I recently started a gratitude practice. Each morning, I pull out one of my beloved composition books that I purchased for only fifty cents each and I write down my "Daily Gratitudes." The inspiration for this practice came from two places.
First, I started Gabby Bernstein's May Cause Miracles book and work in September. It helped me to realize how powerful my thoughts are. I can choose to use that power for negativity of positivity.
Next, I have been following a woman on Instagram named Tammi Salas. Tammi is an amazing person and artist. She creates her own daily gratitudes and uses color and drawings to make the most amazing pieces. I'd been creeping on her posts for weeks and finally I let go of the idea that I had to make my lists look like hers. I just started writing.
Here are some pictures of my recent lists.
This morning I woke up with a headache and in the past I could've definitely gotten caught up in that story. Today, I tried a few alternative tricks, waited a bit, took some Tylenol, and made my list of daily gratitudes. This practice helps me to shift my mindset to focusing on what is good and to break free of negativity.
Loving and noticing what is good is tough for many of us because we get so busy and addicted to negative mindsets. But the real challenge is to love what's not so good, at least not on the surface or at first glance. This practice has helped me to be grateful for the challenges too.
Truth? Every "bad" thing in my life has helped me to grow. I might not love it when it's happening, but I can look back and see the gifts. I'm trying to be more open about experiencing that kind of gratitude for difficult situations as they happen, in real-time. I'm a work in progress.
How can you start your own gratitude practice? Find a notebook. The cheaper the better, in my opinion. Set aside ten minutes each morning and start your list. I challenge myself to always fill the page. Sometimes I write the same things (the morning sky makes a lot of appearances on my list, as does coffee) but I also reflect on what's going on in my life in that moment or what's on the horizon. Over time, I've noticed that the energy of gratitude stays with me throughout the day because of the seeds I've planed in the morning.
I knew this practice was working for me when I found myself not having to think about it. I just instinctively reach for the notebook each morning.
I hope you'll consider starting your own gratitude practice this fall. Namaste friends. -Karen
Ever feel a little bit confused by the differences between meditation, savasana, yoga nidra, restorative yoga, and sleep?
You aren't alone! In today's post, I'm going to break it down so that even Joey could understand. Let's get started.
First, don't let worrying about whether you are doing any of these practices "right" stop you from enjoying them. While there are definitely differences between each of them, don't worry if they start to overlap with each other, because they will. It's okay. Keep practicing, engage in some self-study to learn more, and attend classes when possible to deepen your practice. But again, I see people applying the achievement mentality to yoga and it doesn't work that way. No gold medals are given out for savasana. Just explore and enjoy.
I thought about pulling in a lot of quotes from the world's greatest meditation experts here, people like Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, etc. Instead, I'm going to stick with my own, straightforward explanations. For me, meditation is the practice of becoming aware of my thoughts. In order to do this, I sit, close my eyes, and turn inward. Then, I watch my thoughts.
This witness mentality is what makes meditation unique. Rather than being inside of the thoughts, "What should I make for dinner? I have to fold my laundry. My foot hurts," I watch the thoughts begin and end. One visual that I like to offer students is to imagine that you are standing still, watching a leaf blow past you in the wind. You might also envision a river flowing by you or a balloon floating into the sky. The thoughts come, and then rather than attaching to them and getting carried away, we watch them leave.
Meditation is typically practiced in a seated position and savasana is practiced lying down, although some bodies need to make different choices for comfort. Many schools of thought believe that having the spine upright in meditation is a way to "power up" the energy body. Old school yogis would sit in lotus pose so that if they dozed off while meditating for hours, they wouldn't fall over. That's great for them, but I usually sit cross-legged with lots of props to support me (blanket under butt, blocks under knees).
Another difference is that when in savasana, we are practicing rest. We are allowing our bodies to just melt into the mat. In meditation, we are a bit more intentional. We want to be comfortable so that our body doesn't distract us, but rest is not our primary focus. Awareness is.
2. Savasana (corpse pose)
Savasana translates as corpse pose, although many Western teachers and students prefer rest pose, which feels a little less morbid. What this means for me is that I surrender in savasana. I don't worry about my breath or my thoughts or my body. I just let go. Your work is done. There is nothing for you to do here.
Savasana is typically practiced at the end of an asana (mat-based postures) session. However, I would encourage you to consider making savasana its very own practice. In this busy, modern world of ours, spending five-minutes in savasana each day can be very powerful.
