The longer I spend contemplating this life we call "Yoga" the more certain I become that the state of "Yoga" is much more about what's happening on the inside rather than what's happening on the outside.
And I have found that people that inspire me often make the very important work they do seem effortless. Although the work that is being done is of great importance, carry amazing results and often impact great change, there is something about their demeanour that is laid back.And this is one of the things that I strive to translate in the teachings of Yoga. Just because the practice of Yoga is important is does not need to be serious. There is playfulness that comes in the Yoga practice when it is free from an attachment to what we think our practice should look or even feel like. If we weren't attached to how we want our practice (or anything else) to be, there would be no resistance and no seriousness in what we do.
That playfulness is key as it not only indicates mastery over the mind but also paves the way to a consistent and therefore fruitful practice. It takes great mastery to display effort on the outside and carry peace on the inside. It takes great mastery to do something important on the outside and remain playful on the inside. Any task we approach with that peace and playfulness becomes something we want to do rather than something we believe we have to, and that gives birth to showing up, trying again and eventually achieving our goals.
And yet this is something I often need to remind both myself and students of. "Relax your face", "relax your shoulders", "separate your jaws", "don't take yourself seriously", "the advanced option is relaxing". Somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that if there is no strain to the work we do then it does not carry value. I'm not saying that important work does not come with responsibility, challenges or even struggles. But what I'd like to promote is the ability to enjoy even those things, to treat them with excitement, curiosity and playfulness that make them easier to bear.
My daughter was around 6 or 7 when she was watching me put on make up.
"Mama why are you doing that?"
"Because I have a meeting" I replied, almost matter of fact
"What happens if you don't put it on? Will they not let you in?" She asked innocently
Sometimes the deepest questions come from the most innocent minds. What would happen if I didn't look the part? Would I not be "let in"? How many other choices was I making when it comes to my appearance that had more to do with what others think rather than what I want.
I rebelled against colouring my hair for months on end because I hated sitting for too long. I showed up in leggings, flip flops and sports bras to more places than I probably should have. Every nail beautician I have ever been to raised her eyebrows when I asked for "just a pedicure", and hardly ever a manicure. That was my act of rebellion. Pedicures were for me, manicures were for others.
But my daughter's questions wasn't only about appearance. It struck a cord that made me wonder: how many things had I absent mindedly accepted as a responsibility, obligation or reality in order to "fit in", get "approval" or yet worse, "be normal"? My energy, time and resources are precious, how many of those things end up adding real value to my life?
Isn't it ironic that the one thing we build virtually our entire reality around, is in fact, a lie?
The first time you every tried ice cream, you could not recollect the experience because it did not exist in your mind. So the likelihood that you salivated over the sight of ice cream (if no one was having it in front of you first, at least) is close to zero.
Your experience of how that first ice cream encounter went, in your own mind is very personal. Maybe you liked that it was cold, maybe you didn't. Maybe you liked the sweetness, maybe it did not mean much to you.
Say you turned into an ice cream lover, and say there was a particular ice cream parlour by your childhood home that had a very special raspberry sorbet that you begged for on hot summer days and only got on weekends or if your parents were in the mood to take you. Maybe also on special occasions, birthdays, last day of school and so on.
Every label we put on every experience, object and event is based on the collection of pieces of data that we gathered throughout the years. So your experience of ice cream so far is emotional. Not only do you love ice cream, but that particular raspberry sorbet ice cream is happiness in the form of taste!
The problem with those pieces of data, memories, is that they mostly, inaccurate. Firstly because they pretty much depend on how you see things: your personality, conditioning and experiences. And secondly because every time you remember something, you change it.
Memory works in a way that our recollection of it is modified every time it is recalled. We can make our past feel better, or worse, based on what we do with it when we retrieve it. This is why we can "make peace" with our past, or grow more bitter with time.
So say you had moved out of that childhood home, and missed many weekends of not having your special raspberry ice cream, years even. And every time someone asks you what your favourite flavour is, you mention this very particular cone. Every time you recall this ice cream you will make it better in your head. Which means that it is possible, that when you actually try it years later, you'll feel disappointed.
And because the mind refuses to make sense of this, because it would be very unsettling to think you no longer have hold on the "truth", you'll find yourself resentfully uttering under your breath "They've changed it".
