I Was Taken by the Latest Scam Targeting Yoga Teachers

I was writing a different entry after my long break from blogging when something else came up, so I’m putting off that blog entry for this one.

An email scammer sent me an email and I fell for it.  I didn’t fall for it for long enough for him[1] to complete the scam, but long enough to be mightily disappointed when I realized that it was a scam.  Here’s a link to a detailed description of this particular scam.

At first, I’d wanted to punish him in some way.  I had heard about vigilantes that spent time dangling the hope of a big pay-off in front of fake Nigerian princes making them jump through hoops for weeks, only to disappoint and frustrate them.

Woman angry annoyed at computer

This image perfectly captures how I felt at the time.

I ran through several counter-scams in my head, many involving long hours of paperwork (for him).  I was still in that mindset when he emailed me again.  Would I agree to do him the teensy favor of sending his other fake identity several thousand dollars by Western Union?[2]

I said I would.  As soon as I hit “send” on that email, I got a strange tingling sensation throughout my entire body.  I felt weak, and I started shaking.  I realized that I had ventured into new territory.

I don’t have a poker face.  I have what Elizabeth Gilbert calls, “a miniature golf face.”  This means that every thought that crosses my mind shows up on my face.  In high school, my friends used to make fun of me because I was so easy to read.  My husband thinks it’s hilarious that he knows what I’m thinking at all times.

Because of this, I don’t even bother trying to bluff—ever.  If I were playing poker, my version of bluffing would be to say, “Excuse me, I have a terrible hand, but I was wondering if you could pretend that I have a really good hand just this one time?”

So, the second I sent off that email my first instinct was, “He’s going to know.  It’s going to be so obvious that I’m lying that he’ll drop me the minute he opens that email.”  Because seriously, who does these kinds of favors without asking any questions?!

It wasn’t long after that email was sent that I decided that I would come clean with him, but I was still pretty angry.  So, I took time mentally crafting my “coming clean” email.

It included a lecture about how we should strive to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes or commodities, and how not all Americans are rich (I assumed he was not in the US).  I even threw in some statistics about the number of Americans living in poverty (over 45 million), and how there are homeless people on our streets and hungry children who don’t have access to a decent education.

I even got all holier than thou about how we (meaning: me and my friends) would never try to rob him.

But, of course, I don’t know that to be true.

I don’t know his circumstances.  I do believe that most people would choose to survive without harming others when given the choice, but what’s a choice?  You can’t have a choice unless you see yourself as having a choice.  Given a bleak enough situation, most people would do just about anything to survive.

So, I started mentally crafting a new email.

I was getting close to sending that new email when he emailed me again.  He wanted to email me his credit card number.  This would be the stolen credit card from which he’d take funds to make it seem like I was paid temporarily.

So, I postponed my farewell email again thinking that if I got that credit card number that I could at least report it as stolen.

Well, I waffled on this.  It probably wouldn’t mean that he’d get caught, and he probably has a dozen stolen credit card numbers, so what would it matter?  It would barely slow him down.  But, I also thought, “It surely matters to the person who owns that credit card.”

By this time, I was completely done with my initial anger and disappointment.  Rather than spending my time thinking about how I could punish him or change him, I started worrying about his well-being.  I started sending him long-distance Reiki.  It started feeling strangely surreal that the two of us were linked in this way, probably across the globe, because we’re both desperate for positive outcomes with our businesses (if you can call what he does a business)—both of us anxious and sad about our relationship.

The next day, I received another email.  He wanted to wait several days before sending me his credit card number.  I decided that I would not let this drag on any longer, and I wrote him this email:

Dear [scam-artist],

This is a very difficult email for me to write.  I have discovered that it is very likely that you are not a legitimate customer and that you are trying to pull a scam.

 At first, I was hurt, disappointed, and angry, but I’ve realized that you probably wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t need the money.  Unfortunately, I have no money to give you, which is the reason I was so eager to get your business in the first place.  I am a Reiki healer, and I sent you some healing energy in hopes that it will help you in some way.

 I won’t pretend to know anything about you, but I want you to know that I am very truly sorry for any of the hardships that you have endured throughout the course of your life.  I have no ill will towards you, and I wish no harm to come to you.

 I hope you understand that I can’t continue to correspond with you.  I hope you find success in a way that is true to whatever place you call home, whether it be an actual place, or a cherished place inside of yourself.

