Can we really see clearly?

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Living in San Francisco, also means living in an incredible city with the big red and impressive Golden Gate bridge in our backyard. When you don’t live in this city (or country) you often don’t realize that the city and the bridge are often covered in fog, which leads to a beautiful metaphor for this blog.

When the sun shines in the city, the Golden Gate Bridge shines bright and is a beautiful site in the city, it looks magical, connected the city to the impressive Marin Headlands. However, a lot of days, the bridge is covered in fog and is nowhere to be found in the skyline of the city.

When you live in the city you know where to look for the bridge, even if the thick layer of fog makes it impossible to see. You know that you can cross it and get over safely. But if you have never seen it, it almost seems like the bridge isn’t there. And even when you come close, you can’t see the full bridge, but only parts of it – the parts close to you.

The bridge can be a metaphor for the Self, because often the Self is covered in a layer of fog. We know it is there, we most often know where to look for it, but it can be really unclear. And even when we come close to the Self, we cannot always see the complete road leading from one side to the other.

Yoga is a practice where we turn inside and we try to find a deeper connection with the Self, with our own shiny and strong Golden Gate bridge – which I will continue to refer to as your inner diamond.

The more we focus on our diamond, the more we want to clean it and the deeper the connection we make. However, the more we focus on it, the more we realize that life and living is messy, so the cleaning is an endless job. There will always be dust, there will always be a veil of dirt, and there will always be splatters.

We can see the diamond as our internal world and the splatters as the external world. It is the relationship between the internal and the external that makes it hard to keep our diamond clean. The cleaning process focuses on what goes in and what goes out. The stuff that sticks is what clouds the mind.

We often get trapped in cleaning our external environment, because it creates that feeling of space in the mind, clarity. And exactly this is the moment when we have to turn inside and start doing the dirty work. The clearer we get about ourselves, the more dirt and disgust comes up about ourselves.

And however much work we do, there is no promise you are going to be perfect. You need to recognize where behaviours come from, you need to work on the gunk that is covering your diamond. You cannot beat yourself up over what is being presented to you, this is a process without judgment, this is a process of acceptance, this is a process of finding your one true love: the Self.

So can we really see clearly? Who knows, but the clearer we see, the more space we will experience. The clearer we see, the calmer and more focused the mind will be. The clearer we see, the more content we can be with where we are and who we are, because we are able to make decision based on deeper layers of our self and in connection to the Self.

So polish that diamond, put in the work, un-dust yourself, and step in the light. Let your diamond shine as bright as it can be!

The power of having a choice

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My life lately has really been upside down. So many things have changed, so many things happened. And it shook me up. Big time.

When life takes turns you did not expect, we can become overwhelmed not being able to see clear. And especially when we are overwhelmed with the circumstances we often ‘forget’ that we have choices. Because it seems like this circumstance has taken over our life and there is only one way to deal with it: your default way.

One of the most powerful things in the past few months to me was the reminder that we do have choices. Often we cannot change the circumstances. If we are in traffic to our work everyday, we cannot change the traffic. If the train runs late, we cannot make it arrive earlier. If your friend cancels for dinner, you cannot make him un-cancel. But we do have a choice in how we deal with things.

You can choose how much it will affect your life.

You can choose to give up or you can choose to keep on going.

You can choose to focus on being the victim or you can try to see what you can learn from this circumstance you are in.

You can choose to deal with it alone or you can choose to get help from friends/family/therapist

There are so many choices you can make, but still we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. We allow ourselves to dwell in what is in front of us. We choose to not have a choice. We choose to not deal with the circumstances but complain instead. We choose to not accept. We choose to take medications. ALL choices we make, without us even realizing we do so.

I am most definitely to blame in this too. I noticed I did it quite often. But once I rediscovered the power of choice, that’s when I was able to turn my life back around. I was able to flip the switch, feel powerful, strong, knowing that I was in charge. And even though I did not have control over what was happening in the external side of my life, I did have control over the internal side of my life.

