This one’s for those of us feeling that life’s demands can sometimes be TOO MUCH, and we’d much rather be living with a full heart than a busy mind. Clearing out that feeling that there’s not enough time, not enough energy, to get by or to possibly get it all done (and never mind THRIVE?!). What can we let go of, to make room for so much more heartfelt living? How do we do that?
I admit, I’ve been a chronic overdoer. I keep my plate FULL and I keep a running list of things that need doing, and the things I’ll do next. Driven by inner and outer expectations (mostly perceived), I juggle my attention between the most pressing tasks, and my friends & loved ones sometimes get that same, juggled attention (if any). There’s a long list of things that I think I’m not getting to. Sometimes it feels like I’m just keeping my head above water, jaw tight, breath shallow, and in fact, getting nowhere I truly intend to be.
So how about that question, how do you get where you really feel you meant to be? How do you know what that place or feeling is? In recent years, I’ve been working on practicing present-moment awareness to counteract my tendency (deeply ingrained!) towards overdoing it. And when I do, I can feel the difference!
First, ask yourself.
Recently we sold our primary family business. So I’ve been really asking myself lately, what am I willing to take on next? I noticed that my habitual thoughts wanted me to fill my time again, and hurry up to do the next thing, and meet the expectations that I had for myself or thought others had for me. I’m REALLY GOOD at filling up my time or any perceived ‘free time’, going full speed to achieve the things on my “must-do/should-do” list.
Whoaaaa. Stop, breathe, ask again.
If I actually stop for a full second, I notice a little gut instinct – yay or nay. When life’s too full, I power right past that feeling and keep on going. When I slow down, even for a beat… I feel it. Try it – this is when you can begin to access a deeper listening. Notice anything? There may be a message there.
Breathe, one more time, a little deeper.
When I truly pause to breathe, I can notice a difference – feelings that come from a deeper place. My mind calms and it becomes easier to tell the difference between the clatter of life’s constant demands (**now with notifications!**) and how I truly want to spend my time and energy, my life. Yes or No becomes a simpler answer, some clarity in the haze.
And guess what – there’s way less that I’m willing to do or truly interested in doing. Which can momentarily feel like failure or slacking off. But don’t worry! You will soon feel the rich rewards of time and energy for a few things you truly love.
You let go of 1000% overdoing in your limited time.
You let go of demands that parade around pretending to be urgent.
You said no when that’s what your heart really wanted, even when your mind was jumping on board.
You didn’t put “Thrive” on your to-do list and treat it like just more things to get done.
You put your little inner DO-er to rest and got some real rest.
You gave yourself a break.
What if.. You trusted it will be ok?
What if… You alloweda slower pace to enjoy a greater quality of being present in your life, with your friends, with your family, with things that truly bring you pleasure and nourish your spirit?
What if… You truly allowed for deep wants to surface? To move within your happy, unique spirit. To rest at ease. To be playful. To have a deliciously full cup from which you pour forth your fabulous energy for everyone to enjoy.
What would you do with yourself?
If you are feeling inspired to explore more of these kinds of questions then check out the 6 week Mindfulness Series called ‘ the deep river within ‘. Buffy will be facilitating along with co-host Laura Williams. Click HERE for more info.
The answer to thequestion ‘What is Love?’ has not come naturally to me. Infactit’s a question I’ve been asking my whole life. In grade 3 on a sunny day waiting with my friends to be picked up from school I asked “How do you know you love your parents?” They responded with confusion. “Of course, you love them, they’re your parents”
But what if they weren’t them? If I would loveanyparentsI happened to have been assigned then what did it mean to lovetheseones? Questions like these have followed me through to this day.
The root of the question is;
When youneedsomeone, when you depend on them, when their actions are what seems to dictate if your life is full of joy or unbearably frustrating, how do you separate out that thing that you don’t have to question, that knowing. That unconditional love that looks like a warm light. The undeniable feeling that floods every cell when you see a baby laugh or are fully immersed in the splendor of the natural world, and feel completely natural in it.
The answer comes back to awareness. To seeing. Ruthless and terrifying as it is to see all those moments when I look at my partner for a bottomless pit of support rather than really seeing him. When I allow myself to feel impatient with my Mother, rather than seeing her shining as she ages more gracefully than I ever would have expected.
When I take myself, my projections, my wants and my striving at set them aside to really be present with another,there is an aliveness, an intimacy, a natural love the springs forward and that’s where life’s magic is hidden. Right under our noses when we are present to our breath, our life and our loved ones. All the in-between moments that make up a life, if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.
Anthony De Mello says in The Way to Love, a small book of meditations…
That love is indiscriminate. Like a rose that smells sweet no matter who is around, like a tree that gives shade freely to whomever comes to sit under it andlikea lamp that gives its light. It shines because it can’t do anything else, it doesn’t shine on some and not others. It radiatesnaturally without effort there is nothing you can “do” or to show this quality of love. It shines no matter what you do, or what other people are doing around you.
Love is absent of selfishness and greed. Love is blissfully unself-conscious. Love loves to love without giving it’s self a thought. Therose gives it scent because there is nothing else to do, it is not dependant on someone being there to express appreciation. Lastly Love is freedom. If there is control or conflict the love dies. Like the tree it doesn’t force you to come useit’sshade, even if you are just out reach getting sunstroke! When we anxiously try to live up to expectations, to gain the approval and praise of others and we expect them to do the same.
It is a topic that sparks a fear of insufficiency. I’ve asked myself “What if I’m not feeling what other people are feeling, what I’m supposed to be feeling”
If you do more than 7 classes per month you can save money by becoming a viva monthly member. Our monthly membership starts the day you purchase it. Being a Viva member means you can go to almost anything in the studio. Excludes private series classes or workshops.
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Our mixed martial arts on Tuesday evenings are family friendly. Bring your kids(over the age of 10)!! Or kids, bring your parents 😉
Girlvana yoga is more than a physical practice. We have real/raw conversations, explore our creative side, and practice getting into our bodies and into the present moment.
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Yoga 101 is the perfect class to try if you’ve never done yoga in your life.
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Modifications and props are not weaknesses. They are necessary for accessibility.
There are so many more significant reasons to move your body that have nothing to do with your appearance. Make your goals what ever you want them to be, but know that you are not a failure if you don’t achieve them.
‘Healthy’ is different for everybody.
We know that life has its ‘lemons’ yet we don’t believe in fixing anyone. Intervention is not our way; loving kindness and connection is.
Unlike a traditional gym model, our studio is not about aesthetics. We are about gathering together to individually honor our bodies, mind, and spirit.
As instructors we are students as much as we are teachers. We are honored to rise up with you not above you.
We offer 27 classes per week. 5 of them are Karma classes.
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Thanks for reading dear ones. We hope you truly find something you love at our studio!
Are you a list-er? Do you jot down lists to keep yourself on track?
Over the last few years I’ve heard people spin a negative vibe around lists & list-makers. Especially in the wellness world. You know the saying “less doing, more being”. They describe lists are too masculine and don’t go with the ebb and flow of life. How lists are linear and puts things in a box. And how they set you up for disappointment.
