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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Focus: Why Yoga? – Challenge August 18, 2010

If we learn to open our hearts, anyone – including the people who drive us crazy – can be our teacher. – Pema Chodron, Buddhist monk and teacher

I would take the above quote a step further and say, “Anyone or anything – including the people or situations that drive us crazy – can be our teacher.” To me, this is challenge.  Challenge comes in many forms.  Perhaps we are facing tough difficulties; or, maybe we are offered great opportunities.  With all challenge, we are invited to jump into or go through something big, something new, something nerve-racking.

The question is – can we SEIZE opportunities…can we GROW through our difficulties?

For me, all challenge is a teacher and brings the chance to grow. But I did NOT always feel this way!  Hah!  All challenge meant inconvenience and discomfort!  Difficulties meant stuffing emotions in order to look strong.  “That’s OK, I’m fine!”  And opportunities meant finding ways to side-step toward a more comfortable route.  “I don’t feel safe doing that.”  What I’m really saying in those cases is, “I am afraid – afraid to feel my feelings; afraid to try something new.”

The funny thing is, these responses to challenge are related.  When I act strong on the outside but feel broken within, consequently, I stop taking healthy risks because I strongly crave comfort.  On the other hand, when I get honest with myself and others about my brokenness, my shadows and my difficulties, I find the support, conditioning and strength to seize opportunities and grow through challenge.

Yoga helps me do this.

Using yoga to face difficulties. In the past, my practice decreased when life got tough.  I remember a rough loss in February 2008.  Prone toward restless sleep, lazy mornings and naps on the couch, I most certainly did not prioritize my yoga practice.  People had to coax me from my apartment just to hang out and eat a little.  Ugh.  Then one day I received a “We Miss You” promotion from Flow Yoga Center.  It had been a while since I “belonged” to a studio.  At that very moment, I felt a need to belong.

I dove in.

Getting back into the DC yoga community truly re-awakened my life.  With a new set of teachers who helped me rehab structural injuries and regain physical confidence, consistent exposure to yogic philosophy, and regular connection with fellow yogis, I started to heal emotionally. By the end of that summer, I’d remembered my past yearning to teach yoga.  And in Fall of 2008, I became a certified instructor.

Using yoga for seizing opportunity. For 15 years I attended Level 1 yoga classes.  Talk about fear of healthy risk!  Granted, I’d been healing from a number of physical injuries; and, I’d been through some emotional losses.  So I had all the excuses in the world to stick with the comfort of my precious Level 1 practice.  After becoming certified to teach in 2008, I felt excited to teach beginners, and share the fundamentals that established my yoga foundation.  At the same time, that foundation was just that – a blank slab with nothing rising out of it.  I started to feel limited and stagnant in my own yoga practice.  And I noticed that same stagnant quality in my life, as well.

I had no faith.

I only had fear of newness, fear of being vulnerable, fear of failing.  I was living the same story every day – no risks, no opportunities, no challenges – and therefore, no growth.  So this year, I resolved to try Level 2 Asana!  Instead of saying, “I can’t do that pose because of my shoulder injury,” I asked for modifications to build the strength toward that pose.  Instead of claiming, “My core is not strong enough,” I asked for assistance in order to experience the full pose.  Instead of listening to my self-limiting stories, I committed to gradual conditioning and I accepted outside support.

If you’ve read past posts (i.e. April’s “100%” and May’s “100%+1”), you know that this year has been immensely progressive and I have seized a number of opportunities! I owe it to yoga – and the consequent inspiration and motivation I have received all around.

On that note…some of you know that I am a crier.

For me, shedding tears is a huge part of my path toward growth.  Tears keep me honest. Tears will sneak up on me in the middle of a yoga class – perhaps pigeon pose unlocks those stuffed emotions, or, a song triggers my heart to melt.  Or both.  I find that, if I allow myself that good “I can’t hold onto my tears because my body is so challenged by Asana right now” cry…I feel refreshed.  I feel stronger.  I feel clear.  I feel able to face what’s next.

I fondly recall two memories of transformations from fear to feeling, and from fear to faith.  I was terrified of “flipping the dog” – this fairly new and dance-like practice of moving from Downward Facing Dog into Wheel by, essentially, flipping the body.  I would watch people next to me in class and say, “That’s not yoga.”  The fact was – I was scared, and my self-limiting stories manifested in my judgment of others!!!

