Avoiding Yoga Burnout

Has this ever happened to you? Yoga class is beginning and the instructor gently tells you to set an intention, like she does most classes, but inside you think, “No! I don’t want to set an intention! I’m sick of you and your intentions! Just get on with the class.” Or how about at the end of the class when everyone else is chanting Om, you’re inwardly saying Om Shmom, is this class ever going to end? How about practicing at home, when cleaning the bathroom suddenly seems urgent and more compelling than practicing a few downward dogs.

Welcome to yoga burnout. I’ve definitely had highs and lows in my yoga ‘career’. I’ve had stretches of days when I just couldn’t wait to get on the mat, when every pose seemed filled with energy and stamina and I felt 100% alive. I’d spend 90 minutes on my own practice and maybe go to a studio class, too, enjoying every delicious moment of it and the post-yoga high that went on and on.

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I compare that to other stretches of days when I felt as if I was just going through the motions. My trees were wobbly and my warriors wimpy. I’d feel stiff and clumsy and wonder why I ever took up yoga in the first place. At worst, days or even weeks would go by and I’d never even set foot in the studio.

Some of this, I’ve come to realize, is the natural ebb and flow of life. As I’ve gotten older my needs have changed and I’ve had to adapt my yoga. But there’s also a day-to-day, and even moment-to-moment, changing rhythm. I’ve learned that it’s so important to listen to that rhythm and be in accord with it.

Whether you’re teaching a class or guiding yourself through your own practice, we are in harmony when we respond to the present moment. That might mean that your practice consists of five minutes of savasana, and that’s it. It might mean going to a hot power flow class and burning off excess energy. Whatever it is, ask yourself if this is what will best serve you in this moment.

Here are a few other tricks I’ve had success with in putting the spring back into your yoga step:

  • Try another style of yoga. If you’re an ashtanga person, try restorative. If you like gentle, challenge yourself with vinyasa.
  • Try one of the new yoga hybrid styles, such as hiking yoga, aerial yoga, or hoop yoga.
  • Do another form of physical movement: ride a bike, go for a walk, take a surfing lesson…
  • Check out another studio. Every place has it’s own culture and style.
  • Do something that has nothing to do with yoga, like go to a rock concert or happy hour.
  • If you practice at home, make your yoga space inviting. I like to turn the lights and candles on in my studio first thing in the morning, so the room looks inviting and full of energy.
  • Take stock: what’s going on in your life and body and how can your practice meet you there?
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Is Your Spiritual Practice as Good as Your Dog’s?

In your spiritual practice, can you honestly say that you are 100% present all the time? As you go about your daily life, are you unconditionally loving to everyone you meet? Are you able to forgive easily? These are ideals that most of us strive for in our lives, yet we may only catch glimpses of our goals over the course of a lifetime.

Our pets, on the other hand, seem to have mastered these qualities and practice them without hesitation. Animals can teach us so much about our own true nature, since they have never disconnected from the awareness of themselves as eternal spirits.

Animals are masters of living in the present moment. They don’t worry about tomorrow, nor do they resent what happened yesterday. There is no ego with animals, only being in the now.

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My spiritual teachers, Molly and Gilligan.

I live with two house rabbits, Molly and Gilligan. They are my best friends, my family, and, I’ve come to realize, my spiritual teachers. Molly doesn’t need a glass of wine, I observe, to relax on her rug. Gilligan doesn’t need stimulants to express his joy while running in the yard first thing in the morning. They know who they are and they express themselves without hesitation.

Man is equipped with a mind, which gives him the ability to think, perhaps too much. Many of our abilities and senses, especially the intuition, can be blocked by our thinking. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of our true nature and essence.

Many people who grew up in a situation where they felt unloved find it easier to relate to animals than to other people. They may tend to love their animals more than themselves. It’s easier to be less judgmental of animals than we are of ourselves or others. Yet animals will bring us back to our spirituality and soulfulness ­to help us remember that God loves us just the way we are. In some ways, an animal may be like the parent you never had, letting you know you are worth loving.

I’m reminded of this again and again when Molly and I visit nursing homes for Love on a Leash pet therapy. The reason animals are so effective with people with handicaps, in nursing homes, and with illnesses is because they teach us what we should have known as we were growing up: that we are loved; that we are forgiven; that we are an individualization of God.

