“Let this practice be yours, modify any poses that you need to. In fact, feel free to completely ignore anything that i say.”
I proclaimed this statement in this morning’s class and was met with one student’s surprised eyes saying,”What? Really? Ignore YOU?” I told her absolutely, this is your practice. I am a guide. I give you a template, an offering and you take what feels right and you skip or change what doesn’t. Most days, I make some sort of statement in my classes about listening to your body and doing what feels good. Today I learned that our students can be fiercely loyal. In fact, many want to impress and please the yoga teacher (I know I’ve been there!) So today I realized that just as I have to be completely clear in my instructions, guiding students in and out of poses, I must also be completely clear that the student, their self, is the real teacher. When it comes to the student’s practice; physical body, mental state of mind, energy level, I know nothing compared to what they know. So when it comes to following me, it’s optional, I am not the expert. I would also love to let my classes know that I am so pleased when I see you skip the option to “flip your dog” or practice your handstand hops. I admire you when your knees drop down for child’s pose while I am instructing warrior 2. I want to see you doing YOUR practice and then I know that you’ve connected with the real guru, the real teacher…You.
Nurture. Grow. Rebuild. These two words seem to perfectly describe my yoga practice as of lately. I’m not as interested in the fancy asana, but what serves my body (my temple) and my mind today…this moment. When we get into a routine we seem to maintain. Keep the status quo and just get by. Until something goes wrong to shake this up, and we realize the ground underneath us is not always as stable as we may like to think. Something breaks, a heart, or a bone, and we hurt and need to mend. In our own bodies this takes time; to feel broken and then whole again. As it is happening, the mending or connecting back together, the process seems slow like it’s never going to be OK again. But weeks, months, or years later when things are OK, we know for a fact we can heal and stop hurting.
Last week, I bought a bunch of flowers and as I was trimming some of the leaves and the ends to put them in the vase one flower broke off from its stem. It was alive, beautiful and vibrant with color, so I didn’t want to throw it out. Instead, I just stuck it in the middle of the bunch, to be held up, but the stem wasn’t long enough to be immersed in water. After a day or so, it began to wilt, to die. Still not wanting to throw it in the garbage, I put it in a small ball jar so the stem could reach water. Within an hour the petals became succulent with life, they lifted up, in fact the whole stem was bent and collapsed and it completely resurrected when flushed with water, its life source. This happens to us. We are bent, broken, petals wilted but with the help of our life source, breath, connection, yoga we can rise up again and become whole. The flower can accelerate the process as proof of where we will get, if it takes us more time, so be it.
This week I found myself shopping for a few additional Christmas decorations to add to my collection. As I was browsing the aisles of Home Goods, I picked up a tree-topper, stocking hooks and a few new ornaments. This should have been the end of this blog post – walk up to checkout, pay and leave – THE END. But amidst the scented candles, sparkly ornaments and snowmen figurines, I was transported into a story, created by yours truly. As I put the stocking hooks into my cart it was as if the background faded and all of a sudden there I was in my living room. My fireplace (which I’ve NEVER used!) was roaring and crackling. The smell that filled the warm air was that of pine needles from my tree and hot cocoa. I saw myself hanging up four stockings, one for myself, another one for Pablo my dog, and then a third for my mom (who actually is coming up this year for Christmas). But there was a fourth – this stocking was for the guy I am seeing (if you can call it that) but whom I’m falling hard for. It all seemed so perfect; I LOVE this scenario that I am dreaming up. I like it so much that when I finally do snap back into reality and realize it is only October, I am in Home Goods and I am single, I feel a wave of anxiety rush over me. It starts building in the pit of my stomach, that churning feeling. I’ve made myself believe that the story in my head is the way things should be. Christmas must turn out that way or I’ll be disappointed – maybe even devastated!
So we all have stories – mine tend to be more of the “It’s a Wonderful Life”/ hopeless romantic genre. Yours may be dreaming up the perfect job with a corner office and a plentiful paycheck, or seeing yourself on the beach in that bikini body you always wanted. But whatever the story, it is just that – a story. Don’t get me wrong, some daydreaming and visualization is absolutely harmless, and at times even healthy. But it is dangerous when we start to convince ourselves that this is the way things should be, and if the situation doesn’t look like our story we are failing, our life is less than enough, things are not okay. When the story sets these expectations we are conveying the message to ourselves that the present moment is not enough, we are NOT enough.
The next time you begin that, “Once upon a time….”, see if you can quiet the mind down. Take a deep breath and ground, feel your feet on the earth and check in with where you are physically. Then repeat silently to yourself – this is it, the here and now, and it is sweet and exciting to find out how it will unfold without any expectations. The story will happen on its own, our job is to stop writing it in the mind and let it happen in the moment, in real life.
