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Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014

SunRaysForestPathSometimes, gratitude does not come overnight. Sometimes days, weeks and months can pass before thankfulness finds its way into a broken heart. But from experience (and lots of it), I know there will be a silver lining to every story of challenge, hardship and adversity. If you’ve read my blog before, you are familiar with my efforts to use yoga, addiction recovery, therapy and related resources to heal from past trauma and cultivate a life of balance and wellness. I’m also devoted to sharing these experiences and tools with others. I’m not perfect; still, I do believe in every being’s potential to heal, grow and change.

And for that – the faith, the belief, the hope – I am grateful.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for two specific things.

 

*  *  *

“Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha

#1: I don’t know where my father is.

You may have read my past blogs about last year’s family fiasco. I’d moved from my hometown of DC to Dad’s retirement city of Nashville to support him as he ages. There were major issues with his house, his health and his finances. Although I was able to help successfully in many ways, my time there was challenging from every angle – work, health, home, community, family. The most difficult was watching my father fade with dementia. The most damaging was my sisters’ hostility toward me. I became financially, physically and emotionally depleted. After gaining counsel, I made the very difficult decision to return to DC, where – with the support of deep roots and caring communities – I could rebuild from scratch.

Over the past year, I have been ostracized by my sisters and by my father’s community. I understand where their blurred perspectives originate, and know that my side of the street is clean. I was the one who showed up for him devotedly and dependably since my mother died more than a decade ago. Because throughout our lives, Dad and I have shared an authentic love beyond description. This October, he told me he was having surgery for skin cancer on his head. Our last conversation was November 9th, the day before his procedure. And now, I can’t reach him, he’s not reaching out to me, my sisters and his friends are not contacting me, I have no idea how he is, and I can only guess where he is.

And…I AM GRATEFUL? How?

PathWithHeartThis is a case where I cannot (yet) see the positive in the situation itself. And so, to lighten my heavy heart, I choose to give thanks for related gifts:

  • I am not the only one who loves my father. Dad has his own higher power(s). I must have faith that he is being cared for. Plus, I have the chance to utilize my own toolbox of wellness resources in order to love him, forgive my sisters and cultivate compassion about the family dissonance. My prayers are for his whole health, and, for a joyous Thanksgiving, wherever he is.
  • My friends are my family. This year, I was invited to multiple Thanksgiving meals. There is an “Orphans Dinner,” a “Vegetarian Friendsgiving,” a “Gluten Free Thanksgiving” and assorted gatherings in communities I’ve been part of for years and years. My “family of choice” has also chosen me – we share similar roots, shared experiences and a yearning for healing and growth.
  • What a difference a year makes. Last winter in Nashville, I accepted a Second Harvest food donation for my family. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life – but, that box of food went a long way when resources were short. This past week, I joined a group of volunteers at a DC nonprofit, giving turkeys and groceries to families in need. This experience widened my gratitude for where I stand today. Things are far from stable, but thanks to seven months of recent steady work, I have food in my fridge…thanks to returning to DC, I’ll share holiday meals with dear ones…and thanks to gleaning the best from a past of hardship, I am able to serve others in ways that I once needed.

*  *  *

“Once you know that suffering is for your benefit… You’ll gladly go through it.”
~ Swami Satchidananda

#2: I was recently fired from my restaurant job.

Exactly four weeks before, my boss sat me down for a glowing progress review. A month later, she scornfully scolded and terminated me. I’m a willing, honest and dedicated worker. When I make mistakes, I take responsibility and seek solutions for improvement. Over that last month, however, there was scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And then, bam…see ya.

And you know what? I AM GRATEFUL.

Oh, sure, I’m also feeling a mixture of injustice, anger, financial worry and general upset. With slight hints of self pity. I’m human. But in the end, this is clearly a case (as many friends have remarked in their own ways) where “god” or “the powers that be” are doing for me what I could not do for myself.