 Best Wishes

In the movie My Fair Lady, one of my favorite exchanges goes like this:

 Higgins: Do you mean to say that you’d sell your daughter for fifty pounds?

 Pickering: Have you no morals, man?

 Doolittle: No, I can’t afford ’em, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me…

 As silly as My Fair Lady can be, I’ve always found this to be a compelling perspective—morals are a luxury that are afforded to non-desperate people.  It’s a lot easier to refrain from stealing bread if you have enough to eat.

Personally, I’ve been struggling in my business because I am terrible at advocating for myself.  I know lots of successful Reiki practitioners and Yoga teachers who have plenty of clients, so my struggle is my own, and I’ve been working on it.

I was desperate for business, and when we’re desperate, we often making poor decisions.  This is the reason I was an easy target.  However, while I am not good at advocating for myself, I am really good at learning from my mistakes.

During the time I believed my scam-artist, I finally felt the empowerment I’d been seeking for a long time.  I finally felt valuable enough to move forward in my business.  In the moment of that feeling, I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t need this to believe in myself.”  Shortly after I had that realization, the scam revealed itself to me.

I haven’t heard back from him, which suggests that he cared a whole lot less about our exchange than I did.  I know that he deals in volume (sending out hundreds of emails, hoping something will hit), so I guess the lesson here was entirely my own.

The next time I pause to thank my teachers, he will be on my list.

Have you had a similar experience?  Have you ever learned good lessons the hard way?  Let me know below!

[1] He identified himself as male, so I’ll continue to call him a him, but in actuality, I have no idea whether or not this person was a man or a woman.

[2] WHY Western Union does not ask for ID in this day and age is beyond me.

Get Warm and Heal with Turmeric

Since spring seems to be taking its sweet time getting here, I thought I’d share something that’s been keeping me warm this winter.  It’s warming, it’s tasty, and it’s healing.

I’m sipping it as I type this.

Raw Turmeric over white background

Turmeric

 

Sometime mid-winter, Sarah from Holistic Habits posted a video (posted below) on how to make a turmeric-ginger elixir.  At the time, I was ready to try anything that would get me through until spring, and it’s been a life-saver.  The spicy sweetness of this drink makes my guts feel like they’re getting a warm hug (is that gross?).

In her video, she tells us that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, but honestly, I would drink this even if it had no health benefits because I love the taste of it (although it did cure one of my headaches).

After watching her video, I did some research into turmeric to learn more.  I found one study that was done by James A. Duke that compared the effectiveness of turmeric to the effectiveness of various pharmaceuticals.  The study concluded: “…safe and inexpensive turmeric is a viable contender with pharmaceutical drugs for preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, scabies, and a range of other ailments.”

That made me wonder some more about turmeric.  Surely, if it could do all of that, it must be exceptionally powerful.  Could it be safe in all forms, for all people, and in all doses?

So, I found another resource, from Dr. Greger, he runs a website called nutritionfacts.org.  He made a video on turmeric (posted below).  He starts off giving us fair warning that not all pill-form supplements that are labelled “turmeric” necessarily contain turmeric (nutritional supplements are not regulated).  About three minutes in, he tells us exactly who should avoid turmeric, even though that, for the most part, he agrees that turmeric is generally safe and can be very healing.

I will issue my own warning, though, especially because this elixir also contains a lot of ginger: If you’re not used to eating raw ginger or raw turmeric, then start slow.  These roots not only have a really potent flavor, but they can potentially upset your stomach at first.  Our bodies often react negatively when we suddenly dump something new into them.  Give yourself time to adjust (this is true for anything new).

James A. (Jim) Duke. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. October 2007, 13(5): 229-234. doi:10.1089/act.2007.13503.

My Most Powerful Tool for Transformation

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t believe that transformation is a lightning bolt, but something that is earned with consistent effort.  But consistent effort isn’t easy.  It can feel like a long uphill slog.

Your desired change might be making a dietary change, exercising more (or at all), daily meditation, or maybe you’re trying to write a book!

If it’s hard to do, there will come a day when you say to yourself, “I’ll just skip this once.”  Once turns into twice, then three times, and the next thing you know, you haven’t done your new practice in about two months.

Because it feels so hard, we assume that the solution must be incredibly complicated.  Part of the reason it feels complicated is because our brains complicate it for us.

