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Gratitude

Recently my workplace initiated a thank you project. They sent five blank thank you cards out to all employees so that they could send them on to anyone they chose who have made a difference, big or small, in the work environment. This was a lovely idea and, of course, got me thinking about gratitude in general. We often don’t say thank you even though we feel gratitude toward the people in our lives. Meister Eckhart says “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Gratitude, when expressed, can bring joy to both the giver and receiver. When heartfelt it warms others. Feeling gratitude for the little things in life can shift your perspective away from what’s going wrong to what’s going right, bringing about contentment or bliss. Simply put, it can change your life.
I feel gratitude to my family, friends, to those who have supported me over the years even if they aren’t aware of how they’ve affected me. These people make life more rich, more meaningful and in bad times, more bearable. I’m thankful for the teachers who brought me long-lasting lessons of how to work toward peace, how to heal, and how to connect to spirit. I’m also grateful for some of the teachers that I may not have wanted in my life at the time. Looking back, it’s easy to see how painful moments in life can lead to events or circumstances that change your life course. I look back at the guy that broke my heart many years ago that inadvertently had a hand in my quitting drinking. I’m very thankful for that heartbreak as it lead me to a life full of spirit and bliss as opposed to fear and loneliness. I’m thankful to the boss who fired me once as it forced me to leave a job that I was completely unsuited to and brought me to a place where I earned far more money and had the responsibility I needed to feel more fulfilled. I’m thankful for the people that have appeared in my life, even if briefly, to plant an idea or bring a moment of happiness or share some wisdom. I’m thankful for this moment as I sit here writing, knowing that this is the only moment I have.

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Dream

David Neagle says that dreams are what God wants to experience through us. Just sit with that thought for a moment. It’s beautiful isn’t it? When we start to believe that what we dream can become a reality, we start to make moves toward those dreams. And the more we move in the direction of our dreams the more things show up to help us on our way. The people, skills and resources that are needed to make it happen start to show themselves when we are open to the possibility.
Remember that everything that exists in form today once existed inside someone’s imagination. What’s in your imagination? What steps can you start to take, even if baby steps, to manifest what’s in your imagination today? Let go of fear and just start taking the steps as if what you want is right there, you just need to reach out and grab it. If you make mistakes along the way or experience failure, just look at them as learning or rerouting opportunities, not as a sign that you should give up on your dreams.

Balance

When you talk about balance with a yogi there are a variety of ways the conversation could go. You could end up talking about their favorite standing or arm balancing poses, about the muscles needed to achieve balance within a pose like headstand or you could talk about how to balance the different aspects of life: emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental are some of the big ones that come to mind.
Sometimes we end up trying so hard to fit everything in (because it really is all important) that we end up putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. This causes stress and we sometimes end up walking away from a practice because it just feels too big. When we are able to strike a balance with all of these parts of ourselves, we are much happier for it. When we set the intention to do something for our emotional, spiritual, mental and physical health each week we start to find the pockets of time needed to stay holistically healthy. Maybe you don’t have time to do a full work out every day, but there might be 15 minutes that you could do some light stretching and leave the full work out for a few times a week. Maybe you could fit in 5 minutes of meditation to address your connection to spirit. This isn’t a situation where ‘go big or go home’ applies. Look for the little bits of time where you can read something that’s mentally stimulating or send a text to your significant other with something other than a task to complete or just breathe. Don’t forget to look after yourself- when you take time out to address your own health you have much more to give others. Try not to think of it as being selfish, it truly isn’t- when we are nourished we can nourish others.
If you’ve never done this before, try filling out a balance wheel. Imagine the centre of the circle as being zero on a scale and the outer edge as being a ten. Ten will represent the ideal amount of time or energy being spent on a particular piece based on your own needs, personality or experiences. On the circle, mark a dot indicating where on the scale from 1-10 each aspect lies. Do you get a perfect circle when you connect those dots? Probably not! And it’s not likely that it’ll ever be perfect, but if you’re way out of balance on one of the parts, try to think of some simple ways you can bring more balance to your life.

