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.

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.

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?