• A Time To Listen

    We are living in a challenging and powerful time. A bright light is being aimed at our shadows of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, prejudice, violence, and hate. These elements of our nature have always existed, though sometimes they have changed forms, sometimes hid from view, sometimes remained visible but ignored. Systemic, institutionalized oppressions are being identified and called out. Claims of injustice are beginning to be taken seriously. Evidence via phone cameras brings horrors that have always been experienced by some to the consciousness of the many. Groups are collecting, unifying to bring about change. What certainly may be an increase in hate and violence recently is coinciding with greater illumination of what has always been there.

    The marginalized populations have always known. Women have always known the degree to which they experience harassment, assault, manipulations of power dynamics. People of color have always known that systems of racism were alive, well, and strong. Trans people have always been aware of the dangers they face when confronted with fear and ignorance. Oppressed people are gaining agency in spaces where they had little or none. Now, those of us that have never been affected personally are becoming aware. And now, we are faced with choices. We can continue to bury our heads in the sand, deny and fight the truth, or we can join this building wave, support the voices demanding justice and change, contribute our efforts to something important and right.

    My two children are biracial. While I think of myself as someone who always believed in equality, a feminist and anti-racist, having children that are directly affected by racist ideologies and institutions has certainly made it personal – to a degree. My first son was born six years ago, and at the time I had an idealized view of interracial relationship, and the biracial offspring born of them. My immediate community was diverse and had been for years. I had minimal negative experiences related to my relationship, my friendships, my work, etc. Of the very few I had, I was able to package them up as isolated, fringe, and atypical. Discussions in my personal life or online that became racially charged were a place that I felt comfortable standing up, speaking out. I would passionately share what I believed and then move on with my life.

    As the Black Lives Matter movement gathered strength, and my boys got older, and a new president was elected, I found myself speaking out less and listening more. I began from a place of desire to identify, to myself and others, as non-racist, or anti-racist. It took a while to recognize how self-serving that desire was, and that it literally benefited no one but myself. I decided to only offer my voice when it would benefit the conversation, when it would positively contribute to the fight. In conversations where I used to know exactly what to say, I found myself at a loss for words. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, to offend, to appear ignorant, or arrogant. I felt helpless. And I think this is appropriate. This has been a part of my process. I gradually came to recognize that I, as a white female, will never, ever know what it is like to exist in our culture as a man, as a person of color, as a non-cisgendered person. I came to acknowledge when and where my voice is not needed, not beneficial, not helpful. As I found myself in spaces, both virtual and real, where important conversations were being had, instead of speaking, I learned to listen.

    I listened to the points of view of bigoted, ignorant, racist people. I listened and heard their beliefs, I learned of their pain, fear, anger. I learned what I shared with them, how I was like them. I listened and learned from the privileged, from the saviors and light workers. I learned that people don’t feel comfortable exploring and acknowledging their darkness – that of their culture and that of their soul. I listened and learned from POC. I came to recognize how little I knew, how little I understood, and how great was my own participation in, and benefit from systems of inequality and dynamics of power and marginalization.

    I am still immersed in this process, but through listening I am coming to acknowledge when my voice should stay silent. There are organizations and forums and conversations where the voices of POC are strengthening and getting louder and finally being heard. In these spaces, my voice is not needed, or wanted, or beneficial. There is nothing I can add to the conversation from my perspective, from my life experience, that produces anything beyond a salve to my own white guilt and sense of helplessness. In these spaces, I can offer myself as a soldier at their command, an additional hand set to a task. I can offer myself as a support to their work.

    There are places I have decided I can affect change, where my voice can be heard. It is in conversations with other white people. There are spaces where POC are not invited, where their voices are silenced. Those people that would not hear a black person, might hear me. A message that would be resisted if coming from a person of color, might seep through the barriers when spoken by me. When I am in a white dominated space and racism is present, my voice needs to be heard. For too long, we have been silent as our uncles tell inappropriate jokes, when we observe our boss passing up qualified employees because of their name, when a random comment by a stranger in line at the grocery store is said a little too loudly. These are the places we should be speaking. Our silence is complicity.

    Each day that passes and my boys get older, I become more and more unsure of how to raise them in this world. I mentioned above that this issue has become a personal one only to a degree. I am limited in my understanding of what they will experience by my whiteness and my gender. I have no idea how they will experience the world as children born of such different truths as mine and their father’s. What I can do now is listen: To the world as new voices and truths rise to the forefront, and to my boys, as they begin to share their world with me. Their experiences will form their truth and will inform my reaction which will, in turn, influence their reality. I will make mistakes, I have already made so many. But if I listen, I may continue to learn something along the way.

    A spiritual practice, like yoga, asks us to be present. To face our challenges, to sit in difficulty and just breathe. We aim to find steadiness and peace in our discomfort, pain, and ugliness. As you struggle to find your place in this time of change and activism, I ask you to take this method of self-study beyond the mat. Stay in moments of discomfort, pain, and ugliness. Don’t avoid the darkness, in fact, seek it out. Join Facebook groups that you wouldn’t otherwise be a part of. Go to community meetings. Go to social venues that stray outside of your usual. Have conversations with people different than you. Stay, breathe – and listen. As you absorb the truths of another’s experience, you will learn where you fit. You will learn how to apply your unique circumstances, perspective, skills, and talents to something important.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Practice With Angelique On OMstars

  • The Sacred Space Of Yoga

    There is no direct line to growth. It’s a curvy, twisted path through the heart. You might not think you can get any stronger, you might think you’re all alone, you might feel like you’re about to collapse but then you find it, the strength that was always there. Faith and hope lift you up. New friends appear where old wounds are still healing. The winding road is the spiritual path, the way towards the deepest truth of life.

    Practicing yoga doesn’t give you all the answers. Sometimes the practice gives you all the right questions.

    We all need sanctuary sometimes, a safe space where we are held and loved, where our bodies and most importantly our hearts have the chance to breathe and eventually heal.

