The Urban Yoga Den

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Clearing the Obstacles August 6, 2011

I am sorry to hear your pain.  You are a wonderful human being and deserve tranquility, peace, and love.  I would suggest that you stay focused on what is good for YOU, rest will follow.  –  letter from a friend

This quote sounds like something I would say to a student or friend.  Instead, it is an e-mail that a friend just sent to me.  I know he meant to write, “…stay focused on what is good for YOU, THE rest will follow.”  Yet the fact is, if I stay focused on what is good for me, indeed, rest will follow.  And I really, really need some rest.  The kind of rest that allows the heart to remember its yearnings, yearnings to cultivate clarity, clarity to turn into action, and action to yield change.

This has been the hardest blog to write, ever.  I keep starting and stopping; switching directions; adding this and that.  Stopping.  Sobbing.  And starting again.

It’s difficult to be 100% honest, and that’s what I need to do.  It’s difficult to not shade my current negative state with the positive solutions of yoga.  Is it yogic to admit that I am in pain, and that my usual solutions seem out of reach?

*  *  *

I feel it’s time for big change and I’m starting with small things.  But I wish I could crack myself open and re-program.  – letter to a friend

Last week, on my 46th birthday, I started parting my hair on the opposite side.

Ganesha, new hair part, pneumonia and me on my 46th birthday.

Immediately, I felt like a new person.  I saw myself differently.  My eyes looked happier.  My head felt lighter.  My mind was clearer.

The weekend before, I’d hit an emotional bottom where I spent an entire day acting very un-yoga-like.  OK, I’ll say it – although I haven’t had a drink or drug in nearly 9 years, I was acting as toxic as a drunken addict.  It was not pretty, people.  Some who went through that day with me were very forgiving.  Some were not.  Some recognized that stress from recent physical illness and emotional difficulties fueled my offensiveness.  Some didn’t care, because they were hurt.  And still others (thank goodness for the others) offered amazing advice and insight – including the belief that I’m hitting a bottom because big change is coming.

So last week, after a series of Facebook posts about fighting demons, letting go and changing…I parted my hair on the other side.

*  *  *

In the past month alone, notable events forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, activities and needs, and to reignite my practices, beliefs and vision.  – August “Yoga Update” (see “newsletter” tab)

To complement my fresh hair style, I’ve also been wearing my Ganesha charm more frequently.

Not only have I felt a need for newness, but also for a strong shove of old things out of the way.  When I first started practicing Vinyasa yoga, my teacher constantly spoke of “letting go of what doesn’t serve in order to make room for what does.”  I don’t frequently pray to specific deities, but being reminded of Ganesha’s power to clear obstacles (and provide protection) has been motivating.

These days, I know I need to release many things that compromise my deepest well-being in order to create space for what cultivates sustainable, lasting inner peace.  For instance, on mornings between the full and new moons, I used to pray, “Let me let go of anything that gets in the way of your will for me.”  Regretfully, that practice has faded off…but it’s time to bring it back.

*  *  *

Hindsight is 20/20.  – popular phrase

As you might know, I was mugged in June.  Feedback on my blog, “The Yoga of Being Mugged” has been positive.  People have used words like “resilient” and “compassionate” regarding my response to the situation.  I agree, and am thankful to be someone who uses yoga and other tools to recover from and address life’s difficulties.

Now here comes the 100% honesty – because I don’t want you to think that I am responding with perfect strength and forgiveness to an assault.  I want you to know that it hurt.  I want you to know that I now walk around scared and suspicious and over-reactive.  I want you to know that my past traumas have been triggered since the mugging.  And I want you to know that I sometimes act like a jerk because of this state.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know a bit about my painful childhood and rough road toward adulthood.  These last 18 years of yoga practice, complemented by 8+ years of addiction recovery, have sparked a journey of mending and growth.  Still, I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg in undoing 25 years of destructive patterns and related consequences.

