Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

politics and relationships August 21, 2012

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:35 pm
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As election madness ramps up here in the US, I thought I’d share this insightful post from Chrysta at Live Love Work: When Politics Affect Work And Family Relationships. There will always be someone in your life who has political opinions different from your own, but Chrysta offers some good concrete ideas for how to relate to those people without getting upset.

Especially when talking about politics, I try to remember the parakarmas, four attitudes discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that help us keep our calm in relationships with other people. Check out my past posts on the parakarmas: friendliness and compassion, and celebrating the good, staying impartial to the bad.

 

Meditation and Emotions November 28, 2011

We spent a lot of time last month talking about how yoga can help us deal with strong emotions. Meditation is another great tool we can use to work with and through strong emotions, and we can even use those emotions to strengthen and deepen a meditation practice. Positive emotions, such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and friendship, can naturally help to put us in a state of mind conducive to meditation. After all, these are the sorts of emotions we want to use our meditation practice to cultivate! On the other hand, there are negative emotions like fear, anger, sadness, jealousy, or shame that tend to weaken the mind and distract us from meditation. However, we cans till find ways to channel these emotions into something useful.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche advises us (in The Joy of Living, pp. 168-9) that with positive emotions, we can focus on both the object of the emotion and on the emotion itself: for example, if we’re experiencing love for a child, we can picture the child in our minds and concentrate on the feeling of love. The image of the child keeps us feeling love, while the feeling of love helps us to focus on the image – the emotion and its object serve to support each other in our meditation.

With negative emotions, though, its best to place our attention only on the emotion. If a coworker makes you angry, don’t picture your coworker: it’ll just make you more angry. Instead, rest your attention on the feeling of the anger. Try to detach it from its source; forget about your coworker’s stupid face and the extra work he dumped on you and just look at the anger. Don’t analyze the emotion, don’t try to hold onto it or block it or do anything with it – just observe the anger, by itself, separate from the person/event that caused you to feel that way. Observing the emotion on its own will probably serve to shrink it down, so that the anger won’t see as big or powerful as it did before (p. 169).

Looking at the anger, fear, sadness, or anxiety this way, we begin to see it for what it is: not an all-encompassing emotion, not an insurmountable obstacle, but just a series of images, sensations, and thoughts, and we can notice how other thoughts come along and interrupt the emotion easily. (For example, imagine a thought pattern like this: ANGRYANGRYANGRY hey let me email George ANGRYANGRY what’s for dinner tonight? ANGRYANGRYANGRY…) If we’re aware of those little interruptions, we can try to look for them, finding the spaces between the moments of anger and focusing on those instead of on the anger itself. In this way, we grant our emotions less power over us.

According to Rinpoche, there’s an old proverb that goes, “Peacocks eat poison, and the poison they eat is transformed into beautiful feathers” (170). Often we can’t help eating poison – unhappy evens, frustrations, and annoyances come into our lives every day and inspire strong emotions in us. But like the peacock, we can learn to use that poison to grow, and turn it into something lovely.

 

Yoga and Emotions: Guilt/Shame November 8, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:44 pm
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Guilt and shame are such strong negative emotions, and it can be so easy and natural to internalize them. I’m surprised I didn’t think to write about them sooner. Guilt and shame can have a major impact on our self-confidence and sense of self-worth. Let’s do some thinking today about how we can lessen the negative effects of these strong emotions in our lives.

First, what’s the difference between “guilt” and “shame”? I tend to think of guilt as being related to my actions – I feel guilty as a result of something I did or didn’t do. Dictionary.com agrees with me, listing one definition of “guilt” as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined”. The “real or imagined” part, there, I think is pretty crucial. How often do we guilt ourselves over something that didn’t matter, wasn’t that bad, or otherwise isn’t worth suffering over? We imagine that our action is worse than it really is, and cause ourselves unnecessary pain. Even when we’ve actually done something wrong, we often take our guilt too far – it’s good to acknowledge our mistakes, make amends, and learn from our errors, but for some of us, guilt follows us around, continuing to hurt us long after the actual event is over.

