Thoughts after the first week of the yoga challenge

Remarkably, I’ve made it through the first week of 2014 and my yoga challenge has begun without incident. Last year at this time I wasn’t so lucky; I was in the hospital on New Year’s Day and because of that, I got a late start to the challenge.

I’ve gotten some feedback on my posts so far, and very much appreciate input. The Challenge started as a self-inflicted bit of fun, but the implications of writing about other teachers classes at studios where I work and regularly practice are many. If I take on a more standardized approach and write a certain amount of objective information about the class, it may help people decide whether they would like to attend the class themselves. To date, I have given some information, but I will aim to get more specific. It is easy for me to get caught in the trap of making a statement, commenting on it from my subjective viewpoint, and the second guessing myself and the reason for posting the statement to begin with. I usually end up with deleting the paragraph and saying less, which is not necessarily the most beneficial for the reader, or for the teacher who’s class I’ve taken. The tricky thing is that I’ve not been asked to give feedback by the teachers, some of whom have no idea of who I am or what I’m doing. Many teachers don’t want feedback to begin with, and to be honest, I’m not sure I would either if I were in their position. On the other hand, feedback is so important to becoming a better teacher. Without it, improvement can be slow, and some points for finesse may go under the radar. From this viewpoint, when given with the right intention (being helpful and loving, not harmful and unskilled), feedback on classes and studio impressions are beneficial. I will aim to be less subjective of teachers and studios and more objective, so that visitors get a sense of the studio and the teacher.

All of this has led to reflecting on what I offer students as a teacher, and what I would like students to take away from my classes. My intention is for people to leave my yoga class with more awareness of what it feels like to be in a body (to be embodied), and to feel there is some level of responsibility for actions that we take while in the body. If one person feels they are more able to give and receive love after a yoga class, and are more joyous as a result, I would feel satisfied that I’ve done my job. So how does this translate into the technical elements of a yoga class? In general, the sequence of the asanas should be smooth and feel good in the body, and the music in some way should support the breath count and or contribute to the focus of the class in some way. These elements leave an impression on a student; either one is able to relax into the class and let go, even have fun, or they become confused, angry, uptight, insecure. At the end of a day, that’s why the details of a yoga class, how a teacher smells, looks, acts, and what they say and teach, the lighting of the room, the sounds from outside the studio walls…all these things make a difference. It’s complicated, but details matter. It’s just that simple.

I missed out on Laura Gate Eastley’s class today in exchange for a real break for lunch and time to write this post. Rolfing starts tomorrow morning and continues through Sunday. Last year I attempted to continue with the Yoga Challenge through the Rolfing training which I’ve come to realize is a bit unrealistic…however, I will see where space exists to find a class or two between now and Monday. Otherwise, I’ll resume the Yoga Challenge on Monday, January 13th. Stay tuned for next weeks full schedule.

The seeds of intention

imagesMany tend to think of the New Year as a new beginning, and take the opportunity to reflect on the previous year and set goals for the year ahead. There are workshops on goal setting and envisioning your ‘best self’ in your ‘perfect life’; a whole industry cashes in on peoples’ failures at achieving their goals. Why do so many people fail? In a nutshell, goals are focused solely on the future, and don’t provide any kind of ground to fall back on when they aren’t met. In the end, people either tend to be left discouraged, or with subsequent goals to meet if they have gone so far as to achieve their initial goal. It is either a tail chase or a disaster.

In reality, every moment is an opportunity to start over, a new beginning and an ending. With every moment comes a small death and a birth, a chance to stop an old habit pattern and begin a new one. A chance to tune in and listen. What do we hear? We hear our thoughts, and more subtlety, we hear an underlying current — our intentions. Unlike goal setting or resolutions that are generally a response to something that we are trying to change about ourselves, intentions are at the core of who we are, they sit with us through the continuous flow of changes that life provides. Intention setting is about focusing on the present moment, listening to our inner values, and then aligning our worldly actions with what we hear.

I once had a student come to me and ask why her intentions were not seeming to lead her anywhere, despite her daily yoga practice and regular meditation. I asked her to be honest with me about the nature of her intention so that I could help her feel more fulfilled, and after some hemming and hawing, she admitted her intention was to lose weight.

While there was nothing wrong with what she shared with me, it was a goal of hers, not an intention. This is a common mistake that rarely is explained within the context of a yoga class. Cultivating intentions are different than setting goals. It doesn’t mean that goals are to be abandoned; goals are helpful when they exist in a larger framework, and can work together with intention. But what if we measured our own success based not on achievements but on how much we are able to align our actions with our values?