Whenever we’re trying to create a new habit, we’re asking ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone.  On top of that, we were gifted with brains that are powerful problem solving devices.  So, when we’re faced with going outside of our comfort zone, our brains say, “Ok, I’ll do you a favor, I’ll find a way for you to not have to do this,” and then it’ll come up with a lot of reasonable sounding justifications that allow us to stay within our comfort zones.

For example:

“I don’t have time today.”

“I don’t have the energy.”

“I’ll feel better tomorrow and I’ll put in twice the effort.”

“I’m too tired to even think about it.”

“I’m not sure this even works.”

“I’m a lazy/anxious/depressed person, and it’s just too hard for someone like me.”

…and lots of other solutions that your very smart brain finds for you.  We’ll even put more effort into finding a reason to not do something than it takes to do the thing we’re avoiding.  This is how passionately our brains want to keep us comfortable.

The way to get around this mechanism is to bypass it altogether.  Don’t listen to any judgment that your brain makes about the activity.

As soon as you start judging the practice, you will find reasons to not do it.  Once you have decided on your desired change, and have created a reasonable plan for achieving that change, then simply do the practice.

Is it that easy?

Practically speaking, we know it’s not.  Despite telling yourself not to make judgments, your brain is designed to jump in with solutions whether you want it to or not.  You have no choice—the judgments are going to appear before you’ve even thought about whether or not you want to make them.

Chances are those judgments will be reasonable explanations as to why you shouldn’t have to do the thing that makes you uncomfortable that day.

However, when this happens, you do have the option to disregard it, and instead, mindfully approach the practice.  This means that you put all of your focus on what you’re doing in the present moment, and nothing else.  Keep crowding out the judgment with mindfulness and get through the practice.

If you end up with poor results, such as a bad workout, bad meditation, or even a resentful meal, this does not mean that you failed.  You succeeded by staying consistent and that consistency will lead to better results in the future.

Of course, none of this can be done unless you trust your practice.

You can’t trust your practice until you know that its right for you.  So, before you start a new habit, take the time to figure out what change will truly work for you.

woman-tourist_FB_version

This should be something that will sustain you if you sustain it.  For example, a mildly challenging exercise routine or a dietary change that is not too strict (usually focusing on adding something good, at first, before eliminating something bad)—practices that you know will improve your well-being and make you feel better.  Once the practice starts making you feel better, you will find motivation in that.

What about you?  In what ways have you maintained consistent practices in your life?

“I’m really stressed out, should I try Reiki or Yoga?”

stressed

Both!  But, they are very different experiences.

During a Reiki session you can feel free to zone out, day-dream, fall-asleep, or just relax and enjoy the session.  Reiki can release you from the stress of everyday life in a completely effortless way.  This does not mean that the benefits end with that session.  You may have conscious realizations during or after the session that gift you with a powerful shift in perspective or you may notice subconscious changes have occurred later.

Yoga requires your active participation, but you will not be asked to force and grunt your way through the session—this only creates more stress—you will be challenged to train your mind to approach stress differently.  This allows you to immediately apply what you’ve learned in the session to your every day life.  The training I offer is Asana based (you will be asked to take Yoga poses), but the real training is mental.

These practices approach healing and transformation in very different ways, they both have a similar end-goal: to bring you to a place of ease, rather than anxiety.  This happens by changing your relationship with the stress, so you don’t feel every single bump along the road.

For both practices, consistency is the key.  Whether you find a practitioner or find a way to practice on your own, every day ease requires regular practice.  Similarly to physical training, changes don’t happen instantaneously, they happen over time.

Further reading:

Reiki

Bowden, D., Goddard, L., & Gruzelier, J. (2011). A Randomised Controlled Single-Blind Trial of the Efficacy of Reiki at Benefitting Mood and Well-Being. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/381862

Kundu, A., Dolan-Oves, R., Dimmers, M. A., Towle, C. B., & Doorenbos, A. Z. (2013). Reiki training for caregivers of hospitalized pediatric patients: a pilot program. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 19(1), 50–54. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2012.08.001

Vandergrift, A. (2013). Use of complementary therapies in hospice and palliative care. Omega, 67(1-2), 227–232.