When I look back on my life’s traumas, I see the lesson behind each one.  So why am I so stuck in the pain of the past?  Because, due to my childhood isolation and later impulse to kill emotions with substances, I did not properly process and/or grieve these traumas at the time that they took place.  Making sense of them is one thing; authentically expressing and healthily processing the emotions is a whole other ball game.

Thankfully, these days I am feeling weary from past traumas robbing me of day-to-day happiness.  I am feeling a low tolerance for anything that does not match my craving for inner peace.  I am fed up with these obstacles keeping me from my intentions to be of service in this world.

So I am willing to do whatever it takes to change.

At the same time that I am willing to let go of limitations, I am somehow holding on.  I have taken the reigns, and have been gripping them tightly.  Terrified of feeling more pain, I have taken complete control of my life.  Regretfully.  Because when I am in complete control, there’s little room for you, for anyone, for a higher power, for healthy risk, for trust, for faith.

*  *  *

I’ve been learning to drive, my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In The Backseat”

It’s time to let someone else take the wheel.  Let go.  Change.

In the Mahabharata – an ancient Hindu text – there is a story about true surrender.

A king wants to ruin a man’s reputation, and so decides to shame the man’s wife, Draupadi, by stripping off her sari in public.  A sari is a traditional Indian dress, made from several yards of material wrapped around the body.  In the story, the king begins to unwrap the sari, and in turn, Draupadi clings tightly in fear.  She continues to use all her strength while crying to god for help.

After much struggle, Draupadi realizes that, as long as she clings in fear, there will not be space for god to help her.  Bravely, she lets go of the sari, holds her hands up and exclaims, “If you want me to face this disgrace I will accept it.  I totally trust you; my life is in your hands.”  Miraculously, Draupadi’s sari becomes infinitely long, and the king becomes exhausted.  Draupadi was saved.

The first time I read this story around three years ago, I was struck by Draupadi’s willingness to accept god’s will, even if it means disgrace.  In the margin of the book I wrote, “WOW.  I wish for this surrender.”

At this very moment, I feel that exact yearning.  Since June, I have been so racked by fear that I wake up each morning with my fists clenched so tightly that my thumbs come out of their joints.

Shifting from self reliance to accepting help takes deep work.  A PTSD therapist has been helping me work through my past so I can heal from it.  Most days, I feel quite vulnerable, like a wounded animal, backed into my protective corner.  You know what “they” say about wounded animals – don’t go near them.

But circumstances have prohibited this isolation, and demanded togetherness.  Shortly after the mugging, I came down with pneumonia and had to ask for a lot of support.  All through my birthday week, my home was filled with friends bringing fresh produce, fun gifts and positive energy.  It chipped away at my rock-hard walls of “That’s OK, I can do it myself.”

I am continuing to reach out for the company, wisdom, experiences and advice of those prepared to step into the corner with me.  Yes, when they come near me, I might act overly protective.  I might swat them away.  I might misunderstand their concern for judgment.  I might mistake their discomfort for dislike.  I might offend them.  I might piss them off.  And they might or might not forgive me.

I will, however, forgive myself.

*  *  *

Here is the hardest part to write.  In my current state of imbalance, can I honorably teach the Eight Limbs, and how they outline a simple process for taking yoga’s principles off the mat and into everyday life?  How can I share “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nrodhah” and encourage yoga as a practice for calming the mind, when my mind is far from calm?  How can I authentically pass on yoga’s tools, when they don’t seem to be working for me in this time of extreme challenge?

Or does this messy phase of life illustrate yoga’s transformation?  Maybe this is my own version of “Draupadi’s Sari.”  Maybe my wish for absolute surrender is coming true.

One thing is for certain – this is my emotional bottom, and the only way out is up.

