The Urban Yoga Den

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Back to Basics: Real Yoga Doesn’t Hurt (Revisited) February 2, 2013

“Tadaasana, Pranayama, Sankalpa.”

There is a reason I repeat these three words each time we regroup at the top of the mat between Sun Salutations.  For me, these three elements – The Pose, The Breath and The Intention – are the basics of yoga.  Although mentioned as three unique parts of yoga’s eight-limbed system, in my practice they are inseparable.  When I align myself in Mountain Pose (Tadaasana), I firmly embody my intention (Sankalpa).  When I breathe deliberately (Pranayama), I exhale obstacles, and inhale my intention with resolve.

When I fuse these three elements together, I fortify my purpose for that session of practice – and that sense of purpose begins to trickle into my life.

(Above is an excerpt from my January 2012 Back to Basics post – repeated in its entirety, below, to summarize our January 2013 Back To Basics class focus.  Because for me, the basics of yoga will never, ever change…)

*  *  *

DoNotPushTruck(Dec11)OK, I confess.  I’ve created a sensational title for a simple blog about our January class focus, “Back to Basics.”

“How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” was the sensational headline for a recent New York Times article (link below) that tells a simple story.  That headline – and the article’s content – generated more media reactions, responses and official statements than any article on any topic I’ve seen in a long while.  Perhaps more than “Occupy.”

How exciting!

Lively debate!  Impassioned professions!  True confessions!  All due to a newspaper’s intelligent twisting of heads for their benefit.  All due to a newspaper headline writer’s clever choice of wording.  All due to that newspaper’s strategy to promote its science writer’s upcoming book release!

If you can get past the hype, or accept that the article is only discussing one aspect of yoga (Asana, or, poses), or focus on the words How and Can, or perhaps, erase the headline from your mind altogether – you might find a simple story conveying one yoga teacher’s honest and humble experience.  That’s the story I found.  Therefore, I should have quit while I was ahead.

But no.  In preparing to write this blog, my goal was to read 20 or so online articles (all found by Google-ing “Yoga Wreck Body”) and numerous Facebook comments related to the original New York Times piece.  The pieces span a wide range of discussion: what constitutes “real” yoga; whether yoga should be practiced as exercise; how the NYT article is scientifically incorrect; how the teacher featured in the article is morally wrong; what we can do to practice yoga safely.  And so on.  Truly moved by people’s passionate and intelligent remarks, I wanted to immerse myself in public opinion, and then form my own.

Instead, the more I read, the less interested I became in others’ opinions.

On the contrary, I found myself delightfully reflective and clear about my original, personal, untainted opinion of yoga.  I remembered: the media gains attention by twisting facts, embellishing mediocrity and inspiring controversy; any form of physical activity can lead to serious injury; and the definition of “real” yoga will be relative to each person who experiences it.

So I stopped reading.

Now…getting Back to Basics…

*  *  *

“Tadaasana, Pranayama, Sankalpa.”

There is a reason I repeat these three words each time we regroup at the top of the mat between Sun Salutations.  For me, these three elements – The Pose, The Breath and The Intention – are the basics of yoga.  Although mentioned as three unique parts of yoga’s eight-limbed system, in my practice they are inseparable.  When I align myself in Mountain Pose (Tadaasana), I firmly embody my intention (Sankalpa).  When I breathe deliberately (Pranayama), I exhale obstacles, and inhale my intention with resolve.

When I fuse these three elements together, I fortify my purpose for that session of practice – and that sense of purpose begins to trickle into my life.

*  *  *

The Pose (Asana)

When teaching the basics, I like to start with the body.  In my own practice, focusing on healthy alignment and mechanics have established a practice that will last – I pray – a lifetime.  In addition, I find that the body is the primary reason most students come to yoga classes these days.  Either their doctor recommended this ancient remedy for modern health conditions; or, they’ve decided they want something different from the usual workout.

January yoga classes are traditionally packed.  New Year’s Resolutions and special offers bring row upon row of newbies and long-lost practitioners to studios, gyms and workplace wellness programs.  And so I offer a month-long Back to Basics approach that builds throughout the weeks.  Tadaasana is the perfect starting point, because the alignment cues in Mountain are foundational for many yoga poses.  That same week we flow through and finely tune a basic Sun Salutation; then we break down the mechanics of backward bends.

By the end of week one, beginner students are melting into the comfort of a safe and traditional Asana practice; and more experienced students are rolling their eyes and exhaling loud sighs of frustration!  Thanks to past experience, I smile inwardly, speak encouragingly and trudge forward resolutely!

The 2nd week we focus on bends, folds and twists; the 3rd is inversions and counter-poses.  At this point, the blissful exclamations begin: “Oh my god, I’ve never felt so safe in that pose!” and “I never realized how much pressure I was putting on my neck/lower back/knees!” and “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that.”  I include this not to pat myself on the back as a yoga teacher, but to spotlight the effectiveness of patiently committing to healthy alignment and mechanics – and, to give major credit to the teachers who taught me that patience and planted the seeds of a life-long practice.

We finish the month with yogi’s choice, where students request detailed instruction of the poses that frustrate, frighten or baffle them.  This is the fun part!  Just yesterday, I strapped myself up to demo Chaturanga mechanics and the class cracked up as I slithered like a clumsy lizard into the pose.  There’s nothing like the release of a good laugh at the end of four weeks of Asana intensity!

*  *  *

The Breath (Pranayama)

The 2nd aphorism in the most widely used yoga teacher training text – the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – says, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah: Yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.”

By practicing Asana, warming up the structure, activating the nervous system and stimulating digestion, we essentially get the body out of the way.  When the body is at ease, the mind can be at peace.  Pranayama practice enhances that peace.

BreatheDeeplyWith few exceptions, I complement Asana with the traditional technique of three-part nostril breathing, or Deergha Swaasam.  The benefits of this Pranayama style seem infinite.  It gives the wandering mind something to focus on.  It lays a strong foundation for inner peace.  It increases our oxygenation and consequently strengthens the immune system.  It prevents energetic burn out and dehydration.  It massages our organs and stimulates digestion.  And on and on.

Although I’d been training to breathe through the nose since my 1st Kundalini yoga class in 1993, my 2008 “Yoga for Athletes” training and introduction to John Douillard’s brilliant book, “Body, Mind, and Sport” truly sealed the deal on nostril breathing for me.  This workshop and book reminded me how a peaceful baby breathes through the nose, its belly softly rising and falling with the filling and emptying of the lower lobes of the lungs.  Only when a baby reaches crisis – a congested sinus, a shocking sound, the need for food – does it open its mouth, take chest-height gasps of air, and cry for help.  When the crisis is over, the baby intuitively returns to soft nostril belly breathing.

As adults, however, we somehow depart from that natural state of peace!  As if in constant danger, we habitually take short breaths, in the upper chest, through the mouth.  Our exercise choices reinforce this crisis breathing.  No wonder we fall prey to stress, anxiety, distraction and energy depletion!  In addition to the benefits I’ve already mentioned, Douillard poignantly points out, “This shallow breathing soon becomes a way of life,” and results in serious health considerations, such as excess fat storage, digestive diseases, compromised lymphatic drainage and neck and shoulder tightness.

Ick.

In class we pause between Sun Salutations or other Asana practice.  I invite students to “allow the body to rest, but keep the breath deliberate.”  Returning to Deergha Swaasam regulates the heart rate, breath rate and overall energy.  Plus, if the heart is racing, what do you think the mind is doing?  Racing.

The ancients did not invent yoga as a cardio workout – in their society, they found a great need to calm the mind, and enjoyed the resulting benefits.  Even the Mahabharata – another ancient text that informs yoga practice – highlights a story of finding inner peace for the sake of effective battle.

What is the battlefield in your life?  Deliberate breathing practices can help maintain peace, calm and clarity during disturbances – whether they take the form of a pressing deadline, a workplace conflict, a family crisis, a traffic hassle or an internal struggle.

