Quiet Time, Self Examination & Introspection

Last week I was teaching a Flow 1 class and a woman who is new to yoga came up to talk to me after class. She saw a workshop on the board called “Hoops and Meditation”. She liked the idea of trying hula hoop movement but wasn’t sure if she could meditate. I smiled and asked her what she thought she was doing lately? Unaware she was practicing meditation the past few weeks, she was able to laugh and surprise herself.

The word meditation is a broad term, much like yoga, that has different techniques designed to promote relaxation, develop awareness, compassion, patience, generosity and forgiveness. While we may understand that there are many health benefits from meditating, it is doing it that we often stop short. We will try a new sport over observing our thoughts. If I call it “quiet time; self examination or introspection” many are inclined to give it a try.

Last year I had a mini-stroke and found myself using many different meditation tools to help me in the hospital and rehab. From MRI’s, blood-work, headaches, and even physical therapy where I was learning to walk again – I used different meditation tools. They aided me in the restoration, pain management and observing moments that will pass.

The practice of meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. There are many different styles, traditions and beliefs. Often many of us know it as the internal effort to self-regulate the mind. We may have had an expectation of how we would look, feel and then we quickly get disturbed and give up. But don’t. It is right there that I suggest it is normal; tell yourself there is nothing wrong with it. Stop trying so hard, finding excuses and start over. As you keep doing it over and over you’ll see change. Notice I didn’t say improvement though. We think of improvement as an upward scale. Instead of forcing the focus on improvement start to let that go. See it right now as it is.

Additionally I have seen those who have practiced one style of meditation for years come up after class and tell me that they just can’t do anything else. I smile as they too had an expectation that they allowed to stop them. They thought that their ‘true self’ stopped right there and couldn’t see any other way. This isn’t real though. Just as in nature, we are all changing. What works today will change tomorrow. There will be days where meditation can be easy or hard. Point is to notice it, smile and stop beating yourself up. One minute of meditation is better than tossing it aside and giving up.

There are many kinds of tools that can also be used in meditation. Prayer beads, sounds (mantra), mudras, concentration, sitting, standing, laying down, walking etc; these are various styles used with meditation. These tools are there to keep track, remind or draw the person back to the focus. So much more than sleep – you are witnessing the moment and thoughts. Sometimes before settling into a meditation you are talked thru a visualization; either of the physical body or a place/scene.

In the Yoga Sutras, meditation is one of the eight steps. I’m sensitive to various prejudices against the word though so I don’t call it meditation while teaching it. Instead I like to have the person do various styles and start to witness the moment; sometimes this is done with movement and sometimes being still. Not always knowing the trauma someone may have had I like to offer various tools that may make them feel more comfortable; Eyes open or shut for example. Eyes open may seem unusual but for many just starting, it allows them to focus less on the physical body which they may need to concentrate. For those who have had a trauma shutting the eyes may be a scary place. I find open eyed meditation is a great tool that allows that person to heal themselves. Not touching or adjusting them during this process.

The perception for someone who wants to start a meditation practice is that they will wait to start – waiting till they have ‘learned it’; read up on it, get a video and learn it completely. Really the hardest part to meditation is doing it. You can’t give up on it. With practice you’ll start to witness each moment more, stop and pause. Nothing wrong with sitting in the car, bus or waiting room at doctors office and doing meditation. We all find excuses that stop us. “I’ll meditate when I have a quiet place.” Then we get there and find another excuse.

In June I head to Kripalu for my 500 hour teacher training (part 2 of 4) which is 9 days of Pranayama and Meditation. I can’t wait to spend time in this area as I find there are so many teacher trainings on asana and anatomy of the physical body. I’ll continue to share my yoga journey and what I learn as I go along. There have been some amazing responses from those that are following my blog from different parts of the world. Many who aren’t yogi’s yet they have a desire to improve their health.

I hope this helps and that you find a moment today to stop, find a point and sit still for a minute. Count your inhale and exhale. Start there, not worrying if you are doing it right. Instead ask yourself after – how do I feel? There is no right or wrong answer. It just is. Enjoy!

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Let it Be – but how?

I recently taught a Yin Yoga Workshop for 2 hours. It sounds like a long time for a yoga class but the time flew by! In designing this workshop I found that unlike other styles of yoga, this one allows the practitioner time to reach different phases of the pose that goes way beyond the body. (The physical postures are held longer; anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes.)

Many run all week long with errands, rushing around and trying to fit just one more thing into our agenda. By stopping, observing we can let go for sure. You may have heard a yoga teacher say “let go” but weren’t sure exactly how to do it. So instead you went to sleep, laid there making lists of things you’ll get at the grocery store or just got up and left.

How do we learn to let go? Lets talk about the phases I mentioned earlier. The first phase is one where we are quick to respond to the physical body; often this is a negative response. We get upset, irritated and angry as the mind yells at the physical body for doing this. Even blaming others. The mind likes to say “I would rather be anyplace else but here.” Kind of like a child having a temper tantrum. It is there we stop and focus on the breathe instead. This allows the muscles time to relax and allow the mind to calm down. (The mind isn’t just located in the brain – it is in the entire body.)

From there we may find that the panic we were experiencing wasn’t real and see ourselves loosen up, become less tense and maybe go further physically; only this time without trying so hard…less effort. This is where many styles of yoga may move on – off onto another physical position.

