New Years Revelation

It’s New Years resolution time. A time I remember greeting with promise, hope and great expectations, this year, seems a bit more daunting. It might be that I’m growing older – which was no more apparent than while suffering the day-long consequences of enjoying one drink too many at a holiday party last week (my 21-year-old liver is no more…) Or, it might be circumstantial – following my first semester in grad school, I already find myself searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. (While I won’t say it’s all darkness ahead, I will say I can’t yet see the light…)

Of course, it could also be that my year as a yogi has changed my perspective.

In the midst of the holiday season and a particularly stressful time in my life, I’ve been seriously craving some clarity and some reprieve, which has led me to consider how my mindset is impacted by dwelling on the choices I’ve made in the past and on my anxiety for the future. As you’ve likely heard before, the practice of yoga is about bringing your awareness into the present. I recently read in James Fowler’s “The Present Moment” that the practice of meditation can even be simply defined as an act of “love for the present moment,” (as well as for the love of Truth, of Beauty and of Goodness – such a beautiful sentiment, I’ve recently incorporated into my practice/daily intention setting). And Yoga Journal recently shared that the key to happiness is to stop planning for our ideal future, and to shift our focus on living today, in this moment.

As these seeds were planted in the back of my mind, the time was right – and ripe – for a revelation. And sure enough, as often happens during my daily practice [of asana and meditation], a single thought swept through me and helped assuage my fears and anxieties for the coming year. Just like that…Not a resolution, but a New Years Revelation:

You have everything you need.

Soaking in the peace of mind that comes along with this resonance, I realized I need a re-prioritization this coming year – Not a ‘quick fix’ solution, or yet another brilliant addition to my busy schedule, as I often associate with a resolution. I already have it all, but my current mindset consumed by back-peddling and negativity isn’t serving me, or allowing for all the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of the present moment to shine through, to really enjoy it. Although I usually avoid getting too personal (because after-all, A Year in Yoga is all about you!), I hope that sharing more of my revelation with all of you might help plant the seed to inspire your own, for a happier, brighter, more content and gratitude-filled year ahead…So here it goes ❤

 My Priority List for 2015:

