This week I was inspired by the podcast “S Town”. The story itself is very dark but there was a theme woven through it that touched me. The idea that time is moving, measured and tracked but cannot be stopped; that we have a choice about what we are going to do with our hours; are we going to count them or live in them. The main character in the podcast was a brilliant but eccentric antique clock restorer. The concept of time fascinated him. He built clocks and sundials and was quite obsessed with the passage of time and time being wasted. He talked about how sundials often have inscriptions on them and he shared some of the inscriptions he had seen. “Take the gifts of this hour” was one of them.
So I asked my students to do just that; To “take the gifts of our hour” (75 min actually) together by exploring how each pose offers gifts to the body and how the practice overall offers gifts for the mind. As we warmed up and moved into our first Downward Dog I offered the practice of taking the gifts. I shared that by engaging the belly, the spine can lengthen more, and that externally rotating the shoulders strengthens the rotator cuff, and by pressing through the heels there is a deeper stretch through the back of the legs. Connecting to these opportunities is the difference between being in Downward Dog and taking the “gifts of Downward Dog”.
As we moved through our asana practice there was the opportunity to explore and “take” the overall gifts of the practice… the chance for an extra moment in childs pose, a clearing of the mind and finding space, strength and flexibility not just physically but mentally as well. We slowly progressed towards exploring some deep binding and then later we played with transitioning between Astavakrasana and Eka Pada Koundinyasana II (both pictured above) to appreciate the gifts we received in the hour… to live fully in the moment, to laugh and enjoy and try something new. It was not about executing this very challenging transition perfectly, rather to appreciate all the gifts received along the journey.
As we began to slow down we spent several breaths in Pigeon and I shared how “taking the gifts of the hour” can translate off the mat. The main character in the podcast had calculated out if a person lives for 68 years (hopefully we all live longer than that) they live for 25,000 days. Of those days; 20-30% of the time is spent sleeping and another large percentage of time is used to complete the tasks we need to do in our lives. In his calculation, that leaves a person 4,500 waking hour days (meaning 108,000 hours) to pursue matters that are meaningful to them. These hours offer us gifts to take and we should take the gifts of each one of them.
As our “hour” together came to a close we sat together in a moment of seated meditation. I thanked my students for giving me the gift of their time. I wished for them the chance to continue the practice and “take the gifts” of all their hours off the mat. Namaste.
This week the national news was my source of inspiration. The story of the teenage girl who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for texting encouragement to her boyfriend to commit suicide inspired me to talk to my own teenager about the power of our actions and our words; both spoken and written.
We cannot expect ourselves or others to always take the right course, make the right choice or say the right thing. However, we can aspire to be mindful in our speech and our actions. This is a practice; one that we can begin to cultivate on our mats with mindful movement of the body. From there the practice continues into our thoughts. To be mindful on our mats, in our bodies and in our thoughts so we can be more mindful in our actions and words off the mat is what we practiced this week.
As we began our warm up we moved a bit more slowly than usual, taking that extra moment to connect with ourselves a little more deeply. As we continued through our asana flow we held our poses a little longer, which created an extra challenge. It is hard to slow down and focus, it is easier to go faster so the body and mind can quickly move on to the next thought or action without contemplation.
As is the case on our mats, off the mat the same challenge exists. To be mindful takes discipline and focus; it takes the practice of slowing down and stepping back for a moment to understand the true power of our words and actions.
Although I attempted to share with my daughter the power we each possess through our words and actions I am not sure her 13 year old mind could fully process the practice of mindfulness. My hope is over time, with practice, that mindfulness will be a part of her journey through her teenage years and her life.
As the brain fully matures in our early 20’s we begin to understand through experience and wisdom the influence words can have. We start to know what mindful words look like. We have all been touched by a powerful piece of writing or sentimental words spoken. We also know how hurtful impulsive speech and actions can be and we have all had moments of regret after speaking or writing something hastily in anger. When we live in mindfulness we have more joy and less regrets.
Back on our mats towards the end of class, I asked the students to explore 3 versions of a pose that requires intense mindfulness in the body and in the mind; Grasshopper (full pose pictured above). We explored “baby hopper” and then what I named “teenage hopper” before trying Grasshopper. As we moved through the stages of growth in a grasshopper it somewhat represented our journey into mindfulness from the beginning to end of class and served as a reminder that the journey can continue off the mat. As we finished this exploration and moved mindfully into Savasana, I took the opportunity to remind my students that our Yoga practice is truly not about the poses, but instead who are becoming as we do them and that mindfulness on our mats leads to a mindful life. Namaste.
Recently I spent the weekend in South Florida and I had the chance to again be inspired by the artist Peter Tunney (he is the artist who painted all the Gratitude billboards in NYC) — this time while visiting Wynwood Walls in Miami where he has a gallery. When I walked into his gallery, the first piece of art I saw was the picture above. Fearless split on two lines almost like an an answer to a question…How do we live more; more truthfully, more fully and more in the moment? We Fear Less.
We have so many everyday fears that can take the mind away from the present. Fearing less so we can live more became our practice for this week.
