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WHAT is Self-Study for Self-Realization?

Q & A

WHAT the hell is Self-Study for Self-Realization?

WHY to Self-Study to Self-Realize?

HOW to Self-Study to Self-Realize?

 

This little gem below attempts to give answers to the questions in detail and provides you with directions and activities to get your started knowing yourself better, but you can take a look at my answers below while you wait for your book to be delivered to your home or your Kindle!

Here are MY answers (not necessarily “the” answers):

1A. Self-study is slowing down enough to look inside yourself and answer: who am I? What am I like? What’s my body like? How does my mind work? What’s my personality? Disposition? What are my interests? What sort of choices do I make? What do I pay attention to on a daily/monthly/yearly basis and are those things good for me? What’s my relationship to learning? Do I see opportunities for growth or complain that life is unfair?

*I learned about attention through Bikram Yoga and through reflective journal writing. Perhaps these might also work for you. You will have to study yourself to know what will work for you and what will not. It’s your life.

1B. Self-realization: is ongoing realizations about who you are; seeing yourself as an ever-changing being full of limits and possibilities for becoming. A realization isn’t always in your control. Often having an “ah-ha” moment or making a crazy-amazing discovery about yourself “just happens” for you from beyond your control. A realization can come from “the other side” and outside your comfort zone.

*When I stopped forcing myself to achieve; when I stopped focusing on outcomes and started enjoying the process of being me; when I let go of expectations (mostly of others) and trying to control everything and everyone outside myself all the time; and when I started observing myself with curiosity, love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance (through yoga, reflective writing, introspection), I started taking the best care of myself because I saw my own value (despite all my horrible flaws) and that, still, my life is a gift. I am responsible for expressing the best of myself and for managing the worst.  The lies I had been telling myself about who I thought I was (“my identity” as this type of person or that) burned away and the truth, through realizations, start pouring in! Inspiration and creativity rushed through me, thus this blog and book etc…

2. Each person should study themselves (what I call the “inner landscape”) at least as often as they study the world around them (what I call the “external landscape”) to continually grow in wisdom which I am convinced is what makes a person healthy and thrive. The problem is that our modern culture conditions us to focus our attention on what’s on the “external landscape” to the detriment and neglect of the “inner landscape.” Why do you think people are trying to get more people to meditate? Why do you think mental health counselors are in such demand? Modern life is so overwhelmingly full of noise, material clutter, busyness, and excessive stress that most people are entirely distracted away from their interior life. They are disconnected from the inner place of wisdom and peace. It’s simple: SLOW THE FUCK DOWN and give yourself the loving attention and care that you deserve and are responsible for doing FOR YOURSELF throughout your life. That’s an opportunity and a responsibility. The dangers and challenges of the world aren’t going anywhere– you need to make yourself courageous enough, flexible enough, and strong enough to surf the waves of your life. When you study yourself and realize your whole self, you’ll be well and you’ll make others well in the process.

*I slowed my life down by practicing stopping and living in the moment in my yoga classes; I started practicing yoga outside the studio in my everyday life.  Loads of those moments were painful and uncomfortable (in and out of the studio), but when I explored my pain and suffering to understand it (not judge it), I learned to let it come (without pushing it away) and let it go. I got used to suffering and learned how to suffer better. I also learned how to fully savor all the joyful moments that I had rarely taken time to “be with” before I had slowed down. I cry more, laugh more, am more intimately connected to what and whom I value. Life is fucking good, not because I am rich materially (I am not), but because I am grounded in the truth of my own presence. I am in love with life. I am lively!

3. I propose that five things comprise a helpful self-study program for self-realization: 1. ATTENTION: start understanding what attention is, its value for health and wellness, practice strengthening your attention. You can do this in various ways that I explain in my book. 2. SELF-AWARENESS: Turn your attention inward to knowing who you are and becoming more aware of yourself. Study the workings of your mind and body so can provide optimal care for them. 3. CHALLENGE: Practice facing fear rather than running from it or distracting yourself from it; learn about pain and suffering– they aren’t going anywhere so you may as well learn to make friends with them. Part 3 of the Self-Study Guide can show you how. 4. CHOICE: Study your choices and learn more about the empowerment that comes from choice and mindful response to stress in your environment and within you. We life to blame things in the “external landscape” rather than taking personal responsibility for managing our responses to those stresses from the “inner landscape”or a central locus of control. You can practice getting better at making conscious choices for your wellness. 5. LEARNING: School-learning lives under the umbrella and a much broader definition of learning as a way of living. Learning is embracing a landscapes for learning mindset– to choose to see your life experiences (all of them) as opportunities for growing, expanding who you are, and to expressing your uniqueness. Learning is about the walking the line between what is known (mastery) and what is unknown– and the unknown is both scary and exciting. Get curious about what’s on the other side of your comfort zone and remain open to the possibilities of transcending your limits to thrive.

