How to Cultivate Passion for Your Life

Last weekend, I attended the second of a year-long series of monthly yoga and aromatherapy workshops at a local studio. The theme this time was passion, so I decided to prepare myself to explore this theme by asking myself the obvious question.

What, exactly, is passion?

After some thought, I decided passion is a strong connection to someone or something—so strong that you lose yourself in the object of your passion. I have a passion for writing, yoga, and The New York Mets, for example. I also have a passion for certain relationships.

The type of passion I’m describing isn’t always there, of course. Sometimes I’m not lost in my writing or I’m watching the clock in yoga class or I turn off the game because the Mets are losing.

And of course there are times when I need a bit of space between myself and a loved one. I was excited about the workshop because, I thought it would be great to discover some tools for cultivating more passion for the people and things I love.

Passion for Everything

To my surprise, Jan Jeremias and Dee Andalkar, the workshop presenters, went a step further with their take on passion. In fact, Jan described something that in a way was the reverse of what I was thinking. She suggested that, rather than think about passion as coming from the things we’re drawn to, we can be passionate about everything.

Really? Everything? Can I really be passionate about doing the laundry or the tedious job of editing a technical document or listening to a loved one rehash a problem for the sixteenth time this week?

Maybe I can. It turns out passion is presence. And when we do things with passion (that is, when we are compassionate), we are simply there to experience those things fully. And when we do that, we come alive.

Here are some ways to cultivate passion for everything in your life:

1. Practice yoga, of course.

To make your yoga practice more about living with passion, do the poses with more presence than ever. Of course, we yogis know being present is a key aspect of the practice, but we really do need to be reminded of this often. So when Jan led us through poses, she made sure we were present by cuing us to slow down, breathe first, and even to add movements purposefully—for instance stretching our arms out to a “T” position and pausing there before reaching them up in high lunge.

Try this when you practice, and you’ll begin to appreciate each pose even more. Then take that off the mat and into your everyday life.

2. Use essential oils.

We were treated to a beautiful essential oil blend called Passion, which is a combination of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, jasmine, vanilla, and damiana leaf.

I couldn’t help noticing most of those ingredients are the comfort spices I associate with autumn. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I do notice an extra energy for life in the early part of that season. Another oil combination we sampled was ylang ylang and wild orange. This is a simple blend, but its effect is amazing.

3. Chant the mantra “Ang Sang Wahe Guru.”

Dee led workshop participants in this Kundalini Yoga chant that celebrates passion for life. According to Spirit Voyage, the translation of the mantra is, “The dynamic, loving energy of the Infinite Source of All is dancing within my every cell, and is present in my every limb. My individual consciousness merges with the Universal consciousness.”

Every cell. Every limb. It’s hard to think about that and not to have more passion for your life!

4. Be present!

You can’t be passionate about a life you’re not there for. So to connect with this simple truth, we did a short mindful eating exercise. I’ve done this before, and although I usually do make an effort to eat mindfully, it never hurts to be reminded of the power of attention to the simple things in life.

I chose a slice of juicy tangerine and noticed the not-too-sweet burst of citrus flavor that filled my senses when I bit into it, then very slowly chewed it until only the pulp remained to swallow.

A few days after the workshop, as I finish writing about it, I realize I’ve gone through the first part of the week with a noticeable boost in my passion for life. I’ve started two new exciting projects, so that helps, but it’s more the overall feeling of connection to my life that I’m noticing.

When passion begins to wane (I’m human; I know it will), I have these awesome tools of yoga, essential oils, mantra, and mindfulness to turn to. And for that I’m grateful.

The Yoga of Transition: Reflections on Thursdays with Marla

Last week, I took a Thursday morning yoga class for the last time—not the last time I’ll ever attend yoga on a Thursday morning, but the last time I’ll likely take this class with this teacher.

A week ago, Marla (the teacher) announced that her schedule will be changing after the holidays, and she’ll be teaching on a different day—a day I already attend another yoga class at another studio.

This “shift,” as Marla called it, is part of the unfolding of her path as a healer, and she’ll soon be branching out with new offerings for the community.

This is good news for the community.