LifeIsBeautifulAbsolutely grateful:

  • It is a blessing to be free. I have been liberated from a place that handles professional affairs in a manner that I will not accept.
  • When one door closes, another one opens. Since being fired, I have received numerous offers to teach yoga in studios, at schools, for birthday celebrations, for nonprofits and more.
  • My confidence is boosted! I still must look for sustaining work (because teaching yoga does not pay the bills). And that last job – my first as a waitress/server – was at one of the most popular and busy restaurants in the city. So I am thankful for seven months of training and experience. Even while navigating interpersonal challenges with staff, I honed all of my past professional skills in customer service, marketing, event coordination, catering and more to become an awesome server. And I can take that anywhere. In the meantime, generous friends at a family-owned restaurant are giving me a few shifts, so I can keep up my chops.
  • That job was a gift. One of the managers knew that I’d had a tough year away and – knowing that I had little restaurant experience – gave me work, so I could come home to DC and start strong. Over those seven months, I was able to get on the road to financial recovery. And for these next five months, thanks to generous landlords, I have a roof over my head, and the potential to continue chipping away at bills and debt through new work.
  • I have some healing to do. I believe that I am a healthy woman. Truly. In body, mind and spirit. Thanks to that workplace experience, I am tackling yet another layer of sacred inner work. I had the opportunity to see how staff dynamics can trigger my PTSD – particularly now, after such a tough year with family dysfunction. Thanks to being healthy enough to take accountability for my part and see where I need to grow, I am venturing on a fresh direction toward wholeness.

*  *  *

“…she learned that surrender is quiet.” 
~ from “Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,”by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women recovering from addiction and sexual trauma.

I’m a fighter.

That’s exactly why the recent job termination meeting was such an ironic victory. I had good reason to defend myself. However, I was silent. As the list of “wrongs” was aired, I squirmed internally and took mental notes. At times, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Although frustrated, I pursed my lips. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, my hands resting on my legs, my mind clear and my mouth shut.

Surrender is quiet.

Funny – I’d read the above line from “Snake Oil” on the bus ride to the meeting with my boss. Chapter 3, “Seeds of Healing,” introduces us to a number of Thistle Farms program participants, who work producing healing balms, bath salts and oils for the nonprofit. “Val, like every employee of Thistle Farms, began every morning in the meditation circle before she began to work. She said during her time at Thistle Farms she learned that surrender is quiet. She says in order for her to heal and forgive, she has to surrender everything. Through the journey of surrender, she learned how much quieter it was than all the fighting in prison, with family, with the world.”

Interesting timing, eh? The evening after being fired, it hit me – I had been fighting a lot at that job. Fighting my own fear of failure and financial insecurity; fighting my own negative voices; fighting other’s accusations; fighting for consistency; fighting for staff accountability. After that much battle, it’s clear: the job simply wasn’t meant to be.

As for the family situation, I’m not as quiet. My grief tends to shout, and, I’m having a tough time quelling that voice. There’s still a bit of wrestling; but I know most of it is within my own soul.

Still, it can feel good to give up. To wave the white flag, and accept what’s here, now, real and true. That job is gone, and it’s time to move on. I can’t reach my father, so I must focus on other joys. For me, acceptance is the 1st step toward Samtosha – one of yoga’s five Niyama, or value-based observances, as described by the Eight Limbs in the Yoga Sutras. Samtosha means complete contentment with whatever exists. And such contentment has the potential to transmute into GRATITUDE for the silver linings or lessons. With consistent observance and practice of surrender, acceptance, contentment and gratitude comes the mindful serenity that yoga promises.

I have to ask myself:

Do I want to walk around in misery and resentment about my adversity; or, do I want to cultivate inner peace despite hardship and nurture forgiveness despite hurt – and therefore contribute to harmony around me and in the world?

