Don’t Be a Sex Fiend.

Brahmacharya: Chapter 4 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

WAIT, COME BACK!!!!!  This is not the time to swear off yoga and head to more sinful pastures.  Bear with me here.

So here’s the thing: Brahmacharya has several different interpretations, one of which is abstinence.

But that’s not all; another interpretation is the idea that you don’t waste your seed, so to speak.  (Are you going to make me say it?  This is a family show, guys!)  What I mean is, if you are aware that there are 100 fields and 100 rows in each field, maybe you shouldn’t visit each and every field with your wild oats.  Maybe you should be more selective about the fields and rows you choose.

And along those lines, I think one interpretation of Brahmacharya is that you are not violating that principle if you and your partner are sharing that time together as a way of honoring God with your monogamy and faithfulness to each other.

But truly, I do not think the focus of Brahmacharya is supposed to be sex.  The point is that you should not be so addicted to the things that your flesh wants (e.g., sex, food, shoes, iPhones) that you take your focus off of God.  For example, one translation of Yoga Sutra 2.38 (the Sutra from which this yama originates) says this about Brahmacharya: “When walking in the awareness of the highest reality is firmly established, then a great strength, capacity, or vitality is acquired.”  

In English?  You are strongest when you put all of your focus on God (or your Higher Power of choice).

So, Alex, are you saying that you can’t think about God and sex at the same time?  Umm…Simultaneously?  That’s between you and your Higher Power, I suppose.  Don’t get me wrong; I am absolutely not suggesting that people who like sex can’t have a strong relationship with God.  At the same time, while I truly believe that God is omnipresent, I don’t think that means He’s encouraging you to meet Him in the strip club, or the bedroom, or backseat of the car parked in a dark field, or whatever.  You know.

What I’m saying is, focus on God, not……um….sex.


Don’t Covet Another Woman’s Louboutins

Asteya: Chapter 3 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Ok before we get started, I owe you an apology: I completely disappeared during the summer (when I was studying for the Illinois bar exam, which I passed thank you God!), and I missed you all very much.  I’m so sorry.  Let’s try to pick up where we left off, shall we?

Asteya goes beyond not wanting things that belong to other people; it means not hoarding things and not obsessing over things that you don’t have.

So here’s how we do this in practice: Each time that I see this particular pair of Louboutins, I drool over it.  (Ok, who am I kidding, I really mean 99% of Louboutins.)  So if I see someone with a pair of Louboutins, asteya tells me that I should not want to trip that woman and steal her shoes.  And I should not secretly want her to trip and fall in them so I can convince myself that she doesn’t belong in them anyway.  And if I ever manage to buy a pair of Louboutins, I shouldn’t keep them in a glass box and not wear them.  And I shouldn’t buy several more pairs of Louboutins and keep them in little glass boxes, and rejoice over my Louboutin museum.

Even more true for me is to avoid coveting, hoarding, and obsessing about food.  Have you ever had the most amazing hot dog with cheese and mustard and onions and fries that were the perfect balance of not soggy and crisp-but-not-burnt?  And then they were so delicious you wanted to go back to have it again the next day?  And maybe the next day?  Have you ever decide that one BoSa donut would be amazing, but two would be doubly amazing?  No?  Seriously, it’s just me?  Ok fine…

No coveting, no hoarding, no obsessing.

The tricky thing about asteya is that you can take it (like anything else) to an unintended extreme: “Well, if I’m not supposed to want what I don’t have, then why should I bother going to work this morning?  I don’t have that money yet and I don’t need it!”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not exactly what was intended.  I don’t think so.

I think it’s fantastic to be ambitious, to set goals, and to want nice things.  But I think incorporating asteya into our ambition would instruct us to treasure and appreciate what we presently have first.  (“Thank you, God, for giving me the opportunity to go to law school and to be living my dream everyday.” ) After that, by all means, set goals for yourself.  (“Dear Father, I would like to be debt free and to be able to buy my husband a Patek Philippe.  Thanks, I love you, bye.”)

And most importantly, in the spirit of incorporating non-harming into everything we do, asteya shows us how to love and appreciate ourselves for who we are in this moment, while simultaneously appreciating our capacity to be even more, and do even better than we are right now.

Which means, stop wishing that woman would trip in the shoes you’re envying.

Don’t Tell Your Friend She Looks Fat in that Dress (Even if She Does)

Satya: Chapter 2 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Satya requires truthfulness.  That’s easy, right?

