Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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“I want the blue cup, not the yellow one!” my 6 year-old daughter whined as we sat down to dinner.b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3687.JPG

Knowing a good fight when he saw one, my almost 9 year-old son decided the blue cup was the most important thing that had happened to him that day and clung to it with determination.

As a parent, there were three options for what came next:

1. Let my color-conscious daughter have the blue cup since I know my son doesn’t really care either way.

2. Buy a duplicate set of cups in every color so we can avoid future such fights.

3. Make things harder for everyone (including myself) by trying to teach two thirsty kids a lesson.

“Remember,” I told my daughter in my best Mom voice, “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” 

We learned this expression from one of the kids’ teachers a few years ago, and it’s become a staple in our house. It’s pretty profound stuff - contentment practice for kindergarteners. 

From my “you get what you get” high horse, I like to think of myself as a content person. But contentment is different than the default state of being happy when things are good. Santosha (contentment) is one of the niyamas (personal habits recommended for healthy living) described in yoga philosophy. Far from being a passive state, contentment requires consistent action and is much harder in real life than it looks.

In its truest form, contentment is essentially a mindfulness practice that separates cause from effect. It’s accepting that the external world need not determine my internal state, knowing that it could snow in April, I could become ill or immobilized, and still it’s my duty/privilege to practice being okay or at least present with whatever happens. 

Observing with compassion my daughter’s frustration at such a comparatively small disappointment, I came to realize that I have my own yellow cup situation going on right now. My shoulder and elbow have been a little wonky lately, and I’ve identified a few key movements that just don’t feel good.

“But I WANT to do that shoulder opener!” I complain to my yoga mat, with a persistence not unlike that of a certain 6 year-old someone I know.

As a physically-active person, I’ve experienced my share of injuries but it hasn't made the practice of contentment much easier during times of injury. Yes, I should consider myself fortunate to be healthy 99% of the time, but my inner child can’t help but whine that it’s not fair that my shoulder hurts today. While I initially resisted having to make any changes, I’ve started modifying my yoga practice to accommodate my current limitations. It feels much better physically, although it’s still a significant mental effort to accept having to do it.

I'm upping my contentment practice for when I get old. Sure, my hope is that by keeping up with yoga and meditation, regular exercise, and consistent massage (a self-care formula that has worked wonders for me thus far), I’ll be a vibrant, mobile, and self-sufficient 80 year-old. But there are no guarantees, and whatever kind of 80 year-old I am, I still want to be able to enjoy myself. 

When I look at my 90+ year-old grandmother who must be experiencing pain as a result of how stooped over she is, I’m always amazed that she can still muster a smile and hearty laugh despite her current limitations. Accepting this can't come easily. It’s got to be the result of a lifetime of practice. So if that’s what it takes, I’m in.

And despite the fact that my kids think I’m channeling my old friend Mean Mommy when I deny them their color preference or requests for extra TV time or treats, I’m just getting them started early. I want them to learn to do their best, work hard, be kind, be conscientious, and practice self-care, but then also remember that you get what you get (yellow cups, spring snow, injury, illness), so you may as well not get upset, too.

Throughout the first course of dinner my daughter, not being one to take things at face value, valiantly argued her case for blue. She eventually accepted the insult of yellow, though she did refuse to drink any water for the entire meal out of spite. So obviously, I have more work to do with her in the contentment department.

But who am I kidding? Would I ever choose a wonky shoulder over a healthy one? When blue is on the table, I don’t want that ugly yellow cup either. My hope is that if we both keep practicing contentment, we can learn to drink in with a smile all the yellow the world cares to throw our way.

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Posted by on in Family

Is there such a thing as being too thoughtful? I know this may initially come off as a groan-worthy question along the lines of, 'Can I be too good a person?' But the way I see it, thoughtfulness is less an indication of moral superiority than a worldview that, in some cases, can become a self-sabotaging personality attribute.

I grew up with constant reminders to consider the feelings of others. My mom is an immensely kind and giving person, and one who is frequently described as being thoughtful. Whether it's her offers of help to pick up some new yoga clothes for me while she's at the store ('They're on sale!'), her insistence on helping out those in our family who are too proud to ask for help (that's you, Grandma), or just caring enough to both ask how things are going and to listen to the answer (however long and rambling), my mom embodies thoughtfulness. My mom is that person who thanks you for your thank-you card, remembers to display the vase you made for her when you were eight years old, and offers you the last cookie even if she didn't get a single one.

I'm grateful that my mom gave me the gift of thoughtfulness, although on occasion it can seem more like a curse.

Merriam-Webster defines thoughtfulness as "given to heedful anticipation of the needs and wants of others." In order to anticipate the needs of others, you must be highly attuned to the state of those around you at all times. While this is incredibly helpful in my role as a business owner and a mother, it can be also be hindrance.

