My parents were in their early 30’s when I was born, a period that I cannot believe that I am fast approaching in my own life (and no, this is not a pregnancy announcement, but more of a realization announcement). Growing up, I was incredibly blessed to have had a stable and loving home that allowed me to enjoy all the wonders of childhood. I remember looking at my parents in awe, wondering if one day I too would know how to navigate life on my own and terrified by how complicated it all seemed. Then suddenly, I was flung into a self-centred and turbulent stage of adolescence, followed by a period of self-discovery and experimentation in my early 20’s. Amazingly I came out on the other side of my younger days relatively unscathed, having found a more stable and grounded sense of identity in my late 20’s. Today I am finally ready to take on the title of adult and confront the complexities of life with a simple truth.
I could most certainly write an entire book about those earlier stages, with all the turbulence and self-discovery that one encounters throughout those prominent years. However, I will save those stories for another time and today, on the eve of my 30th birthday, share some of the lessons I have learned from years of growing, learning, and living on the roller coaster that has been the past 3 decades:
Context reveals peace and clarity – After years of egocentric living as an adolescent and young adult, peace was finally attained when I shifted my focus outward from the self towards the larger context of connectedness. Mother Teresa says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” When we view every situation solely in relation to the self, we miss out on the interwoven stories of others that we are also a part of. Being able to recognize the larger context in which we exist helps to clarify the whys of seemingly unfair situations and releases us from the “why me?” of narrow, self-focused living.
Your body is a temple that needs tending – I remember one crazy summer when I worked 2 jobs, was taking an art class, and doing hot yoga every day. It was a time when my body was unstoppable and my energy stores ran deep. Today, my need for an extra cup of coffee, a few more hours of sleep, and good ergonomics is undeniable. Through this sobering shift, my understanding of the body has grown from merely being an afterthought into one of respect and partnership. The body is a map of the past, present and future; a gift from your ancestors and a divine mystery of creation. As such, it deserves and needs to be cared for, understood, and valued as an important part of how we experience life. Yoga Girl (aka Rachel Brathen) explains that “My body is connected to my emotions. My emotions are connected to my thoughts. My thoughts are connected to my ability to stay present. And my ability to stay present is connected to my body.”
Time speeds up with its own passage – I used to waste the days away without a care in the world. Time was a vast and never ending desert that I had my whole life to traverse. However, somehow in the blink of an eye that desert has transformed into a high-speed highway without an off-ramp in sight. The days fly by as I try to schedule and manipulate every second I have to keep up with all the have-to’s and should-do’s that clutter up the day-to-day. However, time is not a dimension that we are meant to control without intense stress; rather it is a reality we are free to climb on in order to better enjoy the view on the ride of life. For when Alice asks the white rabbit in Wonderland, “How long is forever?” The white rabbit responds, “Sometimes just one second.”
Everything is subject to change– My first year as a Public Health Nurse was one of intense learning and growing up. I was no longer a student who could hide behind the certainty of books and scheduled classes. I needed to figure out how to navigate the working world of office politics, waiting for vacation time, and going with the flow; for as a very wise colleague would always remind me, “everything is subject to change.” This I have come to realize is true in every facet of life including our relationships, the environment, the economy, and our priorities. This fact has led me to the practice of the Beginner’s Mind, the freedom from getting stuck in the expectations of past experience. It is an attitude that accepts change with openness and curiosity. Studying the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn has helped me to better understand and embrace this way of being which “allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does.”
Love is all you need – This is by far the simplest but most important lesson I have learned, period. Monetary success, job titles, and fancy things are all ways that we as humans create stress through competition, arrogance, and egocentricity. Putting all these above relationship is what fuels the endless rat race many of us are trying to find rest from. We have a tendency to complicate life by over-crowding it with all the wants and shoulds that quickly become our top priorities. But what I have come to appreciate with age, especially as time speeds up and everything keeps changing, is that the one constant I can cling to and be comforted by is love. Money, jobs, and stuff are not bad things in and of themselves, but when we think they are the ultimate be-all-and-end-all behind our efforts, it becomes easy to lose context of the bigger picture: our connectedness to one another. I always find it tragic how humans can take this truth and distort it over and over again through the corruption of religion and politics by exploiting others all in the name of power. However, I believe that the solution is simple, free and available to all in every situation: love one another (John 13: 34-35). That’s it. Period. And so, just as The Beatles sang, revolutionaries in their own right, “All you need is love.”
Today I had the privilege of learning from Instagram sensation Yoga Girl aka Rachel Brathen, along with 250 other Vancouver yogis. Being new to the city, I didn’t have a close friend to bring along or anyone to share in the excitement with. So with my yoga mat rolled up under my arm, I stood by myself in line, praying that the West Coast rain would hold out until I got inside, and wondering what was in store for me from Brathen’s aptly named Happiness Tour.
Whenever doing something out of your norm, there is opportunity to re-charge, re-set, and be inspired…and that is exactly what happened. I am so freakin’ inspired by this incredible woman! Not only because she does a kick ass handstand or can put together a killer playlist (both of which she does). No, I am inspired because she has gracefully manifested love, peace, and happiness from a painful and destructive past. I can understand pain and destruction; the need to create chaos as a way of coping with all I cannot control. Yoga is definitely the most positive outlet I have found in order to cope with my own demons and find freedom from chaos. It is the space where I can be safe, calm, and open. Nevertheless, when I get caught up in my day-to-day routine, yoga is usually the first thing to be pushed aside. My ego comes up with all the excuses: “You’re too busy. You’re too tired. You don’t need silence.” The noise of daily living becomes the norm. I am convinced that it is tolerable and that I can hold out just a little bit longer.
