Yoga is Free!

Yoga is Free

I went on my first yoga retreat in the 1990s, to a somewhat stoic place in the majestic Berkshire Mountains. At the time, I was a recent college graduate who earned little money working at a shelter for women experiencing homelessness. Yet, through yoga all things seemed possible — not just travel to not so far away places, but also a deeper sense of connection to my purpose and desires.

Today, about twenty years later, I have mixed feelings about the growth of yoga in American society. While its now commonplaceness makes it, in some respects, more accessible to people in multiple life spectra through proximity, it has also become a huge industry. Like its sister mindfulness practice meditation, yoga also has, to some extent, become an elitist practice that makes the uninitiated feel uncomfortable and excluded through profuse use of Sanskrit without adequate translation, expensive accessories, and the removal (disconnection) of spirituality or even personal transcendence for the less spiritually inclined from its teachings.

Because I have practiced yoga for more than 20 years, to one extent or another, I find myself on many mailing lists for products and services related to mindfulness practices. One such mailing list, which thankfully I have been removed from — probably because I was found to be an unwilling customer — was a meditation supplies catalog. Now, I understand that there are many specialty items that can be used to enhance meditation practice and that these items aren’t found in every corner store. Yet, seeing all of these things for sale in one non-renewable energy guzzling mail order place signified to me a shift in understanding yoga and meditation as a space for commerce in addition to a space for connection and transformation.

This shift is a divergence from the true meaning of mindfulness practice. Yoga is free. Meditation is free. They are practices that we perform do at any moment, not avenues to promote consumption. They are about connection — both inward and to all living beings, an integration of our minds, bodies, and spirits both individually and collectively. Yoga and meditation are immediately available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Good yoga teachers are wise sages. Like artists, they inspire beauty, bring out the best in us, and build community. We should support them, including with our precious resources, because they add value to our lives. We should also support people who create safe spaces for us to practice yoga and meditation. And yes, we should support the companies that provide products and services to complement our practice. We can practice awareness by noticing when we use our mindfulness practices as opportunities to overconsume and the ways that we unintentionally exclude people, people who might so greatly benefit from this knowledge and participation, by how we talk about and present opportunities to practice yoga and meditation. The intent of yoga and meditation has traditionally been to unite, not to divide.

Like punk rock, all good things eventually become commoditized. Such was the argument made — not about punk rock specifically but about music in general — by political economist Jacques Attali in his awesome book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. We can resist this tendency by focusing on what is most important to our yoga and meditation practice – awareness, rootedness, connection, unity, and well-being.

Broken Record Syndrome

record_player_03

It is a bit surreal that I am writing about records on a blog — and hopefully most of you know what a record is or if not can imagine what one might be — because the last time I played a record I had no vision for sharing stories on the Internet. Writing was a more contemplative, intimate process as it was assumed that much of what I wrote would not make it any further than the pages of one of my notebooks.

Now I feel a sense of responsibility to share what I write, at least those thoughts that are somewhat comprehensible and complete, if it might help someone else in some small way. To deprive the world of my writing, and the insights contained therein, when it can be so easily shared would be cruel and unfair. My audience of one has grown to a nebulous group of unknown proportions.

This has changed the tenor of my writing. It has forced me to step outside of myself and look more broadly at my feelings, circumstances, and experiences as I describe and seek to understand them. I have evolved, progressed, and transformed in response to a rapidly changing world. And I, as well as others, I hope, have benefitted.

But in many other areas of my life, I have not so easily and gracefully progressed. I have become stuck like a broken record, caught up in a fractured groove that plays over and over again. These grooves represent both thoughts and behaviors (or lack thereof). And the symphony of simultaneously repeating tracks is poorly orchestrated, resulting in an agitating undertone of dreary reputation with no end in sight. Despite my best efforts, I — like millions of others — suffer from broken record syndrome from time to time.

Broken record syndrome occurs when we have recurring thoughts or exhibit repeated behaviors without intention or purpose. Over time, these automatic repetitions become background noise; we become accustomed to their presence and accept them as normal. They become our ingrained biases and our habits. They greatly impact our lives; yet, we are largely unaware that they even exist. And when they do float in and out of our field of awareness, we forget that we have the power to transform them into something more useful and more importantly, more beautiful.

So the first step, then, is to be open to noticing the little snippets of thought and behavior which we experience so frequently, and with such subtlety, that they typically escape our attention. And once we have discovered them, and realized the nuisance and monotony of their perpetuation, we can begin to understand the purpose they have served in our lives. They have protected us, and made us feel safe, in an uncertain world. They have given us something upon which we can rely when everything else seems to slip through our fingers. But it is not enough use these incessant beasts as a crutch, and we deserve better.

We can, instead, offer ourselves freedom from reliance on things that are actually hurting us, by leaning instead on something stronger. Something more meaningful. Something transformative. Something of our choosing and our design. We can replace the cracks which cause us to trip over ourselves again and again with ideas and actions that more deeply resonate with our heart of hearts. We form new habits and develop new ways of seeing the world. And these continually evolve, in response to our changing world and our own self-growth. And through this process we discover more happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

Emotoxins

toxin

Every day we ingest and absorb environmental toxins. They are unfortunately in the ground, in the air, and in the food we eat. They are also often in the clothes we wear, the cosmetics we apply, and the cleaning supplies we use. We have, as a society, created a world filled with unavoidable toxins.

These noxious chemicals contribute to a climate where toxicity is the norm. On any given day, we are exposed to many unnatural substances which can potentially cause us both immediate and long-term harm.

