This past week, I introduced some dynamic new flows into our yoga practice before bringing ourselves into stillness. How did you feel? What thoughts popped into your head? What did you learn about yourself? Practicing with another teacher (Julia Midland) in this way earlier in the week was a revelation to me, so as I do with all of my meaningful self discoveries, I offer it forward to you.
What did I learn? My judgmental side, the one I thought I had “kicked to the curb,” is in fact, quite alive and kicking back. Yikes!
As soon as we started the unfamiliar flows — with 25 or more other yoga teachers in the Zoom room — my insecurities started to rise up. “I can’t do these flows! I look ridiculous! The other teachers here must be wondering how I was allowed in the room!”
Ever felt like that? (Choose your own context.) Everything I “preach” about pausing and letting go was completely inaccessible to me in that moment.
So I stopped. I just stopped. I took a few deep breaths in tadasana, and re-centered and re-grounded myself. I honored the truth of my insecurity and I listened to my inner wisdom. Brené Brown was there telling me, “vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.” And Aaron Neville was there telling me, “everybody plays the fool sometimes.” (So lighten up!)
Then I started again.
This time, I followed my own advice and let go of the judgement. I didn’t worry about the quality of my movement (except for being safe!) and I just started flowing with her and the 25 other yogis who I was now able to see in myself. Sometimes I accessed the flow, and sometimes I didn’t. I didn’t care. When she said “see how big you can be,” I reached and reached, and I toppled over, giggling. I have no idea if anyone was paying any attention to me because I went into my own little self-indulgent and meditative world. And boy did I have a good time!
Then we paused again. And my confusion became even more clear.
I was reminded once again that we practice because it’s unlikely that any of us, in any single lifetime, will ever completely rid ourselves of our demons and achieve total enlightenment. And we can never know when and where these gremlins will show up. But they will come, and when they do, we have a choice each and every time as to how we will welcome them. Will we look at them (ourselves!) and say, “Ugh, not you again?! I thought I banished you!” Or will we look at them (ourselves!) and say, “Oh! It’s you. You’re the one who reminds me that my pain is my purpose. My mess is my messenger. My greatest strengths wouldn’t exist without you, my greatest weakness. What do you need right now to feel grounded and whole? How about we start with a couple of deep breaths.”
Perhaps more importantly though, was the gremlin that didn’t show up (at least not this time!). That’s the one that might have had me closing the computer and quitting the class because it either, “wasn’t my kind of yoga” or worse, “she wasn’t my kind of teacher.” You know this gremlin. It’s EVERYWHERE these days. It’s the one that says, “you should…”. The one that closes our mind to others' perspectives and points of view. The one that becomes defensive or discouraged at any hint of a disagreement. The one that puts more weight on others’ actions (or inactions) instead of focusing on our own. The one that makes any challenge more about the messenger than the message. It was the release of this gremlin that created the space for me to take myself out of my comfort zone, risk making mistakes or looking silly, learn something new, really enjoy the class, and expand what I have to offer to you!
In yoga philosophy, we call this gremlin the asmita avidya, which is Sanskrit for our ego getting in the way of our ability to see things as they truly are. I can’t be sure it won’t be back, but now that I have truly experienced the joy of dropping my defenses and giving that particular demon a break, I’ll be better prepared to choose the right action next time.
So I invite you to listen to your demons. Welcome the ones who serve you, and release the ones who don’t. Because the one thing Aaron Neville didn’t get right in the song, is that when we can drop the ego and find the self-compassion to be vulnerable and imperfect, we actually can guarantee “that the one you love is gonna’ love you.”
Where does the space between the breath take you?
It’s been quite awhile since I blogged –– 16 months actually. I stopped when a friend and long-time yoga practitioner told me that she found my blogs to be “cute.”
I was devastated. To me, “cute” is associated with babies and bunnies and puppies. Suddenly, the meaningful self-discoveries I shared in the interest of helping others along their own path to samadhi (enlightenment) seemed infantile, sophomoric and silly. In other words, it shut me up in a hurry. Of course, I have no idea what she meant when she said it was “cute” because I didn’t ask. (More on that later.) Instead, I went to a place that I know well. The place where I tell myself I’m not good enough.
