MARCH 27, 2018

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After I returned to my yoga practice after a longer-than-usual break last year,  the teacher said something that kept sticking in my mind: "Get more props than you think you need."

In a yoga class, props are objects like blocks and straps and blankets that help you bridge the distance between, let's say, your hands and the floor in a posture like a standing forward bend. Props are important for a few reasons. Among them: every body is shaped differently; props allow you to explore possibilities in a pose with less risk of injury; and you are able to practice longer and deeper if you're not exhausting your energy all at once pursuing some "ideal."

I've been practicing yoga for a long time, and as my body ages I confess to having some difficulty setting my ego aside and accepting what my body can actually do on any given day.  So "more props than you need" has become an interesting metaphor for me about allowing something to be easier, more possible, than it might be without extra support. 

How might this look off the mat? And how might it relate to aligning how I spend my time with what I say I value? As I reflect on the difference between activities I consistently show up for and those I don't, four things come to mind.

  • Props. Whether it's hosting a meeting, cooking a healthy meal, making a tweak to my web site, or taking a two-mile walk—I can set up for success by gathering the physical stuff I need as I begin.
  • Peers. I'm inspired by the participation and the expectations of others I know and admire—whether in person or in my social media network. 
  • Practices. I can create simple structures, rituals, and reminders that help turn an aspiration into an everyday habit.
  • Praise. I notice that I'm more likely to do something again if someone notices and appreciates my effort.

Could these four things make an activity or a goal more possible for you? If yes, here's my invitation. Take a look at the picture I've drawn below. Jot some notes. Try some things. Make it your own. Allow yourself to gather more around you than you think you might need.

Finally—don't overlook the value of a great teacher or mentor or coach. A few well-placed words can inspire your everyday efforts, and allow you to stretch beyond what you thought was possible.

Props in my life

© 2017 Michelle Hynes

Michelle is an Integral Coach and consultant based in Portland, OR. Lots more on her website.

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AUGUST 25, 2016

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Yoga is my lifeline. It serves my body through asana, keeps me mentally sane and quiets my heart. If I want to hold others as a coach, supervisor and mentor—which is what I love doing—I must know how to hold myself, staying safe, centered and grounded, so I can be completely available to the one in front of me.

For me, yoga is truly integral because it sustains me as a whole being. When I roll out my mat, I’m stepping into a different space where things slow down, the gaze goes inward, and the thinking subsides.

Stilling the mind

In my yoga tradition we use the distinction of the mind being a drunk monkey stung by a scorpion. Unconscious and erratic, it jumps from branch to branch—one moment here, next moment there, with no idea how that happened. But the little guy has the potential to sober up, to become deliberate and focused, and be the helpful servant that he’s meant to be.

In many yoga styles, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Kundalini, the breath is the branch for the monkey to grab and not let go of. The fact is, the mind cannot be suspended in space. We cannot simply stop thinking. Monkeys cannot fly. Monkey mind needs to attach to something, or it will revert back to haphazard thought patterns. The sensing into what’s physically possible and what’s not directs our focus to the here and now. It’s impossible to hold another thought when the mind honed in on the visceral sensation of asana. Gone are the emails, meetings, and conversations that previously sent the monkey mind frantically jumping around.

Letting go of the outcome

In the mythology of ancient India, Hanuman, the monkey god, helped prince Rama to save his beloved Sita from a faraway island. The Hanuman yoga posture is what we commonly call “splits.” With one leg forward and the other straight back, it represents the monkey jumping from the shore to the island – a giant leap into the unknown. It’s a very difficult asana that’s impossible for most of us (not just the mountain bikers with the tight ham strings).

When I first “did” Hanuman asana, I pulled a muscle badly and couldn’t even try for another six months. So the lesson was to park my agenda, which was some Olympic gymnast ideal, and instead to be with the process of exploring my comfort zone and stretching just a little beyond. Then it was about just hanging out in this new place, not pushing it. Breathing in and breathing out. Patience, surrender, acceptance of what’s possible. Then flexibility becomes real, while strength increases.

Yes, we co-create goals and measures in coaching, but we also must come back again and again to the present and from there take a small step, and then the next and the next. Yoga embodies this approach. It’s not about doing it right immediately, but getting where your individual body allows you to go, slowly, gently.

Surrender and healing

The possibility of change in the body comes with softening and opening up in general. If this realization becomes “felt” reality, as it so often does in yoga, we are on the road to freedom from suffering. Then the body becomes the most amazing teacher. Then healing happens. At all levels. Just like that.

Dr. Antje Berlin graduated from the Professional Coaching Course in 2013. She works as an Integral coach, supervisor and mentor in Cape Town, South Africa. She is also a certified yoga instructor. More at her website

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NOVEMBER 4, 2014

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In the autumn issue of the Distinctions newsletter, James Flaherty takes up the topic of tuning into our inner guidance. To set the stage, he introduces the work of Sri Aurobindo. Here is an excerpt from the article, which includes a bit about this fascinating figure.

Sri Aurobindo was a philosopher and spiritual teacher in India during the 20th century. His works include The Life Divine and Integral Yoga (which began the worldwide interest in all things integral). He inspired many students and established intentional communities of practice, which are still in existence (see

Reading his books transmits his presence and wisdom directly to us, for example:

The surest way towards this integral fulfillment is to find the Master of the secret who dwells within us, open ourselves constantly to the divine Power which is also the divine Wisdom and Love and trust to it to affect the conversion. But it is difficult for the egoistic consciousness to do this at all at the beginning. And, if done at all, it is still difficult to do it perfectly and in every strand of our nature. It is difficult at first because of our egotistic habits of thought, of sensation, of feeling block up the avenues by which we can arrive at the perception that is needed. It is difficult afterwards because the faith, the surrender, the courage requisite in this path are not easy to the ego-clouded soul. The divine working is not the working which the egoistic mind desires or approves; for it uses error in order to arrive at truth, suffering in order to arrive at bliss, imperfection in order to arrive at perfection. The ego cannot see where it is being led; it revolts against the leading, loses confidence, loses courage.

The Synthesis of Yoga, pp. 63-64

Many months of fruitful study could be devoted to that one paragraph.

Look for the full article in this quarter’s Distinctions, due out later this week.

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