Soundtrack for a Strong Start

New year, new me, same old podcast addiction. The medium is producing stronger work than ever, with countless topics, and I love them all. I have at least 60 podcasts on my subscription list—although, in fairness, they don’t all run continuously and I don’t listen to every episode of every show. Anyway, I’ve given plenty of recommendations for podcasts in the past, but the start of the new year seems like the perfect time for a few more. Here are some great listens full of learning and growth to spark your curiosity and inspire your fresh starts.

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Ten Minutes of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a lifelong practice, and for most of us, it requires conscious effort. We wake up in the mornings bleary-eyed and in need of caffeine rather than serene and at peace with ourselves and the world. It’s easy for us to go about our days telling ourselves that we don’t have time to meditate or do yoga, no spare minutes to practice gratitude in between commuting and working and hitting the gym and cooking dinner and taking care of kids and doing homework and buying groceries and doing every other one of those essential things that seem to eat up every moment of the day.

The truth is, we do have time, and we choose to fill that time with reading and Netflix and sports and bar-hopping and every other one of those non-essential things, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This isn’t a “social media is the devil” post, because that subject is beyond played out and anyway that’s not how I feel (perhaps a topic for another post). What this is, is proof that even with the few spare moments you have in your life, you can practice mindfulness. Even if you only have 10 minutes, here are 10 ways to bring more awareness into your everyday.

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Mindfulness in the Face of Life’s Little Annoyances

You know how some people just rub you the wrong way, even if they’ve done nothing to warrant it? Maybe it’s the guy who works at the coffee shop you frequent every morning, the one who always says hello but looks as though he’s just smelled something bad. Maybe it’s your coworker whose friendly attempts at small talk grate before you’ve had a chance to drink the coffee you just bought from the dour barista. They haven’t done anything to offend you; there’s just something about them.

There’s a girl in my yoga class who, until recently, was like that for me. She’s never said a word to me, nor I to her, but I was just not a fan. Most of the reason is that she commits one of my biggest pet peeves–getting up and leaving during savasana (or sometimes she does other, more energetic poses in place of this all-important final resting pose)–but the fact that she always seems determined to try to stretch herself into the fullest extent of the pose, form be damned, didn’t help either. Take your cues from your body, not from Instagram, girl.

So I’m in class, in savasana, while she’s doing pigeon pose or whatever, and suddenly I realise: if she’s beng a “bad yogi” by ignoring the niyama of isvara pranidhana, surrender, then I’m being a bad yogi by letting her actions dictate my feelings in opposition to the niyama of santosha, contentment. Whatever she is doing is not half as detrimental to my own well-being as what my own thoughts and prejudices are doing to me.

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The Joy of Small Progress

One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago is the power of small movements. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of or desire for the most intense and difficult postures—sinking a millimetre deeper in pigeon pose or your heels a nearly imperceptible amount closer to the floor in downward dog just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush that dropping back into wheel pose or managing your first headstand. Social media does not always help either. The “simple” poses just aren’t as sexy as inversions, backbends, and splits. But they’re equally important, and it’s equally important to notice and acknowledge our progress, however small, in whatever we do, and to recognise that there are different types of progress which are all worthwhile. 

Many people have discussed the negative effects of social media on yoga, and I definitely agree with many of those critiques. I am beyond tired of Instagram yogis preaching truthfulness and honesty then making undisclosed sponsorship posts an hour later. But I love social media’s other impacts on yoga—finding inspiration from more advanced practitioners, participating in “yoga challenges,” and learning tips from teachers around the world. Still, I think one thing that’s sometimes lost, not only on the internet but also in my and probably many folks’ personal practice is the way small progress can enrich your routine. There’s a reason, after all, that yoga is called a “practice.”  

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One of the first times I ever tried wheel pose, a difficult one for me due to a ganglion cyst on my wrist.

In every aspect of life, I am a big fan of setting small, achievable milestone goals on the way to a larger goal. Yoga-wise, one of my New Years resolutions for 2017 was to get my splits; I didn’t achieve that, not even close. I’m not disappointed, but I realise that what I should have done is set smaller goals to work on, from one to another. From X to Y degrees (with Y obviously not being near 180 yet), for example. Reaching these small goals would be a good way to motivate myself to stay on track.

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My Self-Improvement Summer

As most of you know, I’m back at my parents’ house for a few months between Steve and my epic three-month, cross-country road trip and reuniting with him in Ireland again before we head on to a working holiday in New Zealand. As my town is quite small and uneventful and my work doesn’t take up too much of my time, I decided that for the summer I would work on setting some habits, reaching some goals, and making it a summer of self-improvement.

I know that summer isn’t technically over, but I’m wearing a hoodie and drinking hot tea during the day for the first time in ages, so it definitely feels like fall and therefore I’m going to check in as I move into My Self-Improvement September. The eight things I wanted to work on this summer were: yoga, meditation, piano, guitar, Duolingo’s German course, running, dance and this blog. Let’s see how I did:

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Body Positive Yoga for Insta-Inspiration

I’ve been doing yoga regularly for about a year now, and as someone who is still relatively new to the practice I often look at Instagram for inspiration and motivation. For example, I’m currently doing a 14-day “yoga challenge on IG that led to me trying a headstand yesterday for the first time!

While it’s amazing and inspiring to see the backbends and inversions these ladies (because, despite yoga having been a practice that was closed to women for a very long time, these days on the internet and in most yoga classes, the practitioners are a majority female) do, it only takes a few minutes of scrolling before you can’t help but notice that the most popular posters are thin, white, female, and decked out in the latest leggings from Lululemon or Alo.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, and being a fairly thin, definitely white woman who is currently waiting on Fedex to deliver a Lululemon order, it’s not that I can’t relate to these graceful women even if I don’t have a body that could be confused for a model’s. But it doesn’t reflect the yoga enthusiasts I’ve encountered in real life. In the yoga classes I attend, none of us have six-pack abs. Many students are beyond their early-to-mid 20s (my mom has started attending yoga classes recently, for example). Some are black, some are asian, some are men, some are children. Some practice chair yoga or have limitations due to disabilities or sorenesses.

That’s why reading Jessamyn Stanley’s book Every Body Yoga was such a breath of fresh air. Part yoga guide and part memoir, she describes her own journey to body acceptance and how we can balance our desire to emulate the cool asanas we see on social media with a practice that is kind to and loving toward our own bodies. What I love about the book is that she doesn’t say “Practice in your most tattered gym shorts and don’t even look at Instagram or you’re not a real yogi.” She totally acknowledges that buying brightly-patterned leggings and taking photos of yourself in your best dancer pose can be fun and even helpful. It’s just that you don’t have to do that, and you don’t have to look a certain way, and that your practice is yours to grow and embrace.

If you like to look at athletes or yoga practitioners on Instagram, then Jessamyn (@mynameisjessamyn) is a must-follow.

Here are some other Instagram accounts that offer body positive inspiration for your yoga journey:

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