Did you assume this was the back of the class?

Sometimes when I’m teaching a yoga class, I like to turn the class around. And then I walk to the back of the room, and say to the class, who are all now facing in my direction, “I bet you all thought this was the back of the class didn’t you?” The point of this is not be different, or to confuse people. It’s to point out an assumption – the assumption that the class would take place facing the front of the room – and to ask students to let go of this assumption.

Did you assume this photo would be related? It isn't. (Image via Flickr: Zanthia)

In addition, it’s also important to let go about any assumptions surrounding your body while practicing yoga. Don’t assume that you need to dress a certain way, or look a certain way to practice yoga. Don’t assume that you will like or dislike a pose or practice that you haven’t tried. And most importantly when it comes to your body, don’t assume that you can or can’t do something without asking and listening to your body first. Making assumptions about your body can easily lead you on the path to injury, because what worked for you yesterday may not work for you today.

In the same way your assumptions can also hold you back; if you always assume that you can’t do something, then you’ll never do it. Give yourself permission to let go of the assumptions surrounding not only your practice and your body, but yourself as well. If always paint yourself with the same brush, assuming that you are a certain way (someone who can’t stand silence, or a fidgety person, or a person who needs a very active practice, for example) then you may never get to experience those things that don’t fit into the picture that you have of yourself. Maybe you needed a vigorous yoga practice 5 days out of 6 last week, but could have used a restorative practice that one other day. If you assume that you’re a vigorous yogi, you may never try that restorative practice. So let go of your assumptions about you as well.

Take a deep breath every morning, ask yourself who you want to be today, and then give yourself permission to explore. To let go. To discover. And to put your assumptions aside, just for today.

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It’s autumn — what are you harvesting in your life?

Image source: Chascar (Flickr)

With thanksgiving just around the corner and the leaves changing colors all around, it’s hard to forget that autumn is traditionally harvest time. In my neighbourhood apples are being plucked fresh from the trees, the last few blackberries are being hunted and picked, and squash are starting to appear once more. When I see all this bounty being reaped from the land, I can’t help but examine what kind of bounty I’m reaping in other areas of my life as well. What am I harvesting in my personal and professional lives? Success? Kindness? Love? Or Anger? Hurt? Disappointment?

It brings to mind that classic saying: you reap what you sow.

Come harvest time, farmers don’t wander out in the fields wondering what they will find. Will it be pumpkins or corn this year, I wonder? No, they know what type of bounty they’ll be bringing in, because they know what they planted. It seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? So naturally, it makes sense to look at the rest of our lives in the same manner. What you are harvesting in your life is directly related to what you are sowing. If you’re surprised by your harvest, by what you are bringing into your life this fall, then it could be time to examine what you’re putting out there.

Are you sowing kindness? gratitude? compassion and love? If you want to reap success and happiness in your life, then plant the seeds for it. If you are surprised by your harvest, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what you planted.

So this fall, at the very least, plant a smile. Whether it’s on you, or someone else, you’ll harvest the benefits immediately, and sometimes, that’s just the difference that can change your day around.

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.

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?

Exactly What You Need

It is the end of the day on a Thursday, and I just returned home from teaching my last yoga class of the day. At the end of the class, as everyone was slowly starting to open their eyes and ease themselves off their mats, one student looked at me and said with a smiling peaceful look on her face “that was exactly what I needed”.

Words cannot express my joy at hearing these words. As a student, I too have experienced those moments, the peaceful and happy afterglow that comes after a great yoga class. I know how incredible and powerful those times can be, and they can shape the rest of your day or even week. So, as a teacher, I feel so much joy at being able to help a student, just one even, to achieve this state of bliss.

But I must also admit that tonight it was more than just that.

As a new teacher (and an imperfect human), I often worry about how my classes will turn out. I want every class to be a great class (I have both achiever and perfectionist tendencies as you may have already learned), and I sometimes find it difficult teaching classes and receiving little to no feedback. But I understand that not only is this part of the reality of sharing yoga with others, but it is a lesson in faith that I need to learn. It is a practice in having faith in myself, and just doing my best to make every class great, share what I’ve learned, be myself, and just let the rest go. This is not an easy task for me at all. But I practice, because that is what yoga is. As Rolf Gates says in his book Meditations from the Mat, “we are making a commitment to focus on the nature of our efforts and not the nature of the results”. I practice trusting and letting go. In every practice though, there are times when it becomes hard and you feel discouraged. I was having that kind of week this week. My classes all seemed a little emptier for some reason, and I felt as though a couple of my classes just didn’t click as well as I wanted them to. But hard times are the most important times, because they are when we have the greatest opportunity to learn and grow.

So tonight, to hear just one student say “that’s exactly what I needed” was exactly what I needed. It reminded me once again why I work hard to study, practice, and share the joy of yoga with others. It reminded me to keep practicing faith in myself and letting go of the results of my efforts. Most of all, it reminded me that more often than not, if you continue with your practice through the difficult times, the universe will give you exactly what you need.