Tuesday, February 19, 2013

After the Ecstasy, the Suckiness #365Yoga

English: Masala Chai, Masala Tea, Spice Tea
English: Masala Chai, Masala Tea, Spice Tea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Part of yoga's transformational power is its ability to shift a person's perspective until that person's default thought is something like "life is good." Generally this is a positive change. Those who have made the swing tend to hang out together, sipping chai in a nearby bistro after yoga class and sharing stories about all the good things happening in their lives. And because positive energy is contagious, the group usually grows and local sales of comfortable t-shirts with happy messages skyrocket.

Maybe you've seen it happen. Maybe you're even part of it.

I sure am. After many years of practicing yoga and occasional t-shirt buying, I have come around to thinking that life is good. And for the most part, it is.

Except when it isn't.

There are times when life, in fact, sucks. No matter how many hours I spend on my mat, people I care about continue to pass away, illness still affects me and my family, car accidents happen, homes need repair, money stops coming in, and so on. Often these things pile one on top of another.

During the pre-yoga years I had refined the art of wallowing in self-pity so much that even now I sometimes can't see life past a hangnail. I'm not proud of this, but another sneaky yoga transformation is self-acceptance and a tendency to wallow is part of that self I'm accepting. In the middle of a good pity party the wanting-to-be-happy part of my brain reminds me to get on my mat, because my asana practice has a way of lifting my spirits. The wallowing part's response is usually "f*ck that, and who invited you to this party anyway?"

The wallowing part wins sometimes. After all, who wants to leave a good party? Unfortunately, the win usually comes when the suckiness has started piling up and I need my practice more than ever. And sometimes that means things seem worse than they are and difficulties get dragged out longer than they need to.

There is a book by Jack Kornfield called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry which explores, from a Buddhist perspective, how to deal with the suckiness that's still there after discovering that life is good. It's been years since I read it, and I probably should again because the details have faded. The title has stuck with me, though, reminding me that yoga doesn't end human suffering, just like it doesn't end chores. And, being an imperfect human, even a yoga teacher may blow off her practice and choose the pity party for awhile.

Does that mean I'm out of the positive vibes and chai club? Maybe. But there's another club after the ecstasy fades to wisdom. We sip chai and tell our stories and, when life sucks as it sometimes does, cry on each other's shoulders and drag one another to yoga class so we can get on our mats and rediscover that life is good. You'll recognize us by our well-worn and often stained t-shirts...with happy messages.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Head Cold, an Adventure Story, Some Envy and Yoga #365Yoga

Freya Hoffmeister
Freya Hoffmeister (Photo credit: eriksjos)
I tried to ignore my second head cold in less than a month, but couldn't really deny the heaviness in my head and finally slid back under the covers for an afternoon of napping and reading. My bedside book pile consists of books about yoga and books about adventure, most of the latter being monthly reads of the Women's Adventure Magazine Book Club group on Facebook, in which I lurk for the reading suggestions. I passed up the heavy-thinking-required yoga reading and picked up Fearless by Joe Glickman, the story of Freya Hoffmeister's record-setting circumnavigation of Australia in a sea kayak.

Freya's year-long paddle included encounters with sharks, crocodiles and stinging jellyfish, crazy currents and surf, fatigue, seasickness and unpleasant rashes. It was an impressive journey by a woman who never doubted she would be able to complete it. While I admired her tenacity, I had trouble, and I believe the author did too, with Freya's lack of humility. But, when it comes to people who have both the physical strength to accomplish amazing feats and the organizational skills to make them happen, I tend towards a bit of un-yogini-like envy.

My adventurous heart tends to reach further than my body wants to go. When I announced my latest battle with germs on Facebook, one of my friends was quick to comment, "Why are you always sick?!? Between your diet and physical exercise, you should be the healthiest person on Charley Hill!!" That, unfortunately, has been my life-long question and one that, despite years of work towards wellness, remains unanswered. What makes me so susceptible to upper-respiratory-system-attacking viruses is a mystery. So is the extreme fatigue and depression that comes every time I ramp up my physical activity beyond "easy," which, while allowing me to build endurance, means I will never run as fast as I'd like to, or faster than a turtle.

During her year of extreme kayaking, Freya Hoffmeister never had to spend a few days in her tent on the beach nursing a head cold. It's possible that the author decided not to mention it, but I find it hard to believe he would leave out an illness when he was so careful to mention every time she puked from seasickness and how she managed bowel movements without leaving her boat. While my heart longs for an adventure as amazing as Freya's (although I'd be happy without the crocodiles), I have to resign myself to knowing my body my may never be up for it.

So what do I do? I get back on my yoga mat. It was yoga that taught me to accept my body as it is. It was my asana practice that got me to the place where I could start running and not stop for 13.1 miles, which is pretty darn good even if I never break out of the back of the pack. It is yoga that reminds me to rest when I need to, that it's okay to drop into Balasana or take a nap. And it's yoga that pulls the rug out from under my ego and shows me the way to be humble and grateful.

Perhaps I will have to experience the grandest of adventures in the pages of a book, and perhaps my practice includes sitting with the envy I feel on the way to self-acceptance. Perhaps that inner exploration is the greatest adventure of all.
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Friday, February 8, 2013

The vision board I didn't want to make and why I did it anyway #365yoga

January 2013 started wonderfully. I had my affirmations and I was ready to go. Then, suddenly, it was January 31st and I looked back at what I accomplished in January...

