14 Signs That Social Media is Making You Sacrifice Yoga for #yoga: Confessional

I recently wrote an article for Inner Fire about how the pressures of social media may profoundly affect our yoga practice (read the full article over at Inner Fire for all fourteen points with discussion). At the bottom of the post, I wrote the following:

I poke fun with love. I’ve been guilty of many of these things at one time or another over the last ten years.

In the spirit of owning up to inauthenticity on social media, I’d like to share some of my own photos that inspiredpoints in the article.

1. You spent longer taking photos of yourself in [one pose] on your more photogenic side than you did moving through a complete, balanced asana practice.

Compass pose

This is backstory behind nearly every “yoga” photo I have of myself. I now like to say my picturesque photos are of me pretending to do yoga. Cameras are distracting for me and I keep them as far away from my real practice as possible. (Bonus: this is also an example of #2 and #6)

2. To you, the true purpose of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) is to make sure you look contented and serene as you press your bare hands and feet into sharp gravel…

Wild Thing on Gravel

The year I was a Wayfarer, Wanderlust featured this photo of me drilling gravel into the palm of my hand. This selfie photoshoot lasted about 10 frames before the heels of my hands were too raw to continue.

4. You have injured yourself taking advantage of an irresistible photo op.

I learned early on never to do yoga poses while buzzed. The photo a friend snapped of me dropping from standing to full splits at a lifeguard-themed pub night is now lost, but my hamstring remembered it for months thereafter.

I learned early on never to do yoga poses while buzzed. The photo a friend snapped of me dropping from standing into full splits at a lifeguard-themed pub night is now lost, but my hamstring remembered it for months thereafter.

6. Your significant other rolls their eyes when you ask them to take yet another photo of you doing a balancing pose on a rock while on vacation together.

This is from my honeymoon in Hawaii. As if there's room to do an actual yoga practice on this rock.

I took time out of my honeymoon in Hawaii for some #yoga… as if there’s room to do an actual practice on this rock.

8. You’ve perfected the blissful gaze and Mona Lisa smile that every yoga magazine ever loves to feature on its cover.

Striking a #pose in #CentalPark. #doyogaanywhere #yogaeverydamnday #yoga #umbrella #rain #nyc #barefootintherain #lace

A photo posted by Barbie Levasseur (@barbieyoga) on

Practicing on a slippery wet park bench while holding an umbrella always makes me feel blissful and serene.

12. There are no photos of your journeys, only your destinations.

Want to take a guess at how many photos it takes to capture a perfect moment like this with a baby? At least she got a good, long tummy time session.

Want to take a guess at how many fussy, gawky, pukey photos it takes to capture a perfect moment like this with a baby?


13. Once the camera is off your practice is over.

Pregnant Skeleton

I stopped practicing traditional asana the day I found out I was pregnant to retain as much stability as possible in my already hypermobile joints. I didn’t practice traditional poses again until the end of my third trimester in preparation for childbirth… Well, except to take this irresistible photo of my Halloween costume.

Read more about hypermobility during pregnancy here.

14. You take selfies while meditating.


#meditation #nyc #manhatten #zen #fountain #batterypark #sucasana #jnanamudra A photo posted by Barbie Levasseur (@barbieyoga) on

Not a selfie, but still a totally posed meditation shot (and another example of #6). I don’t think I sat in stillness for much longer than it took to get the photo.

Please read the original full article over at Inner Fire: 14 Signs That Social Media is Making You Sacrifice Yoga for #yoga

Stop Procrastinating and Dive into Life

So many of us succumb to procrastination in our day-to-day lives, which is essentially allowing that which matters most to give way to that which matters least. Even in yoga class, we mull over what we should’ve said in an earlier argument, repeat and re-repeat mental grocery lists, and wonder self-consciously if anyone noticed that giant zit that popped up this morning. All of this is just procrastination that prevents us from being present to the real work: the svadyaya (self-study), the dharana (concentration), and the dhyana (meditation). Just as with any other work we procrastinate from, this stuff is often scary, uncomfortable, and exhausting. Anything that that spurs wild transformation usually is.

As Rusty Wells always said in class when I practiced with him years ago (and he probably still does): “If nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes.” Next time you’re in yoga class, your mantra is, “I prioritize that which matters most in this moment.” Mental chatter is definitely going to come up, but instead of indulging in it, you notice it as an observer rather than a participant. What do you cling to? What are your recurring thoughts? When is there the most mental chatter? When is there tranquility? Distraction is going to come up too. That’s an another opportunity for svadyaya. As one of my dear teachers, Les Leventhal, always used to point out: we never stop take a sip of water or fix our hair in the poses that we love. Notice.

Once you start diving into your yoga practice, you’ll find that the habits you develop start spilling over into the rest of your life too. You run for what matters most rather than lolling about in what matters least. You seize the day. You savor the richness of each moment.

Life is love - enjoy it. -Sai Baba

Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it. -Sai Baba

On the internet, there is widespread disagreement who wrote the following poem, so if you know who the author is please let me know!

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.
– Unknown

How do I practice withdrawal of the senses?

Q: How do I practice withdrawal of the senses?

A: Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, is the fifth limb of yoga, as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In the sutras, it says,

Pratyahara is when the senses withdraw themselves from the objects and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind. As a result of this withdrawal, there is supreme mastery of the sense organs. (2.54-2.55)

Sometimes withdrawal of the senses is restated as non-attachment to the senses. When practicing pratyahara, we notice sounds and sensations from our environment without letting them perturb us. For example, you may notice your nose itch during a meditation session. You let the sensation register, but instead of automatically scratching your noise, you distance yourself from the experience, observing it with curiosity as if it were happening to someone else. As Ludith Lasater writes in a Yoga Journal article on the subject:

To me, practicing pratyahara doesn’t mean running away from stimulation (which is basically impossible). Rather, practicing pratyahara means remaining in the middle of a stimulating environment and consciously not reacting, but instead choosing how to respond.

