I'm often reminded that the world is a lot bigger than my day-to-day life. That's not to say that my own wants and needs don't matter. In fact, it took a long time for me to practice self-care and boundaries, especially knowing when it was beneficial to give.
However, we can also stay a bit stuck in the 'self' zone (and selfie zone, for that matter!). We've all been there (maybe). Can we be aware of moments to step out of our inner-outer-sideways journey, need for control, and simply connect beyond our own self-world?
Of course we can! I'm a big fan of volunteering and/or being part of a charitable organization. You'll likely meet amazing people, learn a lot, and feel a sense of belonging. For the past three years, I have been volunteering at a Thai orphanage, and it's brought even greater joy and meaning to my life here.
Karma yoga is another wonderful way to contribute to your community. Starting this Tuesday, I'm offering free weekly meditation at the park in Chiang Mai. When I am in San Francisco visiting my family, I attend meditation groups at a Buddhist temple and church. Their groups are 100% free (and they have snacks!!), and this is my way to pay it forward (but without the snacks, ahem).
And last, daily random acts of kindness is always a crowd (or one person) pleaser. Bonus points if it's for someone you don't know, as well as for nature. :)
Who's ready for a 30 Day Challenge filled with random acts of kindness, volunteering and paying it forward? Life-changing results guaranteed! Feel free to share your experiences with me by email!
Hanuman Yoga Retreat
When I first started doing yoga, I really hated the experience but felt great afterwards. I "made" myself go to a yoga class, much like people begrudgingly drag themselves to the gym. I struggled and pushed through poses, and couldn't wait until it was time for savasana. It was the same when I first started meditation. I was restless, bored, anxious and could not wait until the 20 minutes (or sometimes 10 minutes) was over. A few years later, there came a turning point when I stopped thinking of self-care as "punishment" or saying that I didn't have time. Now, I looked forward to spending time with myself in a nourishing way.
Can you "do" self-care while "being" in self-warmth? Is your yoga and meditation practice rigid, goal-oriented, and frustrating? Or can you simply enjoy being in your body, allowing spaciousness in your experience, and staying curious? In self-warmth, there is a sense of joy and delight in your being without an inner critic telling you to "do"-- do it right, better, or more. This happens when we feel safe to be as we are-- which takes practice! Family Constellation facilitator Sarah Peyton's refers to this as shifting from the left hemisphere of the brain (logical, getting things done) to the right hemisphere (relational).
And of course, how we relate to ourselves may be the same in how we relate to others. When you are caring for others, can you be more in your warmth rather than just doing? It's not easy, and the key is practice.
Wishing you lots of self-warmth in May!
Season 3 of Chiang Mai wrapped up like a box full of treasures. How wonderful to have so much enthusiasm at our events, classes, retreats, and at Jai Thep Festival! I am truly honored to be part of this inspiring community. I also said a heartfelt goodbye and thanks to Yoga Kuukan, the studio I taught at for 2.5 years. They will now move to Japan! And speaking of which, I am on my way to the Kansai region for a week. In addition to visiting my grandparents' gravesite and reconnecting with my aunt and uncle (after +15 years!) I'll be researching retreat venues in Kyoto. If all goes well, I'm hoping to offer a retreat in the spring or fall 2020.
For now, it's time for some spring cleaning and springing forward! For someone who isn't *ahem* always tidy, I do enjoy my closing ritual as I prepare to leave Chiang Mai for two months. Going through my closet, cupboards, documents and purging what I don't need. I also wipe, scrub, and vacuum as many surfaces as possible. I had no idea how many dust bunnies were living in my A/C filter! And not even paying rent!
Such a sense of satisfaction to clear, cleanse, and honor my space as a transition and opening into the next cycle. It's a bit like what self-care tools do for our mind and body. GETS RID OF THE INTERNAL CLUTTER— all that is old, rigid, and stuck. This then helps us re-set, re-pattern and let go of our stress, conditioning, and old stories.
How are you giving yourself some spring cleaning?
