I gave up coffee: why you have to fail to succeed.

I’d like to share something with you that I’ve learned: if you want to change a habit you have to be prepared to fail.

I love coffee. The taste, the smell, and the coffee shop scene all just draw me in like a fish on a lure. But I don’t drink it. In fact, I gave up coffee almost three years ago, and caffeine entirely more than two years ago – but before you go thinking that I made a ‘lifestyle choice’ so that I could be more ‘yogic’ or something, let me tell you: I did NOT want to give up coffee.

A number of years ago, I was what you’d call an average coffee drinker. One or two cups per day, a latte and a regular coffee perhaps, and everything seemed quite normal. But slowly over time, without noticing at first, I started to become stressed in a bad way. After trying the medicated route, I decided it wasn’t for me and started paying attention to my life to try to discover the reason for my stress. It wasn’t until I spent a morning in my office having an anxiety attack after drinking a large coffee that it occurred to me there may be a connection between caffeine and my anxiety problems. So I decided on a test: give up coffee for one week, and see how I feel.

One day and one massive headache later, I completely hated this plan. But, being the achiever that I am, I decided to stick with it anyway, and by the end of the week I felt okay. Not miraculous, but not bad. Still, I loved coffee and craved it so when the week was over, I went out and got a coffee. And boy did I feel awful. Shortly after drinking it, I felt stressed, incredibly anxious, and just all around bad. Immediately swore off coffee again, and as the weeks turned into months, realized that I was giving up coffee for good. Was I happy about that? No. But did I feel better? Definitely. And the farther away I got from drinking coffee regularly, the more I started to notice how other caffeinated drinks were affecting me too, so I gave those up too. And that was that.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple. Here’s the truth: during the first year or so, I probably had a coffee or decaf coffee once every six to ten weeks, when I was really missing it. The next year after that I maybe had a caffeinated drink once every few months. I was breaking my no-caffeine rule, but I’m glad I did. Because every time I broke it, I felt awful and remembered exactly why I quit caffeine in the first place. I would chastise myself: “Why did you do this? You know caffeine makes you feel terrible!” and re-commit with even more determination that next time, I would just say no. Because of this the lure of coffee became less and less appealing over time, as I became more and more determined not to feel like that again. Now I can’t even remember the last time that I had a caffeinated drink; I don’t consider it as an option anymore.

The point here is that I had to fail every now and then in order to succeed. Just like sometimes in yoga you have to fall out of a pose before you can get it right, because that’s how you learn where your limits are. We have to experience the bad in our lives in order to remember why the good is good. Failing reminds us where our limits are, and when too much is too much – something that you need to know in order to succeed.

So next time you are trying to accomplish something, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, fail repeatedly. You’ll already be that much closer to success than the person who never tried.


How to take your yoga camping.


This past weekend I went camping with a group of friends for four days in the mountains. And when I say mountains, I don’t mean some pretty numbered campsite that you drive your car to and that has outhouses and shower facilities around the corner; I’m talking drive a few hours through the mountains in a 4×4 vehicle to find a clearing by the ocean to park a tent or build a shelter out of nearby trees, if you wish (seriously, one friend did this). That kind of camping.

Knowing that I would be without the comforts of home but would have time aplenty (yeah, I just said aplenty), I was determined to bring my yoga camping with me, showers or no showers. So I did. And guess what? It’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how to make it work:

Step 1: Bring a yoga mat. Your cheapest, oldest, worn-out yoga mat. You know the one the dog tried to chew up? Yeah, bring that one. ‘Cause it’s going to get dirty while you are doing yoga outside, and so are you.

Step 2: Bring layers of wicking and quick-drying yoga clothes. You want to be as comfortable as possible but still be able to move. Again, these will probably get dirty, so be prepared. Layers will keep you both warm and cool, and the quick-drying abilities will ensure that if you get rained on or want to give them a rinse that you will still be able to wear them for tomorrow’s yoga. Because if you’re going to take your yoga camping you might as well make the most of it, right?

Step 3: Bring music. This can be a stereo, an ipod, or even the radio in your car if it comes right down to it. Yoga to the sounds of nature is great, but if you aren’t lucky enough to be camping on a warm sunny day, you might need some extra motivation to get moving, and dancing for 5 minutes to an upbeat song can help get you warm and ready for yoga.

Step 4: Find a flat surface. Or an inclined surface. Or just any surface, really. If you wind up with your mat on a funny angle, just think of it as an extra challenge in stabilization, and change around your position on the mat with every downward dog so that you can reach all angles. If there are no surfaces to place a mat on, then practice your standing poses. I’ll bet your Warrior III feels a bit stronger when you are trying not to fall off a rock.

Step 5: Experiment. This isn’t your typical at-home or in-studio practice, so why not take the opportunity to do something different? Instead of bringing a class with you, just practice what comes to you naturally. See some trees nearby? Practice tree pose. Missing some sunshine? See how many sun salutations it takes to bring the sun out. Was that an eagle that flew by? Eagle pose. Get it? Go with the flow.