So this blog is just a simple reminder to all of you out there. YOU are in charge of your INTERNAL world. You have CHOICES. You can choose to be STRONG, you can choose to be POSITIVE. You can choose to LOVE. You can choose to LEARN.

Goalsetting and yoga

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We live in a goal oriented world, one where we are constantly working towards something. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, their goals and their achievements. Sometimes that makes us feel good and other times it makes us feel absolutely shit. It’s our ego that gets inflated or our ego that gets hurt.

So what do we say in yoga about setting goals and achieving them? The most important lesson comes from the Bhagavad Gita.

“You have a right to the work alone, not to its fruits” – Bhagavad Gita 2.47

The sentence goes on by saying “You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind”.

Since the future is unknown, we don’t know what the outcome will be, we can only guess for it. When we set goals and we are merely focused on achieving that goal, without allowing it to be whatever it will be, we set ourselves up for disappointment, failure and suffering.

So what does this really mean? Let me explain this with a story:

I’ve planted an apple tree in my garden, because I would love to have apples that I have grown myself. I prefer my apples to be red and yellow, juicy and a little sweet. I did my research to find the perfect kind of tree and so with the upmost care I’ve planted it. In the next couple of months I’ve taken care of the tree, by watering it, by changing the soil, by protecting it from the wind, the hail storms, the drought, the termites, etc. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I did my work.

One spring morning I wake up and there are apples on my tree. I am beyond excited, jump out of my bed, run outside and admire dozens of red yellow apples.

I pick a couple of them and take them inside. Before I a take a bite, I remember how I wanted them to taste, but I also realize that it might be very different. And so to not get disappointed or overly proud I tell myself the following:

  • The taste of the apple can be what I wanted, it can be different but equally good, it can be better or it can be worse.
  • Whatever it will be, I’ve put in the work every day
  • I’ve tried to protect it from external factors caused by nature, but I am not sure what the effects have been.
  • The soil I used was the best I could find, but the weather conditions in my region weren’t the perfect ones for this apple tree.

All we can do is put in the work in the moment. We can set a goal for ourselves and take the steps necessary towards that goal, but we should let go of the outcome. Which is easier said then done, right?

How is it possible to do something you care about without feeling attached to the result?

When you do the work for the sake of the work itself, instead of doing it for that one desired outcome, you are less likely to become disappointed if things didn’t go the way you had planned or hoped. You will suffer less from stress and anxiety about the outcome and are able to accept the outcome, whatever it will be.

When you get too caught up in the successes or failures, you trigger the negative side of your ego. You can become so goal oriented that you forget to maintain the integrity of the task. Or, you can become scared, paralyzed, freaked-out which leads to you making bad decisions or no decisions at all.

Detaching yourself from the fruits of your work, is detaching yourself from your ego. You are detaching yourself from your ego’s need to claim your successes or to the feeling of defeat or fear of failure.
Obviously this isn’t an easy task, we all get caught up in it and it is not something we learn overnight. We need to work for it; we need to create the awareness. And that work is done over a lifetime, week by week, day by day, hour by hour.

In the end we have to come to an understanding that you have to do what you love and love what you do. It is liberating, because there is space to be genuine. And if you can detach from the desired results, people will notice this and admire you for whatever the outcome of your work will be. Because every successful person has faced failure, but they have learned that failure is not something to be scared of, it is a way for us to learn, a way for us to move forward, it is simply another outcome of the work we have done.

 

 

A date with yourself

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I have been falling in love. Falling in love with the idea of a date with yourself. Let me explain why.

A date with yourself is a moment where you will focus solely on your own needs, you take the time to listen, you are understanding and nurturing.

When I started thinking about this, I realized that I hardly ever do this for myself. How often do you take the time to listen to what you need? How often do you allow yourself the time to deal with everything that has come your way? How often do you make time to dig inside and figure out bigger questions in life?