*  *  *

Aside from mentioning it in the August Yoga Class Focus blog, I never officially wrote about the September and October theme of GROWTH. I reckon I was too busy growing, and encouraging the process in others. So here we are in November, jumping on the GRATITUDE bandwagon! It simply cannot be helped. C’mon, aside from being connected to Thanksgiving marketing, it’s the perfect tie-in to yoga philosophy. Not to mention, exploring GRATITUDE invites us to take stock, offering an inroad toward New Year’s Intentions.

Nearing the end of 2014, I might say that my last year included a doozy of bumps and bruises. Justifiably, I could focus on the family problems, the job loss, my ongoing PTSD issues and my related fears about the future. On the other hand, I could exercise the yogic tenant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, and replace those negatives with the positives listed above.

The act of being grateful gives me something warm to hold in my heart, even when the chill of adversity breaks it. Gratitude softens me enough to squarely face my wounds. It keeps my mind open to – eventually – giving thanks for what initially shut me down.

No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a day of THANKS-GIVING. Heck, with yoga’s guidance, we could enjoy an entire lifetime of gratitude. I’m certainly aiming for that.

*  *  *

Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.

 

ATONEMENT October 3, 2014

UnionPrayerBook(Oct2014)“We cast into the depths of the sea
Our sins, and failures, and regrets.
Reflections of our imperfect selves
Flow away.
What can we bear,
With what can we part?
We upturn the darkness,
Bring what is buried to light.
What hurts still lodge,
What wounds have yet to heal?
We empty our hands,
Release the remnants of shame,
Let go fear and despair
That have dug their home in us.
Open hands,
Opening heart –
The year flows in,
The year flows out.”
~ Marcia Falk

+ + + + +

This poem was part of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services I attended with my father in Nashville nine days ago. And today marks the final 24 hours of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins at sunset.

The intensity of this poem truly captures the depth of inner work that Jews approach each year at this time. The new year comes first, then a ritual of casting away obstacles, then a period of forgiveness – offered and requested – and finally, Yom Kippur. Tonight’s and tomorrows prayers, reflections and fasting bring us to neutral, gift us with a blank slate. We step forward with healthy, peaceful, loving intentions after having done our best at releasing past transgressions – committed by and against us.

Phew! Like I said: intense. In 12-Step Recovery, there is a similar process. And in many spiritual traditions, there are processes of examining our behaviors, discovering their roots/motivations, making amends, and, forgiving ourselves and others.

SOMETIMES, THE GREATEST AMENDS AND THE DEEPEST FORGIVENESS ARE OWED TO OUR SELVES…

For me, this was one of those years. Yes, I made mistakes in my actions toward others; and I did my best to process, understand, take action about them. There is a bit more work to be done there; and it will be done promptly.

However, reflections this week have led me to a certain “blueness.” Not depression, not remorse. But grief. Grief of years lost to unhealthy, toxic, harmful and self-destructive behavior. This fall – right now – marks the 25th anniversary of my darkest descent into alcoholism’s painful grip…25 years ago, I was in the midst of the worst time of my life. It’s heartbreaking to recall how much I harm I did to myself, how little honor I had for life, how badly I wanted to die.

No details. Not here. Not yet…

So today, I am reflecting back and also standing right here, in this present moment. After September’s Yoga Class Focus of GROWTH…well, I’d say that I have grown a lot this past month! And as I prepare for Yom Kippur’s 24-hour rally, I am setting the following Sankalpa (an intention of deep resolve and purpose, stated as if it is already happening):

I DEEPLY LOVE AND FORGIVE MYSELF.

Because today, 25 years after not even knowing the meaning of these words, I truly do love and forgive myself.

I wish this for you, too.

THANK YOU for being a part of this beautiful life. You help me know that I am loved, accepted, understood, supported and cared for.

LOVE TO ALL. ShalOM Shanti.
(Book was a gift from my dad – one of my family’s original prayer books for the High Holy Days.)

