"Whatever our path, whatever the color or grain of our days, whatever riddles we must solve to stay alive, the secret of life somehow always has to do with the awakening and freeing of what has been asleep." -Mark Nepo
1. Travel nourishes the soul: I’ve never felt so inspired and alive as I have traveling around the world. Whether it’s Europe, Japan, Costa Rica or Australia, seeing how others live and taking in completely new environments has a way exciting my spirit. If you like to travel and are interested in yoga, why NOT bridge the two? Nourish your body/mind with a daily yoga practice and explore a new city to enliven your soul.
2. Set the studio aside: I love the safety of a homey studio as much as the next yogi, but there’s something really special about practicing in a place that is unfamiliar and exotic. When embarking on a yoga retreat, we get gently nudged outside of our comfort zone as we take our practice somewhere foreign and seek a way to wholeheartedly embrace the unknown.
3. Meditation might happen: Retreats have a way of permitting meditation to become a whole lot more accessible, even easier. While detoxing digitally and briefly putting the “real” world on pause, we can drop in to a deeper state of awareness. One that is unaltered by stress, screens, or the ever-flowing stream of messages into your work inbox.
4. Intimacy is awesome: Not only do you receive more direct attention from your teacher while on retreat with him or her, but also there typically remains plenty of down time to intimately connect with your Self. I have found that some of my most profound reflections and meditations have surfaced during quiet time on retreat. It’s in these moments of thoughtful seclusion where I’ve received a clearer understanding of who and how I really am.
5. BONUS- I'd love to be in Bali with YOU! : Perhaps this is perfect place for you to take your practice or even your first yoga retreat. Find out more here!
If you want to become whole,
first let yourself be broken.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.
Meditation consists of first thinking
All of the thoughts
Giving the mind time and space
To feel heard
The dwelling between the thoughts widen
The ideas themselves lighten
And as if watching clouds in the sky disperse
A stillness sets in
Quiet takes the place of
And the beautiful nectar underneath the thoughts
Like a bright blue cloudless sky
Exposing the truth behind
Who we think ourselves
Immediately after stepping off of my flight back home from Costa Rica, I could feel the apparent shift. Time seemed to speed back up, a sense of urgency was reinstated and, having been on “Tico Time” for the past three weeks, I felt utterly left behind. I was coming from a place where days seemed elongated and enjoyed as opposed to sped thru and exhausted. Moments there were savored and thoroughly explored, versus lived halfheartedly. A walk to the store, an evening meal, a friendly introduction; absolutely nothing was hurried or rushed or enjoyed with anything less than a whole heart.
I feel myself craving a return to this pace of life. I want to linger long enough in all of the moments of my life so I can experience them wholly and completely. My adventures in Costa Rica taught me many things, but most importantly they emphasized the importance of slowing down and enjoying the little things, every little thing, for the summation of these details create the totality of this life. The task I face now is how to integrate this slow, melodic speed into a culture that seems to be moving a mile a minute. After some contemplation and necessary afternoon siestas, I’ve boiled it down to 4 simple ways to slow down daily life.
1. LISTEN like you mean it- I don’t know if it was my mediocre Spanish or my deep affection for the language, but while traveling I found myself listening intently to every word of every conversation. Often times it can be a tendency to listen to another just long enough until you’ve understood the overall gist of what is being said to you; in conversation with family and friends, receiving instructions at work or practicing on your yoga mat. Our attention internally turns to what our response is going to be, the next move we are going to make, and we’ve stopped being present for the individual choosing us as their audience. Practice being a better listener. Notice when the conversation between your ears gets louder than the one going on in front of you. Slow down the mind chatter, quiet the internal dialogue, and listen like you mean it.
2. LOOK up- Traveling without service on your cell phone is a big, beautiful blessing! As opposed to being enticed to check email over breakfast or document a midnight walk under the full moon, stepping away from screens allows the world around you to be observed more sincerely. With no distractions or pulls from fabricated obligations, we can more thoroughly take pleasure in the unique essence of each individual moment of our lives. Put aside the to-do lists, the various iDevices, even the mental itch to move onto the next minute. Take time each day to look up, look around and drink in the nectar of this sweet, sweet life.
