Tag Archives: Growth

Taking Yoga Off the Mat: Sustainability and the Yogic Path

“Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Within yoga culture there is a great deal of discussion about the need to take yoga off the mat. Part of this is driven by the increasingly popular practice of seva, or selfless service, that is usually interpreted by the yoga community to mean some form of community service, often involving teaching asana classes to populations considered at risk or in need. Social justice activists have been drawn to this idea of taking yoga off the mat because it implies a moral imperative inherent in the practice of yoga for yogis to get involved in advocacy around and involvement in social justice causes. While I wholeheartedly agree with both these interpretations of taking  yoga off the mat (although seva should arguably entail a bit more than offering “karma” yoga classes…), I’m going to talk today about an additional viewpoint that discusses the popular trend of yogis being involved with a more general cultural ethos of organic eating and green living.

It’s very common for yogis to be interested in other cultural trends relating to healthy, organic eating (including the popular, if somewhat troubling, trends of green juice cleanses). Eating whole foods, lots of vegetables, and supporting local producers are common elements, as are a number of green consumption practices like reusable water bottles and buying products made in green ways (like the popular–and awesome–green yoga legging company Teeki that makes their products from recycled water bottles). And while there are less sustainable consumption practices orientated with the yoga lifestyles (like high end athletic or boho fashion industries) I think the interconnections between yoga culture and other green and sustainable living practices indicate there is an inherent attraction and similarity between these cultural elements. In fact, I would argue that if we are really going to adopt the yoga identity and live a yogic lifestyle we must take our yoga off the mat, not just through seva or social justice, but also through the practice of sustainability in all areas of our lives.

Yoga is more than simply asana. As a process and way of knowing, yoga can be used to achieve any goal or end, including ones that are less than just. This is why we have seen the yoking of yoga and mindfulness practices to consumer capitalism and industry in recent years with the McMindfulness phenomenon. However, yoga, as a process and way of knowing guided by ethical principles, has the power and potential to do great good and help us build better selves, better societies, and better futures. I think it’s always important to be skeptical of “tradition,” because traditions by definition rarely change and not all past traditions are appropriate to the times we live in and the needs and desires of people living now (rather than then). I have to admit I’m not a yogi who blindly believes in the philosophical traditions of yoga, and honestly I think blindly following anything is a recipe for some form of damage. Critical awareness is necessary in all areas of life, including yoga, in order to lead healthy and balanced lives as our practice encourages. But I do believe that the ethical guidelines in yoga are key to taking yoga off the mat in a way that is beneficial to our lives and the lives of others.

According to Patanjali’s eight-fold path, these ethical principles are called the yamas and comprise the first limb of yoga, dealing with our behavior in connection to others. The yamas include: ahimsa, roughly translated to nonviolence; satya, or truthfulness; asteya, or non-stealing; brahmacharya, often interpreted as a virtuous form of self-control involving a voluntary restraint of power (usually associated with being celibate or faithful to your chosen partner); and aparigraha, or non-covetousness or non-possessiveness. If we want to live our lives true to these ethical principles, taking our yoga off our mats, it’s imperative that a yogic path also be a sustainable path. Sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean some of the trends we see in the consumption of alternative green and organic lifestyles popular with yogis today. It can, but not necessarily. In fact, a lot of popular green/organic living trends reflect attempts to practice sustainability without a critical reflection on what sustainable means, and what it means to truly be sustainable (I am guilty of this too).

So let’s break it down. Sustainability… sustain… ability… Sustainability is the ability to sustain, keep up, or keep going, toward a particular goal, maximizing the use of our limited resources in a way that conserves those resources. Sustainability means living in symbiosis with our ecosystems so that we minimize our negative impact, instead building positive relationships that replenish the environments (including social ones) around us. It involves the cultivation of a contained, mutually beneficial web of interconnection with the world around us that I would argue is one of the best applications of these ethical principles of yoga we can see in the real world.

Do no harm? Sustainable systems, if they are truly sustainable, seek to minimize harm and maximize the positive impacts of their processes. Truthfulness? Sustainable methods can only work if we deeply understand the nuances of our world, including ourselves and the environments we live in. To do so, we have to seek truth, and deep truth, not just truth when it suits us. Non-stealing? Requires an understanding and recognition of the needs of the systems we are embedded within and the social worlds we are connected to. Sustainable paths support the needs of the worlds around them in ways that help them thrive (the very essence of non-stealing). Self-control? Sustainable systems demand the practice of self-control, of limiting our desires to practice forms of self-restraint to only use what we need and not live beyond those means. Non-possessiveness? Living sustainably means living with as little impact on the surrounding environments, so it naturally involves minimizing our possessions and recognizing (and supporting) the needs of others through a non-covetousness nature.

