Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

Unravel

20/07/2018
Photo by Terra Evans on Unsplash

Photo by Terra Evans on Unsplash

A little while ago I was speaking to one of my dear friends in Australia. She is what I would describe as a touchstone, term for someone who restores faith in the goodness of humanity. This person helps unwrap and untangle any knots around my heart and mind, and I always walk away from our conversations feeling lighter and inspired. Every time I speak to her, I can’t help but feel like I’ve shifted and grown in some way.

During one of our phone calls, we spoke of our current events and news in our respective corners of the earth. In this conversation, I shared that I recently felt a sense of ‘unraveling’ happening within me. This sensation is exciting, yet a bit unsettling. As I explained, this internal unraveling made me feel like I was on the cusp of some change or realization. I rambled for a bit about this feeling and of course, didn’t really think I made much sense at all. But that’s the great thing about this friend; she’s patient and a champion listener. (Like, if listening were an Olympic sport, she’d most certainly qualify and probably get to stand on the podium). Once I had finished spilling fragments of thoughts, there was a pause. I could hear my friend contemplating from 10,000 miles away. Then she mused, “When you were using the word unraveling, I couldn’t help but think about a thread when you’re knitting. When a thread unravels, you use that bit to create something new.”

Wow. Once again my touchstone leaves me with such a simple image but one that I keep returning to on days when I feel like I’m coming undone. Sometimes this feeling of coming undone is exciting because something is about to change. Just like it can be unsettling because something is about to change. Unsettling or exciting, the unraveled thread can be used to create something new and beautiful. One of my yoga teachers, Matthew Sanford, once told me that unraveling is part of the process of realization and growth but warned that the trick is to not become too attached or concerned with the feeling of unraveling; allow it to be part of the experience without it becoming the focus. So, therein lies the practice. We’re all going to experience a sense of coming apart as we grow. The practice is to remain aware and even grateful for the unraveling but to stay loose because if you pull or hold too tight, you might unravel the whole sweater.

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Improvasana

18/07/2018

yes and improv

Once upon a time I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone and try something completely different. So I said YES to Improv! Not only was I looking for a different extra-curricular activity than what I would normally sign up for, I also hoped to cultivate more confidence with speaking in front of others and thinking on the spot. As the weeks went on I began to realize that what we were learning in improv isn’t far off from what I’ve learned in yoga and meditation practices…

– In Improv, they encourage you to pause before you respond to a prompt. So if someone says, ‘What’s in the box?’ rather than panic and react (which can lead to funny outcomes), they advise to take a breath and respond. This sounds suspiciously like something I’ve learnt in my meditation practice. We learn to sit with whatever comes up, including difficult feelings or emotions. We learn to lean into these feelings, get comfortable and maybe even become friends with them. This skill that we learn in improv and in yoga can help us respond more thoughtfully to the ebbs and flows of life.

– Sometimes in improv you just can’t think what to say next… so you just say something. Anything. Then later on you say to yourself ‘Oh man! Why didn’t I say *this*. That would have been so good. But no, I’m terrible at improv.’ (Or was this just my thought process?). This cycle of negativity and self-criticism isn’t great for us. Besides, wasn’t the whole point of taking improv to have fun, do something different and learn a few things? Let go of the negative self-talk and be kind to yourself. Hmm… I feel like this has come up in yoga classes for me. “Handstand? Man, I won’t ever be able to do that. I suck at life because I can’t pop up into a handstand.” Wait? Why am I practicing yoga again? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s fun and I learn things. Sounds like improv.”

Breathing. As mentioned before, when it’s your turn to talk in improv, take a breath. In yoga if you’re in a challenging posture, take a breath. In meditation, when the mind starts to wander, re-align your focus and take a breath. Actually, if you’re doing anything, take a breath.

– As one of my peers so wisely observed in the final class, improv is really more than just thinking of the right thing to say. It’s important to actually bring your mind AND body into the experience. When we become more mindful of our body and how we’re holding it in space, we tend to feel more connected to ourselves, those around us and heck, even the world. When the link between our mind and body is awakened in such a way, we’ll bring more of ourselves into the improv scene/yoga class/meditation session. And maybe, just maybe this will teach us to include more of ourselves into the world. Whether that’s to be brave and try something new or to stand up for something you believe in. Or perhaps it helps you cultivate compassion for yourself and others. As a yoga student and teacher, I have long reflected on what it means to have an active connection between mind and body and will continue to ask the question.

So, it would seem that improv is actually meditation and yoga in disguise. Who would have thought? (By the way, I took the Improv series at Brave New Workshop. They’re awesome. Check them out if you’re in the Twin Cities.)

