I want to continue with the 13 vitamins for living a happy and healthy life. But after returning from a phenomenal weekend workshop at the Arlington Center near Boston last weekend, I want to share a little inspiration with you first. I feel so graced and uplifted by the receptivity and authenticity of the students in attendance.
I taught about the heart being the center of the universe and that the highest purpose of the practice is to return to your heart and learn how to follow your heart. Ashaya means, “abode of the heart” and underlines the essential purpose of the practice – to regain access to the wisdom of the heart. When you come home to your heart there’s a moment of recognition, a pause, and a space where you realize you are already whole and complete. You realize that life is a gift and a miracle meant to be savored, not a problem to be solved.
Following your heart takes strength. You need strength because when you follow your heart, you may disappoint others. To keep you from abandoning your own center and caving into what others want and expect of you, you need strength, a kind of steadfastness to stand by your own side. If you don’t regularly disappoint others, you’re probably disappointing yourself instead.
There are two kinds of strengths needed to follow your heart, humility and high self-esteem. Humility relates to your capacity to open to a bigger energy greater than yourself. “Greatness is knowing you are greater than yourself.” (Dr. Douglas Brooks). But without self-esteem, humility leads to self-rejection or making yourself small.
When I moved out of Kripalu many years ago, I had no job, no money, and no business plan. On a walk with a close friend, I complained about how bad off I was and that even though I had 17 years of yoga training, I had nothing to show for it and no future. He turned to me, looked straight into my eyes and said, “Your humility isn’t serving you. You trained over 1000 yoga teachers. You are well known in your field. With all of your connections, I’m sure you’ll find work.” This shifted my attitude. It made me see how my humility and capacity to bow to others, was actually a weakness that wouldn’t allow me to stand in my own strength and recognize my own worthiness and accomplishments.
What’s needed to balance humility is self-esteem. We walk around sometimes in life with such low self-esteem. Usually our inner critic is judging, rejecting, and putting ourselves down. This is usually due to our core-wounded identities that most of the time have their root in shame – there’s something wrong with me, or I’m flawed in some way. There’s so much against us in life. At least don’t you be against yourself. I needed to believe in myself. I needed to believe that I could rise up and that I have a gift to give. I needed to remember that the universe has my back and is supporting me right now.
The strength needed to follow your heart is the attitude of the yogi, “Everything in life is for your awakening.” This attitude will always help you climb out of any hole you’ve fallen into. I found myself in the hole of my own unworthiness and self-limitation. Later that week I decided, just for the heck of it, to call around to some of the teachers I trained to see if they might be interested in hosting me for a workshop at their studio. Since I was their teacher, I thought it might be fun for them to introduce their students to their teacher, me. I still can’t believe what happened next. Over the course of two days, I was able to book myself for 13 weekend workshops throughout the eastern US. I booked out my entire year. In disbelief, I whispered to myself, “Whoa. That was easy!”
I’ve found that the balance of humility and self-esteem is very important because too much humility leads to becoming a “door mat” for others. People will walk right over you. But too much self-esteem can lead to arrogance and over confidence. Because of my particular history of living at an ashram and the teaching and practice of surrender to the guru, I became good at humility. It’s actually a great quality to cultivate, but only when it’s balanced with self-esteem. I often joke with my students that if you are really good at humility and have low self-esteem, then you should go get some arrogance.
Now on to the continuation of the 13 vitamins for happiness. I’ve covered the first three:
The next three vitamins go well together: 4. Physical Practices, 5. Aerobic Exercise, and 6. Diet. I don’t need to say much about these vitamins since much information is readily available to everyone. But I will say that it’s a good idea to incorporate physical practices, aerobic exercise and healthy diet into your daily schedule. Because without these three “vitamins” your chances for being happy are greatly diminished. The “feel good” chemicals in your brain depend on physical practices, aerobic exercise, and healthy diet.
4. By physical practices, I mean asana or any other form of spiritual practice that involves the strengthening of the physical body, i.e. Tai Chi, Ki Gong, Pilates, etc….. Asana, in the Ashaya method, is uniquely beneficial because it focuses on the balance of creating stability and freedom within every joint and muscle. This will strengthen weak muscles and release tense muscles that are over working. The practice of asana is much more than just physical exercise since it involves a component of conscious awareness and breath. You have to feel into the body, breathe, hug in and expand out all at the same time. In Ashaya Yoga®, not only is your body toned and balanced, your brain gets a workout too because of the precise alignment details. For instance, anyone can practice Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose). But in Ashaya Yoga® you have to think. You need to be super aware.
For example, in Downward Facing Dog Pose, when you bend your knees and take your inner thighs back, while keeping your shins strong without allowing your heels to widen, to produce an optimal lordodic curve in your lumbar spine, while also clawing all 10 finger pads (what’s a finger pad?) evenly, all metacarpal knuckles down, arches of the hands up, lower arm rotated inwardly while the upper arm is externally rotated at the same rate, lifting the inner armpits (did you know you had an inner armpit?) and outer shoulder blades in a balanced way…..etc. etc. etc. Get my drift? There’s a lot to track, think about, sort out, and maintain. This adds a component of mental acuity to the physical practice of asana that involves all of you –body, mind, heart, and breath.
5. Aerobic exercise is a vitamin because in all of my years of asana practice, I still feel the need for a regular aerobic workout. The body, bones, heart, breath, and circulation need to be challenged, if not every day, a few times a week. This is one of the secrets to maintaining a youthful, vibrant body. I joined the Masters swim team because the coach inspires me to work harder than I would ever work on my own. It never fails – I begin the swim workout typically feeling tired after a long day. But I leave feeling completely rejuvenated and energized. Aerobic exercise gives you the feeling of vitality and it strengthens your heart and lungs like nothing else can, not even yoga. Yes, you can get a certain degree of aerobic activity through asana. But it’s not the same as doing a vigorous aerobic workout. I also like to bike, cross-country ski, and skate-ski, which not only boosts my aerobic capacity but gets me outside in nature. Pumping fresh air into your lungs does a world of good. As my friend and exercise guru Tom Jackman says, “Sucking wind is good for you!”
6. Diet: There are so many kinds of diet out there. Just choose one that works for you. I recommend eating whole foods, organic when possible, at least three square meals a day, especially breakfast, and drink lots of water. Reduce junk food and pay attention to how you feel after you eat something. Through trial and error over a long time, I discovered that I feel much better when I’m gluten, dairy, chemical, and sugar free. I eat vegetables three times a day, along with concentrated protein (both plant and animal sourced). I have dealt with allergies and food sensitivities my whole life. But knowing what my body needs, I’m able to maintain good health even when I travel.
Here’s to your happiness and giving yourself all of the vitamins you need to sustain your aliveness!