Getting behind the idea of sustainability is easy enough, but in practice it’s much harder to do. This is largely because our social systems (as they are now) make it very difficult for people to live sustainably. It’s often expensive to disconnect from unsustainable systems (like, for example, trying to live on green energy solutions, which are largely only available to the wealthy, or attempting to live off the land which is only available to those who, unsurprisingly, can afford to buy property and have the start up capital to make such living feasible from the outset). Our economic system, and our workplaces, require us to live in unsustainable ways in order to simply live. It’s also difficult because we are socialized into cultural systems that don’t value sustainability, so we often internalize cultural values that encourage us to engage in lifestyles that are at their very root unsustainable–for example, consumerism. So I understand that living sustainably is a challenge, and a huge one, and one that I myself am still very far from achieving because of the very reasons I just mentioned.

But if we truly want to live a yogic path, adhering to the yamas of yoga in our practice both on and off the mat, we have to do so sustainably. And this must go beyond the cultural ethos popular in yoga today that encourages yogis to achieve sustainability primarily through consumption. It’s not enough to practice sustainability by consuming green products, we have to question the need for those products in the first place. We have to think about the art and practice of consumption itself, and begin to deeply question why we consume, not just how we consume. If we are going to be truly sustainable we must change how we orient our actions, including consumption, in ways that fundamentally alter the game itself.

We have to change our orientation to consumption, orienting toward different goals. This means cutting back on the stuff we buy in the first place (reduce). We have to acknowledge the insidious nature of stuff, and orient our approach to long-term use, potentially life-time use of the products we buy. For those things we do get rid of, we need to do so responsibly and encourage reuse and recycling as much as we can. And this ultimately means we need to be more careful in our product choice, doing more product research before purchasing to be sure we are meeting sustainable needs. (And yes, I realize this is difficult for some populations who might not have the means to do so, like the poor, uneducated, or elderly. So we also have to help make these types of lifestyle choices more accessible.)

When applied to yoga on the mat, this means we need to orient our practice towards sustainable health and well-being of the body and mind, and practice asana devoid of ego with long-term, lifelong goals in mind. What type of practice will, in the long term, support your body and your long-term needs? How can we practice asana in sustainable ways, ways that sustain our body and allow it to maintain strength and health over time? How do we deepen our practice in a way that don’t simply pursue “growth” as more advanced postures, more intensity, or more time on the mat, but that are instead is aligned with a broader mindset of growth in sustainable ways? We have to orient our practice not towards “bigger-ing” our practice (recall the Lorax by Dr. Suess), towards constantly “growing” for the sake of growth itself, and instead focus on growth towards the goal of sustaining a quality of practice across the long-term.

We cannot force our practice, or force growth in our practice if we are to be sustainable. Sustainable systems do change, and grow, and evolve, but if you try and force that evolution too quickly bad things happen (really, just watch the Jurassic Park film series). The thing about growth is that it must happen organically. Forced growth leads to complications, because all living beings have natural limits that can be stretched, but if stretched too far break. Healthy growth demands time, patience, and prolonged favorable conditions like proper nutrition so plants can develop a proper root system to thrive. Sustainable systems give back, benefiting the environment around them in symbiotic ways, the plant returning nutrients into the ecosystem as it grows and eventually dies. Forced growth is not only potentially dangerous, it takes more energy, leaving us with less to give back into the systems surrounding us in supportive and sustainable ways.

When we take our yoga off the mat, or practice it on the mat, we need to try and do so sustainably. And understand, too, that we live in a world that makes sustainability a difficult thing to achieve even for people with the best of intentions. I hope you enjoyed these thoughts of mine and that they struck a chord within you; sometimes I am led down strange roads. Love, light, and… yoga ❤

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Yoga teacher training, here I come!

