You know what, it turns out you absolutely can.

I’ve been thinking for a while of our collective tendency as a society to think that we can’t. Over the past year I have become more and more aware in my own life how often I say it, or think it, or even sometimes let it dictate what I do (or rather, don’t do). And I’m sure that I’m not alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the top negative mantras people tell themselves is “I can’t”.

I can’t do that. I’m bad at that. I’m not as good at that as you. We are always selling ourselves short, sometimes before we’ve even had a chance to try.

This weekend I had the incredible privilege of being a part of and witnessing a group of people venture out of their comfort zones into something many of them thought they couldn’t do, only to come out the other side realizing that in fact, they could.

For my Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training this weekend, we worked with a voice coach and one by one, each of us had to get up in front of the group and sing a few bars of a song of our choice. Naturally, I was terrified. Immediately, that running dialogue started in my head: I can’t sing. I definitely can’t sing without music. I can’t remember rhythm. I can’t sing a good song. I can’t sing in front of people. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

One by one, we went up and I could tell I wasn’t the only one thinking those things. It was so strange to watch – we could all get up there and do weird things with our faces, hang out like monkeys, moo like a cow, but as soon as we were asked to sing, this panic-stricken look would flash across our face. It’s almost like our society has somehow ingrained within us this idea that singing is reserved only for the most talented and if you don’t have an incredible voice or you didn’t take music lessons, then you’re just not allowed to sing. You just can’t.

But then we’d sing. The voice coach would give us a few tips (a lot were about controlling our nerves and breathing), we’d work on them, and we’d sing again. And wow – what a difference in the quality of that song (and really, the biggest thing that changed was our confidence). By the end, the energy in the room and within me was so powerful, so strong, and it was saying “Actually, we can.” You may not be the best at something, but you can still do it.

Our homework this week was to choose one bad habit, one thing that no longer serves us and clean it up. After this weekend,  I’ve found my bad habit, my thing that no longer serves me: selling myself short.

I’ve decided that that voice in my head that doesn’t think I can do it, that feels like it has to apologize if something I do isn’t, or might not be, perfect, doesn’t get to be at my roundtable anymore. It doesn’t get to make decisions. Because that voice is wrong, that voice is just fear trying to keep you where you are, that voice is your ego afraid of what might change if you dare to step into who you really are.

And if you have a voice that tells you that, it’s wrong to. And I dare you to challenge it. I dare you to stop thinking that you can’t. When that voice comes knocking and says that you can’t,  I dare you to tell that voice that it is wrong, tell that voice that you absolutely, most definitely can. Say it loud. Say it over and over, as many times as you need to until you start to believe it. You are an incredible, amazing, awe-inspiring being full of infinite potential. All you have to do is try.

Advertisements

The Delicate Balance of Holding On and Letting Go

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. – Rumi

And what a delicate balance it is; so fine is the line between the two. It can be so easy to fall too far to one side and in the moment, so difficult for us to see which is the one to take.

And of course it’s difficult.

It’s difficult because we know and feel what is at stake if we choose holding on when we really should be letting go, or letting go when we should’ve held on: what’s at stake is potential pain and suffering.

It’s difficult because the answer isn’t always obvious. It’s usually a whisper, a subtle inkling, a quiet knowing.

It’s difficult because the answer isn’t necessarily the one that is ‘easy’. It isn’t the one of staying where you are. The answer: do I let go or do I hold on, is usually one that is uncomfortable, one that will create change, one that will (although perhaps not immediately),  reduce our suffering.

This is on my mind today because it is Sunday. And I have a complicated relationship with Sunday. There is something about a Sunday afternoon or evening, once whatever activity I’ve been participating in dies down, that leaves me with this sense of melancholy. Some people experience this as the “Sunday Blues”. It washes over me like a wave the minute I stop, the minute it’s quiet, the minute I recognize that some moment is over. Sunday, it seems, marks the end of something for me, and endings always seem to stir this up.

As I feel this shift in energy, my urge is to reach out and hold on to some connection. I have the urge to talk to someone, make plans, be around people (even if I spent all day with people and could really use the quiet time). In this moment, do I abide? Or do I let go, and simply allow whatever feelings that may arise to just be?

Our life paths are filled with these choices, each one taking us down a different fork in the road.

