Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Connect... first with yourself

I recently experienced a loss in my life, and it got me thinking about how we communicate our feelings.
Even when we are in a lot of pain or feel frustrated or irritated, one better not let it color their relationships with others. You can share your pain or frustration with others, but your reactions, responses and all other interactions with others better not come from that frustration, irritation or pain. People who are close to you share your pain anyway; they don’t need to carry your burden as well.
When you are with people who are close to you, they share your pain. You talk, comment, share smiles, and tears and share your feelings. And most of the time, you share your pain, and frustration in the silences between all those spoken words and actions.
People around us are there to help, and support us. There is no need or reason to drag them down. When you share your pain with them, they extend a hand to you for you to hold, extend a shoulder for you to lean on. You make them feel comfortable, allowing them to reach out to you whenever you need it. However, when you act miserable and treat others horribly, and don’t respond to their sympathies then you actually stop others from getting closer to you. They want to give you the support you need, but they can’t figure out how. That’s where the words come to an end, and the silence doesn’t act as the background for the pain to be shared. If you are the one reacting to others around you from your pain and irritation, because you are acting out your pain, then it will actually lead you to feeling alone, and your pain and frustration will only grow.
I believe that the only way to be able to interact with people in a healthy way, when you are going through a painful experience or going through a frustrated stage in your life, is by being in touch with yourself, your emotions and feelings. That’s the only way that you don’t get controlled by your strong, intense emotions, and you prevent yourself from acting your pain out and treating people around you like a menace, imposing the frustration you feel inside onto others. If you connect with your true emotions, and be aware of them, you can actually channel them in a healthy and constructive way, and connect with other people.
Yoga and meditation help me a lot during these times. Coming to my center, being aware of my emotions and the pain I am carrying inside. They help me connect with myself and with my emotions, and that helps me to stay true to myself, connect to others around me and connect with the universe.
When one experiences such pain, some people think the way to deal with it is to disregard the feelings and move on as if nothing has happened. Someone said to me the other day “Don’t get me wrong, but it seems like you think sadness is worthwhile.” I said “There is nothing to take wrongly here, because of course it is.”
It was the day my grandmother passed away, and I was sitting with a hunchback, as if I was carrying a huge pack of potatoes on my back and shoulders. Some people told me to stand straight, that it looks bad to have a hunchback. I just nodded “no.” The body reflects the emotions one feels inside. The voice, hand gestures and body channel the energies within a person. And that day I was in pain. I was feeling defeated, I was feeling like I was carrying a huge weight on my shoulders. I was closed off to the universe. Basically, I just lost someone I loved very much, someone very dear to me, and I was feeling great sadness… And I was letting myself feel whatever came up within me through my soul and body.
Every heartfelt feeling is strong, and all that comes from the heart is worthwhile. When you are happy, filled with joy, you let yourselves experience that to the fullest, and you ride those feelings. However, when you are in pain, things change...
