The Urban Yoga Den

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Haters Gonna Hate November 7, 2016

“Our world is wounded, fractured, broken and burning. We are products of this place and it is our job to heal the world through the healing of our selves.” ~ Chani Nicholas

The difficulty of maintaining peace of mind during this world’s current upsets is obvious. On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Election, I am preparing for a week (or potentially, a much longer span) of holding sacred, peaceful, neutral space for the staff and students of the yoga studio where I teach and manage…the neighbors I pass on the streets…those sharing bus rides with me…social media friends…and many more beings.

How? By clinging to, relying on and willingly using tools that have saved my ass during times of suffering, frustration and discomfort. These practical resources include prayers, yoga and meditation practices, breathing techniques, spiritual teachings and quotes, recovery meetings, talk therapy and more.

I recently saw a meme: “Prayer does not change the world. Prayer changes us, so we can change the world.” Peace begins with me. And perhaps you.

Here, I share readings, tools and experiences that are helping me immensely these days…

* * *

“We put our hope in the awareness and in the promise that there will come a time when greed and injustice will be gone from the earth. We hope for a world completely repaired, all the inhabitants of this planet turning to each other in reconciliation, realizing that no one shall be excluded from the security of life.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

“May all of creation form a single bond with a balanced heart. May this occur soon in our lifetime.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

 

* * *

“OM Sahana Vavatu. Sahanau Bhunaktu. Saha Viriyam Karavavahai. Tejas Vinavadhita Mastu Mavid. Visha Vahai Hi. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. (May we be protected together, be nourished together, work together with great energy. May our study together be enlightening. May there be no hatred between us.)” ~ Sanskrit Chant

Some people love to hate. They use hatred of the Other to validate their own worthiness – when, the only thing that truly validates worthiness is LOVE. Therefore, people who love to hate are actually deficient in love.

People who love to hate fear that, if the Other receives love, there won’t be any left for them. If the Other is validated, they go unheard. If the Other wins, they will lose their security. Haters believe they must blame, alienate and separate from the Other so they can receive praise, acceptance and inclusion.

Some hateful people believe – at their deepest and often most wounded core – that they are not worthy of praise, acceptance, inclusion and love. They do not understand that they are in dire need of positive validation; so instead, they pursue allies in their hatred – fellow haters, bullies, gangs, cliques and activists that validate their negative beliefs of Others, and, that reinforce their negative image of self.

People that love to hate are looking for love in all the wrong places. They cannot recognize true love when they see it.

Until…we choose to love them despite their hatred.

Why do I know so much about haters? Because I’ve been one. And I’m guessing, so have you. What yanks me out of hatred faster than anything? Remembering that we are all human.

“Meditation on the principle of compassion is a means of erasing our own hatred, cruelty, and fear, and replacing these traits with love, kindness, and a deeper understanding for others. Those who meditate on compassion rise above the primitive urge of self-preservation, and thus their reactions toward others are not motivated by fear.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

* * *

“By cultivating friendship with those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, cheerfulness toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.33

I have forgiven the man that raped me, the men that mugged me, the people who abandoned me, and those who betrayed me. Not overnight. No, no, no. Not overnight. Over years and years of commitment to healing my wounds, I have grown to see my perpetrators as suffering beings who deserve compassion, and, their harmful acts as separate. Consequently, over time and with dedication – and after grieving with support – I became able to let go of the traumas. What do I gain? Liberation. Peace of mind. A healed heart. My whole self.

“These four keys should always be…in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind. From the very beginning of Patanjali’s Sutras we are reminded of that.” ~ Swami Satchidananda

* * *

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah. (Yoga clears disturbances of the mind.)” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.2

This promise is the 2nd sentence in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – four long chapters about yoga’s eight-limbed design for living. Because it all comes down to this: the more I know about yoga, the deeper my practice becomes, and, the more inner peace I enjoy.
August in DC was a burning hot month. Hot temperatures. Hot tempers. Heated debates. Desperate actions.

As unrest continued to build, conflicts continued and November approached (you know what I’m talking about), DC only burned hotter.

Still – you can keep your cool as the heat rises and arises. Practice Sitali Pranayama (the yogic cooling breath) and Naadi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing). Attend Restorative and Slow Flow classes instead of intensely heated or extremely powerful classes. For your own good – and, for the good of those around you – you can keep the peace. You can increase the peace. You can teach peace. You can breathe, embody, sweat peace.

“If my body is made primarily of water and animated by the breath, is it possible to call the water in the body ‘mine’ and the air outside of my lungs ‘the world?’ …and so it becomes hard to talk about a body practice as separate from a world practice. I move my body and I’m moving a corner of the world.
“Yoga occurs when our inner work manifests in the world around us.
“The world of mind and body, in the nondual tradition of yoga, is inseparable from the larger world… The interconnected reality we call ‘yoga’ orients us toward a mode of perception that sees reality as an interconnected web in which our own small story line is only a part and certain not the most prominent.” ~ Michael Stone

* * *

“Namaste.”

Translated literally from the Sanskrit, “Namaste” is a simple greeting meaning “Salutations to you.” It is not offered to a certain kind of being, nor to a certain part of each being. It is offered to the whole of every being.

Even haters.

“Namaste” cannot mean that one life matters more than another at any time – it means that all lives matter equally at all times. “Namaste” cannot mean that elevation and separation are the keys to justice – when historically, they have been the keys to conflict. “Namaste” cannot mean that out of guilt or pity, we move to “be of service” to those we see as having less than us – it must mean that we see ourselves as equals with those different from us in any way, and, stand together in a solidarity of humanness.

“Namaste” means that compassion is an equal opportunity offering.

It also means that I stop writing about “those haters” and start admitting that I’ve loved to hate.

We cannot truly come together until we can salute the whole of each being and all beings as a whole.

“Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.
“Kinship – not serving the other, but being one with the other. 
“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of the circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the  poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'” ~ Father Gregory Boyle

WAIT. FOR. IT.

Haters gonna hate until our love erases their reasons.

Thanks for reading.
Namaste. OM Shanti. Peace.

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Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (from the uyd archives) November 15, 2014

November 2014:
When I am struggling, friends sometimes say: “Go read your own blog!” Well, this past week has been a doozy of curve balls and losses. I recalled the blog below, from December 2010. I’m a bit embarrassed to share it, because it feels like I’ve been mostly depressed since then! Truth be told, the past 4 years have, indeed, been a severe string of betrayal, physical assaults, family hostility and loss. So, yes, I just went and read my own blog. Because this one – written in the midst of processing a trauma – is “Holly at her best.” Transparency, counsel, action, hope, resilience. Onward.
Thanks for reading. Love to you and all. OM Shanti.

*  *  *

YOGA CLASS FOCUS: ABUNDANCE – GROWTH
(December 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 [2010] class 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 Somatic Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Somatic 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.

