Tag Archives: motivation

The Yogic secret to surviving winter.

When I was studying Ayurveda, there was one concept in particular that stuck with me, and has guided a lot of my intuition about my own health and self-care routines. The idea is a simple image: think of an inner flame that burns quietly and constantly, held close to the center of our bodies in our digestive area. This flame burns through our entire life, and represents our life force in a way. Our overall health can be measured by the quality of how this fire burns.

In Ayurveda, the work of self care involves balancing the 3 main energies, which are known as Kapha, Pitta and Vata. If we get too distracted (one aspect of Vata imbalance) its like too much wind on our fire: it gets smoky, flickering, and has trouble burning brightly or may spread our fire too thin. If we get too muddy (one aspect of Kapha imbalance) its like throwing dirt and water on a fire: we struggle to get enough inspiration and air, and our fire barely burns. If we get too aggressive (one aspect of Pitta imbalance) its like a fire that burns too hot, raging out of control, consuming everything too quickly.

Ayurveda observes these elemental qualities in everything that exists: our bodies, our minds, our food, the seasons, the times of day, the phases of life, etc.

Right now we are in “Vata season”, just coming up on the edge of “Kapha season”. Our healthy little flame is contending with an intense amount of fierce wind, combined with the increasing weight of Kapha’s stagnant mud. Keeping a fire lit can be overwhelming in this atmosphere!

Luckily, there is a concept in Eastern philosophy that points to the way to keep our fire burning, all winter long. It is sometimes called “Right Effort”, or in yoga it is also known as sthira and sukha: the balance of steadiness and ease. It sounds simple enough, but after 20 years of practicing yoga I can tell you that the mastery of yoga does not come from the accomplishment of a specific pose–it comes from learning to integrate the balance of steadiness and ease into all that we do. Our culture has a tendency to be both too hard on ourselves and too soft on ourselves at the same time. We go from piling on the excuses to why we can’t do something we want to do, to admonishing ourselves for not doing it. The mindset that is missing? Right effort.

“…the mastery of yoga does not come from the accomplishment of a specific pose–it comes from learning to integrate the balance of steadiness and ease into all that we do.”

Does this scene sound familiar?

I woke up this morning with the best intentions to go for a run. I put on my gear before dropping my kiddo at school so I would be ready to hit the streets as soon as I returned. Then I got back inside, and started to wonder if I really wanted to go out into that blustery, 38 degree, 12mph wind and scattered showers landscape. What if I just found a way to move my body in my cozy house instead? This is where I am reminded of the children’s book, If you give a mouse a cookie. The first excuse gives way to a mountain of follow up excuses. If I tell myself I will do yoga inside instead of run, then I’m going to need to sweep the floor. Then I’m going to need to download a new yoga video app to my roku. Then I’m going to forget my password. Then I’m going to hem and haw about whether I really want to substitute yoga for cardio, because I prefer a slow and mindful yoga practice. Then I’m going to finally start a class with one of my favorite online teachers, and then my internet is going to slow down and keep stopping the class. Then I’m going to realize that its getting late and I haven’t had breakfast yet and I have a lot of work to do.

Finally, after wasting half an hour on my trail of excuses and diversions, I decided to get outside after all. For about 2 minutes I wondered if I had made the right decision. The cold and wind burned my skin and my resistance had settled in. And then, as always occurs, my internal fire started heating me up and motivating me from the inside out. By half a mile out I was ready to go another mile. By the time I was running against the wind I was laughing at it. By the time I got home, I had done a full run and had to turn off the central heat because I was completely warm and comfortable in my own body. The obstacles, which seemed so huge before I left, evaporated in only a few minutes with the application of “right effort”, but caused me to waste over 30 minutes before I was willing to apply that effort.

I share this story because it is a perfect example of the challenges we face in this season. Vata season made me struggle with indecision and too many possibilities, while Kapha season beckoned me to lay on the couch under a cozy blanket and drink tea instead. When I found the right effort to apply to keeping my fire lit, I got in the flow and everything became easier. We often tell ourselves that we can’t do something because it will be too hard, take too long, cost too much or otherwise burden our resources, but often the real reason is because it will very slightly challenge our comfort zone. The truth is, the thing we are avoiding is often the most efficient decision we can make for our combined resources, that will use the least amount of effort overall. Since becoming a mindset coach, I witness stories every day of people spending way more time, energy and effort on their resistance than they would on the actions they are resisting.

Once we can “get out of our own way”, their is an incredible ease that can come after just a little bit of application of right effort.