Animals help us learn that we are God’s creation. We may do dumb things and act in strange ways but we’ll always be forgiven. In this knowledge we can go on, and keep practicing and rehearsing as we become the person we want to be.

It just goes to show, you can teach an old human new tricks.

Santosha: Making Peace with Reality

I’ve been chasing rainbows again. I felt dissatisfied with my current housing, worried that it costs too much, and spent hours and hours online overwhelming myself with housing options. Apartments, houses, city, country, buy, rent… You know you’ve lost touch with reality when living in a storage unit seems reasonable. I felt discontented with everything, so I sat myself down and started a  list of what’s really important in my housing.

As I added items to my list, I began to realize that I already had a lot of what I thought I yearned for. Sure it would be nice to have a bigger kitchen, or less freeway noise. Maybe what I have doesn’t look exactly like my fantasy, but it certainly meets most of my needs. With this realization, I felt myself relax a little.

I sat quietly and tried to take in the present moment, the present circumstances, and my current environment. I was reminded of the concept of santosha, or contentment, one of the yamas, or ‘restraints’, listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

2.42  From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained. (Santosha anuttamah sukha labhah.)

Santosha comes from within. It’s a sense of freedom from attachment to the wants and desires of this world. When we are filled up with desire it increases our dependence on possessions and the senses. We think that ‘things’, or anything ‘more-better’– a better job, a better relationship, will make us happy. But no matter how things turn out materially, the result ultimately leads to a level of discontentment. You always want more and can never be satisfied. This is particularly true in the West and especially in America, where we’re constantly bombarded with the ‘more-better’ message.

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Contentment is really about accepting life as it is. It’s not about creating perfection. Life can and will throw whatever it wants at you, and ultimately you have little control. Your own measure for santosha is how you respond to the changes in all the circumstances of life.

Yoga is a great venue for exploring this because yoga is skill in action. It requires a balance between the effort you put out and how much you allow or surrender. We don’t have to wait for more growth or a higher experience of yoga, because it will never come. Welcome whatever shows up. It may be a tricky asana, a difficulty at work, or a challenge in your relationship.

I haven’t mastered santosha. I still lust for a big, beautiful kitchen. But I can practice some contentment with the kitchen I have right now. And maybe later, I can release the desire for any sort of kitchen at all. If you release your mind from constantly wanting your situation to be different, you’ll find more ease. This is not to say you can’t change your reality, but just for a moment, see if you can let go of the war with reality. If you do, you’ll be able to think more clearly and be more effective in making a difference.

 

Yoga as Meditation in Motion

I’m moving through my Sun Salutations, inhaling and exhaling with the movement, or so I think, when I can’t remember which leg to step back into lunge. Wait, did I already do this side? Have I already flowed through Upward Dog? How many rounds have I done? My body is in the room, going through the motions of yoga, but my mind is far, far away. How did I get here?images

It’s so easy to get swept away in thoughts and mind chatter. After all, the mind is doing what it does best–analyzing and problem solving and planning. But when we are just going through the motions of yoga without engaging the mind in the process, then we’re not really doing yoga, which at its essence is stilling the fluctuations of the mind.

When I find myself getting disconnected from the present moment, I like to slow it down. Way down. I’ll start moving through the postures as if in slow motion. Then when I get into the full expression, I take several breaths. I take a few moments to really experience the pose, to feel the directional flow of energy and my connection to the earth. This gives my mind something to do. Then with my mind fully intent on the next step, I breathe and move into the next posture.

Yoga practiced in such a way can be like a meditation in motion. Use the breath as your anchor, moving consciously as you inhale and exhale. The breath can be your reminder to the brain to pay attention to what’s happening right now. Take as many breaths as you need to move in a way that allows you to stay connected to the present movement.

Soon you’ll be able to take this practice off the yoga mat and into the world. We’ve all found ourselves driving along without realizing how we got there, or showering on auto pilot while the mind works overtime. You can apply the same “meditation in motion” principles to every day tasks.

Use the breath to engage in the present moment, and focus the mind on the task at hand.  When you find your mind wandering off into other lands, gently invite it back with kindness, the way you would with a beloved pet. With practice, you’ll be able to move through all of life with more presence and consciousness.

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