“Not all things that are faced can be changed.
But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
~ James Baldwin
Courage, Bravery, Learning, Resilience, Expansion, Evolution, Development, Experience, Curiosity, Discovery, Fortitude
When I was in school, “athlete” was not a word that would be used to describe me. I was small in stature, and beside that, I had other interests which didn’t involve being sweaty. I was confronted by physical sensations and hadn’t developed the skills to differentiate discomfort from pain. In the mindfulness world, we call this discernment. In yoga, the Sanskrit word for discernment is viveka. As a child, I shied away from physical challenges and felt distressed when my muscles ached, my heart rate raced, or when balls came flying near my face. I felt safe with books and communicating with my words. I liked being challenged by projects, opportunities to learn, and chances to develop new skills, but not when it came to my body… It would take me years of practice before honing my skills in this arena. Knowing this, you can imagine what a jolt my first power yoga experience was.
A few years into my practice, one of my early teachers pulled me aside and said, “you want all of the benefits of yoga but, you don’t want to do the work to get there.” Ouch. And he was absolutely right. I didn’t come back for a year. Sometimes the truth hurts. A lot. When we come face-to-face with an undeniable truth, one we know to be true in our own heart, we have a choice to make. We can learn, respond, and expand, or shrink back, react defensively, avoid it at all costs, and stay stuck in our ways. How you respond is your opportunity for growth.
Twelve months later when I returned to my practice I was ready to “do the work,” I was ready to grow, because as the saying goes, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” and I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. I attended beginner classes and relearned everything about yoga asana (yoga poses) with humility, patience, and trust. But the real growth, the real “work,” was on the inside. A 90 minute yoga class was time spent with some pretty nasty demons. They sounded like this:
I’m not strong enough.
I’m not flexible enough.
I’m not good enough.
Toni Morrison once wrote, “you wanna fly? You gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.” And it was time. I kept coming back. I sat with those demons and this time I didn’t run away. I learned to remain compassionate with myself while also challenging my limiting beliefs. It wasn’t easy but, as I learned to trust my capacity to feel, and as I honed my skills of discernment, I gained strength, confidence, clarity, and profound insight as to what I might be capable off of my mat and in my life. In yoga we call this tapasya which is the Sanskrit word denoting discipline and can be applied to your body, mind, and speech. This healthy, wise form of discipline lights the fire within us that is needed to ignite profound change. Through concentrated practice we purify and release whatever is no longer serving us – from physical weakness to limiting thought patterns.
Yoga, known primarily in the west through the physical practice of power, vinyasa, flow, or hot yoga can lead to increased strength, balance, and flexibility, to name a few. These might even be some of the reasons you decided to go to yoga in the first place! It’s what I fondly refer to as the “gateway drug.” Physical growth might be a confidence building side effect of a yoga practice but the core value of Growth has existed for thousands of years.
Philosophers and theologians have explored the human capacity for growth for centuries. We can look to the great 6th Century BC Chinese philosopher and writer, Lao-Tzu, who wrote, “mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” In America the concept of growth has been popularized since the 1930’s beginning with self-help guru Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, and continuing today with an amazing plethora of contemporary teachers, speakers, and authors. But more than “self-help,” this week our core value of Growth is asking this: When I’m faced with a setback, challenge, disappointment, or failure, how do I show up? In these moments can I pick myself up, learn, and continue living purposefully, in alignment with my core values?
As practitioners of yoga we call on the practice of Praktipaksha Bhavana, which is introduced in the Yoga Sutras, and invites us to “cultivate the opposite thought.” When a negative thought arises, a thought that is not useful, we are encouraged to cultivate its opposite. I like to think of this as “yes, and…” When we face a setback or disappointment, it’s important not to deny our feelings. In psychological terms this would be called spiritual bypass. Spiritual bypass is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” This is unhealthy and leads to greater pain and suffering down the road. In a healthy application of Praktipaksha Bhavana we acknowledge what we are feeling and then re-enforce the positive. For example, “My proposal for a major project was rejected. I’m feeling sad and disappointed.” This is the YES. Yes, there is pain here. Yes, there is a feeling or emotion present. And we could add, “AND…I’m really proud of myself for taking a big risk. I learned something and I’m going to apply these lessons and try again.”
Your brain is hardwired for growth and is developing new connections and new neural pathways daily. When you adopt a growth mindset, you become more adaptive and resilient. This goes back to last week’s post when we discussed neuroplasticity. If you believe that you are hardwired to continuously learn and grow throughout life, you become more malleable, learn new information at a faster rate, and make connections between thoughts and new insights with greater ease. And, according to Harvard Medical School, we now know that your brain experiences neurogenesis (growth of new cells) throughout life, even through old age, so facing challenges can help keep your brain functioning well. Plasticity is now said to be one of the most important aspects to the adult brain, helping you respond and adapt to new experiences.