 

Ordinary, Beautiful Moments

13/07/2018
Scene in Manhattan - photo by Katie Kohlbeck

A beautiful, ordinary Manhattan moment

I often find myself in such an ordinary moment that it’s very ordinariness stops me in my tracks because I am in awe of its beauty. There was a yoga class I went to and it was a perfectly fine but nothing terribly special until the teacher uttered these words: “Be with the beauty this moment has to offer.” That was years ago yet it still strikes me at the most seemingly random times…

Like the time I’m reading a book, opened on the kitchen counter, while I stir the lamb ragu. This is contentment…

Or the time I’m sitting at Black Press Coffee on 27th and Lex with my hot latte, a journal, and surrounded by warm and friendly Aussie accents. It makes me miss homesick for Australia…

Oh, and I especially love when a piece of comedy is delivered so well that it makes me laugh, think and weep all at once. It really makes me feel what it is to be human…

And, of course, the space between awake and sleep that seems to always invite thoughts to flow. I have started to keep a notebook on my bedside so to catch as many of these thoughts and ideas before they fall into the pit of sleep and lost dreams…

These are just a few of those ordinary moments. Yet they are powerful. There is something happening in these spaces – more than we can ever know.

Moon Salutations: Quiet contemplation

26/02/2013

I remember such frigid Wisconsin winter nights when I was growing up. Crisp air that bit at the nose, ice blanketing the driveway and fresh snow hills built up alongside of  the shed. Night arrived early during the winter and by the time our family finished with farm chores for the day, blackness awaited us. While this sounds utterly depressing – and let’s be honest, it was at times – there was also magic in that blackness. Blessed with no light pollution, we could witness millions of twinkling stars in the sky. Stopped in my tracks, I stood on that frozen path between the house and the barn in stillness (maybe slightly frozen) with my head dropped back – completely mesmerized. I still think about those nights in the dead of winter and how for even just a minute, staring at the stars and moon was an invitation to quiet contemplation. To this day no matter where I am in the world, I still find myself captivated by a sky full of bright stars, always leaving me to contemplate my tiny pocket of the vast universe.

For this reason, I felt an immediate connection to Moon Salutations (Chandra Namaskara) when I first came across this slower, inner focused set of yoga poses.  Moon salutations counter the dynamic energy of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara), a staple of many hatha yoga classes today. Lunar energy encourages cooling and inward reflection, while solar energy promotes heated and outward focused energy. Classes emphasising moon or lunar energy may be called yin or restorative yoga on your class schedule, which are generally conducted at a slower pace while focusing on longer holds in each pose. If you’re practising yoga in places like Australia or America, chances are most classes offered at your studio emphasize solar energy – which of course is not a bad thing but in the spirit of balance, try incorporating some lunar energy into your practice. Practising Moon Salutations in the evening can be a particularly soothing end to the day especially if you can align your practice with dusk, when day becomes night.

To provide a starting point in exploring Moon Salutations, I recommend this sequence by Shiva Rea that was featured in Australian Yoga Journal. Enjoy the quiet space and contemplation.

Life lessons in the Art of Assisting

19/02/2013

When we open our minds and leave our comfort zone, we can be led down an unexpected and wonderful path. Such was the case last year when I enrolled in a four day course at my yoga studio called ‘Art of Assisting’ which is designed as a yoga teacher training course but also open to regular practitioners. I normally wouldn’t find myself in such a course because  surely there was some reason I didn’t belong there. I’m not a qualified yoga teacher nor can I do handstand – simply not advanced enough. But I turned up with excitement (and slight nervousness) only to meet others who were just like me and were there to deepen their own practice. A few teachers were in the midst but I realized after the first few hours we were there to support each other and learn together.

After relaxing into the course, I quickly found myself interested in more than how I could learn to adjust my own poses. Helping students through assists allows them to chart unexplored territory, physically and mentally, which can be incredibly rewarding for all parties involved. Once the course finished, I decided to continue onto the optional next step of assisting in public classes at the studio, which has been a journey of lessons – applicable to life off the mat too – and isn’t that what yoga is all about really?

Have faith in yourself: When I practised assists on my peers and mentor, the main feedback was always along the lines of “I liked what you did and it felt great. But you just need to be more confident.” Oh how this one piece of feedback has always followed me – at school, jobs and now in the yoga studio! I once read that yoga is a practice of faith and observation – to have faith that you know what to do and how to do it while observing your thoughts without judgement. I tend to keep this in mind while I assist, and do anything for that matter.

Nothing is permanent: During one of my practice assisting sessions, I was not in a good head space and I knew it as I walked into the studio. While I assisted to the best of my ability, I felt attacked and tearful when the girl I assisted confirmed that “I didn’t do very well.” OK – that’s not actually what she said or even meant (I can only assume anyway) but my sensitive mind interpreted it in such a way. My reaction to her feedback rattled me for a good day or two after. I was frustrated with the tears and just simply would not let it go. Those spells of bad luck or stressful days can sometimes feel like they will never end. But the simple thought that none of it is permanent can be a relief. That one average assisting session was temporary and a lesson to learn from. We will always have those days when we are not on top of our game. Which brings me to the next point…

Have compassion: After beating myself up for days after that practice assist I reminded myself of compassion. How we can find compassion for others so easily but then when it comes to ourselves, we have the least amount of patience. Being compassionate to yourself is not selfish. It just makes sense. Think about how you treat others in your daily life. Would you give someone at work such a hard time, for days, if they made a mistake? Probably not. So why would you do that to yourself? We are only human living complex, busy lives – why make it more challenging than it needs to be?