I even began to despise the ‘lists’ myself especially after one teacher described me as a diligent jackhammer – powering through life one task at a time. But in this busy world I can’t expect to sit around and hope these tasks just complete themselves. First of all I wouldn’t have a job! Secondly, I likely wouldn’t have many people in my life either since parenting involves many daily tasks. These many responsibilities also come with many obligations of ‘doing’. And because of that I get easily distracted, often getting pulled out of the moment from fluctuating priorities that need my attention. I’ll suddenly have a needed grocery item pop into my head as I’m running our son to ball practice, or a reminder about an event will show up on my phone that I need to drop things to get ready for. Life would just be complicated and disorganized if these things didn’t make it to a list. Disappointing people, being late, having to run back to the store because I forgot an ingredient. I mean yes of course these things still happen. I’m not super woman after all. But they certainly would happen more if I didn’t have a list.
Those to-do lists help keep me accountable. They conjure up some determination and commitment. I find myself more diligent at keeping on track and at the end of the day I usually feel good about what I have accomplished. It’s when the list becomes too long or overwhelming that I beat myself up repeatedly for not ticking enough things off – hence my negative attitude. But throwing the lists out all together doesn’t work for me, my life, or my personality either.
I don’t want my life to be overwhelmed by lists though! I need time on those lists for myself — to refuel, to fill my cup. And what about making space for spontaneity too?! Because that’s a huge part of my personality also.
So whats the deal – we can’t survive with or without them?!
Well personally I think we can have lists and enjoy life too.
Here’s some super simple but helpful tips I’ve found more realistic for those everyday to-do type lists: (oh you know I’m going to list them right?!! Hahaha)
1. In no particular order make a long list of everything you can think of that’s in need of ‘doing’.
2. Then shortlist it! Look at the long list and prioritize what would serve your life right now best. Write down separately only the top 5-10 things from the long list with the 1st one being top priority. If they are big tasks or huge priorities then list fewer of them.
3. Then do one thing at a time. ( big eye roll here)! Yeah yeah, I know, I’m famous for multitasking too. Here’s the thing though. How often do you start something, then another thing, and another, and never finish any of it because there’s too much on the go? Or things are done half-assed because you were only able to give part of your attention to 5 different things?
I get it. Some things can’t be finished over-night or can be started without requiring a lot of effort or attention. But the point is we get more accomplished if we are fully present with what we are doing. Life is not all about accomplishments either. I know this. Believe me, I come from many years of believing accomplishments were the only thing that would make me happy. But accomplishments don’t have to be winning a nobel prize either. Maybe one to-do list item is to make a meal for yourself or your family. Pouring my full attention into all aspects of that task. What’s wrong with that accomplishment? Nourishing yourself and or others. Check! Simple, honorable, & purposeful!
4. Re-evaluate your list the next day or week perhaps. Looking at the long list first. Seeing if anything has jumped up the scale in priority or do you need to add more things to it.
5. Repeat step 2 & 3.
So what if there’s a train-wreck of a day and nothing gets ticked off the list?
Of course this is bound to happen. Life throws us lemons after all. But that’s the beauty of trying our best and letting go of the things we can’t control. The sunrises each morning and we are blessed with another chance. So we start over with a new list!
On the bright side, not ALL lists have to be to-do lists!
If someone asked you right now to list your top 5 favorite songs, what would you say?
Need some time to think about it?
I know I would. And maybe you’d surprise yourself with what you came up with. Or maybe there’d be far too many to narrow it down to just 5. Or maybe you have 5 songs that are your favorite when you are in the mood to chill and maybe you have 5 that help you stay motivated during a long run. Or maybe you don’t have time to even think about it!!
The nice thing about listing things not related to necessary tasks is you can learn about yourself. And sometimes that can lead to a slight adjustment on your path’s trajectory. For example listing just 3 things you are grateful for each morning can change your whole mood for the day and perhaps change the direction things are going.
So yes I’m a list-er. But I’ve found that like everything else in life there needs to be balance.
Summer is a time of pure busy-ness for me and my family. We are constantly on the go. More daylight equals more time to do things and subsequently more pressure to find stillness and self-care too. And with a baby arriving here in our household in only a few weeks it’s bound to get even busier.
So in the spirit of officially rolling into Summer this week, I’ve decided to make a commitment to making more non-to-do lists. Yes, haha, another ‘thing’ to-do, but if it helps balance out the ‘to-do’ ones and also provides some insight to my busy life then I see that as a positive. Plus, I’m terrible at being consistent with journaling. So I see the list making as a friendly invitation to turn my lists into more journal entries. If you’re not into journaling or find it a tedious task then this might be just what you need too!
I went out and bought Moorea Seal’s ’52 Lists Project’ book/journal. And this summer I want to share with you on a weekly basis a new non-to-do list from the Summer section. Perhaps you’ll be inspired by the prompt and hopefully take part in the list-making too. The purpose of her book is to help us ‘discover the beauty, joy, creativity, and power’ that already exist in our lives right now.
On Sunday morning for #selfcaresunday I’ll post a new list from her book. I invite you to purchase the book yourself and jot them down with us and/or feel free to share your list on social media with each new post! Hopefully by doing this tiny selfcare act, we will find ways to make each week ‘more thoughtful and vibrant by looking deeply inside to reveal our inner wisdom and confidence!’
Additionally, we can start to find a more positive vibe around ‘lists’ in general. Balancing our non-to-do lists with a short priority based to-do list that helps us stay focused and organized. And perhaps we can find some time to enjoy the feminine ebb and flow of our perfectly imperfect lives while knowing ourselves a little more deeply!
Find a new list prompt starting tomorrow on VivaLaLemon’s Facebook or Instagram account. As always, thanks for reading dear ones!
This is a picture I took last night at a day shy of 22 weeks pregnant. It has no fancy filter. No photoshop. Just a dark room and a flash from the camera. It’s just me – oh naturàl. It felt peaceful to sit there with my eyes closed. In my mind, however, I never pictured it would look this way. After a day of jumping nervously behind a camera with a friend to take some promotional photos with this body I feel so insecure lately about I just wanted to sit and be me, not posing for anyone. Not trying to impress or look a certain way. But….after opening my eyes and seeing how I looked, the harsh voice inside me ripped the photo to a million pieces. Look at the fat bulging over her bra and the belly with stretch marks and rolls, she looks giant and imperfect in many ways. Pointing a finger in disgust like the tabloids in the grocery stores that zoom in and point out the cellulite on a beautiful celebrity’s thigh.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we beat ourselves up and smother it with shame? Why do we compare ourselves to other people? Or younger versions of ourselves? Why does fat offend people soooo damn much? Sure in too large of quantities it can be unhealthy but the mental turmoil people put themselves through because of it can be just as unhealthy. And even when we bargain with ourselves, like ‘okay, I’ll love and respect myself again if I can just get back into my old size 6 jeans.” Or we put conditions around our satisfaction like ‘if only I lose 50 pounds and can wear a bikini to the beach next summer then I’ll be happy.’ Then we catch ourselves looking back at pictures of when those conditions applied and we know deep down we still weren’t completely happy then either. Years upon years of dissatisfaction. Of body shaming.