Do we stay in a job that maybe isn’t our passion but is secure, or do we let it go and strive for something else?

Do we stay in a challenging relationship and try to work through our differences or do we decide that our differences are too great?

When is holding on like handcuffing yourself to a sinking ship and when is it like hoisting yourself up the edge of a cliff?

When is letting go like handing the other team the ball and walking off the court and when is it like being a leaf in Autumn, ready to fall from the tree?

Yoga has been a tool for me to grapple with these questions. On the mat, in every posture, I can ask myself: do I hold on or do I let go? Is today a day to push myself for that more intense option, or the day to let it go? The goal of a yoga posture is to cultivate a balance between steadiness and ease. If I’m out of whack in a posture, struggling to breathe  and tensing where I don’t need to be tensing, generally the answer is let go.

When we get off our mats, we can apply these same principles. The first step is to notice (which sounds simple, but isn’t necessarily easy). Turn your attention to your body, your thoughts, your behaviour and notice what they are telling you.

Ask yourself: Where am I at ease? Where (and how) can I create more ease?

Ask yourself: Where am I strong? Where do I feel unsteady? What can I do to be more steady?

Your balance of steadiness and ease will guide you towards the answer; their purpose in yoga after all is to guide you towards liberation from suffering.

The more you practice this, the more you will learn to trust yourself and the whispers that guide these decisions.

And remember that, even after you’ve made the decision, even if you believe in the decision, your mind will likely wonder if you did the right thing, if you made a mistake, if you should try to undo it. This is what minds do, especially if you’ve thrown a curve ball at them and shaken up their comfortable existence. Simply notice it and continue on your path.

Awakening Adventure

A couple of nights ago while enjoying a spontaneous visit with a friend, eating ice cream at the top of a lookout point in Huntsville, I was struck with a realization that I have gotten too comfortable.

This evening, which was really quite simple, felt exciting and adventurous, simply because it was unexpected, random, out of the ordinary. It was something a did not do very often anymore.

I was comfortable. I had my routine. I went to work, I came home to my little one-bedroom apartment, I did yoga, I made dinner or ate leftovers, I read. There might be some differences – some days I’d watch a tv show, some days I didn’t do yoga, some days I’d play squash, some days I’d go out for dinner. But none of it was outside of my comfort zone, my little bubble that I’ve gotten nicely settled into. None of it set off that spark within me of untethered possibility, of something you had never imagined.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. For awhile I think I needed it because I’d been on the other side for a while, feeling overwhelmed and adventured out. But with school finishing and friends drifting away, I think I’ve swung too far to the opposite side, and missed the mark on balance.

I think of all the things I’d planned on doing, the adventures I’d thought about having. The adventures that never happened.

When I graduated, I was going to drive across Canada by myself. I found a job and never went.

This summer, I was going to take a day off and go on a weekend trip. September is tomorrow and it never happened.

I have a list of new restaurants to try and yet I always seem to go to the same ones.

This isn’t bad. I love staying in reading. I love going to bed early. Living inside of my comfort zone is well comfortable. It’s enjoyable. But it’s also easy and life wasn’t meant to be easy. If we spend our lives comfortably contained in our little bubble, we’ll miss out on a whole world of possibilities. We won’t really live.

My best memories have been the ones outside my comfort zone, the random, unexpected adventures, the times I’ve taken the road less travelled.

I remember trying frog legs for the first time in Bobo.

I remember hiking with my brother in Kelowna, veering way off the path to climb up the mountain on our own trail.

I remember spontaneously extending my trip in Tanzania to plant trees at a school.

I remember having an amazing time the night a friend showed up at my house unexpectedly to drag me out.

Being adventurous doesn’t always come naturally to me. I feel this pull, this feeling of aliveness, within me but I don’t always know how to act on it. Luckily I’ve often had people in my life who help lead me along – family and friends who have adventurousness in their blood.

Your biggest and wildest dreams exist on the other side of that bubble. Living inside your comfort zone, you lose the feeling of dreaming and creating a future that’s different from your past. You lose sight of all the possibilities that you haven’t yet imagined. You lose the awe and wonder that comes with being swept off your feet.

Right now, those people who encourage and nurture the adventurous spirit within me aren’t nearby. So for the next month, two months, six months, maybe even year, I am challenging myself to be more adventurous. Every day, I will do one adventurous, out of the ordinary thing, big or small. I challenge you to do the same. I dare you to dream your wildest dream.

