Being Truly Thankful

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The cold weather has come in and with seasons things change. It is quite normal to hang on to what was and when faced with challenging times think it is permanent; when in fact it isn’t.

I’m being gently reminded of this as we go into Thanksgiving Holidays. Besides the marketing and sales, that seems to start earlier each year, we end up being sold a bag of goods to compete, keep up and of course – be prepared. Just like the changing moments of the seasons if we can pause more, we can experience them more fully.

For me I like to remind myself “this too will pass”. I use these words to myself in every day moments as it helps me to observe when I’m tensing up, holding my breath and letting my thoughts take me on stressful journeys.

Thoughts are quite powerful. We all have them and can have thousands of thoughts and conversations within ourselves each day. The Buddha said that ‘with your thoughts you create your world’.  We end up rehearsing stories over and over that start to shape our belief of the experience with those thoughts.

Easy way to understand what I’m referring too here is practicing yoga postures. I have been postures and found myself thinking about where I wanted my heals to be in down-dog, working over and over to get into a headstand to see ‘progress’ and getting very upset when it wasn’t happening. Suddenly one day I realized that even though my thoughts weren’t on outside influences, that I was still quite distracted. My mind was still floating to the past and future of the postures. Then I started to stop and just bear witness to the pose just as it was; it allowed me to cultivate further awareness.

All this is of course is easier said than done and I have to remind myself to come to this each moment – each day. I do incorporate this thought process in yoga classes I teach. Yesterday as I taught yoga there were a few who were groaning and making statements how impossible something was. It was a flow that was moving and challenging especially for the first 45 minutes. Then we cooled that down and restored, meditated and after class so many said how refreshing and calm that was. I guess they forgot their struggles and groans. We all do this though – we have stories and start believing them vs the true experience. We sit in yoga and think about what we will tell others over dinner and at dinner we are off thinking of yoga.

More than just concentration or awareness though is taking that thought process to the next step. What I’m talking about is one of the limbs of yoga called Pratyahara or sense withdrawal. The eight limbs, that I’ve written about earlier, which are a classic form of yoga and lists steps or actions to achieve bliss. (The steps don’t have to be followed in order though.) This crucial step transitions us from the purely physical aspect of yoga and moves into mediation and then finally bliss. It is something that can’t be seen in videos or pictures. It ends up being felt and experienced from the inside.

Have you ever played the game “telephone”? You pass a message to one and they pass the message to another and it goes around till it arrives back to you. Yet the message is never the one you started with. We each have different ways of processing what we hear, sense, experience and feel.

With Thanksgiving coming soon it is easy to reflect on the past and get stressed way in advance of the upcoming event. If you grew up as I did watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving I know the message has changed for me each time I watch it. What I see now from the story is the expectations we have or put on ourselves. Yet are the material items or food really the part that is memorable? Of course not. But our thoughts can take us on this route. But don’t give up! Start by noticing it, become aware and then Pratyahara becomes easier.

Practicing Yoga Postures or not, each of us can do this and benefit from this kind of mindfulness. We could consider shifting our thought process and relationship to our views especially this holiday, and de-stress, be peaceful and slow down. For example, don’t just eat but chew, taste and experience the food. Think about all those that made the food possible, from the farmers, shippers and stores. How does the food smell? Can we take in all the senses of the moment? Become a better listener to those around us who have stories to share? Grow even more compassion to those who are hurting, hungry or alone?

If you consider trying this even for a moment you take words into action and become “Thankful”.

The Noise We Make

A long time ago I was a summertime day camp counselor for little 3 & 4 year olds. It was there that I was taught that if I communicated and said “no” or emphasized what NOT to do, chances are they would just do it. Instead they encouraged me to consider using positive suggestions of what to do instead. At the time I didn’t understand but gave it a try. It has been many years since then but I do see the value in this and how we as humans think, process and learn. Let me just disclose though right here and now that there is a time for “No” or expressing “nots” but what I’m talking about is how we can impact change with a kinder and gentler form of communication.

Today I work with others to suggest ways to change or consider something new and see that it is often better to suggest what to do than not to do. Say you are starting a diet and you are told all you can’t have. It is right there that our focus turns to what we are missing or deprived of. Yet if our focus turns to what you can have, it allows change to happen.

I was thinking of this when another “Bullying” story came out the other day. Seems to be quite popular to talk about how one was bullied and then we turn our attention towards telling the general population to stop. I know I’m not alone in the fact that all of us have experienced bullying but how many of us want to admit that we have ourselves been a bully? It doesn’t make it right but I wonder what change we expect by just pointing fingers and saying “stop”. What I believe needs to happen to create change is to grow compassion and notice positive ways to communicate instead. But first you have to be aware of your actions. Only by growing more awareness can we see the bully within each of us and change how we communicate.

The other day I had a work situation where someone did something that didn’t follow company procedures. In pointing out the wrong the management was quick to reply that our office seems to make complaints often. It made me think why that should matter and why they wanted to resort to shaming us in such a way. The injustice was still wrong and that is the fact. Sometimes though it is tough to stand up for what is right even in the face of being made to feel bad for speaking up about it.

Long before video and youtube, my Father used to work for the VA Administration and made movies, called motion pictures, that helped to train those with various training topics to those within the government. In the 70’s I was in one movie called “Feelings”. This training movie reflected two men who were responding to letters. One man just typed out his responses fast and without care to the person he was writing. Take the same situation though and the other man found that he could write disappointing news but with care for the person he was writing; ie compassion. In the short part I was in, I take the letter to my “movie Mom” and she reads it. She tells me that we aren’t approved for the benefits we had applied for. I stop and say “Isn’t that bad?” But she reads it and looks at me and says “But I feel that he is truly sorry we didn’t receive it”.