 

Turning, Churning & Balance September 21, 2014

“Life is to challenge you with its ups and downs. Ride over them without losing your balance.” – Sri Swami Satchidananda

What a beautiful week of teaching at my fave neighborhood studios, Embrace (Adams Morgan, DC) and Past Tense (Mt. Pleasant, DC), beginning last Saturday and wrapping up this morning. Students are so darn devoted to yoga practice! I am honored to share what’s been passed to me, and share the experience of GROWTH…which has been our September yoga class focus. Thank you, yogis, for putting your minds, bodies, inhales, exhales, senses and hearts into our time together.

Hopefully our efforts will pay off during this coming week of intense energy all around us. (And I will admit, for the sake of brevity, this is a very watered-down AutumnLeaves(Oct11)version of true astrologer’s wise accounts of what’s coming.) Tomorrow at 10:19pm EST, the Autumn Equinox occurs, signifying not only the turning of the seasons, but simultaneously, equilibrium. According to most calendars, we observe the arrival of Fall on Tuesday, which also leads into the Libra New Moon, peaking early Wednesday morning at 2:14am EST – and happens to coincide with the Sun in Libra. This combo not only signifies the New Moon’s typical opportunity for rejuvenation and fresh starts, but also, the presence of Libra’s scales, which can be tipped or balanced. Add to this, people of the Jewish faith will observe Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – at sunset on Wednesday, beginning a 10-day period of moral inventory, exchanges of forgiveness and atonement. (Author’s note, 9/22/14: Holy cr#*, how could I have forgotten Navratri, the 9-day Hindu holiday that falls within the same dates as the Jewish High Holy Days? Navratri, the celebration of the Divine Mother during the sacred shift of seasons? Navratri! Jai!)

Even if you are not Jewish, don’t believe in astrology and aren’t attentive to the change of seasons – people around us will be observing and affected by these events. With the energies of deep reflection, inevitable transition and new beginnings abounding, we can tap into the energies of balance and equilibrium for our benefit – and ultimately, for everyone’s.

In today’s morning classes, we worked very slowly…very deliberately…through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chakras (earth/origins, water/connections and fire/identity). In my experience, during times of turning and churning, it has served me quite well to focus on these three foundational energy centers before moving into the “open heart” that yogis love to explore in classes. Who wouldn’t want an open heart? From my teachers, I have learned that a healthy, aware, “open” heart requires the support of a healthy base below.

As I prepare to travel back to Nashville for the 1st time since this past Spring’s phase of challenge and churning, I’m grateful to have spent this week sharing yoga’s powerful practices for balance, harmony, insight and heartfelt living. Thank you.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Season, Happy New Moon, Happy New Year. OM Shanti.

 

It’s A Family Affair May 29, 2014

“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”  ~ ConfuciusNashvilleGrate(Fall13)

I have written and re-written this blog 1,000 times. In those drafts, I: shared the sad and messy facts about families dealing with aging parents; reprinted my raw and emotional Facebook mini-blogs from February and March, when family matters blew up in Nashville; proved myself right and damned myself for screwing up; expressed devotion, concern and love for my father. Trying to get to the bottom of my unrest about my time in Nashville and my decision to move back to DC, I have examined every confusing corner of the situation.u

As of today, I’ve been back in DC for exactly two months. A few intense Full and New Moons have passed. The spiritual books I’m reading, the yoga classes I’m taking, the life experiences I’m having – they all point in one direction. The mirror is being held up, and I am being invited to look myself in the eye. The universe has been scraping away and wearing me down – in the best way possible. It’s time for change, for good.

At 2:40pm EST yesterday, while I meditated for the New Moon peak, this statement consumed my thoughts, shook me to my core and erased my confusion:

I really must clear my heart of anything but LOVE.

Because in the end, the pain of harboring resentment in my heart is bigger than any original harm. So here, dear friends, is the final draft of this blog.

*  *  *

FORGIVE ME FACEBOOK; IT’S BEEN MORE THAN THREE MONTHS SINCE MY LAST BLOG POST…

One hour after posting my last piece, “Be My Valentine,” my life turned upside down. That afternoon, after a heart-liberating massage, I was glowing with positive energy toward life. Then…unexpected family matters began to abound. And I learned something very important: whereas I’d believed that I moved to Nashville to take care of my aging father until the day he died…I suddenly understood that I was actually visiting Nashville on an important fact-finding mission.