  1. Self-care. Much of my work in Yoga Studies thus far has centered around healing and trauma, and what I’ve come to learn is that everyone is healing from some sort of trauma (big or small) – and it’s not our job or our right to evaluate how deep, how harsh, or how justified someone else’s trauma, or journey is. I can’t be any good at my job, in my relationships, or even in my yoga practice, without taking care of myself first. (A lesson I can attest, I’ve learned the hard way.) For me, this means allowing myself time and space. Time to breath in between an all too hectic schedule, even if this means telling someone else you’re unavailable. (Sorry, I’ve got a date with myself tonight!) And space: a few moments of solitude, a clean environment, and at least an hour a day when I’m totally unplugged. Create your own rules, or don’t. Whatever it takes to give yourself the attention you need to heal from whatever hurt you’re holding onto; to rejuvenate, to flourish. You’re no good to anybody, until you’re good to yourself; and life is, along with many other [beautiful, wonderous] things, a process of healing.
  1. Love. I have to admit, this is a new list-topper for me. I’ve always loved the idea of love, but I’ve never wanted to make it a priority. It’s simply too scary. The moment you open yourself up to love, you create space for rejection and loneliness. It’s much easier to be alone. Much easier, but empty. And certainly no less lonely. This kind of love doesn’t have to be with a significant other, it can be for a family member, a best friend, even a furry companion – but it is that pitfall, head over heels, unconditional, crazy-expressive-passionate kind of love; that fills your heart until tears well up in joy, and makes you equally as vulnerable to hurt and despair at its loss. If you’re lucky enough to have experienced this kind of love, you’ll likely also agree that it’s simply this feeling that makes life worth living. It gets you out of bed in the morning, keeps you going when you’re running on fumes, and picks you up when you (inevitably) trip over your own feet and fall on your face. While yogis aim to embody detachment, this kind of love is the only exception. To love whole-heartedly and steadfastly, to love all living things this way is a yogi’s primary goal. Because only by loving this way can we achieve happiness, and can we find peace, in our lives and for others. I am so very blessed to have an abundance of love in my life. Really, what else is there to want? But putting our own ambition, or other priorities ahead of love means abusing it. It’s a two-way street. Let the love in your life come first and guide you, and you will have a life full of love – and therefore, at its very core, of happiness and peace.
  1. Stability. Of course, even with love and self-care, we all need stability in our lives to do anything more to function in society. (Consider: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) Having grown up blessed with a strong foundation of stability, I ventured out over the past several years for a taste of challenge, of hardship (though not explicitly so at the time). I had something to prove, to myself. If I wanted to serve populations who had less than me, then I felt I needed to know what that really meant – and even what that felt like. Studying abroad in a third world country, working full-time for minimum wage, and immersing myself in homeless, low-income and prison populations; these choices have undoubtedly shaped my life. I say so with full recognition of how privileged I am to have made these choices – sprinkled after and in between my private college education, graduate coursework, well-paid jobs and refused opportunities. But what I’ve learned, however difficult at times, has been invaluable. Stability to me, represents a strong support system and enough financial resources to provide a home, pay the bills, and put food on the table (which varies in feasibility based on location and skill-set). When one of these areas is lacking, our whole being is at risk. The love and self-care we’ve worked so hard to cultivate is threatened, and we’re unable to do much more than run in place, and just “get by.” Evaluate what makes you feel stable; what’s your springboard for growth? And be so grateful for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Cherish it. This is also living with present awareness for all that we already have, and a goal of mine for the coming year.
  1. Be. And the rest will come. I can spend today, tomorrow and next year conjuring up my next project, worrying about my final exam, mulling over my past mistakes, and yearning for the light at the end of the tunnel. But at what cost? Too often stress and anxiety overshadows our ability to experience, enjoy and live in the present. By living this way, we risk losing a sense of ourselves and of those we love. When we finally achieve whatever it is we’re after, or perhaps just get tired of the chase, who will be there with us? What kind of shape will we be in – our physical bodies and our mental well-being – when we get there? Will we really be able to enjoy it, or will we already have our eye on the next prize ahead – an even bigger house, a more expensive car, a promotion, another degree? What about right now? Wasn’t there a moment when we dreamed of being right here? Relish it. We’ve all worked hard and learned tough lessons, jumped over hurdles and slayed dragons to be here – and here we are. We’ve worked so hard to be right here. So, we better enjoy it – You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Instead of thinking about what you should add to your life in 2015, I encourage you to consider all you already have. And challenge yourself to have your own New Years Revelation. To re-prioritize what really matters to you, at this point in your life, and allow that to be your mantra and your intention for the coming year. And strive to just be with it.

Sending boundless love and well wishes for a safe and very merry new year to you and yours. Cheers to all that 2015 will bring!

The light in me honors the light in you.

Namaste,

Amy

Photo: Throwback to New Years 2012 with my BFF Ashley at Lansdowne Pub Fenway Park in Boston. Thank you, Ashley for being there through it ALL and for always letting your light shine – & for always encouraging and inspiring me to do the same ❤

Getting Intimate

Over the weekend, I was surprised to find myself completely immersed in a five-hour training on yoga, sex and intimacy. My confusion was justified – The title of the workshop was “Yoga is Peace.” Where did I go wrong (or, wonderfully right)?

Mark Whitwell is a famous yoga teacher (I use this phrase reluctantly, but if anyone deserves the title, he does) and writer who studied for twenty years under Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the guru (or teacher) graciously credited with introducing yoga to Europe, Asia, and the Americas within the past century. (Should your interest in yoga meaning and philosophy grow, his work is a great place to start…)

Mark began by introducing himself to the class and proclaiming emphatically:

“YOGA IS… [wait for it]…DIRECT intimacy…with reality.”

He followed: “Forget any other definition you’ve ever heard. This is Truth.”

