Acting Under Assumptions

Where do I even begin with this post? How many times have I gotten myself into trouble, how many problems have I created through being under the assumption that there was a problem to begin with in the first place? Acting under assumptions has led to devastating consequences for me and I was lucky enough to have someone very special to me teach me, “don’t believe everything you think.”

Getting lost in the mind is dangerous and scary. It breaks my heart that there are so many people in this world that don’t have access to communities and relationships that are having conversations like this. Had I not joined that gym with yoga classes, had I not become immersed in the yoga lifestyle, had I not been introduced to Buddhism and meditation, I would be stuck where I was for so many years, I would still be stuck in the prison of my own mind, still believing awful, terrible things about myself and others with no way out.

Becoming conscious of when I act or speak under assumptions, the reality that my mind has created for me, has been one of the hardest things that I’ve ever practiced. So hard in fact, that I have no advice to give anyone else on it. I find myself failing at it constantly and it causes me a great deal of angst. I haven’t posted in two weeks because I assumed that I had no right to have this conversation over my blog if I didn’t have a success story to tell. For the last couple weeks, I’ve found myself in a state of anxiety, anxiety so fierce that it’s left me paralyzed in bed, on the couch, in the shower. I haven’t wanted to leave the house because my mind is showing me the terrible things that might be coming to fruition: my failure (as a teacher, student, girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, aunt), the state of my finances, the never-ending cycle of addictions that pop up anytime I experience a moment of boredom…

I’m having a hard time. I don’t (yet) have a story of triumph and victory to share. I am at tipping point where I’ve realized that I could have quite possibly made much better decisions that would have saved me a lot of heartache. I do see that this paralyzing anxiety is scrambling my ability to reason and discern what’s actually going on. There have been so many times that I have snapped at someone or something working only under the story that my mind has created. Isn’t that insane? Isn’t that crazy that we all unknowingly engage in this ignorant behavior all the time? My hope is that through this conversation, you can at least bring some awareness to it. Take a moment to pause and ask yourself if you really know what’s true. I’ve talked in previous posts about remaining impartial and practicing equanimity– this is it! Forming opinions on people and things is one of the ways that  the mind keeps us captive! Those opinions turn into out-of-touch stories, which show us our neurosis, our insecurities, our judgments. These stories turn us into our most neurotic, insecure, judgmental selves. And then we make irrational decisions, say irreversible things and cause suffering for everyone involved.

I wish someone had this conversation with me before I was 29. I wish I didn’t look back and see 29 years of saying and doing things based on oblivion. But when I try to look for the good in the situation, I very clearly see, without any dirt in my eyes, that I at least know it now. As I said, working with acknowledging my presumptive behaviors has been difficult to say the least. I don’t usually realize that I’ve reacted under a mind-made story until after the fact, when I feel some sort of loss of morality, a piece of what makes me good. I have reached a new depth in connection with my yoga practice. My yoga practice has helped ease the lasting anxiety that I feel when I see that I’ve reacted before I reasoned. It gives me the space to breathe and see that there are still more opportunities to try. I’ve been approaching my practice with more of a beginner’s mind, attempting poses that I would normally skip because of the story my mind has made up, because of what it tells me my experience will already be like. We can do this in our interactions with ourselves and the external world. Next time you feel resistance, next time you feel fired up, angry, pissed off– before you say or do anything ask yourself, do you know the whole or even part of story? Or do you just see what your mind is showing you?  Slow down, ask questions and don’t believe everything you think.

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Lose Your Opinions, Expand Your Practice, Expand Your Mind.

There are times when having an opinion is important and necessary. A lot of the time though, we make opinions on people and situations without being even a little bit close to understanding the whole picture. We take in a limited amount of information on something and immediately engage in creating duality. This is good, that is bad, this is worthwhile, that isn’t, and so on. The problem is that we then put on our blinders and the ego only allows us to see what we want to see. Decided something or someone sucks? We then find ourselves looking through a pinhole of a perspective that seems to validate that judgment, we lose the capacity to see a bigger picture, a bigger story.

This post is closely related to my post on impartiality and equanimity. I’ve had time to let this practice set in and I’ve been discussing it a lot more in classes. Our yoga mat is an amazing platform to train for life. We become partial on the mat all the time, we favor poses, sides, teachers, and frown down upon others or ourselves. This limits our ability to understand the entire scope of what is going on. When we’ve decided we don’t like something, we check out, underestimate its importance, and what we can learn from it. I say this a lot in class and I firmly believe it, “you can’t find change and transformation without getting uncomfortable.” But we could make things overall much less uncomfortable if we stopped forming so many opinions, if we stopped making decisions on how we already feel about something, if we keep our eyes and our minds open.

This week in class, we’ve been breaking down the pose Svarga Dvidasana, Birds of Paradise. Many people cringe at the thought of holding a full bind while standing on one foot and attempting to fully extend the other. I get that! But once we’ve made the decision that we already don’t like it, we shut down, physically, emotionally, energetically. We begrudgingly hold the necessary preparatory poses knowing that the whole thing is already going to be a failure rather than melting and marinating, softening and relaxing. I’ve been asking my classes to attempt the pose, making sure the they’ve found themselves relaxed in each step before they move on to the next. Rather than letting the anxiety and tension build as we come closer to the peak pose, I’ve been inviting my students to cultivate confidence through easing the breath, step by step. I’m getting amazing feedback from students that they were able to reach new depths with the pose while going into it with a blank slate of a mind, a beginner’s mind.

