Dive Deep and Find What You Need

Amanda Manning, LPC, LMHC, RYT (200)


“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” (Bhagavad Gita, 3.35)


I want you take a moment and read that quote from one of the oldest spiritual texts known to man a few times, until you really grasp it and feel it. I am a yoga teacher and a mental health therapist, and I love to combine the two because I feel both are important to understanding why we might be feeling stuck, inert, flat, unfulfilled.


What I think most of us are doing is trying to reach goals that are beyond our reach. I’m not saying that we aren’t good enough to reach them, but that the goals we are reaching for aren’t actually our goals. They are the goals of our mothers, friends, partners, social media “influencers”, etc. We will truly get what we want out of life when we recognize that for the most part we already have it.



The next step is to identify what we really, truly want. Our heartfelt desire.


In the Art of Happiness, Dr. Howard C. Cutler reviews several discussions he had with the Dalai Lama on happiness. Dr. Cutler outlines several research studies about happiness…and how to be happy…and why it’s important to be happy… He says the Dalai Lama stated something like that in order to be happy we essentially have to identify that which makes us happy and follow that and then identify that which causes suffering and get rid of that.


And at first I was like WOW. PROFOUND! This is life changing stuff. And then after closer inspection I was like…wait. That’s it? Do the things we like and get rid of the things we don’t?


And yet. We don’t do that.


We don’t make space for the things that we truly, truly need in our life.


So shopping makes you happy? Does it? It is exciting to twirl in that new dress or receive that new package or put those new things on the shelf, right? Such a thrill in the search and finding of the perfect thing. The question is then, is that bringing you happiness or pleasure?


This is the trick that we have to break down further.


Just because something brings you pleasure doesn’t mean it’s making you happy. Sunday funday, anyone? FABULOUS at the time, not so great when you are dragging your bleary-eyed carcass into work on Monday. Is that true happiness?


Let’s break down Sunday Funday. It’s belly laughs with best friends, sunshine, good food, cute outfits. Mimosas are likely involved in the all-you-can-drink volume, and that enhances the belly laughs, I’ll give you that, but you don’t need those to maintain your friendships, do you? If you do, no judgement, but take a look at those friendships.


So what truly brings you happiness?



The sun glinting through the window on a Saturday morning, hitting the shoulder ever so softly of your partner laying next to you. The extra time that morning to talk about the crazy dream you had or plan the day. The first sip of coffee. Children’s laughter. The soft fur of your dog or cat snuggled up next to you. Nailing that presentation at work. All of the laundry being done (look, just dream big with me here). Chopping vegetables while your partner or your kid tells you a funny story about their day. That song coming on the radio at the exact moment that you need it to. Inside jokes with family. Twinkle lights. Ocean waves. Snow capped mountains. The end of an intense workout. The smile of your best friend when they are doing something they are passionate about.


Is it crappy champagne mixed with orange juice? Maybe, and that’s cool. But get real about what is bringing you true happiness and what is bringing you merely pleasure. And there is nothing wrong with pleasure, right? But if you are never getting work done on Monday because of choices you made on Sunday, can’t buy the house you want but your closet is full of designer clothes, aren’t feeling fulfilled in your relationships and haven’t done the work necessary to figure out why…then question those things and if what you are doing is only providing pleasure that later leads to suffering, get curious about that.


“But, I don’t have the time to figure all of this out, Amanda,” you may think, “I need to take a week off and go to a silent yoga retreat in the mountains and really spend time thinking about this. Once I can make that happen, then I’ll be better. Promise! More mimosa?”

…maybe.


Does this sound familiar though? Get curious about that, if it does.


There is a concept in yoga philosophy called samtusta that reminds us that we have all the conditions that we need right now to be happy.


No, seriously. We do.


Try to fight me on this one. I dare ya.


You won’t win.


You may have to tap deep down into it though. And to do that. You need breathwork, meditation, and restorative yoga. In Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty, he talks about his experience living as a monk and how his mentor and teacher Guaranga Das helped him to understand this. He told a story of a monk who was asked to go into an old storeroom, filled with junk, forgotten and unused items, covered in cobwebs. The monk is led to a mirror that is covered with dust and when asked what he sees he notes that he can’t see anything in the mirror. Then he cleans off the mirror, using his sleeve to wipe away the grime, and he is covered in dust which gets into his mouth and nose and stings his eyes.


