The Power of the Pause

I’m snuggled under the covers on a cold but sunny Sunday morning, dog at my feet, a sick teenager by my side, blessedly allowing me to stoke his hair while he rests. No sound but our breathing and the occasional hum of the furnace as it kicks on. A warm cup of coffee to enjoy start to finish.

A pause.

In yoga, the pause is profound.

We pause to notice the flow of breath: the miraculous inhale and exhale, over and over and over, again. We pause to notice our bodies: where we’re holding tension, where we can release. We pause to notice our thoughts: What are we telling ourselves when we can’t hold tree pose as long or as steadily as the person on the mat next to us (or the person we were yesterday)? What bubbles up when we are still and how do we react to it?

In yoga, we practice quieting the body as a gateway to quieting the mind. It is said that the yoga begins when you want to come out of the pose, when things become challenging, when the internal judges show up for court. We practice on the mat to prepare us for our lives off the mat. Life is busy, and our minds are exponentially so. Off the yoga mat, the pause is equally profound.

So when you are late for work and the traffic is intolerable, you stop to pause. When you receive bad news and you reach for the bottle, you pause. When your spouse, or anyone you love (like the teenager sleeping next to me), pushes an internal button, you pause.

“Quieting the mind, becoming present in the moment, experiencing what is rather than trying to create what might be or remaining stuck in what was, are the doorways to freedom from the busy mind. Our minds need to be trained to be an effective ally. It is our responsibility to quiet the mind by entering into the moment—the power of that pause is profound.”

~Aruni Nan Futuronsky, Faculty, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

The key point for me in this quote is “our minds need to be trained.” We need to practice. And practice. And practice.

The great author and Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron, says this: “It all comes through learning to pause for a moment, learning not to just impulsively do the same thing again and again. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filing up the space.”

Find your pause. Be transformed.

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A Little Bird Told Me…

Funny things happen when you stop. Really stop. Like when you have a concussion and can’t read, use your phone or computer, watch TV or deal with noise.

One morning while sitting outside doing not much more than sitting (see above), a robin landed in the grass in front of me. I watched her as she proceeded to walk through the yard, quickly starting and stopping, patiently waiting for the movement of a worm beneath her. After traversing almost the whole yard, she suddenly and swiftly poked her beak into the earth and pulled up a worm. According to various studies, robins use a combination of primarily visual and auditory cues to find their meal. Imagine being still enough and able to hear a worm moving through dirt!

It was amazing. She stopped, she listened, she felt, and she kept going despite several failed attempts. And in doing all this, she was fed. What a lesson for all of us.

When you truly can’t do anything but listen and be still, you hear a lot. You hear your inner dialogue more clearly. Truth be told, that inner dialogue was not so pleasant the first few days of my “confinement.”

In the Hatha Yoga tradition we strive to practice Ahimsa, both on and off the mat. Ahimsa means non-violence, or “do no harm.” This can have many meanings, and is most often associated with vegetarianism, but it actually is the idea of complete and total absence of violence from one’s body, mind and spirit.  One of the ways we can practice Ahimsa is showing compassion towards ourselves. Violence can come in the form of self-talk, much of which, lets face it, can be negative. And, when you’re laid up after a concussion, plentiful.

There is a discussion going around the internet that we have on average 70,000 thoughts a day, some estimates going as high as 600,000. If you go with the former, that amounts to almost 49 per minute. Considering where my head’s been this week, that number seems exceptionally low.  And imagine if the majority of those thoughts are negative.  That’s a lot of violence.

Jon Westenberg, founder of Creatomic, says this: “When you start to consider how finite your existence and your time and the processes of your brain actually are, you can see how precious the level of mindfulness that requires us to sit up and pay attention really is.”

As fortune would have it, I came across an article (blessedly short – the reading thing, you know) in a Buddhism magazine about love, specifically self-love. In the article the author suggested a meditation that goes something like this:

“This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is a part of life.

May I be kind to myself at this moment.

May I give myself the compassion I need.”

These words can be altered to fit your own experience, but basically each sentence brings to the forefront that yes, you are in pain – This is a moment of suffering / I am having a hard time right now – that suffering is part of the human experience (no one escapes it, folks) – Suffering is a part of life / Others have been through this – all while keeping you in the present moment – May I be kind to myself at this moment / May I be present with this feeling without judgement –  and setting an intention to be self-compassionate – May I give myself the compassion I need / May I speak to myself as I would speak to a good friend.

As I sat with these words, and breathed them into my heart, I felt released. I didn’t have to beat myself up for my injuries. I still had my faculties. I was worthy of compassion. This would pass.

Then another question arose: When this does pass, what will I have to show for it? What is the lesson? Because there always is one, if (and this is key) you look for it.