    For over twenty years, yoga has been my sacred space, a place of worship and reverence. Every single person that continues to practice beyond the initial phase of fascination with the poses has tasted at least a drop of the elixir of true spiritual practice. Yoga is not a hobby, it’s lifestyle built on moral and ethical principles. But more than anything else yoga is a promise of deep and lasting peace — that promise is built on the principles of practice, not the size or shape of your body or perfect abs or the right clothes. As yogis we have the power to define what this community is all about. We can make it the true sanctuary that it’s meant to be or we can cede the moral compass of yoga to corporations that are yoga as a money-maker.

    Your voice as a yogi matters. I don’t believe that we should turn off our social media accounts or never buy another piece of yoga clothing. I also don’t believe we should drink the proverbial Kool-aid that is fed to us in sponsored posts. I don’t have the answers, but I believe we need to learn how to ask the right questions, how to dig deeply to find answers. Mindfulness isn’t a catch phrase to sell products. Mindfulness is a moral and ethical responsibility to do the research and be literally mindful of all your actions, personal, professional, emotional. Before you speak, be mindful of your words. Before you purchase anything, do the research and be sure that the companies you support with your dollars are ones that you truly support through and through. Before you give your attention to anything, including the algorithmicly induced social media feed, be mindful of where you are giving your attention and see if it’s worthy of your time and energy.

    The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention. It’s a discipline of the mind to carefully craft your point of focus. Life will throw you a series of curve balls that have the potential to take you off course. You have to choose to redirect your mind to your goals. Whether it’s a hater who just wont stop leaving annoying comments, a frenemy who puts up a show of love but truly burns with jealousy or a corporation that wants to cut you up and sell you like an object, there are so many distractions on the journey of life. Your heart wants to rant and rave about them. Your mind desperately wants to understand. You may find yourself spending time thinking, reflecting and even stalking the negativity. But you won’t gain any ground that way. You can’t talk reason to someone that doesn’t share the same basis of logic, respect and morality. You can’t play fair with someone who has been stacking the cards in their favor from day one. You just have to walk away. Turn your attention to your own path and leave the past where it belongs—in the past.

    There are an infinite amount of times during my daily yoga and meditation practice that my mind wanders. Whenever I notice it’s gone, I gently bring my mind back to the focal point of the breath and the body. In life, there is an endless onslaught of petty annoyances and big traps that can strand you in destructive way-stations along your journey. It’s up to you to constantly remind yourself of who you are and why you’re here.

    I know who I am and why I’m here: I am a keeper of the sacred fire of yoga, I am a torch-bearer of wisdom, I am here to walk the path that leads to the true light and every step I take lights the path a little bit for another. I am here to change the world and my gaze is set on the brilliance of the eternal, manifesting as light and love in every breath. I am here to burn with the holy vibration of love.

    Why are you here? What do you stand for?

    By Kino MacGregor

    Practice With Kino On OMstars

  • Conquering Pride: The Enemy Within.

    Life is full of obstacles. But most of them are external to us: Illness, death, divorce, job loss, and family troubles. You get the picture. But I want to examine an internal obstacle, one that is often difficult to see within us and very easy to see in others. Pride. But what is pride? Isn’t it a good thing? Let’s look a little closer.

    A lovely nearby school has a motto that has been bothering me.

    Their motto is: Friendship, Pride and Respect. It sounds innocent enough, but the use of the word “Pride” is what sits uneasy with me.

    We hear that it’s important to take pride in your work, and take pride in your appearance. Yet, pride is listed as one of the 7 deadly sins. Holy scriptures talk about how civilizations were lost and people fell because of pride. Prophets old and new warn of pride.

    “Hypocrisy, pride, self-conceit, wrath, arrogance and ignorance belong, O Partha, to him who is born to the heritage of the demons.” ~ The Gita, XVI. 4

    So just what is pride? Why do some people aspire to cultivate more of it, while wise sages warn us to stamp it out?

    Clearly we have a conflict of definitions.

    Some people use pride in a positive way. And for our purposes let’s replace that positive version of the word with ‘self respect’, ‘dignity’ or being conscientious. All good things.

    And let’s define the sinful side of pride as Ego. That is, comparing yourself to others, putting your self above others. Being boastful, arrogant or conceited. With those definitions sorted, let’s continue. Why am I so bothered?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic because of a book I read,

    Ego is the Enemy” By Ryan Holiday.

    He says that Ego is a conscious separation from everything. We pit ourselves against others.

    Isn’t that interesting! The very purpose of yoga is connection to everything. Yoga seeks to connect our body to our spirit, and our consciousness to other people, and to God.

    Ego seeks validation and status. Ego wants likes, and followers, recognition. Ego and pride can make us un-teachable. You can’t learn if you think you already know it all.

    We need to be humble in order to learn. Be an eternal student. The one, who learns the most, grows the most. And growth is the hallmark of a happy and productive life. You will not find answers to improve if you are too conceited to ask the questions.

    Ego is defensive and tells us we don’t need to improve.

    Ego makes us hostile to feedback.

    Pride tells us we shouldn’t have to put up with this.

    C.S. Lewis warns, ‘Beware of pride. The proud man is always looking down and cannot see what is above him.’

    The proud man cannot effectively commune with God. Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952

    Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “…seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)

    The central feature of pride is enmity— Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.”

    Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, vain, puffed up, and easily offended. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.

    We can find warnings about Pride if we turn to the Bible.

    Proverbs 16:18-19

    “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

    Saul became an enemy to David through pride. He was jealous because the crowds of Israelite women were singing that “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (1 Sam. 18:68.)

    The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others.

    In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)

    We see enmity toward our fellowmen everywhere. We see it in the parking lot, the office and even in our families.

    We see people daily trying to elevate themselves above others and diminish them.

    Here’s the tricky part. Pride is easy to spot in others but rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us.

    There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.

    Any time you think you are better than someone else or you are judging someone, that is pride. It’s not always relegated to the man who has the shiny car and is hoping for admiring glances. The person who knowingly scratches the car is being prideful, because they are comparing themselves.