*  *  *

The Intention (Sankalpa)

Speaking of internal struggle…  I don’t want to tell my entire “What brought me to yoga” story right now; it would distract from the Back to Basics monthly focus.  I will briefly share:  Before I started practicing yoga in 1993, my life included much harm – being harmed and committing harm, in both subtle and more palpable ways.  Over nearly 20 years, this ancient practice has given me tools for healing, transformation and growth.  Yoga is not a physical practice for me.  Its Eight Limbs present a design for living.  They guide me to set ethical intentions, then practice physical and mental exercises that will liberate my body and mind, therefore allowing me to be more effective in and of service to the world.

At the beginning of each class, I invite students to notice what’s on their mind – without editing or judgment.  To honestly notice what’s there, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  We start where we are.  I then suggest focusing on one thought that’s strongly calling for their attention – something that’s been tapping them on the shoulder all day, or perhaps much longer.  This thought, when shaped into a positive reflection, affirmation or dedication, becomes their intention for class.

A Sankalpa is an intention, resolution and/or commitment that brings purpose to our time on the mat – and can affect our day, our world, our lives.

It is also a practical tool for facing challenges – both physical and mental – during the Asana practice itself.  When feeling challenged, I ask myself, “How can I align my reaction with my Sankalpa?  Which gives me more peace of mind and fortifies my efforts – facing or stepping back from the challenge?”  Because sometimes I need to dive into something daunting; other times I need to accept that it’s not the right time to push my limits.

Having a Sankalpa during yoga class not only forms a habit of self-inquiry and motivation, it also guarantees that my practice is harm-free.  It might feel uncomfortable to face or reduce challenge.  Yet, discomfort is different from harm.  While discomfort can yield constructive learning, harm can result in destructive pain.  By having an intention for practice, we become aware of and harness the positive effects of these nuances.

*  *  *

So, indeed, real yoga doesn’t hurt.  There’s just so much more to it than being afraid of potential physical pain, seeking rehabilitation of physical conditions, or plainly, addressing any physical need.

My friend once said, if the goal of yoga was purely physical, the Yoga Sutras would be a very short text: “Touch your toes.”  Hehehe.

Let’s get real…as my favorite teachers like to point out, there must be a reason we’ve chosen yoga.  If we just wanted to “feel the burn,” we have a million other exercise plans to choose from.  I’ll take the plunge and say: we choose yoga because we want more than a workout – we want to change.  We know it is a transformational practice.  Again, even the ancients knew this – there were enough troubles in society that someone invented a practice to cultivate an “easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life.”*

To this end, I like to stick with the basics: keen awareness of body, breath and mind.  Setting our intention, aligning a pose and deepening the breath – and bringing all three elements together to fortify our purpose – we not only exercise the body, but we empower our lives.

May all beings discover their own “real” yoga.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace, Peace, Peace.

*  *  *

The original article that caused an avalanche of opinions:
New York Times, William Broad, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

* Quote from Integral Yoga Founder, Swami Satchidananda

Photos: Top – Larkin P. Goff (by permission); Others – Holly Meyers (the author)

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – The Final Word January 31, 2013

“The lure of yoga demands from one the highest potential. At the same time it reveals one’s weaknesses. The moment of truth cannot be experienced without the constant play of these opposing forces.”  ~ Mary Palmer, Iyengar Yoga Pioneer

Sanjay1st2013Nest(Jan13)Within winter’s great grey hibernation is a warm nest, glowing with possibility.

“You’ve been doing some WORK!” a friend recently exclaimed.  My immediate feeling was, “Ugh.”  Yes, this blog tells the world how hard I am working at life stuff.  It’s not a horrible association, but…I am feeling a bit overworked and yearning to enjoy the benefits of all this effort!  Some joy, liberation and balance would be nice…

I am tired of trying.

On New Year’s Day, I attended a friend’s “Awaken to the New Year” yoga class.  She always hits the nail on the head with her context for our practice.  But to tell the truth, at this point, I don’t remember the exact theme from January 1st.  I do, however, recall a profound experience as we settled down in Savasana for deep relaxation.  The music was a little low, and I was straining to hear what song I was supposed to be relaxing to…!  All at once it hit me: “Stop trying so f-ing hard!”

It had been a very long week with many challenges, plus a lot of exciting preparation for my own New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop.  And as I lay there in Savasana on New Year’s Day, I realized how completely pooped out I was.  Over the next two days, I slept for a total of 24 hours.

*  *  *

Back around the December Winter Solstice, when global attention was geared toward the tragedy in Newtown, CT and the 12/21/12 “End of the World” phenomenon, I started feeling notable shifts in my life.  Sometimes they manifested as very strong thoughts, beliefs and values; and other times as more mysterious vibrations, visions and dreams.  The December 28th Full Moon was approaching, and I’d received a box of “New Energy” incense as a holiday gift – thus, “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy” was born.

Sanjay2of4(Jan13)The daily practice included: lighting a stick of “New Energy” incense; asking myself the question, “How will I sustain my total well-being, in order to serve others and live on purpose?”; chanting 108 repetitions of the Asato Ma prayer (“Lead me from unreal to real; from darkness to light; from that which dies off, to that which is everlasting.”); and, posting a daily Facebook reflection on whatever arose during the ritual.

I can’t blog my way out of old energy.  Lighting a stick of “New Energy” incense every day for a month does not guarantee change.  And, chanting and praying do not “manifest” outcomes – they enhance clarity and awareness.  So, these “day count” commitments are, simply, devoted efforts of observation.  For “Full of Shift,” I simply wanted to start each day with a consistent routine so I could sustain awareness of the ongoing shifts; note any related developments; and, detect potential guidance and direction.

The “How will I sustain…” inquiry grew from wondering whether the shifts were related to my ongoing efforts to stabilize and strengthen my health (body, mind, spirit), my education (school, trainings, experience), my relations (family, friends, community) and my work (full-time job, yoga, service).  December was a super intense time of holding space for others to grieve tragedy and ponder the apocalypse, while they were also managing holiday demands and setting New Year intentions.  Understandably, my own energy was thrown off kilter, and I experienced conflicts with old friends and new acquaintances.  At the same time, new work opportunities kept popping up and new ideas for further education were brewing.

I sensed it was time to pay attention.

*  *  *

“Love brings up everything unlike itself.”  ~ Marianne Williamson, author

If you read my December 22nd post, “My Heart Exploded,” you know that the night of Winter Solstice, this happened: “I’d been asleep for about an hour, when my eyes gently opened.  I was lying on my back, with my hands resting on my chest.  Suddenly, in the core of my heart center, I sensed a feeling that is hard to describe.  At once heavy and liberating, full and breathless, sinking and expanding.  Something profoundly beautiful softly exploded in my heart.  After a little while of witnessing, I went back to sleep.”

The next evening, I attended a friend’s holiday party, where I had some notable encounters.  I enjoyed numerous conversations about yoga with new people.  I met an elder woman – the wife of a man who knew my father back in his film making days – whose energy and spirit impressed me.  And, I was shamed by a stranger regarding a mistake I made at the food table.

That night, I had this dream:  I am at a party, in the host’s bedroom, because I feel vulnerable.  I am changing into all-white yoga clothes.  I emerge and head up the stairs to the kitchen.  Halfway up, I bump into an elder mentor, who is coming down.  She also wears white, has white hair and sparkling eyes, and is graceful.  She’s just seen a movie called “The Lotus.”  I ask how it was and say I want to see it.  She trips on the stairs.  I try to stop her fall; but instead, I drop her on the crown of her skull.  It is a very, very painful scene.  (I’ll stop here.)

I sobbed for hours and hours when I woke up from that dream.  It took a few days to release its hold on me.  Thankfully, every time I revisit it, new meaning emerges.  Teaming up for some dream interpretation, a friend and I discovered the primary takeaway: yoga wraps me in security and clarity; I am at a crossroads with my future, more spiritually mature self; and, something about the Crown Chakra cracking open…  Well, duh.  Who governs the crossroads and resides in the Crown Chakra?  Shiva.  My old friend who likes to pull me through the fires of life.  Apparently he wants to show me something.  And the journey will be painful.

Sanjay3of4(Jan13)Well, at least I’m familiar with this territory!

