Posts by Yogi Elisabeth Walter

Enjoy Stillness

Posted on: August 24th, 2014 By:
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We are restless, wandering, distracted creatures. We speed to yoga class, get frustrated by the annoying person in front of us who clearly doesn’t know how to merge in traffic, text and check our emails only moments before we arrive on our mats. We push through each pose, so that we can rest in savasana with a sense of accomplishment. Finally we can be still, mind, body and soul for five whole minutes. We say our namastes and then we race back to the car, eyes focused on our phone, walking and texting our way from the yoga studio to the car as we head to our next destination.

For many of us, yoga is a practice that lasts from the beginning to the end of class. We take with us the afterglow of our practice, yet we continue to rush through the rest of our lives. Stillness is not something we have time for. But, sometimes stillness is the most productive action we can take.

If we sit with an increasing stillness of the body, and attune our mind to the sky or to the ocean or to the myriad stars at night, or any other indicators of vastness, the mind gradually stills and the heart is filled with quiet joy. Also recalling our own experiences in which we acted generously or with compassion for the simple delight of it without expectation of any gain can give us more confidence in the existence of a deeper goodness from which we may deviate. —-Ravi Ravindra, The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Many practice yoga for the physical benefits, which is great. The rigorous asana is key to helping us focus the mind by allowing us to reconnect with ourselves and find peace in the sound of breath. But the next time you rest in child’s pose or relax into your final savasana, see if you can find gratitude somewhere within the rise and fall of our breath. See if you can find rest in knowing the universe is greater than all of your plans and ideas. And when you roll up your mat, leave the class slowly. See if you can notice your breath throughout the day and pause, setting aside the constant activity of your mind and your day planner, and enjoy stillness.

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Release and Restore

Posted on: July 30th, 2014 By:
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I’m not sure what it is that keeps us moving forward when what we really need is to chill out and relax. I often feel determined even though I’m hitting a wall. So naturally, I keep hitting the same wall, slamming myself into it, thinking that over time I can eventually knock it down and move past it. Unfortunately sometimes the answer is to chillax and wait for something to change.

We talk a lot about letting go in yoga. In Liz Shakti’s restorative class this week we had the chance to embrace stillness, the time it takes for muscles to release and for the mind to calm. It takes a long time. And while we’re sitting in poses like reclined cobbler’s pose, knees splaying open, heart to the sky, our bodies are positioned to receive and to release. It’s kind of amazing how laying in a pose of submission to the universe can re-shape our thoughts and our bodies. There is no pushing. There is no force. Just letting go. And when you can allow your thoughts to follow the lead of your calm, still body, your mind can come to a place of rest as well.

Doing yoga like this, laying around and allowing the body to open up itself (in it’s own time) is a sweet little lesson in control. It feels better to push ourselves into positions, asserting our power and strength. We want to feel like we accomplished something. What about waiting for God or the universe to unfold rather than situating every detail? A wise yoga teacher once told me that I need to stop trying to figure out my life. Just stop. She told me I won’t figure anything out, because I can’t. This was not easy to hear. It’s about living from your core, doing, being, accepting what is now, and letting go of the things you can’t control. That’s all. Pretty simple.

So maybe practicing letting go on a regular basis is a good idea. Maybe restorative yoga is something we need more of in those times of wanting to push our way through life. Maybe it’s a way for us to be honest with ourselves, be present with where we’re at and find a place of acceptance so that we can let go of the things that don’t serve us.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

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Attitude of Gratitude

Posted on: April 20th, 2014 By:
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Lately my yoga practice has been a bit frustrating. I injured my back last fall and it’s still really sensitive. Sometimes I’m scared to try a new class or a new teacher, because I don’t want to aggravate my injury, so I practice at home. Right before I hurt myself, I was seeing some major improvements in some of the inversions I had been practicing, and I was growing more and more confident and willing to try more challenging poses. Well 20 dead-lifts later, I was singing a different tune. In my typical adventurous spirit I tried a cross-fit gym while I was living in Denver. Super fun, but with a price.

It’s hard to be grateful when you’re injured, vulnerable or feeling rejected. I had to go back to the basics, start skipping chaturangas and back bends, and learn how to care for my body in a new way. Core work-outs and gentle yoga classes have really helped, and most importantly, remembering to back off. All the while, I’m trying to appreciate where I am right now, instead of thinking how advanced my practice use to be.

