Live a Hopeful, Zesty, Grateful, Loving, Curious Life

For Thanksgiving, I wrote an article over at Inner Fire about the health benefits of gratitude. While sifting through research on gratitude interventions, I came across quote that felt surprisingly inspiring and uplifting for a matter-of-fact academic article. It didn’t fit into the Inner Fire Article, so I wanted to share it here:

Consistently and robustly associated with life satisfaction were hope, zest, gratitude, love, and curiosity. [1]

A hopeful, zesty, grateful, loving, curious life—yes please! Here are some tips on cultivating some of these qualities:

Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. -Claude T Bissell

Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. -Claude T Bissell

For more on gratitude, please read 8 Health Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude Every Day over at Inner Fire.

[1] Nansook Park, Christopher Peterson, Martin E. P. Seligman (2004). Strengths of Character and Well-Being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 603-619.

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.

Flying Crow

Variation on tree.

Variation on tree.

Once you’ve mastered crow pose, give flying crow (eka pada galavasana) a shot. It is important to have a good handle on crow first so that you know how to make micro-adjustments to stay balanced on your hands. Crow is much easier to escape from than flying crow if you start to fall.

When I teach this in my yoga classes, I usually transition into flying crow from a variation on tree. This gives people the option to stay in tree if that is a more useful balancing posture for them. So let’s start there. Begin in a variation on tree pose with your ankle crossed over the centre of the opposite thigh.

Bring the hands to the floor.

Exhale, forld forward and bring the hands to the floor.

Contract the abdominals, low back, and pelvic floor, and as you exhale fold forward, bringing the hands down to the mat. It is okay to bend into the knee of your supporting leg.

Now, bend into the elbows. Form a shelf with your tricpes (these are the muscles in the back of your upper arms). This shelf is the foundation of your posture; this is where the shin of your front leg is going to sit. The stronger your foundation, the more likely you’ll be able to stick the posture, so don’t let the elbows collapse inwards or outwards: the arms should stay parallel. Bring the shin to the triceps. You may need to hop the back foot farther back.

Bring the shin to the triceps.

Bring the shin to the shelf created by the triceps.

Like most arm balances, you don’t need to hop or jump to get into flying crow. Contract the chest and upper back muscles to keep the elbow from bowing out to the sides. Contract the abdominals, you’ll need them to maintain balance. Now, slowly bend into the elbows and reach the chest bone forward until your back foot floats off the floor. The slower you go, the easier it is to stick the arm balance. If you enter the posture with a lot of forward momentum it’s harder to stop right at that perfect balance point, and you’re more likely to fall forward onto your head. Also, try to look forward while you’re in this posture. Looking down or back toward the legs makes you more likely to roll forwards.

Shift the weight forward until the back foot floats off the floor.

Shift the weight forward until the back foot floats off the floor.

The last step is to slowly extend the back leg. Again, move slowly so that you don’t have to compensate for big changes all at once. For every change you make with that back leg, you have to adapt your foundation to maintain balance. Keep looking forward, keep the arms parallel, and keep the abdominals, low back, and pelvic floor contracted. Breathe.

Slowly extend the back leg.

Slowly extend the back leg.