In the world we live in, things are thrown at us constantly, via the internet, television, our phones, our surrounding, by the need to constantly be connected.

Connected to the cloud and other people, but not to ourselves.

Nowadays when you look around, anywhere really – restaurants, bars, bus stops, yoga schools, stores, in the street, etc. – whenever someone is alone they immediately grab their phones.

  • Your phone is there to connect to others, so you don’t feel alone.
  • Your phone is there to entertain you, so you don’t get bored.
  • Your phone is there to protect you, so you don’t have to interact with strangers.
  • Your phone is there, so you ARE distracted.

As a yoga teacher, I repeatedly remind my students of connecting to the breath, connecting to what happens in the body. These reminders bring you in the moment, it helps you to be where you are without too many distractions. So in a way, yoga is a date with yourself. It is a set time to take care of your mind, your body and your spirit.

To me yoga is the perfect tool to get out of my mind and into my body. It is a perfect way to ground myself and see where I am at. I guess that everyone who practices yoga also has the experience that the mind doesn’t silence, but keeps on throwing things at you. Often useless stuff. So I started experimenting with bringing in themes – things we deal with in daily life – and move with my breath to explore how that makes me feel and what comes up.

A practice that has helped me understand myself better, I am able to make sense out of the things I deal with in daily life. Is it easy? No! Am I confused about what comes up? Most certainly! But I have also noticed that I can connect to how it makes me feel and I have learned to accept whatever feeling comes up. Happy, angry, frustrating – it is all there.

If you want to practice this on your own, work with a concept of something you work through.

  • Start your practice in a seated meditation and speak your theme out loud.
  • Take at least a minute to sit with it. Arrive on your mat, arrive with your breath, arrive in your body.
  • Start your practice and keep reminding yourself about the theme.
  • Explore how it makes you feel. And what makes you feel that way.
  • Don’t judge yourself. Be constructive in your feedback and loving in the communication with yourself.
  • End with a seated meditation and take at least 10 deep breaths in and out.
  • Additional: free write for (minimal)10 mins. Anything that comes up concerning your theme.

The time on your mat, the time you spend getting to know yourself is invaluable. It’s a date with yourself. A date where you want to get to know the other person, you ask questions, you have fun, you don’t judge, you are in the moment, you are engaging, funny, serious and loving. That’s why I have fallen in love with it. Because I am falling in love with me.

The balancing act

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Finding balance in your life, in your mind, in your breath, in your personality, in your being – it seems to be something we all want. To me, it also sometimes seem like an utopia. When I find balance in part, I tend to lose it somewhere else. When I put in the work to balance one part of my being, I lose the time and effort in the other one.

However, I also believe it is possible!

Balance is not something you can find, it is something you create” – Jana Kingsford

In your life you will always go through highs and lows. It is inevitable. We cannot control the outside world, we cannot control the actions of others and therefore we will have periods of suffering throughout our lives. It is however the balance and connection inside the Self that will determine how off balance you get. And to understand when we are in balance we have to learn where that point is.

Don’t avoid extremes, and don’t choose any one extreme. Remain available to both the polarities – that is the art, the secret of balancing” – Rajneesh.

When we are kids we are constantly exploring our boundaries. We are figuring out our world by falling and standing up, by testing the boundaries of our parents and by making mistakes. The older we get the more consolidated and fixed our ideas, thoughts and ways of being seem to be. However, the search for balance inside continues. Over time we change and we constantly try to figure out who we really are. We dig into our past to figure out why certain highs and lows have impacted our lives, so that we can make sense of where we are now. So that we can figure out where our balance is.

In yoga we have a concept that talks about this search for balance, which is called Sthira Suhka Asanam (Yoga Sutra 2.46)

  • Sthira arises from the root stha, which means “to stand, to be firm, to take a stand.” It translates as steadiness, awareness, stable and firm.
  • Sukha arises from the root words su (good) and kha (space), so giving it the meaning “good space.” It translates as comfort, ease, pleasure, lightness.
  • Asana is translated as posture, attitude (mental, emotional, physical), physical exercise and seated posture.