    Pride does not have to be boastful. We can be proud even when looking at someone who we perceive has more than us. That man you see getting out of his flashy sports car, and you smugly think to yourself, ‘I bet he never spends time with his family.’ Or the woman with the perfect body, ‘I bet she’s had some work done.’ Or ‘That outfit is a bit skimpy.’

    Sometimes we are the most ego driven when we feel we have a lot to prove. Those that feel confident with their accomplishments and who they are can usually control their egos more masterfully.

    The proud are easily offended and hold grudges.

    Have you ever witnessed someone in a queue say, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

    Real people of importance and those in real positions of power don’t need to say things like that.

    The proud withhold forgiveness to keep another in their debt and to justify their injured feelings.

    The proud do not receive counsel or correction easily. (See Prov. 15:10; Defensiveness is used by them to justify and rationalize their frailties and failures. (See Matt. 3:9; John 6:3059.)

    The proud are not easily taught. They won’t change their minds to accept truths, because to do so implies they have been wrong.

    Pride affects all of us at various times and in various degrees. Pride is the universal vice. So how do we overcome this weakness?

    The first step is becoming aware of when we are having prideful thoughts. An excess of pride may cause you to think you don’t need a daily yoga practice. It may cause you to compare yourself to other people in your yoga class. It may even cause you to avoid your practice altogether because you feel you’re not good enough and don’t want to embarrass yourself. Let go of all that. Allow yoga to provide that process of stripping away the natural man and getting back to your true self, your divine self.

    When we say the words ‘Namaste’ we are saluting the divine in others and in ourselves. May we strive to more fully see this divinity, and let go of the struggle. Be one with all.

    Next, let us choose to be humble. The antidote for pride is humility. Rejoice in your talents and accomplishments, but in a way that is modest. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble.

    “Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble.” (Alma 32:16.)

    We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, valuing them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are. We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by forgiving those who have offended us.

    D&C 64:10. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

    We choose to be humble when we see another person’s point of view. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt. When we allow people to make mistakes that are different to the ones we habitually make.

    There is a bumper sticker doing the rounds which says ‘Don’t judge me because I sin differently to you.’ We each have failings, let’s be more gracious towards each other.

    Thomas S Monson has said

    “Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges, which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.

    Charity has been defined as the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, … and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with [her].”

    The upside is that when we let go of all this comparing, judging, and criticizing. We feel connected to other humans. And it is in the times of greatest connection that our greatest happiness is found.

    By Natalie Prigoone

    Natalie Prigoone, the great uncooking

    See More From Natalie On OMstars

    Follow Natalie On Instagram

  • Cut To The Feeling

    In those classic Hollywood silent films, the big climax was always some exciting chase scene. The hero had lost something, and a mad dash ensues to get it back. Filmmakers of the time knew that too much dialogue would bore the audience and they would lose interest in the movie. Instead, the director would cut straight to the fun excitement of the chase. 

     Believe it or not, there is a similar philosophy in Ashtanga Yoga! 

    The physical postures that we practice, Asana, are not the first or even the second focus of yoga. Classic Yoga texts outline eight principles, of which asana is the third. 

    Instead of exploring all 8 limbs right away, our Guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois guided his students towards a physical practice that would include all the branches in one method. He summed up this philosophy simply, by saying that yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory. He laid out a detailed yoga sequence requiring strength, flexibility and focus, leading to ever-growing self-awareness.  

    In the west yoga is often synonymous with a physical fitness routine. Given Jois’ ‘99% practice’ suggestion, that might be an understandable conclusion. But what initially could be perceived as a form of exercise, is in fact a spiritual path.  

    So, ask yourself: In the movie of your life, what have you lost? What are you in pursuit of? Do you wonder why you’re here and what your purpose is? What are you chasing? What do you seek? Do you have big questions? 

    As a teacher of yoga, I could point you towards ancient writings or challenging seated meditations that could potentially help you find true, personal answers to these questions. But instead, I follow the lead of my own teachers and advise you to start a simple, daily practice of yoga asana. You will discover that all the questions and answers come together there! 

    So, when in doubt get physical and cut straight to the feeling. Start with what you know – get in your body and get on your mat. See what happens when you come face to face with yourself. Keep showing up every day, for a long time. Practice with the three big Ds: Dedication, Determination and Devotion. Chase that inner life! 

    By Joseph Armstrong 

    Joseph Armstrong is a yoga teacher at Miami Life Center and the Tierra Santa Spa. Follow him on instagram @josepharmstrongyoga or explore other available Ashtanga style practices on Omstars!

    Explore Your Ashtanga Yoga Practice On OmStars

  • Yoga Sūtra 1.23 –  Īśvara  Pranidhānād Vā.

    The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are full of lessons rooted in ancient wisdom, all of which can be applied to your everyday life for more ease and peace of mind. Today, we’re breaking down one of Kino’s newest Yoga Sūtra lessons here on the blog – Yoga Sūtra 1.23 –  Īśvara  Pranidhānād Vā.

    To understand this Yoga Sūtra, you will first need a brief philosophical lesson from the Sānkhya school of thought, and a little background information about Patañjali’s approach to this philosophy. Sānkhya is a dualistic philosophy that is directed towards discovering and understanding the truth of life from a non-theistic point of view – one that is not rooted in devotion to the Divine. This dualism says that there are two fundamental natures of reality – the spirit, and the material – Pūruśa and Prakruti — and that these two remain eternally separate.

    What does this have to do with your yoga practice?

    First, the whole premise of yoga, according to Patañjali, seeks to remove the confusion between spirit and material. The root of suffering is the conflation of the spirit with the material. In other words when Pūruśa thinks it is Prakrti, it loses its true sense of self, which basically means, you don’t know who you really are.

