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.

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.