A Playlist for June

by Jessica Sliman in

One of the ways I've been trying to slow down and reconnect to the moment is by listening to music. I've always loved music but it seems like I'm always too busy doing other things to really listen. I made this playlist for June and have been listening to it in the car and during yoga sessions. I feel so uplifted when I really listen. I love and appreciate good lyrics.

I'm open to suggestions if you've got some good mellow summer songs on your mind. 

I've been in the mood for some older stuff lately - Bob Dylan is my all time favorite - but this has a mix of a bunch of stuff. I'm loving the new song Renegades by The X Ambassadors too. And The Civil Wars cover of "Billie Jean" (which I just heard for the first time)....amazing.

Summer has finally arrived here. The girls just finished their last day of school and I'm ready for a few unscheduled weeks before we travel to Ohio and my brother and his family come to visit Southern California.

P.S. I don't know what we're going to do when the NBA finals ends this week (hopefully Friday and not tonight). Between Donovan being from Cleveland and rooting for the Cavs and watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup last night, its been a fun last month. Then again....the Cubs are over 500 for the first time in June since...well, who knows? :) Maybe this is the year.....

Yoga Teacher Training Recap

by Jessica Sliman

Yoga teacher training. I've been trying to think of a way to adequately summarize my experience but it's impossible to put into words the magnitude of the training on my life. I came into this as a sometimes practitioner of yoga classes. I loved the mind/body aspect of yoga but knew nothing about the broader spectrum of philosophy. I had no idea what I was about to get into.

I had taken a handful of classes at Be The Change and while looking at my email one night, I discovered that they were offering a free class before a preview of the teacher training. I called Donovan and asked him to come home a bit early. I went to the class thinking "if nothing else, I'll get a free 45 minutes of yoga. Plus by the time I get home, Donovan will have put the kids to bed. #winning"). (Ummm....I guess I think in hashtags now?)

The class was wonderful (Katie and Allison are kind, thoughtful and encouraging teachers) but it was the program overview that stuck with me when I left the studio.  I related to everything that they were saying. I felt like I was struggling to find my place in the world, struggling to see where I was supposed to be and how I was supposed to feel and what I was supposed to be doing. Their description of yoga and the program felt like an opportunity to find guidance in my life.

So after a lot of debate (mostly internal), a sleepless night, some anxiety about the cost, and some scrambling to figure out who would watch the girls during all my classes - I dove in head first.

I came out the other side changed. Completely in love with yoga as a philosophy and practice, overwhelmed by the community I've found, and grateful for this amazing opportunity.

I've learned so much more than I ever expected. I could probably write a novel about it :) This list won't be comprehensive as I'm doing this off the top of my head. I figured I could look back through my notes but I really wanted to focus on what feels most relevant to me right now in the course of life. 