But I know that you have had one of these questions before, or at least something like them:  Do I look fat in this dress?  How do you like my pound cake?  Should we invite your mom?  And you know what your answers were: No, it’s gorgeous!  Mmm, delish!  Yes, of course!  And then, you know what you really meant: It’s 4 sizes smaller than you actually are, what do you think?  If you were going for stale cardboard, then I love it.  Yes, only if you’d like me to jump out the window.

So here’s what truth is about.  Stop being a liar.  And stop being mean.  And do both at the same time.  What you’ll notice throughout the Yamas and Niyamas lessons is that Ahimsa (non-harming, non-pissing on each other) is a recurring theme.  At the heart of all of this is that you have to avoid hurting other people, and yourself.

Here’s how: In yoga teacher training, we learned about “the four gates of speech.”  The idea here is that before you say something, it should be able to pass through four gates: (1) Is it truthful?  (2) Is it necessary to say?  (3) Is it the appropriate time to say it?  (4) Can it be said in a kind way?  If all four things are true, let it rip!  Let’s practice.

You get home from a long day of work to find your spouse in the bedroom.  He tells you that he was fired from his job this morning.  You hear him but observe that he hasn’t showered all day, socks and other dirty-things are strewn about, there’s an empty pizza box on the floor, and in the bathroom the toilet seat is up and maybe there’s a little urine dribble on the edge.  (I don’t know whose spouse this is, but you have my deepest apologies.)  As you survey the scene, your honey notices your expression and says to you, “What’s wrong?”

How do you answer?  (I’ll give you a hint: there are no expletives involved.)

So let’s go through the four gates: (1) Would it be truthful to tell him that the place is a mess and it stinks?  Yes, absolutely; so we move on.  (2) Is it necessary to say?  Well, yes, only if you want to stop roaches before they start.  (3) Is it the appropriate time to say it?  Skirrrrrrr!  He got fired this morning.  Have a heart!  Yes it stinks, yes that’s gross, no it wouldn’t fly any other time.  So you have two choices: You clean it up yourself, or you just sit still with your honey and talk to him about the mess tomorrow.  Or maybe you manage some combination of the two.  I’m lucky enough to have a honey with a sense of humor, so I could probably muster a, “Babe, I’m so sorry about your job.  But you didn’t have to piss on our floor in protest.”

You get my point right?  Try the four gates often, particularly when your first instinct is to just annihilate the other person verbally and deal with the aftermath later.

But here’s the real homework for you: Try this on yourself.  Can you find a way to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and things you want to improve, without beating yourself up?  It’s ok to acknowledge that you want to lose weight; and if you are obese, then being honest means that you recognize that.  But you don’t get to call yourself fat every morning as motivation, or tell yourself how worthless you’ll be until you lose the weight.  That’s not even truth, that’s just mean.

Don’t Piss in People’s Cornflakes

Ahimsa: Chapter 1 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Ahimsa embodies the concept of non-harming, both with respect to yourself and others.  I say “others” deliberately, because many people have taken this concept as the basis for being vegetarian or vegan (e.g., not harming animals).  On the one hand, Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, which means that it falls within the category of practices that we are supposed to direct towards other people.  On the other hand, I find that all of the Yamas and Niyamas work both ways, and so we’ll also look at what it means to practices Ahimsa towards ourselves.

So what does all of this mean for us?  If this were a different setting, my explanation would start with, “It’s about looking inside yourself and….”  But this is yamas for normal people, so here’s where it starts. When you’re driving, stop speeding up so that person with his signal on can’t change lanes.  Stop yelling at your secretary.   Stop criticizing your spouse.  Stop ignoring your in-laws’ phone calls.  Or maybe, do ignore your in-laws’ phone calls if you need time to yourself.  And don’t let anyone cut you off when you’re driving, because it’s unsafe (and annoying).  Be direct in expressing your needs.  Stand up for yourself.

Wait a minute, those things sound inconsistent!  But at the core of all of this is letting everything you do be something that fertilizes what is good in you, or in someone else; but all in balance.

Ok, that was fluffy, let me try again.

If you have ever traveled in an airplane before, you have been instructed that in the event of an emergency, you should put your own oxygen mask first, then help your child.  For many of us, that sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense.  You’d be a pretty sh*tty rescuer if you passed out, right?  You have to be ok, and then you can help other people be ok.  You can’t share your jellybeans if you don’t have any jellybeans.