When you are in pain, you have a lot to feel. For some people letting yourself feel all that pain is overwhelming so they try to put it aside for later. However, the feelings need to be digested when they are being felt, lived. One of my yoga instructors once told me “If you don’t mourn for a pain or loss at the time you are going through it, it will definitely come back and be lived some other time.” Feelings, emotions and experiences need to be lived, because otherwise they stay in your body and mind and turn into blockages. They make themselves felt by you, and for you to be able to release them you will need to live them one time or another. They never disappear. So, feelings are better lived through when they are being experienced at the time. It is the same way the food is healthier for the body when it is eaten right after it is cooked. Feelings that come after a situation are like a newly cooked fresh dish.  If you don’t eat that dish because it is too hot at the time of the occasion and put it in the fridge to have it later, then as the wait lengthens the dish gets more rotten. As you wait longer to feel better about the whole thing, in order to feel ready to face those emotions, you repress your feelings and your feelings get rotten. When you want to experience them, this time it gets even harder to digest them, and they cause outbursts and unexpected emotional ups and downs. 
When you are feeling something very intensely, your mind and body are going through that together. Even if we try to put aside those feelings, all we are doing is actually repressing what we are feeling. Our body keeps carrying those intense feelings, but in your head you try to repress them. You sit on them with your mind, and don’t let them come out, but they stick into your butt, and make you feel very uncomfortable and irritated. You feel the pain but act like you don’t. However, instead of repressing your emotions, if you just let yourselves live them… You let your emotions be, and your mind and body can be in sync. We experience with all of ourselves, with mind, body and soul. Even if you try to hide something from yourself in your mind, your body is still experiencing those feelings and going through its effects. That’s why if you don’t let yourself mourn for a pain, it stays in your body, and comes back at a time very unexpectedly only to be stronger. And, then, comes the outbursts, and irrational actions. Your feelings start controlling you and your actions without you being aware of it.
However, when you let yourself live your pain, frustration or irritation from your heart, you connect. You connect to yourself, to your pain, to your sadness. When you are experiencing a very strong pain, such as losing a loved one, it seems harder to connect. All you want to do is to run away from all those overwhelming emotions. However, if you stay long enough with your pain, and experience your sadness then you come out of it with serenity and calmness. If you stay with your pain, then with great sadness comes calmness.
As you stay connected to yourself, you also stay connected to the universe. You stay connected to life, and as you stay connected to life you realize the beauty around you. You actually see the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the beauty of an orchid, the beauty of a dance routine, a song, a baby’s smile… When you watch the sunset, or play with a kid, or see the vastness of an ocean, you realize the beauty that life holds. You realize and see and experience the beauty of life, and it brings you joy.
It is staying with your emotions, and letting yourself live whatever you are feeling, pain, sadness, frustration, irritation, that will present you to the beauty and the greatness of life. And that’s what will connect you to life again, when all you want to do is runaway.
Anything that is heartfelt is worthwhile. Whatever you feel, let your heart be your guide, and it will be the most beautiful path. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Welcome what you've been rejecting