  1. Hope comes from an understanding that people are capable of change. That's probably my biggest takeaway. From our class notes (okay, I did look back at my notes a bit), "the Yoga Sutras outline a mechanism for positive and sustainable behavior change, starting with self-reflection and prompting people to think critically about their lives."  I thought critically about my life a lot but I tended to stop the process here. I also tended to be more critical than constructive. I would look at what I didn't like and think it was such a shame that I was the way I was.  I felt stagnant and constrained. But there is a second step that is just as important as self reflection. That  is "to create a goal or intention and then to make a deliberate effort to move in that direction."  Of course, this can relate to anything. I can think of so many examples in which the tools of yoga can help you change your life to create habits that are beneficial for yourself.
  2. What I described above? Basically kriya yoga. Kriya yoga is the yoga of conscious action. First you set a new practice aimed at refinement. After starting that practice, you sit back and observe what happened. Asking yourself questions like "how did that work?" The third part is letting go of the results. Realizing that there is something bigger than us and that we're not capable of controlling every aspect of our lives. You use discernment to discover what is in your control and you let go of the outcome. This last part is pretty darn hard and I could see how I could focus a lifetime just on the honing in my ability to let go of the results.
  3. Another good one? Replacement theory. So you don't just quit an old practice or habit cold turkey and expect to live in a state of bliss. Nope. Say you want to quit drinking coffee. First, you move to half caffeinated coffee and then decaf. If that's working for you (after reflection, right?), maybe you move to black tea and finally green tea. You de-link from an old practice and link it to something new. (Yoga Sutra 1:12 talks more about this). 
  4. Your breath has the ability to radically change your physical, mental and emotional bodies. I've always loved the website Zen Habits and on the top of the page is a link to the word BREATH. I understood the power of the breath but now I have solid tools and a lot more practice deepening my breath. It's amazing how making your breath conscious and deep can stretch the muscles between your ribs, lower your heart rate, calm your mind, relieve stress, strengthen your diaphragm, create more room in your lungs, etc. This can be hard. I tried breathing when feeling stressed for years. My advice? Practice breathing when you're not feeling stressed. It's much easier that way and it allows you to tap into your practice when you really need it.
  5. The asana practice or the physical practice of yoga is a small component of the eight limb path. I didn't realize what a small component it was but out of 195 sutras, only three discuss asana. The biggest takeaway I've had regarding my physical practice is the importance of linking movement to breath. Additionally, I've become much more in tune to what feels good in my body. I don't push myself past a point of comfort but find the happy place that balances sthira/stability with sukha/ease.
  6. I'm so much more mindful about everything. Training has left me much more observant about what feels good in my body. I'm not always good at this but I try to ask myself the question "is this going to give me energy or deplete it?" before doing something. Just that simple question might make me choose a smoothie over a handful of crackers for a snack or might encourage me to set my phone down after climbing into bed at night (scrolling through Facebook doesn't give me energy ever....and yet the struggle rages on).
  7. I actually love anatomy! Because I didn't love science while I was in school, I thought that I would hate the anatomy portion of class. So not true. I actually loved knowing what was going on in my body and I plan on spending a lot more time studying it. I'd love to be able to help people who struggle physically with issues like back pain or knee pain find relief through yoga. Anyone is capable of doing yoga - we learned how to teach yoga in chairs, against the wall, and every single pose can be modified to meet the needs of the practitioner no matter their age, flexibility, strength, etc.
  8. Can I talk about the yamas? Kindness, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-attachment. Amazing ways to implement small changes in life. These are another blog post entirely.

Mostly though, I've realized that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The philosophy and practice of yoga is something I can take with me for the rest of my life. It gives me a positive place to focus both on and off the mat. I'm so grateful (that's santosha, right there :) ) for the teaching we received from Katie, Allison and Kathy at Be The Change Yoga. I'm thankful for the thoughtful advice our mentors gave us throughout and for the wonderful group of yogis I met during the training. It's true that the people who surround us can also give us energy. What a positive, lovely group of people.

If you have any questions about the training or about yoga, don't hesitate to ask.


On Acceptance and Silencing the Self Critic

by Jessica Sliman in

I'm seven weeks into yoga teacher training and I'm finding less and less to time make it to classes at the yoga studio. We are busy right now - the girls are in ballet and soccer, the teacher training takes up a lot of time, Donovan is working with a personal trainer a few times a week. Admittedly, I've been stressing a bit. I want to do more but I'm finding it nearly impossible to make it class on a regular basis.

To alleviate that feeling of not doing enough, I've been paying a lot of attention to how I can practice yoga without going to a class. Because yoga isn't just what happens in a studio. Maybe I do a few Sun Salutations when I wake up in the morning and do some hip openers while I'm watching T.V. at night. Maybe I take the time to do an online video when the girls are home with me. Maybe I do some neck rolls and focus on lengthening my spine when I'm sitting at the table.

Here's the other thing, though. Yoga is not just postures. It's breath work, meditation, lifestyle choices (like I wrote about when I talked about ahimsa a few weeks ago), relationship choices. It's cleanliness, gratitude, kindness, acceptance. It's a study. It's life.

Tonight I mentored in a new class and it was the first time I taught a standing pose (pyramid). I could go on and on about my portion of the class and how it went. I'm really good at noticing what I do wrong.  I got really good feedback from the teacher afterward. Good constructive criticism. I agreed with  everything she said and hearing it will make me a better teacher. Stuff like be confident, walk around the room, have more energy in your voice since you're teaching a more energetic portion of the class. Good stuff. 

