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.

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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.

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.

Your way to freedom

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With the 4th of July festivities of last weekend, the concept of ‘freedom’ popped right back into my mind. I know it might sound naïve, but the idea and meaning of freedom only became clear to me a couple of years ago. I was participating in a program at the university, which was called: Leaders for Economic Change. We were a group of 30 young people from all over the world. My small group existed of 2 Dutch people, one British person, one from Bangladesh and one person from Zambia. The Zambians name was Gift, and a gift he was. We were asked to discuss amongst us what freedom means to you. As an eager Dutch student I started, talking about Freedom when you are off work, laying on a beach, watching the ocean, reading a book and sipping a cocktail. It all connected and corresponded with my reality, my sense of freedom.

Gift however, had something very different to share: freedom to him was when everybody had equal chances, when every kid could have a proper education and because of that, have a real chance in life.

And wow, did that open my eyes, I really thought my version of freedom was universal, except for when you are in prison or at war. How little did I know!

At the same time I realized how lucky I had been, that my version of freedom comes from a care-free life. And this concept of ‘freedom’ can show you who you are; the definition of freedom is personal. One explanation is not better than the other, it is just different, it is you.

I am sharing this, because ‘freedom’ is also a big subject in yoga. In yoga we strive to be free of suffering. In the yoga sutras there is no discrimination made between sufferings. Every suffering is real; every suffering can make your life miserable, even if your suffering seems minor in comparison to others.

The yoga sutras (2.15) gives us four main reasons for suffering:

  1. Parinama: change, modification or transformation; Change affects people, objects and the environment. In the end nothing is stable in our universe, there is constant change, constant uncertainty, which are factors for irritation, instability and internal misery. Any change creates an opportunity for someone to suffer by holding on to what was, instead of embraces, allowing or accepting what is in front of them.
  2. Tapa: regret, guilt, torture; The thirst of wanting something can create an unfulfilled desire, which leads to regret, guilt, torture. A bitter regret over what we have done, or not done. A burning desire to repeat the past. All sources of anxiety that wear us down.
  3. Samskara: Routine, habit, conditioning; Some of our routines and habits are deeply rooted in ourselves. They are like a deep groove in wood, you can sand it down a little bit, but when you don’t take care of it, it will continue to get deeper and deeper. These grooves push us to act in stereotyped manner. Make us repeat patterns, which might not be the right response in a certain situation.
  4. Guna: Fundamental energy, quality, substance; The gunas reflect on the fact that we live in our body and the fluctuations and instability of the mind. The instability in our mind leads to chaos, negative judgments and inappropriate responses.

Suffering is ultimately a state of mind, your reaction to what’s happening, your reaction to what overcame you. We will always be faced with difficult times, but we have choice how to respond to it. We can choose how much we suffer from it.

In yoga we work on not creating new suffering, by realizing that we can’t change the circumstances, we can’t change what will happen to us. But we do have a chance to change our own response to it, the way we hold it, the way we let it take over our mind, body and life and how we move through it.

This way we are refining the mind, redefining our relationship to the mind and defining freedom in a new way. Because in the end, freedom is personal, there is no discrimination for the suffering you have, as long as you remember that you have a choice. The choice is liberating, the choice gives you your freedom. The choice helps you to be free of suffering, that choice leads you to happiness and bliss.

New Approach, New Insights

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The past few weeks I have been immersed in BoxingYoga™. It is a form of yoga that started in a Boxing Club in London with the primary idea to help boxers perform better in the ring. However, during the development of this yoga approach, it turned out to support way more people than just boxers. The great thing about it is that is supports fighters, athletes, yogis and any enthusiast that loves a strong work-out, that likes to be challenged and still wants to feel amazing and calm at the end. And therefore, perfect for me!

The training system consists of 12 rounds that will help you warm-up, build strength, improve endurance and get you flexible. The different stages are designed to improve mental and physical strength and flexibility, help maintain optimal health, prevent injuries and it maximizes performance.

So why did I just spend two paragraphs on explaining BoxingYoga? One reason is most definitely that I like to share my journey and tell you all what I am working on. But this is not my main reason; I got curious about this form of yoga, because I always like to see how I am able to bring the benefits of yoga to people who would normally not be interested in it at all.

