Playing with Your Personal Edge

Yoga is a mirror to all of life. All of our habits, thought patterns, personal beliefs, and doubts can be discovered and analyzed on the mat. One thing you may have heard before if you’ve taken a yoga class is the phrase “your personal edge.” This is referring to pushing yourself not into any particular shape or variation of a pose, but just to where you feel yourself reaching the edge of your body’s ability. More specifically the edge is right where you feel challenged, but not any pain or severe discomfort in your body. Finding that edge is a practice in itself. There are many challenges to keep us from recognizing it. Our ego may want us to go beyond that edge, to show off, or prove something. Our self-doubt and fear may want us to hold back and never meet that edge to ensure we don’t fall or fail or whatever other story it might be used to telling us.

A lot of people, myself included, spend a lot of their yogic journey, trying to master advanced poses as if checking them off some kind of yogi achievement list, or attempting to fill up a well of pride inside. Especially now, when we have all seen the impressive feats yoga can train the body to perform on Instagram, YouTube, or somewhere else online, it’s easy to forget that these physical forms are not the purpose of yoga. These magnificent, beautiful shows of flexibility, balance, and strength are a byproduct of showing up every day and meeting your personal edge. I’m sure the first yogis had no idea that the body would even be capable of these asanas in the beginning, they revealed themselves to be possible little by little as these seasoned practitioners slowly followed that ever moving edge.

At the same time, meeting your personal edge isn’t necessarily about “improving” yourself either. All of these outward results of doing so are just distractions and illusions. The real benefit of playing with that edge is what it feels like when you’re doing it. In yoga, as in life, if we push ourselves too far we become frustrated and disheartened. But if we never challenge ourselves, we will become bored and stagnant. Sometimes even after we’ve learned these lessons on our mat, it can take years for us to make the transition off the mat and into our everyday lives.

I’ve always had a hard time finding a healthy middle ground, in yoga and in life. I used to push my body a little too hard in my practice, aggressively forcing it into every more strenuous postures, occasionally even resulting in injury. Then I pulled back. For awhile, this was a welcomed relief from high expectations and pressure to outperform myself every day. However, now it has transformed more into a fear of testing my limits at all, in favor of easier, yet perfectly executed poses. I have this same problem in every aspect of my life. I seem to be in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and boredom. I push too hard and feel awful when I inevitably fail or burn myself out. Then I pull back so much that I become bored and disinterested all together.

Watching “Is It Cake?” on Netflix the other night, I was in awe of the way these pastry chefs believed in themselves. I could not even fathom what gave them the courage to try things that I would have immediately written off as impossible or at the very least, far beyond my ability. I see so many people doing this every day. People starting businesses, creating their own products, writing books, etc. I envy their self confidence and bravery. At the same time, they’ve taught me that rather than lack of ability or external circumstances, I am what’s holding me back from achieving my own personal successes.

I worry so much about what the final steps will be and my perceived inability to reach them that I never give myself permission to start where I am and focus on the first step. I become so obsessed with the end goal, that I forget to enjoy the process. In life, as in yoga, the true reward is not the final product, it is the blissful focus and moments of flow that we experience along the way when we are teasing the limits of our own ability.

I’ve been waiting for something to come along and shake me out of this directionless boredom I’ve been stuck in for so long now, forgetting that I have the power to push past this whenever I want. Because I never feel “ready”, my growth is usually the result of unforeseen circumstances forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone. I think I comfort myself with the idea that “I didn’t choose this. I never said/believed I could do this. So if I fail, it’s not my fault.” In reality, I’m just afraid of my own ego. I’m afraid that if I believe in myself, if I try to do something great and discover that I can’t, then it will reaffirm my own self-doubts and cause me to face the tongue lashing of my own inner critic. Somehow it feels safer to expect to fail. Then if I do, at least I can say I was right all along. Ensuring that, if nothing else, I’m at least still smart.

