Saturday, July 30, 2011

Soaking it In

I don't have much to say today besides the sun is shining, the birds are singing, I have loads of delicious juicy fruit from the farm to graze on, the kids are happy (and only fighting here and there). This is no time to be wasting away here on this computer!! So off I go to dip my toes in the pool, maybe dance in the sun, or swing on the swing. Why don't you go do the same? Oh if it is raining or cold where you are imagine the radiant sun and the cool water and do a dance all the same!     

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Time Is It?

   I find that when I am teaching yoga, quite often and suddenly, a surprising or forgotten concept will just pop into my mind. Things that were cloudy or confusing will become clear and then become words that I allow to enter the flow of my teaching. In a recent teaching session this happened, and I recalled a concept I have learned about and worked with in my own practice but never had the impulse to teach. This is the concept of psychological time versus body time.
   Psychological time happens when we are in our heads, or our stories, and usually means we are moving quickly, vacillating between past and future and rarely visiting the present moment. Psychological time is where our ego identity and our critic reign supreme. It is the place where anxiety and depression or our insanity take hold. We do need this kind of time to get through the practicalities of life too. We need to make plans for future actions and draw from past experience. The problem is that many of us live here exclusively, for the most part, and things are way out of balance. Living in psychological time also leaves us disembodied, and it is in the body where we really feel and process. The body is where emotion lives, and it is in the body where it must begin to be integrated or it just gets trapped in our loops of psychological story time.
  Body time, on the other hand, moves much more slowly and exists in the present moment. The best way to transition from psychological time to body time is to take some slow, deep breaths. Breathing reconnects us to all of the rhythms of the body, the dance of expansion and contraction, activating and releasing. It is in this time where we must do the work of processing and integrating our experiences and most importantly the difficult ones. Trauma and pain must be met here in order to be healed and transformed before the shift can happen in psychological time. Our issues are in our tissues! Our tendency to want to speed through life and live in past and future keeps us numb and allows us to avoid fully feeling most anything. This accumulates in our body over time, and eventually, will most likely make us sick. Our dis-ease becomes disease.
  The good news is there are many ways to get into body time, breathing for one, yoga, dance, running, golf, martial arts, swinging on a swing, creating music or art and the list goes on. Of course activities like yoga, Feldenkrais, Trager Approach are specifically geared toward facilitating processing and releasing blockages in the body and the mind, but everyone must find their way to what resonates with them. How often and in what ways do you get into body time? If you are rarely there maybe it is time to play.

As an aside,  I will always remember this time when I was at Kripalu and all of the clocks stopped working. People were panicked and distressed. Someone went around, and on each clock taped a sign that said, "The time is now." That still makes me smile.     

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hot Mess; Fighting Fire with Fire

  It is hot here in Connecticut, hitting the upper 90's and into the 100's for the next few days. We live in a house with no air conditioning, pretty typical of houses in this area. Needless to say, as I write this I feel various sensations of sweat pooling or dripping. I do not glow, I sweat. I also am, what in the yoga science of Ayurveda, is called a fire type or pitta. I always wondered why hot weather not only made my butt sweat but generally would get my panties in a serious bundle. Well Ayurveda says it is all about my fire quality getting intensified and aggravated. Yep, makes sense. Ayurvedic science advises that in this weather I avoid vigorous or heating activity, and eat cooling foods and drink cooling tea. I also, in classic pitta form, think I know best and generally feel rules are made to be broken.
  I am currently training for a half marathon, or two, and a triathlon and damn all advice to hell I am not going to miss my beloved run or bike. In my defense,  I rely upon these activities to keep me balanced and out of cycles of anxiety and depression. As this is science we are talking about, my experiments the past two days have had interesting and surprising results. I could not get out to run in the cooler early morning hours yesterday so off I went at 10:00 with temps well into the eighties and humidity high. As I ran that 6.5 mile loop I could feel the fire building in me.  I did a two mile climb early on and had to dig deep to go beyond sensation, had to get into my meditative state. The sweat poured out of me and my body seemed sure to fail, but a step at a time and I made it to the top. The second half of the run was still fiery and edgy but my prana (life force) surged and I felt one with the earth, natural and free. Not what is supposed to happen I guess, but it was my experience. I followed that run with a treatment fitting the Ayurvedic rules, cool shower, light cooling lunch including watermelon, which came highly recommended, and lazy lounging at the pool, in the shade of course, for the afternoon. Outcome was, I felt awesome! I did not find my anger blazing at all, no panty bundles in the least. Hooray.
  Today I had to go out even later and it was well into the nineties so I chose to cycle. I went moderate completing a 10 mile ride of steamy sweaty rolling hills. Again I followed it with cooling practices. I am feeling good and have a crazy night with the kids ahead, and Stephen is out of town. So far so good, no melt downs, and I mean me, not the kids. Seems that as usual balance is the key to managing the mess of me. Glad to have tools that let me do "unfavorable" things and reap their benefits and offset them with countermeasures. I am a hot mess for sure but taking it in stride.          