Being grateful for the losses, the transitions, and the tears is a challenge. As the universe shifts and the things we’ve worked so hard for are taken away, we learn how inflexible we really are. I had no idea how attached I was to my little car until it was broken and almost gone… and my I didn’t realize how awesome my back was until it pooped out on me. A grateful attitude allows us to see what we have to work with and it empowers us to move forward amidst challenging circumstances. It often requires a mental shift from what we would naturally think about, but just like anything else, it takes practice.

In Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage, he recommends writing down three things you’re grateful for daily. This helps you to retrain your brain to look for things to be grateful for, even the little things. Gratitude opens doors. It invites you to see yourself and the world around you without judgement, and it gives you the opportunity to invite people and experiences into your life with excitement and wonder. The losses are just challenges, or signs that it is time to move on to something else and look for something better. “Plot twist!” as my friend Donna says.

Yogi Bhajan says, “An attitude of gratitude brings great things.” What are you grateful for?

Living Yoga

Posted on: April 4th, 2014 By:
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As my life has gotten busier and busier, I have been contemplating how necessary it is to implement the lessons yoga teaches us into our lives. Not just rushing into class to practice only to run back into our hectic, stressful lives. Living yoga. This is not a easy task, and we must remember that it looks different for everyone, because just as we learn in our yoga practice, everyone’s body is different and needs different things.

I have been guilty of keeping my practice on my mat, rushing to class in order to calm my anxiety and find peace. As soon as I roll up my mat and leave the studio, I am texting, checking voicemails, emails and running to the next event. The focus of my day is primarily how much I can accomplish. Yoga is a workout class, a stress release, rather than a way of life. We don’t have to live this way, as I am learning more and more. Yoga is a way of life, not just a physical practice.

Here are 5 ways to take your practice off the mat and into your life:

1) Live with intention. When a yoga teacher asks you to set an intention at the beginning of class, they are asking you to set your focus on something positive that will guide you through your practice. When you start to feel shaky or reach a challenging posture that you’re not sure you can do, you have a thought you can return to that will help you maintain your focus during class. Setting an intention for your day helps you as you face life’s challenges. Frustrated with your boss? Come back to your intention. Late to a meeting? Come back to your intention. Consider focusing on a phrase, favorite quote, or a word like gratitude, forgiveness, peace…

2) Show compassion. In order to create space for others in our lives, we must start by showing compassion towards ourselves. You are enough. You have everything you need. You have much to offer. Truth. Rooting and grounding your mind, heart and spirit in the truth cultivates compassion towards yourself and ultimately towards others. And when you fall, show yourself some kindness by giving yourself a break. Everyone falls, as we often experience on our mats, but your task is to keep going and get right back up again.

3) Go to your edge. This one is tricky. In our jobs we are pushed over our limits, expected to do more than there is time and more we can handle. It’s a challenge that at first might seem tempting, and then later overwhelming. Learning to let it bend before it breaks is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, over and over again. As we get to know ourselves a little better, we begin to notice the voice of our spirit that guides us along our daily path. Setting aside time for yourself can help increase our awareness. Listen to your spirit and your body.

4) Simplify. Learn to say “no.” I am such a “yes” person, it can be extremely difficult to say “no” to people. However, as we start to say “no” to the requests of others, we assert ourselves, who we are and have more power to walk in the intentions we set for ourselves. Yoga is about slowing down, caring for our bodies, and mindfulness. Living these principles and making choices based on them can help eliminate the clutter and make room for more of what we want in our lives.

5) Breathe. The most important lesson we can learn from yoga is simply to breathe. In every situation, taking a moment to breathe can reduce stress and prevent impulsiveness. Breathing allows us to notice the tension in our bodies and it helps us to let go. Our breath sets the pace of our lives. The next time you feel stressed, notice your breath. Where are you breathing? If you are only feeling your breath in your chest, try breathing into your belly. Notice the places that are tight; visualize sending your breath there.

There is so much we can use in our daily lives that we learn from yoga. Gratitude is yet another lesson we can learn, appreciating where we are, who we are and the people and things around us… Living in the present. I challenge you to live your yoga practice, and the best place to start is right where you are.

Namaste.

