On your Journey is the Joy

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I found my inspiration last week in a small package…my six year old Son. He was struggling with kindergarten ending and camp starting. All of those changes; transitions were a lot for him. I realized that the milestones…the big moments….like the last day of Kindergarten; are only important because of all the days leading up to it. In other words; the journey to get there. Just like on the mat, we may achieve a new edge but all the days of practice to get there is where the Joy comes from.

So I asked my students last week to practice living in the Joy of the Journey on their mats. We reminded ourselves as we carefully crafted an Asana sequence that it wasn’t about the final pose, instead it is about mindfully and presently enjoying the whole journey. The practice was in the graceful transition from pose to pose, that is where the Joy lives.

We practiced moving back and forth between poses…from Parsvokanasana to Trikonasana to keep reminding ourselves that it was the transition…not the end pose that offered the gifts.  As we moved from Warrior Three mindfully into Tree pose, I asked my students to breathe and smile and enjoy the graceful transition.  See,  once we let go of the destination, then it allowed us to be more free to enjoy the Journey to get there.

As I worked with my Son to find some comfort and grace (as graceful as a 6 year gets) in his transition, I began to connect with some of my own. With the new puppy and some other added responsibilities I have been finding it more challenging to breathe through my own transitions off the mat. I pledged to myself last week to find my breath and set my intention towards  graceful transitions without as much focus on the destination. I reminded myself that even though there is always more on that To-Do List and always another Pose on the mat we are all blessed to wake up each day with breath in our lungs and love in our hearts. That is the Journey and that is the Joy. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

It’s your Attitude, Not your Aptitude that determines your Altitude

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As I have mentioned, we recently adopted a puppy. I was anxious and fearful leading up to her arrival and began to feel relief once she actually came.  Now, a few weeks into the journey,  I have been inspired by all that I have already gotten back from the experience. What you put in is what you get out as the saying goes.  I found this beautiful quote that partnered with this theme. “It’s your Attitude, not your Aptitude that determines your Altitude”  That became my inspiration for my classes last week.

I paired these together because there is an assumption that putting in the maximum all the time is going to get you the maximum return, not the case on our mats…or off for that matter. Rather, the inspiration comes both by committing (being in the moment) and by being true to what we need to receive and give that out.

As we began our practice last week, I asked my students to connect to what they wanted to get out of their practice that day. Perhaps they needed to be compassionate to their bodies and they would get that compassion back. By reminding themselves that it’s their attitude (perspective) not their aptitude (what poses they performed) that would offer them altitude (lightness and flight) on and off the mat, we set our Intention.

From Sun Salutations we moved into Parsvokonasana (Side Angle pose) and then Trikonasana (Triangle pose) and I asked them to draw the belly in and get taller..find their altitude;  not sink into the hips but instead cultivate lightness and space in the spine.

We also used the Bandhas to explore this idea of “What we put into our practice is what we will get out”. Both Mula Bandha (Pelvic floor) and  Uddiyana bandha (Abdominals) can add a deepness and lightness to the physical practice. We practiced Bakasana (Crow Pose) once without Uddiyana Bandha (nicknamed the flying bandha)  and then with the Bandhas engaged and we found our Altitude.

In Lizard we moved to Eka Pada Koundinyasana (arm balance) and then even tried to fly back to Chaturanga. This practice was about letting the Attitude lead us, not getting caught up in the Aptitude of it all, and then who knew…perhaps we would find Altitude.

As we slowed the practice with a long pigeon pose I came back to my puppy…the inspiration for the week. I shared that my daughter had to learn the same lesson we were practicing. In the first days with our puppy, my daughter was upset because she couldn’t understand why the puppy didn’t automatically love her. I explained that she needed to put the work in, to show our new family member that she loved her…not once for five minutes…but over time. And I assured her that if she was patient and loving and consistent, that she would get all of that back from this little furry creature. In Pigeon pose we offer the same to our hips, by showing them that we love them, patiently over time, we get that love back in the long run. We find lightness and altitude…we can fly.

That is what a Yoga practice teaches as well.  If we are patient and compassionate and loving of our bodies and ourselves, we will get all of that back in return. Our Attitude will dictate our Happiness, our Lightness and our Altitude way more than our Aptitude ever will. Namaste.