Relatively soon after posting that February blog, I left Nashville to move back to my hometown of Washington, DC. There was no other course but to throw up the white flag, trust that my father would be helped by others and return to the place that historically nourishes and restores me: my true HOME.

During and since my time in Nashville, I have felt angry, harmed, righteous and vengeful. I processed these feelings through my practice, and, with my dear friends and others close to me. I wrote about the situation on Facebook. Now, it’s time to let those feelings go, and, leave that situation in the past. And if the resentments surface again (because they could), I must vow to revisit and re-process them in privacy and with respect, and, in appropriate venues and constructive ways.

I exposed my family’s pain – and by doing so, I caused harm. My Urban Yoga Den page on Facebook is now free of all mentions of my family during those times.

This was a tough pill to swallow…a humbling reality to accept.

As I said, since returning HOME, my reading, my classes and my experiences have been softening my wall of self-justification for processing the family situation so publicly (i.e. family is a part of life, and the Urban Yoga Den talks about life; it’s my personal mission to not hide anything; the blog’s rigorous honesty is in service to others; and – ahem – it’s my retribution for being harmed). With that thin veil of “valid reasons” lifted, I finally saw what was beneath it: I’d been acting on an emotionally twisted mix of desires to be seen as right, to be seen as special, to be seen as healthy, to be seen as good…and also to be seen as pitiful. I wanted to be loved…and also to be outcast. Beyond that? I discovered my desire to “own” my father and to be the “best” daughter. Ugh, why? Because of the undying shame I feel about the debt I owe him, after decades of an unhealthy financial dependence.

And at the heart of all of these discoveries? The most important truth of all: I am terrified of losing my father. I love him more than anyone in the world. I always have.

*  *  *

“Unless we come to understand the self-defeating nature of our own possessiveness, we cannot stop making war.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

When I read this sentence from “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace,” I immediately wrote “MY dad” in the margin. I realized that I’d wanted Dad to be “mine.” Forever. Much of the motivation behind my move to Nashville to help my father had come from an intense fear of losing him. Of course, there were so-called “noble” motivations, as well. For instance, my father had helped me emotionally and financially for much of my life. So, I wanted to give back more substantially than before – visiting a few times a year to clean, cook and hang out. Attached to that noble motivation, however, was an underlying feeling of shame, guilt and accountability to a great debt…which also led to the feeling that I had to be there for him, had to do the most for him and had to be the best for him.

It’s complex, I know. It’s family.

What rings true right now, however, are the negative results of my possessiveness. It drove my division with my sisters, it drove my defensiveness with Dad’s community and it even drove my own inner battles when feeling insufficient in serving him.

In his book, Tigunait reminded me, “Yoga simply says, ‘Remember, this whole world with all its objects has evolved from God and still exists in God. Every single object, every single aspect of this world is pervaded by God. Things of the world are given to you as gifts. Learn to enjoy them without becoming attached to them.’ (Isha Upanishad, verse 1)”

“Even people,” I wrote in the margin. My father is God’s gift. He’s not mine at all. Or anyone’s.

“The knowledge that we have these worldly resources at our disposal and yet we are not their owners will protect us from disputes and disagreements,” Tigunait assures. I believe him. I don’t want continued conflict with my family. So, through specific practices and resources, I’m learning to love my father without needing to possess or prove anything to anyone. And that includes transmuting my possessiveness into appreciation for the beauty we’ve shared, feeling gratitude for each current/present moment with him (even if on the phone or through the mail), and, believing that I always do my best in service to him.

It also means releasing my dread of saying goodbye.