The yoga journey is constant, filled with depths and heights. On and off the mat. What are some of the lessons you have experienced in yoga practice, as student or teacher, and taken into the world?

40 Day Revolution or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Downward Dog

16/03/2012

Today is the day. The final day of the 40 Day Revolution and I come away from the experience with a greater understanding of myself as well as an even more profound love for yoga!

Since the beginning, I have asked myself what I hoped to gain from the Revolution and the initial answers were to find more balance in my life and take the next step in committing to a more steady and consistent practice. I think I achieved both of these objectives but there actually has been one major theme that stayed with me for most of the 40 days though I couldn’t quite explain it until I had an a-ha moment during class this week. It was an unusually small class so the instructor jumped on the opportunity to ‘play’ a bit more (easier to do when there are less people in the room) and helped us discover more space in a few poses including Downward Facing Dog, a staple in any Vinyasa class.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

For awhile, I didn’t quite ‘get’ this pose. Like I said, it is a staple and a go-to for finding a bit of respite during practice but I have always struggled a little bit. My hands never felt like a solid base, or my legs felt too tight – just found it more stressful than restorative. Then something happened. Over the last 40 days I found myself easing into my down dog with less worry and reached the point of… enjoying it! During this class, the instructor asked us to pair up with one of our fellow yogis for a partner assist exercise, then I really got it! Gently but firmly, our partners were asked to raise our hips toward the sky while in our down dog, allowing more space than what we could achieve on our own. Then they were asked to push against our shoulders, again bringing us deeper into the asana than what we might be do on our own accord. Not only was it a great stretch but also served as an example to show that there is always more space to move into. And this lesson can be applied to our mental space too. A-ha!

The 40 Day Revolution has showed me how to be more aware of my space and also the importance of creating more space in our lives. A pose seems really difficult? Just breathe and somehow, like magic, you can find just a little extra space to move and stretch into. Your mind is overrun with worry and stress at work? As hard as it can be (at least for me it can be!) then that is the perfect opportunity to step back, breathe and put your rampant thoughts into order, thus creating more space and awareness of where your head space is at in that moment. Watching how you feel in a moment can make a profound difference in how you proceed with your next task, day or whatever is coming up.

At times squeezing two meditations into a day plus a 90 minute practice at the studio could be challenging – and there were certainly days when it just wasn’t possible. But the revolution wasn’t about perfection or ticking all of the boxes. For me, it was a journey towards more self-awareness, paying attention to my space and inviting personal growth. I’m so grateful I finally went for the challenge. It has been an excellent experience that has moved me into another level of my yoga practice, beyond the physical postures into something much deeper. And of course, I learned to stop worrying and love the downward facing dog!

If you’re in Sydney, I suggest checking out BodyMindLife. They have beautiful studios in Surry Hills and Rozelle. And perhaps you will feel inspired to join their next 40 Day Revolution!

Let the revolution begin!

07/02/2012

So the revolution begins. A couple of months ago I had written about the incredible transformation that happens when you learn to take yoga off the mat and do it regularly. I also declared I would finally sign up for the 40 Day Revolution, a program and personal challenge to commit to yoga (five days at the studio, one day at home and one day of rest) and meditation twice a day.  I was pretty gung ho but as the first day, 6th February, drew closer and closer I started to question my capacity to undertake such a committment. However, I reminded myself that there is no punishment if something happens along the way and I can’t get to yoga one day or miss a meditation. The reward is in the journey.

Last night was the first night which kicked off with a meeting and I loved listening to my co-revolutionaries share each of their motivations for signing up, ranging from desire for physical benefits and learning to cultivate more focus and balance in life, in particular the ladies who work in advertising and another who runs her own business. A man from the Netherlands, who has only arrived in Sydney five months ago, explained his desire to connect with the yoga community in his new home. And a very honest reason from another guy: “Now that I have paid $300 for this I hope that will motivate me to go more.” We all have our reasons. No judgements here.

Now I feel inspired by the possibilities. Rather than feeling daunted, I am taking advantage of this time to really reflect through yoga and meditation, supplemented by daily journal writing. This allows me to think about and define my intentions during the revolution and observe how I’m feeling mentally and physically. This journey has great potential but only if I don’t allow my own excuses to persuade me that I can’t complete it. For now though, two days in and enjoying the experience so far.

Learn more about the program and the studio BodyMindLife here.