I have struggled with body image my entire life. I know the struggle of feeling helpless in a body people, especially myself, doesn’t see as ‘pretty’. I’ve hired personal trainers at the gym, I’ve done juice cleanses, and a few dozen different protein shakes and regimens, and even tried diet pills a few times. I have tried listening to the sensible caring advice-givers like my doctor, “just eat less, and exercise more.” Desperate to fit what I think society sees and respects as a beautiful, radiant, healthy woman. Why wouldn’t I, that’s how marketers make us feel. Turn on the tv, walk by billboards in the mall, you see solutions to all your fears – quick fixes for weight-loss, a firming cream that guarantees to hide that pesky cellulite. The ultimate anti-wrinkle cream. The size 2 lululemon pants on the marathon runner who’s barely breaking a sweat. All modeled by tiny, radiant, young, likely photoshopped women. Almost everywhere we turn we are taught to idolize them and in turn shame ourselves for not being like them. This isn’t about taking a right-wing, bleeding heart stance for shaming the people who are happily on a life-changing weight-loss journey either. Or for making people feel guilty about some reconstructive surgery they might of had or Botox injections they invested in. No shame from self-perception is ever helpful in my opinion.
The last few years I thought I had found a better balance of selflove – finally accepting my body as it was, finding a balance between my physical and mental health through what felt like healthier channels. But it only took the development of a growing baby bump and some extra fat around my thighs, and arms, and hips, and boobs, to throw me in a tail spin of insecurity once again. I know I’m growing a sweet baby miracle inside. And I’m beyond grateful to be given that chance again. But it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. It doesn’t mean my practice of selfcare and selflove have given me immunity from my dark patterns of self-destruction. But they certainly have given me the tools to recognize it quicker and the inspiration to embody it and try again and again.
Today is my birthday. 34 years old. 22 weeks pregnant. And I’ve decided to give myself the gift of acceptance once again. To give space to the feelings of shame, to breath through it. To look at myself in the mirror through gentle eyes of love and smile at the beauty of who I truly am on the inside.
In Yoga there’s an ethical concept described in Patanjali’s 8 limbs of Yoga called Santosha. It translates from Sanskrit to mean contentment, satisfaction, acceptance; something I find much easier on my yoga mat without cameras or sight-seers. But a practice I wax and wain struggling with out in life off the mat. And I know so many women and men who struggle with the same thing, the same thoughts, the pattern of comparing. You are not alone!! We are beautiful and radiant in our own ways. And we can love ourselves, and BE loved this way. Together we can support each other as we accept our authentic natural beauty that is alive in each and every one of us right now in this very moment. Unapologetic, unconditioned — the kind of love a mother would give a child. That’s what we need from ourselves. It’s a practice but we are worthy.
I don’t always have time to hit up a 60 minute yoga class everyday. On the other hand if I waited to do yoga until I thought I had time then my body and mind would surely resent me. These 10 poses however are something I do every day. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not even on my yoga mat. But these poses target a little bit of the major parts of the body. It keeps the body flexible especially if it is a few days between a full class. It also keeps my mind in check and decreases the amount of stress I feel on a daily basis. So give it a try.
1. Child’s Pose ~ Balasana
Child’s pose is generally a resting pose. But don’t be fooled. Your hips, thighs, and ankles will still feel a stretch. This pose is great to reclaim your attention to the breath and fill up the upper lungs. It can also be done at anytime during a class when the body needs to ground and re-center or take a break from a difficult pose or sequence.
To do this pose start on your mat knelt down on your hands and knees. Touch your big toes together and then take your knees as wide or as close apart as is comfortable. Exhale and lean your torso down between your knees. There are a few variations you may do with your arms. In this picture I have them stretched out to the front of my mat while gently pushing the front of the mat away to encourage my hips down toward my heels. I also have my elbows lifted with a slight internal rotation in my shoulders. I find when my arms are engaged in this way I get a stretch in my upper back, however in a full resting childs pose I would either allow my elbows to rest on the floor or reach my hands back facing palm up and resting on the mat by my ankles.
2. Cat/Cow ~ Marjaryasana/Bitilasana
Shown in the picture is cat pose. Cat and Cow is often a cycle of two poses that moves with the breath. This cycle helps to awaken and loosen the vertebrae along the spine. It also helps to massage the abdominal organs and to stretch the abdominal, neck, and back muscles.
To do this pose start in a neutral table top position knelt down on your mat on your hands and knees. Cat: As you exhale, begin to round your spine starting from the tailbone and finishing by gently tucking the chin in toward the chest. Imagine a string is attached to your heart and is pulling it through your thorax up to the ceiling. Cow: As you inhale, begin to sink your navel toward the mat starting from the tailbone moving up the spine until you reach the chin where it should be parallel to the floor yet not hyperflexing the cervical spine. Imagine you are dragging the palms of your hands toward your knees without actually lifting them off the mat to engage the rectus abdominus muscle. Move through cat/cow a few times to really warm up the spine.
3. Downward-facing dog ~ Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downdog is a common pose found in yoga practice. It’s benefits are many. As a basic inversion, this pose is great for bringing blood to the brain, allowing you to feel more focused and energized. It also stretches the back, hamstring, and calf muscles as well as strengthens the arms, shoulders and abs. It is a great releif for headaches, menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms. It helps improve digestion and can be therapeutic for high blood pressure and sciatic pain.
Often students have their hands either too far or too close to the feet. To check the proper distance between the hands and feet start your pose off in a high plank. Hands would be directly under your shoulders and your head, neck, shoulders and hips would be in a straight plane with your heels which would be lifted off the mat.
I often get students to start this pose from a table top position. Because the most important alignment in this pose is in the spine, and not so much in the legs, I find students can maintain that alignment easier this way rather than starting off in plank. So while in table-top begin to lift your knees off of the mat a few inches. Then begin to push the front of your mat away from you as you keep the knees bent and begin to straighten the spine. The head should be in-line with the shoulders and the chest should remain open while engaging the muscles around the shoulder blade to squeeze them in and down toward the spine. Once you have found length in the spine then you can begin to straighten the back of the knees being sure not to change the alignment of the pelvis. Encourage the armpit muscles to reach up in the direction of the upper thighs. The heels either touch the ground or not, this is not an important aspect of this pose. However, to encourage length in the backs of the legs begin to pedal the feet back and forth bending one knee and then the other while still pushing the front of your mat away and pulling the navel in toward the spine.
4. Standing Crescent Pose ~ Indudalasana
Aka: Crescent moon pose. This posture is great for stretching the side body and improving balance. A key pose in the moon salutation series, it also strengthens our oblique abdominal muscles and helps get rid of those pesky love handles. Try keeping the hips square and facing forward as you reach with clasped hands first straight up and then over. We have a tendency to splay our hips out to the opposite side our hands are reaching. But you will feel a deeper stretch in the intercostal (rib cage) and latissumus (upper back) muscles if the hips are square over the ankles.