 

Find your Perspective and you will “Catch your Breath”

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It has been a very busy couple of weeks and not coincidentally its been that much time  since my last post. My messages over the past few weeks have been woven from a common thread; the impending and actual arrival of Dixie, our 13 week old lab puppy pictured above.

Leading up to her arrival, my message was “When you change the way you look at things, the things you are looking at change.”   I found myself  focusing  on all of the negatives  a 13 week old rescue puppy would bring and then she became just that, a very negative proposition. I used the practice to begin to connect with the positives as well  and at times I was able to see what a nice addition to our family she could be.  “When you change the way you look at things, the things you are looking at change”

Since she arrived last Saturday my mantra has been “Catch your breath“. That term is interesting because of its dual meanings. I have written about this before but this time I have been connecting to both meanings and how they work together. Sometimes we need to “Catch our Breath” in the slow down, step back, get perspective kind of way. And sometimes we get the chance to really “Catch our Breath” in another way…to truly own, and internalize our breath on the mat; to connect it to the movement and let the magic happen.

So that is what is what we did this past week on our mats. We stopped, backed off and rested when we needed to “Catch our Breath”  and we also embraced and owned our breath and “Caught it” as we flowed. Both allowed us to get perspective and with that, be Present in the Moment.

We used the count of three to equalize our inhale and exhale…breathe in for 3 counts and exhale out the same 3 counts as we moved slowly through the opening Sun Salutes. As we picked up the pace, we quickened the count but we were still Catching and H0lding onto our Breath. Flowing through a complicated transition from Warrior 3 right into Revolved Half Moon and then into Side Plank we had to be in the moment to Keep,  Own….. “Catch” the breath.

We rescued Dixie (our puppy) with the help of the  Labs4Rescue organization and last Saturday, as we stood in a parking lot and watched an 18 wheeler with 60 rescued dogs pull in I started to “Catch My Breath”.  And as Gregg, the driver from Rescue Road Trips, placed our puppy in my daughter’s arms, What I was looking at began to change in front of me;  I could fully  see all the good in what we were doing and this puppy became a blessing.

This past week has been a journey. I have spent more time in my yard in the last 7 days than in the two years prior.  I have had to slow down, so I took it as a chance to also step back and  take in my surroundings. I sat in the grass and looked up at the tops of the trees and I listened to the birds calling as they flew from tree to tree.  And As Dixie lay sleeping in my lap, I was reminded that things worth having are hard and sacrifice leads to satisfaction.

I found myself able to “Catch my Breath” by slowing down and being Present and I had “Changed the Way I looked at Something”… and boy Did What I was Looking at Change. Namaste

 

 

 

 

Bloom where you are Planted

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This winter was a challenge here on the East Coast. I found myself getting angry and frustrated quite easily. Once Spring came, my mood lightened and I had very high expectations for a glorious, warm, sunny season. Unfortunately, for the last 6 weeks or so, that had not been the case.

Finally, there was  a warm weekend day and I decided to go for a run. As soon as I started down the hill from my house, the sky opened up and began to rain. I kept running, after reminding myself I wouldn’t melt, but Mother Nature had other plans. The thunder and lightning came in with force and I grudgingly surrendered to her and began to head back up the large hill I had just ran down.

Again, I found myself getting angry and frustrated, but just at that moment a friend was driving by and pulled over to ask if my soaking wet self needed a ride home. After I declined and kept up the hill, two more friends stopped and asked the same. I realized that every place has its limitations but there were some great things about this place too. True happiness comes from “Blooming where you are Planted”… this great Spring metaphor became my inspiration for last weeks classes.

“Blooming where we were Planted” on our mats is what we practiced. The Sun Salutations helped us establish where we were planted that day in our bodies; it was our opportunity to set up the foundation for our practice, by warming up the body and quieting the mind. The repetitive nature also allowed us to connect to the breath and begin the Blooming process.

We challenged ourselves throughout the practice to establish roots and bloom from there, whether binding in  Parsvokonasasna while keeping the heart lifted or exploring  Revolved Dancer’s Pose….there was always the opportunity to Bloom.

We used the breath to guide us as to whether we were enduring or truly blooming in each pose. Just like flowers and trees need oxygen to grow, On our mats, we need to breathe our intentional breathe and connect it to the movement in order for the body and the mind to flourish and bloom.