Shame, on the other hand, seems to be less about your own actions and more about who you are. Shame carries a judgment with it – we feel ashamed when we perceive ourselves as being dirty, bad, or wrong. The dictionary mostly agrees with my made-up definition, describing “shame” as “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another”. The words “dishonorable”, “improper”, and “ridiculous” all imply an external judgment: the person didn’t have the “painful feeling” until becoming conscious that something will decrease their social standing. Shame is all about accepting those external judgments and applying them to ourselves, punishing ourselves for being different or wrong. Guilt can have a purpose, in making us feel remorse for something genuinely bad, but shame is much less purposeful, inflicting more suffering. Shame worms its way inside you and gnaws at you, sometimes for years.

Shame and guilt often go hand in hand. A child might feel guilty about not studying for a test as well as ashamed that others will think he is stupid when he fails the test. Someone who feels ashamed of being overweight would be more likely to feel guilty over having a slice of cake. In both of these examples, the person feels guilty over their actions, a perceived offense/crime/failure (not studying, eating cake), and ashamed about who they are (“stupid” or “fat”), judging themselves the way they think others will judge them.

So, shame and guilt work together and prey on our insecurities. To fight them in a yogic way, we should strive to cultivate the opposites of guilt and shame: compassion, forgiveness, and self-love. We know rationally that everyone makes mistakes, but we find it difficult to be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes. Being compassionate means forgiving ourselves when we mess up – we still have to examine our choices and learn from our mistakes, but we don’t need to dwell on them. We can let go and forgive, the way that we forgive the people we love when they mess up, and the way we hope they forgive us.

And we know that no one is perfect, that every person on this planet is flawed and has weaknesses, but we don’t want to accept this truth about ourselves. Further, we don’t want to accept that we’re worthy of being loved, flaws and all. Loving ourselves means that we love all the parts of ourselves – not just the smart, strong, pretty parts, but the parts that are weak and sad and small. We can’t grow, learn, or become better people if we don’t recognize and acknowledge our flaws. Someone who dwells in shame, trying to hide the bad things about herself, is suffering more and is less able to grow than someone who accepts her flaws without judgment and loves herself anyway. If we don’t love ourselves, it becomes so much harder for others to love us. Our shame becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: when someone leaves us, we say “See? He couldn’t stand to be with someone like me!” And we miss the point that whatever it is that we’re ashamed of in ourselves – weight, looks, family history, past actions, whatever it is – probably would have been okay with the other person if it had been okay with us.

Pay attention to your inner monologue for a day or two, and notice when you’re feeling guilty or feeling ashamed. Maybe you just feel the feeling abstractly, without any specific event attached to it – this happens to me all the time and it can be really subtle. So notice when you’re feeling this way, and say to yourself, “Hey! What am I feeling guilty about?” Actually examine the feeling and see where it comes from. Maybe you said something silly at a meeting at work or forgot to pack your child’s lunch; maybe someone made a comment that pinged on something you feel sensitive about (for example, a colleague’s thoughtless remark about fat people). When you find yourself dwelling on something like this, take a moment to forgive yourself and to love yourself. Actually say those words to yourself, out loud if you can: “I forgive myself for that. I love me anyway.” Taking a moment to diffuse the negative feelings with positive ones will have an impact on your mood, your day, and your interactions with other people.

 

Yoga and Emotions: Laziness October 25, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:40 pm
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Next in our yoga and emotions series, we’ll talk about laziness. I actually feel like I talk a lot about laziness here on the yoga blog (at least three times in the last two months!), and sometimes I worry that that might not be all that fun for you, dear readers, but I’ll tell you a secret. I write about laziness so often and so strongly because I feel like laziness is a major problem for me in my life, one that I’m constantly battling against. When I write here about laziness, most of the time I’m really trying to encourage and inspire myself in addition to all of you. I figure that we all have this tendency to be lazy – if I feel like I’m constantly fighting against it, you might be too, and maybe writing about it here will help all of us on the journey.