I start to push into my elbows, forearms and palms then begin to inch my feet towards the top ofmy mat. I lift up one leg and start to take tiny hops, using core strength rather than momentum, and up I go into Pincha Mayurasana (forearm stand). I’ve been here before, many times with a wall, and more recently without for a breath or two. But today, I take one, two and then three breaths. Something is happening, I feel so aligned and perfectly stacked that I take breath, nine, ten and eleven. I feel as if I could hold the pose for minutes. I take myself down by choice – not falling out of the pose and my heartbeat is thumping in my chest. This inversion makes me feel strong, but more than that it makes me feel brave. Kind of like a super hero! So for eleven breaths and then the few moments after I come out of a pose, I feel on top of the world. Look at me! I balance on my forearms – look how far I’ve come! And physically I have come far in my practice. But it’s behind the physical journey that I have made big strides and huge changes. I can stack my bones and joints and balance on my hands or arms, but inside I feel aligned which makes me feel complete just as I am. The release of the pose gives me a sense of satisfaction, a rush, dare I say a high. But this high doesn’t come from a substance, a drink, a drug or a pill. This practice has aligned me to my true self where I no longer need any of that to be myself, to love, and to be happy. Here on my mat, alone in my body and soul just as it is, I am complete.
One of my favorite things to explore is perspective. The way we look at our situation defined by our prior experiences, view points projected on us by society and family, our collection of beliefs denoting how “things” should be. Life is unpredictable and full of change. This can be terrifying or it can be looked at as a great adventure. The ability to flip the light on the situation is like adding an Instagram filter. It can take something that looks ordinary or perhaps dissapointing and brightens it up – it’s not so bad anymore.
At one point, I had everything planned out. I would get married at around 23 or 24 so I could have kids at about 27. I could picture it all in my mind clear as day. Well, tomorrow I’ll turn thirty-one. I am single, have never been married and don’t have any kids. But I do have my freedom, my independence and a closer relationship to myself than I ever had before. At one time, this to me would’ve been a let down. Like I somehow got off track and was behind where I am supposed to be. But now, when I get married I will make a better wife; free of the insane jealousy that used to haunt my every thought in relationships. I will be a fantastic mother. I have grown up and learned many tough lessons along the way – but I’ve learned how to love. So I can view my situation in this way – focus on who I have become and what I will be or cry about being single and alone. You tell me what sounds more appealing? This is just one filter I can use. Another? Well being married with kids wouldn’t have allowed me the flexibilty to pursue my goals and dreams in my career, or perhaps, the right person is just around the corner and now the timing is right. Pick any filter but not the grey, crappy, negative one.
We can’t plan for life. We take what we get and the only thing we have control over is our perspective and how we accept what we are given. This is a practice – a talent of sort. Being aware of when you feel let down, less than enough, or flat out lost and then flip it – see it in a new filter. Find the bright and shiny to each situation because there is ALWAYS some light.
The car in front of me with New York plates, says INARUSH. Well, I am too. We are all in rush. So many obligations day to day; getting to work on time, picking up your kids, taking care of pets and making appointments, paying bills, grocery shopping, and cleaning the house. The list is even longer than this but you get the idea. In a such a busy world how is possible to get that much needed time to recharge your batteries? The answer: SLOW DOWN. It might sound either really obvious or impossible. Obvious because slowness and a few leisurely moments are the antidote to the stressful life that most of us lead, but impossible because you say; “How can I slow down with all this stuff to get done?”
Second part of the answer: PRIORITIZE. What is most important to you? Who is most important to you? The answer has to be YOU. If you take care of yourself first, everything else will absolutely fall into place. You will be a better parent (think: yelling at the kids when you’re exhausted and frustrated). You will be a better lover (think: I’m too tired tonight, again). You will be more efficient in the day to day tasks you need to complete. You will a better you.
Lastly, be very flexible in your definition of down-time or “me-time”. Some days it might be a 75 minute yoga class. Other days, a jog outside or a cycling class. And on the best days, it will be both plus a hot shower and a nap afterwards. But other days, the down time will be one deep breath in through your nose and out the mouth. Maybe, a two minute downward facing dog to open and make space throughout your entire body. Perhaps, turning off the car radio and having quiet time on the way to errands. But find something that allows you to clear your head, keep your sanity and re-enter the present moment. Make a list – and depending where you are and what you have time for, commit to fitting some practice of slowness each and every day.
If we are only rushing from one thing to the next, we are not present and life is passing by without any attention to the sweetness of the day. If you’re not living in each moment, and always in a rush, what is the point? Yield to you, to the little things, slow down.
Yoga: to yoke, to bring together, to connect.
I am so excited to present my new website along with launching a blog to better serve my students and friends. This practice, for me, is all about finding meaningful connections. Whether it is to our own selves and bodies or to friends/family perhaps even the community – we seek to feel included and together in this journey of life. I look forward to sharing all the things that inspire me and that I find special; everything from personal thoughts to the things I cook that keep me nourished and alive. I will also keep you updated on my day to day teachings and retreat schedule. I hope this will be a platform where I not only reach out to you with what I am passionate about, but that we can start a conversation. Send me your thoughts, questions and comments. Let’s get connected!