Then one night this Spring – during the height of my discernment about life’s direction – I was at John Horan’s class at Past Tense Studio.  John’s classes are beyond inspiring – with fairy tales and cosmic lighting, they take us to another world.  I guess my self-limiting brain was not functioning in this other world!  John was playing songs from the new Sade CD, all about love and strength and empowerment. So I was already a bit emotional.  There we were, in Downward Facing Dog, when John extended the invitation to “flip the dog.”

Suddenly, I felt as though strong hands reached down from the heavens and lifted me into the pose.

My leg rose, my hip opened high, I floated on my fingertips and I easefully settled into Wheel.  And I cried.  Pure tears of surrender.  All of my “no”s washed away.  Yes, I can flip my dog, and yes, it is yoga.  Yes, I can develop faith by practicing yoga.

I can also tap into stuffed feelings in class.  Recently, I went through weeks of struggle about a relationship, which finally ended.  Sometimes I think I’m totally in touch with that loss and am processing it authentically.  And sometimes yoga class tells me otherwise.

Just yesterday, I was feeling “ahhh-some” in yet another lovely class with Caroline Millet.  She guided us through a true Sun Salutation for the entire set.  The music was perfect for the summer sunrise – mellow acoustic folk and sweet Hindu chants.  And then, while in Downward Facing Dog, Caroline invited us (as she often does) to find something new in the pose.  So I was hanging out and waiting for the revelation. And BAM, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s sweet and heart-breaking version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” nailed me right in the heart.

I sunk to my knees and wept in child’s pose.

Apparently, I am still grieving my loss.  And lately, I have been too busy to feel.  Thankfully, I can reach and release these feelings in the safe space of a yoga practice, surrounded by community members and guided by a caring teacher.

How does yoga help you face challenges – whether new opportunities, or difficult times?  If not by releasing emotions or presenting new poses, then how does your practice support your growth – on and of the mat?  When you meet life’s teachers – even those people and situations that drive you crazy, make you uncomfortable, rock your security – can you embrace them with an open heart?

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

God Rest Ye December 23, 2009

…Merry Yogis and Yoginis!

So, we’re winding down our November and December class focus of “Rest.”  We’ve spent two months exploring yoga’s balance of effort and ease.  We fine-tuned our Asanam to the “nth” degree, soothed our nervous systems with Pranayama and rested flat on our backs to some pretty Yoga Nidra songs.

In addition, I tried to share quotes from various sources to complement our Restful theme.  Here is a compilation:

  • Patanjali: “Sthira sukham asanam.”  (Asana is a steady/firm, comfortable/pleasant posture.)
  • Satchidananda: “Take it easy, but don’t be lazy!”
  • Lao Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
  • Thich Nhat Hanh: “Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
  • Lily Tomlin: “For fast-acting relief – try slowing down.”

For a compilation of practices, song lists and other tools that have supported our “Rest” focus over these months, please see the Tips-n-Tools page.

It has been a pleasure to pass on resources that have helped me find comfort and joy through the holiday craze – plus before and beyond.  I hope you found something useful!

And a reminder – check out the Events page for info on a special NEW YEAR’S EVE WORKSHOP.  Launch an abundant 2010 under the Full Moon!

Thanks, all, for sharing mellow spirits and soulful OMs.  Wishing you peace, joy, love and light – in this season, for the new year, and always.  OM Shanti.

 

Comfort Songs for a Restful Holiday Season December 18, 2009

stormking.org

Sorry, my dears, you’ll find neither Christmas Carols nor Hanukkah Songs on this list.

These are the Comfort Songs.  The songs that say, “Everything’s gonna be OK,” “I understand” and “I’ll be there for you.”  The songs that paint rich pictures, give you permission to slow down, warm a snowy day and complement clouds, mist and rain.  They lull you to sleep, encourage you to connect, inspire you to awaken.

These songs may or may not be considered appropriate for yoga class.  But they’re A-OK in my book.

Enjoy.

