You really “should” read this blog

Recently I have added a list of triggering “shoulds”, (specifically Byron Katie’s list of Universal Beliefs) to my yoga therapy intake form. I will admit it seems a bit unusual amid the medical history and lists of symptoms and problems. I find, however, that stress and/ or trauma is nearly always on this problem list. In order to work with stress and trauma, we need to understand our own triggers. Many of these triggers are not physical events or activities but emotional and mental beliefs.

With the growth of social media and the constant advances in consumer marketing, it seems like there are more and more “shoulds” in our life everyday from political opinions to life-hacking solutions. However, “Shoulds” have always been around. They are the basis of morality instilled deeply in us as children and throughout our lives. They are the answer to the toddler’s question, “But, why do I have to do it that way?” and take root when we are forced to protect ourselves from what we see as a threat. Overtime some of these beliefs turn from moral guidance into rules and imperatives, conscious or subconscious scripts for living our lives – not unlike yogic samskaras. When they do, we can become stuck – not only mentally, but physically as well. At this point, they belong on the problem list.

I find that individuals who carry a lot of “shoulds” tend to take on a physical energy and posture of “never enough”. They literally get stuck when trying to inhale. Other individuals are more stuck in what you should not do. They fall into a cycle of shame and guilt when they don’t live up to their own expectations, or in fear, blame and control when others consistently fall short. Eventually they find it difficult to exhale and “let it go”.

Whether we are aware of our beliefs or they are just beneath our consciousness imprinted from childhood or past karma, there is a point where some beliefs exist in stark conflict with our current reality. Over time this conflict begins to surface as stress and cumulative stress can often result in physical symptoms similar to trauma. It really doesn’t matter whether you are “shoulding” yourself or others or being “should” upon, the anxiety is yours to deal with.

The key to moving beyond your triggering beliefs is awareness. Awareness comes from listening to your self-talk and that of others and raising a flag each time you hear the word “should”. Reviewing the Byron Katie List was a jump-starter to awareness for me and has helped me pinpoint a guiding philosophy unique for each patient at this moment in their lives. Working with the list, you can highlight the beliefs that ring true to you and then go back through the list and place a star next to the ones that you know are the source of repetitive stress. You may also choose to reflect on a recent conflict while looking at the list and notice which beliefs might have been triggers in that particular conflict. Fill in the blanks or tweak the language to make it specific for your situation. For example, an easy trigger for me is “kids should respect their parents”. I believe this is true and it is a good idea for me to bring this belief into my household, but it is in direct conflict with my day-to-day existence. Extrapolating from Byron Katie’s Work, I ask myself “What does it feel like to think this thought?” The answer for me is easy – “FRUSTRATING!” It also makes me think I am not a good parent (which I SHOULD be) or maybe even that my child is evil or BAD (which he/she SHOULDN”T be). I might then ask myself “What would it feel like to not have this thought or belief?” Depending on the circumstance, I would feel more relaxed, maybe even slightly amused by the complete irreverence of my children. For fun, I might even take it one step further and turn it around “I should be more respectful of my children”.

On our paths as yogis, we are learning to check in with ourselves daily, to prioritize our needs and wants, and to set guiding intentions for how we want to manifest. We can use our list of “shoulds” as part of this process, just as we reflect upon samskaras as a guide to recognizing our sankalpa. Once you are aware of the thoughts, they will begin to lose a little of their power and, naturally, a little of the stress will drop away. However, there are numerous techniques available to use the beliefs on the list actively in your growth and recovery.

One method is to take each “should” or belief and ask ourselves the following 3 questions:

Is this belief true?

Is it in line with my current intentions / goals? Can I visualize this belief in action as helpful in some specific way?

Is it possible that it is true but not for me or for this moment in my life?

Another helpful “should-buster” technique I find helpful comes from a blog by Dana Mitra. She suggests you ask yourself these questions:

“Whose should is it?

Is it Mine?

Where did I get it?

Does it come from my inner critic or my inner mentor?

Like beliefs, not all “shoulds” are bad, but all are worthy of examination. By bringing awareness to our personal list, we find new energy and empower ourselves to reframe our approach to stress and trauma in our lives. We find that “we are enough” and begin to shed light on those thoughts and beliefs we can choose to let go of, at least for now.

Lineage – “Please, Tell Us About the Wall!”

In yoga terminology, lineage refers to the historical succession of knowledge passed from teacher to teacher. With the foundation of lineage, a disciple of yoga gains insight not only from his/her own teacher, but from all the teachers that came before. The result of lineage is instruction that is enriched by many perspectives and free from the influence of any one teacher’s ego.

