You Are Not a Yogi..

I'm not going to lie, this winter has been a doozie. Anybody else? I'm not here to complain, though. I'm actually feeling pretty dang strong. I am smack dab in the middle of the challenging and difficult process of letting go of relationships that are unhealthy, and transitioning into a space where I am honoring what's best for my heart so that I can give it back tenfold. And in the midst of it all, I come back to yoga. Not just yoga as in get on my mat and move, but deeper than that. I've been doing a lot of reflection on what this practice means to me, and what I aim to share as a teacher/guide in a market that is filled with mixed messages and opinions.   

In our culture, yoga has been turned into a massive enterprise and multi-million dollar industry. We have clothing companies telling us what to wear and how to look in what we wear, we have Instagram telling us what poses we should be able to do, and we have mat, towel and accessory companies telling us what props we need to be "cool" and what kind of lifestyle is "necessary" to be a yogi. We see ads for Mala Beads and essential oils used by attractive 20-somethings in beautiful destinations. Don't get me wrong, in 2018, I think yoga-related companies have their place, and those of us who give our time to teaching yoga or providing yoga accessories/clothes/etc. to others need to make a profit. I'm a business person too, and I get it. But here's the thing: 

You are not a yogi based off of what clothes you wear. You are not a yogi based off of what mat you use or whether your mat is brand new or 10 years old. You are not a yogi based off of what studio you practice at, or if you practice at a studio at all. You're certainly not a yogi based off of your number of followers on social media, or whether you even have an Instagram page. I don't care if you can do a handstand or touch your toes. It doesn't matter how you look, what color your skin is, or how old you are. 

If you find yourself concerned about what your yoga looks like, it's time to dive deeper into the practice.

And this is your doorway in. I'm not here to tell you what to do or how or where or when. But I do strive to encourage you to find your practice within yourself - not in an Instagram page, not in an Alo magazine. You're not a yogi because of those things. You're a yogi based off of your heart, your intention, your love. Are you willing to step into the fire of growth and let your heart break open? Are you willing to mess up, to make it right and to move forward? Can you do it all with a kind heart, and when you don't, can you own it and make it right? 

This is where the ethics of yoga come in, or the yamas + niyamas. These include:

ahimsa (non-harming)

satya (truthfulness)

asteya (responsibility)

brahmacharya (unity)

aparigraha (generosity)

saucha (clarity, purity)

santosha (contentment)

tapas (discipline)

svadyaya (self-study)

ishvara pranidhana (surrender)

It is my intention to spend the summer diving deep into these with you guys. And I want to clarify that I love a good handstand. It's okay to want to achieve crazy poses (if that's healthy for your body!) but at the end of the day, these ethics are the roots. This is where our true growth lies. This is yoga. 

Trust

When I started Yoga Off The Mat a few months ago, I had planned on posting weekly, if not more than that. I planned on giving a book suggestion each month along with lots of yoga topics and avenues for exploration. I was going to share yoga flows, recipes and deep insights regularly. I still plan on doing those things, wholeheartedly. I've had to give my time to other obligations these past few months, and I've regrettably been less involved with the blog than originally planned. But so is life, and here we are: March 13, 2018. Blog Post 4. Trust. 

I am currently in Phoenix visiting my grandparents as I do every winter. My time with them is so inexplicably important. We have always been close, and since they started splitting their time between Montana and Arizona years back, I get a good excuse to hop into the sunshine for a bit each winter. I always look forward to my grandma's sweetness and love, and my grandpa's deep conversations about business and life. (Seriously, they spoil and enrich my life in countless ways.)

After getting home from the airport and settling in to the house, melting into the happiness that warm weather brings, my grandpa casually asked me if I knew the definition of trust. He is reading a book that distinguishes between hope, faith and trust, and the topic of trust intrigued him. My eyes lit up. Yeah, actually, I think a whole shit ton about trust.  

