We get one body. One! It is made specifically for us, exclusively for our use, to be shared or saved by our own choosing, and cannot be exactly replicated (naturally, anyway). It is our constant ally; even when we don’t understand its troubleshooting measures to keep us healthy. It has a specialized set of programs to keep us alive and thriving, and a backup program for helping us to survive in both prehistoric ( i.e. surprisingly loud sound makes us duck-and-cover or jump away from it) and modern ways (i.e. developing grip strength in our hands to accommodate all of the texting and swiping activity). Our incredible body welcomes every sensation, every bit of information, and every food choice we offer it. It figures out a way to use it or get rid of it. It works overnight to make us better than the day before, using parts that will expire, under (usually) non-ideal settings. It does its best everyday – and as conscious beings, we can train ourselves to witness all that it is and can do. We can also chose to ignore our body’s great work and it will continue to do its very best with what it innately has and what we give it. How selfless our body serves us in spite of our headspace! Which brings me to the second reason we have a lot to be excited about…
The conscious mind is a highly curated, heavily conditioned, filtered projection of an unknowingly deep archive of information and experience. Your singular existence, exactly as it is, will never be replicated. While we all share the basic blueprint of human emotions, needs and desires, your particular mind and its health are absolutely yours. Even better, as a mindfulness practitioner, you have an exquisite tool kit to create an inspired life, to remove the “victim” badge from your sleeve and take part in making your future look, feel and taste how you want it to. Yes, the mind can feel like it is the Myth of Sisyphus, sometimes. Yes, it can be a general bat-country of information and emotional output. …and yes, no one knows exactly what it is or if it is an exclusive function of the brain. But we do know that it is a supercharged, powerful aspect of our being human, for better or worse. We each stand at the frontier of our own great consciousness and mental health. Check out that view!
Excuse the trendy buzzword and stay with me for a moment longer. Pretend that this one life you’ve had thus far, in that body, with that mind of yours, gets only one shot. You will only live once and when you die, what has been done is done. You can take that as a daunting, scary, grim tale…or you can take it as an invitation to get more playful, to enjoy the mystery like a fun game. That nagging discomfort we all feel about it from time to time, enjoy that, too! If all we get is this one life, then each moment of it is really quite expensive! Maximize your time knowing that these moments are all for you, anyway, and see what happens. Life might just get more lively.
Passion is an aspect of our personalities that we’ve had since childhood. It is the pure arousal for life – and not just the lusty, sexual passion that is so easily portrayed in many a famous movie and song. Think about this quality like a provocative, curious, get-your-attention-and-keep-it fascination with life. The daily grind and constant distraction with media will dull it, but there are ways to bring it to the surface.
Try these 3 unexpected ways to cultivate passion in your everyday life:
1. Get Angry
You know the famous saying: “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Well, if you find yourself bored or uninspired, start digging into any form of current news media. These are ripe times for paying attention and nearly every platform of social, technological or political cause offers an endless array of facts to get you riled up. Of course, “do no harm” rules apply so try not to stir the pot if it means instigating a negatively charged situation for yourself or other beings.
Anger isn’t an emotion we want to bask in regularly, but it can catalyze enthusiasm and action when channeled with a non-violent discipline. Use that fiery, emotional fuel to become proactive and solution-oriented! Chances are you will find other people as passionate about the topic as you are, (like on our Umbria Retreat)!
2. Mind Your Excitement:
What gives you a little jolt of life during the day? If it’s that office friend who always makes you laugh, engage with them more often. See if you can take it to the next level as a full -fledged friendship. If it’s doing new things in a yoga class, take it a step farther by actively seeking out new classes or teachers, or book a retreat in 2018! If what perks you up is a new recipe, live music or kittens, give that thing your undivided attention and completely absorb all of its quality for however long it lasts.
During times when you feel really unimpressed with life, the flickers of excitement might be very subtle. Stay mindful of any trigger that grabs your attention or lights up your face and then dive into it for a few moments longer. We get great at what we practice, so mind the moments that trigger you and it will get easier to connect to your sense of passion.
3. Beginners Mind:
It is a staple practice in all of the contemplative traditions for good reason! This one might take more effort, as our judgments and analytical mind are self-preserving mechanisms we learn as we grow up. They have helped us to achieve a sense of safety and control over our life. Put aside what you think you understand about that thing you’re about to do or that person you’re eating lunch with. Don a no-judgment, “I’m new here,” attitude and let your open mind give you the ability to see things as they are, for the first time.