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog, and I’m sorry to all my readers that I haven’t been as active in the social media/blogging world lately. I’ve had a very busy last few months, which included finishing up the school year (and two classes I was teaching at Woodland Community College), getting married (yay! It was great, for those who are curious), and teaching two summer session classes over the past 8 weeks (and considering I lost my grader for my larger class, this was a lot more work than I anticipated). With all that said, I have now entered my summer “break” and will be continuing more active work on my dissertation and yoga research, which means more blog posts to share with you and more updates about my yoga journey. In fact, I’m working on my next blog post about intersections of social change strategies and activism in the body positivity movement in yoga, the weed legalization movement, and the #blacklivesmatter movement and should have that out soon. More to come!

Today I want to share with you all a special announcement: I am officially enrolled in a 200 hour yoga teacher training! As many of you know, I’ve been practicing yoga for over ten years and have had a dedicated practice for nearly six. I’ve been wanting to get my certification for quite some time, but with graduate school and life it was simply too difficult to schedule and too pricey for me to afford until recently. However, I’m happy to share that I was able to get a work-trade scholarship with Yoga Works, and will be starting my teacher training in January 2016. Yoga Works is a well-respected yoga teacher training system that comes out of the Ashtanga and Iyengar disciplines, and fits very well with the style of yoga I mostly practice and want to teach. I’m very excited to share this next step in my yoga journey and my yoga research with you! Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this process, and I can’t wait to share more of my experiences and updates in my yoga path with my readers.

That’s all for now! And just for fun, here are some photos from my wedding (because, why not?).

Love, light, and… yoga ❤

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Creating Innovative Yoga Teaching

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power to that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” ~J. K. Rowling

I was thinking yesterday about what it would mean to create innovative yoga classes. If I completely abandoned my preconceptions of what a “class” should look like, and how we should learn things (the traditional drill style–historically Western, White, and Capitalist), what would a yoga class look like? How can we really teach yoga, the practice, rather than yoga, the exercise routine? What is the best way to educate someone on the essence of yoga?

We’ve become so caught up our ideas of what a yoga class is, and how to teach yoga, and what the best way to learn is that we lose sight of the essence of the thing we are trying to teach. Yoga has not always been taught in the way we teach it now. The “standard” lecture or drill format of classes became popular only once yoga had become Westernized during colonialism with the influence of trends like Swedish gymnastics or military drill training among armed forces (see Singleton’s excellent book for more on this topic). But now we consider it normal to teach to a class of people, all of different levels, leading them through a set sequence where the teacher may (or may not) offer variations or adjustments, let alone individual attention to correct a student’s alignment or help lead a student deeper into a pose. I feel like in some ways even private yoga classes have become formulaic. But how often do we actually stop and think about what format, what sequences, what poses, what words, what “homework”, would really get to the heart of yoga and allow students to experience that rather than a nicely packaged and marketed form of exercise?

Not every thing can be taught in the same way. Often in Western-style teaching systems (including the Westernized style of yoga teaching that has become popular in the last few decades) we expect someone to be able to regurgitate exactly what we say, in the exact words we say it (Follow this sequence! Focus on these things!) that we forget that route memorization doesn’t reflect actual understanding. When someone understands something they are able to make it their own, to personalize it, to be creative with it, to recognize what is most important and retain those things while deviating within set lines. Understanding something deeply allows for the “regulated improvisation” of social actors because they are able to reinterpret and build on the material they have learned. Simply being able to repeat something doesn’t mean you understand it. Understanding allows for innovative solutions and problem solving; route memorization doesn’t.

Only with understanding can you have innovation, because innovation is ultimately about seeing the connections between things, understanding what things are similar and what are not, and how things will interact if they are combined. As Tom Freston said, “Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” Innovation is the application of pressure in such a way that you affect great change with little effort because you are able to anticipate and influence the course of future events by understanding the factors at work deeply. To quote a great article from the Washington Post, “Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want.” So we have to learn to understand, not to simply to memorize. Memorization produces replication, not innovation.

Innovation requires seeing and actualizing the unimaginable, and the only way to do that is by imagining what doesn’t exist, by changing our entire worldview in a radical and profound way. The quote I started this article with from J. K. Rowling is exactly about this; how by using our imaginations we have the capacity to radically shift how we see the world and what we think is possible, to imagine better worlds and better futures. Ultimately imagination is the root of all empathy–the ability to imagine ourselves in someone else’s situation. That’s a transformative power, just like yoga is a transformative practice. You have to have a vision of where you are going to get there, otherwise you never grow and change. To become better people and better societies we have to grow and change and innovate in our own lives. We have to understand ourselves and the world around us so we are capable of imagining a world and self that retains the things that we love but also improves upon them. This has been one of the deepest and most profound lessons I’ve learned through yoga; that I can constantly improve myself, but that it takes a deep awareness of my existing patterns and habits and the ability to imagine who I want to become, so I can recognize when I am falling into the trap of a pattern and redirect into an innovative solution.