So have times really changed so much? Seems easy to point to today and say there is more bullying. Yet are there really more bullies or are we just able to express it faster and easier than before? In older times would you have thought or said something that was hurtful but it didn’t matter because it never went far? Still the same number of bullies though. Today Twitter or Facebook call the bullies “Trolls” or “Haters” and many I talk too shut down their accounts as they grow tired of the replies and hateful comments. That is their choice and I do understand the action as it is often easier sometimes to walk away. I fear though that leaving allows all the social media bullies to show that hate is normal and ok. Allowing them to continue to use ways to verbally abuse someone, threaten,  hurt or embarrass other person. The speed to reply may have become faster but I believe the method of communicating with kindness is still something that each of us can work on and improve at any age.

When we respond from our first reactions it is from fear, anger, envy, jealousy and hate. Sometimes we are overworked, tired, stressed and words just slip out. Family members, friends and even strangers fall victim to our harmful communications. I offer this message to each of us to consider ways you can communicate with compassion, even if you disagree, are tired or upset; show loving kindness to each unique person you encounter.

Just consider taking moments to pause before you hit a reply button, yell out, text or call; think of how you would feel if you received the comment. Is there another way for you to communicate your feelings without harm, name calling or stereotyping? In Yoga we refer to this action as Ahimsa or non-harming; the first limb of yoga. The next limb is “truthful” but without loosing focus on Ahimsa (non-harming). Believing that in speaking the truth in a kind compassionate way that happiness can be found.

Sure composing or communicating with thoughtfulness it is hard, tough, and takes effort but nothing worth while is easy. Be creative! Don’t wait to receive it yourself – start by offering it to others Give it a try and see what blossoms from it. Pay it forward. Jai!

Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free. - Thich Nhat Hanh
Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Why me?

Teacher Tony Robbins says we ask ourselves questions all the time and the common question is usually, “Why does this crap always happen to me?”

When I heard this over the summer I thought – exactly. We all do this. We listen to those thoughts and somehow feel we are alone or unique in them.  Yet that isn’t true. When I heard this statement I was at Kripalu and found myself surrounded by many who have similar views on health, yoga and nutrition. For this reason I find it quite helpful to find times in my life and days where I can step away from feeling so singular.

This way of thought processing happens in our every day life. Have you ever received an email and then started getting upset, composing your response but then waited before sending. Only to find yourself so glad you waited. Stopping has allowed us to take an important pause and we find that our response changes. I once read an email, prejudged, saw who it came from and read into it what I wanted to see or hear. I waited though and re-read it later and was so glad. As I put away my initial feelings, wants or desires I was able to examine the message and process it differently. I was so glad I hadn’t responded and waited.

That is how our thought process works though. Science is still figuring it out but scans of brain function under MRI’s and CAT scans shows that as we pause, meditate, process etc there is a part of the brain that grows and expands. This growth is just like a muscle and if we don’t use it we loose it. I’m simplifying the way the brain cells work but it only goes to show that we do need continued brain development. Nutrition, exercise, sleep and meditation is just starting to show how important all of it is. I only wish more people were interested in developing their brain as much as their physical body.

When I teach or even practice yoga on the mat I often instruct that Yoga is beyond the physical practice; that this is going to help brain cell development. Here in the West we are used to using our visualization more than our other senses; so we don’t develop areas such as listening, touching, smelling or tasting; only by using them in the yoga practice can we be more aware of it.

Of course I’ve seen some yoga students upset and want to blame They start to get upset because they aren’t used to to using the other senses and instead find that it is easier to get mad- at the teacher, the mat, the person next to them or the posture. The physical posture is confused often when discussing yoga. The point wasn’t to achieve something physically. The point of the physical was to show that by understanding the thought process we could go past the limits we set for ourselves. Therefore to someone who is new to yoga they see visually what is “unbelievable” but it all started with how we process our thoughts.

Yoga off the Mat goes outside the classroom and into our world as we apply this concept to life. I woke up this morning to read how a second person has been found with the Ebola virus in the US and some of the comments I read are full of anger, blame and hate. Some even go so far as to blame the government and wishing them harm. “I hope the White House gets Ebola”. (No I’m not kidding- I read it.) Going back to my earlier point though on brain function – people are reacting this way as a method of protection – avoiding air travel, taking supplements and even arguments. It seems easier to get mad. But there is a lack of mindfulness when we respond from this part of the mind.

First off I’m all for improving, changing and evolving but this again taps into a deeper part of our brain function to find solutions. We have to put aside the egotistic reaction which isn’t helpful at times like these. Part of finding solutions is to observe this and go beyond hate, anger, and fear.

Buddha’s teachings talks about Dukkha – that suffering happens. It is the founding lesson from Buddha that mankind will be held back by resisting Dukkha. Now the concept is logical and we gladly accept that we will change, grow older, die of course. Yet we spend our lives contradicting it all the time. You don’t have to agree with Buddhist ideals to understand this principal – it stems from nature – the way things happen in the universe.

Now what do we do with this idea? We don’t need to give up or assume the worst. It is from our “pain that we can appreciate our pleasure”. We don’t have to place our hopes on one person, guru, idea, political party, religion or leader.

If you know the story of The Wizard of Oz you know that Dorothy travels far in hopes that the Great Wizard will help her; he will have the solution! Only in the end she finds out the power was within her all along. Dorothy asks the Good-Witch why she didn’t just tell her in the beginning and she is told she wouldn’t have believed her. So sometimes we need to go on that journey to figure it out when we are ready to hear it.

