Tag: yoga

It’s a choice – Part 3

It’s a choice – Part 3

I know that in “It’s a choice – Part 2” I mentioned that this post would be about how nutrition contributes to making positive choices, but on further reflection I decided that it is not only obvious, but it is something you can research on your own. I don’t want to insult your intelligence with some rant regarding the virtues of veganism or admonishing simple sugars from you diet. You know what you should be doing, so just do it; remember the saying garbage in, garbage out. It’s not that I won’t write about nutrition, it is is just that there are other things that need to be said regarding choosing a positive path that are maybe less obvious than nutrition.

In “It’s a choice – Part 2” I mentioned that to set the stage for positive outcomes you must prepare yourself with supporting practices such as yoga, walking, or running in the morning, followed by meditation and affirmations. While I am resolute in my support of these practices, I can tell you that they only provide the environment where positive thoughts can grow. Yoga, walking, running, meditation and affirmations are analogous to tilling and watering the soil so crops can grow, but without an adequate amount of sunshine there will be no harvest. This post is about the other factors, that must come into play so that you can reap the harvest of a positive attitude and approach towards your life.

Let’s look at three things you can and must do to make that positive choice in your life on a daily basis.

  1. Cultivating Self Awareness
  2. Living in the present
  3. Being Grateful

Cultivating self awareness should be near the top of your list because without it you will find making daily corrections nearly impossible. If you can have enough awareness to know that a negative stimuli is about to create a negative response you are in a pretty good position to choose a different response. Self awareness allows you to realize when you are starting to go of course and make a correction, otherwise you are likely to continue down whatever negative path you started to go down. These paths might be anger, resentment, a feeling of superiority, or some other negative behavior. Just don’t let self awareness result in some form of self incrimination or guilt. Know that being self aware is a big step in changing or at least minimizing negative behavior, for without it you are just a member of the large group of reacting beings and you know what that often results in.

I’ve written about living in the present in the past, but the importance of it can never be stressed enough. True focus is always in the present and the present is also where happiness exists, certainly not in looking back, and not in the future. There is a quote I really like by Esther Hicks:

“Your life is right now! It’s not later! It’s not in the time of retirement. It’s not when the lover gets here. It’s not when you’ve moved into the new house. It’s not when you get the better job. Your life is right now. It will always be right now. You might at as well decide to start enjoying your life right now, because it’s not ever going to get better than right now-until it gets better right now!”

I think this quote says it better than I could ever say it. Live in the present if you can and you will have become one of the few that understands the absolute power in doing so.

If you struggle with finding ways to appreciate your life, you are probably missing the feeling of being grateful. You will note I didn’t say trying to be grateful, but really feeling grateful or blessed for what you have. If you cannot find a way to feel grateful for what you have you will always be in a state of wanting. People who live their life appreciating what they have will be much happier than  those that are always unsatisfied and wanting more. There are a number of ways you might do this, like daily journals, or going over a list of things you are grateful for, but whatever method you choose it must be a daily occurrence or the mind will wander into the future and your ego will get the best of you. I like to review the 10 or 15 things I am grateful for both big and small things after I am done meditating; this seems to ground me for the day. Another way to feel grateful is to simply look around you, and observe those in the world that have so little; you don’t need to look far.

Finally it is the person that performs these things everyday that reaps the true benefit. I find myself that when I miss my meditation session, which then causes me to miss saying my affirmations and thinking about what I am grateful for, the rest of my day is almost always less satisfying, more stressful, and not a lot of fun. This preparation of your body and mind each days is essential to obtaining the right frame of mind to make positive behavioral choices. I get up at 4:30 a.m. each day and by 5:30 a.m. I am out the door for a run/walk or on my yoga mat, back by 6:00 a.m. to meditate and wrap it up with some affirmations and making sure I am grateful. This might seem extreme, but it is this kind of preparation that gives me the energy and a positive attitude to deal with all the work day challenges.

Try this for a couple of weeks and you will begin to reap the rewards.

Namaste

 

 

 

It’s a choice – Part 2

In “It’s a choice” I discussed the need to make a conscious choice each day. The choice you must make is to choose a positive outlook over potentially negative behavior that is in response to the stimuli around you. Seems pretty simple, but as mentioned in the previous post it isn’t. You need to set the stage for choosing a positive response to life and the challenges you will face on a daily basis. I mentioned that you will need to nourish your mind and your body to prepare yourself for this transformation; failing to do so will leave you susceptible to reacting instead of controlling your behavior. I’m going to make a few suggestions on how you can prepare yourself to begin making those positive choices:

Yoga – practicing yoga can calm your body and your mind. It is more than a form of exercise, and can lead you to discover many things about yourself that few activities can offer. Yoga is also a great prelude to meditation, which I will discuss next.

exercise yoga class

Meditation –  I would recommend that you meditate for at least 10 minutes in the morning, preferably after you have done some form of exercise and before you start your work day. Meditation can help you control your mind by actually quieting it. Over time you will have the ability to center your mind on the present and turn off some of the noise that goes on in your head.