In the moderate flow I teach each week we hold postures longer than vinyasa styles. For those that feel a resistance to Gentle Yoga, this moderate flow finds a nice middle ground. It is here in this third phase that I suggest to let the Physical body go (Anamaya Kosha) and as they have been observing the mind body already (Manomaya Kosha) I offer that they Witness this moment. Witnessing is another step in the Koshas called Vijnanamaya. Here though I am not asking them to change or mold it to what they wanted. Instead take it for what it is. Suggesting to them that there isn’t anything wrong with right there. Enjoy this moment as you won’t have it again.  I’ll say “even if that moment is WTF”.  Laughter happen because of the truth in this moment.

Often we try to be so many things to the world. We have an image of what we want to be and work so hard at it. We fight being where we truly are and it is that struggle that may be hurting us; our afflictions become the source of our suffering. Funny though when we move on in life or in postures we look back at that time and have a different view of it. We can spend so much of that time looking back or wanting that moment to return that we can’t just be right here.

This is the truth or reality though – you can’t make it be something else. For example in yoga I like to have the practitioner do tree pose with a block – either standing on the block or placing the it on the head. Fact is there is fear that rises and the ego knows that they may embarrass themselves if they use the block- others will see that their tree isn’t perfect. The block won’t lie and “I can’t pretend to be something I want to be”. Phases of the posture can take place by witnessing it. Seeing that the fear wasn’t real. Falling – doesn’t mean you failed. Often you just get back up again and try. You learned more from that anyway.

Additionally in our busy lives we start looking for problems or keep busy to avoid being still. If someone does something, says or writes something, someone is there quickly to respond to find a problem with it. I see this even in teaching yoga. Being around other teachers where they want to study the postures, bodies and how to assist – I think many are missing the bigger question. It isn’t about that person’s body looking a certain way; even the way I intended. Instead – I ask “is that person doing something harmful?” Are they hurting themselves? If not – why modify or adjust it? Even as a yoga teacher it is possible to look and find problems in those we see.  I have to witness that and let-it go.

This is why I believe many come to yoga for a short time only to move onto another sport or activity. They become unhealthy, hurt themselves and become tired when they don’t see the results they wanted. They wanted something in themselves that may not be real and as a teacher I feel we are there to help them experience some peace with that.

Instead of resisting we can go to another phase – just being. It is that place I like to think of as “I’m ok”. You don’t feel amazing or bad. You are seeing yourself as it truly is. You just find that middle place where you are ok and don’t have to seek problems. Most importantly when faced with someone else’s comments, anger or hurtful actions, you pause and are ‘ok’. The reality of the moment reminds you of the true self; not the ego that wants to protect itself and hit back in response. This is that final phase of the Kosha’s called Anadamya or Bliss.

Bliss is an interesting word. I used to think of it as this amazing carefree happy place. I think there are clouds with harps playing in the background there (LOL). Suddenly I found myself responding to friends asking me how I was and when I thought about it, I was ‘ok’. Then I sat and thought that isn’t good enough. I would become easily obsessed again. “I should have another goal to achieve.” But I asked myself why? Can’t I just enjoy right now? Then I did. I just stopped and my mind calmed down again. Then later I started to think about bills, house improvements and retirement. I tell myself ‘stop it’. I’ve always been ok and all the worrying didn’t help at all. There are always piles of clothes, dishes, deadlines and bosses at your heals. It takes work each day and even being a yogi doesn’t mean I’m free from the struggles. It means I see it faster, identify it and let go. Now knowing the tools of how to ‘let-go’.

I believe many confuse my message – even in yoga. I’m not saying do nothing at all or never try to go further than you thought. It has to do with the effort to get there. It can happen when I let go. That letting go is mind over matter. I had to realize that I’m never crossing that finish line or celebrating that the “To-Do” list is fully checked off. Life never gets to that place – until we die! Thank God for that! We aren’t dead and very much living. That is why with life changing events many start to see that the things they thought were important weren’t. Instead we start to live each moment just as it is right here and now. The beautiful place that is very much alive and real.

Hope you find these tools helpful to letting go.

 

“I carry your heart”

“I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)” E.E. Cummings

I love these words from Cummings as Valentines Day can get lost in all the romantic commercialism.  I look at Valentines as a time of getting out of our head, busy schedules, daily activities and focus on our heart.  Here in the Anahata Chakra where we often guard and protect our feelings.

It is here in our heart that as humans, life is worth living, being.  It is for love that we hope and although there are other emotions, we focus here.

I was recently asked tips about teaching yoga to a mixed group of parents and kids.  I gave my suggestions and interesting enough in my fondest memories I remember watching a Mother take her child into her arms and just hold her, while others were in bridge posture.  This Mother saw that her little girl was bored and the Mother stopped her practice and held her daughter tight.  I remember watching this act of love and even felt I had experienced a small part of it just by watching it.  Yoga doesn’t have to be a posture.  Maybe it is holding a loved one tight and both of you breathing together.

I believe deeply in the power of touch and what it can do.  Done appropriately, it has the power to heal and let out emotions.   I recently watched the movie “Captain Phillips” and the end with Tom Hanks was amazing.  It stars a real life rescue nurse and if you study the effects of human anatomy, as I do, you see what happens when she asks him to breathe, touches his chest (heart) and then lifts one arm up above his head.  It is here that he opens up his emotions, starts to heal and come out of shock.  Yet it doesn’t surprise me.  We still have ways to go at understanding the power of breath and touch.

Additionally I have seen the power of love and touch when I take my dog, Sadie, to see my Mom in her assisted living center.  So many therapy dogs bring smiles to the faces there.  We walk down the hall with Sadie and so many faces light up and we just allow them a moment to pet her and I see how happy they are from that.  After all many there in these homes probably receive medical nurses touching them but aren’t the ones reaching out to touch others; which is why therapy animals help so much.