So when we translate that ‘Sthira Suhka Asanam’ means the posture is firm/steady/stable AND comfortable/ light/ at ease.

So in our practice we look to be steady and stable, while light and at ease. We are looking to be rooted and strong, while being joyful, easy and gentle. The breath is our guidance in this process, by following how it changes with each pose we can get a better understanding of the impact a pose has on us. By working on keeping the breath and the posture stable, means you are in complete focus, you are in the moment and because of that the mind is still. The mind is present.

When we learn these qualities on the mat, by focusing on the stability of the mind and the steadiness of our breath, we can take the lessons learned with us off the mat and apply it in our daily life. Being aware of when you are in a high or low, will give you insight in what you need to develop more in your life. It is a first step towards a healthy balance, and we keep on practicing until we are able to keep the balance in all parts of our life, all the time.

Is yoga for everybody?

 

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Back in the day, way way back in the day, yoga was only for a few, and only for men. It was a sacred practice and mostly practiced in complete solitude & isolation.

Times have changed. Yoga is now a common good and belongs to everyone and anyone. Yoga nowadays comes in so many forms and styles that almost everyone will be able to find a style that suits their personal needs.

And even though not every yogi will agree with me that it’s OK to adapt this ‘sacred practice’, I believe that it is amazing that we can bring yoga to everyone. We are in it together! In one way or another.

One of the main reasons why I love to teach BoxingYoga is because I am able to bring yoga into a group for whom stretching is far from the list of priorities, even though all fighters know they have to. Coming to a yoga school is intimidating, because they feel they are too bulky, not flexible enough or are turned off by the ‘wishy washy’ music / talk.

The great thing with all these different styles is that eventually we all work towards the same goals. Ultimate bliss, a connection with the Self and less suffering in our lives. So does it really matter how you get there? Does it matter if you are able to connect with the Self via a sweaty class or one where you are chanting? Does it matter if you start with philosophy or if that might become part of your practice later? As long as we are able to create a steady and stable breath, a calm heartbeat and a quiet mind, we are working towards our own liberation.

Some days I love a strong intense work-out, other days my body is craving something slower, something to restore. Some days I want a straightforward physical class, on other days I’m looking for deeper meaning and philosophy. Our bodies and needs are not the same, every day is different, every time when we step onto the mat is different. As long as we can understand that, all that we need to do, and all that is asked, is to show up, do the work and be honest to yourself about what you can and cannot do.

Enjoy your practice! Because YES, yoga is for you and for everyone!

6 reasons to do early morning yoga

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When I started my journey in yoga, I was not an early bird at all, and definitely wouldn’t go to a gym or yoga class before the work day started. No, I was a night owl, going to parties and sleeping in.

Oh how my life has changed, through yoga! My alarm now goes every day somewhere between 4.45am and 5.45am, so I can teach yoga early in the morning. And while doing that, I noticed how I started loving the morning and how I appreciate this early practice more and more.

So let me share with you why I think an early morning yoga routine is awesome!

  1. Sets the tone for the day

Starting the day off with meditation, stretches, movement and focus on the breath. What do you think will happen? Exactly! It will create a calm and stable state of mind. One that will help you through all that will be thrown in your direction, at work, in your family, in traffic, etc.

Also, starting the day with taking care of yourself will make you more aware of staying healthy. People tend to eat healthier and allow themselves a necessary break.

All of this leads to less stress, a healthier body and a happier live.

  1. Sets a healthy routine

Creating a routine in life is always difficult. Yes, we all have routines that are forced upon us, like going to work everyday. But setting up a routine for yourself and keeping it, is something a lot of people struggle with.

An early morning routine is easier to keep to. You are less likely to be distracted by last-minute diner parties, needs of kids, partners, work and friends. It is an easier time of day to set aside some time for yourself.