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sense and Senselessness

   I think we all experience the deep desire to make sense of life. This can seem very possible at times when things are going well and providence smiles upon us. Then there are the times when we are confronted with world events of violence or disaster or when circumstance brings us face to face with the unimaginable, horrible, hurtful parts of life. Lives cut short or ending needlessly are the most intense experiences of senselessness I can think of. Death is part of life, but it extends beyond our sensory experience or ability to comprehend, and then when it comes violently or unexpectedly it brings us to our knees and shakes the very foundation of what we call sense. This is where we need faith.
   In the past few months I have had personal experiences of this. In April the mother of one my ten year old daughter's friends died after a three month battle with an aggressive form of kidney cancer. I was not close friends with this woman, but we would chat in the classroom or when we got our girls together to play. She was young, vibrant, full of life. In February she was diagnosed with cancer and in April she was gone. When I heard the news of her passing I was stunned. I felt shaken and bruised to my very core. How could that happen? I could not understand, there was no sense in this whatsoever. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am in an inquiry of spirit and faith, and I asked how god, goddess, or universal spirit could be at work here?
   Today is the funeral for the stepfather of my brother's girlfriend. I did not know him at all and yet I am profoundly stricken by his death. He was deeply depressed and took his own life, leaving behind a wife, children, grandchild and extended family and friends. In speaking to my brother about this my heart ached intensely as he cried and said that it did not make sense, that he could not understand. I have struggled with depression in my life and know how it clamps down and becomes suffocating and unbearable. It is an illness, and sometimes it causes death, but unlike other illnesses it has a stigma attached and leaves family and friends in deep trauma. The aftermath of it's senselessness is staggering and the questions and emotions beyond all reason. How to find strength and faith to go on, in the face of that shattering senselessness is a difficult question.
    I don't really have an answer to that question. I can only say that in my experience and experimentation on my road to healing that breathing always works or starts the larger process. My wise teacher Megha often says,"Fear and breath cannot exist in the same space." I find that to be true. The other piece that comes up again and again is to surrender, to throw my arms in the air and say " I don't get it! What should I do? Show me the way, give me the strength.", and then to trust that the way will be made clear even if I don't see or understand for a long time to come. It is when we are faced with senselessness in life that we need faith the most, and it is also where it becomes most fragile. Surrender is the key, there can be no faith without surrender. I believe this state of faith is possible even if you are non theistic or atheist.
  The other part is to take shelter amongst each other and in each others arms. The more we connect and extend ourselves with compassion and care the stronger we all grow. Even if we can't donate money or volunteer or even if we can't be at a loved one's side, we can all extend intentional compassion. We can all pray in whatever way that shows up for us. Praying is simply channelling our energy of consciousness to a specific intention. Even an atheist can pray. Of course this is my opinion and feel free to disagree. We make change and create healing better in community than in isolation. Let's lean on each other and help each other along.      
  On the sense side of the coin we can all do our part to support research that will perhaps someday end these kinds of senseless events. Give to organizations that promote cancer research and research on the brain and mental illness, which includes alternative therapies like yoga and meditation and beyond. Even with that though, death is part of life, and part of our journey is to confront that place beyond our understanding and no two journeys will unfold in the same way. Along our path we must go, one breath at a time, step by step, the road will be made clear and we can hold each others' hands on the way.  "May the long time sun shine upon you."