So what are some yogic techniques for dealing with laziness? Patanjali would tell us to think of the opposite of laziness, which could be activity or movement (i.e., get up and do something!). When we feel lazy, we need to get up and do something productive – while it is okay to be lazy sometimes and take some time for relaxation, we can’t make that a life habit, or we’ll never move forward with our goals and dreams. Anything from taking a walk to calling a friend to making dinner can be something we can do to get moving. It doesn’t have to be something big, as long as you do something! Sew that missing button back on your jacket, read that interesting-looking article you clipped from the newspaper two weeks ago, or write that letter to your friend far away – even something that feels sedentary can be a way to move past laziness, if it’s something you want or need to do, and then you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment once it’s done that may inspire you to do more.

But maybe you feel stuck there on the couch. How do you actually get yourself in gear? Another opposite of laziness could be discipline/tapas. If you make a disciplined plan for yourself and then stick to it, you’ll be less likely to fall back into laziness.In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali writes, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness” (I.14). This to me is the definition of discipline. (I wrote this sutra on an index card and I carry it around with me.) Making a plan for yourself, carrying it out day after day, and putting meaning into the work – this is the way to conquer laziness, because this is how to form a healthier new habit. The first week you try to be disciplined with yourself will be hard; the second week will still be difficult, but it might be just a little bit easier. Two months later, it’s become a habit, and two years later, it’s not even something you think about anymore, just a part of who you are.

When working to fight against laziness, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes we all fall a little short of our goals, and when that happens, don’t beat yourself up about it – be gently and understanding. We forgive other people all the time, so why not ourselves? Remember that yoga teaches discipline and practice and hard work, but also non-violence and compassion. It’s our job to find a balance: working hard but not so hard that we hurt ourselves, acknowledging our errors and failings but keeping an attitude of compassion.

 

Yoga and Emotions: Worry October 21, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:58 pm
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Today in our series on yoga and emotions, we’ll talk about worry. On the surface, worry seems primarily like an action, a verb – we all worry sometimes. But worry is also an emotion and a state of mind. How do you feel when you’re worried? Tense, stressed, maybe short of breath? And it’s not as if worrying is an action or task we can complete like washing dishes – when the dishes are clean, you’re done, but there never seems to be a natural time to finish worrying. It can fill our minds and consume our energy for hours or even days. And worry, unlike dishes, is all in our minds. It may not feel like it, but we have control over whether or not or how much we worry. Let’s consider some tactics to free ourselves from worry.

Much like fear, worry can be combated with faith. If we have faith that things will turn out as they’re meant to, then we don’t have to worry about them. Also, like fear and anger, worry can be soothed with breathing. Calm, deep, conscious breathing will slow us down and help us relax when we’re all worked up with worry.

When we worry, we get caught up in concerns about the future. Therefore, a good way to combat worry is to focus on the present moment. Bring your attention away from what could happen and notice what’s actually happening right now. Go for a walk and really pay attention to the air on your skin, the color of the sky, what plants are blooming on your neighbors’ yards. Cooking and gardening are good practical tasks that help us stay in the present moment because we have to pay close attention to what we’re doing right now – otherwise we’ll burn dinner or pull up the flowers!

Try a little meditation to help with worry. It may take a while to calm your mind or feel like you’re getting anywhere, but meditating is the ultimate exercise in living in the present moment. A tranquil meditating mind has no room for worry!

If you have children, go play with them. Play is a wonderful way to bring yourself into the present moment, because you can’t play well at any game if your mind is elsewhere. A physical activity like joining a sports team or taking a dance class can be helpful for worry, too: our bodies need physical activity, and getting that activity from playing soccer or tap dancing introduces some play and fun that help us to relax. Plus you’ll make connections with other people – talking with someone can certainly help to reduce worry or put it in perspective.

Trying some of these tips can help you to worry less, and may even make your days feel happier!

 

Yoga and Emotions: Fear October 17, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:34 pm
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Welcome back to our ongoing series on using yoga techniques to deal with strong emotions. Today we’ll be talking about fear. Like anger, fear can arise suddenly and powerfully. The way we respond to fear can have major consequences in our actions, our dealings with others, and even in the way we set goals and plan for the future, since fear of failure can be paralyzing. How can we combat fear?