Every action has a cause and a consequence; it’s what we call Karma in the yoga practice. Every moment we have the chance to cultivate seeds, and it is up to each of us to decide which seeds we will water and grow by giving them our energy, and which we will purposely ignore and let die.

To come back to the yoga student who’s goal was to lose weight. When we spoke for a few minutes, I encouraged her to go deeper, to see what was behind her desire to lose weight. Ultimately, she rephrased her intention to be more loving of herself. We spoke about how this could translate into actions that would support the intention: she may start to fuel herself with foods that make her feel good and don’t harm others. We spoke about how loving oneself ultimately comes from loving others. As my teacher Sharon Gannon says, we can have anything we want in life, as long as we are ready to offer it up to someone else first. We can be more loving of ourselves if we are more loving of others. We can do less harm to ourselves when we first stop harming others. Food is a very good example of this. Eventually, the student would reach her goal, but by setting an intention that was more fundamental than her initial goal, she created a larger framework in which she now sees herself in the world, someone who is worthy of receiving love.

Meditation is a support to intention setting; it is a daily practice that helps to constantly renew the intention and helps it take root and blossom. Without the regularity, it can be easy to get caught up in the attachment of an outcome and confuse intention with goals. By remembering our intentions through a practice such as asana, meditation or mantra, there is an opportunity to reconnect with our inner selves. A difference with goal setting is that when the goal is achieved there will be another goal in its place rather than a sensation of peace, and when the goal is not met, there is no larger framework to fall back on. Even when a goal is met or surpassed, another goal will quickly fill its place and lead to desire and attachment to outcome. Only right intention leads to sustained peace.

Some tips for finding your intention:
1. Meditate. Choose a comfortable seat. Once you have established your ease filled, joyful seat, take the first minute to explore what is most important to you. What are the things that are truly important to you? If today was your last, how would you like to be remembered? Find a word or phrase that resonates on a soulful level. Is this something that can be practiced in the present moment? If not, is there a way of rephrasing it? Let it sit for a moment, then let it go.

2. Practice santosha (be happy with what you have and where you are in your life). Intention setting is more effective when it comes from a basic state of contentment–when it comes from a place of weakness or need, expectations tend to be attached and the intention can become lost inside a goal. Keep it simple and clear so that the focus remains strong.

3. Have faith and let go. Get rid of the attachment to results and get comfortable with uncertainty. Intend for everything to work out and open up to the possibility for positive outcomes, but let go of hoping, fixating and worrying. All are signs of attachment. Have faith that things have a way of working out and have faith that you are doing everything in your power to manifest your intention. A forced outcome is a false outcome. Trust Mother Nature and your inner voice.

4. As long as you see others as separate from yourself, treat them as you would like to be treated. This includes ALL others. The more you widen the circle of others, the more loving you will become. If you don’t believe me, see number three and have faith in something.

Start your new year realigning yourself with your intentions. January 1, 2014. Indaba yoga studio, 11am-1pm

A Quickie

A quick update as there are a few things in the pipeline in the lead up to the holidays.

-I will be teaching tonight at the Life Centre Islington 7:30-9pm. In January I will resume teaching this class weekly!

-Look for my upcoming post on Intention Setting, and register now for my new years day workshop at Indaba Yoga Studio

-I wouldn’t miss a year of the Yoga Challenge! Every year I spend the month of January challenging myself to take 30 classes in 30 days with 30 different yoga teachers at the various London studios, and of course, blog about it! This year I am looking for guest writers and guest joiners to come along on my experience. I do this not as a critique, but to get to know the other studios and teachers in London, and to challenge myself. Of course with my new liver in tact and my wound still healing, I may well be the one in the back taking it slow, but keep your eyes out in any event for the weekly schedule so you will know where to meet me! If you’d love for me to check out your studio or your yoga class, shoot me a message.

More soon.

Jivamukti Focus of the Month, October 2013: With that Moon Language

Sharon David 5

“Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.” Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise Someone would call the cops. Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a Full moon in each eye that is always saying, With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in This world is dying to hear?-Hafiz

What you desire most for yourself, why not provide it for others first? Life offers us infinite opportunities to see ourselves in others. When we look into the eyes of another, see our reflection and ask of that other to “love me,” we have ventured into the realm of Self. To get a secure footing into that, one must leave their selfishness and self-loathing behind. Love is not something you can do or something you can give; it is all-inclusive. You cannot love anyone or anything—Love is too big to be controlled like that by “you.” Love has nobody, nobody has love. You can only be Love itself.