* Self-Study for Self-Realization is about slowing down, attending to yourself, and discovering what’s true about you and what’s false. It’s an ongoing life-time journey to live the truth to thrive! My book suggests looking at life as a landscape for learning and offers directions to follow to explore the landscape of you!

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Practicing Gratitude

My Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness (now on sale in the Kindle Store and in paperback at Amazon.com) is the result of so many other people’s work and their unique service to others. The content within the Self Study Guide I have created isn’t anything new–it’s classic wisdom– to know thyself—but the way I divide self study into five parts, each with tools and practices that work for me in my life and hopefully might work for yours, is original.

My perspective of classic wisdom in the context of my unique experiences as a mother, high school teacher, and Bikram Yoga teacher, and student of counseling psychology is also unique. Still, people might ask, why bother writing about what so many others already teach? My answer is this: more help for wellness is always needed in the world; the reputation of Bikram Yoga could use some redemption by sharing more detailed information about the psycho-therapeutic value of the practice; and although I definitely don’t think I can deliver this important information any better than others, (I give my writing a B) I can do it differently which may make the same information (know thyself for wellness) more accessible to some folks, compared to the way others might also be conveying it. You never know how your work may resonate with people, so you should share it! It won’t have any chance of doing anyone any good if I don’t– that is for certain.

Anyway…everything I read, watched, and listened to over the past several years spoke directly to what I had been learning in my personal Bikram yoga practice, through my travels, in my teaching, while parenting, and writing. Lots of what I was discovering through my own introspection and reflection, what I call traveling my inner landscape, was being articulated in various ways by the many people listed below.  I thank them for speaking their truth in their own ways, using their own means and talents, within their own spheres of influence. Such connection with others– whether family, friends, strangers, or the long since deceased through their classic work is an amazing part of being human. I am grateful. The Acknowledgements section from the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human follows below.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my son for our many conversations and his referrals to podcasts and book titles, philosophical, historical, psychological and otherwise. Jack introduced me to The Joe Rogan Experience which, in turn, led me to many other interesting, informative teachers and entertaining guests, like podcaster Rich Roll.  Both Roll’s life story (Finding Ultra) and Rogan’s most recommended book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield motivated me to identify and conquer my own “ inner bitch” otherwise known as “Resistance” (with a capital “R”) and radically change my life, at midlife. I quit my job as a high school teacher, packed one small bag, and traveled the world to teach Bikram Yoga, write, and promote self-realization “process living” —my own and others’ for wellness. 

Rich Roll’s personal story of transformation and his work in new media exemplifies the results of all five tenets of this Self Study Guide. His life story illustrates that redemption is possible when we discover our truest most authentic selves and live its fullest expression. It takes audacity, courage, and grit to not “live a life of quiet desperation” in the words of H.D.Thoreau, a line Roll often references. We are all in need of recovery and redemption, and we do have what it takes deep inside of us to become our truest most human selves, if we could only tap into it through quiet introspection to awaken and undo our cultural conditioning. Roll and his wife, Julie often say, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” If each of us can realize this, and drop our masks, it would radically transform us enough to collectively heal ourselves and our planet.

Another guest I heard on the Joe Rogan Experience and need to thank is Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Bowled over at how he articulated so much of what I had intuitively learned from my yoga practice and from having studied and taught the great stories and philosophers of the Western humanities tradition, I like many thousands of people, immersed myself in learning from his lectures online, completing the Self Authoring Suite and personality tests at Understandmyself.com. All of this helped me with my own personal self study and my continual transformation. Through Dr. Peterson’s work, I discovered the connections between psychoanalysis, archetypal stories from the Humanities traditions both East and West, and yoga in a broader sense. He introduced me to Carl Jung and Carl Rogers, which helped me realize that I was interested in pursuing a more therapeutic relationship with students as human beings who are trying to “become people” (Rogers, 1961) and away from a strictly academic relationship that is more about delivering curriculum and judging and assessing “hard” academic skills. Readers will recognize the influences of these psychologists throughout the Self Study Guide. Studying human nature (as a concept, as an intellectual exercise, through teaching world literature) in the classroom led me to studying actual individuals’ natures and, of course, my own.

Thanks, again, to my son, I found the Tim Ferriss podcast which led me to so many other wise teachers and great learning resources. Ferriss gave me access to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way her “morning pages” and so much more about identity and discovery of the true self through writing. Cameron’s work is about human nature and spirituality which is why it is a book for everyone, not just writers and creative types. As well, I traveled solo for almost a year inspired by Ferriss’ example and Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding I learned more about integrity and relationship building as well as modern education’s need for teaching more “soft skills” from Seth Godin a regular Ferriss podcast guest. Finally, two of the most interesting and genuinely personal conversations happened between Ferriss and Buddhist teacher and psychologist, Jack Kornfield, as well as his talk with addiction and recovery specialist, Dr. Gabor Mate. Tim Ferriss was learning about himself, becoming more awakened I think, in those conversations and it was profound to hear. Like Rogan and Roll’s conversations with a variety of amazing human beings, that sort of rich, deep and authentic dialogue about pain, love, humanity, integration, wholeness and meaning is the therapy we need to immerse ourselves in, especially in our modern culture. 