Hanuman Yoga Retreat
I’m listening to Scott Orr’s song, “Slow Down”— a wonderful complement to the Tao oracle card I chose for 2019: RECEPTIVE. It’s a message to allow the “yin” in moments of uncertainty— to just breathe, give some space, and realize that there are (unseen) things still happening in response to the next moment. In times when I am exceptionally busy, it’s a reminder to give myself self-care, set boundaries, and be at ease in the flow. It’s easy to default to the patterns of my ego— wanting control, certainty, for everything to work out perfectly, for things to happen efficiently. I mean, come on universe; I don’t have all day!! :) This not only neglects the inquiry, learning and growth in my experiences, but also ignores other parts that are involved in my journey— intuition, timing, the universal and systemic elements that exist but are unknown to me.
I recently spoke to someone who arrived to Chiang Mai three weeks ago. His was a familiar story of quitting his job, selling everything he owned, and starting his journey. He was excited, overwhelmed, and ... impatient. I could certainly relate to this when I first moved here! It’s like a combination of being retired and being a freelancer. All the possibilities are in front of you to the point that it’s overwhelming. Searching for something but not clear on what that is. When I heard him share his frustrations, I smiled. There was nothing to do, change or fix. He was exactly where he is meant to be. Some days, weeks, or months simply need time for yin. And from that, there might be a somewhat nagging feeling of deeper inquiry. In that intuitive space, we are able to feel more into the next step and observe what is guiding our choices or resistance.
Of course, when there is too much idleness or feeling stuck, movement can be a catalyst. A great amount of yin energy might not work well in a job, an unsatisfying relationship, or self-discipline towards a goal. At a weeklong meditation retreat, my teacher said: "If you're one of those people who is in the habit of 'doing', maybe skip a session or two. If you're one of those people who is kind of a slacker, try to show up for all the classes." This is a great example of balancing the yin and yang.
Whether it's your body, mind, emotions, behavior, relationships, work, or lifestyle, where can you allow more yin or yang?
When I pulled the card called "The Flame Tree" from my GAIA oracle card deck four times in a row from Feb. 2018 until Nov. 2018, it's hard not to pay attention to the message that the universe was trying to tell me. What the heck was it trying to tell me?? It said "the start of something new." After racking my brain trying to figure out what it could mean-- a new idea, relationship, diet, country to live in, collaboration, skill, way of being-- I let it go. The answer is often not what's on the surface; what the logic mind thinks is the answer; or anything that requires analyzing.
It's actually a bit like writing this December newsletter. I started writing a week ago but was experiencing a bad case of writer's block. I tried different ideas, but nothing worked. Now my fingers are flying off the keyboard and the core message of the card woke me up in the middle of the night.
For me, the start of something new is the start of creating new patterns. Over the years, I made a lot of promises to myself. These 'contracts to myself' were to keep me safe from 'bad experiences'. For example, I told myself: I will never loan money to a friend again. I will never work with a certain person again. I will never let myself get hurt in a relationship. And it goes on. One my patterns that came up was that I often gave too much to people who took too much. I didn't like how I was treated. With this realization, I got pretty good at saying 'NO' and creating firm boundaries and awareness.
What I didn't practice was sensing when situations were actually safe. This is so interesting to me because it goes exactly with the work of TRE/tension-trauma release and neuroscience-- things that I "thought I already knew about." When we feel safe to create something new, this is where the magic happens. Sometimes we can confuse feeling safe with staying in our comfort zone and the familiar patterns that we are used to, even when they are not serving us. Or, we can choose to take a step up or away from the pattern. Having control instead of the pattern controlling us.
As 2018 comes to a close, I invite you to reflect on any patterns that you would like to let go of. Are you making excuses, going into blame, or staying with an inaccurate belief? Are you overprotecting yourself or anxious about uncertainty or vulnerability? What ways can you start something new and trust what is already safe?
Wishing you all the best for 2019!
