Stealing from Myself

Last night I taught my usual Tuesday night yoga class, the one I’ve been teaching now for a year and a half. It’s typically a small class, with some regulars and some drop-in’s who attend intermittently. The pace is even and the asanas are mildly challenging.

For the past couple weeks, some of the students attending this class have been teacher trainees from another yoga studio; part of their training encourages them to go to different studios and experience different styles (very cool, I must say).

Last night’s visiting attendees were two women: one instructor and one trainee. Both were young and energetic, the instructor thin and lithe, her upper body overlaid with colorful tattoos. Her asanas were nearly perfect and lovely to watch.

Like most instructors, I’m sure, I always feel a little intimidated when an instructor shows up for my class; feeling not so much that I’m being judged, but watched. Very carefully. I do the same when I attend a fellow teacher’s class. I’m not judging, but always searching. Searching for new ways to explain a pose or inspire students (or myself). I recognize that my style is mine, that theirs is theirs, and that instructors can’t be compared. I have tremendous respect for all teachers. What intimidates me, however, is knowledge.

Yoga is so deep and vast that when I meet other teachers (especially if they practice a different style), I am always overwhelmed at how much I DON’T know. I am suddenly reduced to a student, a child seeking approval, feeling inadequate.

“No, I don’t remember what my dosha is.”

“No, I’ve never practiced ashtanga yoga (at least I don’t think I have).”

“Nope, never heard of the hasta or the pada bandhas.”

“No, I haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita from beginning to end.”

“No, I can’t do a handstand or hold a hip balance with straight arms and legs for more than a few breaths.”

“No, I don’t make a habit of adjusting my students.”

Cerebrally, I know that we are never “done” when it comes to yoga; that the depth of this practice is vast and never-ending. So why do I feel so less-than when I discover something I don’t know? And how do I release the self-judgement for not knowing everything about something which is fundamentally unknowable?

As always, I look to the Yamas and Niyamas for guidance. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8-Fold path of yogic philosophy. Taken from the Yoga Sutras, there are five Yamas, or restraints, and five Niyamas, or observances.

For this particular experience, Astaya, the Yama of non-stealing, spoke to me. According to Deborah Adele, in her book, The Yamas and the Niyamas, “Astaya guides our attempts and tendencies to look outwardly for satisfaction.” In looking outward, we are stealing our joy and ability to look inward. Astaya asks us to shift our awareness of others to ourselves.

So in looking inward, I can appreciate how far I’ve come, without the distraction of comparing myself to others; because comparing either leaves you feeling dejected or superior, and neither is a healthy alternative. And often what we reach for is not necessarily what we want, but what may look good at the time. In our culture, we have much to compete with. There are pretty little baubles, bangles and beads in front of us wherever we go. If we keep reaching out for things just because they are there, we aren’t fulfilling our truth.

I don’t see myself as a teacher, really, but a guide. I share what I know and take in what my students teach me. I don’t feel I will ever be one of those instructors that people seek out, revered as a master in my field. I work full-time, have a family, so my ability (and let’s face it, energy) to study and immerse myself are limited. But I love my class and my students and take the moments I do have very seriously.

No, I am not trained in Ayurveda. No, I can’t twist my 49 year-old body into asanas that a tattooed twenty-something can do. And yes, there is an enormous amount of knowledge yet to be discovered. Astaya encourages me to “be where I am,” appreciate the journey and discover where I really want to go.

Oh, and I don’t have any tattoos. Just sayin’.

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Let Go

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My dear reader,

I hope this writing finds you happy and healthy, reflecting on the past year with joy and contentment.  If I were to pick  a “theme” for my past year, it would be hard to narrow it down to just one thing, but, one phrase that does stand out is “Let go.”  This can mean a lot of things, and has.

Perhaps this is fresh in my mind due to a yoga retreat I attended in October.  The subject was compassion.  Now, I consider myself a pretty compassionate person, so I figured the weekend would be a breeze.  You know:  do some yoga, meditate, hear some interesting lectures, sleep, eat some good vegetarian food, and come home refreshed.  It was a great weekend, but what I didn’t count on was work.  On myself.  I learned that in order to be compassionate towards others, really compassionate, you must be compassionate towards yourself.  Forgive, drop the negative self-talk, and let go.  Let go of whatever doesn’t serve you fully and bring you joy.