Patanjali would tell us to think of the opposite, positive emotion when fear comes up. Many people think the opposite of fear is courage or bravery, but that’s not really true – courage is taking action despite your fear. The greater the fear, the more courage is needed!  The opposite of fear isn’t bravery, but rather faith. Think about it: common fears are that others will fail us, that we will fail ourselves, or that an unpredictable disease, accident, or disaster will befall us. But by cultivating faith, we can reduce those fears. We can develop faith in ourselves, that we’ll work hard and live up to our potential to achieve our dreams. We can have faith in others, trusting that other people will do their jobs, act with integrity, and not let us down. And above all we can put faith in a higher consciousness. It can be God or science or nature or the universe, or simply faith in an unchanging reality beyond the ever-changing physical world. That sort of faith can give you the strength and determination to push past your fears, because you truly believe in something larger than fear.

Think of someone you know with an unshakeable faith in something. Most of us know a person like this. We’ll see such a person persevere through the worst of circumstances, because they truly believe that there’s a plan and a reason in all of it and that they’ll emerge from the hardship better than before, having gained something they needed. Their faith enables them to have great courage.

Now think of a time when you were truly brave. Maybe you did something you didn’t expect to do, or you did something without thinking. It doesn’t have to be something dramatic – it could appear quite small and ordinary to a casual observer, but for you it was an act of courage. How did it feel in the moment when you committed that act? And how did it feel afterward when you made it through?

When you feel fear, call to mind that moment when you were brave. Remind yourself of how resourceful and courageous you can be – that you do have the ability to face your fears. Cultivate that faith in yourself, and see how it helps you move forward.

 

Yoga and Emotions: Anger October 12, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:03 pm
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This month we were going to talk about yoga and how it can help us deal with strong emotion. Let’s start off with anger, since it’s a biggie! Anger, and its companions frustration and annoyance, come up often in daily life. Maybe there’s someone at work that you always seem to clash with; maybe you had a fight with your partner, or your child accidentally broke a keepsake you treasured; maybe there’s a lot of traffic on the highway or you got pulled over for speeding. There are so many little moments in our lives that can lead to anger! And as we all know, when you’re angry, the person who suffers the most from that anger is you. When we carry anger around with us all day, it can have effects both physical (tight shoulders, tense neck, upset stomach) and behavioral (inability to concentrate, likeliness of lashing out at others, decreased enjoyment of activities). When we feel angry, it upsets the calmness we’re trying to cultivate in the mind by practicing yoga. So how can we deal with our anger in a healthy way?

First, don’t pretend you’re not angry. In order to deal with the strong emotion, you first have to acknowledge that you’re experiencing it. Then, keep yourself from responding instantly. When we’re angry, we want to act right away, maybe yell at the other person for what they’ve done wrong, but yelling isn’t going to do anything to correct the problem – it’ll probably just make things worse, upsetting the other person and only prolonging the anger in you, working you up further! So start trying to rein in that impulse to take action right away. If you can do this, that will give you a chance to decide if the instinctive action is the best one.

A little breathing can do wonders to calm the mind. When you feel yourself getting angry, try taking a long deep breath, then another one. Maybe try some pranayama: diaphragmatic or three-part breathing can be incredibly calming. When your mind gets angry, that signals your body to produce adrenaline, getting your whole system worked up. Slow deep breaths have the opposite effect, calming the body, which in turn soothes the mind.

Now that we feel a little calmer, how do we deal with the anger that’s still lingering? As Patanjali says, when negative thoughts arise, positive ones should be thought of instead. So what’s the opposite of anger? Kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. When you feel angry, direct your thoughts towards an image that always makes you feel tender and loving – maybe it’s a flower, your mother, or your baby. Refocus your angry thought on something positive.

Combat the anger by developing compassion. Remember that, while you are suffering in this situation, the other person is suffering too. Try to see the situation from his perspective or imagine what she might be feeling. Compassion reminds us that we’re all alike, every single person: all seeking a way to be happy and safe. If you can look at the problem from the other person’s point of view, you may be able to respond not out of a place of anger, but from a place of compassion. That will help everyone to have a better experience and a happier day!