But trying to imagine what doesn’t already exist is a difficult, sometimes impossible proposition. In the words of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender: “If she can see it, she can be it… how can she be what she can’t see?” When we can’t imagine something, we don’t even consider trying it, and definitely don’t actively work to achieve something. We are often so conditioned to think within narrow boxes we are incapable of even imagining an alternative method of doing something. We become incapable of innovation when we are taught in the Western education model to replicate and memorize rather than understand. This is exactly what Bourdieu (Logic of Practice: 55) is talking about when he claims that our internalized preconceptions of the world (the things we can easily see) condition us to think within a particular framework and to only consider certain things that are approved or expected as “possible.” In this way internalized preconceptions “generate all of the ‘reasonable,’ ‘common-sense’ behaviors (and only these) which are possible within the limits of these regularities, and which are likely to be positively sanctioned because they are objectively adjusted to the logic of a particular field, whose objective future they anticipate. At the same time, ‘without violence, art, or argument,’ it tends to exclude all ‘extravagances’ (‘not for the likes of us’), that is, all the behaviors that would be negatively sanctioned because they are incompatible with the objective conditions.”

Within yoga we often fall into the same patterns and habits, teaching yoga through replication and memorization rather than encouraging deeper understanding in our students. Classes are usually a one-time experience of following instructions students don’t fully comprehend and that may never be fully explained. Even private classes can often fall into a similar trap of using standard formats focusing on surface level “assignments” like doing a particular sequence of poses so many times a week. (But why those poses? Why that many times a week? Why in that sequence?). Students often aren’t able to innovate in their yoga practice because they aren’t given a firm basis of knowledge to build on; in standard classes we aren’t taught to approach yoga as a way of life or a practice (at least until more advanced training like teacher certification programs, yet even these are highly structured and only teach institutionally approved yoga knowledge).

I think this is why it’s so hard for many yogis who have only taken drill-style group classes to begin a home practice, which requires changing the way we think about yoga and how we do yoga from the dominant Western pattern of teaching (just follow the instructions) to something you work on, practice, and play with as you explore what you’ve learned on your own, with no lead instruction, and no set sequence already predetermined for you. Yoga isn’t always beautifully choreographed into a sequence of predetermined poses; once you transition to a home practice you begin to realize that yoga is in fact messy and full of awkward, silly, and embarrassing moments. It’s something you work on. It’s also full of pleasureful, peaceful, and triumphant moments too. But recognizing that yoga is in fact a practice is a radical, paradigm shift, and one I’m still working on learning to find joy and pleasure in and motivation for. A home practice helps you realize all the backstage work instructors do behind the scenes to present and teach the beautiful, fun, choreographed facade of “what yoga is.” But the facade isn’t substantive and rarely teaches the underlying practice; it doesn’t reflect the true essence of yoga.

So let’s return to the questions I started this post with. If I completely abandoned my preconceptions of what a “class” should look like, and how we should learn things (the traditional drill style–historically Western, White, and Capitalist), what would a yoga class look like? How can we really teach yoga, the practice, rather than yoga, the exercise routine? What is the best way to educate someone on the essence of yoga? I’m not entirely sure the best answers to these questions, but I’ll share some of my ideas to get the dialogue going.

Utilize a variety of instruction formats.

I think it’s important not just to teach (or learn) one way. We can get at multiple viewpoints by utilizing different formats for our teaching and learning methods. We can learn a great deal about sequencing from taking (and teaching) choreographed sequences of poses. And sometimes we can learn about poses through sequencing, particularly by building towards a more complicated pose by practicing poses that are part of the complex pose in a sequence which leads up to the peak challenge pose. But we can also learn a great deal from one-on-one instruction, from exploring one pose in depth using a workshop format, from playing around practicing with other yogis using no particular structure or format (hey, what you are doing looks like it would be fun, want to show me how?), from writings on yoga, or from talks about yoga.

Utilize technology to help students learn.

