About Robert Piper
“Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search or struggle. Just Be.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lindsey Lewis who blogs at Libre Living.]
Yup, I’m a yoga teacher—among other things—and generally speaking an all-round happy-go-lucky gal. Life is FULL of wonder, peace, love, and flow.
“Oh sure, but you’re a yoga teacher. You have less stress than other people do.” I know, I know, I’m a yogi, so I spend all day on some mat or another, meditating, chanting, or deep breathing. In my hemp clothing. With my double-strand mala beads. Om.
In reality, I–like most people trying to make a living being of service–am working my buns off, as I blog, teach, life coach, facilitate corporate lunch ‘n’ learns, market all these offerings, and do other projects to keep my income reasonable.
Here’s why I’m telling you this: my life now is busier, more demanding, and takes more energy and time than it did before I quit my former 9-5 dream job so I could “help people live healthier, happier lives.” But I’m way less stressed today. I spent a good chunk of my life struggling with pretty debilitating anxiety–basically an ongoing stress response that doesn’t go away–and finally got to the point where “the pain of remaining the same became greater than the pain of changing.” The pain of remaining the same translated into insomnia, an inability to digest food properly, regular panic attacks–even at the office–and a constant sense of feeling someone’s hands around my throat, squeezing tightly. Fun! At least I can say I developed a lot of strength.
I also developed a keen desire to feel differently–to feel peace, strength and happiness–and to share what I learned with other people. I’ve been boosting those skills since 2006, when I signed up for yoga teacher training.
Here’s some of my top take-aways I learned along the ever-calmer and stronger ride—and now teach to others.
1. Labelling thoughts. Thoughts are thoughts; it doesn’t matter if they’re worrying ones, planning ones, rehashing ones, or imagining ones. We can practice labelling our thoughts as simply “thinking,” or get more specific with “worrying,” “rehashing,” “planning,” or imagining. Either way, by labelling them we often find some space between our essential, ultimately calm and strong selves, and our worrying mind. The labels help us to recognize what’s happening and take charge of what’s happening in our head, rather than letting our monkey mind run the show. “I’m imagining, and I know I do that when I’m worried or feeling anxiety. It doesn’t actually help. So I’m going to let those thoughts go, and move onto something else.”
2. Be here now.The best something else we can move onto is this present moment. This moment, though it might seem overwhelming, can become a tool for anchoring into grounded stability and strength. Mindfulness techniques using our senses enable us to focus our attention and intention.
- Sight. What do you see? If you’re supposed to be concentrating on talking to your son, daughter, or even a group of work colleagues but you feel unable to focus, try lasering in on one visual aspect: a forehead, pen, or friendly face.
- Sound. This works the same way. Try lasering in on the sound of someone’s voice, or a sound outside the room.
- Touch. What do you feel? Bring your intention and attention to one sensation you can physically feel–your toes moving in your shoes, or your fingertip on the table or presentation stand.
- Smell. What can you smell? Try narrowing in on a scent that’s pleasing or even soothing to your aural palette. Lavender is a good one–you could even have some in your pocket.
- Taste. This is my least favourite one, but it works, too. Pop a mint and keep on keepin’ on with whatever you’re doing, but noticing the tastes that arise on your tongue.
3. Walking meditation. Anytime you’re walking anywhere is a good time to practice mindfulness. Notice the sensations beneath your feet, when your heel connects with the floor and then your weight rolls to the ball of your foot. Just notice it, and you’ll notice yourself coming deeper into your physical experience of the moment, and out of your overwhelmed, anxious mind.
4. Multi-tasking myth. Nobody can truly do more than one thing at a time. (I like to talk on the phone while folding laundry or doing dishes, but, as my mom is quick to point out, when I do that the conversation is a lot less involved.) We’re most comfortable and calm when we’re mindful and that’s easiest to do when we’re doing one thing at a time. I know, it’s not always possible. But most of us can do less multi-tasking. Check email every 20 minutes instead of every time one comes in. Turn your cell phone alerts off so that you’re in charge of when you respond to texts or emails. Consider letting the phone ring if you’re in the middle of something. Give yourself permission to focus on what’s important to you.
5. Body boost. Our body is right here, right now. Bringing our attention and intention into our body is a highly effective way to counteract the overwhelmed response–where we feel scattered and unfocused. Simply notice what’s happening–especially around your neck and shoulders, chest and throat and stomach. Are your ears up around your neck? Is your throat constricted? Is your breath stuck in your chest and is your stomach tense?
6. Get physical. Once you’ve noticed what’s happening in your body, you’re already halfway towards counteracting the overwhelmed response. The mind and emotions are not separate from the body. They are somatic. So changing your physical reactions will change your emotional-mental reactions. Want proof? Smile. Hold it for at least six seconds. Notice the physiological reactions. So when you notice your shoulders up around your ears, let them drop. When your breath is stuck up in your chest, take your inhale and exhale all the way down to your belly. Feel the difference.
7. Use your breath. On that note, long, deep yoga breathing brings balance to your nervous system by activating the calming systems in your body, including our parasympathetic nervous system, while de-activating the activating systems in our body, including our sympathetic nervous system.