Even though this is the way I feel, it sounds utterly ridiculous to read this rationalization back to myself. Yoga has also taught me to set intentions and use them as an anchor. For so long now, my unconscious intention has been “avoid looking like a fool.” Totally losing sight of my aspirations and goals, not even considering what exactly a “fool” looks like. When I really think about it, I wouldn’t call someone who tries to achieve something great and fails a fool. It’s far more foolish to live your whole life clipping your own wings in an attempt to save face.

As I move forward with this knew wisdom, I want to remember that I get to set the intention. It doesn’t have to be something so concrete as “publish a book.” An intention can be something like “to be curious” or “to search for my personal edge.” This leaves a lot of room for exploration, surprising ourselves, and unexpected forms of success that may not look like what we thought they would. When I become frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’ve gotten distracted and lost sight of my true intention. All I need to do is slow down and remember what I really wanted out of this experience and letting go of what my ego tells me success looks like. Really success doesn’t look like anything. It is not a physical manifestation, it is a feeling. Something that comes about it all sorts of unique ways. Something we are all capable of experiencing.

Feeding the Bad Wolf

A grandfather is talking with his grandson:

“I have a fight going on in me,” the old man said. “It’s taking place between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

The grandfather looked at the grandson and went on. “The other embodies positive emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. Both wolves are fighting to the death. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person, too.”

The grandson took a moment to reflect on this. At last, he looked up at his grandfather and asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee gave a simple reply. “The one you feed.”

Cherokee Parable

One of my favorite podcasts recites this parable at the beginning of every episode. I’ve always loved this story, even if it does get a bit annoying hearing it every single time I listen to “The One You Feed.” Still it’s always interesting to hear what each guest has to say about it. My favorite spin so far is from a guest named Steve Hagen.

Hagen made the distinction that it is not just about which wolf we feed, but what we are feeding them. We still have to feed the “bad” wolf. We feed it kindness and love and compassion, the same as we do for the “good” wolf. For me this is such an important thing to remember. While the parable of two wolves is profound and inspirational, it can also be the first step on the path toward toxic positivity.

We all have these two conflicting sides inside of us. It may not always be as simple as “good” and “bad” though. It might seem straightforward enough to starve the bad wolf, imagining eventually that dark side of ourselves will lie down and die. It’s much harder to comprehend and accept, that although we may dislike aspects of our character, we need both of these wolves. Ultimately they are both a part of us. To truly heal and grow, we have to make peace between the many facets of ourselves and learn to integrate them all into a cohesive whole.

For many years now, I have been attempting to starve my bad wolf. Ironically, this hateful energy, even when directed towards hate itself, does the exact opposite. The parable never really gets into what precisely it means to “feed” these wolves. The “bad” wolf is being fed from the very bitterness we feel towards it. In the same sense, if we try to disregard it and ignore that side of ourselves completely, it becomes more depraved and more unpredictable in its desperate attempt to avoid starvation. A hungry wolf is a fearsome animal indeed.

Labeling one side of ourselves as bad, and the other as good, is doing a disservice to the complex tapestry we call life. Saying that we have a bad wolf elicits feelings of anger and self-hatred rather than equanimity. It’s our job to befriend both wolves and find harmony within the chaos.

The Fight of Two Wolves Within You | Dean Yeong

Birthday Baggage

Today marks the 28th year of my being on this planet. It’s an incredible thing to think about. For me personally, birthdays bring up a lot of mixed emotions. The day we were born is supposed to be a reason to celebrate each year, but I haven’t felt much like it’s anything to celebrate since I turned 18. As a kid, birthdays are exciting. You get a whole day filled with attention and presents, then as a teenager you even gain more independence and rights as a human being. At 15 you get a permit, at 16 a driver’s license, at 18 you get to vote and (when I was 18) smoke cigarettes, and I suppose at 21 you are allowed to drink. However, I had already been drinking for so many years before that, it didn’t really matter. If anything it just took some of the fun out of it.

Yet even as a child, I was never one to wish I was “grown up.” I always knew that childhood was something magical and precious, something to cherish. I never wanted to grow up. After gaining my independence at 18, I honestly wished that I could prevent time from moving any further forward. I had no concept of what the future would look like for me, and that hasn’t changed with all the years that have passed since then. It still feels surreal that I’ve made it this far. As a severely depressed teenager, you don’t really spend a lot of time imagining a future for yourself. I definitely never even considered a life for myself after 21.

