“What's right for one may not be right for the other, but what is right always is that you are coming from that state of peace.”
Today, I’m excited to introduce you to the authors of one of my all-time favorite books, Mathew Micheletti and Ashley Cottrell. Known worldwide as “The Yoga Couple” to their 500,000+ followers, they’re also the authors of a book that I haven’t stopped recommending since I read it: The Inner Work: An Invitation to True Freedom and Lasting Happiness.
Their book astounded me. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. They’re experts in consciousness, learning how to interact with your significant other in ways that stop us from getting triggered, and changing our approach to life so that we experience True Freedom and Lasting Happiness.
In this conversation, we take the teachings of Mat and Ash’s book, The Inner Work, and go even deeper, discovering new insights as we discuss how to apply their teachings in a world that couldn’t possibly be crazier, chaotic, or more uncertain.
● What exactly the Inner Work is, why we should all be doing it, and how we can use this framework in our everyday lives.
● How we can transform our view of reality using themes of consciousness.
● Why yoga is so much more than physical poses, and the deep connection between yoga and inner freedom.
● How yoga can be used to process trauma, make sense of anger, and reconnect with higher consciousness.
● What you can do when your partner doesn’t want to embark on the same journey of self-improvement that you’re taking.
● The beauty of letting go of expectations and resentment.
● And so much more!
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
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Hal Elrod: Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals Podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod, and as always, I am excited and grateful that you're joining me today. And today you're going to get to hear from the authors of one of my favorite books of all time. And you may have heard me talk about this book on the podcast in recent weeks or months. It's called The Inner Work: An Invitation to True Freedom and Lasting Happiness. And the coauthors, Mat and Ash, are best known as The Yoga Couple to their 500,000 plus online community. And as a couple, they are influential internationally and recognized for their holistic healing work, authentic yoga teachings, and as creators of The Inner Work method. And you may have heard me talk about I feel that the book I've been writing is the book that they wrote. And so, I literally have shifted gears on the book I'm writing because I read their book and I go, “Oh my gosh, this is essentially the book I was going to write. So, now I got to figure out a different book to write.”
But today it's a beautiful conversation that we had that really opened me up. It brought the book to life, and we talk about the themes of consciousness, which is a framework that they teach in the book. We talk about how to interact with your partner, your spouse, your boyfriend, your girlfriend in a way to not get triggered. And when you are triggered, how do you pause and reset? And they have some really amazing techniques. And so, what you're going to learn today, it's immediately actionable. And I do highly recommend the book, The Inner Work. My best friend, Matt, is in town right now visiting, one of my best friends in the world, and last night I said, “Have you read this yet?” And I just started raving and telling him all about it and he flipped through it. He goes, “Hey, can I borrow this? It looks great. I really want to read it.” So, anyway, that's The Inner Work. That's the book. But today's conversation is really going to give you added insight that you won't even get in the book because I asked them questions that I had after reading the book like, “Okay. Well, what about this? And how do you apply this? And how would this apply in this situation? Like today's crazy, chaotic, uncertain world, how do you apply The Inner Work in today's world?” So, lots of great stuff in today's podcast episode.
And before we dive in, I want to take a minute to acknowledge and thank our sponsor of today's episode, Organifi. And most of us could use more energy. Maybe most, if not all of us could use more energy in our day but caffeine can only do so much. At some point, you have to look at the cause, the root causes of fatigue. And it turns out two main factors in low energy are chronic stress, raise your hand if you can relate, and lack of nutrition. And Organifi creates delicious superfood blends that you just throw into a glass of water or your favorite smoothie or a cup of almond milk or rice milk, whatever, and you get immediate nutrition boost. You get adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms help balance your cortisol levels that are associated with stress. So, if you want to boost your health, if you want to lower your stress, if you want more energy, head over to Organifi.com/Hal and then use the code “HAL” at checkout and you'll get an additional 15% off of their sale prices that are going on right now. I'm a huge fan/customer for five years, long before they were a sponsor, which is why I reached out and asked if they’d sponsor the show because I will only share things with you that I use and that have benefited my life and that I believe in. So, head over to Organifi.com/Hal, and I hope you find something there that you love. And without any further ado, my conversation with two of my favorite authors in the world, Mat and Ash, and their book, The Inner Work.
Hal Elrod: All right. Mat and Ash, we're finally here. Great to see you.
Ashley Cottrell: We are so stoked to be here. Thank you so much, Hal, for having us on.
Mathew Micheletti: It’s an honor.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. You all are in Hawaii, yeah?
Ashley Cottrell: Yes.
Mathew Micheletti: Yes.
Hal Elrod: So, that means it's 2:00 p.m. here. What are you, guys, six hours earlier or something like that?
Ashley Cottrell: Nine a.m. Yeah. We just had our Miracle Morning and we’re feeling really good.
Hal Elrod: I like it. Good. Thank you. So, as I was telling you and then I said, “Hey, let’s hit record. I don't want to miss any of our getting to know each other time,” but your book, The Inner Work, is one of my favorite books of all time like top 10 for sure. Maybe one of the best spiritual books. And the way I found it, I don't know that you all know the backstory but I've been working on a book for the last year, year-and-a-half, very unlike just kind of jotting ideas here and there and got to put it all together. But the concept or the topic for the book was basically inner freedom, which I define as your ability to choose how you feel, how you experience every moment of your life. And so, I was on Amazon one day and I think I just typed in “inner freedom.” I'm like, “I should see if there are any of the books on this topic so I can do my own research,” and The Inner Work came up and I ordered it. And then this is the funny part. I don't know if you know this. I actually shared this on my podcast. I've shared it with my audience. But as I'm reading your book, I go, “This is what I was going to write. This is the book I was going to write. They apparently had the same downloads or messages or inspiration come through and, literally, some of the language like word-for-word.”
And I go, “Oh, and I didn't know how to feel about it.” I was like, “Wow. A, this is great. This is out there. B, do I write a different book now? C, should I just partner with it? Like I don't even know.” So, yeah.
Ashley Cottrell: It’s amazing.
Hal Elrod: It was so cool. It was so cool. And I’m blown away.
