Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Peace of Mind

Over the last two weeks I have been focused on practicing Santosa, which means contentment. At first I thought this would be an easy two weeks for me. How hard could it be to practice contentment? I am perfectly content sitting on my couch watching TV and drinking a cup of tea.

As I quickly discovered, being content is not as natural a state of being as I would like to believe. And the intention to practice contentment does not easily overcome the mind's desire to focus on issues and challenges that need to be solved.

Although I experienced moments of contentment, especially in my yoga practice, there were many more times that I struggled to find that inner peace and appreciation of the present moment. As with all of my weekly practices of the Yamas and the Niyamas, the goal is not to judge myself, but merely to observe my behavior.

What I noticed these past few weeks is how often I focus on how I would like things to be different in my life instead of accepting how things are. This is especially true when it comes to my job. I have been fixated on all of the changes I want to make in my life. And while self improvement and growth will likely be a natural outcome of my yoga teacher training, I can't just fast forward through it and reach an enlightened state. It is a long journey.

I found a great article that talked about the difference between contentment and complacency. Practicing contentment does not mean we have no desire to improve our situation. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The practice of yoga is a vision quest, with the ultimate goal of discovering our deepest self. Practicing contentment simply means we accept where we are in this moment and continue along our path:  light, calm and focused. 

It took me until the end of the two week practice to experience contentment in a meaningful way. On Saturday, I had tickets to see my favorite band (Guster) at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. I used to get dressed up in my jeans and black leather jacket and go to concerts there when I was in college. It still has the exact same vibe. 

The show was sold out, so the main floor was packed with people. I could feel the buzz of energy in the room as soon as Guster started playing. I sang along to all of my favorite songs in unison with a group of like minded people, all of us sharing a common experience. During one of the songs, I paused to close my eyes and take it all in. That moment was pure contentment.

After the show was over, we headed toward the exit. I noticed a turquoise tank top with a sign that read "Chick's tank top $10" hanging up on the merchandise cart near the doors. In that moment, I felt inspired to buy it as a reminder of the awesome experience of that show.

The next day I went to yoga teacher training wearing my tank top. It felt just like in college when we would go to a concert and wear the band's t-shirt to school the next day.

We always start our yoga teacher training with a mediation and extended yoga practice. Most often we practice ashtanga, which is a really challenging form of yoga. Our teacher knows that some of us love ashtanga and some of us, not so much. She started the class by asking us to observe our feelings about the practice, without judgement. Then she reminded us that whatever we focus on during the practice is what we become.

I went through my practice with a specific intention to try and experience contentment in the poses, even the challenging ones. With every exhale, I tried to let go and with every inhale I invited new things to come to me.

At the end of the practice is headstand pose. I have never done a headstand pose before and I usually don't try it because I am fairly certain that I can't get up. But this time, I let go of any expectations and just followed her instructions.

We started in table pose. Then we clasped our hands together to make a triangle base to rest our head in. Then we raised our hips towards the sky and slowly stepped our feet closer and closer to our hands. Next it was time to raise one leg up into the air. All along I heard my teacher's voice calling out the next step and I just kept following.

Before I knew it, I had my right leg up in the air and all that was on the ground were my left toes. Her final instruction was to try and bring your left leg up to meet your right leg. Slowly I watched my left toes come up off the ground and before I knew it I was in a full headstand! I probably held it for about 10-15 seconds before I heard my teacher telling us it was time to come down.

I am not sure if it was the concert the night before or the cute little turquoise tank top I was wearing, but the 43 year old version of me did a headstand. Or maybe the 43 year old version of me just watched as the 22 year old college version of me did the headstand. Whatever it was, it felt amazing. And it all happened while I wasn't even trying.

As I contemplated my headstand experience and my practice of contentment these past few weeks, I came up with one question. I have been asking it of myself and you might want to ask yourself too. Where did we get the idea that life has to be so hard? Of course, it can be challenging sometimes. But I believe that sometimes we make life harder than it needs to be.

As soon as I let go of expectations in my mind, somehow my body was able to do things that my mind didn't believe I could do. We have all heard the phrase that you can do anything you set your mind to. And that may be true. But I am also starting to believe that we can do some pretty amazing things when we don't set our mind to it.

So, did any of you practice Santosa these past few weeks?  If so, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.