Yoga Lineage is often depicted as a tree in which each teacher grows from the branch of his or her teacher across generations most leading back to one of a select few yogis born in the late 19th century.  These core teachers are, of course, tied to their own teachers who extend back to the 5th – 2nd Century BCE.  In my studio, I have a row of photos of the individuals who have, in some way, altered my path.  While it is not a tree, each one of these teachers have a tree of their own and several of them share a common lineage. There are a few people missing because, believe it or not, I do not know their name but they are not forgotten when I set my drishti (focused gaze) towards the wall.  Many of my students have asked, “Tell me about the people on the wall”.   I don’t know how interesting my story is, but I think it is important to tell, so here it is.

For me, it all started in 1990 when a young yogi named Ana entered my life and my home in Sierra Leone, West Africa while I was working as a Peace Corp Volunteer.  She spoke reverently of her master yogi teacher back in Gainesville, FL and when she left the Peace Corp (after only a few months), she gifted me a yoga guide written by her guru depicting his core beliefs and a physical practice to follow daily.  My diligent practice with this guide had less to do with the philosophy as with a lot of lonely days and nights and a soul-seeking mind.

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When I returned to Western Society in 1991, I stumbled upon a tattered 20-year-old paperback book written by SatchidanandaIntegral Yoga Hatha.  Why a 24-year-old girl living on her own in San Francisco, CA might choose to carry around such a book reading it over and over again on the bus and during her lunch break, I don’t really know, but I did.  And I found a wonderful Integral Yoga Studio in the Mission and established a regular practice.  As a Christian, I remember being amazed that there were pictures of the Budha and Jesus on the walls of the studio room.  The Integral Yoga movement is dedicated to the philosophy “One Truth, Many Paths”.  This inclusiveness and holistic approach spoke deeply to me.

From here I moved erratically in my search, retreating often and meeting a few gurus face-to-face.  Unfortunately, none of them made the wall.

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In 2004, I entered the Teacher Training Program at The Hatha Yoga Center in Seattle, WA. Bob Smith & Ki McGraw were my teachers.  The two combined had a beautiful and complex lineage.  Rather than trying to agree on or consolidate a new approach in the teacher training, we benefited from the uniqueness and passion of each as an individual yogi on a path.  Sometimes it felt like the two were in conflict with each other and this became part of our study to learn where they meet up.  We were learning to find our own path with tools from so many different yogis in the Hatha Yoga tree.  I had no goals of becoming a yoga teacher.  I wanted only to experience what it was like to live as a yogi.

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After I finished the year-long program, Yoga was so deeply embedded in my soul, I had no choice but to practice, and teach.  I found myself inspired and motivated and, by-the-way, 6 months pregnant taking a prenatal ViniYoga class at a local studio.  My path was about to change and Yoga was just one part of this change.  In 2006, my teacher, Alison Eliason, brought me into the community of Discover Yoga and gave me an opportunity to teach.

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I had practiced ViniYoga before but I didn’t feel like it was enough for me.  I learned the basic principles so that I could use some ViniYoga flow in my class and make the students feel comfortable.   For myself, I craved alignment and strength.  In looking for an Iyengar studio, I found Aadil Palkhivala, the co-founder of Purna Yoga at Yoga Centers in Bellevue, WA.  In Purna Yoga I found all the precision of Iyengar Yoga with the heart of Integral Yoga plus lots of props!  I was challenged and with every class I was learning so much.

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By 2007, I had over 10 years of experience as a Physical Therapist and over 15 years practicing Yoga.  My father set me on my path toward Ginger Garner, founder of Professional Yoga Therapy (now Medical Therapeutic Yoga) with a newspaper clipping highlighting the “new” profession of Yoga Therapist.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before!  The first time I met Ginger, I knew I was in the right place.  All of my prior education and training, my interest in Ayurveda and my passion for Yoga finally fell together in one practice and it was so much more than experiential.  I learned why not all types of yoga work for all people all the time and what each teaching path offers and when to call upon it.

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In 2009, I partnered with Alison to open Discover Yoga Therapy in Redmond, WA.  Just 2 years later, in 2011, my family and I moved to Hong Kong.  While in Hong Kong, I had the priveledge of meeting and learning from so many amazing teachers through the Evolution Asia Yoga conference but none changed my path so deeply as Hersha Chellaram.  Hersha’s own tree in most firmly grounded in Integral Yoga having grown up with Satchidananda.  With Hersha I became part of larger community of beautiful teachers all over the world who teach, practice and live yoga.  Never before have I witnessed a person who touched the lives of everyone she encounters so deeply – making yoga relevant and accessible to all people.

While I still do not feel like I have my own lineage tree, I am so proud to be part of this garden of teachers and I know that everything they have taught me finds its way into my teachings on a daily basis.  Next time we bow in Namaste as the class ends, give an extra six or seven nods to the wall.

Thanks for listening.