Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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The Uncopyright Pose: The Practice of Sharing Wisdom

I wish I could take credit for what is written below, but I can’t.

What I can do is share a valuable list that I find myself revisiting over and over. It comes from Zen Habits written by Leo Babauta.

Today I found myself reading through his list of 12 Indespensable Mindful Living Tools again.  I decided I would reach out to him and request permission to share it on my blog. Searching through his site for contact information, I came across a tab that read: uncopyright. I discovered he has released his copyright and put his work on the site into public domain.

Amazing. Refreshing. Delightful.

Thank you, Mr. Babauta, for making it so easy to share your wisdom.buddah

Leo Babauta’s 12 Indepensable Mindful Living Tools

1. Meditation. Meditation is where mindful living starts. And it’s not complicated: you can sit still for even just 1 minute a day to start with (work up to 3-5 minutes after a week), and turn your attention to your body and then your breath. Notice when your thoughts wander from your breath, and gently return to the breath. Repeat until the minute is up.

2. Be Awake. Meditation is practice for being awake, which is not being in the dream state (mind wandering into a train of thought, getting lost in the online world, thinking about past offenses, stressing about the future, etc.) but being awake to the present, to what is. Being awake is something you can do throughout the day, all the time, if you remember. Remembering is the trick.

3. Watch Urges. When I quit smoking in 2005, the most useful tool I learned was watching my urges to smoke. I would sit there and watch the urge rise and fall, until it was gone, without acting on it. It taught me that I am not my urges, that I don’t have to act on my urges, and this helped me change all my other habits. Watch your urge to check email or social media, to eat something sweet or fried, to drink alcohol, to watch TV, to be distracted, to procrastinate. These urges will come and go, and you don’t have to act on them.

4. Watch Ideals. We all have ideals, all the time. We have an ideal that our day will go perfectly, that people will be kind and respectful to us, that we will be perfect, that we’ll ace an exam or important meeting, that we’ll never fail. Of course, we know from experience that those ideals are not real, that they don’t come true, that they aren’t realistic. But we still have them, and they cause our stress and fears and grief over something/someone we’ve lost. By letting go of ideals, we can let go of our suffering.

5. Accept People & Life As They Are. When I stopped trying to change a loved one, and accepted him for who he was, I was able to just be with him and enjoy my time with him. This acceptance has the same effect for anything you do — accept a co-worker, a child, a spouse, but also accept a “bad” situation, an unpleasant feeling, an annoying sound. When we stop trying to fight the way things are, when we accept what is, we are much more at peace.

6. Let Go of Expectations. This is really the same thing as the previous two items, but I’ve found it useful nonetheless. It’s useful to watch your expectations with an upcoming situation, with a new project or business, and see that it’s not real and that it’s causing you stress and disappointment. We cause our own pain, and we can relieve it by letting go of the expectations that are causing it. Toss your expectations into the ocean.

7. Become OK with Discomfort. The fear of discomfort is huge — it causes people to be stuck in their old bad habits, to not start the business they want to start, to be stuck in a job they don’t really like, because we tend to stick to the known and comfortable rather than try something unknown and uncomfortable. It’s why many people don’t eat vegetables or exercise, why they eat junk, why they don’t start something new. But we can be OK with discomfort, with practice. Start with things that are a little uncomfortable, and keep expanding your comfort zone.

8. Watch Your Resistance. When you try to do something uncomfortable, or try to give up something you like or are used to, you’ll find resistance. But you can just watch the resistance, and be curious about it. Watch your resistance to things that annoy you — a loud sound that interrupts your concentration, for example. It’s not the sound that’s the problem, it’s your resistance to the sound. The same is true of resistance to food we don’t like, to being too cold or hot, to being hungry. The problem isn’t the sensation of the food, cold, heat or hunger — it’s our resistance to them. Watch the resistance, and feel it melt. This resistance, by the way, is why I’m doing my Year of Living Without.

9. Be Curious. Too often we are stuck in our ways, and think we know how things should be, how people are. Instead, be curious. Find out. Experiment. Let go of what you think you know. When you start a new project or venture, if you feel the fear of failure, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to fail” or “Oh no, I don’t know how this will turn out”, try thinking, “Let’s see. Let’s find out.” And then there isn’t the fear of failure, but the joy of being curious and finding out. Learn to be OK with not knowing.

10. Be Grateful. We complain about everything. But life is a miracle. Find something to be grateful about in everything you do. Be grateful when you’re doing a new habit, and you’ll stick to it longer. Be grateful when you’re with someone, and you’ll be happier with them. Life is amazing, if you learn to appreciate it.

11. Let Go of Control. We often think we control things, but that’s only an illusion. Our obsession with organization and goals and productivity, for example, are rooted in the illusion that we can control life. But life is uncontrollable, and just when we think we have things under control, something unexpected comes up to disrupt everything. And then we’re frustrated because things didn’t go the way we wanted. Instead, practice letting go of control, and learn to flow.

12. Be Compassionate. This sounds trite, but compassion for others can change the way you feel about the world, on a day-to-day basis. And compassion for yourself is life-changing. These two things need remembering, though, so mindful living is about remembering to be compassionate after you forget.

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The Quiet Pose: A Silent Practice

Yoga studios are quiet places. Instructors might complement the class with music but for the most part the sounds you hear are verbal instruction and the rhythmic pranayama of the class.

The quiet allows for focus. Without the distraction of conversation, computers, TV, traffic, and electronics the practitioner can begin to hear what the body is asking for and meet those needs. It also presents an opportunity to observe to one’s own thoughts. The quiet allows for meditation.Benefits-of-meditation-2

I find in my life, quiet and silence are often hard to come by or challenging to attain. At home I listen to talk radio constantly. I go from task to task through out the day listening to disembodied voices discuss the world. I am always listening to other people’s ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Similarly, I know people who always have music playing and people who always have a TV on in the background. We all know people who constantly have their noses in their phones. This external noise blocks the mind’s internal chatter.

