Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

The Possibility of Beginning. Maybe.

Well friends,

It’s a New Year.  We huffed our way through the holidays (in a spirited, good-natured way, one hopes), and we’ve crossed the threshold into 2009.  

I’ve often felt that this (somewhat arbitrary) point in one’s calendar should elicit some kind of significant transformation, some sacred renewal, some refreshing sense of purpose, meaning, intention, whatever. 

Yes, I went there.  The Caterpillar representing Transformation.

But I’ve rarely actually experienced anything of the sort — At least on or around January 1st.

However, many people regularly do.  And if you’re one of the regulars – It may be worth giving a quick thanks for such a palpable sense of Beginning.  

And I’d like to request membership into your club, perhaps just this time around, as I’m feeling a small bit of transformative Good happening beneath the surface.  

The purpose of Yoga, to whatever extent you practice it, and during whatever time of year, is actually… transformation.  Which makes the New Year a great time to let it shed some light in your corner…

Tree Pose

I describe Yoga as a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that leads you to your next and better place — Regardless of where you start.  

I started Yoga in a very isolated and frightened place.  At the time, I was dealing with undiagnosed depression and a hefty bit of self-doubt and self-hatred.  I was accustomed to working out in order to reach specific physical goals, and Yoga, at first, was another work-out option for me.  

The jarring thing was that the practice was so hushed.  Even when I felt like I was sweating through it, the idea of counting breaths made me… breathe.  And it made me listen to the breaths.  

I slowed down.  I felt calm.  (Unintentionally I assure you!   Calm was scary!)  It was utterly different than anything I’d done before.

Not to mention that in some of the poses, as I breathed, I would feel my body loosening and letting go.  I saw how physically uptight I was, how closed in… And how, with a bit of time and attention, it was possible to open up.  I saw distinct parallels with my emotional life, although I didn’t want anyone drawing them at the time.Gavel.  (Sentenced; get it?)

From the beginning, I think Yoga gave me a vague sense that nothing was sentenced.

Everything was changeable, even my own self-perception.  A lovely new idea.  

I still grapple with my will: With wanting to overtake a posture rather than allowing it to show me something about myself or my body.  I’m Type A, so it’s likely that this will continue to be my greatest Yogic challenge for some time.  But I also credit Yoga with teaching me a couple key Type-A-Take-Notice things:

1. You can always breathe – No matter how stressful or difficult the situation is…

2. and you can always let go just a little bit more.

Letting Go.

The practice of Yoga, even when seen only as a physical “workout,” will bring about some amazing transformations.  In addition to a more toned physique, increased strength & flexibility, lower blood pressure, improved respiration, reduced stress, supple joints, and better sleep…

…you may notice some sweet bonuses along the lines of greater ease with your body, a more objective view of anxieties, a practiced kindness toward yourself, more mindful consumption, a sense of having done something healthy… Etc.

This comes as a result of Yoga’s peculiar approach (at least in the world of physical training): In which you enter each posture not only to reach a physical goal but to truly take notice of where you are, right now, here on this mat.  

What is your body truly capable of?  Does it need rest?  Where do you feel the most sensation?  Are you clenching your jaw?  Can you take one more deep breath?  Can you relax anywhere?

The noticing is the beginning of the Change.  

Right now, my personal practice of Yoga is teaching me about vulnerability.  I often hide from my emotions, using physical or mental challenges to busy myself away from issues of the heart.  So you could say that it’s my practice of Yoga that’s given me a sense of Beginning this year…  

Here’s why:  As I mentioned, I’ve often gone about my practice by attempting to overtake each posture by sheer will and strength. (“I will get into headstand without a wall, I will not arch my back, and I will stay up there so help me until someone else falls down first!”)

I'm Fiercely Ambitious and Unaware!

Such focused ambition can be helpful in some arenas, but mostly what it does for me is block out anything unsavory.   By making my goals the only things that truly capture my attention, I give myself  a way out — A way to ignore the process, the moment, my actual life — with all its difficulties, questions, doubts, disappointments, and depression.  (I should note that I also wind up missing its joys, loves, inspirations, celebrations, etc…)

Choosing Not to Look.So as the year begins, I’m contemplating the idea of process.  In Yoga, I’ve seen that it’s possible to be fully aware of each moment, and to be truly kind to myself  — Even if I’m still on my way toward my “goal.”  

I’ve also seen that when it comes down to it, that very kindness is the whole point.  

And that it takes a lot more mastery than headstand.



Yoga, Eating, and Being Round-ish


Since everyone else is talking about it at this time of year…

At my heaviest, in college, I weighed 205 pounds — having been overweight since about sixth grade.  (High school and obesity is a sad combination; just fyi.)

My lifestyle these days is very different from anything I would have imagined at 18 years old, but I definitely still live with the physical and psychological effects of spending my formative adolescent years as a very round girl.  

I’ve now lost my excess weight, which was a hard-fought battle.  I am proud of the success; I think it’s good to acknowledge it — But to be honest, my road to weight loss was paved with self-hatred and exhausting self-criticism.  (Just because something is successful doesn’t mean it’s truly positive.)  

…When I encountered Yoga, it was its compassion and mindfulness that I found appealing.  I’d spent my life ignoring, depriving, and hating my body.  This exercise that invited me to look at my body, to listen to it, and to appreciate it — no scornful critiquing in sight — was utterly new… And very precious.

Child's Pose

Yoga invited several crucial changes to my physical body, my coping mechanisms, and my self-perception… Changes that are still very much in development.

And since they’re in development, looking in the mirror is still very tricky for me.  What I see is a combination of reality and of the images and ideas I formed about myself years ago.  