Yoga is about being connected to our essence. However, if we show discontent to who we are today, then we are denying who we are, basically denying our essence, and moving away from it.  When we aspire to be something else or someone else, we move away from being centered, and direct our focus to outside, and future, to something we are not but want to be. Not accepting ourselves every day the way we are, takes us away from our essence. First we need to be content with who we are. We need to feel gratitude for the things in our life. Not just think it, but feel it deep within. Feeling gratitude for being able to stand on your legs, for being able to see, hear, love, and be loved. Feeling gratitude for every physical, and non-physical things that life offers to you. Feel gratitude, and then you will feel content with who you are, where you are in life, and what you have and don’t have.
            To be healthy as a whole, body and mind, the first step is accepting yourself for who you are.
Don’t compare yourself to others, or even to the way you were the day before. Who you are is happening today, right this minute, and it is only about you and no one else. So, look at today, look at your behaviors and habits. What do you see? To be able to accept yourself as a whole, first you need to see yourself, all of yourself, with all the parts of yourselves. Including the parts that you wish would never see the day of light, all the parts of yourselves that you don’t think is worthwhile to exist on this earth.
There are things about ourselves that we don’t want other people to know or see. First, you need to allow yourself to see those parts of you, and accept them. Acknowledge them. There can’t be full acceptance without first facing and acknowledging every part of you, the best with the worst, without judging but just accepting. How can you expect someone to love you for who you are, when you can’t even love yourself for who you are?
I personally have a hard time accepting myself. Since I started meditation and paying attention to being mindful about my emotions, I came to realize some thoughts and feelings of mine that I actually don’t appreciate. My first response to those thoughts was to treat them like they are not mine. I judged myself, criticized my thoughts and feelings and saw myself as a less of a person. Instead of welcoming them, as they came up more and more to the surface, I wanted to push them away more. It is so hard to be with yourself everyday all day long, and just want to get rid of your own skin and body, because you can’t accept some parts of yourselves. But how can I show so much compassion and understanding to others and not to myself? How can I be so kind to everyone, but not to myself? I decided to look at all the thoughts and feelings that come up, and just observe them, as if they are just thoughts, without identifying myself with them. Then, I didn’t push them away, I didn’t judge them. I greeted them, acknowledged them, and welcomed them saying that all these feelings and thoughts are humane. They are all for people, for us, and one is not better or worse than the other. Those feelings or thoughts didn’t define me: they’re just there like any other. I showed compassion to myself… ah, that was a relief. For once, I was not punishing myself in my head for this or that, for thinking or feeling in a particular way. Not punishing myself… I could exhale. I let myself just enjoy being, without judging. I felt light. So this is how it feels to receive support, understanding, kindness and compassion? Well, it felt nice… But to break the habit of criticizing myself for so many years, takes longer than just one try. Every single day, I catch myself criticizing, and judging myself, feeling like I am not enough. Just realizing all this is the first step. Hopefully in time, the moments that I come to accept myself will happen more often and last longer…
Then if you see a part of you that feels a burden to you, something that actually doesn’t make you feel good, but makes you feel down or upset, something you prefer to change, then find a new way to approach it, maybe make something else your new habit, and break this old one. Take one thing and build it on top of what it is today. This way you would include one more thing, one more habit maybe, to your daily life, but not with the “desire” to become something else. You will just be, and everyday you’ll continue to just be. Maybe that new habit will be a part of your being one day without you desiring to become something you are not.
But today, the first step is to see yourself as you are and befriend all the parts of yourself that you’ve been criticizing.