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Every personality attribute has a flip side and if left unchecked, thoughtfulness quickly evolves into the habit of putting yourself last in all cases, to your detriment. You know how on the airplane they suggest you put on your own mask first? This is where you get to explore both the good side and the dark side of thoughtfulness (yes, we have been watching Star Wars at our house this past week). Being too attuned to the needs of others makes it seem selfish to figuratively put your own mask on first; by not putting others first you may worry about causing them harm. But, of course, succumbing to the dark side of thoughtfulness means that because you neglected your own needs, those around you will necessarily suffer, too.

The level of self-consciousness that results from constantly imagining what others think of you and your actions is exhausting. If I was out with my kids and they were being loud (just supposing), I'd worry that people might think I was inconsiderate and lacking authority over my children. So I'd find myself scolding the kids loudly when they acted up in public to let people know that I was charge and aware of the disturbances they were causing.

Eventually I realized that my hyper-awareness of other people's perceptions had overtaken me and was controlling my behavior. I had overdone something positive and turned it into a negative. I'd neglected to put on my own mask and was instead gasping and lurching to put a mask on every person in sight. My thoughtfulness had turned to the dark side.
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As I'm wont to do, I've been working it out on the mat. In cases where I really shouldn't be concerned with what others think, I'm practicing not anticipating their thoughts. It has become a variation on the practices of pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses and santosha, contentment. When I'm in a yoga class and the teacher suggests popping up into bakasana, crane/crow pose, but I know I shouldn't because of a lingering bout of tendonitis, my first impulse is: "What will they think if the studio director can't do this basic arm balance?"

But instead of explaining my reasons or worrying about how I will be perceived, I practice withdrawal from my projections of what others will think and contentment with what I can safely do in this moment. It's helped me to become more fully present in my actions without apologizing for them. And though it's been a struggle to trust that I don't need to explain myself or my motivations to the world in every moment, it's a relief when I finally get out of my head and simply act.

The more I practice this on the mat, the easier it gets off the mat. When the kids are loud in public, I now try to talk with them in a way that addresses the root issue instead of my worries of how I will be perceived by annoyed passersby. It takes the pressure off and helps me to be more present with them and their needs, rather than having it be all about me.

My own children, sweet little things that they are, are already thoughtful to the core in all the right ways. I smile when they ask "So, how was your day?" at the dinner table, knowing the have the foundation. My job is to help them cultivate thoughtfulness in a healthy way, to make sure that as they get older they not only ask how my day was, but also do what they need to do to make their own day, their own life, great.

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Posted by on in Health

There’s nothing quite like an injury to put things in perspective. I spent the past week hobbling around, unable to practice much yoga or do even the most basic movements without pain. The hurt came on slowly and without any traumatic cause. At first I was just a little stiff so I struggled to work through it, striving to move at normal capacity. But soon the stiffness turned into a radiating pain that could not be ignored, and for about a week I couldn't find any comfortable position. It's no fun to be injured, but it certainly puts things in perspective.


Normally I go about the busyness of the week forgetting to be grateful for what I have. Small irritations preoccupy me - I sigh when the kids want me to drive yet another race car around the track they built, or grumble when the alarm goes off the morning after a late night work session. It’s only when my health is compromised even the slightest bit that I realize how good I have it. I daydream about what it was like before: Squat down to pick up a stray toy on the floor? No problem! Deadline that requires extensive computer time? Roll up the old ball chair and get to typing. But last week I could take nothing for granted. Sitting was painful, standing was barely tolerable, and lying down felt lousy. What do you do when you’ve grown accustomed to using your body however you want to, whenever you want to, then suddenly your body betrays your expectations?

I taught my regular weekly classes in this state, which was a challenge considering the fact that I couldn’t even sit in a simple cross-legged position. With my own yoga practice severely limited, I decided to focus my classes around the concept of santosha, or contentment. Rather than dwelling on what we don’t have in our lives, or striving to feel something different in our bodies, yoga practice can help us appreciate what we do have, right now. There’s always more we can want – the latest gadget our friends have, or the ability to do some crazy arm balance in yoga class – but the wanting is the only constant. Until we make friends with contentment, there will always be one more thing to want.

I write now from the other side of my injury, still savoring the beauty of being able to again move and practice yoga without a hitch. But soon complacency will creep back in as my memory of the pain fades and I forget what restricted movement felt like. So, my self-assigned homework is to keep sight of the injured perspective on a daily basis for as long as I possibly can: when I sit down comfortably on the floor to play with the kids, I smile; when I press back into child’s pose and feel the ease of that soft forward fold that eluded me last week, I breathe a little more deeply. It’s working so far, but that’s the trick with contentment……if you’re not vigilant, it just fades. Practice, practice, as always.

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