Saucha

The first niyama, or observance, of yoga is called Saucha, a Sanskrit word meaning purity. Purity can be about physical surroundings, our minds, our bodies, the food we eat, etc. When we think about it in terms of our surroundings, we begin by looking at clutter and cleanliness. When our space is clean and free of clutter we tend to think more clearly and our minds are more peaceful. Some tips for decluttering can be found here: http://zenhabits.net/zen-mind-how-to-declutter/
Saucha also takes into account the purity of our thoughts, words and deeds. It’s not about judging a person or our world as impure, but rather ensuring that our thoughts are harmonious with both our intentions and the world around us. Letting go of relationships that are sustained through gossip, sarcasm or other habits that affect the purity of our minds is a way to practice saucha. While this can be very difficult to do, especially when letting go of a long time relationship, it is important for your mental health. If such a relationship causes you to behave or think in ways that don’t align with who you want to be, you will likely experience some sort of inner turmoil. Ask yourself why you are attached to this relationship. What are you getting out of it? Judith Lasater, a long time yoga teacher, suggests that “If you embrace impurity in thought, word, or deed, you will eventually suffer”. If you surround yourself with people that are positive and kind, you’re more likely to have purity in your thoughts and deeds. It at least sets up the circumstances to support saucha. We all from time to time think negatively. Wayne Dyer has a simple technique to stop the cycle of this sort of thinking: whenever you have a negative thought, just say ‘next’ and move on.
When in asana class you can practice saucha as well. One way is to come to class with a clean mat and well-tended body (clear of impurities). Also, clear your mind before class. This can be done by centering, meditation or prayers before beginning. Often your yoga teacher will do something at the start of class to help with this. Another way to practice saucha during asana class is to fully exhale, ridding the body of more toxins. Of course, the asana practice itself will help with this too.

The Strength of a Mother

I’m leaving the topic of yoga today to talk about my Mom. Mother’s day is coming up after all.
I’ve always thought of my mother as the epitome of strength. When I was a kid my friends would talk back to their mothers or would ask if they could to do something numerous times after they were told no. When I was told no, they would say ‘ask again’. I would look at them like they were crazy. You didn’t do that with my Mom. No meant no. It wouldn’t do you any good to ask again and you might just end up in a world of trouble. This was one way that she displayed her strength. You didn’t need to guess with my mother, you knew where you stood. She was also very caring. One time I was invited to a birthday party for one of my best friends but when I showed up (present in hand) her mother told me that there were too many kids and I couldn’t come in. When I got home, quite upset, my Mom decided that we would have a really fun day. We went out to dinner and went to see Superman which was playing in theatres plus I got to keep the present. She always knew the right thing to do.
When I was in junior high school she stood up for me when appropriate with a nasty principal but was willing to let me get punished if that was what should happen. She was strong enough to tell a court officer who she knew personally to treat me like any other criminal when I was caught shoplifting because she felt it was for my own good (I did stop shoplifting after that). She was strong enough to know that she had to be my parent first and worry about being my friend later.
I’m sure that in my teen years I caused my mother a great deal of stress and worry. My parents had to look for me in bars, find me the morning after a party when I didn’t come home, and fly me home from Quebec when I ran away. Through it all, my Mom kept her balance; she didn’t blame herself for my behavior so she was able to keep parenting me. I would be angry with her for whatever punishment she came up with, but I never questioned that she loved me.
In high school and my earlier adult years I had a lot of trouble with alcohol. My mother had the strength to tell me that I had a problem, but she also had the strength to just witness it without judgment and without trying to work her will with me. She had the strength to just be there for me when I fell (which I did). She was always straight with me and yet I never felt judged by her when I was screwing up. When I came home from BC single and pregnant my Mom told me that she would be there for me no matter what I chose to do. And she has truly been a co-parent to my daughter over the past 21 years. She simply took on the grandparent role with joy.
She was also there to celebrate when I started to get my act together. She has spent countless hours over the years listening to me when I was coming from a very negative place and was there to help guide me as I started to explore my spirituality.
What might be most special about my Mom is that she had the strength to let go of my childhood when the time was right and knew when I needed a friend more than a parent. Somewhere along the way my Mom became my best friend.

