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.

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How yoga has changed my life

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Since I made the decision to dedicate my life to yoga, I have often got the question: how did yoga change your life?
Most of the times followed by the question: who inspired you to do this?

This week I was signing up for a next step in my yoga life, a 500 hour teacher training. As part of the sign-up I had to write a short essay on these two questions. So it only seemed logical and fun to share them with you. No edits, no changes, the pure and honest answers!

  1. How has practicing Yoga affected you and your relationship to the world around you?

Yoga has an effect on every single part of my life, physically, mentally and emotionally. The most important thing it has affected is self-love and the relationship with myself. Before I became a yoga practitioner, the last relationship I would take care of, was the relationship with myself. Which had a tremendous impact on my health, my outlook in life, my happiness and the relationships I formed with others.

Through yoga I learned that the relationship with the Self has to come first. Once that relationship is established, you are able to perceive the world differently. Nature and my connection to it has started to play a bigger role, the understanding that you are part of something bigger, something larger then yourself.

I have learned how to take care of my health, notice what goes on in my body, my mind and translate that into my personal needs, in order to be the best I can be.

Yoga changed me internally, or maybe not changed me, but made my connection with the Self stronger, and because of that I can be a better person. A loving, kind and honest human being for my husband, my family, my friends, my students and even strangers on the street and in traffic.

So yoga did not only change my physical body, it changed the way I perceive things. I am able to differentiate the states of my mind and can therefore see more clearly. And it changed me emotionally, to someone who is connected, grounded and able to share her love.

  1. Who has influenced you on your Yoga path?

I have been influenced by a variety of teachers. Below the most important ones:

  • Martyn Hoogstra: my first yoga teacher who blossomed my love for yoga, philosophy and taught me the importance of a regular and serious practice.
  • Hansaji Jayadeva Yogendra: The leader of the Yoga Institute in Mumbai. She was the one who really sparked the connection of yoga and health. Yoga as a way to take care of myself.
  • David Lurey & Mirjam Wagner: They were my teachers for my 200 hour ‘Find Balance’ Yoga Teacher Training. They helped me set the foundation for the teacher I am today, as well as they showed me what it really means to love myself.
  • Leslie Kaminoff: an enormous influence when it comes to understanding the body, the anatomy (and not just the bones and muscles). I did his online course and after every class I experienced an ‘Aha’ moment. He opened my eyes about how my body functions, how I could potentially help others and how interesting discovering yoga can be.
  • Kate Holcombe: an amazing and incredible teacher specialised in Vini Yoga and Yoga Therapy. She studied and lived with Desikachar for 6 years and she accepted me as her mentee to get a deeper understanding of the yoga philosophy (in particular the yoga sutras) as well as yoga as a therapy. I also finished an advanced yoga and cancer training under her guidance.
  • Stephanie Snyder: she is an amazing flow teacher, who’s weekly classes teach me about humility, joy and kindness. She is an example for how to sequence a class and add philosophy, joy and singing at the same time.
  • Sri Dharma Mittra: I got introduced to Sri Dharma Mittra by Gerson Frau (who teaches in Brasil, where I lived for a couple of years). I have only met Dharma Mittra once during a class in New York, but I was blown away by his personality, the love and kindness that shown through. I have been a long time online follower and I am inspired by what he does and puts out in the world. I would love to bring his influence a step further into my life.

Breaking apart

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I believe you have two types of people. There’s the ones that look at people that do just a little less than them and because of that they feel good about themselves. They have confidence and trust. The second type are the ones who look at the people he or she considers better, and see them as a goal, something to reach towards. The pitfall of the second type is that you often feel like you are not good enough.

One type is not better than the other, it is just a different approach, a different way to evaluate ourselves. How we pin ourselves in this world. And even though we know that comparing is often not useful at all, we still do it, as humans. Because we feel the need to fit in somewhere, we feel the need to know where we stand.

Me, I am type number 2. I always look at the people ahead of me, see what they do, figure out what they have done and see what things I can learn from that. It works for me, it makes me think about my plans and dreams in a bigger perspective. However, it makes me struggle too. Because I am also a type that sets their mind to something and then is determined to fix it, determined to reach that goal.

Yoga in the past few years has taught me that this way of looking at things also makes me suffer. Why? Because I am ambitious, I always try to reach more, and I have a goal in mind which should be a 5 year plan, but instead, I make it something I should achieve in weeks or months. And that is where the suffering comes in, I makes me feel like I am failing, like I am not working hard enough, that I am not good enough, that I am not worth of what I am trying to achieve.