Yoga

Gard, T., Brach, N., Holzel, B. K., Noggle, J. J., Conboy, L. A., Lazar, S. W. (2012). Effects of a yoga-based intervention for young adults on quality of life and perceived stress: The potential mediating roles of mindfulness and self-compassion. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 165-175.

Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2010).  Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Christian, L., Preston, H., Houts, C. R., Malarkey, W. B., Emery, C. F., & Glaser, R. (2010). Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72, 113-121.

Michalsen, A., Grossman, P., Acil, A., Langhorst, J., Ludtke, R., Esch, T., Stefano, G. B., & Dobos, G. J. (2005). Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga program. Medical Science Monitor, 11, 555-561.

Real Habit Formation and Lifestyle Change

I’ve noticed the sudden proliferation of 21-day, 28-day, and-30 day challenges that are being advertised now that it’s spring.

We’ve all heard that old sage advice (or perhaps urban legend) that doing anything for 21 days creates a habit.  As a result, we’re now constantly inundated with challenges that last about that amount of time.

How many of us here have done one of these challenges and then fallen off the wagon the day after the challenge ended?

You can’t see me, right now, but if you could, you’d see that my hand is up.  If it only takes 21 days to create a habit, then why haven’t all of our habits been perfected after a series of well-designed 21-day blocks?

I think it has to do with this dialogue from the movie Before Sunrise.  If you aren’t old enough to remember this movie, then go watch it.¹

Here’s the conversation:

Jesse: You know, it’s like…nothing much that happens to us changes our disposition.

Céline: Really, you believe that?

Jesse: I think so. I read this study where they followed people who had won the lottery, and people who had become paraplegics, right. I mean you’d think that…you know, one extreme is gonna make you…euphoric, and the other suicidal. But the study shows that after about 6 months…

Céline: Uhum?

Jesse: Right…as soon as people got used to their new situation, they were more or less the same.

Céline: The same?

Jesse: Well, yeah…Like if they were basically an optimistic, jovial person, they’re now an optimistic, jovial person, in a wheelchair. If they’re a petty miserable asshole, OK, they’re a petty miserable asshole with a new Cadillac, a house and a boat.

Yes, of course I looked up the study that Jesse is talking about!  It’s called:  “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?”²

Unlike Jesse, this study doesn’t cause me to conclude that we can’t ever change our dispositions, but that it takes about six months for a major lifestyle change to feel normal.

Once it feels normal, it has become habitual.

Most 21-day challenges aren’t about making a small, uneventful change.  They’re about getting immediate and dramatic results.

The problem is that immediate and dramatic usually don’t go with long-lasting.  The study Jesse cited suggests that if you want an extreme change to start feeling normal, then you’re probably going to have to wait for the six month mark, not the 21 day mark.  I’ve found this to be true in my own life.

I’ve also found it to be true that 21-day “challenges” are awesome for baby-steps, in which case, it’s not really a 21-day challenge, but more like a tiny change that seamlessly integrates itself into your life.

In order to set up a decent 21-day habit change, the key is to make the change small enough that you don’t notice when Day 21 has passed.  This is going to be different for everyone.  Something that is massively hard for one person can be barely a blip on the radar for someone else.

If you’re counting down the days until the challenge is over, then chances are you’re going to majorly fall off the wagon on Day 22.  You haven’t really changed anything.

For example, you can diet so much that you’ll lose a bunch of weight immediately, but eventually, you will fall off the wagon because your dietary change was so extreme that it became unsustainable.  Statistically speaking, the weight will come back—and then some.

If we’re thinking about making lifestyle changes, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, “How do I want to live for the rest of my life?”  Rather than, “How do I want to live until I reach some short term goal?”  Given that perspective, how does your goal planning change?

In other words, would you rather spend years yo-yo dieting (where you see extreme losses but also extreme gains) and end up worse off after it’s over, or would you rather make slow and steady—but permanent—changes that will last the rest of your life?

¹If you’re watching it for the first time today, be very, very grateful that you don’t have to wait nine years to find out what happens after this movie ends and then wait another nine years to find out what happens after that movie ends, like those of us who watched the series when it first came out.
²Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917–927.

What Happens After We Die?

A few weeks ago, I went with a friend to pick up a Buddhist nun at the airport so we could take her to make a short visit at a Buddhist monastery before we put her on a train to continue her travels.