Traveling to a new place where everything is different forces the practice of paying attention. Being in a different culture teaches us about our native one and change of scenery demands our appreciation for either the newness of it or the yearning for our familiar territory. Whether you love where you’re going or realize that you truly prefer where you’ve been, traveling will clarify it in a big way!
When your life or your attitude has been too comfortable, too routine, too lackluster, you’ve got to stimulate that little seedling of creative force that lies in wait within. That stimulation is going to be uncomfortable…a little. It has to be, though, or you won’t budge
Talking about growth inevitably brings up extended metaphors about gardens and weeding and seed planting. It might feel a bit overused, but the visual can be helpful to organize our thoughts when we get stuck in the overgrowth that happens when we’re too focused on a minor goal and end up disconnected from our big picture. Inspiration is a great fertilizer for getting us active and actualizing the abundance we are so attracted to, but growth actually happens incrementally.
We inaccurately measure our progress by looking at the cumulative effect of these subtle changes. This can leave us feeling stuck or discouraged. Here’s the work-around: commitment!
Commitment can be a crippling word for some people. But, the C-word is how growth happens! If you want your arugula to taste good, you’ve got to cut the flowers before the stalks shoot up. Pruning back your interests (like saying, “no” to the things or people that distract you from your primary goals) can actually preserve your energy so you can use it elsewhere and get better results. Even deleting your old text messages frees up internal space that keeps your phone powered up for longer.
The commitment can be something temporary, like, “Today I will hit my goal of drinking 8 glasses of water,” or longer term like, “I will use every class in my 30-class series within the next 2 months.” Simply put, the decision to put all of your energy in one direction actualizes it better.
Here’s a short and dirty list of a few things you can commit to that lead to huge changes:
1. Daily Yoga
Get to a class, make a friend and the studio and buddy-up to keep each other accountable, or roll out your mat and start a video. However you need to make it happen, make a plan or plot out some time in your day to just do it. You know how good it feels after you’ve done your practice and how it is easier to do everything else because of it. When you’re ready to delve deeper, check out a retreat like Patagonia or Scotland or California or Italy and get the VIP attention to enhance your personal practice
2. Give Away the Love
This is something I’ve been doing for a few years as a way to get around that meaningless chitchat of “How are you? Good. How are you? Good.” Compliment someone. If you see something someone’s done or has that you appreciate or brings beauty and positivity into your life, let them know. It costs nothing and adds some sweet value to your immediate environment. It can lead to a more meaningful conversation, a new acquaintance or at the very least, a positive interaction between people. We know the world needs more of that and it’s been shown to foster a sense of community and positive mental attitude.
3. Go to Bed
Some of the advice our parents put on us holds the test of time. There is a lot of evidence to show why a proper night’s sleep on the regular is essential for success. Commit to getting to bed at a decent hour every night. Prune back your phone time so that the last 30-60 minutes before bedtime are ambient – reading a book, cleaning up your space, mediating or journaling, or cuddling are all effective wind-down activities to prepare your nervous system and mind for better sleep.
Want to know how good you really are at yoga? It can be pretty easy to feel strong and flexible and peaceful when the studio is beautiful and temperature controlled, and you’re surrounded with a community who thinks like you do. The real test is to take your practice off of your mat, to bring it into your real life, in real time, in the real world of relationships.
You’ve probably heard some variation of the phrase, “Root down and rise up” in a yoga class. This cue is a beautiful metaphor to help reach that next level in our off-the-mat practice: from a steady foundation we can test our boundaries and rise beyond the limits of our comfort zone.
As we turn the corner on Spring, we’re inspired to move more, travel and gather in community. Here are 3 ways you can take that sweaty, dig-deep-and-find-it-within work from your time on the mat and rise up to the difficult gift of living your yoga out loud, in the random wilds beyond it:
1. Less Posing, More Modeling
Physical poses help us refine our best self, break down old habits and learn how to move better and feel freer. Visualize yourself in your best form. Imagine how you would handle a difficult or surprising situation in real life. Are you moving with grace? Abundant in compassion, patience, resiliency? Are you innovative? Self-disciplined enough to make great choices in hard moments? Are you being kind? Let this “higher self” represent your personal role model and start to bring this part of you out as often as possible.