I asked my students to ground strongly into their standing leg as they crafted tree pose (Vrksasana). Then, once we established where we were planted, we lifted the arms to sprout our branches.  We then moved the arms slowly from side to side to allow the branches to “blow in the breeze”, to truly “Bloom where we were Planted”.

Off the mat, the opportunity also exists to “Bloom where we are Planted”. In the mind, we bloom when we let go of judgment and expectation. We all have seen plants and trees that grow under the most unlikely or unfavorable conditions; perhaps the flowers that sprout up through concrete or trees that grow in between high-rise buildings. Those flowers and trees have a lesson to teach. There is always the opportunity to bloom wherever we are planted; even if the growing conditions are not ideal. 

As we slowed our practice by rolling from our bellies onto our backs, I again reminded my students that the opportunity was there to “Bloom where they were planted” off the mat as well as on.

As humans, we spend so much time agonizing over and trying to fix what may not be going perfectly right in our lives….trying to create the ideal growing conditions. For Savasana, I asked them to instead  focus on something that is going really amazingly, wonderfully, right in their lives; something that Is Blooming as opposed to what is not.

As I watched them settle into their rest, I let go of the anger and frustration at Mother Nature.  I then began to feel Gratitude. Gratitude for the strong roots that I have grown and gratitude for the gift my family and I have to “Bloom where we are Planted” no matter what the growing conditions. Namaste.

Find Gratitude for Sameness and Find Your Inspiration

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I just got back from a trip to beautiful St. Martin. It has become our yearly little getaway, my husband and I…an opportunity to reconnect, relax and be together. It is a strange experience to go back to the same place several times in a row. I felt it very strongly this time as we checked into an identical room as we had the previous two years and then headed to our favorite beach. It felt like a continuation of the last trip but yet a whole year had passed in the blink of an eye. Some things felt so familiar that it was hard not to take them for granted.

As I practiced Yoga on the beach each day, I connected to the idea of the comfort we take in the habitual spaces in our bodies and in our lives and the natural reaction we have to sometimes take that for granted. Therefore, during the trip I worked very hard to appreciate the subtle changes and yet take comfort in what felt comfortable and at home both in my practice and all around me.

Upon my return I found a new appreciation for the wonderful routine I have in my life; walking my children to the bus each morning and teaching my classes…it is so easy to take it all for granted and when we do that, it makes it harder to notice,  let alone appreciate the subtle changes or inspiration we have in our lives each day. If I wasn’t sitting at my kitchen table as I do each morning to eat breakfast, I may not have gotten to see the first hummingbird arrive at our brand new feeder. The sameness of every day with some subtle inspiration mixed in.

I asked my students last week to do the same, to take comfort and find gratitude in the sameness (sometimes we take for granted what is working in our bodies until it isn’t anymore) while also appreciating the subtle differences they created in their bodies.  What the physical practice offers us through sameness and repetition is tiny little changes that over time build up to something bigger.

Sun Salutations are a perfect example of this; we do them pretty much every time we step onto our mats. We take comfort in the sameness of them, yet they can feel different each time. Perhaps walking the hands or the feet a little closer together or further apart in Downward Dog can create a tiny change that makes the sameness feel different.

We explored connecting the Breath fully to the Movement to help create those subtle changes because the breath offers the chance to move through points of discomfort on the mat and create change .  As we connected to the Inhale reaching the arms over the head and then Exhaled through our forward fold the rhythm began. We Inhaled as we found our flat back in preparation to Exhale fully as we lowered through Chaturanga.  The Deep Inhale that accompanied our High Cobra and release of the breath in Downward Dog reminded us how different the same can be and how sameness is a gift.

As my husband and I parked our car at Happy Bay (our favorite beach pictured above) and walked the 10 minute path through the brush to get there, we were so excited for the sameness; in fact we hoped for it. As we came up to the final trees, that allow the view of the water to peak through them,  I took a deep Inhale and as we stepped onto the powdery sand I looked around and Exhaled with Gratitude. It was all the sameness I had been wishing for; the deserted beach, the beautiful water, the line of palm trees and the beautiful cliffs on either side…and yet there was just a touch of subtle changes from a year gone by …enough to remind me to be Grateful for those too. Namaste

Be a Bucket Filler and your Bucket will always be Full

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It all started a few weeks ago. I overheard my children arguing and my son, through his tears, called my  daughter  a “bucket dipper”.  I stopped and tried to process what that was…name calling is a punishable offense in our house typically. I asked him to repeat it so I could make sure I heard it correctly and then I asked him what he was talking about.  My daughter clearly knew as she had become  quite upset at the insult.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how powerful of an insult that term really was.