And on top of that, it will help you create a steadier sleeping routine. The better you get at waking up around the same time every day, the more energy you will have throughout the day. So building a steady sleeping routine is a great added bonus!

  1. Who needs coffee?

Starting your day with movement, meditation and breathing will create a lot of energy and get your mind and body started in a way that makes coffee not (as) necessary anymore. For lots of people coffee is part of the routine, and if you are looking into breaking that habit or drinking less coffee, yoga might help you on that quest. The energy created in your body through the movement, and the clarity in the mind through breathing can create a similar effect as coffee. So give it a try and see for yourself!

  1. Eat more, less guilt

Who doesn’t want to eat more and not feel guilty about it? I know I do!! Doing sports and yoga in the morning will increase your metabolism and burn away what you eat afterwards. The effects of an early morning yoga practice are working all day.

It is obviously not an excuse to over-eat and indulge in salty, sugary and fatty products. But we can allow ourselves to eat a little more and have that sinful piece of cake without feeling guilty.

  1. You just feel amazing, the whole damn day

When I start my day with yoga, all that happens in that day, my reaction often is: wow, and I already did yoga today.

Some days good things happen and the joy of that practice in the morning is carried out through the entire day. We feel amazing, strong, open and energized. People see, people compliment you, just because you shine.

And then other days, they are shitty or even beyond that. You have to deal with hard, difficult and challenging things. The peace and quiet we have created in our mind in the morning, will give us a buffer to think clearer. It will helps us to create perspective on what is happening. And on top of that you can tell yourself: at least I took care of me this morning, I felt great when I came off my mat, and nobody is able to take that away from me.

  1. Body is less stiff, the mind is more calm

This last one is not necessarily a benefit, it is more a given. What I LOVE about morning practice are a couple of things:

  1. I always struggle to get up for it and I ALWAYS feel better and happy that I did.
  2. The mind is calmer in the morning, it is not up to speed yet, so we can find a deeper connection inside, with the Self.
  3. While the mind is more still, the body isn’t as open and flexible as at night. You can frustrate yourself over the fact that the poses your body is creating aren’t as ‘advanced’ or deep as they normally are. You can also see it as a great way to find these deeper layers in the body – the layers that you have to wake up in order to find a deeper stretch or the necessary strength. It becomes a game of the ego vs being humble, giving in and allowing yourself to be where you are.

So yes, I am a true advocate for early morning yoga. Does that mean that I never practice at night? Of course not! I love to practice any time of day. But the routine a morning practice gives me, the feeling it creates and the effect it has on my entire day are 100% worth the early rise.

Yoga for lower back pain

Yoga for lower back

Back pain, and in particular lower back pain, is something I come across a lot as a yoga teacher. Lower back pain starts below the ribcage, in the lumbar section of our spine. The great thing about lower back pain is that it often gets better on its own. But it is proven that yoga can help and speed up this process.

Lower back pain can have several causes:

  • Heavy lifting, pulling or doing something that twists your spine.
  • Doing a work-out that was too intense (especially at the gym or playing golf).
  • Sitting at a desk all day (especially when your chair is uncomfortable and doesn’t support your back).
  • A heavy tote bag, briefcase, backpack.
  • A slouching posture, when the shoulders slouch forward the lumbar spine starts rounding and loses its natural curve.

All these lower back issues can be around the muscles, but can also cause sciatica and herniated discs. Both are extremely painful and have to be worked with a lot of caution; careful movements and consciousness of what is going on in the body are key.

People who are at risk are generally over 30 and either have a job where they have to lift a lot, or sit behind a computer for extended periods, they have an inactive lifestyle or are overweight.

The 5 lumbar vertebrae’s are able to do 4 different movements:

  • Flexion (60%) – forward fold
  • Extension (35%) – backward bend
  • Lateral (20%) – sideward bend
  • Axial (5%) – twist

No other part of the spine is able to do a larger forward fold than this low part of the spine. That’s why we so easily can hurt the lower back when we are carrying heavy stuff. It is also the part where our secondary curve, named lordosis, is. When we sit all day, we decrease the curve by bringing our tailbone in and under the body. This causes tension and pain over time.