Utilizing photos or videos so students can watch or see their practice can be a great teaching tool. It can help students recognize patterns of misalignment or disconnect in their practice, while at the same time help them feel empowered by recognizing things they do with great skill and awareness that can help motivate them. A photo or video is in many ways an objective vantage point to view their practice from. It’s helpful to step out of ourselves sometimes, especially because social psychological research shows we tend to have many positive illusions, or unrealistically favorable attitudes, about ourselves. As the meme goes:

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Technology can also be a powerful way to connect with more students. For example, utilizing video chats to teach yogis in other parts of the world (online privates or online small group classes) can allow students to connect to teachers regardless of where they live, something particularly valuable for both the student who may not have local access to a yoga instructor they like and the teacher seeking to build their business. Technology like social media can also be a great way to build a community of students that are all able to support one another and for students to learn more about their instructors and connect beyond the classroom. Being involved in social media is in many ways required in today’s yoga world, since it is often the way to build a large student base and create a more steady income flow through strategies like workshops, retreats, or online programs available for download to students (a great example of this is the Codyapp website).

Teach why.

I think sometimes we are either afraid or don’t even consider teaching why we do something a particular way. We shouldn’t shy away from explaining the why to our students, including things like why these poses, why this order, why this pace, why this alignment, why practice this length of time, why this meditation, why this adjustment. Knowing why is empowering and allows students to understand what they are doing on a deeper level, and subsequently make it their own, innovate, and be creative in their practice, as well as develop a home practice based on a sound knowledge of yoga. Many students want to deepen their practices yet struggle with having the knowledge they need to do so. Give it to them, or provide them with a resource they can use to learn about it on their own. Teaching why can also help us realize our own preconceptions and deepen our own knowledge when as teachers we realize we don’t even know why we do something a particular way.

Talk (and read) about yoga.

I think so often we forget that it takes talking with other people for us to think through things and come to our own conclusions. Narration is a powerful way for us to come to know something; sometimes we need to explore something verbally for it to become clear for us, so having space to dialogue about yoga, ask questions, think about what you have learned beyond just the physical exercise practice is important. Many students can benefit simply from talking about the practice, what the practice means to different yogis, what people have written about yoga, what types of insights we can gain from yoga, what certain yogic ideas mean. Similarly, reading about yoga can profoundly deepen our understanding of yoga as well (as both teachers and students).

Encourage students to be self-reflexive.

Without having any expectations, encourage students to think on and share what they have learned from a particular lesson or practice. In other words, encourage students to be self-reflexive about their practice and allow them to learn from their own experiences rather than interpreting those experiences for them. This can also help develop body awareness and mindfulness in other areas of their life.

Make yoga pleasurable and fun.

Encourage students to move from a place of pleasure and joy, to explore how their own bodies like to move, to become aware of their body signals, and to have fun with the process of yoga and worry less about looking perfectly choreographed and graceful all the time. Be willing to have fun with yoga in addition to the more serious meditative movement.

Practice moving within poses, then practice stillness.

Many times students don’t have body awareness of what proper alignment is. Standard classes often focus on holding a pose in stillness or on moving in only one direction within a pose for several breaths before transitioning to a different posture, but both of these methods can be limiting. Many times this type of queuing is a result of the quick pace that has become popular in most yoga class and/or teachers perpetuating instructions they heard from their own teachers or in their teacher trainings. Many teachers go too quickly for students to become deeply aware of their alignment in a pose, or they only plan to do a pose once in a sequence so there is no opportunity for students to repeat and build on the first appearance of the posture. For example, in warrior II we often encourage students to drop down deeper in the legs while holding the upper body in stillness. But when we fall into this trap of teaching using a “normal format” we may completely ignore encouraging students to move their upper body in ways that help them achieve (and understand) proper, neutral, and open alignment throughout the spine and shoulders. We may also completely ignore how much weight is being held in each leg, and many students often place too much weight towards the front rather than creating a balance between the effort of the front and back leg.

It is empowering to explore poses by moving within them in ways that help students discover body awareness and find neutral alignment for their bodies, and helps students uncover the why behind the pose. So for warrior II, maybe you can encourage your students to pull their upper body back (towards a reverse warrior) and then forward (towards extended side angle) while opening the shoulders, repeating that motion until they are able to locate their neutral spine and a feeling of openness in their shoulders and chest. Or encourage them to shift their weight more toward the front leg and then more toward the back leg until they are able to sense a balance in effort, and then drop down deeper in the legs. Once they are able to find their neutral position, only then encourage stillness. Stillness without exploration can miss the point of an entire pose. What we need is to move within poses until we find the point where being still becomes a practice in meditation, playing with our edge, and proper alignment and body awareness.