We’ve all had those moments, sometimes repeated, where we trusted, adored, idealized and even worshiped someone or something. Only to find the illusion crushed at some later point. It feels awful and like a punishment but it is natural for us to experience this as it balances us from one area to the next phase of our life. It will go up and down. With time and mindfulness we may be able to go from one extreme to the other to find the middle – that place that see’s those as they truly are – full of wisdom and fault; good and bad; beauty and ugliness… just as we ALL are… naturally.

Compassion is understanding this message
Compassion is understanding this message

“So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges… never panic.” Martha Stewart

Recently I was talking to a young woman who had just started teaching yoga and has been meeting at different places to audition at different yoga places. She was telling me about her experience and I remember one of mine being exactly the same way almost 6 years ago. She explained that after her audition the manager spent over an hour breaking down and judging her in such detail; stated that in the end that if she wanted to work there she would have too mirror the manager in style, voice and method. This young lady left that audition questioning herself and I asked her to stop, listen and trust herself. There isn’t anything wrong with learning and taking in new things but there comes a time you have to take that , understand the root of the message, maybe motive and decide if it is right for you. I could see her face relax and she knew the answer from within. That is what happens when I pause and trust a deeper place from within that lets my authentic voice and expression come out. It is from a good and honest place for me and I’m so glad I know how too tap into it.

This reminded me of a Jivamukti Yoga workshop I attended years ago in DC. Tons of Yogi’s busy Flowing with Sun Salutations as each position was called out. One of the founders stopped us, Sharon, and suggested we move with our breath instead. Suggesting that if we did this instead of all moving together, as it was called out, we would look less like soldiers. Making each of us listen to our uniqueness from within. Finish the breath and then move. The breath can’t be faked – it is nature at work. No need to be the same because we aren’t. This way of thinking helped me refine and trust myself from then on – way beyond just yoga.

Of course I know that my personality is drawn to order and discipline. I’ve had many people in my life really disturbed by my desire to be organized and I know I’m a handful; I don’t deny it. I like to make the bed before I go on vacation. I like to keep my desk and email organized each day. I like knowing the kitchen is clean before I go to bed. I’m not suggesting I’m perfect – I let things slip of course – I’m human. Keeping things in balance though – I also can quickly identify when that need to be that way is harmful, stop and let it be. Those I work with know that I’m this way and sometimes like to be messy just to watch me twitch.

Even today I continue to see those in management positions think that if they make strict detailed standards they can feel in control. They sit in endless meetings talking about what to do, say or not do over and over. They often ask “How” a lot. “How did you do that” “How were you successful” – tell us so we can be just that way as well. All so afraid. Life is up and down – the “How” isn’t the right question – some could do the same and not have the same result. Instead the best managers have known just when to trust; first in themselves and then in those they have delegated. It is a fine balance between being the leader or a dictator.

At a very early age I wanted to be an accountant. I liked it for its logic and it has a way of pleasing the part of me that likes order. I did well with employers that didn’t come back with answers like “that is just the way we do it” or “the way it has always been done”. I admit I like to rock the boat and ask “Why” a lot. Sometimes I’m asking questions as my way to solve or think things out and I see now that it bothers people. They feel as if I’m challenging them when that is my way of processing or thinking – (so now I just tell them that straight out.)

One time I remember as a CPA, with over 10 years of experience, I was interviewing for a job. The interviewer had me there for over 3 hours and then proceeded to give me written tests – accounting, spelling, basic math. I did a few but then they started to hand me more math tests that had fractions and it seemed like it wouldn’t come to a close. I declined to go further as the interview was already longer than I was told to expect. As it turned out they were smart enough not to put all their choices into the test – and I got the job. Today as a recruiter for employment I still don’t understand the choices made by managers; especially on who receives tests and why. Do we really think personality can be completely measured in a personality test? Why hand a CPA a math test, for example. CPA license means the person passed the hardest math test ever! I think employers feel they are being fair by applying one set of rules for everyone. However a great quote I read a long time ago said “There is nothing so un-equal as the equal treatment of others” I can’t help but agree.

History teaches us this too. Anytime we have used the word “equal” to mean fair, nature comes back and slaps us in the face. I know this isn’t profound thinking but I like to remember that it isn’t just the big moments in history that we can experience this. We can grow so attached to roles or titles; in society, religion, politics and even yoga. We somehow feel it has defined us but we find ourselves stuck. In Sanskrit it is called Kleshas; states of mind such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression that will keep us right there. These will hold us back unless we can be mindful of that moment of being overwhelmed. Only then can we find truth. The truth is we are more than we often give ourselves credit for but instead respond to protect change from ever happening.

The other day Jason Werth of the Nationals was interviewed and asked what it was about their manager that he liked. He said, without hesitation, that his manager stays out of their way and lets them get their jobs done. I smiled so hard and thought exactly! Steve Jobs was known for saying things like hire great people even before the work is there for them. He knew it would come if he didn’t try to control it. So great managers in history have understood that there is a balance to things and you don’t need to micro-manage good people to mirror what you want them to be.

Of course I’ve learned so much from both the good and bad managers; learning so much of what doesn’t work sometimes is the best teacher. This has made me appreciate my amazing mentors, managers and teachers even more. I admire their love, patience, compassion and ability to let me be who I am- imperfections and all.

Walk this Way

I heard someone recently say that dogs live shorter lives because they don’t need as much time to figure things out. I like this cute saying as a way to remind us that as humans we just go about life letting ourself believe that we are the better species and sometimes justify that we are better than other groups of humans too. We tell ourselves we are so evolved and yet we aren’t as aware as we could be. Taken to other levels I find most children are so aware, less filtered and so present, that we could take from dogs, children or other parts of life, listen and learn.

