For Yoga Teachers Only

Lately, I have been reading quite a bit of commentary online reminding us all that the practice of yoga is about more than just doing the poses. At the same time, there has been an increase in posts of beautiful poses on FB and Instagram. Yogis these days are very adept and proud of it. We seem to love showing off our accomplishments, and clearly people love to see them. With these two seemingly contradictory messages, one can only imagine how confusing this could be for students who want to learn more about yoga. Do I have to be thin, fit, acrobatic? Will I get hurt if I go to a class? Can everybody do handstands? What is the purpose of yoga anyway?

I feel that it is ultimately up to us, the teachers, the ones who offer this great practice to others, to do our part to help steer the perception of yoga on to a more balanced course. Most of us come to teaching from a place of overflowing gratitude. Yoga has changed our lives in some way, and from that place of gratitude we desire to give back, to pass that possibility on to others so they can find their own transformation. Amidst all the gorgeous pose photos and festivals and colorful clothing that draw students in in the first place, there is something that yoga offers that is unique and the most beneficial in the long run. What is that something? It is probably a bit different for each individual. For me, it has been developing the ability to listen to, trust in and follow my own inner wisdom. My personal GPS. My higher Self. Beyond all the poses and the physical benefits of the practice lies this true gem.

We teachers have the power to convey this deeper wisdom to our students by incorporating simple spiritual themes when we teach our classes. There are many different types of yoga offered these days in all types of venues. Some classes are only 1 hour long and do not include time for chanting or discussion of any kind. Some classes barely have time for any quiet sitting such as meditation, deep breathing or savasana. Still, there is a way to offer some spiritual wisdom and inspiration to hungry students.

Find inspiration and bring it to your classes. You may know a poem that inspires you, or a book that you are finding helpful. Perhaps there is a story you saw posted on Facebook that touches your heart. I feel that the juiciest themes come from one’s own personal experiences. That said, we need to be cautious about turning our classes into therapy sessions. Students do not appreciate or learn from having to listen to us vent or share our problems all the time.

Are you interested in developing your teaching to the point where you can inspire your students spiritually as well as physically? If so, take some time to ponder whatever is happening in your life and then see if you can find the lessons that Life is asking you to learn from that experience. Study the teachings of great ones such as the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, Byron Katie, Maya Angelou, Jack Kornfield and Eckhart Tolle. Their wisdom is offered in a way that is succinct, timeless and powerful.

Some examples of teachings that are applicable to yoga are:

  • Take personal responsibility for one’s life in all ways.

  • If you argue with reality, you lose.

  • Rise up from victimhood and be the change you want to see.

  • Learn how to be the observer so you can come from a place of responding rather than reacting.

  • Become aware of your tendency toward Fight or Flight syndrome that is often stress related.

These topics are just the tip of the iceberg as far as what is available to us online and in books. If you can learn how to deliver a message without sounding like a preacher, people will appreciate it. They took the time to come to class, let’s give them a complete experience: body, mind and soul.

On Using Props

Today, I want to talk about using props in yoga practice.

I have noticed that some newer students, and even more seasoned yogis, are sometimes bashful about using props in their yoga practice. They might think that to use a block or strap is to display inexperience with a pose, inability or weakness. Early in my practice, in my late twenties, I too had the “I’m fine, I can do it myself, I don’t need props” attitude. The truth is that props have nothing to do with weakness or lack of experience. The use of props is about 3 things: building strength, understanding one’s anatomy and honestly accepting where you are right now in your yoga practice.

I use props often, but not in ways other people might expect to use them. I use them to train my legs to stay strong during back bends or inversions (like a headstand) by placing a block between my upper inner thighs and squeezing it.

 Desireeblock1

 

I use three blankets to get my neck and shoulders into a better position for a shoulder stand.

 

Desireeblankets

 

Here are some creative ways to use straps.

Desireestrap2

 

Desiree strap1

But props don’t stop at blocks and straps. I often use a wall to make sure I am straight and fully connected between my ribcage and pelvis, poses like camel or standing drop backs.

 

Desireewall

Here are some creative ways to use a chair to learn how to do back bends properly.

 Desireechair2

 

Desireechair1

Most people need to use props at some point in their life to train them to be strong and honest in their practice. In many ways, anatomy is destiny with yoga. Some body proportions are very challenging to work with. Props can “level the playing field” and help us achieve better balance and ease rather than compensating, which leads to strain and over work.