I noticed that when I told people about it, and even when I heard about it for the first time, they are immediately interested. The contrast between boxing and yoga seems so big for so many people that they can’t seem to bring them together. How does it work? Do you fight during class? Do you use punching bags and gloves? And what about violence and yoga? All very valid questions and all questions I seem to get a lot. It is great to notice it triggers something in everyone.

The biggest thing I take away from it all is that by combining these two seemingly incompatible sports together we create curiosity, an eagerness to try it out, a hunger to know what it is. And not just yogi’s or fighters, literally everyone!

Teaching BoxingYoga puts me back into a position where I have to rephrase my yoga language into something understandable, for everyone. I need to understand all different options of the poses, so I can make them do-able, for everyone. I am re-discovering a wider range of body types and minds, so I renew my personal studies on how to give cues for the wide variety of bodies and minds, cues accessible for everyone.

It made me realize again how quick you can be stuck in your ways, how you often believe you are open and flexible, but way to often you fall back to what you think you know, what you believe is true. A new approach to yoga broke open my quickly built up yoga self-esteem and brought me a fuller experience of what yoga can be about. New approach equals new insights!

Spring cleaning

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Spring has started on the northern part of our planet, which for a lot of people means time to clean! It is time to create space in your life: have a clean house, clean computer, clean body and clean habits.

And even though we all think about it, we often find it too hard to start. In the beginning of 2015 I was forced to do one of the biggest cleanings I have ever done: two moves (São Paulo to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to San Francisco) which meant getting rid of stuff in my house, my mind and life.

As I sat down in the middle of all the things that had created my life in São Paulo and all the things that defined my life in Amsterdam, I felt like I was being thrown back and forth between relief and despair. It was amazing to not have the responsibility over so much stuff anymore, but at the same time I emotionally had to let go of things I had been guarding.

While cleaning for days in a row, I realised there are a few basic rules when it comes to cleaning your life:

  • A clean environment equals a clean mind. So do a detox for your body to get rid of unnecessary toxins in your body, clean your house, your desk, your social life, your social networks, your computer, your phone, etc. Simplify your life, it creates space in your mind and life.
  • Focus on one thing at the time. Either a box, a pile of papers, an emotion, one folder on your computer: one thing each time. NO multi-tasking, because you never know what comes up when the next box opens.
  • Only keep things of value, either because you use it or it has emotional value to you. Stuff that is worth something but you don’t use: sell!
  • Everything should have it’s own place; you need to be able to find your belongings in a fixed place in your house or on your computer. When it comes to emotional things, when it did not find a place yet, you haven’t dealt with it properly.

But how to get yourself started when there is no deadline or real pressure?

  • Don’t set your goals too high and don’t spoil a sunny day inside.
  • Start with 1 pile of papers, one box of stuff, one folder on your computer.
  • What you pick up NEEDS to be dealt with: keep it, throw it away, sell it, keep maybe.
  • Start small: do it 15 mins each day. Don’t overdo it.
  • Make it a game, challenge, connect it to something you like, reward yourself properly.

Other fun ways to clean up:

  • Every day give something away. It cleans out your house slowly and it is rewarding to give something away you don’t use anymore.
  • Take part in a Buy Nothing New Month.
  • Do a meditation course to clear your mind
  • Built up a discipline with yoga (or something else you like): 15 mins of cleaning, is followed by 15 mins of yoga
  • Take up the 12-12-12 challenge (or other fun challenge): 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, 12 items to return to their own homes.

Once you get in the flow, the fun will start and space is created. Space you can use for new thoughts, fun activities you wanted to pick up for a while, new films and music, or simply just to let the space be… We don’t always need to fill up what we have cleared.

Happy Spring!

Does goodbye exist?

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This week is all about goodbyes to me. I am leaving Sao Paulo after having lived here for 2 years. Two years full with fun, laughter, tears, though lessons, crazy trips, sun-filled beaches, new friends, old friends and family moments. It may not have had the experience I expected beforehand, but hey, life never goes as you expected it to go. They were 2 years that defined me as a person; it brought me on my current path.

People that know me even a little bit know that saying goodbye is something I find extremely difficult. As a little girl I would cry when my parents dropped me with my grandparents when they left for a weekend and I would cry again when they picked me up, because I had to leave my grandparents. I never really got much better at this process, until Brasil.

Despite this difficulty, I did decide to live a life where saying goodbyes is a constant, which gave me new and interesting insights.

