Create the Habit of Happiness

 

habitofhappinessHumans are creatures of habit; both in our cycle of thoughts and our actions. In sanskrit the word for habit is Samskara. This past week I was reminded that our thoughts create our feelings; our perspective on events or moments create the emotions we have inside. We have the power to develop a positive thought process that can create happy feelings or we can take the opposite path of negativity. That choice is something each of us can own for ourselves. We can choose to create the Habit of Happiness. 

This past week I asked my students to cultivate the habit of happiness both on and off their mats.  Just like any other habit, the habit of happiness is created with repetition over time.  Asana is a great way to cultivate a positive practice of repetition. As we began our asana practice with a slow flow I changed it up by adding in some Janu Sirsana A’s, Star Gazers and even flipped Downward Dog (pictured above). These additions to our vinyasa required students to roll off their mats and then roll back on. It is quite amazing how just small changes in the expected routine can create new inspiration and a fresh perspective or create negative emotions by throwing our equilibrium off.

On the mat we cultivate positive Samskaras by building Strength, Flexibility & Balance in the body. The strength gives us power, the flexibility creates resiliency and balance offers steadiness and focus of mind and body.  Equal parts of these three is what allows us to grow the positive Samskaras of our practice on the mat. Off the mat, these three; Strength, Flexibility & Balance; are equally powerful in creating the Habit of Happiness.

It is empowering once we realize that we are largely in control of our own happiness. How we perceive a certain action by someone else (the emotions we have about the action) can completely effect our feelings about the event and the person. Having Strength, Flexibility & Balance in the mind aides us in the practice of giving someone the benefit of the doubt; and therefore positively affects our emotions about the event or person. This practice can help us create the Habit of Happiness.

As we moved mindfully through our final few postures and into Savasana, I asked my students to let go of their bodies and to more deeply cultivate the positive Samskaras in the mind. As we sat together for our final meditation,  I wished for my students to bring the Habit of Happiness with them off the mat. I felt gratitude for both the opportunity to guide them in this practice both on and off the mat and for the reminder that practicing the Habit of Happiness is a Samskara that can never be practiced too much.  Namaste. 

 

 

Be exactly who you are on and off the mat

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I just am wrapping up a two year stint as co-president of the PTA for the school district my children attend. I am looking forward to having more time and space in my mind and in my life; a chance to get back to this blog and to be even more connected to my teaching. I got a beautiful card from my co-president last week; in it she wrote that I should always be myself. Be who I am. That is the most amazing compliment that someone can give– to remind us that being who we are is enough. That we are all we need to be.

So on our mats last week, it was all about us. There was less focus on how the poses looked– I cued alignment from a safety standpoint but minimal direction  other than that. Instead, I asked my students to make the practice their own. I reminded them that what you have on your mat is enough and to be exactly who you are.

We flowed and breathed but mostly we celebrated; celebrated the quieting of the inner critic, celebrated the reminder that our bodies and our practice on the mat are enough and celebrated that who we are off the mat is all we need to be. When we let go of expectations of what we are “supposed” to look like on our mats and instead worked from the inside out  to create what felt right, it fosters acceptance and from there…freedom (like my handstand photo above).

We often get what we need at just the right moment–the universe provides if we are accepting. In this time of transition for me, not just in the season and the schedule but in a shifting of priorities and stepping back from a huge responsibility, I was hearing my inner critic; I was questioning what was next.  Then came the reminder at just the perfect moment to always be myself–that I am enough.

As we began to wind down the Asana practice,  I shared a gentle reminder about what this practice can offer; the lengthening and strengthening  of the body allows us to become stronger and lighter at the same time. Just as acceptance and freedom in the mind can give us that same strength and lightness off the mat.

As we sat in final meditation together, we sat with full acceptance of ourselves. It is truly a gift to live with the belief that being yourself is enough. I was so incredibly thankful for the reminder and I felt lucky to be able to share that gift with my students. As we practice acceptance of who we are both in our practice and beyond, what we find is gratitude for both. Namaste. 

 

 

 

Grow with your Flow

 

 

A friend posted this amazing photo of a tree in “Dancers Pose” and underneath was the caption “Grow with the Flow”. To her it was an ode to Spring which is popping up all around us but that mantra became more to me this past week as I realized the different ways to interpret this powerful message.

As we began on our mats, I asked the students to think of the practice of Yoga as a tree with different branches that grow from a stable, grounded trunk. Those branches represent the many ways we “Grow with our Flow”.  As we began with Bridge pose and Navasana (boat pose), the body began to warm and energy started to flow which allowed the muscles to loosen and lengthen…they were “growing with the flow”. 

