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The Happy Heart Project: The Halfway Mark October 20, 2011

“Hey, I’m trying to hard to see the light, to see the light – to see it burn thru.”  – Abigail Washburn

When it comes to maintaining and manifesting an intention over 100 days – and that intention is to overcome a nagging internal darkness and move deliberately toward joy – it is imperative to know which tools, resources, practices and people support that intention.

So here I am, halfway into a project I started on a whim (for background, please see final note, bottom of page), and I am clearly learning what works – and what doesn’t work.

Back in August, when I started this daily ritual, joy felt elusive.  The origin of that challenge was a string of unfortunate, traumatic and painful experiences beginning in June 2010.  So the “Project” actually represented much more than a flippant whim.  It became a “Sankalpa” (deep intention, commitment, resolution) that would hopefully free my mind – and life – from the grip of PTSD, depression, anger and resentment.

And a shift is happening.  Of course, there are days when fear, negativity and doubt emerge.  Normal stuff.  At the same time, I have to be careful to not let those days stretch into a mindset.  So I reinforce my Sankalpa.

*  *  *

Move.  Toward.  Joy.

MOVE does not happen in the mind.  MOVE denotes a deliberate effort.  MOVE is an action word.

In yoga, when I think of action, I consider how I can take my practice off the mat and into everyday life.  To me, “practice” is a synonym for “action.”  Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Practice yoga, and all is coming.”  A simple metaphor – when we take action, things happen.  Aphorism I.14 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when efforts are made over a long period of time, constantly, and with great love (or devotion, earnestness, zeal).”

So again I mention the importance of tried-and-true tools, resources, practices and people to support my 100-day Sankalpa ritual.  They have encouraged my efforts, motivated my practice and strengthened my devotion.  Other influences, however, have been downright derailing at times.

What works and/or doesn’t work as I aim to maintain and manifest my intention to move toward joy:

WORKS: Being honest.  With myself and others.   This, by far, has been rule #1 for me.  THE best elixir for battling the stinking thinking.  Not convincing myself that everything is OK when it is not.  Not writing a bunch of “happy” lies in this blog.  Sharing my process with my circles, communities, co-humans.  Being honest about everything – feelings, ideas, plans.  Saying when I feel scared.  Saying when I feel confident.  “Sticking a pin in it” when my balloon of negativity, doubt and fear gets too inflated.  Getting it out.  Sometimes constructively, sometimes like a vent.

WORKS: Being listened to – being heard.  This means choosing the listeners carefully.  To truly be heard, I want to talk to those who have the patience, compassion and love to listen to everything I need to share.  People who care to know my insides.  People who care for my well-being, who have my best interest in mind.  People who do not immediately launch into fixing the problem.  I know this about myself: I need to let it all out – my stories, my theories, my feelings, my problems, my solutions.  Once I’m empty, I become spacious, calm and able to listen to feedback.

WORKS: Listening to, considering and/or heeding well-informed suggestions from people who know me well, who’ve stuck by my side through thick and thin, with whom I connect regularly, who are mental health professionals and/or who are trusted teachers whose experience I trust.  Listening to others’ stories.  Being as open-minded and willing as possible – yet still discerning, keeping my peace, purpose and sustainability in mind.  This is explored further in #1-4 below.

WORKS: Listening to and truly hearing loved ones’ and trusted beings’ encouragement and positive opinions.

WORKS: Staying close to those loved ones and trusted beings.

DOESN’T WORK: Trying to do this alone.

DOESN’T WORK:  Tolerating bossy, know-it-all recommendations (thinly disguised as concerned advice) from people who don’t know me very well (or who mistakenly think they do know me very well because maybe they used to know me a long time ago, or maybe they’ve read my writing or have heard me speak, or for whatever reason, they believe that we are alike), who have shown that they don’t care to know me authentically, whom I have not seen in a very long time, who intrusively beeline over to me because they’ve “heard what I’m going through,” who give medical advice without medical credentials and/or whom I absolutely do not trust.  And do you know what else doesn’t work?  Allowing these people to get under my skin; allowing myself to feel judged by these people; allowing myself to cop a resentment.  Indeed, at times, my vulnerable mind lets this happen!  What works then?  Taking a pause, replacing the false thoughts with a positive belief, and then understanding that these people are coming from a place of fear and/or a need to control.  I can have compassion for them, nod politely…and move on.  Or, avoid them altogether.  Or, be direct and say, “Thank you for your concern; I have a great team of supporters whose advice I am following.  So at this time, I want to stay on track and not add other suggestions. ”  Smile.  Walk away.  Bam.

