3 to 1 positive emotion ratio

So, some studies have been done and its been “discovered” that the most resilient and satisfied people are those who experience three positive emotions for every one negative one.  One of the keys to increasing positive experiences is to have present moment mindfulness. The fact is that most of what we experience in a day is positive but we don’t always notice, preoccupied as we tend to be with things that have already happened or that we expect to happen.

If any of this sounds familiar that’s because this research echos what various eastern philosophies, including Yoga and Buddhism, have been saying for literally thousands of years. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to have the research to back it up, and anything that makes these philosophies more palatable or digestible for the western mind is a good thing in my book.

It’s interesting, though, the use of the words positive and negative, as one could argue that not attempting to label our experiences as one way or another could also lead to more satisfaction. It is indeed a very western habit to definitively name things. Buddhist and Yogic teaching both stress the importance of equanimity in our approach to life. Things are not necessarily good or bad, they simple are.

This is one of my greatest challenges, especially as it relates to parenting. When my little one won’t take a nap, for example, it is a real struggle for me not to see it as a failure of some sort, rather than a simple fact to which I can respond however I choose. My mind tends to go towards worse-case scenario, imagining his tired brain unable to learn new things, as well as the inevitable fussing and whining that often accompanies a tired baby boy. I know, through both experience and observation, that missing a nap every once in a while will have no lasting effect on his brain development, and that we can still have a perfectly lovely day even when he is tired. Days are no doubt better when he’s napped… but there I go again placing a value on things. Better, worse, positive, negative, right, wrong… it’s a very hard habit to break!

While I keep working on that, here’s a video you might be interested in watching. It’s from a TED talk and it draws on this research.

(I will be working on equanimity long after you’ve finished watching the video, through this lifetime and many others, I imagine)

 

Namaste!

What’s it all about, Yogi?

My recent time at the Evolution Asia Yoga Conference was, as I have mentioned, wonderful. In addition to spending several straight hours with Dharma Mittra, I also took a two-hour backbending class from Jason Crandell. One of the reasons I chose this particular class was because I’m not a huge fan of backbends. I know some people love them, and I do love them, but only when they’re over. To me, nothing feels quite as great as coming out of a backbend.

Interestingly, Jason began the class by asking who loved and who did not love backbends. I was in the majority, as it turned out. The practice was great, and I was able to enjoy some backbends thanks to Jason’s excellent instruction and suggestions. Indeed, Jason is known for his deep knowledge of anatomy. It is very obvious when you take a class from Jason – he knows how the body works.

The thing that has stuck with me the most from his class, though, was not about backbends at all, but rather about Yoga in general. He said Yoga has almost nothing to do with range of motion or flexibility. We like to make it about those things because they are easily quantifiable. Flexibility is valuable but it does not determine quality. Yoga is really about equanimity – of body, mind, and spirit.

As Jason was saying this I was trying very hard not to come out of the pose I was in and nod my head vigorously in agreement. He put into these few sentences the message that I so desperately try to get across to my students and to people who ask me about Yoga.

Yoga is about balance and unity, not flexibility. It is this fact that makes Yoga something that EVERY PERSON can do no matter their physical condition. It was this realization about Yoga that led me to create,with a partner,  Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center.

I was so pleased and grateful to get to spend those few hours with Jason. He has been named “one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future”. I hope that’s true.

 

Namaste.

I Change, therefore I Grieve

In 1991, the Grief Resource Foundation of Dallas, Texas found that, for them, a good working and practical definition of Grief was “the total response of the organism to the process of change”. Or, if you’re into equations, Change=Loss=Grief.

As a Yogini, I find this definition makes perfect sense to me. In our Yoga practice, particularly asana, we are doing the work of accepting and moving through change. We learn that the nature of all things is that they change. This lesson is reinforced as we move through our physical practice, changing our bodies breath to breath. Our bodies are the metaphor for everything in the external world – ever evolving.

We are all familiar with the emotions that can bubble up during a Yoga practice.  Before we get to the good stuff – the bliss – we often feel what can be described as discomfort, unease, frustration, perhaps anger, maybe even queasiness. Could these be grief? What if we saw our practice as a means to grieve the loss we are experiencing because of the changes that are occurring as a result of our dedicated practice? Notice, the definition of grief does not specify what kind of change. Just change. Positive or negative, all changes require us to let go of whatever was there before. Loss. We lose whatever our idea of reality was before we adopt a new reality.

So do we allow ourselves the space to grieve our losses, not only in our Yoga practice, but in our life? So often there is a negative connotation to the word grief but perhaps if we shift our perspective. If we apply some equanimity and begin to see grief as simply a part of change. It is good that we lose some things as we change. What if we had to hold on to everything we ever gathered, physically or otherwise? We’d be very weighed down!