*  *  *

My god, Holly, you got mugged and now you have pneumonia?  The universe is trying to tell you something.  – a friend

My sassy answer to this remark?  “Uh-huh, the universe is telling me that I am a tough broad who can get through anything!”  Perhaps.  That would certainly match my self-reliant conditioning.  At the same time, I’m open to a totally different point of view.  By sending me a mugging, pneumonia and related challenges, the universe could be urging me to ‘fess up and say, “Come closer to me.”

See me, accept me, love me for exactly who I am – right now.  Vulnerable, fearful, distrustful and resentful.  Wounded.  Ready to focus on what’s good for me.  And more than ready for (the) rest.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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December Focus: Abundance December 4, 2010

Snowflakes are falling on the homepage of WordPress. I’m listening to Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1” in which young lovers dig a tunnel from house to house after the neighborhood is buried in snow. And outside, for real, it’s finally Winter cold.

I’m fasting today. Liquids only.* There’s nothing like an empty body for writing about fullness! In this week’s yoga classes, we are introducing the new monthly focus of Abundance. Having just wrapped up a month of Gratitude reflections, we have an easy task, right? Perhaps we could list loads of stuff we appreciate in and around our lives. Perhaps we feel full of and surrounded by abundance.

At some point during this month, we might look ahead to the New Year and envision our intentions and goals. What will our “New Year’s Resolutions” be?

I’ve already made my 2011 New Year Resolution. Actually, I’ve made a resolution for this final month of 2010 – to NOT set intentions for 2011 and instead, to focus on the abundance of the present moment.

A friend recently responded to my resolution to not have resolutions by sharing “I find if I just lean into this moment with love, everything else sorts itself out.”

How often do we make space – internally/mindfully and externally/physically – in order to allow new or unexpected and maybe even unwanted things to flow in and enhance the abundance that we so forcefully cultivate through planning, goal listing, intention setting?

Can we expand, lengthen, release in order to create space?

Can we gently nurture that space with positive thoughts…even love?

Just asking.

Back to that concept of emptying the body to reflect on fullness. It works, it really does! In order to invite authentic abundance, I must make room. Yoga practice so beautifully offers us a platform for psychological reflection, expression and growth. “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – Yoga ceases the disturbances of the mind. Its eight-limb process is designed to offer ethical considerations, then regulate physical discomfort and external distractions so we have room to be mindfully present with what is.

When we make room, we can see that “what is” is all we need.

The following quote from writer and yoga teacher Max Strom popped up on Facebook recently; and it reminded me to make space for an abundance of anything. If I cultivate space (vs. holding back or holding in or holding tight), I can see that even the unexpected or “unwanted” can bring contentment. I must remember – if happiness does not manifest immediately, more will be revealed.

“We hold back from life so much. We literally refuse happiness because we demand to have it in a certain way – and this precludes our getting it.” ~ Max Strom

We had abundant snow in DC last year! Maybe this Winter it will – again – afford us the unplanned space to explore the new, embrace the unexpected, work with the unwanted.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. h*

* “Liquids only.” My liquid fast, for two reasons, admittedly includes one mid-day miso soup with lemon juice, turmeric powder, fresh garlic and seaweed/spinach. One, I have to take my Holy Basil (aka Tulsi) supplement with a meal. Two, I am hypoglycemic, therefore the miso’s protein and greens’ amino acids balance my blood sugar. All ingredients facilitate continued cleansing. Other than this, throughout the detox I drink: room-temperature water with cayenne, lemon, honey and electrolytes; and fresh ginger root tea. Upon awakening, I drink one cup of classic India spice tea with clove, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, etc.

 

Focus: Yoga In Action – Surrender October 20, 2010

I like the peace in the backseat, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak, I can watch the country side, I can fall asleep.  I’ve been learning to drive my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In the Backseat”

A few weeks ago, I completely unplugged for five days – no phone, no internet, no meetings.  No to-do list.  Whatever came up, I did it.