    Yoga is also more than just a physical practice – it’s a lifestyle and it’s an act of devotion. As Patañjali spent time considering the philosophy of Sānkhya, he looked to the traditional teachings of the Vedas, and decided to re-integrate the concept of a Higher Power – Īśvara. Until that point in time, God was simply not something that was presented through Sānkhya. This is where yoga and devotion come together.

    As Patañjali developed his Yoga Sūtras, he used this approach to Sānkhya philosophy, which included his added representation of a Higher Power.

    And Patañjali says, Īśvara  Pranidhānād Vā – surrender to the Divine can lead to the same peace of mind that we strive for every day through the steady practice of yoga.

    Want to learn more? Kino has an entire series of videos devoted to studying the Yoga Sūtras available to all OmStars subscribers. Access the full lesson behind this Yoga Sūtra with Kino and check out her Yoga Sūtra Study course to learn more.

    By Alex Wilson

    Learn More About Yoga Sutra 1.23 On OmStars

  • 3 Types of Procrastination: Which Do You Favor?

    Ever wonder why you spend so much time procrastinating, even when whatever you’re avoiding is something you actually want to do? Frances Cole Jones, author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation, has a few ideas about procrastination, and today, we’re sharing her thoughts here on the OmStars blog! Read on to see what Frances has to say about our procrastination habits.

    Hello, hello,

    I don’t know how you’ve been spending your day, but here, I’ve been procrastinating.

    That said, I can tell you that I’ve spent my procrastination time thinking about the different levels of procrastination (I’ve identified this behavior as “morally unimpeachable procrastination”—more on this below) 

    Yes, I spent this time making a list of the various ways a person can procrastinate. Below, my top three choices:

    The Eyelash Procrastination: Like an eyelash in your eye, this one is that very small thing that you’ve decided MUST be coped with before you can move on with your day. For example, you simply must brush the dog, pluck that weird hair out of your eyebrow, water the garden, empty the dishwasher….and then you will be able to move briskly along to the work you don’t happen to be doing… 

    The Broken Window Procrastination: This one is an extension of an idea put forward by Gretchen Rubin in her excellent blog piece entitled “What are Your Broken Windows?” Based on the police theory that broken windows in a community lead to more serious crimes, she maintains that broken windows are anything in your life that make you feel out of control. My Broken Window Procrastination Theory, takes this one step further: these are activities you engage in that you tell yourself are morally unimpeachable—they are keeping you from feeling out of control! — but they are really various ways of procrastinating. What kinds of things am I talking about? Well, balancing a checkbook, redesigning a website, or cleaning all the bathrooms come to mind…. 

    The Elephant-in-the Room Procrastination: These are the big ones we come up with so that we don’t have to do whatever it is that we feel we “should” be doing. The classic? “I can’t go to the gym until I lose 10 pounds.” (In my world this sounds like, “I can’t go to yoga until I get more flexible…” Um…no….) Other options? “I can’t break up with her until after her friend’s wedding.” “I can’t write my book proposal until I’ve finished doing all the research….in the world….” “I can’t start looking for a job until the fall– no one hires in the summer….” Like that…

    The trouble with procrastination is that it’s a confidence — and a joy — killer; because no matter how delightful the procrastination activity is that you’ve chosen, you won’t enjoy it as much knowing that you’ve told yourself a fairy story. 

    So, buckle up, dig deep, get it done. I promise you’ll feel better. 

    Now that I’ve written this, I do. 

    By Frances C. Jones

    Frances Cole Jones, Author

    Frances Cole Jones is the author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation and Wow Your Way into the Job of Your Dreams.

     

    Find Teachers Like Frances On OmStars

  • So Many Tips for Dealing with Body Image Angst Over the Holidays!

    The holiday’s may be over, but that doesn’t mean we get to stop talking about them. Anyone else out there struggle with anxiety over body image over this holiday season? If you did, check out what Erica Mather has to say about our feelings towards our own body image, especially related to the holiday season, and what you can do to avoid that icky body image angst in the future.

    There are a few times of the year when our body image anxieties reach a high pitch, and the holidays is one of them.

    Why? A few weighty reasons.

    1. You’re gonna see people you haven’t seen in a while, and they are gonna see you. People may have changed! (Gasp!) How will everyone react?!
    2. Food, food, so much food. And, booze. And dessert. So much: TOO MUCH!
    3. People talking about how other people look, behind their backs, usually not in a very nice way.

    Let’s take a look at each of these in succession.

    How we look. It’s beyond natural to want to really make a good impression on friends and family that you’ve not seen in a long time. Perhaps you’ve gained some weight (not that I personally think that it a problem, but other people seem to still think it is). Perhaps you’ve been sick, and it shows (again–cause for compassion, not for judgement). You know you’re not at your physical best. And you worry, because, not only does that dent your self esteem when you’re already feeling down, but now on top of that, you’ve forced into a situation where you’re worried about what other people will think, and what they will say–to your face–and what they will say behind your back. It sucks.

    Here are some suggestions.

    IN PREPARATION:

    • Dress your best. Take the time to find something to wear that you feel really good about, shopping, borrowing. Make it fun. In-character. Fashionable. Get a sympathetic friend to help you out, if you HATE figuring out what to wear alone. Be relentless in your determination to make the holidays feel good to you, so you emerge victorious, at least knowing that you took the best care of yourself.
    • Wear a smile. You ALWAYS are well-dressed when you do.
    • Rehearse gracious, de-escalating responses to incendiary remarks, like the following:
      • “It looks like you’ve gained weight!”Haha! Maybe!–My body does what it does. By the way: You look wonderful! I love you so much, and I’m so happy to see you. What is something really terrific that has happened to you recently? 
      • “You look so great! Have you lost weight?” I’m not sure! I don’t weigh myself. I really try to not get caught up in that: it makes me crazy and ends up taking up so much of my mental space, space that I want to spend thinking about truly important things. Speaking of really important things, how is your (fill in the blank, choose something you know is really important to that person in their life) going? 