November already? What a whirlwind the past few weeks! We had an incredible family constellations workshop + retreat last month at Museflower Retreat, Thailand. Many thanks to Leslie Nipps for being an excellent facilitator and guiding us so gracefully with this delicate work. Although I have done constellation work many times before, it still strikes me how amazing it is to be able to step into the past, present, and future and have conversations with anyone or anything (ie. your heart, money, a disease). During one exercise, we engaged in a dyad of our choice. I represented myself, and I asked someone to represent (the sensations and embodiment of) Hanuman Yoga Retreat. My partner reported that my work had strong focus and a sense of, “Wheeeeeeeeeeee!” :)
And that’s exactly what I noticed happening lately! It started out small and slow— an idea, attending an event, reconnecting with others. Then those ideas and connections took more shape, branching out in many wonderful ways. The more I began to integrate all the high vibes around me, the more I could feel the sparkles of creativity, support, and clear focus.
So, what’s else is new? Handmade lavender eye pillows! I am so delighted to bring you moments of deep relaxation! I am also very happy to support my love for Chiang Mai by working with local tailors and buying materials from small businesses. Currently, I am only selling the eye pillows in Chiang Mai, but I will be creating an online shop soon.
In other words, connecting with my ancestors!
I just returned from a one week trip to Taipei, Taiwan. My intention was to immerse myself in the culture, learn more about the history, visit my relatives, and connect to my ancestors. (I am Taiwanese from my mom's side and Japanese from my dad's side.) This visit was long overdue. Although I love traveling and have been to many countries over the years, I didn't have much interest in Taiwan until now.
What prompted the change? As I started getting deeper into Family Constellations, I realized that the more I knew about my family history and ancestors, the better understanding I had of what was passed down to me genetically: patterns, traumas, and life events. It fascinates me what we carry for our ancestors, ie. loyalty and honor— even when it harms us or others. Family Constellations allows us to see issues from a much wider lens, and to finally remove old patterns or blocks from our lives.
My week in Taipei was so meaningful! The hotel that I booked completely by random turned out to be located in the same neighborhood that my grandma lived, went to elementary school, and was a teacher at. How's that for a warm welcome by my ancestors! :) During the week, I took three guided walking tours; visited my grandparents' gravesite; and met up with cousins, aunts, and uncles (even though I didn't speak the same language as some of them). I let the awkwardness be part of the experience in building connection.
Things started to get even more interesting when I would be walking around town or at my grandparents' gravesite and had tremoring patterns that were the same from my experiences in Family Constellations and TRE/tension-trauma release exercises. It was so juicy with information! So, there you go. Two modalities working in tandem with each other in the land of my ancestors. Ah, a meeting of healing and connection.
Meditation is an opportunity to observe your mind, the habits it tends to go into, and creating space to bring yourself back to the present moment. Let's break this down to easier terms.
There are many ways to sit in meditation, and being comfortable is a key aspect to keep the focus on observing your mind (and not the physical discomfort of sitting). You can sit on a chair, or on the floor with cushions. Whatever you choose, sit up tall with a straight spine. Roll back the shoulders and have your hands relaxed on top of your knees or your lap. Keep your chin level or slightly tucked in. If you are sitting on cushions, sit at the edge of the cushions as if you are sliding off of them. This will keep your hips higher than your knees and add more comfort to your sitting position.
HAVE AN ANCHOR
Your anchor is where your focus will be when you begin to meditate and a place to return to when your mind begins to wander. Your anchor can be your breath, a mantra, a word, or a visual object that you see when your eyes are closed. Keep your anchor simple, so that it will be easy to come back to time and time again.
THE WANDERING MIND
When you notice that your mind begins to wander, gently guide yourself back to your anchor. This trains your mind to return to the present moment instead of being pulled out of it indefinitely. f you are new to meditation, set a timer and start with 10 minutes of sitting. You can then increase up to 20 to 30 minutes once you are used to the practice.
