Category: Notes to self

Just watch.


A day without morning yoga

By all “objective” measures I had an easy day today. Yet as I was walking from the parking garage to my office building for the first meeting of the day, I felt a sense of tiredness, discomfort, and sadness that I haven’t felt in a long time (2 months, to be precise). As I was wondering what was going on, I remembered that I had to leave the house in a hurry and I didn’t practice my 15 minutes of yoga this morning.

The day got worse, but in a very familiar way – one that once was my normal. I felt tired and frazzled, very frazzled. The peace and joy that have accompanied my daily life for the past couple of months were nowhere to be found, just faint memories without any truth in the present moment experience. It’s like I forgot to turn them on today.

By the time 5:30 came around I was desperate to make it to yoga class and get into child’s pose for a few minutes. I felt much better after class, like I always do, and sat for meditation as soon as I got home.

Today, I wondered how I even got through life until 2 months ago when I started practicing just a tiny bit of yoga every day. The difference in the tone of my day is huge. I am amazed at what a big difference just 15-20 minutes a day can make. I’m addicted.

Dear darling self, remember that.

“Don’t try to relax.

Don’t try to quiet your mind.

Don’t try to be comfortable.

Don’t try to be peaceful.

Don’t try to be in some condition that might please people.

Don’t try to be spiritually advanced.

Don’t try to be intelligent.

Don’t try to control your energy.

Simply be in a state of not trying.

You can stay in this state for as much as you like and then if you have an inclination to do some action you can go ahead and perform that action with minimal effort and then return to the state of not trying. If words arise and you feel an inclination to speak, you can speak with minimal effort and return to the state of not trying.”

The trick, then, is to not try to not try…




From Elephant Journal, notes on mindful elocution:

1. Speak Slowly

2. Enunciate Clearly

3. Listen to yourself

4. Listen to Others

5. Regard Silence as a Part of Speech

6. Speak Concisely (or Simply)

Yoga & spiritual awakening

My yoga teacher wrote this post about how your yoga is working for you off the mat. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and feel the need to clarify some thoughts in writing.

As I do this, Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” keeps playing in my head. Because this applies to me as much as anybody else. Feel free to play it as you read the words below.

This entire topic also relates to the U.S. cultural discourse about being nice – applied mostly to women, and often used and misused (by women themselves, nonetheless) to hold women back. (Cultural hegemony, anyone?)

I think the change of behavior we expect or hope to see after practicing yoga is a lot more than behavior – a lot deeper.

Yoga is a powerful practice – whether you understand it or not, when you practice yoga you are moving energy around and living some unique experiences. Sooner or later, it may rub off on you: You may discover increased empathy, patience, compassion, as a result to connecting with yourself or a higher principle. This connection, or union (the root of the word ‘yoga’) that brings oneself home, body, mind and soul in harmony with each other and with some higher force – cannot help but affect you in some way, at some point. Let’s call this effect spiritual awakening: A different, broader, more encompassing type of consciousness/awareness.

A simple example: I woke up one day, a few months after I started practicing yoga regularly, overwhelmed by feelings of empathy for chickens (the only meat I ate at the time). Suddenly, I was no longer able to eat any meat. I had flirted with vegetarianism before, but it was out of a rational conviction, not one that arose from the depths of my being.

So, let’s assume that, at some point, after 3 months, or maybe 30 years of practicing yoga, something shifts inside you. This shift will motivate a change in behavior. But it comes from within. Not from external commandments and expectations. As a result, you may end up behaving in nicer, more compassionate ways. But acting out of loving kindness does not mean being always nice. I love this story which I probably heard on Zencast (an insight meditation podcast):

A young woman was walking back to the ashram where she was staying in order to learn from a spiritual master. On the way back, she was attacked by a robber. She defended herself by beating the robber with her umbrella. Distraught, she went to the spiritual master to ask for forgiveness for being such a bad person. The spiritual master said: “You  know what you should have done? You should have mustered all the loving kindness you are capable of. And then, you should have beaten the robber with your umbrella.

So, I try to act out of loving kindness. I try to be compassionate, and bring healing. But I’m not always nice. The difference is, the behavior arises out of a mindful place, instead of being a knee-jerk reaction. It’s a long way to go until every single behavior, even the small remarks, come out of that place. But this doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. My colleagues and friends know me as the person who says the things that are difficult to say. Sometimes I owe it to them or to a higher principles not to be nice.

But then, let’s work with the other assumption: You practice yoga, and nothing happens. So you wonder, how long will it take until I’m spiritually awakened? A year? Two? Thirty? Alas, I am not the one to answer this for you. But I can tell you that it is possible that you will practice and nothing will happen. Or that a small shift will happen and then you’ll stay there, stuck for years, or for the rest of your life. I don’t know why. I don’t understand how this works. I guess this is where a guru comes in.