Of course I was sad about the class, but it’s not the first time my yoga life has shifted. Years ago, I was told (also around the holidays) that the entire studio I’d been practicing at would be closing, and between then and now, several other classes I’ve attended have ended for one reason or another.

Accepting Change

But part of being a yogi is learning to accept change. When one yogic door closes, another opens.

And there is always more! (That line is borrowed from another teacher whose class I miss.)

As often happens when things change, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve grown as a yogini and as a person over the years since I became serious about my practice and especially about what I’ve learned from practicing with Marla that will remain with me.

Marla is unique. She is so filled with inspiration that you almost have to listen to her without attachment to words. This, I believe, is because she transmits wisdom that is bigger than any words she can use to describe it. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. The teaching is bigger than any words I can use as well.

Here are five awesome things that will stick with me from my Thursdays with Marla.

1. Letting go is doable.

Recently, Marla shared a teaching from Kundalini Yoga that suggests we can have negative thoughts and emotions, but we must let them go after nine seconds!

I think about this often. Of course it sounds like a ridiculously short amount of time, but it’s the intention to let go as quickly as possible that matters. To me, the “nine second rule” is an acknowledgement that we don’t practice yoga to become empty and emotionless. We practice so we can be fully human and at the same time connect with our divine nature.

Part of that practice is learning to feel something and then (when necessary) let go as quickly as possible. When you aim for a seemingly impossible nine seconds, chances are good you’ll get the job done more quickly than you would have otherwise, even if it takes longer than nine seconds!

2. Twists are awesome.

When I think of Marla’s classes, I think of twists, in particular prayer twists, but also “twists” on typical poses. Have you ever twisted in downward dog? If not, you need to take a class with Marla!

The cool thing about all the twisting (other than how great it feels) is you learn how versatile and powerful twisting can be. You can “twist out” negative frustration and you can gracefully navigate your way through the twists and turns of life.

3. “Yay!” is a spiritual word.

Marla’s classes can be intense (in a great way), but then all of a sudden, while she’s guiding you into a somewhat complicated pose and you get there, instead of saying “beautiful!” or “good!” or something more typical of yoga teachers, she’ll say “Yay!” It makes me smile every time because it reflects Marla’s approach to the practice is a celebration of life.

4. We can often do more than we expect to do.

I can’t tell you how many times I was surprised to find myself in a challenging pose (or two or three) in one of Marla’s classes. It’s not that being challenged is surprising, it’s just that Marla’s class is billed as “gentle,” which often suggests “easy.”

But through her gentle guidance, Marla can slyly lead you to do something like crow or side plank on one leg. And you do it. Because you can. (Okay, I still can’t do crow, but I’m getting there.)

5. When we have something to offer, we must not be afraid to put it out there.

Marla’s tirelessness about offering so much in her teaching has made me more confident about doing the same with what I feel called to share. In fact, Marla was one of the first people to read a draft of my Yoga Circles book. And while it’s still a leap of faith for me every time I give the book to someone else, Marla has been an example to me that putting it out there is usually the right thing to do.

I’ll miss Thursdays with Marla, but I look forward to whatever comes next on my yoga journey. I know the shift is happening with intention, and the universe has good things in store for all of us.

Thank you, Marla, for sharing your gifts.

Wake Up!

This morning, my sweet yoga teacher encouraged me to wake up. Not directly, as in, “Wake up and pay attention, Maria. You look a little sleepy today!” It was a general teaching for the class. But it caught my attention.

I was a little sleepy and a bit slow getting going and getting to class today, which is not completely unusual for me, especially on gray winter mornings.

Another reason the topic caught my attention is just an hour or so earlier over morning coffee, my husband and I were kicking around the concept of “waking up” in the sense of clearing cobwebs from our brains and becoming more focused and productive.

Awakening in Yoga and in Life

Then I got to class, where our teacher shared some wisdom she’d learned at a workshop she’d recently attended. The workshop leader was Guru Singh. Coincidentally, I recently read his book, “Buried Treasures.”

When I walked into class and saw another one of Guru Singh’s books at the front of the room, I paid attention. There was yoga again getting to the heart of whatever is happening in my life.

