Lauren Eckstrom, an L.A. based holistic yoga and mindfulness meditation teacher, recently sat down to talk with us about getting in touch with our inner wisdom, the powerful combination of yoga and mindfulness, and how we can take these tools anywhere, from the airport to the grocery store. Lauren also sneaks in some exciting previews of her Holistic Yoga Flow Retreat that she will be leading with her partner Travis Eliot at the Art of Living Retreat Center September 3- 6.
I had a student recently who approached me and said he had a silly question. But of course, there are no silly questions – and this was no exception. My student said, “You know how you always call it a practice… When is the game?”
The answer is this: LIFE is the big game. The practices of yoga and meditation transcend what’s happening on the mat and move with us out into the world. Yoga came into my life in the same way I believe it does for many. Few end up on a path of meditation or physical asana because everything is perfect in life; it’s quite the opposite that lands us on the mat.
The amazing reason why so many turn to yoga is because it gives people a ‘toolbox’ to take with them when class has finished. This toolbox is based on our inner wisdom – the teacher inside us all. So, yoga is always available to you no matter where you are. When you need this practice the most, you’re probably not going to be in yoga class.
The times I’ve needed it the most have been when I’m out in the world going about my day to day life. Difficult things often happen unexpectedly, such as a loved one getting a diagnosis or something startling happening in traffic. In yoga and meditation, what we’re really practicing for are those moments.
Diving Deeper than Asana: The True Meaning of Being a Yogi
We work with men who are incarcerated and recently we received a beautiful letter from one such man. In his letter he talked about what it means to live the life of a Yogi, and his realization that to be a Yogi is inclusive of all things in life: words, actions, behaviors and so on – not just the physical practice.
When we use meditation to deepen our awareness and understanding of how our individual minds have been programmed and conditioned, we are able to apply this knowledge to our relationship with the world. A yoga practice based solely on physical asana can easily feed into our hurried, over-productive culture rather than deepening our awareness.
Many yoga practices are very fast-paced and only emphasize the physical body. Class becomes just another item on your to-do list. To step away from the constant doing that our society demands and to sit down and spend quality, focused time doing just one thing can be quite the challenge.
When we do this we must learn, on a fundamental level, how to stay present and sit with emotions, thoughts or sensations which are very uncomfortable. Yoga teaches us that discomfort is natural and okay. There is pain in life; it is not always a comfortable experience. Change and discomfort are inevitable, so we need to prepare ourselves to remain steady in the midst of challenging experiences.
A big part of this is our own inner monologue, or way of speaking to and treating ourselves. If working with self-talk is part of a holistic yoga practice, we are able to move out into the world and navigate the fluctuations of the mind. Again, that’s where the big game we’re practicing for is taking place – off the mat and out in the world.
Yoga’s Greatest Challenge: Doing Nothing
The practices of yoga and meditation are interwoven with one another. Both are incredibly valuable, although some people come to meditation first and then yoga later, or vice versa.
Time spent in meditation is really no different than time spent moving through our physical yoga practice. The two feed and support each other.
Much of the time, students love yoga, but they don’t want to sit and meditate. It’s actually quite understandable. A study took place in which participants were asked to wait in a room without any of their belongings.
They were told that someone would come back to get them, but if they needed anything before that time, they could press a button to voluntarily receive an electrical shock. More than 73 percent of the participants chose to give themselves an electrical shock before just seven minutes had passed. It is difficult for us to be alone with ourselves when our culture demands that we’re constantly available and digitally connected.
Bringing it All Together: Holistic Yoga Flow with Lauren and Travis
Retreats offer a unique opportunity to explore the more in-depth, difficult facets of the practice by fully immersing oneself in a way that can not be done in day to day life.
At a facility like Art of Living, space is held for you to do just that. Your food is prepared, your accommodations are set, and you feel safe. Without having to worry about these basic needs, it’s possible to be in your body and in your practice much more fully.
The retreats that I lead with my partner, Travis Eliot, teach what we call ‘Holistic Yoga Flow’. This flow is a combination of many different approaches rather than one single type of practice. We often begin the day with a dynamic vinyasa flow to increase energy for the day ahead. These classes are always accessible to all levels, so anybody is welcome. Regardless of where you are on your path, there will be a space for you in the room.
Mindfulness meditation practices are always incorporated. Throughout these practices, we interweave the wisdom of yoga. This is one of our holistic approaches. We explore the ideas behind the 8 Limbs of Yoga and other philosophies to bring the practices to life.
Of course, we also focus strongly on breath-work, which is a dynamic part of what it means to be human. Breath is life. Along with this we teach gentle yoga like Yin and Restorative. These are all daily elements of a retreat with us. The slower, gentler yoga is practiced in the evening to integrate everything we have learned.
After leading retreats for some time, we have found that they are a beautiful opportunity to weave wisdom, breath, and body practices together. This experience is truly life enhancing both individually and as a community.
It is when individuals reach an embodied experience of this union that they connect with that inner wisdom, which will coach them in the game of life.