 
I teach Yoga in an area known as Old Town Alexandria. This is a historical area that George Washington and others during the American Revolutionary time would visit, live and work; large area for boats to ship and doc at. Many old homes that have been turned into retail and restaurants. The sidewalks are made with brick, mostly uneven paths now, and small spaces, so tourists often come, wander and stand around. For a native trying to get somewhere it is challenging of course. I find some nights I’m walking fast, dodging the people and wanting to get to my destination.

But there are many moments I’m reminded as I watch the tourists that they are on vacation and really taking in the moment. We do that on vacations and yet I wonder why we can’t be like this more often. Then I am able to catch my anger, look around, take my time to smell the boxwood bushes and take in the sounds of music that is often played by local artists on the street corners. I pass tour groups and take a moment to listen to the history I live in and the stories being shared.

Same can be said for the entire Washington, DC area that is my home and yet I don’t get to view or experience it as many tourists do. I have to stop myself and allow myself to be a witness to this area and how wonderful it is that I get to live near some amazing parks and monuments. Just like the dog I can take in all the smells, sounds, sights, touch and even tastes in my everyday moments. Once I start doing this I find that my field of awareness expands and I start to see the distance, clouds, moon and storms that are pending long before they are here. I may start to notice just every day things and people more this way.

I use this growing awareness to my driving in DC as well. Anyone that knows this area knows that commuting here is a challenge. Last year we beat out LA as the worst place to drive. Yeah! Ok wait – that isn’t something to celebrate. Nevertheless we have to deal with the high stress in commuting and beat the stoplights or people around you so you can get to the next point even faster. Believing that only once you get to your destination can you really relax. Even if you don’t drive, those on foot, pedestrians, are also busy texting while walking out into streets totally unaware of the on-coming traffic. I always feel reminded to stop and slow down when I see an emergency vehicle behind me and I move over and stop. Yet there are those I witness as they dart ahead to get further and don’t want to pull to the side. Times like these I feel bad for that person. Always trying to get ahead in life and yet is always in a state of anger or stress. Additionally what about compassion towards those in the emergency vehicles? I’m not sure why some play this game of being more important or better than others. Why can’t we just accept differences and that being different is normal and healthy? Social, religion, political and even yoga.

Even if you don’t know yoga well, most know the Downdog pose. Many of the poses in yoga are from nature, but as humans we get caught up in what we see visually and try to force our bodies into it. We may even see a result from all the pushing and practice a specific pose till we take a selfie or video showing the world how we ‘mastered it’. Makes me laugh when I see this. What are we mastering exactly? No matter the outcome of the posture -what makes it yoga is the living breathing here and now observation; you have to see that moment as success. For tomorrow will soon be today and who knows what that will be. Just like the dog – we have to notice when we are chasing our tail round and round.

Sometimes we go about postures so unaware that there is something else happening. We lock our chest, try to push our heals to the floor and our wrists are hurting but we stay right there locked in our elbows and knees. We let our mind wander all around, discussing the pose, judging the body and getting angry at those around us. To the outside it may appear like yoga. Yet it isn’t. Life is always changing and yet we resist it. What else could be there be in the down-dog that the dog knows and understands yet we are so unaware of?

When I watch my dog Sadie do her morning movements she bends, stretches and proceeds to lick my face. Then she sits up and wags her tail. Jumps around telling me that it is another day and she is ready to go outside. Also as she ages her movement changes and she takes more breaks to rest. She will run and then as she starts walking again she gets a kind of smile on her face. Ready to get water and lay in her favorite chair. She eats when she is hungry and stops when she has had enough. She loves to meet others and can sense energy including knowing when behind a closed door there is a stranger there.

Lately I have been teaching Yin Yoga which many here in DC are still learning about. What is Yin? There are fewer postures and instead you stay in them longer – 3 to 6 minutes; a specific restorative style that helps the joint areas physically. In the practice Yin one of the item to be aware of is that although it may be a similar pose in other styles of yoga, in this style you don’t find your edge; You find a gentler place to be. That being said there are those who come, push and have to move quickly. That is fine of course but they often miss the message being offered. They punish themselves by judging, criticizing and when faced with the next posture go into it with the same ‘push it’ attitude. I had one expecting mother in prenatal yoga last night that went into a posture, butterfly, and used the bolster on her lap. She hurt her foot recently, so I was offering a bit more restorative prenatal last night for her. As I talked with her to setup this posture and reflected on the mind, she looked up, laughed and said “see right here I think I can do more; I could go further and harder.” I said “Yes, you could but that is not the point of this moment”. It is from this place of not doing, that so much can be done. Kind of the like the life lesson of childbirth. Yet we often don’t pay attention to it. I find this is one reason I like working with those who are pregnant or dealing with an injury. They are at the place in their life to consider listening more to their mind, body and spirit.

Building awareness can start on places like our yoga mat but can reach out in our daily life as well. You won’t be easily detected as doing yoga by others. You can start by observing far away and bringing it into yourself or the other way around. Can you recognize the here and now? Allow for it and investigate it just as it really is. Pause.

Sometimes though I am discovered by others as I’m practicing yoga in my daily life. I will have a smile on my face and find that my mind is right here with nothing else to do, solve or be. Sometimes strangers will ask ‘what are you so happy about?’ Be prepared for this – happiness, although it is sought out by mankind, makes many uneasy. If they aren’t ready to be happy I just tell them not to get too close – it is contagious.

Nonjudgmental awareness on mental illness (Robin Williams RIP 2014)

We lost a great actor, comedian and person this week, Robin Williams. He was always upfront and honest about his struggle with depression and in the end he chose to end his own life. News and social comments were quick to fill the air with sadness, anger and judgment; making it clear that we still have so far to go at understanding mental illness.