  • Starting small, tomorrow I’m going out for dinner and drinks with a friend and I’m going to try a new drink (no settling on a past favourite!).
  • Friday, as long as the weather holds out, I’m biking to work. I’ve done it before, but not for months and definitely fell off the bandwagon on the idea to do it regularly.
  • Saturday there is a Harvest Market event at the Kitchener Market and I’m going to go and learn how to make different fall stews.
  • Sunday, it’s time to explore a new hiking trail.

And the rest, I haven’t decided yet ( I could also use some good ideas 🙂 ). Some will be on a whim, a last minute change of plans; others I’ll plan (like the trip that I never got around to doing). Most importantly, I’ll believe in the possibility of my dreams and let that guide me.

Here’s to adventures, to living outside of our comfort zones, to trying new things, to breaking up routines, and to creating the life of our wildest dreams.

Living Yoga: Taking It Off the Mat

When we step unto our mat, we call it a practice: we are practicing yoga. So ask yourself: what are you practicing?

Yoga is, and can be, a lot of different things to different people. There are people who see it as a workout; there are people who see it as stretching; there are people who see it as a way to relax and unwind; and then there are people who see it as all of that, and as so much more than that.

When I practice yoga, I am practicing how I want to be in the world. Yes, I can practice to get a nice butt. Yes, I can practice to stretch my overly tight hip flexors. Yes, I can practice to let go of stress. I can also practice how to be mindful, how to be aware, how to be intentional, how to be open, how to be curious, how to be loving.

I practice yoga to become the best version of myself and the truest version of myself, when I step off the mat.

Today at the gym, I had this incredible ‘aha’ moment of why I practice yoga and why I decided to do my yoga teacher training. I was doing squats (like I do pretty much every Thursday), when I noticed a pain behind my shoulder blade. I’ve felt this same pain before, but always kind of brushed it off as just sore muscles, and sore from doing upper body exercises. But I hadn’t done any of those today, just squats. So I started thinking about it and my boyfriend (and workout buddy), said he noticed that my elbows move when I squat, and maybe that was why.

In that moment, something significant happened.

First, I accepted his constructive criticism on my form, which he will tell you, I am not very good at. I could see his hesitation in even suggesting that I wasn’t doing something right. I typically do not handle criticism well, unless I’m well prepared for it. I have this constant battle between my mind and my emotions. My mind says, “Constructive criticism is great. I want your feedback. I want to improve.” and my emotions go haywire (and maybe my ego) and say, “What are you talking about? My elbows aren’t moving. My form is fine. How can you attack me like this?”

But this time I didn’t go on the defensive. I had an initial reaction of “I’m not doing that” and then I stopped myself. Instead, I said “Interesting, tell me more” (Thanks Asia!) and this simple phrase created an opportunity to explore what I was doing and why it might not be working.

I explored the movement with an awareness that I didn’t have before. I redid the squat, paying attention this time to my elbows. It turns out they didn’t move, but my body did. Interesting. I asked myself why. Why didn’t my elbows move in line with my body? People probably thought I was crazy as I kept repeating this initial squat movement with an invisible bar, trying to understand what my body was doing that I hadn’t been aware of.

And that’s when it clicked. I had a light bulb moment. As I leaned forward into the squat, my shoulders rounded, ever so slightly, but enough to mess up my alignment. When I consciously bent only from the hips, keeping my spine neutral, my elbows and body stayed aligned.

A month ago, I probably would never have realized this. The movement was so subtle, and the movement to correct it was so subtle that I probably would have overlooked it, if I had even been able to make the connection between shoulder pain and squats in the first place. Not to mention, I probably wouldn’t have even explored it because my elbows weren’t moving.

This is why I practice yoga. Changes that happen on the mat are great, but it’s the changes that I see in my life and in my relationship with myself and others, that matter most. I don’t care if I can ever touch my toes or do a headstand; I care what happens when I step off the mat and move in the world.

