Tip Tuesday: Celebrating Success in Your Yoga Practice

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

The other day I had my students practicing crow pose. For most of us, this is a pose that comes in stages before we can balance in the full pose. Everyone was trying so hard and I got very excited when many of them began to “get” the pose. But I noticed a pattern. Anytime the students made progress in the pose, they almost immediately would negate their achievement. I congratulated one student who got the hang of the alignment and managed to get both feet off the ground for a second before falling out. She was happy about it, but added, “Yeah, but I still have so far to go.”

How many times have you degraded your progress in your yoga practice? “I’m not good at this pose.” “Well, I got further today, but I doubt I’ll ever get the whole pose.” “I should have gotten it already.” Or when you land the full pose, “Well, it sure took me forever to finally do it.”

When we diminish our progress we also successfully diminish our desire to keep practicing. When you only look at the balancing pose you fell from, your hands not reaching your toes, and all those poses you should’ve been able to do by now if only you were a better yogi, you’ll dread getting on the mat. Without looking at the wins in your practice, it can just seem like a daunting race where you can’t keep up and eventually want to avoid all together.

However, when you start looking for the successes in your practice, the practice inevitably starts to be more enjoyable. Success is motivating. It gives us hope and the energy to keep trying.

Shifting our perspective to focus on our small wins and celebrating our success is a process of breaking our habitual self-negation. There are ways you can start to make the shift:

Begin to look for your wins. Find the successes, however small, however insignificant you think they are. Perhaps you held an arm balance, even if it was only for a second. Maybe your hip opened up another 1/4 inch. Or that pose that’s usually hard for you felt easier. Take a moment and breath that positive feeling of success into your body.

Focus on one instruction at a time. Instead of thinking of the full pose, focus on each smaller component. “Inhale, lift chest. Exhale, draw tailbone down. Relax the neck.” Taking the pose one cue at a time helps you stay present and get curious about what each component in the pose does for you.

When you do make that quantum leap, celebrate! Rather than lamenting how long it took you to get there, take pride in all the conscious efforts you made again and again to get there. And feel how good it feels when you do pick both feet up and fly.


Don’t Do List

To-Do Don’t Do List

I just got through reading Chris Guillebeau’s terrific book: The Art of Non-Conformity. The book is full of practical tips not just for having a non-conventional job, but for living a meaningful life regardless of what work you do.

Time, or rather, the lack of it, is one of the biggest challenges people often complain about or use as an excuse to not do something. In his book, Chris explores ways you can make time in your day for things that are important. One tip he suggests is making a “Don’t Do” list. Make a list of things that you do that drain your energy and do not contribute to your well-being or how you want to live your life.

Of course, there are some draining tasks (i.e. washing the dog, paying bills, etc.) that you won’t be able to drop from your life. However, aim for finding 3-5 things on your list that you can eliminate.

Some possible things that might be on your list

  • Constantly checking email
  • Watching a TV show you don’t really care about
  • Unproductive meetings
  • A volunteer commitment you do not enjoy

Here’s a few on my Don’t Do List that I’m working to eliminate (or at least cut back on):

  • Mindlessly surfing the internet
  • Staring into my closet trying to decide what to wear
  • Trying to stay current on reading numerous blogs and email newsletters

So in the last week, I’ve been doing a few things to help with my not doing. I unsubscribed to a number of email newsletters that I either don’t read or just aren’t particularly pertinent or useful to me. For the newsletters I do get, I set up a filter in my email to send these newsletters directly into a “newsletters” folder and skip my inbox. When I have time to catch up on some reading, I can go to the folder and read then. Similarly, I went into my Google Reader, where I have a list of blogs I read and eliminated many from the list and put the ones I read most often at the top of my list.

The closet indecision? Going through my clothes and giving things I no longer wear nor want to Goodwill helped, as did organizing my drawers a bit so I can easily see my options.

For me, the hardest on the list is limiting my internet time. One technique suggested by many people is to set a timer for internet time. For example, set the clock for thirty minutes to check email and after that, closing your email and moving on to the next task. Another strategy I try when I have writing or other non-internet-related computer work is to work at a cafe and purposely not sign on to the wifi so I’m not tempted by the distraction of Facebook or the latest tweets coming in. It’s an ongoing challenge for sure–I easily can fall back into the internet time-suck!

This not-doing is often a lot harder than the to-do list, but it is pretty humbling to see how much time I spend on things that don’t really matter. Yet it’s incredibly satisfying to simply consciously drop doing something. It’s freeing to know that nothing will happen if I miss reading an article or two or don’t respond to an email for a couple of more hours. Best of all, there is more time in my day for the dos and the simply being.


One Honey of a Purpose

When I was a kid, I loved dancing around to music. I had several Disney records as well as a beloved Strawberry Shortcake album (the latter was even strawberry in color and hit a particular nerve in my parents with its high-pitched singing. Much to their chagrin, I loved it). I carefully choreographed dance routines in addition to my freeform interpretive dance.