Additionally to kind love, we carry those that have hurt us in our hearts too.  We talk about being stabbed in the back but that is really the effect of descibing the heart.  Often times we can go a long time, locking up our feelings and storing them, not even aware that we are carrying that baggage with us.

Love sometimes means having enough love for yourself to step away from those that are hurting you. This may mean those that society dictates you should always honor; family, mentors, teachers.  It certainly won’t be easy following your own path, but you don’t have to delete them from your thoughts forever.  You carry them in your heart.  I think about those who hurt me and offer them my forgiveness for not knowing better, for not thinking that there was another way and I hope that they find peace.  I learned so much from their lessons, although they hurt, that I thank them from afar for this development in who I am today.

Therefore instead of spending this day wishing you had a romantic love or telling people “Happy Valentines Day”, consider with honoring yourself.  Take your hand to your own heart and close your eyes.  Take a deep breath in and out.  Start by witnessing the pauses between the inhale and exhale.  After a few minutes slowly open your eyes.  Now to the first person you see, ask them what they did today that made them feel appreciated.  Love them by listening to their story; not offering a quick response, joke or comment.  Just listen.

 

Peace.

The World is like a Chakra Mountain for me

Here I am standing at the base of a mountain staring at the top. It looks so very long and far from down here.  To be honest, I never thought I would be here at the base and yet here I stand.  I have fought, kicked, stomped and resisted coming down the mountain.  I spent a long time to get where I was; lots of costs, investments, sacrifices to get up the mountain. Even with all that, this is where I’m at?  Are you kidding me?

Ok so be it, I dust myself off and put one foot forward, then the next.  Wow that is different.  Each step reminds me that I may have to reconsider going up the mountain differently.  Now what?  Wide walking stances I go at it slower.  No rush.  No hurry.

I can hear the water flowing at a nearby creek so I stop to sit and think about my approach.   I never noticed this creek before though.  I clean off and stock up on water for my trail.  There are others just hanging out there and we talk for a while.  With an approach in mind, I stand up, say my good-byes and start forward. There are those who would disapprove of my approach but something inside me says this is just right for me.  Some want me to just hang out at the creek.  Yet I know I have to move on.

The wind and cold start to pick up by mid-day.  Oh no – not so soon I tell myself.  I just started.  Fear comes in – will I make it or find myself stuck?  Will others judge me, be happy I fell and say “I told you so.”  I stop and take a deep breath. Standing still, I start to see many going past me on the trail and others who are being taken back down.  I can’t help but want to be like the ones moving up the mountain; so fast and strong. I remember being that person.  I can’t help but also watch those going down; oh so glad that isn’t me right now.  One step forward – just do that much – is what I tell myself. So I start again.

By nightfall I find that there is a meeting place for dinner.  There are those who want to hear about my journey so I sit at a table to share with them.  It is clear that some don’t want to hear the story, so they quickly get up and leave the dining table.   Something in them though looks annoyed and upset.  “I’m sorry” is what I think.  I didn’t mean to bother anyone else. By morning it is my journey all by myself up the mountain.  How do I want to go about making my trip today? I never thought much about how I wanted to go about the trail before; I just did as I was told.  This is a new experience.  You mean I have options?  I start lifting my head and observe the sun shining thru the trees, watch the birds fly and smell the fresh air.   I start greeting those passing me, wishing them a great morning, waving and smiling.    Who cares if they think I’m strange – I like who this person from the inside.  It is a wonderful peaceful feeling.

Along my walk, I stop and take out a compact that has a mirror.  I haven’t seen myself in a while so it surprises me.  Who is this person looking back at me?  I look different than the image I had in my head.  Which is true? The mirror or my mind?   I see all the differences, changes and bad points. I wonder if I could ever look at myself and be happy again.  “Not now” I tell myself.  Just move forward.

By late afternoon a storm comes in and I try to push on as if the storm doesn’t exist.  The rain is  coming in so hard and the earth turns to mud. I slip and start falling down the mountain.  I cry, grip and hold on as hard as I can.  I scream: “I don’t want to go down the hill.  I don’t want to fail!”   Just that moment someone hears me and runs over to offer me shelter.  After helping me to this safe, dry place, she suggests that we just wait; pause.  While sitting I learn from her that she heard my story over dinner the other night, but had left the table to avoid talking to me.  She shares that she too fell down the mountain – many times she says, and didn’t want to be reminded of the feelings; yet she shared with me now and that meant so much to me.  We exchange stories, fears, cry and laugh together.  She says that we both will be fine and yet I know she can’t guarantee that; no matter how much I wish she could.  Once the rain starts to slow down we help each other to get up.  Standing firm, we start walking together up the mountain.

We traveled on the trail together for a while.  Enjoying each other’s company and pace.  However soon we reach a place that she wants to stay at, so I hug good-bye and start to move on.   Something is leading me and I don’t know what it is.  As I start on my own again, I look over from the trail and see a path off to the right that I never noticed before.  It doesn’t look like a direct route, yet an inner force is telling me to give it a try. It is less steep and has a wider trail, so I think I’ll give it a go.

It definitely takes longer to go this new route but I am happy I took it.  It isn’t the route others are taking but I’m no longer finding myself mentally distracted by watching or comparing others momentum.  Nothing against those who are moving faster but this moment is just what I need.  Really nice to slow down and worry less about getting somewhere.  Just be right here. Eventually the modified trail starts to join back to the main one; the one I know so well.   From here I know it is stepper and harder.  Yet I’m no longer afraid of it – I can go about it faster, slower or stop anytime I need.