Locate new heights for yourself in Patagonia with us in September.
2. Level Headed is the New High
Who keeps you in check when you’re getting caught up in the drama or acting out old habits? Touch base with these people or their lessons for you, often. Keep notes, photos or some souvenir that will elicit their message so that you can have it on your radar way before you have to hear it. Identify what the agents of stability are in your life that allows you to feel safe. If it’s a special verse or quote, recite it regularly. Take time to meditate on these things so they feel as close as your back pocket when your head gets clouded or noisy.
Meet some new accountabilibuddies with us in Umbria in October.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
The cornerstone of every great yoga practice is the dedication to it. Recognize the poses, meditations or ideas that help you to feel less crazy and more empowered. Acknowledge the actions you take that leave you feeling joyful and vulnerable. Do that more often. Our studentship never actually ends, so just keep practicing. Remember that everyone is a student in some way and that we can all learn from each other as we walk off and on our mats every day.
I even had a client interrupt the first 5 minutes of our 1 hour session as I was teaching him the standard breathing pattern for doing yoga postures to ask, “When are you going to start the yoga?”
If it happens automatically, and we don’t think about it during the day, why is it emphasized so much during class? And how is it possible to breathe incorrectly?
Mechanically speaking, the act of breathing is both automatic (unconscious, an involuntary behavior) and deliberate (conscious, a voluntary behavior). In both cases, the way we breathe is affecting our nervous system. By making an automatic behavior deliberate, we begin to affect our deepest neurological programming through a state of intentional awareness. By controlling something that happens automatically, something else changes and we feel different.
Aside from blinking, breathing is one of the very few mechanical behaviors that we can bring under conscious control. Most of us cannot willfully stop our kidney from filtering the way it does, or the stomach from churning the way it does.
Pranayama was originally invented as a method for relieving sick people of their ailments (think anxiety, asthma, overwhelm) in order to free the body of a blockage and ultimately to bring it back to natural, healthy function. Conscious breathing can create an environment in the body-mind system that increases or decreases energy. It can activate or disengage the stress response. It can activate or startle the relaxation response.
Yoga uses conscious breathing practices as a way to increase mindful awareness. From awareness we can then create optimized behaviors and healthy habits. Just like the reality of our physical forms, breath happens in the now-moment. We cannot breathe in the past, and we cannot yet breathe in the future.
Regardless of whether your breath is involuntary or performed consciously, breathing is a present-moment reality. When we tether our attention to the reality of our breath, the mind becomes more present-moment focused.
There is no clear-cut answer to the question of “How am I supposed to be breathing?” because there are many breathing exercises (pranayama), each one offering a different purpose—the way a hammer is used for nails and a screwdriver is used for screws. In class, the teacher may lead you through several different breathing exercises. Just know that in most cases, breathing in a yoga class is deliberate and observed. It is seldom ever an afterthought. Creating the healthy habit of present-moment awareness and establishing a strong practice of mindfulness are the cornerstones of a sustainable yoga practice. Stick with the breathwork and enjoy the body breathing!
His newest enterprise, Tantris, came out of his own need to have a dedicated place to practice hot yoga in a devotional way. Los Angeles is not short on places to practice yoga or buy yoga clothing—when I asked him what Tantris would bring to an already-crowded scene, he admitted that, “it is difficult to teach yoga in a commercial environment and be successful.” But ultimately, he said, “practitioners who are inspired by the yoga community, that love the philosophy and the science of yoga—beyond their love for stretching and bending—will come to know real yoga.”
As a devout yogi and hip-hop head, I find the similarities of hip-hop and yoga culture interesting. The godfather of hip-hop, KRS-ONE, lyricized that real hip-hop is intelligent movement. Similarly, The Bhagavad Gita, relays this exact idea in scripture: Yoga is skillfulness in action. We sat down with Simmons to learn more about his thoughts on this.
YOGANONYMOUS (YNON): People who don’t know the history, associate hip hop with gang bangers and loud beats. In reality, the music is one aspect of a greater culture and that culture respects a lifestyle that started as a protest to the status quo. It was a medium to express what people were not willing to say out loud and to say it in a smart way—so that people will listen. They think about yoga: leggings and stretching. From these over-generalizations, people disregard the culture as a movement. But when you study the cultures and embody their philosophy, you realize how deep it gets. What similarities do you see in these two subcultures?
