Awakening to What?

Those of us who see ourselves on a journey of self realization or spirituality, have a sense of awakening. But an awakening to what? I wonder if we all awaken to the same thing, or if we awaken to whatever we are ready to awaken to…

Whatever it is, when we find it we think “This is it!” But it is really so? Is it the final piece of the puzzle or just an other piece along the way that finds its rightful place?

woman in blue and white floral long sleeve shirt holding a round shaped puzzle

Photo by Wesley Carvalho on Pexels.com

As I reflect on my life there have been moments of awakening, when it seemed like my inner world and outer world launched into a new way of being. Yet, on reflection it is now clear that these have just been pieces of the puzzle.

These pieces connected to each other, yet they revealed only a part of a great unknown picture. Here are my reflections on my journey towards the unknown and the awakenings along the way.

Life Awakenings

I can only imagine what it must have felt like when I first discovered I was no longer in a dark and nourishing space merged with my mother. This experience is beyond my thinking,  but I can imagine how traumatic and profound it must have been becoming separate and in all that bright light!

The next awakening was when I learned who I was in relation to other things and people. My ego developed as I grew into a separate human being with preferences and beliefs. I learned how to get what I wanted, how to be in relationship with others. I created beliefs about who I was as a girl child, daughter, sister etc…

Not long after this revelation came, the waking up to feeling hurt when I didn’t get what I wanted, or when I was not seen in a way that I wanted to be seen, or when I felt abandoned and unloved. I believed that there was something wrong, and it was me. I wasn’t good enough. So I would try to be good and perfect.

This part lasted for quite some time. I continued to learn who I was in this world from those around me, and in the roles I played. I was looking outward for validation and love.

Then as an adult I awakened to the part of me that wanted to express herself fully. To slough off the conditioning and expectations of others. I started to look inward so I could find the real “me”, not through anyone else’s eyes, but through my own… Awakening to myself as a strong individual who mattered… Stepping into my own shoes and expressing myself to the world.
From not being good enough, I realized I was precious, unique and strong. I could make things happen! I took on challenges and overcame my fears. It was a period of tremendous personal growth.

Around then I began training to became a life coach. For the past 20 years I have worked with people to discover who they are as unique human beings who can overcome challenges and be their authentic best in the world.

Yet, this was not the end. From this place of self growth, confidence and expansion, an other kind of awakening started to unfold. One where I started to question who “I” was.

self inquiry

At a time when I was disillusioned with the competitive, self absorbed human beings around me, I fully embraced yoga and took my first yoga teacher training. Unlike a lot of yoga trainings nowadays, our practice was more than postures, sequencing and breath work. We had time for self reflection, we read yoga philosophy, and committed to following the eightfold path of Patanjali.

Through yoga I became aware that my personal “self” was made up of my thoughts and beliefs. The world around me mirrored my own perception of it.  I had been creating stories about who “I” (this “small self”) was. I had grown as a person, but had replaced stories of not being good enough, with new stories about all I could achieve and show the world.

A part of me still got caught in patterns of self-doubt, fear and worry. I also had moments of glory and immense satisfaction and had glimpses of the timeless beauty and mystery of being alive.

In yoga I felt drawn to the belief that we are all connected and share the same Source or Conscious Presence. When one says “namaste” in greeting and farewell, it means that one recognizes the light shining within each of us.  This inner light is our true spiritual Self.  We connect to something more that our human body and thinking mind. Whether we call it God, the Divine, Brahman, Source, Presence or the Universe. There is a part inside of all of us that is connected to an infinite beingness, that words can’t fully describe.

Then something happened. It was like the outer shell cracked and the gloriousness of what was within was revealed. From understanding in my mind, I experienced a overwhelming feeling of love and connection with my fellow human beings, animals and nature.  There is a deep sense of oneness that is profound, no matter what is happening in life. It is hard to put into words, because it feels beyond words.

If I were to try to use words, it was be something like a veil had been lifted to reveal what had always been there. It is something that once felt, can always be accessed.

The aum symbol of yoga symbolizes this seeing beyond the veil and embracing an unchanging reality of oneness with spirit or pure consciousness.

aum symbol with meaning

Finding Your Middle Ground

Finding your middle ground is the gateway to this awakening.  The starting point is when we take time to pause and become self aware. We begin, by simply learning to slow down and noticing what is going on inside: our thoughts, judgments, emotions, body sensations … and al the stories we make up about ourselves and the world around us.