We talk about awakening a lot in yoga. As our teacher (via Guru Singh) explained, it’s something that’s always available. In my own practice, I’ve found when I learn to pay attention, I open my eyes, heart, and mind to what is and what has always been. And it seems the more I pay attention, the more I realize I’ve spent a lot of time napping.

Are you ready to wake up?

There are things I’ve always been ready for (like starting a yoga practice). I wasn’t aware it was something I was meant to do until, one day, there it was. Often we dabble and go slowly because we’re not sure something is meant for us.

On the other hand, some things keep coming up, but we haven’t figured out how to do them or where to begin.

Your teacher is already here

They say when the student is ready the teacher will appear. But if Guru Singh’s position resonates with you and you believe you have always been ready for the thing you’re meant for, then maybe the real issue is you’re not awake. You don’t see that your teacher is already here.

Fear not, my friend. All you have to do is wake up and pay attention!

Surrender to Enthusiasm

We did a new activity in yoga class last week. My teacher suggested it’s was not an accident. Towards the end of an invigorating hour of practice that started with dancing to warm up, she came around and asked us to pick a card from a deck. Each card contained a word.

When she came to me, I noticed a card sticking out of the pile, but something told me I should pick another that was tucked a bit deeper into the pack. The card said “surrender.”

My first reaction was, “No. I really don’t want to.” And at the same time, I realized I might not have a choice. I’d been was thinking of giving up on something I could no longer control that was not serving me well.

After offering the deck of cards to the last student, the teacher came back to me with another card. “I have to give you this one too, because it pretty much jumped out at you!” she exclaimed.

The card say “enthusiasm.”

That one bugged me a bit because I didn’t feel like I always had the energy for enthusiasm, though I suppose that depends on how the word is defined. I was conscious that during the dance warm up at the beginning of class, for example, there was a physical limitation holding me back.

But back to the cards. It was easy to notice these two words formed a short but powerful sentence: Surrender to enthusiasm.

Opportunities for Enthusiastic Surrender

I thought about my little sentence on the drive home. Why not believe the message was meant to reach me at this moment? I immediately felt energized. But what, I thought, do I need to surrender to?

Maybe I need to surrender to others’ enthusiasm for things. Perhaps the yoga gods are telling me, for example, to stop wishing my husband would stop talking about buying a motorcycle. Or maybe the message was sent to help me deal with a member of my extended family whose exaggerated, enthusiastic tales often test my patience.

Or, it could be that it’s time for me to surrender to my own enthusiasm for something, which I think shows itself in calmer way. In fact, maybe I need to be OK with that instead of letting it stop me.

Just that morning, I’d been thinking about yoga teacher training and what holds me back from enrolling in one. Besides the money and time commitment (neither of which is as easy to work around at it would have been in the past), I’m afraid having the job of teaching yoga will ruin my enthusiasm for the practice. I think that fear comes from my experience as a public school teacher, when my love of learning was seriously challenged by having to deal with reluctant students, politics, lesson plans, and all the other things learning is not about.

I also haven’t found the right teacher or program for me. And I think that’s important.

And in case you missed the message the first time

When I got home from class, I returned to a book editing project I’d been working on for weeks. The book is about yoga and other tools for living a healthy, blissful life. Within moments, this sentence jumped off a page I was editing: When you are willing to surrender into greater energy, nothing is lacking.

The context was setting intentions for a life-changing practice that involves yoga, nutrition, breathing, meditation and other aspects of mind, body and spirit.

Hmmm, maybe that energy I’m worried about not having will be there when I need it after all.

Moments after that, my other word appeared, this time in a sentence about taking time each day to sit for five minutes and formally set an intention: Do it with enthusiasm. This is where you start manifesting your dream.

Now my surrender was about something very different than I initially feared. It was not about giving up, but about allowing something to come through and allowing it to come through with intention and enthusiasm. It could be my own brand of quiet enthusiasm, and that’s really OK.

I’m going to pay attention, so I’ll recognize that thing when it shows up and wants to come through.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I did sign up for another writing course.

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