Posts tagged ‘spirituality’

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a little girl, I would ride my bicycle to the library. I used to love the silence, the solitude, and being surrounded by books and endless possibility.

I gravitated toward the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I remember they were in one section of the library, and I would read them one by one.

But I wouldn’t just read them one time through. I had to explore every possible scenario in each book. I liked to witness how the choices I made at the bottom of the page affected the storyline.

It’s about the Journey, not the Destination

For as long as I can remember, I have used Choose Your Own Adventure books as my analogy to life.

We are born with a certain set of circumstances. From there, we choose what to do, where to go, who to be, how to feel. Then with each new choice we make, we are given a different set of circumstances and decisions to make.

That is the great adventure to life, this journey that we co-create right along with the circumstances we are given.

Becoming the Author

Part of practicing yoga is to become awake to being the reader of the story, the story of our individual lives. We stand back from living the drama, and instead witness how our actions affect our outcomes.

With this greater perspective, we can then become the author of our destiny. We can begin to make choices that lead us more toward happiness and less toward sadness, more toward living the life we truly love, and less toward attracting the things we do not wish to experience.

So that begs the question, “If I am unhappy, what actions can I take to change it?”

Progress Requires Action

Part of being a yogi is moving more toward becoming radically alive, about living each day as if it is your best day. It is not the path for everyone, but it is a path that leads to happiness.

One way yoga leads to happiness is by helping us realize that all we really have in life is the present moment. This present moment was created by our past decisions, by the choices that we made at the end of the page.

Our future, therefore, is determined by the choices we make right here, right now, by the fresh ink still wet on the paper of our current adventure.

So we can co-create our futures now by making decisions that will benefit our greater good tomorrow.

I will be working on answering the above question myself over the next several months, “What can I do to be happier?”. I invite you to join me. I invite you to Choose Your Own Adventure.

Namaste,

~Amber

choose-your-own-adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure books

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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice that was created over 3,000 years ago in India. Yoga, meaning “union”, is intended to connect the mind to the body.

There are many different types of yoga. The physical practice is called Hatha Yoga, “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon, and its purpose is to unite opposites and stretch the body in all directions.  The physical practice was invented specifically so that yogis could sit comfortably erect in meditation without too many pins and needles in their bodies.

Hatha Yoga is what we think of when we refer to yoga in the West, however, as you will read below, yoga is much more than just the physical practice where we contort, strengthen, and stretch our bodies.

Wait a minute… What if I am not interested in a spiritual path? Can I still practice yoga?

Of course you can! The spiritual path of yoga is not for everyone. The beauty of yoga is that the philosophy can be adapted to fit your personal beliefs.

Even if you practice yoga just for the health benefits, or the amazing workout of asana, you can still call yourself a yogi. Likely what will happen is that even if you practice only asana and nothing else, you will find yourself able to deal with stress much better than before, which will improve your quality of life.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The asanas are just one part of yoga. There are, in fact, 8 limbs to yoga, which represent the intention of our yoga practice. These 8 limbs were written out in the Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali around 300 BCE.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explained that the purpose of yoga is to calm the mind so that we can elevate our conscious awareness. He laid out an 8 fold path.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are:

Yamas (the restraints)                     Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
Niyamas (ethical observances)     Dharana (concentration)
Asana (postures)                              Dhyana (meditation)
Pranayama (breathing)                 Samadhi (higher consciousness)

The 8 limbs are meant to be a series of progressive stages where we begin to explore our ability to live in a state of Samadhi.

Samadhi, meaning bliss, refers to living our lives in a state of equanimity, where no matter what the circumstances are we can be content. The place of contentment comes through the journey of the other 7 limbs where we learn non-attachment to the fruits of our labor; giving, working, and loving just for the sake of doing the right thing.

But the 8 limbs does not start at the finish line, of course.

The “10 Commandments” of Yoga

The first two limbs of yoga are the Yamas and the Niyamas, which together make up the “10 Commandments of Yoga”. The Yamas are the restraints that Patanjali suggested allowed us to live a more selfless life. The Niyamas are the ethical observances that he recommended we adopt to live more healthfully and consciously.

The 5 Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa – Non-Harming
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-Stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Control
  • Aparigraha – Non-Greed

The 5 Niyamas are:

  • Saucha – Cleanliness
  • Santosha – Contentment
  • Tapas – Heat/Passion
  • Svadhyaya – Self-Study
  • Ishvarapranidhana – Surrender to God, or surrender to the powers greater than yourself, or simply, surrender to that which is.