One common question about savasana regards falling asleep. It is common for students to doze off here. Is that okay?
Of course. If you fall asleep in savasana it simply means that your body needs sleep. But sleep and savasana aren't the same thing. Savasana is about surrender. You are awake but at rest. Learning how to be awake and at rest is incredibly important for stress relief and wellness.
If you fall asleep in savasana once in a while, good news, you are a human being. If you always fall asleep in savasana, you are likely experiencing some sleep issues that you could investigate more deeply. Healthy sleep hygiene is very important.
3. Yoga nidra
Now we're really going to test Joey's brain! Enter yoga nidra. What is yoga nidra? It is yogic sleep. Cool huh?
In yoga nidra, a teacher leads his or her students through a very specific script that says things like, "Feel your left toe. Release your left toe." You are often asked in yoga nidra class to set a sankalpa, or a promise to yourself, and to call upon a deep desire that you have. It is believed that you can enter a state in between consciousness and unconsciousness where those desires can be manifested.
You know that feeling you have when you are about to fall asleep and you have weird thoughts, like your brain is just freestyling and attaching random ideas together? Some might call this dozing. You are in between awake and asleep. That's where yoga nidra takes you with the intention of keeping you there for a set amount of time. It is believed that in that middle space, your brain can do some pretty tremendous and magical things.
Scripts in yoga nidra classes are very specific and you will listen to your teacher's voice for most of the class. You can also find yoga nidra scripts online.
Yoga nidra is very similar to restorative yoga in that you will likely be in a reclined and supported position. However, in a restorative class, most of the class is held in silence with very little external stimulation. In a yoga nidra class, the teacher is speaking and guiding you through the script the entire time.
4. restorative yoga
Restorative yoga involves the practice of using props to create complete support for your body. In a restorative class, you'll typically move through only about four or five poses and you'll use bolsters, blocks, and blankets. Once in a pose, you'll stay there for about five or ten minutes, just being. This activates your relaxation response so that you can find a state of calm. Restorative yoga is wonderful for stress relief and healing.
The same concepts around savasana apply here, and savasana is absolutely a restorative pose. However, there are many restorative poses other than savasana. Legs up the wall is another example of a restorative pose.
While the focus in restorative poses is on letting go and finding that still space inside of you where you can soften and surrender, these poses also work on the body too. For example, in a restorative backbend, you are completely supported but you are also gently opening the spine.
Just as in savasana, you might doze off in a restorative class, but ideally, you will stay awake. Learning how to be awake and relaxed is very important.
Does it seem silly that I'm describing sleep? I'm not so sure. When I hear people talk about sleep, it seems like many of us have forgotten what it is. Sleep is the time when our bodies and minds recharge. Sleep restores us. Scientists are doing all sorts of interesting research about what happens when we sleep, but they seem to all agree that the brain is busy taking care of important business while we are at rest. If your sleep isn't restoring you on most nights, consider doing some research on sleep hygiene. Personally, if I don't sleep well, everything else is so much harder. I value my sleep.
In the previous four practices listed, remember that ideally you aren't falling asleep. If you doze off once in a while, no big deal. If you are consistently exhausted every time you stop running around and doing things, you're body is trying to tell you something (that it's completely exhausted) and it's time to take a look at your nighttime sleep.
Fun fact: as part of my recovery from a mild traumatic brain injury, my concussion specialist had a lot of strategies for me, but she really emphasized that a full night of sleep was the most important thing. I believe this is true for people recovering from injuries and illnesses, but also for all of us experiencing daily stress.
Still have questions? Ask away!
Thanks for reading. I hope this helped to answer some of your questions. Namaste friends, Karen
This week I'm reflecting on the work of Donna Farhi in Bringing Yoga to Life. You can read previous posts here:
Day 1: Box of Monsters
Day 2: Relationships
Day 3: Sitting Quietly
Day 4: Pandora's Box
Today is the last day of Donna Farhi week and I just want to take a moment to thank the people who've read my posts, but most of all, to thank Donna for her decades of dedication to the yoga field.
Today's quote and reflection is about dharma. I feel like I came out of the womb saying, "Universe, what's my purpose in life?" so I'm really excited to chew on this.
"How do we know whether a path or action is our dharma? Our dharma is almost always the option we choose last because it is the most challenging."
One of the things this makes me think about is the work of Sue Frederick and Dan Millman around life purpose. I've studied both of their teachings and they say very similar things: the stuff we are here to learn is going to challenge us. If it came easily on day one, we wouldn't need to learn it.