            There is no such thing as perfect, and there is no such thing as striving for perfection, because there is no such thing as perfect. There is just being. You are sacred. We all are; so treat yourself, and others that way. See yourself as you are, accept yourself the way you are, and love yourself for who you are.

“What we reject out there is what we reject in ourselves, and what we reject in ourselves is what we are going to reject out there.” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


            Yesterday I woke up with an excruciating knee pain. I couldn’t bend my knee, I couldn’t put any weight on my leg, I was hardly able to walk, I couldn’t climb up the stairs. I was in so much pain that even when I was just standing still, it hurt. My eyes got watery. I tried to push through the pain and went to the office, but I realized there’s no way I could sit there with that pain. I was so upset and frustrated with myself and with my body. The doctor at the office building took me to a hospital. I got a shot to ease the pain or relieve the muscles. I was sent home to rest for two days.
            During this time, many thoughts came to my mind, running one after the other, and I went through an emotional roller coaster. The first thing that came to my mind was that I wasn’t going to be able to practice yoga. I didn’t know for how long, but just realizing I wasn’t going to be able to practice asana hit me hard. It hit me so hard, that I couldn’t control myself and started crying. I was feeling devastated. What if I could never practice asana, what then? Then I realized how devastated I was feeling, and that got my attention. Why was I so devastated? My knee pain was not a life changing experience. I was in a lot of pain, and yes it did look like it is going to take a while for it to heal and get better, but it was going to get better. So, what hit me so hard that I felt so beaten up? That’s when I realized how much I was attached to my yoga practice…
            I had come to define myself through yoga. A practitioner of asana and Yoga. People define themselves in many ways: a banker, a doctor, a wife, a husband, an athlete, beautiful, handsome, strong, rich, poor, etc. Many people define themselves with what they do, or what they have in their lives. What happens when you lose the things that you defined yourself with? Let’s say your company was downsizing and you were let go, what if you get old and you don’t have your good looks anymore, what if you loose all your money because the goverment takes it all from you, then what? Who are you then? If you have defined yourself through what you do or what you have, then when you can’t do those things or have those things anymore you lose a big part of the definition you had made up for yourself. Without that part, who are you?
             I realized today that I define myself as a yoga lover, and a practitioner. It’s a big part of who I am. I live by it, I talk about it, I really made it a big part of my life and who I am. I define myself through it. I see myself that way, and since there are not that many people interested in yoga and its teachings in my social circle, people now know me that way too. They come to talk to me about it, ask  questions, want advice. So, today, when I woke and I wasn’t even able to bend my knee without feeling an excruciating  pain, it got me thinking “if I can’t practice yoga, then who am I?”
            I realized that when I was trying to practice non-attachment, I was actually still practicing attachment, just not to the things I used to… It’s as if an addict gives up one addiction, and picks up another one. Just because practicing yoga is healthier on the body and mind, doesn’t mean that it can’t become an addiction. If I feel devastated that I can’t practice yoga for a few weeks, than by definition, it has become an addiction.
            When there is addiction, there is a fear of losing. Fear of losing my health, fear of not being able to practice, fear of not getting better. Fear of not being able to regain my self-concept, the way it used to be. The ground is pulled under you all of a sudden, and I wanted to get it underneath my feet again, to feel secure, like it was the day before… But that’s where I was wrong. As if the day before the ground was still underneath my feet….
When things are fine, we buy into the illusion that we are in control, and life is going the way we want it, and as long as we stay in control we can assure to make things keep going well for us. And then one morning, you wake up with a pain that you don’t even know where it comes from, the way I did today. And you realize that you actually never had that ground underneath you. You never had the control. You always live in uncertainty but it is easier to believe that we stand on a secure ground. Otherwise living knowing that all is uncertain and impermanent and changing constantly is tiring, and gets us to rush to hold on to something. Why is there fear of uncertainty? Why is there constant desire to control things, when we know that we can’t? My department in our firm had 17 people only 14 months ago, and now there is only 2 associates (including myself) working in my department. The rest was either let go by the company or they quit. My grandmother died only a few weeks ago, after a very successful surgery. I woke up with a knee pain that prevented me from even walking or bending my knee without even presenting any signs recently. We are not in control; we just like to think that we are, because then we feel safe somehow…
Today I realized that I had to let go. I had to accept my pain. I had to accept that my grandmother passed away and there is nothing I can do. I had to accept that having fear of the unknown future would not help me. I had to accept that I defined myself through yoga. By attaching myself to my yoga practice, I was disguising my “attachment” need from myself. This incident brought it up to daylight. I had to accept that this incident today hurt me a lot, more emotionally than physically actually, because it brought me face to face with the inner workings of my mind. It wasn’t pleasant to see that side of me, and how much I wasn’t practicing spirituality. However, maybe it was about time that I face it, and acknowledge it.
Once you come to accept yourself as who you are or your situation the way it is, you feel calm and at peace. Maybe not for long, but definitely long enough for you to have a taste of it.