We sometimes also create inner worlds where toxicity is abundant. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values can become tainted when our natural harmony becomes distorted. Fear, anger, sadness, and the other ‘negative emotions’ are not necessarily toxic; they only become so when they no longer contribute to a transformative process in our lives. This is a fine line which, in the midst of healing, can be difficult to concretely define.

There is an interactivity between external, material toxins and those that are internal and intangible. Certainly, exposure to unnaturally formulated and superimposed chemicals can impact our cognitive and emotive function. But we also, consciously and subconsciously, influence how these emotoxins form and take hold in our brains.

We can create natural barriers to prevent exotoxins from becoming a part of our systems. The first necessary barrier is an emotoxin radar. We need to be able to sense and recognize emotoxins before they creep in too close. Because emotoxins have their appeal — they create a false sense of security which makes us feel safe in the short run — we might feel tempted to let them in and try them out. If they do approach our protected personal space, we need to let them bounce off of us, fall away, and dissipate before any damage is done. Perhaps the best barrier is to create an emotional environment where emotoxins will fail to thrive. These natural barriers are strengthened through awareness, understanding, contemplation, and by actively choosing harmony over imbalance.

But sometimes these barriers fail to protect us from emotoxin invasion. When emotoxins throw off our internal balance, we can flush them out just as we drink water to remove chemical toxins from our bodies. Emotoxins can be flushed through cleansing and purification rituals, meditation, prayer, sharing and making sense of our feelings through constructive talking or writing, and exposing ourselves to sensual joys (I keep frankincense and bergamot oil nearby and use both to balance my mood accordingly).

Just as we aim to reduce our exposure to toxins in the environment, we can also minimize emotoxin pollution. And when emotoxins find their way into our minds and our hearts, we can open up to let them go, letting in more love, light, and inner peace.

A Day in Bed

a day in bed

I sometimes have days where I feel like I just don’t want to get out of bed. How nice it would be to have the time to just think and reflect, maybe read good books, write poetry, and drink tea, without any expectation of productivity. But I never do. While a day resting at the beach seems to be a perfectly acceptable means of relaxation, a day in bed comes across as somehow slovenly and pathetic.

Although I intellectually realize how important rest is to physical and emotional health, often leading to improved productivity in the end, I have a difficult time allowing myself this indulgence. So even on those days when the bed and the precious gift of time for me is calling my name, I wake up no later than 6:30 a.m. (weekends included) and pack my day with sensibly constructive activities—many of which I enjoy, and others which merely feel obligatory.

I do allow myself the occasional nap, though I find it difficult to wind down and relax. I’m always on edge, always thinking about what I ought to be doing, always considerate of the great need in the world and how I can in some small way be making a difference. Naps can be refreshing, but they can also provoke unnecessary anxiety when they detract from fulfillment of my purpose. Or so it seems.

A few years ago, I created a t-shirt that simply stated ‘my dharma is to breathe and to be.’ While I sincerely believe this mantra in my heart of hearts, I so often have a difficult time embodying this fundamental belief through my daily actions. My purpose is complex and intertwined with commitments to myself and others.

But if only I would focus on the breathing and the being, I believe I would be a better servant. A more fulfilled human being. I would contribute more in the end.

So while a day in bed may seem, at first, to be a totally unproductive waste of time, I think it can instead be a form of radical resistance to the chaotic monotony of always doing, striving, and pushing forward. It is a way to be still with myself, restore my spirit, enjoy life and the moment at hand, and appreciate connection to life through the simple beauty of my breath. Perhaps I will try it one day.

Hungry Muse, Naughty Muse

I yearn to create writing that is imaginative, playful, honest, and luscious — and to do so on a consistent basis. Writing is not only an emotional outlet, it is a reflection of who I am. It serves as documentation of the interconnected processes of self-exploration and transformation which I continually experience. It is an exhumation and selfless giving of the most special, sacred spaces in my heart. Writing is what makes me come alive, and in turn it gives life to ideas that hopefully inspire others in unique and meaningful ways.

At one time, I barely wrote anything for about four months. I was depleted, uninspired, and exhausted. My life felt heavy and stagnant. I was unable to produce anything of merit, anything worth sharing, anything worth reading. The less I wrote, the less I wrote. I was sucked into a downward repressive spiral from which emergence seemed more and more impossible. Was this it? Was there nothing more to say? Was I all but gone?

There was a lot going on my life at the time, and as a highly sensitive person I am often unable to filter out certain types of difficult experiences. I absorb them, ruminate, and internalize other people’s insecurities. Eventually my despair serves a purpose — connecting me with greater awareness and understanding, and illuminating new insights. This lengthy and difficult process is necessary for my spiritual awakening. But I could have been writing to help me make sense of those experiences along the way.

When I get stuck, it is usually because my naughty, naughty inner muse is assisting me in this self-sabotage. And like unruly children who are neglected and unfed, that naughtiness comes from a lack of attention and nurturance which renders her incapable of engaging in a creative relationship with me. When I feed my inner muse, she astonishes me with her support and tender loving care; In other words, I am better able to invoke passion and love through the written word when I take care of myself and indulge my desires — regardless of how often I stare at a blank piece of paper or screen. Because my writing is so deeply connected to, and a part of, me — I need to be well in order to write well.

There are certain special things I like to do to feed my inner muse, like immersing myself in sunshine, bubble baths, ocean waves, and spectacular music, eating ripe peaches at the height of summer, and traveling to previously unfamiliar places. Daily rituals, like meditation and physical movement, also fill her heart with joy. I can also approach every moment with openness, wonder, and curiosity and engage with the world as my playground, rather than a battlefield. Neglect her, leave her hungry, and naughty girl will once again emerge. At every moment, I need to treat her, my most wise and beautiful inner self, with lovingkindness so she, and my writing, may flourish.