And if all else fails, there’s always more to be learned in downward dog – a yogi’s best friend.

You can’t predict the future. So why be stressed about it?

I was reading a great post over at Spoiled Yogi today about stress, and it got me thinking about what it is that I stress about the most. Most of the time when I’m stressing, it’s about things that are coming up or about to happen in my future; events, people I’m going to see, and conversations that I need to have. And it occurred to me all of a sudden that I’m wasting a lot of time stressing about things that are in the future.

But here’s the funny thing about the future: it hasn’t happened yet.

In the yoga world, we often talk about living in the present, and immersing yourself fully in each present moment before it passes you by. We all know why it is pointless to live in the past: you can’t change it, you so have to accept it and move on. But what’s wrong with living in the future? Well, the future hasn’t happened yet. And because it hasn’t happened yet, you can’t predict what will happen. Which means that all that time we spend stressing about things in the future is wasted energy, because you have no idea what will happen anyway. Heck, you can’t even guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow* so you might as well just wait and see for yourself. Maybe something that you thought might happen will happen; maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll win the lottery; maybe you won’t.

So why waste time stressing about the future when you really won’t know what happens until you get there? From now on, when I’m worried about something upcoming and feeling stressed I will remember:

You can’t predict the future. So take a deep breath, let it go, and wait to see what happens. You never know, maybe something unexpected will happen.

*this is one of the great philosophical discussions I remember having back in University. See here.

A day of nothing reveals… well, a lot.

The other day I had nothing to do. No commitments, no classes to teach, no errands, no housework, and no people to see. I am currently away from home, staying in the city for a week taking a Kundalini Yoga training course, and I had a free day with nothing to do. I should have been elated. I should have been so excited for my free day – after all, who doesn’t like free?

But when I woke up that morning, I worried: what am I going to do today? Before I had even answered the question, I felt guilty. Guilty that I was here wondering how to fill my free time while my husband was back at home working. Guilty that I didn’t have more things that I had to do. And guilty at the thought that I could possibly, just maybe, actually spend the day doing whatever I wanted without having to achieve something.

This was followed by an immediately horrified reaction – a day without achieving something? Who would want that? So I ran through a mental list of things that I might possibly achieve today. Given that I really had nothing to do, this was a challenge, but then I remembered that I needed to go to the eye exam clinic and pick up another copy of my receipt while I was in town. Even better, I realized that it would mean I’d have to drive across the city and would probably take up the better part of my morning. Ooh, I could even squeeze in lunch and stretch it out a bit. Happy to have a purpose for my day, I set out. A few hours later, mission completed, I found myself back in my temporary home, faced with the same dilemma. Now what?

So naturally, I reverted back to my default state: finding a good book to read (Petite Anglaise, if anyone’s curious). And read. And read. And I probably would have kept reading late into the night if I hadn’t already decided to attend a couple of yoga classes that evening with some friends. So by the end of the evening, my day complete, I looked back on my free day – and it turns out you can learn a lot about yourself just by what you do with a free day:

Lesson #1: I put a lot of pressure on myself and because of that, carry a lot of guilt around with me. I’m not good at letting myself relax.

Lesson #2: I am an acheiver. I need to acheive. If I don’t acheive, I lose my sense of purpose completely, and I am lost.

Lesson #3: I am an escape artist. When bored, I look to escape. This takes different forms; most commonly both a literal escape (I just have go somewhere. Anywhere.) and a figurative escape through fiction books, which I devour like a hungry dinosaur on the throes of extinction.

Lesson #4: I need social contact, but am not good at initiating it. I don’t know how to just be social; I need a shared purpose, something that takes the pressure off myself. I think this goes back to my childhood insecurities and the day on the playground that I was told that, actually, this group of girls in my class had decided not to let me hang out with them.

So what does this all mean? Well I don’t know. How about you go have your own free day, and see what you learn, hmm?

The Best Way to Find Inspiration

Inspiration is a powerful thing. It can spur you to action in many ways, and can bring joy to your life; which is why I find myself looking for inspiration some days when I’m feeling lost and bogged down by everyday life. It can really be helpful to go to the online world and get inspired – there are so many great and inspiring blogs and websites out there these days. But what I’ve discovered over the past few years is that my best source of inspiration is my own life. Sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? When things in my life are weighing down on me, I search a little deeper to find the inspiration in my life. But that’s exactly why it is so powerful. If I turn to others for inspiration, I may certainly get inspired, but I may also get a lot of other unwanted stuff along with my inspiration – more things that I want to buy, jealousy over what others have, and frustration about the things I can’t change in my life. On the other hand, by turning inward and recognizing that I can find inspiration in my own life, I might get some unexpected benefits – gratitude and perspective, for example. So while I do think that finding inspiration outside yourself can be valuable and is something I wouldn’t give up, the best way to find inspiration (whether that is for yoga classes, recipes, career choices, or anything) is to start by looking to your own life. What can you see there that inspires you? What can you imagine others being inspired by in your life? What are some changes that you’ve made in your life that you are proud of?

