“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to describe yoga. Especially to new people who are asking questions about yoga. What is yoga? Will it help me lose weight? What do you do in a class? Why do you spend so much time teaching/studying/practicing?
When I first started thinking about how to describe yoga to people, my purpose was to come up with ways to “market” yoga and Iyengar Yoga. I wanted to help people find us, come to class, and introduce them to our practice.
I think about marketing sometimes. As a studio we depend on having students. Without students, there is no studio. And it is no secret that the practicalities of paying the rent, keeping the lights on, utilities and so forth are important considerations.
It is in the “marketing” of yoga where I get stuck. It’s hard to describe Iyengar Yoga to those who have not experienced it for themselves.
Of course, I could quote the benefits of yoga:
heal from injuries & chronic conditions.
I can cite articles with the scientific research backed by statistics on percentages of people who have achieved relief from pain and calmed their anxiety.
The usual attention-grabbing advertising words do not work here.
But there are benefits other than the surface ones. These are hard to describe.
Common advertising language has no words to describe yoga practice. Sure, the physical benefits attract people, but those who continue to practice over a period of months and years do so because the yoga gives them more than a healthy body.
Those who stick with it find something deeper. I could say “rich, deep, and profound.”
Even these descriptions fall far short of describing what yoga brings. Yoga is the ability to quiet the mind. It helps us provide a deeper experience of who we are — and we turn inward.
After 20 years of practice, I am just now starting to crave a deeper connection to myself…
Wanting to shift my attention inward. Wanting to focus less on the externals.
I have not always been interested in this.
It can be scary to go to an unfamiliar place. And spending time with myself and my ever-wandering mind has never souned appealing.
What will I find there? Maybe nothing. Maybe something I’d rather not see. Or maybe I can catch a glimpse of a new, less external (what am i wearing? how can I be fit?) way of living.
Inner connection has never been on my to-do list. Until now. And I can see that is a process — it comes in stages.
My first stage toward change has been to wish I wanted to.
And in the case of big changes, I am only capable of being willing to want to change.
These stages can last a very very long time before any real work happens.
I find myself in the middle of it now. Maybe you do too.
It helps to hear what others have to say on the subject.
Here’s what John O’Donohue, the Irish poet/philosopher says:
“The body is your only home in the universe. It is your house of belonging here in the world. It is a very sacred temple. To spend time in silence before the mystery of your body brings you toward wisdom and holiness.” – O’Donohue
“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” – Iyengar
For me, the keys to any transformative practice are:
PRACTICE + TIME.
Iyengar Yoga appeals to me precisely because it promises no quick fixes & promises that you will face many challenges.
In fact, one of the main ideals espoused in ancient yoga texts speaks right to this:
“The practice of yoga is firmly established when cultivated consistently, with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Sutra 1.14 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
Yoga explains the experience of serenity, provides recommendations for overcoming obstacles, and outlines practices to de-clutter your mind.
The ongoing practice of discovery is where I find the benefits of practice.
Through yoga, I remember and re-remember that living the life I want takes time, effort, and a lot of commitment. I learn over and over how I can relate to any obstacles in new ways. I bump up against my stuck places, and yoga practice helps me consider what’s behind the stuck-ness.
Spend just a few minutes on the Internet, and you’ll find 5 easy steps to any intractable problem or diagnosis. Usually, the faster I move to solve a problem (without seeking to understand) only exacerbates the original problem.
Here’s an antidote to “10 easy steps:”
“[Yoga] aims to map out a path that all may follow. It offers advice, methods, and a philosophical framework at a level that even a newcomer to the practice of yoga may grasp. It does not offer shortcuts or vain promises to the gullible…the light that yoga sheds on life is something special. It is transformative. It does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees. It brings knowledge and elevates it to wisdom.”
–BKS Iyengar in his book Light on Life.
He said, “I’m a beginner. I’ve seen the sign for a few months now, and finally decided to come.”
He said he and a colleague he works with talked it over and decided to give it a try. He came (and has been coming for a few weeks now). But she hasn’t come…yet.
It makes me wonder what makes some people ready, and others take longer to decide and to take action.
It takes courage to show up for something new. Courage, readiness — and a few other magic ingredients.
No one ever talks about the stages of making a decision to start something new. With so much pressure to “just do it, ” no one extols the virtues of indecision.
But I’m here to tell you are some! (Yep…I’m from that alien anti-just-do-it world of yes-no and stay-go.)
You’re undecided now, and what are you going to do? (yep, that’s how the song goes!) Or, maybe you’re different…but I spend way more time getting ready to be ready than actually being ready.
I got real tired of the bad rap I was always giving myself for not being ready to go-for-it, bite-the-bullet, and make-stuff-happen.
But my frown turned upside down the day I finally decided to embrace my decidedly indecisive nature. I felt a lot better, and that was enough for me.
Then I learned there is science to back me up on this.
I have found that trying something new is like that for me. If I change anything, I usually think about it for a long while before I actually do anything.
Change is never really an event. It’s more a process that unfolds over time.
And the indecision period where you are just contemplating doing something is often overlooked. But I think it’s the most important part. You’re undecided now, and what are you going to do?
I thought it was just me, but it turns out…
It turns out, some very smart people have done some research on this very topic, and given it a fancy scientific name: The Transtheoretical Model or TTM (Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross)
Here are the stages of change:
Not ready (precontemplation – undecided)
Getting ready (contemplation – a little less undecided)
Ready (preparation – decided but not doing it yet)
Doing it! (action)
I think these stages are more for study and discussion purposes. I never ask myself if I am pre-contemplating or just contemplating something. I just know I’m either battling back and forth between yes and no.
I’m undecided. Or I’m decidedly going to do something.