However, during savasana in Brathen’s class today, I felt the calming buzz of my body radiating complete inner silence. Peace. I was letting go of judgments, lies, and stress. How did I let it build up for so long? I re-charged, re-set, and am now re-inspired. Yoga Girl is not an external fad promising happiness; she is a beautiful guide toward accessing a pure state of happiness from within, where it’s been all along.
“Caring for our well-being has to start from within and this is also one of the most important foundations of the yoga practice.” – Rachel Brathen
Yoga is not about self-improvement. It’s about self-acceptance.
I was awoken last Thursday at 5 am by a terrible shooting pain up the right side of my neck. I wasn’t able to turn my head or bend over. I was overcome by fear for my health, but also worry that I wouldn’t be able to do all the things that I had committed to for that week. I have been working a lot lately and admittedly have been quite caught up in the busyness of life at the expense of my well-being. When friends from back home ask me how I’m doing, I find myself responding with: “Good, but I’m so busy.” Why do I do this to myself? Why do I feel the need to fill up every moment of the week and run myself beyond capacity?
Maybe it’s society convincing me that success come from being busy. Maybe it’s my insecurity of needing to prove my self-worth without checking in with my capacity first. Whatever the irrational fear behind my drive to be busy, one thing is clear: my body, mind and soul can’t keep up. Something’s gotta give, and it seems that something was my back.
Lately, my perfectionist personality had begun using my intense Bikram yoga practice as a means to self-improvement, a forceful inward expectation that eventually led to exhaustion. I have mild scoliosis, a slight curvature in my spine that often leads to irritating back pain. Yoga certainly helps, but only if I let my body guide my practice rather than my mind. Forcing myself into postures and willing my body to bend in a certain way can often lead to more damage than the healing I am intending. Patience can be the most difficult virtue, especially when my ego is telling me to push just a little bit harder.
The intense pain in my back was a pretty loud message that I needed to take a step back from my current routine and re-evaluate. The result is, I’ve taken some time off from Bikram to engage in a new type of challenge: turning down the intensity and checking in with myself. I am taking it slow by following Rachel Brathen’s Release & Let Go* and I am already feeling the benefits of this new pace both on and off the mat. The pain is not gone. However, instead of it being a frustrating limitation, the pain has transformed into a beautiful reminder to slow down and be more present, rather than mindlessly busy.
Limitations and set-backs are not always negative, but rather can be opportunities for growth and enlightenment. If it’s no longer serving you, don’t fight it. Embrace the practice of letting go.
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. – M. Scott Peck
In my teens and early twenties, I was involved in a very unhealthy relationship, one that caused me debilitating anxiety and fear… It was my relationship with food. In order ease anxiety I would tightly control what I ate and when I ate it. The act of eating was no longer about what my body needed, but rather was based on the state of my anxious mind. This created a very unhealthy disconnect between my mind and body. I was desperate to heal and attended yoga classes everyday in search of release from the chains of anxiety. However, the more I pushed myself to heal, the more anxious I became, and the more I controlled what I consumed. The negative intention I brought toward the yoga was pushing me farther down into despair.
As I’ve gotten older, I am proud to say that I have developed a healthy relationship with food and more importantly, with myself. There was no magic answer to finding healing but rather developed slowly as I set a daily intention to be present, and to be honest it is still an ongoing journey. Every day I have the choice to honour my mind, body, and soul, or to judge, criticize and undermine myself. Taking time to slow down and focus on my inner truth helps to drown out all the noise of the external world that tells me over and over that I am not good enough. My place is in the hot room, where the yoga brings me peace in the present moment, exactly as I am.
It is not easy to share this part of my past, however I believe that there is great power in telling our stories. There would be no stigma if I were to write about a physical ailment. I hope that one day the same can be true for mental illness. Here is my truth, one I am proud to share: Today I can eat to nourish and honour my body. Today I eat with gratitude in celebration of life.
It’s amazing the amount of rejection that I see
In my reflection and I can’t get out of the way
I’m lookin’ forward to the girl I wanna be
But regret has a way of starin’ me right in the face
So I try not to waste too much time at the bathroom sink
– Miranda Lambert (Bathroom Sink)
There are days when I get home after work and the tension in my shoulders feel like rocks and I realize that I haven’t taken a deep breath all day. Instead of listening to my inner voice, I have spent the whole day compromising myself for a mere perception of others’ opinions of me or worse, my ego’s expectations. It’s as though the world speeds up all around me and I’m constantly criticizing myself for being behind or not good enough.
This morning I started my day with a yoga class instead of my regular cup of coffee. I usually don’t have the luxury of making it to the 6 am Bikram class since I have to be at work by 8:30 am. But today I was scheduled for a late start, which meant I got to contend with the inner battle of whether to sleep in or go to yoga. I am grateful that the yoga won, for as I starred at myself in the mirror for the 90 minute class, I realized that I had been holding a lot of negativity towards the girl looking back at me.
With my mind always trying to skip 10 steps ahead of right now, I am never able to live up to my ego’s criticisms of where she thinks I should be. This made me realize that there is an important caveat to the saying, “Be True To Who You Are,” for it is really a practice of being true to who you are in this moment. It is about getting to know the person you are within your own individual context, not where you will be tomorrow, next month, or next year. Honour who you are in the present and have respect for the moment, whether good or bad.
Yes I have goals, and as Miranda says, “I’m lookin’ forward to the girl I wanna be;” however, that doesn’t mean I can forget to take care of the girl I already am.