Old zen saying

Affirmations – I was not a big fan on using affirmations until recently. I think they are most effective when they follow your meditation session. You need to come up with a list of 3 to 6 statements that reinforce what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t just read them, say them out loud. Here are the ones I say each day when I’m finished meditating:

  • I am grateful for the opportunity to make today a great day.
  • I am confident in my abilities, and will work with purpose and joy.
  • I will lead by example, being positive, showing appreciation and compassion.
  • I will stay focused on the present, and enjoy each moment.

Affirmations1

This is what I have found effective, but you might find that running is a good substitute for yoga, or taking the dog for a walk, riding a bike, or doing Pilates. The key isn’t so much what you do as long as it is a physical activity that can be a precursor to meditation.

I know you are busy, and don’t have time for a yoga practice and 10 – 20 minutes of meditation, but what if you could make a 30 – 40 minute investment every morning. Maybe you would have to get up a little earlier to fit these things into your day. Remember you are investing in yourself, in your piece of mind.

I’m guessing that in your heart, you know you are worth it.

In “It’s a choice Part 3” I will write about why it is important to understand how your diet influences your ability to make positive choices in your life.

Namaste

 

 

How Yoga & Meditation saved my life

How Yoga & Meditation saved my life

Yes, this title is a bit dramatic, but there is more than a little truth to it. I am also somewhat ashamed that I haven’t posted any of my own writing for some time, and I’m working on getting something posted, once a week.

women doing cobra

After some time off work, I joined a company, and found myself more unhappy than I have ever been at work. It turned out to be a combination of extremely poor leadership at the company and work that I didn’t enjoy. My stress levels were skyrocketing, and I leaned on some familiar ways of coping including a lot of binge drinking, which of course did little to relieve the growing anxiety and displeasure with my situation. When I wasn’t medicating myself, I began delving into other ways to help control my emotions, including reading about Buddhism, adding yoga to my daily routine, and meditating in the morning. I even started to listen to things like The Law of Attraction or classical music on my way into work to prepare me for the mental war that was being waged in my mind while working.

My somewhat sporadic use of yoga and meditation, finally turned into a daily ritual, and then it replaced drinking as a way of coping with my situation. After a couple months I quit drinking all together. The stress at work only increased, but my negative reaction to it began to become less severe and the amount of time I was upset by it started decreasing. There have been other times in my life when stress and anxiety were my close companion, but never to this extent. I can honestly say that my utter dislike for this work situation was probably a blessing in disguise, and led me to making a really sincere effort to cope with it. I really had two choices at the time; quit the job or find a way to deal with the stress. While this job led me to a regular yoga and meditation practice, which allowed me to cope with this situation, it also made me more resolute to do something about it. This led to pursuing other opportunities and I recently landed a new job and resigned eliminating the stressor part of the equation, well at least that one.

The question is why do I credit yoga and meditation for allowing me to cope and even take action. I won’t go into all the physiological reasons why yoga and meditation seem to work so well, as you can Google that yourself, or read some of my earlier posts. What I can say is there is a synergy when combining yoga and meditation. Your yoga practice is the perfect precursor to meditation as it depends upon an awareness of your breath, relieves tension through stretching, and thus sets the stage for sitting in meditation for 10 – 20 minutes. I find it much easier to meditate after my yoga practice, allowing me to reach a calmer state of mind much sooner than without it.

I don’t think that my experience of dealing with stress, anxiety, and other forms of mental anguish is unique. In fact I’m not sure anyone is immune to the stimulus that manifests itself in negative thoughts, sleepless nights, and all the self torture that is often the result of how we decide to cope with it all. Notable exceptions might be monks, young children, and those of you in the 1% category that have your shit together. For the rest of us that might want to consider another way of coping; I can heartily recommend giving yoga, followed by 10 – 20 minutes of meditation a try. Be committed to your practice, and within a couple weeks you begin to the see results. Here a few things you can expect from your yoga and meditation practice:

  • You will be calmer, little things that really pissed you off just don’t anymore
  • Your ability to cope with stress improves
  • Having a new coping mechanism can free you from those habits that were destructive and didn’t really work
  • It is inexpensive or free to pursue a yoga and meditation practice
  • Your ability to think with a greater level of clarity will improve
  • You might even begin to be a little more tolerant of other human beings, act more compasionate, and be more empathetic
  • Last but not least you will be healthier as you do something good for your body and your mind