Do you know that place? Well, I don’t know about you, but I have become pretty tired of going there!
I knew in my head that I was supposed to find acceptance within myself, not others, but I just couldn’t completely internalize it. I “doubled-down” on my meditation practice. I chanted mantras. I practiced self-compassion and self-care. But nothing really moved the proverbial needle until I started doing shadow work.
The pain and suffering we see in the world around us are often mirrored by our internal pain and suffering. Shadow work invites us to shine a light on the parts of ourselves that we push away or hide from, and to embrace those parts of ourselves as a necessary aspect of being a whole person. Often the work is done with an experienced counselor or psychotherapist, and may also be done on one’s own or in conjunction with our yoga practice.
How does yoga help? Because we are spirits having a human experience, our bodies are how we interact with the world around us. What we experience with our bodies doesn’t lie, but our minds can make up all kinds of stories about the experience that may or may not be at all accurate! When we begin to master our understanding of our own bodies, we can begin to identify subtle changes that occur when our mind starts doing its work to make sense of the physical experience. We learn to trust those “gut feelings,” our intuition. This awareness then invites us to examine the roots of our avidyā (incorrect comprehension), and ultimately helps us to free ourselves from the negative grip that it has on us. This form of svadhyaya (self-study) can also uncover our hidden strengths!
Welcoming my shadow back into my life has given me a much deeper understanding of my strengths and my dharma, and an ability to be more open, honest and forgiving of my weaknesses. In other words, I finally understand what it means to have self-compassion! More importantly, by cultivating this self-compassion, I find it to be much easier to extend that compassion to others.
So why does this have me blogging again? And what does it have to do with an aversion to being received as “cute?” Overcoming some of my avidya has helped me to find my voice again. By welcoming my shadow back into my life, I no longer feel the need to run and hide when I receive feedback that conflicts with my ego’s perception. Instead, I can speak up and ask, “What?! Why?!” And listen to the response with an open heart and an open mind. In other words, it has pretty much cleared my blocked throat chakra! Maybe you’ve even noticed that I haven’t been losing my voice and clearing my throat as often in class lately?
Although we explore the foundations of shadow work in all of my adult group yoga classes, it can be most beneficial when experienced one-on-one in private. Please reach out if you would like more information.
The quote above inspired me this morning. Searching unsuccessfully for its source, it started to dawn on me -- who would want to claim such a glib utterance?
The past few weeks have been filled with distractions for me. A strong reminder of why we call yoga a practice! Some of the distractions offered a clear value -- such as canceling my personal practice to take care of a nagging car problem -- providing peace of mind and safe transportation in return. Others were energy vampires -- like following an unproductive "twitterstom" -- that wasted my time and left me feeling dejected and unproductive.
Many of the vampires, however, aren't so obvious! Until they are, and I end up berating myself (“I should have known better!”) for the wasted time and energy.
Does that ever happen to you?
Of course you know where I'm going with this. Our yoga practice can help! Writing this blog this morning, I realize that I've now written about the same topic two months in a row. So while I clearly have work to do to become more present and aware when it comes to making good choices for my energy, I'm celebrating the joy of the self-discovery that is taking me one step closer to samahdi (bliss or enlightment, the 8th limb of yoga).
At dinner the other night, my 21-year-old stepson was accidently doused with salsa by an unknowing fumble at the table next to us. A flash of protective indignation came over me as I thought about how wrong it was that he should have the salsa spill on him!
Ever done that?!
But Ben just calmly turned to his sister and asked her to wipe him off. When I commented that I was impressed at how well he was handling it, he responded,
"Yeah, well I could get mad, but that would just make me feel bad."
The obvious lesson is around learning to pause before we react, but for me, there was a deeper learning.