In my own personal practice  I’ve been working with this – allowing myself space to grieve that which is changing. For me, it has been a very powerful exercise. It has helped me to be more focused, more aware of what I’m feeling, and ultimately, more compassionate. Grief and loss, like all emotions, are just part of the experience. By accepting and moving through them, rather than resisting, we enhance our entire experience of life.

(Change=Loss=Grief)+(practice +acceptance) = Compassion=Love=Oneness

I’m Confuciused

Korea has a long and rich spiritual history. These days there is a mix of mostly Buddhism, Christianity, and  a very small part Mugyo which is shamanism. Underlying all of these is Confucianism which was originally brought to Korea from China. Over time it was altered to suit the people of the peninsula so there is a distinction between Chinese Confucianism and Korean Confucianism. It is not a religion so much as a way of behaving in the world and it is very deeply infused into the Korean culture and psyche affecting everything from art to law to education to social moors.

Social harmony is the ultimate goal of Confucianism and in order to achieve it there is a very specific social order.   Age is always given deference, but those who are senior are meant to be tender-hearted toward those who are younger.  Each person is meant to know their place in the order and to play their part as best they can. If everyone plays their part, social harmony will ensue.

I’ve only been here a short time, and I don’t understand the language, so any observations I have about the people or the culture here are informed by these limitations.  So with that caveat, I will say that what strikes me as most interesting about all of this is how harmoniously blended these different spiritual traditions are here in the South. It seems to me that while a person might say they are Buddhist or Christian (if they are inclined to identify themselves as anything at all) they are really a wonderful mix of all of it. This underlying theme of social harmony is an ideal held by all, no matter their faith. They could be called Confucian Christians or Confucian Buddhists as the ethical principles of Confucianism seem to be the basis of behavioral norms.

Where I get confused is when I observe how Confucianism is sometimes diametrically opposed to a Buddhist or Christian belief and yet there does not seem to be any difficulty accepting and integrating. This goes for shamanism as well. There seems to be no compulsion to reconcile the differences. I really admire this ability to just accept them all, observe what they like about each, all with no need to judge whether they are right or wrong.

As I’ve learned through my Yoga practice, and as I’ve written about before, even-mindedness or equanimity is key to inner peace. And the Koreans seem to have it in spades. Who knows? I may learn the language and after a few years realize that this observation is completely wrong. But, in the meantime, I’m taking a lesson from my new neighbors and friends.


Maybe

One of my dear students, before I left Tacoma, gave me a book: Zen Shorts by Jon Muth. It has quickly become my favorite book, children’s or otherwise. We read it to Elden even though he is too young to absorb the content just yet, knowing that part of it is sinking in, but also knowing that the lessons contained within are so essential for us as well.

In one of the short stories, Stillwater the bear teaches a little boy about equanimity. Equanimity: mental composure, calmness, stability. I like to say it is the ability to not be shaken or stirred when things come up; to be able to see that everything is not good or bad, everything simply is. Very easily said, not so easily done.

Stillwater teaches this lesson through a story in which the main character, a farmer, despite those around him making judgements about the goodness or badness of happenings in his life, always responds with one simple word: maybe. When his son breaks his leg, they remark on how awful, what bad luck. He says maybe. When the government comes to enlist young men for the armed forces and his son is spared due to his leg injury they remark on how wonderful, what great luck. He says maybe. And so the story goes … the same exact happening or situation can be seen as awful one moment, wonderful the next, all in relation to everything else that happens. But the nature of the initial thing hasn’t changed, which shows that it was neither awful nor wonderful to being with. It simply was. A broken leg is a broken leg and that is all it is.

Again, easier to say and to know intellectually than to do and believe. So often throughout the day as things happen I catch myself immediately deciding if this is a good turn of events or a bad turn of events. As I move each day more fully into this role of Mother I am very aware of the danger of this thought pattern. The need to categorize everything as positive or negative can be very exhausting! With my limited capacity for clear thought these days, due to lack of sleep, why waste any of my precious brain power on categorizing things that will happen no matter which category I put them in? Especially since my idea about whether or not something is good or bad will certainly shift as the day wears on.

I want my son to have mental calmness and stability, equilibrium. I want him to be able to see the world and the happenings around him as things that simply are, that require no judgement. And I know that in order to teach him this, I must be demonstrating it through my own behavior. And so, this is what I am working on right now.

Am I succeeding? Maybe. Am I failing? Maybe. It all depends on the day and the moment, which is to say that I am neither succeeding nor failing; I simply am.