Our natural tendencies seem like the path to follow right? For example, my tendency is toward a lack of structure. When I follow my tendencies, dishes pile up and laundry goes undone. Things get messy. That's my tendency, but the thing is, I don't feel good when I follow it. It feels natural when I'm doing it but in the long-run, it doesn't serve me.
When I build structure and routines in my life, it is hard. Those things don't come naturally to me, but when I push myself a bit to keep things in order, I feel better. When my external environment is clear, it helps me feel clear inside.
Another example for me is around sleep. My tendency is to stay up too late being all weird and creative and to get up at the last possible minute in the morning after hitting snooze. But again, I don't really feel good about myself or life when I do that. Lately, I've been putting my phone on the other side of the room and waking up at 6:15 in the morning without hitting snooze. This doesn't come easily to me, but when I do it, I feel really good about myself and it starts my day on the right foot.
Our dharma is our purpose. That doesn't only apply to a career. This is so important! I work as a career intuitive coach and I'm here to tell you that finding the "right" career is a myth. Yes, there are some fields that you are much better suited to than others. But in general, you can serve your purpose in any number of different careers. What's more important is the attitude and mindset that you bring to your career. And FYI-your career won't fix you. If you have broken space inside of yourself that need to be dealt with, the only thing that will fix them is doing hard self-reflection that needs to be done. I notice more and more that people place all manner of pressure onto a career. They're miserable, and they believe it's because of their job, when really, it's because they are resisting looking inside of themselves. Careers, in short, are easy scapegoats.
Take a look at dharma from a bigger perspective. Are you taking care of yourself? Your body? Your mind? Your spirit? To me, this is the first place where we can start to live our dharma.
I just love this quote though, because it reminds me that I'm not behind schedule, you know? None of us are. We're right on time.
I'm curious how others define dharma and if this idea of arriving at your dharma last makes sense to you? It's certainly true for me.
Thanks for reading. Namaste friends. Have a great weekend.
This week I'm reflecting on the work of Donna Farhi in Bringing Yoga to Life. You can read previous posts here:
Day 1: Box of Monsters
Day 2: Relationships
Day 3: Sitting Quietly
Today's quote makes me think of the story of Pandora's Box. I think everyone knows that Pandora opens this mysterious box and all this crazy, terrible stuff comes flying out, right? But guess what I learned a few months ago. After all that stuff has left the box, there's one thing left: hope. Hope is at the bottom of the box. Funny that I'd never learned that before.
Words of wisdom from Donna:
"Unfortunately, what we want is what we most fear: we yearn for a larger life, but we're not so sure we want the consequences. Thus our little self almost always perceives the recognition of this larger Self as a threat...We may find that in opening to this larger life it is bigger and more chaotic and more filled with intensity than we'd like, and fear invoked by the possible spaciousness of such a life sends us running back to our old stomping grounds. Our very sense of separateness and feeling of being cut off may impel us to defend the life we know even if it is filled with misery. We may even feel that to open ourselves up to life is to risk self-annihilation. In truth, it is the purpose of Yoga to destroy this limited sense of self so that...we can discover the joy not only of being alive, but of letting life be who we are."
Yeah. What she said.
I know so many people who've gone down the yoga path and it sort of blew up their lives, but mostly in good ways. There are trade-offs. Once you open your eyes and start seeing things from this new mindset, you can't go back. I compare it to the scene in The Matrix when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill.
"You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
When treated as a spiritual undertaking, yoga is like taking the red pill. In many ways, I feel like the last three years of my life have been a series of daily spiritual surgeries. I've faced things about myself would've been a lot easier to ignore. But as the saying goes, the truth shall set you free. I am more myself now than I have ever been, but it's hard sometimes. Sometimes I long for ignorant bliss.
Chipping away at the ego is so uncomfortable at times. The ego fights back y'all, for real. It's relentless. It's a crafty chameleon. But then I breathe. I have a practice. I close my eyes and zip my lips and listen. And then it's good, then it's worth it.
I have a few, close friends who I can talk to about this metamorphosis that we are going through, but most people don't want to talk about these things. Which is fine. Everyone has a right to be where they are on their own journey. But the blue pill can be lonely sometimes. I guess that's one of the reasons that I chose this quote to write about today. There are SO many amazing quotes in this book and I could've easily made myself crazy trying to choose five to write about this week. Instead, I really tried to trust my intuitions and instincts. This one spoke to me this morning and asked to be shared.