As class began, I asked my students to explore what they feared on their mats. Perhaps it was a not achieving a certain pose or not looking like the person next to them in a pose, or modifying or taking a break if they need. As they thought about their fears, I shared one of my own. When I first became a teacher I feared not being able to achieve Mayurasana (pictured above). I struggled with it until I finally began to let go of my fear of not achieving it. Once I surrendered the need for this pose (and the fear that I couldn’t do it), the pose came to me. I could Live More once I Feared Less.
We started class with warm up and sun salutes and then weaved into our asana practice a systematic building of poses that prepared all the muscles necessary to achieve Mayurasana. The living more in the steps along our journey was our practice..whether we found Mayurasana in our bodies was not. Instead it is in all the preparation to get there that the living happens. Just as fearing less allows us to live more, living more also allows us to fear less.
Off the mat we also have everyday fears that can conquer the mind and take up valuable space and more importantly take us away from the moment we are in. So I asked my students to identify a fear off the mat that they may be able to Fear Less in order to Live More. What I asked of them I also offered… I shared a fear of mine from off the mat. Last weekend I had to sub a class for a very beloved teacher who has taught at the studio for 20 years and has an extremely loyal following. We teach very different style of classes so I was nervous to teach her students. I was finding this worry taking up space in my mind so I decided to Fear Less by investing some extra time in preparing an asana practice for these students. The preparation helped me to not just stop being afraid but also to be excited by the challenge and a different experience…in other words, to Live More. The excitement that came from the preparation allowed me to fear the moment less and live in the moment of my teaching more.
Back on the mat, I reminded my students that one of the most powerful ways to fear less is to feel ready or prepared; to be fully in the moment. As I watched my students build and prepare, I saw many of them attempt Mayurasana. We did have a few Peacocks in the room but what was really powerful was that mostly all of them tried.. they were all Fearing Less and Living More and that truly was the practice. The Journey is the Joy, Fear Less to Live More. Namaste.
Samskaras are defined as karmic patterns. We all have Samskaras or habits in our daily lives, some good and some less so. It can take a very short time to develop a habit of thought or action and then it is with us. From there it takes conscious focus and attention to notice or acknowledge the habit, then to determine if it is of service to us or not. Once we determine that, we are on our way to creating change.
Last week I asked my students to begin to notice the patterns in their bodies and minds. I tasked myself with the same practice as I taught classes with cyclical vinyasa series starting with the left side instead of the linear back to front starting with the right side. We all have to step out of our comfort zones sometimes to see the possibilities for change. I also asked my students to focus less on the alignment and more on the flow of the body as we channeled the water element. Water is an amazing property in nature. It’s journey can look several different ways but its goal is clear. It can be soft and overflowing or very focused in its direction. It can pave its way literally through mountains or find the path of least resistance. It follows patterns but can also brave new paths. It is flexible and strong– what we all aspire to be.
As we moved through our practice, this unconventional flow allowed us to notice patterns or habits (samskaras) in the body and ask ourselves if they were serving us or if we would be better served by changing them. We played with flowing right through several arm balances and Pinchamayurasana (version pictured above) instead of breaking them down slowly as a further attempt to stay in constant motion like water.
Off the mat, the same practice applies. When we push ourselves out of our comfort zone it gives us each the chance to notice our patterns or Samskaras. In the mind we often have cycles of thought; a script that plays over and over. With awareness we can ask the key questions; Is this thought process serving me? Is there a lesson here that I have the chance to learn?
I was recently speaking to a close friend who has found herself in a similar relationship situation three times. The universe continues to teach us, it offers us the lesson we need to learn as many times as we need to learn it. That’s what I shared with her when she asked for my advise. Look at what the universe is trying to teach; in other words ask yourself why you are falling into the same habit. The first and often most difficult step is acknowledging the pattern; from there the change will come.
As we sat in a comfortable seat to finish our asana practice I reminded my students once again that when we are present in both body and mind we have the chance to acknowledge our Samskaras (karmic patterns). With that knowledge we have the opportunity to see and learn the lessons from the universe that will enable us to grow in our practice, both on and off the mat. Namaste.
As I was thinking about the end of 2016 and my personal intention for 2017, Gratitude came to mind. I have struggled this year with some physical issues that are slowly resolving and there have definitely been times along the way that I have not felt all that grateful. In addition to and partially because of my physical struggles, this year has been one of personal growth for me in several areas. I know that I am not alone. 2016 has been a tough year for many people. Sometimes when we are going through difficult times it is powerful to use gratitude as a way to get perspective; to help us see the many blessings we each have.
As my theme for the week, I shared with my classes that the thought process of being grateful is incredibly powerful. It can transform our perspective…it is truly a Superpower that each of us possess because “Gratitude turns what we have into enough”
I asked my students to channel their own “Gratitude Superpower” on their mats this week and to remind themselves that what they have available to them in their bodies is enough. As we warmed the core and the spine and moved through our opening sun salutes I shared some of the other ways that Gratitude serves as our own individual superpower. If we are able to be grateful for what we can achieve on our mats (and in our lives) then what isn’t possible just doesn’t matter as much. Gratitude helps turn denial into acceptance, chaos into order and confusion into clarity. It provides important insight into our past, helps us find peace and happiness in the present and allows us create a vision for our future. If that isn’t a “Superpower” I can’t think of what is.