We moved from there into our opening Sun Salutations as we have done so many times before and I reminded them to notice the strength or space in their bodies…this comes with the growth of the asana practice over time. As we practice our physical asanas our bodies get stronger and more flexible; we are able to do more…we have “grown with our flow”. 

As we went deeper into our practice and explored binding,  I asked my students to connect to “growing with their flow” in a more challenging way…to practice becoming less attached to the achievement of the physical asana and turn to acceptance instead. I asked them to remember that the real growth comes from being mindful on the journey and surrendering the destination. 

We practiced smoothly transitioning  from Eagle pose into Warrior 3 with Eagle arms and then into Standing split with the arms still wrapped. The practice of smoothly transitioning through points of discomfort…both on the mat and off… is truly “Growing with the Flow”. We then explored Vrksasna (tree pose) and moved from there into Dancers as an ode to my inspiration this week. Cultivating balance through strong roots and flexibility is another powerful way to “grow with the flow”

Someone I have known for a very long time, who is brand new to yoga, asked me recently how Yoga has changed me.  To answer her took some reflection on my part.  Yoga has touched almost every part of who I am as I have “grown with my flow” over the past 15 years.  I  found strength and length in my body of course however, more importantly I have moved from a place of needing to achieve physical poses to a place of gratitude and respect for what my body can do and acceptance of what is not available. I have found the gift of nurturing myself and surrendering judgement (most of the time). I live more mindfully and presently and with more balance and stability on and off my mat. I allow my conscience to guide my actions.  To quote the sage Vasistha; “There is no power on earth greater than the right action in the present moment”.  I have “grown in my flow” by learning that the Journey is the Joy, to Grow is to be Present and to be Present is a precious Gift.

We slowed the practice with gentle back bending and supine spinal twists and from there transitioned into the final  rest. I reminded them again of the many ways we can “Grow with our Flow”. The physical growth of lengthening, strengthening and lightening our bodies is just the surface of the growth and from there we learn how to go deeper, to grow as people. Through mindfulness we can find balance and connect to acceptance and joy within ourselves that we then can share with the world. In order to grow, we need to rest, nurture and restore the mind as well as the body. Being mindful in stillness is when the most powerful growth can happen.

As we came together in a final moment of meditation to close out our practice,  I felt such  gratitude to my students. I thanked them for the opportunity they provide me to “Grow with my Flow” as a teacher each and every day.  Namaste.

 

 

Explore and Happiness is there

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This past week I did some personal exploration into what happiness is. First I asked myself; What does it mean to be happy?  What I realized is that we have to be unhappy sometimes to appreciate and feel grateful when we are not. As I explored further I found a few other perspectives on happiness that I wanted to share.

As class began, I shared my personal journey to define happiness. Happy Baby Pose and Cat/Cow warm ups began to cultivate happiness in the body as we searched for it in the mind and heart.

With our opening Sun Salutes I shared a perspective from Mahatma Gandhi; “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” This is an incredibly powerful message. If we can create harmony within ourselves then we will find happiness. On our mats there is the opportunity for harmony as well; harmony between the body, the breath and the mind. I tasked them with this practice as we continued to go deeper and explored Parsvokonasana (side angle pose) with a bind.

From there we practiced some balancing poses and played with jumping back and forth from Standing Split to 3 legged Down Dog. I shared another piece of wisdom about happiness from Abraham Lincoln; “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Happiness is a choice, sometimes a harder one than at other times but always a choice.

Then we went to the wall to play with Forearm stand and Handstand creating different variations and I shared my last piece of inspiration. I don’t know who wrote this statement but the sentiment could not be more true to describe happiness. “Happiness is a direction, not a destination.” The practice of the journey both on our mats and off is all about just that…the process…the journey…the direction; not the destination. The journey is where we find the joy and joy is happiness. So, as the students played in their inversions at the wall I asked them not to worry about the end game, rather to enjoy the journey to get there; to stay focused on the mindful process and let go of the “destination”; achieving the full pose.

Off the mat, it is the same practice. We can take this same exploration. We can work to have our actions, thoughts and words be in harmony with each other. Sometimes we have that first instinct to react to a situation with maliciousness or dishonesty but we get to choose what our ultimate response will be, we get to choose to keep our thoughts, words and actions in harmony with each other and ultimately choose the happy path. Then once on that path we again get to choose… choose to stay present in the moment, to enjoy the journey and be less invested in the destination.