 

Accepting Where We Are

Since my first weekend of yoga teacher training, I have been almost constantly thinking about yoga. On and off the mat, I have been reflecting on what I’ve learned so far and incorporating into my life. I’ve developed a new awareness of my body, trying to find muscles and bones I didn’t know existed, and learning how to engage and relax them. At work, I continually bring my attention back to my posture, making adjustments, changing position, lifting my chest and opening my heart. At home, I’ve ditched my couch and taken more often to the floor. I’m becoming an observer of my thoughts – asking why and seeking intentionality to better guide my actions.

Most significantly, I find I am constantly reminding myself of the yogic principle of satya, or truthfulness.  Satya is not just about not telling lies, it is about seeing reality and ourselves and the world as it really is, and not just how we currently feel about it or how our ego thinks it is. Satya, for me, is about turning inward and observing where we truly are, and accepting wherever that is. It is about seeing beyond what ego wants us to see and believe.

Accepting where you are and who you are, is a continual practice. Every time I encounter something new, or challenging, something I’m not good at, or something I don’t understand, I have to step back and remind myself that this is where I am, and that’s okay.

I struggle to understand how to move my body into a pose the way it’s described in my textbook, and I feel myself getting frustrated, and then I remind myself that it’s okay.

I struggle to lift my knees in samasthiti. I feel frustrated. And I remind myself that it’s okay.

Today, I felt this unease, almost guilt, at not going to the gym. I hurt my elbow yesterday (I think a mild case of tendinitis), and so I decided it was probably a good idea to lay off the weights and rest. It makes sense, and yet I struggled once again to believe that it was the right thing.

Observing my thoughts, I found my ego telling me:

“But I’m supposed to go to the gym on Tuesday.”

” Does it really hurt enough to miss the gym?”

“Maybe I’m just making excuses. It’s only a little pain after all.”

My ego was telling me I had to always go to the gym because that was what I said I was going to do. Not going was failure.

But the truth?

My intention in going to the gym was never to go to the gym on Tuesday. The gym was merely a byproduct, an outcome, of my intention to live a healthy lifestyle. But just as we can become attached to touching the floor on our mats or getting into a certain pose, I had become attached to going to the gym and I had lost sight of my intention.

Ego was trying to tell me that not going was failing. But the truth is who I am is not affected by whether or not I go to the gym today; who I am is not affected by whether or not I can touch the floor in a forward bend; who I am is not affected by whether or not I can find my uddiyana bandha. The outcome, is not nearly as important as the intention.

So once again, I breathe. And I accept wherever I am.

 

 

Let Us Be Different.

We are always comparing – this with that, my body with their body, my habits with their habits, my life with their life, my choices with their choices, my experiences with their experiences.

Comparisons are natural. They can even be beneficial. They can help us to understand things. They can help us to make better choices. They can help us to see new perspectives. They can help us relate. When we’re having a bad day, comparisons can help us to find gratitude for what we have and let go of our suffering.

But comparisons can also be toxic. We sometimes use comparisons to invalidate someone’s experiences. We all know what I mean – we compare ourselves to others and feel like we are somehow less than because we don’t have what they have or we feel like we shouldn’t feel the way we do, because they don’t.

These comparisons are even more toxic when it’s someone else comparing your experience and deciding that yours isn’t valid. All these comparisons do is make someone feel as though they have no right to feel the way that they do.

At work the other day, I asked someone if a policy in our manual was being updated. I was hoping that there would finally be changes to it, so that they could reprint the section and fix some annoying formatting. The section currently started in the middle of the page, rather than the top. As someone who likes order and consistency, my mind said, “This isn’t right. It needs to be fixed” every time I flipped past that page. It was a minor concern, absolutely, and I expected a simple yes or no answer based on that concern.

Instead, I was thrown off when she responded with, “It’s just a blank page. Some people don’t get to eat breakfast.” I thought to myself: How can we compare people eating breakfast to fixing errors in a reference manual?  Why is it even necessary to compare the two and invalidate my concern, because there are more serious, and unrelated concerns out there?

While my experience of this reference manual was not a particularly distressful or significant event, it seeks to illustrate how society tends to compare people’s suffering. What happens when we start comparing people’s personal experiences to that of others? What happens when we make someone feel like what they’re feeling isn’t right because someone, somewhere has it worse?

But the reality is, someone, somewhere will always have it worse.

When you’re hungry, there will be someone, somewhere who is hungrier.

When you’re hurt, there will be someone, somewhere who hurts more.