5. Yoga squat ~ Malasana
Malasana is a great hip opener. It also stretches the ankles and groins while stregthening the upper back muscles. To prevent any injury to the knees be sure to always have them pointed in the same direction as your toes.
To do this pose from standing (or mountain) take your feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Then externally rotate your legs so your toes are pointing outward at approximately 45 degrees. Begin to squat down, bending the knees until the torso fits snugly between the thighs. Bring the hands into a prayer position while gently pressing the elbows to the inside of the knee encouraging the groin muscles to stretch open. Then begin to lengthen the spine while finding a balance on the four corners of the feet. Again the heels either touch the floor or not, this is not a major part of the pose. If you find it too difficult to hover your heels off the ground but can not comfortably get them to the ground try placing a rolled towel or a folded mat under the heels. You may also play with the distance between the feet seeing what feels best.
6. High or Low Crescent Lunge with an Arm Bind ~ Anjaneyasana
Shown is high Crescent lunge where the back knee is lifted off of the mat as opposed to a low lunge where the back knee would be resting on the mat. Either one is great for stretching the hip flexors and psoas (posture) muscle. I also like to bind my hands behind my back in this pose to get the added benefit of a heart/chest opener and a slight back bend.
To do this pose, start from standing at the front of your mat and stepping one foot back as far as is comfortable toward the back of the mat. Begin to bend the front knee to a 90 degree angle (or as close to it as possible), while keeping the back heel lifted off of the mat. Engage the the thigh muscles while encouraging the posterior knee of the back leg up toward the ceiling. Be sure not to let the front knee collapse in or outward. That knee should be pointed toward the middle toe. Then clasp the fingers behind the back and gently lift them off of your glutes squeezing the shoulder blades together but trying to keep the tops of the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. With any back bend the tendency is the hyperflex the cervical spine. Although a slight lift in the chin is ok try to keep the bend in the back of the neck to just a gentle curvature.
7. Chatarunga into a Cobra Vinyasa ~ Bhujangasana
Chatarunga’s are great for strengthening the arms and wrists while toning the ab muscles. And cobra is great for stretching the abdominal muscles, bringing heat into the back body, stretching the chest and strengthening the tricep muscles (the back of the arms). Shown above is a low cobra pose. A full vinyasa from plank to cobra usually starts in a high or low plank position. In plank the wrists are directly under the shoulders. Knees can be on the mat. The yogi then lowers the body or torso as a plank to the mat by tucking the elbows into the ribs and engaging the triceps and abdominal muscles. You then end in Cobra by pushing the front of the mat away from you as you gently roll the chest off of the mat beginning at the lower abs and ending at the cervical spine, remembering to keep the chin slightly tucked. While in cobra the pinky toes should be encouraged to the mat allowing the inner thighs to engage upward allowing the legs to slightly externally rotate, yet keeping the glutes engaged. Try to keep the tailbone slightly tucked while allowing the pubic bone to rest into the mat. This pose is less about the height of the torso and more about keeping proper alignment, so if you need to lessen the back bend and keep the chest a little closer to the ground then please do that. It’s your body, you just have to listen to it.
8. Pigeon Pose ~ Kapotasana
A great pose to lengthen the hip flexors and the psoas muscles and to stretch out the glute muscles.
To do this pose start in a table-top position on your hands and knees. Then slide one knee up toward the wrist on the same side. Encourage that shin to move parallel to the front of the mat. Don’t worry if it is not exactly parallel. I have been practicing this pose for years and am still at more of a 45 degree angle. Then begin to slide the back foot toward the back of the mat as you lower the open hip down toward the mat. If there is any strain in the front knee try sliding the back foot closer to the middle of the mat. You can use blocks under your hands to lift the chest higher creating a bit of a back bend and feeling a deeper stretch in the hip flexor — known as active pigeon. Or another variation is to lengthen the spine and then lower the torso to the ground or a bolster to get a deeper stretch in the glute muscle — known as resting pigeon.
9. Two-kneed twist ~ Supta Matsyendrasana
An amazing restorative pose, this two-knee twist helps to eleviate pain and stiffness in the back. It helps stretch the chest, neck, shoulders, spine, and glutes. It’s also thought to help improve digestion, balance our emotions, and clear the sacral chakra – associated with creativity, self-esteem, and sexuality.
To do this pose start by lying on your back. Bend the knees so both feet are planted on the floor. Then bend the knees toward the chest and gently allow them to lower over to the side perhaps even resting on the floor. If you feel pinching in the lower back then slide the knees up closer to the chest. Be sure to keep both shoulders down on the mat. To get a stretch in the neck turn your face in the opposite direction of the knees and take the arms out long at the sides. Feel free to use any props in this pose. Sometimes it feels good to prop a rolled blanket under the knees. Take your time in this pose, allowing the whole body to relax into the twist can take several minutes.
10. Easy Pose ~ Sukhasana
Used in yoga and meditation alike. The benefits of this physical pose include opening the hips, strengthening the back and posture muscles, as well as stretching the knees and ankles. However, there can be many other benefits to this pose depending on what you are doing whilst in it. For example, dhyana, one of the limbs of yoga often happens in this posture. Dhyana also known as meditation helps to decrease stress and enhance mental health and emotional regulation among other benefits. There are many different ways to meditate (I’ll save that for another post) but one I do everyday is breath awareness or mindfulness meditation.
To do this pose simply cross the legs while seated directly on your mat or on a block under your buttocks. I like the block because it helps open the hips more and encourages length in the lower back. For longer stretches of time in this pose I’ll often find a pillow and blanket to sit on instead of a block.
Many of the limbs of yoga can be practiced in this position: Pratyahara – the practice of turning inward while withdrawing from the senses; Pranayama or breathwork such as alternate nostril breathing. Asanas or yoga poses were actually historically done to prepare the body to sit in easy pose longer with more ease and comfort. So try practicing this pose and finding stillness on your mat for that special journey inward.
In all these poses the most important thing to remember is that the look of the pose really doesnt matter all that much. Every body is different. How it feels in the body is most important. Be sure to focus on the breath and try not to let your inner critic make judgements on your practice. When we practice with kindness we allow ourselves to show up just as we are.
I have been doing some deep reflecting the past few weeks as I take shelter from the cold, dark winter nights inside where it’s warm and cozy . Reflecting mostly on the year that’s passed since it has been coming to an end. I thought about where I was this time last year. How I’ve changed. How things have changed. And the biggest change I can conclude from this year overall is: my spirituality. My faith in something bigger than me. Than all of us.
Let me explain a little.
You see I have waxed and wained between my love and resentment for the Universe my whole life. Source. Spirit. Whatever you want to call ‘IT’. I was a true skeptic. It’s funny, I was born into a Christian family. Ukranian catholic on one side and Protestant on the other to be specific. I went to catechism and learned plenty about the bible. I had my first communion and as a young adult I was confirmed into the catholic church. It still wasn’t good enough for me though. I had questions. I wasn’t convinced. I new it was a ‘sin’ to even question it. But spiritually I felt lost and empty. I never felt like I truly belonged there, inside of the church, praying to someone I questioned existed. But it also felt a little safe. There were, after-all, a lot of people that believed it all to be something big, long before my parents and their parents were even born. So I kept myself to the sidelines not speaking much of my inner struggle. But the waxing and waining continued well into my adulthood. I was so confused by what I wanted in life. And had no idea who I was down deep. Or where I wanted to go, do, or be. I felt insecure and scared. Then add a patchy spirituality on top of it all. Man, no wonder I was a train wreck!