Namaste

Conversation with the enlightened

Conversation with the enlightened

A couple days ago I was having a conversation with my wife, well it was more about me discussing how I would like a newer house, a vacation home, or to live somewhere else. The typical future oriented ranting that I do from time to time, mind you it was not negative, but it was relatively pointless in many ways. If you read this blog you know I try to study Buddhism, practice yoga, and meditate, all in an attempt to be more focused in the present and quiet my mind. Well back to the conversation with my wife. After I had went on for some time about things I might want in the future, she said to me “I choose to be happy” and then she said “It really doesn’t matter where I live or how much money I have”. Well there, and without any obligatory condemnation of my 10 minute diatribe about things I might want in the future. I don’t think she was trying to imply what I was saying was pointless or incorrect in anyway, instead she was just stating her own views.

This comes from someone who has never studied Buddhism, doesn’t meditate, and isn’t all that focused on self improvement from a philosophical perspective. It occurred to me that try as I may to enhance my state of mind, there must be a predisposition to happiness or what might be considered mindfulness. Why do some people with little or no training in mindfulness seem to effortlessly live in the moment, and do it with a high degree of happiness? This predisposition is not based on social status or wealth, as you see examples all around you of people that don’t have two nickles to rub together that are perfectly happy. Maybe it has to do with a persons background, but I’m beginning to think it has something to do with genetics.

Don’t get me wrong those of us who study what the Buddha taught, meditate, and practice yoga are probably those that need it the most. This may be why we were drawn to these things in the first place.

Look around you there are plenty of examples of those you can model yourself after, and they are real people that live among us. They enjoy life the way it is, and ask little of this world to be happy. Some might even consider these people enlightened, or at least a lot further down the road than I am.

In the meantime if you’re like me you need all the mindfulness philosophy, yoga, and meditation you can handle.

Namaste

Is Yoga exercise?

I was reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar a couple days ago, and historically the actual act of performing an asana is only a fraction of what yoga is all about. Even if you have never studied the origins of yoga one must appreciate there is something different about yoga. It is not like strength training, although strength is an important component of yoga. It is not like Pilates, although core strength is very important. It is not like distance running, although breathing is key to performing an asana. Maybe the difference between yoga and some forms of exercise I have mentioned is in the purpose. One runs to build aerobic capacity, for overall fitness, and to get the runners high. If you perform Pilates you are building stronger core muscles and getting a great workout at the same time. Strength training or bodybuilding is about increasing strength and size of all the muscles in the body.

yogaBigban

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to disparage any form of exercise, and clearly my list of reasons one engages in a form of exercise is not exhaustive. Maybe all one can do is express things from their own perspective. For me yoga does more than exercise my body, building strength and flexibility. My purpose for practicing yoga includes:

  • opening my body up, removing stress, and calming me
  • a prerequisite to meditation, making it easier to sit
  • brings me into the now
  • makes me want to take better care of myself
  • seems to interconnect with other interests like Buddhism
  • supports an interest in a more ecological existence on earth

Back to the question is yoga exercise? Sure in the sense that it strengthens the body, increases flexibility, enhances blood flow, and aerobic capacity. It is also therapeutic for the mind, in bringing calmness, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifetime of challenge. If you have been practicing yoga and still feel it is just another form of exercise and nothing more, then I challenge you to read a few pages from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor to get a little historical perspective.

No more excuses, take your socks off, and get on the mat.

Namaste

 

Excuses

Being the over planning person that I am, I scheduled Monday through Saturday mornings for yoga and meditation. Yes I actually created an appointment in Outlook which of course syncs with my phone, but there is one problem today is Wednesday and haven’t hit the mat yet this week. So I have managed to make some sort of excuse three days in a row. Maybe I just have an issue with mornings, but I’m not sure that is the issue. Well if this is about excuses then early in the morning could qualify as one. Here is the definition I found of excuse used as a noun:

“A reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.”

whats your excuse

The above definition best describes how I have justified not pursuing goals by providing some reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify my behavior. Does any of this sound familiar? Make great plans and then fail to execute, and come up with various excuses which of course you know are pretty much bullshit. So what do we do about this common phenomena?

  1. Realize you are doing it. This is generally pretty easy because the excuses are accompanied by periods of guilt and self loathing.
  2. Once we realize it, then stop it! Move on with your plan and stop using the excuse.
  3. Analyze your excuse and determine if the goal was unreasonable or you were not committed to it.
  4. If after you have analyzed the excuse and the goal then decide if the goal is worth the effort and move on.