Nightfall is starting and I start to see fireflies.  The sun is setting and the moon is just starting to reflect its shape.  Climbing higher I feel the altitude changing.   I remember this place and yet it seems different.  Wait – did someone make changes?  Or could it be that I am seeing more than I ever did before?  By morning I wake to see way out to the horizon.  The sunrise is allowing me to see the colors of the suns rays off the clouds I never noticed before.

Just as I’m moving up my trail, my heart starts to beat really fast.   I see a group taking someone down the mountain.  He looks hurt or injured.   I step out of the way and I see that I know him.  I know there isn’t anything I could say or do right now though.  I simply have to let him just be and hope that those helping him will help him on his path.  My way of helping him was just to get out of the way.

By late evening I find myself at a strange spot.  This was it.  This was where it happened.  This is where I had reached before I fell.  Wow – this took more time to arrive at.  Yet I’m standing here and I’m definitely not the same person.  It isn’t different or better.  It is just a place.

That is when something dawns on me.  Each step on the journey was better for me when I just experienced the moment. When I stopped focusing on looking so far ahead – where I wanted to be.   It was never about reaching the peak, place or spot.  We are all going up, down and side paths of the mountain of life.    The wisdom comes from seeing that the fear of falling doesn’t mean that you failed.  You tried – congrats you won!

If you are lucky, like I was, there are those lovely people on the trail that will help you if you ask, those that come and sit with you in silence and those that you never had to ask at all.   To all of you who came to me, especially these past 12 months, I want to thank you for helping me on my mountain trail.   Jai Bhagwan!

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next things that comes along.’  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt. 

A week away at Kripalu for me

Here as I sit in this big circle on the floor at Kripalu, so many of us sitting close enough to touch and yet we are keeping our distance.  I look out into the room to see who catches my eye.  We bow to each other and I wonder what this week of exploration will be like; this journey will be together and how we will change.    There are those I’m sure I will know more and those I may never know more than from a distance.  Very much like the ocean, our relationships take on different forms.  We experience calmness, storms, even tsunami waves.  Who gets to see that inner layer of who I really am?   When do I ask for help or realize that the answer was always there?  The key is in the door.

As the week ended, the circle closed in and we were hugging each other good-bye as we backed out and into our lives.  Our hearts filled with love, anger, sadness and fear.  Emotions mixed in together and knowing that is what makes life so amazing!  How boring it would be if it didn’t have the mix – kind of like missing an ingredient in a recipe.  You kinda need them all.

The scars we live with: My Healing Story – part 2

I just had an angiogram and they had to make an incision in the groin area to see and pump iodine up to my neck.  You forget just how much you use this muscle until it has been cut into.  Sneezing, coughing, and walking, all very hard. It had me thinking of scars though.  We all have scars in our lifetime.

Although each scar is unique, some physical and some emotional, often we try to cover up our scars.  Understandable as I hate re-explaining what happened, reliving it over and over, answering if I’m “better now” and then have that sad face look back at me.  I’m not looking for pity and I’m so much more than my scar.  Yet sometimes that is all we can see of a person.  We do it in so many areas – typecast the person who is divorced, has credit problems, is in a wheelchair, or using an oxygen tank.

Let’s face it, I’ve had a bad year physically and this includes weight gain.  I know under it all though that I’m definitely not lazy and have good eating habits.  My body reacted to the stress, less activity, change in age and it reflects physically.   I don’t come out often and tell people about what I’m going thru.  I can tell that judgment is there just based on my outside physical appearance.  I’ve been passed over for some yoga teaching positions based on this.   Society views those strong and skinny as healthy after all.

With yoga I’ve often been interested in our scars and using meditation to help relax the mind.  We often run off and can’t settle our mind.  Meditation isn’t about sitting cross-legged and looking like Buddha though. There are many forms which is great because each of us can find styles that help us; never just one method.  I used mediation a lot the other day in my procedure;  I did a mix of mindfulness and sound.   I could tell from my breath I was getting excited, stressed and anxious.  To calm down I used visualization and sound.

I have a great appreciation for the hard working people at hospitals but one nurse came in and started to give me so much information on what to expect including the feedback they have had on the pain, pinching and complaints.  I do appreciate it but it was right there I decided to just breathe.  Counted my breath first, long inhales and exhales.   As I settled down I moved on to sounds – I would just hum a tune of positive words over and over.  (“Candy Girl. You are my world’) Lastly stuck in a strange, cold room, with a machine all around me, feeling a bit scared, I focused on one staring point above me.  Eyes open I watched this one point and counted my breath; Inhale (one), Exhale (two), Inhale (three) etc.

Turned out meditation helped manage the pain and experience.  The procedure was over before I knew it and the hardest part was lying on my back flat for 6 hours.   I had to stay on my back and eat that way as well.  That was quite an experience.  Don’t choke, do eat something and lay flat.   I’ll spare you the details of trying to use the bathroom lying down.  But just know, it is quite hard.

Now days later the pain and recovery is from the muscles.  The emotional healing is taking time as well to heal from all that has happened in the past 11 months.  Last week I walked thru the halls at the hospital where I was earlier this year; found it strange that I wanted to cry.  It was here in these cold halls that I would be wheeled down to MRI rooms, going slowly over bumps, wait and wait, then wait some more.  Did all that with such pain.  I had thought so much was behind me until I walked these halls last week.  Maybe I’m still healing then.