Two summers ago I was introduced to meditation and mindfulness. It was simply one of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever undertaken. If you knew my type-A personality you’d understand. I’ve never been one to sit still and just feel. I became very interested in learning more about it and was introduced to some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and the Buddhist lineage. I began to feel more open about spirituality in a different way. Not that meditation is spiritual for everyone. But it’s crazy the things that would come up for me during those times of stillness. It was a struggle. But it had me coming back for more at the same time. I could see some similarities on my yoga mat. The feeling of oneness. The feeling of being a tiny spec in this giant galaxy and yet big enough to make waves.
Needless to say I was curious. So I decided to sign up for a 200 hour intensive yoga teacher training (YTT) to learn more about the philosophy and understand more about Yoga beyond the mat.
YTT was life changing. I’ve never met a more open honest group of like-minded inspirational people in all my life. We were all so very different, yet all very much the same. I had many ‘ah-hah’, personally transforming, positive spirituality-inducing moments in those four weeks. Let me be clear it was not all sunshine and rainbows, sun salutations and cute Namastè bows. It was open, raw, can’t-hide-anything-but-nice-try kind of an emotional rollercoaster. From crying to laughing to holding side planks for what seemed like an eternity. It was epic. In fact my words could not possibly do it justice. The funny thing is, I never actually went into that training hoping to teach after, but when I left with my certificate in-hand I knew without a doubt that I wanted to share yoga and it’s philosophy with the world.
And that was how the year began to magnificently unfold. All with Viva la Lemon, this little sprout of a wellness company I had created.
And even though it grew more into a communal journey, my personal life continued to transform along side.
As my first backyard Summer yoga session started coming to an end, a close friend of mine was admitted to the palliative care floor at the hospital. He had been battling cancer for months.
I remember literally feeling my heart break for him and his family as we watched them bravely fight for his life.
It was an emotional time, but almost every day or at least every few days I’d try to visit. Most of the time the conversation was light but at times it became deep, as I’m sure it does with anyone who is faced with such a battle. We talked about our dreams. He talked about his plans of retirement and traveling the world with his beautiful wife. I talked about my dream of having another child. And sometimes our conversations would be about spirituality. And I remember not feeling so lost about it. Feeling like Yoga, the Buddhist lineage, and everything else I’d been learning about in that regard gave me a sense of peacefulness or clarity. I shared this with him as I stayed at his bedside one night in hospital. About a week later him and his wife asked me and a good friend of mine to speak together at his funeral. I was both honored, crushed with sadness at the thought of his funeral, and terrified of speaking all at the same time. But of course I said I would love to.
A month or less later I remember being at this meditation gathering at a girlfriends house. She had invited a special guest to perform sound healing with his traditional drums and Tibetan singing bowls. I had spoken to the guest before class about my friend who had terminal cancer and about speaking at his funeral. His eyes welled up as I poured my fears out to him asking for advice.
He simply reached down into his pocket and gently placed this smooth crystal obsidian rock in the palm of my hand. He said he wanted me to keep it and to blow all of my fears into the crystal and then place it outside in a special area on the earth for it to be cleansed. The critic in my head thought he was crazy. Another part of me felt my shoulders become 10x lighter. So then we sat in meditation as he guided us through a few different sound healing techniques. At one point he had us imagine a part of our body that needed healing. He began to rhythmically beat a traditional drum made of hide. I immediately focused on my womb. I wanted a baby so bad I thought more than anything that’s what needed healing. Still holding the crystal in my hand I moved it over my lower abdomen and with every beat of the drum I felt a heartbeat inside of me there. I kid you not. It was profound. It moved me to tears. I went home that night and did exactly what he told me to do with the crystal. The next morning I went outside and picked it up and placed it in my bra next to my heart. I kept it there everyday.
A week later I ended up in the hospital. The sickest I’ve ever been. And nobody at the time could explain why. I have never been so frustrated in all my life. I had just started a new nursing position in public health. I had just started a new fall session of yoga. I was so pissed, it could not have come at a more inconvenient time. Not that being sick is ever convenient. But it took me to a dark place. I tried to focus on one good thing. That good thing was that I got to see my friend Chris on the palliative floor more! That was literally the only good thing because he was getting much worse. The last thing he ever said to me as I was giving my usual hug goodbye was, “Will you come back?” “Of course!”, I replied. But when I did come back the next day, he didn’t speak…he just breathed. His eyes were closed. He looked comfortable. That evening people began to gather at his bedside. We sobbed and held hands as his breathing became more irregular and labored. We prayed with Joe, one of the kindest spiritual care guys I’ve ever met. And then we all watched Chris take his last breath as his soul began to transcend into nirvana. And in that moment, I felt this overwhelming energy of pure peacefulness wash over me. I can’t explain it fully but the energy in that room took my breath away. I think each and every one of us was meant to be there. The universe planned it that way. There was something bigger than all of us in that room that night and although it was comforting to know he was no longer suffering it also crushed us with sadness that he was gone.
I still had the obsidian Crystal on me that night. I pulled it out and laid it on Chris’s chest as I said goodbye. It was beautiful really. I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful passing.
The next few days were awful. Trying to get myself discharged from hospital and back home so I could grieve in the comfort of my own home. I had so many anxiety attacks during those few days leading up to his funeral. I called a friend I’d recently met to come help me calm down. She is a retired nurse and was into healing touch and energy work. She gladly drove out to my home to meet me. She did her thing. And although she touched my skin very little it was as if she was massaging my aching heart deep inside. And when she finished, she tucked me onto my couch and placed a cool cloth on my forehead. As she gently pulled her hand away she said in this incredibly soft voice, ‘my dear, are you expecting?’ I burst into tears. And she placed her hand back on my head smoothing down my hair and shushing me like a mother would her child. Reaching down to give me a big hug, I said, “No, but I have been trying for years.” She smiled with this bright shiny twinkle in her eye and said, ‘no worries darling you will be soon.’ I had no idea how she could possibly know that but I tried to take comfort in her belief anyway.
So I went to the funeral. I said my piece and celebrated my dear friends life. And back to work I went while teaching yoga three times per week.
Yoga classes got pretty deep at times as I opened up and shared little pieces of my soul with my dear yogi family. It was quite liberating actually and sometimes I’d fear they’d never show back up again knowing of my truths. But thankfully I didn’t scare too many of them away.