In the book he was reading, they say trust is formed when you make a plan of action, and then you follow through. At first I thought there's no way it could be that simple. Trust is kind of a big scary word to a lot of people. But I thought about it again: trust is formed when you make a plan of action, and then you follow through. I pondered, quickly agreeing with the definition in awe of its simplicity. We spoke for a brief time about what it means to be trustworthy, and then we carried on with our day as typical, a bit of excitement in my bones that someone close to me is also reading/conversing/exploring what in the heck it means to trust and be trustworthy. 

With this conversation still fresh, yesterday I began reading Paulo Coelho's book Brida. On page 17,  I read,

"None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, and yet we go forward because we trust. Every moment in life is an act of faith, that you could choose to fill with snakes and scorpions or with a strong protecting force."

Do you ever feel like the universe is throwing something at you over and over and over, yelling "why don't you get it?!" Reflecting, I remember that last week a sweet woman and friend reminded me that when I'm worried about whether everything will be okay, simply choose to trust that it will. This gets us through a whole lot. In fact, my own go-to, back-pocket, self-proclaimed brilliant advice and mantra to friends and to myself is mostly always to "trust the process." It puzzled me, though, that all of these commentaries on trust are very different from each other, but equally powerful and authentic. They resinated with me in a way that shook me to open my exploration of trust a little bit more. And this is exactly that: an exploration. I don't have big life-changing answers or right/wrongs. I am not sure I have anything overly profound to say at all. But I do have curiosity. 

In thinking about how I'd write this blog post, I googled trust. I read about trust from a psychology standpoint, along with more of a spiritual base. Of all of the information that I skimmed through, I acknowledge now that trust is a key component that allows our lives to flow. I read one quote this morning that said trusting is the only way to be at one with the universe. It allows us to soften and to experience, and ultimately to feel safe doing those things. This kind of trust makes me think of surrender. Are they one and the same? 

In these short 24 hours contemplating the topic of trust, I felt as though I was sitting in front of a big puzzle with mixed up pieces and knew the product was beautiful but didn't know where to start. (I also know that trust-sized puzzles cannot be solved in 24 hours.) I'm not sure about you, but when I make puzzles, I start create the border first, and then fill it in. And that's where I'm at now in my thought-grabbing, puzzle making trust study: I've made the border, the structure, created an outline, and now I get to fill in. 

In more straight-forward terms, here's where I'm at:

I have theorized that there is little t trust and Big T Trust. Both are important. Both are inextricably connected. 

Little t trust is the trust we give and get with other humans and animals. This trust is absolutely crucial to building functional relationships that allow for each person to grow to their full potential. As my grandpa said, when you make a plan of action and you then follow through, you build trust - both with yourself and with others. When you make a plan of action to be faithful to your partner, to show up to work on-time, to come to family dinner, to go to your daughter's recital, to be honest and kind - and then you do those things, you've deposited quarters into your own trust-account. Overtime, you add quarters (maybe lose a few because we're human and make mistakes, but the balance stays positive) and it reflects to an extent how safe it is for other people to trust you. And blatantly, how emotionally safe it is for others to have a relationship with you - romantic, friendship, work-related or otherwise. 

Big T Trust is this universal idea that when we are doing our work, and we ourselves are trustworthy (little t), we will create a relationship with the universe that allows us to trust its mysterious ways and vice versa. It's karmic, if you will, meaning that when we ourselves act in positive ways, positivity will come back to us. Or, when we are trustworthy, trustworthy relationships will come back to us. When we create this kind of trust, it allows us safety in making mistakes and having imperfections, but knowing that it's all going to be okay regardless. Things might not always go as we wish them to, but they will ultimately go in our favor - even if that means a seemingly negative experience has been implemented to teach us something. What a better gift than to learn. Now, if we look at trust as reciprocal, as it must be in relationship, we are then allowing the universe to trust us as well - to trust that we are going to continue doing good and acting worthy of trust. That we are doing our part to make the world a better place, and therefore it will make our world a little better, too.

My point here is that trusting and being trustworthy is not a passive thing. We are not always going to want to make the decisions that are required of us to be trustworthy. There is sacrifice and work in that. But it's a completely insignificant cost to the magic we can find in relationships that are healthy and trusting. Also, it's pretty damn important in reference to finding respect and honor - with ourselves, with lovers, with friends and family, and even with the universe. 