 

 

Be My Valentine February 11, 2014

Wilco2July09It’s amazing how far from my own heart I can wander.  And not even know.  Until a massage therapist hunts me down and kindly reunites us.

“Come back to your heart, Holly.”

The heart does not go anywhere! It’s right there, in my chest; it’s right there, with my head; it’s there, around and within my home; there, all over my entire life.  ‘Tis I that roams far, far away.  So far that, when I look back, all I see is a wall on the horizon.

“Ah, yes – there’s your heart.  Let’s just put that right…back…in…here…where it belongs.”  (Says my body-worker, while chanting warm OMs into my chest).

My chest, arms, elbows and hands are still tingling from today’s massage session – when my heart and I were reintroduced.  “I remember you,” I said.  My heart just smiled and wiggled its way into my rib cage.  “Please don’t worry if I cry,” I told my brave therapist.  The sobs came.  Sobs lingering in the physical memory of my oldest heart breaks.  Sobs freshly stifled during the management of today’s repeatedly broken heart.

*  *  *

DadValentineOutside(2014)My father’s mind is failing.  And my heart is falling to pieces.  To stay on track with the tasks I handle for him?  All I can do is leave my heart behind.  To appear strong and able?  I stray away from the feelings and get lost in the to-do lists.

This approach to “managing” emotions is definitely taking a toll.  That wall on the horizon can feel definitively divisive at times.  Yet I remain devoted to my yoga, my Chakra work and my meditation, which – at the very least – keep me aware and open.

My outdoor practices rock my world.

Standing firmly near frozen swampy ground with the sun shining on my face, I inhale and envision my stability on this earth (1st Chakra), my fluidity in water (2nd) and my powerful inner fire (3rd Chakra).  I exhale and ask nature: “Please take away anything that impedes the integrity of my roots (1st), relations (2nd) and identity (3rd).  Thank you for taking this from me.”  Eventually, I feel an empowered foundation from my feet, into my legs, up through my hips and pelvis, and into my belly.

Then, I move into the heart (4th), throat (5th) and brow point (6th).  I stretch my arms out to the sides and inhale, “May my heart be filled with faith; may my voice be filled with love; may my mind be filled with clarity.”  On the exhale, I envision the faith, love and clarity being shared with the world.  I might close the practice with a few OMs, or, with some quiet time to simple observe what arises within.

I am grateful for my willingness, commitment and action toward self-care and wellness practices.  I stick with these routines despite my feeling of overwhelm from the seemingly insurmountable responsibilities I hold.  Therefore, rejuvenation and healing are always accessible.

If I was not able to feel my heart awaken during a massage session, there’d be a big problem.

*  *  * 

DadValentineInside(2014)When I came home from today’s appointment, I found a Valentine’s Day card from my dad in the mail.  The man does not miss a beat in certain areas.  I am thankful for the days when he is clear, present and able.  I am grateful for the days that I am patient, tolerant, compassionate and kind.

But loving?  My god.  It’s been a long time since I have felt “loving” toward my father.  Certainly not because I don’t love him!  Lord knows, he was my superhero growing up, and became my best friend in adulthood.  I relied on him more than a grown daughter should (although some say it was a completely normal amount of enabling that he lent me…).

And now I’m trying to show up for him.  My dad.  The love of my life.

So, to get through the times that his memory loss saddens me horribly, or his demented lashings hurt me deeply, I turn off “loving daughter” and turn on “responsible adult.”  To get through frustrating interactions with the institutions and people related to his troubles, I replace “emotional family member” with “Power of Attorney.”

I become exhausted and depleted.  My heart fades further into the distance.  And I’m not sure how long I can last like this.

*  *  *

“Hello?  Holly?  This is your heart.  I’m way over here.  Can you please come home?  Please let me back into your life, your waking moments, your dreams, your hopes, your hurts, your fears, your world.  Please – will you be my Valentine?”

“Yup.  Forever.  Yours.”  (She says, looking down at her feet, sorry that she’d ever left.)

Thanks for reading, y’all.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Kids These Days July 15, 2013

Hoodies of all sizes at the 2012 Rally for Trayvon in DC.

Hoodies of all sizes at the 2012 Rally for Trayvon in DC.

It seems that Trayvon Martin is on everyone’s mind today.  Who is on my mind?  Children much closer to me.  And Trayvon.  But mostly, the kids directly around me.

*  *  *

The 1st session of summer music/yoga camp wrapped up last week.

As you may have guessed, when teaching, I tend to gravitate toward the “troubled” kids.  Not the hyper, overly physical, excitable ones – although tough to manage, they tend to socialize well and quickly become accepted through lighthearted eye-rolling and general silliness.  I relate to the ones who have a really hard time socializing comfortably…who isolate, or cling, or hide, or run away, or harm themselves or others…who show signs of some sort of emotional hardship.

Over the past three weeks of camp, one little gal in particular struck a deep chord with me.  For the sake of privacy, I’ll call her “Carol.”  Carol was about 7-years-old; and it was her first time at a summer camp.  She was an enigma to most of the teachers and staff; but to me, Carol was completely familiar.  When she arrived, her favorite (and pretty much only) word was, “NO.”  I took my time with her.  First, I met with her group’s apprentices (aka camp counselors) and recommended boundary setting exercises that would liberate and empower both Carol and them.  Then with Carol, I had one-on-one conversations about her actions, suggested alternate behaviors for navigating challenges and encouraged her to apologize when she made mistakes with fellow campers.  Although a tough cookie, she was willing and earnest.  We worked together, and she tried her best.  Each day was up and down.  Still, Carol made subtle – yet profound – shifts in socialization by the end of three weeks.  For example, some days she stopped clinging to the legs of the apprentices and started interacting with other kids; she decreased her tendency to curl up into a ball and hide her face from the world; she more readily responded to my invitations to talk rather than running away; and she participated more and more in our percussion and yoga classes.

When Carol told me nobody was coming to watch her final performances, I asked if I could be her family.  I cheered her on and we smiled at each other through every song and dance.  At yoga class on the last day of camp, she gleefully joined in with the group’s playfulness and stories, as if she’d been integrated the whole time.  Before leaving for carpool, she hugged me multiple times, looked up at my face and said, “I love you.”  I answered, “I love you, too, Carol.”  And I do.

During this camp session, teachers shared theories and opinions about Carol.  Some were surprised I’d had a positive experience, exhaled with relief when she left and hoped she wouldn’t return.  One peer related to my experience and efforts, and said, “These children who need love are the reason we teach.”  Yes, indeed.  And, for me there are other reasons.