Ashley Cottrell: We have to tell you, we've been dying to tell you that there’s more synchronicity here.
Mathew Micheletti: We actually had our own experience at that exact same time.
Ashley Cottrell: Okay. So, a couple of days before your podcast went live, we had a call with an agent we were considering doing…
Mathew Micheletti: Switching to the publisher out.
Ashley Cottrell: Right. We self-publish. And so, we didn't feel good about it. So, we're writing a second book as well, which is very similar to your book, Miracle Morning, but it’s an inner work ritual book so we were looking at should we get an agent? Should we go this publishing route? So, we get on this call. It didn't feel right. We started searching successful self-published books. You came up and we were like, “Wow.” We listened to an interview of you. I ordered your book. The day I got your book, we got tagged in a post that you were reading our book and you had done…
Hal Elrod: No way.
Ashley Cottrell: I was literally shaking. I was like, “What is this?”
Mathew Micheletti: Exactly. And the interview too totally encouraged us to stay what we thought was right to stay self-published. And you got it so pumped up on it and it actually is so trippy, man. So, at the same time, we were having this total connection and experience with you and we're so grateful for everything you were putting out there, and then a couple of days later we found out you were reading our book, it was kind of it's a pretty interesting, magical moment.
Hal Elrod: That's cool. That's really cool. There's something meant to be serendipitous in all of that magic, for sure. I want to ask you, guys, and I hope it's okay but you look very young, and reading the book, I'm like, “The wisdom in this book is incredible.” And not that age and wisdom necessarily correlate, right, but sometimes. And so, I'm curious if you don't mind me asking, what age range are you all?
Mathew Micheletti: We’re in our 30s.
Ashley Cottrell: We're both 33. We just had our birthdays.
Hal Elrod: Both 33. Okay. Got it. Yeah. So, as I'm reading, again, as I mentioned the book, the wisdom, it's one of the most wise, spiritual books that I've ever read, and it reminded me of like Michael Singer, and I know that was one of your influences and David Hawkins, obviously, with the levels of consciousness and all of that. So, yeah, really, really cool. I'm excited. I told my audience, I go, “Look, all of you that were waiting for my next book, just go buy this one. I’m going to figure it out. I'm going to pivot. I'm going to write something a little bit different but, yeah, really, really cool.
Ashley Cottrell: Thank you. And we hope you still write that book.
Hal Elrod: I will. Yeah. The next book I write there's so much to it that it could take any different, you know, the central theme could differ in a lot of different ways so we'll see. Whatever book I write, it'll be the right one. And it might it'll be in some way influenced by you. How could it not be? You're part of my consciousness now so very, very cool. So, you all are known as The Yoga Couple like let's start there. Well, why the name? Why The Yoga Couple?
Ashley Cottrell: So, a lot of people when they hear yoga, they're thinking, okay, physical poses, doing shapes of your body, flexi, bendy, all these things. And yoga is actually an ancient Indic path of self-realization or inner freedom. It's a spiritual path. It's blueprinted. And when we decided to name ourselves The Yoga Couple, we meant it in the deepest sense that we are truly committed to this path of self-realization, self-inquiry, and inner freedom. And something really cool about the yoga tradition, they always say like you need a guru or you need a teacher, somebody who has already reached that level of consciousness that can help you along that journey. But there's this other path called the yoga of relationship where, in a sense, your partner becomes your guru. Guru means dispeller of ignorance. So, who is greater to dispel our ignorance or hold up a mirror or show us our shortcomings than our partner? So, you enter this relationship, this yoga of relationship with your partner where the two of you go on this journey together, this path of enlightenment, of self-inquiry, and your relationship becomes the stimulation for that work. So, that's the yoga couple in a nutshell.
Hal Elrod: I love that. I love that. So, it's not just the downward dog, what people imagine when they think of yoga. But that is your background, right, Ash? You started yoga practice at 16, I believe, at 20 began the training, 25 opened your first yoga studio, and then 26, a second yoga studio.
Ashley Cottrell: Yeah. And a lot of people they find yoga like luckily in the West, it's becoming so popularized and there's this, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Because it's kind of like diluted in a sense. We're doing physical yoga but in a lot of ways for somebody who has a heart who's looking for that spiritual awakening journey, the physical yoga kind of opens the door for that. And so, in a lot of ways, that was my journey with it. I started doing Jivamukti Yoga, which had kind of a mix of like the spiritual essence mixed into it, and I was being exposed to things like Hinduism and Buddhism, and it really cracked my heart open at a young age. And I had a kind of rough upbringing. My mom was a drug addict. I was really interested in seeking more for my life, and I had a direct experience with that state of consciousness where kind of like Joe Dispenza talks about where you go into the state of the unknown and it's like what else is possible? And that state of consciousness is induced from a physical yoga practice. We can have that aha moment at the end of a practice in our shavasana where we're just cracked open and I just ran with it.
Hal Elrod: And so, you got started with yoga at a young age. And then, Mat, you at 15 graduated high school. Is that right?
Mathew Micheletti: Yes. I was on the very academic doctor route, and I was in a hurry.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And you started college and then working towards medical school and then you met three colleagues who you say changed the course of your life forever. It was a yogi, a former Buddhist monk, and a Hindu. Can you tell us about that experience? How did that change the course of your life? What happened?
Mathew Micheletti: Yes. So, I was on the very traditional path to be a doctor. I want to start early. I studied psychology. And so, I always had this more pull towards the mind. But then when I met these three people, in particular, the reason why it altered me forever is because I was raised in a Christian background and was never exposed really to other views of spirituality. So, meeting these people just blew my mind open with just an expansion of understanding and experiencing divinity from these other perspectives that I had literally never given time and energy to. I just, obviously, in a lot of ways was taught not to in a sense, right? But here I am in naturopathic medical school just drinking from a fire hose is what we would say as far as the amount of information you're trying to digest every day and it just kind of blew my mind open to all the different possibilities of how to approach healing. And what I really learned during this time in my life was I got super fascinated by mind-body healing. And there was this doctor that came in and would teach us his whole modality was using mind-body healing. And I got fascinated by the placebo effect.
