I got up early on a Saturday morning one February and changed my life forever. I boarded the number 2 train at Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and emerged in the West Village. 13th Street was previously unknown territory for me, but from that day forward, I’d make a weekly pilgrimage to Integral Yoga Institute. My yoga practice is a sacred exploration that I have continued, expanded and deepened for over two decades and in countless studios on four continents.
As much as yoga is woven into every aspect of my life, I still wonder at the ways in which it surprises me. Like today.
Skillful, attentive movement guided by breath lifted the heavy, murky mood into which I entered this morning. Regret dispersed like dandelion seeds in the wind of Presence. Shame melted in the light of Love. Fear lost its bite with a caress from Gratefulness.
Yogic postures are beautiful, invigorating, soothing. In harmony with conscious breathing, they create space, strength and flexibility. My good, strong body allows me to know many of the poses in the yoga repertoire. But this is not why I come.
I come because yoga is a practice of deep personal inquiry. I come so that I might know more fully what it is to be human, to tease out the distinct feelings of a murky mood. I come to know and name the full spectrum of human emotions, to deny nothing, to observe the dance between darkness and light, expansion and contraction, going in and shining out. I come because I am a pilgrim of Devotion, and the edges of my mat are not the end of anything. They mark the beginning of the infinite and endless path of expression for my full radiance.
As my first yoga class came to a close, I had a new and unmistakable feeling. I was 90 minutes into a journey that would endure throughout my life, but at that moment, I had no sense for that future. I knew only the immediate and magic sensation that surrounded me. It was as if I were wrapped up in the softest silk.
In time I would learn the nuances and layers of that feeling. But in the shala of Integral Yoga Institute that Saturday, the only word I could assign to it was, Yes! A resonant affirmation that has echoed over the years, expanding my heart, focusing my mind, strengthening my body, ever opening me to the myriad possibilities of this one good life.
To all my yoga teachers and students, to the sages and wisdom keepers, to my own courageous heart, to the practice of yoga as a celebration of life, I humbly and deeply bow.
What a treat to talk with Dr. Joel Ying about Authentic Communications and how applying its principles can bring more peace and joy to our relationships at the holidays and throughout the year.
You can check out our interview here. Enjoy!
Photo Credit: Jennifer Wasmer
Someone who I loved very much told me this when she died: “Be merciful with yourself.”
Those words were burned onto my heart, but their wisdom can still be hard for me to practice.
When I talk to my friends and family, I can see that I’m not at all alone in suffering a certain lack of self-compassion. A lot of people are pretty tough on themselves.
It seems, though, that we can learn to be kinder to ourselves, more forgiving of ourselves, and that doing so can be a factor in improving both physical and emotional health.
Something I’ve been doing lately is embracing the notion of “enough.”
I'm an achiever at heart, and we Americans are pretty much professional doers. What happens when I just allow things to be as they are -- to change nothing? Or when I acknowledge that I’ve already exerted my effort for something, even if the result isn’t what I expected (or maybe wanted)?
In these moments, I’ve found that a certain helplessness arises. It might even be tinged with grief. That’s pretty uncomfortable.
But as I breathe and allow myself to drop into “enoughness,” peace inevitably follows.
Self-compassion and the peace it can cultivate is a good place for us to look as we seek to step into courageous conversations with our loved ones, friends and colleagues. It might even help us mend the fissures in our extended human family.
What does self-compassion look like for you?
Photo Credit: Lannis Waters / Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left a path of destruction in their wakes. Lives, homes, ways of living and ways of life have been lost, ruined, forever changed,
I am deeply grateful that the worst-case scenarios – including apocalyptic storm surges and significantly higher death tolls from Irma – never materialized. And I am so very aware of the millions of people mourning, and facing recovery and rebuilding of homes and lives – efforts that could last years.
My 50th birthday fell on Sept. 11th, a day after Irma hit Florida, and, of course, the day of the terror attack on the U.S. in 2001.
Since the world changed in 2001, and now with the wrath of Irma in 2017, I attempt to hold 9/11 in a greater embrace of shadow and light. We will never forget these tragedies, and – at least for me – Sept. 11th will always be a day of joy and gratitude, too.
There is room in our hearts to hold both “beauty and terror,” as the German poet Rilke put it.
One way to build that heart capacity is through service.
Service offers us a chance to cultivate a more expansive spirit of inclusiveness, solidarity, connection and healing by giving of ourselves to each other. We can sow peace and deepen the common bonds of humanity by focusing on Love.
And one way to be of service to those in immediate need to is to GIVE.
If you are on the ground in Texas, Florida or the Caribbean, and you are giving your time, energy, skills, I humbly and deeply thank you.