It was based on a book that is used for character education at my children’s’ school called “Have You Filled A Bucket Today”. The idea very simply is that we all have an invisible bucket that we carry around and at any time we can FILL other people’s’ buckets or others can fill ours by nice actions or words. At the same time, we can also DIP into others buckets when we are mean, cruel and insensitive.

A major key here is that often “Bucket Dippers” have empty buckets themselves and they are trying to fill their own bucket by dipping into others. However, it doesn’t work. The way to fill your own bucket is to fill others. The happiness you receive from your good deeds fills your bucket as well.

I thought that was a powerful message to be teaching children (and us grown ups too). And I realized that when we have a FULL  bucket; when we have given ourselves the opportunity to replenish, we have MORE to fill others buckets and then in turn ours becomes even more FULL…Karma!

So on our mats last week we focused on filling our own buckets with the belief that when we went back to our worlds we would be able to fill others.

Sun Salutations are a bucket filling practice as we warmed the body up to prepare for opening and replenishing.  The deeper the breath, the more connected we became in our bodies. From that breath-body connection there is a deeper understanding that from our own happiness we have the power to make others happy  and when we have empathy and compassion for ourselves in body and in mind, we will have that to share with others as well.

As we moved into balancing, deep hip openers and then Hanumasana (splits) I reminded everyone not to be their own “Bucket Dipper”. Sometimes we dip our own buckets by judging ourselves too harshly on our mats (and off too). When we stop ourselves from having a full bucket then we cannot fill others. The  joy that we hold inside ourselves…that is our Bucket Filling Power.

As Savasana came and the breath became quiet in the room I looked around and connected to all the positive energy that had filled my bucket. I felt very blessed at being able to help guide my students in filling their own buckets and as a reward, mine was overflowing. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

Be happy on your path and you will always be where you want to be

 

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I recently heard a statement that perplexed me but as I contemplated it  further it made sense. It became my clear inspiration and focus for my classes last week. “If you are not happy where you are, you will not get where you want to be”.

My first thought was that often dissatisfaction motivates change. However, then I realized the point of the statement was that if you can’t be happy in the present, chances are whatever you think will make you happy in the future actually won’t. Sometimes, we get in the habit of being unhappy.  When we get in the practice of dissatisfaction it is hard to break, even if we achieve the goal we think will make us happy we may not feel happy or connect to gratitude because we are out of the habit.

Happiness is also a habit. So I asked my students to think about creating a habit of happiness on their mats last week. The journey is the journey, we can choose to enjoy it or to be unsatisfied with where we are and constantly believe that getting to the “next” place will make us happy.  So on our mats we practiced being happy with where we were. Being happy in the present doesn’t stop us from working  to go deeper, to move forward, to achieve or grow… it just allows us the chance to be happy on the way to getting there. It’s a choice we get to make. We are all on our own paths. We can choose to cultivate a habit of happiness along the way or not.

As we warmed up with Sun Salutes we then explored a rigorous flow and balancing practice. We explored Eka Pada Koundinyasana (pose pictured above) in several different ways slowly building and stopping at the point that our bodies needed. We knew where we wanted to ultimately be but we didn’t tie our happiness or satisfaction to the end result. We practiced being happy and satisfied with where we were on the journey knowing that being happy along the way was not a deterrent to reaching the final pose, rather it would make it that much sweeter and truer for us when we ultimately got there.

We all have encountered people who are perpetually unhappy with their place in the present. They believe they are one job, one relationship, one lottery win away from happiness. In my experience, those people never actually achieve the happiness they are looking for because what they seek is already inside them and they haven’t found it. One can search their whole life for external things to make them happy, but if they could just tap in to the happiness inside themselves, the entire journey would be a happy one.

As we slowed down and moved into Savasana, the work really began. I asked my students to appreciate the journey…to not move on to “the next thing” but rather to enjoy this part of the path. I reminded them that if they find satisfaction in the moment, they will achieve all that they wish on their mats and in their lives. It’s a funny thing really, when we allow ourselves happiness along the journey then we ARE where we want to be in that moment; the JOURNEY becomes the DESTINATION and therefore is the HAPPINESS. Namaste.