Back on the mat, the students began the transition into Savasana and I asked them to think about what happiness means to them. Is it about creating harmony by aligning their thoughts, speech and actions off the mat and body, breath and mind on the mat? Is it about making the choice however hard it might be to connect to gratitude and find happiness?  Or is it the reminder that the joy in this life is the journey, not the destination. They didn’t need to choose just one, the only choice I hoped they would make is the choice to be happy. As we sat together for our final meditation, I was so grateful to feel all of the happy energy in the room. Whatever their own personal journeys were, It felt that they were on their paths. Namaste.

 

 

Make the choice to “Feed your Good Wolf”

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Happy New Year. The last month or so, I had found myself not in my best head. I had been having a bit of writers block but also felt the weight on my shoulders of not writing as it is often therapeutic for me.  A few days ago, I read a short Indian tale that helped me realize my own battle and allowed me to move back to a positive place. As soon as I read it, I knew it was meant to be my inspiration for this week.

ONE EVENING, AN ELDERLY CHEROKEE BRAVE TOLD HIS GRANDSON ABOUT A BATTLE THAT GOES ON INSIDE PEOPLE.

HE SAID “MY SON, THE BATTLE IS BETWEEN TWO ‘WOLVES’ INSIDE US ALL. ONE IS EVIL. IT IS ANGER, ENVY, JEALOUSY, SORROW, REGRET, GREED, ARROGANCE, SELF-PITY, GUILT, RESENTMENT, INFERIORITY, LIES, FALSE PRIDE, SUPERIORITY, AND EGO.

THE OTHER IS GOOD. IT IS JOY, PEACE, LOVE, HOPE, SERENITY, HUMILITY, KINDNESS, BENEVOLENCE, EMPATHY, GENEROSITY, TRUTH, COMPASSION AND FAITH.”

THE GRANDSON THOUGHT ABOUT IT FOR A MINUTE AND THEN ASKED HIS GRANDFATHER: “WHICH WOLF WINS?…”

THE OLD CHEROKEE SIMPLY REPLIED,”THE ONE THAT YOU FEED”

I read this story to each of my classes this past week, and as we began to warm the body with Suynamaska A and B, I reminded them to ask themselves which “Wolf” they were feeding.

As we flowed through our poses, we realized that the mat is a very powerful place to practice feeding the “Good Wolf”.  Many of the “Evil Wolf” qualities can show themselves in our yoga practice. Feeling Envious of someone’s pose or body is an example. Inferiority (harsh judgment of ourselves) is another and Ego is potentially the most powerful. Ego on the mat can bring us past our edge physically to injury and create judgment in the mind. So, we practiced making the choice to feed our “Good Wolf” by being Kind and Generous with ourselves which leads us closer to our Truth.

Even as we explored more advanced poses such as Eka Pada Koundinyasana (pictured above) I reminded the students to “feed their Good Wolf” by finding Joy in the trying and Compassion for themselves along the journey. By feeding the “Good Wolf” within the safe space of our yoga mat, we become better able to do it off the mat.

Whether on the mat or off the mat both of these “Wolves” live inside us. However, we get to CHOOSE which one we nurture; which one we “Feed”. What I have found over the past few weeks is that the “Evil Wolf” is sneaky… there does not need to be some huge negative event or moment in your life to draw out the “Evil Wolf”. A series of small frustrations or annoyances can strengthen it quickly. What I have also learned however is that the “Good Wolf” is tough and resilient and even if it is not fully nourished for a time, it can become stronger and overpower the “Evil Wolf” as soon as it is fed again.

We wound down the practice and the students transitioned into their rest. As they came out of Savasana, we sat together in quiet meditation for a last moment together. I asked them to pledge to themselves in this new year to feed their “Good Wolf”; to allow it to be strong and nourished as it will guide them on their journey towards their dreams. I also thanked them for sharing their “Good Wolf” energy with me as that energy was just one more way I could feed my own. Wishing peace and love to all in 2016. Namaste.

 

Use 5 simple steps and make the decision to be Happy

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It doesn’t happen often but once in a while I am inspired by something I read on Facebook. I read a post written by a nursing home employee who was checking in a 92 year old woman who had recently lost her husband and before that, most of her sight. This employee is recounting the experience of bringing this woman to her new room after she had waited several hours to be checked in. As she walked the woman to her room she began to describe what the woman would find once she came to her room. This woman said that she loved her room already even though she hadn’t seen it yet because she had already decided to love it. “It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice.” She then went on to explain “Each day is a gift and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in filling my memory bank. I am still depositing.” Then she gave this employee her five simple rules to be happy. 1. Free your Heart from Hatred. 2. Free your Mind from Worries. 3. Live Simply 4. Give More. 5. Expect Less.