While I am incredibly grateful that I’ve been given such an amazing life thus far, birthdays always remind me that my time here is limited. On my birthday, when I look in the mirror all I see is a youth that is slowly waning and that will soon be gone all together. Not only does it remind me of the physical deterioration and death we all have to face one day, but it also makes me feel like I have lost that much more value as a woman. My boyfriend said last night he comforts himself about aging by imagining himself one more year wiser. That may be well and good for him, but a woman’s wisdom holds much less significance than her youth and beauty unfortunately. Obviously, I’m not saying that this is right or that I agree with these statements and value judgements. Still, I do believe that this is the harsh reality that women face in our society.

Despite believing I am an incredible human being who is smart and funny and unique, I don’t delude myself into thinking I’ve gotten this far in life on those qualities alone. I fully believe I wouldn’t have been selected for my current job had I not made such a good impression at an earlier date while interviewing for a different position with my organization. My boss may not even be consciously aware of it himself, but I guarantee my appearance had a lot to do with him reaching out to me when a new job opened up.

Maiden, mother, and crone. These are the three stages of a woman’s life, at least in the eyes of the male dominated world. And I don’t really know where I fit in that cycle anymore. All but the maiden sound abhorrent to me. Although I’m pretty sure I’m getting a bit old to consider myself a maiden, I will never be a mother (nor would I want to be), and I sure as hell am not looking forward to being considered an old crone. As I drift farther and farther away from the freshness of youth, I can’t help but wonder fearfully when the world will begin to look at me and treat me differently. How many years do I have left before I am pushed to the side, discarded, and forgotten? It’s a sobering thought that prevents me from really feeling much like celebrating on my birthday.

On the other hand, I am proud of the life I’ve led up to this point. I am humbled and grateful for the unbelievable good fortune I have been blessed with for so many years. I am also endlessly baffled by the concept of time. I look back at my high school memories with fascination, unable to believe they are already ten years behind me. Yet at the same time, moments that once seemed so sharp and crucial in my memory have now begun to blur and fade together into a vague feeling, as if those things never really happened to me, but someone else instead. I feel even more removed from my childhood memories, as if they are just some stories I read a long time ago. It’s strange to think that some day even my current life will feel like something peculiar and foreign.

I suppose my birthday is just another opportunity for me to practice being grateful for what I have without becoming overly concerned with the fact that I will surely not have it forever. To a certain extend, that’s what gratitude is all about. There wouldn’t be much cause to feel grateful for something that was guaranteed and never changing. The transient nature of life is what makes it so precious. No matter what the future may hold for me, I have already been given more than I could have ever asked for, and that’s what is most important. That will be my heart’s mantra today as it continues to beat for me without rest even into it’s 28th year of faithful service. That miracle alone is something to be grateful for.

Happy Birthday to Me Quotes - Happy Birthday to Me From Me

Health, Illness, & Impermanence

You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

Achaan Chaa

If you are someone who is healthy and able bodied like me, take a moment to reflect on that fact. Even if you suffer from mental or physical illness or you are differently abled, consider all that you body is able to do for you every day. Most of us live our lives without ever thinking much about our health, until that health is threatened or lost. In the last two years, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought health, as well as illness, to the forefront of our collective awareness. Now more than ever in my lifetime, I have been faced with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence.

Even now, it’s easy to imagine I will somehow be immune to things like serious illness, accidental bodily harm, aging, or death. Although, logically, I know these things can affect anyone at anytime, I can’t manage to wrap my head around that fact. I have been privileged so far in life. I’ve always had relatively good health. I was born healthy. I’ve never had to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve never even broken a bone! At worst, I’ve suffered strep throat, stomach bugs, and cuts and scrapes. I have all of my senses. I have all of my limbs.