I don’t need to know what’s behind parents’ neglect to show up for a child’s needs.  They could be low-income and busily juggling many jobs; or, wealthy and struggling with emotional trauma.  They could be any race and from any background.  All parents give what they know how to give.  In some cases, what they give is insufficient.  So my approach is to recognize symptoms of neglect and, without assumption, judgment or blame – and more importantly, with compassion for the family as a whole – try to offer the child some tools for thriving despite hardship.  Throughout that process, I show the child that she is loved, no matter what she does, says and is.  I reinforce that her fallible humanness is loveable.  And more importantly, I show the child that they can reach out to community for dependable and healthy support.

Carol is the kind of kid most people give up on.  She is the kind of kid I want to spend more time with. I wish the best for this precious soul.

*  *  *

Kids these days
Grow into adults these days.
Kids these days
Become parents one day.

Kids these days
Are in pain.
Transmuting unaddressed emotions into addictions,
Transferring unaddressed emotions through violent actions –
Toward themselves and others.

Kids these days
Are alone.
Who will guide them through their emotions
Toward tools to thrive beyond hardship?
Are they destined to grow into
Suffering adults and struggling parents?

Kids these days
Break my heart wide open
In the most motivating of ways.
They make me look squarely at myself
And continue my sacred inner work.

I am lucky to work with
Kids these days.

*  *  *

Kids these days – just like Trayvon Martin before he died – are being suspended from school.  They are being sent home from summer camp and asked not to return; they are being publicly scolded by visibly disdainful parents; they are being hit for crying, slapped for saying something out loud, ignored for being troublesome, abandoned for being a burden.

And I’m talking all kids.  From all backgrounds.  Kids very, very close to me.

Which is why today, I’m less concerned with the outcome of a situation that I did not witness, in which I did not know the people involved, and more importantly, over which I have little control.  I am more concerned with taking action right here, right now.  In whatever way I am called to serve.

*  *  *

In June 2012, I was assaulted by a kid in my neighborhood.  I’d met him a few months earlier, in April, after attending DC’s Rally for Trayvon Martin.

The rally was my first “activist” action in many, many years.  I am not comfortable around atmospheres of hostility and/or conflict – either I get triggered and begin to feel hostile, or, I get scared of losing someone/something and shut down.  So when I feel passionately about a cause, I pray, I meditate, I have conversations with trusted friends and I write.  But last April, I was moved to witness the group conscience of those demanding justice.

The energy at the Rally was angry, heavy and serious.  At times hostile and conflicting.  At times peaceful.  And at times inspired by purpose.  I stood for hours in the rain, in the midst of a passionate crowd, right up at the front, near the stream of guest speakers.  I did Pranayama, choosing the cooling Sitali breathing to stay balanced and soothed.  To stay spiritually, intellectually and politically neutral, I prayed for the well-being of all beings.  To stay informed, I listened.  Mostly, I heard messages of anger and blame.

Yet, toward the end of it all, I heard Civil Rights Activist Dick Gregory say, “Meditate.  Meditate that the truth will come out.  The whole truth.”

*  *  *

I’ve been practicing meditation since 1990.  Here is the truth that has emerged from that practice:

If I am feeling anything but peaceful, then I am infusing the world with that unrest.  If I want peace in the world, I must address my own unrest, deeply understand its source, bravely face its story, constructively express its pain and resolutely commit to its healing.  When I understand that my unrest with external situations springs from my internal pain – and when I devote myself to the process of growth – I can contribute to a solution.  I can access the strength of my inner peace, share that peace in service, and consequently, increase the peace in our world.

I try not to personalize politics and current events.  If I am emotionally stirred by something I hear on the news, I take responsibility for my emotions by processing as described above.  I am NOT Trayvon Martin; and I am NOT George Zimmerman.  But I feel deeply for both beings.  And it’s my job to know why, so my responses to their situation are not impulsive, harmful or destructive, but informed, healthy and constructive.

When I meditate, I am reminded that I am just a tiny part of this universe…that beyond the horizon there are infinite mysteries that I know nothing about…that there are far too many unknowns for me to think I know better.  When I meditate, I am reminded to let go, let go, let go.  Or as some might say: Let Go and Let God.

*  *  *

After the Rally, I was waiting for the bus home.  As it pulled closer, I noticed the tight crowd toward the front, and spaciousness toward the back.  I heard why when I boarded.  In the back was a group of eight loud, rowdy kids who I recognized from my neighborhood – the well-known 17th and Euclid households, which have been historically plagued by poverty, crime and general unrest.  But y’know what?  These guys sounded like they were having fun; and after an adult-sized morning of seriousness, I wanted to cut loose.  I joined the kids, who told me that they’d just seen “The Hunger Games,” and proceeded to describe the movie with great detail and excitement (and volume!).

I was delighted to be surrounded by their enthusiasm.  One boy in particular told his parts of the story and answered my questions with such earnestness and engagement.  We all said goodbye after getting off the bus in our neighborhood.  From then forward, whenever I saw the group on the streets (they have a daily ritual of heading to McDonald’s at around 6pm), I’d say hi, ask if they’d seen any movies and generally check in.  This is how I became congenial with “Joseph” – the kid who, later that spring, would assault me.

It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday eve.  On the way back from the grocery store, I came across the 17th and Euclid crew.  As I veered toward them to say hello, Joseph jumped in front of me, shoved me, and then ran behind the bus stop.  I demanded an apology.  After some back and forth, Joseph apologized and told me he didn’t realize it was me.  He was in a blind rage about something that had happened that morning.  I was sure to validate his anger; and then we talked about alternatives to violence.

Since then, Joseph and I have run into each other multiple times; we high-five when we pass; and I’ve had the opportunity to intervene when he was striking out toward others, simply by talking about the situation.

This is all it takes with kids these days.  Spending time and sharing solutions.  Ah – and caring to do so.

*  *  *

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that, as a child, I experienced things that were so emotionally scarring, I spent years and years misguidedly attempting to mask and make up for that pain with alcohol, drugs and violence.  Finally, decades later I would be compelled to uncover, face and address that wound – or die.  The fact is: addiction is a killer.  And in my 30s, I was on my way down the hole – until a moment of clarity led me to seek help for my habits, and therefore, discover the support and strength to heal and grow.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a moment of clarity and steer themselves toward solutions.  And I truly consider it simple luck – not Karma, grace, privilege, intelligence nor entitlement – that I found my way to solutions for healing and growth.  I have seen people from all backgrounds recover from addiction, transform away from violence and heal emotional trauma; and, I have seen people from all backgrounds gradually kill themselves while harming others.

My hope is to share my experience, strength and hope with youth – whether through yoga camp or street encounters – long before their childhood scars lead them down an unfortunate path toward violence, addiction or the subtle smothering of their spirits and souls.