I like to think of it as the phase of personal expansion and growth. Its a place of new perspectives, letting go of the past, and understanding and truly accepting ourselves as imperfect human beings.

We start to explore new aspects of ourselves, our passions and what gives us meaning in life. Taking time to pause and ask ourself the deep questions that we want to know the answers to, allows us to go beyond what we know in our mind and tap init the wisdom in our heart.

From this place of mindful awareness, we can come new insights into who we are beyond our beliefs and conditioning. Beyond our own small separate self.

With more compassionate self awareness, meditation and mindful living, a new way of seeing ourselves and the world unfolds.
We realize that we are not separate, but are connected to something so much bigger, and to each other.
We come to know that we are not the master of the universe, but are simply a part of it all.
There is no right or wrong, because we know that it’s our thoughts that make it so. Everything becomes as it is.
We stop resisting life, and begin to let go into its own flow.
We let go of ego and surrender to being small as we connect to the Source of being. From wanting to be somebody, we embrace being nobody.

Wherever we are on life’s path, we can open ourselves to new insights and awaken to a new way of expanded being.

As human beings perhaps our purpose is to awaken to what we are ready for, and to be open to surrendering to the next unknown.

Thank you for joining me on this journey to freedom.

Namaste

Let Go of Something

woman walking on fence

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Let go of something,
somewhere. Use yoga
to become aware, to
touch what lies beneath
the surface of the skin.
Is there tension longing
for release; a knot of
fear so deep and familiar
that you believe its
part of who you are?

Ease into dark corners,
locked rooms, unexplored
hallways. Gain entry
not by force or will
but only by softness.
Enter on the wings of
breath, and turn the
key of self-acceptance
to let go of something
somewhere.

~ Danna Faulds

 

Enter on the winds of breath and turn the key of self acceptance … oh yes.

Namaste

Pain as Your Teacher

woman reflecting

“Pain is your best friend. It is infinitely more honest with you than pleasure. Despite what you might think, the painful experiences you have had benefit you far more than the pleasurable ones, even though most of us spend our lives trying to duck and hide from them.

But when you can center yourself and be open to look pain dead in the eye, then you have transcended the limits of your ego and this humanity. It is then that you enter into the possibility of becoming a great being.”

~ Swami Chetanananda

When I first read these words I wanted to reject them. How could pain be my best friend?

Yet, looking back on the painful, challenging and disappointing experiences in my life, I understand.

Through dark times we find courage and resourcefulness that we may not have thought we had within us.

We break open and feel into what matters.

We learn about ourselves and grow as human beings.

We are able to see the pain in others and feel more connected to them.

We enter the possibility of becoming great beings.

… and knowing this helps.

Namaste

 

 

 

Breathing to Let Go

This quote stood out for me today: “Sometimes you don’t realize the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.”

 

When you find yourself tense, overwhelmed or feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Take a moment to sit comfortably and simply notice your breath.

Every inhale brings in new life, nourishment and energy.

Every exhale is a release and letting go.

Our breath reflects the ebb and flow of life itself.

Do you notice that there is a slight pause at the end on the inhale as you hold onto the air? This holding on creates more tension in our body and it feels so good to release some of it with this simple exercise:

Take a nice big inhale and then sigh on the exhale. Really focus on the noise you can make when you breath out! Make it loud and long. The biggest and best sigh in the world.

Next, If this feels good, bring your shoulders up to your ears on your inhale and then release them away from your ears on the exhale.

You may want to bring in some shoulder rolls now. Inhale raising your shoulder up and then exhale releasing forwards. (3 times) Then inhale raising them up and exhale releasing them backwards (3 times).

As the energy moves, can you feel the shift? A lightening. As you practice this can you feel the burden releasing?

Namaste

 

When You Lose Heart

“The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you’re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. 
Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves.
This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering — yours, mine, and that of all beings”.

~ Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap

letting go in yin yoga

Reading these wise words I think of poses in yoga, especially Yin, where we lean in to the physical and emotional discomfort and embrace the sensations and thoughts that come up.

Surprisingly it is the poses of surrender and letting go, rather than strength building that can be the most challenging for us.

Our practice on the mat is a great metaphor for life. We learn to be present with whatever comes up and use our breath to lean into it. Accepting where we are in that moment.

Breathe into whatever is occurring …. knowing it will pass.

Let there be no blame, just presence on our mat and in life.

