October 11, 2014

20 (More) Daily Practices That Changed My Life.

live simple

Last January I was living on a beautiful paradise island off the coast of Bali.

There were no cars, only sand paths, a never ending white sand coastline, calm turquoise water for swimming, and stunning sunsets every night. Yet I could not seem to find peace and happiness. I felt anxious and disconnected from myself and my yoga practice.

I wondered how I had drifted so far from the person I worked so hard to become for the last year in Costa Rica.

I wondered how everything felt so much easier in the sanctuary of the beach and the jungle. I didn’t want to turn around and go back to Costa Rica, but I needed something to turn to.

Then I remembered, my practice.

Beyond becoming a beach bumming jungle hippie, in Costa Rica I developed practices that changed me from the inside out. I could return to those practices no matter where in the world I was.

So I wrote them down. The 20 Daily Practices That Changed My Life. Many of you told me that the same practices changed your life too.

Now, nine months later, back in Costa Rica, in many ways life does feel easier. But this is the time, when everything does feel easy, that it is most important to practice. So that when I find myself back in a place, in a moment, that feels hard, I have my practice, again and again, to turn to.

Here are twenty more daily practices that I strive to grow in every single day:

1. Practice Radical Self-Acceptance

As a culture we seem pretty obsessed with fixing things. Renovating our homes, pimping our rides, giving our spouses makeovers, dieting and cleansing and plucking and highlighting. We are constantly striving to have something better than we already have and it begins with wanting to be something better than we already are.

But what if instead, we practiced radical self-acceptance? What if we looked in the mirror and saw perfection instead of a list of things that need to be improved?

Even if at first we don’t believe it, we can practice telling ourselves “I accept you, I am grateful for you, and I love you.”

When we accept ourselves, we can accept everything else. After all, it’s our own insecurities that drive us to want to change things outside of us. By letting go of the need to change or fix we can experience deeper love and gratitude for everything that we have and everything that we are.

2. Be Vulnerable

Would it surprise you to know that despite sharing my insecurities, romantic escapades, and innermost demons on the internet, I struggle with vulnerability? I may feel perfectly comfortable with the whole world knowing all of the thoughts in my head, but asking someone for something I need? Engaging in a relationship without built in barriers? Receiving more than giving? A different story altogether.

We each have our own personal definition of vulnerability and for some of us it feels… terrifying. What if we open ourselves only to be rejected? What if the outside world confirms what we already feel, that we’re not good enough?

But there’s something much scarier than being vulnerable. Not being vulnerable.

The walls we build to self protect don’t just block out the bad things, they also block out the good. In fact vulnerability is the key to human connection. When we see a gushy part of someone else that speaks to a gushy part in us, we feel one with that person. Imagine what might happen if no one ever let themselves be gushy?

Being vulnerable doesn’t have to mean being totally exposed. This is where boundaries (link to last post) come in. The more solid we feel in expressing our needs and our limits, the easier it is to be vulnerable without compromising who we are.

3. Pay Someone a Compliment

I’m a strong believer that most of the problems in the world exist because of fear of unworthiness. One of the unfortunate results of this fear is the competition it creates between people. Ladies, how often have you felt the glare of another woman when you’re in a tight dress, or by contrast felt the flush of green in your face when you saw a woman rocking one better? Men, when you meet a man with bigger muscles, a bigger paycheck, a bigger house, or a bigger car?

Instead of feeling inadequate or judging the object of our envy, what if we celebrated them? What if their beauty, their personality, their talents, their success became an inspiration for each of us? Despite our fear of scarcity the truth is that there is more than enough light for everyone to shine.

One way to influence this shift is to practice complimenting people, genuinely and authentically, as much as possible. If your best friend looks beautiful, tell her. Maybe she doesn’t hear it so often. If your co-worker came up with a killer idea, tell him how much it inspired you. When you meet a stranger looking stunning, tell her how much you love her outfit, her hair, whatever. In my own practice I notice that when I pay someone a compliment, something within them immediately softens and opens.

4. Create a Sanctuary

Find a place that you can retreat in to recharge from the stimulation of the outside world. Where you can feel safe to be you in all of your nakedness. Cultivate that place, care for that place, allow yourself to reside in that place whenever you need to.

5. Disconnect From the Internet

Most of us are so completely addicted to the online world that we don’t even realize it. How often do you notice your dinner companions looking down at their laps when their phone buzzes? Or snapping a picture of their meal and sharing it on Facebook? How often do you open your computer or check your smart phone the moment you wake up in the morning? In the final moments before you go to bed?

What if we practiced disconnecting more from the online world, to connect more with the physical world? What if we spent less time in the company of our computer and more time alone turning inward to explore ourselves? How much more focus could we cultivate in everything that we do, including the time that we spend online? How much deeper connections could we form? How much greater introspection could we gain?