And so, I read a lot of Dr. Joe Dispenza’s work. He was another huge influence on me. And it made me totally divert my whole course of being a healer because I was fascinated by the fact that 30% of the time roughly you can give someone a sugar pill that has no physiological effect and it can cause healing, spontaneous remission of cancers. You can operate fake surgeries in people's knees, well, like improve and they can go like run and do stuff and it's like, "Nothing happened, man.” But yet our body does this miraculous thing where it will have a shift in its physiology and its biology. So, to me, that was like mind-blowing. And so, the mixture of spiritual opening, this radical healing information that it was opening up to the possibilities of wow like what we think this objective world is, is actually just beginning to scratch the surface on what's really going on. So, I just ran with it, and eventually, was searching for something more spiritually based, left medical school, went to go be a therapist, thought that was the approach, wanted to learn more about the mind. Same thing though, realized, “No. There needs to be a spiritual, belief-based, faith-based presence in healing,” or else I'm missing the fun stuff that I get excited about, which is this type of stuff, the power of belief, the power of a connection to something higher.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. I love that. And for me, I believe so much in the mind-body connection or what you referred to as the placebo effect because when I was 20, I was told I would never walk again and then I said, “Nope, I'm going to walk again.” And then a week later, the doctors came in. They're like, “We don't know how to explain this but your body is healed and you can walk.” I mean, just incredible. Then when I had cancer because I had that reference, I was like, “Oh, no, no, no, no. I know the doctors say that there's a very slim chance I'm going to live.” To me, there's 100% chance I'm going to live. And I told my body every day I meditated on, "All of my cells are healing.” I started doing sun gazing. For anybody that's an academic they go, “This is all woo-woo and this is not proven.” But like I did sun gazing and what I realize is that the sun, when it's in its full form, looks like a perfect cell if you look under a microscope. I went and looked at my blood under a microscope, and I saw all my cancerous cells were all disfigured. And then the cells that were healthy were perfectly round cells. And I would sun gaze every day, and I would imagine that every cell in my body was perfectly healthy and round just like that. And then once again kind of defied the odds.
And so, yeah, so that for me, I always say when I give like a speech, I say like I don't have a graph that shows you how my positive thinking and faith healed my body in correlation. I just have the results that I walked again, that I was healed after the cancer. I want to dive into the book because I could probably spend hours talking about the book. I'm on my second time reading it right now, which is cool. But so, you get self-published. You co-authored and self-published a book called The Inner Work and then tell me the subtitle. I know it's true freedom and lasting happiness but I'm missing the whole thing.
Ashley Cottrell: An Invitation to True Freedom and Lasting Happiness.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, which can practically be my subtitle. So, gosh, dang it. But tell us about that. What is The Inner Work and why should we all be doing it?
Ashley Cottrell: So, The Inner Work, it takes the readers on a hero's journey and it takes us to the depths of our subconscious minds that we can uncover any limitation that's holding us back and it's very heavily influenced by the yoga tradition. In the yoga tradition, there's no place to get. We're not on a mission to obtain, get more accomplished. We're actually of the belief that we're already whole. We're already complete. We're already connected to divinity, to source. We're already epic. We just forgot. So, the process of becoming your highest self, which everybody in the spiritual community in self-love community is so on to you right now isn't it about doing. It's actually about remembering and removing everything that we are not, programs, beliefs, limitations, conditioning, anything that we say is of the not-self. And we have a mantra in the book called neti neti, not me not me. So, it's just a process of removing and remembering. And it's a lifelong journey, right? It's day in, day out inner work, which is self-reflection, self-analysis, just becoming self-aware because it's from that point of self-awareness that we can actually make change. We can't change something that we're not aware of. So, the path and the practice of the inner work is the practice of daily self-reflection and self-awareness. And through that, we make lasting change and remember that we're already free.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. I love that. I think that for people to realize like that's such a paradigm shift, we're taught in our society, right? If I want to be happier, I need to achieve these things and improve my circumstances and this and that. And well, yeah, those are all noble pursuits. Ultimately, think about we were born you could say into the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It’s like you were born as this perfect human being and everything else is just a story that we've brought into our psyche along the way and all these limitations and limiting beliefs. And when you just strip all that away, I love what you said, Ash, is that it's remembering that no, no, no, you already are - the happiness you have it. It's underneath all this sh*t that you're telling that you have to do or be or achieve in order to be happy. It's like, no, no, no, no, no. You were born that way.
Ashley Cottrell: And it's an inner journey, right? And that there's nothing out there that's going to give it to you. And we're so externally focused. And that's why it's like the inner work because all the work that needs to be done isn't out there. Actually, it's all inside. And so, when we can turn that gaze within ourselves, everything about our life changes because we've changed where we're focusing, we've changed our perspective. So, it's shifting that perspective to be completely internal, which the world really doesn't want us to do. It's like the world is full of distractions. We've got the news and we've got media and social media and advertising, and it's just like, “Stay out here, stay out here, stay out here, stay distracted.” Inner work is like become self-empowered enough to turn away from those distractions and put all your focus inside.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. I think that what you're talking about, we see the evidence with people that are “successful” or celebrities that have achieved everything that they thought they ever wanted. And then they're left unfulfilled and even depressed. And often you see with celebrities, they turn to drugs or alcohol because they thought that when they achieved the goal that that would give them the fulfillment that they always wanted. Then they achieve the goal and they're like, “Now I'm empty and have all this pressure and now I'm afraid of what people think of me. What if I lose it all?” You know what I mean? Yeah. It just goes back to the whole, "There's no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” I wanted to talk about the themes of consciousness that you talk about in the book. And I would imagine that there are some inspiration for that from David Hawkins, right? Power vs Force and he wrote I believe it's Transcending the Levels of Consciousness, something like that. So, I wanted to ask you this. So, when I first read themes of consciousness, I was so used to levels of consciousness. So, it was like it grinded my gears. It didn't resonate. And then by the end of the book, I'm like, "Levels of consciousness? They're not levels of consciousness. They're themes of consciousness.”