Over the next month or so I happened to get in for some much anticipated fertility tests/procedures with my obstetrician. After going through some seriously uncomfortable hoops I remember sitting in the OB’s office with white knuckles waiting to hear the news. He walked in and told me he couldn’t find a single thing wrong with either one of us. So he wrote another prescription for yet a different medication and told me to come back in 6 months if I still wasn’t pregnant at which point he would consider sending me for possible invitro. I walked out of that appointment feeling completely defeated. I got into my car and roared out of the parking lot. At the first red light I hit my steering wheel with my fist and burst into tears. I looked up at the sky and yelled, “What do you want from me Universe, do you want me to conceive again or not!!!??? Just fricken tell me what you want!!!!!”. Then I drove all the way home wiping tears from my face.
The next weekend was a new moon. I felt terrible. I was arguing with my husband, I was irritable with our son. But I just blamed the moon. I’ve learned over the years that it makes me crazy. I’m one of those people. So needless to say I went to bed feeling absolutely miserable. The next morning I woke up at 5am. I felt so sick. I paced the house a little seeing if it would go away then crawled back into bed to read about what that particular new moon was all about anyway. Creation it said; this moon was all about creating something new. It occurred to me that I was a day late of getting my period. I literally ran to the bathroom to take a pregnancy test. And what do you know, it was positive. I cried and jumped for joy. And as I laid in bed with this giant grin on my face I immediately thought of Chris. Not many people knew of my struggles… but he did! I thought if anyone would send me an angel from up there in the arena it would be him. The thought of that gave me goosebumps.
A couple weeks later I got a txt from my healing touch friend. She asked when I was due. I literally dropped my phone and held my breath as chills went down my spine. How could she know something like that? Only two people knew of my news.
I can’t explain it but I’ve never felt so… freaked out and spiritual all at the same time. The energy or whatever it is; life force; its all around us. I felt it. I believe it. And I get it now. The universe has a grand plan. It’s why shitty things happen to good people and vice versa. Its why things just can’t be explained. It’s why we are all here. To find our purpose. To live our life to the fullest.
I think of my friend Chris a lot. I thank him a lot too. I think of this tiny life growing inside of me and how blessed I am. All the tragic things that have happened in this world lately have taught me to trust the process and that life is simply precious. To love those who are in my life and to not sweat the small stuff so much. He taught me that saying goodbye isn’t really saying goodbye at all. That this world only leads to the next and that the universe knows exactly what to do. This year has taught me many, many things. Once again it will be a year I never forget. Spiritually more grounded and surrounded by people I love with all my heart in this perfectly imperfect life, I say thank you Universe – thank-you!
So here’s to universal love that lives in and around each and every one of us no matter what we choose to believe and no matter what kind of situation we may find ourselves in. May this new year be full of moments that inspire and deeply move each of you!! Much love ♡
If you have been thinking of doing yoga but are apprehensive or nervous then embrace those feelings and give this a read. If you have been practicing asana (poses) at home but are interested in finding deeper connections to the ancient practice then give this a read. Yoga truly is for everyone. Here are 6 reasons you should consider practicing yoga with Viva La Lemon.
• Nicole is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT, 200 hr) who received her training from a Yoga Alliance Certified School receiving certification in Hatha Yoga. • Nicole also has a certificate in 'Core Strength Vinyasa' (CSV, 25 hr) Yoga and enjoys being a student of yoga through her own daily practice. Additionally, Nicole enjoys attending a variety of different styles of yoga sessions in the area. • With over a decade of experience in the health care world as a nurse, Nicole is very knowledgeable of the human body including anatomy, physiology, and even pathophysiology. She also has a deep passion for wellness and self-care.
2: Grounded in Yoga Philosophy
• Nicole has a way of taking ancient Yogic teachings and applying them to modern day life. • Nicole uses the 8 limbs of Yoga to facilitate her classes and encourages the learned experiences to transcend out into our daily lives off of the mat.
• Nicole encourages students to stay sensitive and vitally aware of their body. Ahimsa, the first Yama or yogic ethical principle, means non-violence. Nicole helps bring awareness of the body's limitations and promotes ahimsa; yet encourages curiosity in opening body, mind, and spirit more deeply in poses. • No two bodies are the same, therefore no two poses should look the same. Nicole encourages students to find relevance to each pose on their mat moving them along with verbal cues, offering variations or modifications along the way. She promotes a caring, safe, non-judgemental environment where each student is celebrated. • Nicole makes space for students to stop along the path at anytime and work their edge. Nicole's deepest desire as a facilitator is for each student to seek and find their truth, their growth, and their full expression each day.
• Nicole believes in the power of connection, union, and community. • Yoga is a Sanskrit word which widely translates to union. This has many meanings in yoga. However, Nicole believes that yoga unites the mind-body connection with Divine source through the practice of the 8 limbs of yoga. • In Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras (3rd century B.C.E.) – considered to be one of the core texts of yoga – he begins with a simple sentence: Atha yoganusasanam. This is translated as 'in the present moment is the teaching of yoga' or more technically: 'now', not later, but right here in the present moment begins the instruction on Yoga, as laid down by the ancient sages, that is available to everyone. It means that anyone who wants to can begin the path of Yoga. Which is why Nicole is so adamant that yoga is for every body! That by connecting to the present moment anyone can benefit from yoga, helping everyone live their best life. • Even though yoga is so much about going within, and connecting with our center, building connections both on and off the mat is Nicole's vision. Following class Nicole encourages students to introduce themselves to one another. Enjoy a cup of warm tea or cold refreshing infused water (depending on the class location). Having a short visit connecting with other students begins to spread positivity and that deeper inner connection with the present moment outward off of our mats. Of course there is no obligation to stay.
• Students have many personal reasons for practicing yoga. Yoga is not a cure for the multitude of ailments out there or a quick weight-loss fix but it helps bring wellness and healing into your life when you practice with ahimsa. Bringing both mental and physical health to the body, mind, and spirit; you will be sure to find what you are looking for. • Svadhyaya, or self-study, is about knowing our true Self and understanding the boxes we are trapped in. This process of knowing ourselves, and the boxes that adorn us, creates a pathway to freedom. "Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness and greatness." — C. Lewis • The 5th Niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana, which means to surrender. Nicole reminds us that life knows what to do better than we do. Through devotion, trust, and active engagement students can receive each moment with an open heart. Rather than walking against the current, surrendering is an invitationto move with the current, enjoy the ride, take in the view and feel well.
6: Authentic & Personable
• Nicole has been practicing yoga for 4 years. She is not affiliated with big marketing companies or big yoga studio chains. She brings her own understanding of the ancient practice of yoga to small rural communities in south-western Manitoba. She also adds other special touches of wellness to her class such as use of essential oils, healing crystals, soothing music and energy purifying smudges. • At a Viva La Lemon class you will find Nicole to be approachable and personable. She does her best to cater to individual needs. She also offers private sessions to those who are interested in a more tailored practice. • Nicole isn't interested in changing anyone. She believes in embracing our authentic selves, encouraging students to be unapologetically themselves in the present moment. "Everyone is perfectly imperfect in their own ways, when life throws us lemons, we embrace it and still find love and grace for our one precious life" — Nicole Barclay
We would love to see you out at a Viva La Lemon class. Check out the yoga page for upcoming classes.