*  *  *

This week we return for our 2nd session of summer camp!  And together, the “difficult” campers and I will work on our humanness.  I don’t care how much time and energy it takes to give a child the attention and tools she needs to thrive.  Because that is the reason I teach our kids these days

Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

OTHER URBAN YOGA DEN BLOGS ABOUT YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
& ALTERNATIVES TO VIOLENCE:

– Compassion for Killers, Revisited (Dec. 2012)

– A Warm & Fuzzy Feeling (Nov. 2012)

– Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention (Series: April – July 2012)

– Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion (June 2012)

– Haiku for George Zimmerman (April 2012)

– Peaceful Warrior (April 2012)

– Haiku for Trayvon Martin (March 2012)

– Healing Kids’ Scars With Yoga (July 2011)

– The Yoga of Being Mugged (June 2011)

 

Not Love: Anger, Pt. 2 February 15, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Life,mental health,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 2:11 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  (Or maybe not.)

*  *  *

Corazon27LargeFirst I just want to wish everyone a beautiful Valentine’s Day.  Truly, from my heart.  I’m sorry that I am posting something difficult today.  But this is where I process and come to solutions.

*  *  *

My only income right now comes from teaching yoga.  I don’t make enough money to pay for my very simple life.  I borrow and I use a credit card.

Today I found that someone had taken down every single workshop flier I had posted at several businesses near the hosting studio.  This brought up several reactions, in this order:
– I am hated.
– This is unfair.
– Thank god the studio owner made more fliers.  I’m replacing the fliers.
– I am livid.
– Is this a message from god, that I am not supposed to teach in studios anymore, and that I should only offer yoga in service?
– If this bullsh** continues, with people taking down my fliers or refusing to put them up (see my last post, “Not Love: Anger”), I am never going to earn enough to eat.
– I am terrified that I will end up alone, dead, in a gutter because I can’t get a full-time job and bullsh** like this will keep me from making any money at all.
– I am sick of mean, lying, harmful people.  I can’t take it anymore.
– I am a piece of sh**.  If I had not screwed up my life for so many years, I would not be in the position of having to rely on yoga teaching for earnings.
– I have never taken anyone’s fliers down.  I would never do something so malicious.
– My workshops are my best work, they come from my heart, I work so hard on them.  I love this work more than anything on earth (see “Love: The Privilege of Teaching Yoga”).
– Who the f*** took down my f**ing fliers?  (Then I tripped up some cafe steps and seriously harmed my back, neck and ankle.  And I blamed the person who took down my fliers for my injury, because I would not have been going into that cafe if I didn’t need to replace fliers.)
– Why would anyone want to come to my workshop?  I am a bad person.  I am hated.
– I am a good person.  I strive to be of service and helpful.  I work hard to right my wrongs.  People are mean and unforgiving.
– I have committed too many harmful mistakes and I will continue to be harmed in various ways.  This is my Karma.
– I don’t have it in me to endure anymore harm.  If this keeps up, I’ll have no energy, esteem or motivation to continue looking for sustainable work.  I feel like I am being beaten down.
– I am really, really hurting.  I don’t think I can stand hurting anymore.  I’ve had enough.  I want to crawl under the covers and never come out.

Again, like my last post, so many mixed emotions.  I am swinging between feeling like a bad person who will never surpass some horrible Karmic cycle of being harmed and causing harm, and, feeling like a good person who is a victim of bad people.  Or maybe those are the same things.

I posted a vague message on Facebook: “the day started off well. going steadily downhill. thoughts, prayers, calls and visits much appreciated. love to y’all. (nothing to hide.)”

Someone wrote me a message.  And although she is very, very far away, we both sat to meditate “together.”  I chanted 108 Asato Ma and 108 Lokah Samasta.  I cried and cried and cried.  Although the pain softened some, after making a smoothie (haven’t eaten much all day) and doing the dishes (there was a pile), I’m still crying.  And to be totally revealing, I am craving for someone to swoop in and comfort me.  But guess what, there is no one.  So I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I have done a few of the next right things.  I reached out.  I chanted.  I ate a little bit.  I lit candles, I burned sweet jasmine incense, I created my own comfort.  I made an appointment with my chiropractor (my body hurts like hell).  Earlier I met with a friend and vented my frustrations, my fears, my anger.  And just now, I checked back in with my long-distance friend and let her know that I just need to get through tonight; a new day usually feels better.

Through all of this turmoil today, I was still able to witness, celebrate and feel sincerely happy for others.  For some reason, this has been one of those days where many friends were sharing great news about their lives.  I am fortunate to be without envy.  I guess because their good news give me faith for myself; and envy erases any notion of hope – which, for some ludicrous reason, I still have.

Still, right now, I am stuck.  And I am going under.  The covers.  Good night.

OM Shanti.

*  *  *

How do we recognize and trust our hearts’ desires?  How can we harness the impulses tugging at our hearts, and shape them into a deeper purpose?  Join me on Saturday, February 23rd, 3-5:30pm at Quiet Mind Yoga in Washington, DC for “Follow Your Heart.”  In this Sankalpa Vinyasa practice, Holly facilitates heart-centered Asana, self-inquiry and journeying, so students can tap into the flow of their deepest intentions. Re-ignite your 2013 resolutions – or, discover a completely new direction.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week Three January 21, 2013

“Happiness may arise from fortunate events but true joy comes from growth and goodness. Self-involvement alone is fleeting and ultimately sad; deepening ourselves and touching others triggers spiritual endorphins. Joy is the gift of being of use.”  – Rabbi Wolpe

Indeed, the magic combination for true joy is deepening myself and touching others.  This combination is also imperative for being of service.  Goodness – or even a noble intention to “do good” – is not enough.  If I do not prioritize my own growth, I cannot truly be of use.

The first time I heard the term “Spiritual Bypass” was June 2010.  Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM) co-founder and psychologist Hala Khouri introduced the concept during my 1st OTM intensive training that spring.  John Welwood – a psychotherapist, teacher and author known for integrating psychological and spiritual ideas – coined the term 30 years ago:

“Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.   

“When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits.”

I would add that, in my experience, people (myself included) can dismiss both our own needs, feelings, problems, difficulties and deficits – and, those of others.  So if I want harmony with others – whether in service to them or in personal relationship with them – I have to do my internal work.  I must regard that work as sacred, imperative, liberating and promising.

My work right now is with unresolved anger.  I am a classic PTSD case.  I have faced many wounds from my past and have devoted much energy to understanding them.  However, surrounding many of those wounds, I bypassed processing my own emotion because I felt I was to blame, or, because I jumped straight to the spiritual approach of understanding, having compassion for and forgiving those who harmed me.

Both cases plant unprocessed anger.  Even with a thorough intellectual understanding of the harmful events, the emotion itself has been stuffed.  And sometimes, it can burst out sideways during totally unrelated challenges.  Friends can get caught in the middle as I reckon and wrestle with the “raw and KeepingItReal(Jan13)messy side” of my humanness.  When this happens, I do my best to make amends.  The responses can vary from forgiveness and reconciliation, to abandonment of the relationship.  When I hurt someone, I feel like crawling into a hole and hiding my harmful self from the world.  I avoid old friends and new acquaintances.  I feel myself retreating, and then…

…I pull myself out of the cave.