Asana

Asana means “seat”. In the Yoga Sutras, the word asana was used to represent the seat upon which a yogi sat to meditate. Asana includes the physical postures we associate with the word “yoga” in the West.

Part of the Niyamas is tapas, or heat. Asana is meant to purify the body using the heat that we build as we practice the athletic aspects of yoga. Yogis treat their body as a temple, and asana is the method by which that temple is maintained.

Pranayama

The second sutra in the Yoga Sutra states that yoga is a practice by which we still the mind. Pranayama is the breath work that yogis use to calm the mind.

There are dozens of breathing practices used by yogis, each of which have a different purpose. Some of the breath work stimulates the body to prepare it for intense labor, and some of the breath work is calming and relaxing. Some are meant to warm the body, and some are meant to cool the body. Others relax certain areas that commonly hold tension. There are even breathing techniques that intend to bring yogis to higher levels of conscious awareness.

As different as they are, all of the pranayama techniques have purpose along the 8 limbs of yoga.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. Why would we want to withdraw from the senses?, you might as. Withdrawal from the senses allows the mind to begin to look inwardly so that the next limb of yoga can be achieved.

Dharana

Pratyahara withdraws the distractions of the senses from the mind so that the mind can reach Dharana, which means concentration. The Sutras claim that with single-pointed awareness, the yogi can move to the next stage of the 8 limbs. Are you beginning to see how the limbs are intended to be followed in a sequence?

Dhyana

Dhyana translates to meditation. Remember that asana was created so that the yogi could sit comfortably in meditation. Through purifying the heart with the yamas and the niyamas; keeping the body strong and relaxed through asana; stilling the mind through pranayama; withdrawing from the senses with pratyahara; finding concentration with dharana; the yogi finally comes to a place where the mind can be quiet enough to sit in meditation.

Samadhi: Why We Meditate

Yogis meditate to reach Samadhi, bliss. Through meditation, yogis can begin to explore the intentions behind their actions. With this kind of svadhyaya (self-study), equanimity can be achieved.

As previously mentioned, the path of yoga is a path to live without attachment to the fruits of our labor. To live for the sake of living. To give for the sake of giving. To love for the sake of loving.

When we live from a place where we are not attached, inner peace is achieved. By not being attached to the results of our actions, there is no place in our hearts for greed, jealousy, resentment, anger, or heartache. When we peel away those negative emotions, we find our true nature, which is love.

More importantly, through non-attachment, yogis are content (santosha) regardless of the circumstance. Does that mean they are never sad? Of course not. What it means is that even though yogis might be sad, we are aware that “this too shall pass”.

Nothing is constant except change. Yogis understand that the ups and downs of life are all fleeting moments. True happiness, true contentment, true satisfaction can only come from within.

Yoga is a path to enlightenment, and yogis believe that enlightenment is living without attachment to action, equanimity.

To Practice or Not to Practice

Remember, you do not have to be on a spiritual journey to practice yoga, but I am sharing this with you because most people do not know that there is more to yoga than just the physical practice.

Please feel free to continue practicing asana or meditation, or only the limbs suit your needs. Regardless of how many limbs you practice, you will reap rewards!

Namaste,

~Amber

Get A Little Uncomfortable

Progress does not promise itself to be easy. Growth is not necessarily comfortable. In fact, sometimes we have to get uncomfortable if we want things to change.

Most great religions claim something to the effect of ask and ye shall receive. But in order for the things that you want to come into your life, room must be made; ergo, a change must occur.

What is your reaction to change? Do you freak out? If so you are not alone, because most people react this way.

Maybe a better reaction would be for us to ride the wave of change and see where it takes us. We must stay aware and be honest of the emotions that come along with scary change, but we should not resist them.

On the Mat, Off the Mat

Yoga teaches us to stay open to possibility. The asana practice does not promise to be comfortable. In fact, if your practice is vigorous, it is often painful at times. Those are just called growing pains.

What is important to pay attention to is our reactions to the pain, because that is often going to be similar to our reactions to change when it presents itself in our lives.

The physical asana practice of yoga is a metaphor for spiritual growth. How we react on the mat is often how we react in life.

The incredible thing about yoga, in my opinion, is that we can grow spiritually and emotionally while maintaining physical health, strength and flexibility through asana.