I’ve been to Buddhist monasteries before, but those visits had been in the context of a retreat. This was a different type of visit and I figured that there had to be something interesting about the experience that I could bring back to my blog.

Surprisingly, other than a few minor details—for example, when it reaches a certain temperature, even monastics will complain about the cold—the visit itself was mostly unprofound.

golden_monks

One thing did come up, though.

Before we reached the airport my friend asked me what I thought of the concept of rebirth.¹

I said, “Well, I could give you the typical answer that all dharma teachers give when faced with such metaphysical questions.”

He said, “What’s that?”

I said, “’What does that have to do with your life, right now?’ or ‘how does that affect the present moment?’ Along with a mysterious smile.” My boyfriend and I call answers like this as doing the “Zen shuffle.”

He said, “Let’s ask [our nun] when we see her and see if she answers the same way.”

So, we did, and we explained to her our reason for asking. She responded with, “Wow, now I’m nervous.”

Then she proceeded to talk about rebirth in a concrete and informed way that I’ve never heard from any other monastic. When she was done, I told her that it was the best answer that I’d heard so far, and then she accused me of being a suck-up (another detail—monastics have a sense of humor).

Her answer was this:

She knows that it is popular these days for Buddhists, especially Western Buddhists, to try to explain away rebirth by claiming that the Buddha only mentions it because it was his cultural inheritance at the time (growing up in ancient India). However, from her perspective, rebirth can’t be separated from Buddhism because the whole point of practice is to escape from the Samsara (which is the cycle of continuous rebirth).

However, this is not the final word on the dharma. No one has the final word on the dharma and that’s because Buddhism is an incredibly diverse and ever-evolving religion.

Some of the various traditions are so different from one another that they are barely recognizable as the same religion. For example, some traditions believe in multiple Gods and some believe in none.

For me, I’m pretty happy to hear someone practices meditation, at all, let alone a specific kind. If they identify themselves as Buddhist, that’s even better. I’m definitely not going to nit-pick about their specific beliefs.

Ever since we had that brief conversation I knew that I wanted to blog about it, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time figuring out my reason for wanting to blog about it.

I’ve realized that it was very refreshing to me that she gave full disclosure. In my experience, many Buddhist practice teachers are afraid to have any conviction about metaphysical claims. Perhaps it’s the cultural climate and perhaps they don’t want to influence the beliefs of others.

However, even if some interpret Buddhism as a religion that doesn’t focus too much on metaphysics, that doesn’t mean that the question, “What happens after we die?” is not an important question to others.

I’ve seen this question asked several times in the context of dharma talks and seen several people get disappointing answers—the Zen shuffle.

This one was very simple: Samsara is real.

I’m putting this out there for anyone who wants a straight answer.

How important is it to you to have metaphysical beliefs? Do you think they’re important or merely a distraction from your present life?

¹This is a concept that is similar to reincarnation, but the definition of “rebirth” depends on your religion.  Several religions contain a similar concept with varying ideas of what exactly goes on between lives.

How To Benefit Even More From Your Dreams By Lucid Dreaming

Keeping with the dreaming theme, this week I’m going to talk about lucid dreaming. Lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer is aware that she is dreaming.¹

Although, lucid dreaming has been around for centuries, conventional science did not accept lucid dreaming as a real phenomenon until the late 1970’s/early 1980s.

This is when Keith Hearne, in 1978, and Stephen LaBerge, in 1981, independently tested lucid dreamers by measuring eye movements during the REM stage of sleep.

The theory was that REM movements corresponded with vision in dreams—when a dreamer looks left in his dreams, his physical eyes will look left as well.

Their theory was correct. They conducted these experiments and found that lucid dreamers could use REM to communicate messages to the researchers while they were sleeping. The lucid dreamers correctly answered “yes” and “no” questions using REM, and gave other indications of their conscious awareness while in a dream state.²

As bizarre as that sounds, lucid dreaming comes in various forms and is a fairly accessible experience. Some people are more naturally inclined to lucid dream than others. I started lucid dreaming when I was around the age of six. It was such a common experience for me that I didn’t realize until I was much older that not everyone has lucid dreams.

The reason lucid dreams are desirable is obvious: you get to do whatever you want in your dreams.

When I was really young, my biggest lucid dream activity was flying. When I got a little older, I switched to having telekinesis (I won’t go into the reasons for that here).