It is important to note, however, that props should not be used as a crutch. Relying too heavily on a block or strap to complete a pose can hinder our real progress. I can’t stress enough, especially to newer students, that it takes a lot of work and a lot of physical strength to establish and then keep a practice going for a lifetime. Props are not just for older or weaker people. They are very useful tools for everyone! All the advanced yogis I have ever known make great use of props and bodywork to help them open their stiff spots and relax their tight spots.

It is so easy to cheat or compensate in yoga, so the wise use of props is really the only way I know to stay honest in a practice. Cheating leads to imbalance and injury because we never really know when we are overcompensating or slightly out of alignment. Even an expert teacher cannot watch us every second during our practice. If we don’t learn to do the exercise in correct alignment, it can eventually lead to getting hurt. Your instructor will help you as much as he or she can, but in a class of 10 students or more, it just isn’t possible for your teacher to watch you like a hawk.

If you are a yogi that doesn’t know how to use props and your instructor doesn’t explain it during class, you might want to investigate and seek out an alignment based teacher in a more fully equipped studio. It is good to be informed about all the possibilities that exist for learning this great art. If you are an instructor, don’t assume that your students will grab a block when they need one – and don’t wait for the challenging poses to start explaining it. If the studio you teach at doesn’t supply blocks and straps for everyone, that would be a very good investment for the owner to consider. Blankets and chairs are a real plus and a godsend if the studio can afford to purchase and store them.

Honesty, or Satya, is one of the Yamas, or ethical guidelines of Yoga. Be honest with yourself about your body’s proportions and don’t be ashamed of or afraid of knowing about your limitations. We all have limits! Some people are more bendy than others, some are stronger, but we all have places where we need to grow. It’s okay to get a bit of help from a block, a strap, a wall when you need it- even from another human being. It is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of intelligence.

Retreat – Summer Camp For Grown-ups

Sleep-away summer camp is one of the best experiences a kid can have. It is a place where a kid can just BE – free from video games and cell phones, shopping malls and cable TV. There are all kinds of activities to keep a kid busy – swimming, horseback riding, sailing, arts and crafts. A kid can go camping, hiking, canoeing. And there is just enough healthy, balanced, yummy food to keep up with a summer camp kid’s appetite. All that activity requires a lot of nourishment!
A kid learns a little independence and self-reliance at sleep-way summer camp. Separated from family, friends, the usual trappings of life at home, away from the watchful eye of mom and dad, she gets to explore who SHE is, outside of the dynamic of her home life (while still under adult supervision). Sleep-away summer camp can transform a kid for life in so many positive ways.
As adults, very few of us have the luxury of taking an entire summer to be away from our every-day environment, to rediscover ourselves and make lifelong transformations. We have jobs, families, obligations, not to mention the cost. But, we get in ruts. We may develop habitual tendencies that are unhealthy for us. It could be unhealthy eating habits, not exercising enough or doing exercise that does not really benefit our bodies. Sometimes we need to step outside our every-day world, really get away from it, to make changes in ourselves, our perceptions, our habits.
During the Living Long and Healthy workshop July 18-20, at the beautiful Omega Retreat Center in Rhinebeck, NY, you will have three days away from outside influences to immerse yourself in healthy eating and exercise. Mimi Kirk will teach you how to let go of your addiction to unhealthy food by preparing dishes that will satisfy and delight your tastebuds. I will guide you through basic yoga poses that will help you to strengthen your body and relieve pain in your back, neck, shoulders, hips and knees.
Then, in August, Andrew and I will host our annual summer camp retreat “Raising Your Vibration” in one of the world’s yoga meccas – and our hometown, Encinitas, California. For 5 days, you will immerse yourself in hours of transformative yoga practice, the camaraderie of others who share your need to be outside of their daily lives, dinner with me and Andrew in our home and in restaurants around Encinitas, all surrounded by the most beautiful coastline in California.
Am I promising that you’re going to leave Rhinebeck, NY a devout vegan? Or that 5 days in Encinitas will turn you into a yogi? Not necessarily, profound change takes time and commitment to become permanent. However, a few days away from the rigors of your life will give your body, mind and soul the break it needs to separate you from your routine, and might crack you open just enough to allow the seed of change to grow.

