Recently, in response to a column about being an ambassador for yoga, one of our readers wrote:
I have felt some pressure from people (students or not), an expectation that I have to be a certain way. For instance, people assume that because I do yoga I am always calm and never get angry (neither apply to me.) Or, that because I am doing yoga I am some kind of super Bendy-Wendy circus person (which I am not either).
Over the years, yoga has become something more and more private to me. A practice that I use and can go back to again and again. Yoga is my companion. It helps me reflect and awaken whether others see it or not.
I relate to this. I remember once leading a weekend retreat, drinking my morning coffee with the other participants during our breakfast. A student approached me, and with a look of disdain asked me, accusingly, "YOU drink coffee?"
The way he said it, you would have thought it was vodka.
My first reaction was to play into his stereotype, to...
The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
- Ram Dass
Silence. It's not just the absence of words, though that's where it begins.
It's the quieting of the mind, the slowing down of the stream of thoughts.
When the ripples of the mind settle and become like the calm surface of a lake, as the classic analogy goes, it becomes still, clear and pristine.
From here, peace emerges.
If I'm honest with myself, this is the experience I long for the most, the most precious gift of yoga in my life. It often eludes me, but when I do experience it, I realize that silence, more than anything, is what I pray my practices will bring. The gift of quietude that reveals freedom, serenity, and clarity.
It's from a quiet mind that all great work gets accomplished.
It's from a quiet mind that we can meet life from the best possible stance.
It's from a quiet mind that we're able to give our best to the situations and circumstances at hand.
It's from a quiet mind that we can listen to...
True confession: House plants are not known to thrive under my watch. In fact, I'm looking at one right now badly in need of water. Like, really badly. I'll get to it right after I write this, I promise.
But the sight of that thirsty plant reminded me of an experience I've often had in yoga. In fact, its one I'm having this week as I get back into a more regular routine after our family vacation.
Practice, my morning contemplation, meditation, silence - I feel like a plant being watered. It's only now that I notice how parched and dry I was, actually. Everything was fine, I was fine. But what a difference after three straight days of focused asana and getting back into my morning routine. Ahh the feeling of renewed vitality, clarity, and nourishment that comes with the practices.
How do the practices nourish you? What can you do today to water the soil of your inner being? To quench the thirst of your spirit?
One of my friends, a fellow yoga teacher, turned 85 last week. In response to my email wishing him a happy birthday he wrote,
I did a headstand to celebrate in these upside-down times.
That felt appropriate. Usually, yoga friends might celebrate such an occasion with 85 Sun Salutations, but this year it makes sense to go upside down. It’s feels like that’s just how life is these days.
My friend’s message reminded me of the upside-down representation of the Shiva Nataraj.
Many of us might be familiar with this typical representation of the Ananda Tandava, the divine dance of Lord Shiva:
It portrays the five acts of Shiva, Shiva as the source of the five universal processes – creation, maintenance, dissolution, concealment, and revelation.
But there’s an alternative version of the Shiva Nataraj that’s much rarer, where Shiva is depicted upside down balancing on one arm:
One of the...
Last week, I wrote about the shift that happens when we focus on how we are being rather than just what we’re doing. Nowhere is this more apparent, and important, than in asana practice.
Consider Child's pose. Physically, it’s a pose where you sit on your heels with the big toes together and knees apart, fold your torso forward over your legs and rest your forehead on the floor. That’s how you do the pose. But none of that describes the many ways to be in this pose. It’s a pranam, the classic posture of reverence in the Indian tradition. This is often how I practice it, infusing the form of bowing with the inner feeling of giving thanks and honoring all I’ve received as a student.
This week, that same pose took on a whole different energy for me. It became a pose of offering that same reverence and gratitude to myself, turning that sense of honoring inward. I needed a visceral reminder of what has always been...
Following a meditation retreat a few years ago I decided that I want to focus less on what I wanted to DO and more on how I wanted to BE.
No sooner did I decide on this shift than I realized that it isn’t as easy as it seems.
It can be so tempting, rewarding even, to put my energy into what I want to accomplish and achieve. But to bring a chosen state of being to my actions? To prioritize HOW I want to be as I do all the things I do? That takes conscious effort. And attention.
I remember my teacher once saying something like anyone can work like a bull, but to work with sweetness and clarity, well, that’s something else entirely. To bring the best of ourselves to what we do requires a particular kind of skill. It’s the work of the yogi, don’t you think?
My experience is that there really is no substitute for taking the time and effort to nurture the inner stance we bring to our actions.
It’s that shift of being that makes the whole...
Like many of us, there are moments these days when I’m in mourning for the yoga world that was. As retreat season here in Quebec rolls around, memories of past events popped up on my feed this week. With places around the world slowly opening up, teachers have reached out to me with questions about how, when and where they will go back to giving in-person classes. There are so many questions and very few clear-cut answers.
As I’ve seen some big-name, corporate studios close their doors, I admit that on one hand I’m relieved to see that the unsustainable bubble of studio chains and teacher-training machines finally might be bursting for good. At the same time, my heart goes out to small, local studios who are struggling. As a former neighborhood studio-owner myself, I know first-hand the commitment and sacrifice that goes into supporting an in-person community, and the tremendous value you bring to the lives of your students.
What better time than a hot, steamy July day to consider the case of the champion ice sculptor?
Can you imagine dedicating yourself wholeheartedly to producing the most beautiful, exquisite art you're capable of while knowing it would soon disappear?
What would it be like to work diligently, to give your all to a project, while knowing full well it was fundamentally temporary and fleeting?
What if you embraced the idea that the act of creating was the goal itself?
Stay cool, stay well,
This morning I had an appointment in our village that is slowly opening up. It's a time of day I'm not usually out. On my way home, I got to see the recycling truck and the mail carrier in action.
Although it might sound like a strange thing to say at a time when so much feels off-kilter, I actually had the thought, "All is happening as it should be."
I felt grateful for all the services and people I count on for the everyday functioning of my life. I’m thankful to live in a society where resources like these are provided on a regular basis. They're so important, yet I hardly ever think about it.
Similarly, a few days ago I was speaking with a group of yoga friends about how grateful we are for the practices we've come to rely on, day in and day out. Like the recycling truck and the mail carrier, I cannot imagine navigating life without these inner resources.
What’s more, the inner resources we gather as yogis are ours and they remain ours no matter...
Getting an "A" in yoga.
Sounds silly, right? The idea of getting a grade or receiving some kind of external reward for performance in yoga so obviously goes against our most basic reasons for doing the practice.
Seth Godin in his book What to do When It’s Your Turn, writes:
"… The prevailing system of the educational-industrial complex puts the fear of a ‘C’ in us. The entire point of twelve (or sixteen) years of our lives isn’t to learn anything, it’s to get an ‘A’…What if instead, we decided to opt in to a different path, the path of always learning?"
Because yoga is, or can be, all about continuous learning on so many different levels, it is a perfect example of “the path of always learning.“
In the alignment-based yoga practice, learning is progressive. It happens in stages.
First is the form of the pose. It’s about learning how to get the body in and out of...
Our free, online bonus content is designed to complement and enrich your experience of Evolving Your Yoga. Resources like video pose tutorials, downloadable journaling prompts, breathwork, guided visualizations, and more will support your exploration of each of the Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.