Some of may be more complicated than this TTM theory allows for. Like me.
I find myself often not-ready-but-hoping-to-soon-be-getting-ready-to-be-ready. Quite an interesting place to be. This is when I am not rebelling against the idea of taking action, but I am still examining the pros and cons. Yes-no. Stay-go.
(Click here for my favorite song on the subject: Undecided by Ella Fitzgerald. Now there’s a woman who knows that a little scat-singing and a jazz beat goes a long way toward celebrating even the indecision that hurts.)
“Hmmm…maybe I will create a special spot to put my keys when I walk in the front door so I don’t lose them,” I think.
The not-ready-rebellious me says,
“No way. That would involve too much work. I would have to find the right spot. I would have to go shopping for a special hook or container or whatever to contain my keys. It would take too much time. It would cost too much money. It would have to match my decor…blah-de-blah.”
My not-ready but getting-ready self says,
“Well, I am tired of losing my keys in my house. It makes me late in the mornings. When I can’t find them I feel anxious. When I finally find them, I jump in my car and drive crazy to get where I’m going. It sure would feel better to start the day knowing where my keys are. Maybe I can find an inexpensive container for my keys.”
The early stages of contemplation are subtle, and maybe not even visible to anyone but me. I haven’t actually done anything about my key-losing problem – yet.
It brings me great comfort to think of my not-readiness as an important part of the change process.
Even if you are resistent, rebellious, umotivated or ambivalent, you could be closer to taking action than you realize.
From my experience, you can’t rush it. It happens when you are ready. (Or getting ready to think about being ready.)
Of course, you can surround yourself with positive support and reminders. You can create logs, schedules, or accountability partners. Things like these help some people. But usually not me.
I do better if I let myself off the hook, and give myself time to just think about what I might do once I’m ready.
Perhaps you’re like me…Just thinking about starting yoga (or flossing daily or eating your vegetables or having more fun…) is an important part of the process.
Tonight we will cross the threshold into 2015. Here are a few ideas for closing the door on 2014, and feeling complete.
Make a list of what you are celebrating.
What did you do well?
What insights did you have — however small?
List any positive changes you made — however small. Small steps and incremental insights might seem too subtle to name. But even the tiniest tidbit of progress needs to be celebrated.
By nurturing even the seemingly small seeds of beginnings, they begin to grow and flower and bear fruit.
One small thing I am celebrating this year is that I took good care of my dog, Mr. French. I fed him, walked him, groomed him, and took care of his health needs. I did a good job in this area. (See, nothing is too small or inconsequential to be on this list).
One accomplishment I am naming is that I showed up. I showed up for my own yoga practice, my work, and my family. I did the best I could. (I bet you did too!)
But even if you didn’t, there is always forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing — and an act of love. Are you willing to show up for yourself with an attitude of love and cut yourself some slack?
I have put a lot of things on this list. I forgive myself for the times I was irritable and impatient. And for the times I tried so hard to control things when letting go would have served the situation better.
Can you consider forgiving life (the universe, God, fate, whomever or whatever) for giving you things you do not want? Can you consider cultivating some small attitude of forgiveness that things did not go the way you wanted them to?
Note: This may be a very short list indeed! This can be deep, tough stuff. For me, the best I can do with this one is to say that I am willing to consider listing the things I would like to be able to forgive.
List the things from 2014 that you did let go of…or things that you want to leave behind.
For some of you, this might be something as big as a relationship that is ending. Or a job. Or a role you’ve always played, but are no longer wanting to play.
Or it could be something concrete like clearing out the clutter in a room of your house. Or selling your car. Or even just taking down your Christmas tree and putting it on the street.
Or…maybe there are some things you would like to let go of, but you are not ready yet. Take a deep breath, and write it on your list.
As in, “I am willing to be willing to let go of _______, but I know that it is not time yet.”
Trust that you will know when it is time, and you will do it when you are ready.
This will symbolize your willingness to cross the threshold into the new year. It does not have to be a huge ceremonial ritual.
Here are a few ideas:
Light a candle.
Burn some incense.
Take a bath or shower — as if you are washing away 2014 and clearing the way for something new.Go for a walk.
Unplug your devices for 10 minutes and sit quietly.
Make up your own end-of-year ritual…it is less about taking a dramatic action and more about doing something simple with intention.
And giving 2014 a good goodbye.
Happy New Year’s Eve!
Thanks to my teacher and mentor Bari Tessler Linden for providing the inspiration for this ritual. Working with Bari in her year-long money school called The Art of Money has inspired and changed my life for the better.
Stay tuned for my next post on starting 2015 well.
With shopping, wrapping, socializing, cooking, and baking, our yoga practice can fall by the wayside.
We begin to feel like there isn’t time or we’re too exhausted for even a little yoga practice.
Our minds slow down and we focus on what is important.
Our bodies become filled with energy and ease.
We can rest in ourselves and connect to our world in a way that feels calm and alert.
All that needs to be done, gets finished.
We feel joyful and we are actually able to enjoy the season.
Doing just a little yoga can ease feelings of anxiety about the holidays by bringing us home to our truest self. This is the place where we find comfort, happiness and peace.
Here it is, direct from the yoga sutras:
Now is the time for practice!
Urdvha Prasarita Padasana: Legs up the wall
Ardha Uttanasana: Half forward bend with hands on the wall.
Bharadvajasana (sitting in chair): Simple Twist
Gomukasana (arms only): shoulder stretch with or without a strap. any simple shoulder stretch will do. interlacing hands behind your back and stretching arms
Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward Facing Dog Pose
Supta Baddha Konasana: Reclining Bound Angle Pose
When you take time for yourself, you will have more time for others.
Make this holiday a happy one.
Treat your self this season, and join me for one (or more) of the holiday classes.