Lost and found

I went for a hike in the forest with two colleagues the other day. Both of them grew up experiencing nature like we do in Norway, hiking, camping, sometimes walking in the mountains for days. At some point during our hike, one of them said that she finds it exciting to sometimes get lost in nature to then find the way back. She told a story from her childhood where she and her family were hiking somewhere in Mali and got lost. They had to walk in the dark back to the cabin they were staying at. My colleague’s mum had to focus on her white shoes to not stumble as she had bad sight. It was fun, she said. In Mali. A family of five, lost in the mountains.

Her story inspired me because I don’t think I would remember as fun getting lost in nature as a kid, maybe not even now as an adult. I can imagine me getting scared, worried and maybe even angry and blaming it on my husband, as I often do. My kids complaining and blaming it on both of us.

Maybe I’m exaggerating or maybe not, but I found this story inspiring because my colleague’s family chose to have an attitude of adventure and playfulness in a moment that I most probably would have perceived as annoying and even dangerous. It brought me back to a reflection that has been coming and going in the last few years about the power of staying calm in all situations. This ability to stay calm comes with being able to take a step back from a situation and see solutions, but I also think it has to do with faith.

Observing my mind and my actions, I have noticed that I have had a tendency to get overwhelmed and almost panic in situations where things don’t go as expected. I have been afraid of challenges, problems and conflicts with people. Partly because I dread the unpleasant moments, but partly because I am worried about my ability to deal with difficulty. I don’t really trust myself. So I often have chosen to stay in my comfort zone, or to escape from the discomfort often making things worse because I don’t necessarily physically run away, I try to escape by acting impulsively, out of fear turing the situation messier than it originally was.

Since I became aware of this, I have been trying to work with it. I am trying to calm my mind down in moments of stress, distress or emotional pain, and instead of reacting impulsively, I try to take a mental step back and observe. It is an interesting exercise, to learn to give myself the space to feel scared, hurt or annoyed but not feed into the emotion. Take a deep breath and see possibilities, see options, and act -or not- from a space of calmness. Stay with the feeling without fighting it.

Life is like that, it has its ups and its downs. We instinctively seek for the ups and dread the downs. That is our nature, but lately, I have been reflecting in the beauty of going through the downs with a calm mind too. Experiencing whatever life is offering with an attitude of faith in ourselves, the process and the teachings they bring. Get lost, and find myself again. I believe that when we find our way back, we often continue slightly changed, mostly for the better.

The truth is that we all are born with this immense strength, we can overcome anything because that is our instinct. The key is the mental attitude. The teachings we draw from each situation. The energy we spend on them. The way we take care of ourselves and others in the process.

I share here one of my favourite poems from David Wagoner that I feel talk about what I just wrote.

Lost by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

#30daysthreeminutessilencechallenge

I recently started a ‘sitting in silence challenge’ on my Facebook page where I film myself guiding a three minute long meditation. I came up with the idea because I see there are often plank, push-up and burpee challenges on Facebook and Instagram. They are often intended to bring awareness to an important cause. The intention for my challenge is to encourage people to slow down and spend some time with themselves.

It is fun to see how the people taking exercise challenges seem to struggle the first days to complete the set amount of repetitions, but as they continue day after day, it seems to get easier. The same applies to meditation practices. It requires practice and patience. Just like our muscles, the mind can be trained to slow down and to focus.

I started practicing meditation about five years ago, and like many, my practice wasn’t very steady. I started for a period of time, and then left it, and then came back to it. A year ago, I made the commitment to myself that I would not let a day pass without siting in silence, and I have sticked to it. One year of daily practice, and I observe, almost every day that I come to my practice with the intention of focusing my mind, to then realise that my whole life is passing in my mind, as a movie while I sit still. Either analysis of past events, or planing my immediate and long-term future. But I don’t allow this to discourage me because I have noticed the benefits from siting with myself every day.

It is like a mini vacation from the constant flow of stimuli and information the outer world sends me. It is is a mini vacation from my almost compulsive need to do something. It slows down my body and my nervous system. When I practice in the morning, I feel it allows me to center myself before I meet the world. When I practice in the evening, it helps me unwind and get ready to rest.

In connection with this 30-days challenge, I will try to write a bit more often about meditation. One of my favourite reads is Chapter 6 from the Bhagavad Gita which is about Meditation. The beauty of Yoga Meditation is that it is not just a new activity we add to our daily schedule, it is a way of living. I love to go back to this chapter from time to time because it is so inspiring to read how we can gradually change our mindset to live a more harmonious and peaceful life.

“Advanced” Yoga asana practice

What if I told you that an ‘advanced’ yoga asana practice has nothing to do with how deep you go into a stretch or how acrobatic your poses are? To be honest, I actually don’t like the idea of calling an asana class ‘advanced’ because I feel that it can (mis)lead yoga students towards achieving something instead of encouraging them to know and respect their bodies.

As a Yoga teacher, I experience resistance from certain students to modify poses when I suggest it, even when I keep repeating that the most important is to keep the body safe, and that the body needs to be at ease in order to maintain an even rhythm of breath. It seems to me that some of them even feel ashamed when I suggest that they rather sit on a chair than on the floor. Why is there shame connected to the limits of our bodies?