Along with these wise mentors, Cathy Heller’s “Don’t Keep Your Day Job” podcast provided the enthusiasm, concrete reasons, and practical examples of how I could actually become exactly who I was meant to be and why I’d be inauthentic and unhappy if I didn’t! Cathy just seemed to keep saying everything I needed to hear at exactly the right times. I owe her much gratitude for being herself and expressing herself boldly and bravely without giving a fu*k, as Mark Manson, another important influence would say. Manson’s audacious writing voice and style encouraged me to unabashedly exercise my own, publicly, and inspired me to start blogging. He is candid and courageous to write about the subject of values, especially honesty, which is sorely needed right now. 

I also discovered The Minimalists and Leo Babauta (Zenhabits.net), who I credit for teaching me that it is possible to live out of one bag, with nothing but my own core values, not only for a year of travel as a Bikram Yoga teacher but for the rest of my days at home. In a world of excess, The Minimalists’ message echoes that of Henry David Thoreau— the classic wisdom of living simply and deliberately— for modern times. Simplifying encouraged me to make more mindful choices in my daily life and shaped my perspective about what really matters.

Most of all I need to thank Bikram Choudhury, the rogue of the American yoga world– the controversial guru modern yogis love to reject. Bikram is a great teacher both in spite of and because of his flaws and mostly for his brutal honesty. He taught me about how much we reject the truth when it hurts the most and how we are keen to run from pain and vulnerability. I see him as a wonderful example of what we humans Resist (with a capital R) about our own human nature. His yoga system and his Teacher Training changed my life which, in turn, has (hopefully) positively impacted more students of mine than I can count. This Self Study Guide is my attempt to bring the message of Bikram’s yoga, which is about self realization, to as many people as possible.  

Practicing Bikram Yoga is about facing fear, finding truth, and becoming more vital and alive. It’s a present moment laboratory for observing one’s own human struggle between the animal and rational. I am more real, congruent as famed psychologist Carl Rogers (1980) would say, and authentically me in all ways mental, physical, and spiritual because of this embodied practice of self study. 

By breaking attachment and dependencies on externals and struggling with self understanding to change and heal through yoga, I learn to accept life as it is rather than how I want it to be. I don’t do any of this consistently or with ease, but I try, consciously and deliberately to suffer better. I try more courageously to express my creativity and truth, because I understand it, deeply and intuitively, as a life force that flows through me, rather than thinking I could possibly conjure anything like it on my own. 

Learning to love and accept my whole self and my limited, challenging human condition empowers me to love all living things, fiercely and with great empathy and compassion. The world needs such love and compassion now, more than ever; it needs more dialogue too, especially more mindful listening to ourselves, our intuition, and to others. I hope the Self Study Guide can inch people closer to knowing themselves by slowing, quieting, and listening to discover, express, and share their uniqueness and their truth with others.

If each of us struggles to follow the classic wisdom to “know thyself,” and love and accept ourselves, truly, not the roles we play or the masks we wear but the true being that we each are: animal thus limited, yet conscious and perhaps even divine, we can minimize unnecessary suffering and suffer better, together. 

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness is the result of everything I’ve learned from these people noted above and many other very wise people below who encouraged me to “do my yoga”— in other words, to study myself to know the real me and live my truth.

Additional love and gratitude to: Rob Donovan, Ryan Quinn, Grace Tempany, Myozen Joan Amaral, Hector Lopez, Pierre Ratte, Frank Murray, Brandy Keevan, Shannon Englehardt, Teri Almquist, Rachel Horwitz, Polly Edwards, Jason Destasio, all my Bikram Yoga Teacher Training mates, fellow Bikram Yoga teachers and traveling teacher mates, especially Changu, Claire, Sarah, & Kiran. Thank you to my children: Jack, Shea, Regan and Riley, and all my past and present students– you’ve always been my best and most valued teachers. 

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A Self Study Guide for Wellness

The unexamined life is not worth living.”— Socrates

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness is designed to inspire and motivate you to live an “examined” life and give you simple, pragmatic tools for everyday use. It’s about the why and how to “know thyself,” so you can express your uniqueness for a lifetime of wellness and wellbeing. This five part process of self study will enable you to specifically articulate yourself to yourself and empower you to more deliberately author your own life story.

The purpose of the Self Study Guide is to encourage you to look inward at least as often as you look outward which is why it begins with attention. Look up from your screens, away from teachers, friends, experts, and yes, even your parents, to look inward at your own human nature because that’s where your integrity and passion reside as well as all the answers about who you are and how to live well.

The Self Study Guide is a five part program will teach you why and how to:

(1) manage your attention and understand its relationship to your values, 

(2) increase your self-awareness

(3) realize the value of embracing challenge to build character, discipline, and resilience, 

(4) make more intentional choices to respond to life experiences rather than reacting to them mindlessly or unconsciously, and

(5) approach life with the attitude of a lifelong learner to cultivate growth mindset and an openness to experience.

