Be Here Now

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MONDAY MANTRA: Be here now.

The only way to be truly happy is to live in the present moment. The worries, doubts, and fears that rule our minds are often founded in repetitive thoughts of prior traumas, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. These are things we can not control. The only thing we can control is the here and now. If we set aside thoughts of the past and future, and commit our focus to the present moment, we see our lives with greater clarity. We find new freedom in how we think, and we accept that the our life is not what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow. Life is what is happening in the here and now.

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How Sweet It Is: Strawberry Picking at Mercier Orchards


This is my crazy messy family:

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Their fingers (and clothes) are stained with strawberries, after an amazing morning of strawberry picking at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, GA. We had a great time last Saturday, playing in their strawberry fields.

Mercier is a family-run business in the North Georgia mountains, with a wide variety of fruits that are grown as naturally as possible (our guide told me they only spray calcium and water on the fruit to keep pests away, and called it “pretty close to organic”). We have picked cherries at Mercier in the past, and have picked wild blueberries and blackberries elsewhere, but this was our first experience picking strawberries.

The girls got a kick out of paying for their baskets at the country store, and riding the hay truck through the orchards full of apple trees, cherry trees, and blueberry bushes, until we got to the strawberry field. When they climbed off the truck, got down on their knees, reached for, and bit into their first strawberry…warm, juicy, and fresh off the vine…their big bright eyes got a little brighter, and a smile grew across their face. And I knew, in my heart, that, for the rest of their life, they would always remember the taste of warm strawberries in the North Georgia mountains. We were making memories.

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The strawberries were delicious, but I what I loved most was getting down in the dirt to find our treasures. Being close to the earth is good for the soul. The best strawberries were usually buried under the biggest, brightest green leaves, which added an element of surprise, and joy, to the experience.

“Look at this one, Mom, it’s huge!”

“What about this one, it’s even bigger!”

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I’m pretty sure we ate more berries than we took home, and we definitely had a great adventure together as a family. We also gained a new appreciation for one of our favorite crazy healthy foods. We talked with the farmers who tend to the fields, and learned how strawberries get from the farm to our table. It’s one thing to talk about “eating from the earth”, but actually meeting the people who grow our food, pulling their berries from the vine, and savoring the sweetness in the field, reminded us all how blessed we are to live this crazy healthy life.

*For more about My Crazy Healthy Life, like us on Facebook, and follow us @crazyhealthy on Twitter

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The Guitar Lesson

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Three years ago, I asked my husband for a guitar for Valentine’s Day. I had always wanted to learn how to play, and it felt like the right time to take lessons. Hubby happily obliged my request, and I was on my way to fulfilling a dream.

I found a wonderful, and accommodating, teacher named Sam. He helped me learn the songs I wanted to play. The one thing I never asked for, though, was a lesson on tuning my guitar. I tried it on my own a few times, broke some strings, and told myself that tuning a guitar was difficult, and intimidating, and I would never get it right. That Sam was somehow different from me. He, and every other guitar player I know, had an ear for tuning, but I didn’t. So I let Sam tune my guitar each time we met, and did my best to keep it in tune between lessons.

I played guitar for about 18 months, and enjoyed a few family sing-a-longs, but my interest dwindled with each passing month. I didn’t think I was very good, and eventually stopped taking lessons all together. I told myself it was because I didn’t have time to be good at both guitar and yoga, and yoga was more important.

But, looking back now, I realize that’s not really the truth. The truth is that I never committed to owning my experience with my guitar. I was afraid of failing, and let that fear prevent me from pursuing one of the things I have always wanted to do.

It’s human nature to create stories about our lives, and repeat them over and over again. In so doing, we become attached to our beliefs about who we are, and what we can and can’t do. Which makes changing our habits feel like pushing a boulder uphill.

Boulder pushing is not necessarily fun, but it can be done, and we get stronger in the process. But no one ever got a boulder up the hill, and enjoyed the view at the top, without first letting go of the idea that they can’t.

On Valentine’s Day this year, I finally let go of the story that I can’t tune a guitar. It wasn’t by choice; it was out of necessity. Two of my three daughters just started taking guitar lessons, and their teacher suggested I learn how to tune the guitars for them.

Taking my yoga off the mat, I silenced the voice in my head that was screaming What, me? I can’t do that! and let him show me how it was done. It took less than 5 minutes.

Afterward, I felt silly for not making it a priority sooner. It wasn’t as hard as I thought! I also felt empowered, and couldn’t wait get back to strumming my six string.