            “What we habitually regard as obstacles are not really our enemies, but rather our friends. What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck.” (When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Skill in Action

In Bhagavad Gita it says “yoga is skill in action`

It is not about whether you do a yoga pose the way it is shown in yoga books , or how much better or worse you do the pose compared to your neighbor. It is about how you do them; the intention you have while you are doing them

It is the same way in life. We may not get the results we want in every attempt we make in life, but the important thing is to have made the attempt with the right intentions, and using the best of our knowledge.

During your asana practice use the skills that you have learned, but don’t try to push yourself to what you think the pose should look like. Just keep the integrity of the pose. We are students on this path to Yoga and it is only natural that we have room for improvement. So, if you can’t go all the way down in hanumanasana, that’s fine. Go only as much as you can, and maybe you’ll stay off of the floor, and that’s fine. Try to keep your hips square at the same level, facing forward, and your upper body straight and you’ll be staying true to the pose and to yourself. It is much better to do that than trying to stretch your legs, and bring yourself to the floor and then hurting yourself because you couldn’t accept where you were.

Be faithful to which exists within you. And let it guide you, and if it tells you to stop at a certain point, keep your ego silent, and let your heart speak louder. That will help you to accept where you are and actually be content with it. 

So draw your awareness within, and listen to your body

Don’t hold back from what you are capable of, but beware when you know it is the place for you to practice acceptance than to practice the asana...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Practicing Tapas

I started practicing tapas a year ago, and since then I practice tapas for certain periods of time, on and off.  If you are wondering what tapas is, let me tell you what it is in a nutshell.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has created a road map to liberation. He defined 8 limbs (steps) on this path. Niyamas (observances) is the second step, and tapas (self-discipline, austerity) is one of the five Niyamas. Practicing tapas is willingly showing self-discipline or austerity to restrain from physical urges and to purify one’s body and mind clearing your path on the spiritual evolution. One sacrifices something that they think they can’t do without. For example, in today’s world not signing on to Facebook would be considered tapas for many. You need to give up something that you feel like you can’t live without. What you give up depends on you, but it should be something you are attached to, and feel like it is a part of your day, maybe even a part of your definition of who you are. I know people who gave up chocolate, watching TV, putting make up on, junk food all together, unnecessary shopping, etc. for a few months. The list can go on. What you want to give up depends on you, but the experience is the same for everyone. You should feel like you are giving up something that is important to you, and living without it should be purifying your body and mind, but should challenge you, should lead to some suffering and pain. Dealing with the challenges and the pain, leads one to work on calming their mind, and helps them to evolve on the spiritual path

Like I said, I first practiced tapas, by giving something up, last year. In the first phase of giving something up, it seemed easy. I felt like I was going to be able to do it a lot easier than I thought. Then, there was a time that I was only able to think about the things I gave up. Those days and nights turned into torture. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to go. Then, I tried to find substitutes to satisfy those cravings. I couldn’t think of anything else, but what I was not supposed to think about. Then I realized that my tapas included not just stopping my physical urges but also my mental urges, and that transformed all my practice.

When you practice tapas, you don’t only give up physically using or consuming the things you give up. You also need to stop thinking about them, stop wanting them or wishing them. Just restraining yourself from the actions is not truly practicing tapas. You also need to stop, and give up wishing it, desiring it, thinking about it. You are not supposed to count the weeks or the days left until the end of your tapas. You should refrain your body AND mind from whatever you are giving up. It took me a while to realize this at first, and it took even longer to put this into practice. Actually, that’s one of the reasons why I kept practicing tapas for different periods of time.

I realized that what was comforting me during the time I was refraining from whatever I gave up was the fact that I knew it will still be there when my tapas ended. Chocolate will still be there even if I don’t eat it or think about it for four months. Coffee will still be served everywhere I go, even if I stopped drinking it. That was giving me comfort during the time I refrained from them, and I basically held on to that thought. Then I thought, what if that wasn’t the case… what about the things that are or will be gone for good? It was death that got me thinking about this.

My grandmother, with whom I was very close, passed away only recently. Death is one of those things; it takes a person away from this world… for good. Even if you believe in reincarnation or spirits, there is still a loss and a longing for the person you have lost… A longing for speaking to that person, laughing with her, sharing your day with her. A longing for the warmth of that person’s cheek, hand, smile… Only the thought of her is left and some pictures… This was a tapas that I didn’t choose but was offered to me.

I realized that by practicing tapas we are actually trying to tame our minds to not get so attached to anything that we feel like we can’t live without…

When we are practicing tapas, we are not supposed to just use pure self-will to keep ourselves stick to our tapas. We are actually trying to change the way we look at things. We are trying to teach ourselves to live without the things that we think we can’t live without. By practicing tapas, we are teaching ourselves to detach ourselves, and teach our mind and soul how to do that. We are using self-will to control our mind, and then to surrender to the happenings of life… That’s another important thing. While we are trying to stick to our tapas, we shouldn’t become too stiff. We better try to find the balance in practicing our tapas, but not by pressuring ourselves or repressing our feelings. One needs to find the balance between self-effort and surrender. The self-effort helps you stick to your tapas, and being able to surrender at the same time makes the journey more smooth. It is better to dissolve those desires instead of repressing them. While you are practicing tapas, if you think of the object that you gave up, then sit down for a meditation. Take deep breaths, and try to face those feelings, and then let go, with softness, and surrender. Face them, instead of repressing them. Acknowledge them, but then let them go.

When we give up things like make-up or chocolate we are mostly actually dealing with the easier part. But it is definitely a good practice. This is a way of preparing ourselves to teach us the skills to control our mind to let go, for when we actually need it, like I do these days… and when those feelings of urge, and desire and longing come up to the surface, close your eyes, take deep breaths, acknowledge them, and then surrender to the universe. That’s what I do every time my eyes get watery with longing for her… Rest in peace grandma…