As Rabbi Wolpe observed, if I do not stay devoted to my growth, and, engaged with the world, I cannot be of use to others.  I have faith in the process; I believe in being authentically messy and unhidden throughout it.  I can’t expect everyone in my life to be willing or equipped to navigate the tough times with me.  So, I feel super grateful that there are many who are and do.  I have allies on similar journeys and we encourage each other to keep it real.  And along the way, I offer all of my experience and solutions when I am holding space and facilitating process for others.

I started this “Full of Shift” exploration 24 days ago.  (For background, see “The origins of ‘Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy’” below.)  “Make Room” emerged as the theme of the first two weeks.  But since last weekend’s New Moon, “Bring It On” has moved energetically into said room made.  Last week flew by.  It was busy, exciting, fulfilling and – dare I say – joyful.

Following are my daily “Full of Shift” Facebook posts from Week Three, with additional reflections.

*  *  *

Sat, 01/12/13. Day 16. “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy.”
Feeling lighter.
The moon is waxing toward full. Time to bring it in. Bring it on!
Whatever “it” is. More will be revealed.
REFLECTIONS: Suffice it to say, this Saturday was much different from the previous weekend’s spiral into PTSD hell.

*  *  *

Sun, 01/13/13. Day 17. “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy.”
Each morning, as soon as I open my eyes – even before I prepare for my daily “Full of Shift” chanting practice – I say a Jewish prayer. The “Modah Ani” says: “Good morning, everliving sovereign. Thank you for restoring my soul to me in mercy. How great is your trust!”
Some mornings, right after saying this, I roll my eyes and chuckle. I add, “I think you’re crazy – but I’ll do my best!” Because on those mornings, I feel I must be fooling this everliving sovereign pretty well, if it believes I deserve the trust to go back out into another day on this earth and make the mistakes that I do!
This morning, it went like this: “Good morning, everliving sovereign. Thank you for restoring my soul to me in mercy. How great is your trust!” <Roll eyes. Chuckle.> “Seriously! I am grateful that you restore my soul and give me your trust, day after day. I must be doing something right! And by ‘right,’ I mean that I could be doing EVERYTHING wrong, and you are merciful enough to believe I deserve another day to try again. Thank you. I will do my best.”
I think a lot of this (if I may say) “self-mercy” awakened in me this morning because of the powerful words I read before bedtime last night. Details will be in the Week-Three “Full of Shift” blog. For now, thank you Sri Swami Satchidananda, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Rumi and Josh Schrei.
REFLECTIONS: Here are the pre-bedtime quotes which shifted my heart to mercy.
“You should have a close personal relationship with God.  God is nameless, formless, abstract; you cannot simply go and hug space.  That is why most people need a symbol.  Develop your relationship with that.  Marry yourself to that representation of God.  Think of it day and night.  Devotion cannot be compared with any other approach.  It is something super.  When you develop that kind of devotion you rise above all doubts.”  – Sri Swami Satchidananda
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  – Rumi
“with every breath we take and every word we speak in this life, we show exactly who we are to the One who knows us best and loves us most. that love, the ocean on which we float, is infinitely patient, infinitely kind, and wants nothing more than for us to be in peace and harmony.”  – Josh Schrei

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”  – Elisabeth Kubler-RossPrayerBeads(Feb12)
Note to self: Devotion, love, peace, harmony, gentleness, mercy.

*  *  *

Mon, 01/14/13. Day 18.
Back on track with the pre-dawn ritual, yay!
Over the past 17 days, there have been great losses; and there have been great gains. What did I think would happen when I committed to chanting the following prayer 108 times each morning? “Lead me from unreal, to real; lead me from darkness, to light; lead me from death, to immortality.”
Grieving. Trudging.
OM Shanti.
REFLECTIONS: A friend recently shared, “Every time you subtract a negative from your life, you make room for a positive.”  Related – another friend shared this idea from Thomas Mann, “Space, like time, engenders forgetfulness; but it does so by setting us bodily free from our surroundings and giving us back our primitive unattached state.”
The first two weeks of this exploration were themed “Making Room;” and indeed, there were subtractions so that I could be freed from certain attachments.  I am feeling the grief of some loss.  At the same time, I am feeling amazed with new connections, attitudes and habits finding their way into that space.
Still, I must diligently continue processing the emotions from the falling out with friends two weekends ago.  I have been feeling unforgiven and unforgiving.  Anger has been stewing.  And it must be remedied.  So I am seeking new ways – beyond yoga and talk therapy – to address, process and stay on top of my emotions.  I need to find the right prescription to remedy my anger, so to speak.
When I started this 30-day process, I truly did not know what it would yield.  But wow, the longer I stay true to it – even with the pain of loss and the discomfort of transformation – the more intense, valuable and mind-blowing are the results.
In addiction recovery programs, there is a practice of becoming ready to be relieved of character traits that no longer serve, and then praying for them to be removed.  I think that’s the most remarkable thing happening here.  The losses of externals (or the waning of attention on certain externals) are a direct result of releasing internals that have been working against me.
RockCreekFallenTreeCntr2(Jan13)The teachers that have appeared along this journey thus far have been tough cookies.  Pretty much socking me in the gut so my eyes open wide to truth, light and the everlasting.

*  *  *

Tue, 01/15/13. Day 19.
The roots of this 30-day observation rose from this question – “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live life on purpose?” The answers sure are coming.
REFLECTIONS: I stopped by Rock Creek on my way home from the doc today.  Misty rain dropping, swollen waters rushing, fallen trees decaying.  The smell of wet earth soothes my soul. Without fail.
Remember that quote by Satchidananda, above?  This.  This is my god.  I hereby marry myself to nature as my representation of god.  I will think of it day and night.  My devotion will be super.  I will rise above all doubts.

*  *  *

Wed, 01/16/13. Day 20.
High energy today. Taught Sunrise Flow & Meditation at 7am, chanted the 108 post class, then, came home for tea and breakfast and to-do list doing. And doing and doing and doing.
KarmaBitch(Jan13)REFLECTIONS: I had to laugh (at myself) when I saw this Karma post on Facebook.  Phew.  At least I can laugh now. Took a few days to recover from a big, bitchy snafu. Telling on myself again…nothing to hide.
After a super productive day, I had tea with one of the students from my New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” yoga workshop.  She wanted to talk more about her experience as connected to the chakras.  This was very life-affirming – that I am still useful and of service to some (or maybe many), even after screwing up with unforgiving others.