It led me to an “aha” moment. I realized that I never really tried to figure it out, because I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t trust myself enough to fully commit to learning to play guitar. And not owning the experience made it really easy to walk away.

Clearly, I was wrong. I can tune a guitar. And I’m pretty sure I can become a better musician, if I try. Which is awesome, because it means that there are probably a lot of other really cool things that I think I can’t do, that I really can. I just have to pay better attention, and remember that letting go of the story is the key to self-empowerment.

Photo: http://4loveimages.blogspot.com

How To Create a Home Yoga Practice

HomeYoga660For many people, it’s really hard to practice yoga at home.

I struggled with my home practice for years, even after I earned my teacher training certification in 2002, and especially after I had kids. Every time I got on my mat, I would remember the laundry that needed to be put in the dryer…and the snack I forgot to prepare for my kids…and the trash I should have taken out…and on and on.

I finally realized that staying on my mat is difficult by design. The poses aren’t the work in yoga. They might stretch and tone my muscles, but the real yoga happens when I arrive on my mat, and surrender to the experience.

If you think you might be ready to practice yoga at home, remember that you don’t necessarily need books, DVDs, or podcasts. All you need to practice yoga at home is a quiet space, a mat, your breath, and a willingness to listen to your body. You can add a little music, too, if you feel moved to do so.

Here’s an easy way to think about sequencing your practice:

1) Warm Up

Sun salutations are a great way to begin a home practice (I recommend starting with 3-5 rounds). Move through the first round slowly, holding each pose for several breaths. Add in some stretches as you see fit. For additional sun salutations, listen to your body, and decide whether it is best to transition between poses with every breath, or every few breaths. There are benefits to both applications (read more about that here). Remember to always keep your mouth closed, and breathe through your nose.

2) Build Strength and Awareness

Next, pick 3-5 standing poses, such as side angle pose, triangle pose, chair pose, or any others you remember from previous experiences. Hold each pose for 5-10 full breaths. Find your drishti (focused gaze in front of you, or looking up) in each pose, and hold steady. Practice each pose 2-3 times.

3) Balance

Afterward, challenge your balance in tree pose, and dancer pose for 10 breaths each. Again, focus on your drishti.

4) Stretch

Hip openers, such as pigeon pose, and backbends, such as bridge pose, are best saved for the end of practice. Hold each for at least twenty breaths (and don’t squeeze your butt).

5) Twist and Reconcile

Finally, it’s always best to finish with a twist and savasana.

This is an introductory approach to practicing at home, so of course you can substitute more challenging poses as you feel prepared. You can also add more sun salutations, to increase the intensity of the experience. As you grow in your home practice, you may also feel called to play with arm balances, inversions, and maybe even the poses on the cover of Yoga Journal magazine. Take your time easing into more challenging poses, and trust the process.

Before you know it, magic will happen, and you will look forward to your home practice more than you ever imagined.

Photo: http://www.mindbodygreen.com

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The Day I Talked To A Tree

It was just about a year ago, that I reconnected with an old friend from my pre-yoga life. Lisa Agostoni and I had worked in the same marketing group in the late 1990’s, but we lost touch when we both left the organization a decade ago. Amazingly, we have been on parallel journeys ever since, both exploring and teaching the ancient practice of yoga.

In recent months, Lisa has become a good friend and mentor for my blog. So, of course I was incredibly honored, when Lisa asked me to write a guest post for her yoga blog. It’s the story of a crazy yoga challenge, that ultimately empowered me to live a healthier life.

I’m sharing it here, in case you missed it earlier this week at A Charmed Yogi. Have you ever had a similar experience? Let me know in the comments section below.

Namaste~

Amber

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I’m an all-American girl, raised on MTV and Julia Roberts movies. Never spent much time in the woods before I got into yoga. So, when my yoga teacher training (YTT) mentor asked me to tell my life story to a tree, I thought he was out of his mind.

It was September 2002, the first weekend of YTT. I was working toward my certification, which meant 200 hours of classroom training in 5 months. I knew it would be a lot of work, but nothing could have prepared me for all it would entail.

In the first two days of YTT, I practiced yoga for twelve hours, cleared my chakras, experimented with transcendental meditation, and participated in a Native American smudging ceremony. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down The Rabbit Hole, wondering what was next.

That first weekend of YTT was scary, fascinating, and overwhelming all at once. By Sunday afternoon, however, I was tired and wanted to go home. As we packed up our mats, water bottles, and notebooks, our homework was assigned:

Before we meet again in two weeks, spend a full day alone in the woods. Get there early enough to watch the sun rise. Tell your life story to a tree, and write an essay about the experience.