Maybe.

None But Ourselves Can Free Our Minds

As yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Bob Marley’s death, I had many of his songs in my mind all day, but I kept coming back to this one, Redemption Song. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery … so much easier to say (and even easier to sing!) than to do, no?

Redemption can be defined as deliverance or rescue. I think we’ve all needed to be rescued from our own minds at one point. Or as in my case, daily. The freeing of the mind and emancipation from mental slavery is really the whole gist and purpose of the practice of Yoga, as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. When we realize that we are more than our thoughts, and that until we create a calm, clear mind our thoughts are in fact nothing but mistaken impressions of reality, we can move into deeper levels of experience and being. One of my favorite quotes ever … “don’t believe everything you think”.

This can be very hard in a society that elevates the thinking mind beyond all else. Descartes’ statement “I think therefore I am” is considered to be sound philosophy. So, if you stop thinking, do you cease to exist?

Well, hopefully not, because that is in fact, one of the most important things that we should be learning from our Yoga practice – how to move beyond thought into the experience of Ultimate Reality. I think one of the most common misunderstandings about Yoga and Meditation, and one of the reasons it is feared by various religious groups, is the idea that we are trying to shut off or ignore completely the mind. The mind is part of the greater whole, and as yogis take a very holistic approach to the Self, trying to rid oneself of the mind would be, not only harmful, but also futile. Instead, through our practice we strive to change our relationship to thought. As our mind becomes clearer and calmer, we begin to see our thoughts for what they are: impressions.

Each day what we see, smell, hear, taste, touch sends messages to our brain, and from this stimuli, our brain produces thought. Everybody’s brain is doing this all the time and the result is a lot of different thoughts about the same stimuli.  For example, I am a vegetarian and the smell of sausage makes me feel sick. So, when I smell sausage I think, “disgusting!”. For somebody who loves sausage, the smell of sausage makes them think, “delicious!”. So, is sausage disgusting or is it delicious? It is both and it is neither. Sausage is just sausage. This is a very basic example but it doesn’t take much extrapolation to see how something so simple can cause a mistaken impression of reality. If I accept my thought about sausage as truth then from there I might think that anybody who likes sausage likes disgusting smells and flavors. And if they like disgusting flavors, they may also like other things that I find distasteful. And then from there I can imagine how different we must be, and before too long you arrive at the age-old disagreement between vegetarians and meat-eaters. Both sides think the other side is strange and wonders, “how does anyone live like that?”. We can’t even enjoy a meal together because we are SO different! But then what happens when the person who loves sausage gets pregnant, and suddenly the smell of sausage also makes them feel sick? Or if a vegetarian gets pregnant, and suddenly they crave sausage? Has the fundamental nature of sausage changed? Of course not. Sausage is just sausage.

If we trust all of our thoughts we very easily begin to move into the “us vs. them” mentality. We start to define ourselves and others by our differences . Again, the smell of sausage is a somewhat silly and very basic example. But think about all the ways in which we humans define ourselves as “this” or “that”: Politics, Religion, Gender, Sexual Preference, Race, Ethnicity, Citizenship, Lifestyle. Our minds trick us into thinking we are all so very different when in fact we are all the same. We are all expressions of Ultimate Reality and the only differences that separate us are the ones we ourselves create.

Having just arrived in a new country this idea of differences has been very much at the forefront of my mind. It would be very easy to look around and notice how different everybody and everything is here. And, believe me, I have done my fair share of that. It is, however, just as easy to look around and see how similar everybody and everything is here. People are people are people are people, driven by the same thing no matter where you go – love and connection.

So, if none but ourselves can free our minds, how do we do it? Yoga, of course! (my answer for everything) When we begin a Yoga practice, we’ve already taken the first step. First, we free our minds of ideas about our limits. We learn to stop thinking, “I can’t”, and instead begin to accept that we are not as limited as we thought we were. Then as we begin to do more than what we thought we could, we learn to stop judging how it looks and we realize that nobody is judging us as much as we are judging ourselves. We stop wondering, “am I doing it right?”, and start noticing, “this FEELS right” or “this FEELS wrong”. Eventually we get to the point where when we come to our mats, we cease to notice our surroundings. Our focus is so great that the entire Universe exists there in that moment. We experience Ultimate Reality. And when we leave our mat, having experienced this glimpse of Reality, we are transformed. We go out into the world and slowly, over time, begin to see it for what it really is – everyone and everything in it – an extension of our True Self. We are Ultimate Reality. Each one of us.

How’s that for emancipation and freedom? Thanks Bob, you yogi you.