    AT THE EVENT:

    • Take deep breaths, and feel free to spend some time alone in the bathroom to regroup.
    • Bring your compassion for yourself along. If someone says something less than kind, breathe, smile, say something that shows your own self-compassion, and encourages that in them, even complimenting them as a retort. Use your rehearsed responses. Trust yourself to be your own advocate, and to do so in a way that is gracious, and instructive, even if the people you are talking to don’t or can’t understand.

    How other people look. Basic rule: it is none of your business. If you don’t have something kind or gracious to say, then you best not say it! There is no real reason to comment on another’s appearance. You can focus on their person. After all, the body is just an aspect of the person. Say something honest, about them. Say: I love you, and I’m so happy to see you! Or if that isn’t honest: It’s been so long! We have so much to catch up on. Tell me, what has been the highlight of the last year for you? 

    FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. SO MUCH FOOD! 

    If part of your body image anxieties revolve around food (how could they not??!) make an honest assessment of where you are with this issue, and then make a plan.

    THE PLAN. Here’s my general plan. It might not work for you, we are different people with different histories and growth trajectories, but I offer mine as a sort of guidepost. Eat “normally.” Meaning: don’t NOT eat because there’s going to me SO MUCH FOOD at dinner. No, no. That suggests a restrict/binge cycle. Have breakfast. Have lunch. Then: eat “normal” portions at dinner. Not bird portions. Not THREE helpings. Like, one plate. There will be leftovers. Plan on enjoying those in the days ahead. Or not. There will be another scrumptious meal in your near future.

    THE ENERGETICS. Here’s something interesting I learned from my yoga teacher, Ana Forrest. Our energetic anatomy and our physical anatomy overlap. So, if the part of you that is busy taking in conversation, or energy from another person, the corresponding physical apparatus will be partially or fully offline. At these parties, there are often many people, and the energetic input is like a flood. Because of that, it makes it even harder for us to connect to the feelings of our actual stomach. When I can’t detect my stomach, I make the decision not to eat too much, because I can’t feel what’s happening. This is the ONLY reason I will personally accept for not eating much at such events. Often people bombard their stomachs with too much food, in order to ground, or in order to get pulled back into the reality of the situation, or to try to feel something. Pay close attention. Take a break, in the bathroom to regroup, if you loose the capability to pay attention.

    THE SOCIAL ANXIETY. Recently, I’ve noticed that I eat too fast when I’m experiencing an energetic situation that I feel uncomfortable with. It’s like, somewhere deep inside I’m thinking “when the meal is over, I can leave!” because that’s the way it worked as a kid. When the plate was clean, then I might be excused from the table. I don’t like the conversation: I eat fast. I’m tired: I eat fast. I JUST WANT TO GET AWAY! GAH! Oh, my. This is very disconnected patterning.

    This past Thanksgiving I commented on the “speed eating” phenomenon to my cousin, and she laughed saying at a friend’s dinner, they clocked it at fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! Ya spent all day cooking, and sit down to eat for FIFTEEN MINUTES?! Did anyone even CHEW?!

    Tips to slow down:

    • Take one bite.
    • Put down your cutlery.
    • Chew.
    • Taste.
    • Swallow.
    • Taste
    • Breath.
    • Taste your food.
    • Consider how fast you want to take the next bite. Or if you even want to. Sometimes the food is not as tasty as you anticipated. You don’t have to finish it if you’re not actually enjoying it! But, if you’re not paying attention, you won’t actually KNOW if you’re enjoying it or not…
    • How much of your attention is on enjoying your food? How much of it is one the conversation? Can you pay attention to both? I have a hard time with that, actually…

    Recognizing your anxieties and handling them head-on is an advanced, ADULT skill. Mostly we’ve been taught to ignore/deflect/numb, and at the holidays, we are confronted uncomfortably with so many of our boogeymen. Uncomfortable, fraught relationships with people who are unkind or judgmental. Our own unkind thoughts about other people. People’s assessments of us, and ours of them. Good grief. Of course I just want to eat fast and go home! It’s fucking exhausting! Adulting is hard. But, we can do it!

    Before I got better at really noticing that large groups of people–not even necessarily family, just PEOPLE!–make me uncomfortable, I would just position myself by the cheese plate, and eat the whole thing. The only people I ended up talking to were other people who loved cheese. So, they were already pre-approved. Haha.

    Before I got good at noticing that I was eating away my loneliness and my desire for other, safe, human contact, I would eat entire cheesecakes in solitude, by myself. So huge was my appetite and its need to be filled. The problem seemed so intractable, it was easier just to solve with food. At least cheesecake is reliable. And safe.

    The trouble with holidays, is the seem to be referendums on our entire life for the past year. And, often, when we’re not working on ourselves, they catch us by surprise. Even if we ARE working on ourselves, and somehow feel like we’ve fallen short of our goals (always a setup for disappointment…try “setting intents” instead), they will catch us by surprise as we administer a hearty dose of flagellation.

    The holidays don’t have to be a referendum. It’s just a yearly blip on the calendar. We can choose to cruise through them as such.

    Or–and I’m not necessarily advocating this approach–you can use them as a yearly check-in on how you’re growing, changing, becoming more resilient. I started to know that I was getting better at it all when I could sit quietly with a glass of water and talk to people and “sort of” enjoy myself. No more cheese plate stakeouts. Huzzah!

    But that progress relied on a steady, year-in-year-out self-study and examination using the tools of yoga and therapy. If you don’t have some tools, or support in place, the holidays will surely be as painful as they were last year. I think that’s a shame, and wouldn’t want that for you!

    Which is why I put together a worksheet for you, to help you get started making a better relationship with your body. I call it The 5 Adoring Core Competencies. CLICK HERE to get your free copy! 

    NEXT POINT.

    The Gossip. UGH. We’ve all experienced it. You go into the kitchen, innocently looking for a glass of water, and there are your (fill in the blank relatives) talking about another relative. WHAT A DRAG.

    “Did you see what she was wearing…?”

    “Did you see how much she ate…?”