Phew, that was a sassy little rant!  Sometimes I create my own frustration by being so open and honest about my process.  But, I’d rather have the opportunity to discern between appropriate/useful advice and inappropriate/fear-based advice than not get any advice at all!

*  *  *

In addition to clarity about support and action, I’ve also started to feel very clear about the process of cultivating positive change.  Thankfully, I’ve learned so much of this from the infinite influences I’ve said “yes” to over the years.  Here are the steps I’ve taken this time around:

1 – Let go of what doesn’t serve.  I’ve heard it a-thousand times, and it really is the best starting place for me.  This past summer, after what seemed like a year-long endurance test of trials and tribulations, I started letting go of anything that doesn’t represent deep peace, true purpose and long-term sustainability for me.  Jobs, relationships, belongings.  I took risks.  In the case of jobs and relationships, if I couldn’t leave immediately, I began to cultivate an exit strategy.  One by one, I started saying good-bye.  I will be honest – financially, it is beyond stressful.  But I really needed to let go and be liberated.

2 – Take time in the spaciousness created by letting go.  I learned to not fill the space YET.  To grieve the losses.  To feel uncomfortable.  To admit and accept my mistakes.  To witness my doubts, dreams, stories – positive and negative, real and imagined.

3 – Reflect on what brings deep peace, explore what constitutes true purpose and envision what looks sustainable in the long-term.  I have exposed myself to influences I might not normally consider.  I’ve read-up on the Occupy Wall Street efforts; I’ve started taking a high-power Jivamukti class; I’ve listened to Pema Chodron CDs (I love Pema, but am not typically a fan of audio learning).  And I have indulged in activities I absolutely love – that nourish me and bring instant joy.  I have seen live concerts, bought new CDs (please see the bottom of this blog to check out the video for the above-quoted Abigail Washburn song), listened to comedy, practiced yoga outdoors, watched baseball games, enjoyed inspiring films, participated in the Jewish High Holy Days.  I have let ideas and passions brew.

4 – Define peace, purpose and sustainability.  During the peak of Occupy Wall Street and the Jewish High Holy Days, I was struck with the strongest sense of self I’ve experienced in a long time.  It seems like a combination of the results of numbers 1-3 above, the pressure of calls to action in the media, and, the intensity of moral inventory, atonement and forgiveness sparked an energy of self-definition for me.  From Facebook, other media and other sources, I gleaned quotes that called to my soul, compiled them in a journal, and started aiming to live them, day in and day out.  They include: “Occupy within: a movement in awakening;” “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more deeply in your heart;” “The unexamined life is not worth living;” and, “Do I feel happy?  No.  But I feel progress.”

5 – Take action – fill the space.  A few days ago, a yoga teacher friend exclaimed, “How’s your new life?”  She’s referring to the many changes I’ve made since the summer, when I started this process.  I reflected silently for a moment.  “It’s very empty…” and just then, a light bulb clicked on in my mind.  “It’s time to fill it,” I answered, with resolve.

This is coming up for me now that I clearly understand what works and what doesn’t to practice my Sankalpa with consistency and zeal.  With that support, I can tackle some next steps, which include: seek a  job that fulfills my true needs and allows me to continue teaching yoga; seek new yoga teaching opportunities; continue deepening my PTSD sessions and exploration; conduct a fearless self-inventory that not only identifies how I was harmed over the past year, but that also identifies what my part, mistake and/or contribution may have been to those troubles; practice forgiveness of myself and others; commit to other practices that direct me toward joy.  Thank goodness, there are many!

Let’s see what happens over the next 50 days…taking it one day at a time, of course.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love – and a light that burns thru.  OM Shanti.

(Here is the lovely song containing the opening quote of this blog.  Enjoy!)

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” – an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.  For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

 

Focus Wrap Up: The Eight Limbs – Yama April 10, 2011

It was 10:38am on Sunday, April 3rd when I started writing this wrap up, and the New Moon hung invisibly above.

In that Sunday’s classes we wrapped up our March focus on the 1st of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Yama, or, abstinence. I extended the March focus through April 3rd so the New Moon – at the height of its energy of surrender, letting go and dissolving – could reinforce our liberation from what we might refrain from in our attitudes, our actions, our lives.

During the past month, our classes bravely began a journey of self-examination by way of yoga’s 1st limb.  For me, such exploration of patterns and beliefs is a process.  I have grown to understand that I might not be transformed within the period of one class, one month or perhaps one lifetime!  Each time I step onto the path, I am simply opening a door – maybe even just a little crack – to look inside with curiosity and compassion.  Still, this is deep work, and I try to balance intensity with restoration – during my personal efforts and our classes.

