The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Out Like A Lamb April 1, 2013

DarrowsEasterJesus(Mar31)

Photo: Darrow Montgomery (by permission)

By its nature, Spring brings sudden and intense change.  In my March yoga practice and classes, I like to focus on transition and balance on the mat, often taking the 75 minutes to bloom from an earthy Tadasana (reclining on the back in Mountain Pose), into mindfully flowing, heating sequences, and then peaking with an uplifted Nataraja (Dancer Pose).  I emphasize how many breaths, steps, tiny movements and gradual transitions it requires to grow from lying on our backs, to gracefully lifting our hearts while balancing on one foot!

And this is life off the mat, as well.

We rise up, we take a step.  We wobble, we fall.  We flow, we breathe.  We balance, we sway.  We take one step forward and two steps back.  We awaken.  We move forward again.  We bloom…we lift our hearts…and…we wobble some more.

*  *  *

I tried with all my well-intentioned heart to allow myself some “chill time” yesterday morning.  Friday night before bed, I gave myself permission to sleep in, and then lazily listen to NPR all day.  When I woke up, I did the minimum morning Sadhana – my eye-opening prayers (at around 10am!); but then went directly to the radio and turned on “Car Talk.”  I thought that laughter might be an enjoyable continuation of my relaxed awakening…that cultivating some free-spirited silliness would be an appropriate manifestation of my new freedom from a tendency toward rigid plans and decisions.

However.

The longer I listened to “Click and Clack,” with their truly hilarious banter, the more I became tense and aggravated.  After 30 minutes of the show, I chose radio silence – I opened the windows to fresh Spring air and sounds, lit a candle and a stick of incense, sat for Pranayama, stayed still for meditation, and centered with Shiva chants.

Afterward, I had no desire for radio comedy.  Since pausing, I yearned to continue aligning with my intuition.  To tune in with that presence.  To arise, awaken, sense, breathe and be.

Thanks to the radio’s helpful annoyance, I awakened to my true needs and changed directions.  Despite my best intentions to allow some harmless, unstructured time, I still structured it!  Before I went to bed, I made a plan!  And, that plan did not allow for true openness; and, it did not include the fail-safe and simple 30-minute preamble of Sadhana – mindful morning practices that set the tone for intuition, and, insure avoidance of tension and aggravation.  But it’s all good.  As I said, thankfully I paid attention to the discomfort; and I rewound.  We can start the day over at any time, y’know.

Planning to be present is still planning; and being present sometimes requires a change of plans.

*  *  *

Speaking of change.

For years, since my Fall 2008 Yoga Teacher Training, I have practiced a specific breathing affirmation meditation, suggested by one of the YTT staff.  I sought this Swami’s advice because I was really suffering within my soul throughout the training.  Daily, I was negatively triggered by the dynamics in our large and eclectic group of future Yoga Teachers.  I believe there were about 30 of us, between the ages of 25 and 70, with a wide range of motivations and personalities.  YTTs in general can be a shaky venue for any individual – there is so much vulnerability, passion, excitement, judgment (both of self and of/from others), clique-iness, button pushing, fear and love.  All of this among a bunch of people who may or may not become your trusted friends after journeying together.  For me, YTT was a hot bed of painful family dynamic memories, which led to self-loathing and perceived threats.  I though I might quit, and/or drive myself into a tree, and/or go drinking.  Not good for someone with 6 years of recovery from addiction.  Clearly, I was being seriously triggered into PTSD.

When I confided in the Swami, she gave me the following practice: During all of our meditations (two to three 30-minutes sessions per day), I was to do the nerve-balancing alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Suddhi Pranayama), silently saying “My true nature is peace” on the inhale, and “Nothing can disturb my peace” on the exhale.  And it worked.  That practice helped me stick around, stay alive and keep sober.  To this day, it has the same effect.

It was tough work at first, to pretty much force out unreasonable, trigger-based fears with this devoted practice.  The affirmation basically elbowed the negative stories out of my mind so I could be present and thrive.  Ah, the power of replacing negative thoughts with positive beliefs!  Pratipaksha Bhavana, indeed.

As I always tell students, cultivating positive affirmations and intentions neither erases nor stuffs the very real and valid challenges we face.   For me, the practices of using Pratipaksha Bhavana or setting Sankalpa allow me to address the situation with more peace and strength.  In addition, these practices give me a little break from the very powerful negative mind sets and fears I can encounter as a trauma survivor; and, in that little break, I can clearly see what part of my past might need additional examination and processing.

Like the discomfort of listening to “Car Talk” yesterday, even larger triggers are helpful information.  They guide me to revisit and heal my family history and personal resentments through yoga, therapy and 12-Step recovery program work.  Since my 2008 YTT, I’ve attended many additional trainings and have not been triggered.

Which leads me back to that mention of “change,” at the top of this section.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that – without deliberately trying – I’d switched around my 5-year breathing affirmation practice.  Totally organically, I’d started silently repeating “Nothing can disturb my peace” on the inhale, and “My true nature is peace” on the exhale.  It’s as if, after much intention toward living Ahimsa (avoidance of violence) in my everyday life, it finally, naturally, sunk in.  By inwardly affirming and strengthening the peace, I am outwardly sharing it more and more consistently.