Russell Simmons (RS): Poets and artists, they express reality [as it is] in the section of their community. It may be a shock to hear what’s in the hearts and minds of men… Artists, from the inside out, are more compassionate, loving people. Both cultures support progressive ideas.
Every artistic culture, every group of poets and artists have this in common: They’re more compassionate. All poets throughout history, not just today, have been judged the same way that rappers are being judged today. People don’t like their language…like, semantics is small—but actions are what matter.
YNON: The current hip-hop genre, rap culture, is not geared towards spirituality. Rappers and their songs promote materialism, classism and indulgence. Yogic lifestyle, beyond practicing yoga poses, doesn’t support that. How do you personally work with that juxtaposition?
RS: Poets always seem to oppose the world. In hip-hop culture in general, poets are expressing their reality, which is what art should do. They’re saying things that are not politically correct because they’re artists. But they’re saying things that other people are thinking. They’re not running for president and they should say what they’re feeling. It’s what all artists have been doing throughout the ages. I totally support them and their music.
The reality is that there are other components, which we can address as yogis. The prison industrial complex, which created prison culture [where a lot of rappers come up from], those people would not be heard from if not for their music. Now, kids in Beverly Hills have to hear it and maybe [they will] feel compassionate and do something about it. Practicing yoga is not a guarantee to happiness…Our reality isn’t always happy. But as it’s written, “God is in all things,” and seeing the reality that comes from the poetry is inspiring if you read it properly. “
YNON: What about commercializing yoga culture—does the real message get lost?
RS: Commercializing sounds like it’s gonna’ do something to yoga. We’re gonna’ do the opposite. Simplified scripture—yes. Simplified yogic science—yes. Making more the asana practice, I couldn’t do it. It’s already happening. Steve Ross commercialized yoga asana… We want to teach you how to be happier, how to move towards Yoga.”
YNON: As a yoga teacher, I find that people want to use yoga as a way to escape their unhappiness. They don’t know going in that it is a process. Real yoga allows us to radically accept life—to become self-actualized—and then to use this knowledge to make conscious choices that reduce suffering.
RS: I think the study of the Self is a process by which you move towards a happier state… Self-actualization. There’s something to be said for calling the asana practice “yoga” and believing that that’s the yoga practice. It’s not hatha yoga practice if you can smile and breathe and ride a bike. All the alignment is good to know but the goal is to realize Yoga. The asana is helpful in [realizing] that because you get graceful, because you go through the practice and you keep your mind on the realization of Yoga.
YNON: What about the people who are within earshot but aren’t listening? What about the people who don’t see that yoga asana and realizing Yoga are different things?
RS: I feel like I’m in a position to give that messaging. My whole being is how people’s lives can be empowered… That’s what I try to do. I’ve empowered myself by empowering other people. I’m a vehicle. As a business, my job is to make others good so I can get good. I get good as a result of what I give. Always, the artist first. Always, the community first. Those things pay off. Good givers can be great getters, but you have to know how to receive. Sometimes you can’t even do good unless you make it into a business.
Originally published to We.Travel Blog in November 2016
Wanderlust often gets us out of our comfort zones and into the lively adventure that this life is meant for. But, traveling is also a voluntary fall into the unknown and unexpected. Rather than letting these inevitable moments become the dark spots on an otherwise enlightening trip, consider these traveling tips as a way to bring your mindfulness lifestyle with you as you explore our incredible planet!
Having a dedicated space for things and thoughts not only prevents confusion and wasted time but also allows for peace of mind.
Pay attention to each item that goes into your carry on and in your luggage. This will keep you levelheaded as your environment changes drastically from your home base. Have a special place that you keep non-negotiables (i.e. ID, Passport, petty cash, credit cards, medication) and another place for copies (i.e. Passport, emergency contact name and numbers, embassy info, cash).
Folded clothing and an extra bag for dirty clothes will help keep the volume of your luggage slim, and will prevent odors from spreading.
Keep an extra change of clothes, basic toiletries, snacks and chargers in your carry-on. In the event that you’re separated from your checked bags, you want to feel that you have the bare essentials to take on the adventure ahead!