In his commentary about Yama (and Limb #2 – Niyama, or observance) in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda says: “These points are for whole-time, dedicated Yogis; and so, for them, Patanjali allows no excuses.  For people who aren’t that one-pointed toward the Yogic goal, these vows can be modified according to their position in life.”  So rather than introducing the Sutras’ list of five yogic abstinences (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-greed), I invited students to cultivate their own, personal Yama.  Toward the end of the month, we considered the official Yama from Patanjali’s ancient guidance.

Along with students, I cultivated my own personal Yama based on my “position in life.”  And the position I’ve been playing for most of my life is…

DEFENSE.

Last week, I squarely faced the huge deficit this role has hollowed out of my heart, soul and life.  Ugh.

What happened?

A number of things.  I’ll skip the long story about childhood and other traumas leading to the necessity for self-defense.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I am devoted to looking backward in order to move forward with health.  You might also remember that just last summer I was blind-sided by a serious betrayal that erased all my trust in humans.  My heart was on lock down.  In my yoga practice, with professional counsel and through other spiritual practices, I started to open back up.  More recently, during the Off the Mat Into the World leadership intensive in early March, I revisited my bruised little heart and noticed that it did not feel so safe after all.  It was still in defense mode.  Again, I re-committed to the process of looking inside, taking action, sparking transformation.

But the biggest eye-opener happened last week.

I went through a breast cancer scare after a doctor’s examination.  Thankfully, at the radiologist appointment a few days later, I found out that I do not have cancer.  During those in-between days of fearful anticipation, however, I contacted family and spent a lot of time with friends for support.  Knowing me as well as she does, one friend reached out her arms and said, “Put your hands in mine.”  I did.

Then she told me, with resolve in her voice, firmness in her stance and steadiness in her eyes,  “You are going to be OK.  And you will not be alone.”

I felt my entire body seize up in defense mode.  My stiffened hands could not hold on.  My eyes could barely meet hers.  When I did look her in the eye it was through a hard plate of glass.  I could hear her words but not feel the sentiment in my heart.  I wanted to believe her but could not.  I could not trust for fear of being betrayed again.  I could not accept her love.

What’s the big deal?

If I don’t allow myself to accept love, I will never feel loved.  That’s it in a nutshell.  I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of how humans need to share love; how vulnerability is essential to trust-building; how risk-taking might be the only way to true intimacy.  The fact is, if I don’t take action to continually and consistently address, transform and heal the core wounds of my heart, I will continually and consistently struggle with every relationship in my life – at work, in family, with friends and otherwise.

Realizing this last week, I set a deep intention that will bring purpose to my Eight-Limb work in the coming months.  A Sankalpa.  My own personal Yama:

I aim to abstain from fear-based responses to life’s invitations for connecting, trusting and loving.  I will liberate my icy-cold, walled-up, scared little Anahata Chakra through heart-opening Asana, heart-expanding Pranayama and Bhakti-influenced practices.

Some wounds are hard to heal.  But for the sake of Ahimsa (non-harming – the 1st Yama from the Sutras), I am going to non-harm myself by taking the risk of being vulnerable.  No holds barred, I am rolling my shoulders back, breathing deeply and chanting my heart out. I am abstaining and refraining from, letting go of, dissolving, and surrendering fear.  Damn-it.

Why abstain?

As mentioned in the Intro to this month’s focus, I want to offer my best self in service to the world.  That is what Samadhi (yoga’s 8th Limb) means to me – an interconnectedness that dissolves separation, invites love, cultivates trust.  So in the end, I don’t want to heal my heart so I feel better – although I’m sure that will be a benefit!  In the end, I want to liberate my heart so I can serve others with authenticity, strength and sustainability.

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Focus Wrap Up: Back to Basics February 2, 2011

Over the weekend I taught the final classes in our January Back to Basics focus. To complement our fine-tuning of alignment, review of three-part breathing and return to proper resting, these last sessions invited students to deepen their commitment to setting an intention.

Personally, I can’t imagine getting on the mat without exploring some kind of purpose for my practice.  To set an intention, I like to let the thoughts naturally flow through my mind while arriving, and see which one most strongly asks for my attention – it might even be a thought that’s been tapping me on the shoulder for a few days.  Maybe weeks!  Or longer!  Then I shape that thought into a dedication, affirmation or reflection.