In my twenties I despised running. Actually what I probably dreaded most was cardiovascular training. Ugh! That word, ‘cardio’, still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The thought of sweat stinging my flushed face as I struggle to catch my breath. Just something I did not look forward to. But after the birth of our son, I was atleast 20kgs overweight. At first the love and care for my newborn stole my heart and attention but as the year went on my negative attitude toward my body only grew. Looking at myself in the mirror was like a scene from a horror movie; I closed my eyes and tried to avoid looking at the scary parts. My selflove and confidence went to an all-time low. So my type-A personality and I began looking for solutions.
I started as I often do by looking around (and comparing) to the people I knew at what worked for them. A couple of family members were into running but that was a big ‘no way’ for me. There was absolutely no way I could run for more than a minute let alone finish a 5k without dying! But thankfully there were local friends who took part in a bootcamp and had lost a lot of weight and looked amazing and had the confidence boost I was looking for. So off I went to get my butt kicked by a professional body builder. It worked. Temporarily. I lost some weight. I felt a little more comfortable in my own skin but it hit a plateau. I became frustrated with all the hard work especially while trying to juggle my career and a family and getting absolutely nowhere. So it petered off.
I began to wonder if it wasn’t my body image that was causing so much disharmony as other aspects of my life. I took a step back and realized I felt extremely unhappy in my current job position. More than half of all my shifts were nights. Since sleeping habits change as you become a new parent my ability to sleep properly after a nightshift became a huge problem. Money was constantly a stressor. I felt unempowered in my place of work. I felt stuck! With no chance of change if I didn’t upgrade my education. I began to think that if I got a better ‘job’ and made more money, that maybe then I could afford to spend more time on my body image which in turn would make me feel happier.
So off to school I went. Adding even more to my plate as ‘student’ became another responsibility. As the stress compounded so did my weight and further unhappiness with body image. I kept reminding myself of the end goal. Finish school first, worry about my body later. I kept repeating that over and over as I’d toss back an energy drink and a bag of chips at 2am while studying for another exam the next morning. It was no surprise really that my health took a major downward spiral. At age 28 I was hit by the metaphorical 2×4 when my doctor had to prescribe a medication for my blood pressure that was out of control. Talk about a wake-up call.
I couldn’t keep ignoring my health. It couldn’t sit on the back burner any longer. Fear became a motivating factor. On my summer break before the final year of my degree program I made some huge changes. I completely cut out meat from my diet. And refined sugar. And basically anything processed. I tried to stick to a raw diet and started walking every day. As the weight melted off that summer I began to feel like my body could handle more. As a broke student, mother, wife etc. I knew I could not afford a fancy gym membership or private trainer or bootcamp session. I had to find something I could do from home.
Running crossed my mind again. And since I was desperate to get my health back I figured I had nothing to really lose. I found a running app for free and started a couch to 5k program with no real intention of actually running a 5k race. Except the body is a fascinating machine. The more it is used the better it runs. So naturally running became easier. I kept it slow. I kept it do-able. After awhile it became an addiction. There really is such a thing as a runner’s high. Haha that was something I always found myself rolling my eyes at whenever I heard anyone talking about it. But it’s the real deal. The endorphins kept me motivated enough to sign up for my first 5k race. The second I crossed that finish line I wanted to sign up for another one. I no longer needed medication for my blood pressure. The 5k goal turned into a 10k one. And as if that wasn’t enough, I wanted to run it by my 30th birthday, just a little over 5 months way.
So I finished my first 10k race. It was 2 months after I turned 30.
I’m proud of my accomplishment. But I’m not proud of the conceited, over-confident, self-destructive attitude it rendered. My family took a backseat to my priorities. I was doing things with my new healthier body that I wanted to do and could do for a change. But deep down inside I still felt lost. Even though I felt healthy. I was not. Not in a holistic way, that was for certain.
Because I didn’t see it that way I pushed harder. I signed up with a running trainer and was forcing my body to the point of pain. Determined as ever, I would find a quick fix from a massage therapist, chiropractors, or acupuncturists just to get back out on the trail again. I dumped piles of money I didn’t have into custom orthotics and fancy running accessories. I became so attached.
Until one morning I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed.
I literally had so much pain in my hip I couldn’t walk, or sit, or lie down. I was crying in pain and ended up in the emergency department where I was diagnosed with hip flexor tendonitis. So needless to say I was cut off of running for weeks. Just like that. I was so freaking angry. How could something like that happen?!! I was finally getting the body I wanted, down 30 pounds, off bp meds. It wasn’t fair. But it was a sign. Looking back I’m grateful for it.
I spent those three weeks caring and mending my aching body. Not because I wanted to but because I didn’t really have a choice. I found a youTube video called ‘Yoga for Runners’. It was impossible. I remember watching the screen and thinking ‘you want me to put my foot where?’ My body was so inflexible. So I figured I should start with the basics. I found another video that was a little more suitable for my current body condition and gave that a try. I remember laying flat on my back and stretching my arms overhead and feeling my entire back clench up in a gut-retching spasm. Wow! 30 years old and it felt like I had the body of a stiff 90 year old. (I mean that in the kindest way). I remember laying there in the meditation part of the video not being able to have an in-breath for the count of 8 and thinking that was so ridiculous. Downward dog; as if they called that a resting pose!!! I never considered stretching before a run. Or any exercise for that matter, let alone holding a certain position for more than 30 seconds even during my brief post-run stretches. Needless to say, I was a huge skeptic.
I have never been a sit still kind of person. Type-A, adrenaline junkie, to-do list expert. I’m always on the go physically and mentally. So at the time yoga seemed to be a good counter-balance. I accidentally fell into yoga unintentionally but it could not have come at a better time. I stuck with it and eventually I was able to do that ‘Yoga for Runners’ video. Once I was able to get back to running I felt much more resilient. My obsession with running faded and quite frankly I was scared of injuring myself again. It came as no surprise when I read the statistics that over 60% of all runners will injure themselves at least once. I had only been running for less than 2 years and was already a statistic. So I quit being so hard on myself and just tried listening to my body. I began running for the fun of it. It didn’t matter if I ran 2k or 10k. When something started to hurt or cease up I would just ease back a little. I tried focusing on my intention in the beginning which was to just get healthy again. That didn’t mean I needed to go out and run every 10k race that came up in the area. Don’t get me wrong for some people having that goal in mind is great motivation but not injuring myself became more important than a metal or a new personal record.
Not surprisingly my love for yoga grew. I started attending a local hatha beginners yoga class one night a week. I could feel the benefits in my body. What surprised me more was the benefit I felt on my mind – my frantic consciousness. The holistic wellness approach was much needed. I became more and more curious. Like I had opened up the door to a whole new world. Once I learned that yoga was more than just the poses, that it truly was a lifestyle – I became hooked.