But, you have a hurtle to overcome – the negativity bias. When you’re in utero, at only 7 months of development, your amygdala develops. This is the brain’s “fear center,” the location of your primal instinct knows as the “fight, flight, freeze” response. It isn’t until 3 years of age that your hippocampus matures. The hippocampus is responsible for emotional regulation. This means from birth you are literally hardwired for fear! And this makes sense – this instinct is more important to your survival in those first, few sensitive years for self-preservation and protection. But, as adults this instinct may cause more harm than good, especially if the instinct is overactive. In the mindfulness world we say, “the mind is like teflon for the positive and velcro for the negative.” Think about it for a moment. We’ve all experienced this: Have you ever been moving through a wonderful day only to have one person say one off-putting thing or one unexpected thing happen that throws your entire day off instantaneously? We so quickly go from “this day has been great!” to “eh, the day was ok but this thing happened and blah blah blah…” You have to be diligent in observing your mind and using Praktipaksha Bhavana is an incredible way to interrupt this inborn tendency!
Maybe most fascinating of all is the discovery that mistakes actually help your brain to grow! I love this. Researchers discovered that when you make a mistake, synapses fire. Mistakes are powerful and you can benefit by creating environments in your home, place of work, and communities where healthy discussion of mistakes is supported. With this safe sense that it’s not only ok to make mistakes but that mistakes are actually a pathway to expansion, we are inspired to share new ideas, take greater risks, and try new things without the fear and vulnerability of being shamed or otherwise rejected if we fail. You might even consider how you can celebrate your failures as a practice for daily growth. I heard a beautiful story from Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and youngest self-made female billionaire, that each night at the dinner table her father would ask her what she failed at that day. She said it was this nightly ritual that gave her the confidence to go out in the world and do big things.
I had a friend who went to high school with Kobe Bryant. He told me Kobe was the first one at school every day, practicing free throws in the early morning hours while the sun was still coming up. And, Kobe was the last one to leave every night, practicing beyond the time of the final practice whistle. Many of us think the people who are at the top of their field were lucky but, if you dig just a little deeper each athlete, company, author, actor, musician, etc…will tell you they succeeded because of dedicated hard work.
Growth is practice. Not perfection.
The true sign of growth is not a failure-less life. I make mistakes (daily), experience setbacks (all of the time), and go through disappointments (like everyone). There are times, more than I wish, when I misspeak, unintentionally hurt others, or otherwise fail. Practice has not given me a life without challenges. Practice has gifted me resiliency. My true sign of growth has been a faster recovery time. I’m quicker to apologize, faster to bounce back from defeat, and willing to accept responsibility for my life, its outcomes, and my actions. A shorter recovery time is the sign of practice working.
I take solace in the story of Buddha and Mara, the God of Illusion or Death. Even after the Buddha reached enlightenment, Mara continued to visit him. The Buddha’s dedicated attendant, Ananda, would see Mara sulking around the gardens and Ananda would hurry to the Buddha very upset, “Buddha, Buddha, Mara is here again! What should we do?” Buddha, equanimous as ever, would kindly extend a hand, “Mara, please come in. Sit down and let us have tea together.” And Buddha would sit with everything Mara metaphorically represented: greed, hate, delusion, lust, and desire. He would sit with these feelings throughout his life, inviting them in as they arose again and again, using each visit as an opportunity to grow.
Whatever is happening in your life, it is not a punishment. You have survived 100% of the challenges you’ve faced up until this point in time. While the outcomes may have been different than you imagined or desired, you have succeeded and come through every single time. Whether you want to or not, you are growing. Life on this planet demands it. And YOU get to choose how you face it.
You can follow the outlined practice below or visit Inner Dimension Media and enjoy Day #2 of my program Journey to Yoga for a video of this practice.
Read this invocation as you begin. An invocation sets the tone for your practice and establishes intentionality.