And I bet this happens more often than not, especially in a society where yoga has become a business. Think about it, according to this spiritual awakening hypothesis, ALL yoga teachers should be quasi-saints. But they’re not. Some become yoga teachers after having practiced for 6 months. Others feel the pressure of making a living out of Yoga. Then, you have the entire publishing industry, celebrity teachers, etc. I’m not saying they’re all bad. But it’s an environment where practicing your yoga is very hard, because there are many forces that pull you in the opposite direction. And as nice as most yoga teachers are, I’m not sure if the behavior comes from deep within or from an external expectation/commandment that this is how yoga teachers should behave. And certainly, not all of them are (quasi-)saints – and by saint I mean someone who has undergone a deep spiritual transformation, not only a behavioral one.

Of course, we cannot expect mass spiritual awakening. That’s not how it works. Look at the history of most major religions.

So, where does that leave us? I don’t know about you, but as for myself, it leaves me with the awareness that when I practice yoga I’m messing with something big and powerful. I want to be open, cautious, mindful and curious, and aware that shifts may happen “overhead.” Also aware that I may get stuck, or lost, and that it will take someone with a light to help me move on.



Hello, there. Namaste.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, with more work crises and dramas than necessary. The kind that make people upset and stay up at night. Important deadlines, too. It’s not quite over, but today I took some more time than usual to sit with things and process them.

Lovely energy dance to this sequence from Yoga Journal, followed by sitting meditation, which gave me the chance to realize what I’ve learned in this couple of difficult weeks:

The importance of pausing. I was writing a lot, under deadline. By a lot, I mean 8-10 hours a day. I used a computer timer that remided me to take a 5 minute break every 60 minutes. I used some of these breaks for meditation. At the end of the day, I was not exhausted. The breaks helped my ideas re-focus and flow. Pacing myself this way enabled me to work longer, while feeling less tired, and overall, producing better quality work. The last day, with the finish line in sight, I didn’t have patience to take breaks. I pushed right through it. I shouldn’t have. I felt, tired, frazzled, and drained of ideas. I could not maintain focus for as many hours as the previous day. I also started most days with a brief sitting, and ended them with a 21-minute meditation. The morning sitting helped me focus my ideas and energy for the day. It got me ready. The evening one, helped my mind process and organize the day and wind down for sleep.

The importance of sitting. I happened upon this blog post. I tell myself all of these, too. That I try to practice permanently, be mindful all the time. Well, good. It does not substitute sitting. It’s not as powerful as pausing and sitting. Continuous mindfulness helps with actions and reactions in daily life, but it does not provide enough space to process. Sitting is important. And by sitting, I mean actually sitting. I was too tired to sit, and my back hurts when I sit in meditation. So I tried it lying down, especially in the evening. It is much harder to focus the mind and to remember to bring it back to the breath when lying down. They knew something, didn’t they.

The gift of finding acceptance and compassion in a crisis. There’s this person who’s very angry with me right now. So angry, she cannot stand to be in the same room with me. We disagree on some work issues. I am upset, too. I disagree with her judgment and her actions in the past week. But while sitting today, I saw this thought: “I disagree with you, but I have love and compassion for you because I know you are acting out of love and care for someone else.”

That you can hurt someone by caring about them too much. The theme of caring about vs. taking care of has been on my mind for a while now. I know I need to balance those out better. And here it comes again, from another angle, in another context. I am witnessing a situation where caring so much about someone that you become blind can hurt the very person you care about. I care deeply about my students. I think the trust they put in me to let me mess with their minds is a holy gift. I take it seriously. I see them (or I try to see them) for the people, the souls, the minds that they are. But all this happens within the constraints of a system that requires evaluation, grades, standards, and rules. I can see how when you care about a student so much you want to break the rules for them.

Breathe. I’m still learning that. When experiencing discomfort, breathe. That’s what yoga teachers tell you: Sit with it, breathe into it. I can do that in temple pose. But I forgot to do that when a friend hurt me, or a colleague disappointed me. I finally took the time to breathe, while moving in familiar yoga poses, and then I sat with them. 3 minutes each. Some of them, who are more upset with me than others, got 6 minutes. I experienced each one of them as a knot in my heart. So I sat and I breathed into the knot, until, luckily, I saw some clarity, and the knot melted. “I feel love and compassion for you. I know you are a good, even if not perfect, person, and I accept you for who you are.” It applies to all. The friend who hurt me, the colleague who disappointed, and, yes, to myself.

There are many good things that happened in the past two weeks, and I am grateful for them. Work successes, new students, babies being born in the family, new friends. The next big lesson will be to learn to give the good news just as much attention, energy and time as the bad ones.

What have you learned lately?