I've been doing daily work through Gabby Bernstein's May Cause Miracles, something I'll write about more in-depth when I complete the 42-day program. Gabby is a student of and teacher of A Course in Miracles which also addresses this process of shifting from an ego mindset to a miracle (or yogic/Self) mindset. It involves a minute-to-minute practice of choosing love over fear. It's no joke, but what's the alternative?
Thanks for reading and thank you Donna for writing and living and speaking. Last post in Donna Farhi week will be tomorrow. I hope you'll check back. Namaste friends.
This week on the blog, I'm posting quotes from Donna Farhi's Bringing Yoga to Life and reflecting upon them, because Donna is brilliant and I hope to connect you (and myself) with her beautiful ideas.
Read Monday's Post "Box of Monsters" Here
Read Tuesday's Post "Relationships" Here
I want to talk about this quote with all of you all the time. I'm obsessed with this quote. This is it. This is the work. This is yoga in the modern era.
After I first read Bringing Yoga to Life, I posed this question on Facebook: when was the last time you sat still for ten minutes without doing anything else? I expected that most people would say that it had been a while. I didn't realize how many people would say it had been years. Some said they couldn't remember the last time they'd sat still.
True confession: I used to be a savasana skipper. I went to this yoga-inspired fitness class at the local gym that included savasana at the end. I would get up and leave before it started. I had an entire story in my mind that I told myself. "I can't sit still so it's okay that I leave. I'm honoring my limitations." A friend of mine came to one of the meditations workshops that I taught last year and afterwards, she came up to me and said, "That was really great, and it's so funny, because I remember when you used to skip savasana." We laughed. I had come full circle. But first I had to drop that story. I had to learn how to sit with my discomfort about sitting.
That first yoga class that I attended where I stayed for savasana, at Liquid Bliss Yoga in Ship Bottom (Hi Catherine! Hi Ashley!) was where things changed for me. I stayed. That was probably one of the most important turning points in my life. I became willing to sit still.
I hear a lot of students tell me that they can't meditate because they don't have time, because it's too boring, or because they can't sit still. They have become human doings instead of human beings. But that's okay. That's where they are now. That's where I was. But I do believe that learning to just be ourselves with nothing else there to protect or entertain us is the first step toward health, wellness, peace, and prosperity.
If this quote of Donna's speaks to you, dig around a bit and see what comes. See if you can step outside of your story and notice it from afar. Is it true? Is it really true that you can't sit still? Is there anything about sitting still that scares you? What would happen if you tried it?
Ten minutes is a lot, I will say that. For some people who haven't sat still in years, ten minutes can feel like torture. I tell my students to start with a minute. Sit still for a minute. Then try two. Then three. Right now, I aim to sit for five minutes each day as part of my own practice. My long-term goal is to build to twenty minutes, twice a day. But remember, a few years ago I was at zero. Rather than not trying at all or quitting, I am taking the gradual approach to building a meditation practice. If silence is too much right now, try a guided meditation. You can find them online and there are also meditation CDs and podcasts. Get into the habit of closing your eyes and turning inward, led by someone else's voice. Once you get comfortable there, sitting in silence will feel a bit easier.
Thanks for reading and come back tomorrow for more Donna.
It's Donna Farhi week on the blog. All week I'll be sharing quotes from one of my favorite books about yoga, Bringing Yoga to Life: The Practice of Enlightened Living. You can view the previous posts here:
Monday: Box of Monsters
Here's today's quote:
Our spiritual fitness can be tested only in relationship to others...Every day we encounter people doing good things, people doing bad things, people we like, people we dislike, and people who are plain driving us crazy. As long as we are in the world this is unlikely to change, so how can we change our attitude to the predictable difficulty of relationships?
One of the most common challenges I see when teaching yoga classes is around sitting. Let me start by saying that I don’t advocate spending long periods of time sitting, even for meditation. I think our bodies are built to move. There’s some strong evidence that modern people sit too much and that it can negatively impact our health. Taking stock of how much time you spend sitting each day is a worthy enterprise. Make sure to get up and move around as much as possible and of course, incorporating yoga and exercise (which I see as two separate practices, more on that in the future) into your daily routine will help to balance out any negative impacts of sitting.
That being said, people sit. They sit at home and often sit in a yoga class. So since we are going to sit, let’s become expert sitters, shall we?
