How to Get Dumped, Change Your Life, and Become a Flawless Human Being

My first yoga experience was a men's class I took while I was working on my master's at Southern Connecticut State University. I loved it, finding the strength and flexibility training an invaluable complement to my years as a martial artist. Once the class ended, I was intrigued at the prospect of continuing at a real yoga school, but always managed to put it off.

Finally, in the face of a bad breakup, I decided to visit Newington Yoga Center, where my dad had been taking classes. It was love at first tadasana.

I'll have been practicing there two years this fall, and like starting karate or buying my first bass, taking that first class in Newington changed my life, and I can't imagine where I'd be without it.

I was privileged, near the end of my first year, to be asked if I'd like to do Teacher Training in 2013. I immediately accepted, and we've just passed the halfway mark this month. It's been an incredible experience.

About a week ago, I was asked if I'd like to write an article about Teacher Training for Elephant Journal.

I often tell my composition students that writing is a process of discovery, and writing this article helped me attain a deeper understanding of why Teacher Training and yoga in general have meant so much to me. I think you'll like it.

Special thanks to my editor, Kate, for dealing with my thoroughness.

The Superficial, The Metaphysical, and Why It's OK Not to Be Brilliant All the Time

A Creative Trough

My creative output tends to fluctuate from week to week. Some weeks I have a long list of ideas I want to write about, while other weeks I find writing to be absurdly difficult. Sometimes it's a lack of ideas, and sometimes it's a lack of motivation.

I've been in a bit of a holding pattern with my thesis this week as I wait for feedback on my new and improved (thirty-page!) introduction and start planning the final steps toward completion. This, coupled with the fact that the weather has been miraculous lately, has distracted me from the astounding productivity I saw at the beginning of the month.

I'm still getting up early and doing yoga every morning, but I feel like I've been accomplishing less. Sure, my thesis is on hold, but I could be using the spare time to push the site forward. Instead, I've been doing a lot of reading, exercising, and sitting outside.

I only have excuses for my lack of "real" productivity over the past week, but I also think there's a certain degree of value to this downtime.

The Superficial vs. The Metaphysical

I tackle a variety of topics on this site, and I tend to view each topic as falling into one of two categories. Some of them are "superficial", and some of them are "metaphysical". The superficial pieces — about apps, or shaving, or music, for example — tend to be more light-hearted, fun, and "easier" to write. The metaphysical pieces — about the beauty of being wrong, or letting go of Bruce Springsteen, or creativity — tend to be more serious, challenging, and subsequently more difficult and rewarding to write.

I feel most accomplished as a writer when I feel like I've created something out of nothing. Not just anything, but something of substance. I like feeling that I've reached with my writing, as opposed to, "Hey, here's my new favorite app you should check out." At times, this superficial posting feels a bit like a cop-out.

But, we are human, after all. Some days you don't have a brilliant idea. Some days you don't have the strength to ponder the depths of human existence. And I think that's OK.

Lighten Up

Life is too short to be serious all the time. Some writers may be able to push the envelope every single day, but I don't feel that would be the most honest representation of myself. Some days I feel like reading about eastern philosophy for three hours, and other days I feel like playing old video games from 1997. It's all fun. It's all good. It's all worthwhile.

The value of deep thinking and writing intense, thoughtful pieces is self-explanatory. We push our minds beyond their self-imposed limits to reach new levels of contemplation, understanding, and growth.

What's less obvious is the value of the so-called mindless activities, as well as the importance of rest.

The fluctuations in our creative output — the cresting waves of productivity and the lowly troughs of writer's block — are a natural part of our humanity. It's hard to be brilliant and earth-shattering every single day, just as it's hard to be relentlessly productive every day between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM.

Don't allow yourself to feel guilty about what you're excited about today.

It might be philosophy, or it might be video games. If it's video games, so what? There's value in shutting your brain down for a while. It's a form of rest, and the rest is what gives you the strength to do the hard work.

If a saxophonist never put any rests in his music, he would just keep playing the same note over and over until he passed out due to a lack of oxygen. It's the rests — the spaces between the notes — that give the notes their own unique life.