In June, my oldest son left for a three-week life-changing trip to Malawi, Africa, with our church youth group.  He was sixteen.  We were apprehensive.  We knew he was in good hands, but would he be okay?  Would he eat well?  Would he be sad and overwhelmed by what he would experience?  Would he sleep? In the end, he was more than fine, he loved every moment and, despite a few rough weeks of re-adjustment, he has returned to us a more introspective, grateful, open-minded and faith-filled young man.  We can now breathe a sigh of relief.

I have continued to teach yoga (this past June marked my one-year anniversary as an instructor) and, having summers off, I decided to take advantage and teach as much as I could.  However, the timing and location of classes didn’t work out as planned and I ended up scrapping a few, using my extra time to enjoy taking classes instead of teaching them, which, I discovered, helped to make me a better teacher in the end.

I have also continued to develop and nurture a solid meditation practice.  I began meditation in the Spring of 2014 (part of my teaching certification) and have not stopped since.  It has opened a window for me, spiritual and deep.  It is my prayer and my connection with God every day.  But to connect, to allow the stillness to let God in, I’ve had to let go.  Let go of the incessant to-do lists, the “shoulds,” the racing thoughts.

Approaching 50, I’m letting go of a great many other things:  the ability to do the things I used to do physically, my appearance (just who IS that person in the mirror?) and being able to adjust that changing appearance at will, the career I have (or lack of it), the friends I’ve lost (by choice or not), and, heartbreakingly, the knowledge that many people who have influenced my life in so many ways are leaving me, one by one.

As sad as all this sounds, letting go has been incredibly freeing and uplifting, but only because I’ve welcomed it and try very hard to look for the lesson, always.  By letting go of something, you are opening space for something greater.  By having faith in the universe, or God, or Jesus Christ, or whatever you believe, you open yourself up to possibilities greater than yourself.  You give yourself a break.  You let someone (or something) else take over.  You let go.

“Let go of something, somewhere.  Become aware, to touch what lies beneath the surface of the skin.  Is there tension longing for release; a knot of fear so deep and familiar that you believe it’s part of who you are?  Ease into dark corners, locked rooms, unexplored hallways.  Gain entry not by force or will but only by softness.  Enter by wings of breath, and turn the key of self-acceptance to let go of something, somewhere.”  ~ Danna Faulds

Is there something you are holding on to too tightly?  Something longing for release?  We all have something:  anger, perfection, the need for approval, addiction to any number of things, even the pressure of writing an entertaining and inspiring blog post.

Sometimes it’s scary to acknowledge and it can be damn uncomfortable.

Pause.

Soften, slow down, breathe deeply, focus on the breath and the miraculous flow of the inhale and the exhale.

From this place, you begin creating space.  If whatever isn’t serving you is deeply ingrained, it will take practice, patience and persistence.  It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, and it is work, but the gifts can be immeasurable.

Wishing you all the joys and gifts of the new year, especially the gift of letting go.  May it create a space of love, peace and light within your heart.

Blessings…

Speed Limit Zero

Since the weekend before Thanksgiving, I have been battling a virus of some sort which yesterday turned into an infection.  One of the hazards of working in an elementary school, I suppose. In those twenty days, I missed most of Thanksgiving, teaching four yoga classes, practicing yoga, five days of work, two holiday parties, Christmas traditions like sending cards and baking, and spending precious time with my husband, boys (two of whom became sick, as well) and friends.

When someone I know gets sick, my classic response, whether stated or not, is, “Someone is telling you you need to slow down.”  Yeah, I get all pedantic with my bad self.  Funny to hear your own words when your head feels like it’s going to explode. Clearly someone really wanted me to slow down.  As I always do, however, I am trying to find the good, and have had plenty of time to reflect.

I’ve thought about my mom, who, nine years ago, this very day, was in a hospital fighting for her life (she lost less than a week before Christmas) and I was fighting through losing her and getting through the holiday season. I always think of that terrible time when the Christmas carols start playing, mind you, but who doesn’t want their mom when they feel lousy?

I’ve also been thinking about how blessed I am to have people who care, who help and wish me well, to have medical care, and a cozy, clean bed, and books, and movies, and tissues. My Lord, the tissues. And hot toddies.  Mostly, though, I’m grateful because I know I’ll get better.  A sinus infection isn’t terminal, even though when you’re in it, it feels like you will never feel better.  I will eventually get out of bed, get outside, and resume my crazy life.  Some people aren’t so lucky.