Some of my inspiring things:

I love to bake. I can hardly believe that something so pretty and yummy could be made by my two hands.

Cooking and eating healthy yummy food. It wasn’t that long ago that the only thing I could make for myself (and therefore often the only thing I ate) was pasta from a box. Seriously. My eating habits are better and I also appreciate food so much more these days. It actually tastes better too!

If I can do yoga, then I can do anything. Enough said.

The beauty of nature: not everyone is as lucky as I am to live in such an amazing, gorgeous place. But there is always beauty to be found somewhere, no matter where you are. Even when I’m in cities I collect a list of beautiful spots in my mind that I know I can return to; a tree lined street here, a park there, etc.

Finding Success as a Yoga Teacher

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the future. Okay, that’s not entirely true; I’ve probably spent most of my life thinking about the future (being present in the moment is a teaching of yoga that I have yet to master off the mat). But lately the question that keeps coming up for me is, what is success as a yoga teacher?

For those who choose a more traditional career in business, it seems like the path to ‘success’ is often better defined, even if it isn’t easy. You start at the bottom, and work your way up the ladder. There may be lots of different paths up the ladder, but many of them are right in front of you, and you can see the paths to choose one.

Finding success as a yoga teacher is much less straightforward. What does success as a yoga teacher really mean? Is it teaching a certain number of classes per week? Is having your classes packed full of dedicated students? Or is it gaining recognition? Traveling to teach workshops internationally?

Just like everything else in life, everyone has to find their own definition of success. So I’ve started by asking a couple of simple questions:

First, how do I spend my time? Not how do I want to spend it, because I can want to do something or to love something and still never do it. But to actually examine the way that I spend my time, and my free time in particular, brings some things to light. For example, I’ve discovered that I am happiest when I have the freedom to express my creativity in a way of my own choosing. This means that I like to be self-directed in most of my tasks. A perfect example of this goes back to my teenage years: every so often, my mother would tell me to unload the dishwasher, and I would always get upset. I hated it with a passion and would therefore avoid doing it as much as possible. But it was never the actual act of unloading the dishwasher that I hated, it was the being told to do it. In my own house these days, I unload the dishwasher all the time without complaint – the difference is that I am deciding to do so for a reason of my own choosing. So perhaps success for me will be best defined as something in which I am self-directed.

Second, is it my ego talking? Am I envisioning this idea of success because I will really love teaching workshops or owning a studio or traveling, or because it will make me feel important in some way? If you’re looking to do something because it will make you feel important, your interest will fade fast. Examine your motives.

I’m still working on my vision of what success means to me, but asking myself these questions gets me a little closer to living my  dreams. What is your vision of success?

How Car Shopping Can Lead to Yogic Wisdom

Have you ever spent some time shopping around for a car? Have you noticed that as soon as you start getting interested in a particular kind of car, you start to see it everywhere? And you start to become curious about the kind of people driving that car? Well I have lately, because I’ve been shopping for a new car.

Though there seems to be this idea out there that yogis are earth-loving ride-my-bike-everywhere kind of people, I live in an area where I require a vehicle to get around. So, I’ve begun a search for the right car.

But here’s the problem with car shopping: instead of searching for a machine to get me from point A to point B, I am looking for a an identity.

My husband the mechanic suggests that I get something cheap (read: old) and fuel efficient (read: tiny). But my last car was brand new when I got it, so I have become accustomed to certain features. I have standards to meet, I tell him. I don’t want to go backwards. I immediately rule out any kind of truck because I am not a small town hick. Sedans won’t do, nor will anything that resembles the colour gold because I am not an 80 year old grandmother. I want a hatchback that is maybe a few years old – I’m a young, independent woman. I want a car that fits me.

I do realize somewhere in the back of my mind that my husband is probably right; I should get something affordable and realistic. A car is just meant to get me somewhere, not define who I am. But I push these thoughts aside for the time being and focus my search on a few particular models that I like, trying to see just how much I can squeeze into my budget to afford them.

Then one day in the midst of all this, I come across a section in Meditations from the Mat about Aparigraha where Rolf Gates talks about how his career changed and his car became unaffordable, but he had been unwilling to let it go because it represented “the last vestige of the prestige that I had enjoyed” in a former career.

Uh, oh. This sounds familiar. I have been doing the exact same thing. I have been holding on to this one last piece of my former identity, looking for a vehicle that will reassure me that I am still a successful person even if I make less money than before.

It’s time to let go. Yoga teaches us not just to let go of our physical attachments, but also to let go of the story of ourselves. My life is far richer than it ever was when I drove a brand new car, because I am not making myself miserable in an unfulfilling career just to pay for it. A vehicle doesn’t make me a small-town hick or a successful city girl; it just is.

So, perhaps I will consider some of those cheap old cars. After all, what good is it having a husband who is a mechanic if he’s got nothing to fix?