The Blog

Bramacharya and Being Present for the Journey Back to Self

After six weeks of training and working with students with limited mobility due to a variety of injuries or illnesses, last night marked the end of my amazing therapeutics apprenticeship with Gabriel Halpern.

During last week’s class, in discussing bramacharya and the importance of not addicting oneself or numbing out to your experience, Gabriel said, “All of yoga is to sensitize yourself to feel more deeply.”

Though that may seem obvious and on some level it’s a large part of the reason I’ve been drawn to yoga for all of these years, I had never articulated it to myself in those terms. Gabriel’s words hit the nail on the head for me and nicely sum up the sometimes-rocky-but-always-rewarding journey I’ve been on in recent years.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Yoga is a process of coming back to our true selves, and the power of my practice has been profound in guiding me along that path back home in recent years.

Whether in a challenging pose that stretches your body or a difficult personal situation that squeezes your soul, there are so many times in life when it would be much easier to numb out. However, rather than give in to any number of the distractions available to divert our attention away from the present moment, it’s much more powerful to remain where you are with awareness and feel what you’re feeling.

It seems so simple and basic, but when you begin to watch for it, it’s amazing how often we feel compelled to distract our minds with drinks, drugs, food, TV, smart phones and countless other preoccupations. Rather than stay to notice and sit with our discomfort, pain or boredom, we run away and distract ourselves.

It’s not always easy to feel what we’re feeling. If we’ve been masking feelings and distracting ourselves with external filler for too long, it can be extremely difficult to even identify your mental or emotional state from moment to moment. And for those of us lucky enough to still be in touch with and aware of our feelings, experiencing them can still be really uncomfortable at times. Things often come up that we don’t want to feel, and it’s not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.

The practice lies in resisting the urge to brush our feelings under the rug, put on a happy face or otherwise addict ourselves to avoidance.

Rather than constantly trying to fill all the gaps, my practice has taught me to relish space, even (and especially) when it’s unpleasant. By giving myself that room to feel, breathe and be present unconditionally, the mental fog of diversions and distractions has started to lift.

The process of returning to myself and the experience of making choices informed by that connection hasn’t always been easy, comfortable or fun, but it has been real. And at the end of the day, an authentic life lived with with presence and experienced with awareness is the best any of us can hope for anyway.

May 16, 2014 0 Comments

Workshop Aims at Overcoming Obstacles and Unblocking Flow

Mark your calendars for a new workshop coming in June—”From The Inside Out: Flowing Through Obstacles With Empowerment and Ease”—geared toward transcending the obstacles that show up in our practice and life as impediments to progress and growth.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 7 at Blissed Out Yoga in Elmhurst by myself and Omega Institute Resident Life Coach Chrystal Kubis, this workshop will teach students how to apply the insights and philosophy of yoga to overcome the inner and outer obstacles in life with less stress and more simplicity.

Through a combination of asana, meditation and discussion, students will learn essential practical applications of yogic principles and other strategic navigational tools for thriving in spite of difficulties.

We’ll explore these blockages to freedom and flow in our lives in a variety of ways, including through a discussion of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which characterized these hurdles as the nine antarayas.

Students will leave with a greater sense of empowerment, freedom and a toolbox of peaceful-yet-powerful techniques for shifting their perspective, applying the practice of yoga off the mat, and rising above the challenges of day-to-day life.

The workshop cost is $40 in advance, or $45 at the door. Click here and select the site’s workshops tab to register and pay in advance. 

I’m thrilled to be co-hosting this workshop with Chrystal Kubis. A native of the western suburbs of Chicago and now based in Sarasota, FL, Chrystal has led trainings on personal transformation and empowerment across the country. She’s been honored to serve the last four years as faculty and resident life coach for Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

Along with benefiting from the many lessons of life, Chrystal has a degree in Holistic Wellness from the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, and holds certifications as a Life Coach, Massage Therapist, Yoga Instructor, Qi Gong Healer, and Reiki Master. She is passionate about working with people who are hungry for shifts and ready to transform both challenges and emotions into strength, flow, wild yes’s and inner freedom.