At least, that what is was until a year ago. That’s when I learned and really connected to the idea of breaking it up, breaking the goals apart. Because how can you ever be satisfied if your goals are too big to achieve at once? So I have a system, simple, but clear: every big goal has at least 5 steps, 5 minor goals in it. And that minor goal becomes my real goal, my big goal for the moment. That way I can stay on track, stay happy and be content with my achievements.

So as a practical example: My dream is to one day have inspired enough people to be able to set up a yoga community. One where you can practice together, one where you can find your friends, one where you can share knowledge, share food, share drinks, share fun, share a passion.

I broke it up in steps, and the first step is my main goal: LEARN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE for 1 year. Teach, teach, teach, study, spend time with teachers, work in the yoga world, get connected, and share it back.

I am now 4 months in and I am learning like crazy, teaching many hours, and I feel grateful. Yes, there are days that I lose this goal out of sight, days where I feel I have not done enough, days where I feel like a failure. But this has gone from almost every day to some days. I am happy, I am free of my own pressure, I am learning.every.single.day.

So why am I writing this? Because I believe too many people around me suffer from the same struggle. And the funny thing is, we often think it is the external pressure, from friends, family and society, to achieve these goals. Until you hit that moment where you realize, all the pressure comes from within, from our own beliefs, our own self-image, our own internal motivators and drivers. And just to be clear, this does not mean you cannot have big massive goals for yourself. Please do, they are immense and good internal drivers, but be aware of what they do to your state of mind and your daily happiness.

Break it up, break them apart and break through a cycle of suffering and break into one of happiness and a sense of achievement. Because you are worthy of anything you want to achieve.

Am I good enough?

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Am I good enough? A fascinating question if you ask me. Many people ask themselves this question, a lot! Sometimes we feel secure enough to share it out loud, but often we are afraid of what the response will be, so we leave it unspoken.

We ask ourselves this question in many situations. Am I good enough at my job? Am I good enough as a lover? Am I good enough as a parent? Am I good enough as a family member? Am I good enough at cooking? Am I good enough to take care of myself? Am I good enough at yoga?

I ask myself this question very often. Am I good enough? But what does that really mean? What is good enough? And who decides what is good and what is not? Is good enough based on your own expectations? On the expectations of others around you? Or on the expectations you think others have of you?

My latest stream of thoughts on this subject made me realize that I choose a profession where this question comes up on a daily basis. Do people want to come back to my classes? And if so, why? Does it have something to do with my personality? Was my sequence not challenging enough? Or was I too tough on them? How does my class stand out from others? In other words, it is a profession where failure becomes super personal. You are the only one who is to blame for low turn-up and return rates.

Which leads me to another subject: FEAR. The fear to fail, the fear to not be good enough. Fear has proven me over and over again that it is not helping me, and still, I sometimes can’t help that fear takes over. I have to confess, every time before I start a class, I am frightened, can I bring these people what they want? Every time I do a headstand I feel the fear coming up: will I fall over? What will others think of me? Will I hurt myself? And let’s not even start about handstands! When I am in class I never do a handstand in the middle of the room, not because I cannot do it, because I am afraid to fail. I am afraid others will see me fall, I am afraid I will hurt someone else around me, I am afraid I will disappoint myself.

And even though I seriously struggle with these fears and questions of being good enough, I still teach yoga daily, I still stand on my head daily. Why? Because you can only truly grow and be in your zone, when you are triggered, when you feel there is more to reach. That is the only way to become the best you are, to live to your fullest potential. And I have yoga tools to help me through, over and over again:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Have patience
  • Plan one step at the time
  • Meditate
  • Love yourself
  • Come to the mat, every single day

So when you also feel like this sometimes or often, make sure you take things one step at a time. Show yourself some self-love, faith and allow yourself time. Whatever situation you are in to ask yourself this question, all of them are opportunities to reflect on yourself. They are chances to create the changes you need, to establish your current strengths, to plan your next step.

Because I believe that when you do what you really want, you are already good enough. Maybe just for yourself, or for hundreds of people. Make sure you share what you love; that way you are able to stay close to yourself and the universe will bring you what you need.

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.

How to look at your own body?

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Just as in most sports, in yoga our body is the instrument we use to practice. Using it as an instrument helps us to become aware of our body and its boundaries. In some other sports the breath is also used as an instrument to practice. In yoga the breath is just as key as the body itself.