So non-harming for normal people is about making choices that keep you safe without hurting anyone else in the process.  (And conversely, being kind to other people without hurting yourself in the process.)  Did your in-laws show up to your house unexpectedly and announce that they were staying for the week?  You have a right to say how you feel about that.  But do it after you’ve taken a few breaths, and without telling them that you never really liked them anyway (even if that’s true).

Now, I’ll leave you with three homework assignments: (1) Stop doing one purely sh*tty thing that you do to someone else.  You know, that terrible thing you do that brings you absolutely nothing in return.  (2) Find at least 2 minutes (I mean it!  Just 120 seconds!) to do for yourself today.  Maybe you take a Cosmopolitan magazine to the bathroom while your kids are taking a nap and read that steamy sex position article you’ve been trying to sneak in.  If you don’t have an hour to go get a pedicure, be daring and just file ONE toenail.  Who knows, be creative and start small!  And then (3) Thoughtfully and creatively explore that one challenge in your life where you find that you are sacrificing your health and sanity for someone else’s sake, or vice versa.  And see whether there’s anything you can do to even that balance.

And if you don’t have time for any of this, then just….start by not pissing in anyone’s cornflakes.

The Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Ok, I just said that to get you here 🙂
As part of yoga teacher training, we had to spend a bit of time on the Yamas and Niyamas.  The Yamas (practices for adjusting your interactions with other people) and the Niyamas (practices for adjusting your relationship with yourself) come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Well, that could be a month-long blog session in itself, so let’s stick a pin in that one, ok?  But suffice it to say, this the Yoga Sutras are very important to yoga students, and I’m a yoga student, so we’re going to talk about them!
Now, the Yamas and Niyamas are:
Ishvara Pranidhana
You know what’s fun?  I’m not going to tell you what all of them mean right now.  Just click on a word that appeals to your mental palate and go with it!  I find that when you are drawn to something naturally, you learn it much more permanently than if you force it upon yourself.  So check out the list at your leisure and see what strikes you.  (And I mean “strike” in a totally non-harming way.)
Before we jump into this adventure, I’ll share with you what prompted this.  As I read about each principle, I found that many of them seemed rigid, or lofty, or otherwise impossible to execute while living in America with a full-time job and a family and bills.  So what’s a yogini to do?
I’ll tell you what.  Jump in and figure it all out!   I am hoping that over the next couple of weeks, we figure out together how to make them work in our lives.  The point isn’t that we “attain” or “perfect” any of these skills or principles; the point is that we continue to explore what they mean for us, and how we’re going topracticethem every day.  So, let’s begin, shall we?

Shampoo bottles and other [un]necessaries

“Scared is what happens when the sacred gets scrambled.” – Anodea Judith

Have you ever seen that show, Hoarders?  I’ve only seen the commercials, but every time I see it, I cringe. Until…I catch a glimpse of the 3 half-empty lotion bottles on my bathroom sink, or the 4 bottles of hand soap I keep in my linen closet (just incase I run out, of course), or the clothes that are a size too big that I keep in the top of my closet (just incase I gain weight again).  I hoard! *gasp*

Well, that’s just the tip of the root chakra iceberg.  As I understand it, chakras are wheels of energy inside of us.  Most of us only hear of the seven main chakras, but there are others as well.  I don’t profess to be an expert about this, but I can recommend to you a wonderful book by Anodea Judith called Eastern Body, Western Mind.  This is just one of her brilliant books detailing the chakras, their imbalances, ways to balance them, and the implications of both.

As I understand the root chakra in particular, its imbalance demonstrates a lack of belonging, feelings of fear, dependence, abandonment, neglect, anxiety, insecurity, hoarding…..*gasp* Dang, there it is again!! 

I have to admit, I do have to take some time to balance myself from time to time (read: every morning).  As far as my root chakra meditation is concerned, I do the same thing every morning.  Close your eyes [after you read this!!] and go with me:  Sitting on my pillow with my legs folded, I imagine that my pelvis is a bowl filled with soil and I drop a red seed into the soil and smooth it over.  Then I open up a window sort-of hole in my chest so my heart is exposed, and picture a soft light shining out of it.  Then I do the same on the top of my head, and picture a soft light from above shining in and through my body, down to the soil.  Then I drop everything I need into the soil: love, patience, money, healthy and nourishing food, water, peace…it varies, but whatever I feel like I need that day, it’s all within me.  Then I start to picture the seed growing, with the roots coming out of me and sinking into the floor.  As I picture this I can feel my body start to straighten up and really feel rooted into the ground.  

