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.

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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.

What about your Ego?

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The ego is such an interesting thing in every human. Most people wish they didn’t have it, or think they don’t have it. But unconsciously our ego directs a lot of our thoughts and actions. And ultimately it decides if we feel good or bad about ourselves.

The reason why I find the ego so interesting is because it is an identity we have constructed ourselves, an identity, which is false, and not connected to the Self. We believe that our personality, talents, abilities and skills are the self, but in fact it is all artificial, it is created in the mind.

The ego is an active and very dynamic part of our personality and it just loves to create drama in our lives. It blurs our vision about who we really are and what we are really capable of. It always compares you with others and at times it will create a feeling of superiority, it will tell you that you are better, more beautiful, more successful, smarter, etc than the other person. Other times it will create feelings of insecurity, jealousy, not being enough, etc. It blames you for not giving it the attention it needs.

How I like to see the ego is like a little child. It needs constant care, if you don’t feed it, it will cry, if you don’t give it love, it will turn into a needy kid, if you don’t discipline it, it will become arrogant.

Lately I have become more and more aware of my ‘battle’ or encounters with my own ego. Teaching yoga has shown me the needs of my ego more clearly. When people are satisfied, I am happy, I feel good about myself. But when people do not return, walked off quickly or left class early, I start doubting myself, wondering if it is something I did or didn’t do.

Even though these feelings are the most normal thing to occur, it is also a habit pattern. Something that happens because you just don’t know any better. Because your whole life you have measured yourself to others, praised yourself based on that and created a feeling of self in correspondence to this.

The easy thing to say is: let it go. Don’t doubt yourself, stay close to yourself and all will fall into place. But how do you put that into practice? How do you avoid these feelings entering your mind, heart and being? One explanation that has helped me a lot comes from my beloved yoga teacher Kate Holcombe. She explained that the mind (read ego) is the blind man. He is strong, fit, healthy, but blind. The Self is lame, it can’t walk on its own, but it can see. The mind (ego) and the Self need each other and so the Self rides piggy back on the mind. Because of this, the mind now has the ability to see, and therefore forgets it is the Self who sees, not him. He beliefs he doesn’t need the Self and takes over, so he bumps into things, runs around without clear vision and creates suffering along the way.

So that blind man needs to be trained with discipline, via meditation, breathing and any other way you know to focus the mind. Because in the end, the mind (the blind man) is in a mortal body, it will lose strength, its health and consciousness. And therefore in yoga we focus on the immortal, the Self. So we try to see the two separate while learning how to use both in their own way. Don’t detach from the mind/ ego, become aware of its needs, understand how to control it and be learn to recognize when the ego takes over control. Because when you can let the one who rides piggy back (the Self) steer the body, you can let the Self decide where you go, what you do and what comes to you. That way you might be able to reduce the suffering caused by the ego and create space and freedom to connect to who you really are: the Self.

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.

My 5 favourite yoga books

5 favorite yoga books

 

Often I get asked the question what books I can recommend for yoga. There are so many, so which ones are the best? I am still struggling with this same problem, there are so many I still want to read, go through and see what insights they can give me. But so far, I have a small collection of books which I prefer over the other books I’ve read and studied.

The books are listed in random order, all of them bring something else to the table. So depending on what you’re looking for, these are my favourites.

The Key Poses of Yoga – By Ray Long

This book has a perfect illustration and description on how to perform the key poses in yoga. It shows which muscles you work and it explains how to use them correctly. I also gives insights about how the body functions: what happens when you stretch, how to awake the muscles, how to use the bandhas in the practice and it has an index of the poses discussed in the book.

To me it is a perfect book to look up a pose and figure out if I do it right and how I can improve. I also use it to prepare my classes: how to explain this pose clearly, what are the key pointers to look out for with my students.

Light on yoga – By B.K.S. Iyengar

This thick and elaborate book explains most poses you will perform during your practice. It has pictures of beginners’ poses up till advanced poses. Different from the Ray Long book, here the poses are explained from a yoga theory perspective. So not by showing the muscles and what happens under your skin, but it explains what yoga is. What are the key concepts, the stages in yoga, etcetera. After which it goes in-depth into the explanation and build up of the poses. The technique of each pose is explained in steps followed by the desired effects.

I use this book as a reference for my practice, my classes and as an inspiration to my sequences. It deepens my knowledge. Every time when I open this book, new information is there. Not only because it has so many poses, but also because my understanding of yoga and the poses deepens.

The heart of Yoga ­– By T.K.V. Desikachar

Desikachar is the son of the greatest yoga legend of modern time. So my expectations of this book were high. Rightfully so! If you are a beginner or advanced yoga practitioner, this book really helps you in many situations. When you begin it gives you a solid understanding on how to do yoga, how to connect your movement with the breath and how to do asana’s (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). If you are more advanced, it also give great insight in the philosophy of his father, Krishnamacharya. To me, this is a must read for any level yoga practitioner.

How yoga works – By Geshe Michael Roach

This book had been on my shelf for a very very long time. And I did not dare to start it, because it is thick and I felt that I had to be ready to go into a detailed book about how yoga works. But nothing of that fear turned out true. This is a great book which I love to read, over and over again. It is a story, in which yoga is being explained. The yoga sutras are being passed on in a playful way. It gave me the feeling it was ok to not remember everything at once, but to grasp the underlying concepts and ideas behind yoga. Every time I go back to the book, it shows me something new and it makes me realize how much more there is to yoga: how much more I can still learn. And I love it!

The power of now – By Eckhart Tolle

A classic book if you are looking for more understanding about your spiritual path. It doesn’t necessarily write about yoga poses or yoga philosophy, but it does give you an incredible insight in how to be in the now. Why is this important, why do we not live in the now? And what can we do about it.

This is the first book I ever read when I became interested in spirituality or simply just getting to know myself better. It was truly eye-opening at that time and inspiring now. Whenever I re-read this book, the insights are countless.

I hope you enjoy my list of books. I am always looking for inspiration and tips. So if you have any, please feel free to share them!