SERIOUSLY? I can’t do that.

I thought about quitting the course, but something inside me told me I shouldn’t.

The next morning, I pulled out a map, and made a plan. I worked full-time in Corporate America back then, so tree-talking had to wait until the weekend. I dreaded it all week.

Saturday finally came. The weather was cold and drizzly when I awoke at 5:30 AM, so I packed a lunch and a raincoat. It was a 40 minute drive to Sweetwater Creek Park, and I spent the entire ride wishing I could call it off.

Instead, I walked into the woods as the sun rose. No compass (forgot it), no trails (huh?), and terrified that I might get lost.

Ok, so how do I know which tree I’m supposed to talk to?

I picked the fattest tree I could find, and sat down, and started talking.

It felt silly, baring my soul to a tree. I kept looking around to see if anyone was watching. I went back and forth between hoping someone would rescue me, and fearing what might happen if someone did find me. Why am I doing this?

I didn’t get it. But I did as I was told, and kept talking. From birth to age 30, I laid it all out. My hopes, dreams, and fears. Traumas and dramas that had never healed. Secrets I had never told another soul. Mistakes I had a hard time admitting, even to myself. And then I was done, with nothing left to tell. So I went home.

It was an unforgettable day, that taught me something extraordinarily valuable:

We all have a story about who we are, and we tell it to ourselves over and over again, until it becomes our “truth”. The problem is that there is often great disparity between our “truth” and reality. The story is founded in perception, yet we build our entire lives around it. Through repetition, the story gains power, and ultimately prevents us from finding happiness.

With time, and a lot of yoga, I learned how to reject the story, so that I could live my life with clarity, awareness, and purpose. And in the process, I found that the happiness I craved was actually inside me all along.

Photo: http://www.jessicadenison.com

Keep Calm and Merry On

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December 24th used to be the most stressful day of the year. I would run around, trying to make sure that everything was just right for friends and family. I spent countless hours decorating the house, wrapping gifts, and cooking unhealthy food. Not because I wanted to, but because it was the “tradition”. I was so attached to what I thought others expected at Christmas, that I forgot to enjoy it myself.

Now I know better. Yoga has taught me to approach the holidays with purpose, and non-attachment. It’s one of the most valuable lessons in life (and the theme of this blog!): if we want to live well, we have to let go.

It makes me think that Jesus must have been a yogi, too. And I wonder…does it makes him sad, to watch me run around with my hair on fire, on his birthday?

So I ask myself, WWJD at Christmas? I am pretty sure he would honor his body with yoga, and mediation. He would remind his family how much he loves them, and teach them that today is about celebrating grace, lovingkindness, and peace on earth. And then I think he would prepare a crazy healthy meal for his family.

I’m going to try to do all of these things today, in my own less-than-perfect way. As soon as I return from one last trip to Target for stocking stuffers.

After that final mad dash through the store, I will return home, hug my kids, wrap the stocking stuffers, and prepare a healthy meal for my family. While everything is in the oven, I will get on my yoga mat, and give myself a yoga break. And that will make it a lot easier to be merry the rest of the day.

I think you deserve a break today as well, and this 10 minute yoga practice with Steve Ross is a great place to start. Do a little yoga, breathe deeply, be present, and remember that today, more than ever, we are supposed to keep calm and merry on.

Namaste,

Amber

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The Aim of Life

I don’t even know where to begin, to process the shootings in Connecticut today. I’ve deliberately not turned on the TV or checked Facebook since I first heard the news, because it’s just too painful. Instead, I have tried to just be with my three young daughters. To drink them in, and remember why they are here in the first place. They are here because I desperately wanted to be a mother. I wanted the opportunity to teach them how to live vibrantly, and celebrate their milestones along the way.

But it’s hard to focus on their need to play Littlest Pet Shop, when the news is of innocent children brutally murdered, and parents who are grieving tonight. Even so, playing with my kids is exactly what I should do right now.

I can’t change what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, but I can make sure my children feel loved today. I can look them in the eye…and play hide and seek…and hug them for a really long time. Stay in the moment, Amber. Make the healthy choice. Be aware, see your children for who they are, and make sure they know that they are seen. Because, as Henry Miller once said (and I often remind myself): “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

What happened in Connecticut today is the worst kind of heartbreak. It’s also a reminder that we must LIVE our lives. What’s getting in the way of living your life? Set it aside now, and get down to the business of living.

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