And it's just that word, theme, it's really more accurate because it's not level. It's not like you're going from one to another. You can be in a theme of consciousness and then have a circumstance or an event take place that throws you into a complete different theme. So, you're not going from one level to the next. You're in and out of these themes. You're embodying a theme at any given moment and you don't need to transcend from one to the next to the next to the next to the next. It's like, "Hey, I want to go straight from here to love. I want to just go into this theme. I don't need to go up to one level at a time.” So, talk about from your perspective, themes of consciousness. You talk about them as the lenses in which we view reality. So, can you tell us more about that? And what can we do to improve our view of reality, our themes of consciousness?
Mathew Micheletti: Yeah. First and foremost, to give credit to my teacher for sure. So, what made me leave medical school is finding Dr. David Hawkins. He inspired my entire journey. I've read like every single one of his books, probably like a couple of them like 20 times. They're filled with notes. So, for sure, he's 100% my inspiration. In my opinion, in the yoga tradition, he is my guru for what it's worth. So, he had said many times in his work that he even doesn't like using the term “level.” And so, as I was reading it, I always say he told me to call it a theme because it's a little more. Because his whole concern, too, even with his own depiction of the levels and with the logarithmic scale he created, even he says multiple times constantly, “Don't let your ego get attached to these levels as like things and places and like ego attachments.” Don't let these numbers distract you. It's just to help you understand. And so, for me, I felt like I heeded all of that advice, and then I feel like the inspiration came to remove all of that and then just call it a theme. Call it energetic frequency.
So, in the book, we refer to it, also, you can think of it as I like the idea of calling it a radio station. So, when we think of the lenses in which we view reality, the way this works is when we come into life, like you said earlier, you coming into life as this innocent child. You're just this beautiful, clean slate. But actually, as soon as we're in the womb and our consciousness starts into the womb, we are already absorbing the programs and conditionings of our mother and then her environment. So, that's starting to create a lens because it's a condition. So, let's say your mother is in fear and stress a lot. Well, now your cells, your consciousness is starting to think that fear perceiving life through fear is a normal expected way to behave. And then once we come into life, we're born, we're starting to be around our social group, it becomes the consciousness’s goal to absorb the frequency of their communities. We can even look at this from a biological standpoint. It helped the species survive because you need to absorb the wisdom of your community as fast as possible. Well, what that means as far as neurochemistry and like psychology goes is basically you need to get brainwashed and indoctrinated into your community’s theme of consciousness as fast as possible.
So, that's cool and all, whether it’s like you're born into like some super educated, lovely, pleasant theme of love or you're born into a monastery. That's great. But what about the rest of us who are born into homes that have a lot of the more negative emotions as a normal theme? So, these lenses color our perception. And so, the best way to point this out is the concept of two people can go through the exact same experience, and they will interpret it entirely different because from one person's perspective, other things will jump out to them and they'll say, “Oh, wasn't that so tragic? Oh, that was so stressful. That was so this and that.” The other person would be like, “Wow, that was so amazing. I got so much out of that. I saw so much gratitude. I saw so much bliss. Wow. Isn't God great?” And it's like, “Whoa, which world are we in?” And we see this phenomenon a lot in people and with our partners, especially, is where we really see this because we're like, “What did you think about it or what was your experience?” And we sometimes find our partner had a totally different experience, even though we were sitting right next to each other. So, that is, I think, our easiest way to help people understand that your experience of reality is being colored by a conditioning that most of us were never taught. So, we have no idea that we're even conditioned and programmed in the first place and it is altering what you think, you know, “This is just the way I am.” Like, there is no such thing as just the way I am. It's like, well, who would you be without all these conditions?
Ashley Cottrell: And the good news is, is that we can change our view of reality. We can change and upgrade our theme of consciousness infinitely. There's no limit to the joy and peace and love we can experience, and it's just a matter of knowing that we have a choice.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Really well-said. Two different people that have the same experience, same tragedy, same adversity. One, it's the worst thing in the world, life is over, it's so unfair. And the other person says, “Wow. Is this an opportunity to grow? Man, this sucks. This is difficult. This is going to be hard, but I'm going to be better because of it.” Same experience but your perspective, your theme of consciousness determines the reality you create for yourself. Let me ask you, guys, this. Actually, for people listening that aren't familiar with David Hawkins’ work or the themes of consciousness, what are the themes? Can you run through them or at least give some examples?
Mathew Micheletti: Sure. So, first and foremost, as a caveat to open it up is so the themes are I like to think of them as there they’re degrees of awareness of the truth. Okay. So, it's like a level of awareness of the truth. That's all they are. So, the lowest most cut-off from the truth is shame and rejection. So, this is the bottom of this. This is the most disempowered we become as humans. We literally reject life. This is the level of suicide, stuff like that.
Hal Elrod: You feel just worthless, right? Shame is the feeling of worthlessness.
Mathew Micheletti: Yeah. We feel rejected by life itself and also rejected by love itself so that is the complete lie. That's the opposite. That is never true. So, this shows us the most cut-off from the truth. So, now we start moving our way up. So, next is after shame, we have to move through guilt and blame and judgment. So, guilt and judgment. From there into hopelessness. From there is grief and loss or grief and regret we refer to it as often. And then we have fear, desire, anger, pride. Then finally, a big pivot happens here where we go from pride to courage. And this is something that we like to point out is this is the most, honestly, one of the most important transitions because this is where we officially are self-honest. We're self-accountable. So, we have to have courage to be accountable, courage to face our denials. So, now we get into courage. We then move into neutrality, which is more like we finally just want to just be chill. We did all our work. We want to relax. We moved then, though, into willingness, which is really like being self-motivated. You want to do more. What else is possible? That starts to spark us. Then we move into acceptance and then from there, a reason and logic. And then a final huge transition happens here of we go from reason and logic into love and inner peace.
Now, this is where we officially embrace a spiritual reality. We move from the physical realm where we think of it as like our consciousness is a product of our biology to instead saying, “No, no, no, our biology is a product of our consciousness and spirituality is always first.” So, at this transition, we finally get into love and inner peace. We know that we are eternal. We start to see the bigger picture beyond the physical. And then the final thing would be what we call true freedom and lasting happiness, which you could think of it as unconditional love but you could also talk about it also as like enlightenment with the eastern traditions are always pointing to this topic of enlightenment, which is that true freedom and lasting happiness where you are 100% transcendent of this physical reality causing you suffering.