I think there'll be more to this exploration for me. But I'd like to hear how it all resonates with you. What is your experience of trust, Big T and little t?

Phoenix1-170small.jpg

Before I go: a photo I took last night of two of the best humans on the planet, my grandma and grandpa:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All my love,

 

 

 

 

Notes From A Brand-New Vegan

You read that right! About 6 weeks ago, I began a transition into a primarily plant-based/vegan diet. 

Veganism is something I've thought about off and on for quite a few years, but it never felt realistic. It sounded incredibly intimidating and hard. I am not exactly sure what it was that pushed me to finally try it, but one day I kind of just started. Honestly, I didn't expect it to last longer than a few days or a week. But here we are. Don't get me wrong, a couple weeks ago I gave into a craving for a Bison Burger, and the other day I had some chips with cheese dip (worth it). I also purposefully didn't read the ingredient list on the candy cane box I bought around Christmas time. However, the large majority of my food choices these days are 100% vegan and I have to say I'm feeling good. 

As a 3rd generation Montanan, Christmas dinner this year meant explaining to my family what exactly a vegan is. No, mom, I will not have eggs anymore. Yes, grandpa, butter comes from cows (this was a funny you-had-to-be-there kind of joke), and the best one, in response to my raving review of Cashew Milk Ice Cream, my brother asked "but how do you milk a cashew?" My family loves me dearly and supports all that I do, but it's still a big transition from everything I grew up eating. It's a complete transformation from how I looked at food for the first 20-something years of my life. 

The most common question I get asked is "WHY?"

I want to promise now, forever and always that I will never push my beliefs or shame others for not eating vegan or having the same beliefs I do. If veganism is on your path, you've got to find it on your own. Some people feel a lot healthier with animal products in their diet, and I understand that too.  I mean, two months ago I was happily living basically on cheese (mostly joking), so I have zero room to say that vegan is the only way. Regardless, a lot of people have been curious to hear about my choice to stop eating animal products, so I thought I'd share:

My personal reasons for becoming vegan had very little to do with my body/health, but rather the wellbeing of animals and our environment. As long as I can remember, I very intentionally denied to myself that I was eating a dead animal at dinner while my dog was sitting at my feet. If I thought about it during a meal, I couldn't finish eating.

I finally had to ask myself: Am I really living honestly if I am denying the facts about what I am consuming? NO. I am living in la-la land where Santa puts these packages of bison and chicken on the grocery store shelves, and no beings were harmed in the process.

I understand that people have been living on meat for as long as we can research. Just today, I told my mom a story about getting emotional while watching Planet Earth in bed last night. (I know, I'm a wuss.) All of the animals were killing each other and their babies, and it just made me think that the world is a violent and evil place. Her response was, "Nicole, it's just how the world works. It's the food chain. Animals eat other animals, and so do humans." I kind-of-sort-of get that, or at least can grasp that perspective. Reminder: I was a meat-eater two months ago. What I cannot grasp is the corporate slaughterhouses where animals are tortured for the duration of their lives. We don't see the violence behind how these animals are treated and killed. They don't get to live happy or free lives, and they do not get to die any sort of peaceful or humane death. Babies are torn from their mothers and we steal the milk meant for their newborns. 

How would you feel if we took your newborn baby away from you, and turned your milk into cheese for somebody else? It sounds gruesome because it is. We are the only species of animals on the planet that steal other animals milk for our own consumption. 

The last point I want to touch on for now, and it's a big one, is how animal agriculture is affecting our environment. I won't bombard with you with statistics because you've probably already heard them or can easily look them up. But the bottom line is, the biggest damage we are currently doing to our environment comes from the way we are feeding, raising, and slaughtering animals. More-so than pollution from vehicles or mass amounts of waste, animal agriculture is damaging the Earth. We cannot pretend that the Earth is going to continue to support our people if we keep consuming in the ways that we are. We are guests here. Our time is temporary. And we are destroying the planet that gives us life, and will give our children lives, and their children, and theirs. 