Ben's reaction "drove home" a conversation that Jim and I have been having around how, as highly sensitive people, we have a self-destructive habit of making each others' problems (and others' problems in general!) our own. Sometimes, as in this situation, when no problem even exists! This might be obvious to some, but for those of us who were raised in an era when young empaths were labeled over-sensitive or weak, we have a lifetime of mis-steps from which to learn and redirect our empathetic energy!
So as Ben was masterfully demonstrating the value of learning to pause before reacting, we were learning how even an emotion like empathy, given without pause, can create negative energy that offers no other power than to "just make us feel bad!"
Our new mantra? "It's only a problem if you make it a problem."
What energy will you bring to New Year? What will it give back?
With Thanksgiving approaching, I hope to successfully express to you how grateful I am to be part of such an amazing community. After almost three years in La Honda, I am still overwhelmed with emotion when I think about the amazing people who have come into my life through our yoga practice. I'm filled with gratitude for the warm and generous neighbors who have welcomed and befriended my family and me, for the children who usually teach me more than I teach them, and especially for the yogis who grace me with your continued participation in our humble clubhouse practice week after week.
You sustain me, and you inspire me every day to ask myself "what can I do next for my community?" Thank you for this incomparable gift.
I went to bed at 8 pm last night. I was exhausted from driving up north to collect our son Ben (a Chico State student), from sending out compassionate energy to those impacted by California's latest round of devastating wildfires, and from trying to sustain a hopeful outlook in the midst of never-ending hateful tweets and news reports.
At a time when many of us are feeling surrounded by negativity -- emotionally and energetically depleted -- our asana and meditation practices can be powerful ways to replenish our positive energy. Taking our yoga off the mat can be equally replenishing. Every time we extend a hand to someone in need; every time we share a smile or a laugh; every time we send out a positive thought or, if you prefer, a prayer; and every time we come together to genuinely connect with one another in a positive way, we are "doing yoga." We are replenishing our ability to remain kind and compassionate while creating much-needed positive energy for the world around us.
So whether you are participating in one of our regular yoga practices (see schedule), or you are replenishing yourself and your surroundings through love and kindness off the mat, I applaud and thank you for "doing yoga."
The past week was nuts as I tried to get my act together to get out of town on vacation. Everything was going wrong. You know that feeling, right? You're rushing to get things in order so that you can confidently walk away for ahwhile, and that's when everything decides to break down.
So there I was, cursing the skunks that decided at the last minute to attack my bees, and the chickens that found that tiny hole in the brand new run. Then I stopped, I breathed, and I "used my yoga" (as my husband Jim is always telling me).
When I did, I realized that I had been given just enough time to deal with these problems -- and get ahead of what could have been a lot worse if they had happened while I was gone. By slowing down, and breathing, I realized that this is gift of yoga : the ability to pause, and to look at every situation with a perspective of your choice.
So instead of being frustrated and annoyed, I decided to look at these challenges with gratitude. It was a lot of hard work for sure to shore things up, but now everything is falling into place. This is what happens when you "use your yoga." Your ability to pause, and to look at a situation differently, changes your whole perspective. Catching those skunks, and the escaping chickens in the act was an annoying gift! But now, the bees are protected for at least two weeks, and I'm pretty sure the chickens are safe from themselves. (I hope!).
So this month we will focus on... using your yoga! We'll focus on how taking our time -- and breathing -- in each pose translates into taking our time -- and breathing -- off of the mat.
“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down.” –– Judith Hanson-Lasatar
This month the focus for our practice is "Yogi Choice." Because no specific intention for June presented itself to me, I will invite you to choose your own (which of course you are always welcome to do anyway!).
What did present itself to me, is an idea for a new offering within each class that I am calling "Pose of the Month." What does that mean? Read on...
I love the quote above from Judith Lasatar, but at the same time, I also love exploring increasingly complex poses to see what my body can do. Maybe you do, too? The ability to touch ones toes in dandasana (staff pose), or press ones heels to the floor in downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), or <fill in the blank> for your favorite pose, is one of the most tangible rewards of our practice! So why are yoga teachers (myself included), so often telling us to back off on poses we are reaching for?