Love, light, and… yoga ❤

“The Edge” in Yoga

Today I want to talk about a phrase that we hear quite often in yoga: “The Edge.” While it may sound ominous, chances are paying attention to your Edge and having a deep understanding of what it means will change the way you practice. I think ultimately it allows us, and requires us, to take our practice off the mat.

What exactly is the Edge? One of the most common explanations of this term that I’ve seen is: “the place in your practice where you are being sufficiently challenged but not so much that you experience strain or injury.” This is completely true. Playing with your Edge should not be about pushing beyond pain to the point of injury. We have to be mindful not to overdo our physical practice and hurt ourselves. But I also think definition is a very physical way to think about the edge. It focuses on feeling pain and difficulty in the body. Personally speaking, my practice really took off when I started to develop a deeper understanding of what the Edge is.

The Edge isn’t just physical. It’s mental. When we teach people to “find their Edge” by only being mindful of strain or injury, the mental aspect is lost. We don’t often connect strain or injury with the mind; when our mind is strained it doesn’t usually hurt in the same way that the body does (though if any of you have been to graduate school, I think you’ll agree with me in saying such a thing is completely possible).

We can think of the mental Edge as challenging focus, concentration, dedication, and willpower to persevere even in conditions that are not comfortable. Ever hear the saying that “the pose begins when you want to leave it?” That’s the mental Edge. It’s learning to thrive and persevere even in the face of difficulty. It’s breathing into the intensity rather than running from it. It’s working in the growth zone.

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By challenging both the body and mind to move beyond what we think we are capable of (but only in small increments, without injuring ourselves) we are able to redefine what our limits are. We realize that something we never thought was possible, or never even considered at all, is actually within the realm of possibility. This is where the practice becomes transformative. Yoga makes the impossible possible when you work at your Edge.

My favorite way to the think about the edge involves thinking about change, about the Edge as the growth zone. One of the most common translations of “yoga” is “union.” For me, the Edge is yoga, it is the union of what you are now capable of and what you are not yet capable of. It is playing with moment of union between who you are now and who you will become, between who you have been, and who you will be. Working at the Edge, not just in our physical practice but in our day to day lives, enables us to actualize our full potential, to become the people we want to be, and to recognize that limits are often barriers we impose on ourselves rather than something that actually exists “out there.”

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Given that playing with your Edge can be so transformational, sometimes we may want to always challenge ourselves to work in the growth zone, or push ourselves to be where we imagine we should be before we may be ready. This desire arises from our ego. All great things take time, and yoga is a practice. We need to practice playing with our Edge; we cannot exist there all the time. Recall the song, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need?”

The Edge is personal, and variable, and there are times when what we need may be to rest and heal rather than challenge ourselves. Listen at these times. The Edge is a moving target, and it will change day to day, week to week, and year to year as we grow. Yoga is a practice, and some days the practice is just showing up rather than pushing our limits. Other days the practice will involve playing with the Edge. Some days we find our Edge has not changed, or that we hit our Edge sooner than we have in the past. Other days we may find we have moved beyond a plateau, and we can push ourselves harder and longer than ever before. Cultivating mindfulness is absolutely necessary to recognize our Edge at any moment so we make sure we don’t move so far beyond it we injure ourselves.

So, play with your Edge as you need, and be patient. With patience comes all things. Through practice we explore our Edge, we find our path, and we move beyond our limitations.

With love, light, and…

yoga ❤

Does What We Do Define Us?

In the past few years there have been a number of studies revealing that the vast majority of workers are unhappy with their jobs and want to change their careers. In 2012 a global study found that 56% of workers in the US were trying to change their careers. A more recent study in 2013 found that only 14% of workers believe they have the perfect job. A whopping 80% of workers in their 20s said they wanted to change careers, followed by 64% of workers in their 30s and 54% of workers in their 40s. Yikes! But it gets worse: nearly 1 in 5 workers plan to change their jobs in 2014. In a society that values and privileges work, often at the expense of health and happiness, how is it possible that so many people are so utterly unhappy with their careers?