Namaste

Val’s Word for 2020

two birds in a tree

I wasn’t planning on choosing a word for this year, but one has been showing up in my thoughts and dreams. As always, it is what is behind and beyond the word itself that makes it impactful – how we bring the word into our lives.

Let me explain a little more.

In December I was at Kripalu for a training and retreat. It was a wonderful educational and enlightening experience taught by Yoganand Michael Carroll. We stepped lightly into the history of yoga and then took a deep dive into yoga philosophy and renunciate nivritti practices.

Throughout this intensive and powerful experience I felt a reassuring and familiar presence. I have noticed this awareness growing over the past few years, and have come to call it the Witness or Presence.

I shared the Vedic parable of the two birds in an earlier post, which describes how there are essentially two parts of ourselves. There is the doer, the part that is active in the world and has a sense of my family, my work, my children and so on. This is also called the I-maker or ego. The other part is a conscious witness within us, at a deeper level.

I believe that we can touch this deeper part of ourselves when we are still and turn our attention inwards. When we Find our Middle Ground.

Now I see that being still is a way to get to know it, but we can experience this deeper level of being in the world and can bring it into our every day.

When you have integrated the witness into your being, there is no need to wait to go to yoga or to sit and meditate. It is always present, and is always there to give you wisdom and guidance. This is the knowing, higher part of yourself who sees through the stories and the everyday actions and distractions of the doer.

This higher discriminating intellect, in the Samkhya tradition (before the time of Buddha), is called Buddhi.*

Whenever we notice the doer getting caught up in reacting to the world and being distracted by senses, desires and fears, we can call on Buddhi.

Buddhi doesn’t judge and make us wrong, it simply guides us into a higher state of being and brings clarity and balance. It brings us closer to the state of consciousness or divine.

So, how does this affect us?

As humans we are all doers. And as doers we have to protect our things and our selves, we need to feel safe and we have minds that make up stories to make sense of what happens to us and to make things right. We have our senses and feelings that constantly pull at us.

donuts and bagel display

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Pexels.com

So….. As I think about what to choose for dessert, or begin to open a new bag of cookies, or sit back on the sofa with a glass of wine and turn on the tv, I will ask: What would Buddhi do? 

As I find myself avoiding taking the next step towards something important and making up stories about why I can’t do that right now, I will ask: What is Buddhi’s insight here?

When I notice that I feel anxious and fearful about the unknown future or am drawn into regrets of the past, I will ask: What would Buddhi tell me?

When I notice myself judging others and being critical, I will say: I need you now Buddhi!



* Buddhi Definition from Yogapedia:

Buddhi is a Sanskrit term derived from the root, budh, which means “to know” or “to be awake.” Therefore, buddhi refers to intellect, wisdom and the power of the mind to understand, analyze, discriminate and decide.

 

 

 

Val’s Yoga Story

This is a re-post about what brought me to yoga. If you haven’t heard this story, you may be surprised!

People come to yoga for many reasons. In my experience, some people are wanting to be more flexible and strong in their bodies, while others are looking to calm their minds and find an inner connection with themselves.  Yoga practice brings together mind body and spirit … and allows each individual to grow, heal and strengthen in their own way.

My story about how I came to yoga is a bit different, and I wanted to share it with you…

When I began my training to become a coach in 2002, we did a lot of self exploration about our strengths, values and needs, and what makes each of us unique.  I also had a mentor coach to support me in my skill building and growth. It was a time for getting real and personal transformation!

One day we did a class on Integrity. We looked at what it meant to us and how we could bring that to our coaching.

As I sat back in the chair with my headphones on, I reached for a cigarette and lit up.

quit smokingI felt such a wave of guilt and disappointment in myself for being a smoker.

How could I coach others to be their best while I was feeling so uncomfortable about being a smoker. I realized I was out of integrity.

I was also scared about giving up my habit. Cigarettes had been a friend and a support for me for so many years. Could I really go it alone? What if I failed miserably (again) and couldn’t give them up? Wasn’t it better to be healthy in other parts of my life to balance out the toxicity of smoking? I was trying to do a deal with myself and it wasn’t working…. That icky feeling in my gut was still there.

I was out of integrity and I had to do something if I wanted to face myself and my potential clients. So I told my mentor coach and set a date – March 27th 2002. We put together a coaching plan with the steps that I would take. Each step was something that I felt I could do. … and I did.