After teaching my New Year’s Eve intention-setting workshop and realizing how depleted I was feeling as the result of a very effort-full December, I set aside the MLK holiday weekend – exactly one month after having my Heart Explosion – for my own 2012/2013 reflection, meditation and journaling.  (See the “Full of Shift – Week Three” blog for a photo of my at-home retreat writing desk/intention altar!)

On Saturday the 19th, after spending the day preparing for my at-home retreat, I had this dream: A yoga teacher friend and I visit a tattoo shop where I am going to start working as desk help.  The shop owner encourages us to walk around and check out the artists’ work before we leave.  I am feeling positive and light as we explore.  At one station, there is a toddler in the client chair, surrounded by two adult females who look ashamed and apologetic.  The child was born without the top half of his/her skull.  Where the forehead and hair should be, there’s nothing – just a hollow cavity leading up from the spinal column.  In addition, it’s as if the baby’s circulation to its hands and feet has been cut off, and the extremities are balloon-like and swollen.  I smile warmly at the women and the toddler.  As my friend and I leave, I say, “Well, the kid’s gonna look like a freak when it gets older – might as well start getting tattoos now!”  And I don’t say this in jest; I say it because this child’s imperfections are not shameful – they are reality, and they are lovable to me.

Again, positivity and confidence when close to yoga.  Again, a reference to the Crown Chakra.  A child born with a wide-open, unobstructed channel to the higher self?  An imperfect child that likes tattoos.  Still not sure about the swollen hands/feet significance.

On Sunday the 20th, I awoke at dawn.  By the time I attended my teacher’s 11am “Spiritually Fly” yoga class, I had practiced my “Full of Shift” ritual, completed my 2012 “clearing” journaling, eaten breakfast and drafted my Week Three blog.  After class, I did some speed-journaling on the first four Chakras, ate lunch, took a super hot shower, practiced Yoga Nidra, then led myself on a visioning journey.

Highlights of the journey: My home, and “all that is here” (exact words from my journey), was (is) my sacred space, my starting point for the journey.  I then met a red fox on the cliff overlooking the dried-up, sacred river of ancestors of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota (a place I have visited a few times).   Together, like comfortable old pals on a hike, the fox and I traveled the riverbed until it became thick with bramble.  We continued through, winding up in her den with her children.  I felt trusted.  She asked me, “What’s in your heart?”  After allowing me to reflect for some time, she coaxed, “I invite you to take a step back.”  We returned to my sacred space and said good-bye.

All that is here, all that makes up my home – the paper piles, the unfolded laundry, the dust, the sunshine through the windows, the sticky note vision board, the family photos, the everything that’s come before and lead to this moment here – is sacred.  Traversing tangled roads in the company of a true friend.  Trusted in The (Urban Yoga) Den with youth (and fox youths encounter their biggest challenges in early childhood, as they are born deaf and blind).  Taking a step back to survey what’s in my heart.  Significance of the Red Fox as a symbol of silence, invisibility, witnessing; controlling the “aura” in order to harmonize more with others.  Strong sense of survival, yet also a gentleness.  Ahimsa Now.

After this rich, fulfilling day of practice and journaling and blogging, and getting deep and real and true, I had this dream: I am strolling through my ‘hood, I am dressed in my favorite clothes (jeans, boots, corduroy jacket…blues, olives, browns), I am confident and peaceful.  I pass and greet friends along the way.  A Latino family in their front mini-yard invite me to chat.  Apparently I am moving away; and the little daughter is sad about that and wants to give me a hug.  Next, their dog comes over to snuggle me.  There’s even a little bird from their yard that lands on my shoulder.  I feel like that image of Snow White, when the dwarves and forest animals find her and adorn her and care for her.  There is a sense of trust, love, sweetness, nurturing and gentleness among me and my community.  (Even in this dream), I feel that all of this proves that I am OK, that I am not a bad, tough, harmful person – I am trusted and loved and adored as this local gal in the ‘hood.  I am whole (no cracked or missing skull, no odd limbs, nothing to be ashamed of).  I don’t feel like I am saying goodbye.  (And yet apparently, I am moving away.)

I’m still connecting the dots among these experiences.  A few things that ring loud and clear:

I am moving away – from many, many things, habits, people, situations.  These 30 days have led me in some very clear directions.  I am trustworthy, loved, good.  I am 100% OK, just like this.

When I step back and see what’s in my heart, I know that I will give birth to The Urban Yoga Den – a sacred space where nonprofit programs like “Ahimsa Now” and other yoga-related activities for healing and transformation will thrive.  I will reach this goal in good company.

Unusual children – those who seem “deformed” or “freakish,” whose families are ashamed of them – are lovable to me.  Yoga and I will smile warmly upon them.

Sometimes enlightenment can look shockingly painful.  Together, Shiva and I will continue to traverse the sometimes rough road of transforming from that triggered, scared, uncomfortable trauma survivor, into that experienced, graceful, humble elder.

And: my heart is wide, wide open.  Despite anger and frustration and conflicts in my personal realm, I am as healthily vulnerable as ever.  Which means that, like the Red Fox, whose sense of smell allows her to discern keenly, I am being very selective regarding with whom I share my heart.  And that is OK.

*  *  *

“may we forgive ourselves when we get scared so we can more forward.”  ~ Elena Brower, Virayoga Founder

With all the forward momentum of these 30 days, I’ve had my hands full.  Full of life!  Always a juggle of ease and effort (just like yoga) – as well as withdrawal into my isolation cave or internal/external struggle (unlike yoga).

AH-HA MOMENT (right this very second)!

I DO see all of this as moments of ease and effort!  Even the cave dwelling and friend fighting.  I’ve often heard, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  Perhaps the most productive Shift and New Energy I can gain from this month-long practice is the relieving realization that I need not be so scared about the comings and goings of life.  I don’t have to analyze and monitor every shift.  None of this has to be blogged to pieces or chanted away.  It’s no big deal.

I can stop trying so damn hard.

So it’s time to return to my usual daily Sadhana.  The morning practice that has evolved over the past 20 years.  The routine that makes me aware, awake, present.  That keeps me accountable, serene, ready.  Someday I might launch another day-count project/observation like Ahimsa Now (2012’s 100-day study of violence and non-violence) – but I’d like to keep my internal process to myself for a bit.

HAHAHAHA!  Let’s see how that goes!  (I can hear y’all laughing at me, too!)

Sanjay4of4(Jan13)To clarify – I will stay transparent with and connected to my close peers and friends, my recovery crew and other therapeutic partners.  And in appropriate cases, with my students, where my experience may by useful to them.  But I pray to not publicly blah blah blah as much.  Another blogger pal mentioned that her 2013 astrological reading gave her permission to lay low until Autumn… and in a certain way, that resonated within me, as well.  So I checked out my Leo AND year of the Snake horoscopes (something I nearly never do!), and apparently, this year is supposed to be a doozy.  I’d like to be present for it instead of reporting on it, so to speak.

My god, I couldn’t disappear completely!  There’s still my monthly yoga class focus, bigger themes of purpose and much more to continue exploring here at the Urban Yoga Den.  I also want to invite some guest bloggers into the Den, and start holding local, in-person circles for Urban Yogis.  When I do blog and post, I’d like to write more about the solution – not to hide the problem, but to share more about what all this work has yielded!  Practices, resources, tools, benefits, internal transformation and life results.

I love my blog/Facebook/online communities and grow so much from relating here.  You all kick my butt!  At the same time…I know I need to plug in with Face Time (vs. Facebook), my journal (vs. my blog), my local recovery community (vs. sharing online) and NATURE (vs. sitting here).

So what is my “final word” for “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy?”
Research.  Discernment.  Decisions.  Action.
All four phases require space, time and deliberate efforts.
Less work.  Less trying.
More allowing the warm nest to nurture outcomes.

*  *  *

Thanks for reading!  OM Shanti.

PS – Great gratitude to Toronto-based artist Sanjay Patel for allowing his 1st 2013 paintings to appear here.  This series so beautifully portrays the shifts and new energy during my 30-day practice.  By chance.  Love and thanks to you, Sanjay.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week Four January 26, 2013

One month ago, on the December 28th Full Moon, I started a 30-day practice.