Okay. Pause. I need to emphasize 100 times before I end this post that I support your decision to eat whatever the hell you want to eat as long as it's an educated decision. Rather than eating out of habit, start to notice what you're consuming and acknowledge all the steps that it took to get into your hands and body. Maybe you can choose the free-range or wild game over the slaughter-house-produced meat and dairy products. Maybe go without meat one day per week. Maybe don't change a thing about your diet but come at it with more awareness.

Like I said, I've eaten a handful of things over the past six weeks that were not vegan, and that's okay. I'm not going to beat myself up for not being the "perfect" vegan, or for choosing cheese dip over hummus every now and then. Even as a vegan, I think that sometimes you have to just enjoy what you enjoy and treat yourself. Maybe my view with this will shift over time and someday I'll be 100% plant based. Maybe by this time next year I'll be eating meat again. I don't know. But I know that my heart needs to explore this a little deeper.

Nothing but love and support here. We're all in this together, trying to figure out the best way to navigate this crazy and magical roller coaster that is life. 

Seva Events and Free Yoga

Hi friends! 

This post will be short and sweet, announcing two small events that I'll be a part of as a piece of January's Seva challenge. This coming Saturday, January 13, I'll be teaching TWO free yoga classes in Bozeman. Both will be all-levels (but challenging!) sweaty Vinyasa flow. You are asked to bring a donation to the food bank, however nobody will be turned away from class. 

The first class is part of Ekam Yoga's Self Care Saturday, which happens once per month. I'll be teaching at 9am, and this will kick off a week-long food drive at the studio. The second class will be 75 minutes long at Your Yoga, from 2-3:15pm. Maybe you could even come to both! 

The theme for these classes will be Seva, or selfless service, which you can read about on my first blog post! In short, Seva is the act of doing without expecting anything in return. It is to give for the sake of giving itself. Speaking of - how are your Seva challenges going? Share with me your good deeds and whether this has brought any new awareness to how you move through your day. 

Lastly, watch for part 2 of January's YOTM Book Club: The Power of Kindness. 

Happy Monday!

XX,

Book Club: The Power of Kindness pt. 1

the power of kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life  -piero ferrucci 

Each month, I'll share a book that relates to current posts on Yoga Off the Mat. Of all the plans in store for YOTM, this is something I'm over-the-roof excited about! I'll share a few quotes and talk about what I took from the book, and then you may decide to go read it, too! This first month's read is called The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci. 

I first read this book about a year ago, and had the sweet opportunity to revisit it with this month's dedication to Seva, or selfless service. When I read a new book, I highlight, fold corners, underline and star pages. Sometimes I write down the middle or the sides of the book or note favorite page numbers in the front or back page. Reading my highlighted portions of this book gave me chills. It's so good. Read it, read it, read it!

The book is broken down into chapters, or necessities for kindness. They are: 

  • honesty
  • harmlessness
  • warmth
  • forgiveness
  • contact
  • sense of belonging
  • trust
  • mindfulness
  • empathy
  • humility
  • patience
  • generosity
  • respect
  • flexibility
  • memory 
  • loyalty
  • gratitude
  • service
  • joy

Hell yes. This is the stuff that gets my heart racing. 

The introduction of this book includes some facts about how kind people are healthier and live longer, more successful, happier, and live more fulfilling lives. It explains that while kindness usually involves giving to others, it is ultimately the greatest gift that you can give yourself. It explains that: 

"Kindness is actually a way of making less effort. It is the most economical attitude there is, because it saves us so much energy that we might otherwise waste in suspicion, worry, resentment, manipulation or unnecessary defense. It is an attitude that, by eliminating the inessential, brings us back to the simplicity of being. Kindness has to do with what is tenderest and most intimate in us. It is a part of our nature that we often do not express fully -- especially men in our culture, but also women -- because we are afraid that if this vulnerable side comes to light, we might suffer, be ridiculed, be offended or be exploited. We will find that, rather, we suffer by not expressing it. And that by touching this nucleus of tenderness, we enliven our entire affective world, and we open ourselves to countless possibilities of change." 

After years and years of research and experimenting, Ferrucci says that the best thing you can do to transform your life is to "be a little kinder." I'm in. 