These days, I tend to hang out with people that I miss and I can’t physically visit. During some of the really cold and dark stretches of this past winter, I spent some of my lucid dreams at the beach.

How to Have a Lucid Dream

According to the book Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep, research on lucid dreaming indicates that most people can increase their lucid dream frequency considerably.³

It’s not unusual for some people to start having lucid dreams as soon as they learn that there is such a thing is possible.4

Step 1

If you don’t have good recollection of your non-lucid dreams, then work on that.

Step 2

While you’re working on that or if you already have good recollection of your dreams, you can also employ one or many other techniques for having what is called a “pre-lucid” dream.
A dream is considered pre-lucid as soon as you ask yourself whether or not you are dreaming. If you answer, “yes,” then your dream becomes lucid. If you answer “no” then your dream falls back into an ordinary dream.

There are a few techniques that might help you have pre-lucid dreams that I gleaned from Lucid Dreaming that I’ll mention here:

The first is to condition yourself to ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming in your waking life.

You can do this by either habitually asking yourself whether you’re dreaming at random intervals throughout the day or by using a trigger. If you’re using a trigger, ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming every time a regular event happens in your waking life. For example, every time you walk by a designated object in your house.

The other is to fall asleep while thinking about lucid dreaming. This can be done by reading about lucid dreaming just before bed, pondering it, or repeating a mantra about it, such as, “I am dreaming,” as you are falling asleep.

Finally, some people achieve lucid dreams by completely skipping the pre-lucid state and going straight to lucid. They do this by meditating while they fall asleep. Those who are already very skilled in mind control (such as monks and yogis) do this by concentrating on their own conscious awareness as their bodies’ falls asleep. When they do this, they can witness their own sleep cycle. This seems like the hard way to go about it, but feel free to give it a try.

Step 3

Once you are having a pre-lucid dream, then the next step is to get yourself to answer, “yes” when you ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming.

For this, here is a list of suggested tests that you can use to try to determine whether or not you are in a dream.

You can:

  • Try to push through a wall (walls are less solid in dreams).
  • Pinch yourself—yes, this is really a test, and your skin will respond differently to the pinch.
  • Try to read something—text doesn’t like to stand still in dreams or will be fuzzy.
  • Try to pick up something heavy or do any other similar task where there is a very specific expected physical result. If you don’t get the expected result (like you can easily pick up a car without strain) that’s an indication that you’re dreaming.

Once you get past this step, you’re now a lucid dreamer. Continue practicing lucid dreaming and you will improve! I’ll look forward to hearing about your awesome dreams!

To learn more about maintaining a lucid dream once it becomes lucid, you may want to check out this website on lucid dreaming.

¹ Green, C. & McCreery, C. (1994). Lucid dreaming: The paradox of consciousness during sleep. London: Routledge., p. 1.
² ibid., p. 7.
³ ibid., p. 115.
4 ibid., p. 114.

How to Start Benefitting From Your Dreams

The usefulness of some things are seasonal (snowboard) or have a time limit (bananas), but I’ve discovered that my dreams have shown to have consistent usefulness.  When I say dreams, I don’t mean things that I hope will happen in the future.  By dreams, I mean those mini-movies that we all experience during our sleeping hours.

For example, I had a dream where a friend came to me and requested Reiki healing in very specific spots.  I gave her the requested Reiki in my dream.  I emailed her the next day to tell her about it.  She then confirmed that she needed healing in those same specific spots on her body and had actually woken up the next morning feeling much better than she had been feeling in a while.

I had another dream that startled me so much that I sat straight up in bed because I was experiencing the emotions of a close family member.  This experience allowed me to be much more empathetic and supportive while he went through a major transition in his life.

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt that a friend was experiencing trauma in her life only to find out the next day that one of her family members was very close to death.  If I had acted on that dream, I could have offered support much earlier and without specifically being asked.

My dreams have also helped me relieve many shadows, as well.  I had an intense reoccurring dream for decades until I finally figured out what it meant.  Figuring out the meaning of that dream allowed me to release a lot of fear and guilt that I was subconsciously carrying through my life.  Once I did that, I never had the dream again.