All yoga asks us to do in order to grow is to remain aware of our reactions to the events that occur in life. Stay present, stay open, stay loving, and everything will work out in the end.

What happens in between asking for what you want and receiving it is a journey. To lose the individual moments of the journey would be a terrible waste of time.

Time is the medium through which life occurs. It is life’s canvas; so it is best not to waste time if we can help it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Since the theme of this week’s blog is discomfort, I will share with you a pose I find terribly uncomfortable. I do it anyway, but it is murder on my coccyx (tailbone).

This pose is called Navasana, or Boat Pose. Full Boat Pose, or Paripurna Navasana, is when the legs are extended, but the pose can also be practiced with the shins parallel to the ground.


If this posture looks like a terrible idea, do not fret. There are modifications, like all yoga poses.

  1. To come into Navasana, begin in a seated position with the knees into the chest.
  2. Place the hands behind the hamstrings, and pull the knees into the chest. Rock back onto your sitting bones. Pull your lower abs in deeply and straighten the spine. The abdominals are pulled in tightly to the spine.
  3. Try balancing yourself on your sitting bones with your feet, or at least your heals off the ground. If that feels ok, challenge yourself to lift your shins parallel to the ground. Squeeze your inner thighs together, keep the spine straight, the abs pulled in tightly, and keep the thighs close to the abdomen.
  4. The next krama, or stage, would be to remove the hands from the hamstrings, and float the arms parallel to the ground. The shoulders blades slightly hug together, and the shoulder joints reach downward toward the hips. The palms remain open. The fingers are active.
  5. The next krama would be to straighten the legs with the feet flexed, kicking through the heels. Continue to breath.

Modifications:

  1. The hands can be placed on the floor by the hips.
  2. The hands can remain behind the hamstrings at all times until the arms can float parallel to the ground.
  3. Keep the knees bent.

Tips:

  1. If it is really painful on your tailbone, as it is on mine, try folding a towel a few times and sitting on it when performing Navasana.
  2. Even though this pose is very challenging to the abdominals to the point where you could be shaking, try to smile through it. Smiling really helps get people through difficult postures.

Benefits:

  1. This posture strengthens the abdominals, the hip flexors, and muscles along the spine.
  2. Navasana improves digestion and helps to relieve stress.
  3. This posture also stimulates the kidneys, the thyroid gland, and the intestines.

Hard Work Reaps Great Rewards

Remember, strong abdominals make for a healthy spine, good posture, and healthy internal organs. Even though this posture is difficult and can be uncomfortable, all of your hard work will bring great rewards.

With discomfort can come great benefit to our minds, our bodies and our lives. It is ok to be a little uncomfortable, a little off-balance, or off-kilter, as long as we stay aware of what we are experiencing.

When the great religions of the world said something to the effect of “ask and ye shall receive”, they never promised the receiving part would come easy. 🙂

Love,

~Amber

Stay Open to Possibility

I have written before that other people’s opinions of your are none of your business. In a similar fashion, the opinion that you hold of someone else speaks more about you than about that person.

Judgment is a dangerous thing. Once you pass judgment on someone or something, your opinion tends to be set. Yes, sometimes opinions change, but for the most part, they stay the same for a long time.

Think of your life as a house with a million rooms of possibilities and options. Judgment is a locked door. So, once you have passed judgment, then being open to possibility is not an option.

Amazing things happen in your life when you stay open to possibility. Opportunities that you never saw before present themselves to you. Also, the you are able to evolve to higher levels of awareness.

I highly recommend trying to avoid holding on to judgment. Remember, the mind will judge and critique as part of its nature. That is a survival instinct.

But, the soul is greater than the body and the mind. The mind is a tool; your soul is the real you. Let your mind act as a tool, but let your soul supersede the mind’s decisions.

For instance, next time you find yourself judging someone, try to just notice the judgment you have passed. That judgment is a direct reflection of the way your mind is thinking, not a reflection of that individual.

God bless,

~Amber

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” -Carl Jung

Passing judgment means “Case Closed”.

The Path of a Yogi: Why I Practice Yoga

Yesterday, for a split second, I got into handstand for the first time by myself.

Source

Keep in mind, yoga is not about mastering the physical practice. The physical practice of yoga is a metaphor for life.