I’ve been isolated and sheltered from the harsh realities of illness. I was too young to comprehend my grandfather dying of heart disease. My grandmother died quickly without much distress or struggle from cancer a few years ago. Other than that and the death of a handful of pets, suffering, sickness, and death haven’t yet touched my life. Because of this, I have been able to live oblivious to these painful experiences for the majority of my life. This has allowed me to disassociate from many of the darker aspects of living. However, I know no one will make it through there entire life unscathed. I think it’s important for me to face what I’ve managed to avoid for so long.

Most of the time, I insulate myself with reassurances such as a healthy lifestyle and “good” genetics. Rarely do I ever acknowledge that those things only get you so far. We feel shocked and unnerved when we hear stories about random accidents causing severe injury or death. We are horrified and fascinated by sudden diseases, infections, or afflictions that seem to have no clear cause or no way to predict. We have immense sympathy, but somehow still think, “Well, that could never happen to me.” Deep down we all know that every day, every moment is a roll of the dice.

I’m not trying to be a downer or a pessimist. I’m not saying that we should always be obsessing over the possibility of misfortune. What I am saying is that we should never lose sight of how impermanent this life is. The quote at the beginning of this post is an excellent way for us to conceptualize this. Imagine that everything you have is “already broken.” Then we will not be as shocked or devastated when it does eventually break. It is also a reminder to treat all of the amazing things in this life, including our incredible bodies, with tenderness and gratitude.

When we hold in our awareness the truth of impermanence, illness, and death, it allows us to more fully appreciate the good fortune we are enjoying right now. Yes, suffering will reach us all in our lives, but today we are alive! What a blessing to wake up and enjoy moving through the world with this strong, healthy, able body. What a precious miracle it is to be free from chronic pain or illness. Thinking of things in this way, realizing that we ourselves are “already broken” makes these moments that would normally be taken for granted, something to be overwhelmingly grateful for. Let’s make a practice of savoring these simple moments so that when the time comes we are able to let go with grace and equanimity.

How Meditation Can Help Manage Illness | Everyday Health

Decisions & Intuition

A lot of the spiritual and mindful videos and podcasts that I listen to talk about doing what feels right in the moment or doing what will make you happy. I always catch myself waiting for them to explain to me how I will know what that is. Of course, they never do. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be self evident or if it’s just something that no one else can teach you. People always discuss intuition like it’s so clear. As if there is one particular thing you know you want, but you’ve been denying yourself. It’s never seemed that simple for me.

I’ve always been a very analytical and indecisive person. It’s hard enough for me to pick something to eat at a restaurant, let alone what path to take with my life, or what to do each day to best serve that path. I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they talk about intuition or just knowing they have to do something. I even remember learning in one of my psychology classes that most people feel more confident about a decision once they’ve made it. However, people predisposed to depression and anxiety don’t feel this same self assurance after making a decision. Instead they continue to doubt and question themselves. I would definitely count myself among the latter group.

I’ve been trying to listen for that voice of intuition in my head, but there are just too many contradictory voices. I’ve never known who to listen to. One voice may say: It’s a beautiful morning, let’s go for a walk. Then that voice is immediately shouted down by other voices saying: There isn’t time. The dog is going to make it too stressful anyway. You need to eat breakfast. You forgot to buy bug spray. Which voice is the one looking out for me? Which voice is guiding me towards what will make me happy? Some people may choose to just take the walk anyway and then feel confident it was exactly what they needed. However, for me, I’d just continue to wonder if I made the right choice and waste the walk ruminating anyway, over analyzing and second guessing myself. I guess that’s why I gravitate toward finding a routine and sticking to it no matter what my inner voices are saying.

Still I long to find fluidity and flow in my days. I don’t want every day to be exactly the same. I don’t want to remain stagnant and never experience anything new or novel. I want to be able to give my body and mind what it needs to flourish in each moment, not try to cram myself into the same box every day. My soul often cries out for more, but I feel I need an interpreter to decipher exactly what that “more” is.

Yesterday, I was weeding my garden and listening to an audiobook called, Siddhartha. At one point in the book, Siddhartha realizes that he has been seeking knowledge of himself from others. However, he is the only teacher he needs if he wants to learn about himself. Although this seems rather obvious, it struck me as profound in that moment. Perhaps my problem is that I keep waiting for someone else to teach me how to listen to my own intuition, for someone to teach me how to make the “right” decisions. I suppose I’m really the only one who can teach myself how to do these things.