The 9 poses in the pictures will help you relief tension in the lower back. You can weave them into a sequence or use them as separate poses. If you are suffering from lower back pain, check to see which ones work best for you. Try it out, maybe you can even create variations of the pose, in order to get a bigger relief.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.  Stay in a pose for at least 3 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

For further instructions of the poses, see below:

Picture 1: Marjaryasana / Bitilasana
Cat/cow pose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.

Picture 2: Malasana
Squat pose. Step your feet wider apart, at maximum as wide apart as the mat. Turn your feet out slightly. Separate your thighs wider than the torso and bring the hips down. Hugs yourself in between the legs. Keep your heels on the floor, or if necessary, roll up the mat under your feet. Press your elbows against your inner knees and bring the palms together in front of your chest. Hold it for a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 3: Purvottanasana
Straight bridge. Sit down on the floor. Legs are fully on the mat and feet are hips distance apart. Place your hands on the mat, fingers pointing towards your feet. Your hands are straight under your shoulders (so next to your body). The hands are placed just behind the hips and thus behind your body. Inhale, push your hips up keep the legs straight. Feet stay fully on the mat, while you push your hips up as high as possible. It helps to squeeze your gluteus together. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 4: Salabhasana
Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.

Picture 5: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 6: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 7: Utthita Trikonasana
Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg, so both legs are straight. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 8: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
One-legged king pigeon pose. Come to a downward facing dog pose (picture 7). Bring your right leg up and bring it forward. Right knee goes to your right wrist. Your foot goes as close to your left wrist as possible. Your hips need to be open to do this, so you might want to walk your foot closer to your body. Place your hands next to your hips. Breathe into your chest and stay up straight. A possible next step is to bring your body forward on an exhale. Make a diamond of your hands (hands are on the mat) and place your forehead in the diamond space of your hands. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 9: Reclining twist
Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

Why should you be in the now?

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There is so much talk about being in the present moment that it can make you feel that you are doing something wrong when you are not in the now. At least, that is how it makes me feel. Because, let’s be honest, how often are you really fully engaged in the present moment? How often can we say that our minds were not off to some other place?

This week I was in a class of one of my favorite teachers in San Francisco and he changed my perspective by simply saying that you shouldn’t search for constantly being in the now, but focus on realizing when you are not. When you become aware of when you are not in the now, it gives you an opportunity to return, be aware of where you are, how you feel and connect to what is.

I remember when I started meditating and doing yoga, that all that talk about being in the present moment seemed so exaggerated. Why can you not be day dreaming? What is wrong with reliving parts of your past through memory? And what is wrong with envisioning the future? All of that helps you to grow, right? It helps you to have a purpose. It helps you to learn from mistakes.

How I look at it now, is that there is nothing wrong with envisioning your future or learning from the past. What I do believe is that hanging around constantly in either one of those planes will keep you from enjoying the moment you are in.

When I was younger my mum and dad would take me to this place called ‘de Zaanse Schans’, a very typical Dutch village with windmills, a place where they made cheese and mustard. I remember going there and it was always packed with tourists. One time I was there with my other (blonde) friends and a group of Chinese people wanted to take a picture with us. It went on for 15 minutes, one picture after the other. They did not communicate with us, in any kind of way, they just stood there. And I remember me stepping away from the picture and saying to my mum: why are they doing this? Why do they want to be in the picture with us while they don’t know who we are? Why are they not looking around and enjoying this place?

Now I get that we were very typical Dutch blonde girls in a very typical Dutch setting. But I do believe my questions were very valid. They only saw De Zaanse Schans and my friends through the lens. They did not pay attention to their surroundings, almost as if they weren’t really there and would look at what they had seen in the pictures at home.