It’s funny how things do get pared down when you’re sick. You do only what’s essential. Sleep. Eat. Care for yourself. When simply being able to get a shower and put on clean clothes is a small feat; something you do every day, but, when you’re sick, is a luxury that leaves you feeling grateful.

Maybe I did need to slow down. We all do. The trick is to do it before you get sick. Take time to sleep. Enjoy a meal. Dream. Meditate. Pray. Read a book. Enjoy a luxuriating shower.  Do absolutely nothing. It’s so much more enjoyable when your head doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode. Trust me on this.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

Weekend Education

Getting older most certainly has its advantages. Like seeing old friends, feeling the benefits of sharing a history and life’s challenges and joys.  Like the ability to look back, to laugh at old times while creating new ones.  Like having the wisdom to recognize the urgency of seizing the moment and living this life.  Now.

This weekend I had the blessing of revisiting my college days, reuniting with a few sorority sisters for Homecoming Weekend. The leaves were just starting to change and a definite chill was in the air.  Turns out thirty years did not have an effect on our affection for one another.  We caught up on lost time; we drank too much, shared struggles and triumphs with kids, husbands, family and careers.  We were validated.  We laughed until we cried or our stomachs ached, whichever came first.  We created new inside jokes and gave them life.  A lot of life.

Someone we ran into said it perfectly. “Yes, we are connected with people through email, texting and social media; but then we see those people, we hear their voice, we look into their eyes, we witness their mannerisms, and we remember.”

Full disclosure: I have become too reliant on social media to fill my heart and soul.  Full disclosure: they still feel empty.  Not today.  Not after this weekend.  This weekend was a reminder that nothing will ever replace actual human contact.  Of course it can’t.

We are all busy. We are all crazy.  We all have phones that are within an arm’s reach at all times.  We are more connected than ever, but less connected than we have ever been.

We can’t get complacent. Building a history means sharing, face-to-face; creating inside jokes.  And the older you get, the more you need that validation, the more you need that support.  Life happens.  Life gets hard.  Friendship shouldn’t be.

Make that phone call, then put the phone down.  Turn it off.  Meet for a cup of coffee.  Go for a walk.  Connect.  See someone. Really see them: hear their voice, witness their mannerisms, feel their energy and respond to it, remember.  Your heart and soul will fill to overflowing.

Older is sometimes good. I’ll be dammed.

You Are Miraculous

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You are miraculous.  Your body contains over two hundred bones, six to eight hundred muscles (depending on who you talk to), sixty thousand miles of arteries, capillaries and veins – two and a half times around the world – and around eighty-six billion neurons capable of firing off in that brain of yours.

Dinner was finished and boxed, the check was paid, the conversation flowing with my friend.  We had, an hour or so earlier, decided on an impromptu dinner date and ate outside on a lovely summer evening.  She had driven both of us from my house, maybe a mile from where we sat.  I felt the need to breathe the air, so decided to walk home.

It was a very familiar walk, through our little “uptown,“ where for four years, five days a week, I boarded the Trolley into town, past the elementary school where both of my boys spent six years of their academic life (and ours).  Past the church we joined soon after Jack was born, so we would have a place to raise our kids.  I have traversed this route probably thousands of times; I know the houses, the places where the sidewalk is raised or slanted, the cars. 

However, this particular walk presented me with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, waiting at a stoplight.  We got caught up before the light turned green, squeezing hands to say goodbye.  I saw a young kid walking to the local ice cream shop, dressed in his red logoed shirt for a night of scooping. I saw a man walking his dog, I felt the warmth of the sun and the air, and I remembered my body.  My miraculous body.

When I was hit by a car a few years ago, sustaining severe injuries in my lower leg and ankle which necessitated surgery (and plates, and pins – 12 of them), I wasn’t sure I would walk normally or at all.  During the first two to three months of my recuperation, I certainly wasn’t.   Crutches, wheelchair, going down the steps on my bum.  It wasn’t fun.  It sucked.  Big time. 

Yet, we often opt for the drive-thru, we try to get the closest parking space, we take the elevator or escalator instead of the stairs, we drive to a restaurant a mile away.  And, wait for it folks…we can move!  We have access to this really cool body that pumps 1,900 gallons of blood every day through miles of blood vessels, bones, muscles and a big ol’ brain that is perfectly designed to protect us and keep us alive.