First off depression isn’t something you get over or heal from. You learn to live with it for the rest of your life. Here in the US there are many people on depression medications, millions, and yet I’m not writing this to go over the stats. (I don’t feel the survey’s taken are reaching the entire population so probably not accurate). Yet I feel that in today’s society we brush over it quickly with judgement. The commercials for medication are just one example; show those suffering with depression on black in white screen, looking sad and down. Then they take a pill and colors appear, they are tossing a ball, running in a field or planting in their yard with loved ones. Problem solved!

Unfortunately I do understand this all too well. I grew up in a home where both my parents were depressed and later my Mother would be diagnosed as Bi-Polar. She has and still continues to spend her life on prescriptions. I find that the word depression is a secret that we like to keep hidden from the world to see and yet each of us knows someone who is suffering from it. Of course we all suffer from bits of depression but it takes a lot just to admit that. Often the average person may manage to come out of it naturally and had a very good reason for experiencing it; major life changes and losses can take us down that path. Therefore we associate our personal experiences to that sense of reasoning to an entire population. We try to rationalize why someone would kill themselves over depression and therefore make comments like ‘selfish’ individual. Assuming that all depression is the same.

You have to stop and pause for a moment and get outside of your train of thought to understand that someone else is going through a tough journey – one you may not agree or understand. Removing yourself from the judges box, can you allow for differences and admit that maybe you don’t have all the answers?

As I grow older I admit that all I thought, believed or knew has changed. Things I was sure about I see differently; there used to be black and white but along the way there are many more grey areas. I’m not saying I surrender or give up but I don’t feel it necessary to reach conclusions. Especially as I found most of that was just trying to elevate myself by comparing myself to others beliefs, feelings, choices or thoughts; I am not better than others just because they are different.

Another common step to dealing with grief or change is that we try to rationalize and even believe that there is something “I” could have done or said that could have changed the outcome. We may even judge or punish ourselves for a long time in this way; making our blame a part of our story. Thinking that if we change something it won’t happen ever again. That feeling is very real but not true. Fact is it may have helped and then again it may not have. Can we let go of that and allow the experience to just be?

For example, can we accept that Robin Williams suicide happened, feel the sadness and accept that we will never know the depths of his choices? Can we see that he suffered from depression but he himself, as a man, was so much more than ‘mentally ill’. Would we be willing to admit that although we grew up seeing him act and perform for us, that we did not know his true self – the deeper sense and workings of his mind?

As I mentioned earlier I know about depression all too well. As a child I
was raised in an abusive alcoholic household. Later I would learn that being an alcoholic and depressed often goes hand in hand. Yet even today, I find myself talking to my Mothers doctors as her POA and finding out they are giving her daily pain medication which counters the depression medication. I’ve grown used to the blank stares and no solutions offered by both doctors and nurses. It is a constant struggle to get the medical field to understand this. When doctors prescribe medication they often just keep doing that. It is a job for them so I do understand that they too are human. Yet there is no talk of long-term plans of transition or using other tools such as therapists, talk groups, meditation, nutrition, exercise etc.

I was fortunate myself to discover at a young age tools that helped me; that is why I believe in teaching kids meditation as well as learning to describe their feelings more. I remember growing up with the fights my parents would have from a young age. There was one time when I was about 12 years old where my Mom kicked me out of the house at night and I was outside without a jacket or shoes. I was often trying to split up my parents fights, hearing horrible things and found myself in the middle. I stood in the cold wishing this would end. I had little care for how it ended and if that meant dying that was ok. I stood there holding myself in the cold – unsure of what to do. I remember I didn’t feel like crying. I just felt nothing. Then I reminded myself that this time, place and moment would pass. I stayed still, paused and started to feel everything around me. I managed to stay out for about an hour. I waited and found that the door was now unlocked and things had changed/quieted down. I snuck back into my room and tried to go to sleep. The fights continued for many more years. I recall this moment specifically and have never shared with anyone till now. I have looked back on it and wondered how I chose life vs suicide, drugs or other harmful actions as I grew up. All I can point too is that early on in life I attended talk groups and discovered meditation while learning to talk about my experiences. Being around others who could share similar situations was helpful but they also just listened.

I didn’t know it then, but I was learning more about nonjudgmental awareness; with all that was happening to me, in my home then, it didn’t mean that was all of me. The true self is so much more. Yet it is quite normal for us to rehash the same stories, hold onto that identity and keep repeating it. It took time, but I was learning that I was more than just the teen of an alcoholic. Letting go of the roles and conditioning that each of us play. It is a scary place to be because we often feel that our identity is like a warm blanket – what else could I be if I let that go? Would others accept or like me? Quite risky.

My Father also suffered from depression, as I mentioned earlier. It took me many years to see that although he had died from a heart attack, he went years with high blood pressure and we begged him to seek help. He denied it though and we watched him slowly give up on life. He just didn’t care any longer. I would tell him I loved him and he would push me away saying “no you don’t”. My actions and words didn’t save him no matter what I did. It took me years to come to the realization that blame, anger or judgement didn’t help. The day he died he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and simply said “I’m sorry”.

Sorry – such a small word with so many meanings. Areas where we are asking for unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, to be loved just as we truly are – faults and all. Allowing the person to be themselves. Therefore having deep mental depression doesn’t equate to being rich or poor; happy or sad. One could have all the riches in the world and yet be deeply depressed.

Since then many phases have happened in life. I have always felt we each experience phases or acts which have only helped me see the impertinence in life. However the mentally ill don’t observe it this way. Therefore the best solution they can find, that is helpful to themselves and others, is to just stop right there; end their life. Therefore from their way of thinking, this choice of action isn’t coming from a selfish place. I certainly don’t agree with it, but I can understand and be compassionate.