I focused on something for a very long time and finally accomplished it. Yoga happens when I take those skills off the mat and relate them to my day-to-day life.

Yoga teaches us that when we concentrate the mind on something, we can achieve it. Yoga also teaches us that we can control our mood, our chattering mind and our body by controlling our breath.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

As defined by Patanjali, the great yogic sage, yoga has 8 limbs. The first four limbs of yoga pertain to the practical and physical nature of life:

  • The Yamas (ethical observances) teach us how to deal with the outside world.
  • The Niyamas (restraints) teach us how to deal with ourselves.
  • Asana (postures) teaches us to treat our body like a temple, to keep it strong and healthy.
  • Pranayama (breathwork) teaches us to relax the mind.

The remaining four limbs focus on the evolution of the spirit:

  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) teaches us to turn our attention inward.
  • Dharana (concentration), teaches us to focus the power of the mind.
  • Dhyana (meditation), teaches us to be aware in the present moment
  • Samadhi (bliss, absolute union), teaches us we are bigger than our bodies and we can connect to the source of all things.

Soul Meets Body

I read a profound quote yesterday that a fellow blogger and yogi posted on Facebook.

“You do not have a soul. You are your soul. You have a body.” -C.S. Lewis

The purpose of practicing the postures is to live your yoga off of the mat so that the spirit can be ever evolving like a tree growing up toward the heavens.

And just like the tree, before we can evolve, we must be rooted in what is manifested here on Earth, our physical being.

I practice yoga because it elevates my mind, my body, ultimately uniting me with my true self, my spirit.

That is the path of the yogi.

Namaste,

~Amber

Pictures Speak 1,000 Words

Pictures Speak 1,000 Words

Worry does nothing good for you. It does not solve your problems. It does not make you feel better. All it does is cause anxiety and possibly depression.

The worse thing that worry does for you is to occupy your time and your thoughts, taking your attention away from being able to solve your problem.

Think about it: if you are worrying about your problem, how can your attention be fixed on resolving the situation?

So how do you solve a problem in your life?

Well I recommend looking at the situation as objectively as you possibly can. Think about your problem as if it is a friend’s problem. If the problem was not your own, what advice would you give someone to fix their situation?

Make a list of the ways you can better your situation, and try acting on them. Even just making a list of the ways you can solve your problem will make you feel better. You will feel more in control of your life.

From a place of feeling empowered, anything can be accomplished.

That is how all great accomplishments are completed. Steve Jobs was empowered; Thomas Edison was empowered; The Wright Brothers were empowered.

As long as you believe in yourself, and your abilities, the seemingly impossible can become a reality.

Worry is a waste of time. A better use of your time is to act proactively to better your life.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

With love,

~Amber

The Masks We Wear

Throughout the course of a day, how many masks do you wear?

Are you a mother? A father? A writer? A dancer? Are you dramatic? Funny? Nice? Witty? Sarcastic? What defines you?

Do you define yourself by your career? How about your relationship status, or lack thereof?

We all wear masks, all day, every day. It is quite natural to have many masks that we wear at different times or for different occasions.

So which mask is the real you?

That question was asked to me by a professor in college. Her answer: all of them.

That’s right. The real you is multi-dimensional. There is no one true thing that defines you.

You are a culmination of all of your good traits, of all of your bad traits, of all of your strengths, of all of your weaknesses, and of all of your talents.

Be aware of the many dimensions that create you. All of those elements are a part of you the way that you are right now.

I am sure you have questions.

But what if there is a characteristic about myself, a particular mask that I wear, that I do not like?

If you do not like a trait about yourself, accept the fact that you can change it, and begin to work toward that goal daily. Being aware of that characteristic is the first step to making a change.

But what if it is physical, like my nose or my smile?

Well, nobody is perfect. Even cover models on magazines are highly airbrushed. No one is really that beautiful or that perfect.

Remember, the physical is not nearly as important as who you are on the inside. Let your inner beauty shine brighter than your exterior beauty.

Outer beauty fades; inner beauty has the ability to only get more beautiful if you focus on self-improvement and growth.

Awareness is Key

The different elements that create us are important. We can accept them or we can change them.

What is important is to be aware of our masks, our moods, all of the different aspects of ourselves. The different masks we wear add depth to our personalities.

Yoga is about the expansion of conscious awareness. We can neither change nor accept anything about ourselves unless we first have a conscious awareness of it.

God bless,

~Amber