*  *  *

“Love and tolerance of others is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone.” ~ from addiction recovery literature

I admit there is still a part of me that wants to prove – to readers, to friends, to community, to family, to everyone – that I am the good one, that I am right, that I am this or I am that. The fact is: this “I-am-ness” is what separates me from others, creates friction and ends up causing harm. Even saying that I’m bad, that I’m horrible, that I’m unforgiveable (because at times the mood can shift from self-righteousness to self-pity) results in the same separation.

Enough! I am what I am at any given moment, and what others think about me is truly beyond my control and none of my business. Only I must sit with myself and know myself. And in the end, if I truly want to cultivate inner peace and therefore spread peace around me (Ahimsa – non-harming – the essence of all my yogic practices and life intentions), then right/wrong and good/bad cannot matter at all.

Tigunait’s book speaks of world wars. For me, it relates to my own internal, interpersonal and family battles. It’s all the same. Societal wars evolve from individual toxicity. “These subtle problems,” he says, “can be solved neither through political negotiations nor with sermons. They are the subtle causes of our external catastrophes, and the only way to overcome them lies in applying spiritual tools and committing ourselves to the disciplines that lead us to self-transformation. … Such a thing can be done. It requires courage, tolerance, forbearance, endurance, and a total commitment to practice the philosophy one professes… The great scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, says, ‘Peace is priceless. Attain peace at any cost.’”

*  *  *

I crave LOVE. And so I must choose LOVE whole-heartedly.

For decades I failed to live with any principles at all. Presently, thanks to the 12 steps of addiction recovery, the 8 limbs of yoga and additional positive influences, I’ve not only established values; I do my best to live them. I still fail at times. I own, examine and aim to mend my past and current errors. I am human. That’s all I can do.

In one of my March Facebook mini-blogs, I said that I was “burying my wars,” and I meant it. No more family battle tales – they would only feed the cycle of pain. With some space and time between what happened during my seven months in Nashville and this present moment, I can now focus on the silver linings, the lessons learned and the immense personal growth.

It’s time to take the lessons learned in Nashville and apply them to my renewed life, back in my beloved hometown of DC. I have plenty of opportunities to practice healthy “family dynamics” with my friends, new co-workers and community members! Our goal may be to build love and trust, to serve a business mission, and/or to create safer neighborhoods.

Whatever the task, there is a lot at stake in these relationships.

*  *  *

OMMM…
SAHANA VAVATU
SAHANAU BHUNAKTU
SAHA VIRIYAM KARAVAVAHAI
TEJAS VINAVADHITA MASTU MAVID
VISHA VAHAI HI
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI.

DCYogaNook(Mar14)OMMM…
May we be protected together.
May we be nourished together.
May we work together with great energy.
May our study together be enlightening.
May there be no hatred between us.
OM peace peace peace.

The rich stories, ideology and practices of yoga can provide a framework for positive interactions and outcomes. This yogic prayer has been a fixture in my daily practice for months now. Sometimes I would leave a recording of it on ‘repeat’ and listen to it softly all day and night. It helped decrease my upset about family matters in Nashville, it helped through my transition back to DC, and it helps in my renewed life with its very normal interpersonal challenges. Coming from this past year’s bumps and bruises, my fears of being harmed and/or of losing something valuable can make me hyper-sensitive at times. Hah, go figure – this work is still at the roots of my greatest growth. Thankfully, I’m HOME, where my “family-of-choice” is cheering me onward and upward. After rising from the fire of my Nashville experience, I feel stronger than ever, and ready to keep growing.

In my ideal “family,” there is honesty, openness, acceptance and support. There is hardship, challenge and pain. Discomfort and willingness coexist – as do care and anger. Together, we protect, we nourish, we work, we study, and above all, we LOVE.

Thanks for reading – and, thanks for being part of my family. OM Shanti.

 

The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy August 26, 2011

“The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” launches this Sun., 8/28.  Curious?  See below, then “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook or subscribe to UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com to stay informed, join in, and/or, share your efforts!

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I will launch “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.