*  *  *

Thu, 01/17/13. Day 21.
For this 30-day exploration, my daily affirmation is: “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live life on purpose?” (Yes, it’s in question form.) Today I was pondering – what comprises “total well-being?”
REFLECTIONS: “Total” includes spiritual, emotional, psychological, mental, physical, material, financial, relational, communal and familial.  “Well-being” comes from healing, growth, change, stability, balance, flexibility, willingness, confidence, empowerment, meaning, purpose.  How do I make choices in future work, education, relationships and so on that are sustainable – in other words, that don’t max, stress or burn me out!
On another tangent…as Swami Satchidananda said, yoga cultivates an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life – even for baseball players!  I took a sample Competitive Team Sports Yoga practice to trainer Fred Carmen at a local sports training facility this afternoon.  I prepared my 1st-baseman set – overall alignment for fluid mechanics; ankles, hips and twists for power hitting and efficient fielding. Traditional yogic breathing to heat, hydrate and sustain energy in the body and balance the mind. All of this, plus, intention setting for accessing The Zone at will. Easeful, peaceful, useful.

*  *  *

Fri, 01/18/13. Day 22.
Yes, today is the day I would typically post my week-end “Full of Shift” blog. But it’s been a lovely, WelcomeSunshine(Jan13)sunshiny, yummy day off with friends and I think I’ll blog tomorrow. Or the next day. You know…Shift Happens.
REFLECTIONS: What’s that? Up in the sky? It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s…SuperSun!  Welcome back, Sunshine!
Further thoughts on my inquiry, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”
1 – Stop lying.  To myself and others.  About effort, emotions, money…in friendships, at work…always.
2 – Know my purpose.  Seek clarity.  Say yes to opportunities.
3 – Stand in my truth.  Values, relationships, professional skills.  When I stand confidently, energy and action awaken!
4 – Take responsibility.
5 – Know my triggers.  Know what condition I am in.  Know the conditions I am going into.
6 – Know the remedies that work effectively to decrease my triggers.  Practice them without fail.  Just as someone would not go off their medication, I should not go off my regimen of yoga and meditation!
Speaking of conditions…I thought I might leave town for inauguration weekend…but…here I am! Ready to brave the crowds with yoga, yoga, yoga. Teaching Beginner Hatha tomorrow 10:30am (and a private in the afternoon); rocking Faith Hunter’s Spiritually Fly practice Sunday 11am; and hitting Megan Davis’s Vinyasa class Monday 12:30pm. Also, hoping to stay reflective and to do some journaling (writing for me). Have a great weekend, y’all!

*  *  *

Sat, 01/19/13.  Day 25.
I was moved to tears by the sweetest OM at the end of this morning’s Beginner Vinyasa class…such soulful intention from these amazing beings.

*  *  *

Sun, 01/20/13. Day 24.  (Today.)
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA!
For 24 days, I’ve been asking myself, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”
Today, I’ve been up since 6am, asking, breathing, chanting, praying, listening.
And – this is happening…(see photo, below)
REFLECTIONS: After I posted this status and these photos on Facebook this morning, a friends commented, “Love your coffee table/writing desk/intention altar!”  Me, too!  I set it up last night so I could awaken to its energy and influence this morning, knowing I wanted to get a lot of reflection and writing done today. It worked!  Today I:
– Practiced my morning Sadhana at 6:30am with the 108 chants and New Energy incense.
– Completed my 2012 “clearing” journaling (aka moral inventory, recapitulation, karma cleansing…whatever you might call it!).
– Had breakfast.
– Drafted this blog.
– Went to Faith’s “Spiritually Fly” yoga class with my friend Deb.
– Did my Chakra journaling.
– Ate lunch.
– Took a super hot shower.
– Practiced Yoga Nidra with my Jonathan Foust CD followed by a self-guided visioning journey.
– Journaled my journey.
– Talk with my sister in Tennessee.
– Played on Facebook.
– Ordered organic, MSG-free Chinese delivery and ate dinner.
– Completed this blog (as soon as I hit publish)!TableCouch(Jan13)

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Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

The origins of “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy”

Over one month, from the Full Moon of 12/28/12 to the Full Moon of 1/26/13, I intend to awaken before dawn, light a stick of my new incense (a holiday gift, appropriately branded “New Energy”), practice Pranayama (yogic breathing) and chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (“lead me from falseness to truth, from darkness to light, from things that die off to that which is everlasting”).  As with all of my other intention “projects,” I am not trying to force a specific outcome – simply to ask how I can bring New Energy to my life, to listen to any answers, to witness the subtle yet abundant shifts of late, and to see what evolves.

 

Peace Tools: Morning Routine August 7, 2012

Filed under: faith,Health,Inspiration,Philosophy,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 8:29 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I thank you, ever-living sovereign, for restoring my soul to me in mercy.
How great is your trust!

– Traditional Jewish Prayer for the Morning

*  *  *

Like all of my days, as soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I said the above prayer.  Then, in the period of time between splashing my face with cool water and sitting down to work, I recited seven additional prayers or chants.  And that’s not counting several OMs and an affirmation meditation.

Prayer, meditation and chanting are part of my Morning Sadhana, or routine.  Ideally, my daily practices also include yoga movement, a walk in nature, breathing exercises, a drink of lemon water and more.  And ideally, all of this happens before sunrise.

Why do I do so much?

After 20 years of observing morning Sadhana in some form or another, I can guarantee its positive results: a peaceful day, for me and everyone around me.

With my background of addiction recovery, trauma survival and all that comes with those poignant life-shapers, and, with my current journey as a yoga practitioner and teacher, having a peace-making morning routine is essential.

The primary result of my routine is good health in body, mind and spirit.  Avenues to that result include: cultivating gratitude, connecting with a power great than me, awakening the whole body, stimulating digestion and balancing the nervous system.

(A note about “power greater than me” – from my experience and perspective, that power can be any being or resource outside of myself that consistently has my best interest in mind, that has more expertise than me in a certain area, and/or, whose influence restores my serenity when I am feeling off.  It could take the form of a metaphysical/spiritual “god,” best friend, doctor, ritual, quote, physical icon…or sometimes, just an oblivious, message-bearing stranger along my path.  It could have a proper name – i.e. Ronni, Doctor Smith, God, Ganesha, Nanak, Allah, Great Spirit – or a general character – i.e. nature, scientific theory, ever living sovereign, great mystery, infinite consciousness.  Most importantly, whatever it is, it is not ME.  And it is greater than ME because at any given moment of imbalance, its presence brings me to be my best self.)

At this point, my ideal morning Sadhana spans one to two hours, depending on the day of the week, what I have planned during the day and/or the time of morning.  When I first started following teachers’ advice to create a morning routine, the practice might have taken 10 to 30 minutes.  Over the years, though, I have collected so many effective traditions and rituals to address my oft distracted or triggered mind that, for me, it’s worth the time commitment.

That is my idealHowever

During the past six weeks, long days started at 6:30am, and included a juggling act of teaching Summer Camp 8am-4pm, managing a yoga studio part-time, teaching regular evening and weekend classes, plus trying to enjoy life!  In order to prioritize a good night’s sleep, I had to leave out some of the morning routine, practice parts while driving to camp, and/or finish parts at camp.