6. Play

Remember summertime when you were a kid? Never ending days of swimming at the lake, building sandcastles on the shore, exploring in the woods. Every moment was filled with possibility and every experience was entrenched in enchantment.

As we get older many of us become disconnected from that sense of playfulness. We become so caught up in the daily doings that we forget to connect with the joy that makes life worth living.

When I engage in activities that feel playful, for no other reason than the joy and fun that it brings me, I notice a dramatic shift in my ability to do everything else. If we make time in our lives for play, we make time to be with our true blissful nature. In that state we shine our light the brightest with the world.

7. Do Something You Don’t Want to Do

Why would I ever suggest doing something that you really don’t want to do? Because it’s an incredible practice in building willpower, which in turn creates the strength to achieve the things that we do really want.

I hate running more than any other form of physical exercise. I’ve hated it for as long as I can remember. So about six months ago in Thailand I started running every single morning at sunrise on the beach. The first five minutes felt like the longest five minutes of my life. I wanted to give up. It felt so hard. But as I persevered something shifted. Eventually I moved beyond my wall. Eventually I felt like I could keep running forever.

I carry this experience with me and remember it when things feel hard. Even when we’re doing what we love, we will face hardships. Connecting back with this place of willpower reminds us that we can get through it, we just have to keep going.

8. Find Comfort in Discomfort

Traveling the world I find myself in uncomfortable situations all of the time. Long hot bus rides, rough seasickness inducing boat rides, infuriating border scams, rustic beach huts with mice and cockroaches and cold showers. I’ve learned that the more I surrender to this discomfort, the easier everything becomes.

No matter how uncomfortable a sensation or an experience may feel, it will not last forever. We have the ability to choose whether to struggle and suffer for the duration or whether to relax into the inevitability of it. The more comfort we can find in these uncomfortable situations, the more freedom we have in our ability to enjoy life.

9. Go Completely Broke (Or Live Like It)

In Southeast Asia, for the first time in my life, I was completely broke. That is to say, on an island in Thailand, one morning I realized I had $30 to my name.

Like most Westerners the thought of going broke often terrified me and drove me to make decisions on how I lived my life. So when I actually did go broke, there was nothing left to fear. It was a strangely calming experience.

I trusted that everything would work out, and well, it did. Running out of money motivated me to be more disciplined in my online work and I began to notice all of the options that surrounded me that perhaps I had been closed to before. It also showed me just how little I actually need.

We are designed to survive and the universe abundantly provides. Sometimes it takes losing “everything” to remember that.

10. Receive the Goodness in the World

Many of us have a far easier time giving than receiving. I believe this comes from our fear of vulnerability and even deeper, from our feelings of self worth. Accepting generosity from others requires us to open ourselves and to acknowledge that we are deserving of it.

Despite our inclination to reject this generosity to not burden others, when we accept the goodness that comes our way we offer kindness and gratitude to the source of it. The more goodness we allow ourselves to receive the more we expand our ability to give back. Giving and receiving go hand in hand. Why limit the flow of abundance in any direction? We are all endlessly deserving of it.

11. Let Go of Guilt

In Southeast Asia I was confronted with poverty for the first time in my life. Initially it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I felt tremendous guilt that I led a life of privilege simply because of the country on my passport. However I quickly realized that if I truly wanted to connect with the people around me, I had to let that go.

At our core we are all the same. That means we are all connected. We are all one. We simply walk different karmic paths lined with individual lessons. No path is better or necessarily easier than another. Each of us is here to learn.

Feeling guilty about our blessings does not empower us to help others; instead it creates a barrier that prohibits deeper human connection. Rather than indulging this guilt that comes from our own feelings of inadequacy, we can use our privileges to create, to inspire, and to learn. We can stop feeling guilty and we can start feeling love.

12. Learn to Listen

What wisdom can we gain when instead of engaging in chatter or distraction, we listen? Deeply listen. When we quiet our minds and listen to the messages that live in our bodies, the messages that live in our breath, the messages that live in our hearts, we connect with the wisdom that always exists within us. That voice of wisdom knows beyond all else.

When we offer that same practice to how we engage with others? By istening to them speak their truth instead of interjecting our opinions, sympathies, or judgment, we allow them the opportunity to connect with their own voice of wisdom.

Each of us already has the answers we seek within ourselves, we just need to listen closely enough to discover them.

13. Meditate

The results of daily meditation never fail to astound me. When we allow our minds the ability to rest by directing them towards a single point of focus we tap into incredible power. Our energy moves towards our intentions rather than being scattered and divided.