He says, “Your identity is a mirror covered with dust. When you first look in the mirror the truth of who you are and what you value is obscured. Clearing it may not be pleasant, but only when that dust is gone can you see your true reflection.”


So. Ready to do some housekeeping?



Breath


“Time doesn’t heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility, when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” (James Nestor, Breath)


If you have time, pick up the book Breath, by James Nestor. In it you will find a fascinating amount of research into how breath, especially the type of breathing we do in yoga, Ujjayi (which is in and out through the nose) is so beneficial. It ties a lot in what I discussed in my last post which heavily focused on polyvagal theory.


Borrowing again from Jay Shetty in Think Like Monk , he recalls a time he met a 10 year old monk who discussed the importance of breath, “ When you get stressed—what changes? Your breath. When you get angry—what changes? Your breath. We experience every emotion with the change of breath. When you learn to navigate and manage your breath, you can navigate any situation in life.”


Ten year olds get it! We should too.


If you’re like me, then you’ve had the experience of being born, but probably don’t remember it. Do you know what happened to every single one of us? We emerged from the womb and everyone in the room held their breath while they waited for us to take our first.


Breath is life.


In yoga, breathwork is called pranayama and it is the fourth of eight limbs of yoga. Yoga classes should be focusing as much on proper breathwork as they are on asanas (or poses). It is that important. Learning to use the breath to find depth in a pose is the goal. When we keep the breath moving in and out of the nose through yoga we are teaching the body to stay in our parasympathetic nervous system (or our rest and digest mode) which eventually leads to a reduction of anxiety related symptoms. We stay more present in the moment and, therefore, become more equipped to handle our emotional needs in the moment.


Meditation


If anything has helped me get through this pandemic, it has been meditation. I can’t tell you exactly why, but when I keep a consistent meditation practice I am less reactive and more in the moment. When I am not practicing meditation I am anxious, irritable, and just generally not having a good time.


When I say consistent practice I don’t mean that I carve out an hour a day. Meditation is sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes 5. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens more days than not. I find ways to reconnect to breath and be more present in each moment thanks to the skills that I am gaining in meditation.


Many people stray away from starting up a meditation practice out of fear. I get that, but let me remind you of this from Pema Chodron, “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”


Be fearless. Why not you? Why not now. Go for it. You can find places to meditate with others if you would feel more comfortable having a sangha, or community, to share this experience with. I offer a free, weekly, virtual meditation every Friday morning at 8:30am(PST). All you have to do is follow the link:




Restorative Yoga


Of all the items on the list, this one might be the toughest. You may think I’ve gone off the rails here. How can restorative yoga be difficult?? If you were to google restorative yoga you would find a bunch of pictures of people propped up in these amazing poses as if they were serenely napping. Essentially a restorative yoga practice will have you doing a handful of poses, holding them for several minutes at a time and the point is to be as comfortable as possible. You use as many props that are available until you are no longer thinking about holding your body up. You are just laying back in these soft and gentle spaces.


What’s hard about that?


Ah! Well, when the body doesn’t have to think about things, the mind starts to GO! As you lay there, eyes closed, soft music playing, it gives you a lot of time for your mind to start meandering through all of those topics that you try to ignore throughout the day. Like meditation, the goal is to focus your attention back to your body and back to the present, but it can be tough to do. People talk about a wide range of emotions that they experience while they are lying back “resting”.


This is just the absolute experience in combining both the breath and meditation with things like hip openers and heart openers and twists. Gah! It’s such a lovely practice. I highly recommend that you add it in to your monthly or weekly yoga practice if you find a place that offers this type of yoga.


I am rounding out a restorative yoga workshop this month for both Beyoutiful Hot Yoga and Songbird Music and Arts Studios, but I plan to offer more in the future. If you want to see what it is all about find me on Instagram.


These practices are easy, and they are really difficult. It depends on your goal. There is no end game for any of them. There is no certificate for being the best breather, meditator, or restorative yogi.


The gift is learning about who you are, what you want, and finding, probably, that you already have it and have had it all along.


Resources


James Nestor (Breath - https://www.auntiesbooks.com/book/9780735213616)

Jay Shetty ( Think Like a Monk - https://www.auntiesbooks.com/book/9781982134488)

Dalai Lama (The Art of Happiness - https://www.auntiesbooks.com/book/9781573227544)

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