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The Power of Intention

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 By:
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“All that we are is the result of what we have thought…” –Gautama Buddha

“Set an intention for the class. Try not to focus on something you want to change,” were the words Allie Burnitt challenged us with at the beginning of her all levels vinyasa class. I always set an intention when I practice yoga. It helps me to focus. Often times I choose to focus on peace, and creating peace within my body. When holding a pose and my muscles start to shake, I can ask myself if I’m achieving my intention or if I need to come into a resting pose.

I felt a gentle nudging as I soaked up my practice lying in savasana, “You have to be here before you can get to where you want to be…” Welcome to the present moment. The starting point. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a process. It’s hard… but it is the present, and you can still find peace there.

I’m the queen of starting over. Not to say I’m really amazing at it, but I’ve done it. A lot. I moved away to Denver about a year and a half ago about two weeks after I completed my yoga teacher training. My training brought up a lot of stuff for me, and my logical response was to run away into the unknown and hide out for a while to work on myself. My heart was set on adventure, but deep down my intention was to change everything about myself and my life that I didn’t like, and I wanted space to do it. My intention was to start over, so I started over, and over and over again with different jobs and relationships… I constantly sought out ways to fix myself. My intention was change, and let me tell you, I went through a ridiculous amount of changes. I moved three times (in the same city), jumped in and out of multiple relationships, changed my diet, my lifestyle, my way of thinking… So I guess you could say the universe gave me exactly what I wanted. Change.

When your energy is focused on what you want to change, you’re focusing your attention on the things you don’t want in your life. One of my dear friends Samara explained to me that the universe doesn’t hear “don’t.” So when you say, “I don’t want stress in my life…” the universe may continue to throw stressful experiences your way. Perhaps a better way to express your intention would be to say, “I want to manage my stress better,” or, “I want to take more control over my schedule, obligations, etc…” When you focus your attention on what you want to manifest in your life, you notice those things and they often gravitate towards you. For example, when I started teaching yoga, I decided I wanted to teach to underserved communities. Within a couple of weeks I got an email that there was an opportunity to teach yoga at The Bridge Project, an after-school care program for the children of families living in affordable housing. So, I took the job and ended up teaching to the amazing kids in these photos:

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…Although I wish I could continue teaching these kids, the imprint they left on me shifted my thinking and directed me towards my next steps here in Austin.

As I start my life over, I am cautious. I want to be intentional about how I spend my time and what I focus my energy on. I have a few different intentions, but mainly I want my actions, words and thoughts to contribute towards peace. Peace in my life and others. This is not necessarily how things are now. At the starting point, life feels a little chaotic as things shift into place. To find peace as things shift and evolve is the place I struggle to balance and accept. But if I can embrace what is, perhaps I can find peace.

“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”

I learned this mantra in my yoga teacher training. It may have taken me a while to begin to put it into practice, but I’m working on it. It means, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

May you walk in awareness of your intentions, speaking your truth, showing compassion towards yourself and others. And may your thoughts, words and actions contribute towards peace.

 

Sweet Surrender

Posted on: March 4th, 2014 By:
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Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending Chelsea Hover’s Restorative Yoga class. Although the practice was not physically challenging in an energetic, sweat-till-you-drop sort of way, it presented a different sort of challenge. Her class focused on creating a comfortable environment on your mat using bolsters and blankets to support you while holding poses for five to seven minutes at a time. Using the breath, it is common to move into a meditative state while resting in these poses. Unfortunately, it is also common for the mind to wander.

There is so much chatter going on in our minds, it often takes extra effort to slow down. Even laying on the ground over a massive pillow with the enchanting sound of singing bowls, I had to choose to reign in my thoughts.

“Let the breath be your teacher,” Chelsea gently reminded us. With each inhale I focused on feeling the breath, slowing it down as I drifted deeper into the pose. One of the cool things about restorative yoga is that as we hold the pose for longer without any effort we are able to open up the connective tissue, which allows you to go deeper into the stretch, increasing flexibility and improving circulation.

“What else can you let go of?” she asked us as we drifted deeper into a state of relaxation. The first thing that always comes to mind is, “My thoughts!” which is the obvious answer. So how do you let go of your thoughts when they continue to swirl around in your brain? One thing I’ve tried that works well for me is to treat my mind like it is a small child and just whisper in my head, “shhh…” taking captive every thought as it arises, wrapping it with breath and compassion and just rocking it to sleep. Having a mantra also helps. It can be anything and it can evolve throughout the practice. Sometimes I just start with inhaling, “Let,” and exhaling, “Go.”