The first hurdle I must overcome in this classroom of life is agonizing over making the “right” decision. There is no right decision. No matter what decision I make, it will teach me a valuable lesson about myself. The only way I’m going to find out which of these voices inside my head truly reflects my heart’s wishes is by listening to them. It’s time for me to start studying myself as an impartial observer. I’ll make decisions and let go of worrying about whether or not they are the “right” ones. I will never be able to know that. What I can observe, though, is how different decisions make me feel. Hopefully by being mindful of this trial and error process, someday I will be able to truly connect with that evasive intuition.

For now, I am just going to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to not know. I don’t need to always have the answer. It’s okay to trip and fall along the way. It’s okay to make the “wrong” decision. It’s okay to feel disconnected from myself, from my body and my spirit. I forgive myself for all of it. I’m learning how to rebuild that connection. With so much external stimulation bombarding us at every moment, it’s no surprise that I have a hard time sifting through the noise and hearing my true self clearly. There is no shame in that. I often get so frustrated by not knowing that I forget how much I love learning. How sad it would be to know everything. I am so grateful for the complexity of this world and of myself. Whatever you choose to focus on there is always more to learn. It’s time I got excited to learn about me, to tap into my inner wisdom and honor how unique and intriguing I really am.

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Letters to Past Selves (Part 1)

Teenage Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I know that life may seem like more trouble than it’s worth right now. But I promise you, in a few years you will be so glad that you stuck around to find out. You’ll probably roll your eyes at everything that I have to say, but I’m here to say it anyway. I know you worry a lot about the future. Primarily you worry about being alone. I know how many nights you cried yourself to sleep, imagining an elderly version of you wandering through a dark, empty house. I know the desperation you feel at times. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it will pass. You don’t have to be afraid. You may not believe it, but one day you won’t even care if you spend your life alone or not. Some days you’ll even wonder if maybe you’d prefer it that way.

I know you are experiencing a lot of confusion and strong emotions right now. I’m here to reassure you that that is normal. Unfortunately all of the annoying things the adults are always saying are actually true. “It’s just a phase.” “You’ll grow out of it.” “Teenagers.” I hope to not sound as patronizing. I know that only exacerbates your sense of isolation and being misunderstood. Please believe me. Even if no one else does, I understand you. And I hope that it can bring you some form of comfort to know that things won’t always feel so intense. I can’t promise you that life won’t always be as hard. Life is a cycle made up of many smaller cycles. You are going to find yourself suffering again and again. Life doesn’t get easier. You simply become stronger. And it is a beautiful process.

Remember all of the times that you cried and mentally went back to visit all of the other sad crying selves in the past? You held them in your arms and cried together. You thought that was an embarrassing form of self pity, but actually without realizing it you were developing your own lovely form of self-care. I am here to tell you that through all of this distance, through time and space, I am here to hold you now. It’s going to be okay.

Even though I can’t really be there to help, know that you already have all the support that you need. You have absolutely amazing friends. Be grateful for that. Cherish them, and try to hold on to them for as long as you can, especially Ally. She may get under your skin now, but she is the truest friend you’ve got. She’s your brother. Try to be nicer to her, even when you don’t understand her. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you should also be kinder to your family, particularly your mother. Right now it may seem like she’s to blame for all of the struggles you are facing, but I assure you, you’d be facing much more serious troubles were it not for her. She is an incredible woman. She has always been patient and kind to you. She certainly wasn’t perfect, but no one is. She does the best she can for you every day and that is what counts. She loves you. She loves you like no one else in the world will ever love you, unconditionally. So don’t close your heart to her just yet. Give it time and you will see.

I hope that at least some of these loving words of reassurance and advice will be able to reach you. I may not be able to take away your suffering, but know that someday you will even be grateful for these painful years. You will look back on them fondly, tenderly. You will learn so much in the years to come. You’ll even learn to love yourself more than you ever thought you could. You’ll learn how to be soft, but also strong. You’ll learn how to appreciate the little things so much that they become the big things. You’re going to be alright. You can do this. You already have.