Seeing Things From a Different Point of View

 

There is a fable about six blind men who are introduced to an elephant. Each man touches a different part of the elephant and based on that, thinks he knows what it looks like. The man who touches the ear is certain that the animal is like a hand fan. The one who touches the tail proclaims that it looks like a rope. And so it goes with each of the six men having a totally different experience and descriptions of the same thing.

Like the blind men, most yoga teachers, myself included, err on the side of teaching only from their own body and perspective.  If we continue teaching over a long period of time, our own physical experience will change. We might shift to another part of the elephant and start teaching from an entirely different point of view.

For 2 ½ decades I have been intensively studying alignment-based methods of Hatha Yoga so that I might understand the bodies of my students and better assist them with their own practice. What keeps me passionate in this work is constantly finding that there is still so much more to learn.

Recently I have had some challenges with one of my shoulders. Injury has always been a great teacher for me, helping me broaden my awareness. With my understanding of anatomy and alignment, and guidance from  the specialists I have seen, I have been able to work constructively with this recent pain and have had some great new insights for helping others. Dealing with pain forces us to pursue new directions and it is in the midst of working with it that we find our most profound growth.

With every passing year, I am even more grateful for my practice. Like the blind men in the story, I used to see yoga from only my vantage point. In having its way with me, Yoga has opened my eyes moment by moment to a broader understanding physically, emotionally and spiritually. I hope to see you on the mat soon so we can continue our ever evolving journeys together.

 

Sugar, We’re Breaking Up (It’s You, Not Me)

In my 40s, I started to notice that my relationship with sugar and flour was changing. Though I was always a very conscious eater, I was still fairly addicted to it, as so many Americans are. A single mom living with teenagers, I was still ordering dessert when I went out to dinner and keeping a large bowl of Reese’s pieces on the table in the living room, but I could tell it was starting to do a number on me. I cut back on the pancakes and pasta, had sandwiches for lunch as long as the grains were sprouted. But at 50, I really noticed a change in how I felt. Anytime I ate flour or sugar, I would feel bloated and often tired. There was no way I was going to be able to show up for my students weekend after weekend with a bloated belly or flagging energy. It was time to make some permanent changes. Sugar and flour had to go.

I don’t have a magic trick for how to cut sugar and flour out of your diet. Eventually, it comes down to your commitment to your health and the promise to your body to be the best guardian of it you can be. My belief is that eliminating refined sugar and flour from your diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It is a scientific fact that sugar and flour causes inflammation which can open your body up to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, and at the very least, accelerates the aging process. Did you know that cancer cells LOVE sugar? Who needs or wants that? YUCK! Right?

While I can’t offer you some sure-fire way to beat cravings, the best advice I can give for kicking sugar out of one’s life is to learn how to eat to a point of fullness that satisfies on all levels. My experience is that we crave sugar when we are not getting enough protein. When we are well fed and nourished with vitamins, minerals and nutrients that our bodies need, the cravings naturally subside and we don’t have to fight them off. Many people do not realize that their diet is out of balance. Everything changes once they discover how great that equanimity feels. Even going off refined sugar for just one week will change your tastebuds and I think you will find that not only has sugar become ‘too sweet’, you’ll realize how bad you feel after eating it and won’t want it back in your diet.

If you are worried about how successful you’ll be on your own, I have a suggestion for you.

This July, I am co-hosting a weekend retreat called Living Long and Healthy, at Omega Retreat Center in Rhinebeck, NY with age-defying raw vegan chef and author, Mimi Kirk. During the weekend, you’ll learn how to choose high-quality foods that will stop unhealthy food addictions and then prepare delicious nutrient-dense plant-based raw foods and juices, in addition to daily yoga sessions with me. – See more at: http://www.eomega.org/workshops/living-long-healthy?source=Fweb.RumbD.ws#-workshop-description-block

You will have a weekend removed from your usual surroundings (and usual temptations), with me and Mimi right there to answer your questions and support you. By the end of the weekend, sugar will already begin to taste too sweet.

In the meantime, I have a fun suggestion for chocolate lovers, to help wean you off of milk chocolate. DARK chocolate. As I decreased my sugar intake, I began to find that milk chocolate was too sweet. Today, 85% dark chocolate is a huge treat for me! It’s just the right amount of sweet, is loaded with deep rich chocolate flavor and doesn’t leave me with the jitters.