Daily, I lit a stick of Maroma’s “New Energy” incense; asked myself, “How will I sustain my total holly&buenagirl2(edit2012)well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose;” sat to chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (Lead me from unreal to real; from darkness to light; from that which dies off to that which is everlasting.); then posted the day’s thoughts on Facebook.

Each week, I compiled the Facebook posts with additional reflections here, on this Urban Yoga Den blog.  This is the Week-Four compilation.  Today is day 30.  I am done.  So to speak.

This week’s Facebook posts, below.  Tomorrow, a more thorough wrap-up of the outcomes of this month-long effort.  Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

Mon, 01/21/13. Day 25.
Five days left in this exploration. Already I’ve received so many answers to my inquiry, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”

*  *  *

Tue, 01/22/13. Day 26.
Reflecting on what’s come to my attention over recent weeks.
Cultivating gentleness and nurturing toward others is an obvious calling. During our Prison Yoga Project teaching training last December, founder James Fox modeled the nurturing teaching style that works with incarcerated people. I agreed immediately with its appropriateness.
Now, fears are arising. I wonder…
Who will I be if not my trauma-surviving, tough, tell-it-like-it-is, scrappy little punk? Will at-risk communities be able to relate to the gentle yoga lady? Will I lose my ‘street cred’ if I get too soft? Will I lose my street sense, my security in my ‘hood?
Do I have to give up my edge? My tattoos, jeans and boots, my rock-n-roll and my urban excitements for a life of quiet New Age music and loose, flowing clothes?
I do have a soft, gentle nurturing side. I do value vulnerability. Still, for the sake of relationship health and serving others effectively, how will I reconcile my two sides? More will be revealed…
(Pictured – Me with Mucha Lucha cartoon character, “Buena Girl.” She’s tough and she’s girly and…she stands for all things buena!)

*  *  *

Wed, 01/23/13. Day 27.
Continuing to reflect on what’s come to my attention over recent weeks.
At times I feel immense self-doubt after I make a harmful mistake – particularly if I feel unforgiven by others. This comes from a core wound I have from childhood (put briefly) of feeling like a big fat problem and therefore unwanted.
So my internal work when such self-doubt arises is to direct the essence of Yoga Sutra 1.33 toward myself, the same way I would direct it toward others who commit harm: I aim to cultivate compassion and detach from the harmful action. Add to this – I aim to forgive. (After or along with processing my emotions, so as not to “Spiritually Bypass” that essential step in healing.)
Forgiveness does not mean I condone harmfulness. Therefore, when I make a mistake, I must simultaneously reflect and take action on how I can avoid making the same mistake again. How I can observe and exemplify Ahimsa – the avoidance of violence.
This is why I am able to do the work that I aim to do – sharing yoga with people who make mistakes and who commit harm. With people who others might deem unforgivable. I believe in every person’s ability to recover, rehabilitate, grow and serve. I believe in forgiveness of all. Ohhhh, it can be hard at times – I have been seriously harmed! But if I yearn to live a yogic life, to sustain inner peace, and therefore to be able to show up for others in service…processing my emotions AND using Sutra 1.33 as an avenue to forgiveness and moving on is essential.
So…what do I do if mindful reflection on the Sutras does not erase my self doubt? I take Swami Satchidananda’s suggestion to throw myself into loving devotion of a higher power – a devotion, he says, that will remove all doubts. For me, this power is nature. Nature, with all of its organically forgivable, chaotically beautiful messiness of process. Nature affirms that I will continue to drop leaves, tangle branches, flood, blow things down, burn…and…that I will recover with new blooms, deeper roots, a more gentle flow, a softer breeze, a guiding light.
When I plunge into nature, my process, my intentions, my growth and my usefulness are validated. Devotion erases doubt; inner peace returns; and I can serve effectively. And especially when others lack forgiveness and compassion – mine must be doubtless, faithful, sustaining.
So. Into nature I go…

*  *  *

Thu, 01/24/13. Day 28.
The Full Moon in Leo approaches this Saturday – the final day of “Full of Shift.” Continued reflections on what’s come to my attention over recent weeks. On boundaries and integrity:
I’ve been writing and sharing about mistakes. There are some mistakes that I NEVER want to make again – the mistakes that lead to me being harmed, due to my own poor choices, faulty judgment and lack of discernment.
May I always make healthy decisions for myself.
May I enjoy situations, circles and relationships of shared honesty, transparency, truth, trust, reciprocity, accountability, responsibility, respect, loyalty, commitment and anything else that yields non-harming conditions.
May my relationships brew faith, love, devotion, passion, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, tolerance, health, change and growth.
May I continue to work toward embodying, vibrating and sharing all of these values within my own mind, heart, soul and life.
And may I not settle for less.

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Fri, 01/25/13. Day 29.
Leo Full Moon tomorrow – the final day of “Full of Shift.” Continued reflections on “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”
On work ethic, discernment and freeing my heart of unresolved pain:
– “Those who want to be prosperous must first make others prosperous.” (Yoga Bhajan)  This I believe. I approach “jobs” – whether corporate, nonprofit or yoga work – with the intention to support my employer’s success. I aim to contribute to a strong, healthy business by doing my assigned job well, by making effort beyond expectation, by being dependable/reliable, and by being a cheerleader for the organization/owner. I don’t know any other way to serve at work.
– “When anything comes to you, first ask yourself, ‘Will I be maintaining my peace by getting this, or will my peace be disturbed?’ Ask that for everything.” (Sri Swami Satchidananda) When I first read this quote years ago, I was reminded of the addiction recovery program inquiry, “Are you going toward or away from a drink?” In early sobriety, I became very accustomed to making decisions by asking myself whether a choice would make me feel serene or not. If a choice made me feel ill at ease, I was at risk of “going toward a drink,” and losing my emotional, or, lord-forbid, my physical sobriety. This style of discernment is still a great gauge for me today.
– I need to address unresolved anger and therefore liberate my heart from pain that makes me overreact to perceived threats of harm from well-intentioned people. With a 47-year history of trauma, violations and abuses…how? Lobotomy? “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” More denial? Hee hee. Seriously, I have spent ample time and energy “doing the work” – looking squarely at, understanding and analyzing my past. I know everything about my pain. I write about it. I teach about it. I can run circles around it. Most of this “work” has been in my brain. Still, there seems to be something very un-brain-related about the residual emotion that gets twisted into misguided emotion today. I know I’ll never be trigger-free – this is the reality of having my past. Still, I (and my friends) would like some solutions. So I’ve been asking, “What can I do to address/process unresolved anger?” Suggestions/reflections thus far: SPEND REGULAR TIME IN NATURE; PRACTICE THE BUDDHIST TONGLEN MEDITATION; WRITING/BURNING RITUALS; RESTORATIVE YOGA & YOGA NIDRA; CHAKRA DANCE PROGRAMS; TAKE A GUIDED YOGA RETREAT; CULTIVATE JOY THROUGH A REJUVENATING VACATION. Anything else you’d like to share?

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Sat, 01/26/13. Day 30.
Wrapping up the ritual today, day 30. Under a Leo Full Moon, teaching, practicing, relating, connecting. Kirtan later tonight. Moon peaks after 11:30pm EST. All is good.

 

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.

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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!

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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.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week Two January 11, 2013

Remember the “very honest letter to those I can trust” I mentioned at the end of my “Week One” blog?  The letter that would kick my butt out of paralysis?  That would smash my self-centered, ego-based fear about the part of my life I won’t reveal here?  It’s still in draft form.  Scribbled on 11 yellow sticky notes.  All stuck together in a little pile.  Over there.

RockCreekPileBranchAndFalls(Jan13)Funny thing is, despite the stall on that one action, there has been so much movement this week.  And today, the New Moon, could powerfully support my efforts to Make Room for New Energy…

The past seven days were eventful, exciting, uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking.  Overall, the New Energy was on high.  I am reminded of a W.H. Murray quote, which a friend sent to me about three years ago, when I was beginning to deliberately shape the direction of my yoga teaching journey.

