Yoga Inspiration: How do you honor your body?

Yoga Care via Behance

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with liking my body. It’s hard when one’s body type doesn’t fit the current model of societal beauty. There have been so many moments of shame and guilt, both with how I eat and how I exercise. Several years ago, though, a miracle happened. I lost a lot of weight because of an unknown illness. When sitting and reflecting on my good fortune, these words sprang in my mind: “I’ve given you what you’ve always wanted. What will you do now?”

Since then, I’ve made key changes in how I treat myself.

First, I haven’t weighed myself for three years. I associate my worth with my weight and that is not healthy.

Second, I don’t calorie count. I become obsessed and actually gain weight.

Third, one of my goals is to practice mindful eating. Our bodies know what they need better than we do.

Fourth, I took my yoga teacher training.

.If there is one thing I’ve learned from practicing yoga daily, it is how to accept myself for who I am in the moment. Does this mean I always succeed? No, but the intention is there. True mental healing concerning our body image comes when we stop punishing our bodies for simply being.

Common ways we punish our bodies are overeating, not eating, harmful exercise, harsh language, and even physically harming ourselves.

It is definitely not easy to treat ourselves well all the time because our bodies are constantly changing. So the question I ask myself is, “Will I accept myself for the way I am right now?” This acceptance means we find the balance between loving our current selves and embracing changes that come by challenging our limitations to embrace our innate abilities.

This means we don’t reprimand ourselves for not being able to fully express poses during our practice.

It means we actively choose to become stronger by practicing harder poses.

It also means honoring our bodies when they reach their limit.

Above all, it means we mindfully tune in to our bodies to know what they need.

Thank you for reading! I hope this helped you! May we all continue forward on this journey of discovering and loving our true, divine selves.

February Yoga Challenge: Day 21, Do you feel the sunshine?

Autumn Forest Illustration Valery RybakouDreamstime.com

Today I had a walking meditation under blues skies and beautiful sunlight after church. Seeing the sunshine is a rare treat in Upstate New York during the winter, so I was glad I took the opportunity to go out and soak in the light. Just being outside for a half an hour in the sunshine lifted my spirits exponentially. This experience reminded me of my hardest winter in Rostov, Russia.

January 2017 was the grayest month I’ve ever endured. Rostov winters aren’t white. They are grey, windy, cloudy, and cold. Having grown up in the West my whole life, it was difficult never seeing the blue sky. At the time, I was also working through painful emotional challenges. Long story short, I had terrible seasonal depression.

During my scripture study one dank morning, it occurred to me I had the power to bring sunshine into my day in other ways. I decided to write all my daily blessings on sticky notes and put them all over the hallway mirror where I could see them every time I came home. Around that time, I also took the time to write fun daily events texts to other missionaries serving in my area.

This change in attitude made all the difference for my missionary service. The greatest change, however, was most present in my heart and mind. My thoughts were brighter because my focus was not on my pain or the sad, winter landscape. I created daily sunshine to stimulate and enhance my life.

What does this have to do with my yoga practice? I like to picture the sun salutations as a way of opening my heart to change and honoring the sun, which anchors me physically, spiritually, and mentally. Traditionally, Surya Namaskar A and B sequences represent a persons’ external and internal veneration for the sun. Hands are placed at the heart at the beginning and end of each salutation, symbolizing this reverence and connection.

One of the means of honoring the sun is through the dynamic asana sequence Surya Namaskar (better known as Sun Salutation). The Sanskrit word namaskar stems from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore.” (The familiar phrase we use to close our yoga classes, namastete means “you”—also comes from this root.) Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the joined-hands mudra (gesture) touched to the heart. This placement is no accident; only the heart can know the truth.

The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying “rivers, seas, mountains, fields…stars and planets…the sun and moon” (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).

Richard Rosen, Here Comes the Sun: The Tradition of Surya Namaskar

However, sometimes we salute the sun even when we can’t see it. It is wonderful to think each person has an anchoring light within them. We don’t need to always see the sun to know it’s real, to feel its warmth, or experience its power through the earth’s rotation. I like to think all of us are beings of light, and yoga reminds us to look inward and recognize this within ourselves. 

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Sunshine Envelope via pushing the envelopes

Yoga Inspiration: Day 17, How do you meditate?