Ashley Cottrell: So, those themes there like you can use them as a compass so you can look at your thoughts. You can look at the words you're saying. You can look at the way you're perceiving a situation, your actions, and you will be able to kind of categorize in a sense, like, “Oh, I'm in guilt and judgment right now. I'm seeing everything with judgment, and this is where my vibration is currently. So, what can I do to shift that?” And so, those themes of consciousness, they just become a guide to help us build awareness about where we are and what we're going through so then we can see our way out of it. And so, it's like a map. It's like a map to human consciousness and its patterns. It's pattern recognition. That's really what it's useful for.
Hal Elrod: Well, that's so powerful because once you have this framework, these themes of consciousness, you're able to doing what you just said. You're able to separate the I from the state you're in, right? Meaning not, “I am worthless.” It's, "Oh, I'm in a state of shame right now. Interesting. I could choose a different state. I could choose a different perspective. I could choose a different theme of consciousness. Hmm. Which one would best serve me?”
Ashley Cottrell: Yes.
Hal Elrod: And, again, it kind of goes back to that inner freedom concept. It's the ability to choose how you experience every moment and so you can choose, “Oh, what theme of consciousness do I want to live from all the time?” Or it might not be all the time. It might be in any given situation. Like I've said, emotions that sometimes I might poo-poo like, “Oh, you don't want to be angry, you don't want to be this or that.” There's a purpose for all emotions, right? And so, sometimes you might want to be in that state of anger. Maybe you made a mistake and you don't want to just brush it aside and go, “Eh, it's not a big deal.” You want to actually feel the pain of that mistake so that you learn from it and you don't make it again. You don't want to stay there. You don't want to live in that state, right? But, yeah, I love the way you guys just both the way you describe that and using those themes of consciousness. Because if you're not aware, you can't really elevate your consciousness unless you're aware of what the elevation, what are the options, right? “Oh, there's other options?” Most people, like you said, they're not even aware. They don't even know that there are other options. They just think this is, I think, Mat, you said it, that this is just who I am. It’s just the way I am, right?
Mathew Micheletti: Exactly.
Hal Elrod: Powerful. Right now, especially with what's going on in the world, the chaos that we're facing, the uncertainty, a lot of people see different things, some see more than others on the horizon and what may be coming our way, how can we use The Inner Work to navigate the current circumstances that we're facing as a world and as a nation?
Ashley Cottrell: I think The Inner Work is one of the most useful tools that we can keep in our pocket for right now, for what we're experiencing as a country, as a world. And it's about self-reflection and self-awareness, right? So, we can check in with ourselves and we can ask, what are we being motivated by? And looking at the themes of consciousness, we mentioned there was fear. We also mentioned there was courage and there was a big transition point to get into courage. So, when we're making decisions, when we're engaging in society, our actions, our beliefs, our words, are they being motivated by fear consciousness? Are they being motivated by courage and self-accountability? Courage is all about self-accountability and self-empowerment and taking responsibility for ourselves. And that is a more liberating state of consciousness and a more useful state of consciousness to society and the world than fear. We can't really help other people when we are in those limiting themes of consciousness. We're not able to be of service. Actually, we're in survival mode.
So, being in fear consciousness and making a decision out of your consciousness or imposing your consciousness onto others than asking them to join you is never going to help society evolve into the place that we say we want. What is going to help is getting to courage and being self-accountable. So, check-in constantly with your state of consciousness because there's so much around us right now that is encouraging us to stay in fear. And if we're actually practicing The Inner Work, we will develop the awareness to notice and be aware of our decision-making and if it is truly coming from an empowered place or from a fear-based place.
Hal Elrod: Really well-said. That for me is what led me down this path was when the pandemic hit. And, in the beginning, it's funny, I always say I was the first one like I was immunocompromised from having cancer and going through chemo. So, I was actually one of the first people to wear a mask when nobody else at the store was wearing a mask and then I was like the weird one. And then I said I was one of the first people to not be as concerned and really just be careful and protect myself. But the point is, I asked myself psychologically, like, what should I be focused on right now? What should I be focused on and what should I help other people focus on as my community, my audience, my family? And the answer that came up was, I should only focus on things that I can control because when we focus on things that are out of our control, we feel out of control and then we feel stressed and depressed and get into that fear state. And so, I love what you talked about is that self-accountability is I can only control one thing and it's me. That's it. That's it. So, that's where my energy is going to go is to how can I optimize the way that I show up for myself, for others, and how I experience every moment of my life.
Ashley Cottrell: I also want to say like when you're looking at the themes of consciousness and seeing reality, not from the subjective point of view, but that it's subjective, it's like any choice is possible. And all that matters when we make that choice is, is it coming from that state of inner peace? So, what's right for one person, they might be totally at peace about that decision, and that's beautiful. And what's right for another might be a completely opposite decision but it's also coming from a place of inner peace. And that is what matters, not the decision itself, not the action itself. The motivation behind the action, that is the truth. And I think the world right now is externally focused, right? So, we're focusing on the external thing. What's the right thing to do all the time? And that is an inner question always. What's right thing to do is you're going to know what's the right thing to do for you based on that inner consciousness of are you at peace? So, what's right for one may not be right for the other but what is right always is that you are coming from that state of peace.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And it's being the light. You know Margaret Wheatley, who wrote the book Who Do We Choose To Be? She talks about being an island of sanity in a sea of chaos. And that always stuck with me that, yeah, the world has always been chaotic in different ways. That's what I told my daughter a few months ago. She was really like almost in tears and she's like, “I'm a kid. There's so much going on in the world and the other kids are talking about it at school. Life is not supposed to be like this. I'm supposed to be a kid.” And like it broke my heart but I was able to, luckily, I kind of thought quickly on my feet and I just said, “Sweetie, when I was a kid, I remember in sixth grade it was Desert Storm like the war in Iraq. You know what I mean? Like, there's always been craziness in the world. Don't worry about what's going on out there. Just focus on yourself.” And, yeah, I think for all of us that the world's always had a lot of chaos and craziness. Either you can get caught up in that and that can become your reality.