Self study is about reflection, introspection, and radical honesty to improve your human experience. We aren’t here for very long, so get started living your best life today!

Get your copy of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness Available for only $9.99 at Amazon.com.

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Vulnerability

An excerpt from “Part V: Learning” in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Self Study Guide for Wellness (available June 1 at Amazon.com)

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.”
Brene Brown

To be human is to be vulnerable. Allowing yourself to be open to experience and vulnerable is how one learns, grows, and thrives, but being vulnerable also invites the potential for pain and suffering, even death. Vulnerability is a double-edged sword. Vulnerability is a challenge, and how you accept, respond, and cope with it defines who you are. To know oneself is to understand one’s own vulnerability.

Bikram Yoga & Vulnerability

Many people question the level of challenge of Bikram Yoga, wondering why it’s not more relaxing and peaceful. Why is Bikram Yoga so hard? Why the high heat and strict discipline? Why can’t I close my eyes? Why do I feel so exposed and vulnerable to emotional and physical discomfort? Why must I labor through the poses for ninety minutes? There’s lots of resistance to Bikram Yoga practice—- and that is the point. The practice is about paying attention to the nature of your resistance and emotional reactivity to vulnerability. Learning to be with one’s vulnerability and practicing ways to transform it for wellness is an important part of the process of self-realization and self-actualization. 

In Bikram Yoga, the poses test a person’s response to their own feelings of vulnerability, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. These asanas are an opportunity to experience what vulnerability feels like in one’s body and mind repeatedly in small doses within a safe environment (as exposure therapy). The class is like a laboratory to observe oneself and one’s stress. Through this practice of staying open to one’s own vulnerability, or learning through exposure therapy, vulnerability becomes less frightening over time. The practice and exposure teaches people to be open-minded about feeling their own stress, anxiety, and other fears and challenging sensations in one’s body and mind.

Rather than trying to avoid these postures, compromise them in order to control them for more comfort and less vulnerability, or to “perform” them for the sake of achieving physical prowess or perfection, we encourage our yogis to “trust” the process of the posture– to be with it– to do one step at a time, the best they are able and breathe. To fully experience the attempt to do what one is able in order to understand oneself better is the goal.

Again, this is how Bikram yoga is not about achieving the full expression of any pose, but it’s about living with how you are in each moment — exploring and observing the way one may refuse to experience and cope with vulnerability or the ways one becomes more willing to stay open and flexible in response to challenge to learn and grow.

It might hurt a little bit

As teachers, we are instructed in our Bikram Yoga Dialogue to alert practitioners that parts of some postures “might hurt a little bit” as a loving warning that they may and should experience some therapeutic discomfort that comes from vulnerability and opening themselves up more than they are likely to do otherwise because of their trepidation or reluctance to “be present” with discomfort and stress. In fact, in this way we are inviting them to cultivate being more comfortable with being uncomfortable and to get to know the pain and suffering associated with vulnerability rather than to fear it or run from it. Most people don’t understand their own bodies, thoughts, feelings, pain, or vulnerability, but when they come to Bikram Yoga class, they can learn more about these things. When people begin to discover more about themselves and develop more awareness, anxiety and stress lessens and wisdom and wellness result.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
–Brene Brown

Just as some Bikram yogis try to modify and control their practice rather than following the commands of the teacher’s Dialogue during class as a way to avoid vulnerability and discomfort, many people, in general, strive continually for permanence in their lives and in their environment because this gives them a perceived feeling of safety and security; this is a way out of feeling vulnerable, but permanence is an illusion. Being human means being subject to constant change, relative security and insecurity, and vulnerability on an ongoing basis, but such fear, change, insecurity, and vulnerability can be motivation, inspiration and potential opportunities to grow, create, and fully self-actualize. It’s very challenging for people to accept this truth and gain the courage to trust this process. It is common for people to take one look at the Bikram Yoga series and say, “No, thanks. Who wants to voluntarily suffer? And to what end? I refuse to expose myself to that and face my fear.” We assure you that the environment you will enter is a compassionate, safe place to do what’s difficult to grow wiser and more well.

Letting Go of Control: Trust the Process

Also common is rather than taking personal responsibility and ownership over oneself — one’s particular emotional sensitivities, buttons, and triggers (the aspects of ourselves that can be discovered in Part II Self-awareness), some people often try to manipulate their environment or influence, overpower, and otherwise control other people and their environment to prevent their own feelings of insecurity or to protect themselves from the potential discomfort or loss that may come from such vulnerability. This is a very common human tendency, because we are wired biologically to react to threat and danger and in previous times needed such reactivity for our survival. In a more progressive modern world, sometimes we hang onto that reactivity and fear unnecessarily.