Several years later I find myself teaching both my passions. Running and Yoga. I will forever remain a student of both these practices. Additionally, I have the humble honor of sharing them with others who are interested in selfcare. Running and Yoga support each other just as the mind supports the body. In my world, one can’t survive without the other. As my practice grows deeper I am able to develop that stronger sense of inner peace not just because of the physical benefits but because of the benefit it has in all aspects of my life. Harmony really can exist in all the chaos life has to offer. Those moments when you are out on an early morning run: you hear the sounds of nature, feel the movement of your breath, and your body is gliding along the trail. When there is no finish line, no competition, no membership or fancy equipment, no pain, no thoughts, no to-do lists just you and the road ahead. When the body, mind, and spirit are in pure equilibrium – those are the exact moments I cherish for the rest of the day. Essentially that is yoga. A state of being in the doing. In yoga the whole point of doing the poses or asana, a very western focus, is to prepare the body for meditation. Which is often how people become introduced to yoga. And the whole point in doing meditation is to find enlightenment or self-realization, liberation, moksha, or awakening. It is not just something you do for an hour on your mat but rather a practice for everyday life. Of course this is very simplified. It is no easy process. But it is a process, one that takes time and effort, a certain appreciation, and patience for the unraveling. It’s not a self-help, quick-fix fitness program. It’s a way to find inner peace and acceptance for the self and the world around us. “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” (Bhagavad Gita).
This is why I love being a student and teacher of Yoga. To spread this ancient, incredibly life-changing practice and hopefully have an impact on others as I move through this sometimes chaotic yet beautiful world. From running to yoga to my vocation as a nurse: both the practice and promotion of selfcare and wellness — that is what gives me purpose and meaning. For what is the goal of life if not to share and connect and to love and create peace. To live awake in the perfectness of the imperfect. “The purpose of this glorious life is not simply to endure it, but to soar, stumble and flourish as you learn to fall in love with existence. We were born to live my dear, not to merely exist” – Becca Lee
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” – Buddha.
I once believed that the act of self-love was just the same as narcissism. I have come to understand the difference. And I can clearly see now that they are nowhere near the same. I think most of us know that narcissism manifests from arrogance. It usually stems from envy and then in turn encourages others to feel envious. Narcissists have grabby hands and want to pull others down in an effort to feel superior. Self-love, on the other hand, is way more personal. It does not involve others. Pure self-love encourages positive self-esteem but still this is very different from a narcissistic attitude. Self-esteem illuminates humility and accepts equality. It leads to the perception that all humans are of equal value. That nobody is superior or inferior (Firestone, 2012).
I once believed that proving your worth was more important than loving one’s self. That somehow quantifying my perceived value and using that as motivation to better myself was acceptable. But what standards was I striving for? Honestly. Every. Single. Day. I catch myself in this trap. Who makes these standards? I suppose our society as a collective does. It’s a communal effort we have all been a part of. As children we grow up learning the values, morals, and standards within our social circles. So nobody is really to blame. And we grow up either feeling good about meeting these standards (For example: big house, fancy car, important job, body thinner and firmer than a two-by-four) or they can be so unrealistically attainable for the average person that our self-esteems are crushed making us feel small and unworthy (Firestone, 2012).
“Feeling good about yourself as a person and acceptable for who you are allows you to move through your life with a sense of purpose [and meaning]. The acknowledgment that our physical selves all share the same fate (one day merely a container of organic matter), that our time on earth is fleeting; we accept that reality which gives each action more weight, each moment more poignancy”(Firestone, 2012). Radical acceptance of ourselves and our fellow human beings just as we are – that is self love in its purest form.
My struggle with self-love is real. It happens every day. Some days are worse than others. But this is not new to me. Growing up I was continually guided by my inner critic; callously harassed, judged, and bantered. I just assumed I was flawed. Never really measuring up to society’s or my inner critic’s standards. And of course my mind would continuously scan for proof of this. A walk through the playground as a young girl had all kinds of proof. ‘See she said your hair is frizzy, you must be flawed,’ my critic would say. So then I would try everything I could to smooth down my frizzy curls before school the next day. But it never stopped, something else would come up as substandard in comparison to ‘the rest of society’ which lead to a driving force of fervently trying to do better, trying to fit in, to be accepted by others. Always seeking approval from the strong inner critic. I tried desperately to avoid the pain from lack of self-love but in reality kept creating more of it; the wounds only grew deeper. Becoming addicted to the need to feel accepted. The constant seeking of approval continued to grow even throughout my adult years.
What I didn’t really figure out until recently is that we have a choice to stop comparing, to stop listening to the inner critic, to stop the shaming of ourselves. A choice to accept ourselves and life just as it is. When we take responsibility and ownership; “when we practice radical acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world” (p. 24,Tara Brach, 2004). And what a sweet breath of fresh air that freedom brings. We don’t ever need anyone’s permission to love who we are, just the way we are. We don’t need permission to accept where we are in life. We don’t need anyone else’s acceptance except our own. It’s not to say we don’t keep striving for our dreams if they will truly serve our dharma. But to prevent suffering it is important to let go of the attachments to the outcomes.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” And I often wonder if attachments cause fear, anger, suspicion, etc. Our grabby hands clinging on to something with white knuckles – perhaps our attachment to looking a certain way, or being with a certain person, our attachment to our jobs or the white picket fences – the minute these ‘things’ are pulled from our little finger tips we experience anger, fear, hatred, resentment, etc. and this is what truly causes suffering, not the physical act of letting go itself. “ Letting go of the various forms around us. Letting go of our obsession with ‘stuff’, with ‘looks’, with the ‘acheivements’ – we can get a glimpse of ‘the most important dimension of human existence: the sacred, the stillness, the formless, the devine”( Eckhart Tolle, 2006).
Last year at a retreat, we spent basically the entire weekend working on an intention, also known as a mantra, vow, or in yoga – a sankalpa. It took countless hours unfolding the layers to discover what our own personal intention would eventually look like, constantly questioning and searching deeper. On day one I thought I wanted to find more spark in my life, to stop living and feeling like a zombie. But that was just a superficial layer of wanting to feel more appreciated. Which was just a superficial layer of wanting to feel loved. And by day three as we worked all the way back to our childhood, past the ego, the senses, the conditioning, when those feelings of lack first started, what I discovered is that all I really needed was my own unconditional love. That the suffering I feel now was really from a lack of loving ME even as a child.
So my intention became to love myself unconditionally. And later my sankalpa became “I am loved unconditionally.” This took a long time of self-reflection, of turning inward, of listening to my hearts deepest yearning. And even a year later, I find my inner critic looking for ways to prove my higher self wrong. But with daily practices I am able to slowly break down the brick wall of defense. And as I am able to love myself easier, peace and equanimity are slowly beginning to settle in to my core. As my compassion grows for myself from an authentic place I have this deep sense of wanting to share. Because maybe the whole world could use just the same. More love, compassion, acceptance. I truly hope I can give back in this regard. To promote radical acceptance of self. To encourage seeing the beauty of our authentic being, just as it is. Even just in some small way, whether through teaching yoga, writing these blogs, or just saying outloud – “Me too!
So to you my dear friend’s – choose love. Even when it feels impossible. Don’t hold yourself hostage; give yourself permission to live whole-heartedly in love with yourself. This you deserve. “Know that you do not need to effort to be loved or accepted for anything other than what you are. You are allowed to feel; you are allowed to BE as you so simply, perfectly are” (Sarah Blondin).