Remember that most excuses are a way to avoid something that is uncomfortable, and that would probably be enjoyable once you actually got started. Examples of this might include getting out of the door to go running, attending a party, and yes performing your yoga practice. All three of these are perfect examples of activities that once you start them you find they are very enjoyable, but often your mind says I don’t really want to do it. So this hesitancy to move forward is probably a trigger for creating an excuse, so remember if there is some minor discomfort associated with an activity then push forward and don’t allow yourself to make an excuse.

The world is filled with people that have failed to achieve their dreams and goals as they fell prey to their favorite excuses.

Namaste

Get in touch with your own thoughts

In my last post 10 Ways to Get Back Your Missing Mojo the 10th way was “Get in touch with your own thoughts”.  I know some things that work for me and am more than happy to share them including meditation, walking, writing, and yoga. I am keenly aware that these might not be your thing and if you don’t already have a way to get in touch with your own thoughts you are going to need to find an activity that helps you clear your mind. Maybe you find that peace of mind from running. I know a lot of people that run and they tell me that it clears their mind and provides an opportunity to analyze an issue with new found clarity brought about by the physical nature of running, especially when done alone. Here is a key, if that activity can be done alone and provides some sense of peace you stand a much better chance of analyzing your thoughts and making choices more inline with what you really want. You cannot really generate any introspective insights while interacting with other people or engaging in activities that don’t by their very nature lead to clarity of thought.

yoga-party

So why do I need to understand what I am thinking? Doesn’t all this seem like a lot of work? I’m pretty happy the way I am or maybe I’m not. Here are a few reasons why self analysis and introspection can enrich your life:

  • Understanding that you may be repeating patterns of destructive behavior is right up there on the top of the list. If you never take the time to analyze why you continue to do these things they will be repeated until they bury you, destroy your relationships, or both.
  • Your insights will lead you to making choices instead of oscillating back and forth or standing still. This will ultimately assist you in determining what is most important to you and moving in that direction.
  • These activities or disciplines that lead you to self analysis will be themselves provide benefits such as improving your physical and mental health. So for instance if yoga is my way of connecting with myself I will also become more flexible, stronger, and mindful. Maybe those moments of clarity come from running and I will improve my cardiovascular endurance and muscle tone. Maybe I like to paint and it allows me to express myself in a way I could never do before.
  • Introspection will lead you to be more present by increasing your awareness. If you analyze your thoughts you will begin to realize that many of them are focused on the past and the future, and you will begin to understand how this is destructive in appreciating today. Once you reach this realization you begin to live in the now and less in the past and the future.

Here is a list of activities that may depending on your interests lead you to introspective thought:

  1. meditation
  2. yoga
  3. running
  4. walking
  5. painting
  6. writing poetry
  7. writing fiction
  8. blogging
  9. Tai Chi
  10. knitting
  11. pottery
  12. sculpting
  13. listening to music
  14. playing an instrument

You say well I would never be interested in writing poetry, and I would say have you every tried, or I can’t do yoga I have no flexibility. Don’t limit yourself to what you do today especially if you don’t already have an outlet that provides an opportunity to think. Give yourself a chance to understand your thoughts and behavior. I understand we are all very busy and have a to do list a mile long, but if you don’t take time for yourself no one else will. Carve out a little time each day to listen to your own thoughts.

Namaste

Seriously

After suffering a fair amount of anguish and getting myself all worked up about things going on at home and at work I came to a simple realization that I was taking everything too seriously. The not so amusing thing about this is that it had been going on for some time now, maybe a couple of years. I look back and haven’t taken a vacation in almost 3 years, focused intensely on a number of goals, which I achieved, but all this even made me more focused. I also realized that not only did I skip vacations, I quit playing golf, and quit playing guitar. What was interesting is that these things were replaced with more study and physical fitness activities. The truth was I forgot how to have fun, or do something just for the hell of it.

seriously

Most of this stems from a kind of all in attitude, or taking things too far. So it is good to exercise on a daily basis, but when all your free time is devoted to it you become very one dimensional, and yes a bit too serious. So not only did I forget how to have fun, but I myself was boring everyone else to death. While it is always nice to move in a new direction, sometimes you abandon things you really love. I blame myself for this all or nothing approach, and all to serious attitude. So another side affect is that you become judgmental, because everyone else doesn’t share your enthusiasm for blogging, Buddhism, meditation, or yoga. Becoming too focused also narrows the acceptable things you are willing to experience because they can’t possibly compete with your path to enlightenment.