  • Calexico – Slowness
  • Donna De Lory – Sanctuary
  • EastMountainSouth – Hard Times
  • Eddi Reader – Lucky Penny
  • Grant Lee Phillips – Little Moon; Nightbirds; Buried Treasure
  • Jack Johnson – Breakdown
  • Joshua James – Pitchfork
  • KD Lang – The Valley
  • Neil Halstead – A Gentle Heart
  • Nick Drake – Pink Moon
  • Nora Jones – Seven Years
  • Robert Plant/Alison Krauss – Killing the Blues
  • Ryan Adams – In My Time of Need
  • Sera Cahoone – Baker Lake
  • Son Volt – Windfall
  • The Low Anthem – (Don’t) Tremble; Charlie Darwin; Keep on the Sunny Side; Coal Mountain Lullaby
  • Townes Van Zandt – If I Needed You
  • U2 – Grace

You’ll find this list permanently archived on the Tips-n-Tools page.  Some of these performers are not the original writers of these songs.  I just like these versions.

Wishing you misty mornings, understanding hearts and awakening souls this holiday season and beyond.  OM Shanti.  Holly

 

Comfort… December 3, 2009

Again, a yoga class moved me to tears.

Tonight’s closing “OMMMMMMM” had the sweetness and harmony of a lullaby.  It hummed out to the universe to join the OMs I’ve heard in other teachers’ classes lately (thanks, Jenn).  Perhaps there’s something about a mid-holiday season yoga class that releases the peace from students’ souls.  It seems so to me.

Continuing our bi-monthly focus of “Rest,” (see the “Firm and Pleasant” post) we enter this second month with a more conceptual approach – versus our very physical exploration of restfulness in November, when we re-visited Sutra 2:46’s exploration of the balance between a firm steadiness and restful comfort in Asana.  We engaged the heck out of every inch of our body, breath and mind, then released all effort within or between poses to cultivate a deep stillness.

In December, as the pace of the world quickens with work cramming, gift shopping and party hopping, we get to sloooooowwwwww down in yoga class.  We gently shift from the physical aspect of our “Rest” focus to concepts like slowness, comfort and joy.  Focusing on the breath, movements can flow effortlessly.  Between poses, transitions can be quiet and mindful.  Keeping the set simple, eyes can stay closed.  Body, breath and mind float away into a much-needed comfort.

Also this month, Yoga Nidra is a huge part of our practice.  In addition to the usual deep relaxation session toward the end of my classes at Past Tense Yoga (and elsewhere), the studio is hosting a donation-based Yoga Nidra each Sunday, following the normally scheduled 7pm Detox class.  (See “Events” page for details.)  Contributions for this luxuriously restful session of Nidra, Pranayama and meditation benefit Rosemount, an early childhood education center in our Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.  So if you’re burnt out from going, going, going all weekend, join us each Sunday, 8:15-9pm for some stopping, stopping, stopping.

Who knew you could save the world while laying flat on your back?

For Yoga Nidra during regular classes, I’m playing my favorite “comfort songs.”  (Set list below and on the “Tips-n-Tools” page.)  Typically, I use devotional Sanskrit chants, quiet instrumentals or other meditative music.  During December, a variety of folk, alt-country or other artists will sing their nurturing, peaceful messages.  Tonight, we rested our heads on the beautifully dreamy pillow of “(Don’t) Tremble” by The Low Anthem.

“If the wind surrounds your house, do not turn and twist about.  Just wait it out.”

Tonight’s Nidra lullaby connected to the quote we shared to both open and close the class, inviting us to make time this holiday season for comfort, slowness, nurturing and of course, rest.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”  – Lao Tzu

Hope to see you Sundays for Yoga Nidra at Past Tense (again, details on “Events” page).  And thank you, students, for tonight’s sweet and soulful OMMMMMMMM.  Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace, Peace, Peace.

COMFORT SONGS - THE LOW ANTHEM

COMFORT SONGS FOR A RESTFUL HOLIDAY SEASON

(updated 12/04/09 – how could I forget Joshua James???)

  • The Low Anthem – (Don’t) Tremble; Charlie Darwin; Keep on the Sunny Side (yup); Coal Mountain Lullaby
  • Calexico – Slowness
  • Donna De Lory – Sanctuary
  • Sera Cahoone – Baker Lake
  • Grant Lee Phillips – Little Moon; Nightbirds; Buried Treasure
  • U2 – Grace
  • EastMountainSouth – Hard Times
  • Son Volt – Windfall
  • Neil Halstead – A Gentle Heart
  • Eddi Reader – Lucky Penny
  • Nick Drake – Pink Moon
  • Robert Plant/Alison Krauss – Killing the Blues
  • KD Lang – The Valley
  • Joshua James – Pitchfork