We are often so quick to cover up our scars, make others feel comfortable.  I know I did.  Let’s cover that up and act like nothing happened.  I’m fine. That is what others want to hear right?  Then comes the comments from others like “If anyone can kick this you can” or “You can win this war”.  Don’t get me wrong I do understand the comments and always appreciate those that care enough to follow up.  But let’s face it, the comment is there to help them – not me.  The person in the midst of any pain, health crisis, trauma etc feels alone.  This is their experience and sometimes it just happens as a part of life.  There don’t have to be reasons why.  Sure there are things that may help ease but then again it may not.  I often used to say control is an illusion.  Not that I’m giving up but let’s face it, I’m certainly not in control, don’t have all the answers and as we often say in yoga, I have to – let go.

It is hard enough keeping track of my medical history, prescriptions, dosage and records.  Not to mention various passwords I have in my life. (Topic for a different article though).    I see areas in medical practices where so many are running around, aren’t eating healthy, over-working long 12 hour days and with all the data to track on each person something is missed.   Therefore you have to be your best advocate.    Know yourself.

I saw my family doctor the other day.  She and I were talking about the fact that so few have a family doctor who knows them anymore.  This doctor would have seen you healthy, knows what is normal for you.   I was explaining to her that I see her even though her location is not as convenient as others.  She knows my background, that my temperature runs a bit below normal, so 99.1 definitely makes me feel quite warm and that I prefer to do without prescriptions as much as possible.  This doctor would know what is common or unusual for you.

I see the same with yoga though.  So many jump from yoga class to yoga class – moving around to places for the best financial deals, locations and time slots.   Never a concern for the quality instruction they are receiving.  Furthermore I know from a student/ teacher prospective that the more you see the same person, even for a bit, the more you learn about yourself thru them.

Every class I teach I see those with various injuries.  Each time I’m hoping they will return again as I know it would only help them and me to work with  them.   Yoga was never about the position they wanted to get into.  I just want them to heal and to do what they need to grow awareness.  Not worry about being  some image they want to be.  For example,  I have a young lady who has scoliosis and is also pregnant.  I know that the shape of her spine is changing during this time and what I do is offer her positions for one side of her body.  So much in yoga is taught linear, done in a line and then the same pattern repeated immediately on the other side.  What I’m trying to do is separate the comparison for her and just watch one side for a while.

It takes a lot to let the scars show and then try to love yourself just as you are.   There may be those that understand where I’m coming from and that I’m not weak for sharing it.  Instead I’ve used what happened to me to teach others; pay it forward and understand the mindset, obstacles and fears.  I’m not there to do more than listen, guide and sometimes I just have to tell them “that sucks”.  Now let’s move on with who you are right now; after all it could be worse.

Finding bliss – on our own

Today there are many movies and TV shows showing those using and abusing drugs; Breaking Bad, Weeds, Mad Men, Homeland etc.  (please note:  I love these shows).  Even in parts of the country, DC being the closest to me, are now allowing the use of medical marijuana; as if prescribed drugs makes it better or safer.

I say this as I had a student who recently told me that her boyfriend came to my class and said he had experienced the same feeling as ‘getting high’.  He said I should market it for that feeling as that is really a bigger seller than strength or flexibility.  That many today would rather come to class for this feeling anyway.

Let me just add that I grew up the child of a drug abuser but I do understand the point being made.  I’m not pushing ‘getting high’ and I do understand the need one may have want to escape.  Furthermore there are many cases for the use of drugs; cancer victims for example.   The main difference is that yoga will give this feeling only you aren’t escaping – you are learning to face situations & feelings.

Right now I know of someone who has a sibling who is dealing with a serious pain injury in his life.  He has turned to yoga as he has described the feeling in his closing yoga class as one where he blacks out – even forgets everything in the past, even the class he just completed.  He is finding that place we call ‘bliss’ – that moment.

I teach many kinds of yoga classes including prenatal yoga; knowing fully well what these two men are feeling and describing.  We laugh when we hear it but I do understand the reasons for it.  We already know that yoga helps with serious times of challenge, pain and stress.  Still we don’t see it sold or advertised to help in cases of mild or serious trauma.

As humans we have a desire to feel great and avoid pain as often as we can.  We remember that feeling but often forget what got us there and repeat it.  Yoga may seem a strange solution and yet it doesn’t just have to be yoga.  Many have this same feeling from running, swimming and sometimes from unhealthy habits as well.  The point is to build awareness to the psychological need you are having at that moment; deciding if it is real or just an impulse. “It will pass” is what I often say in classes.

The brain being the main focus – substances cause reactions to the body of course but also to the brain signals.   The receptors react with each person differently which is why the amount can vary person to person.  Most find temporary relief this way by cutting off the discomfort.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a time to resort for this solution.  I’ve never been an advocate this way; even in prenatal avoiding drugs should you need it.  However it is temporary and there are always things that happen as a result from it.  All I really want is for the individual not to react in fear and make the right choice from a different part of their brain function.

I’m not writing this article to point out the medical situations of using or not using drugs though.  I’m only pointing out the similarities and differences between using substances or using natural methods.

Although it may give similar feelings, there are differences in how we each react to pain.   I have loved sharing the quote from Marilyn Monroe this year:  “When you don’t have money, the problem is food.  When you have money, it’s sex.  When you have both it is health… then you’re frightened of death.”  This coming from someone who died of a drug overdose; yet her words point out that each of us have differences in making our decisions that we focus on.