Using the three-part Deergha Swaasam breath, I deepen my reflection by imagining filling with intention on the inhale, and simple resting with it on the exhale.  Later in my set, during the internal focus and natural surrender of seated forward folds, I inhale to fill with intention, and exhale to surrender (dissolve and let go of) any obstacles (distractions, old stories, self-imposed limitations) that might stand in the way of realizing my intention.  And I reconnect with my intention before settling into Yoga Nidra – a process of deep relaxation, between a state of sleep and consciousness.

Although I’ve been shying away from the word “resolution” this new year, I will say that having a Sankalpa (a firm, prayerful, resolved intention) during my time on the mat makes a huge difference in my practice, my day and my life. Different traditions approach Sankalpa with unique perspectives – for example, setting a Sankalpa during Yoga Nidra so this process of yogic sleep helps us realize that intention; belief that Sankalpa can erase negative Samskara (imprints on or patterns in our lives); or using Pratipaksha Bhavana (replacement of negative thoughts with positive) to create a resolution.

There’s that word again!  Resolution.

I can’t escape it – if I am going to reflect deeply on intention, I must have resolve.  So I’ll try to ease up on my anti-resolution attitude!  Your encouragement is always helpful; I’m not the only teacher around here.

I hope you’ve found something useful during this Back to Basics month of reviewing and fine tuning Asana, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and Sankalpa practice.  Looking forward to starting a 9-month look at the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Eight Limbs beginning in February!

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti.

P.S. Remember, the fine-tuning tips for Asana and Pranayama that I’ve taught over the past month can be found on the Tips-n-Tools tab of this blog.  Enjoy!

 

100(+1)% May 13, 2010

Back on April 8th, I attended a Krishna Das Kirtan concert, where he told an inspiring story about learning to apply himself 100%.  At the time, I was stuck in discernment-process limbo, trying to decide between two career paths.   Should I continue applying for full-time communications jobs, or expand my yoga teaching, music performance/teaching and promotion of both into a full-time profession?  I was applying myself approximately 1% to each option and feeling about 1% peaceful with that ugly truth.

“When – and to what – will I apply myself 100%?” I asked myself (and you guys) in a blog dated April 9th.

On April 20th, I wrote the following e-mail to my friend Manu at Yogaville:

There has been SO much synchronicity swirling about life this month.  Primarily regarding my mother’s influence and my career path discernment.  When I returned from my Florida trip at the end of March, I planned to gauge my motivation, to see which direction I should travel professionally – would it be a full-time job in communications, or, a collection of part-time gigs/projects in yoga, music, marketing/promotion?  Of course, after Spring Training, I was brimming with enthusiasm about teaching yoga to athletes.  And so my energy was a bit tilted in that direction.  One of the first things I did was meet with my friend, Emma, who teaches yoga full-time, to get a clear picture of the pros and cons.  The pros definitely won.  Then my computer broke down, so I couldn’t search or apply for full-time jobs.  Still, I resolved to continue gaining counsel from friends and advisers, to make the best decision.  On Easter Sunday, I was remembering that 20 years ago in mid-March, I was emerging from a very dark period which included many destructive events and toxic habits.  That April Easter of 1990 represented a resurrection of sorts, when I resigned to clean up, stick around and see what life had to offer.  So this year for Easter, I was pretty emotional and reflective about life’s purpose and calling.  The next day, Easter Monday, I was invited to speak to an addiction recovery group that meets at the synagogue where my mother converted to Judaism in the 1950s.  So mom – one of my biggest creative motivators – was in the back of my mind as I told my story of transformation that night.  On Tuesday, I donated my services to lead a Yoga Nidra for young cancer survivors at the Smith Farm Center (my mom had cancer three times).  Wednesday I took a very intense Jivamukti class; Thursday I fasted and went to a Kirtan with Krishna Das – his between-song banter kicked my butt into positivity (see the “100%” blog for more); and Friday morning I took another Jiva class to finish my one-day detox.  My computer was also fixed the day before – and what was the first thing I did?  Apply for full-time communications jobs?  No!  I wrote three yoga blogs within 12 hours!  Saturday and Sunday I attended two workshops with heart-opening teacher Max Strom and Mom was with me the whole time (see “Oh Death” blog for more on that experience).  And in asking her about the career journey, the answer was, “Follow your heart.”  What else?  By Monday I don’t think I needed any more counsel about my work life; but somehow I still felt the need to continue this discernment process “responsibly.”  Digging deep with a trusted friend on Tuesday, we pretty much put an end to my waffling.  That day – April 13 – was also the 8th anniversary of my mom’s death.  And the day I found out that my Uncle Bill had died (again, see “Oh Death”).  Uncle Bill was a man of great faith – if he were here, he’d say, “If it’s god’s will, you will be OK.  Go for it, Holly!”  A couple of days later, I traveled to Nashville for Bill’s funeral; and when long-estranged family/friends asked, “So what do you do?” I answered, “I’m a teacher – I teach yoga and music.  And I write.”