I want to finish here by saying at first I wasn’t sure about sharing my words and exposing myself to the critics out there. After careful thought, I feel it is only right to share some of my personal story and trust that my honest intension is coming from a good place. It is just my opinion and the question becomes can you allow for it? Can you look beyond it and see that within each of us is a very complex person? We may want to summarize someone as stupid, silly, selfish etc but that is often to make ourselves feel better about who we are. It exposes the hurt one must be feeling about themselves if they have to resort to name-calling.

John Lennon once said “Being honest might not get you a lot of friends, but it will always get you the right ones”. So I will trust in my intension as well as gut and hope that if my story helped anyone, then I’m happy that I shared this story.

Shanti!!

RIP Robin Williams 2014
RIP Robin Williams 2014

Important Message for You

Found myself lately hearing from so many dealing with their physical pain and issues this week.  Some come up after yoga and they want postures to stop the discomfort which I do understand.  I ask them to consider why they think it is happening and they don’t have an answer.  I heard a meditation message a while back and found myself thinking of my own message.  As I meditate more I’m able to witness the messages my body is telling me.  Therefore I found myself up early this morning to write this letter:

important-message

Dear Self,

I have been trying to send you signals that have gone unanswered so I thought I would write you this message instead.

Let me introduce myself to you. I am your symptoms. I am your pain, agitation, fatigue and exhaustion. I am your herniated disc; headache; cramps; elevated blood pressure; upset stomach; pulled muscle; bloated stomach; swollen ankles; discomfort in your forearm; heartburn or chest pain.

You may be aware of your symptoms and I know I have been your causes for concern and worry.  Still you tend to suppress, ignore or disown me; complain or dislike me. Yet I am simply here to remind you to seek out your health, wellness and best interest for a long and happy life.

You usually want me to go away fast, disappear or you end up irritated or shocked that I showed up to begin with. Because of this, you tend to suppress or medicate me, instead of recognizing or exploring me. My request is that you to see me as a messenger. I want to help guide you back to the places that you can be more loving, caring and compassionate with yourself. A place of honesty and balance.

For this reason, I may ask you to consider exploring your life; health, diet, sleep, exercise, relationships, and work. I may remind you to stop and be more generous and giving with yourself. Spend more time “un-doing” the knots, laugh more, have fun and be still more.

I hope someday you’ll come to see me as a friend. I am not the reason for your pain, discomfort or suffering. I am only pulling at your hand like a child asking you to listen to them. You are so amazing and I just wanted to remind you of the beauty that is naturally within you.

Sincerely,

Your Body

“Curving back within myself I create again and again.” ―The Bhagavad Gita

“If you do something long enough, something will happen” – as the wise words of one of my yoga/meditation teachers at Kripalu said recently. It doesn’t mean the something you wanted to happen will happen, but of course “something” will happen. By building awareness more of each moment you can be a witness to what that something is.

Case in point, I was at Kripalu again for the summer and my second training towards my 500 hour license. This time the focus was on meditation and pranayama. I knew both can have such a profound impact on emotions and change but I didn’t quite expect it to do what it did. I found myself putting my “teacher mind” aside and diving into the experience myself.

A few days into the class we were practicing a form of walking meditation. We walked for a long time around the room, down the hall and moving fast or slow. Each time we circled I kept passing a table. To many it is just a table. However it looked just like the kind of table I had in the hospital last year; legs on one side, long and open to be pushed under a bed or chair. Therefore I found myself reflecting on the past each time I passed it. Not to mention I was trying different kinds of walks and found myself remembering when I couldn’t even do this much back with my mini-stroke and therapy lessons where I was learning to walk again.

Now I know it sounds crazy to personalize the table; believe me I kept telling myself “this is silly”. However it kept coming up for days. I was completely aware that I wasn’t present each time I passed it. I found myself ready to break out and cry ,and one moment I recall I was ready to run out of the room screaming. This day though I stopped and instead of pushing it away I took a deep breath. I found with the meditation practice I was learning, that it wasn’t necessary to quickly let it go, go blank or move on. Actually I found it better to be aware of that moment even if it was a bad feeling. I would tell myself “I’m feeling sad, or angry or scared”. It was better to notice the feeling and pause in it. Then I could gently let the breath be an anchor back to the present moment.

As I was pausing to notice the feelings, it did include being aware that I was too much in the mind of the past. How can we not float from past, present to future? The scars of the past are there in the present and even here was a reminder each time I came around to this table that it was there in my face. Yet I would just gently bring it back to the walking meditation focus of counting the steps. Once we stopped though we took a seated or laying down meditation. I was in stillness but I found myself crying and allowing myself to just be sad. My breath was faster and then suddenly I found myself slowing it down. Observing this place. Using the words “I’m aware of”. I’m aware that I’m sad, I’m aware of the floor, the sounds of the birds…” This place I was at right now. It was a good place; the room was peaceful, the people are amazing and I’m so blessed that I could afford to be in this class. So was the present moment wasn’t so bad? This reminded me that I could have those feelings but being so far removed from the present moment that I wasn’t aware that the feelings may be quite real but not true.

The truth came to me and suddenly I started thinking I wonder how this table came here? A smile came upon me as I started to wonder how I got here. Would I have chosen Kripalu if I hadn’t gone thru what I did?  I don’t think I would have been on this path. Maybe the table and I met each other at this point and have our past that was in a different place, doing different things, but here we are now. The Gitta says that nothing on the path is a waste – even our failures or set-backs. Therefore maybe this was meant to be.