The “Project” idea arose when Whole Foods Market discontinued my favorite morning ritual incense – Happy Heart by Maroma’s SPA line – leading me to buy their last 10 boxes.  “Hmmmm…100 days of Happy Heart, ” I thought.  And the project was born.

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.  I will see what happens during the day, and journal about it each night.  When I finish a 10-stick box of my precious incense, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey over those last 10 days.  The blog will also be posted on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook.

If you’ve read my blog lately, you know that I’ve been in the process of healing from a number of physical and emotional challenges (illnesses, health scares, betrayals, violations) – some have occurred over the past year, and some are connected to older events that have been triggered by recent trauma.  (Please check out “Be A Yogi” and other recent entries for background.)  During this 100 day Project, I’ll share the practices and tools from yoga and other resources that consistently guide me toward the inner peace that allows joy.

I know there are no guaranteed outcomes for this 100-day project – only intentions and footwork, one day at a time.

I’m excited to say that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and will be sharing the journey!  So, we invite you to join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

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

 

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.

 

Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  – http://www.wisegeek.com/

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.

 

Focus Wrap Up: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali March 8, 2011

“If I wasn’t making some people uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be doing anything important.” – Justine Siegel, 1st woman to throw batting practice for Major League Baseball and founder of “Baseball for All”

I didn’t plan to write this today.  I have cleaning to do, laundry to fold, breakfast to cook.  But I feel compelled.  Plus, I’m behind on my blogging and have to wrap up our February focus!  Here goes…

A yoga class is definitely NOT the place I go when I need to control things.

But it used to be.  When I was feeling icky, I went to class to feel held, comforted, fixed.  When I was feeling great, I went to class to celebrate, connect, thrive.  I needed to feel that I was in control of my feelings, my well-being, my state.  Therefore, I had expectations on the teacher, the students, the staff, the atmosphere.  I had expectations on yoga.  And guess what.  Surprise, surprise – my needs were not always met. I sometimes spent an entire class in resentment, disappointment and/or frustration.  I sometimes wanted to leave class.  For some reason, I never did (as far as I remember).

Something held me there.  And I kept coming back.

Over the years of attending many, many classes, I have come to realize that on a very tangible level, there are too many uncontrollable factors in a yoga class for me to predict any kind of outcome.  There is the teacher’s style, the teacher’s voice, the teacher’s class format, the teacher’s class theme, the teacher’s background, the teacher’s teachers.  There is the teacher’s music choices, lighting choices, air temperature choices.  And so on.  And then there are the students – sometimes hundreds of them if during a workshop – with their varying energies, moods, needs, backgrounds, strengths, challenges.

A yoga class is a room full of humanness.

Also over the years, on a spiritual level, I started to realize that a yoga class is exactly where I need to go IF I am feeling like controlling things – it is the best venue to practice surrender, willingness and acceptance.  It is a great place to practice self-inquiry, compassion, patience.  It offers the beautiful opportunity to respond to, learn from, and be shaped by whatever happens, whatever comes up, whatever is.

A yoga class is a place to grow.

And that, my friends, is why I so lovingly embrace The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – particularly the five aphorisms that we explored during our February class focus.  If I did not infuse my personal yoga practice with the philosophical, ideological and ethical ideas of the Sutras, I would still be stuck in resentment, still pissed off at whomever rattled me, still personally offended by whatever someone said or did – and I’m talking on AND off the mat.

A yoga class is my chance to develop spiritually.

I honor you, noble students, for so fearlessly taking on Patanjali’s wisdom; for writing to and confiding in me with comments and questions, frustrations and celebrations, concerns and realizations; and for sharing your teachings with me.  You are beautifully human.  We are beautifully human.

Over the past month, we looked at five Sutras as tools for experiencing yoga on and off the mat.  We began with Sutra 1.2, “Yogas Cittas Vritti Nrodhah” – yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.  I like to think of Sutra 1.2 as the 1st “promise” of many in this ancient text.  Here in book one, we learn that although yoga can open our hips and heal our asthma, its primary purpose is to cultivate a peaceful mind. During our classes we made decisions regarding Asana choices based on cultivating and sustaining this peace.  When faced with challenge, we weighed out the options and consequences of seizing that challenge or easing off.