Letting go and surrendering to your breath is one of the most peaceful and powerful practices. Recognizing that this is the current reality and then acting as an observer of your thoughts releases you from living in the past and the future. It brings you back to the present and gives you the opportunity to soak up the benefits of rest. Another tool I find helpful is to scan the body and notice any areas where I feel tension and sending my breath there, visualizing the exact spot and focusing on breathing there until I feel a release.

During this class, after using all of my meditative tools, I began to focus on visualizing the room and listening all of the sounds around me. The rain tapped against the windows and I pictured each drop dripping from the sky, down the branches and off the leaves until it reached the ground. I scanned the room in my mind, recognizing what a beautiful space I’m in, feeling the tranquility around me, deepening my breath.

The mind and the body need rest. Learning to set aside time for this daily can be quite the challenge, but very necessary. Just as we practice what we learn about ourselves on the mat in a Hatha or Vinyasa class, there is much to learn in Restorative Yoga as well. To surrender to the breath can be a little scary, because it means letting go of the list of tasks in our minds, our responsibility, our plans. As we do this, we create space, giving the mind and the body a chance to heal and restore.

“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? what could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” —Eckhart Tolle

What else can you let go of? Start where you are and let your breath be your teacher.

Sunshine and Ice Cream

Posted on: February 27th, 2014 By:
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I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been pretty stressed this week. I tend to take on a little too much thinking I can do it all, and then I get overwhelmed. That’s a pretty normal thing I suppose, but it frustrates me because I do it often. The blissful, calm state that we are in after a yoga class is something I wish could carry over into every minute of my life. Listening to your breath for an hour and moving rhythmically to the sound of every inhale and exhale gives you a certain kind of energy and peace that you can’t get anywhere else… except maybe perhaps when you are sitting in the sun eating ice cream.

Today I was stressed out. I am attempting to balance three part-time jobs, and I am now remembering why most people just have one full time job. It’s easy to get scattered. And it’s hard to slow down. I quickly made my lunch today, cleaning and eating at the same time. I stood in the kitchen for a moment and listened to my breath when I realized I wasn’t even enjoying the delicious kale and butternut squash I made. I was barely breathing. I had to close my eyes so that I could really focus, but I knew I just needed to sit down and be still for a moment. And I decided I needed some ice cream. Then I looked outside. The sun was shining and I could feel it calling to me. I remembered something one of my friends told me about how when you feel anxious, you should go outside and put your hands in the dirt. Sometimes you just need a little grounding. So, I got some ice cream and went and sat outside in the dirt under the sun. I closed my eyes and went to my happy place. Everyone should have one. Mine is the creek behind my old house that I grew up in. So I visualized the water, and the sound it makes when it flows over the rocks. The branches of the trees weaved together to form a canopy over me, as I watched the water sparkling like stars dancing across the sky. I sat there and ate my coconut peanut butter chocolate ice cream (which is amazing by the way) and I breathed. I let the sun envelope me as it beamed upon my face. I felt the stability of the ground beneath me and I savored every bite of sweetness.

Your yoga practice begins on the mat. That’s where we practice noticing our breath and feeling what’s going on in our bodies. When you walk outside the studio, that’s the true test of your practice. We learn to breathe, balance, and fall in class so that when life happens, we will have the tools we need. Our ability to come back to the present is one of the greatest skills yoga teaches us. Our breath helps us to listen and pay attention to the moment we are in. It helps us to remember where we are and see what is right in front of us, rather than everything left on our to do list. Think about how when you’re on your mat and you are asked to do an advanced pose, like Firefly pose… You move into the pose in stages, starting in a squat. You might not get past the first step. Or you might make it to the lift off, and then you fall. What do you do? You come back to your breath and you try again. Or maybe you just come to a resting pose. Regardless, you identify what you can do in that moment and what you need, and you remember to breathe. This is the practice of living in the present moment.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”Thich Nhat Hanh

Perhaps it’s time to slow down. Maybe you need to take a moment to come back to your breath today, or just take an ice cream break. In those few moments of stillness we give ourselves we often find that we need a lot less than what’s spinning around in our heads. And if we can just take a moment to listen to our breath, it is there we can find stillness and come back to the present.

