Saturday, December 26, 2009

Letting go

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
Havelock Ellis

Letting go gives us freedom. It invites new opportunities into our lives. When we let go there is a feeling of lightness and uplift.

Sometimes we cling to people or things out of the illusion that we cannot live without them. But we never know what lies ahead. We really only have the present moment. Even the present moment is fleeting.

Letting go does not mean that we abandon everything. There are many people and things that we build important relationships with. These people enhance our lives. At the same time we can practice an attitude of gentleness and a sense of detachment to the things we love the most.

We become blinded when our desperate need to hang onto something is actually causing difficulty and suffering in our lives. Fear can keep us holding on. In stillness, with an open heart, we can often find the strength to let go.

If we hang onto an idea of who we are or how the world is, we may miss learning something new or becoming something that is truer to our inner nature. If we are not open to new possibilities and new discoveries, we are cutting ourselves off from the richness and diversity of life. For example if you refuse to let go of the idea that you are unloved, you may not even notice the people who do love you.

Yoga helps to teach us the fine art of letting go and setting a strong foundation. Each breath teaches us the balance of filling up and releasing. We can let go of the idea that we cannot touch our toes or do a handstand. At the same time if we never touch our toes or do a handstand, that is OK. Yoga teaches us the union of opposites. They are both necessary for each other. Without creating muscular energy we cannot balance. Too much muscular energy causes tension. The fullness of the pose is found on the exhalation when we let go of the breath and create a softening of the muscular firmness.

As the new year approaches, think of some things you can let go of. Think of something that you feel you must have to be happy, How would it feel to let go of the attachment to that idea? Think of some idea you have or emotion that for some reason, maybe unintentionally, you are holding onto. We can let go because we know what we want to replace something with. For example we sell a house to buy a new one. Or we can let go simply for the freedom that comes from being fully present in each moment and open to all of life with its challenges and rewards.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Solstice

Winter solstice marks an end and a beginning. It is the end of the lengthening of nights and the beginning of the lengthening of days. Whenever something ends if paves the way for a new beginning.

Even though the days are getting longer, it feels like we are entering a period of darkness. Darkness gives us the opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, and go inward. Some people may be afraid of the dark, but the dark is necessary to appreciate the light. Opposites work together in surprising ways. When it is dark it may be difficult to see, but that is often where we make important discoveries. It forces us to be more careful and to use our other senses.

The actual winter solstice happens in a split second when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. It is testing the edge. Whenever anything reaches an extreme it must reverse direction. We learn from testing our edges. But we must test our edges with sensitivity and compassion. If we go too far we can injure ourselves but even that can teach us important lessons.

Yoga helps us to test our edges if we engage ourselves fully when we practice. It is possible to injure ourselves in yoga. But the injuries can teach us where our edges are. The healing process can teach us how to test our edges safely. The goal is not to be injured but to learn how to test our edges and possibly redefine those edges. Just as the dark is needed to see the light, testing our limits helps us to expand those limits.

Life always begins in darkness. The seed germinates underground and the fetus grows in the womb. Winter solstice is a time of rebirth, reminding us of our own beginnings.

Darkness allows us to see the stars. Embrace darkness as a way to appreciate the mysteries that surround us and keep us feeling alive and on the edge of discovery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dare yourself

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare,
it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

Daring is an opportunity for growth. For some people being silent is daring because they are uncomfortable with silence. For others talking is daring because they are self-conscious and shy. To dare is to put yourself outside your comfort zone.

Proximity flyers dare to leap from high cliffs or a plane wearing a wingsuit and a parachute. When they reach terminal velocity, their wings inflate creating lift and turning them into a human airfoil. The flyers begin to soar like birds at 150 miles-per-hour, at times just a few feet above cliffs, boulders, forests or other terrain. The proximity to the terrain at such high speeds requires intense focus, extreme mental clarity and physical ability to avoid crashing.

What motivates this handful of people to dare to fly so close to the earth? It is a primal dream of flying, it is testing the edge of what is humanly possible, it is dealing with fear and controlling the fear so it does not control you. As Jeb Corliss, one of the most famous proximity flyers, says, "It becomes a journey into one's own mind. If you didn't know yourself before you started jumping, you will after you have done it long enough."

Dedication and training are necessary for a successful flight. Understanding that often our limits are the ones we place upon ourselves is a key motivation for many of the flyers. How often do we stop ourselves before we even begin a project, journey or endeavor? How much does our attitude determine the outcome of our actions?

In yoga we can make a pose more difficult than it really is by expectations of failure. We need training and dedication just like the most extreme athletes. But it is focusing on the experience of discovery and freedom that allows us to practice with enjoyment and a sense of ease. When you find yourself unable to do a pose, pause and notice your attitude. What is your internal dialogue? What if you shifted any negative thoughts to positive ones? Yoga can teach us to know our minds and bodies in a deep and profound way. Use the basic principles of a strong foundation with an open heart to find your way in even the most challenging poses.

Thomas Edison, Mahatma Ghandi, Henry Ford all tackled problems or ideas that were thought to be impossible at the time. But they dared to believe in themselves and their cause. Dare yourself to be inspired by their example.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Follow your heart

If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.
Jack Kornfield

It is not only what we do, but also how we do it, that gives life the most meaning. For example, if you give someone a compliment in a flippant manner, it will not have the same meaning as when you say it with full attention while looking into their eyes. We need love in our lives. It is fundamental to our well-being.

To feel loved and to give love, we need to love ourselves. To be gentle and caring with others, we need to be gentle and caring with ourselves. To feel respect for others we must respect ourselves with all our faults and gifts.

When we move from our hearts there is less doubt. The path seems easier. We don't question the direction. The path seems open and each bend of the path reveals more of the journey.

Often we get too caught up in our heads. Sometimes we think we need to go in a direction that does not really feel right, but we convince ourselves to go there. But if our heart and mind are not in balance, any success we achieve will feel empty.

Being fully present brings clarity even in difficult situations. When we live in the present, the past and future are less important. The pain of yesterday is gone and the dream of the future is just an illusion. When we are present we can feel our true needs, not just our desires.

In our yoga practice our strength comes from leading with our hearts both physically and spiritually. When your chest is contracted, you are disconnected from the strongest muscles of the back. Metaphorically you are protecting your heart because your thoughts are fearful or lacking awareness. Opening your shoulders and lifting your chest creates more opportunity to breathe fully. The breath brings energy and life to your poses. When we express our poses with an open heart, our whole practice takes on a new meaning.

Following our hearts is not always easy. There are many distractions along the way. People may try to convince us to follow their agenda. The path with a heart is not without challenges. But living life fully and accepting these challenges for the lessons they give ultimately leads to a deep inner peace that allows us to connect with others in a rich and meaningful way.