If you’re really fighting cravings, eat fresh ripe fruit and learn now to make delicious desserts like cookies that are sweetened with dates and bananas or a little maple syrup. Here is a fantastic replacement recipe for Toll House cookies from Mimi Kirk! You can easily make these in a dehydrator or you can bake them at the lowest temperature in your oven.

I think that getting your sweet tooth satisfaction in healthier ways is the key along with getting enough protein, either vegan, vegetarian or animal sources. If you go back to it, it is highly likely that it will be sickening sweet and you won’t feel good after eating it.

 

Yummy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups fine cashew flour (made from cashew pieces)

1 1/3 cups oat flour (made from rolled oats)

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 Tb. coconut sugar

1 T vanilla

1/2 t. sea salt

1/2 of an 85% dark chocolate bar, cut into small chunks (I like Green and Black’s)

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

 

Directions

  • Make cashew flour by blending 1 cup of cashews in a high speed blender. Do not over blend as it becomes cashew butter. It is better to take some out and put it back in the blender to reblend all the pieces.
  • Blend oats in high speed blender to make them into a flour.
  • Place flours in a bowl and mix in chocolate chunks and chopped nuts. Mix to combine.
  • Form into balls, roll and squeeze in your hand to shape cookies. Press a few extra chocolate chunks and nuts into the tops of the cookies.
  • Place balls on a non-stick dehydrator sheet until all mixture is used up and press down on cookie ball with the palm of your hand to shape it.
  • Dehydrate 12 hours or overnight at 118 degrees OR bake on a cookie sheet in the oven at the lowest temperature for 30 min. Taste to see if they are the texture you like.
  • Store in refrigerator

Reflections on Motherhood for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a bittersweet celebration of motherhood for me. It is a celebration of the life I brought into this world, and a reminder of the life that was taken from it. When we fall under the spell of motherhood, we are so elated by the idea of this life we are going to bring into the world – this external representation of ourselves. We do not think about how fragile life truly is, how quickly it can be taken from us. Instead, we dream about it – ‘Will he have my smile? My husband’s laugh? Will she be smart and clever, kind and caring?’

We build space for this creation in our own lives. We transform a room in a house, complete with bassinet, rocking/feeding chair, baby monitor, and nightlight, and softly colored walls and linens. We create time that right now is filled with naps and morning sickness but will soon be filled with diapers and middle of the night feedings, and a little later, tying shoes and kissing skinned knees. We create space in our hearts for this little person that is going to fill every square inch and then he will grow and change and force us to keep making the space bigger for him or her.

Children teach us how to love unconditionally, an almost foreign concept in our society. This very unique way of loving another person is easier between parent and child because they are an extension of us. We learn to care for someone else and put his or her needs ahead of our own. They teach us patience. They keep us aware, awake and responsible. They challenge us and push us to our limits and teach us that we need to learn to set boundaries. Finally, they teach us how to love fiercely and let go, the hard lesson of non-attachment, though most of us parents remain completely attached for a lifetime to these mini-me people. No matter how old they are, they are our babies.

Logically and chronologically, we start out as their caregivers, teachers and advisors, but in time, the tables turn and it is we who rely on them for guidance and care. Having children results in a thorough transformation of the mind and heart and in most cases, the sacrifices made cannot fully be appreciated until one has a child of their own.

My children taught me how to love with every bit of my heart and then how to surrender control. My son, by leaving the planet at age 20, challenged my faith and my spirit. His untimely and tragic departure forced me to work hard to understand life and death at a higher level. I had to learn how to see him and his sister as separate souls on their own journeys, rather than my creations or my possessions. My daughter continues to teach me to be courageous and have faith in life. To trust the process. She does not live under a cloud of fear, but seizes the opportunity to live her life to the fullest. She suffered deeply at the age of 18 when she lost her 20 year old brother and now, 10 years later, she lives her life in a way that honors him. 

I am so grateful for both of my children – grateful for the lessons of how precious life is and that even in our darkest moments, we CAN choose to survive.  

Mothers, hold your babies tight and be grateful for THIS moment. Soak it in, drink it up, pull it in to every cell of your body, memorize it as an imprint on your heart. Children, love your parents and forgive them as soon as possible. Learn from their mistakes and hold their misgivings with compassion. If you can find forgiveness and compassion in your heart for them, you will live and die without regret.