It’s funny because, BEFORE I went to Florida for Spring Training, I’d said to my friend Athena, “I have a dream – I want to teach yoga, teach music and perform music full-time – using my communications skills to promote my efforts and the activities of others in those professions.”

So the journey of being an independent business operator begins.

Wow.  Since writing that letter, I have: started teaching a new private client twice weekly (referred by my chiropractor – thanks, Dr. Bahnson!); answered an opportunity to pick up three classes at another studio (fingers crossed!); taught a two-hour Integral Yoga class at the Happy Destiny Retreat; shared my prayer and meditation experience with another addiction recovery group; been accepted to Seane Corn’s Off the Mat/Into the World Leadership Training program (with partial scholarship!); begun attending a weekly Level 2 class with Caroline Weaver and a Dharma Mittra style series with Laura Ivers; and been offered a part-time job with a yoga-related organization (whose name I won’t mention because I haven’t given my answer yet…I’m back in discernment-process mode!).

Now to catch up with my blog writing!

But what really blew me away as this momentum started to pick up was an amazingly thoughtful letter from Stacey, the teacher coordinator at Past Tense Studio, where I teach regularly.  Without getting into the details of her positive feedback from a class she attended, I’ll share that she pretty much affirmed my big-picture life purpose – to give back to people what has been so generously shared with – and therefore has healed – me.

Stacey also shared the following quote.  I’ll leave you with this.  OM Shanti.

UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED – W.H. MURRAY

CONCERNING ALL ACTS OF INITIATIVE (AND CREATION) THERE IS ONE ELEMENTARY TRUTH, THE IGNORANCE OF WHICH KILLS COUNTLESS IDEAS AND SPLENDID PLANS:

THAT THE MOMENT ONE DEFINITELY COMMITS ONESELF, THEN PROVIDENCE MOVES TOO.

(P.S. Thank you, Cathy Duarte, for motivating me to write this tonight!)

 

100% April 9, 2010

Filed under: career,path,purpose,Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 6:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Last night at the Kirtan, Krishna Das told a story about a chance meeting with an elder in New Mexico.  The encounter occurred long before Krishna Das’s visit to India – during which he would be profoundly transformed and become magnetized to chanting.

According to the story, Krishna Das walked into a gathering where the afore-mentioned elder immediately singled him out, pointed at him, and questioned strongly, “When will you apply yourself 100%?”  Or something like that – I’m paraphrasing.  But you get the point, no?  I sure did.

It was as if I was being presented with a challenge.

Back in January, I decided to put my yoga biz to the side, keeping teaching and other activities to a minimum, so I could focus on searching for a full-time job in communications, my professional specialization to this point.  Since then, I have been in a tug-of-war between two paths – seeking full-time communications work, and, pursuing more yoga teaching (and other part-time opportunities).

Because of this tug-of-war, neither path has been productive, effective or lucrative.  I have applied for only handfuls of jobs, interviewed for just one, neglected to properly promote yoga workshops, fallen behind in blogging…and so on.  So, before my recent vacation (to watch the Nationals at Spring Training – more on that later), I made a resolution to test myself upon return.  The goal would be to write two yoga blogs, promote a yoga workshop and apply for five communications jobs.  At the end of the week, I would choose the path where I focused the majority of my time and energy.

Then my computer broke down.

Without the internet, I’ve had plenty of time to discern, meditate, gain counsel and weigh pros/cons.  Should I continue seeking full-time communications work – in a day and age where, despite decades of experience, my age and outdated credentials affect my eligibility?  Or, apply myself 100% to my dream of teaching yoga, teaching percussion and performing music – while using my communications skills to promote my efforts and the activities of others in those professions?

In the meantime, a really cool part-time opportunity (which would support the dream, by the way) has arisen.  So by or before April 16th, I must make my decision about my path.  With my new computer hard drive and internet access, what will it be – job applications or yoga outreach?

Thanks to Athena, who triggered the “dream” articulation, and so many others who have witnessed and contributed to this discernment process.  Want to share your opinion?  Leave a comment here or e-mail me at hmeyers65@yahoo.com.

When – and to what – will I apply myself 100%?

OM Shanti.