Here are some ways you can practice pratyahara in public classes or in your home practice:

  1. During breathing exercises, allow the sound and sensation of your breath to hold your awareness. Allow the length and depth of your breath to fill your awareness. When you’re really focusing on your breath, there isn’t room for much else in your perception.
  2. During balancing poses, direct the eyes and the mind to a drishti, a focal point, and allow all other sensory experience to melt away.
  3. Once you can balance with the eyes open, soften the gaze and direct your awareness to your third eye (the space between the eyebrows) as your drishti. Eventually you may be able to close the eyes, letting go of reliance on vision entirely.
  4. During savasana, the final resting posture, allow your breath or the beating of your heart to be your focal point. You may have moments of mental chatter, and you may have moments of distraction, but allow your breath or your heartbeat to seem so much more interesting than those things that they don’t hold your awareness. You keep returning to your drishti.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum  is one of my favorite mantras. Translated directly, it means something like: the jewel is in the lotus flower. One of my teachers explained this metaphor to me: if we peel away the layers of our identity (much as one might peel away the many petals of a lotus flower), we reveal our true nature (the jewel inside). If we let go of the transient labels we by which define ourselves (and they’re all transient), we uncover our inner light. We can find moksha, freedom.

We can begin to peel away these layers in meditation by questioning the pieces of our identity: Who would I be if I lost my job title? Who would I be if I lost a leg? Who would I be on mood-altering drugs? Who would I be if went through gender reassignment surgery? You may find that even after you’ve whittled down to the bare bones of your identity, there’s still a conscious observer who can ask the question, Who am I now? Once you can’t think of any more pieces to dismiss from your identity, ask yourself, How is who I am different from who anyone else is? Underneath all of the layers that separate us, you will find that which connects us all.

Om Mani Padme Hum came to my mind today while I was reading fellow students’ tributes to one of my most influential and beloved teachers, Jacques-Andre Larrivée, who recently passed away. One person’s tribute quoted something that he always used to say:

Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer le monde?
Qui es-tu pour penser que tu peux changer?
Qui es-tu pour penser?
Qui es-tu?

Who are you to think you can change the world?
Who are you to think you can change?
Who are you to think?
Who are you?

This same peeling away of ayers as we can do in meditation, as described above. But in this case we deconstruct a dharma, a purpose: changing the world. The amazing thing about this deconstruction is that if we get to the point that we can answer, “Who?” (independent even of identity) we unearth our enormous power:

Who? The continuity of the universe,…
Who are you? —a significant and dynamic scope of it—
Who are you to think? …expressed as an intelligent system…
Who are you to think you can change? …whose identity is more a matter of perspective than one of reality…
Who are you to think you can change the world? …and who simultaneously takes part in the world, contains the world, and is the world.

That’s who you are to think you can change the world.

Om mani padme hum.

I am enough. I have enough.

You guys, I did something new in yoga last week!

I was practicing in the lovely and inspiring Dana Damara‘s class, and her theme centered around the mantra, “I am enough.” When we suffer from feelings of inadequacy, we start to practice in ways that feed our ego, which often don’t coincide with what is actually safe and serving for us. Dana encouraged us to cultivate “enoughness” in our poses, regardless of the complexity of the variation we chose. Learning to believe that we are enough just the way we are calls upon a fundamental principle of yoga: santosa, contentment.

Exploring this theme for myself, an article that was making the social media rounds a while back came to mind. It was a sort-of-condescending article about how Generation Y Yuppies are unhappy because we were raised to think we’re special, so we grow up with inflated self-esteem and an unrealistic sense of entitlement. Although many people took issue with the article’s oversimplification of Gen Y Yuppies’ woes, there are some grains of truth in there. Instead of thinking “I am not enough, I’d better force my foot behind my head to make up for that,” many of us think, “I’m awesome. I deserve to be able to put my foot behind my head.” In the end, it’s the same result: we practice from ego rather than from awareness, increasing our chances of injury and decreasing our chances of physical, mental, or spiritual progress. With my inner princess in mind, I modified the mantra to, “I have enough.” This calls on some additional principles of yoga: tapas (non-excess), brahmacharya (moderation), and aparigraha (non-greed/non-envy).

Variation on tree.

Variation on tree with the ankle crossed over the opposite knee.

So what did I do that was new in that class? Well, balancing has always come easily to me—one teacher informed me it’s because I have big hands and big feet, so don’t get too envious. The first time Eka Pada Galavasana (flying crow arm balance) was ever introduced to me in a yoga class years ago, I was able to do it, at least to some extent. Teachers always give students the option to stay in a variation of tree instead of taking the arm balance, but even though eka pada galavasana hasn’t been feeling as great for me lately as I’m rehabilitating from an injury, I’ve never been able to resist flying. Well, last week in Dana’s class I finally transcended eka pada galavasana’s irresistibility.

I was the only person in the room standing upright with my hands in prayer. In a moment of mental weakness, I fell victim to temptation and made a gesture put my hands down on the floor, but I snapped out of it a moment later and pressed my palms back together, this time resting my thumbs on my lips. I repeated to myself, “I have enough. This is enough.” And it really was.

If we cultivate excessiveness, extravagance, and greed on the mat, these qualities will only flourish in our life off the mat. Sometimes the most advanced practice of yoga is not choosing the contortion that challenges your flexibility nor the acrobatics that challenge your strength. Sometimes it’s choosing the simplicity that challenges your ego.