Consider making a donation to The American Cancer Society or The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 

I am sure I will have more to say on this topic as I process and meditate and pray. Your comments and input are appreciated. Namaste.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dancing with the Dark Side

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." ~ George Bernard Shaw

    I presented a two hour meditation and pranayama workshop this morning to yoga teachers in training. As part of our exploration of meditation practice, we discussed the intention of meditation practice as sitting in the "what is". Sitting in the mess and breathing, without the need to react, respond or change anything. We sit in meditation and make space for all of who we are, in any moment, to be seen and held without judgement. This is difficult since we have a lot of programming, generally, that tells us to hunt down our shadow parts and eradicate them, or at least send them into exile in a lock box, cast down to the bottom of the ocean of our consciousness, to hopefully never return. But it becomes evident quickly that this does not work, no matter how hard we try to lock our skeletons in the closet they always find a way out. Meditation is to dance with whoever shows up for the party, even, and especially, the skeletons.
    The truth is that those skeletons and shadows, the dark side, have so much wisdom and energy to offer, and if we don't invite them to the party and dance with them their offerings are lost. As part of the yoga training I am in right now one of my specific practices is to look at my anger. My anger has caused me great pain and shame because I resist it, and extend to it only judgement. I have made no room for compassion. I have tried many times to send my anger into permanent exile, and have failed many times. My intention now is to invite my anger to the party, to dance with it in my yoga and my life so that I might see it fully and from all angles. If I dance with it, I might charm it into revealing what currents lie underneath it, what great energy is it's source.
    When I think about how much energy surges through me when my anger comes up it is amazing.  Now, what if I came into relationship with that and made friends with it so all that energy could perhaps shift or transmute and be channeled into my evolutionary process?  I know that the effects would be enormous and enlightening.  I know the way to achieve that is to keep getting on my yoga mat and my meditation cushion, roll out a red carpet, fling all the closet doors open and have a skeleton's ball.

What skeleton should you let out of exile?  Open the door, extend it a hand and a smile, maybe a bow or a curtsy and ask it to dance.                 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Training for Forty, Inspired by Eighty

 "We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing." ~ George Bernard Shaw

  I will turn forty in a few short months and honestly I am really looking forward to it. During my thirties I took up long distance running and then triathlons. It has become quite commonplace for me to say, " I am training for ________." As I have been considering the coming of this great milestone I feel things shifting and realigning in me, and in a good way. Recently it occurred to me that this coming into the forties is an event into which I can bring focus and intention. I can bring vision and action to this grand occasion so I might enter it with the same excitement and enthusiasm as I bring to race day.
   My next consideration is, what are the skills and qualities I want to build and strengthen to bring on this next decade's journey?  I have already grown into a deepening of my yoga practice, and I don't think it is any mere coincidence that I am in this year long yoga intensive focused on spiritual growth as I arrive at this new cycle in my life.  I want my training for forty to be about loving myself more, exploring and making room for new adventures of joyful living and expanding experience. I want to find new edges and do things that scare me. I want to be balanced as well, and mindful of my energies, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  I want to see, feel, smell, and taste, new regions and nuances of this world, both the one outside of myself but even more so the one inside myself.  I want to dive down into all the spaces of my being with a thirst to leave no stone unturned, to leave no part untouched. I want to revel in being my perfectly imperfect, fabulously flawed, magnificent mess of a self. I want to play and frolic and dance through this next decade. I am just adding specificity of intention to a process that has been ongoing and will continue on the day of my birthday and beyond. Ahhhh life, a magnificent and messy marathon, a great journey indeed.
   In fact, just today, I was all lit up and inspired about the possibility of training for decades to come by a random encounter in line at Whole Foods. The woman next to me commented on how much she liked my tattoo. She then lifted her shirt sleeve to show me hers, which was simply the word hope. She smiled a beaming smile and said, " I got mine for my eightieth birthday." What struck me most was not how cool it was that she got a tattoo at eighty, although that is very cool, it was her youthful attitude and the light of joy and fullness of life that she radiated. It was obvious that this is a woman who at the age of eighty is still exploring and playing, embracing and relishing life, much like my own grandmother, who is in her eighties and despite fighting cancer for years has never let it stop her from living it up. How lucky she is to be able to do that!! I hope to be that lucky. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sweet Surrender