To an extent, a degree of reactivity and defensiveness is self-preservation and self-protection, but in many cases, people avoid personal responsibility because they don’t know they have choices about how to respond, have never been taught or trained to, or because it’s become socially common to blame, distract, or avoid challenge. They avoid doing the difficult work within themselves and instead put their attention and energy toward manipulating the external world, including other people, to suit them or give themselves a sense of security. This can cause a lot of unnecessary stress for oneself and for others.

Vulnerability & Overprotection

I observed in my high school teaching career how many parents try to change an environment or attempt to manipulate and regulate other people’s behavior in order to protect their kids from from uncertainty, discomfort, or loss because they perceive such things as “dangerous.” They do their children a great disservice by trying to create “safe spaces” in the world and over-protection that is beyond trying to ensure their physical wellbeing (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018). Rather than teaching children to stay open to understand the important role of vulnerability in learning and creativity and developing healthy responses to stress and coping skills within themselves, children are conditioned instead to turn to find comfort outside of themselves (running to authorities, drugs, or developing other unhealthy dependencies).

Since we will be tested by truly threatening external stimuli and because much of life is beyond our control, it is better preparation and protection to build up our ability to respond to what life gives us than struggle to control the world or hide defensively in our comfort and security zones where no change or growth can possibly happen.

Learning & Tough Love

If our attention and effort is overly-focused on controlling and manipulating what is outside of ourselves to make the world conform to our desires—to make it conform to just how we’d like it (whether in a yoga class or in our “real” lives when we are uncomfortable), then we not only create more disappointment for ourselves and unnecessary suffering, but we also neglect using and thereby strengthening our inner resources to grow. We miss the opportunities to learn more about ourselves and who we really are. This is why a central tenet of teaching the original Bikram Yoga practice is to encourage people to refrain from “adjusting” things to comfort themselves, to make a posture more accessible, or to make their experiences easier or more enjoyable.

In Bikram Yoga, we don’t modify poses to suit people. We don’t use props. We don’t turn the heat down if people are uncomfortable or struggling to breathe. The conditions of the environment are specifically designed to challenge people to rely on themselves only— to turn inward, study their own mental  and physical habits, reactivity and responses to vulnerability and stress; to face their limits; to observe their specific kind of suffering, and practice coping skills rather than denial or running from such challenge. To know your vulnerability and suffering is to empower yourself to cope and thrive. That’s why Bikram says, “hard way is right way”–tough love, to allow space for people to grapple with their challenges. We stay in the here and now, with eyes wide open, to learn how to suffer as best we can for wellness. Ironically, there is a tremendous amount of freedom that comes from building such courage through personal discipline.

Explore Your Vulnerability

Sometimes people think Bikram Yoga teachers are unsympathetic or lack compassion when we encourage you to do what is uncomfortable or to refrain from relying on externals beyond yourself, but the opposite is true. We won’t spare you your suffering because to do so would rob you of what you need to become the best and most authentic person possible. Some people develop habits of relying on drinking water, wiping sweat with a towel, using straps or other props, or they develop other rituals (ways they try to control rather than letting go and trusting the process) that “help” discharge their discomfort. They do asanas their way rather than according to the teacher’s Dialogue, as a way to feel “in control.”

Bikram Yoga is designed specifically to encourage people to face their limitations and break attachments (or “let go”) to external dependencies. When we continually turn outside ourselves for answers, comfort, or to deny our suffering and vulnerability, we remain ignorant to ourselves, and we stop learning, growing and thriving. Imbalance results because we are focused too much on the external and not enough on the internal, where our true self resides. 

Freedom isn’t conditional on the environment or other people behaving “just so.” If you are waiting to be happy when everything is just as you want it to be, you’ll likely be waiting a long time or disappointed and frustrated. Perhaps you will call yourself unlucky. Through Bikram Yoga practice, you can learn how to be free and peaceful no matter the circumstances—and perhaps even learn to love your experiences (your life, other people, “what happens,” reality) unconditionally– that means without required conditions. This kind of freedom that comes from practicing and building discipline is possible and can be cultivated through Bikram Yoga. All you have to do is show up and be vulnerable.

HONEST PRACTICE

Writing About Vulnerability

In Bikram Yoga class, one has a wonderful opportunity to see how one handles their own vulnerability. The poses are opportunities to notice one’s reactions to discomfort and insecure feelings. How do you manage your anxiety and stress, whether physical, mental, or both?

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice when you felt most vulnerable. Write about those experiences.

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice how you responded or reacted to feelings of vulnerability. Write about those reactions and/or responses.

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice how much of your thinking related to your own feelings of vulnerability caused you to feel stress compared to the physical feelings in your body from the movements of the asana.

Answer the three prompts above but replace the term “uncertainty” for “vulnerability.”

Think and write about times and situations where you have felt vulnerable. Be specific about when, where, why, and how vulnerability occurred. Write about your feelings of vulnerability and exposure to risk or potential or real danger.

Think and write about the various times and situations where you have been in a state of uncertainty. How long did it last? How did you feel while in this state of unknowing? What, if anything, did you do to cope with such feelings of uncertainty or unknowing?