I hope and aim to continue cultivating peace, both within and around me.  At the same time, I know from experience that, as long as I am human (!), times of discomfort, aggravation and even violence will arise – and, those times will hold valuable information, which will shed light on opportunities for ongoing healing, growth and change.

*  *  *

Since my March 6th “In Like A Lion” post, I’ve enjoyed an amazing month.  Spring is bursting with positive, renewing momentum.

Last week, I gave up teaching all but two of my studio-based yoga classes, for a few reasons.  First, since the winter holidays, I’d been considering resigning from the studio where I taught most of my classes; and I finally came clear on that decision.  Second, for a number of reasons, I wanted to focus my energy toward the studio where I still lead my two classes.  Third, I realized that, as long as I gained income from my numerous studio classes, I would continue fooling myself to believe that teaching yoga supports my financial responsibilities – and it does not.  Fourth, with more time and less income, my search for full-time work has a new spark beneath it!  Fifth and finally, the fewer studio classes I teach, the more community and Seva classes I can offer.

Letting go of my attachment to being some kind of “important” studio-based yoga teacher brought a welcome humbling.  Now there’s more room in my heart and my ego to be of service.  In fact, since resigning from the studio where I taught most of my classes and workshops, I drew up a plan for incubating my long-envisioned Urban Yoga Den/Ahimsa Now non-profit project idea.

The refreshing energy of Spring has also inspired me to evaluate and get honest about my relationships.  My resentment list is way too long for my conscience and some healing work is in order.  In addiction recovery programs, when we have a resentment, we are certain to look at our potential responsibility in the offending situation.  Another humbling exercise!  This process can reveal that we are accountable for part of the problem, and that we need to admit our wrongs; on the other hand, it can also reveal that the problem was the relationship itself, and that it might be time to address issues, or, let go.

Under the energy of our last Full Moon, I wrote a list of people to whom I owe apologies and amends, and with whom I hope for reconciliation.  Skilled and loving communication will be key as I approach people.  And because there is more consistent peace in my heart, despite feeling a little nervous, I am looking forward to reaching out and seeing what some earnest efforts will yield.

The second half of March has been about connecting.  I am now rehearsing and performing regularly with a sweet little trio, in which we re-imagine known songs as new arrangements.  The work challenges and pushes me in all of the right ways – creatively, collaboratively and personally.  I have also enjoyed road trips and reunions with some yoga teacher colleagues – clearly, this is a new day and age for me, when I can celebrate the trusted friendships cultivated at Yoga Teacher Trainings!

With this week’s Passover and Easter celebrations, I have been reflecting deeply about faith, humility, gratitude and service.  I am looking back at this month of weeding the garden, tilling the soil, planting new seeds and cultivating new growth.  And I feel a gentle yet firm tug at my heart, coaxing me onward and upward.

*  *  *

Oh, Spring –
You have been sweet to me this year.
You relieved me of a wobbly winter
and delivered me to your balancing blooms.
You have replaced losses with dreams and visions,
isolation with love,
pain with peace.

Spring –
You are abundant and generous,
as I aim to be.
Show me how I can serve you –
and every season –
in thanks.

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.  h*

 

Spring: Transition and Balance March 20, 2012

This morning I rose pre-dawn to rumbling thunder and bright lightning.  Stormy downpours soon yielded to an orange-grey sunrise.  As I stepped out for my habitual dawn stroll, the smell of rich, wet earth halted me.  I inhaled deeply and realized – almost as if by surprise – it’s Spring!  My heart swelled and tears rolled.  I felt excited for this change of seasons, this change of pace, this change of mind.  I took my walk with a chorus of awakening birds, under dripping trees and bursting blooms.

A hopeful anticipation settled into my soul.

Today is Spring Equinox. Well, the actual Equinox occurred earlier at 12:10am, to be exact.  This is the date when night and day are the same length, a supposed time of equilibrium and balance.

Hilariously, my Asana practice this morning was the wobbliest ever!  I laughed at myself as I swayed all over the place while processing toward Dancer Pose.  I drew upon all of my resources for balancing postures: rooting down through my hip and foot; engaging the buoyancy in my pelvis and abdomen; rising up from my heart to the peak of my fingers; breathing long and deep; and especially, fixing my focus on a Drishti – a single raised bump in the texture of a woven blanket on the couch in front of me.

But nothing worked.  I surrendered to wiggling and giggling my way out of Dancer and back to Mountain Pose.  And in that simple stance, I felt as balanced as ever.

I guess it’s going to be a Two-Feet-On-The-Ground kind of Spring!

Hah!  The sun just broke through the clouds as I typed that phrase.  No kidding!  A bright and enlightened moment: two feet on the ground this Spring.  That is fine with me.

Spring’s energy is very pushy.  The intense shift from restful hibernation to forcive sprouting can trigger aggravation, annoyance and impatience.  What tools and resources can I take off my mat and into daily life to address the feeling of being pushed over by Spring’s abrupt changes?