Realizations:

  • The world did not come to an end when I skipped my yoga practice yesterday
  • Enjoying what you are doing at work will not cause you great harm
  • Instead of rushing off to meditate or exercise, it is perfectly acceptable to show some interest in others first
  • While it might take a bit longer to learn something dictated by your quest, you are probably a better person for being less inwardly focused
  • You don’t have to be 100% dedicated to something to make progress, meaning you don’t need to quit doing everything else that made you happy to pursue a goal
  • As much as it pains me it is not necessary to accomplish everything on your list, especially on a weekend
  • I have been taking everything way to seriously, from my exercise routines, to my Buddhism studies, and my elimination of vices

All this seriousness and laser focus only made me more judgmental which resulted in anger and resentment instead of understanding and compassion. I couldn’t live with the fact that I was flawed and had weaknesses, and maybe even liked some of the things the common man or woman did. So I vow to lighten up a bit, have a beer, skip a few workouts from time to time, and maybe try to enjoy things a little more, and yes become less serious.

Have a great weekend!

Early or Late?

women doing cobra

Should you engage in your yoga practice first thing in the morning or later in the day? Many of the experts out there would say first thing in the morning is the best time, and if that’s not possible then later in the day is also acceptable. I used to go on that premise and once I was fully awake I would be on the mat starting with sun salutations. I also tried performing my yoga practice after work and found there are pros and cons to both approaches:

Morning Practice

Pros

  • You get it done first thing in the day, and don’t have to worry about something else coming up.
  • Yoga done first thing in the morning sets the stage for morning meditation by breathing and stretching before sitting.
  • Both the yoga and meditation enhance your frame of mind as you start your day.
  • Early in the morning is usually quieter for both yoga and meditation.

Cons

  • You are the least flexible first thing in the morning.
  • You must make time for it and you may have lots of things to take care of first thing in the morning.

Evening Practice

Pros

  • You are the most flexible later in the day. I found this particularly true for me as I was much more flexible at night versus first thing in the morning.
  • After working all day you may really need some physical activity and yoga is a great way to re-awaken your body, especially if you have a job where you sit all day.
  • It sets the stage for an evening meditation session.

Cons

  • It is more likely that something else may come up and you end up skipping your practice.
  • If you are also performing some other form of exercise you will need to determine how to fit this in. I personally had to move my strength training to the weekend so I could concentrate on yoga during the week nights.

I am currently performing my yoga practice in the evenings as soon as I get home from work, and when I’m done I spend about 20 minutes meditating. I would also note that while I don’t practice yoga in the mornings I do other forms of exercise and about 10 minutes of meditation. My strength training routine had to change as I went from a 6 day split to a 3 day split, with the majority of this being done on Saturday and Sunday.  This leaves me 5 days a week to devote to yoga in the evening. I guess you have to ask yourself, what works best for you and your lifestyle? Can I get up early enough and have the uninterrupted time needed to perform a morning practice or is it more convenient to do it after work? Neither of the approaches is optimal for people with demanding careers, but choose the least objectionable one and make sure you make it a priority.

Namaste

Sitting on the mat

Sitting on the mat

I was sitting on the yoga mat today meditating as is my custom in the morning after my yoga practice, and I had a couple of thoughts. Like so many of you I find myself thinking about my next conquest, role, position, material thing, or maybe just what lies ahead that day. I always try to turn off the noise when I meditate, either by forcing a thought pattern that will override all these future oriented thoughts, or sometimes I just try to sit and listen. I’m getting to be about 75% sucessful at this most days, but it’s not yet perfect. If you cannot just sit and listen to the sounds around you and drown out the chatter in your mind then you might try focusing your mind on the following themes:

  • Now – Think about now just sitting on your mat, tell yourself there is only this moment. You might repeat the phrase “live in the moment, now is all we have” or something like that.
  • Compassion – You may also consider just thinking about compassion. You might say to yourself “I will be compassionate with everyone I encounter today”.  In addition to this you might say to yourself “I will seek to understand and not judge”. Again use your own words, just focus on the theme of compassion and the words will come.
  • Grateful – A third method I use is to just spend some time reciting a running list of what you are grateful for.  This might include your family, spouse or significant other, children, friends, pets, dwelling, your work, your health, or anything else that you are grateful for.

Often I use all three themes during meditation. When it is all working you feel in the moment and you are enjoying just sitting there. You may find that this is one of the most wonderful moments in your day, when you are really present and not working towards something or for someone else. You will also find that sitting on the mat as I call it prepares you for the challenges of the modern world, making it all a bit more easy to be mindful during whatever chaos comes your way.

Namaste