Think and write about life experiences where you were protected unnecessarily (either self-protection or from others) and missed valuable opportunity to grow or learn more about yourself and the world. Were you “too sheltered” or not protected enough?

Think and write about various situations wherein you tried to manipulate the environment and/or others in an attempt to achieve safety, a sense of security, or personal gain. What motivated such behavior? What might you have learned from a bit more exposure or risk as opposed to over protection?

What can you learn from observing and reflecting on your own specific insecurities, uncertainty, fears, and vulnerability?

When, where, why, and how or with whom do you feel most vulnerable? Try to sit with the feeling of vulnerability to know it better. Write about your experience and what you learned.

*Excerpted from Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Self Study Guide for Wellness (available June 1 at Amazon.com)

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Yoga is Union

“You don’t know who you are!”

When Bikram Choudhury, the author of the specific type of yoga I practice, said, “You don’t know who you are” to me and my fellow prospective Bikram Yoga Teachers on our first day of Teacher Training, I immediately got defensive. I balked, “What does he mean that I don’t know who I am? Of course I do! I know exactly who I am!” And then I silently recited to myself  a reassuring list of labels and titles: mother, divorcée, girlfriend, college graduate, professional educator, published author, in addition to an endless list of personal preferences, skills, physical descriptors, and other mental images I lived according to and that I believed defined “me.” Soon, I would add Bikram Yoga Teacher to this list which would make me… who exactly? 

Self Image or Truth?

I had heard the many criticisms about this controversial guru and his antics, so I chalked up his statement to his notorious reputation. I focused on psyching myself up for “getting through” the physical challenge his rigorous nine-week training would bring, yet my own resistance to long held notions about who I thought I was would become the real challenge. Studying my long held conception of my “self” would be the impetus for major transformation of my perspective of reality and about the meaning of my very own life. Bikram was 100% right, of course: I had no clue about who I really was. But I was about to learn, continuously, without interruption and without intermission, that this yoga I was practicing and hoping to teach wasn’t only about physical fitness and wellness. For me, Bikram Yoga is about the wisdom that comes from self study for self realization. The toughest part of it, for me, is that it requires radical honesty. It is about facing and accepting reality as it is, not abandoning suffering or pain, learning, and change. Funny to look back now at my fairly random choice to just try a little yoga for a good workout. 

Values & Wellness

Understandably, it seems a bit crazy for anyone to suggest that you don’t know who you are. But the truth is, most people really don’t know who they are, likely because they have been raised in a fast and furious Western culture with values and priorities that not only fail to include introspection and self understanding but that in many ways condition us for un-wellness.  Yes, our values are directly related to our health and wellbeing. 

Time on Learning

In addition to my own lifelong, personal educational experiences, I saw while working as public school teacher how American students are taught to focus primarily on and value what is external—by that, I mean, we value “time on learning” practical skills and content knowledge in order to compete in an economic landscape, one filled with comparison and a race to some “top” or “end” where we are told we will find our happiness and fulfillment— the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are schooled to achieve— to find happiness and satisfaction once the prize, award, grade, salary, acceptance, or fame is gotten…and then the next and the next and the next, and if we die too soon, the tragedy is that we did not achieve our full potential. Although hard skills and economic survival are critically important, of course, it isn’t the entire preparation required for being a good, healthy, whole human being and living a fulfilling and meaningful life— no matter how short or long we are fated to be here.

Wholeness

Our education system pays lip service to the development of the “whole child,” while in reality, the  institutionalized approach to teaching and learning neglects character development, creative expression, and soft skills. The imbalance in where we pay our attention—outward more often than inward is clear when we look at the results: increasing mental illness, anxiety, obesity, addiction, and other forms of unnecessary suffering that permeate our society. We really don’t know who we are. 

We teach kids about what to do with their “outer lives” and how to shape their “self” image rather than showing them how to cultivate who they are as human beings by exploring their “inner lives.” 

It’s Not About the Grades

I saw firsthand as a teacher and parent of four how school administrators, guidance counselors, and parents were more interested in the achievement of grades and prestigious college admission than time spent learning what it means to become oneself as a human being– it’s simply not our priority. We don’t value integration and wholeness perhaps because pain, problems, suffering, and sacrifice are involved with the process of becoming a true person— a person of integrity, authenticity and uniqueness. And we wonder why even the most successful and highest achievers in our society are unfulfilled or ill. We’ve simply not dedicated enough attention and energy to wholeness, being rather than doing, truth, and love. Instead, we have conditioned our children to live by primarily relying on their thinking minds and the frantic acquisition of knowledge for material gain rather than remaining open to listening to and following their heart and soul for wisdom and wellness. 

Yoga is Union: Antidote to Disconnection

We are, indeed, products of our environment, our modern lives defined by information overwhelm, artificial intelligence, excess, avoiding discomfort and pain at all costs, loneliness and disconnection, and illness rooted in chronic stress. It’s more challenging than ever to find balance, connection, peace, and wellbeing in a place where we are continually bombarded to consume empty values, treated for symptoms rather than causes, and continually manipulated to look outside of ourselves (to diets, fitness regimens, the Self Help industry, and other perceived authorities) for answers rather than within—one’s own body, mind, and spirit— for loving acceptance and connection.   