And why do we care about alignment? Because in addition to making sure we are practicing safely, without proper alignment, we lose the overall benefit of the pose.
One of the most surprising and rewarding learnings from my 200-hour yoga certification program, was how the use of props, a consistent practice, and taking the time to get comfortable in each step of a pose (you hear me call them "bust stops") accelerated not only my ability to master that pose, but it also made it much easier for me to learn new ones. Despite years of practice, when I started the program, I was certain there were some poses I would never be able to fully master because of my anatomy, bone structure, or limitations from various sports injuries, etc. I was wrong. Although there are many poses that I am still working on, some I thought I would never do now come relatively easily.
Why? Because, alignment.
All that said, trying to get our alignment perfect in every pose of every practice can feel tedious, exhausting and even defeating! So instead, starting this week, we'll focus on a single pose each month and try to get it juuuuust right.
We'll start with Triangle Pose (Trikonasana). We'll still flow through a typical vinyasa offering, but when we get to Triangle, we'll slow it down a little more and take our time to build the pose from the base up. Even if you've been practicing yoga for years, you might be surprised at how going back to the basics of a pose today, will make it stronger tomorrow.
I look forward to seeing you!
“Purity is not our attempt to make something different than it is; rather it is to be pure in our relationship with it, as it is in the moment.” Deborah Adele
I had an amazing opportunity this past week to deepen my understanding of saucha (purity, cleanliness), the first Niyama in our yogic guide to a healthy and happy life. Saucha continues to be our focus for April and the quote above from Deborah Adele's book The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice helps to explain it much better than I can.
Last week I talked about saucha in terms of giving up something that doesn't serve us, and for the past two weeks I've been practicing pushing away my fears, frustrations, bad habits, and so on, and felt nothing but the usual dissonance that I feel every time I try to change something about myself simply because someone, somewhere said, "you should."
Then on Thursday and Friday, I had the opportunity to work with Leslie Gossett. Leslie is pretty much The-Go-To-Kids-Yoga-Teacher in Silicon Valley, and she embodies everything that I dream of being as a kids yoga teacher. I was deeply humbled and became overwhelmed with self doubt. At the end of the first day, I ran to my bike -- where I always do my best thinking/meditation -- and sat/pedaled with those feelings for about an hour. I tried desparately to push the self-doubt away, telling myself, "yes I can, yes I can."
That's when I started to understand saucha. That practicing purity is not about achieving the end result of eliminating things that don't serve us, it's about the process. It's about the willingness to be present with our thoughts, feelings, mistakes, in a way that helps us to understand how even the things that we may not like about ourselves, are as much a part of who we are as the parts that we love. Pushing away the self-doubt didn't serve me at all. Sitting with it, I began to understand that the self-doubt was driving me to become a better teacher.
The symbol for saucha is the lotus flower. The lotus flower rises up through the mud and the muck to stand pure and clean atop a long stem. But without the mud and muck, there would be no lotus flower.
I look forward to seeing you in our practice this week!
Wasn’t the rain wonderful? This morning, as I look out at a brilliant blue sky peeking through passing clouds -- and sunlight shimmering on everything -- I am inspired by the cherry plum trees that are allowed to sleep all winter and reawaken so spectacularly in the near spring.
Why can’t we do that? Or can we? Is it possible that some of us have been sleep walking through our yoga practice for so long we are missing out on the chance to come into full bloom?
This week, as we continue to focus on surrender, I invite you to enjoy the challenge and wonder of approaching your yoga practice as a beginner -- or as a beginner again. To explore what each step of a pose feels like before going into the next. What are your hands doing in downward dog? What is your back foot doing in anjaneyasana (low lunge)? I call these "bus stops" and in our classes this week, we'll take time to explore how finding ease in each bus stop before going on to the next prepares us to experience the full expression of any pose.
Just like the cherry plum trees, we'll bud before we blossom.
My intent with this blog is to share the learnings and resources that have been the most helpful to me on my journey to my highest self, with the hope that you find them to be helpful, too!