All of these distractions are a staple of modern living. However, we should take time to be silent and let those easily drowned out internal voices and feelings have their moment.

For a long time I did not want to try meditation. I was intimidated by the idea of “clearing my mind.” I thought I was expected to stop my thoughts. What I didn’t understand was: Meditation is not the absence of thought. It is the observation of thought. Observation without judgement and reaction.

imagesThat is the tricky bit for me…without judgement and reaction. The initial challenge for me was to step away from my thoughts and emotions and just observe. Through yoga, I gradually learned this delicate and subtle skill. As I began to grasp the concept, it became easier. Quotation-Osho-existence-meditation-Meetville-Quotes-189437If you do meditate, terrific. If you have before and wandered away from the practice, go back. If you have never meditated, try it. If you would like to have a better understanding click here and here.

Wherever you might be in your practice, allow for quiet in your life. Turn off the computer, phone, TV or whatever is buzzing, beeping or flashing. Let your environment be quiet. Settle into silence and see what happens.


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Meditate on This: The Most Imortant Pose

When I first practiced yoga, I was annoyed with savasana.  I could not wrap my mind around laying still for close to 20 minutes with all the things I needed to accomplish in a day.  As a result, I was missing a huge point. ShavasanaThe purpose of the asanas is to arrive at perhaps the most important pose, savasana (corpse pose). A place where the mind settles as the body rests and there is a natural transition into meditation. Just to drive home the importance of the pose, here is a list of its benefits:

  • a decrease in heart rate and the rate of respiration,
  • a decrease in blood pressure,
  • a decrease in muscle tension,
  • a reduction in general anxiety,
  • a reduction in the number and frequency of anxiety attacks,
  • an increase in energy levels and in general productivity,
  • an improvement in concentration and in memory,
  • an increase in focus,
  • a decrease in fatigue, coupled with deeper and sounder sleep, and
  • improved self-confidence.

Savansana allows us to detach, regroup and reset physically and mentally.

Students at a Sankrit School in daily practice

Students at a Sankrit School in daily practice

Often western culture places a low value on down time.  There is pride in the ability to hustle and power through without much thought to what is missed without real rest.

In 5th grade, I had an unfortunate incident related to this exact concept.  During home room, there was always a math exercise posted on the board.  We were instructed to spend our free time working on that until the bell rang and attendance was called.  It was never collected or graded.  It was an activity to keep us busy and the classroom quiet. I rarely completed it.  I chose to spend that time staring out the ground floor window at the suburban morning that was unfolding outside of our school.  I loved the few minutes before the bell rang  and our bustling day began. Sitting silent and staring, I remember wishing I could hop out the window and lay down in the large rolling lawn and stare at the clouds.

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One morning mid-trance I heard my name being barked from the front of the room.  I turned to see Mrs. D’s trim, imposing figure at her desk, beckoning me towards her with the crook of her finger.

When I arrived at her desk, she leaned in close, treating me to the distinct smell of coffee and something rotten on her breath.

Her sharp pale eyes drilled into me as she asked, “Do you know what you are?”

I don’t remember having a response, except a sickening twist in my gut.

“You are a dreamer.” She sneered loud enough for my classmates to hear. Her tone implying that this was not a good thing. “I see you staring out that window every morning. You do nothing.” mean-19025194883_xlarge She paused dramatically, surveying the classroom, nodding as if this was a consensus, then leaned back in, “You’ve got your head in the clouds and it’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Looking back, it is no great mystery why I dreamed of hopping out of that classroom window.

At the time, I didn’t have the back bone or the independence to stand up to Mrs. D’s berating. I assumed, given her position of authority and her seemingly expert status on things such as 5th grade math and social studies, that she was right and I was headed down a road to ruin.

Terrified and humiliated, I committed to “keeping my eye on the ball” and “cracking down” by completing the free time math exercises.

Scurrying back to my seat, I was determined to tamp down my dreamer tendencies.

I quickly discovered that was nearly impossible.  The anxiety around the free time math exercises held a tight grip on my brain. I was terrified those eagle eyes would catch me dreaming again. The figures I scratched down on my scrap paper seemed shifty and elusive. In those few minutes before the bell each day, my gaze and my mind wandered outside again and again.  However, the delight had been drained from my morning reprieve.

Mrs. D was right.  I was a dreamer. I spent the rest of that year in the dark shadow of her disappointment.

As a former teacher, I am furious with that woman.  As a yogini, I am equally impressed by my 5th grade discovery of morning meditation.  I would like to gather up my 10-year-old self in my arms and tell her Mrs. D was unfair and possibly dealing with some emotional issues of her own. meditate_istock_000016078540smallI am happy to report I have moved on from the incident, but there are times when I do battle with my own internal Mrs. D. I have had stretches of time where I run myself into the ground striving to feel accomplished or silently shamed myself for low productivity.

It’s my yoga practice that allows me to reflect on these moments and find balance.

To put the importance of meditation in perspective, think of the daily global effort made to secure time to recharge cell phones, ipads, and lap tops.

Shouldn’t that same priority be placed on finding time to recharge our minds and central nervous systems?

I like to envision a world where everyone can silence their internal Mrs. D and carve out even 5 minutes a day to meditate.

I would love to know your favorite method of meditation.  How do you fit it into your day? Do you have a meditative activity that allows you to recharge? What are your challenges to finding that time?

Take a moment and share out in the comments below.