What are you reflecting?

“Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

For over half of my life, I’ve been learning how to deal with anxiety and depression. That, combined with an unhealthy dose of people-pleasing and perfectionism, has taught me a great deal and has spurred my search for mental, spiritual, and emotional peace.

Being a teacher, I’d love to say that I am cured. It’s all in the past and everything is great ALL THE TIME. Those of you who have human brains and live in this world know that’s probably bullshit and anyone who spouts that crap is lying or trying to sell you something. It is ALL a process and even if you practice with steadiness and fervor, life can be circular. You can be on top of the world, measured, equanimous, and powerful. The next day, being a person and all, you may find yourself on the floor, a crumpled and emotional mess.

I will say that my passion for yoga and mindfulness practices is real. When I am teaching or practicing, I feel connected and at peace. I am living my life’s mission and am proud of my work. Sharing the benefits of yoga with my community is often the most rewarding work I could imagine. At times, I feel like a strong, powerful Goddess who cannot, will not be stopped!

It usually goes like this: I feel so inspired to start a new project, whether its an outdoor yoga program, a nonprofit studio, a fundraiser, or a completely unique yoga class. I plan, I sweat, I share share share. The passion, and let’s be honest, anxiety, fuels me. The project comes to fruition and more often than not, it’s a success! People feel happy and connected. How amazing! While it’s happening, I’m on top of the world!

And then there’s this voice… I could have been better. I could have planned more, connected more, shown more gratitude, been more amazing!  This voice drowns out any compliments and praise and focuses on the critiques, self generated or not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think wanting to improve is a bad thing and constructive criticism is vitally important for growth. But as yoga teaches us, it is all about balance and having these experiences without attaching.

I use my yoga practices to let it move through me and to move on. But sometimes, the spiral of depression, shame, and self-criticism sets in. That feeling of “not enough” bleeds into a belief that I’m dropping the ball at home, with friends, with family, my health, other aspects of my business, my body, etc. A veritable shitstorm of unhelpful thoughts take over. In a cartoon world, I’d be walking around with a tornado for a head labeled with the word “EGO”. In bold black lettering, of course.

In the past, this feeling from whatever source (school, dance, work, relationships) has frozen me in my tracks. Or made me give up. Now, I am blessed with a big yoga toolbox and plenty of support to “pull my head out of my ass” (one of  my dad’s favorite sayings) and move on!

Last Sunday, I hosted a Yoga in the Pool event that was a total blast! It was a totally new modality for me, but ended up being a really fun experiment in yoga, mindfulness, and water! We had an amazing group of brave students.

In preparation for the event, I pulled a couple helpful tools to tie into the class: a quote from the great BKS Iyengar, “The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is reflected.”

I also utilized a meditation along the same vein from the wise monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. “Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.”

After the class, my dubious shame spiral set in. “It could have been better.” “Did people really have a good time?” “Am I an idiot and a total failure??” Unproductive, I know.

That day, I started using the Thich Nhat Hanh meditation, and found great wisdom in it. I imagined my negative thoughts as giant boulders dropping into the lake, creating great waves and distorting the reflection of the surrounding trees into something grotesque. Every kind thought or compliment a pebble completely insignificant in the wavy boulder storm. Through breath and repetition, I was able to see less and less boulders descending. Eventually, the water was placid. The reflection of the trees (or reality) a perfect mirror image. Each kind thought or compliment pebble creating ripples that expanded ever so slowly to every inch of the surface. The stillness gave me clarity that my perception has been distorted. That the reality is that everything is potential and that I am limitless.

The only thing in my way is me.



Meditation and Mindgames

BbluebrainLately, I’ve been feeling very frustrated with my formal meditation practice. In other aspects of my daily life, I find it fairly easy to be mindful, meaning: I try to keep my thoughts directed toward whatever I am actually doing at the time. “I am washing the dishes. I am writing an article. I am trying not to fall in handstand.”… You get the picture. But when I sit down and decide to focus on nothing, my monkey brain goes off every which way!

This Thanksgiving, in an effort of total leisure, I decided to download some mind and puzzle games onto my Kindle. I don’t usually play games, but it seemed like a chilled out thing to do while my Tofurkey roasted in the oven and the rest of my family watched football. I quickly became enchanted, perhaps obsessed with a word game called 7 Little Words. After an hour whizzed by, I came out of my game haze and realized I was completely focused on the task at hand. I didn’t think about the past or future. I was fully focused in on those 7 Little Words. I felt calm and focused: very similar to how I feel after a successful meditation session. So now I wonder, are there any correlations between gaming and meditation?

Both logic games and meditation have been shown to improve cognitive functioning, specifically in focus and memory. While solving a crossword puzzle may not help one find his or herself spiritually, it’s positive effects on the brain and on mood and temperament  can be a positive step in the right direction.

Let me be clear, I’m not promoting swapping a meditation practice for games, but when your meditation cushion becomes more of a source of frustration than enlightenment, a round of Bonza can be a nice alternative to calm the nerves and focus the mind, maybe better preparing you for your next meditation sesh.

Other brain games I recommend:

Red Herring

Cross Me

Flow Free