If you are further away and are looking for some way to be of service, please consider joining #GIVING50, an endeavor to raise awareness and money for a world in need.
Through this project I'm inviting people near and far to give any amount of money to any charity or person in need. The only stipulation is that the amount of money should have the number "50" in it – a small nod to my 50th birthday.
Any time during the month of September, please join #GIVING50.
Give anything from 50 cents to 50,000 dollars, euros or pounds. The amount is irrelevant. The important element is participation.
After you've made your donation, please let me know, by email or social media, using the hashtag #GIVING50. There's no need to include the amount of your gift – just let me know you're in.
With deep gratitude and much LOVE.
My friend Kele sent me this text last week: “I taught 6 a.m. yoga to a group of women every day this week. At the end of each class, there was a round of applause. So awkward...”
Kele is a master yoga teacher and a yoga therapist. When you finish one of her classes, you feel like the planets have aligned and the seas have parted and all kinds of inner magic has taken place. She opens the door for her students to take fantastic adventures into themselves. She holds a sign with the words “This Way” and an arrow pointing down the rabbit hole.
So why would her students feel the need to clap at the end of class? Kele isn’t offering a performance – or an aerobics class. She’s guiding her students through an inquiry into ever-deeper layers of being. Why the need to whoop it up after a sweet savasana and complete nervous system chill-out?
I know some teachers who perform in front of their classes. A guy at the local power yoga studio comes to mind. His shtick is more about controlling the class than leading his students’ experiences. And he does appear to revel in applause and adulation.
After one of his athletic and super-sweaty classes, I asked this teacher about all that clapping.
He said, “We clap because we don’t celebrate enough in this culture.”
I almost choked on my shanti.
If there’s something we do excessively well in the US of A, it’s celebrate. I’ve done a fair share of traveling around the planet, and I have yet to meet a culture in which celebration is more central than right here at home.
I’m not talking about rituals and cultural festivals and national holidays. I’m talking about partying like it’s 1999 on any given Tuesday night, giving medals to every kid in Kindergarten, and raising a glass to just about anything that glimmers in the light of “the good life.” That kind of celebrating has been perfected by us Americans.
To be clear, I love celebrating. Even as I write this, I’m planning, not one, but two birthday parties for myself. Still, I’m cautious about merry-making as a default way of being. Life is not one-dimensional, and its pains, failures and fear can never be hidden by another glass of wine, piece of chocolate cake or round of applause.
Yoga is a spiritual exploration. As such, we don’t need excuses, explanations or cover-ups for the unusual physical, and even emotional, sensations that we encounter in our practice. Because yoga invites us to places where we have never previously ventured, it stokes a certain discomfort. Committing to a regular yoga practice requires the courage to stay in the fire with these new and often-strange feelings, to tolerate them and even venture beyond them. After all, this is how we move forward on the path of yoga and of life.
My hope is that the ever-increasing numbers of us who come to our mats with some regularity have a taste of that, and a growing awareness that yoga offers us something really special. In yoga as in few other places in 21st century America, we can practice new ways of being, of showing up, of knowing ourselves, of taking full responsibility for and joy in our presence.
I don’t think applause after yoga is an expression of joy or even, actually, of celebration. It looks to me like a nervous cultural habit that dulls the impact of the very special thing that has just opened, the myriad new possibilities that are unfolding in the core of your being precisely because you chose to breathe and move and sync yourself up with something much bigger than yourself. That casual clapping is a way of jumping off the path of transformation and right back into the main stream.
There is a rich gift in containing the energy of yoga – and not just for you. After the final relaxation of savasana, the nervous system is soothed and quieted. This state of deep peace – which the world so desperately needs right now – can weave into your being (and doing) over time. But when we enthusiastically slap our palms together and let out a little “woohoo,” we rend the fabric of that tranquility, and it unravels right there in the studio.
So, my beloved yogis and yoginis, I encourage you to clap. Clap at your child's play. Clap at your favorite band’s rousing encore. Clap at any sports event and at both of my birthday parties. But if you’re a yoga-class clapper, I implore you to consider how you, your practice, your family, your community, and your planet, might benefit if you restrain from applauding after your Namaste.
Yoga is about transformation. By embracing silence we can dare to change those last minutes of class from a culturally conditioned pseudo-celebration into a powerful container of joy-filled peace that nurtures our hearts and lives well beyond the yoga mat.
Detective Joe Friday from "Dragnet" knew his facts. Photo Credit: CBS
When I was growing up in the 70s, Detective Joe Friday’s refrain on “Dragnet” felt reassuring. “Just the facts…” There was a steadfastness and wholeheartedness in his words, and it gave me some kind of peace to know that he would be discerning when collecting information from his witnesses. It was the facts, ma’am, that would enable him to solve the mystery of the moment.