This is something we constantly do in our own lives. While we are living through a moment, we are showing pictures from the past, we are talking about what we will do next, we do all these things except for really enjoying the moment itself. And that’s where it is important to realize when you are not really in the moment. That is what my teacher meant with becoming aware of when you are drifting off, when you are physically there, but mentally not engaged.

The best practice, (which is hard; let’s be honest), is to not look at your phone for 1 hour, 2 hours, a full day (depending on how much you normally look at it). Be fully connected to the person that is in front of you, being engaged in the conversation and reading their signs – are they enjoying the conversation, do they understand what you say, are they genuinely interested in what you are telling them.

Another fun practice is to look at something you see everyday, a picture, a plant, a house on your way to work, a little table in the corner, and so on. Look at it for a couple of minutes and really see it. You most likely will notice something new, or you realize you never really actually looked at it before.

And obviously, meditate, at least a few minutes per day. Become aware of how often the mind drifts off to the past or the future, and practice to simply become the best at tracking when you are there or not.

So why should you be in the now? My simple answer would be:
It allows you to be there, be aware and let life surprise you as it unfolds every minute of every day.

All you need is inside

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Lately I have been sharing a stream of quotes and thoughts with my students and I started to recognize a pattern. They were almost all about the appreciation of good, bad, big and little things in life.

“ All the things that truly matter, beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind” – Eckhart Tolle

We live in a world dominated by the mind, as most of us are well aware. But being aware is sometimes not enough to tap into the things that truly matter to you. It does not help you to connect inside with what brings you joy, love, creativity. It doesn’t help you to recognize beauty or find your inner peace. We have to take an extra step; we have to put in the work.

You need to be willing to perceive things in a different way, to see things in a different way, coming from the heart, from the connection you make inside. Not coming from the mind. Many times we are stuck in our day-to-day habits. We take the same way to work, we have our breakfast routine, we sit in the same spot for lunch, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a routine, the only danger is that you get stuck in your way, stuck in your mind, stuck inside. When we are stuck in our ways, it becomes more difficult to see the little things that can give us joy. Often we only give credit to the big things that happen in life and we dwell in the time between. But what about all these little things that bring you joy? Things like waking up to your baby’s smile, or the cuddle of your dog, getting a message from your family or friends, seeing the flowers grow, feeling a stray of sunlight on your face, the smile of the stranger on the street, laughing with your friends or colleagues, finding a space to sit down and take a deep breath, and so forth. The things that can bring us instant joy and happiness happen constantly. The question is: are you open to it or not? Are you grateful for what presents itself to you? Brother David Steindl-Rast said a beautiful thing about this: “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

But what if life presents itself in the most shitty way you can think of? I recently lost people who were dear to me, to old age and to cancer. These moments are hard, and all I wrote above seems to become irrelevant. But is it really? When life shows itself to you in its most ugly way, it becomes increasingly important to appreciate all these small things. They can give you a small spark of happiness, they give you direction to find your way out. It helps us to understand that you can choose to be loving to yourself, or you can choose to judge. You are in charge of setting your direction, you are in charge of when happiness is allowed back in. This choice is crucial, some people mistake this difference by thinking that loving means there is no room to push yourself, no room for improvement. None of that is true! You can support yourself and lovingly speak with words of encouragement.

Because “every thought you produce, any action you do, it bears your signature” Thich Nhat Hahn. You put your signature on what your world looks like on the outside, how people respond to you and what you bring forward. But more importantly, you put your signature on what goes on inside.

Practice this every day, in good times especially, find happiness, joy, inner peace, love, beauty, creativity in the simple things in life. Change your routines, try to see something new everyday, change where you sit down, take a different route home, switch around your fork and knive. Break out and break through. So that when difficult times arise, you know that there is something on the other side. Because ”the best things in life are free. Sleeps, hugs, kisses, love, friends, family, memories, smiles, laughter & fun” Author uknown.