A simple daily practice that I love is to focus on something within myself that I want to manifest. I begin by sitting comfortably, closing my eyes, and connecting with my breath. I choose one single thing that I want to invite into my life, perhaps deeper compassion, more playfulness, more joy, and I imagine myself just being that. To keep my mind focused I work with a mantra of “I am compassion” or “I am playful” or “I am joy.” I consider how the rest of my day might look if I continued to embody that word. More often than not I notice a big shift in my attitude by making this very simple shift in my mind.

14. Do What Scares You

Imagine how your life might change if you were fearless. Imagine what freedom you might find there. Imagine how you could approach everything with more passion, more joy, and more heart.

When we practice doing what scares us, whether that’s speaking in public, approaching a member of the opposite sex, being naked, or jumping out of an airplane, we work through releasing ourselves from the fear that holds us back. This is a process, a lifelong process, of testing our limits and discovering greater possibility.

Working with fear in the safety of a yoga studio is a great place to start. Practicing postures where we go upside down, balance our bodies on our hands, and do things that appear physically impossible shows us how much we are capable of and how little we actually have to fear.

15. Smile

One of my personal practices in experiencing more bliss in my life is offering a genuine smile to everyone I can. It instantly lifts my spirits and reminds me that no matter what may be going on in the world and no matter what may be going on within me, there is always a reason to smile.

16. Take Responsibility for Your Own Happiness

I remember a time when I thought that the key to happiness existed outside of myself. It existed in the quality of my relationships, in the excitement of my lifestyle, in the success of my work, in the abundance of my stuff. Consequently when I wasn’t happy, it was always someone else’s’ fault.

Why couldn’t my boyfriend be more attentive? Why couldn’t my friends be more fun? Why couldn’t my job be more fulfilling? Why couldn’t Nordstrom carry a better fitting pair of jeans?

When I started traveling alone I removed the factors that once affected my happiness and found myself left with just one: me. Every moment of every day I had the responsibility of choosing how to direct my energy towards creating a positive fulfilling life.

We each have the choice in every experience in life to blame others, circumstances, or ourselves for any discomfort or dissatisfaction we experience. Or we can let go of the blame altogether. We can empower ourselves with the ability to choose a loving, positive outlook that brings greater happiness into our lives.

17. Let it be Easy

What would happen if instead of choosing to struggle, choosing to stress, choosing to hurt, we chose ease. At times it can feel so natural to reside in the heaviness of life, but how can we experience greater joy and appreciation by feeling light?

Sometimes I like to imagine if my deepest place of wisdom could step outside of me, what it might say. How it might giggle at the arguments that feel so serious. How it might shrug at the suffering that feels so real. I find this particularly effective when I feel caught up in drama, anger, or self-pity. How can I transcend this, I ask, by remembering that few things are life or death and everything will eventually pass?

18. Forgive

It’s taken me a long time to accept this reality, but people are not perfect. People are not perfect, and in their imperfect moments, sometimes they will hurt us. Sometimes they may even hurt us in really awful, horrible, selfish ways.

But how does it serve us to hold onto that hurt? How does it serve us to live with anger and resentment? How does it serve us to characterize them as the villains in our lives?

What if instead we forgave? What weight could we lift off our shoulders by sending them our compassion instead?

Forgiveness is an incredibly challenging practice, but also a powerful one. One of the most effective ways I’ve discovered for cultivating deeper compassion towards those who have hurt me is through practicing a form of meditation called metta. In metta we work with sending a mantra of loving kindness towards those whom have hurt us.

You can practice metta by working with the following mantra in Sanskrit: “Loka samastha sukhino bhavantu,” which translates to “may you be at peace, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.”

19. Release Yourself From the Outcome

Passion and willpower are tremendous tools for achieving what we want in life. But when we become attached to the results of our efforts we often lose sight of why we’re even doing what we’re doing. It can actually rob us of the joy we experience in the process of creation.

When instead we let go of the outcome, our deepest desires paradoxically transpire. By focusing on the gift of the work itself we free ourselves to connect with our deepest sense of purpose and in turn we produce our most beautiful expressions.

What might happen if you allowed yourself to want something, to pursue it passionately, and then to release yourself from the results to make space to create something new once again?

20. Give Yourself a Break

Why is it so much easier to recognize our mistakes than our triumphs? To focus on our flaws instead of our strengths? To notice our weaknesses instead of our progress?

So many of us are much harder on ourselves than we need to be. The same way we can cultivate compassion towards others, recognizing that they are worthy of happiness and love, we can send that compassion towards ourselves. We can soften in the way that we observe and speak to ourselves. We can laugh at our mistakes and then move on from them.

We can spend the whole day laying in a hammock or going to a spa and “achieving” nothing and that is okay.

We can find so much gratitude for every ounce of our imperfectly perfect selves.



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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Katie Brady at Flickr 

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