Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leave Your Habits Behind

We all have habits. We all grow into some habits. And our habits become some kind of a safety blanket for us. After doing certain things repeatedly we believe we can do those things with our eyes closed.  We feel so comfortable about where things are, or how they work, that we stop paying any attention to them. So at those times, are we acting based on what we see, feel or hear in the moment? Hardly. We act from our past experiences. We are not being in the here and now. We are not being in the present. Every time we are acting in a habitual pattern we are actually acting from the past.  This is something we do in our lives, as well as on our yoga mat.

When we buy something new, a laptop, a new phone, a new pair of shoes, a car, or when we get into a new relationship with someone, we pay close attention to them. We handle them with care; don’t want to hurt them in anyway. We notice any change in them. Since all is new, we haven’t gathered any habits yet, so we respond to what we see and observe in the present. We notice if our car gets scratched, if our shoes get dirty, or if our significant other is hurt or upset in any way. We clean them up, take good care of them, listen and comfort our significant other. However, in time, we get used to our car, our shoes, and our relationship. We don’t pay as much attention anymore. We get the feeling that they will be there anyway, so why bother, right? Our nice shoes get dirty, but we don’t see it anymore. They get scratches but we don’t see that either. Our car gets a little dent but we say it’s nothing. Our significant other changes his/her hair, but we don’t notice; or they come home upset or tired or in need of caressing, but we don’t realize it. In time, because we gather habits and ways of being, we stop seeing what’s happening in the present and start seeing things with the eyes of the past.

This happens in our yoga practice as well. At our first few classes, everything is new to us, so we pay attention to every pose, and try to make sure our body is getting into the pose without pushing our physical limits. Everything is new, so we pay attention to how we feel in our physical body. However, as our practice advances we do some poses over and over again. We do, chaturanga, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog so many times, that we may stop caring how we do them or how we get into those poses. Sometimes, because we know so well that we can do a certain pose, we may get into it the next day without noticing that that day our body is not actually as open as the day before. So, we may push our physical limits because we are not paying attention to our body that moment, but acting out of habitual patterns we developed in the past. 

When we start acting out of habit, we are actually acting based on the past experiences we had. So, when we look at things or do certain thing, we start looking at them with the glasses of the past, meaning with the picture we created in our minds through our past experiences. Noticing what’s going on in the present feels like it would take too much effort, especially for the things we now believe will be there for a long long time in the future. So why bother to put that extra effort, or even to notice the small changes, right? However, as we move away from the present, and responding to the present occurrences, and keep acting from the past, we are shortening the life of all the items or relationships that we have in our lives.

You complain that your iPhone broke too quickly, or that your favorite boots, for which you paid a lot of money, didn’t last long. However, if you cleaned those boots once a week, maybe died them every couple of months, and took them to a shoe repair store when their heels were worn off, then they would have lasted another year or two. And if you kept this maintenance, they would have lasted for many many years more. The same goes with relationships. We get used to having our boyfriend or girlfriend around. We get to believe that they will be there for use no matter what. So we work hard, run around, run errands and forget to call them, ask them about their day, or call to see how they are doing after a doctor’s appointment. At the end of the day, we think they already know how we feel about them. One phone call less wouldn’t change the fact that you love them, and care about them, right? Well, if you think that, you’d be wrong. A person’s need for attention and care doesn’t stop some time into the relationship. We want our significant others, and our friends to keep caring about us, and show how much they care for us. So why don’t you do it? That few minutes on the phone will mean a lot to the other person. And if you don’t show this care and attention to the people in your life, they may also stop being there for you one day, like those boots you used to have. In order to stay and grow in the relationship one needs to be in the present, see what’s in the present, respond to the present. Once you stop giving life to the relationship, or in anything that you have in your life, it may eventually rot, and maybe even die.

Think about this: You have beautiful, nice looking healthy flowers at home. You water them every couple of days. You care for them. Then, in time you get used to seeing them there. You get the feeling that they will be there forever. So you somehow don’t notice them anymore, and you start watering them less and less, and at the end, one day, they die. What did you expect? However, if you only stayed in the present, you’d see how they brighten your apartment every morning, how their colors added more color to your day, how their beauty made you smile every day. This wouldn’t take much out of your day either. It would only take a second, if only you stay in the present. The same goes with relationships, and everything else in life.

All this applies to your yoga practice as well. Leave your habitual patterns behind when you come to a yoga class. Even if it is your ten thousandth downward facing dog, do it as if it is your first. Find your footprints on your mat, find your handprints on your mat, lengthen your spine, and breathe in. That’s what we mean by being in the present. Even if you are doing something for the millionth time, just show genuine attention, because actually every time it is different, and every time it is new.

