to overcome doubt; you must believe in yourself in order for anyone else to believe in you. And, when in doubt, know that we at the Playful Yogi believe in you 100-percent! 

Strength is a trait, it belongs to no one.

This week, the lovely Ms. Emily, the other half to our Playful Yogi team, drew a picture of a little girl as a superhero to represent this week’s theme: “I am strong,” and it was all too intentional. To be fair we planned this doodle weeks ago, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen an increase in posts on social media about instances in which adults, knowingly or not, imposed gender normatives on children, sigh… One of the posts was about an experiment in which researchers, “dressed a little boy up like a little girl, and a little girl like a little boy,” and asked grown-ups to play with the kiddos for some time. 

The study was designed to show that whether intentionally or not, our predispositions tend towards traditional gender roles like: girls playing with dolls, or boys playing with trucks, but what the researchers did by “dressing up” the children was to assign certain items of clothing as only appropriate for little girls or only appropriate for little boys, and really that’s just a little silly, isn’t it? This long standing practice of traditional gender roles teaches us that if we are born one way then we are only allowed to like the things that we were, “born to like,” or act in a way that is “appropriate” for the way we look. Here’s the thing though, that’s nuts!

We tend to think of strength as the muscle tone in our physical bodies, and how much weight we can lift, and that’s certainly a big part of it! But, we’re more than muscle and bone, we’re a whole person, with thoughts and feelings and if we’re honest those things take strength, too. For instance, have you ever heard the phrase, “strong of character?” A strong character is one in which even though the easy thing to do is to stay silent when someone is being picked on in front of us, or when someone we know says something with which we don’t agree, we choose to do the right thing and stand-up in favor of the person being treated poorly. 

It takes a lot of effort to have a strong character, to act on the thing that isn’t easy, and if effort is how we measure strength then shouldn’t we consider those of us with strong characters the strongest amongst us, even if they don’t have a traditionally strong physique, body? What’s more, a strong character is 100-percent without assigned gender norms; anyone can have a strong character, it is a learned skill that lives beyond boy vs girl, and all it really takes is confidence and critical thinking skills. Yoga can help us with both!    

Certainly we can build strong bodies through our asana, postural, practice, and let me be clear both boys and girls can be very physically strong, but we can build confidence, too. When we twist our bodies, or activate our core through poses like high plank (see this week’s yogi stix,) we build strength in our energetic middle, the space in our energy bodies in which confidence resides. We can even wear the color yellow, or meditate on the sun. Further, we can build critical thinking skills by opening up our minds to the idea that anything can be possible. Do this by closing your eyes and imagining floating through outer space, or wearing the color purple. And, above all else, no matter what anyone tells you, there are no such things as boy things or girls things, there are just things.