Part of my smoke free plan was to start doing yoga. My mentor said it would calm my mind so that I didn’t get as agitated during the change of habit and the physical withdrawal. I hadn’t ever considered yoga, but  I went along to a yoga studio near me……. and I found that it wasn’t as weird or woo woo as I had anticipated. The people were very friendly and made me feel welcome.

I discovered two things that day that would change my life … and my life span!

The first thing I discovered was that my body enjoyed being stretched. The poses felt a bit awkward, but there was a definite opening and flexing that felt good.

The second thing I discovered was how I loved to breathe! Smoking cigarettes had been a way, not only to get a nicotine fix, but also to take deep breaths. Smoking relaxed me. Each big inhale and exhale released the tension. I felt immediately calm as I took a big draw in and then exhaled out.

It was pretty amazing to me that in yoga I could have the same calming effects without poisoning myself.

Yoga became a part of my life and cigarettes became a part of my past.

Now I teach yoga to people at all stages of life and share my love of breathing, stretching, focusing, accepting and letting go.

There is no judgment in yoga, just acceptance of where you are and being your best to live life fully – and breathe fully.

If you have experienced something other than this, then please look for an other teacher.

Namaste

 

 

Self Questioning

free image from Dreamstime

“To have the courage to

Question one’s certainties, is

True courage.”

~ The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin translated by Roy Melvyn

Sit with this a while and see what comes up for you…

Bringing our awareness to the beliefs that we hold, and usually take for granted, is the first step in our personal growth and spiritual self inquiry. When we look inwards and question our thinking and assumptions, it opens up new perspectives and gives us the opportunity to learn about what has been unknown…. or what may never be discoverable in this life.

This venture into the unknown is a courageous path because the ego-mind will be alert for any conflicting views or threats to its long held position. The ego holds on to those beliefs that have become our certainties about life. It can keep us rigid, stubborn, critical and damning, or simply safe and stuck.

The choice is ours. To embrace the new or hold on to our certainties.

To those on the path of Yoga teacher training, take courage as you embrace what is beyond belief.

Namaste

 

Ego in Yoga

This is a re-post  especially for those on the spiritual path of yoga.


hydra

“Ego can take many different forms and shapes. It is like the hydra. You cut off one head and another head replaces it. You cut off that head and see a third head and a fourth head ad infinitum.

This is because in the manifest dimension, ego identity is the root of life, and if the ego identity is lost, then life as we know it no longer exists.

It exists as light; life becomes light.”

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

I enjoy reading the different metaphors explaining the complexity of our ego, and can relate to the idea of a hydra. Our ego will do everything in its power to survive – especially adapting and changing shape.

The ego is very clever. It will allow one version of our body-mind to die and create a better version that fits in with either (1) how it wants to be seen in the world or (2) what is perceives is needed to stay alive in its physical body.

In my experience with others on a spiritual path, the newer version of ego is likely to be a more evolved version of the previous one. It may show up as being kinder person, a more patient parent, a wiser leader, a humble follower, a beacon of sanity in a world judged as mad…

These are still roles that the ego plays. Less damaging perhaps, yet still ego driven.

Recognizing the hydra heads of the ego is the gateway to le

The answer however is not to keep cutting its heads off. After all this would be an ego motivated act!

Instead embrace ego for what it is. A part of our very human nature that clings to life. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is.

Then we can wake up and realize we really are the divine light beyond ego and our human form.

Namaste

Understanding Violence

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent.

Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind.
When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.

So a person who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
In yoga we honor the practice of ahimsa, or non violence. There is also the understanding that we are all connected and are not separate beings. It is the persona or ego that keeps us separate and fearful. The path of yoga is to awaken to our interconnectedness and to see ourselves in others.
May we all continue to plant seeds that bring us together instead of tearing us apart.

Listen to Your Body – its Listening to You

The words we choose in our thinking, our speech and our writing, impact on how we feel and our overall well being.

abstract board game bundle business

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have you ever noticed how a word can bring up a certain feeling inside of you? A sensation, a thought or an emotion?

Choosing a word that connects with your heart and soul can be not only uplifting, but also brings physical well being.

If you have a few moments, let’s explore.