I am currently enrolling for a program that I developed around this concept of Right Effort. Its called “The Year Long Yoga Habit”, and it blends group yoga classes with one-on-one coaching and accountability, using mindset shifts, strategy, and the wisdom of yoga to keep discovering the moving line of that balance point between ease and effort. One of the fundamental concepts of my approach (in life, and in this program) is to begin from a place of absolute and unconditional self-love, with no aggression whatsoever. All too often, we think that we need to get aggressive with ourselves in order to get momentum going and meet our goals. That aggression may motivate us for a little while, but inevitably we crash and burn under its brutal heat. Believe it or not, yoga and self-care should actually feel good and enticing-not punitive. As one of my clients brilliantly put it, “I want it to feel like putting on a cozy sweater, not a work uniform”. The way we do this is by building the habits that work for us, and continually checking those habits against the changes in our lives, the seasons, our growth goals, etc. so that we do not become complacent or committed to stagnant habits that no longer serve us.

My intention for those of you who are willing to join me for this pilgrimage, is to create a year of deep and long-lasting transformation, using slow-simmer baby steps, rather than huge sweeping dramatic gestures. There is a saying that we vastly overestimate what we can do in a day, but vastly underestimate what we can do in a year.

Join me to find out just how far you can go with just the right amount of effort this year!

Kate Holly, Yoga Refuge PDX

Kate Holly is a Yoga therapist, Life coach, and founder of Yoga Refuge and the teacher training program, Yoga Conservatory. Want to chat with her directly? Schedule a free consult

Show the world you’ve got that fire…

I would like to take this moment to celebrate a win: I recently started running again, and I… am…killing it.

Lest you imagine that I am one of those naturally athletic marathoner types, please let me set the record straight. As a child, my least favorite day of each year was “mile run day”, where the gym teacher took a group of kids who had not been asked to do as much as a speed walk for the other 364 days of the year, got out their stopwatches and said: “Show us what you can do!”. Cruel. It’s no surprise that my daily practice of watching Little House on the Prairie reruns and eating Kraft mac n’ cheese did not prepare me for what I would endure in this run. Much worse than the physical torture of, you know, running, was the humiliation. I was always one of the last kids to finish, limping back into the classroom to hear snickers of “I heard it took somebody 13 minutes to finish!” In retrospect, I’m pretty impressed. I think it still takes me 13 minutes to run a mile some days. But the other 3rd graders weren’t having it, and I resigned myself to my place as a loser on all days except for spelling bee day, when my light could really shine.

I started running in earnest in my 20’s, because I really wanted to achieve the holy grail for all insecure young women in America: Thin-ness. Yes, I knew that my body was a big part of my social capital as a 20-something, and I was determined to make the most of it. I did enjoy some of my runs in those days, and I did get in shape, but when I look back I am struck with the amount of self-loathing and people-pleasing that was motivating it all, and how heavy it felt to try to run under that mental burden. I tried to keep running in my 30’s, but in the transition to having two babies, opening a business, and generally hustling to keep up with ALL THE THINGS, I was lucky if I got out once or twice a month, and I really had to drag myself. Last winter I tried getting a gym membership, and while I did run more frequently on the treadmill, I became drained by the negative and exploitative messages from the tv wall, the bad lighting, and the stale smell of socks.

About 4 weeks ago, I woke up one day and decided to go for a run. The next day, I decided to go for a run again. And the next day, I decided to go again! Instead of giving me a hard time for leaving him alone with two kids in the middle of our morning routine, my husband kept looking up in surprise and admiration: “You’re going running again? You’re a monster!” Not only have I been running almost every day, but the really strange thing is…I have been loving it. That is certainly the reason why I keep going. I am a very self-indulgent person and I don’t suffer chores well. If there is no delight in an activity, I will find every way to get it off my daily to do list. So I have been trying to understand why it is that I suddenly run loving so much, and I have also been thinking about how this relates to those who aspire to get into the yoga studio but keep dragging their feet on it.

The weird thing about the mysterious and invisible force that I simply call “Resistance”, which I have personally observed work its dark magic on hundreds, if not thousands of would-be yoga students over the years, is that it does not make logical sense. People will come in for their first yoga class in a while and leave with a blissed out smile, promising to return immediately, acknowledging that this was the very thing that was missing in their life, swearing to themselves and the world that they would, indeed, be making a habit of it. You can probably guess how this story turns out. The great majority do not return, and the more they don’t return the more they bury themselves in shame and guilt and “shoulds” over how they never returned, bury themselves in excuses for why they never returned, expend their energy upholding the unbreakable logic of their self-administered excuses, and then eventually give up completely because they are so tired of disappointing themselves.

As a yoga studio owner and teacher, of course it is part of my work to encourage people to commit to self-care in the form of yoga, but more than anything I feel like doing back flips when I see people showing up for themselves in any kind of loving way, and this can take many forms. Here are my 6 tips on building a healthy inner fire of motivation for whatever your personal self-care goals are. You DO NOT have to become a runner or a yogi to implement these. Everyone has their personal journey in falling in love with the self, but perhaps the things I have learned from my revived running practice will be relevant to you:

  1. Positive self-talk and visualization:

    The biggest thing that has changed from my 20’s to my 30’s is my mindset and motivation. I no longer run because I am inadequate without it, because I’m punishing myself over an indulgent meal, because I think I can be perfect, or because I need to get a rock solid bod to impress anybody. I now consciously watch my thoughts while I am running, and I infuse myself with encouraging mantras and visions. I picture myself living my life courageous and unafraid, strong and proud, totally on fire. I start to feel the Yoga (or “union”) between my mind and body synching up, as the empowered mind and the empowered body work in tandem, and it feels awesome.