Writing is the same way. If I tried to write a challenging, deep piece every day, I would probably burn out very quickly. I might even stop writing the site for a while. By writing a mix of the fun and the thought-provoking, the superficial and the metaphysical, I keep myself sane and steady. And it's all part of the package. Everything I write about here is Me. I try to keep a general focus, but at the same time, you'll never find an article here about something I don't find interesting or consider valuable.

And look at that. Here I am, 900 words later, after wondering all weekend what I was going to write about for Monday. I thought to myself, "Maybe I'll try to write up some little piece about the value of doing nothing, and then I'll figure out something better for Tuesday." But what started out as a tiny, superficial idea turned into a piece I kind of like. Funny how writing works like that.

In short, don't be afraid to do "nothing" once in a while. Let your mind turn off or wander aimlessly. Sometimes, just sitting quietly and thinking is doing quite a lot. If you sit and think for long enough, eventually you'll arrive at a place of drive and inspiration, where you want to get up and build something amazing.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Easter Casualities

Well, after seven healthy days in a row, I crashed and burned in a fiery explosion of Easter entrées, desserts, and candy. Pants were stretched, stomachs were tested, and abdominal muscles were forced to retreat from the Easter bunny’s onslaught.

But, that’s alright.

The important thing to remember about diverting from habits is that it’s very easy to go back to them.

All you have to do is step back on the path.

I could allow myself to feel guilty and depressed about the eight straight hours of sweets and treats, but what good is that going to do?

One bad meal isn’t as bad as one bad day, and one bad day isn’t as bad as one bad week. Rather, one bad meal is a mere bump in the road. When you look at the big picture, the healthy days still greatly outnumber the unhealthy days.

At the same time, one must be mindful. One bite doesn’t mean the whole day is shot. You can’t allow one mistake to become two, or three, or seven.

Don’t allow one step off the path to become an excuse for tumbling off a cliff.

Rather, when you’re stuffed with truffles, or high from caramels, or laden with cheesecake, take pleasure in the realization that you brought this on yourself. If you can choose to step off the path, you can just as easily choose to step back on. Right now.

Sometimes you have to utterly destroy yourself to remember just how much control you have.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Necessity of Rest

Quite often, life reminds me of the importance of rest.

I say “life reminds me” because I rarely plan “rest” as a part of my day. When I go too long without it, it always finds a way to force itself into my schedule.

By “rest”, I don’t necessarily mean sleep. Rather, rest is a break from my regular routine. Maybe it’s a skipped workout, or a couple of days without picking up my bass, or a round (or nine) of indulgent eating.

It’s easy to feel guilty about resting when we could be doing more productive activities. But the way I see it, rest itself is highly productive because it enables us to return to our normal lifestyles with renewed enthusiasm.

Earlier this month, I was in the middle of a long butt kicking streak. I was writing a lot, enjoying my work, eating healthy, and adhering to a solid workout routine.

Then, my 25th birthday happened.

My birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, so celebrations began the preceding weekend (read: Thursday). Friends took me out to lunch, my family had a party, and I was also celebrating my friend’s birthday, as he was born five days before me. Long story short, I fell off pretty much every wagon I had been triumphantly riding.

I had trouble finding the time to write. I stopped working out. I missed my yoga class. I slept in. And I ate about a metric ton of birthday food over the course of six days.

Of course, I felt guilty about breaking all my healthy and productive routines, but my friends and family were quick to use my 25th birthday as a rationalization for my stepping off the path.

It sounds like an excuse, and I suppose it is, but at the same time, it wasn’t until I stopped moving that I realized how necessary my little vacation was. My muscles were sore from working out six days a week. I was weary. I was burnt out. I was tired. So, life found a way to sneak some rest in there. If you don’t give yourself a break once in a while, eventually you’ll crash.

Now that my actual birthday has come and gone, my vacation is over. It’s back to healthy eating and exercise, and it feels fantastic. I can approach these things with fresh strength and focus.

In music, a rest is an interval of silence; no note is played. Victor Wooten teaches his students to “play the rest”, which means to treat it just like any other note, even though none is audible. The rest should be felt, as opposed to rushing through it to play the next note.