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The Humble Warrior

Posted on: February 21st, 2014 By:
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The other day I went to the 12pm All Levels Yoga Class taught by the lovely Liz Shakti. We worked our core, massaged our spine, and I could feel the energy flowing more evenly throughout my body. At one point at the beginning of the class I remember thinking, “This isn’t a workout!” And I got frustrated. A lot of the time I go to a yoga class to get my ass kicked. I want to be tired and sore afterward. I want a power yoga class! All the time. One of the reasons I came to this class was because it’s ALL LEVELS YOGA, which means beginners are welcome and if you’re advanced you can take your practice to the next level. I re-injured my shoulder recently and I knew I needed to back off. So this class was really good for me, because we didn’t do a million chaturangas, and I learned some new poses to balance my root chakra that I had never done before.

I also learned a little bit more about practicing yoga as a humble warrior.  Let me set the scene for you: In Camel pose, Liz came up to me to give an adjustment. I heard the pitter-patter of her feet as she walked closer to me, and I remember thinking, “Dangit, she’s going to make me back off!” I was determined to do camel, even though I knew it didn’t feel good that day. I wanted to push myself and I wanted to work! Liz gently wrapped her arms around the back of the upper part of my spine and asked me to lean back. I couldn’t lean back nearly as far as I had on my own, but my heart and shoulders were more open and my spine was longer and my neck muscles began to relax. Still, I remember feeling a little bummed because I was actually doing the pose before, even though it hurt. “I can do camel… I can TOTALLY do camel,” I told myself as I strained my neck, feeling the aching of my right shoulder as I strained to open my shoulders and reach for my feet.

Being a humble warrior means being willing to receive correction. Yoga teachers are there to teach us and also ensure our safety. Although they will always encourage you to go to your edge, it’s never healthy to go past it. I have a pretty good idea of where my edge is, but I always attempt to jump off it. It’s my ego talking, the part of me that compares me to everyone else, wants to measure up and be a glorious example of perfection. It’s a humbling experience when a teacher approaches you in class to assist you, especially before you ask for it, because you have to let go of how great you thought you were and admit that you need a little help. Yes you are strong, but I hate to break it to you, you’re not perfect, and neither are your yoga postures.

That’s the hardest part of the practice: Letting go of the ego. One way to do this is to be honest with where you’re at, in your life and in your body. On the mat, if you’re not honest with yourself, you are more prone to injury. One of my teachers taught me that you are guaranteed success if you can be willing to back off, because your are taking steps to be safe and prevent injury. An injury will set you back for days, months or even years. So when it’s time for inversions and you have a neck injury, maybe try a pose that won’t aggravate it? So rather than shoulder stand or plow, perhaps hand stand or even legs up the wall if you need to rest…. You can always ask the teacher or let them know about your injury. If you’re willing to receive their assistance, you may improve your alignment and give your body the opportunity to heal so that you can take it to the next level next time. And when you feel a tingling, burning, sharp pain, that means, “Back off!” That’s your body’s voice yelling to get your attention before you hurt yourself. Let it bend before it breaks.

The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. —Pema Chodron

It takes courage to be honest with yourself and to be open. That’s where the warrior comes in: you have to be brave to be humble. We have to be willing to show compassion towards ourselves, which means seeing our imperfection and embracing it lovingly. Admitting we are injured so that we can heal. Admitting we are tired so that we rest. Embracing the truth about ourselves that we don’t like. You know, the shitty stuff. And when we do so, we are listening to our bodies and our hearts and creating space. When there is space we can invite others into our lives and receive what they have to offer.

So the next time you go to an all levels yoga class, come with an open heart and listen to your body. The teacher may have something planned that is entirely different from what you expected, but if you can let go of your expectations you will be able to receive far more benefits from the teacher and the class experience. It takes courage to practice with others. Remember that they are there for you to support you and help you grow. And remember that just as the studio space looks like a cozy nest, it is exactly as it appears: a safe space, wrapped in vines, rooted, grounded and supported. And as you walk the stone steps to the studio and leave your shoes at the door, leave behind your expectations so that you can be open to receive.

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