August Theme: Slow


Okay, New Yorkers, admit it: yogi or not, we’ve all had evil thoughts about that unwitting tourist we end up walking behind down the subway stairs. Even if you’re not running to get somewhere on time, New York trains you to have a certain gait that outpaces most all other people on the planet. Yeah, we live in that city.  What’s cool about it is we get more done in a minute than many do in an hour, but that speed catches up with you when you get to the end of your day and you can’t slow down or shut down. So we come to yoga and meditation to balance it all out.

A few weeks ago, an old knee injury started acting up again. I was in a great deal of pain. The only thing that would work to not aggravate it was to not go anywhere (not an option), or walk really really slowly. Slower than even the most relaxed person living in the deep south on the hottest day of the year. Yeah, that slow.

You can imagine what an odd thing it was to slow down that much. As a New Yorker, I was careful to move out of the way as the typical Ferrari-paced person needed to pass. But almost right away, I started to really enjoy myself. As I walked down a street in Brooklyn, I looked up at the sky, took in the breeze, and noticed the colors on the buildings.  Then something else started to happen. My brain waves became smooth. Not slow, or spacey, actually smooth and clear. All of the stuff on my mind stopped rattling around in a disorderly jumble and started to organize itself like rambunctious kids who finally found their place on stage in the school play.  Something else happened. I heard my breath. I was actually breathing all the way down into my lungs the way I do and teach every day in yoga.

Thich Naht Hahn, a world renowned spiritual leader, guides a beautiful meditation called the “Walking Meditation.” I’ve shared it to many students when we go to the ashram and are walking through the fresh green forest. But I’ve never done it in the city. I could feel my pulse slow, I could feel my cortisol (stress hormone) levels dropping, and my eyes began to see the world through a shine as when I’m in yoga class, or out in nature.

For all the philosophical perspectives I’ve learned and taught to buffer our sensitive systems from metropolitan madness, this very odd, accidental practice had more real physical and mental affect than any of them. Once again, I’m shown that our injuries can be wonderful teachers.

Studies show that slowing down, for even just a small period of time, has been correlated with better decision making, higher levels of creativity, and increased problem solving skills. Taking it slow can also increase our attunement to each other, causing a positive effect on our relationships. In their book “How Words Change your Brain” authors Andrew Newberg and  Mark Robert introduce the practice of Slow Speech. In my yoga class this week I had students take a few minutes to tell a partner about a current challenge in their life speaking one word at a time, at a pace of about half as fast as we usually speak. Students reported feeling a sense of ease surrounding a problem that had been causing them stress, and also a greater appreciation and connection to the person they were listening to.

That day on the sidewalk, my friend who was meeting me for dinner had seen me coming from the restaurant window. When I got there she laughed and said she’d knew better than to wonder if I’d taken drugs, but that’s still what it looked like. I laughed too. “No, no drugs," I told, her, "just trying out a little bit of “slow.”

-Ella Luckett


April Theme: Thrive!


Thrive by Ella Luckett

I was sitting near my friend on her wedding day as she was getting her hair done. I looked over at her face and I could see that her body was in the room, but her mind was in a million other places. Behind her eyes was a map of thoughts: did all the relatives get in okay, is the catering going to work out? on and on and on… The details of life, especially surrounding the big things, are endless. I could tell my friend was about to miss her wedding day. Her body was there, but her experience was split in a million directions.

I asked her if she wanted to join me in a five minute meditation after her hair was done. She said yes, absolutely.  We sat in two chairs, chaos all around, and breathed for five little minutes.

In that five minutes she became present to the beauty of the day. Her mind settled and released the unnecessary thoughts that were blocking her experience, and when she opened her eyes, there she was. She was back in her body, suddenly full of life and joy.

To this day, she thanks me for that moment.

The difference between surviving and thriving is almost always in the perspective. It’s in what type of breath you are taking in. Are you gasping in short shallow breaths to serve only the purpose of the moment? Or, can you breathe in big, and ride the moments like a wave – whether tumbling inside it, gliding on it’s crest - always with a laugh  just because you are in the ocean at all!?  