My grandmother, Honey, came over one day. We always called my Dad’s mother Honey because years ago my oldest cousin had overheard my grandfather calling her “honey”, and started calling her Honey too. The name stuck.

Honey watched my inspired dance moves and then looked over to me and asked, “Did you create that dance all by yourself?”

I nodded, positively bursting with pride.

“Wow”, said Honey. “I can’t believe you created that beautiful dance all by yourself.”

Needless to say, I was floating on cloud nine. I danced on, certain that it was only a matter of time before I was on Broadway.

Honey had this special way of making you feel like you were the center of the universe. She had fun touches that made things special, whether it was serving us milk in fancy goblets or giving us presents that had lots of little gifts within one box. Her manner always instilled in me a feeling of my own greatness.

We lost Honey all too early to a heart attack. I was only eight at the time, but I always remembered Honey’s admiration of my dancing.

This memory fuels what I like to think of as my purpose for how I want to be in the world. I love that as a yoga teacher, I have the opportunity to help students achieve that feeling of their own greatness by nailing a challenging pose or realizing their progress in the practice. Whether it’s through teaching yoga, hanging out with friends, or even just in the small everyday interactions with the sales clerk or the person in the elevator with me, I strive to add a little brightness to each person’s day.

I definitely fall short of this all the time (that four-letter word I uttered at the car in front of me in traffic comes to mind, as does last night’s grumpy complaining to my husband). However, when I’m feeling particularly cranky or negative, it helps me a lot to re-focus back to my purpose. When I reconnect to my purpose, it ends up making me feel better. I feel more creative too, as one pleasant interaction gets me thinking of another way I might be able to add something positive to someone’s day.

Today is the anniversary of Honey’s death. I still miss her, but noting this date reminds me of the purpose she inspired.

A picture I took of Honey and my family when I was about five. I was very proud of my picture-taking skills.

What’s your purpose? What helps you stay connected to it?

Ana Forrest Intensives Day 1: Show Up and Breathe

Being sick was not how I envisioned starting off a week of morning intensives with my teacher Ana Forrest. In fact, I was pretty concerned the day before about whether I’d be able to do it. What I’d hoped was just a day or two of sniffles had turned into a full-blown bug. “All you need to do is show up and breathe,” I reminded myself. “All you need to do is show up and breathe.”

While blowing your nose after every other pose and holding off hacking attacks during forward bends isn’t the ideal way to experience a yoga intensive, it does have its lessons. Ana always says that “injuries are our greatest teachers.” If I extend that to having a cold, being sick for the practice taught me that when I mentally take the pressure off myself to do and instead show up and breathe, my practice actually deepens. I do not suddenly lose the ability to do poses that I used to be able to do. Nor is my practice ineffective or any less intense. It just doesn’t have that subtle overtone of “must accomplish something.”

The intent for the first day was to pick an area of the body to focus on sending breath and healing to. I choose the upper chest area where I was feeling a lot of congestion and mentally where I was having a lot of indecision about what direction I’ve been wanting to take my career and other parts of my life in. My intent coming into the week of practice was to remain open to what insights I was able to  glean around this indecisiveness. Moving my body on the yoga mat is sometimes where I can find the greatest clarity around such bigger questions.

We worked into a number of inversions including working with a partner in handstand, handstand twisted root and forearm balance splits. Sometimes I like to guess from the warm-up poses what apex poses Ana might be building us up to, but today she kept me guessing. There were a number of poses in the beginning that we don’t typically do as often. I love that even though key elements that keep the integrity of the style are always there, Forrest yoga is always evolving and taking sequencing in different directions. When you’re a yoga teacher, one thing I think is so important about going to other teacher’s classes (especially one like Ana with so many years of experience) is that it reminds you about other poses. It’s easy to get into a rut of teaching the same main repertiore of poses and sequences. I love being reminded of some pose I hadn’t thought of in awhile or experiencing a fun sequence of poses that I then incorporate into a class for my students.

After class, I actually felt better from moving and breathing, but simultaneously also in touch with my body and therefore, aware that I needed to take it easy.  As for my intention, I did hit on one clear message: “Don’t make any major decisions right now.” Congestion + lots of recent anxiety=not a good position to re-evaluate and overhaul life just yet. I’ll continue showing up and breathing for more…

Photo credit: Pictured is the amazing Forrest Yoga guardian, Ann Hyde

Ana Forrest Intenstives Day 2: Take Issue With It

I made the decision on Day 2 to skip the morning meditation and just come for the practice. I showed up feeling guilty, even though I knew I’d made a healthy decision for myself. Sleep was more crucial for fighting my cold and there wasn’t enough of my voice for chanting. However, I underestimated the travel time and showed up slightly late, creeping in during the beginning wrist stretches. As Ana started to set the intention for the day, I almost started crying. I hate being late and I felt so bad about it. “Here I am a Forrest Yoga teacher–and a certified one at that, yet here I am showing up late. I should know better. Who am I to think that I can be a good Forrest Yoga teacher when I can’t get it together?”