‘Girl Reading’, Charles Edward Perugini, (1870)

I made a monumental discovery today. Meditation is more than sitting on a pillow with my eyes closed while concentrating on deep breathing. Not that I don’t love doing this! But I have an eclectic mind and thrive on variety and exploration. So today, on my third day off from intensive yoga practices, I meditated on different ways I mediate off my yoga mat and pillow.

Honestly, yoga teaches how to practice mindfulness in all aspects of our life, even during activities and habits usually not associated with meditation or spiritualism. Here’s a small list I’ve made for myself.

  1. Reading Familiar Books
    • Rereading favorite books creates a safe space for the mind. The more I read a story, the better I understand its meanings and life applications.
  2. Reading New Books
    • Discovering new and wonderful books is one of my life’s joys! I believe attaining knowledge through reading is one of the most beneficial medicines we can find.
  3. Re-watching Favorite Movies
    • Much like revisiting favorite books, re-watching my favorite movies has a medicinal effect on me. Many of them remind me of the things that are most important to me.
  4. Watching Children’s Shows
    • Watching old cartoons or children’s shows brings me a lot of joy. I don’t feel myself opposing, sorting, and relabeling what I see. Nor do I have to switch on my language in my brain.
  5. Walking Outside
    • I am empathic, so going outside, breathing in fresh air, and walking is one of my favorite ways to sort and quiet my thoughts.
  6. Cleaning
    • Clean rooms are happy rooms. Clean minds are happy minds. Cleaning my space helps me simultaneously clear my mind of anxiety and turbulent thoughts.
  7. Researching and Writing
    • I love research projects! I love sharing what I learn! Research and writing taught me to FOCUS and connect my thoughts.
  8. Playing and Listening to Music
    • I’ve loved music since I was young. When I need to unwind in a very personal way, sometimes I sit and play the piano or sing. I can’t list all the times beautiful music has uplifted and enlightened me.
  9. Riding Transport
    • Riding in cars, buses, trains, or airplanes sometimes brings me wonderful enlightenment. I especially love to look out the window and ponder the scenery and people I see.

Thanks for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 11, Have you ever done yoga blindfolded?

“必要なことだから” (Because it’s necessary) Illustration by Re°

It’s interesting how extraordinary experiences happen when doing familiar things differently. When I tried going through my Ashtanga Vinyasa Flow today, I decided on a whim to change my routine. Yesterday, I talked about being true to our personal practice and not following a yoga routine mechanically. Building off this idea, I had a curious thought come to me while I began my sequence today. “What is yoga like for people who are blind?

This thought became the catalyst for the rest of my practice. I made a makeshift blindfold and resolved to go through my whole sequence without seeing. My hour of blindness was enlightening. Because I couldn’t use my eyes to position myself, I had to root down into postures more to not lose balance. However, I realized throughout all my years of practicing, my body had developed sufficient muscle memory to go through the sequence without seeing.

My senses of sound and touch heightened to make up for my lost sight. I could trust myself to move correctly, without fearing failure. My breathing pushed my body through the flow and became a more active participant especially as I transitioned between different positions. By the end of the practice, I was physically exhausted but my mind felt less restricted.

There is a quote I feel fits today’s theme. Maya Angelou once said, “We are only as blind as we want to be.” I can honestly say I didn’t feel restricted as I went through this sequence today. I trusted myself more and didn’t judge my body for its weaknesses or imperfections as badly. Perhaps this is because I was trying to see in a deeper, more fulfilling way. I had no one to compare myself to, including myself. All I had to go on as an indicator for my practice was how I felt. It’s hard not to feel proud of yourself when your body and mind feel so satisfied.

After going through my experience, I went on to see if there are other yogis around the world who do their practice blindfolded. Unsurprisingly, there are many studios around the world who do this. (If you are interested, here are several websites detailing blinded yoga practices: yogalife.org, wanderlust.com, yogabasics.com, Gaia.com.)

Yoga teacher and writer Andrea Rice from Wanderlust.com noted in her article Blindfolded Yoga: Not Seeing is Believing, “When sight is removed from your yoga practice, there’s no choice but to turn inward and heighten your other senses.” In an interview with fellow yoga teacher Rina Jakubowicz, she asked a poignant question. “How does blindfold yoga help to improve the practice?” Ms. Jakibowicz’s answer really got me thinking.

When you remove your most relied-upon sense—your sight—your other senses heighten naturally, forcing you to look within and observe the weaker areas that need strengthening. You will get physically stronger because you are more consciously using your muscles so as to not lose your balance.  You also get a window into your deeper, inner-most thoughts, which could be making your practice suffer.

