Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you: I love summer; I love everything associated with summer, I would like to live on a beach with palm trees, and alternatively, I strongly (strongly) dislike winter. I don’t like to use the word “hate” but on January days, riding my bike for miles to teach yoga in Chicago, the word definitely crossed my mind.
I knew that the experience of traveling out west in the winter months would be a very different experience from the summer months of hiking, biking, swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, and kayaking around the country. I had some trepidations about how I was going to adjust to life on the road when we didn’t have guaranteed warm days to get outside in nature to do the things I love.
On top of that, I knew Stephen was going to want to ski… like, a lot. I didn’t grow up skiing much and I am just about as awkward as anyone can be trying to maneuver two slats around slippery, icy hills. Coupled with the cold, the wind, and the need to wear layers upon layers in order to stay warm for an entire day outside on said icy hills, suffice it to say that I was not the most enthused about the winter months this year.
But as with pretty much every situation in life, my yoga showed up beyond my mat’s four corners. In re-reading a passage from a book I’m using as a guide for some of the themes in our April yoga retreat to Tulum this year, I realized that there was a lot to unpack from my expectations of what was to come.
“‘Mind’ is one of those slippery terms like ‘love.’ The proper definition depends on your state of consciousness. Look at it this way: You have a brain that directs the body, stores information, and plays with that information. We refer to the brain’s abstract processes as ‘the intellect.’ Nowhere have I mentioned mind. The brain and the mind are not the same. The brain is real. The mind isn’t.” (“Way of the Peaceful Warrior”, Dan Millman)
I told myself to press pause on the preconceived notions about what to expect from an experience that I hadn’t yet had. That was my mind, not my brain.
What if I could embrace the cold? What if peace and happiness could be achieved in more places than just what I think of as the “ideal” – underneath a palm tree on a beach? If “ideal” dwells where the mind wanders, I’ve decided to make the first part of this year, kicking off with 7 Days of Personal Devotion, all about finding something to love each and every day about where I am, not about what’s to come.
We arrived to Durango, Colorado to visit friends for a week on our way towards Utah, and Day One we suited up in our bibs and helmets for a day on the slopes. “Here we go,” I thought. But as soon as my mind started to get carried away with worry, fear, and doubt, I reminded myself that I could choose to listen to something else: my awareness, my consciousness, my brain, my attention were all options that could allow the mind chatter to take a back seat.
– Charles F. Kettering
I could chalk it up to the absurdly warm and sunny weather we had, or the promise of après-ski, but I think my enjoyment of the day had more to do with this mindset shift than anything else. I surprised myself with my ability to not only get off a chair lift but to make it down the mountain (even some blues!) relatively unscathed.
When we arrived in Utah, I had a half day lesson that boosted my confidence a bit more. My instructor watched me move and told me I was a natural, even if I didn’t feel at-ease. She validated all those feelings of lack of confidence, and instead of dismissing them, gave me strategies to work through them. She guided me down a couple more medium-grade blue runs, and I couldn’t wait to try a few out with Stephen after lunch.
I learned the hard way that not all blues are created equal on the mountain, and when Stephen and I started out on a run that was going to be the longest of the day, I peered over the edge of what seemed to me like a double black diamond right at the top (it wasn’t, I know, that was just my mind at work again), I knew it was going to be a very different experience from what I zoomed down with ease just an hour before.
Even here, staring down the face of a double black diamond, I knew there was something to learn about this very moment. Even when I wiped out and reverted back to my old pizza tactics the rest of the way down the mountain, there was something glorious about getting out there and trying something new. Embracing the cold, the awkwardness, everything that makes me feel out of my comfort zone, and just saying “yes” to it all anyway.
It’s wild how quickly things can shift, isn’t it? In this moment of skiing, it was apparent that my mind got a grip over me and I couldn’t let my higher consciousness talk me out of the fear and doubt that my mind held captive over me. Suddenly my legs froze, I couldn’t make them do any of the smooth turns my instructor Linda taught me earlier that day. I thought I “mastered” it but of course, the journey to improvement isn’t a one-directional upward trajectory. Mastery involves lots of ups and downs, and lots of communication between the mind and the body. Sometimes the mind gets on board with the body, but oftentimes one is not on the same page as the other, and that’s part of the process.
And skiing isn’t my only example of this. It does, however, feel most apparent whenever we’re trying something new. We feel the dissonance between our brains and our bodies a little more starkly, I think. When I injured my back from a car accident years ago, my mind knew what to do in a yoga class, but my body wouldn’t let me move in the same ways that used to feel familiar and good. I had to come up with a new strategy.
As much as I, or anyone, would like to learn a quicker fix to gaining confidence, growing stronger and mastering new skills, time seems to be the best teacher of all.
All this is to say, witnessing how our minds work – sometimes for, and sometimes seemingly against us – is a fascinating thing. In the same way I harp on the benefits of staying curious with movement, I’m finding that staying curious about how my mind operates, rather than jumping to judgment & self-criticism, is a really cool journey. It’s allowing me to show up more mindfully when I’m making business decisions. It’s allowing me to act versus react when something frustrating happens. It’s even allowing me to be more mindful within my workouts (loads of inspiration coming in the form of workouts that are just as much a work-IN for members this year in the membership!)
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