When you’ve lost someone you love, there will be someone, somewhere who’s lost everyone they love.

We travel down a dangerous road when we seek to invalidate someone’s experience because it is somehow less serious than what someone else may be experiencing. We start to lose compassion and empathy for those around us.  We start thinking that everyone has to feel the same or react the same. The thing is, we each have our own experiences that shape who we are and how we relate to the world. We are different. We feel what we feel based on these experiences and it isn’t fair for us to compare people’s experiences in terms of which one is more valid. They are all valid. 

A few months ago, I had to say goodbye to my dog, who had been a part of my life for more than half of it. I miss her so much and to this day, I still feel that loss in my heart. She is often on my mind, but I don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about it, because someone, somewhere has it worse. I don’t talk about it, because I don’t want to hear someone say, “She was just a dog” and compare my loss to someone else’s. I am not someone else and to me, she was so much more than just a dog. We each have our own experience of loving and losing. There is no need to compare mine to yours. They are different and that is okay, because we are different.

 

 

I challenge all of you to remember this as you go about your day and your week and your years.  We are each travelling our own path and seeing the world through our own experiences. I challenge each of you to accept and love the people around you for who they are and support them wherever they are, because regardless of what is happening to others out there, this is their experience, and it is real.

 

 

 

The Choices We Make

Have you ever stopped to think about the choices you make – why do you choose what you do? What drives your decision?

I am terrible at making decisions, from the really important ones to even the most mundane, insignificant ones. Being a HSP (highly sensitive person) doesn’t help either. It’s like I can’t help but see all the options, all the possibilities, all the outcomes. I can’t help but worry about making the wrong decision, even if the wrong decision is merely ending up at a restaurant that isn’t that good.

It becomes even harder to make decisions that involve other people, particularly people that I care about. I’m fine tuned to think about what other people want first. I can’t distinguish what I want from what I think other people want. It can be draining sometimes trying to figure out what other people want too- people seem to struggle with saying what they really want.  So often, we make choices based on what we feel we “should” do, what society tells us is the right thing to do. But what do we really want?

Tonight, I couldn’t decide what to do about something. There were too many people involved and I couldn’t tell what they really wanted. In every outcome, something felt off. What if I’m imposing? What if they only asked out of some obligation? That wasn’t the plan – what if they just feel pressured? What if that involves too much effort on my part and it’ll be weird if I actually go? Regardless of whether I wanted to go or not, I couldn’t tell if they really wanted me to or if they just felt like they had to extend an offer.

I tried to ask myself – do I actually want to go? Or do I just feel like I have to go out of guilt? I thought maybe for once I should just decide based on what I actually wanted and not worry about what anybody else wanted. Doing this was harder than I thought.

At first glance, it felt like guilt. I felt bad at the thought of not going. I felt like I “should”. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t really tell what I wanted anymore. If I didn’t go and I stayed home, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it anymore. But if I went, there was a good chance I’d enjoy it, especially if it seemed like they did. So was that feeling actually guilt? Or was it something else?

I don’t think it was. If I didn’t go, I’d feel bad, not because of guilt but because it was now what I wanted. If somebody I care about wants me to do something (in most cases, but not all – I will say no if I won’t be happy at all), I will want to too, simply because they do. My choices are inextricably linked to how other people feel, and what other people want. I can’t tell what I want sometimes, because what I want is for the other person to be happy and do what they want. And if I don’t know what the other person wants, then I don’t know what to choose. I want the people I love to be happy. That’s my choice.

I don’t care if that means I don’t do what I initially planned. I don’t care if that means I have to drive a bit more. I don’t care if that means I stay up a little late once in a while. If it’s important to someone, then it’s what I want to do. But I need to know that it’s important.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes I do have a preference for something and I definitely don’t always choose what other people want. I’m no saint. But in those cases, I usually don’t have a hard time making the decision.
All in all, I am terrible at making decisions, because it’s not always easy to know what will make us happy.

I think we could make it easier for everyone, if we stop saying things out of guilt or obligation, and are honest with each other in what we want. I know I do it too sometimes. If we’re up front with others about what we want and what we would enjoy, then there’s no guessing, there’s no assuming, there’s no doing something that neither of you really want to do because you thought the other person did. I would be better at making decisions if I knew honestly where other people stood. Would you?