Take your time as you connect to each of the words below. Go slowly. You can say them out loud:

Love
Tender
Soothing
Joy
Cuddle
Grateful
Smile
Gentle
Pause here and close your eyes. What is alive in you in this moment? Is there a warmth, softening, a feeling of tenderness or love perhaps? How is your breathing? Are you smiling? (me too) Notice how these words manifest themselves in your mind body and spirit.

pauseNow take a deep breath and take the same time connecting to each of these words:
Irritated
Ugly
Mean
Wrong
Frustrated
Cruel
Unfair
Bad
Pause here and close your eyes. What is alive in you in this moment? Is there tension or constriction or heaviness perhaps? How is your breathing? Notice how these words manifest themselves in your mind body and spirit.

pauseIn general when it is a word associated with lack, dis-ease, suffering or violence, our body responds by becoming tense, our breath shallows and there is resistance.

In western medicine when there is resistance in our body it leads to inflammation, and increases our level of stress. These are both proven factors for ill health.

I believe in western medicine, and I also believe in that when there is constriction and tension our life energy contracts as well, and a part of inner state becomes blocked. This impacts our emotional and physical wellness.

In yoga, when the life energy (prana) is blocked it can be released with postures, breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation. In Chinese medicine these blockages in Qi can be released through acupuncture.

pause and listen to your body

No matter what we believe in our minds, our body has its own kind of intelligence.

Listen to your body’s wisdom.

Be mindful of your thoughts and your words. Your body is always listening.

How Yoga Heals

This is a re-post for those of you who are interested in exploring yoga for your health and wellbeing.

oooOOooo

yoga for wellbeing

Thanks to Nancy over at Spirit Lights the Way for sparking some yoga inspiration!

I take a therapeutic approach to my Yoga teaching; focusing on body awareness, mindfulness and the breath. To me its more than a physical work out.

I love this quote from Georg Feuerstein taken from Yoga Gems:
“Beginners on the yogic path would do well to understand correctly what Yoga is all about and to then approach it accordingly.
There is a humorous saying in Yoga circles that Yoga has been reduced to the practice of postures, and that postures have been reduced to stretching, and that stretching has been reduced to lengthening the hamstrings. Authentic Yoga is always a spiritual discipline, even when the focus is on the body, as it is in Hatha Yoga.”

The intention of Yoga is the quieten the mind and connect with our inner spirit, consciousness or higher power. Read more about it on my Yoga page.

In his book “Yoga as Medicine” Dr Timothy McCall shares 40 ways that Yoga (Poses, Breathing and Meditation) heals:

  1. Increases flexibility
  2. Strengthen muscles
  3. Improves balance
  4. Improves immune function
  5. Improves posture
  6. Improves lung function
  7. Leads to slower and deeper breathing
  8. Discourages mouth breathing
  9. Increases oxygenation of the tissues
  10. Improves joint health
  11. Nourishes intervertebral discs
  12. Improves return of venous blood
  13. Increases circulation of lymph
  14. Improves circulation of the feet
  15. Improves proprioception (awareness of body in space)
  16. Increases control of bodily functions
  17. Strengthens bones
  18. Conditions the cardiovascular system
  19. Promotes weight loss
  20. Relaxes the nervous system and reduces anxiety
  21. Improves the function of the nervous system
  22. Improves brain function
  23. Activates the left prefrontal cortex
  24. Changes neurotransmitter levels
  25. Lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  26. Lowers blood sugar
  27. Lowers blood pressure
  28. Improves levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
  29. Thins the blood
  30. Improves bowel function
  31. Releases unconscious muscle gripping
  32. Uses imagery to effect change in the body
  33. Relieves pain
  34. Lowers need for medication
  35. Fosters healthier relationships
  36. Improves psychological health and mood
  37. Leads to healthier habits
  38. Fosters spiritual growth
  39. Elicits the placebo effect
  40. Encourages involvement in your own healing

This list still wows me!

If you are young – there is every reason in the world to start now. Do it!

If you are in Mid life – it isn’t too late. I started yoga in my 40’s and it changed my life. This is where I find my middle ground every day.
Find a studio and a teacher that you can relate to and feel supported by. A word of caution here. Not every Yoga offered in classes is the same. Unless you are an athlete, avoid Vinyasa or Power Yoga.

Even if you are elderly and have a number of health and physical issues, finding an experienced trained teacher with a therapeutic approach can lead to a more active and healthy life… and a sense of peace and wellbeing.

yoga heals

So many people try Yoga in gyms these days. Please be careful as the focus is usually on having a physical workout. In my experience the instructors may not be as experienced, there is less personal attention and less time for relaxation and mindfulness.

For me, Yoga is about balance, alignment and inner peace. Finding balance and peace in our lives and alignment of our mind body and spirit… on and off the mat.

Namaste