Before you close your bags, take an extra moment to review where you’ve placed everything. This will help you to keep an ongoing inventory as your bags change hands and locations. It will also help you access what you want faster without having to unpack and repack.
Carrying luggage, waiting at the gate or bus stop, sleeping on planes and trains…these are goldmines for physical suffering! Take these moments on your travels to practice yoga posturing.
When carrying luggage, use a cross-body bag to disperse the burden. Switch hands when holding a bag and alternate which shoulder you’re toting your carry-on. Physical distress and general exhaustion can provoke impatience. Avoid exhaustion when possible.
When waiting for transportation or in line for food or security clearance, stand with both feet on the floor and evenly distribute your weight down through both legs. Avoid slouching over – looking down or at your phone will cause this! Unless you’re carrying a child on your hip, keep your hips centered beneath your squared-off shoulders. Sassy hips or having one leg bent and one leg straight will cause the torso to be imbalanced and make your back muscles work harder than needed.
Having to be “on” like when in a busy airport, new environment, under deadline, or out of your normal ebb and flow will cause the breath to be excited and shallow. Stay grounded by breathing deeply and slowly. I do this when approaching a long line at the check- in desk, when taking off and landing and whenever I’m in line waiting.
People’s impatience and discomfort can get contagious. Stay immune!
Many students often ask me for tips on how to avoid the stiffness that happens while airborne. While it may not be so strange in Los Angeles to see someone practicing yoga postures before boarding, it may be odd at your local airport. Be that person! You will get onlookers but you may inspire them to practice self-care in public, too.
This word is a mental practice for choosing to perceive all beings as a reflection of the divine consciousness.
Yes, it is a hard shift from the normal perspective of preferring one thing or person over another. This is a practice of going beyond the surface to consider the gift of life. Part of the treasure we discover while traveling is how the world is a smaller place then we first suspected, and that all people share beautiful things in common.
Diversity allows us to know ourselves more fully. Make every interaction happen from a place of kindness and patience. Taxi and shuttle drivers, airport personnel and flight staff, locals and fellow travelers are all people you can use to practice this attitude posture. A friendly smile is a currency that knows no borders.
Travelling for the sake of wanderlust is a luxury. It takes resources like money, time, a travel agent or savvy Internet skills. It takes a disposition of courage and curiosity. Remember that many people do not have enough of these resources to willingly choose to take time away in order to explore. Every weird food, strange ritual, odd sign… Cultivate appreciation by recognizing throughout your journey the great gift you receive each time you step outside of your normal.
Lastly, find gratitude for all of the moving parts of travel both seen and unseen that keep us safe in the air, on the ground, and in new and alien territories.
I hope these notes keep your inner-chill intact from packing to baggage claim and beyond. Safe travels and blue skies!
They had their own gear. They knew the jargon. They were confident enough to bring me along for the adventure. After scaling a meager third of the climb I wanted to drop off and quit. Realizing the grade was too much for me, I was defeated and wished I hadn’t come on the trip. My climbing partner told me, “If you want to be good at rock climbing, you need to rock climb.”
Scrolling through my Instagram feed recently, I came across this anonymous quote: “Make the Path by Walking.” It is quickly becoming engrained in my memory as part of the go-to wisdom library I have been archiving for many years.
This mantra is about turning the feeling of want into action. It is about capturing every opportunity to turn that impulse of, “I want to…” into “I am…”
As an entrepreneur, I keep learning this. When I gain a vision of creating an event for my clients but don’t have all the means to make it happen, it happens sooner if I start before I have it all in place. Beginning where I am and then continuing from that point delivers me to the end goal sooner then when I wait to know how it can all come together.
Waiting for the cleared path has kept me from honing my skills or saying, “yes” in the past. If you want something to happen, just start in on making it happen. Trust that you are smart enough to learn the skills along the way. Be brave enough to mess up or get lost. Be patient enough to turn back and start over if needed.
Sometimes the vision comes without a map. Sometimes we get an idea of the end goal with no clue how to invent it.
Sometimes we see where we want to end up but have to create a way of getting there.
Make the path by walking.
By taking action, the path you seek begins to appear.