Notice when you are acting out of habit. You will realize that you feel less. When you are acting out of habit, you don’t smell the newly baked cookies, or hear the dog barking outside. Because when it is just a habitual behavior, you are not actually there, and you are not tuned in with the present and what’s going on around you. When you are in the present, you will notice that your senses are stronger, and you will feel that you are hundred percent invested in what you are doing, even if you are just brushing your teeth. Time will slow down. You will feel your joys more, you will smell newly cut grass, hear the children playing in the park, notice your husband or wife’s soft touch on your shoulder when you come home. You will certainly get more out of life. And being in the present doesn’t take any more time or effort; it just requires you to be in the present. It requires you to see everything with the eyes of the present, not with the colored and foggy glasses of the past, which only shows you how things were yesterday. To be in the present, you just need to think about your work when you are at work, think about what to eat when you are out at lunch, and worry about your future when it is tomorrow (And since when you get to tomorrow it will be today, just don’t worry about it).

Leave your habits behind, and stay in the present. Live more fully. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Taking for granted

We always take somethings for granted. We take for granted the fact that we can put our pants on standing up, that we can hold our iPhone with one hand and pinch in or out to zoom in or out with our other hand, or that we can sing, and talk as much as we want. However, lately I am reminded that nothing is forever.

One of my yoga teachers who is very dear to me, had a traffic accident and had several of his bones broken in his one leg, which required him to have two surgeries and 3 weeks of bed rest. His full recovery is not promised, and he has a 3 to 4 months of recovery time ahead. A few days ago we learned that my dad’s shoulder muscles are torn, and he is required to have an emergency surgery, which he is putting off. During the recovery time he is not supposed to use his arm or hand for 6 weeks, and then seek physical therapy to fully recover his shoulder functions. And, recently, I have suffered a paralysis in my right vocal cords.

For the past couple months, my voice has been sounding funny at times. I didn’t know what was going on, so I finally went to a doctor and there I learned that my right vocal cords have been paralyzed. They can’t find a reason for this sudden paralysis, and they don’t offer any treatment other than speech therapy. The doctor is saying that I may get my voice back one day, but there is a possibility that it may never happen. I love to sing, and I am a yoga instructor. My job involves me to talk several hours a day, every day, to teach yoga. I used to love to sing at family and friend gatherings. However, right now, I can hardly talk.

I can’t recognize my voice anymore. It sounds like as if I have a cold all the time, or that I am suffering from flu. After I teach a class, I need to rest my voice, meaning I should just sit quietly, without talking. I learned that even if you are not talking, but watching Tv or hanging out in a place that has music, your vocal cords are responding to these sounds, so they are still working. Thus, in order to truly rest your vocal cords you need to sit in silence. So I’ve been learning to sit in silence, the rest of the time that I am not teaching, in order to save my voice for my next class (gives me more time, space and reason to meditate). I used to sing to up lift my spirits, to channel any kind of emotions I have. I loved those vibrations, and I can’t feel them anymore. When I chant, I can’t make some of the sounds and can’t create some of the vibrations. I used to love to sing… I haven’t been able to sing for so long… I can’t even recognize my voice. I don’t sound like myself. My family and close friends keep saying that I lost my sweet, soft sounding, smooth voice. I smile and nod and say that I can at least still speak, but deep down it hurts because I am longing for that voice as well.

I do believe that I am lucky that I can still speak, but it is hard to live with a voice that is not yours. It is hard to stop talking for a significant part of the day. I learned to choose my words; I learned to choose when to talk. I only talk about things if I really believe it is important to talk about them. Otherwise, I choose to save my energy and my vocal chords instead of wasting them on silly subjects. It is like saving your money until you believe you have something worthy of your money. I just never thought I would have this attitude towards talking…

I never smoked in my life. I always lived a healthy life. I practice yoga regularly. I don’t like yelling or screaming. I hardly ever raise my voice. But one day I wake up with paralyzed vocal cords. I don’t know what I have done wrong to hurt them, and the doctors say that it can just happen suddenly. I believe that our bodies always give out signals about what’s going on. If we are not taking good care of them, they give out signs for us to take a notice and do something about it. This time I guess I just missed the signals, and now I am searching a way to get over this state.

We all have the possibility to lose something we truly think we’ll have with us forever. Once again I am reminded not to take anything for granted. Nothing is forever. If you think it is, that’s a delusion. And if you love to sing, sing. And if there is something you want to tell someone, do so. Because one day, you may not have your voice to say those things. Don’t even take that for granted. Because I learned that sometimes people get their both vocal chords paralyzed, and can hardly talk or cannot talk at all.

In my yoga practice, I try to practice non-attachment, and this situation I’m in is a trial for me. I will go to speech therapy, and try to win back the functions of my right vocals. And during this time, I will need to learn how to be ok, and even be great, with what I’ve got: my left vocal cords.