We’ve been conditioned to not know ourselves by being taught to play roles, wear masks, and pretend rather than to be who we truly are (Singh, 2019). Thus, we become alien to ourselves because we are so distracted and manipulated to focus our attention on everything and everyone else but our true inner being. As a result, many of us fail to observe and understand our own feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, (there’s simply no time in the day to meditate!) never mind learn how to accept, cope with, and leverage them for wellness and a good life. Because we are so busy competing on the external landscapes of life, we simply aren’t taught how to travel our inner landscapes to learn about who we really are and express our true nature and uniqueness.

Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: “Know Thyself”

I, too, am a product of such cultural conditioning, living most of my life according to and amidst comparison and competition to achieve goals I was encouraged to pursue by others. Because I was “a good kid” for the most part doing as I was expected, avoiding mistakes, and was successful in “my” endeavors, such outward focus and attention to external pursuits kept me disconnected from following my heart, loving myself, and living according to my true nature. Thankfully, two forms of introspection, or self study, guided me inward towards a reconnection and reunion: Bikram Yoga and daily journal writing. I’ve decided to share my personal tools for “knowing thyself” in the form of a Self Study Guide. 

           When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or should I say, when Bikram’s yoga found me, by accident, I found a prescription for personal transformation and wellness that I think all modern people could use, and, as it turns out, it’s the same wisdom the great sages have recommended since ancient times: “know thyself.” 

If you could use a little help answering the question, who am I, to become the person you really are and thus become more wise and well, this Self Study Guidefor Wellness can show you how to engage with reflective practices and healing modalities including Bikram Yoga, meditation, journal writing, and more. You can teach yourself: 

  1. about your own attention and how to turn it inward 
  2. to become more introspective to increase your self awareness; 
  3. about the purpose and value of facing challenges and fear (a little bit at a time!);
  4. about how making more informed and mindful choices from a central locus of control are keys to wellness; and 
  5. about how adopting a landscapes for learning mindset will help you become far more open to experience, curious, humble, and flexible.

Be Your Own Guru

No guru or guide can provide answers, cure you, give you self realization, awaken you, define your identity, or give you a secret for lasting contentment– not me, not Bikram Choudhury, nobody. A teacher can certainly open a door for learning for you, but only you, the student, can learn through your own conscious and deliberate application of the knowledge gained through learning and through your own direct experience of yourself and your life. You have to be your own guru. Only you can answer who you are and become the person you are meant to be.

“Look in the Mirror, Concentrate, Meditate and Begin…”

My most important teacher in my Bikram Yoga class is not the individual on the podium supplying me with the words to move and pose for ninety minutes. My teacher is in the mirror looking back at me— applying the prescription for wisdom and wellness, struggling to be honest, as she continually changes and reveals that she is always more than who she may think she is. 

 It’s not selfishness to study yourself to know who you are. It’s a process of self acceptance and self love so you can love others. People often talk about radical empathy as the impetus for creativity and healing (Heller, 2019), but our empathy and compassion for others must begin with showing ourselves empathy and compassion first. To truly serve others and share one’s gifts with the world is to be whole as oneself— to discover and live one’s truth. The entire process is a tremendous challenge which is exactly why you should do it. 

So, if you are curious about what it means to become the real you; if you are open and willing to learn about living in this time of rapid change as the true being that you are; and if you are interested in expressing your unique nature to live with more love, integrity, and vitality, then the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A (Bikram Yoga Teacher’s) Self Study Guide for Wellness provides five directions and tools you might find useful to access your own wisdom as you travel your own unique path of self discovery for self realization.

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A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Tools for Wellness

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Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness contains a few tools and practices for knowing your mind and body better, so you can connect with your interior world to love yourself and love others. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.

Bottom Line? The world will be well if each of us are well.

A 5-Part Guide for Wellness

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Wellness that comes from authenticity— of being the real you– takes attention, self awareness, grit, mindful choice, and a willingness to learn. These are the five parts of the Self Study Guide.

Self Realization

Answering, Who am I? is a lifetime process; it is a journey with no final destination. The Self Study Guide gives you several tools and practices for this journey to self realization, one of which is Bikram Yoga.

Breaking External Dependency

Bikram Yoga helped me realize that caring for my body is essential for a healthy mind and vice versa. I learned about how my very busy thinking mind has everything to do with how I feel, my stress levels, and my mood. I learned with consistent practice how an open-eyed 90 minute moving meditation is superior to my formal education, self help reading, and the various forms of dependence on things outside of myself I had unconsciously relied on for my wellness through my life. Bikram Yoga taught me that the key to wellness is self realization– an entirely interior process.