This week I will be practicing Tapas, which means the disciplined use of our energy. It refers to the idea of keeping the body fit, as well as developing a sense of control over our inner urges without revealing them to the outside world. The idea behind Tapas is to direct our energy so we can enthusiastically engage in life and reach a higher connection to the Divine within each of us.

This will be a good week to continue with my physical yoga practice, as well as a heightened consciousness of my eating habits, posture and breathing. I already started this evening with a cleansing moonlight yoga practice.

As always, you are welcome to practice Tapas with me this week. Even if you don't practice yoga, it would be a good week to re-assess your own fitness goals and maybe try to get outside for a nice walk or a bike ride. I will be back next week to share my experiences.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Love Couch

As I continue along my journey toward becoming a yoga teacher, I have started thinking a lot more about the role that fate or destiny plays in our lives.  There is a part of me that has always believed that if something is meant to be, it will be.

Yet, there is another part of me that still tries to predict and control the outcome of my life, just in case fate or destiny somehow forgot my address or lost my cell phone number.  It is that process of meddling in my own life that I have been struggling with lately.  In many ways, I am at a crossroads in my life. Uncertain about the future of my job, my relationship and where I want to live.

In those times of uncertainty, it is natural to want to do something (anything) to make ourselves feel more secure. But that may not always be the right thing. So how do I know when to step back and let the universe determine my fate and when to step in and take action to direct the course of my future?  It is clear that living my life requires a combination of both. It is just a matter of finding the right balance.

For example, I would not be in my yoga teacher training class unless I took the initiative and filled out an application.  It was unlikely that someone would just stop me on the street and ask if I wanted to be a yoga teacher. That was an obvious case where I needed to take action. And the universe got to determine whether I was accepted.

In relationships it can be a little harder to know when to step in and when to step back. Two years ago, I was getting the hardwood floors re-finished at my house. I decided it would be a good time to get a smaller couch for my living room. Yet I was still attached to my old couch and I wasn't quite ready to let go of it yet. I decided to put it in storage until I could figure out what to do with it. 

Somewhere along the way, I came up with the idea that I was going to meet the love of my life and he would need a couch for his house. Or perhaps we would move in together and put the couch down in our basement. I started referring to it as my love couch.

It was a cold day in January 2013 that the Boy and I moved the love couch into the storage unit.  I remember because it started snowing as we were driving down Michigan Avenue to rent the truck. In retrospect I find it interesting that I was dating the Boy when I came up with the idea of the love couch.  Clearly, I wasn't planning on him being the one to sit on that couch with me in the basement of our love nest. We broke up less than a month later.

It has been over two years since I put the love couch in storage, along with the hope of meeting the man of my dreams. A lot has changed since then.

The most recent development is that the Boy is now engaged to the marathon runner girl he started dating last summer.  According to Facebook, they adopted a dog together on Valentine's Day and they were engaged a few weeks later. He and I struggled for four years to make our relationship work and with her everything fell into place in less than a year. Which proves my theory that when it is meant to be, it will be.

As for me, I did fall in love with someone who I believed was the man of my dreams. And if you would have asked me one year ago to predict the future, I would have been certain that he and I would be getting engaged and moving the love couch into his new house right about now. But our relationship had a different outcome.

Sometimes I wonder if it was fate that our relationship ended or if it was just me getting in my own way. Letting my fears and doubts overcome my feelings of love and acceptance. And allowing him do the same. I guess we will never know for sure.

It has only been recently that I realized how much of my life has been spent living in fear. I have watched in amazement as so many other people have taken the leap of faith by getting married, having another baby, getting a new puppy or quitting their job and moving to a new city. Each time, I wonder to myself "How can they just do that? What if this happens? What if that happens? What if they are miserable? How can they get out of it?"

And I have fantasized so many times about making similar changes in my life. Yet, something holds me back. Those same questions repeat over and over in my mind until I am paralyzed. Inevitably, I decide that it is safer to to nothing. While I have been clinging to my fears and holding onto beliefs that no longer serve me, everyone else has been moving on with their lives, including the Boy. 

I have paid over $2000 during the past two years to store the love couch. That is more than the original cost of the couch and it is a lot of money just to hang onto a vision of how my ideal relationship is going to play out.

Maybe it is time to let go of my love couch and let the universe take charge for awhile. Hopefully I will be ready to set aside my fears, take a risk and embrace whatever comes my way. Whatever is meant to be, will be.

And if I do meet the man of my dreams, chances are we will want to pick out a new couch.