Boy, did it show!  That guaranteed peacefulness dwindled.  I became impatient in traffic, allowed small annoyances to make me grumpy, and had less patience with everyone and everything – including myself, which fed the cycle of self-criticism, annoyance, grumpiness and impatience!  Argh!

Having a morning Sadhana is a double-edged sword – if I keep up, I am gold.  If I slack, I am struggling to shine.  Overall, as I said, the pay off is 5-million percent worthwhile.

Your practice could be as short or long as you wish, depending on personal needs.  If interested, you might pick and choose little parts of the following routine – AWAKEN BEFORE DAWN, PRAY, CLEANSE, MOVE, MEDITATE/CHANT – and shape them for your own unique morning Sadhana.

*  *  *

Here is my morning Sadhana.  My complete ideal practice takes up to two hours; but an abbreviated practice can take as little as 30 minutes.

AWAKEN BEFORE DAWN

In 1993, my Kundalini yoga teachers highly recommended waking up before sunrise to meditate.  I had every intention to do so!  And I was happy to participate in pre-dawn meditation when on a retreat or doing a special workshop with a group.  But it wasn’t quite time for me to do this regularly on my own.

These days, I do start most days between 5:30 and 6:30am.  Pre-dawn energy feels neutral – removed from the previous day’s worries, and not yet taken hostage by the new day’s projections.  There is something about opening my eyes in the darkness and conducting a Sadhana in low light that simply prepares my mind to tackle all that might arise during the day with peace and balance.

Ayurvedic science claims that pre-dawn atmosphere is dominated by sattvic (or calming) qualities that support peace of mind.  I understand that waking up at 5:30am can seem extreme; after all, it did take me years and years to experience early rising as an enjoyable habit!

If I cannot awaken pre-dawn, I keep the blinds drawn and my home as dark as possible.  I used to think that the best morning practice was next to an open window or outdoors in natural light, greeting nature and allowing my self to awaken with the pulse of the external world.  However, since my 4-week yoga teacher training, during which we started each day in darkness without drawing the blinds (despite the natural beauty surrounding us), I came to embrace that above-described neutrality.  It simply creates a clean slate for the day.

Plus, when my house is dark, I am less likely to delay my morning Sadhana due to getting distracted by the plant that needs watering or the stray eyebrow that needs plucking or the laundry that needs folding!

PRAY

Immediately after opening my eyes, I express thanks for the gift of another day by saying the prayer quoted above.  A grateful beginning is important for me, because many times during my crooked and “eventful” journey, I veered off a healthy path, and could have died.  The Modah also reminds me that a higher power (which is an individual notion for each person, of course) trusts me to carry along in its world…as well as I can…each day.

I then splash my face with water, stand facing east, chant a few OMs and recite an additional four prayers.

Choosing prayers is a very personal experience.  Currently, mine are a collection from my Jewish heritage, Hindu traditions and yoga influences, as well as adaptations from addiction recovery programs.  I might, at times, also include Native American, Sufi or Buddhist verses.  I have even included Santeria chants.  For me, finding prayers that help set daily and long-term intentions is important.  No matter what the origin, my chosen prayers are primarily themed toward surrendering my strong will, accepting help, being of service and cultivating healthy connections.

Here are the four I recite facing east…

Karagre vasate Lakshmi (At the tips of my fingers is well-being, abundance and beauty – gifts from Lakshmi); Kara-madhye Saraswati (In the palms of my hands is creative community, eloquent communication and learning – gifts from Saraswati); Kara-mule sthita Gauri (at the heel of my hand is Shakti, powerful meditation and the balancing force for Shiva – gifts from Gauri); Prabhate kara-darshanam (I envision all of these gifts in my hands).  I recite this traditional Hindu prayer to the great goddesses in Sanskrit, three times, slowly, looking at my hands, with great consideration and appreciation for each gift.  I then lift my hands toward the sky in a gesture of sharing these gifts with all beings and of offering them back to their divine source.

Creator, I am yours.  Please build with me and do with me as you need, as you will, as you wish.  May I be relieved of self-centeredness, that I may better play a right-sized, useful role in your big picture.  Thank you for being with me through difficulties, for bringing opportunities, and sharing joy.  May I do your will always.  Adapted from recovery program literature, this prayer hopefully establishes a humble beginning to the day.  I grew up extremely self-reliant, which means that I can sometimes – thankfully less and less – have a hard time accepting help.  Some employers definitely took advantage of this tendency, as I took on way more than I was prepared, acknowledged or paid for.  Some friends and ex-s gave up on trying to share life as I plowed through everything on my own.  Live and learn.  The positives to this prayer?  Surrendering my strong will to some benevolent greater power definitely keeps me from acting overly selfish, fearful, egotistical or otherwise destructive.  It sets my focus on being useful to others – step by step, day by day.

In my relationships, I earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity and for the strength to do the right thing.  Woo!  This is a big one for me and also comes from recovery literature – specifically, in a passage about shaping healthy sexual relationships in sobriety!  To be honest, with this verse, I am praying to embrace ideals, accept advice, act sane and do the right thing in ALL of my relationships – romantic or otherwise.  Humans are complicated, sensitive and unique – and I yearn for healthy, positive connections.

Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me.  I pray to be relieved of anything that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows today.  Grant me strength as I go from here to do your bidding.  Another ego-busting recovery prayer, before I go into the rest of my Sadhana and day, which shapes the mind toward being of service to others.  What strikes me deeply about this verse is the request to borrow a higher power’s strength in case I don’t have enough of my own – or in case I am trying to be too forceful with my own strength, instead of flowing along with a greater purpose and will.  I feel great relief, support and motivation each time I say this prayer.

I understand that one could feel vulnerable giving up a strong will in exchange for surrender.  In my experience, the more I take my plans and hopes and expectations out of the center of my thoughts (which doesn’t mean abandoning them completely, but instead, dwelling on them less), and the more I focus on being useful and of service to others (even in simple ways like smiling while walking down the street and or doing my job really well), the more I generate an inner peace.  And the more I feed a cycle of peace around me.

There is no need to recite multiple prayers.  The initial, awakening Modah would probably suffice for me (and sometimes must, depending on my schedule).  However, I enjoy reciting my little collection of five.  And sometimes, if I am observing a specific study or focus in my yoga practice (i.e. my recently concluded 100-day exploration of Ahimsa), I might also light a stick of incense and set a specific intention for the day.  How one prays is an individual decision.  Some kneel, some stand, some sit, others do movement.  Some light candles, some light incense, some open windows.  Some are silent, some louder.  It all comes down to personal preference, motivation and significance.

CLEANSE

Next, I focus on awakening the body.  You might approach this in your own way, with practices that internally and externally cleanse.