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth – the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

On December 28th, I made a decision to commit to a 30-day ritual, to witness and learn and make room and live and breathe and watch.  To set a Sankalpa, an intention, a deep resolution.  So right here and now, in order to take advantage of the New Moon energy of letting go, to sustain integrity and to fully align with my dedication to Shift and New Energy, I’m going to burst the bubble of shame and fear, and admit what I’m afraid to reveal:

Being without full-time employment has brought me to dire financial straits.  It is not a pretty picture.  I know that there are many others in this same situation.  I am not alone.  The thing is…what I’m really hiding is…until recent days, I was not doing enough to find work.  I spent many, many months not applying for jobs, due to my own self-centered fears.  “I’m too old; my education is outdated; my last full-time job ended seven years ago; my career path is not linear.”  Truly logical reasons why I might not get attention from employers.  And I clung to these reasons so tightly, I wouldn’t lift a finger to look for a job.

Thankfully, around Day 6 of this “Full of Shift” process, I saw a quote from self-help guru Dr. Robert Anthony.  Although I typically run in the other direction from self-help gurus, and although I had heard this idea one-million times in one-million different phrasings, these exact words struck a direction-changing chord with me:

“Once you give up all the ‘logical reasons’ why something cannot work for you and allow your new dream or goal to enter your Subconscious, it’s an idea whose time has come.”

Since reading this quote,

  • “I’m too old” became “I have 47 years of rich life experience, I have 30 years of insightful business experience, and I have 20 years of personal transformation and development experience.”
  • “My education is outdated” became “I am excited to pursue further education, and can apply for funding based on my rich and insightful background, as well as my experiences with personal transformation and development.”
  • “My last full-time job ended seven years ago” became “My last full-time job was a 5-year success story; since leaving, I have honed my writing/editing skills as a communications consultant and a yoga blogger; I have launched a thriving part-time career as a motivational yoga instructor and writer; I have been training to work with and teach within at-risk communities; and I have been incubating my vision for a non-profit organization called Ahimsa Now.”
  • “My career path is not linear” became “Thank god, my career path is not linear; 2012 was the year of connecting those dots in very meaningful, valuable, useful ways.  Let’s rock.”

Reiterating W.H. Murray’s thought – but this time in boldface:

“…the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

I started this “Full of Shift” project (for background, see “The origins of ‘Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy’” below) toward the end of 2012, because shifts were subtly and mysteriously showing up in my encounters, my yoga practice, my heart center, my dreams.  Here we are, mid-way into this commitment; and indeed, providence is moving.

Here are last week’s “Full of Shift” Facebook posts, plus added reflections.  Thanks for reading.

*  *  *

Fri, 01/04/13. Day 8.
Not sure what I dreamed about last night, but before I went to sleep, I read yoga teacher Hari-kirtana Dasa’s blog about Ahimsa and Veganism. And this morning I awoke thinking about the similarities among the traumas created by wars of all kinds – internal, external; political, spiritual; business, crime; families, countries. And in my mind, the phrase “The Myth of the Suburbs” kept resounding, until my body started tingling. After my daily incense/meditation ritual, I again had the strong sense that something powerful is brewing (which is why I started this 30-day “Full of Shift” observation). Later, Wall1(Jan13)above my desk, this little exercise happened (see photo). And just now, I saw the Pedro Franco (of http://www.yoganoborders.org) Facebook post from Michael Moore about “supporting our troops.” It’s all related. We’re all related. Little Shifts. Big Energy.
REFLECTIONS: I am a word person, so my “Vision Board” is more like a “Word Wall.”  I discovered the benefits of this visioning exercise while working in television programming a while back.  Like then, I have small tasks, larger goals, longer-term markers, future visions and big-huge dreams to attend to each day.  Using the sticky notes, I can arrange all of these in order of next steps and later attention.  Seeing it on the wall (rather than in a to-do list) illustrates that everything is connected, and leads to one umbrella motivation – the founding of my nonprofit, Ahimsa Now.

*  *  *

Sat, 01/05/13. Day 9.
Missed a day of the ritual today, y’all. Taught this morning, then spent the entire day at IKEA and Whole Foods Market. Made time for Jonathan Foust’s Yoga Nidra CD in the evening. And now, just home from an amazing dinner with a fellow yoga teacher. Good stuff. Some days are just for this. Back to incense and chanting tomorrow.
REFLECTIONS: This late-evening Facebook post was the beginning of my decay into self-centered fear about some yoga friend/yoga event stuff.  That night I ended up essentially screaming my emotional pain in a scary string of private messages.  This dark episode came from a culmination of things, namely: stuffing difficult emotions about a number of hurtful situations since around Christmas time; not keeping up with my life-saving, sanity-making morning Sadhana over this time period; and being awake much later than normal, and, on the ever potentially-triggering Facebook after a really long day.  Total melt down.  It happens.

*  *  *

Sun, 01/06/13. Day 10.
Today, it’s “Full of Sh*t: A Couple of Days of the Same Old Energy.” Thank god this whole life thing is Repetition(Jan13)about progress not perfection.
REFLECTIONS: Last night’s great ball of fire evolved into today’s regret and shame.  I cannot wait until these words fade from my vocabulary: “I admit that I overreacted and I was wrong to misdirect my pain at you.  Please trust that this was situational, remember how I have been constructive before, and know that I am aware of and in the solution for this.”  Blech.

*  *  *

Mon, 01/07/13. Day 11.
In my life, it is scientifically proven – mindful repetition of ritual works in wondrous ways. Old habits fall away; new habits emerge. However, truth be told, I have not been repeating my “Full of Shift” daily practice before dawn, nor with much mindfulness, over the past few days. Fitting it in, whenever, wherever. Hence, I am all over the place – shift owns me, and the same old energy rules. Wake up call? Let’s see what happens tomorrow morning.
REFLECTIONS: I saw this “Repetition” image after a messy weekend of human dynamics, sparked by my own neglect of the practices and routines that ensure peace of mind and therefore peaceful relationships.
Thank god for being a yoga teacher, and for reminders.  This morning, I presented “The Benefits of Yoga in Everyday Life” to an assembly of 150 pre-teens and their teachers – on their 1st day back after a long holiday break.  I lead the group through a centering exercise, to show how yoga calms mind disturbances – from excitement to worry – and increases peace and focus.  It is always a moving experience for me to witness people of all ages and backgrounds responding to the yoga “trick” of focusing the mind, body, breath and senses.  There’s that moment in the room when everyone settles into a peaceful hush…it’s amazing!  And the yoga is doing the magic, really – not me at all.
When I got home, I was certain to do my own centering, breathing and chanting.
Later that day, a friend familiar with my passion for baseball, my background teaching yoga to athletes and my current job situation introduced me to the community outreach and training director for a professional sports complex.  How exhilarating to stand on pro-athlete turf and hear the thump of a 100-mile/hour fastball against the backboard!  I had an amazing time learning about the center’s community mission.  The fog of the weekend’s mishaps started to lift as I felt myself in my element.
The same afternoon, I found words of wisdom from Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van Der Kooij: “In order to dance like Shiva, we must feel free, and freedom comes from knowing there is nothing that binds us permanently. Shiva’s dance is born out of a liberation from the fear of change.”  BAM.  Om Namah Shivaya!  I knew exactly what change I am fearing in relation to what happened on Saturday night.  Thanks, Shiva, for point my heart straight at it!
I am afraid of a change in people’s opinions of me.  I am afraid that my yoga community, my ToleratedCelebrated(Jan13)potential employers, my family, my friends are changing their vision of me, from respected and loved to worthless and unlovable.  Making up their minds that the messy truth under the yoga guise is unacceptable.  I usually share so honestly; but the longer I go without full-time work and continue managing the related stress and shame, the more I am hiding.
Acknowledgement of this fear informs my solutions for facing and transforming it.  Be honest.  Don’t be afraid of others’ judgment.  Acknowledge my beautiful, messy, eternally changing humanness.  Have faith in myself.  Give myself a big, forgiving, accepting hug.