What I Traded For 50 (And Beyond)

All of my life I have been thin. I have been a dancer and a yogi and I love food. I am a foodie! I love healthy food but, for decades, I just did not put a whole lot of thought into what I ate. Even in my 40s, when I began to notice that foods like pancakes and pasta, or anything with sugar in it made me feel bad, I didn’t really change my eating habits. I made small changes, like eating bread from sprouted grains, but I kept right on enjoying all kinds of foods.

By the time I hit 50, those subtle ‘I don’t feel so good’ hints became much more obvious. I could tell I just wasn’t vibrating at the same energy level whenever I ate anything with refined sugar or flour. I would feel bloated and my digestion would suffer. I had the same problem with dairy. Even wine, which I loved, was taking a toll on my sleep, not to mention dehydrating me.  I realized that it was time to stop overlooking the hints, listen to my body and make changes. I saw this future for myself – of travel, adventure, teaching workshops around the world, helping others make the connection to yoga and energy that I have been so blessed with… my husband. I wanted to be around for all of this.

Listening to my body – I mean really listening – was the smartest thing I could have done. I am really happy to say, post menopause, that I managed to sail through it without prolonged episodes of mood swings, hot flashes or insomnia, like so many women have. Some of that may be genetics, but I am confident that changing my diet changed the course of how my body would react to the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. And I am so grateful.

Now, at 55, I could never go back to those old eating habits. No more sugar, flour, alcohol, dairy, or coffee. I have an occasional glass of wine with dinner and not have any ill effects, but I have no interest in any other alcohol. I don’t consider myself vegan, vegetarian or 100% raw, but my diet consists mainly of fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, with animal protein like eggs and fish in very limited quantities. My sweet indulgence is 85% dark chocolate. I oil pull for 30 minutes most mornings with coconut oil, take a fish oil supplement, occasionally Vitamin D3, CoCorcumin and Spirulina or Chlorella every day, and often use priobiotics. My diet consists of a green smoothie combo I created that I’ll include, salad for lunch most days and sautéed veggies with a protein source and quinoa or sweet potatoes for dinner.  But, I also like cooked food. I travel so I need to eat in restaurants. I have to surrender a little control now and then, but I still enjoy it so it is worth it.

I didn’t make these changes overnight. It took time, and I was not always diligent – I swung back and forth for while before feeling better outweighed temptation. I also found that the Vegan Cleanse I did for 3 weeks in January 2012 helped reset my body and brain. It led to co-creating the Eat Green Challenge webinar with Cate Stillman, which you can find on the home page of my website. The webinar explains how to do this transformational cleanse and it is still available for $97.

How you get to 50 and beyond is up to you, but I promise you that healthy changes will meet with positive results.

Green Smoothie Recipe
(Best made in a high speed blender)

green drink

 

Ingredients:

Kale
Parsley
Dandelion greens
Lettuce or spinach
Cucumber
Grapefruit
Lime
Lemon
One apple
Fresh Ginger (powder is fine as well)
Fresh Turmeric (powder is fine as well)
Coconut milk

Additional Optional Ingredients:

Pinch of ground cloves

Ice or frozen fruit of choice

Any additional fresh fruit if more sweet is desired

Super foods of choice: spirulina, chia seeds, cocurcumin, maca, cacao, bee pollen

More good fat if desired: coconut flakes, coconut butter, almond butter, or avocado (choose one)

Banana is optional

Instructions:

  1. Use any variety of the ingredients listed above, add or subtract any that you like.
  2. Cut the rind from all the citrus, remove any seeds and put the fruit into the blender whole. Amounts are up to you and your desired level of sweetness. Ice makes it cold and even more delicious, but it is optional.
  3. Blend on high to desired consistency. If you like a smoother beverage, add more liquid. If you like it chunky, use less liquid and blend on a lower speed for less time.

Suggestions:

  • Greens. I like my smoothie dark green, but you can use any combination of greens you like.
  • Start out slow. Please note that if you use all of these ingredients at once you may have digestive disturbance. The best advice is to keep it simple at first and see how you feel. Also, drink this mixture slowly.
  • Quantity. We each drink one quart of this every morning.
  • Need more protein? If you need more protein you can add hemp powder or make some eggs to eat while you sip your smoothie.
  • Preparing Ahead.You can make this at night and drink it the next morning if you have to get going early. You can also freeze it in a glass mason jar and then defrost it as needed.