I can’t expect someone who is poor and hungry to focus on health, eating organic or concerned with building a family.  Each of us is dealing with ways to balance in this journey thru life; this balance is in many areas – work, religion, family, money and charity.  Once we are off balance we look for way to fulfill the basic human needs.  Very much as if we are in the deep end of the pool and reaching for anything to help us.  We may find a temporary solution and still we toss ourselves back into the deep end again and again.  Drugs do this of course and yet you haven’t fixed the problem.

Yoga as an alternate solution does a lot to the body and mind; many, even medical professionals aren’t exactly sure why it works but they know it has had results.  Believe in energies or not, you are moving the energy around all the time – especially in the postures.   Some postures keep the energy locked and others let it escape.   Add in deep breath and you are increasing blood circulation that only helps the heart, brain and lungs (among others).

To feel satisfied and fulfilled simply watch your breath.  Train yourself to watch the thoughts you are having.  Watch and pause.  It isn’t beating yourself up for the thoughts and feelings you are having.  When we do this act of pausing, over and over, we notice the negative feelings come up first.  Stop, wait and smile.  You aren’t alone in what I call the “WTF” moment.  That is when you find out it wasn’t real.  See that you reacted.  Often in classes the words letting go I feel are used all too early.  Letting go is last after this step but first you have to be aware that you are doing it.

Many I see come to yoga for different reasons.  What can’t be seen though is the mind.  It is with this that new and sometimes better choices are made.  That is what goes off the mat, outside the classroom, to areas in life from work, family and food.  It is a result but not the expectation.  In truth you return to what we call ‘the true self’; sounds cheesy I know.  But this again is about you finding your natural way of being well… you.  Not the you were, wanted to be or someone’s version of you.   Is different and unique for each of us.  If we stop and listen we may find it.  I see those in my recruiting world in the same situations.  They lose a job and quickly just want the replacement; even if it was unhealthy.  They have a way of life they believe needs to be maintained and they can’t think of letting go.  However it isn’t real.   I too lost my job unexpectedly and know the shocked feeling; very similar to loss of a loved one.  You lose your breath.   Stop, pause and don’t panic is what I often suggest.

This doesn’t mean that yoga will be the cure all solution though.  Many get addicted to yoga just as much.  They often changed one addiction for the other.  They are busy on postures over and over and some saw the results from this so they stay with it.   For others it may take time but they usually end up injured.   Listening to yourself (or the universe as I believe) takes practice.

Yoga is not perfection it is a practice.  I follow the Yoga Sutras which is a very old text of yoga.  The 8 limbs is mentioned in the string (text).  The limbs though aren’t meant to be applied in order.  They are always at practice, building and changing.  This feeling of “high” is what is Samadhi; the last limb.    It is a higher state that contains the larger view of the consciousness, where dualities melt away and oneness exists.

Some may find Samdhi for a moment or not at all.   For those that want to explore this 8th limb more  - make the prayayama (breath control) the focus vs the postures or asana.  Asana is the result not the solution or expectation after all.

So as far as marketing is concerned:  Hope to see you on the mat sometime soon where I’ll be teaching those the art of getting high on their own.    (LOL)

My Journey as a Prenatal Teacher

I studied with a very experienced prenatal yoga teacher Indra Mohan recently.  She learned from Krishnamacharya during the later part of his life, although many don’t know her name here in the West.  Was quite amazing to sit and talk in a small room of women who teach prenatal yoga in the DC area.  What I liked was you could she is proud to be a woman and isn’t trying to offer yoga based on a specific style.  Instead she teaches from a place of what is right for that student or individual.  I know this can be hard as here in the West we have very large classrooms.  She does more one on one; and part of the reason I prefer smaller prenatal groups of 10 or less myself.  Indra talked about certain postures and breath being done; many that don’t help women at all.  Actually some can cause harm to women and even miscarriages.   Much can be taught in the name of yoga that isn’t helping the function or body type.

She discussed a lot of the positions she suggests for prenatal.  What I liked was taking a step back and examining the health reasons to do the posture.  Instead of doing what is ‘classical’ based on a specific style, we examined what helped women who are pregnant.  For a long time yoga wasn’t taught to women, muchless those who were pregnant.  I saw pictures of Krishnamahcaryas wife and the yoga she did that was different than that of her children or her husband.

I say this knowing I’ve seen many come to prenatal yoga with either a yoga or an exercise practice, and they know they have to do something else.  First off, it is great when we stop trying so hard and let go.  We find we give ourselves what we need – not what we want.   Although when our body is changing it can feel very much like a form of punishment; almost as if your body has been taken over by an alien.  Also society comes in and treats you a certain way  and may think that all expecting mom’s feel beautiful, blissful or happy; yet maybe the mother doesn’t feel that way.   Maybe she feels tired, bloated and ugly.   Hard to let go of what society has told one to feel and yoga will give you a moment to just be as you are now; not one or the other.  I believe this helps after the birth just as much.  All so hard when you find the attention going towards the baby and if it is directed towards the mom, it is to have a stranger rub the belly or give you a special parking spot.    Being pregnant is not an illness and yet many treat it as a medical condition.

During this journey prenatal yoga will do far more than simply get you ready for the labor.  To be honest, nature takes care of the delivery.   Women have given birth for a long time and physically the body is preparing for this; we just have to get out of our own way.  How do we do that? Breathe.   Keep it long, cool and smooth.  Why? For one major reason – it helps the nervous system and therefore our brain function.   This way we can learn to be in situations, learn, observe, breathe and pause.  Our mental choices may be different than we originally thought.  After all those first reactions often want to take over and we panic.  So prenatal yoga allows you to do postures that are healthy for you and learn how to use them as a tool with the breath.  Physical posture/body is a tool – quite different from having an expectation of what we thought we would look like and making it fit that.