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey
I get asked often by new Yoga teachers "How can I remain positive when my students are experiencing intense negative emotions?" or "How can I remain unaffected by the suffering of those around me?"
Life has taught me that an important and understated skill is the ability to "hold the space" for someone. Holding the space means remaining present and attentive to someone's needs without making their story your own. In simple words, it means not being in the story that they are telling.
Often when we engage with someone who is going through an emotionally challenging time is that we make their story our own: we share our own experiences, we give advise, we try to get the person to look at things from our point of view, we try to "fix" their problems. Worse, if their challenge was caused by something we said or did, we become defensive or shut down.
And while all of these things have their place, there is also a very important element that is especially vital when the emotional strain is at its peak: being there. There were moments in my own life where the greatest help I received was a hug and an ear. Where there was no "stop crying", "cheer up", "why don't you", "when I had this", "you must", "why don't you try".
Instead there was accepting, embracing, understanding silence and stable physical presence that just allowed me to be who I needed to be in that moment. To express myself in the most relevant and authentic way. Not to be scared to let my heart and mind roam free through this tornado of emotion.
And I believe for a person to "hold the space", there needs to be a clear understanding that "this is not my story", that you can completely be there for someone without being involved, that everyone walks a very unique path and only they can do that. And that sometimes the greatest help you can give someone, is to apply pure, detached compassion.
There are times in our lives where we might find ourselves unmotivated. This lack of motivation can show up as our un-interest in work, carelessness in taking care of our health, neglect of our talents and hobbies or a general feeling of "meh" towards life.
And this continues to be a vicious cycle, the less you care, the less you care. We are intelligent people driven by our own convictions. Just because we're expected to care about our jobs, just because media tells us we need to come in a certain shape, just because we feel guilty or pressured about something does not mean that we will.
The key to us actually feeling excited or motivated to do something comes from our ability to connect it to a value or goal that means something to us. Anti-smoking organisations used to focus on the health dangers of smoking in an attempt to get smokers to quit. But smokers already knew those dangers. It was after extensive research that those organisations realised that this generation is more motivated to quit smoking to save their children than themselves. It was only after they got into the head of the smoker, that the numbers improved.
The same applies to us all, the thing you dread doing, you would rush to do if there was a good reason. And it is not that we are not all capable of doing incredible things, it is just that we need to know ourselves enough to know what matters to us, what makes us feel alive, what our live purpose is and what we believe will be worth our while in the end.
I have watched rice farmers, pottery makers, carpet weavers and other professionals practice their craft with so much presence that it left me in awe. Those crafts were practiced in repetition until mastery was achieved not only over the craft itself but also over the mind. Those masters mesmerise and pull you in to watch closely as they perform their jobs gracefully leaving you sure that they were born to practice their skills and bring beauty and vitality to this world.
And there are jobs on the other side of the spectrum that are full of struggle, effort and challenges. There are jobs that leave the person performing them drained, restless or even cynical. Those jobs are filled with tasks that yield no real result. Full of to do lists, meetings, memos, documents and plans that do not end up accounting for much in the large scale of things.
And yet in most cases, the latter jobs pay better, monetarily at least. This got me thinking about why? No one profession is more important than the other in definite terms. We all need to be doing different things for our world to continue to flourish. Yet some of us have chosen one thing over the other. Some are buying presence, joy or even the sense of achievement with money. Others are buying money with time
During my latest workshop (Love the skin you're in) we explored the idea of living a truly authentic life. A life that truly reflects who we are, our mission in this life and celebrates our abilities and talents.
The joy of living an authentic life comes from the fact that being authentic is easy and not laboured. To be yourself takes no effort at all and yet, ironically, people find it hard.
An authentic person speaks, behaves, dresses, expresses and acts in a way consistent with who this person believes they are. This remains consistent regardless of what setting they are in and what they are trying to achieve. This creates a harmonious way of living where there is no internal conflict between how you wish you were and how you actually are.
Living authentically brings with it the peaceful balance between enjoying life and having purpose. An authentic person is at peace with who they are. This means they feel no need to overwork or stress in order to prove something. They understand clearly that their value is not dependant on what they achieve nor other people's opinions.
They are also so sure of who they are that self limiting beliefs do not exist in their world. There is no need to throw in the towel, no frustration, no giving up and no cynicism. They have a clear vision, a deep understanding and complete self acceptance making outside opinion and internal chatter irrelevant.