With those 5 simple rules to guide our practice we began to flow on our mats. As we moved through our opening Sun Salutations, we began to free the heart from hatred (judgment of ourselves and others) and the mind from worry (surrendering the clutter). As we worked deeper using Vashistasana A (side plank) and Vashistasana B (Fallen Triangle) there was a feeling of release in the room, a letting go of negative energy (complexity) and from there the opportunity to find clarity, space and simplicity. We set our full intention to our practice as we explored Bakasana and Eka Pada Bakasana (1 knee to upper arm, the other leg straight) but let go of the expectations to achieve them.

What we begin on the mat can continue off. So much about this story inspired me but the rules for happiness are how I try to live my life. Ironically, I had the chance to put them to use last weekend as I happened to be at a party where my best friend from high school (who I had had a falling out with 20 years ago) also was. I made the decision to be happy, to free myself from any anger I felt at how I had been mistreated so many years ago. I let go of the worry in my head as I walked up to her, gave her a hug and told her how nice it was to see her. I surrendered the potential complexity of the situation and just let it be simple. I gave her the chance to make amends which she graciously did even though I wasn’t expecting her to. Simple but powerful rules that I am grateful to live by.

Back on the mat, we began to slow down and transition into Savasana. I reminded my students, this is where the work truly begins; the choice to be happy starts and ends in the mind. As we sat for our final moments together in meditation, I repeated the rules and reminded them of the wisdom of that special 92 year old woman. I wished for us all that we continue to deposit happy memories into our bank until the day we leave this earth and that we make the choice each day to be happy. I repeated the rules once more for them and for myself.  1. Free your heart from Hatred. 2. Free your mind from worries. 3. Live Simply 4. Give More. 5. Expect Less. Be Happy. Namaste. 

 

Release your Heaviness and Connect to your Light

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Last week I had lunch with an old friend. We worked together about 20 years ago and as we were reminiscing and catching up, she mentioned she had also seen another old colleague on her NY visit. I was reminded of the compassion I had felt for this colleague so long ago when we all worked together. I remember thinking that she was someone who was looking for the outside world to make her happy inside; she hadn’t connected to her internal light. I was sad to hear that the situation seemed very much the same today, 20 years later. This information served as a reminder that inside each of us lives the power we need to make ourselves happy. It’s called Sukha Shakti; translated as radical happiness.

On our mats this week I asked my students to use their Yoga practice to connect to the energy and light that lives inside each of them. It takes space in the mind to connect to our Sukha Shakti; that is what Yoga can offer.

As we began our Asana practice,  I asked my students to remember their true practice; to feel and connect to their Sukha Shakti and not to worry so much about the physical poses but rather the energy building within them.  Sun Salutations began the work of waking up this radical energy.

As we flowed from high lunge into balancing and then explored Bakasana, I reminded the students not to “get in their own way” in their minds but instead to feel their Shakti–their happiness– that lives inside them all the time. On the mat and off we can be harsh critics of ourselves. This creates heaviness and can dampen our internal light. We can convince ourselves we can’t do something and the more we practice releasing that pattern of thought on the mat, the more adept we are to do the same off the mat.

Shakti becomes stronger as burdens and heaviness begin to release. As we  surrender tension and heaviness, we open the channels for energy to flow and find a deeper connection to our light. I visualize Shakti to be our internal Sun. It is always there, sometimes the sun is harder to see…covered by clouds or stormy weather and sometimes it shines bright. Unlike the cosmic sun, with our own internal one; we can control the weather.

We played with inversions at the wall to find a deeper opening in the shoulders. Some explored forearm stand and others handstand but it wasn’t about the pose. Again I tasked them with connecting to their lightness and what better way to move energy than to be upside down.

From there we moved to ankle to knee pose and pigeon to find space in the hips. We used props to explore a deep heart opening in Urvdha Dhanurasana (upward bow pose) as a way to begin to shine this energy outward and then we slowed down and came into our final rest.

As the students lay still in Savsana, I began to think again about this woman who seems to have “gotten in her own way”. I still feel compassion for her and wish I could send some of my Shakti her way. Even more than that,  I hope she can find a practice that gives her the chance to connect to the happiness that is already inside her.

As we sat in final meditation, we found a moment of gratitude; Gratitude for our practice on the mat, Gratitude for the opportunity to bring the practice off the mat and Gratitude for the Sukha Shakti within all of us. Namaste.