There are many postures the expecting mom’s may like or be able to do, however I ask them to consider why they are doing it.  Again is it healthy or best for them?  How do we know?  How do you feel on the inside? How is the breath?  There are many postures one may be drawn too; however it may not help the function of your body.  For example some may like reclining bound angle pose (Supta baddha Konasana) even with the bolster at a 45 degree angle.  However how is this helping their low back or tailbone?  They may be drawn to it because they are used to the collapsing shape in their low-back from their lifestyle.  Instead sitting up in Baddha Konsana may be a healthier option; lifting out of the low back.

Today, there are so many birthing options, books, internet sites and the problem can be information overload.  This can leave an expecting mom unsure of which direction to take and finding time to be ready.  I see those with ‘birthing plans’ and although it is good to have an idea, I really want them to deal with now and deal with the labor when it comes.  Creating awareness is not easy and many find themselves in labor yet not aware; we are used to pushing thru discomfort.  Instead I want them to work on removing the judgment, disappointment, failure and make the best choice in the posture right then; watch the breath and decide from there if that means going further or doing less.  Surprise yourself in either choice.  Learning to let go of the fear.

Being in a Prenatal Yoga class allows the expecting moms to be around other moms; you just don’t get this in a video.    The stories each of them share are amazing.  I had one who shared that she found it useful to use the image of a Mother Cat giving birth and the face and expression of that cat was one she used first in class and then in labor.  She found herself taking from nature and applying it.

I’ve seen so many different body types and equally many different delivery stories.  Some have truly amazed me that they were able to pick a repeating positive word, sound or focus and this made them calm in the midst of a crazy situation.

Many come to prenatal because a friend, doctor, mid-wife, spouse referred them.  They were told it will help them in labor, create strong legs or help them breathe.  It does this of course, but yoga does so much more than many are aware of.   For this reason many come even after a long day or week because they know that prenatal yoga is allowing them sleep well, feel great and just be nicer to those around them.

 Smile from the inside and it will be seen. 

“The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.”

Being or finding happiness is an inside job.  This means it is a lot of work and my responsibility.   Lately I’ve been asking those around me to play a game.  Smile at a stranger, hold the door for someone who is carrying items, call someone you haven’t talked to in a while.  Ready? Go!    Be nice, think nice and act nice.  

 

We will work on looking great in an outfit, work-out to get a great six pack or get surgery to look great on the outside.  How are you on the inside though?  Abraham Lincoln said you have to make up your mind to be happy.  It starts with just deciding to be so.  No reason necessary.  

 

If you thought that was hard work, it is even harder to be happy for another.   Envy is an emotion, along with fear or anger, that often rise up first.   You know what I’m talking about.  That person just cut you off, got a promotion over you, or took the last cupcake at the bakery.  We justify it and get mad at everyone else around us.  “They are stupid”  or “Such an idiot”. 

 

If only the world did what you wanted… then all would be well. Right?  Yet where is that place?  Does it really exist?   Where was this place where everyone did what you wanted, had your beliefs and said “you know you were right all along.”  Not only does that not happen but we often end up moving onto another event and finding that next struggle or disappointment.  Maybe because it is like a warm blanket of comfort to feel this way.  

 

Each of us knows at least one person who is upset all the time. Almost afraid to ask them how they are because it is never good news. I don’t have a desire to control them or help them though.  All I can do is to choose to be around happy places, people and things.  However secretly I laugh as I don’t go out of my way to make that person unhappy but as it happens I often just reflect that somehow I disappointed them again.  Almost like a ticker – check.  Done it again.  

 

In recruiting we see this a lot as we meet those who constantly want to pass the buck. It is never them.  Someone has let them down to their lists of expectations.  My colleague likes to tell me she is ‘managing the disappointment of others.’  Sometimes it can feel that way.  One letdown and then another.  Even when I get people ready for interviews I’ll ask them ‘so when you are in an interview and asked why you are looking – what do you say?’  They go on and on about what they want, why it is great for them.  I wait for them to even mention if they have or are what the other person may want or need. 

 

Being happy can have an interesting impact around you.  I love smiling and watching strangers smile back.  However there are those that don’t like that you are happy; yes even those yogi’s.  Maybe they can’t trust it or just be happy for the other person right then, that moment.   I have a co-worker with an amazing laugh and I know of those who would get upset at it.  She could care less but it is interesting that someone else’s happiness bothers others.

 

In yoga I love teaching about the emotion of envy.  In positions or posture we are often caught comparing ourselves.  We are quick to wonder if it is right, correct or compare.   If someone next to us is able to do something the other can’t, what is the first emotion?  If the person next too you is smaller or larger, how quick are we to determine their character.  Do we wish that they would fall or fail somehow to make us feel better?  Most laugh when I suggest this but we don’t want to admit we think it.  How many of us watch a TV show just to get this feeling? I hear many say they watch to see that they aren’t so bad after all. 

 

Off the mat I see it a lot.  Even today I see cases of rape or sexual assault going on in the press.  We are quick to take the victim and make her a slut or somehow deserving of it.  Did she walk home in the dark, drink alcohol or trust her attacker – maybe she liked the person and “wanted this”.  All items that may have occurred but did she ever deserve to be attacked?  No she didn’t.   