The intention for the day was working with an emotional issue. Gee, from the above paragraph, can you tell that there might be some ongoing emotions and self-deprecation that need addressing? Ana reminded us that when we’re working with an issue, it’s usually one we have to continue working with. Part of working with it is becoming aware of that self-loathing, critical voice that arises about how we should’ve gotten over it by now, etc., etc. “When that crap that you tell yourselves arises [notice, she didn’t say if],” said Ana, “Tell yourself, “Yeah, I’m not doing this today.”

Still wanting to cry, I was not happy with this intention. Sure that’s fine for other people to stop that self-degredation, but in my case, I deserve it and if I let go of feeling bad, then I’d really not have it together. For those beginning moments of the class, I truly felt like it was impossible for me to do.

But Ana has a way of getting you to do what you don’t want to do. So I started small. I figured I’d work with an intention of staying out of self-deprecation and feel for getting a more balanced and accurate perception of what I was experiencing in my emotional and physical body, but only for the duration of the practice. Sometimes I had to make it even smaller than that, “Okay, I’ll work this intention, but only for this pose.” One pose at a time, I continually tried to bring myself back to breath and out of the ongoing loop of self-criticism. At best, being in that spot is just not at all helpful with moving towards change. Or as Ana might put it, “That’s worse than useless.”

Backbends were the word of the day. We made use of a lot of props to get there, working a lot of boats and cobras while squeezing a block between the feet to keep length in the low back. Ana also combined the rolled-up mat with the block and us place the roll right between the ribcage and pelvis and lay over it for cobras, boats, and bow pose. “This gets you into your shit,” Ana said. “Literally.” From there we progressed to bow with a strap and wheel, playing with wheel walks (walking forward and back, in a circle while in wheel pose). I had fun with a group of us on the floor guiding an upside-down woman beside us trying to maneuver her wheel in a circle. Forget logic problems; wheel walks are the ultimate brain teasers.

Some tears came for me at the end of class and it was wonderful to have a fellow Forrest Yoga teacher there to give me the compassion I was struggling to give myself. I mopped my face, blew my nose, and set off for taking my intention into that next breath off the mat.

Ana Forrest Intensives: Day 4: What will you fill up with?

My cold took a turn for the worst so I’m a bit delayed in getting my intensives reports up, but look for more soon!

Day 4’s theme was breathing in the kind of energy you want to have in your life. When you do such deep work in the yoga practice, you clear out congested areas and open up some tight spots. So once you’ve created this new space in the body, “What will you fill up with?,” Ana asked. “Instead of filling up with the same old garbage, can you focus on taking in the kind of energy you want to have running through your body?”

Anyone that’s left yoga class feeling blissed out and wonderfully relaxed only to get into traffic and begin hollering four letter words at other drivers (ahem) knows of this phenomenon. It’s wonderful to go to yoga and get rid of all that built up stress and tension, but it’s only too easy to immediately go back into self-deprecation and our habitual patterns and reactions. What makes the practice truly transformative is to take this openness and start to change what we put back into our mind and body.

If Ana had just left it at that, it’d be a nice idea, but not one that was very achievable. Despite the greatest of intentions, how do you just stop habitual responses and start new ones? That’s why I like that Ana not only set this challenge but also gave suggestions and invited us to think what gives us the kind of juicy energy that we can feel supporting us in our intention. Ana related that one way she taps into this energy recalling the love she has for her partner and letting that wash through her with the breath. Another assistant shared that grounding through hands and feet in downward dog helped remind her that no matter what she does, she is never alone. These are just a few examples of ways you might start to connect to the energy of your spirit.

The practice was rough for me as I was really struggling with feeling physically sick.  As Ana set intention, the only thing I felt myself filling up with was more snot and phlegm. It was an ongoing battle for me to try to re-direct my attention away from feeling sorry for myself/deprecating myself for being sick. It helped me to re-direct when I connected to all the support I had around me, from my caring friends in the room to the compassionate assists from Ana and her team.

Our apex poses of the day were some inversion work with partners, exploring splits in forearm balance and handstand straddle, helping our partner to pike up and down in the straddle. We also played with assisting our partner from bakasana up into handstand. Inversions are not my favorite and even though I’ve practiced assists in the middle of the room many times, it still brings up fear for me, especially amidst a crowded sweaty room. I was so grateful to have a wonderful partner that helped me feel safe and accepted, regardless of how awkward my spotting or inverting might be.

While I was drawing on all this support, it never occurred to me that I might be providing the same for another person. After class, I got a text message from the wonderful Abbie who related that this class was rough for her too, but, “I saw you in head to ankle and the last pose and it kept me going.” I was surprised and also touched. Now I have another technique for reconnecting: knowing that the focus and intention of wanting to bring this brightening energy into a pose can also help another person around me. You never know who your spirit might touch and fill another.

Image credit: Earth Rainbow Network