Surrender

One of the niyamas, or observances, of yoga is Ishvarapranidhana, or surrender. To many the idea of surrender is distasteful. We think of it as a weakness. When we talk about surrender in terms of yoga, though, essentially we’re talking about surrendering our egos to something greater, which takes courage. When we surrender our egos, we surrender the need to be in control, surrender to the moment we’re in. Control isn’t real anyway, it’s an illusion. We don’t invite all of the thoughts that run through our minds, they just come. We don’t control aging, it happens whether we want it to or not. We don’t even control the outcomes of our actions; we have good intentions for our actions, we think we know what the outcome will be, but so often it’s completely different. All we can do is take steps toward our dreams and surrender to the outcome. The results are likely exactly what we need.
When we are able to take our egos out of the equation, we start to notice that the obstacles that arise in our lives are there for a reason. We begin to learn from what’s put in front of us and can more easily move on. In contrast, when we allow our egos to take the lead, when things don’t go as we planned, we fight against what’s happening. And the fight makes us unhappy. How can we have peace of mind if we are fighting a losing battle? The universe always has the first move, and I would venture to say the last as well. If we are able to surrender, we can start to look at what’s happening with an eye of wonder. We start to trust that the universe is putting the people, situations, and obstacles in our path because they’re needed to get wherever we are intended to go in this life. This isn’t to say that we don’t make plans for our future or that we should just wait for things to land in our laps; life isn’t like that. But when we make plans, we need to okay when they take a different turn. Perhaps we thought that we’d end up with situation A, but the universe has the much more fabulous situation B in mind for us. How many times in our lives have we been brokenhearted to end a relationship only to meet someone else who is so much more suited to who we are? Or we don’t get the job that we thought would be perfect but then get a job that is so much more rewarding. Surrender to whatever is happening now and just wait to see what comes up next, you may be pleasantly surprised!

Mantra

A mantra is a sound, syllable, word or group of words that are repeated to bring about some sort of transformation. There is a physical vibration, an energy, associated with all sound and we can use that energy to create a change in ourselves. Since energy follows intent, the intention behind a mantra is paramount. Quantum Physics has proven that everything that we think of as solid matter is actually vibrational energy arising from consciousness. When we really consider this, then being able to change one’s circumstances through thought becomes very real. Mantra is a way of doing just that.
Man in Sanskrit means ‘think’ and tra means ‘free,’ so a mantra is meant to free us of thinking. Using a mantra gives your mind something concrete to focus on so that the mind doesn’t start wandering. It keeps us focused on our intentions during a meditation practice. It can be very difficult to slow our minds down and to stop the constant chatter and a mantra truly helps with this.
I believe that any word or sound that resonates with you can be used as a mantra. For example, if you were trying to become more loving you might use ‘love’ as a mantra. Your intention would be to create love. If there’s some quality that you wish to attain, you could meditate on that quality while using a mantra.
Hindu yogis define japa, or mantra, as a mystical energy encased in a sound structure. A Sanskrit mantra is constructed from a combination of sounds derived from the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. These sounds have a definite and predictable effect on the human psyche and body. It is believed that Japa is a way to channel consciousness from the lowest to the highest level of pure thought. It’s a very direct way to self-realization according to yogis. We can’t really define these sorts of sounds, they’re something we experience. They can be very beautiful and meaningful on a deep level. We may not even be aware of why we’re drawn to a Sanskrit mantra, it just feels right.
This website familiarizes us with of some of the Sanskrit mantras and has recordings of them being chanted so people can learn the pronunciation of these words: http://www.true-enlightenment.com/sanskrit-mantras.html
Try it out and see if any of these ancient sounds appeals to you.

Satya

Satya is a Sanskrit word meaning truthfulness, referring to truth in thoughts, words, and deeds. As is typical in a journey with yoga, we need to start by being truthful with ourselves; which means we need to get to know ourselves completely. Practicing satya begins with observing our own thoughts and psychological patterns. When we are able to see the beliefs and patterns that we hold, we can start to think about how they influence the choices we make. As we observe our thoughts more and more, we are able to differentiate between what we are projecting and what is truth. What we’re projecting might be in line with what our friends, coworkers, society and families want us to be, but is it who we really are? Is what we’re projecting true? Once we can figure this out we can choose to come from our core integrity and abandon actions that come from projection; essentially we start to act more authentically.
If you think about a teenager who acts out to fit in with a crowd that he or she thinks is cool, this becomes more clear. We can see how he or she might have a core value of honesty, a desire to do well in school or to please his or her parents, etc, but their actions tell a different story. They are projecting what they believe their peers want. It’s not quite as obvious in someone with more maturity, but may still exist. Maybe you’re a person who values hard work, but you’re in a workplace that doesn’t support that. What changes can you make so that your actions are in line with your values, your truth?
Because most communication in relationships is sustained through speaking and writing, it’s important to be honest in these forms of communication as well. Remember ahimsa (nonharming) here though. It’s about speaking only what we know to be true, not embellishing or exaggerating or leaving out an inconvenient detail. Pujari suggests that before we speak we ask two questions: 1) is it true; and 2) is it useful? Judith Hanson Lancaster suggests a third question – is it nonharming?
When practicing asana, we must be mindful and respectful of our body’s capabilities. Know that today’s class might be very different from yesterdays and be okay with that. Practice as if it’s the first time. Sometimes we are not truthful in our asana practice because we’re being a little lazy- we can do more but are choosing not to. Other times we aren’t being honest about what we are capable of and end up hurting ourselves, causing harm.
When we get to know our truth, our integrity, we think and act in ways that support them and we become more peaceful with ourselves and those around us.