  You might be surprised to hear that yoga, as we think of it, is a system of eight parts or limbs and the first two limbs are a set of restraints and observances known as the yamas and niyamas. They include concepts like nonviolence, truth, and discipline. One of these observances is the center point of my practice right now as I go through a year long training called the Acharya Intensive. This training revolves around three main inquiries, being on the path of love, being on the path of service, and being in relationship with the divine or, yes I will use the word, God. The observance that this relates to is called ishvara pranidhana or surrendering to God (feel free to substitute any other word or concept here like universe, higher power, or tree).
  This is no easy concept for me to grasp or put into practice. I  have a strong warrior energy, and surrender, well, not so much in my nature. The concept of God too, is one I have and continue to struggle with. I have questions and doubts, as I think most of us do, about the nature of the world, the suffering I see and experience, and how that allows room for faith in a bigger plan or divine order. However, I look at the facts of how I stumbled onto this path, and how step by step I have been carried along, and piece after piece things have come right on time. I have experienced miraculous things, have landed in the presence of amazing teachers and mentors and my spiritual evolution is taking it's course with an intelligence that does not come from me.
   So, since May, I have been exploring this concept in earnest and I have found that when I remember it, there is great peace and comfort. I can take all of the things I do everyday and surrender them. I can surrender my teaching, my parenting, my writing, every action, word, thought or breath. I can surrender success and failure alike, my best, my worst and all the shades of grey become offerings. In the surrendering everything becomes welcome, no part of me needs to be exiled or hidden. That is liberation, the ultimate goal of yoga. Yet I struggle and forget, I question and doubt even though I have experienced that peace and release. Such is the practice, and the angel of struggle helps us on our way.
   Last week I was at Kripalu assisting Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training. One exercise we were doing, and which I participated in, due to the odd number in the group, was forming an affirmation to share with a partner. My affirmation was (and is) " I surrender my teaching with trust and faith to God." This led to an exercise of experiencing our inner critic and mine came up fierce because that is it's nature. The day went on and I forgot my affirmation but my critic stayed present and I found myself suddenly in a crisis of confidence. I began to crumple under questions of "Am I good enough?". My insecurity came up loud and told me to give up, that I don't have talent or skills in teaching. It showed up and told me the usual string of lies that it does. The angel of struggle opened it's wings.
  The next day I taught yoga in the morning and struggled on. That afternoon I was partnered again and this time we were to choose a yama or niyama to discuss with our buddy on a walk outside. Of course I knew ishvara pranidhana had my name on it. On that walk, as I shared about this practice, all of that doubt and insecurity melted away and a state of peace and acceptance returned. I rode that wave of peace and practice the remainder of the stay.
  I have returned home and everyday I ride the waves of getting lost in my story and reacting to life and then remembering my practice. I have even begun to trust the angel of struggle to bring me what I need to learn and grow. One thing I know for certain is that to surrender is sweet, and that if it is faith we seek, it can not exist without surrender.
  For now, I have written this and it too is an offering. Whether anyone reads it, and whether they appreciate it or not, I surrender it now to God.  