And I've noticed myself too. I've had like these gut-check moments where I go, “I'm consuming way too much media.” I usually watch it on YouTube or it's like I try to like be more discerning over where I get information but I realize that doesn't make me any better. My consciousness is still right now being consumed by all of the things that I'm watching, right? So, we've got to really be careful of how we allow ourselves to be influenced. I want to pivot or would you want to say something else on that, Ash?
Ashley Cottrell: No. I’m good.
Hal Elrod: Okay.
Mathew Micheletti: I just want to add real quick, though, our favorite thing with The Inner Work is just from the highest perspective, every single thing in our life is just a catalyst for inner work. So, it could be anything. It can be world events. It could be your relationship. It could be job stuff. It could be, in our opinion, it actually really doesn't matter because it's always going to come down to, "What is this? What is this offering you?” So, for us, it's always about self-empowerment. It doesn't matter what is happening in the external world. Just focus on your growth like you were saying. And so, I just wanted to reiterate that the power of keeping us all really inspired and empowered because no matter what's happening, we can always come out in a beneficial way.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And the more difficult and challenging the circumstances, the greater the opportunity for inner work and growth.
Ashley Cottrell: Absolutely.
Mathew Micheletti: Exactly.
Hal Elrod: I want to pivot a little bit. Obviously, you're the yoga couple and you do a lot of work for couples. A lot of your content is around helping couples to thrive. I don't know you guys personally. I'm not living with you but I get the impression that you are much more evolved than most couples. And so, I want to ask, are there any practices that you guys have as a couple that have enhanced your relationship or daily living? You mention that you have a new book with The Inner Work that you guys are working on in terms of practices. I want to know if there's anything you guys do as a couple.
Ashley Cottrell: Yeah. There's a lot of like there are so many things. We could take this in any direction, like writing out our mission statement as a couple together and being aware of that, knowing our traumas, our inner child healing needs as a couple. Being aware of each other's wounds is like a big thing. But I want to, I guess, just maybe share something really practical that listeners can actually just like do in an instant that is really valuable to us. Because even though we're the authors of The Inner Work and we have all of this awareness, we still struggle, right? We still get triggered. We still argue and have these moments of like heat. And so, what's the most beneficial thing that we have a practice of doing is having this discipline for a pause and allowing ourselves kind of this blend of, and maybe Mat can talk a little bit about this example from Viktor Frankl, but it's having this pause in heated moments and taking a moment to not respond, not react, and to actually become very aware of our breathing. So, in the yoga tradition, discipline and self-control is the highest form of freedom. When we obtain control over our body, our mind, and our spirit, we're in that enlightened state, right? We have complete control. But that control starts on a superficial level in the body with our breathing.
So, the ancient yoga text recommends before we start getting into our trauma processing and trying to have self-control of our thoughts that we should first master control over our breath. And that's like a literal practical thing of what it's called a Kumbhaka, a breath retention. So, in a triggering moment, we can take and inhale and actually hold our breath in for as long as possible. And when we hold our breath in for as long as possible, the yogis, they measure time by the amount of breaths we take. So, when we stop breathing, we're actually stopping time. And we're pausing in this moment in time and when we actually take that exhale after holding for one minute or maybe two minutes of an inhale, our consciousness shifts. We're not in the same moment anymore. We're in a little different state of consciousness and we hear a lot like, "Take a deep breath, like take some deep breaths.” But, truly, the practice that's written in these ancient yoga texts is hold your breath, literally, inhale and hold your breath in when you're in a triggering moment. Your consciousness shifts and then you have this gap and this pause. And in that pause is when you can make a different choice of what you were going to say not from a triggered state but from a peaceful state. And we have this example in the book of Viktor Frankl’s. He was an advocate of this pause, and I don't think he knew but it was so yogic.
Mathew Micheletti: Yeah. The Viktor Frankl thing she's referring to is just, for those of anyone who is not familiar, he's a Holocaust survivor and he wrote a really profound book called Man's Search For Meaning, all about that experience and the observations he had being in that experience as I believe he was the neuro – he was either a psychiatrist or a neuro something. But so, he already had a kind of a knack for that, right? He was a doctor, and so he made some really interesting observations through that experience. I guess to put it in a nutshell, what he concludes is that the destiny of your life is completely determined based on the pause between a situation and how you respond to it. And what he observed is for those who don't have any control over how they respond, they're at the whim of others. They're able to be taken advantage of by the outside world because they're completely controlled by it. Well, that's a very yogic concept because that's basically like saying the human ego will completely control us unless we take back our power. What's the best way to do that is to watch your ego freak out and just watch it and just be staring at it and just be like, “Wow. You are freaking out in my head right now. My body is so tense and pissed off, and I'm just going to watch you freak out and I'm just going to watch you and I'm going to hold my breath and watch you because I'm asserting my dominance over it.”
And so, for us, this creates a pause where you get to witness it spinning out and you notice, but wait, I'm not doing anything about that. So, this starts to usurp a ton of power over your destiny, because when you start to pause and watch, your body tense up and you watch your mind freak out and you don't react. This is what Viktor Frankl was pointing to is when you can control your response, you can control your destiny. And so, this is all yoga teachings, ironically, because it's all about true freedom is being able to truly transcend your ego. And if we were to think of the ego in the simplest context for this is your ego is all your conditioned program reactions where you just unconsciously lash out, you unconsciously make decisions, you totally self-sabotage. And so, when we finally take all that power back, I mean, your ego is the only thing that's ever causing you suffering so, obviously, if you take power with that, then okay there goes all your suffering.
Ashley Cottrell: So, you can see me and Mat in a standoff holding our breath, staring at each other.
Hal Elrod: You guys actually… Or what?
Mathew Micheletti: I was going to say or walking away and holding our breath and breathing. Yeah. Exactly.
Hal Elrod: And so, did you guys actually have an agreement where as soon as one of you becomes conscious of that, you go to the breath-hold?
Ashley Cottrell: Oh yeah. It’s like instant. It's like, “Okay. We’re getting heated. We're starting to say things that are coming from that autopilot. Let's pause. Let’s hold our breath.
Mathew Micheletti: We pause, slow down.