Even if we don’t have psychic dreams or groundbreaking dreams, I believe that we can all get some benefit from remembering and interpreting our dreams.  Once you develop a strong relationship with your dreams, you will be surprised at what they reveal.

dog-sleeping

How to Start Benefiting From Your Dreams

  1. Start remembering your dreamsThis is easier for some people than it is for others.  Repeat to yourself your intention to remember your dreams just before you go to sleep.  Try to make it your last thought. If that doesn’t work, the other way to remember a dream is to wake up while you’re having a dream.  Dreams usually occur about 90 minutes into the sleep cycle—throughout the REM stage of sleep.  During your first cycle, your REM period will last about ten minutes long, and after each cycle, it can grow up to an hour long.If you want to wake up in the middle of a dream, then set an alarm sometime during one of the times that you will likely to be experiencing REM.  There are apps out there that will help you track your sleep cycle, too.  If you want to do it the old-fashioned way, it’s a lot easier to practice during a nap or a morning when you are sleeping in.  When we sleep at times that our body expects to be awake, our sleep is a little lighter and the line between being asleep and being awake is a little thinner.
  2. Write them downThis is pretty obvious: Write everything down as quickly as possible.  For me, I’ve found that if I spend too much time writing out the early details of the dream, I might forget the final details before I’ve gotten a chance to write them down.  So now, before I start writing, I review the dream in its entirety in my head.  When I do this, I note details throughout the dream that I know will lead to the recollection of further details.  I also type a lot faster than I write longhand, so it makes a lot more sense for me to take the time to open up my computer than just keep an open notebook on my bed stand.
  3. Revisit them about a week laterTo get the best perspective on your dreams, it helps to get distance from them.  Have you ever read something that you wrote a week ago, a month ago, a year ago or a decade ago?  If so, you understand.
  4. Figure out what certain people and situations symbolize for youThe only way to do this is to start figuring out what things mean.  Once you’ve figured out one symbol, you can always use that to interpret future dreams.  For example, for me, the presence of deep water symbolizes my subconscious.  If it’s dark and murky, then I know that there are things lurking in there that I can’t see.
  5. Be patientI add this step to every how-to because it’s so very important to learn that if we want to see real results that we must be patient with ourselves.

Once you get good at this, you will enjoy the benefits of knowing what your mind doesn’t tell us when you are in a conscious state.  Don’t you want to know what it’s up to?

Have you had any weird or memorable dreams that you just can’t forget?  Tell me about them!

Yoga: Approaching a Modern Practice with an Ancient Text

A couple of months ago, I read The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali for the first time.  Given that I’ve been practicing yoga for 14 years and teaching for a handful of years, I figured that I was probably due.

After reading it, I wondered if any of it is still relevant to yoga practitioners of today.  If you don’t know what’s in it, imagine an esoteric collection of words that describes a self-cultivation process that allows the practitioner to free herself from ego in order to reach an ultimate goal, called samādhi.

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The word samādhi literally translates as “placing together.¹”  Given the descriptions of the state of samādhi in The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali, it appears that the two things that are being “placed together” are self and God.

The āsanas—poses—are barely mentioned because this text is about meditation.  You might even say it’s all about mental āsanas.

Today we live in a world where yoga is has gained exceptional popularity, even compared to most other fitness crazes.  Yoga is often appealing because of the physical benefits associated with the exercise and perhaps for the benefits associated with its naturally meditative qualities.

We rarely consider samādhi to be the goal of yoga.  If we consider it, at all, it is nothing more than a happy accident of practice.  Ironically, this is how The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali asks us to approach yoga.  Maintaining the goal of samādhi turns yoga into an ego driven pursuit and the ego must be sacrificed in order to achieve samādhi.  In the meantime, the practitioner can expect to experience the benefits of practice for the sake of practice.²

After having approached the mat hundreds of times over the years and having watched others do it hundreds of times, I have observed a quality that goes beyond a vacant series of poses.

The yoga class becomes a place where we are constantly but indirectly asked to release our egos.  A long held stretch may ask us to make friends with discomfort.  A strong vinyāsa might force us to ask our bodies about its desired pace, rather than fall into mindless competition.

Somehow, in the space between the calming reassurance and intense physical challenges, we naturally begin to loosen our grip on our egos.  We may not necessarily reach samādhi every session or ever, but these tiny releases of ego offer us more profound changes off the mat.  We recognize those changes and that is what keeps us coming back.

This is how I think The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali is still relevant to modern practitioners.  We’re drawn to yoga for the same reason that the people reading that text around the 3rd century CE were drawn to it.  We are looking to achieve some kind of goal that has to do with our individual development.