#1 HONESTY: everything becomes easier 

This short and sweet chapter asks us to look at honesty in a much bigger way than speaking truthful words (which is an obvious one, I hope!). We are asked to say yes only when we mean yes, to maintain integrity within ourselves. We are asked to be honest with ourselves about how we are feeling and to confront difficult conversations with honesty even when it's unpleasant. 

"Lying has a thousand faces, the truth only one. we can pretend to have many emotions we don't really have, to be many people we are not. but if we stop pretending, all the artifices and the efforts to hold our life together fall away. What a relief." 

We are reminded that kindness is not genuine if it has falseness as it's base. 

#2 Harmlessness: Not harming is the highest Law 

This is talked about a whole lot in the yoga world. The sanskrit word for harmlessness is Ahimsa, or nonviolence. Like honesty, this has an obvious connotation. Don't hit somebody when you're angry with them. However, the goal to do no harm runs much deeper than physical violence. When referring to ahimsa, we may start to adjust our diet and lifestyle to one that is less harmful to animals and to our environment. We are encouraged to speak in kind, but honest ways, both to others and to ourselves. We are also asked to begin noticing our own harmful thoughts. If we find ourselves immersed in negative thought patterns, even if these are nasty thoughts about others, we are hurting ourselves. 

"Let's take a look at the general direction of our thoughts: are they hostile and belligerent? are we surrendering to an orgy of malevolence, condemnation, or downright paranoia? Are we implementing a dreary inner monologue? if so, we are a prisoner of our own negativity, and the consequence is damage to ourselves and to others."

#3 Warmth: The temperature of happiness

Bottom line, be a little sweeter. Take down some walls. It is incredibly vulnerable to warm up and be intimate with others because there's always a chance when we open up that we may get hurt. Do it anyways, it's always worth the risk, and there are irreplaceable lessons to be learned from either outcome. 

#4 forgiveness: Live in the present

Ferrucci speaks of forgiveness as a doorway to radical transformation. This includes forgiveness for others and ourselves. It is a way of living in the present moment and not letting past hurt interfere with a happy now. 

"It has been shown that our thoughts influence each cell in our body. thought affects blood pressure and therefore blood flow to every part of the body. the quality of our thoughts is felt throughout our organism. will we make them thoughts of hatred and revenge, or of love and happiness?"

This chapter also reminds us that we cannot be kind if we push our anger under the rug and do not confront it. If we have unresolved anger, it will remain deep within us, and we cannot be kind if we are carrying resentments. 

#5 Contact: to touch and be touched

Did you know that lack of contact with other humans is linked to many illnesses and a shorter life expectancy? Memory loss, cardiac disease, depression and other serious conditions occur more often in cases of social isolation. It makes sense that oftentimes an elderly couple will pass away within a short time of each other, and that babies literally cannot survive without contact with a parental figure. 

"Contact is the door through which kindness can flow."

#6 Sense of belonging: I belong, therefore I am 

It has been obvious to me for a long time that everything important to us is so because of connection. We as humans do nothing in complete solitude, even those who are fearlessly independent. We are all intertwined, and because of this we have a basic need to belong somewhere in this big, crazy world. Ferrucci says that "Where do I belong?" is a very similar question as, "Who am I?" And these are incredibly important questions to examine along the human journey. 

We make decisions every day to make others feel included or not. If we want to be a little kinder, maybe we start here: invite the co-worker sitting alone into your conversation. Say hello to the others in the yoga class you go to. Acknowledge the homeless man on the street rather than putting your head down when you walk by. We all need to feel this connection to others, and we all have the power to give that same connection to others. 

 


Okay, let's pause. I'm breaking this month's Book Club post into two, as I think this information deserves to be pondered and absorbed. It's filled with sweetness. Watch for part two over the next couple of days!

 

XX,

Seva: A January Challenge

My dad is the most incredible man I have ever known.