In the yoga asana practice the most important is the mindset we have while practicing than what kind of poses we do. The yoga asana practice can be such a powerful tool to keep the body healthy by balancing between stability (strength) and mobility (flexibility), and learning to keep a deep and even rhythm of breath. We use the breath to calm the mind and the nervous system so we can bring our attention to the body as we move in and out of poses.

It isn’t the complexity of the pose that makes the practice powerful, it is the attention we pay to the body and the breath. I would argue that an ‘advanced’ yogi is the one that knows and respects his/her body and patiently practices with the goal of moving at ease in everyday life and, ideally, to be able to sit in meditation with the same ease.

There are several problems I see with the pursuit of complex poses, or what we often call an ‘advanced’ practice. Instead of cultivating a calmer state of mind, we stress the body and the mind by constantly pushing ourselves to achieve that pose that we think will bring some sort of satisfaction. In this pursuit we can get lost in ego and in the worst case senario hurt our body. What happens when our body can’t achieve that specific pose we want to achieve, or when with age, we loose some flexibility and/or strength? Are we then ‘less’ yogis?

We live in times where we are so used to put pressure on ourselves in almost all aspects of our life. It is so difficult to be content with what we have and where we are without having the feeling that we should be aiming for more. We are constantly wanting to improve, to get more, to achieve more. But how much is enough? If we bring this mindset to the yoga mat, we are not doing anything to help us improve our lifestyle, we are just bringing our stress, doubts and worries to the mat and nothing changes.

Lastly, I would argue that an advanced yogi is the one that little by little starts establishing his/her own practice. The role of the teacher is to guide, but at the end of the day, the advanced yogi knows his/her body and mind so well, that he/she is able to choose what is right for him/her.

So next time you’re in a yoga class and the teacher hands you a block, accept it with curiosity and see what it does to your body in that specific pose. 🙂

Who’s the teacher?

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. We’ve had had a meeting about our middle daughter at school that day to discuss how she’s doing, what the school is doing to support her learning and social wellbeing and what the plan ahead is. She is coming closer to middle school and we soon have to decide whether she stays at her current school or we change her to the local public school.

I won’t make this too long but the most important question is, of course, what is best for her? After the meeting yesterday, I still felt unable to decide. Is she being supported to develop to her full potential? Would this tough phase, especially socially, improve as she and her classmates mature? What if we change schools? Will it be better? Worse?

Even though I was trying to calm my mind, breathing deeply, I couldn’t sleep.

In the morning, I got out of bed, did my sadhana and chatted briefly with my teacher who reminded me to be patient and allow clarity to come.

I started my day and as usual with the morning family routine. Dropped the kids at school and walked to the Yoga class I teach Tuesday mornings.

I have one student for the moment in that class. I was happy to see her because I had prepared a class thinking of what we had done last week and what she had told me she needs for her back. Last week, she had also shown interest in meditation, and I suggested we could spend the last fifteen minutes of the class today with some simple exercises to calm the mind.

After the session, we chatted a bit about her experience. She told me she had observed she was slightly anxious about a job she had to do this week, and she couldn’t understand why since she knows the routine. We continued chatting and came to the conclusion that sometimes our mind is used to certain patterns that don’t really help us. Like this anxiety of hers. It is maybe out of habit. Work=anxiety. And then it hit me: my mind too is used to worrying! Yes, I do need to make an important choice for my daughter, but I don’t need to worry unnecessarily about it. I just need to follow my gut feeling and trust that for the moment, that is the best choice I can make.

There are so many learning experiences out there for us, we just need to stay present to see them.

I am so thankful to be able to teach, it is through teaching that I stay present and I learn most 💕

Space is magic

Create space for yourself. In all your states. Don’t panic, no thought or emotion will stay forever. Enjoy the good ones and observe the bad ones. What are they trying to say? The more space you create inside yourself, the easier it is to deal with your changing emotions and moods without looking for external answers, they tend to disappoint.

Create the space to see all sides of yourself. Accept and love yourself for who you are. Only by looking directly into your innermost thoughts and attitudes, you will be able to make small adjustments here and there that will bring you to a better place. Only by exercising the art of setting yourself free, you will be able to see other people with eyes of compassion and understanding.

Create space for those around you to thrive and grow. Give love and see it flow. Love is always the answer no matter what. Don’t measure the love you give. Don’t be afraid, the more you give, the more you have. Lead with the example, lead with the heart, and you’ll see magic moments arise. Keep your eyes open though, and don’t stare at one spot. Love will flow from sometimes the most unexpected places.

Create space for those around you to struggle, to be challenging, to show their moods. It is never about you, it is all about their inner life too. Just like you, they have their own internal battles, and just like you, all they need is the space to experience, to learn and to move forward. If you don’t push back, if you are curious, if you are present, you will be able to either help or step back. When we give space to others, magic happens, the other gets time to react, to reflect and then come back in a calmer state.

Space is really magic.