So many elements I hadn’t thought of all came from my meditation on this table. I started to move my thoughts away from all the table reminded me negatively and started to think about all the table did for me. I’ve felt punished by my medical situation and was taking it out on this table. Yet this table took care of feeding me, teaching me and even resting upon it while I was in the hospital. Maybe it was my guide on a new path. In this moment I was trying not to resist any longer and as strange as it sounds, I felt an urge to go up to the table and touch it. I waited till everyone had left the room and slowly walked over. Putting both my hands on it I started to cry. I know the table isn’t a living being but it was quite an amazing moment of forgiveness – to myself that I hadn’t experienced in my healing process. The table was just a symbol of this.

I am quite scared to share this story because of the judgement those may have, but I feel that it is right to just put it out there. If you find it silly just move on of course. However to those that may relate or understand I hope you find some healing in knowing that there are others who have had trauma or pain that have pushed it away but there is still so much to be released deep down inside. Meditation and growing awareness only helped.

All I can tell you is that after this moment my throat which has had a tightness on the right side for the past year unlocked. I felt it unlock and I heard the sound it made. I’ll never forget it. It was as if my body was holding physically not just mentally. I am so glad for increasing my awareness in my yoga practice with meditation and pranayama. Growth of trusting my own judgement comes from this and discovering that the answers were there all along within. We just have to take a step forward and trust it is right  for us even if others find it strange.

Jai!

**To my teachers and my teachers teachers  - I thank all of you for your lessons. Many times you don’t hear the positive or follow-up. Just know that you are in my heart along with your wise lessons.   I thank you for each moment.

The people we meet…lasting impressions

It is the summer of 2008 and I’m on a train ride to my new company headquarters for job training and orientation. It is so hot and humid here in June.  I wish didn’t have to wear a suit.  I’m already sweating at it is only 9am.   I haven’t taken the train since I was a girl and I’m not sure of the procedure so I am here early.   To early as it turns out.   I didn’t realize you can practically walk onto the train from the station which is so small and seems to be a throwback to an earlier time.  I step on and grab a seat next to the window that I want so I can watch the views go by.  I carefully remove my jacket, put my bag away, and grab my book, headphones and music.  I’m all ready to sit back for a couple hours, cool down and relax. After sitting for a bit we take off and a few minutes later arrive at the DC station stop Union Station; this is a much larger station and many start to board the train.  The seat is empty next to me but I have a feeling it is about to be taken.

With my headphones on and reading I’m hoping to avoid any distraction from anyone who may want to sit and talk the entire time.   Suddenly someone takes the seat next to me.  It is an older black gentleman. I’m awful with age but I know he is older; possibly 80’s.   We smile and I turn back to my book.  I can see out of the corner of my eye that he is wearing some kind of brown uniform.   Looks kind of like a military uniform.  He removes his hat and puts it under the seat.   At first I just stay still, hoping to avoid further eye contact.  I had plans and excited to see what happens in the next chapter of this book.

As we start to pull away from the station he starts talking to me.  I have to remove one headphone but hoping the way I did it shows him that I wasn’t listening and desire to keep it that way.  “How are you? Where are you going?”He says.  I tell him I’m off for work.  Keep it simple.  “I’m Joe and my wife back there and I have been married for almost 50 years.”   I think maybe he would want to be with her but obviously two seats weren’t available.  “Would you like me to move so you can sit together?” I say thinking that was his point of talking to me.   He responds “No it is quite alright.   She is fine – see.”  I look back and see that she is quite fine – reading her book.

“We are heading to a few schools. I often travel and visit schools to see the young kids.” He says.  “I was in World War II and I go to tell them my story”.  Ok now I’m interested.  What is this ‘story’.   “Back then in the war we were segregated as part of the US army; so I wasn’t allowed to fight, live around or eat with other races than my own.”  He said it so calmly and matter of fact; really no emotion to it.  He went on.  “I traveled and saw much of the world though.  I learned so much from it. Also I watched many of my closest friends die.”  I really stop and listen now as I can only imagine what that feels like.  I say “How do you come back from that and move-on with life?”  He smiles and responds, “That is what I’m doing at the schools.  I’m there to tell the students that you have choices and each of us can make a difference.  Sure life can be hard but they can learn from it and be anything they want to be. Our country may not be perfect but we have so many great choices available  Life is too short to walk around with all that hate and anger.”  He says with a big tooth grin.

We passed the time as I sat listening to his stories about the war, coming home, meeting his wife, having kids and growing up in DC.  He told me about raising his kids and the kind of lessons he provided them as a Father.   He has seen so much change in his lifetime and now goes to schools at his own cost to share his story.  “So many of the young kids haven’t seen or been through a war.  I don’t want the memory of what my friends died for to be lost.  I feel my destiny is to speak, pass it on and help others.”    He reaches out and pats the top of my hand as if I understand this.

I like the word ‘destiny’ as I find so many don’t listen to what is right for them.  Yes even I have had many times where I didn’t trust myself but when I return it feels right – like home.   “I too feel my destiny is to help others”  I tell him. I go on to tell him how I help others both by helping others find new jobs and by teaching yoga.  He smiles at me in such an understanding way.  “I think we were destined to meet.  Do you believe in angels?” He says.   This puts a smile on my face.  No further words are required as we understand each other.

Before I know it the hours have gone by.  His stop arrives and mine isn’t far ahead. We say good-bye and instead of feeling as if I wasted the time or missed reading my book I’m left feeling a sad loss that I won’t know him again.  He has left the train with his wife and the seat is once again empty next to me.  Yet I feel great in knowing that we shared this brief moment.  All the worries or concerns I had about my life, the new job, future, expectations all slowly melt away.  Maybe my angel needed to remind me and sent this stranger to me.   `

*****************************************************************************

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow…. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision…. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone… I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn… I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  – Maya Angelou  RIP May 2014

One size fits all – Right?