Ashley Cottrell: Wait. And then when we do this, literally, you're in a different state. You're not in the same moment anymore so you're not going to respond the same way you were when you're triggered. And if you can just have that discipline to just do that, literally, hold your breath, you're going to see different results in your relationship when you're trying to navigate the ins and outs of tension.
Hal Elrod: Now, I'm curious. The way you just described it, do you actually do it that way where one of you whoever thinks of it will actually go, “Hey, it's time for us to hold our breath?” Or does one of you just in the middle of saying, “F you,” and start holding your breath?
Mathew Micheletti: I would say what it usually sounds like is, "Hold on. We need to reset.”
Ashley Cottrell: Yeah.
Mathew Micheletti: And so, when we're noticing the energy is spiraling into a really ego-triggered place, we'll just say, "Hold on, hold on. This isn't our truth like we're not in peace. So, we need to reset. We need to reset. This isn’t us. This isn’t us.” Like, we're trying to call it out because the only enemy that ever existed is within us is this ego stuff. It's this conditioning. So, in a relationship…
Ashley Cottrell: Like a timeout.
Mathew Micheletti: Yeah. It’s a timeout.
Ashley Cottrell: It’s like, hey, we're going to take our time out, and then we do this practice.
Hal Elrod: Well, yeah, I would imagine it's an anchor for reconnecting with the higher state of consciousness. Right?
Mathew Micheletti: Yes.
Hal Elrod: That's always been my request to my wife is just like, “Hey, how about love and harmony transcends any disagreement that we have? Like, let's always just go there.”
Ashley Cottrell: Exactly. Just get back to love.
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Ashley Cottrell: And think about it this way. Like, when you hold your breath, you're telling your body that like you might die. Okay? And if you were about to die, you would realize what really matters. Like, this doesn't really matter. So, when you hold your breath, you kind of have an existential crisis moment of like, "This is stupid. Like, what really matters?” So, it's like literally putting your head underwater on your own. Like, you're like, “Wake up,” like literally wake up.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. I love that. I love that. You guys mentioned earlier about, and I don't remember exactly how you said it, but essentially that a relationship can be viewed as your guru is your partner. I think it was something like that. So, how can all of us, how can we use our relationships as simulations, as you said, for self-improvement, for healing, etcetera?
Mathew Micheletti: So, the biggest thing is your partner is going to trigger you the most, right? So, this is why the premise for it is if you're already going to be in a relationship, you might as well use it to its full advantage, which is your partner is going to trigger you more than anyone else in your life because you're around them more. You also have way more attachments with them. You have love involved, you have money involved, you have maybe kids involved, you have huge life decisions involved. So, it's ripe with attachment is the point. And so, wherever there is a huge amount of attachment, that is our greatest opportunity to learn and grow spiritually because that means we have to look at something. So, when our partner triggers us, the irony is the world would say, this is our biggest thing we're always advocates of is, the world tells you just be comfortable. Well, our opinion is like that's the complete opposite of what we should do because I guess be comfortable if you don't want to grow. But if you want to grow, you have to be uncomfortable. So, if your relationship is uncomfortable, don't run away from it. Our whole thing is, okay, lean into that and find out what you're clinging to.
Because let's say my wife does something like here are some funny ones that we learned. So, like I was raised with a lot of the theme of judgment and perfectionism and stuff. So, let's say even like my wife's spilling something. This is a plenty one we observed in the beginning of our relationship. She spills something and I go into like this total shame and guilt, conniption fit, and it's like some big deal to me. And then she's just like…
Ashley Cottrell: Because when you were a kid, you were shamed for spilling.
Mathew Micheletti: Because that's how I was treated.
Ashley Cottrell: “Don’t we spill that, you idiot. What are you doing?”
Mathew Micheletti: Yeah, exactly. So, it was like this big deal. Well, here she is just like peacefully being like, “What are you freaking out about?” Like, she's just like calm about it. And I'm like going through this whole thing. So, this is like a really funny, easy example of that then brings that up to the surface of like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We got to talk about this. Why is this so making your blood boil and you're freaking out inside?” And then you start looking at the layers of like, “Well, geez, I guess, isn't everybody that way?” And then Ash goes, “Well, no, because I'm over here fine like what are you doing?” So, that's the first exposure you realize, wait, are you saying there's another way I could respond? Because usually we're so conditioned in our own response like Ashley's bringing it up. Maybe my whole life that's just how I was around a family that's how we behaved around mistakes. Well, she was around a family of when they made mistakes, it wasn't a big deal. It was just like, “Oh, are you okay? How can I help?” It was more loving. So, it's just an interesting thing. From there, it opens the door to look at something and I say, “Well, wow, do I want to keep this? Is it causing me suffering?” And then I realize it's causing me a lot of suffering. And then I start to look at, "Where else do I feel this way? Well, jeez, I judged the living heck out of myself. I never feel good enough. I feel like I'm not doing this enough.” And it's like, “Wow.” You start to unravel something.
You start to realize, oh my gosh, like we've been saying today, you unravel a theme. You realize, “Oh my gosh, this theme of judgment is infecting all these other areas of my life. And then it starts to unravel, right? And then you have your companion to kind of help walk with you through that to keep reassuring love and to keep being like, “Yeah, Mat, just so you know, that is not your truth. You are so loved.” She can help kind of pull me back into those higher themes of love and acceptance.
Ashley Cottrell: And in your life, we tend to mask more around relationships that are not our partner like coworkers and things like this. But with our partner, we kind of put our guard down and it's like kind of ironic because we can be our worst selves with our partners, right?
Hal Elrod: I know. It's so weird.
Ashley Cottrell: And so, if we really are on this mission of being our highest self, there's nobody going to show you more in your face how you are not being your highest self than in your relationship because that tends to be when our worst self will be exposed.
Mathew Micheletti: Yeah. And through like working with couples a lot, I have noticed that here's how I put it into words, hopefully, this resonates for people as I've noticed that with our relationship, the reason why we drop our guard is, especially if you've been with them for a while like marriages and things like that, like the deeper the commitment, the more you got to be aware of this. Because what happens is the ego thinks, “Hey, this person unconditionally loves me. We're married. We're committed.” So, here's what it starts to do. It rationalizes shameful and judgmental and like it's more nasty behavior because it says, “Well, you're supposed to love me no matter what.”