“To Thine Own Self Be True”
–William Shakespeare

I share my learning experiences in this Self StudyGuide to invite others to learn not about me or Bikram Yoga per se, but more about what it means to be a human person— and most important, to inspire and motivate you to find out what it means to be the real, authentic you. Self study for self realization is about honesty. It is that simple, but definitely not very easy.

Healing Modalities

My personal tools for wisdom and wellness are Bikram Yoga practice and daily journal writing, both of which work as therapeutic modalities. Both practices have led me to deeper, more conscious awareness; more humility; more openness to experience (flexibility); more love and compassion for myself and others; and more balance in my daily life. Neither has led me to perfection nor financial windfall, but I will admit that I am far more honest with myself and others, and I believe this is why I am healthy and happy.

Once you learn to confront “what is” without trying to push it away (aversion) or grip it too tightly (clinging), you understand more and more about the nature of your own suffering. If you can learn to stay in the space of experience, without judgment or reactivity, then you may be able to create more mindful responses to whatever life brings. You’ll likely appreciate the freedom such meditation brings. Can you say, game changer?

Wellness for Modern Humans

I’ve created this Self Study Guide for readers to learn more about one’s own unique, specific human nature through deliberate self study, as I have found this to be the foundation for a high quality life of meaning and purpose, especially in our modern world of rapid change. To “know thyself” is classic wisdom, so self study for self realization is critical for living well within a modern world full of information, distraction, noise, and unwellness stemming mostly from cultural values that don’t foster vitality. That is why throughout each part of the Self Study Guide I write about why and how each of the five parts of the self study wheel matters for both personal and social wellness. My work in the Self Study Guide also adds to what many others already understand about the state of unwellness in our modern world and are trying to address with their wonderful work. You will notice their influence throughout the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness.

I also wrote the Self Study Guide as an answer to the people who continually ask me to explain the connection between my Bikram yoga series practice and my “life outside the studio” which includes my level of vitality, physical and psychological transformation, and the resulting wellness and happiness from such ongoing growth.

Practical Tools for Wellness

In the past, I have written about my passion for yoga and about my passion for writing as ways of expressing who I am on my blog, but I wanted to give readers something tangible, some practical tools they could have and use for themselves, in their own personal way, for their own personal development, beyond just reading an inspiring or motivating testimonial. As well, I am always inviting people I meet to the studio to try a hot yoga class, but many are intimidated by the perceptions of what Bikram Hot Yoga is, the negativity surrounding its founder, and the presumed vanity associated with looking at oneself in a mirror with little clothing on for ninety minutes each day.

It is difficult to explain how looking at yourself in a mirror and stretching in a hot room leads to self realization in a few minutes of casual conversation. Hence— this Self Study Guide.

Appearance vs Reality

I hope this Self StudyGuide offers a bit of insight about how it is that so many Bikram yogis have been so utterly transformed (inside and out) despite Bikram Choudhury’s reputation, the criticism of our strict Dialogue method of instruction, and all of his and the yoga’s perceived flaws and controversy. I hope it helps people understand what profusely sweating in 105/40 heated room half naked with strangers (who become friends bound by compassion) is more than what it seems.

There is more to Bikram Yoga than meets the eye, so many more positives than people know or talk about beyond our Bikram Community. Perhaps more information to educate more people is due. And, of course, I’d like to invite more people to come try the practice by informing them about the personal development that may be possible for them by beginning, like I did, an ignorant but semi-willing, slightly open-minded person looking to try a physical, body-based yoga practice as a form of exercise.

Surface vs. Deep Learning

I started looking in the mirror during my early practice out of vanity, a desire to achieve, and as a performance because that was my previous, socially- conditioned, conventional mindset. The challenge of the workout drew me in, (I wanted to conquer it, not let it beat me), the practice itself magically got me to stay for reasons I could not explain, then to become a teacher to share my love for the practice, and then to write this Guide to spread that love further beyond just my local studio. Loads of other Bikram yogis have their stories of self realization too.

But if you want a spiritual treatise, this Self Study Guide is not that book. I am mute when it comes to enlightenment or theology or the soul. There are books about the limbs of yoga. There are books about yoga as medicine. I can only report in my Self Study Guide about the tools and practices I use to find out more about who I really am, my truth, with the hope that they benefit you to know yourself and express your uniqueness for a meaningful life of purpose and wellness.

Pay it Forward

Bikram Yoga was a gift of fate I was lucky enough to receive. I didn’t seek it; it found me, so I’m hoping this little book pays my gift forward by finding its way to you– to more people who don’t know Bikram Yoga exists or to people who thought they understood it (and themselves), but do not. In that sense, I hope it promotes more learning and thus, awakening. Perhaps when combining Bikram Yoga practice with other self study techniques I have included in the Self Study Guide like introspection, meditation, self-audits, and daily journal writing, readers can transform their lives for more wisdom and wellness as I and so many others have and continue to do.

Head to your local studio and try a few original, hot, 90-minute Bikram Yoga classes. And if it helps, read the Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: A Self Study Guide to Wellness for additional tools useful for engaging in the process of self realization!

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