Not to mention that while I was walking, I was engaged.  I was feeling the air, I caught up with a friend, I was noticing the leaves and little changes people might have made on their front porches or in their yards.  I said hello to strangers and they said hello back.  You just don’t get that behind the wheel of your car, isolated in your little metal box.  So isolated that you can even ignore passers-by and it’s not a big deal.

The closer I got to home, the more grateful I became.  Not because it was hot, my house was air conditioned, and I had to pee (heavens no, not that), but because I was WALKING.  We take that for granted.  And it can be taken away from you in an instant, while you’re jogging one cold February evening.  It’s not about losing weight, it’s not about looking good in those jeans or looking like a Victoria’s Secret model.  It’s about gratitude for the miracle you are.  You are miraculous.  Don’t forget it.

Old Enough

Awoke this morning with thoughts of church on my mind. Gorgeous day with plenty to do: grocery shopping, sheet changing, checkbook reconciling, and exercising. Any other day I would say I didn’t have time for church. Too busy. But these days, my days are different.

Lately I feel older. Not old, but just old enough. A month shy of my forty-eighth birthday, I feel like a new life has begun, like I have a second chance, and it is thrilling to feel.

I am fully aware that it is only by the grace of God that I have grocery shopping to do and can therefore have food for my entire family, clean sheets on every bed, money in the checkbook to reconcile, and a body that is healthy and strong enough for exercise. All that can wait so I can spend an hour to stop and give thanks.

I am old enough.

Five months ago I started teacher training for yoga, something I never would have dreamed I would do at this age, with two degrees already under my belt. I started work as an aide for kindergarten, content to have no pressure and no real responsibility but to show up, enjoy the children, and do what is needed by teachers.

I’ve had the dream of being a “career woman,” tried it, and realized it wasn’t for me. I’m past feeling dejected about it. I’m ok with not having something terribly interesting to say when I’m at cocktail parties and people ask, “What do you do?” because I know that who I am is much more than what I do for a living.

I’m old enough.

I have two children who are now able to do their own laundry, say “please” and “thank you” without a prompt (at least they better), and have personalities that will continue to develop, but now, it will be on their own, with not nearly as much help from me. And I like them. I really do.

I’m grateful for what I have and who I know and who is here to share this life with. I understand far too well, because I’ve experienced it far too many times, that it won’t always be like this: that people will move, or grow distant either physically or emotionally, or people will get sick and even die.

I want to be present every moment. Because even though I feel like a new life is beginning, in the back of my mind I know the clock is ticking. I am forty seven, after all. I don’t necessarily have my life ahead of me like I did when I left home for college or moved out of my parents’ home for the last time.

However, that ticking clock is no longer a source of fear or sadness, but a reminder that I must take advantage of my time. That it is best spent being comfortable in my skin, being willing to be vulnerable, being grateful, thanking God for my blessings and for the opportunity to still be here and be able to be just old enough.

Sweet Stillness

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This morning as I sat down to my meditation practice, things were a bit different.  Because of weather conditions, the school where I work was closed, so I took the opportunity to sleep in and linger under the warm flannel sheets.  By the time I took to my cushion, the sun had risen and I had a beautiful view of the blue sky above my neighbor’s rooftop.

I typically begin my practice before dawn, with eyes closed and lights off, the only light coming from a candle in the window (assuming I have enough energy to find a lighter at that hour).  This morning, however, I was riveted by the sky and a steady stream of clouds that appeared slowly from behind the roof and moved upward, each one unrushed and unique.  The formation of the clouds was such that each was a thin strip, so it looked like lines slowly appearing above the apex and continuing, one after the other.

I was mesmerized and comforted into silence by this movement.  The clouds weren’t trying to get anywhere, they just “were,”  allowing the air around them, the temperature, whatever it is that moves clouds (what can I say?  I’m no meteorologist) to move them.

Every day we are moved by things around us:  our jobs, our families, our insecurities, our angst to be somewhere else, someone else.  What if we, for just a few moments a day, allowed ourselves to stop moving, to not be moved by some external process, but look inward and stop the movement?

Watch the clouds.  Observe the trees moving in the breeze.  Follow snowflakes falling to the ground.  Watch a fish gracefully moving through the water in a fishbowl.  Harmonize your breathing to your beautiful sleeping baby’s.  Meditate.  And then, most importantly, incorporate that stillness into your being, and into your daily life.  It’s always available to you.  You just have to be still.  And let it in.

Peace.  Namaste.