Rest in real life is the same way. We need time designated to let our bodies and minds recover from the diligent adherence to our normal routines. It takes energy to stick to a workout, eating, or writing regimen. Every once in a while, you need to take a break. Go ahead. Skip a workout. Have some birthday cake. Sit and do nothing. Then go back to being awesome.

No matter how much we love our routines and lifestyles, we still need to be able to rest and enjoy it guilt-free. Afterward, we can come back stronger than before, with new appreciation for the lives we lead.

So, go on. Take a break. It’s Friday.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below! Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Getting It Wrong the First Time

In elementary school, all of my teachers seemed to have the same poster, detailing the Ten Rules of the Classroom. I only remember the first two: “Follow directions the first time given” and “Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself”. Being the little nerd that I was, I was pretty good at following rules, but I always prided myself on that first one. I was damn good at following directions the first time given, mostly because I hated getting in trouble. I still am, and I still do.

Sixteen years of martial arts training has further taught me the importance of following directions, or more accurately, the value of precision and attention to detail. I frequently tell my students that an attention to detail is what separates an average martial artist from a great one. You need to know if that’s supposed to be a back punch or a thrust punch. You need to know how your weight should be distributed in a certain stance. You need to know what part of your foot you’re using to kick the imaginary bad guy in the face. These things matter. It’s the difference between an effective kick and broken toes.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to contribute a guest post to another website, the author of which I respect very much. I was thrilled and grateful. I labored over my article — writing, reading, rewriting, rereading — wanting, as I always do, to get it right the first time.

Eventually I was satisfied and sent it off. I was proud of what I had written and excited to share it with others. I got a response back a little while later with his feedback, and my heart sank a little.

I got it wrong.

I opened the email, and I winced as my eyes glossed over a few critical phrases. Nothing mean, of course, but what I had written wasn’t what he was looking for. I had missed the point, even though I didn’t quite understand how.

After a moment, I realized that the way I reacted to this criticism was crucial. I could have been argumentative. I could have been defensive. No one likes to be criticized, and I knew my piece was good.

But I also knew that taking this feedback graciously was the only way to get better. Not only would it make my article better, but it would make me a better writer. My piece was, for all intents and purposes, well-written. It just wasn’t what he was looking for. I hadn’t followed directions. And not intentionally, either.

I wrote back with some questions, explaining what I was struggling with and emphasizing that I wanted to try again. I wanted to get it right. He sent me back an additional explanation, and it completely elucidated what I had missed. Now, I understood. It felt good, as it always does, to struggle with something and have it finally click.

At the bottom of his email, he wrote something that surprised me. He thanked me for working with him on the article, and he said, “This is the work that writers do.”

That really stuck with me. It was a great lesson on working to deliver what the client wants, even if that means rewriting the entire thing, which I did. A lot of writing is rewriting. It was a valuable lesson in following directions. I’m grateful for the criticism and the experience. Sometimes getting it right the second time teaches us more than getting it right the first time. I ended up writing twice as much, but that’s a good thing. Writers write. The more the better.

On Self-Improvement

Leo Babauta has a big post on quashing the self-improvement urge.

I don’t love it.

So what’s the problem? You could say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves, but where does it end? When is anyone ever content with who they are? We are taught that we are not good enough yet, that we must improve, and so … we always feel a little inadequate.

I do say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves. It’s what I’m doing, and I think it’s what most self-aware people are doing. But, while I do strive to get better, I also feel proud of who I am at the same time. That varies from day to day, but overall I’m a self-confident person. I wasn’t always, but luckily my parents dragged me to a karate class when I was nine, and I was able to develop a sense of self-worth. I found a drive within myself to get better, but it didn’t come from being told “You suck!” all the time; it came from a desire to be awesome. So while I suppose I did feel “inadequate”, it inspired me to grow into a better, stronger person. Why would I want to be content with being a shy little dork? (Part of me remains a shy little dork, of course.)

We are never adequate, never perfect, never self-confident, never good enough, never comfortable with ourselves, never satisfied, never there, never content.

While I’m sure some people feel that way, I think it’s a sweeping generalization. There’s a big difference between wanting to get better and thinking you’re a worthless human being with nothing to offer anyone. I hope the latter are a minority.