3. LEARN something new each day- Whether you’re educating yourself about the environment, a different culture or the facets of a new friend, participating in the quest for knowledge is integral to our development as a human being. I’m not talking about returning to a class setting to study a foreign subject or using our beloved Google to identify breaking news, I’m referring to the wisdom that is woven into our daily experiences. Ask more questions, be more curious, and spend time dissecting the ins and outs of an idea that is interesting to you. When we give ourselves the task of intently exploring our lives for all the lessons, it becomes almost impossible to move at a rapid pace. It is necessary to pause, ponder and indulge in the evolution of our own mindscape. Make a conscious choice to learn something new about absolutely anything or anyone, every single day.
4. LOVE more, please- In my humble opinion, the best way to slow down our lives to fall more deeply in love with the little things. Somewhere along the way we might have been told that our love was best reserved for another person. But why not become enthralled by our morning cup of coffee, the pages of a great book, the way the sun rises and sets for us relentlessly? What we forget is by literally taking the time to stop and smell the roses, we are adding moments to our lives. Years from now when we look back in reflection, we will be reminded of all of times that we reveled in and gave ourselves permission to be madly in love with. The people we gave our honest attention to, the clouds that we watched curiously, the intellect we received and then absorbed. Love deeply, love frivolously, and love more, please.
A supportive yoga practice mirrors a supportive relationship. Getting involved is often the easiest part. In the beginning, you enjoy quality time together learning, studying, playing, and balancing. As you begin to lie down the foundation for a long lasting partnership, it becomes instinctive to cultivate qualities like honesty, commitment and compassion. We eventually nurture a devotional kind of love like between the Sun and the Moon or the breath and the body. Selfless, present and infinite. It feels quite nice to be woven into something visceral and real, intuitively fostering an environment of loving kindness. Just like the work exerted within any relationship, the work in our asana practice should always leave us with our emotional cups full. Not depleted and shattered, but awake and healed. A supportive relationship is there even when we don’t see it for a while. When our partners have time alone and healthy boundaries, when we forgo our asanas and slide into our everyday rhythm, both relationships still exist proudly. We are blessed with the opportunity to remember. That we are loved, anchored and encouraged even in the empty moments. Even in the ones where our partnerships are out of sight.
Once we become embedded in our routine, exiting is the hardest part. Like having to breakup with an old habit or an undesirable partner, it is never an easy process. After we’ve become so well acquainted and comfortable, our practice becomes watching for the familiar demons of fear, ego, jealousy, and selfishness to creep back in. When and where we meet resistance and sense judgment, study honestly the shadow. The bit of brokenness of every bond, the dark side of the magical moon. Once we find a bit of peace with these inconsistencies, we have two choices. To quit, break-up, surrender completely. Or to courageously exert the energy necessary for transformation. Regardless of the intelligent decision made, we should feel enlivened by our selection to stand by what we know to be true. What we know to inherently serve the soul. The reflection of our asana practice and our relationships can be our seed of remembrance. That honest work, love and devotion is necessary just as much as our willingness to surrender.
Creating and maintaining space is a fundamental aspect of an integrated yoga practice. Stretching out our tissues and our musculature. Widening the potential of our breaths. Broadening the quiet and rare cessations between our perpetual thoughts. All done in a sincere effort to bring us a bit closer to contentment and comfort. All done to potentially excavate the space in our hearts to, as yoga teacher Richard Freeman says, “draw back in everything we have cast out.” Every posture we’ve avoided, every life situation we would have rather hid from, every person we’ve placed judgment on, our practice is about understanding that it is all yoga. It is all just another opportunity to breath deep and be curious. We truly learn to ponder the details of our own lives and to be humble along the way. We acknowledge where there is sensation and where there is hesitation. We embrace our basic right to our whole selves, the good and the bad, the light and the dark, and every component in between.