Today I want to explore the difference between what we do, and what type of people we are. When we are young, we are encouraged to “plan for our future” and asked, per the featured quote above by John Lennon, “What we want to be when we grow up.” We aren’t encouraged to figure out who we want to be, in terms of the type of qualities we want to possess. In a world that values work, and overwork, we are pushed to define who we are by our careers. But I think this is ultimately a damaging way to cultivate maturity, adulthood, and happiness.

The idea we possess when we are young that we will only have one “career” (singular) is flawed; today, the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times during their lifetime. We don’t just get a career (singular), we get a variety of careers (plural). In addition, even if we are unusually lucky and find a steady, secure job that we will stick with for the rest of our lives (one career) we often don’t get the “career” (singular) we want. Though the vast majority of people have career goals when they are younger, 73% of workers do not end up in the job they expected to. 

Having goals is incredibly important in life, as is finding happiness and satisfaction in our work lives. But I think ultimately to find joy in our careers, we need to be able to understand ourselves and who we want to be, in terms of what type of people we want to be, rather than what society says we should be. I love the Venn diagram below since it captures this idea that what we are paid to do isn’t the only part of the picture; we also need to discover what we do well and what we want to do, and find the middle ground for all of these things.

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Personally, I don’t typically think about what type of person I want to be when I think about my future–usually when I think of my future I think of career goals, jobs, the things society says I should define my life and value through. Given that I don’t usually think about this, I definitely have never written down concretely what type of person I want to be. But identifying what type of person we want to be shapes what we want to do in terms of our careers. It shapes the decisions we make. So here’s my list of the type of person I want to be in my life. I’ve also made a fun word map, because, well word maps are awesome. What type of person do you want to be? 

 

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I want to be a woman who loves deeply, and laughs often. Someone who finds grace through strength; someone who has the courage to be vulnerable. I want to be mindful and possess the deliberate devotion that leads to wonder. I want to be a creator, an innovator, someone who adapts, bending rather than breaking, who is resilient in the face of change. I want to cultivate gratitude, simplicity, empathy, and wonder. I want to live a balanced life and develop symbiotic relationships that are mutually beneficial to growth. I want to be perceptive and inquisitive in order to develop a deep understanding of the world. I want to be honest and fair, a perpetual student, and a motivational teacher.

word map

Auspicious Beginnings

Growth

Welcome to my blog, All Things Yoga.

My personal journey with yoga has been one of the most rewarding things in my life. It also has, and continues to, force me to grow in ways that sometimes seem a struggle with my Self. The union of these two is something that I love about the practice, and something that draws me back again and again.

This blog is about all things yoga. But, because yoga is about so much more than what many people tend to think of when we hear the term “yoga” (lithe women doing advanced postures), it’s going to be about more than “just yoga.” This blog is a space for me to share and explore my experiences with my practice and with the practice, as well as a space for me to record some interesting facts and news about yoga, general health information, updates on my research on yoga (if you’re curious, you can read a bit more about it in the About Me section of my blog), and some of my favorite companies/products for yoga-related goodies and healthy, sustainable living. I plan on writing about my journey to become a certified yoga teacher within the next year or two, something that I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t been able to actualize quite yet. If you’d like to join me on my path, this would be a gift, and I hope some of the information I share will benefit you.

A little bit about me is probably in order, considering my interests will influence what shows up here. Obviously, I’m big on yoga! No surprise there. I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years since I was 16 years old. In my younger years I was a horseback rider, a pianist, a student of martial arts, and a scientist. I’ve grown out of these roles, and into new ones. Now, I’m an artist (Amara Miller Arts), a sociologist, a teacher, a (perpetual) student, a book worm, a gardener, and a dog-lover and owner (I’m sure my pups will show up on this blog at some point, it’s inevitable). My dissertation research is on the popularization of yoga in the United States from the 1960s until now and on issues of access and inequality. I’m also a “bit” obsessed with yoga leggings (but really, who wouldn’t be?). Sustainability is something near and dear to my heart.

One of the lessons of yoga that I have been internalizing and working through lately has been the nature of growth. Growth is change; constant, slow, struggle that sometimes leaves you aching and sore, but ultimately makes you stronger. That sort of growth can be frightening, and challenging, and doubt-inducing. But we must do the thing we fear most to conquer doubt. This blog, for me, is stepping outside my comfort zone and into the growth zone.

I believe it will ultimately make me stronger. And, according to Buddha, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” I think the same thing goes for strength. We don’t lose strength by giving it to others; it is not decreased by being shared. It makes us all strong.

Love, light, and…

yoga ❤