If you would like to get more tips on how to live an authentic life, write back requesting this workshop to be run again!
The world is getting both better, and worse, in so many ways. While there is still an unnecessary debate on women's rights, abortion laws and rape sentences we are doing better as human beings with gay rights (go, Taiwan!), environmental movements and spiritual awakening.
And although there is much to be celebrated there is also much to be fixed. And within that that needs to be fixed we can adopt one of two attitudes:
The first is to feel deep compassion for those suffering from our lack as a human race, engage in meaningful, practical and applicable conversations and actions of how to implement change and to be an advocate of a cause. This is an attitude of saying "I see this, it does not serve us or the planet we're on, I am willing to gather my troops and do something about it".
The second is to get offended. This is when the issue is no longer about those affected but more of how my ego self, the "I", feels that I am superior to accepting that this issue exists. It is a near useless emotion as it does not evoke change, it drives people apart rather than bring them together and fails to inspire. This is the attitude of saying "I am frustrated that this is happening and although it is pretty serious, I am making it more about how I am better than those making mistakes rather than trying to come up with a solution. In fact, my emotions have taken over completely and rendered me incapable of looking at the big picture, I will remain in my mental conversation of how I am better than those doing those mistakes!"
The reason people choose the second one is that on a very subtle level, it feels good. The rage at someone else's action creates a perceived hierarchy of righteousness. It generates a temporary feeling of grandiose and entitlement. But what purpose does it serve?
Not being offended does not mean not caring about some real and serious issues around us. On the contrary, it means that your complete attention is on the issue rather than making it about you. Not being offended means honing in the magical power of bringing people together and applying change rather than isolating groups and creating further issues. Not being offended means that you recognise that every time you get offended you are clearly looking at a quality within yourself that you have not made your peace with, and then owning that quality and healing it. Not being offended is being completely engaged, rather than resistant of reality in this moment.
I have been asked many times who I feel is responsible for my success and, filled with gratitude, I would mention a name, or two, of people who have really inspired me. People that have given me guidance in my darkest moments. People that have shown me unconditional compassion and support when I didn't like myself so much. People that believed in me even when I did not believe in myself.
And there were other times where someone I'm close to would ask "what's wrong?" and I would fall into the trap of blame, criticism and resistance of a person or a situation. And in that moment it seems that my mental, physical and emotional state can be logically explained by the events, behaviours and circumstances around that moment.
And I would be wrong in both cases. For I had met many inspiring people that I did not get inspired by. I was also in many difficult situations that did not change my state. My own inner strength, hope and faith determines how well I deal with situations.
Who I am today is a collection of who I chose to be in the face of adversity, change and fear in many situations over the years. There is not one person, situation or circumstance that I can give full credit or blame to. Everything that I am today is the bottom line of what what I was able to, or failed to, do or be when things got difficult.
The ability to turn adversity into a change to grow comes down to being open. Being open and being happy are not the same. To me, being open is about having faith, trust and surrender. When you are open you can see the potential of growth, the possibility of transformation and the beauty of being inspired when facing situations that are both challenging and nurturing.
May this Ramadhan bring you the wisdom, patience and peace that you deserve.
It is no secret that every mother, no matter how much she loves her child, had hoped for some alone time at some point. A mother's love is like no other, and yet, even in that deepest state of love, space is needed for love to grow.
That same space is needed in all our relationships, whether they are our relationships to people, careers, places, things, or even spiritual ideas and values. That space is not needed merely because of humans' inherit want of they don't have. It is also needed because it takes the pressure off.
You see, when you love something or someone so much, you invest so much time, energy, money and feeling on it that it becomes the "Original Sin". That person or thing becomes the point on which your whole attention revolves. When that happens your whole idea of happiness becomes dependant on that thing. This means that not only have you devalued the many blessings that your life brings, big and small, every single day. Not only have you put so much pressure on something beautiful and that could also be fun. You have now also been distracted from the source from which all your blessings come.
No one thing in our lives should be a single pillar on which our whole happiness is built, regardless of how noble or important it is. For our relationships to remain balanced and continue to grow it is vital that we are able to walk away from the things we are attached to, even momentarily.
Weam is the founder of Namaste. She had started a very deep and intense spiritual journey at a young age having refused to continue to suffer with the common challenges of her generation: depression, anxiety and being lost. She insisted that there must be more to life than the constant rat race she was in