*  *  *

Tue, 01/08/13. Day 12.
As we move toward the New Moon this Friday, and as I continue my effort toward “making room,” this is what struck me after this morning’s 108 “Asato Ma”s and incense ritual (see “Tolerated/Celebrated” image).
REFLECTIONS: Today everything became fiercely positive.  I discovered, reviewed and absorbed positive comments from, encouraging conversations with and stronger connections with objective strangers and beloved friends.  Encounters affirming my life, my approach to it, my purpose in it.  This week I have received immensely wise guidance from peers and mentors.  I have met challenges from friends, fellow writers, nature.  There have been lots of opportunities to grow, observe patterns, witness behaviors, reckon with humanity.
RockCreekPileStump(Jan13)I spent some time by Rock Creek and came upon one of those crazy post-storm piles of tree trunks, branches and debris.  I felt energized by nature, and the smooth, colorful beauty that shines from twisted, broken messes.  All part of the organic process of life.  Life.

*  *  *

Wed, 01/09/13. Day 13.
I looked up at the waning crescent moon on my way to teach a 7am class this morning. A few days ago at midnight, under a half moon, I prayed for obstacles to be taken away – “Take it, whatever it is, please,” I pleaded. Since then, indeed, things have been taken away. Debating whether that’s happy or sad news. Still, making room for New Energy, so recent shifts can lead to liberation…being useful…offering service.
REFLECTIONS: Today was a good day for positive influences on friends’ Facebook posts.  My fave: “If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.” (J. Krishnamurti)

*  *  *

Thu, 01/10/13. Day 14.
This was a super eventful, exciting, uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking week.  C’est la vie.  At sunset tonight, I start my monthly New Moon fast.  Looking forward to reflecting on these first two weeks of Making Room, as the waning moon disappears, leaving nothing but space for New Energy.
REFLECTIONS: Focusing on the positive, the strength, the connections, the  friendships.  Letting go of what will make room.

*  *  *

Today. Day 15.

This morning I awoke before my alarm, and decided to practice Yoga Nidra with a Jonathan Foust CD.  “Relaxation is the entryway to renewal and insight, and the foundation of meditative awareness,” he told me in the introduction.  So I intuitively knew this would be the right way to start the day.

Jonathan guided me to power-up my inhale, and to relax, soften and let go fully and deeply with every exhale.  Then, he invited me to begin breathing without effort.  “Notice your capacity to allow this moment to be just as it is, without adding anything to it, without taking anything away.”  After a body scan, he noted, “Relaxing…”

“Feeling who you are in the absence of struggle, in the radiance of effortlessness.”

After Yoga Nidra, I repeatedly affirmed the Real, the Light and the Everlasting during my 108 Asato Ma chants.  In the absence of struggle, I experienced the radiance of a deeply present, conscientious and self-affirming choice to stand in my truth – no hiding, no shadows, no lies.

New Moon.  Letting Go.  Making Room.  Shifting Toward New Energy.  Indeed.

Time to finish and send out that “very honest letter to those I can trust.”

*  *  *

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

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

MeBloggingPracticingDay(Jan13)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.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week One January 4, 2013

HappyNewYear20122013(Dec12)I like to say that my personal brand slogan is “Nothing To Hide.”

In this blog, I’ve shared about addiction and recovery, violations and PTSD, yoga and non-violence, depression and celebrations, challenges and solutions.  Because I have thankfully found my way (and been helped) through a great deal of hardship in life, I like to tell my story honestly – the tough parts, the growth, the transformation and the solutions.

But there is one area of my life that I haven’t shared about here.  Because as of yet, I have not found the solution.  I have not transformed.  I am not growing.  And I am ashamed to tell you about it.  So far.

*  *  *

One week ago I launched this “Full of Shift” series (for background, see “The origins of ‘Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy’” below).  Since writing the blogs for Days 1 & 2 last week, I’ve simply posted daily “Full of Shift” reflections on my Urban Yoga Den Facebook.  Below are those posts, plus added commentary, for Days 3 through 7 (today).

*  *  *

12/30/12. Day 3.
No long blog today – just a quick check in, for the record.
FRESH!
This wind is sockin’ it to me! It’s blowing things all over the place!  While lighting my incense and chanting this morning, the message was – New Energy Is Here!

*  *  *

12/31/12. Day 4.
MAKE ROOM for the unexpected.
Delights and disappointments.
Successes and failures.
In that spaciousness –
community builds,
honesty emerges,
respect deepens.
Make room.
This reflection came to me during meditation this morning, as I considered the unusually good outcome of the unexpected bad news I received on Friday.  Due to miscommunication with our yoga studio’s building owner, I found out (only 3 days in advance) that I could not use our wonderful studio space for my annual New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa event.  Disappointing, and potentially a failure for all involved.  Stress skyrocketed – but I did what I know best!  I reached out for help, shifted into “crisis resolution” mode, and found solutions.  And now, because so much has come together – community, people, space, rhythm, creativity and more – the situation ends up being a great success and delight for all.  Happy New Year!

*  *  *

01/01/13. Day 5.
After so much recent work on intention, and holding space while others dig into theirs, what came to me this morning during meditation is: I still struggle with how to make all the pieces fit together for sustainability. Ah – more information for next steps. Onward…

*  *  *

01/02/13. Day 6.
Big questions arose in this morning’s meditation.  Primarily: I see clearly that I urgently need to MAKE ROOM.  But how?  First I must make room in my mind to hear the answer!  Hence this 30-day ritual.
Later, I came across this on Facebook.  I don’t know who Dr. Robert Anthony is, but I’m just going to believe him today.  “Any dream that can pass through one’s screen of logic into the Subconscious and is earnestly desired, can be obtained.  Once you give up all the “logical reasons” why something cannot work for you and allow your new dream or goal to enter your Subconscious, it’s an idea whose time has come.”  – Dr. Robert Anthony

*  *  *

01/03/13. Day 7.
End of my 1st week.  Last night, at midnight, and under the waning moon, I prayed desperately to know what I need to let go of in order to make room for New Energy.  “Whatever you want me to, I will let go of it.  Take it away from me.  Anything.  Just take it.  Please.”
In an area of my life that I am ashamed to reveal, I am horribly, horribly stuck.  Last night I was pleading for answers.  And this morning, as soon as I woke up, I got them.  I think.   I scribbled:
“How do I make room for fresh energy?  By letting go of ego.  By quitting the old patterns of self-reliance, self-centered fear, old stories and negative beliefs.  Old patterns of sharing the solution for everything else and not admitting this unresolved problem.  I must take the risk of exposing myself humbly, honestly and earnestly.  I must ask for help and surrender to the care of Higher Powers (spirit, friends, community).  I am wincing as I write this.  The idea of admitting how bad it is turns my stomach.  But, what do I have to lose?”
After I wrote this, I lit my incense and chanted my 108 “Asato Ma”s.  And then I drafted a very honest letter to those I can trust.  More will be revealed.

*  *  *

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.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Day 2 December 29, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Life,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 2:10 pm
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NashvilleCloudsThunderhead(June2011)12/29/12.  Day 2.

MAKE ROOM.

While lighting my incense this morning, I said a little affirmation (in question form) that I feel complements this endeavor of witnessing the subtle yet abundant shifts happening in my life lately.  “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on-purpose?”

The question stems from my way too long term search for full-time work – in other words, my endurance of way too long term unemployment.  I do have part-time work as a yoga teacher; and for this I am deeply grateful.  Yet my search for full-time work has been beyond tough.  There is the condition that 1,000s are looking for jobs now.  And there’s the fact that I am 47 years old, 25 years away from my university degree, 7 years away from my last full-time job and seeking a new direction.

In January of this year, I sent a job search outreach letter to all of my e-mail contacts – about 3,000 folks – and had some immediate responses and support.  However, no work emerged.  So, in addition to the other challenges to this search, there’s the battle with my own negative stories – despite knowing deep down that I am talented, bright, energetic and worthy.

Consequently, the stress of the situation has become detrimental to my overall health.  There is the embarrassment of scraping to pay bills…or, to be honest…borrowing to pay bills; the ongoing, soul-sucking financial worry; the shame about my financial situation and job search failures; the basic inability to take care of myself well because I can’t afford it; the loss of faith that things will be OK; and the (very typical human) fear that I will die penniless, alone, in a gutter.  My physical, emotional and spiritual health are all suffering.

Despite this, I continue to trudge forward, day by day.  I walk with purpose through this challenge.  Most days I am smiling, acting as if all is well (because moment to moment, it truly is), and able to show up and serve others.