Isn't funny how our brain can hear something that is incredibly helpful and then let it turn into something harmful?

As soon as I got in the car, I started running through my portion of class again. Over and over. Thinking about the things I wished I had done differently, starting to feel embarrassed that I didn't rock it, criticizing myself. (I'm really good at criticizing myself. This is why I think I need to invest in some yoga therapy).

And yet as my mind started to spin, I caught myself from letting it spin too far. I started to ask questions like, "Is this thinking kind? Is it necessary? Is it even true?"  No, no and no.

So right then and there, I decided to start a focusing on ahimsa again. A new practice. The practice of noticing my thoughts and noticing whether they were kind, true, and necessary.

The teacher ended class having students repeat a mantra based on the intention they set at the beginning of class and I decided to do the same. I set an intention and turned it into a mantra that I repeated a half dozen times before I got home. This is a new tool for me. (It was something like "I am learning and I am grateful). And I know this will sound a bit woo-woo but it totally worked.

I felt my energy shift. Instead of feeling down, I felt excited, confident. I sat up straighter. I came in and shared what happened with Donovan and the girls. I spoke with confidence and energy. Gracie told me, "Mom, you don't need to be perfect. You just need to work hard and have fun and be who you are." I'm kind of paraphrasing but those are pretty wise words from a five year old, don't you think? (She also said things like, "maybe the teacher called on you because she knew you'd do a good job and you have lots of books on yoga and a mat" and "being a helper in class is super special.")

I decided to let go of my ego, to let go of the idea of perfection, and to work on accepting myself. It's so exhausting to be so self-critical all the time.

Observe an old habit or pattern that isn't working for you (thinking negative thoughts), come up with a new pattern (replacing those thoughts with positive, kind, and truthful thoughts), and then studying this habit and making adjustments as needed. That's yoga, baby.

Kind of life changing.



Ahimsa and Satya (Kindness and Truthfulness)

by Jessica Sliman in

This morning during yoga, the teachers led a quick philosophy talk on a couple of the yamas. The yamas and niyamas are two of the eight limbs of yoga and they focus on our relationships. The first two yamas, ahimsa and satya, mean kindness (although traditionally non-violence) and truthfulness. The conversation dealt with how these two qualities are critical in our dialogue with ourselves and the world. (And ourselves. Because I know I say things to myself in my mind that I would never, ever even consider thinking about other people. You know?)

Imagine that every time you say something mean to someone, it's like pushing a stick or a spear into the foundation of your relationship. You can pull the stick out but the hole remains. Over time, all those holes weaken your relationship. I can't get that image out of my head - and it's a quick cue for me to take a breathe before speaking or acting if I'm coming from a place of anger, anxiety, or insecurity.....which is more often than I'd care to admit. I imagine with love and compassion and over time, you can fill those holes back in. But in reality, the damage remains. You can never get it back to perfect, you know?

And so, if we can balance kindness with truthfulness, we can engage in our relationships without causing damage or stickiness. You know what I mean by stickiness? That tension or goop you feel when things between you and someone else are just a bit out of whack? I feel that stickiness a lot and honestly, when the teacher said "the goal of yoga is to remove that stickiness," I almost shouted AMEN! Because good God, who wants that stickiness? It's the worst.

What's the antidote to that stickiness? Kindness and Truth. Ahimsa and Satya. When we communicate with people (or ourselves), we take a moment to reflect and we ask whether what we're about to say is kind, true, and necessary.

I continued to be blown away by how the study of yoga is not just the physical practice and not just the breathing practice - but it's really the practice of life.  And that this philosophy which is so old is still so applicable in the modern world.

Yoga teacher training isn't just philosophy, of course. It's been a mix of the physical practice, learning the anatomy, history, teaching, and Sanskirt. It's a TON of information but I'm enjoying all the different aspects and layers of it. The philosophy portion and the Yoga Sutras in particular are the things I'm most excited about on a daily basis.