We also end up getting the same answer: That’s not what this is about.  I think the āsanas do maintain something that is more than exercise, stretching, and breathing.  All of those components combined create another thing that keeps us coming back for more.

If yoga has always been about exercise for you, then maybe next time you practice you can ask yourself how it challenges your ego.  That question might prove to be useful to you.

What do you think?  What does yoga do for you?  Is it an especially transformative practice or is it just about as transformative as anything else?

¹Feuerstein, G. (2005). Encyclopedia of religion. 2(12), 8066. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3424502725&v=2.1&u=temple_main&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=714b66ee4c3c7e4fac5aa3d8686964de

²Patañjali, & Feuerstein, G. (1989). The Yoga-sūtra of Patañjali: A new translation and commentary. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Embrace Your Pain to Reveal Your Peace

Sometimes cold hard winters can give rise to a lot of negative feelings.  I know that’s true for me.  However, negativity doesn’t have to be all bad.  Feeling bad sometimes can be quite beneficial, not unlike how watching a sad movie can actually make us feel better.¹

The idea that to relieve suffering, we must first embrace suffering is not a new one.  This has been discussed in Buddhism for a long time.

Here’s a quote that has been attributed to the famous Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Buddha called suffering a holy truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering and let it reveal to you the way to peace.”

There’s this other guy named Hiroshi Motoyama who is a semi-well-known Shinto priest.  He wrote several books on his numerous peak meditative experiences.  His whole story is so complicated that I can’t get into it in one blog post.  However, in one of his books, Toward a Superconsciousness, he wrote, “Drawing an analology from the carbonated drink, we know that gas will bubble off when the bottle is opened and the pressure is released…Similarly, the psychic contents of the unconscious that surface to consciousness should be left to dissipate as they well up” (p. 18).  This is in reference to letting the bad stuff come up.

In some areas of psychology, these bottled up non-expressed thoughts and feelings become part of what is called our “shadow.”  The shadow is made up of all of the things that we don’t want to know about ourselves so we pack them away—out of reach of any daylight.  From this place, the shadow continues to operate, but it’s under the radar and outside of our conscious control.

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Denying our suffering is like bottling up the carbonation.  When we keep our negative thoughts and emotions bottled up, then sure, no one ever sees them, but then they are still stuck inside of us, making us sick.

This is the healing wisdom behind having what is called “a good cry.”

Similarly to what is taught by those who started the “law of attraction” movement, I do believe that our thoughts and feelings directly affect our physical experiences and the overall course of our lives.  This is the reason that we must be exceptionally careful with how we deal with them.  Forcing a negative thought or feeling into the shadow will only cause it to operate from a place that we can’t see.  This is much worse than being consciously aware of how our thoughts and feelings are affecting our lives.  Instead of awareness, we’re stuck wondering why we’re tired, lethargic, suffering or otherwise unsuccessful in our endeavors despite all of our intensive positive thinking.

Today, the pop-spirituality movement has turned our culture into a “no-negativity-ever” zone.  This is not only a stifling environment for growth, but insensitive to people who are truly suffering at the moment.

At the bottom of this post is a talk by Barbara Ehrenreich where she talks about how obstinate positivity has negatively impacted the greater good.  I don’t agree with every single thing she says, but overall, she makes a lot of good points.

I’m not advocating for wallowing in depression or cynicism, but I do think that we owe it to ourselves to fully explore our down times.  Often times negative thoughts and feelings don’t come flying out in a fit of tears, but need to be given time—to be coaxed out with sensitivity and compassion.

I am advocating for exploring how you honestly feel without judgement.

I say “without judgement” because judgement makes us want to manipulate our emotions into being appropriate to our given situation, something we would rather feel, or expectations that we have for ourselves.  Conversely, the judgement tempts us to tell a story about our given situation that fits our feelings.  This only serves to intensify bad feelings which is the negative side of being “negative.”

Good luck, folks.  Since today is one of the numerous snow-days we’ve had this year, why not take the time to let out whatever you’ve been carrying around?

 

¹I know that the conclusions drawn in this article are not exactly the same as the message in this post.  However, I do believe there is a connection because both support the idea that a more honest perspective about one’s own situation (even if it’s negative) is beneficial.