There are many great green smoothie recipes out there. Once you get the hang of it I know you will find your favorite combo. You get to control the amounts of everything. The important thing to notice is how you feel and how it digests.

 

 

Finding Balance

In my last post, I shared my thoughts with you on making realistic, compassionate commitments to your Self: to your health, to your way of life, to your overall wellbeing. In essence, I was talking about finding balance – on your mat, and off it. I’d like to continue the conversation on balance.

I am very grateful for the life I have chosen. I used to stress about all the travel and the demands of teaching workshops every weekend. I felt guilty about spending so much time away from home, missing time with my family and local friends. People often asked me how was I planning to sustain this work with so much time away from home and all of the unpredictable realities of a demanding traveling career. At times, doubts and fears of failure, or even success, would creep into my mind. Sometimes this would turn into a sort of self-torture. Until I realized something – this is the life I asked for and co-created. I am very privileged to be able to travel the world, practice yoga in breathtaking locations, and share space with incredible people. I changed my attitude about this extraordinary life I am living, and everything about it, even the stressful stuff, became manageable.  Whatever happens, when things unexpectedly change, I can view them in a negative or in a positive light. While I don’t have control over all of these situations, I always have control over my responses to them.

I have learned to be patient with myself while making changes that have led me to a more easeful, balanced version of my life. We live in an era of ever-increasing instant gratification.  When someone else’s success inspires us, or a life-changing event rips us to the core, or we realize we need to take charge of our health, we may set out with big ideas of radical changes all at once. Lasting changes don’t work that way. My commitment to healthy eating and doing regular balanced exercise took practice and small steps of change. Letting go of rigidity, being grateful, even being patient with myself – gradually became a natural part of my daily life. Learning how to meditate, to simply sit and breathe, balanced out my natural urge to be busy and productive all the time.  As it turns out, some of my best meditation opportunities happen on airplanes, which is fortunate as I spend anywhere between 4 and 12 hours per week sitting still en route to somewhere else.

If you are making changes to habits you’ve had all or most of your life, retraining your mind to a new outlook will take time. Be kind to yourself when you make a misstep. It will happen. Let it. Even go so far as to prepare for the missteps, and when they occur simply forgive yourself and then move on. Dust yourself off and keep going. One would never scold a child because he/she is not learning how to crawl or walk fast enough. Love yourself and others in the same patient way as you would love a child learning a new skill.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – “The Teaching of Buddha,” by the Bukkyõ Dendõ Kyõkai

Yoga asana is a part of my life, it is a joy for me to practice and teach. But as we all know, yoga is much more than our time on the mat. Yoga is also about cultivating awareness, honesty, devotion and appreciation. It is about oneness with myself and with others. It is my joy to commit to this path again and again, each day, in every way possible, to the best of my ability.

Yoga is a Commitment to Your Self

Yoga is a Commitment to Your Self - Desiree Rumbaugh

I do not practice yoga poses every day.

I’m sorry if that information is discouraging to your perception of me as a yogi, but my life is just as hectic and unpredictable as yours. There are days when spending time on my mat just does not fit into my schedule. The nature of my teaching schedule has me out on the road quite often, and there are times when it is simply not convenient or even possible. But, do not mistake this for lack of commitment.

A yoga practice is about more than simply doing poses, pushing myself, breathing and sweating on a sticky mat. The fullness of a yoga practice is about how we live every other hour of our day, especially on the days when getting on one’s mat isn’t possible. By this I mean being honest with ourselves, and kind and helpful to others in our lives.

Here are some of the other commitments I have made to myself to support a healthy lifestyle whether or not I am practicing yoga postures.

I am committed to eating healthy no matter what situation I am in, where I am traveling, or how hungry I am. It might be as simple as a bottle of water and an apple because nothing else is available. The processed, fried, sugary, salty foods that are readily available in airports and street corner convenience stores are not only bad for me, I feel bad when I eat them. The satisfaction created by consuming unhealthy calories is so short-lived, it’s not even worth the guilt I feel for subjecting my body to them. So, I pack my own food whenever possible. If I am unable to do that (like when flying), I look for the healthiest choices, such as salads, soups and fresh fruit or vegetables, which are becoming increasingly easier to find everywhere. I also take a green supplement, such as chlorophyll, and probiotics daily to support my immune system.

