Sunday, February 26, 2012

What You Feed Will Grow Stronger

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to take a master class with power yoga teacher Bryan Kest.  (The class was at Qi Downtown, which, by the way, is AWESOME.  I will definitely be going back there.)

I didn't take notes during the yoga class, so what I'm about to share is merely paraphrased from what Bryan Kest said, or, rather, what I think I heard.  I'll do my best to convey his message as accurately as I can. 

Bryan started the class with a lecture, and I thought what he shared was very valuable.  His main point was that yoga should be more about the mental than the physical (he told us this before working us hard with a challenging physical practice, but I think his point is still valid).  The vast majority of diseases are caused by mental stress (the negative, not-helpful stuff we think about throughout much of our day, every day), so our mental health has far greater impact on our physical health than our exercise regimen does.  If we practice yoga only for the physical aspects, we are missing a huge benefit of the practice. 

He also talked about what a waste it is if we just bring all the crap from our off-the-mat lives in with us to the yoga room and then change nothing while we're practicing yoga.  For instance, if we're competitive in our daily lives, and we bring that competitiveness onto the mat, what's the point of all the yoga?  Where's the transformation?  How can transformation occur if we're just doing the same old things on the yoga mat that we do everywhere else?

I talk a lot in my classes about how we can cultivate new behaviors and thoughts during yoga practice and then begin to take those behaviors and thoughts with us into the rest of our lives.  Bryan talked about how pointless it is to do the yoga practice if we're not willing to change anything about ourselves, and I agree, especially when you consider how important mental health is to physical health.

Bryan also talked about how what you feed will become stronger.  For instance, if you don't feed your angry thoughts, then any anger in your life will weaken.  Conversely, if you feed thoughts of insecurity, then your insecurity will grow stronger.  Whatever you feed will grow stronger. 

So this week I'm asking the folks in my yoga classes to bring awareness to all the stuff they don't want in their lives (feelings of lack, anger, jealousy, fear, insecurity, judgment, whatever it may be), and then to make an effort to stop feeding it.  Your thoughts have an enormous impact on your health and happiness.  Choose how you think.  Choose what you think.  Change your story. 

What you feed will grow stronger.  What do you want in your life?  Feed THAT.  Feed nonjudgment of yourself and others.  Feed gratitude.  Feed forgiveness.  Feed feelings of abundance.  Feed optimism.  Feed love.  Feed generosity.  Feed kindness.

Namaste :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Perpetual Struggle to Stay Present

This week I'll be sharing the following quote with my classes:

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.
~Thich Nhat Hanh~

I love this, and I agree completely.  My loved ones certainly deserve my presence, and so does everyone else I come across throughout the day.  The problem is, I can be really bad at offering others my presence.  I struggle constantly to focus my attention on the present moment.  Though I'm getting better at noticing when I've become distracted, I've got a long, long way to go.

When I'm at work, I have a lot of meetings in my office, which means I can see emails coming in as I'm sitting at my desk talking with others. I'm always tempted to glance at those emails, even though I know my attention should be on the people sitting in front of me. And I'm not always much better outside the office.

I live my life in a perpetual hurry, often racing from one commitment to another, and it's hard to stay in the present moment when you're always thinking about what's next. Thank goodness for my yoga practice, but what about all the times in between?

That's where mindfulness comes in. I find it especially helpful to slow down and pay particular attention to my surroundings. When driving in Denver, that's pretty easy, because most days you can see the mountains, and looking at the mountains grounds me. Taking a few deep breaths also works well, or sometimes I try to cultivate mindfulness while performing some kind of activity (filling my water bottle at work can be a nice break if I bring my full attention to performing that small task).  When talking to another person, I try to bring my full attention to what that person is saying.  I've got a post-it on my office computer reminding me to stay present,* and I've got a little Buddha statue in my car for the same reason (it also reminds me to be nice to other drivers!).** 

But I'm successful only a small percentage of the time. I like to think I'm steadily increasing that percentage, but cultivating presence takes constant effort, and much of the time I forget even to exert the effort. That's where my yoga practice comes in; I bring my attention to the present moment frequently -- if fitfully -- while practicing yoga, and hopefully what I practice on the mat translates bit by bit into the rest of my life.

Earlier this week, LearnVest published a post about slowing down and savoring your experiences. Something in the article stuck with me and has inspired me to change my behavior over the last few days.  The article says, "Rushed all the time? Slow down, and you'll be a nicer person." As always, I've spent most of my time running from commitment to commitment, but I've forced myself to slow down, and it's made a huge difference in my stress level and I'm sure has made me a nicer person.  I like that person much better, so I intend to keep it up!

Namaste.  Have a great week!

*I remember reading some time ago about a woman who keeps a note on her computer monitor that says, "Stay amazed."  I love that.

**Thank you, Nicole, for my little Buddha statue.  :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some Words from Ryan Levinson

I'm a big fan of Outside Magazine, and I usually come away from reading it feeling inspired to try new things and especially to move my body.  I wish they directed more of their articles and fitness information towards women (anyone listening?), but, aside from that one complaint, Outside is usually one of my favorites to read (and I read too many magazines, usually all at once during a binge magazine-reading Saturday, which is perhaps another reason I emerge from the binge with a huge desire to go do something active).

I read about Outside's 2011 Reader of the Year, Ryan Levinson, many months ago, but I find that I still think about him often.  Some of what he said in this article has stuck with me for over a year.  Outside also named Levinson its Chief Inspiration Officer for 2011, and Levinson writes a blog for the magazine.  (Every link I've included in this paragraph goes to something well worth reading.) 

Outside describes Levinson as "an athlete who competes like a champ while fighting a savage form of muscular dystrophy."  Levinson "was diagnosed with an incurable and progressive form of muscular dystrophy called FSHD...which slowly weakens and destroys muscle cells and tissue."  Outside goes on to explain that "[d]octors told Levinson to stop strenuous exercise, believing the physical effort would speed the deterioration."  Levinson did the opposite, choosing instead to continue his participation in extreme physical activities, and this decision has shown doctors and others diagnosed with FSHD that "being active didn't increase muscle loss any more than if [he] just sat around." 

As I thought about what to talk about this week in my yoga classes, I kept coming back to Levinson and what he's going through and how he seems to be handling it.  I want to share some of his words with my students, especially the following:

You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond to it...I thought, if I'm going to lose these muscles, and all I risk is losing them faster, then I'm not going to quit doing what I love.

A combination of things drive me: a sense of duty, love for my wife, being able to help other people, the fact that even pain is an experience in itself.

My FSHD isn't something I need to outrun.  It's a part of me, and I own it.  Yeah, I'd be stoked if there were a cure, but that hasn't happened yet, so I live every day with a deep passion that comes from loving what I do and knowing that it will be increasingly challenging to do it.  When you think about it, that's true for everyone.  This is not a dress rehearsal.  This is life.

But I also don't want to oversimplify his message.  Levinson talks in this blog post about how sometimes he feels like he speaks with two voices:

There is the public voice that talks about how I live despite the challenges of having Muscular Dystrophy, and there is the private voice, usually kept to myself, that occasionally expresses the almost overwhelming emotional pain that comes from living with this disease.

I'm including all of the above because it's awkward for me to write about Levinson.  I don't know him, and, as I said above, I don't want to oversimplify what he's going through or how he deals with it.  I want to respect him and his message and let him share it himself.  But I also want to spread his message and his story.  He has had a substantial impact on me despite the fact I've only read this little bit about him, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.  I've written before about having gratitude for your body, and what I've learned from Levinson has helped inform that.