Let's agree to never speak of January again, okay?

Last week, during a call with my oh-so-wise-and-witty life coach Annie, I was lamenting how quickly I lost momentum during the month-that-shall-not-be-named. After listening to me whine about my lack of focus, she asked if I had made a vision board for the year.

I hadn't made a vision board. Frankly, I was feeling done with vision boards. I'd spent last winter creating a visual business plan for my yoga studio business. My business vision board is hanging on my home office wall with two other vision boards I had made at various times. There's another vision board hanging on the wall in my office in the yoga studio. I have a visual journal on my shelf. I felt like I'd done enough cutting and pasting for a lifetime.

Don't tell Annie, but when she told me to make a vision board for 2013 I had every intention of blowing it off. In order to work on it I'd have to put aside something else that really needs to get done and it didn't seem worth the time and effort.

Hello Nemo.

When the snowstorm blew into town this morning I closed the yoga studio and suddenly found myself trapped in the house with time on my hands. Sometimes the universe kicks my excuses to the curb.

As I went through a year's worth of magazines I hadn't gotten around to reading, looking for pictures that spoke to my vision for the year, the images I chose all seemed like the same old stuff. As I laid the pictures out, I noticed a subtle shift from previous boards; the images leaned more towards stillness and being alone than in years past. As I was gluing, I realized why I was done with vision boards.

For me, the time for vision is over. I've done all the work of figuring out my values, my goals, my dreams. I have a plan for my life and my business. Know what's next? Implementing that plan.

And that, my friend, is the hard part.

That's why, during our hour-long phone calls, I repeatedly hear Annie ask "What's one thing you can do to get closer to that feeling?" and "What's standing in the way of starting that?" That's why I've had to revisit tools like calendars and task lists. That's why I've been investing in folders and organizing projects.

This is not a big picture year. 2013 is a year of action. It's time to implement all those grand ideas and actually make my life and my business look like the pictures I've carefully arranged on poster board. It's the year I'm going to have to face fears and kick through obstacles.

Was my vision board a waste of time? Nope. Creating the board allowed me to find some clarity, as creating always does, even when I'm not enjoying it. (I suspect Annie knew it would.) I hung it on my wall next to the business' board so, when I'm procrastinating about the next thing on my to-do list, I'll be reminded why I planned to do it in the first place.

And the images of stillness and solitude? They'll remind me that I need to balance the busy-ness of action with quiet and calm, so busy-ness doesn't become burn-out. Better put "yoga practice" on the list.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Put me in Down Dog #365yoga

Down dog at Split Rock Falls in New Russia, NY
A day without Adho Mukha Svanasana is like a day without sunshine. I'm a down dog addict. I could hang out in downward-facing dog all day, or for five minutes, whichever comes first.

While teaching yoga I've noticed some people would happily hang out in down dog with me, but others look like they're counting the breaths until I tell them to move on. Some bodies look natural and relaxed, with their backs extended, shoulders neutral, heels dropping and necks loose. But some bodies don't get it. Their backs round, their shoulder blades end up somewhere near their ears and their legs will never be straight. Some others never stop moving, unable to find a comfortable stillness even for one breath.

Adho Mukha Svanasana is a tricky pose to practice and to teach, requiring strength from the arms, legs and shoulders as well as flexibility throughout the back body. Ray Long wrote an excellent article on the mechanics of downward-facing dog for My Yoga Online, well worth a read if you hope to hang out in down dog all day or even if you'd just like a relaxed moment in the pose.

Every time I get on my mat (or anywhere I can practice), barring injury or a nasty sinus infection, I find myself in down dog. I often end up there even if I intended to keep my practice gentle. It feels good to be there. Besides, they say if you can hold downward-facing dog for five minutes, you can do a handstand. It hasn't worked yet, so I have to keep trying.

What's your "I could hang out here all day" asana?

Note: Ray Long's  The Key Muscles of Yoga is the anatomy book I chose for the True North Yoga teacher training program. I recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about anatomy and yoga.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Meditation Cat and Yoga Dog #365yoga

My favorite meditation position is sitting in Ardha Padmasana (half lotus) with my hands in Dhyani Mudra. Dhyani Mudra represents an empty bowl, symbolic of a pure, free, empty mind, which the universe will fill with whatever is needed. I must need a cat, because, more often then not, as soon as I close my eyes my hands and lap are filled with a purring ball of fur. She might sleep and allow me to quiet my mind, or she may demand that I pet her 108 times. It's okay with her if I add an appropriate mantra, such as "this is me petting the cat" or "the cat is in charge."

My yoga mat is attractive to the other quadrupeds in my house, too. One dog in particular, a border collie named Morgan, can't resist the call of the yoga practice. She waits for me to settle into Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) then flops on my mat between my hands and my feet, insuring I'll be holding down dog for a long time. Oh, and while I'm stuck there she'll lick my face, because there's nothing like Ujjayi breath through dog spit.

Later Morgan will snuggle into my side during a supine twist and probably stay through Savasana. Sometimes dog number two grabs the other side. I'll admit it's nice to have dog snuggles on cold mornings.

I wonder why my four-legged family members make themselves part of my practice. Do they sense my calm energy? Does the peace I radiate draw them to me? That's what I tell myself. But, honestly, I suspect they're making sure I don't practice through breakfast.

Do your pets join you on your mat?
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