I Choose

The longer I live, the more I realize just how much about our lives and the way we experience reality is a personal choice. Our upbringing, our genetics, and our environment definitely contribute to how easily we are able to choose one thing over another, but we all have a choice. Some people may be naturally inclined to view things more negatively than others. For these people, it will always take more effort and practice to see the good in other people and situations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

I think I was born a with a friendly, happy, and positive disposition. Even so, as I grew older I began to lose touch with that lighthearted, open nature. Encounters with heartache, pain, and rejection caused me to close my heart little by little in an attempt to protect myself, to shield myself from the world. I started to view myself as a pessimist. I was the stereotypical “emo” kid throughout high school. The longer I stayed in that “woe-is-me” mindset, the more I started to identify with it. Suffering became an essential part of me. For years now I have been working to redirect myself back down a more positive path, a path that feels more true to who I was meant to be, and who I want to be. (I plan to keep that emo aesthetic though. I love me some black clothing.)

Currently, I am at a stage where I am able to clearly see both sides of that coin. I can see the negatives, the pessimistic viewpoint I would have once had, but I can also see the positives, the option I have to view things in a different way. I used to think one way was more true or honest than the other, but now I see that reality is all about perception. There is no right or wrong way to experience the world. It is always a choice. At times this can lead me to feel frustrated as I struggle against that doom and gloom voice I spent so many years feeding and building up inside my own head. It can be easy to get stuck feeling hopeless, feeling unable to change, a lost cause.

When these doubts begin to bubble up I try to remind myself just how far I have come. I never could have imagined that I would be able to become the person I am today. All I can do is keep moving forward and trust in myself. It may be a slow and arduous process, but it’s worthwhile. Truly, it is the only kind of self-improvement that matters. You can tell yourself you will be happy once you get a promotion, make more money, lose more weight, build more muscle, move somewhere else, but even after reaching all of your goals, you are still the one you have to face at the end of the day. It is easy to think that changing external circumstances will change the way we think and feel inside. That inner voice loves to complain and blame this or that for all of our problems. However, those upsetting and limiting thoughts are the real problem. This is always where we must start our journey, inside ourselves.

Even after seeing so many people achieve the things I want to achieve in life and continuing to be miserable, I find myself thinking those same accomplishments will bring me happiness even if it didn’t for them. We always think we are the exception. But those things we desire are ultimately just distractions. They are excuses for why we aren’t able to be happy right now. It can be difficult to admit that we are the only reason we aren’t happy. Happiness comes from within. It has been ours since the day we gained consciousness and it will be available to us in each and every moment until the day we die. Even when it feels impossible for you to allow yourself to be happy, just know that it’s because you haven’t spent enough time practicing. Sometimes I even think of this practice like a game. When I find myself facing something exceptionally upsetting or challenging, I ask myself: are there any positives I can find in this situation? Just like the hag stones I scan the riverbank for, the more time you spend searching for certain things, the easier it becomes to spot them. When I first tried to find those special stones, I felt like I would never find one. I wasn’t even sure if there were any to find. Yet now I am easily able to pick up two or three as I walk along the shore without even trying. At first it might feel like there is really nothing good about different parts of your life, but the more you practice looking for the good in things, the easier it will become and the more abundant those good things will seem.

It can be hard work, training ourselves to be happy, but it is possible. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I say these words for myself as much as for anyone who happens to be reading this. We are capable. We are powerful. We have everything we need inside of us. Don’t be afraid. You are safe. You are loved. You are enough. Even if at first you don’t believe it, keep repeating these uplifting, empowering words to yourself. Eventually they will become as true and real to you as that negative inner dialogue that many of us have become accustomed to. It may not be easy, it may take a very long time, but I promise you, it will work. And it will be worth it.

The Difference Between Yoga and Other Exercise

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Some of the first things anyone I meet learns about me are that I am a vegan, I workout a lot, and I am a yoga instructor. It seems like everyone always wants to combine the latter two into one. I get asked all the time, “Oh, so you do yoga for your workouts?” No matter how many times I get asked this question, it always surprises me. I forget that for a lot of the western world, yoga is just another workout routine like aerobics or Pilates. But it is so much more than that.

When people hear the word “yoga” all they think about are the asana, the physical poses. In reality that is only one small limb of the yoga practice. It is merely a nice bonus that the physical practice can double as a form of exercise. However, yoga isn’t about the physical body at all. When someone begins a workout routine, there is usually a goal in mind. “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to build muscle.” And while a lot of people may get into yoga with a similar mindset, I’d say most stay for the mental and spiritual benefits instead.

I started yoga primarily to become more flexible, but also hoped it would help my anxiety. Now, even though I am more flexible than I ever dreamed I would be, I couldn’t care less about that part! Yoga has given me so much more than the ability to do the splits. Yoga allows us to use the body as a gateway to our souls, our higher selves.

At the gym, you push yourself so that you can achieve results, run faster, look slimmer, lift heavier weight, etc. But when we push past our comfort zone in yoga it isn’t about that at all. At first we may be fixated on the idea of molding our bodies into perfect poses. Eventually we begin to see our practice through new eyes. In the end it doesn’t matter how close we can get our head towards our toes. It is about seeing how the mind reacts to not being able to do a pose perfectly, or in fact even how it reacts to doing the pose perfectly. What does the ego whisper to us in these moments? Can we learn to accept where we are in our practice, in our lives? Can we breathe through discomfort? Can we honor our limits?

It is these questions and many more than we explore and grapple with on our mats, with the hope we will be able to take what we learn with us into our daily lives. While the asana practice may result in some incredible physical feats, it was never about that. It is about the journey there and what we are able to learn about ourselves along the way. So no, my yoga practice is not my workout. I usually don’t think of it as exercise at all. It is a spiritual practice, a moving meditation, a beautiful celebration of life.