I still struggle with using food outside of its intended purpose(s).  Depending on the moment, it often  functions as reward, as comfort, as distraction, or as a poor substitute for self-kindness.


(Sometimes I think I’m being good to myself by eating a few cookies.  But if I was truly good to me, I’d give myself more rest.  I’d take deep breaths.  I’d notice the sunset, the air, the moment.  I’d laugh more often, I’d confide more often, I’d listen more.  But — I can’t.  I haven’t learned that kind of love or compassion.  I simply don’t yet place that much value on me.

So, when it comes down to it, a few cookies, a bag of chips, a bowl of M&M’s — They’re like throwing cheap presents at myself, hoping they distract me from seeing that I never spend time with me.) 

Offering Chocolate

And just so we’re clear, it’s not that there isn’t any genuine pleasure to be found in food.  It’s just that to find it, you have to truly be there with it.  Smelling it, tasting it, savoring it… Mindful & present.  You can’t be using it to get something or somewhere else.

Enter Yoga’s compassionate practice.  Namaste

What does Yoga have to do with eating?  With the pleasure of food, with being good to one’s self?

The practice of Yoga helps you learn to slow down, to embrace stillness and quiet, and to truly listen to your body.  You learn to be comfortable with the silent moments, and to hear what it is that your body, your mind, and your spirit really need.  

Through Yoga, you also generate a compassionate acceptance of your body — learning that who you are, right now, right here on the mat, is good and beautiful.  You can slowly peel away the habit of judging yourself against cultural standards, commercial images, or even your own expectations.  

Once you begin to accept and love yourself as you are, you can start to look at whatever emotional and spiritual hungers are driving you to find fulfillment, distraction, and/or comfort in food.  

Finally, using the steady strength, perseverance, and trust learned in the physical practice of Yoga, you can open up to these discovered hungers.  You can learn more about your real needs and then work to meet them in truly nourishing ways.  

Perhaps that will mean something as right-now as saying “no” more often, studying more about Journalingyour spiritual path, or calling a friend.  Maybe it means something as long-term as changing careers, examining a close relationship, or seeking professional counseling.  Maybe it’s a calling, a hobby, volunteer work, making time for family… It could be many things at once.  You’ll know what it is — what your body, mind, and spirit really need — when you take the time and make the space to listen.

And thankfully, Yoga can offer that time & space.

As far as eating goes, over time, your attention to your physical needs as well as your spiritual and emotional hungers will heighten your awareness of how you treat yourself: including what you put into your body.  Rather than choosing certain foods based on the restrictions of a “diet,” you’ll be inclined to choose healthier fare simply because it’s more nourishing.

Mindful eatingAnd when you do choose a few cookies, you’ll be able to enjoy them fully & mindfully — Not as a poor substitute for deeper human needs.  

For more on Yoga and the effects of the practice on eating, dieting, weight loss, and self-esteem, see “Why Yoga Works when Diets Often Fail,” offered by Yoga Journal Magazine.  An excerpt appears in my previous post.

Here’s to peace, health, and (truly) good food for all of us…

…And to a beautiful, mindful, and hopeful New Year!

The Hardest Part.

The hardest part, for most of us anyway, is believing that you’re worth the time.  I could be wrong about this, but one of the few things about which I feel certain these days is that we tend to come up short when it comes to self-compassion.  Such a thing doesn’t have to extend into self-hatred or even negative self-talk (though it does for the bulk of us), but it does include the inability to place value on one’s self.  

Uncluttering Your Life, below, sheds light on how this manifests for many of us: The way we’ll bend over backwards for someone else, but we won’t lift a hand for ourselves.  

(As a sidenote, this is utterly the opposite of what I grew up believing.  This is the opposite ailment of our souls.  It’s not that we’re selfish; it’s that we aren’t.)

In a manner of speaking.

Granted, it’s not like our bending-over-backwards is extended to “the whole world,” without regard.  It’s usually our families, friends, jobs, places of worship, community meetings, volunteer orgs…

But it’s certainly not extended to ourselves: the ones who (let’s face it) do have to actually be around (and, if I can be wildly greedy, NOT encumbered by self-doubt) in order to have a truly positive affect on our spouse/children/families/friends/clients/others.

And so Yoga is, as Amy Weintraub has said, “…about learning to build a new relationship with your body.”  Not just your physical body, but your mind, emotions, everything.  

Which doesn’t mean you start neglecting other people, or acting like an a- -.  (Sometimes we fail to do what’s good for us because we fear it will somehow hurl us into an abyss of selfish jerk-dom.)


Rather, it means that you begin to pay attention.  

Maybe when you breathe, you notice the breath.  Maybe when you eat, you truly smell and taste the food.  When you lie on your living room carpet, you feel each part of your back body against the floor.  


Or when you stand in Mountain Pose, you feel the ground beneath your feet, the uplifting of your rib cage, the crown of your head pressing up.

(Mountain Pose)Maybe when you’ve been working for ten hours, you feel the fatigue (and maybe even rest!).  When you’ve been eating thirds and fourths, you feel that you’re full.  When you’re having a negative conversation, you feel its effects.  When you have a joyful encounter, you feel the joy fully.  When you love someone, you let it move you deeply.



Of course, maybe it means that you give yourself 90 minutes a couple times a week to truly be in your body, doing some Yoga and letting the practice sink in.  

Or that at night you take some deep breaths to soothe your nervous system, or, upon waking, maybe you breathe deeply while offering gratitude for a new day.  

Whatever it is, if you’re like me, it’s hard as h—.  

But not impossible.  

Perhaps we’ll teach each other.