Mark’s “no bullshit” approach to teaching struck a chord. Perhaps too tight of chord, as he later added in the words of his teacher, Sri Krishnamacharya: “Yoga is not information gathering.” (Tell this to the girl working 24/7 in yoga studies.) What he means by this, of course, is simply: It’s already in you. So, focus your attention there.

Regarding sex, intimacy and yoga, we can go back to Mark’s definition of yoga generally as “direct intimacy with reality.” But, what does this really mean? He elaborated throughout his lecture that, from this view, our purpose on this planet is to have intimacy with life; that means with yourself, your partner, your community, and more abstractly, with your reality. In other words: Are you engaged, are you open? Are you a good friend, a loving partner, a “yes” person? Do you serve others in your community, do you love the work that you do? We all prioritize our own reality differently, and where and when we choose to get intimate. But, as Mark suggests, shouldn’t it be that when the day is done we can stand back and see ourselves reflected back to us (ideally with love and admiration) in all aspects of our life? If we desire to hold a purpose, as individuals and humans, shouldn’t it be to live life this way? (In this light?)

Yoga is direct intimacy with reality, with life. In this way, we can practice yoga everyday, in every aspect of our lives, by allowing ourselves to get intimate in our interactions with others and with ourselves.

As for sex: Mark shared his own observation that, as the churches continue to empty throughout America and Europe (Germany, in particular), the explicitness and vulgarity of sex in the media and social discourse continues to worsen. He digressed: “Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s having it.”

In my own classes, reluctant attention has recently focused on the realities of the over-sexualization of youth, and women and girls generally, in society. How prevalent are images of young girls (teens & twenties) in their underwear – or without – throughout the media? (Are you as tired of the viral Kim Kardashian as I am?) But giving this issue our sincere attention requires an uncomfortable shift of reality, and so many – including myself – do their best to stay quiet and turn the other way. There’s no need to revisit the profound implications that over-sexualization have on women and girls throughout the country, and the world. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body image obsession, insecurities, anxiety, inadequacies, sex trafficking and even hate crimes targeted at nonconforming homosexual individuals – all catalyzed by an extreme prevalence of “sex” in society, distorting the reality that sex [and sexuality] is intimacy – not an ego trip. Having the capacity to love and be intimate with another person is a gift, and an expression of equal exchange. It’s personal, it’s impactful, and it’s the basis of humanity. It’s easy, with the Victoria’s Secret fashion show fast approaching, to forget that this is reality. 

Mark’s parallel to the international vacancy of churches is meant to emphasize the necessity of individual spiritual life for the proliferation of humanity. He even goes so far as to say that the world depends on it. I take spirituality in my own heart to mean the active cultivation of a greater consciousness, founded in love and compassion towards oneself, one another, and our shared global community (the Earth and humanity). My church is my yoga mat. But no matter your definition or your vehicle, Mark attests that exploring your own sense of self and your own true nature is to experience intimacy, and promote creativity and creation. And, to experience direct intimacy with reality [in this way] is yoga – with, or without asana. (Although he and I highly encourage a daily home practice as a guaranteed vehicle toward exactly that. If you’re looking to create a home practice but aren’t sure where to start, contact me for help creating your own personal practice.)

In the midst of a non-stop graduate school schedule, the holiday season, and occasionally being all too aware of worldwide struggle and despair (sometimes all-to-close to home), I’ve found it helpful to go back to the notion that our purpose is intimacy. We can forget the rest. Because, if you can be intimate with life by being authentic, kind and present in every moment of your day, you’re contributing to the world in the best possible way. And, inevitably the goodness of the world will come back to you, more easily and with greater pleasure than you ever imagined. I guess, you could say in this way: Yoga is Peace.

Exploring your own comfortable definition of spirituality and creating a routine to express yourself through this light (be it yoga, attending church, simply sitting in quiet or your own personal practice) is the key to experiencing direct intimacy with life. And while it’s true – you get what you give – ultimately, getting intimate is what really makes life worth living.

Sending love and well wishes to your corner now & always,

Amy

Personal Photo: Playa Vista, CA