    Sometimes, sometimes, people are talking about another out of true concern. But–does the talk really help them? Probably not.

    When I hear these sorts of conversations, or am involved personally in these conversations, what I’m feeling for is the place of HELP for the person. If it isn’t there, then I start to wonder what purpose this conversation is actually serving. Is it making the participants feel better about themselves by comparison? Is it creating a point of bonding for the people in the conversation, like they have something to concern themselves about together? Both of these are not good reasons to gossip, but they also show a deficit in social skills, specifically how to connect without doing it on the back of, or at the expense of others. This moment can be a teaching opportunity. A chance to elevate the awareness and basic decency in the world.

    If the people try to drag me into the conversation, the only way I will get involved is if they can answer these questions: Is our conversation actually helping the situation? Does the person in question desire help in this regard? If the answer is NO to both, then the conversation is a waste of time, and I would say as much. 

    Gossip does nothing but harm. 

    HERE ARE SOME BASIC TIPS:

    • Pull your energy back into the present moment, with the people present
    • Insist on talking about only the people present in the room: their lives, their concerns 
    • If you are talking about another person, make sure it is used to help you have insights into your own life and experiences
    • Make it part of your ethics to only speak well of people when they are not around, particularly if they have done nothing to harm you personally
    • Combat gossip by countering with kind, generous, compassionate statements. Insist that you do not know they entire story as to why a person speaks or behaves the way they do. Never rob another person of their autonomy. Make space for them to speak for themselves.

    Ok. Good luck, soldiers of love! Go forth, and spread good cheer! And, remember, it’s O.K. to make holidays that YOU love, and feel good about. You don’t have to spend them with people who make you uncomfortable about yourself. In fact, that might be the healthiest thing you could choose for yourself, and your sweet, tender body.

    By Erica Mather

    This article was originally posted on stuffilearnedatyoga.com. Check out Erica’s free class as part of our 30 Day Yoga Living challenge. Plus, stay tuned for more from Erica, coming soon to OmStars!

     

  • Same Same but Different and Flipidy-Flip

    If you have ever traveled to Thailand, I imagine you will invariably have come across the saying ‘same same but different’. Seemingly appropriate for almost any situation the interpretation, intended or perceived, may vary from ‘well it’s almost identical, it’s just a fake’ to ‘really it’s nothing like what you are asking for at all, but perhaps it will do’. It is one of my favourite sayings, sitting perfectly alongside the lovely Thai people. As I travel around the world teaching workshops in yoga anatomy, it is not the volumes of anatomical texts that bubble across my consciousness but this simple phrase and how we might explore our human potential with the concepts that percolate through it. In this short blog I’d like to share some of those thoughts and explain what the hell I mean by flipidy-flip.

     

    As you are reading this just take a moment to look around you and absorb the beautiful diversity of the human race. If you are in the right situation you can even cast your eye over the way people perform a relatively simple activity such as walking (of course although we walk for the most part without even thinking about what we are doing, try and get a robot to walk and you may be there for decades). We are all different in the way we look and move but at the same time the similarities are vast. We have the same muscles, bones, joints, internal organs etc. as the person next to us (unless you are missing something or have a little extra).

    Cool, that must mean we can all do the same yoga postures in the same way and reap the same benefits. But hold on a sec, how come Usain Bolt can run 100m in 9.58 seconds and when I ran up the road to catch the train the other day even my jaw started to ache. I also don’t fancy being plonked on an American Football pitch or whipping on a tutu for swan lake. I feel that my individual attributes make me more suited for say walking on the beach. 

    As similar as we are we are not gingerbread men all popped out from the same cookie cutter. If you ignore what we might term decoration; clothes, make-up, piercings, tattoos, hair, eye or skin colour etc. What did you notice as you observed your fellow kind? Height, girth, proportion, age, sprightliness, sluggishness and agility might be a few of the things that were easy to spot. Lurking under the surface we also have the way our bones orientate with each other, muscular tensions, tissue densities, ligamentous laxities, strength differences, degradation and established movement patterns to just name a few. You might even like to add in psychological disposition, past histories, previous injuries and energetic balance (feel free to add you own ideas here). 

    The point is much like playing with the spices in some tasty dish, seemingly small changes to mama’s recipe can have profound results:

    Long slim limbs might make it easy to bind 

    Being super bendy could allow certain postures to be accessed effortlessly but maybe also make it hard to stabilize in others.

    Super strong and you may be tempted to throw out technique and muscle your way through.

    Not strong enough and you might compensate in an awkward way stressing other areas.

    If you have plenty of girth then shifting your centre of gravity sufficiently might be problematic or that bulk might just get in the way in some postures.

    Too skinny and you may get blown over when they turn the fans on.

    You might even have noticed that in your own body not all is equal. Your hips might be happy to play along with your yoga endeavours while your shoulders refuse to co-operate or vice versa. You might be good at folding forward and rubbish at backbending (of course there is no negative weighting in that statement only a description of what is). If you are super diligent and starting to get in touch with the body you may even have noticed that those hips or shoulders that you thought were open, move in some directions much easier than others. That weakling label you gave yourself might be eroded when you find that there are somethings you feel quite strong at or alternatively that super strength normally present seems to be missing in some actions. Sometimes that is meant to be, for example our hips are supposed to flex (think fold forward) much more than extend (taking the leg behind the pelvis) but other times it could be patterns of muscular tension or the way we are built. In further exploration you may have uncovered the fact that your leg rolls one way much easier than the other (that movement is still happening at the hip by the way and in anatomical speak we would say external and medial rotation). Perhaps this happens to be exactly the same as your BFF or maybe it is completely the opposite.

    Doh, what happened to our super simple ‘one yoga practice fits all’?

    Time to call in flipidy-flip. Still awaiting acceptance into the prestigious Oxford Dictionary, flipidy–flip means to throw something into the air, then throw some more stuff up before it falls and see what you have when it all lands back down together. What we are throwing up in the air this time happens to be ideas. Let’s start with some statements that we might have extrapolated from the story so far.