6-Point Sitting Checklist
Let's start with a bit of self-assessment. Find your expression of sukhasana (easy seated pose) by sitting on the floor in what the kids today call “criss-cross applesauce” or cross-legged pose. Here's a pic of me in my expression of easy seated. You'll notice that I can sit comfortably with my knees toward the ground and with good posture. I've been practicing yoga for many years so please know this is based on years of practice. This is not meant to be a model for ideal sitting, but just to give you a visual of one expression of sukhasana.
Once you find whatever your expression of easy seated is in this moment, scan through this list:
Notice the rounding in my spine in the picture above.
Now see how my spine is curved a bit toward my belly? This is the natural curve of my spine. If your spine doesn't look exactly like this, not to worry. Explore YOUR body and its needs.
I've done a pretty good job here of stacking in the picture above.
After this scanning exercise, you might have discovered the need to modify. Here are several suggestions for how you might find an expression of easy seated pose that is better suited to your body.
In the picture above you can see the blocks on the chair, covered by a blanket for comfort. I would always rather see a student sitting in a chair and using good posture than sitting on the floor in a hunched position. Seeing students use props to take care of their bodies makes me a very happy teacher.
A student of mine recently told me that he struggled with his meditation time because his legs started to hurt after about fifteen minutes in cross-legged pose. I’m sure there are some schools of thought who would tell him to ignore or transcend the pain in his body. I’m not of that mindset. Our body is our temple and we are gifted with the responsibility of taking care of it. If it hurts, it’s talking to us. Listen. I suggested that he try modified hero or a chair, that he continue specific asanas to help open his hips and stretch his hamstrings a bit more, and that he think about walking meditation. Another option he could try would be to break his meditation into two sessions.
Be curious about your body, honor its unique needs, and experiment. One of the reasons that we say that yoga is a science and not a religion is that we are asked to take nothing on faith. Rather, we are encouraged to test everything for ourselves and to honor our experiences. Try different expressions of sitting and see what is the best fit for you. As a teacher, my job is to help you to become more aware of your own needs so that you can make the best choices for yourself in your yoga practice, on and off the mat.
Once you find a comfortable seat, consider using it to close your eyes and to sit quietly in meditation for five minutes. Take some deep breaths in and out of your nose. Just five minutes each day is a great place to start with developing a regular meditation practice. Can’t sit still? I used to carry that story too. I hear you. It can be hard to push pause. You might consider trying a guided meditation to begin. There are many that you can download online or through apps.
One of my friends and fellow yoga teachers once reminded me that we are human beings, not human doings. Finding some time each day to be still is not just important, it is a fundamental part of who we are and it’s necessary for our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Just try five minutes, just for today, and see what comes.
Happy sitting. If you have questions about how to find a comfortable seated position, please comment or contact me!
One of the first steps toward building a spiritual practice is to learn how to sit. When I say sit, I mean a few different things. First, it's important to learn how to physically sit with as little discomfort as possible. Next, I am referring to learning how to sit mentally. For a very long time, I had a story that I told myself about how I wasn't able to sit still. It was very hard for me to be still for any period of time because my thoughts would get feisty and tell me there were better things that I could be doing. Finally, I also mean to learn how to sit with your emotions. Emotions are a normal and healthy part of life but for a long time I was scared of my emotions and had gotten into the habit of denying them.
I once asked people on my Facebook page when the last time was that they sat quietly for ten minutes without doing anything else. Most people shared that it had been a very long time since they'd done that. Many couldn't even remember the last time that they had sat still. In our modern era, when we do slow down to take a break, it's very common to reach for our device to fill that space.
Learning how to sit is a great place to begin your exploration of yoga and spirituality. When people think of yoga, the images of the mat-based postures are often the first things that come to mind. These poses are called asana. Asana is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to "seat." For me, this means that the purposes of these postures is to help us learn how to sit in our lives. If our bodies and minds are jumpy, too tight, too loose, sitting can be very difficult.
Using props generously is a great way to support your sitting practice. One of the first steps in this process is to learn how to fold a yoga blanket. I've created a video for you to help you with this. By learning this traditional blanket fold, you'll be able to find increased comfort when you sit. I'll be posting more suggestions about healthy sitting practices in the coming weeks. In the meantime, find a blanket and practice this fold.
If you already have a sitting practice, I'd love to hear from you. What's your expression of sukhasana (easy seated pose)? Can you sit comfortably without a blanket? Do you use blocks or prefer a chair?
If you are new to sitting, what questions do you have about how to create a comfortable seat?
Check out the video below to learn how to fold a yoga blanket.