The Urban Yoga Den

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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.

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Focus: Why Yoga? – Resilience August 11, 2010

Today a friend is having a lumpectomy to remove cancer in her breast.

This friend is a strong, solution-oriented, resilient woman.  After reading my news about the betrayal, breakup and decompression process, she wrote to encourage me to join her in a ritual of surrender.  Instead of asking friends to pray for her well-being, she invited us to pray to let go of something that no longer serves us. On Monday evening, under a waning moon, I invited students to use their breath intentionally.  Together, we inhaled something positive into our being.  On the exhales, we let go of whatever might impede that positive intention.

Amazing what happens when I follow my own instructions!  I inhaled, “I trust that I will be taken care of,” and exhaled, “I surrender my fear.” I did this…after a day full of self-centered fear and heart-racing anxiety.  You see, while decompressing from this betrayal (which triggered memories of other traumas), I had become distrustful of humans.  By practicing intentional breathing in class Monday night, my fears and anxieties started to dissolve.

My friend’s proactive and positive attitude cracked open the door of my own resilience. And for that, I am grateful.

In past posts, I’ve written about “Pratipaksha Bhavana.” Essentially, this is what my struggling friend suggested.  This practice (mentioned in aphorism 2.33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) invites us to replace negative thoughts with positives.  This does not mean we should stuff or deny strong emotions that produce “negatives” – the healthy recognition and processing of anger, fear and anxiety is essential to our wholeness and well-being.  At the same time, for a multi-trauma survivor like me, the tendency to dwell in those emotions can cultivate fear-based stories that have nothing to do with the actualities surrounding me.  False beliefs such as, “I can’t trust anyone; everyone is hiding a horribly hurtful truth; I can instruct yoga but not get close to anyone” can invade and pervade.

When actually, I am surrounded by caring, honest, healthy and beautifully-human beings.

For those who know me and know how I teach, you also know that it would be impossible for me to disconnect!  I love engaging deeply and authentically with fellow yogis, students and teachers.  It was scary enough two weeks ago, when I found myself halfway through a class with no recall of what I had taught.  This realization lead me to make better choices for myself.  The end of my relationship has allowed me to reconnect with my truth, my essence, my healthiest me – and therefore, to show up for others.

For me, a path toward true resilience must include this essential aspect of service.

Since Monday evening’s Pratipaksha Bhavana/intentional breathing practice, so many other remedies have surfaced.  In fact, Tuesday was a long string of therapeutics.  I started with a visit to the chiropractor, who, by aligning my structure (post-traumatic-couch-sleeping is not great for alignment), reinforced proper flow of energy through the Chakras.  Then, in a Cranio-Sacral Therapy session, I finally verbalized my anger, disappointment and grief through a gradually-unstuck throat Chakra.  During a noon yoga class, where the teacher spoke of “Samtosha” (the Eight Limbs’ “Niyama” or virtue of contentment with or acceptance of what is), pigeon pose released my tears.  Afterward, talk therapy nurtured my trust and balanced my emotions.

Does this sound like a lot of effort?  Perhaps.  At the same time, through years of experience, I’ve grown to prefer the liberating results of proactive healing to the destructive crawl toward progressive depression.  Let’s see – liberation or destruction?  I know which sounds best to me.

“Therapeutic Tuesday” would not have been complete without sharing my experience, strength and hope with others who also believe in proactive recovery.  So that evening, in a room full of people who surrender to solutions one day at a time, I admitted my distrust of humans, identified this as dangerous, and described the tools I’m using to move away from that false story and toward the positive reality.

And the door to resilience cracked open a bit more.

This morning I woke up to my alarm at 6:30am.  I sprung off the couch (ok, ok, this IS a process!) and zoomed down the street for a 7am yoga class.  Inspired by a Sufi poem, the teacher encouraged us to see flowers growing within…and then to envision an entire garden.  Perhaps in full bloom; perhaps in need of some pruning.  Her music choices were positive and spiritual, organically complementing the bright sunrise.  No crying this time.  I felt energized and excited for change.

I even felt that trust was possible.

When I got home, I popped Joshua James into the CD player and cooked Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal with goji berries and walnuts.  What a shift from lazy comfort foods and mandatory meditation lectures.  Not to say that Dharma talks don’t help!  But to reach this point, where I can listen to Joshua’s soul-stirring stories and hear both the outcry and hope in his voice…I can now cry as a release and have hope, too.

As for the oatmeal, well, a self-nurturing and nutritious home-cooked breakfast beats the fleeting pleasure of potato chips in the long-term!

So on Monday, my friend with cancer helped crack the door open.  (Today, despite her encouragement to surrender my “stuff,” I’ll be praying for her and her only.)  Since Monday, despite my fear of trusting humans, despite my anxiety, despite my gushing emotions after so much holding-in – I have allowed people’s hugs, words, smiles, songs, teachings and prayers to penetrate this broken heart and tired soul.

This morning, the door to resilience is wide open. And I am choosing to walk through it.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

(P.S. If you have any questions about the remedies, practitioners, teachers or concepts mentioned above, please write me at hmeyers65@yahoo.com.)