As majestic and stunning as this beautiful bird may be, it is neither quiet nor subdued. If you have yet to experience the bizarrely shrill cry of a peacock or the myth-inspiring look of it in flight, take a moment here and Google it! Just know that once you have seen it, it cannot be unseen…
It’s should be no surprise then, that attempting to embody the essence of this animal on the mat can be equally unreal and, at times, nauseating.
While on the ground, the peacock’s elaborate tail feathers trail behind like a luminescent robe for one of the most stunning, large birds on the planet. In flight, it moves like a kinetic rainbow, effortlessly illuminating aerodynamics and glide. But in practice, learning how to lean into yours hands enough to effortlessly lift your legs off the ground can be hardly gracious. Double that by the fact that your elbows need to be firmly established into the soft flesh of your lower abdomen in order to get airborne, and we begin to understand better the multifaceted nature of nailing peacock pose.
Embodying this pose is an invitation to challenge our basic mechanics and physical agility. It is not a silent declaration of war on our physical capability. It is not about power. When you notice your tone become rigid or forceful, remember the look of a Peacock gliding to a smooth land. This posture is about trusting your upper body. It’s about displaying the masterful balance of being both physically strong and limber. It’s about leaning onto the edge of balance and becoming ungrounded.
1. Keep your head up.
Keep your sights forward to protect the cervical spine and remember to lean into your upper body strength.
2. Narrow your elbows.
Place the bulk of your upper body weight on the elbows and upper arm bones. Position your elbows low on the abdomen so the chest and ribs hang mostly on top of the upper arms. Digging the elbows into the abdominal cavity is an acquired taste. Have patience!
3. Lift your hips.
As you lean forward, keep your hips high. If the hips stay dropped, it will cause the head to fall forward like a clunky see-saw. The lower body will float, but the tone of the lower body needs to be strong.
4. Move forward to fly.
Flying is typically a forward motion activity. Lean your weight into your hands. Lean forward more than you want to and as your center of gravity shifts, the feet will have no choice but to come off the floor. The initial thrust out of your comfort zone may feel like a leap, but find the trust that gravity will catch you on the lift off.
5. Keep your waist limber.
In our culture of tech-dependence, the carpel tunnels, palm, and lower arm muscles along with stiff wrist joints can be a barrier to entry. Get into a regular habit of articulating your wrists, rolling them, stretching your wrist, hand and finger muscles. Building up wrist strength takes time.
6. Fan your toes.
This is somewhat minor, but spreading your toes keeps the dynamic energy moving throughout the entire posture. It is best to not let any part of the body be passive or unconscious. When on display, the fanned tail looks more like a psychedelic mandala – a hard to miss wonder for the eye.
Consciously build your pose from head to toe and you may feel inclined to strut off your mat like a regal peacock yourself.
Shortcomings in our attitudes, our egoic will, and our forceful ambition are revealed in practice towards peak postures. These aspects show up on the mat, since they are embodiments of our internal growth from one state of yogic skill to the next.
Thankfully, complex arm balances that require our bodies to be not only strong and capable but also supple and intelligent can train our yogic attitude towards self-realization, and away from athletic prowess. Coordinating our mental stamina, physical ability and right intention sets us on a path towards the pairing of postures dedicated to the sage known asKoundinya.
Eka Pada Koundinyasana I is a twisting arm balance posture that stimulates the digestive tract and sides of the spine. It improves balance, spinal articulation and challenges the mind to remain stable.
A popular entry into Eka Pada is via tripod headstand, though coming in from Side Crowisn’t altogether impossible.
Eka Pada Koundinyasana II is not twisted. In this variation, both legs are extended from the pelvis. One leg extends directly out of the hip socket in a neutral position, as in Plank Pose, while the other leg externally rotates and hugs down onto the back of it’s tricep.
The history on Koundinya is not consistent, though one story references him as being among the select few to receive the first teaching from Lord Buddha, Siddartha. Remember that non-violence applies to our process of practice. Rather than jumping up to get off the ground, we really need to leverage ourselves forward with the use of our upper body strength and stable shoulders.
The ability to hold Chaturunga Dandasana while maintaining evenness in your breathing is a pre-requisite for these two fancy arm balance postures. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you into it.
Going into your discomfort zone requires a level of bravery that is consciously made: The visceral feel of falling forward can be overcome by finding flight. Trust your ability to lean in more than you think is necessary.