I felt a strong twinge of nostalgia and longing for Joe Friday when Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, recently introduced the world to the notion of “alternative facts.” This poor disguise for “opinions” is exactly what Joe was looking out for when talking to his witnesses. He was collecting data, measurements, information about the actual events of the incident, and he knew well when the story veered off onto opinions punctuated by imaginative adjectives, colorful hyperbole, and a personal point of view.
Facts create structure. They are measurable and repeatable. They gave Joe Friday a solid place from which to begin his investigations. They offer all of us a common foundation from which we can strive to foster trust in our relationships. They enable us to coordinate effectively and make decisions that are grounded in a more universal reality.
It is, of course, also true that we may find common ground in our personal opinions, but that agreement is likely to be familial, tribal, or organizational. It is certainly not unanimous in the greatest sense of the word.
When opinions, judgments, or points of view are confused with facts, life is bound to get messy. This is when we can no longer see clearly where universal truth ends and personal truth begins. Opinions are subjective and variable. They are not sturdy or steadfast. They shift and bend. They make a wobbly foundation for trust, a keystone in all of our relationships – with partners, friends, colleagues, clients or the general public.
Imagine if Joe Friday were to have led an investigation based on the colorful stories some of his witnesses provided. By failing to build a case based on the facts, he might have wasted department time, money and resources, deceived his colleagues, and broken trust with the community he pledged to “Protect and Serve.” Behavior like that would have quickly and completely eroded Joe’s seemingly-indelible integrity, a characteristic that was central to the role, and a virtue that he beamed to all of us "Dragnet" viewers week after week.
Our points of view, stories and opinions are important. They help us make sense of the world and find our place in it. But they are not facts. Concretizing an individual point of view as if it were a measurable statistic or universal fact only leads to confusion and crisis. This is a minor risk for the hero of a mid-20th century crime drama, but it is of vital importance in our daily lives and relationships, and even more when the person or group behind the opinion wields the power of the White House.
Building a capacity to distinguish between facts and opinions is a core tenet of Authentic Communications, a methodology that invites teams and individuals to listen with empathy, cultivate trust, and communicate from the heart in order to move in life with integrity, power and connection.
Join Jennifer for an Authentic Communications workshop in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 10 a.m. Register: www.zunray.com
If you're breathing (and I believe you are), you have something to learn from ancient yogic wisdom about how to better focus on your life, your work, your world.
For the yogic sages, the equivalent of a busy, multi-tasking, e-mailing, Facebooking, dashing-to-meetings, late-to-pick-up-the-kids, where-are-my-car-keys, no-time-to-stop brain (sound familiar?) was known as a "monkey mind."
Here's what I mean: Imagine a tree. That's your mind. Imagine 1,000 monkeys. Those beasts are all your thoughts and distractions. Imagine the 1,000 monkeys are in the tree doing all their monkey stuff (like jumping and swinging, screeching and eating). That's your monkey mind. Or mine. Or your neighbor's (unless your neighbor is fully enlightened). We all have monkeys in our tree.
So, now that you have an image of all your mind's distracting thoughts: Take a nice, deep breath.
Then, check back with your mind. Are the monkeys still there?
I'm sure the answer is "yes" - but do they seem even a little bit less active? If so, it's because your breath has triggered the calming effect of your parasympathetic nervous system and has opened a doorway to a clearer mind.
The parasympathetic nervous system helps slow the heart rate and allows the blood vessels to widen, improving blood flow throughout the body.* Flooding the body with a fresh blood supply relieves stress. Ancient yogis may not have had the physiology figured out, but they knew this phenomenal power of the breath.
Consciously breathing in the midst of your frantic day can slow your heart rate, improve your blood flow, and deliver a dose of calm that frees you to focus on the task at hand. Becoming more aware of your breath through meditation, yoga or specific breathing practices can cultivate a calmer, more focused mind. But you can call on the parasympathetic nervous system to do its stuff any time you remember to breathe. I even have a sign at my desk that says 'Breathe.' Any time I see it, I do just that, and my monkeys simmer down a bit, and I just feel better.
I saw a graph recently about the exponential rate at which information will be created over time - and it's not slowing down. If you think your monkey mind is busy now, wait a few years. Learning to draw on the ubiquitous and ever-powerful gift of your breath will be a tremendous asset as you seek to tame the increasing number of monkeys in your tree.
* The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system together make up the automatic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our "fight or flight" responses and increases the heart rate to prepare the body for action. Overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is a cause of stress.
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communications, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.