NOTICE YOUR PATTERNS
After meditation, take note of your experience and the patterns that came up when you were pulled out of the present moment. Were your thoughts related to the past? The future? Daydreaming? Planning? Comparing? What came up for you when you experienced discomfort? Was it craving for something to improve the experience? Was it anger, frustration, blame? How about boredom, restlessness, or tiredness? Were you doubting the benefits of meditation? These are all typical responses to discomfort and known as the Five Hindrances to Meditation. When we recognize the moment our attention shifts into any of these hindrances, and we can come back to the breath (or our anchor), it gives pause to the "runaway train" of our minds. Now reflect on whether these same hindrances come up in your daily life. By paying attention to our speech, we can also become aware of our habits. In conversations, do you often tell stories (and live in the past)? Do you spend a big portion of your time planning your day, week, life and living in the future? Where do you think this habit comes from? Is it to feel safe? Is it to have control? Is it from fear? See where this path of self-inquiry takes you.
Whether you are going by plane, train, or automobile, traveling can be tough on the body. We think that we're just sitting there idly letting time pass. However, a long journey can make us feel antsy, create stiffness in the body, and make us more tired.
To help release tension and tightness in the body, try these 5 yoga stretches for travel. You can try some of these poses in your seat, a designated standing area (ie., near the emergency exit of a plane), or at the airport gate or a train platform. Don't worry about any raised eyebrows that you might get; people will catch on! Or, just know that you will be the one that feels good in the end. :)
It was less than a year ago when I was sitting in my apartment, thinking that life was comfortable. I had a reputable, successful, and rewarding job as an international school teacher; more than three months of vacation a year; a generous salary; and the opportunity to travel and live where I chose. I really had nothing to complain about, yet I found myself asking, “Is this it? Is there more to life than this?” I felt greedy; that I ought to have gratitude for what I do have and not expect anything more. Over the past several years, I had built up my career, already took two separate years off to travel the world; and had a long list of professional and personal accomplishments. But I sat there envisioning the next few predictable years: work hard; then go on vacation for indulgence or adventure. Repeat. I did this in my daily life, too. Work hard; reward myself. Repeat.
What was this nagging persistence that I was missing something in life? I didn’t want more success, more wealth, or more vacations. I didn’t want to buy a house, settle somewhere, or whatever else most people thought I “should” do as my next step. I didn’t have a lifelong dream that I wanted to pursue because on many levels, I had attained my goals: to travel, teach, be financially independent, and live where I wanted.
So then began my journey of “Why Not?” You can apply this to your own situation, and for me, it was, “Why not quit my job and start leading worldwide yoga retreats?” Nothing was stopping me, and it was completely up to me how far I was willing to entertain this idea. One minute? One month? One year? Indefinitely? On good days, I’d take the initiative, stick with my idea, be open to uncertainty, experiment, and think unconventionally. On other days, I’d feel frustrated that things weren’t going as I had planned; impatient when things happened too slowly; anxious when I didn’t know what I was doing; or nostalgic of a secure lifestyle that I had given up. It was also easy to create excuses. “If only I had ______, then life would be perfect.” If only I had: time/knowledge/experience/connections/a particular person/money/help, then it would be so much better/easier/awesomer. Right?
What’s amazing about our thinking is that we can change it. Why not re-write my life plan to not have a plan? Although I am still practicing to let go of what life “should” look like, there is an incredible (and sometimes unnerving) sense of freedom to live my life as I choose. It is a big responsibility, but when it comes down to it, you are the creator of your own reality as much as your own excuses. You choose.
Choose if you want to stay in your situation, patterns, and emotions. Choose what you want to let go of. Choose what you want to focus on. Choose the depth of each of your experiences.
It was that moment, less than a year ago, that I paused and reviewed my life. That nagging feeling was the start of paying attention to that inner voice. What did I want? What was important to me? What did I like? What was not working? What was not happening? What was I triggered by? What was I dissatisfied with? Once I unraveled these pieces, there was much greater insight into who I was, where my fears came from, what I wanted, and the creation of fulfillment on the inside and out. Many people talk about finding your passion, but I like to think of it as setting yourself free. When this happens, life transforms and unfolds in remarkable ways.
Tammy is a location independent yogi.