That is what our yoga practice is, friends. We take that daily moment to get inside our experience, instead of hovering all around it.  Sometimes there’s resistance, because most days are not our wedding day. Most days are pulling through the grind to realize the bigger picture. But our practice gives us the touch of that big picture now, in the present moment. Usually it takes a moment to get past the stuff that doesn’t feel so good. We travel deeper inside our body and mind and find that, at our core, we are peaceful. Just below the surface of stress, there’s a well of abundance that encompasses all the good and bad and gives us the gift of presence. So we don’t wait to look back at the end of a particular journey and appreciate it. We get to feel life's sweetness and saltiness more potently in every moment.  

This month notice the times when you are only half there. Gripping on for survival, racing through just to get done, or just dull and bored with the moment. Take a deep breath and loosen the grip, slow the gait, or shine your eyes. This life is made up of unmarked moments that you can either survive through -- or drink in, and thrive on!


February Theme of the Month: Loving Kindness

unnamed_copy2The philosopher Socrates is credited with offering this rule engagement:

“Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

You may have in recent months found yourself on one end or another of an agitated engagement. Or, perhaps you are the type to hold agitation inside yourself, not letting it out in an attempt to follow the above instruction.  In the winter months, when the atmosphere can at times feel harsh, and the light and warmth of the sun is more scarce, the state of agitation can override our sense of well being.  This can cause us to feel and act without kindness either to ourselves or others.

 I was sitting in my very first day of teacher training. It was a very large room with about 60 people in it, I was scared and excited, jetlagged from the long flight, and all of a sudden something my teacher said changed everything about how I live my life to this day. In one lesson, poof, a life long understanding of yoga was planted, never to leave. It changed everything about how I interact with myself and the world.

She taught us that 1. The key to enlightenment was to “be kind.” And 2. Being kind begins in our thoughts.

I knew myself to be a good and kind person. I didn’t generally say anything to anyone that was unkind. I kept to myself and didn’t make too many waves. But suddenly bringing the yoga practice into my thoughts, was a whole new level of cleaning house that I wasn’t prepared for.  In a funny sort of way, I was surprised that my teacher even knew that I had thoughts. You just don’t usually think about the fact that other people know that you have thoughts. You keep thoughts to yourself, you try to act nicely, that’s it.  

I felt a new kind of nakedness in that teacher training. I was suddenly aware of a whole host of thoughts that maybe weren’t so kind, necessary, or even true running through my mind every minute of every day. Thoughts about myself, thoughts about others. These thoughts were blocking me from being truly peaceful and free with others.  I felt like I had to hide away much of the time. I lived in fear because of the bad vibes my own thoughts gave me.

The truth is, my thoughts mostly affect me. So any unkindness within them, leaves me the one feeling unkind. Not at peace. Even if the thought was supposedly about someone else! Ever since that day, I feel as though there is a loving teaching inside my mind. Helping me distinguish my thoughts from one’s that are enlightened or not. Frustrated or angry thoughts about other people, have the opportunity to melt into compassionate accepting ones. (Although at times that does take a little bit of work and time.)

Do I still get upset? Sure I do.  But now I understand that my experience extends to my thoughts, so if I want peace, I first must change my own mind about something. Then if something necessary can be said, I can say it from a place of peace.

Additionally “true” took on a whole new meaning. The fact is, we know so little about what’s true. Much of our misguided agitation stems from assuming other’s were acting in a way that was unkind to us. But we do not know what is in the mind of others. On the other hand, when we assume kindness in others, the world takes on a whole new dimension. The world does start acting more kind.

 Then there is the practice of being kind to yourself. How do we act kindly to ourselves? Over indulging in things we know don’t serve us well? Over doing things we think bring us happiness? Ultimately being kind to ourselves is having a special blend of balance whereby we attend to our own needs with kindness, compassion, and honesty.

We can’t change the weather, or even other people’s states of being, but we can control our thoughts and actions and shift them over to the kind side.

This month, fill up your well, so diligently with your yoga practice, and meditation, and loving kindness to yourself and those close to you, that you are abundant with kindness. Then the next time someone seemingly is unkind to you, you can just break off a little of your own kindness and give it to them, no charge.  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Socrates

-Ella Luckett, Jai Yoga Arts