How can we take this practice of impartiality off the mat? Notice the times when you get most fired up. Many of us can understand the stress of sitting in traffic. Anxiety, frustration and anger undeniably build. But for someone who is in training to be a warrior, this would be a much different situation. Can you remain indifferent to the fact that you’re stuck there? When you decide that the situation you’re in is awful and horrible, you continue to see it and the universe seems to reflect it back.

You could practice impartiality when you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is losing their temper. Rather than deciding that they are an inconsiderate asshole, can you let go of your opinion? Can you practice not thinking less of them? There are situations influencing their lives that you will never understand, which never warrants judgment. Can you practice being a warrior? We often looking at this as being “the bigger person”. You are not bigger, you are not better, you are operating on a level of awareness that allows you to take a step back and consciously choose to simply be an observer instead of a reactor. You are able to recognize that other people are enduring the cycle of suffering, samsara, just like each and every other person in this world. We are all equal, we all live, suffer and die. Can you keep your blinders off and become more perceptive by recognizing when your opinions, your judgments and your criticisms limit the capacity of your mind? Open your eyes.

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5 Tips to Become a Better Yoga Instructor

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Nowadays it seems like everyone and their mother has a yoga teacher certification. If you want to make it as an instructor, you need to stick out. I knew that there would a lot of competition moving to the Bay Area, as it has such a densely populated yoga community, but knowing and experiencing were two different things. I’ve had the opportunity to take class with a variety of senior teachers and it’s been humbling if anything. I can’t tell you how many times the thought went through my head, “And you thought you could hang with these top dogs?” As I began to study them more, one thing became apparent: not only did they teach a killer class, they had…ETIQUETTE. Your instructor etiquette has so much to do with students coming back to class. These are a few tips I’ve learned that have worked for me, I now feel more confident and connected with my students.

1.) Check in with your students before class. This is one of the hardest things for me to do because it really requires me to tap into my most confident self. Before class I walk up to students and introduce myself. I ask for their name, shake their hand, and ask if they have any injuries. If it’s a student that I know, I ask how their body feels and if they have any requests. I can’t tell you how powerful this move is. When your students see that you are mature and confident, they let their guards down and are more receptive during class. Sometimes you can’t get to everyone so let them know at the end of class to feel free to chat with you if you didn’t get a chance to before. You are leading these students through a physical, mental, and emotional journey, they need to know that you are available and that they can trust you. I used to ask the class as a whole before we started if anyone had injuries and people are much less willing to speak up, so make it personal.

2.) Touch your students! The majority of the class, I’m adjusting people. This came from gradual practice. The practice is becoming a second nature and I really dig it. First, let people know people know before class that if they don’t want an adjustment at any time, to please let you know and that it’s totally cool. For the most part, I adjust students how I’m cuing to the whole class. If someone drops into child’s pose, give them some love as you continue to teach. Let them know that you see them. Savasana time? Instead of checking your text messages, give your students a shoulder and/or neck adjustment. I find that adjusting helps me keep my head in the game. Bottom line: people want to feel a connection, it’s part of being human. You can give them that gift.

3.) Make eye contact with your students, especially when you’re up front talking to them before or after class. And I don’t mean a quick skim through the faces, I mean connect with someone with your gaze for a few seconds. These people took time out of their day to see YOU, let them know that their presence is acknowledged. When students feel like you’re not paying attention to them, they check out. You are their leader for that time and your ability to make eye contact with them shows that you’re not only confident enough in your teacher self to that, but that you care enough to do that. Oh, and make sure it’s not a creepy, intense gaze–your soft gaze will soften them..

4.) Practice gratitude. Just because you are a well-known teacher with an awesome time slot does not mean that you *deserve* to have people in your class. As teachers, we are lucky to do what we do and we are lucky to have people fill our classes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teachers jet out right after class without seeing their students out the door. After your “Namaste”, thank your students for coming and let them know how much you appreciate them. There are too many teachers who let this job go to their head and begin to act and believe that they are on some higher playing field than everyone else. Get on your students’ level and stay there. As their yoga instructor, you very well may be one of the biggest influences in their life. It’s very possible that you currently make more of an impact than…their boss, doctor, significant other, parents, whatever. Understand how important you are to these people and let them know that you don’t take that lightly.

5.) Be yourself. I know you’re thinking, “Blah, blah, blah, I hear this all the time.” This really took on a new meaning when I found myself continually engaging in a particular conversation with myself after moving here. I would go to an experienced teacher’s classes and think to myself, “Oh I should really start teaching like this person. Maybe I should start to emulate that person a bit more.” Don’t do it. Don’t even try. If you notice organic changes in your teaching based off of you being inspired by another teacher or their class, great. That I can get behind. But students like uniqueness and you can’t get that from trying to be like someone else. I can tell you from personal experience, it comes off as funky and awkward and you don’t want your students to get the wrong impression of you, do you? Use other teachers to inspire you, not to intimidate you.

Teaching yoga is hard! I’ve learned that it’s a constant growing process and at no point should you feel like, “you’ve got it down”. Once we give into that mentality, we lose inspiration (which is the foundation for a great class and teacher!) and we become less receptive. If you love teaching yoga, as a full-time job or not, you know that the thought of your class is popping into your head all day long. It should make you a excited and a little nervous/anxious (because you want to be your best self and there’s always a little bit of nerves about having that on display for everyone to see, hear, and feel). Because class is constantly popping into our thoughts, we remain ready to go at all times. Remember, improving our yoga-instructing, bad-ass selves is a PRACTICE. One thing at a time. One thing at a time.