8. Use your breath II. Need something more powerful? When I need to really bring up and let go of some deep stress or tension I do a minute or two of rounds of deep exhales through my mouth.
9. Practice loving-kindness. You are who you are for a reason. We come into this life with mental and emotional patterns (samskaras, in yoga-speak) that I believe can help teach us how to be the best we can be—even ones we perceive as negative. Every worrying pattern, stress pattern, or losing your temper pattern is a tool that we can use to evolve towards our best selves. How? Loving-kindness. Surround that ‘negative’ reaction with unconditional love. Instead of beating ourselves up for feeling overwhelmed, anxious or angry, we just sit with that feeling, noticing everything there is to notice about it. Getting curious about it. “So this is overwhelmed. Huh. I feel this in my stomach, this way in my chest, this way behind my eyes. I seem to be having a hard time accepting the fact that I feel this way. I’m going to shift that into accepting that I feel this way—because feeling this way is an indication of my deeply open, ultimately loving nature.”
10. Lovingly let go. Once we get into the habit of practicing loving-kindness towards ourselves and our patterns, we can get into the habit of letting those patterns go. Because, as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said “What we resist persists.” When we stop resisting our patterns, and instead dive right into them, they minimize and sometimes even vamoose—all on their own.
Good luck! I sincerely hope you found these de-stress yoga tips helpful,
Meditation is simple and transformative, yet it is highly misunderstood. Some people think it is about controlling our mind or stopping our thinking, while others see it as both weird and wacky or boring and meaningless.
Yet meditation really just means being totally present, totally aware with whatever is happening. It is being with ourselves completely as we are. If the mind is thinking, then we are aware of the thinking; if the body is moving, then we are aware of the movement. Hence, we have sitting meditation, sound meditation, walking meditation, even running meditation. It is not purposefully doing anything other than just being here and now.
And just this is transformative. It creates an inner spaciousness in which we become aware of the endless “me-centered” dramas, of our mind that is like a drunken monkey leaping from one scenario to another.
“Meditation can mean really being focused on something, or it can mean letting go of all focus and simply being still,” says Gangaji in our book, Be The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. “It is not a matter of saying, ‘I am going to meditate,’ it is more like ‘I am just going to be here for a moment without doing anything, without following any thought.’ And, in that, there is peace, a surrendering the mind’s activity to this vast silence and spacious awareness. It is not anti-mind activity; it is simply that usually the mind is spinning round and round, so it is a stopping of that spin.”
Meditation is both an experience of oneness as well as the practice that enables us to be aware of this. When we make friends with ourselves we discover a freedom from habitual tendencies, from repetitive behavior, and we experience a great joy, peace, and unconditional happiness. It is, therefore, the greatest gift we can give ourselves.
But the world is like a magnet pulling us outward into all manner of distractions, so we often need help, methods or techniques, to remind us to just be still. We need to be guided inward. Here are six steps that can lead us in that inner direction:
Six Steps to Freedom
1. Create a daily practice, even if it is just for five minutes. Meditation has an accumulative effect, so doing it for a few minutes every day is actually more helpful than an hour once a week.
2. Meditate for the sake of it, without expectations, as it can cause stress and even a sense of failure if you look for results. No appointments, no disappointments!
3. Make friends with your breath. Focusing on the natural flow of your breathing will give your mind something to do and encourages your attention to go inward. In this way you also make friends with your meditation practice.
4. Make friends with your chattering monkey mind. When you are still your mind can seem very busy and distracting. Name this your monkey mind and don’t take it too seriously.
5. Commit to your peace. There is nothing more important than your peace; it is the core of your being, so make a commitment to being still and quiet regularly.
6. Do it. Meditation techniques are many and varied, but all that matters in being fully present.
Sit comfortably with your back straight.
Take a deep breath and let it go.
Be aware of each breath and silently count at the end of each out breath, up to five: Inhale, exhale, count one… inhale, exhale, count two… and so on for five breaths. Then, start at one again. Just five breaths and back to one, following each breath in and silently counting. So simple.
Do this as many times as you want, breathing normally.
Is meditation your friend? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Thursday by checking Become a Fan at the top.
See our award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Byron Katie and many others.
Deb is the author of the award-winning YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND, Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages That Underlie Illness.
Our three meditation CDs: Metta — Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi — Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra — Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: www.EdandDebShapiro.com .
‘We human beings live between the two realities of earth and sky. The earth stands for all that is practical, material, tangible, and incarnate. It is the knowable world, objectively knowable through voyages of discovery and observation. We all partake of this world and its knowledge through the vast store of accumulated collective experience. There is one word for all this. It is Nature. In Sanskrit, Nature is called Prakrti. It is composed of five elements, which we characterise as earth, water, fire, air and space. Consequently and sympathetically, the body is made up of these same five elements, which is why we also use the term prakrti for the body. When space explorers bring back rocks from the moon and scientists study them, they are studying Nature. When we calculate the temperature on the surface of the sun, we are observing Nature. Whether we study planetary Nature or cosmic Nature, it is Nature. We too are part of Nature, therefore constantly changing, so we are always looking at Nature from a different viewpoint. We are a little piece of continual change looking at an infinite quantity of continual change.