When you take the time to sit with someone quietly, both of you being still and close enough so that you can see into the eyes of the other person, you will see yourself reflected. We mirror one another. It takes a certain amount of daring to do such a thing—it is so intimate. Even with someone you know and consider a friend, for most of us it is awkward to get that close. Of course there are times and occasions when this type of intimacy is accepted. It most often happens with mothers and their babies, and lovers when they are first getting to know each other often spend long periods of time in this type of reflective moon glow. But it certainly isn’t a common daily practice among most of us. We are either too busy to be bothered with looking that closely at the others in our lives, or afraid of the potential consequences, and instead seek ways to avoid interaction with most people we encounter during our day, our week or our lives. Has it always been like this? Is this a natural way to live?

Some people say that there are only two kinds of beings in the world, the predator and the prey. They will draw parallels with wild animals and point out that carnivores never look directly into the eyes of anyone unless it is to challenge them to a fight, or hypnotize and frighten another animal that they intend to eat. Vegetarian animals on the other hand tend to have large eyes and are constantly on the lookout for enemies. Many human beings identify themselves as predators, because they insist it is the better option. Of course I don’t agree with that, but I will say if we acknowledge it as a fact for some people it may help us begin to understand the fear and paranoia that permeate our social interactions with others. Cultural conditioning can lie deep, but the good news is that it is learned and so it can be unlearned.

Philosopher Ken Wilber says that generally speaking, men and women are biologically under the influence of two very different chemicals and that over many thousands of years, our patriarchal-meat eating-military-power based culture has utilized this for its advancement in areas of exploitation. Testosterone basically, at its worst, expresses itself as sexual aggression, manipulation and violence. The corresponding influence is oxytocin, a hormone that induces strong feelings of attachment, nurturing, holding and touching. Most of us (at least those of us who are reading this essay) don’t live in a world where we are constantly being chased by an aggressor and have to run for our lives or turn and engage in combat. But still many men and women behave as if this were the case. But as spiritual practitioners, looking to evolve, we investigate other modes of relating to one another and in doing so we uncover more possibilities within ourselves. Perhaps yoga allows a man to become more of a shaman, tuning into his feminine side and thereby discovering less competitive, aggressive ways to relate to others. Perhaps for women, yoga can help to develop more fearlessness and confidence without having to compromise nurturing. Yoga can help us all feel more relaxed and at ease with ourselves and others.

A spiritual seeker is someone who is looking to find themselves. If we want to embark on the spiritual adventure of daring to look into the eyes of another and feel comfortable about it without any ulterior motive other than pure perception of being, we could start by practicing with kindred spirits—other yoga practitioners—in the safe and sanctified space of the yoga classroom, a place put aside for the investigation of such matters. The quest is this: To see yourself in others—to look so deeply that otherness disappears—leaving only the Self, Love itSelf.

Yoga philosophy states that the world is a projection coming from our own mind—for better or for worse. If you have negative thoughts in your mind, you see negativity in others. We could remember that harboring negative thoughts in our minds is optional, and choose instead to embrace positive thoughts, and then these positive thoughts would radiate from us into the world and affect all the other beings that we “see.” Eventually through this practice we will realize that there are no others—and it is at this point that Self-realization arises.

We all want to be loved, we want people to like us, we want to be acknowledged, and we don’t want to be ignored or made to feel insignificant. A yogi knows this truth, that all beings matter, and when you dare to care, dare to reach out towards another for the sake of pure love, with that sweet moon language, it transforms yourself and the other.

—Sharon Gannon

Classes with Lizzie….June

The past few months have thrown a couple of curve balls into my teaching schedule, but assuming the month of June offers a rythmic and regular cadence, my teaching schedule is below (unless otherwise noted!)

JUNE 2013

SPECIAL CLASS: Tuesday, June 18 6-7:30pm Indaba Yoga Studio

Weekly Classes:
Mondays 6:30-7:45pm The Life Centre Islington

Fridays 4-5:30pm The Life Centre Notting Hill

Saturdays 10-11:30am at Indaba Yoga Studio

All other ‘special’ classes will be posted weekly on the schedule page.

See you on the mat!

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