When we step onto our yoga mats, we inspire both our breath and body to be deep and wide. It is a time to feel a little less crowded inside our own selves. It is in these roomy moments of our asana practice, the ones where our spine has elongated, our hips have broadened, our breath is long and rhythmic, we start to understand the effects of expansion. Spaciousness in our bodies shows up as spaciousness in our day-to-day lives.
As opposed to perpetuating a human tendency to move from one task to another, one breath to another, we are taught in yoga to slow down and to look around. To quite literally stretch things out, in our physical bodies and our life experiences too. Linger longer in the good times and be more interested in the not so good times. Yoga is the opportunity to meander more along the paths of our own lives. Find the in between spaces and cozy up into them. For when this sacred lifetime comes to completion, we can look back at a long, wide and intricate journey. We can reminisce on the boundless depths we found within our bodies and, more importantly, in the spaciousness of we have found in our hearts.
I see a tendency in myself and in this culture to lean towards degrees of numbness. Take your pick on your own numbing mechanism- drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, television, social media. The plethora of choices can be quite enticing. It is a whole lot easier to turn a blind eye to pain and suffering, to solidify the lines between ourselves and our environment, to hold onto belief systems that deep down we know are outdated and untrue.
After quite a few years of practicing yoga asana, I now understand why the physical parts of the practice are vital to the experience of oneness. We step onto our mats and are required to not only contort the body into a wide variety of postures, but we’re asked to breath rhythmically the whole way through. Plunging into a sensory experience is no easy task. Since for a lot of us we have masked our vulnerabilities with layers and layers of stress and tension, as a sense of ease washes over the physical body the emotional body feels utterly exposed. Probably for the first time in a little while. We come closer and closer to the source of our tensions and face our own humanness. We familiarize ourselves with our muscles and our joints, but also our habits and tendencies too.
It is a fearless endeavor to step onto a yoga mat and into the body. Consciously or not, we stand up as individuals fed up with a culture of numbness. It’s the warriors of peace that serve as catalysts for change, trusting that the energy of gentleness and understanding that we cultivate on our mats will be manifested throughout humankind. Each time layers of tension dissolve from the physical body, it’s like shedding an article of clothing that has been wearing heavily on us for years and years. A feeling of exposed defenselessness soon transforms into a degree of lightness.
It’s only in our most naked state that we can truly transcend the boundaries that keep us separate from all sentient beings. No stress to hide behind, no accessories to nourish our numbness, just an unveiled truth of who we really are.
“Our cell tissues hold the vibrational patterns of our attitudes, our belief systems, and the presence or absence of an exquisite energy frequency or ‘Grace’ that we can activate by calling our spirits from negative attachments.” – Carolyn Myss
Inspired by the celebration of our communal Mother Earth, I found myself pondering and reading and meditating on the concepts of our first chakra, Muladhara. Muladhara corresponds to the element Earth, the ground for our roots and the stage for our dance through life. We know that human life is dependent on a supply of energy. Connecting with our roots can be interpreted as a way of plugging into the larger system of the planet. Leaning on a source much greater and vaster than our own. We trust in its ability to nourish us with food, water, and air. We pay our respects by treading lightly and mindfully on her surfaces.
We learn through yoga to observe the ways in which we push and pull against the Earth. We celebrate how we stand upon and rest within the steadiness of her embrace, even going so far as to physically salute her offering of the sun. Like a plant being blessed with fertile soil or a tree securing its roots against wind and rain, our yoga mats serve as the ground we turn to when we need to delve into nourishment, when we need to return to our primordial right to be HERE, when we need to feel safe and strong. Through a practice of poses, we learn to see the body as a unified figure of solidity- not as this fragmented system of complexities. The energy of Muladhara requires us to dig down into the simple fundamentals of who we really are. It begs us to take care of our bodies, the home of our spirits dance and to seek out support within our own soul.
We must tend to the anchoring of our sacred temples in ground that is steady yet yielding. The organs, muscles, tissues, blood, and bones that you have been blessed with yearn for your earnest attention and for your understanding that this is your temporary home. The Earth however, she implores for us to comprehend that this is our eternal source. Where we came from and where we will return. Just as a leaf evolves on the branch of a tree, humans form and develop and change and age and wrinkle and die. We fall freely and fearlessly back into the arms of our Mother. Finally returning home, home into the embrace of the Earth.