I walked down the street without a phone attached to the side of my head.  I met people’s faces.  I noticed the gum on the sidewalks.  I heard children’s delight and sorrows.  I spent a lot of time in solitude.  I cleaned, I gleaned, I cooked.  I meditated, journaled, slept, cried…then meditated, journaled, slept and cried some more.  At long last – the time to genuinely take care of myself.  Haha – I’d spent all of September encouraging self-care in our yoga classes, and there I was, stuffing emotions and exhausted!

What surfaced during this “purification retreat” was a strong priority to re-cultivate trust and love.  I am, deep down, a loving and trusting person.  I admire human beings, am in awe of humanity and adore people in general.  But since this past summer’s emotional betrayal, I have struggled to feel comfortable and secure in relationships – even long-standing connections.  Despite teaching many yoga classes and showing up for commitments over recent weeks, I have found myself sinking into fear and isolation.

So I am forcing myself to reach out and reconnect.

Asking for help is not always easy.  For most of my life I was a self-reliant, “that’s OK, I can do it myself” gal. Hence the Arcade Fire quote above.  I was always in the driver’s seat, making things happen.  Never in the back seat, enjoying the ride. Only over the past 8 years or so have I been able to comfortably surrender to being helped by others…to letting someone else drive.

I must actively surrender to feeling vulnerable, taking risks and accepting others’ care.  I am lucky and grateful to be part of spiritual fellowships and social groups that encourage honesty and outreach.  In addition, I can practice being cared for through specific yoga exercises, such as borrowing support and energy from the elements of earth and air.

During the last weeks of September, our classes explored just that.  First we grounded into earth energy.  Figuratively inhaling through our feet to the crown of our heads, then exhaling back down through the soles, we rooted ourselves into the infinite stability, balance and foundation of the ground beneath us.  Aside from our typical, Integral Yoga influenced set, we added standing and balancing poses such as Triangle Pose, Warrior 2 and Warrior 3 to truly reinforce the earth’s strong and ever-present support.

Next we drew upon the infinite air around us by oxygenating deeply. We energized our classic IY set by inserting Pranayama practices throughout.  For example, during our Sun Salutations, we started with the rapid, naval-pumping Kapaalabhaati breath in Mountain Pose, then flowed through the 1st half of our movements with deep, three-part Deergha Swaasam breathing; in Cobra, we paused for more Kapaalabhaati; then we completed the 2nd half of the flow with Deergha Swaasam.  We also turned up the heat in our floor poses by adding Kapaalabhaati to Downward Facing Boat and Upward Boat.

For me, being fortified by these natural resources represents being cared for by something or someone outside of ourselves.  I surrender to being helped – and generously, that support is there for me.

If all other yoga intentions fail, the one practice that always comes through for me is surrendering control with every exhale during Poschimotanaasana.  There is something about incorporating mindful Deergha Swaasam during this seated forward fold that proves profoundly effective every time.  Each inhale is an opportunity to infuse myself with a positive intention.  With every exhale, I let go physically and emotionally, curling inward in the upper body and sinking inward with my mind.  Using long, thoroughly emptying exhales, I symbolically surrender obstacles and dissolve distractions.

If I learned anything from my own classes in September, it’s that sometimes self-care means allowing something or someone else to care for me.  If I truly yearn to take my yoga into action and bring my healthiest and strongest self off the mat and into the world, I have to get out of the driver’s seat.

Turning it over and surrendering control might be the only way to rebuild trust and love.

OM Shanti.

P.S.  BTW, during my “retreat,” I also went to the Nationals’ final three home games.  If you’re wondering what baseball has to do with Yoga In Action…well first of all, because I love baseball so much, these three nights were acts of self-care!  Most importantly – I think I reached some kind of Samadhi when I witnessed the Phillies clinch the National League East title on the 2nd night!  I’ve only seen that happen on TV, and it was thrilling!  I was completely blown away by the energy and although a true Nats fan, I felt a one-ness with the 1,000’s of Phillies followers there.  Awesome!