Dharma

When I logged into facebook this morning, I saw a quote from Swami Sivananda:
“You should clearly understand the aim of life. Then you should chalk out a line of work that is congenial to your aim. You should work hard to realise the aim. You should try every second to live up to that ideal. You can realise the ideal this very moment, or after ten years by walking with faltering steps.”
It seems to me to me that Swamiji was talking about dharma here. Everyone has a dharma, a purpose in life, and when we find our purpose we tend to love what we do. We align ourselves with the universal laws so we are in harmony with the universe. When we are in harmony in this way, there is always a demand for whatever service we are here to give and we create abundance in our lives.
Some people find their purpose, their dharma, very early on in their lives. For others there is vague notion of what we want, but no clear vision. And then there are those who have absolutely no idea. If we can become very clear on what it is that we wish to accomplish and discard anything in our lives that doesn’t point us in the direction of that intention, we can’t miss. Deepak Chopra says we must ask ourselves “how can I serve?” or “how can I help?” and that the answers are within us. When we get quiet we can hear those answers. We do need to be definite in what we wish to accomplish, and be unwavering about it. It’s then that we don’t allow others to sway us from our purpose, we don’t allow negative thinking to enter the equation and we trust that the universe will provide whatever we need to make it happen. We keep taking the steps needed to get there and then we find that situations, people or things that support our dharma just start to show up.
A few questions that we can ask ourselves to get started in finding our dharma are:

  • What are my unique talents?
  • When have I felt really good about what I’m doing?
  • Who are my heroes?
  • What did I love to do as a child?

Once you’ve developed a vision for what want to do, ask yourself what you can do today to get closer to your vision.
In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra outlines three commitments that we can make to apply the law of dharma:

  • I am going to seek my higher self, which is beyond my ego, through spiritual practice.
  • I am going to discover my unique talents, and finding my unique talents, I am going to enjoy myself, because the process of enjoyment occurs when I go into timeless awareness. That’s when I am in a state of bliss.
  • I am going to ask myself how I am best suited to serve humanity. I am going to answer that question and then put it into practice.

If you’ve found your dharma, what advice can you offer someone who is still searching? Do you have any insightful questions that a person can ask themselves to find their life’s purpose? Share them here!

Detachment

Vairagya is the Sanskrit word for detachment. This is sometimes a very difficult concept. When I first started learning about detachment, I wondered if it meant you were never passionate about anything or excited by the things that are happening. The idea of letting go of the pain or negative emotions that were associated with the events taking place in life was appealing, but I didn’t want to let go of happiness. I’ve come to realize over the years that to be detached doesn’t mean that we no longer experience emotions. Rather we experience everything in our lives fully and completely in the moment without trying to hang onto the experiences we’re having. The hanging on creates fear or insecurity which detracts from the experience. When we’re feeling fear in this way we aren’t living in the present moment and we can’t experience anything fully.
We form attachments to our things, relationships, and our bodies and even to our connection to the divine. We then become afraid of losing them and then can’t really enjoy them or even feel them anymore. Through our fear we sometimes set up the conditions to bring about whatever it is we are fearful of, breeding more discontent. In our connection to spirit, when we become attached we lose our present moment awareness because we’re trying to get somewhere and we fail to notice that we’re always connected.
When we are able to detach from outcomes and just do what we’re doing for its own sake, we start to get lost in the doing and it becomes effortless. The founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu puts it this way: “By letting it go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try the world is beyond the winning”.
Your yoga mat is a great place to practice detachment. There have been many times that I’ve been trying to master a pose and struggled to get it. When I’ve been able to relax and just do what I can the pose just comes to me. All of a sudden I can just do it without effort. Life can be like that too, find the way to flow with whatever is happening and the next thing you know something great happens…and then it’s gone too and you’re on to the next great adventure.