Many medical systems, including India’s Ayurvedic tradition, recommend drinking room-temperature lemon water soon after waking, and most definitely before ingesting anything else, to stimulate a healthy bowel movement.  In my yoga teacher training, I learned that most disease originate in the digestive system; so I am happy to drink bitter water to encourage healthy digestion.

I also brew a homemade tea of fresh ginger root, cinnamon stick, clove, cardamom, turmeric and black pepper.  These ingredients stoke the digestive fire (known in Ayurveda as “agni”) in order to sustain healthy digestion throughout the day.  In the order of my Sadhana, I wait until just before meditation to begin sipping the tea.

Continuing to follow Ayurvedic recommendations, I then brush my teeth, tongue and mouth to remove bacteria and improve digestion.  Finally, I wash my face and hands with a Sandalwood-scented soap, to evenly awaken my dominant “dosha” (body/personality type) of “Pitta” (fire).

MOVE: OUTDOOR WALK, HATHA YOGA, YOGA NIDRA & PRANAYAMA

In this phase of Sadhana, I continue to subtly awaken my senses, my body, my breathing and my whole self.

A brief, early morning, outdoor walk has proven – for me – to make a huge difference in my day.  This stroll is not exercise-based, nor is it time for me to greet and/or engage with everyone I see.  This meditative and simple lap around the block gives me the opportunity to awaken and stretch my eyes, deepen my breath with natural air and gently ease into the rhythm of life.  When rushed for time, I’ve tried to substitute with everything from taking deep breaths at an open window, walking to work or driving to my busied destination with the windows open.  Nothing suffices.  The brief outdoor walk is a mood-stabilizing ritual and well worth the 10 minutes!

After my walk, I return to my still-darkened room to practice Hatha Yoga.  I begin with a series of Sun Salutations that progress from old-school Integral Yoga for digestion stimulation and nerve balance, through Ashtanga- and Jivamukti-inspired styles for strength and energy.  I also include Pigeon Pose for my frequently ache-y hips, and Twists for my spine and…you guessed it…digestion.

If I have the luxury of 20 minutes at this point in my morning routine, I enjoy a guided Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation) CD by DC-based yoga and meditation teacher Jonathan Foust.  Jonathan takes us through systematically relaxing the body, breath and mind for a restful yet aware experience.  The practice of even a 5- to 15-minute, self-guided, systematically relaxing Yoga Nidra after Hatha movement gives the body time to integrate the benefits of each Asana (pose).  In addition, due to its profoundly rejuvenating effects, Yoga Nidra can bring deep healing of many forms, and, when done in the midst of a tiring day, can feel more energizing than a nap.

To awaken and balance the nervous system after deep relaxation, I practicing breathing exercises (aka Pranayama).  I begin with a basic yogic technique called Deergha Swasam, which encourages a long, easeful, emptying exhale followed by an energetic, completely filling inhale – both through the nostrils.  This deliberate three-part breath travels through the three parts of the lungs – inhaling upward from the low lungs (belly area), middle lungs (rib area) and upper lungs (collar bone area), then exhaling back downward.  Focusing on the thoroughly emptying exhale creates a deeper inhale whose consequently deeper oxygenation can help strengthen the immune system.  Following a few minutes of Deergha Swasam, I move on to a rapid, naval-pumping breath called Kapalabhati.  Again through the nostrils, this technique only activates the lower lungs (belly area) with a rhythmic pattern of sharp, emptying, belly-contracting exhales and passive, brief, belly-relaxing inhales.  This energizing practice helps continue awakening from Yoga Nidra, and, its cleansing effects support the detoxification process of our Hatha poses.  I usually practice a 100- or 200-breath count of Kapalabhati.  Next, alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Suddhi, uses a specific technique for exhaling/inhaling out of one nostril and then the next.  This calming breath soothes the nervous system and balances the brain hemispheres.  I practice Nadi Suddhi for a minimum of three minutes.

MEDITATE & CHANT

After Hatha, Nidra and Pranayama – when the mind is alert, the nerves are balanced, the body is at ease, the breath is natural and the senses are softened – the mind can concentrate more deeply.

This is the perfect time for meditation.

No matter how much or little time I have for my morning Sadhana, I strive to always include at least three minutes of some form of meditation – whether silently observing the breath or chanting out loud.  One fail-safe technique when time-challenged is to incorporate a positive affirmation with my Nadi Suddhi breathing, for example, inhale “my true nature is peace” and exhale “nothing can disturb my peace.”

When I do have 15- to 30- minutes for meditation, what I love most is singing 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” chant.  I have seen many spellings, translations and interpretations of this widely-used Sanskrit chant, popular with many yogis.  This version is most effective for me: Asato Ma, Sat Gamaya (lead me from falseness to truth); Tamaso Ma, Jyotir Gamaya (lead me from darkness to light); Mrityor Ma, Amritam Gamaya (lead me from things that die off to that which is everlasting).  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (OM Peace, Peace, Peace).

Repetition of these phrases reinforces my psychological direction toward and faith in the positive.  Falseness to truth can signify my desire to stop lying to myself, or, my hope to be free of people who lie to me…and so much more.  Darkness to light could be finding the means to be delivered from my depressive tendencies, to liberation and joy, or, awakening from being in the dark or uninformed about something, to being enlightened or aware.  Things that die off to that which is everlasting…the meanings are infinite, depending on personal experience.  For me, this phrase reminds me to choose attitudes and actions that will support long-term health in body, mind and spirit.  Among other things.

If I don’t have time for the 108, I chant this three times, and then close with another Sanskrit chant, popular in yoga circles, which wishes well-being for others.  Lokah Samastaa Sukhino Bhavantu.  Again, there are many versions out there.  My favorite is: “May the entire universe and all its beings realize peace and light.”

*  *  *

As I mentioned – I don’t always have the luxury or time to complete my ideal Sadhana first thing each day.  Yet, I always – always – practice at least some parts of my routine immediately upon rising.  I have learned that trying to spread it over a broken morning of errands or texts or other activities never pays off.  So even when I feel totally distracted – life drama tugging at my mind, the computer tugging at my fingertips, errands tugging at my feet – I still try to stay unplugged and go through the motions.

The above may seem exhaustive!  As I said, I actually enjoy a complex and absorbing morning routine to ensure a peaceful day.  Remember, this lengthy Sadhana can be broken down into manageable parts for a much shorter version.

Play around with parts of it.  Choose your own contents.  Find your own way.  And most importantly…enjoy!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Peace Tools”

From April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa – the Sanskrit term for “avoidance of violence.”  You may read more about it under the “Ahimsa Now” entries in my blog. 

Since the final quarter of that exploration, I have been compiling my favorite Peace Tools – fail-safe practices for cultivating a reliable inner peace, which leads to a serene life and accountability to others.  In the long run, using these Tools supports the yogic concept of Ahimsa by decreasing violence. 

They can also just make you feel darn goodOM Shanti Shanti Shanti.