Even hundreds of years before Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, Indian yogis were trying to see some pattern in the seemingly chaotic fluctuations of Nature. The infinite variety of natural phenomena gives an appearance of chaos, but, they asked, is it possible that the laws that govern the unending turbulence of nature are orderly and comprehensible? And if we can grasp how they work, would it not be possible for us to emerge from the chaos into order? All games are meaningless if you do not know the rules. When you do, they can become very good fun. You still take a few knocks and lose a few games, but at least you are participating; you are playing the game. Yoga says you are playing the game with the body and self. By playing you can learn the rules, and if you observe them, you have a far better chance of success in life as well as of gaining illumination and freedom.
So humankind stands with its feet planted squarely on the earth, as in Tadasana (mountain pose), and its head in the sky. But what then do we mean by the sky? Clearly I do not mean the earth’s biosphere, or anywhere that physically exists, however far away. I could have said, ‘Our feet on the earth and our head in the heavens.’ Many languages do not have two separate words for sky and heaven as English does. The word heaven is useful as it suggests something that is not physical. This opens up possibilities: a) That it is perfect, as nothing physical can be perfect since all phenomena are unstable; b) that is is Universal-i.e. One, whereas Nature is many as we see from its diversity; c) that it is Everywhere, Omnipresent since, not being physical, it is not limited or defined by location; d) that is is supremely Real or Eternal. In yoga the body is held to be of real substance, whereas the changing of ourselves and unveiling of the immeasurable sky within is called cit-akasha, or literally the vision of space itself.’
Light on Life, B.K.S. Iyengar
As the source of much of modern day yoga, and the teacher of luminaries like B. K. S. Iyengar and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, this guy clearly knew what it took to possess the wealth of wisdom that yoga embodies. Of course, there is one primary qualification of being a yoga teacher—enlightenment—but in lieu of that ultimate spiritual experience, Krishnamacharya offered three other qualifications for those who assume the post of teacher.
The first, is to have a connection to a lineage.
This is an indication of where the student has been, who has been the custodian of their learning, and responsible for their knowledge. The most important relationship in yoga is the relationship between teacher and student.
We’ve all heard of the term guru, and while it’s gotten misconstrued and possibly watered down into a layman’s term lately, the original meaning of guru was simple—one who helped to remove darkness in order to reveal the light.
Yogis are seekers of some higher truth, and the greatest obstacles to realizing this is our own ignorance (avidya) and ego (asmita). A guru is someone who very directly and personally helps us to realize our own blockages and assumptions through teaching and challenging us to overcome them. This is a difficult and sometimes inglorious process.
A teacher is one who is unafraid to point out our pitfalls and arrogance when we think we’ve learned it all or have all the answers. Contrary to western thought, yoga values cohesion and deference to our seniors, as well as the realization that we don’t have to go it alone or reinvent the wheel.
If our teachers were masters, we can copy what they did with some degree of success. This takes the pressure off “reinventing the wheel,” and lets us practice our teaching in a way that’s already been successful.
A yoga teacher can only lead us as far as they have gone themselves, so with that in mind, it is wise for us to choose the teachers who have gained some degree of happiness and freedom within themselves, because then they can show us how to get there.
The second qualification for yoga teachers is to keep a daily practice.
Once the guru has shown the way, it is critical that we actually put that method into practice to test it’s validity. In the yoga tradition, it is said there are three ways to come to know something: through teaching, through inference and through personal experience. The most valued way to know something in yoga is through personal experience. The most amazing teacher may be able to give us the key to happiness, but until we put that key in the lock and turn it, we won’t know it for ourselves.
As teachers, our daily practice is how we let the yoga we’ve learned and love actually do it’s job. It needs time to do its work on us. And time is key. In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell explains the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule of success. Gladwell asserts that mastery in any field requires an enormous commitment—10 years, or 10,000 hours.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika also suggests that mastery of asana practice requires 12 years of a daily practice. The yoga sutra states that mastery occurs with steady practice over a long period of time. It just takes time for the yoga to do its job, to rewrite our internal script and patterning so the default habits, reactions, and patterns reflect that of a yogi—one who is completely at ease.
In order to put in our 10,000 hours, we must diligently work on our own practice and allow the yoga to live within us. When it does, then the teacher can teach not just what someone told him or her, but can teach what he or she truly knows.
Finally, the last qualification of a teacher is that we truly like people.
We have to work with them, right? So, it would make sense that we work and play well with others. Most important in liking others is the ability to create a compassionate and empathic connection.
At this final stage, there is little room for ego, as the teacher’s goal is to look upon students as already whole and complete, as opposed to someone who needs “fixing.” It’s a unique perspective, and as a teacher sees what a student is capable of, the student sees the opportunity to rise to that occasion.
As Dale Carnegie would say:
“When dealing with people, remember, you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but rather creatures of emotion.”
If we can inspire and encourage students to move (safely) beyond their limitations, we will have done what our teachers once did for us, and in this way, we render the magic Krishnamacharya’s wisdom. When we have known great teachers and heeded their instructions, we are able to impart that wisdom to others.
About Robert Piper