Ashley Cottrell: So, I don’t have to work all this with you.
Mathew Micheletti: So, it gives itself a free pass. Exactly. So, the ego gives itself a free pass because it says, “Well, you're supposed to unconditionally love me until death do us part type of thing,” or if you have a spiritual context like, “Hey, you're going to love me forever.” So, I don't have to watch myself. I can go ahead and behave however I want because you're going to love me. So, that's my theory on why we let our guard down because the ego thinks it mistakes the definition of unconditional love as no accountability. That is not true. You can act like Ash always tells me, “Yeah. You could act that way all you want but you probably just won't be with me,” and it's like a good reminder. And she'll say, "And I'll love you. I'll totally love you but I'm not going to be with you.” There’s a difference.
Hal Elrod: Accountability. I love it.
Mathew Micheletti: Exactly. So, unconditional love is like it has accountability built into it. It's like, yes, I love you but I'm also going to help hold you accountable because that is the most loving thing. Because if I just let you spin out in your negative patterns, that's not loving you. That's keeping you trapped.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And how you show up for the partner in that way, like you said, it's going to spiral. It's going to show up in other areas of your life. So, if you don't hold each other accountable to being the best version of yourself, then you're going to be miserable in your own. Oh wow. Yeah, I love the relationship. We might need to do a follow-up just on relationships. Let me ask you this question. I get this a lot with the Miracle Morning. I get, “Well, how do I get my spouse to do the Miracle Morning?” And my answer is funny but it's true. I say, "Let me know when you figure that out because as the author, I haven't figured it out.” And, yeah, I'm still working on that. I got my little night owl that I fell in love with. So, here's the question. What can we do if our partner doesn't want to do their inner work if they're not on the same page?
Ashley Cottrell: This is one we get too, yeah.
Mathew Micheletti: All the time.
Ashley Cottrell: Like, with The Inner Work, it's like when we start this path of self-development, it's like the first thing we want is to be on this journey with our partner. And sometimes that works out like if you haven't committed into a relationship yet, like you're in a good place to be like, okay, well, let me set up this like standards for the life that I want to envision, and I'm going to consciously enter a relationship where we both have that as a basis of a value system. It's like a foundation within our relationship that we have this spiritual commitment and this commitment to doing our inner work and looking at ourselves and not getting stuck in, “This is just who I am.” But sometimes we're already in a relationship and we find this path and we introduce it to our partner and they are not interested. And that kind of diverts us a little bit because instead of the attention being on our own inner work now, now we're externally focused again on our partner. And it's like our happiness is now dependent on our partner doing their inner work or being on the same path as us. So, we have to make a decision at that point that if we're going to stay in our relationship, that we are going to love our partner as they are for who they are and let go of the expectation and the resentment that that will create if we don't let it go because at that point, it's our inner work.
So, some things that we can do when our partner is not like on the same path as us is we can use it as a facilitation for our inner work to let go of our own expectations that we have on them. We can see them as a mirror. You know, what are they bringing up for me? What attachments are they bringing up for me? Am I not letting myself be happy because I think they need to be a certain way? Another thing that we can do is we can lead through example. And when we're leading through example, it's like we need to be the thing that we're projecting onto them to be. And if ever they were going to change, it's not going to be from us demonizing them or going off and preaching to them. It's going to be through them seeing us evolve and the happiness and the joy it's bringing us through just being it ourselves. And it's this conscious awareness that if we're going to stay in a partnership with somebody who isn't on the same path as us, then we are making that decision. So, at that point, we need to let go of expectation and resentment because otherwise, that's our own inner work process.
Hal Elrod: I love that. Yeah. There's nothing else that needs to be said. You said that really well. Ash, that's beautiful. Where can people get The Inner Work and where can they continue learning from you?
Mathew Micheletti: All right. Well, the best place is to head over to Amazon and they can find it there, The Inner Work. There's a couple of other ones but it should be right there. And then to be more clear, The Inner Work: An Invitation to True Freedom and Lasting Happiness. And on all socials, nice and easy, it's just The Yoga Couple. So, on TikTok, The Yoga Couple, Instagram, The Yoga Couple, Facebook. I would say that's the best.
Ashley Cottrell: Yeah. And then TheYogaCouple.com.
Mathew Micheletti: Nice and easy for you, guys.
Ashley Cottrell: If you’re like looking to go deeper into this yogic path, this yoga journey, we have a yoga teacher training program that takes you through an eight-month like deep dive of like half the people in this program are just doing this for self-development and learning to have this as a practice for themselves, The Inner Work, as a daily practice in the authentic yoga tradition of the breathwork and on all things we've been mentioning. We have a program for that. You go to TheYogaCouple.com if you want to immerse yourself into this path.
Hal Elrod: Awesome. Well, you all heard it. TheYogaCouple.com. Follow them on all social media. I read their Instagram posts on the daily, The Yoga Couple. And the book is The Inner Work: An Invitation to True Freedom and Lasting Happiness.
Ashley Cottrell: You got it.
Hal Elrod: Although it would work, I think you know you could swap it, right? Lasting freedom and true happiness, also good. Yeah. Again, I mentioned it's one of my favorite books of all time and on my second time reading it now. Big fan. So, Mat and Ash, thank you for being here today. Thanks for being with me. I really appreciate it.
Ashley Cottrell: Thank you so much. And just a last little thing is we started watching The Miracle Movie documentary last night, and we love it and we just want to highly recommend it. It's very good.
Hal Elrod: I appreciate that. Yeah. For anybody who hasn't seen the Miracle Morning Movie, the documentary, it's on Amazon Prime, it's on iTunes, it's on a Google Play Store, all of the above.
Ashley Cottrell: Love it.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Really appreciate that. Cool. Well, this will be the first conversation of more to come, your next book. I'd love to have you back when that comes out, so make sure you guys let me know.
Ashley Cottrell: Thank you.
Mathew Micheletti: Well, it’s an honor, Hal. Thank you.
Ashley Cottrell: Namaste, Hal.
Hal Elrod: Namaste. Much love to you all.
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