Here is a story for you. A person goes to see their doctor as they have a bad cold. The doctor prescribes a skin ointment to help them and they leave not sure how this will help the cold, but do as told. Another person comes in with a sprained wrist and the same doctor prescribes a skin ointment. Once more the patient leaves and does what they are told. The doctor must know what they are doing. A third patient comes in and is expecting a baby and the doctor prescribes a skin ointment.

 
Easy to see that this story is an exaggeration but we all go thru examples of this each day; Yes even me. Obviously we can see from this story that something is wrong with the doctor; no dismissing that. What if I told you that the patients were seeing a child’s doctor they grew up with and just continued to go to them right or wrong? We see quite clearly that going to someone that what was right in the past doesn’t mean it right today.

 

one-size-fits-all-300x223
Still many of us return to things we did when we were younger and then wonder why the result is different. There may even be cases where we saw great results so it must have worked. Right? However just like the patient with the cold, they could apply the skin ointment but the cold simply ran its course and went away; had nothing to do with the skin ointment.

 
To all those ready to respond to me and make their arguments – I’m not saying don’t trust experts.  There is a time to consider what the doctor, lawyer, home-repair person etc… is saying. You hired them for their expertise as they were educated in that area, they may have a license or years of experience in the area. Does that mean you throw-out your own judgement? Times have changed in the past 100 years alone. Gone are the days where you farmed, grew your food, built your home and went to the doctor that has seen you since birth. We move away from childhood homes and specialize in work areas. So we are left being the only ones that really know ourselves the longest. Even with medical databases I find that your history will be overlooked due to human error.

 
What to do then? I suggest to ask more “Why’s” Why am I doing this? Kids are great at asking why? Can drive you crazy because you respond and here comes a why again. You start to laugh because the kid has a point. By asking you can pause and see if the answer or response is right for you. I’ve had ladies in labor tell me that their doctor wanted to perform a C-Section. They learned to ask more “Why’s” to find out it was a scheduling issue –not that that the procedure was a medical emergency.

 
To build more awareness meditation helps. I often say that prayer is describing your wish list and meditation is listening (to what you need). I see so many go to yoga with expectations they have; things they have seen, want to be and end up hurting themselves. They may be doing the same yoga that they did in earlier years and wonder why it isn’t working for them now. The blame is placed and instead of listening to what is real, they would rather hear what they wanted. Smash Mouth has a song called “All-Star” that has a line “Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb”. We may grow up, learn a lot but still be so clueless about ourselves.

 
I like guiding yoga students with observations while they are sustaining postures. Telling them “there is nothing wrong with this place; nothing wrong with who you are right now.” The negative responses start to go drift away, take us on a meditative journey. Often the students laugh because we all do it. We are upside down in downdog and start thinking about the posture; “I wish my heals were to the floor like the person next to me.” Constantly letting the monkey mind jump around with our judgment and thoughts that often many rush out of yoga class, turn the phones on and start driving down the street screaming at traffic. Therefore the posture didn’t help beyond the ego of that moment. “Look I put my foot behind my head!“ Great but a moment later you are still a mean person. So Yoga must be more than what can be seen physically.

I love teaching prenatal and beginners in yoga. Often the student hasn’t developed bad habits in yoga and their changing bodies are forcing them to consider something new or different. Sometimes I have more experienced yogi’s consider something new. I had one who came to my Flow 1 the other day. We moved into Bridge Pose and she quickly decided to do Wheel. I have spent a lot of time training to understand the various physical and non-physical reasons that one posture is different than the other. I don’t expect the student to know this but they can feel it. I asked her to consider joining us in the next set of Bridge; because I ask them to repeat it a few times. She did and was shocked to see that what may appear to the eye as easy, was actually quite different and for her challenging. For her it was more of what she needed as she was flexible in her hips and shoulders but needed more strength back building.

 
I’m also so glad that I teach smaller groups now. I haven’t taught large groups for a while now and if you have ever taught one on one you know it is different. As a teacher your communication changes as I believe it should; about offering that person what they need. Instead I feel that yoga teachers, especially the well-known stars of yoga, become circus performers. There to entertain, demonstrate their yoga practice and ramble on about sequences or postures that they too were told to do without any other possibilities or considerations. They video and post themselves doing very advanced postures. What can’t be seen though is the deeper element of the mind. Examining the mind and choices, we can use the tool of movement to examine “Why” more. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love arm-balances. Yet there is a difference when I go into a pose to show off to others or do it with a calm moving breath and end up feeling the effects that balance has on the mental body. When we choose the latter, a place that allows us to sustain, be there, without pain or injury, it takes us to a place that often can’t be easily described but can be felt. Yes even in the well- known advanced positions. My focus as a guide to yoga is to help each person examine their choices; to do more or less. They practice it on a yoga mat and then it goes out into the world from there.

 
Last night in my prenatal class I was focusing on empowering the ladies with the right of asking “why”. I feel this way they can do this for the rest of their life; not just for labor. They of course shake their heads and agree that it makes sense. Then I had them put their blankets down and said “we will now move into headstand.” They stopped and looked at me like I was crazy. “Oh you mean you are questioning why you are about to do this?” Great! It was a joke of course but one that allowed them to question. That is human nature and history has shown us why conformity fails. We are each unique and different. Let’s celebrate it instead of punishing ourselves.

 
There are times I wish more of us could be like an expecting Mom’s body. The ladies bodies are already responding to nature; dropping, opening and letting go. They often don’t have a choice in the matter and I’m there trying to get them to stop fighting with the mind. Often too their babies kick and respond and they are forced to think beyond themselves. I only wish everyone walked around with that same focus and intention. If you can’t think about doing what is best for you, think of your body as a temple, then do it for another person. You find that you start making your choices from this place; from eating, work, sleep and exercise. This place is real and true.

Let your Yoga be what fits you right now, this moment. There is nothing wrong with it.