  2. Engage the senses.

    I have realized that I can’t do the gym anymore, because the aesthetics are demoralizing to me. But when I run outside under the swirling autumn colors while listening to my meticulously crafted playlist of self-empowerment pop rock anthems, I am engaging the pleasure centers of my brain, connecting to nature, tapping into my creative flow, and getting inspired with each step I take. Whether you are looking for a yoga studio or developing a new workout routine, consider the impact on your senses. It should be pleasurable, not miserable to take care of yourself. Do the sights, sounds and smells lift you up or suffocate you?

  3. Don’t have the time? Make the time.

    Look, our conversation about time is big enough that it deserves its own post, but for now let’s just get clear on a simple fact: What you spend your time doing reflects what you prioritize. That is actually how simple it is. Yes, we all have reasons why we are too busy, why we don’t have enough time for all the things we want to do, we all have to make hard choices. But when you go through 24 hours each day and spend zero of them taking awesome care of your body and mind, we have a priorities problem, not a time problem. Set a clear goal, keep track of it, and put it in your calendar as an unbreakable promise. Notice the habits or lifestyle choices that are getting in the way of your goal, and adjust accordingly. In my case, I have had to be more conscious of not booking appointments first thing in the morning, because this will not leave me time for my run. I am drinking less coffee so I can get to bed earlier and feel more energized in the mornings. Whatever your barriers, it’s a process to uncover them, but it’s totally doable.

  4. Have an attitude of gratitude (or, if you prefer to live in the shadow side, consider your mortality).

    As I get older, one thing becomes perfectly clear to me: Not only will I die one day, but in between now and then my body will experience all kinds of smaller deaths. A root canal here, a torn ligament there, a hamstring injury, and pretty soon you start to realize that every part of these beautiful shells we came here in is temporary, and we are entitled to none of it. Its an incredible privilege and gift to have this beating heart, these healthy lungs, these fluid muscles and bones. I won’t have them forever. Every time I run I am aware that this is experience is coming to me as a limited time offer, so now is the time to appreciate what my body can do. And when I can’t run anymore I hope to be walking, and when I can’t walk anymore I hope to be speed-walkering, and if the day comes that I am wheelchair bound I hope to be out there on the track, free-wheeling in style.  It’s possible that by treating my body with diligent care, I will prolong my capacity to be healthy and live a high quality of life, but of course it’s also possible that I could die tomorrow. Either way, I want my self-care to be a celebration of the life that is in me today.

  5. Get hooked.

    Whether you are trying to revive a cardio routine that would rather lie in a fetal position, or get back into a regular yoga practice, remember that your body’s built-in pharmacy of feel-good drugs will naturally kick in and help get you hooked if you give it time, so keep slogging through the hard parts, breaking down your resistance and trust that you will soon love doing this more than a Netflix binge with a gluten-free chocolate cake by your side (not that we have to choose).

  6. Get help.

    Work with a coach, mentor, teacher or accountability partner, or invest in some private yoga sessions. I have not been working with a running coach, but I have been working with life coaches all year, and you can bet it’s been rubbing off on me. All this “go after your purpose” business, breaking through my own limiting beliefs and BS excuses, and generally unleashing the awesomeness that has been in the waiting room of my life for way too long has got me bursting at the seams to MOVE, and I feel myself working it out on the track. I have been flexing the muscles of habit-change, positivity, motivation and inspiration in all the other areas of my life, and it’s becoming second nature for me in a pretty fantastic way. If you are feeling stuck in all areas of your life, chances are your body will feel stuck too. Invest in some help to get your flow back.

Next steps: If you have finished this whole blog post and you’re still not racing to the closet for your your yoga pants, roller skates or Wonder Woman costume, then let me offer you some more support options.

-I am now offering a unique blend of private yoga therapy and life coaching to my clients. Whatever goals you are needing a boost with, I can totes help you with this. Want to find out what this would be like? Schedule a free 30-minutes, on me.

-Yoga Refuge offers some fantastic memberships and custom packages designed to help you commit to yourself. The best places to start are signing up for our Welcome Special (seriously, anyone can commit for 14 days, right?), or signing up for a free 30-minute consult with one of our staff so we can help fit you with the right classes, teachers and class packages for your personal goals. E-mail us at info@yogarefugepdx.com to schedule your consult today!

-Finally, you can watch this sweet music video from one of my favorite songs on my run playlist to get yourself up and moving.  And yes, about 50% of the songs on my playlist are from movies I have watched with my kids. I will totally share it with you if you want. #noshame

Kate headshot 1

Kate Holly is a Teacher, Coach and Yoga therapist and the Director of Yoga Refuge. Say hi at kate@yogarefugepdx.com!