It can be just that simple… eat what you know will fuel your body and avoid or limit everything else.

The next commitment will seem contradictory: I do my best to let go of clinging to rigid rules. Life is so fluid; adhering obsessively to absolutes can create ever more stress and imbalance. I once believed that as a yoga instructor I was supposed to practice yoga poses every day, no exceptions. What I gained in exercise, I lost in the creation of excess stress in trying to make it happen. Who benefitted from that rigidity? Not me.

Life balance, including a calmer mind, is an important part of being a yogi.  Eating healthy ‘no matter what’ may sound rigid, but it is relatively easy to do. It supports my body’s energy needs and keeps my mind much more steady. By staying with these commitments, I create the conditions for more peace and less suffering when I need to go a day or two or three (or more) without doing exercise or a yoga practice. I still stretch when I can, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and find other small fun ways to be physically active even when I am traveling. By letting go of trying to live up to my old perception of how a yogi is ‘supposed to be’ and instead, living into what being a yogi now means to me, a beautiful balance has been established.

Balance and commitment go hand-in-hand. Next time, I will talk more about that balance.

 

 

Yoga has taught me how to let go

Yoga has taught me to let go - Desiree Rumbaugh

Stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time, you quickly learn that if you are going to master this artistic activity, you are going to have to let go – of preconceived notions, the physical limits you set on yourself, the mental limits that keep you from reaching further, and the emotions that you hide or hide behind. Quickly, you learn that you will have to remind yourself to let go every single time you return to your mat.

You might come into yoga shy about your body or intimidated by some of the bodies around you. You might find that you are comparing yourself to other students in the room and feeling less than. Sooner or later, you learn that it feels better to let go of comparing yourself to anyone else in the room.

Every single body has a different story to tell and no one is judging you for yours, except maybe you.

The rest of the class is focused on what’s happening on their own mats, making sure they don’t fall over and crash into their neighbors. They don’t see that your shirt has ridden up and your belly fat is exposed. Negative body image syndrome is rampant in our culture and it is debilitating. If you’re so wrapped up in holding tightly to your negative body image, you will struggle to take chances, weaken yourself, and miss the full experience of doing yoga.

You have to let go of your mental limitations when you’re on your mat. Do you want that bind? That crow pose? Release yourself from the fear-based mindset that asks in doubt, ‘can I?’ and allow yourself the space and confidence of ‘I can’ to flow in. Seemingly impossible tasks can be handled one step at a time. The real reason you cannot bind may just be that you have tightness in your shoulders and upper back which first need to be opened. The truth of why the arm balances are so impossible might be that your core needs strengthening in all of your poses, arm balances just make that point clearer. The bigger the hurdle, the more there is to learn. Each apparent roadblock is actually a gateway towards learning something we need, but we first have to let go of the thought processes that prevent us from recognizing these simpler first steps.

Letting go emotionally is one of the most therapeutic pieces of yoga. As many of you know, yoga played a pivotal role in recapturing my joy following the sudden violent death of my son. When you are feeling grief, sadness, or depression, your mat is one of the safest places to go to release these negative emotions. The intense focus required to balance on one leg  in a standing pose or on your hands in an arm balance frees your mind from the ‘chitta vritti’, the unrelenting chatter, for even a moment. You can let go of the negative emotion that seems to shroud your heart and mind, and just be okay for one breath; on your mat, where it is safe, warm, quiet, and where your spirit is nurtured. In the midst of intense emotional pain, you will find your body expressing itself and letting go of what your heart is trying to hold on to so tightly. You would not be the first person to release the tears of emotional grief while lying in savasana; no one around you knows and your instructor will most assuredly understand.

The human body holds onto so much throughout its lifespan. Your muscles have a memory. Cells will hold on to toxins. The mind stores everything. The heart feels pain – and has the capacity for tremendous love. In my many years in yoga, and through my closest relationships, I have learned that it’s possible to let go of that which holds me back from being open to love and joy— the feeling states that humans seek most. I hope you can find a way to let go of whatever is holding you back and open yourself to more love and joy.

You deserve it.