Randy Wild moves through life purely from a place of love and giving, and he makes it look effortless. He is selfless and understanding, thoughtful and sweet. He is also a long-time business owner, an auto mechanic, and a Montana man. Although he is not a "yogi" in the asana sense of the word, he gives and gives and gives his heart. I can't imagine the day I'll see him step into a yoga studio. He is not a vegan nor vegetarian nor gluten free nor paleo. He has not read the 8-limbs of yoga. But I'm convinced he's one of the most loving people to walk the planet, and that's what this blog is about. It's not about being a good yogi on your mat, but about cultivating this practice throughout your life. It's about choosing love in every moment of the day, through the challenges and the happy moments alike. I decided there would be no better way to kick off this blog (and the new year!) than to dedicate the first month to the man who taught me how to give with my whole damn heart.   

My dad has always told me to do one good deed each day. He calls me often with a story about how he pulled someone's car out of the snowy ditch or gave a young couple a $50 bill to buy themselves a nice dinner - and sometimes he even says it's from his daughter Nicole. Growing up in a relatively small town, I have met multiple people who have stories of being at the bowling alley when my dad bought the whole alley pizzas, or on the plane when he bought everyone (21+) on the flight a drink. With humor, sweetness and endless fun, he is always there to make somebody's day and I'm the luckiest person in the world to call this man my dad. He inspires me to give it all back two-fold, and I hope you will too.

So, I have a challenge for you: For the month of January (and then beyond), I encourage you to do one good deed every day. 

I encourage you to make somebody's day with a small gesture or a big one. This should include strangers and loved ones alike, and even those that challenge us and test our patience. It could be as simple as smiling to a stranger on the street rather than walking with your head down, donating blood, holding the door, or making a meal for a loved one. This is Seva, or selfless service: an act offered without any expectation of reciprocity. And the beautiful thing about seva is when we begin to function from a place of giving, our levels of joy and contentment actually seem to rise, and so do those of the people around us. We are creatures wired for compassion and taking care of each other. And when you do something nice for another, they're likely to pay it forward as well.  

Over the month of January, I'll be encouraging a handful of more specific good deeds including some small events around the Bozeman community (stay tuned!!), but it's truly up to you to take this into your hands. Maybe it feels corny or intimidating. Maybe you already do this every day. Either way, give it a shot. I have made a list of ideas, but it's truly endless. Be creative and enjoy it. As we begin, just remember this: It is not about keeping score. It is not about doing something nice for another person just so that you can feel you've gotten "credit" for doing something nice. You may even make some of your good deeds anonymous, knowing that the true nature of Seva requires that you do not expect anything in return. You are giving for the sake of giving. 

A few last things: Get your families, especially children, involved. The giving spirit does not end with the holidays. It's a whole-year-round type of service! Your deeds don't have to involve money. If you are on a budget, there are endless good deeds you can do that don't require you to spend anything. And finally, have fun with it. Let it be light and playful. If you have the urge to do something nice, don't question it. Just do it! 

Here's the list I've put together. Send me your ideas, too! 

  • donate blood
  • buy the coffee for the car behind you in the drive-thru
  • cook a loved one a meal or a treat
  • volunteer (hospice, the food bank, the cancer center, nursing home, pet shelter etc.)
  • bring homemade goods to the local fire station 
  • leave quarters in a snack machine
  • feed expired meters
  • walk your neighbor's dog
  • take some extra time to teach your child a new skill
  • write a hand-written letter or note
  • donate to goodwill
  • sign up for a CPR course (you can take them online now!)
  • pick up trash from the sidewalk
  • be a little more environmentally friendly this month
  • apologize for something that may be lingering
  • call an old friend to catch up 
  • adopt a shelter animal
  • meditate
  • offer forgiveness
  • self reflection: how can you make a positive change in your attitude or outlook which will benefit the people around you?
  • leave a bigger tip than usual for your favorite barista or waiter/waitress 
  • switch all your lights to energy efficient lightbulbs
  • let someone ahead of you in line
  • give a genuine compliment 
  • recycle
  • participate in a Meatless Monday
  • write thank-you cards to your loved ones just because
  • tell your partner 10 things that you love the most about them 
  • leave a treat in the mailbox for the mailman 
  • donate to the food bank 
  • turn pennies on the sidewalk heads up (they're for good luck!)

Ready, go.