Just as our asana practice is just that; a practice, so is channeling our “Gratitude Superpower”. Several times during class, I asked my students to think about gratitude– to find it in whatever version of the pose that was available to them. While the students were in Side Plank , I glanced around the room at all the different interpretations and it was amazing to see each student pick a variation where they could be grateful; and it was “enough”. We used Stargazer (pictured above) as our “gratitude pose” as it is attainable yet powerful; heart opening, spine extending, joyful and freeing.
Off the mat we can channel our “Gratitude Superpower” as well. We can transform ourselves from a place of sadness to a place of joy just by connecting to gratitude. When times become challenging or we experience loss or disappointment, connecting to our inner gratitude helps to offer perspective, perhaps an understanding of why something happened and to even see the blessing that may exist within it.
Back on the mat, we sat together for a final moment of meditation. I again asked each student to connect to their individual “Gratitude Superpower” and to remind themselves that with this power, they can turn what they have into enough. I then wished them all (as I wish all of you) a Happy New Year and best wishes for a 2017 filled with the Power of Gratitude. Namaste.
Better late yoga than no yoga is something I always say to my students if they worry about being late to class. I am holding to that philosophy as well when it comes to my blog posts (as this post is a few weeks late). Over the last 3 months I have been undergoing treatments to help repair some ligaments in my body that have been damaged over time due to a surgery I had years ago. The process has been quite inspirational because it uses my own white blood cells to heal the damaged areas. This became my inspiration for classes a couple of weeks ago.
Scientists have discovered that our bodies have amazing tools to heal ourselves. When we look at how vaccines work (creating antibodies to fight the disease) and stem cell transplants and immunotherapy treatments for cancer and even the treatment I am doing (PRP–plasma rich platelets) our bodies are truly remarkable. We have equally amazing tools to heal in the mind– to reset, break our negative thought cycles or habits called Samskaras– and free ourselves from emotional injury. Just like the body carries the baggage of past injuries (or surgeries in my case), the mind and spirit carry baggage as well. Our yoga practice both on and off the mat can help us rid ourselves of that baggage and move forward healed.
That was the practice as we took to our mats– to work from a place of healing; to listen to the body and the mind. As we flowed through our Sun Salutes it was an opportunity to begin to practice patience, acceptance and gratitude. We need these elements in order to heal. Then later, we challenged ourselves with balancing and handstands- again patience, acceptance and gratitude are needed.
That has very much been my practice over the last three months, listening, being patient, accepting where I am and finding gratitude in the steady improvements in my body. Just as our bodies have the amazing capacity to heal, these emotional healing properties inside each of us can heal our heart and spirit as well. Firstly we need to be patient as most things worth having take time and effort to achieve. Then we find acceptance for what is available and with that begin to let go of what may not be. From there, we are able to feel grateful for our blessings, for all the good that comes to us.
Physical and emotional healing are no different. They both require patience, acceptance and gratitude. With these tools, both our bodies and our minds can let go of negative baggage and be healed. When we heal, we are FREE.
I am so grateful to all of my students for their support during my ongoing journey to heal. I am sending love and light to all of you. Namaste.
Change can be a scary thing. Sometimes we fight it because we are afraid. But there is a freedom that comes with surrendering that fear and finding acceptance. And then, most of the time, what we find on the other end is happiness. My message for my classes this past week was just that. I asked them to think about Surrender as the Intersection between Change and Acceptance.
As we began to flow, I asked my students to practice surrender on their mats. The first step is to let go of expectation and judgment of ourselves in our bodies. As we continued through our asana practice I kept reminding my students to surrender, to let go. When they encountered an “intersection in their bodies”– a place where they could go different directions– I asked them to surrender judgement and expectation and move from a place of letting go and acceptance.
After we warmed up with Sun Salutes we spent extra time mobilizing the shoulder blades and creating space in the chest and shoulders. With space comes surrender and freedom. We then moved to a focus on Garudasana (eagle pose: pictured above). At the start of practice we used Eagle pose on our backs as an abdominal warm up and later we transitioned into and out of it from crescent warrior. Finally we held it and used it to further stretch our upper back and posterior shoulders all with the intention of finding surrender and from there….acceptance and happiness. Garuda, though often translated as “eagle,” is actually a mythical bird in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. As the vehicle of the god Vishnu, Garuda is said to be the king of birds. Free and fighting for good just as we all hope to be.
Both on the mat and off sometimes we hold on very tightly to things, whether it be a specific pose that actually doesn’t serve us or a person, relationship or situation that truly may be doing more harm than good. The realization that surrendering can take us from change to acceptance off the mat as well as on is truly the practice. And once acceptance is found, happiness follows.
We began to slow our practice and made our way into Savasana. As we sat together in a final moment of meditation, I thanked my students for their focus and commitment to surrender on their mats. I reminded them that both on and off the mat, change is the only constant and to be able to approach the intersections in our life and use surrender to find acceptance is a gift and a skill worth cultivating because acceptance truly is an essential element of happiness. Namaste.