I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of junk mail clogging up my inbox, and because I’m a holistic health coach, much of it revolves around wellness and weight loss. Here are just a few titles of ridiculous articles I’ve received over the past week: “The Number 1 Way To Lose Weight According To Experts,” “Three Essential Weight Loss Tips From Kim Kardashian,” and “Can Pokemon Go Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals?”
Really??? Yes, really.
Wellness and weight loss are profit-driven industries, and much of the “expert” advice contradicts itself. The result is that many people are feeling confused, off their game or downright sick. We are grasping for health information from external sources in the hope of discovering the next life-saving superfood or the ultimate list of rules to follow that promise to banish belly fat. Oftentimes, the health recommendations we receive are put forth by entrepreneurs who are motivated by financial gain.
The honest-to-goodness truth is that there is no superfoods secret or single life-transforming tip or herb that will magically turn back the hands of time or flush fat from our human bodies. The only thing this constant flow of conflicting information is doing is making our heads spin out of control. Modern living is not helping us feel whole, balanced and happy. What we need, more than anything else, is to put our fragmented, frazzled and distracted, selves back together again. We need to augment our reality not through gaming and zoning out, but rather through mindfully plugging in. We need to radically simplify and purify. We need to take a step back from the incessant swarming chatter, tune into our bodies - their natural rhythms and messages - and just breathe deeply. And then we need to exhale slowly and generously. In short, we need yoga.
Christina, my favorite friend and yoga teacher, finds it funny when people tell her, “I’m not good at yoga.” She tries to analyze what they mean by that. Do they mean they’re not flexible? That they lack balance? Or that they fidget? What does being “good at yoga” really mean? Is it something one is naturally graced with at birth? Is it a skill that can be acquired through diligent practice? I have a hunch that it’s something else entirely.
Perhaps the people who claim to be lacking the yoga skill are under the impression that there’s a particular goal to achieve or set of movements that must be mastered in order to define themselves as “good”. When we concentrate on the concrete form of things (skills, goals, measures and metrics), it becomes that much harder to focus our awareness on subtle essence, which I believe is the artful elegance of yoga - and of life. Subtle essence is that minute, barely perceptible space between our thoughts, the tiny pause between an exhalation and the next inhalation, or that brief instant as our dream state quietly transitions into wakefulness and suddenly it’s the dawning of a new day; it’s the span of time when we’re steadily balancing in crow pose and for that fleeting moment, the world seems like it’s in order. I think of yoga as a willingness (which is the opposite of willpower). It’s a gracious, open invitation to be curious about ourselves and the world - an opportunity to be authentic, gentle, compassionate, introspective, spiritual, wobbly and imperfect. The practice has the power to inspire thoughts and emotions that result in beneficial actions toward ourselves and others. I think acclaimed author and yoga instructor Rolf Gates sums it up nicely when he says, “Yoga is not a work-out, it’s a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” The more comfortable and practiced we get at seeking information from deep within ourselves, the more wisdom we uncover, and the less we need to rely on Kim Kardashian for weight loss tips.
You might surmise from all this philosophizing on yoga that I’ve been practicing all my life. Actually, it’s been about five really beautiful, introspective months. My earnest practice began on February 12, 2016 - the first night Three Birds Yoga Studio opened. I had previously tried numerous yoga classes at the gym, and while they seemed like a worthwhile workout, they didn't resonate with me, seep into my soul or become a true ritual that I craved or desired. Three Birds changed my relationship with yoga and quite frankly, with my Self. The studio is my sanctuary, and the sound instruction, attention toward alignment, gentle assistance, sense of community, and kindness I receive there brings harmony and peace into my life as my body is thriving and becoming stronger. I no longer feel like I need to spend time pounding on machines at the gym. I’ve evolved beyond that. I feel extremely calm, centered and happy.
My yoga practice has become an inseparable part of me because it aligns exquisitely with my philosophy on health and nutrition. Both yoga and mindful eating practices tap into the fundamental, primal human desire for pleasure, joy and balance. I find that there are moments in my life, both on and off the mat, when it’s pleasurable to be intensely focused and test my limits, and there are an equal number of moments when I prefer to explore the playful, relaxed and indulgent side of myself. Sometimes challenging myself with a particular pose or a food detox feels just right and other times all I want is some deeply restorative yoga and a square or two of lusciously decadent chocolate. There’s plenty of room in my spacious life to mix and match all of these equally valid choices and the practice of yoga crystallizes that concept in my body, mind and spirit.
After a challenging hour of yoga when I am resting in savasana, an equanimity and sense of bliss wash over me that undoubtedly proffer health benefits as powerful as my morning green juice. I can actually detect an energy shift throughout my body. It’s one of those subtle essence moments that I’ve come to celebrate. This state of being is indescribable to someone who is not familiar with it. All I can say is that no treadmill or elliptical machine workout has ever offered me the same sensory experience.
I am a health coach, not an expert. I am a human being, a lover of fine food and chocolate, and a yogi who has found a bit of balance on the mat, at the table and in my life, through trial, error, a fair amount of wobbling, and plenty of thoughtful research. It is in this spirit that I would like to offer you a few simple practices that have powerfully impacted my health and my life:
Notice and just be. Grant yourself the time to enjoy a meditative moment before you put anything in your mouth, before you begin your yoga practice, or before you act on a thought. Don’t try to change anything. Simply close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and be at peace with what is. If you can locate a silver lining in the moment, even better, and if not, so be it. We spend so much precious energy struggling. Sometimes, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to gracefully accept our current circumstances, whatever they may be. Meditation and spiritual awakening expert Tara Brach is very much a proponent of this philosophy and in her discussion of the importance of acceptance, she offers a clean, modest phrase that I love: “And this too."
Set an intention. One great way to enhance your experience of life is to be more mindful. Transitioning into a more mindful place can be incredibly challenging, though. Try setting a simple intention for yourself before engaging in any endeavor. When your monkey mind starts to wander, as it inevitably will, allow your simple intention to gently but firmly root you and re-establish your connection to the magnificence of this unique point in time.
Choose to remain open - no matter what. Open your heart, your mind and all your senses. This is the best way I can think of to attract favorable circumstances and magic into your life. If you’re always open, you’re a vessel through which energy, opportunities and inspiration may freely flow, and the potential for happiness is great. A closed system just recirculates the same old stagnant air.
This is my yoga. Here in these little kernels of wisdom lies the subtle essence that informs my daily rituals and creates a sense of wonder in my life. When I take that moment to pause between breaths, I know in my heart that I’m rich beyond measure.
You won’t find Pikachu at Three Birds Yoga Studio. Don’t even bother looking. And Kim Kardashian isn’t lucky enough to practice here. What you will find, though, is beautiful, generous and abundant teachers like Christina and Sarah who connect you to your truth, your strength, your joy, your edge and your compassion. And you’ll find me, wobbling imperfectly in the studio with a happy smile on my face. What do you say...shall I roll out a mat for you next to mine so we can practice finding balance together?