Draw your hands together at your heart and close your eyes. Today, we call on the power and potential of our second core value, growth. Through growth, we cultivate the strength to implement our intentions, to move beyond old habits and patterns that have kept them out of reach until this point in time. We trust that as we transition away from limiting beliefs that it’s ok to be uncomfortable, that our discomfort is a beautiful sign of growth. With our intentions in place & our hearts, minds, and bodies courageously willing to grow, we begin…Inhale and circle the arms to the sky…
Flow through 3 rounds of Sun Salutation A with an optional Vinyasa between each round
Forward Fold with hands interlaced behind the back (hold for 5 breaths)
Sun Salutation B Variation: Repeat the cycle 3 times
Crescent Pose (hold for 5 breaths)
Warrior III (hold for 5 breaths)
Eagle Pose (hold for 5 breaths)
Return to Warrior III
Return to Crescent Pose
Open to Warrior II (hold for 5 breaths)
Wide Leg Forward Fold with Gomukasana Arms (hold for 5 breaths)
Side Angle Pose (hold for 5 breaths)
Extended Side Angle Pose (hold for 5 breaths)
Bound Side Angle Pose (hold for 5 breaths)
Side Angle Pose
Optional 3 push ups
Malasana at back of mat (hold for 5 breaths)
Optional Bird of Paradise variation
Walk back to Downward Facing Dog
Repeat on the left side
Janu Sirsasana (both sides hold for 8-10 breaths)
Gomukasana (both sides hold for 8-10 breaths)
You can read through the meditation instructions below or download my FREE audio meditation course, 7 Days of Meditation, and listen to the Day 2 meditation for a guided version.
Becoming mindful of your thoughts is one of the primary foundations of mindfulness…While thoughts can feel real, much of the time, they are not true. Thoughts such as “I’m too sensitive” OR “I’m not good enough, wealthy enough, successful enough, or good looking enough” don’t have your best interest in mind and are often passed down culturally or generationally. Today, you’ll bring kind, compassionate awareness to the thoughts that are no longer serving your best interest and begin to move beyond your limiting beliefs so that you can live your highest purpose and best possible life. Begin by closing your eyes or softly resting your gaze….
Allow your forehead to become smooth…your jaw to unhinge…and your low belly and low back to release….You can continue resting your awareness in your body or if it feels appropriate and right, start to turn your attention to your breath…
Inquire: what are my limiting beliefs?… Is there a particular thought that continues to bring you down or leave you feeling like you don’t belong?…You might feel this belief in your body, you might hear this belief in your mind or you might see it in the form of a vision…
As you sit with this limiting belief, ask yourself:
What is it like to live with this belief? Take several moments here to reflect, what is like to live with this belief? When you are trapped in this limiting belief, how does it impact your life, career, relationships, and health?
How does this belief feel in your body? Take several breaths to sense, when this belief is alive, how does my body feel?
What does this vulnerable place need? When this limiting belief is active, what does this vulnerable place within you most need?
Resting your awareness on your breath or in your body, ask yourself the question,“Who would I be if I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me?”….“Who I you be if I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me?”…Start to see this version of yourself in your mind’s eye, start to feel this version of yourself alive and thriving…“Who would I be if I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me?”
Would you be happier? More joyful or more fulfilled? Would you feel more connected and less isolated? Continue breathing into this experience of yourself, the version of you that lives beyond your limiting thoughts and beliefs for several minutes…
Now imagine you are sitting in front of a large outdoor fire under the starry night sky….see this well-built fire burning safely and beautifully before you…Imagine that you could drop each one of these limiting beliefs into the fire…watch as each limiting belief is taken into the flames and dissolved into the night sky…
Once you feel complete, allow the image of the fire to fade and sense how you feel now…Is there a deeper sense of liberation or spaciousness? An experience of feeling lighter or more joyful?…Pause here and breathe into this new awareness of yourself living and thriving, free of your limiting beliefs…
Your beingness beyond your beliefs is your truth…Continue resting in the awareness of yourself living beyond your limiting beliefs…
As you bring this practice to a close reflect on what Aristotle once said, “it’s the sign of a mature mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Thoughts will arise today but you have this practice to draw. As you enter your day, remember, “the mind creates the abyss…but it’s the heart that crosses it.”
I practice every morning for the next 30 days, prioritizing my health, wellbeing, and joy.
I set aside 10 mins every day for self care to journal, meditate, or enjoy a cup of tea.
I limit my time on social media to 30 minutes a day so that I spend more time
connecting to my practice, friends and family, and core values.
In the way only Hafiz could phrase it, “fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you in better living conditions.” This week, sit with your shadow, make friends with your darkness, invite yourself to tea. Your growing edge is a vulnerable and valuable place to explore, and I would love to hear about your journey. Be radically committed to the process. Practice. Meditate. Write. Then, share with your circle and expand even more. Next we will continue with Part III: The Core Value of Devotion. Until then may your practice guide you through everything you are thinking, saying, and doing.