Love,

Your Future Self

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LSD & Introspection

This morning I am feeling soft and calm. Last night I had a lovely LSD trip with my boyfriend. It was his first time, and I was honored to be there with him for it. One of the overwhelming aspects of acid that make it so wonderful for me is the way it allows you to witness your own thought processes without judgment. It was even especially interesting this time given that it had only been a week since the last time I tripped. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had two that close together before. It definitely allowed me to gain even deeper insights I feel.

During both trips, I noticed myself getting caught up in thoughts of the future. What should we do next? What will we do after that? It was almost uncomfortable for me to just allow myself to enjoy the present moment for what it is and not worry so much about what comes after. I had to keep reminding myself that it was okay to just be. I needed constant reassurance from myself. I needed to give myself permission to experience the pleasure right in front of me again and again. I also noticed that when I was in the moment and just doing what came naturally to me, I was at ease. I was happy, excited even. However, the moment I began questioning myself and wondering what the person I was with was thinking/feeling, I began to lose that perfect flow state. Things would then get more difficult, even awkward at times.

Now none of these experiences are unique to acid. The psychedelic part was just my ability to witness this behavior within my own mind in such a neutral way. It’s not that I wasn’t able to notice these tendencies before, it’s just that it’s hard not to harshly judge myself for being this way normally. This viscous self-criticism only exacerbates the anxiety and discomfort that I feel. On acid, I was much more easily able to comfort myself and get back to a better head space. I am able to rest in the fact that none of this really matters. Again and again I find myself coming back to the truth that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, everything is as it should be. Everything is okay. I don’t have to do anything or be anything other than what I am. It’s okay to just observe and enjoy.

That’s ultimately all we can do. Our only true purpose here is to experience this magnificent world of ours. Nothing more, nothing less. We are always putting these false restrictions on ourselves and those around us. We tend to close ourselves off to what is when it doesn’t align with what we expect or hope for. On acid I am always open and eager to see what’s in front of me for what it is. I am upbeat and curious, just exploring. Like I mentioned in my other post, this is one of the ways that I’ve always felt similar to my childhood self while tripping.

When we were children, we were all much more open to accepting things the way they are. Because we are still so young and new to the world, we basically just go with whatever is happening around us. We are joyful, curious, and very genuine with ourselves and others. It is only after we begin to grow older that we begin to expect things and people to be a certain way. Inevitably this causes us unnecessary suffering when life doesn’t unfold the way we thought it would.

For me, LSD is like a refresh button for the brain. Even though the hallucinogenic and psychedelic effects are gone by the next day, there is a lingering sense of wellbeing that stays with me. These experiences are a reminder that all is well. They’re a reminder not to take life so seriously. Everything is unfolding exactly as it’s meant to. I don’t have to worry or try to control it. I am just a passenger watching the scenery. I’m not driving the train, I’m not in charge of the other passengers. I am just here to enjoy and to love. And that’s more than enough.

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Moderation

When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.

One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.

For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.

Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.

I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.

Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)

Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.

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Be Your Own Sanctuary

Do not look for sanctuary in anyone except your self.

Buddha

We’ve all heard this sentiment before. We must love ourselves before anyone else can love us. Or no one can save us but ourselves. How we love ourselves is how we teach others to love us, etc, etc. Just from the sheer number of quotes with this type of message, we can assume that there must be at least some truth to them. When I was younger I used to roll my eyes at the many cliches and generic sounding phrases and quotes people would use so often. But as I’ve gotten older, it has become obvious why these words have created such a lasting impression upon humanity. Time and time again we find ourselves faced with the inherent truth of quotes such as the one above, quotes that have weathered the ages and remained for centuries in the mouths of humanity. They have spanned the vast oceans and appeared in one form or another in every human culture.