I heard somewhere a really long time ago that we’re never more alive than when we’re making a choice. The right choices that we make in our lives infuse us with the ability and the inspiration to continue on the path of right decision-making. These decisions act like conscious catalysts, we crave a course of nourishment as opposed to remaining numb to the consequences of blind assertions. Choices that lean towards wellness and happiness and peace all seem to be made a little bit easier. It’s by no accident that after sitting in meditation or taking a sweet asana class, drinking a lot of water just seems right. Slowing down sounds like a better idea. Filling up the soul up with kind deeds and mindfulness become an intuitive practice done somewhat effortlessly.
I very often empower my yoga students to select their poses intelligently because in the end they are the authors of their own experience. If what I’m offering physically doesn’t quite work, that will always be okay. If journey into a pose is accompanied with angst and anxiety, by all means hold yourself accountable. Your choices make you who you are. Our whole lives, a series of small sometimes seemingly insignificant choices that have led us to exactly where we are at in this moment.
I’m not saying there aren’t those days that our moods seem out of our hands. We throw our arms up and blame it on the wrong side of the bed, on our circumstances, even on other individuals. Yoga teaches us that we are active participants in our lives. Just like we choose the clothes we wear in the morning or the exercises we partake in, I believe we have the ability to choose our moods in the same fashion. It was Voltaire that said, “The best decision you will make all day is to be in a good mood.” If we can empower ourselves with the ability to select not only our moods but our thoughts and actions too, our entire lives become an experience of consciousness. Every right choice we make, the next one comes that much easier.
No one really tells you when you first start practicing yoga asana that the poses one day are going to become familiar, comfortable, and almost second nature. Like receiving an inhale, or coming home at the end of a long day, or listening to a favorite song- what once seemed mysterious and new evolves into something consistent and quite common.
Our challenge or, better yet, our responsibility as yoga practitioners becomes remaining interested within the consistencies. Learning to understand the parameters of the practice and poses. Setting ourselves up with healthy yet vast boundaries. Seeking comfort inside our spirits rather than in a new place or person or even posture. With a steadiness at hand, we are given a unique opportunity to see the same landscapes but with different eyes.
It’s no secret that the asanas we practice have been around for a whole lot longer than any of us and remain some of our greatest teachers. We learn to stand not complacently but with emphasis on the little things- our pinky toes, our kneecaps, the angle of our pelvis, the drop of our shoulders, the heightening through our crowns. We identify stillness not with boredom but with homeliness- our skin becomes our supportive walls, our minds our giant living room entertaining all sorts of guests, our hearts our burning fire place willing to light up any room within.
No one tells you when you first start practicing yoga that one day the practice that has shaken up your life may appear mundane or monotonous. It becomes our own task to alter our perceptions. We must continue to take child’s pose for the thousandth time, stand in Tadasana and discover another layer, move really slow from posture to posture so subtlies can be divulged. The responsibility is our own to interrupt what may seem rather ordinary and return to our inherent knowing that it’s all quite extraordinary.
“We must train ourselves to be in awe of the subtle, and we will forever live in a world of beauty and ease.” –Rodney Yee
I believe the stories of our lives are held in the musculature of our physical bodies
The hips hang on to guilt, the heart houses our grief and sorrow
Our muscles know fear, they know love and they know vulnerability.
Our pasts leave invisible yet insightful imprints on our internal selves.
A practice seeded in self-study, yoga invites us to kindly seek out our stories.
And the parts of ourselves that would prefer to be unseen.
Yoga is about allowing the whole of us to bubble to the surface.
And we truthfully face ourselves, all of us.
We assess our hardships and forgive our heartbreaks.
We recognize our tendencies and seek to soften wholeheartedly.
I believe the practice of yoga allows our lives to reveal themselves to us
In an honest and loving examination, our bodies divulge who we really are.