And because you’re blindfolded, you’re not competing with anyone in class and really tuning into yourself without judgment.

Rin Jakubowicz, as quoted by Andrea Rice in Blindfolded Yoga: Not Seeing is Believing

If you have never tried blindfolded yoga, I would recommend it, even as just a one-time experience.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 5, How do you flow?

“One Breath” by LaureBPaintings, Available for Purchase on Etsy!

I woke up tired this morning after a second night of tossing and turning and realized I had strained a muscle in my shoulder while I slept. Mulling it over, I decided to be very gentle in my Ashtanga Yoga practice today. Given the amount of anxiety I’ve apparently been carrying lately, I wondered how this would go.

Honestly, my practice flowed better despite my injury. I think this is because I felt very in tune with my body and adjusted my movements as needed. That got me thinking about how my body flows throughout a yoga sequence. Physical exertion is not yoga’s primary purpose. Yoga is a moving meditation. I have to remind myself of this often.

What does that mean? I know for me, it takes days like today to help me slow down and follow my body through the practice. To move or flow through a yoga practice is to conduct a self-examination and accept our imperfections and physical progression without negative judgment. I’ve always loved thinking about my physical practice mirroring my spiritual progression. If I can overcome and accept physical limitations step by step, I can free myself from distractions that keep me from moving forward.

My yoga study in Provo, Utah, is called 3B yoga. (If you live in this area, feel free to check them out!) The three B’s stand for Breath, Bend, Be. When I first walked into my studio, I was impressed with the gentle and welcoming feeling there. As months passed and I finished my teacher training there, I marveled how each of us in the class had a different way of teaching and practicing yoga. The fundamentals were the same, but our personalities gave our classes a unique feeling.

Not only does each person flow differently, but how we practice yoga changes daily. None of us ever stay exactly the same. This is comforting for me because it means I can always progress, even while doing the same yoga sequence.

So its okay to change how deep we go into poses, or how long we stay in Shavasana during our practice. May we all flow in our own unique way!

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 4, Where do you base your worth?

Human and universe power, watercolor painting by Benjavisa RuangvareeDreamstime.com

When I stopped and did yoga today, I realized I base my practice on my mindset for that day. Today, with so many heavy thoughts I wondered, what gives my yoga practice meaning? Is it doing harder poses or remembering to breath in all the right places? Am I any less if I am unable to do these things?

I had an enlightening conversation with my friend Erica about my many concerns. I told her about how frustrated I felt because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and that I felt down on myself because I wasn’t working. She told me most people don’t have careers that make them truly happy, but many find contentment in their job because they feel satisfied with their work. She also said there are many people who base their personal worth on their work.

Movies usually depict single women as aspiring or strong career women. They have lots of money, great houses, their dream job, and are incredibly beautiful. When I see these women, I start to feel uneasy because I am not like them. I don’t have all those fancy things, so where does that leave me?

It makes me think of the many men and women who struggled during the Great Depression. I think it was hardest for parents who longed to provide for their families yet couldn’t because there were no jobs. Many men suffered great mental anxiety because societal problems compromised their role as caregivers in their homes. Part of me wonders if that is why we sometimes equate our self-worth with the quality of our careers.

Do I do the same thing? Maybe I don’t base my worth necessarily on my job status. Perhaps I base it on other things like my obedience to personal goals, feeling needed by people around me, or in how virtuously I’m living.

Following through with my post yesterday, I pondered a lot in my daily Ashtanga sequence what makes me a meaningful existence? Then, as sat practicing my pranayama near the end a profound thought struck me. “Doing this sequence does not add to or diminish my worth. It helps me remember and accept myself as I truly am.”

I love what church leader Joy D. Jones said during General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints.

Let me point out the need to differentiate between two critical words: worth and worthiness. They are not the same. Spiritual worth means to value ourselves the way Heavenly Father values us, not as the world values us. Our worth was determined before we ever came to this earth. “God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever.”

Joy D. Jones, Value Beyond Measure

Making daily goals and working cannot replace a firm understanding of my worth as a person. So, when I do yoga tomorrow, I want to be less of a self-critic and more of an understanding observer. For, “When we understand our worth, we move differently.” I’d say we all think about ourselves differently as well. It’s not about the poses. It’s about remembering and recognizing we have great worth, while observing our physical and spiritual changes through meditational movement. 

Thank you so much for reading! See you tomorrow!