    We are similar but also individuals.

    What one persons needs from their yoga practice might not be the same as someone else.

    We tend to like what we are good at, but that is often not what we need to create balance (OK, I just tried to slip that one in).

    Not every yoga practice will address what an individual requires because it may not use the desired joint movements, directions or strength challenges.

    Some people may have attributes that are either ideally suited or adversely challenging towards performing particular postures. 

    We are not all good and bad at the same stuff.

    We have arrived at this moment in time via many different routes.

    Considering we are different shapes and sizes to start with it is unlikely that we will create yoga postures that look the same or even that such a thing would be desirable.

    That will do for the moment, now we want something else for us to throw up and mix together.

    The human body responds to things it finds difficult by trying to change. For example if we start lifting weights the body attempts to get stronger by adapting the neurophysiology and increasing muscle density. If we stop increasing the weight or repetitions the body will decide that everything is fine as it is. If we want to get increases in our range of motion at particular joints we need to demonstrate to the body that we need it and are going to use it. We mostly get stronger in the actions we perform and not in those we don’t, same same with changes in range of motion. The body also responds much better to variety, not only in evening things out but also in spreading stresses. We can get very good at something we do a lot but may be particularly useless at something we don’t do very much. As an example, I am an Ashtanga practitioner and as such happen to do the balancing posture Uthitta Hasta Padangushtasana (Extended Hand-to-big-toe Pose) quite a bit. On the other hand I only do Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) if I go off reservation, because it is not in the Ashtanga sequences. Hence I am quite good at UHP but complete rubbish at Ardha Chandrasana. Guess which one I should spend some time doing. This idea is quite problematic if you have your sequences are laid out already and you don’t want to mess with them. My best suggestion would be to have a regular play day where you explore different movements and challenges.

    Some students might like to say that their yoga practice is a spiritual practice and that an emphasis on the physical body is misplaced. In answer to that position I would offer that you are using your physical body to move through space within gravity and create yoga postures, consequently this endeavour will create change in the physical body. Better that this change is balanced and what is required rather than just what happens to occur.

    So here we go, let’s throw all this up in the air and see what we get in the flipidy-flip. Similar to reading tea leaves we might all see something different but this is what I see:

    Yoga will initiate change in the physical body. Better to appreciate and evaluate those changes than rely on chance.

    There is a yoga for everyone but it should be what you as an individual need at that moment in time.

    Variation is both healthy and essential for balance and equanimity in the body.

    One size does not fit all, nor should we want it to.

    We should expect that we will be better at creating some postures more than others and even that certain postures may never be achievable due to our particular attributes. We should therefore challenge ourselves but not beat ourselves up or break bits in an attempt to achieve what may be unachievable. (This in no way detracts from the fact that we can be astonished by what we can achieve or that we should not endeavour to soar like eagles.)

    What do you see in the tea leaves?

    By Stu Girling

    Stu Girling, Yoga Anatomy Guru, OmStars teachers
  • How Yoga Works: Part II

    Life is a mirror that reflects what’s in your heart. You see in others what is really within yourself. If you want to change your world, you have to start with yourself. If you want to live in a happy peaceful place, you have to create that in your own space first. The life you want won’t come knocking at your door if you’re inside complaining about everything. Both your happiness and emotional well-being are your responsibility. It’s that simple, and that excruciating.

    Read More

  • Who needs Yoga?

    The imagery of modern yoga has an ethereal edge.  Wherever we look, we see lissome bodies bending into improbable forms, and balancing elegantly on the precipice of medical disaster.  This imagery can lend the impression that yoga is for people who live an ethereal existence, people who may be missing bones, who drift through the atmosphere, and rarely touch ground with their feet.  But these images are incidental.  They do not reflect the profile of the ordinary yoga practitioner.  On the contrary, they do something more interesting.  They reflect our fascination with the contortive potential of the human body, and in doing so, they symbolize, however imperfectly, our inherent admiration for resilience.

    Yogic imagery is remarkably old.  It provides the earliest evidence we have for yoga in the ancient world.  One of the earliest pieces is the Pashupati seal from the Mohenjo-Daro excavation site in present day Pakistan.  It features a humanlike figure with long horns seated in what appears to be Mulabandhasana.  The seal predates the current era by more than two millennia, and represents a civilization about which we understand very little.  The meaning of the seal is veiled in obscurity, and this is usual for artifacts that pertain to the ancient origins of yoga.  Sometimes we can decode their symbology enough to tell a coherent story about what they might mean, but we can only imagine the consciousness in which they were composed.

    Throughout its long and complicated history, yoga has formed countless alliances with  diverse alchemical and soteriological traditions.  In light of the diversity, many scholars now argue that there is no single thing called “yoga” whose tradition we can trace.  And so that may be.  But if we look at examples of yogic imagery throughout the ages—from the ancient seals of the Indus River Valley, to the medieval temple carvings of Tamil Nadu, to the Kalighat paintings of colonial Bengal, and to the crystalline images that stream through our social media channels today—there is always that ethereal edge.  There is always that evident longing to elevate consciousness above our limitations, and so to enrich and expand the human experience.

    This ethereal edge is the common thread to what we recognize as yogic imagery.  And if we can follow that thread through the ages, weaving through countless social and ritual contexts, this is arguably because of the way that what we recognize as yoga practice answers an archetypal human need—the need to be resilient, to be malleable, and to meet the persistent pressures to adapt to the ever changing circumstance of life.  That need has been understood in diverse and often opposing ways, as demonstrated by the Vedic, Tantric, and Advaitic approaches to the problem.  Arguably no single one of these is definitive, but neither can any one of them be discounted.  What is pertinent is the way that each of them answers our felt need to break up our inveterate patterns of conditioning, open our minds and evolve.