Next we explored the practice of “Pratipaksha Bhavana,” described in Sutra 2.33 as the replacement of negative or obstructive thoughts with positive or opposite ideas.  Here we realized that we cannot replace reality with something opposite – we recognize that our practice (and life) might bring difficulty.  But by sustaining a positive mind through the challenge (i.e. dwelling on a pose’s benefits, concentrating on life-giving breath or focusing deeply on Sankalpa or intention), we can maintain our peace of mind and face troubles gracefully.

With this practical tool in hand, we backtracked to Sutra 1.33, which suggests that we cultivate certain attitudes toward certain types of people – or toward certain types of states within ourselves.  To summarize this complex aphorism (explored more deeply in the last most, “Focus: The Yoga Sutras – Love & Murder), we are encouraged to befriend happy people (or states), have compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and be indifferent toward the non-virtuous.  A tough order at times; but all for the sake of that ever-serene mind.

After all this hard work of self-witnessing and shaping the mind toward peace, we wrapped up the month with two of Patanjali’s most comforting statements (in my opinion).  Sutra 2.46, “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” (Asana is a steady, comfortable position.) and the promise of all promises, Sutra 2.16, “Heyam Duhkham Anagatam.” (Future pain will be prevented.)  If I practice yoga as prescribed by the Yoga Sutras, I learn that I have permission to express each pose with a balance of effort AND ease, steadiness AND comfort.  And one of the most relieving results of practicing in this way is the prevention of future pain – physical and otherwise.

Beyond the mat, how did this all pan out?  Did the Sutras inform your every day life? From some of your feedback, I know you sought to use the tools, but admitted they escaped you at the most important times.  I heard that they helped you respond compassionately to angry drivers.  I heard that coming to class gave you the tools to navigate tough interpersonal situations (I’m cleaning up the language, here!).  I heard appreciation for the Sutras’ promises and affects in general.

I know for me, as soon as I select a theme to teach, I start hitting all sorts of wonderful “trials” in daily life to test out my tools and learn some new lessons!  It’s been an intense – and intensely lesson-filled – few weeks.  In terms of the quote above from my new Karma Yogini heroine (who probably does not know what Karma Yoga is), Justine Siegel, if I weren’t feeling some kind of discomfort, probably nothing important is happening in my life.  And thanks to the Yoga Sutras and other spiritual practices and resources, discomfort yields growth.

Which to me, is important.

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

 

Focus: Abundance – Growth December 10, 2010

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist

When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.

So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.

Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.

Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!

You must know that you can swim through every change of tide.  – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.

It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.

Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.

So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.

I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.

Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer

Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood.  My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness.  Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god.  I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection).  At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment.  Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.

Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music.  I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles.  I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles.  And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.

My parents are not to blame.  The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had.  As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me.  Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.

I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life.  Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity!  Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma.  My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans.  That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time.  This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.

Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher

For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others.  I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better.  Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.

Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns.  Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.

Our December focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past.  All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.

Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity.  At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens.  Sometime life throws some curve balls.  And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.

I was hit by a pitch this past summer.  The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding.  Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone.  I lived in fear.

Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock.  I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.

Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist

At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again.  I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions.  He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.

While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Polarity Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Polarity Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs).  It was subtle and yet powerful!

With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it.  On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter.  Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time.  Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.

Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience.  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder

Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered.  This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness.  It was tough.  I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows.  I could feel my entire body vibrating.  Tears flowed.  I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing.  But I knew I needed to stay in the process.

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter

This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past.  It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.

Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically.  One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again.  I’m just not there yet.  But I will be.  I will bounce back.

You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer

To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs.  But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.

Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life.  You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.

I am scared. And I am growing, too.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

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.