 

I remember when my Father past away, 25 years ago today actually. It was an unexpected heart-attack. My family were all in a state of shock to say the least.  I remember going to the pharmacy that night to get my Mother a prescription to calm her.  I don’t remember much about the event being in that state.  What I do remember was getting to the back pharmacy counter at the same time as another customer who just wanted to check out as the line was shorter than upfront in the store.   I just wanted to get the prescription. The clerk saw us and told me to wait while she checked the person out.  My friend stepped up and said “please let her go ahead as she just lost her Father”.  Each person, clerk to the customer, offered compassion immediately and yet the circumstances weren’t any different than a moment before.  Why can’t we all assume that the person around us may be someone who needs our support and less judgement?  We use excuses such as time for our behavior but how much time are we really saving?  What if we lived as if we all knew each other and that our lifespan gave each of us only one more day to live? Would you behave differently?   We all see this in our community every now and then in times of tragedy.  We all pull together and help.  So why not work each day to stay that way?

 

Something to think about the next time someone cuts you off.  Maybe there is a very good reason.  That colleague got a promotion you wanted. Ok.  Now can you be happy for them? Just as you would want them to be happy for you?  As to that last cupcake – well maybe it was just meant to be.  Maybe you try something else and discover how great that was.  Maybe it was meant to happen and you were never in control. Just along for the ride.  

 

As to those who may be suspicious of my smile & happiness I just offer them not to get too close.  It is contagious.

 

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Open Skate!

The mind is interesting.  Some remember details and others can’t tap into them at all.  Memory is quite interesting.  My earliest memory goes back to 4 years old.  I was sitting out on the front steps of our apartment. I remember others being there and my Father coming up with a bag.  He asked me if I could guess what was in it and I said “Roller Skates!”

 

I was correct.   It was the 70’s and skating was big.  I have a picture I love of my sister and myself and although you can’t see it, we were on those first skates trying to embrace and not fall.  We would get skating clothes and shirts that said “Kids that skate need love too!”.

 

We were a ‘skating family’.   We moved from those training wheels to making our own skates with faster ball wheels made for outside along with stylist tennis shoes.  I started out skating outside,often following my Father to work or on Sundays we would skate up to Giffords in Silver Spring for fun.   My Father used to take the metro to his office and get off may stops away and skate the rest.  There he would be in his suit and skating to and from work.  He was in a few Washington Post articles talking about this “skater” to work.  Seems odd now that this was unusual considering today many use different equipment to get to work, but it was unique then.

 

I eventually moved from skating outside to the roller rink.  My Dad hated the rink; just one big circle he felt and would rather be outside.  Yet he would take us on Thursday nights to Congressional Rink – now a big strip mall in Rockville.  I can still see and smell the rink.  It was an old time rink with black bars, lots of overhead lights and a record booth to play songs.  On the old wooden floor were patterns if you were learning practicing formal styles; such as a figure 8 on the floor – point was to push off on one foot hold and then as it changed you went to the other.  Some learned to do this with couples and it looked like a waltz.

 

Eventually moving into the 80’s and turning into a young woman, I needed something much more up to date.  I discovered ‘Wheel-A-While’ which had cool rock & disco music, smoother wooden floor, colorful disco lights, seats covered in carpet, no metal bars and if you weren’t skating tons of video games to play.  If you were lucky, some cute unknown boy would ask you to couples skate.

 

Funny thing with the memory I can’t remember when I stopped skating.  I remember getting ready to go to the rink with my girlfriends in high school.  Before we went we had to get ready.  There with Brian Adams songs we would take our jeans and make them even tighter around the ankle.  There we were cutting up our expensive $30 jeans and sliding them on just like a pair of tights.  That was the style to have them tapered it the ankle and then ware a big over-sized shirt with shoulder pads.  One big V shape – oh so stylish then!

 

My last pair of skates I made I wanted to revert to the traditional white boot and indoor hard wheels.   I still have them and I remember going back to the rink in my late 20’s and seeing that I could still do it!

 

Now in my 40’s I feel like it was just yesterday.  I saw some girls just the other day using  their rollerblades and it took me back to the day I was learning to balance.  I started with my skates balancing on the grass; allowing myself to feel it within.  Even when I was in the hospital earlier this year and I had to start over walking, balancing and I used the wall, chairs and floor to help me.  The Therapist observed that within a few baby steps my mind was connecting to the body.  There trying to balance on my feet or knees all over again.   I knew immediately it was better to go about it this way than try again and again with failure.  I had to calm down, feel it and observe.  Arm balances, something I have always enjoyed is still tough but it is coming back.

 

Thinking of it now though, maybe my mind was also taping into a memory I didn’t know about at all… tapping into that same feeling at 4 years old of balancing on skates.  You are never too old to learn or re-learn!

Yoga being very popular right now will change I’m sure over the next few years.  Just as skating was big in the 70′s and early 80′s it moved on, got smaller and transformed to rollerblades.    Yet it had been around a long time before.  Yoga has as well yet many are treating it as pure exercise so it is very much a big trend.  As our human nature we don’t balance things, even those good things for us we tend to overdo;.  food, songs , clothes and even yoga poses.   Soon I suspect there will be a yoga studio across from a yoga studio… just like Starbucks.

Yoga is always changing and I believe that if you don’t worry about the external changes, you’ll be fine.  Indra Mohan who I met last month has been practicing a long time.  Today she does more one on one classes.  It takes discipline to stay with what you believe in and even with society all around you reacting in fear, you keep it simple and stand still.  Balance.