I like to state my morning affirmation in question form, because this is a month for asking questions, and observing what comes up.  Each day as I light my New Energy incense, I will ask…and listen.  Today, as soon as I said, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on-purpose?” I heard within me, “MAKE ROOM.”  Nothing more – simply, a resounding “MAKE ROOM.”  The Full Moon was yesterday; as of today, it is waning.  Which is the best time for letting go.

So today, I will make efforts to MAKE ROOM.  More will be revealed.  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.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Day 1 December 28, 2012

GiantMudraBaltimore(Apr12)

Photo: Aashumi Shah

Day 1.  12/28/12

I awoke this morning at 5:15 in order to chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (“lead me from unreal to real; from darkness to light; from things that dies of, to that which is everlasting”) as the Full Moon peaked.

Yup, it’s that time again – time to utilize the tools of change in a very deliberate effort.  2012 was a fantastic year of becoming stronger on the inside and gentler on the outside.  For me, this shift is a welcome result of ongoing inner work.  Still, these days, my dreams, sensations and experiences are messaging me that something big is beginning to boil.  I hope to harness that “something” while it’s still simmering, so I can be in harmony with it, rather than subject to it.

I don’t know what this “something” is.  I have an inkling the shift is related to my Purpose (upper case “P”), and my related work.  I do know this: the night of the Winter Solstice, my heart exploded (see my last blog for details); days after, I had a dream that I dropped my future self on her head and she suffered horribly; and over the past week or so, I’ve been tripped up by surprising triggers.

So although the one-year period of late Fall 2011 through just weeks ago has yielded so much positive, this recent shakiness is not to be ignored.  I truly believe it could yield some major change for the better – as long as I stay aware of and present with the shift.

So this morning, yes, I set the shift in motion by awakening before dawn, lighting a stick of my new incense (a holiday gift, appropriately branded “New Energy”), practicing Pranayama and chanting.  And I plan to do this every morning for a month, until the next Full Moon.  As with all of my other intention “projects,” I am not trying to force a specific outcome – simply to bring New Energy to my life, to witness these shifts and to see what evolves.

*  *  *

During this morning’s meditation, a few things came clear.

I need to make immediate amends for potentially harmful words of late.  I just need to check in with some dear ones about some tongue-in-cheek remarks.  Because I aim to be non-violent, I value accountability and I desire honest, healthy and caring relationships.  Another moment of clarity – I have fallen off the yoga wagon and need to get back on with urgency.  Because yesterday’s stream of dark consciousness on Facebook exhibits that I am off-balance.  ‘Nuff said.

And – related to that – I need to seek a hormone specialist.  (Sorry guys, just sayin’.)

Among other realizations, 2012 has been an enlightening year to observe that, as I’ve aged, a very specific, monthly, 10-day time period has evolved – during which I feel as though I do and say everything wrong – and/or I feel wronged by everything others do or say.  Hmmm…  Despite being well-aware that this time period – and its chemical propensity toward miscommunication and misunderstanding – is approaching, and despite progressively increasing precautions, such as changing my diet, taking nutritional supplements, and, promising myself to stay the heck off of Facebook and away from potentially rattling situations…without fail, the unreasonable and strangely obligatory impulse to dive in, wound and be wounded wins.  Mama mia.

So yes, it’s time to seek a hormone specialist.  Because 10 days is just too much life to lose to emotional insanity!

I’m giggling at myself while scribbling this in my journal.  Ay, ay, ay – another life lesson.  Looking forward to witnessing more and more over the next 30 days…and beyond, of course!  Indeed.  I am.  Full of shift.

OM Shanti.

 

The Happy Heart Project: The Halfway Mark October 20, 2011

“Hey, I’m trying to hard to see the light, to see the light – to see it burn thru.”  – Abigail Washburn

When it comes to maintaining and manifesting an intention over 100 days – and that intention is to overcome a nagging internal darkness and move deliberately toward joy – it is imperative to know which tools, resources, practices and people support that intention.

So here I am, halfway into a project I started on a whim (for background, please see final note, bottom of page), and I am clearly learning what works – and what doesn’t work.

Back in August, when I started this daily ritual, joy felt elusive.  The origin of that challenge was a string of unfortunate, traumatic and painful experiences beginning in June 2010.  So the “Project” actually represented much more than a flippant whim.  It became a “Sankalpa” (deep intention, commitment, resolution) that would hopefully free my mind – and life – from the grip of PTSD, depression, anger and resentment.

And a shift is happening.  Of course, there are days when fear, negativity and doubt emerge.  Normal stuff.  At the same time, I have to be careful to not let those days stretch into a mindset.  So I reinforce my Sankalpa.

*  *  *

Move.  Toward.  Joy.

MOVE does not happen in the mind.  MOVE denotes a deliberate effort.  MOVE is an action word.

In yoga, when I think of action, I consider how I can take my practice off the mat and into everyday life.  To me, “practice” is a synonym for “action.”  Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Practice yoga, and all is coming.”  A simple metaphor – when we take action, things happen.  Aphorism I.14 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when efforts are made over a long period of time, constantly, and with great love (or devotion, earnestness, zeal).”

So again I mention the importance of tried-and-true tools, resources, practices and people to support my 100-day Sankalpa ritual.  They have encouraged my efforts, motivated my practice and strengthened my devotion.  Other influences, however, have been downright derailing at times.

What works and/or doesn’t work as I aim to maintain and manifest my intention to move toward joy:

WORKS: Being honest.  With myself and others.   This, by far, has been rule #1 for me.  THE best elixir for battling the stinking thinking.  Not convincing myself that everything is OK when it is not.  Not writing a bunch of “happy” lies in this blog.  Sharing my process with my circles, communities, co-humans.  Being honest about everything – feelings, ideas, plans.  Saying when I feel scared.  Saying when I feel confident.  “Sticking a pin in it” when my balloon of negativity, doubt and fear gets too inflated.  Getting it out.  Sometimes constructively, sometimes like a vent.

WORKS: Being listened to – being heard.  This means choosing the listeners carefully.  To truly be heard, I want to talk to those who have the patience, compassion and love to listen to everything I need to share.  People who care to know my insides.  People who care for my well-being, who have my best interest in mind.  People who do not immediately launch into fixing the problem.  I know this about myself: I need to let it all out – my stories, my theories, my feelings, my problems, my solutions.  Once I’m empty, I become spacious, calm and able to listen to feedback.

WORKS: Listening to, considering and/or heeding well-informed suggestions from people who know me well, who’ve stuck by my side through thick and thin, with whom I connect regularly, who are mental health professionals and/or who are trusted teachers whose experience I trust.  Listening to others’ stories.  Being as open-minded and willing as possible – yet still discerning, keeping my peace, purpose and sustainability in mind.  This is explored further in #1-4 below.

WORKS: Listening to and truly hearing loved ones’ and trusted beings’ encouragement and positive opinions.

WORKS: Staying close to those loved ones and trusted beings.

DOESN’T WORK: Trying to do this alone.

DOESN’T WORK:  Tolerating bossy, know-it-all recommendations (thinly disguised as concerned advice) from people who don’t know me very well (or who mistakenly think they do know me very well because maybe they used to know me a long time ago, or maybe they’ve read my writing or have heard me speak, or for whatever reason, they believe that we are alike), who have shown that they don’t care to know me authentically, whom I have not seen in a very long time, who intrusively beeline over to me because they’ve “heard what I’m going through,” who give medical advice without medical credentials and/or whom I absolutely do not trust.  And do you know what else doesn’t work?  Allowing these people to get under my skin; allowing myself to feel judged by these people; allowing myself to cop a resentment.  Indeed, at times, my vulnerable mind lets this happen!  What works then?  Taking a pause, replacing the false thoughts with a positive belief, and then understanding that these people are coming from a place of fear and/or a need to control.  I can have compassion for them, nod politely…and move on.  Or, avoid them altogether.  Or, be direct and say, “Thank you for your concern; I have a great team of supporters whose advice I am following.  So at this time, I want to stay on track and not add other suggestions. ”  Smile.  Walk away.  Bam.

Phew, that was a sassy little rant!  Sometimes I create my own frustration by being so open and honest about my process.  But, I’d rather have the opportunity to discern between appropriate/useful advice and inappropriate/fear-based advice than not get any advice at all!