    Modern yoga does not cohere around any particular philosophy.  It exists more simply as an open set of practices and techniques for helping us overcome our psychological limitations.  Whatever the promises of yoga practice might be, the most pertinent and most compelling is that yoga allows us to relate more openly to otherness.  The practice teaches us to hold an open space of compassionate awareness for our own thoughts, emotions and memories to unfold, no matter how excessive or threatening they might seem.  Through this practice, we give ourselves space, and we allow our minds to breath, so that otherness can appear within our consciousness, and we can relate to it more openly, without being impeded by our fears and anxieties.  That is, we can receive otherness, and be impacted by otherness, adapting to its reality without having to reinforce any particular idea or image of ourselves in the process.

    The reception of otherness within ourselves helps break up our self images.  And in this sense, the practices of yoga are vehicles for psychical release.  They help us release ourselves from the tangles of thought, emotion and memory to which we so ardently cling.  They help us to let go of things, so that we do not congeal into the imprint of our experiences, but we can continue to change and adapt to our circumstances.  To put it simply, the techniques of yoga help us break ourselves up.  They help us break up the congestion of our delusions and conceits, piercing the armor by which we conceal and protect ourselves from the otherness of the world.  And in doing so, they help us liberate ourselves from the stagnation of our conditioning, so we can open ourselves to new relationships, and new possibilities of experience.

    The orphanage of modern yoga practices from the historical traditions from which they descend is often regarded as corrosive to their potency, but arguably the reverse is true.  However rich and compelling those traditions might be, it remains essential that we translate our experiences with yoga into our own living language, into words that bring those experiences home to us, and engage us as we are.  The elision of antiquated concepts from the language of yoga is therefore an essential and not entirely regrettable aspect of its adaptation to modern life.  Without imposing upon ourselves the arcane limitations of historically distant ideas, we can have a more authentic experience of ourselves through the practice.  The removal of those ideas means that we can give ourselves more room to breathe, more room to settle into ourselves, and more room to follow the currents of awakening that are already flowing through us.

    This is part of the intelligence of modern yoga.  As a global phenomenon, yoga is not bound too tightly to any particular philosophy, nor to any particular conception of the relationship between the human and the divine.  And for just that, it can focus on what is more compelling, namely, the process of breaking up the self, and creating more space for the natural processes of creativity to unfold.  There are, of course, people today who would argue endlessly about the relative credentials of dualism, non-dualism, monism and the like, but the modern yoga movement is largely agnostic on these speculative questions, and understandably so.  In these late modern times, we have no need for the kind of thinking that hangs so breathlessly on these delicate distinctions, and evidence abounds of the problems that arise when we allow that kind of thinking to congeal into certainty.  Moreover, the speculative questions that underlie these distinctions tend to lose their force under the softening influence of the yogic experience, and that experience is really the center of the attraction.

    What holds the attention of most modern yoga practitioners is not any particular view of reality that may or not be encouraged by the practice, but the immediate experience of psychical release that is so warmly invited by each and every breath.  The most intriguing thing about yoga practice is that it works—when we undertake the practice assiduously, without pause, for a reasonable amount of time, we find that we can break into ourselves, creating space within our minds to relate to otherness in a more open and authentic way.  And here is the point—it is only by relating openly and authentically to otherness that we can evolve, for it is precisely in relation to otherness that we express creativity, awareness, compassion, and resilience.

    So the process of breaking into ourselves, and creating space for otherness, is crucial for our psychological development.  And we all could use some kind of internal practice to help make that process unfold, for we all tend to stagnate into our own psychological patterns.  This is perhaps the fundamental problem that yoga practice has always been called upon to solve, the problem of pulling us from the mire of our own conditioning.  This problem is arguably more pressing now then ever.  Modern life, after all, draws us into extremes of isolation, where we shun our collective problems with dangerous apathy.  It is perhaps no coincidence, then, that an unprecedented collective effort is the only chance that we have to reverse our destructive patterns today and resolve the colossal problems of our time.  At this pivotal moment in history, when we have nuclear weapons pointed all over the globe, and our patterns of extraction and consumption are quickly destroying the conditions of human life on our planet, our survival depends on our ability to break our conditioned patterns of thinking and acting, to come out of ourselves, to recognize the stark reality of our crises, and then to join together, with the rest of humanity, to take radical and immediate measures to cope intelligently with our nearly apocalyptic problems.

    Today, we can no longer afford to limit yoga to spiritual purposes.  Yoga is perhaps the most powerful instrument that we have for breaking out of ourselves and overcoming the paralyzing effects of our psychological conditioning.  On the same account, we can no long afford to restrict access to yoga, or create divisions within yoga that reinforce that archaic and destructive “us-versus-them” mentality.  What we think of as “real” yoga might not be for everyone (or anyone living now for that matter) but everyone today needs the kind of provocation to openness and change that even the more popular forms of yoga can inspire.  The real yoga is not the one that comes down to us through this or that authority, but the one that rattles us out of our delusions, draws us out ourselves, and exposes us to the fact that we are not isolated from one another, but bound together inextricably, and tasked to find ways of living together that express our basic resilience, kindness and generosity.

    The popularization of yoga, whatever its drawbacks might be, can help to inspire this kind of realization, by giving us simple and compelling methods for breaking up our mental congestions and our practical stagnations, and dissolving the individual and collective delusions that obscure our deeper and more loving nature.  This is something that we can all support without reservation, if we can only set ourselves aside, and look at the bigger picture.  Instead of creating more divisive hierarchies, more elitist obscurations, or more structures of restricted access and protected privilege, we should work together to churn the collective mind, uncover the potent essence of yoga, and then allow it to flow, so we can share it with absolutely everyone.

    By Ty Landrum

    Have you tried Ty’s Ashtanga course on Omstars? He explores techniques and tips for jumping through and jumping back, the energies of prana and apana in practice and also teaches a full primary series practice as well! Stay tuned for more articles and courses from Ty on omstars, but in the meantime you can read more of Ty’s brilliant articles on his website tylandrum.com!

    Practice Ashtanga with Ty Landrum today on Omstars