And it becomes the reason we buy self-help products, fitness products, gadgets to make us cooler, nicer clothes, nicer cars and homes, nicer bags and boots, plastic surgery and drugs, courses and classes and coaches and retreats. It will never stop, because we will never be good enough.

I agree that much consumerism is driven by a feeling of lack, and that many people attach their self-worth to their possessions. It’s a tenet of eastern philosophy, and that line of thinking is obviously incorrect.

I think there are two levels to this “self-improvement is bad” argument:

  1. Self-improvement is bad because it convinces people to buy things they don’t need, like self-help books.
  2. Self-improvement is bad because it never allows people to be happy.

I agree with number one. Advertising that suggests, “You need to eat this! You need to wear this! You need to buy this!” scares people into spending money. It’s like when the news tells us to stock up on bottled water, canned food, and generators because there’s snow in the forecast. “Self-help” as an industry is in fact probably unhealthy. Everyone has issues, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to buy XYZ product. That’s just about the money.

I disagree with number two. If self-improvement consumes your existence, then yeah, that’s bad. But it’s not difficult to see how people can aspire to be better without becoming debilitated in the process.

We must improve. We must read every self-improvement book. When we read a blog, we must try that method, because it will make us better. When we read someone else’s account of his achievements, his goal system, his entrepreneurial lifestyle, her yoga routine, her journaling method, her reading list, we must try it. We will always read what others are doing, in case it will help us get better. We will always try what others are doing, try every diet and every system, because it helped them get better, so maybe it will help us too.

I suppose that would be the case for an individual incapable of thinking for themselves — and perhaps that’s the majority of the population — but not everyone looking for self-improvement lives that way. The way to self-improvement lies in introspection. But that’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t learn from others.

New information must be considered before being implemented. We must evaluate new information before deciding if it’s applicable to us.

Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better?

But doesn’t getting better make people happy? Again, there’s a difference between wanting to get better and being obsessed with your own inadequacy. Too much of any thing isn’t good for you. If the quest for self-improvement causes you to neglect other aspects of your life, then yes, it’s probably time to reevaluate. But self-improvement is not inherently bad, so long as it’s done in moderation, like anything else.

Think of how [being content] might simplify your life. Think of how many self-improvement books you read, or listen to in the car. Think of how many products you buy to make yourself better. Think of how many things you read online, in the hopes of being better. Think of how many things you do because you feel inadequate. Think of how much time this would free up, how much mental energy.

Yes, it would help many people who are consumed by their feelings of inadequacy. While books and audio tapes may contain valuable information, looking for magic bullets in them is futile.

Realize that you are already perfect. You are there. You can breathe a sigh of relief.

Striving to get better is not the same as striving for perfection. If you were perfect, you’d never make a mistake, and that’s unhealthy.

You are not perfect. But you’re probably awesome anyway.

Quash the urge to improve, to be better. It only makes you feel inadequate.

But a feeling of inadequacy often inspires us to get better, to learn new things, and to grow. You can’t grow if you think you’ve nothing left to learn. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get better as long as it’s not hurting you or someone else.

Ultimately, I see what Leo is saying, but to suggest that all self-improvement is bad doesn’t make sense. Striving for contentment is itself a form of self-improvement. Growing is what life is about.

I can think of nothing more valuable than having an unconditional love for yourself. That love should be for your strengths and your weaknesses. You should be happy with who you are while recognizing your flaws, and yes, striving to improve them. These flaws do not render you a broken or worthless human being. On the contrary, they are as much a part of who you are as your best qualities.

I agree that people shouldn’t beat themselves up over their inadequacies. Don’t feel bad about not being perfect; no one is, and you’re awesome. But still try to be the best person you can be. Why wouldn’t you?

I say love yourself right now, and get better all the time; it’ll only give you more reasons to love yourself.

And then explore the world of contentment. It’s a place of wonderment.

Well, that’s true.

Perfectionism as Practice

Cal Newport discusses the difference between controlled and pathological perfectionism:

The important part of my process — the part that separates this obsessiveness with the pathological variety — is that when my interval is done, I stop. Inevitably, I’m still well short of an ideal output, but what matters to me is not this specific outcome, but instead the striving for perfection and the deliberate practice this generates.

In other words, I want to keep getting better, not necessarily make this particular project the best thing ever.

Really, really good stuff.