May 14, 2014 0 Comments

6 Steps To Stimulate Creativity and New Growth in Your Life

I was a creative child. Whether at dinner with family or a social gathering with friends, I was rarely without a notepad on hand to scribble down my latest poem or short story whenever inspiration struck.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

And it did. Often.

But it suddenly occurred to me last year that something had shifted. At some point in my adulthood, I had lost touch with my creative streak, and unfortunately it seemed to have become buried pretty deep.

The realization struck me shortly after leaving my full-time job in journalism last summer. I had vowed to myself that once I left my journalism career to pursue teaching yoga full-time, I would also return to my roots of writing for personal fulfillment and self-expression rather than just a paycheck.

As it turns out, that was easier said than done. After seven years in a career that often demanded work 12 hours a day and seven days a week, and coming off of a challenging year in my personal life to boot, my creative juices were sapped and I was drained.

Many of us are accustomed to filling every moment of our days with work, family and other obligations. We’re left with no energy to put into new growth and creative pursuits, so our personal exploration and self-fulfillment get put on the back burner. Desires and things we’d like to do regularly take second priority to obligations and things we feel we must do.

Over the past six months – since recognizing the rift between me and my imagination – I have watched the slow but sure return of my desire to write and create with the support of some simple practices. It is my hope that they may also help you connect to more inspired work, fulfilled relationships or anything else you desire.

  1. Make space for new growth: First things first, remove the weeds to create space for growth on new fertile ground. If you fill up your schedule 100 percent, you allow no room for expansion into something new. When we are constantly exhausting ourselves rushing from one thing to another, it’s hard to be mindful enough to even recognize as new opportunities appear. In both your personal or professional life, remove the filler and relish the emptiness of having space for new creation. Yes, at times it can feel better in the short-term to have your schedule full just so you don’t notice its emptiness, but you have to be willing to sustain short-term discomfort to free yourself up and make room for organic growth and expansion in the future.
  2. Live with intention: The areas where you direct attention and energy play a big role in charting the course of your life. The process of restoring creativity involves intention and awareness to consciously spend time on things that contribute to your long-term growth and happiness. Once you identify goals, discern which time commitments support growth in that direction and which ones set you back. Shift your time to prioritize quality and creativity, not only quantity and productivity. As much as possible, commit your time judiciously to prioritize the things that move you forward.
  3. Invest in yourself: Make time for the things that light you up. Sometimes you have to say no to obligations and others, so you can say yes to yourself. Whether it’s via yoga, meditation, reading or sleeping in, invest time and energy to care for yourself so you have more fullness and presence to share with others. Be generous with yourself first and let abundance then spill over onto others.
  4. Cut the cord: Cut the cord between yourself and your smartphone. If you’re constantly inundating yourself with external stimulation, how can you expect to receive internal inspiration? If you rely on something outside yourself for entertainment every time you get bored, you leave no room for your inner monologue and imagination. If you need to fan the creative fire, turn to the natural, not artificial, sources of inspiration all around you. Devote some part of your day to be completely device-free.
  5. Practice the power of the pause: It’s amazing what ideas and inspiration reveal themselves with stillness and silence as you give your mind the clearing necessary for things to reveal themselves to you. Don’t feel the need to fill the pauses in every conversation with others, and be OK in the silent meditative moments with yourself too. These pauses in interactions, between actions and reactions, help foster the perspective and awareness to springboard us into greater authenticity and creativity.
  6. Find a balance of effort and ease: The Yoga Sutras suggest balancing sthira and sukha—effort and ease—in our physical practice, but the concept carries into our lives off the mat too. Of course we don’t want to be passive passengers in our lives, but we can’t expect to control everything either. Many spiritual practices, including yoga and meditation, empower us to walk the line between being proactive enough to set change in motion while ultimately releasing control to allow things to unfold.

By bringing greater awareness to our actions and reactions, and mindfulness to how we commit and structure our time, we can make subtle shifts to carve out space for creativity and possibility to blossom.

A version of this article also appeared in Wanderlust Festival’s Journal on May 1, 2014.

May 5, 2014 0 Comments