I find it interesting the way I’ve seen some people interpret this message. I’ve known several people who felt attacked by these innocuous words of guidance. I myself used to feel somewhat crestfallen upon being reminded of them. For some people, the idea of loving themselves, especially without first having the love of another, seems unimaginable, impossible even. A lot of us seek that validation from outside ourselves before we will even consider ourselves worthy of our own love. Therefore being told we must love ourselves first or all other love will fall apart seems like a life sentence of solitude, a quite cruel thing to say.

Now I see that these words are actually some of the most uplifting and hopeful that I’ve heard. Another way to interpret this message is that we already have all the love we need inside of ourselves. Even if it’s hard, even if it takes years of practice, we will always have ourselves at the end of the day. If we are able to love ourselves, the rest of life will come easily. With this inner love, this inner sanctuary we can create for ourselves, we never have to be alone. Other people in our lives will come and go, they may even harm us or reject our love, but as long as we have loving kindness towards ourselves, we will never truly suffer. No one can take us from our sanctuary, because our sanctuary lies within ourselves.

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Fond Farewells

Today’s yoga class is the last one I’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite regular students. She is an older woman named Carol. I felt a strong connection to her right away and was always pleased to see she would basically only come to the studio on Saturdays for my class. We would always stay and chat for a few minutes after class about our practice or about politics. She was truly a delight. There was a palpable absence when she didn’t come to class.

A few weeks ago I found out that she was moving back to her home state. I was quite sad knowing that soon I’d have to say goodbye to one of my students and a good friend. As I prepared my class for this week, I decided to design it specifically for Carol. At the end of practice she always works on her bakasana (crow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose.) As a special treat for her I made the whole class a build up to get us ready for those exact poses. I was happy to talk with her after class to discover that she noticed and appreciated this gesture of mine. I also gave her a small farewell gift. I had planned to give her one of my many hag stones since they are supposed to be good luck. However, I forgot them when I left this morning. Fortunately, I had a lucky howlite crystal keychain I decided to give to her instead.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I am not very good with people. I’ve never really understood how to appropriately approach different social situations. So while these kind gestures may seem second nature to a lot of you reading this post, know that for me it took a great deal of consideration and effort. To be honest, I don’t really know if that was “normal” or not when saying goodbye to someone you care about. I often worry that I am being over the top. As I was contemplating what type of small gift I could give her, I even second guessed doing anything special at all. She is just someone I see once a week for an hour or so that I probably won’t ever see again. I’ve certainly parted from people that were more integral in my life with less fanfare, sometimes without as much as a goodbye. I noticed that I was asking myself if it was “worth it.”

Most people seem to interact with others in the way they do simply because it comes naturally. For me, each interaction requires a lot of thought and careful consideration. I spend my mental and emotional energy very sparingly. So when I thought about the fact that I would never see this person again, the cold, logical side of my brain told me it would be a waste to exert any energy making an effort for a relationship that was inevitably ending. Normally I will justify kind gestures by telling myself it will end up being a benefit to me in the future. Even though that may sound heartless and selfish, it’s just the way my brain works even when I do genuinely care about the person involved. It’s usually the only way I can keep myself from avoiding the interaction all together.

I decided to just ignore that icy, calculating side of myself this time though. I felt like I wanted to do something for Carol, so I did. It felt right, and that was enough. Then, as I saw how much my small gestures meant to her, as I saw her teary eyes above her mask as she thanked me for everything, I knew I made the right decision. It doesn’t matter if I don’t see or hear from her again. It doesn’t matter if ten years from now I don’t even remember she exists. Sometimes it’s okay to just be grateful for the fleeting moments in life. Today was about honoring the meaningful connection I made with another human being if only for a brief period in time.

I am always so focused on the future, that sometimes it can be hard for me to find value in the temporary. Yet, nothing lasts forever. Today was a reminder of that. It was a reminder that each moment must be appreciated for what it is, without worrying about what it could be or what it will mean for the future. Isn’t is good enough to be happy just for the sake of being happy? It doesn’t have to last indefinitely for it to mean something. There is truly a lesson in everything if you care to look for it. I am grateful for Carol and the many lessons I’ve learned thanks to having her in my life for the time that I did. I hope she has gained as much from our time together as I have.

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