I invite you to try some sort of grounding practice today.  If you practice yoga already, then you’ve heard your yoga teacher talk to you about this when you’re standing in tadasana.  You don’t need to be doing your yoga or meditation practice to ground yourself.  Take a few minutes at your desk at work to center yourself.  (Unless you have one of those heavenly, stress-free jobs where you walk in feeling balanced and carry the peace with you all day.)  Feel your feet planted into the floor (take your shoes off if you need to), feel your seat planted into your chair, and breathe.  You’re here, you deserve to be here, you are supported, and grounded, and stable.  Just breathe.  

love your body (or, everything from the inside out)

My house is filled with books about all types of things, but I want to share some of my yoga books with you.  I’ll try to always give you a link so that you can buy the book and read it too.  

I have been practicing at Desert Song Yoga for almost two years now, and I absolutely adore it there!  As I’ve been studying with Meg Byerlein, who is a certified Anusara yoga instructor.  (As a very important aside, and as a very, very short summary, Anusara yoga is a style of hatha yoga that was created by John Friend in 1997.  I couldn’t possibly capture all of how beautiful it is in this one posting alone, but I can say that what I love most about it is that it emphasizes the importance of heart-opening and intrinsic goodness.  I invite you to learn more about Anusara yoga by going here.)

Now, back to us 🙂  I, too, want to become a certified Anusara yoga instructor.  I am excited to devote the years and years of practice that I am sure I will need before I am ready to do that, but in the meantime, I am trying to absorb all that I can about the teachings and the practice so that I can fully appreciate what I hope to one day be teaching others.  One of the requirements for Anusara certification is the completion of a reading list.  There are soooooooo many amazing books on there!  There are only a few that are required, but there are dozens that are recommended, and I want to make it through the whole list!

So, all of that is a lead-up to telling you that this weekend, I finished a book called Yoga from the Inside Out by Christina Sell, which was on my reading list!  This book covers a subject near and dear to my heart: learning to have a healthy body image.  This was a pretty quick, but very inspiring read.  The general idea is this, I think: It is good to aspire to be physically healthy.  There are numerous health reasons for wanting to minimize body fat, to eat well, and to exercise.  BUT it is also important to love and honor yourself right where you are this minute, understanding that life is a process, but that you are perfect as you are right now.

This is absolutely beautiful.  And critical.

Instead of giving you an abstract example, I’ll talk about myself.  I am currently about 5’11”, 195 lbs.   I would like to lose about 30-40 lbs. but that is its own process.  So, this book would instruct that instead of beating myself up about how much I need to lose, or what jiggles when I walk, or why I shouldn’t have eaten that cheeseburger last night, etc., I need to love myself just as I am.  Only through that self-love and acceptance–instead of hating or resisting what is–will I be able to make any changes in myself.

Guess what?  That’s hard for me.  

I know that I am naturally hard-headed, so it’s difficult for me to just breathe into this minute and know that this one is the only one I can control.  It’s 8:32 p.m. now.  That means everything I did from 8:31 p.m. and back is already finished.  It doesn’t belong to me anymore!  8:33 p.m. doesn’t really belong to me either because we’re not there yet, and it’s not promised to me.  But I can control right now.  I can decide that I’m going to spend this moment reading or writing something positive, drinking water, meditating, or….doing yoga.

I think what I loved about this book the most was that Christina Sell (in addition to, somehow, knowing everything about me and everything I have ever struggled with) really captured what has continued to make yoga such a blessing to me.  When you are practicing yoga, and I mean really practicing, with your whole mind, body, and heart in it, you don’t have time to criticize yourself.  I am still a mental busy-body, but there have definitely been times where I have been 100% focused on what’s happening on my mat.  During those times, I don’t have time to think about what went wrong at work, or what I’m going to eat for dinner, or whether I’ll have enough energy to go to the gym in the morning.  

The practice of yoga can, if you let it, be a way to appreciate your body in a new light.  Maybe all you can do right now is Tadasana.  But be blessed that you have two legs that are strong enough to support you.  Look down at your feet, and plant all four corners of each foot firmly into the earth.  Draw your knees up towards your thighs, and feel the energy surging through your legs.  I promise, before long you won’t see stretch marks or cellulite.  You’ll see the powerful grace of your body, and that will be beautiful to you.  

It is beautiful.  You are beautiful.