  1. Goodbye is only temporarily and therefore it does not exist. There is a lovely quote from Peter Pan about this: “Never say goodbye because saying goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting”.
    As long as I can remember, it will not be a goodbye, because the person or situation lives on in my mind. And one day, when it was meant to be, we will meet again.
  1. Goodbye never comes in the right moment. There is never enough time to say your goodbye, there is always a situation that can persuade you to stay, there is always somebody sad and left behind, there is always need for one more…: one more drink, one more conversation, one more hug, one more joke, one more kiss, one more minute.
    If you let yourself be taken by the one more, you will never find the guts to pick up your stuff and leave, you will never walk towards a new adventure, new discoveries, new life, new love.
  1. “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello” (Paulo Coelho). Every goodbye closes one door, but creates space to open another door. It creates space for new people, new experiences and new energy to enter your life. When I left my yoga teacher in Holland, I was in tears and he told me: People and things come and go, which keeps it in a movement, and it is that movement we need to keep our blood flowing which creates changes and let people really live.

We say goodbye in many different forms, sometimes we say goodbye to people, sometimes to things, situations, emotions and sometimes to all of them together. Whatever you say goodbye too, make sure you find the good in “goodbye”. Take from it what you need; leave behind what you don’t need anymore. Make sure you can start fresh and are open for the new ‘hello’.

So let the week of goodbyes start, will I cry, yes most definitely, but I also have faith that my new Hello is going to the be the next step on my path. As Dr. Seuss already talked about this wisely: Don’t cry because it is over. Smile because it happened”

Shifting your perspective

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Yoga has many different benefits and it can also be described in many different ways. However, one thing always returns: yoga changes your perspective.

Yoga has a great influence on how we perceive our body, what we believe we can do with it and how we look at things. We often think we are not flexible enough, or we can’t do something that requires silence / sitting still. It is these ideas and perspectives that are on the surface that we can work on immediately.

When we go to a class we realise that our bodies are stiff in one part and more flexible in others. We learn that many poses have to do with strength or a combination of the two. You learn how to play with your body, with the perspectives and beliefs about ourselves.

If we go more in-depth into our practice it opens a whole new world. Towards who we are, but also towards the outside world. We get different ideas on how to feed ourselves, we get different feelings about the nature and animals around us, and we learn to deal with daily struggles in a different way. And above all we learn to literally see things from a different perspective: through inverted poses.

Seeing the world upside down helps to see things differently, see people differently, the room you’re in from a different view point. But also putting the pressure on your head instead of your feet will create a completely different perspective on what you carry around on your feet every day. And if you are able to find your balance and be stable, you can find a peace, which is different, then any kind you can experience.

What this meant to me is that I changed my food habits completely. I tested which foods were not beneficial to my body and tried to cut them out as much as possible. I also learned more about how I perceived the outside world. A good example is traffic, either being on my bike in a busy street in Amsterdam or being in my car in traffic in São Paulo. The moment I realized I personally cannot change the traffic, I realized it was me that could make different choices: go into the busy street and face the traffic as calm as I could or I could try to avoid it by going at different hours or with different routes.

Also the perspective of who I am on this planet and why I am here have changed completely. The world I grew up in has a very strict determined path for young people, at least, that’s my perspective. It took me a while to realize that it is an idea that lives in my mind. Once I was able to let it go, I was able to come closer to who I am.

Simple things you can do in your daily live that can help you see things from a different perspective:

  • Switch your fork and knife when you eat.
  • Brush your teeth with your other hand.
  • Take a different route home (on your bike, in the car, in the train).
  • When taking the same route, look out for something you have not seen before.
  • Practice yoga (or any sport) in a different spot then you normally do.
  • Start a conversation about something that is bothering you (or something you’re stuck in) with somebody you do not know, or normally do not talk to about these subjects. They might have new and interesting insights.
  • Try to stand on your head (if you have never done this, please only do it with a certified teacher!) and see the world upside down.
  • For one day only give compliments to every one who crosses your path.
  • Smile to everyone you pass by in the street.
  • Download the app Cucalu. It will help you look differently to your environment
  • Don’t eat meat for a whole week (or any other thing that you can skip from your diet)
  • Write down 10 positive thoughts about your day – every night, for at least 7 days.

Try at least one action from this list and see if that changes anything and if so, what has changed, what did you discover. If nothing changed, pick another one and take the challenge again. Get out of your comfort zone, because that is the only place where we get to learn more about who we truly are.