I’ve heard it suggested that you are closer to “you” in the time you meditate than in all the other minutes of the day. Those minutes when you are working, serving, rushing and planning aren’t really you, your essence. Your essence is what you touch when you’re still. It’s always there, the light is always shining, but we allow the clouds to cover that light. We allow our busy-ness, our self-talk to take center stage and we lose sight of “you.”

So I have decided to be like that robin. When my soul needs to be fed, I will still myself and listen. I will open my heart, breathe in and speak compassion over and over and over again, remembering the “you”  I really am. I will remember my light.  I will rest in the knowledge that wherever I am is exactly where I need to be. And if all this doesn’t work the first time, I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

I draw the line at worms, though. You know, Ahimsa.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy.” ~Victoria Moran, Author of “Light From Within: Tending Your Soul for Lifelong Beauty”

 

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’.

Let Go

let go 2

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…

Me, Myself, I

I was given the gift of a solitary weekend while my husband and kids were away. It has been a lovely and thought-provoking time. I spent some time with an old friend Friday night sharing wine, conversation and a ridiculous movie. I taught yoga, I practiced yoga, I sat in meditation in the morning sunshine with a symphony of birds as my accompaniment. I enjoyed an entire cup of coffee, sitting down. I cooked with fresh vegetables and herbs, savoring the smells and textures and tastes of good food. And I was even lucky enough to unexpectedly share it with a friend, with more wine and conversation. I read a magazine on my patio, almost cover to cover. I walked with my pup at dusk. I wrote. And I listened to classical music. Loud.

Nothing mind-blowing here, but I spent the precious time I had doing what I wanted to do, nurturing my soul. Because it needed it. As I sat reading my magazine, comfortable and warm and relaxed on a Saturday mid-afternoon, I wondered why I don’t find myself here more often, when I’m not alone.

What is it about my husband and kids that prevents me from taking time to do what I love, to stop and take time for me? Let’s face it, they are all pretty self-sufficient at this point. They don’t really expect anything from me. Yes, they are not the most organized or neat people on the planet, and sometimes you simply have to take care of responsibilities, but the Earth will not stop rotating because there are dirty socks on the living room floor. In the end, it IS a choice.

I didn’t realize how much I needed it, and, truly, how little time it really takes. In reality, it’s the simple act of recognizing that I am valuable enough to nurture. It’s not selfish. It’s self-preservation. It’s good for your health. Once you can just allow that concept to settle into your bones, you will find yourself doing what you love because, after all, you deserve it. You are valuable enough to nurture. Even it only means turning up the radio and refusing to move from the comfy chair until your cup is empty.

‘Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.’ – Dalai Lama

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.

Happy New Days

The house has been de-Christmased, all the remnants and leftovers of dinners and gatherings have been eaten or disposed of, the refrigerator is ready for the usual fare.  It’s a new year.

This morning when I woke, I wasn’t feeling it.  I wasn’t feeling the anticipation of things new, of starting fresh.  Instead, I woke up thinking, “This is my last day of Christmas vacation, and I don’t feel any different.”

Sure, I got some cool new stuff, saw some great people, did some fun things, and I think I really managed to make some headway with the laundry, but new beginnings?  Not so sure about that.  Mind you, I’ve never been one to make resolutions; I’m an everyday-is-an-opportunity-to-start-fresh kind of person.  However, I can’t help but be impacted when, after entering all the birthdays and critical dates in a new, clean calendar, I throw away the old one, all 365 days, wondering where they went and what I did with them.

After some coffee, l looked around at the laundry and dishes (our dishwasher decided to break yesterday – Happy New Year), and the beautiful sunlight shining in through my smudged windows, highlighting the dust on and under the furniture.  I decided the first step in tackling my day was to get the hell out for some perspective.  I bundled up, grabbed a five dollar bill, my camera, and my very excited (and obviously neglected) dog.

We walked for two hours.

I breathed in the cool winter air and felt my cheeks get red.  We stopped for an occasional photo when the mood struck, or we trekked up hills, peeling off layers. I used the cash for a lovely cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop (which was blessedly open on New Year’s Day), and chatted with other folks, out getting their own bit of perspective.

I paid attention.  Because I had my camera (a bit of the cool “stuff” I got for Christmas), I looked for beauty everywhere:  in the way my dog pranced, in the bit of snow left on trees and the ground, in the sky, in buildings, in people.  And I realized it’s always there if you are open to it, if you look for it.  That’s the key.  And you need to know when it’s time to start looking.

I came home from our walk to our warm house – our laundry- and dish-filled, dusty, smudged house – and plopped into a comfy chair.

Yes, it’s the first day of a new year.  There were no fireworks for me.  There was no goal-setting or grand plan to make big changes.  I go back to work tomorrow and the usual routine of life.  But there is beauty in that, and everywhere.  Breathe deep, friends.  And pay attention.  Maybe any day can be a Happy New Day.

Wishing you opportunities for being open to beauty and new beginnings – every day of the year.