*  *  *

In addition to clarity about support and action, I’ve also started to feel very clear about the process of cultivating positive change.  Thankfully, I’ve learned so much of this from the infinite influences I’ve said “yes” to over the years.  Here are the steps I’ve taken this time around:

1 – Let go of what doesn’t serve.  I’ve heard it a-thousand times, and it really is the best starting place for me.  This past summer, after what seemed like a year-long endurance test of trials and tribulations, I started letting go of anything that doesn’t represent deep peace, true purpose and long-term sustainability for me.  Jobs, relationships, belongings.  I took risks.  In the case of jobs and relationships, if I couldn’t leave immediately, I began to cultivate an exit strategy.  One by one, I started saying good-bye.  I will be honest – financially, it is beyond stressful.  But I really needed to let go and be liberated.

2 – Take time in the spaciousness created by letting go.  I learned to not fill the space YET.  To grieve the losses.  To feel uncomfortable.  To admit and accept my mistakes.  To witness my doubts, dreams, stories – positive and negative, real and imagined.

3 – Reflect on what brings deep peace, explore what constitutes true purpose and envision what looks sustainable in the long-term.  I have exposed myself to influences I might not normally consider.  I’ve read-up on the Occupy Wall Street efforts; I’ve started taking a high-power Jivamukti class; I’ve listened to Pema Chodron CDs (I love Pema, but am not typically a fan of audio learning).  And I have indulged in activities I absolutely love – that nourish me and bring instant joy.  I have seen live concerts, bought new CDs (please see the bottom of this blog to check out the video for the above-quoted Abigail Washburn song), listened to comedy, practiced yoga outdoors, watched baseball games, enjoyed inspiring films, participated in the Jewish High Holy Days.  I have let ideas and passions brew.

4 – Define peace, purpose and sustainability.  During the peak of Occupy Wall Street and the Jewish High Holy Days, I was struck with the strongest sense of self I’ve experienced in a long time.  It seems like a combination of the results of numbers 1-3 above, the pressure of calls to action in the media, and, the intensity of moral inventory, atonement and forgiveness sparked an energy of self-definition for me.  From Facebook, other media and other sources, I gleaned quotes that called to my soul, compiled them in a journal, and started aiming to live them, day in and day out.  They include: “Occupy within: a movement in awakening;” “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more deeply in your heart;” “The unexamined life is not worth living;” and, “Do I feel happy?  No.  But I feel progress.”

5 – Take action – fill the space.  A few days ago, a yoga teacher friend exclaimed, “How’s your new life?”  She’s referring to the many changes I’ve made since the summer, when I started this process.  I reflected silently for a moment.  “It’s very empty…” and just then, a light bulb clicked on in my mind.  “It’s time to fill it,” I answered, with resolve.

This is coming up for me now that I clearly understand what works and what doesn’t to practice my Sankalpa with consistency and zeal.  With that support, I can tackle some next steps, which include: seek a  job that fulfills my true needs and allows me to continue teaching yoga; seek new yoga teaching opportunities; continue deepening my PTSD sessions and exploration; conduct a fearless self-inventory that not only identifies how I was harmed over the past year, but that also identifies what my part, mistake and/or contribution may have been to those troubles; practice forgiveness of myself and others; commit to other practices that direct me toward joy.  Thank goodness, there are many!

Let’s see what happens over the next 50 days…taking it one day at a time, of course.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love – and a light that burns thru.  OM Shanti.

(Here is the lovely song containing the opening quote of this blog.  Enjoy!)

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “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.  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.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

 

The Happy Heart Project: Days 1-31 September 29, 2011

I’ve read that we replace 1% of our cells daily. Every 100 days we have a new body. What that new body consists of is the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink, exercise we take and thoughts we think.  – A friend

Three-plus boxes of incense and 31 days ago, I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” as a simple way to set an intention.

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28th, I lit my first stick of “Happy Heart” (an incense by Maroma) and made a commitment to move toward joy for that day, and that day only.  Because that’s really all I have – one day at a time.

When I started this “project,” I understood there would be no guarantees.  The dark funk of the past year (or so) would either stay or go.  And indeed – over the past month, that funk has left, returned, become darker, been replaced by light, strengthened, weakened, disappeared, appeared again…you get the picture.

Still, it’s the intention that makes the difference.  It’s the intention that gives the journey purpose, that keeps me honest with myself, that drives me toward solutions, that sparks change.

*  *  *

“Sankalpa” is a Sanskrit word loosely meaning “intention.”  Other definitions include: commitment, resolution, resolve, will, purpose, determination, motivation.  I have heard from yoga experts that the act of reinforcing a Sankalpa has the power to replace and erase destructive habits, unwanted thoughts and false beliefs, aka negative “Samskara” (patterns created by the “scars” of life).  Setting this positive, committed intention is like a deep practice of “Pratipaksha Bhavana” – replacing negative thoughts with positive.

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.  I cling (loosely, hehehe) to this promise that my sometimes dark, anguished and seeking (aka human) mind can be calmed by yoga.  And not just the movement of my body on a mat, but all of yoga’s calming practices, from Pranayama (the movement of vital energy through oxygenation, aka, breathing) to setting a Sankalpa.

*  *  *

So how did the 1st month of “Happy Heart” burning go?

Well let’s see…in no particular order:

During a three-day yoga retreat, I had a soul-bearing conversation with a beautiful old tree, a powerfully silent meditation at Satchidananda’s tomb, and a thankful turn-of-the-corner from darkness to light.  Since returning from retreat, I have awakened between 5:30 and 7am each day to practice Pranayama, meditation and prayer.  I reunited and hung out with wonderful friends; listened to Car Talk and laughed my butt off; took a nourishing Asana class with a teacher I’d never experienced; saw the Washington Nationals’ win their final home game; saw “Our Idiot Brother” (silly comedy) and “The Interrupters” (intense documentary).  After consulting with trusted doctors, I paused my PTSD therapy in order to soften the intense triggers arising after the June mugging.  I finally started sleeping through the night and balancing out during the day with the help of herbal and nutrient-based supplements.  While walking near my home, I saw the guy who mugged me, followed him (again), called the police (again), and lost him (again).  I received very caring attention from DC MPD detectives.  I met with a DC MPD inspector who likes my idea of teaching Pranayama and meditation to traumatized cops.  In response to these recent tough times, and, the approach of my 9th anniversary of addiction recovery, I increased my recovery activities and started receiving regular guidance from a recovery program mentor.  The early-recovery gal that I was mentoring moved on to work with a different mentor.  I showed up for others; picked up my friend’s kids from the school bus stop; listened to friends who are hurting.  I had a panic attack, triggered by a false belief that someone was going to abandon me.  The all-female Kirtan group I’m in – The Shaktis – guided a roof-raising night of chanting at a yoga center.  I continued teaching my three yoga classes per week, with a focus on “Everyday Enlightenment” – observing how we carry our Eight Limb influences off the mat and into daily life.  I showed up for my part-time retail job; I reached the end of my rope with ongoing poor treatment by a co-worker; I quit that job.  Today I interviewed for a new job.

I healed, I worried, I laughed, I grieved.  I walked with confidence, I asked for help.  I felt pissed off; I felt forgiving; I felt human.

In other words, I experienced life.

Somewhere around Day #20, there was one morning that I felt so frustrated that I did not want to light the incense.  I did it anyway.

Because that’s what a Sankalpa is – a commitment, no matter what.  A firm resolution to stick with the positive action despite all challenges.  Or, even better – a firm resolution to meet all challenges with positive action.  Whether that positive action is to grieve authentically or celebrate joyously.

*  *  *

At this moment, under the new-new moon, I am preparing to attend Rosh Hashanah services.  The Jewish New Year launches a period of intense prayer, forgiveness (offered and requested), and atonement.  After 10 days, on Yom Kippur, we seal these efforts with a one-day fast.  I didn’t plan it this way – but after these 31 days of ups, downs, turned corners, endings, clarity and renewed intention…the rituals of the High Holy Days are the perfect way to start my 2nd month of “The Happy Heart Project.”

More will be revealed.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “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.  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.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!