In fact, if you start investigating the meaning behind yoga you come down to the following: yoga means to unite, to connect. It means the union between mind, body & spirit. And to reach this we perform postures (asanas) with our bodies and we make an attempt to control our inner patterns of breath. In other words, we connect our movement with the breath. This is particularly true for Vinyasa yoga, the type of yoga I teach and practice.

So why is this important to know when I am writing about ‘how to look at your own body’? There are many ways to discover your own body. The most obvious one is something we do on a daily basis: looking at ourselves in the mirror. We get to see a reflection of our external self, we get a chance to see our body from an outsider perspective. When using a mirror, we usually only see the front of our body and we choose the angle by which we see ourselves, pretty or unflattering. However, the back remains un-known, or we don’t like the sight of what we are seeing, so we prefer not too look at it at all.

Another way to get to know our body is letting another explore it. This could be a doctor, investigating your body to find what is wrong. But it can also be your partner discovering every part in a more intimate way. This way you can discover your body through the eyes of another person. What is good, what is beautiful, where you are healthy & where you are sick. An interesting catch about this way of discovering your body, is that you are the only one also feeling what they do. You add an extra dimension that no one else can have while exploring your body. If you close your eyes, you can feel their touch and so you discover your body from the inside too.

Discovering your body from the inside is a very powerful tool to really understand what is going on with you, to really understand who you are. A simple technique to do this is used in Vipassana meditation and various therapies:

  • Close your eyes, lay down or sit still
  • Take a few deep breaths into your belly. Follow your breath in and out through your nose (as if you are meditating)
  • Start scanning your body: bring your awareness to your toes and feel them from the inside.
  • Slowly make your way up, from your toes, through your ankles, calf muscles, knees, thighs, hips, etc., all the way to the top of your head.
  • Scan your body up and down, down and up.

When you take a few minutes in your bed, or behind your desk, to scan your body with your eyes closed, you will notice that you can control your energy and your thoughts.

Leslie Kaminoff, the breathing guru of this moment, explains this action as follows: You are now piercing your body with a sharp instrument from the inside, your awareness. Instead of cutting it with a sharp instrument from the outside, a knife, we use our own sharpest instrument, our awareness. This instrument is really connected to you, and will therefore be able to make you really look at you own body and see it in a complete context.

In yoga we use the breath to deepen this piercing of your body. We can use the breath to discover the boundaries of our body, to calm our mind and gain self-knowledge. When you synchronize the yoga movements (called asanas) with the breath, you will notice how you can create space in your body with an inhale, and you will learn to let go on an exhale. Your breath can go to every part of your body, as long as you use your attention and awareness to the area that needs the breath.

If we learn to look at our body from the inside, with our awareness and with the breath, we get a completely different understanding about what are bodies need, what they look like and how we have to take care of them. Instead of having the outside view about how tight your clothes are, you can go inside and discover if we are healthy or not. You learn to feel how to feed your body: what are your cravings and what is a necessity to remain healthy and happy. You will also learn how your mind tricks you into being lazy before exercising, how it tricks you into eating fatty and sugary foods and how it changes your self-perspective. When you know your own tricks and when you really know your body, then you will learn to love it, with all its uniqueness, perfections and imperfections.

Self-love

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I am going towards the end of my yoga teacher training and I have to say that what I have learned has truly been a life changing experience. Becoming a yoga teacher doesn’t only mean you know how to perform the poses and show them to your students. It has everything to do with how you perceive life, how you live it and spread that message out into the world. Without pushing your believes on others, you make a difference by being true to yourself.

My most important lesson has been to practice self-love. Don’t criticise myself, but be gentle and true to myself. I drained my energy and love by taking care of others, before making sure I was strong and stable enough to give it to them. Here, at the teacher training, I found the strength to love myself and be strong from within with all I have to offer.

When I practice self-love I have noticed that I lose my fear of not being liked, that I am able to let go of the fear of what others think of me. I am enjoying life at the moment it happens, instead of worrying about the past or future. I focus on me, and through this I am able to share a lot more joy, laughter and love with the people around me. I am not draining love anymore; I am using it to make myself, and others happy.  The feeling of not wasting away my feelings and love is very powerful and gives me the strength to be who I am, without any doubts, worry or fear.

I let go and enjoy what life has in store for me.

So how do I do this? Here are some tips from my side:

  • Every day before going to bed write down 5 positive things about yourself.
  • Do a daily yoga practice (or any other thing that makes you happy), it doesn’t have to be 1 hour. 10 or 20 minutes suits as well. Reload your battery.
  • Surround yourself with the things you love. People, music, food, nature, sports, etc. It makes your life much easier and a lot more fun!