On the fly

I’m traveling a lot these couple of weeks, and, even though I bought toesox to practice yoga during my trip, it isn’t happening. Too little time, too many



people I want to spend it with. As my teacher writes, being fully in the moment with them rather than wishing I were practicing yoga is my yoga these days. I don’t know if reading Yoga Journal on the plane counts?! 🙂

But what I do try to do wherever I am is to be present and mindful – and here is a wonderful article about integrating brief moments of mindfulness throughout the day. Excellent reminder.



Avoiding hibernation

Winter is a hard time for many people, especially in climates where we don’t get a lot of sunshine. I often feel very tired in winter, and all I want to do is hibernate. If I allow myself to hibernate, however, I soon feel “swallowed by the couch” – it’s like I get trapped between the couch pillows and can’t dig myself out until March!

This sluggishness is unpleasant and scary, and I am learning to keep my energy up during the winter season.

In Ayurvedic terms, what happens is an over-accumulation of kapha. For people like me, whose predominant dosha is kapha, winter tends to aggravate it, and soon heaviness sets in. It’s as if the force of gravity becomes stronger in winter. We tend to feel drowsy and tired all the time, sleep a lot, but without waking up rested and energized.

So this winter, with a somewhat better understanding of what tends to happen during this season, I’ve been actively trying to add some fire (pitta) and to keep energy levels up. Here’s what I’ve been doing:


I keep practicing yoga at least twice a week, especially when I don’t feel like it. When I don’t feel like it, that’s a sign that kapha is accumulating, and I feel low energy. I’m learning that for me, nothing comes out of resting when having low energy – except lower energy. So I get myself on the yoga mat, start slow if need be, and with the energy accumulated from one gentle practice, I can move on to something more challenging the next day. I find that poses that move energy upwards and expand it, such as tree, royal dancer, triangle, crescent work well to light up that fire. I’ve discovered, with the help of yoga teacher Shari Gass,  that the fast movements of kundalini yoga, especially when practiced with breath of fire, build up a lot of energy in a short amount of time.

Even when I don’t practice yoga, at the first sign of sluggishness, I try to move my body and break a sweat. The other day, I gave my house a thorough cleaning – aka “vacuuming yoga” 🙂

Having a purpose

I’m discovering that not knowing what to do with myself, not having a purpose to work towards, is not serving me well. So I create work for myself – make a list of errands that I need to run. Getting out of the house is always a good thing! Cook something special, or invite people over for dinner, so I have a reason to cook something special! There’s always work-work to do, but during the break, well, I need a break. So even if I don’t work on research and courses for the next semester, I set small goals for the day.


Although I love creamy cheeses and red wine in winter, this year I kept them to a minimum. I’m noticing that drinking alcohol lowers my energy level. I try to eat, as much as possible, light foods and lots of vegetables. Spicy food is great for adding some fire to the body. I’ve also been taking kapha balancing tablets, a multivitamin, and extra vitamin D.

So far, so good. This is what seems to be working for me. I don’t know if it’ll work for you, and this is by no means a set of recommendations –  I’m just writing this down in case I need a reminder next winter. 🙂 Please keep in mind that I’m not qualified to give any advice or recommendations.

[a couple of UPDATES]


I try to follow my cat’s example and sit in the sunlight, even if it means having an awkward picnic on the dining room floor. I also use a sun lamp just about every day.

Also, I feel the need to further illustrate the point of being swallowed by the couch :).



See the joy, the smile, the appetite for life?

I want to be her when I grow up.

Leaves blowing in the wind

photo credit: flickr user sparetomato

It’s been very windy in Indiana in the past few weeks. The cool, dry, windy weather is likely to lead to vatta imbalances. That’s exactly what happened to me. I was busy, stressed, and scattered. My mind was racing to all the things I had to do, just like a leaf blown by the wind in random directions. I spent a week, or maybe even 10 days, forgetting that I could take a deep breath, forgetting that I had some skills to settle down and help myself feel better – let alone actually practicing them.

Then things settled down a bit, I finished some tasks that had been piling up, and external circumstances allowed me to take a minute to think. I realized then that I had the symptoms of vatta imbalance. And that exactly when I need it the most, that’s when I forget to slow down or don’t have the patience to do so.

I started dressing warmer, eating cooked, warm foods such as cooked Morrocan lentils, roasted butternut squash (see previous posts). At least on weekends, I took the time to give myself a warming oil massage, and I took time to practice a vatta pacifying yoga sequence (from this book).

Now, I’m trying to make a conscious effort to slow down, take that breath, make some time for yoga no matter what. Yesterday, I was full of energy and ready to get going and start my errands for the weekend. I wasn’t in the mood for slowing down, I was eager to get out the door. And yesterday, I was lucky enough to realize, that it is exactly on days like that, when I’m ready to burst out the door like a gust of Fall wind, that I need to slow down, touch the base, warm up, get grounded, and only then go, step by mindful step.