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We Live in a Beautiful World

   There are many times in my day to day experience that despite having my yoga practice and a life of abundance I feel heavy and the world feels bleak. I try not to watch too much news, but what I see consistently weighs me down and makes me question, well, everything. Then, suddenly, there will blossom before me something that lifts the cloud, and the brilliant light of joy is reawakened, my journey is affirmed. It is like the world opens it's hand to present a jewel that reflects all that is magnificent back to me. In those moments I remember who I am and the beauty of it all, even the beauty of what I have called heavy, the wondrous storm.
 This morning I awoke to gorgeous sun and the anticipation of celebrating a friend's 50th birthday with a bike ride through the picturesque area where I live. As we rode I felt great happiness and gratitude for all I have. I relished each breath, felt the sun on my face, I even tried to whine a little less on the hills, with little success, but I tried. The world opened it's hand and what it offered made my heart sing and my spirit soar.
   At one point on this ride we noticed something in the road, and almost simultaneously we slowed, along with a couple cars. My friend and I saw it was a turtle in the road, and we stopped to save it, but realized that some people in a car behind us were already on the job. I said to my friend, " Wow, there is still hope for this world. If in one instant a whole group of people, on their respective ways in life, all stopped to save a turtle, then there is promise for all things." We set off again, smiling, and I felt swept up in bliss for all of it. I felt contentment to see my friend, now 50 years old, and kicking my butt on that ride, inspired by seeing people still care about the earth and it's life, awestruck by the beauty of the land and the brilliant sun.
   Someday soon, when the storm clouds roll in, and I feel like curling up in a ball or running off to hide, I will try to remember this morning. I will try to remember that the storm will pass, having given me it's own unique gifts which allow me to grow in the brilliant sun. We live in a beautiful world, yeah we do.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coming Home from Kripalu, or Watch that First Step It's a Doozy

  I have not posted in awhile because I have been away at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, known to it's regulars as k-world or the mother ship. Being at Kripalu, even when I am assisting or working in a program, is like landing on a different planet. The place is steeped in spiritual energy and prayer, it's surroundings are breathtaking, the people are yoga people, enough said, and I get a change of pace from my usual life. While I am at Kripalu I only have me to take care of, I eat delicious and healthy meals that I had no part in preparing, no cleaning, no driving, no television or phone ringing, no loud anxious society, none of that. I have time and space to move mindfully, to focus on one thing at a time, and to luxuriate in my own experience. Now, being in yoga programs and assisting them, like anything in life, can bring up "stuff" and present challenges. This week brought many pieces of myself to the surface, some wonderful and some difficult, it was a week of work and play, dancing and yoga, and of course ups and downs ready for examination. ( Look for details of those experiences and awakenings in posts soon to come)
     Then comes the day when I pack up, say "see ya later", and come home. Most anyone I have ever talked to who has gone to Kripalu and gone home has agreed that this is usually a rough landing. The transition back to "real world" feels abrupt and shocking. The world's normal hum of business,  noise and hyperactivity are unsettling, and being thrown back into the realm of multiple responsibilities and many "to does" makes me almost crumble. My inner voice screams,"Give me back the peace and serenity, give me back the community of support, give me back a life of yoga and dance, give me back the BUFFET!!!"  In fact right now I sit here writing this to avoid for a moment longer, beds to make, laundry to fold , bathrooms to clean, kids to attend to, and the list goes on. I feel overwhelmed and irritated, flustered and resistant. I love my life, but these transitions ruffle my feathers.
     But here is where everything comes together, what the practice is all about. Even now, in these moments of tension and agitation I can come back to the breath. Here is where all that practice and experience of the last week comes to fruition. How might I enter this dance and find the grace and flow? How can I hold and experience this posture and all the wealth it has to offer?  I can make that mountain of laundry an experience of misery or it could be a meditation of breath and presence. I can attend to my family with impatience or find my tenderness and compassion, my metta. These yoga practices are quite easy in the arms of Kripalu Center but the real test is here in the home with the family. One step at a time now, one thing at a time, it all unfolds with purpose, but watch that first step it's a doozy.