Thankfully, everything from my Hatha Yoga practice can cultivate this balance.  First and foremost – traditional yogic three-part breathing.  Long exhales followed by deep inhales reinforce that there is plenty of space and time between Point A and Point B.  When change surprises me, I can pause to breathe, consider what’s next, then take step-by-step action.  And during flow sequences, reaching a pose at the very end of each slow exhale and energetic inhale – and focusing on the process vs. the pose itself – reminds me that there is always a process from event to event, from intention to goal, from here to there.

Specific practices in balancing poses can also cultivate balance during times of transition.  The most obvious is finding my roots.  In Asana, I connect downward through whatever body part is touching the mat.  (I might be balancing on feet, hands, arms, head, buttocks or belly.)  During unexpected change, I can physically root down for stability.  I can bring attention to my seat or feet, or kneel and touch the earth.  But what if I need more momentum for a situation?  In poses, I cultivate buoyancy by liberating the center of the pose (for example, resting downward from the “sit bones” and/or shoulder blades while lifting through the pubic bone, abdomen and/or heart).  In life, I might ask what frees me to float through changing times.  On the mat, I can focus on the peak of my pose – a feeling of rising through the highest point in the body.  Off the mat, I can consider – what in life lifts me out of a myopic view to a broadened vision and perspective?

Above all, I find that the most supportive practice in balancing poses is using a Drishti – staring at a fixed point.  Gazing at a consistent, dependable, unmoving source of support can take me from shaky and distracted to still and focused.  Just like in life.  There are people, practices and resources that – without fail – restore my balance.  Teachers, healers, friends…meditation, chanting, breathing, praying…reading inspirational writing, walking in nature…beauty, joy, gratitude.

Although sometimes I must be reminded to depend on these powerful stabilizers, once I set my sights there, I feel unshakeable support.

However!  As this morning’s Asana practice proved, sometimes not one tool in the Hatha Yoga kit will work!  And so I fall back on Pratipaksha Bhavana – the mindful replacement of negatives with positives.  Instead of judging or criticizing my wobbly reality, I laugh!  I place two feet on the ground!  I use the precept of Samtosha – contentment – by accepting that I feel off-balance.  Then I take positive action to address (rather than “fix”) it.

What tools for transition and balance will you take off your mat and into your world this Spring?

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace, Peace, Peace.

 

Turn, Turn, Turn March 18, 2010

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn). – Ecclesiastes (& Pete Seeger)

Seasonal changes are intense and the coming of Spring can seem like a major upheaval.  Spring forces our slumbering seeds to sprout and can leave us feeling off-balance – particularly after an unusually snow-blanketed Winter.

For some, the transition from Winter to Spring feels more like “churn, churn, churn.”

A number of years ago an acupuncturist explained that I get irritable due to the shift from Winter’s laid back water element to Spring’s pushy wood element.  I took to carrying a piece of tree bark in my pocket as a touchstone reminder to chill out during moments of annoyance.

Thanks to many teachers along the way, today I have more than a piece of bark in my tool box.

BI-MONTHLY FOCUS: MARCH/APRIL – TRANSITION & BALANCE

Over the next two months, we’ll explore Asana and related practices for embracing the process of transition, and for cultivating balance during times of change.  Take a moment to reflect on the shifts in your life – either current, upcoming or from recent weeks.  They might be small adjustments; they might be expected plans; or they might have been unexpected opportunities for growth.

Over these eight weeks, I invite students to cultivate an everyday awareness of responses and reactions to these shifts.  If you find yourself easefully accepting these shifts, hooray!  If you find yourself losing your balance, perhaps yoga can offer some tools – not only for dealing with change, but for transforming because of it.  For example – what if you focused on the process rather than the end result?  What if you found something that helps you stay balanced?  What if you tapped inner resources to deal with and even transform from these challenges?

To start, we’ll work on Asana, Pranayama and the Chakras – practicing balances, using the breath to transition between and grow within all poses, and, chanting through each energy center.  In April, we’ll learn how to maintain emotional balance with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – because Raja Yoga and the eight limbs offer so much more than physical tools.

Thank goodness!

“SPRING AHEAD” WORKSHOP

Spring is here!  I’ll be teaching a special Equinox workshop this Saturday, March 20th, 5:30-7:30pm at Past Tense Yoga Studio in Mt. Pleasant, DC.  Support your transition from hibernation to germination with: journaling about change, reactions to change and tools for change; Spring Salutation Asana (movement); Yoga Nidra (guided deep relaxation and journeying); Pranayama (balancing breathing exercises); guided Meditation; and, to raise the Equinox energy, Kirtan with lots of percussion instruments to shake, rattle and roll!  Bring a cup/mug for water/tea and a journal.  To receive a discounted rate, register in advance from the Events page at www.pasttensestudio.com (Note: Equinox will be at exactly 5:32pm – I think we’ll start the session by trying our most challenging balancing pose!)

And if you’re not in DC, or not in an area where Spring occurs in March, I hope you will find something in these March and April entries to enhance stability and balance through any transitional time.

OM Shanti.  Peace.

(PS – Coming soon, posts about Baseball & Yoga, Chakra Chanting and more.)