Tag Archives: yoga

Missives from the Mat 15 — Seeing Things for How they Really Are #teaching #yoga

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It has been a very long time since I last wrote a blog post. Personally, lots of things have been going on; primarily, bronchitis and a sinus infection for me, a mild concussion for my middle son, college visits for the older son, Hallowe’en (which is truly a Holy Day around here), lots of glorious rowing, and helping to run the registration desk for a large regatta. Oh! And I had a basal cell carcinoma removed, but I’m good. (I’ll write about that later, it’s pretty funny. Well now it is…)

The most notable executive news for me is that I have decided to stop teaching my evening adult yoga class. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. When I took over the class from a well-known instructor and teacher trainer, I remember her sigh-saying as she handed over the metaphorical keys, “I always thought that this class would blossom with someone in the community running it…”

Looking back through my jaded lenses, that should’ve been a sign to me… I have been reluctant to admit the truth about the reality of the yoga potential here.

You can’t get much more “in the community” than me as I live less than a mile from the facility. The logistics remained the same. Even payments carried over. For students, it was easy-peasy.

That said, changes were a’coming and people don’t always adjust to change.

The first change was that people were about to get a new yoga teacher. GULP.

The second change is that I was about to shake up the payment scheme. People do like their money. They also like to do whatever the hell they want with it.

The third change was actually a constant: I can’t change who I am… But people said they liked my style, they loved my classes, they wish they could keep taking them…

In retrospect, at first, I tried to be all things to all people: I tried to be that departing instructor. Then I also tried to be the original instructor who started the class. So that’s two separate people besides me — the funny thing is: I never attended either one of those teachers’ classes, so who knows what I was trying to replicate.

The first two instructors ran the classes on what I like to call a “peace love happiness” hippy punch-card scenario. That’s not at all my style. I treat yoga more as a studio business would: you buy a set of classes in a “session” (a finite period, say 10 weeks, so you attend the commensurate amount of classes remaining during that session and classes could carry over only per request).

Upon taking the helm, I decided that I would honor for two more months whatever “balance” remained on the punch-cards, as several of these cards had been in circulation for TWO YEARS and were unused.

In fact, several of the people on the original email list never contacted the second instructor, they never attended her classes for the one-year period when she took it over. It was only when they heard from me, that “use it or lose it” was in effect, that they attended classes.

In a punch-card world, someone has to keep track, someone has to “X out” a class on that card. At a studio, a receptionist can do that. I don’t have a receptionist. I don’t babysit adults, nor do I “X out” anything. We are in our 40s and beyond, people. If you’re going to make your yoga teacher hold you accountable, you’ve got problems.

Before starting the classes, I consulted with my brother. He’s an MBA with a big job and he and wears fancy shoes. He gave me his advice and told me why he likes to pay for his fitness instructors and how he “gets it” that this isn’t about “nice feelings” but rather, it’s a transaction of values. “Don’t let people confuse you either, this is a business transaction. Yes, yoga is all about energy and feeling good, and being good, and all that shit; but it’s also a transaction. It’s about money.” He told me (along with my own yoga teacher) to change the payment program to “buying a group of classes in a ‘session'” instead of a “punch-card” because a punch-card doesn’t impart a commitment to the self and to the practice, and that self-improvement, as we all know, only works when you work it.

“If you don’t show up, or you don’t do the work, how can you expect any changes?” he reminded me. “I could go get McDonald’s or a Slurpee instead of coming to your class. I don’t value you if I don’t show up. I also don’t value myself, but that’s totally different, and not your problem. Your problem is waiting on people to follow through: to take you up on the service you are trained to provide them. Your service won’t be like anyone else’s, that’s what they’re buying. They’re buying YOU for 90 minutes. Not with a punch-card, but for that time only.”

He could sense that I had a problem asking people to pay me for a service that I felt they could just as readily perform on their own.

“But they can’t, can they? They can’t see their own misaligned knee or that their shoulders aren’t stacked, can they, unless they’re looking for them… but even then, if they’re looking, they’re not ‘doing yoga‘; they’re concerned with their appearance… They can’t see how the pose is performed, or hear you talk about what to feel or engage what muscles where or to loosen their jaws, can they?”

“No.”

“That is reason enough to pay you. Shit, no one but a trained and observant teacher who is doing the work with them, and who can talk about where things are working, as they do the work with them, can tell them that stuff.”

So he was right. Over the last 21 months, the count of participants ebbed and flowed. My most successful quarter was about a year ago: I had about seven registered session students, and several drop-ins. I bought myself a pair of boots last year. I didn’t ever make a killing. I could use the money to pay for gas for a long road trip and maybe a nice dinner out for my family, but that was it.

Then the numbers started to really drop last spring.

Lives change: elderly parents get sick, job requirements shift, people move, bodies ache, people lose their jobs or their motivation… My purpose on this planet is not to judge anyone’s decision to do anything, but to rather look at where I was feeling satisfied and if I was being “of service” to people; if I was actually helping people instead of sitting there picking my navel and feeling sorry for myself because no one showed up anymore.

The numbers continued to drop. I had three registered students, and only one regularly showed up. More logistical challenges for the other members, wrenches thrown in the engine.

It became a real drag.

I have a giant IKEA bag holding 12 yoga blocks; 6″x 2′ strips of my old yoga mat for extra knee / spine / elbow support; and 12 static double-D ring straps to hold poses or to stretch more effectively. I played amazing music (Todd Norian, “BIJA,” get it) too. I spoke softly and humorously about what was working in the poses. I offered modifications to challenge or support the body. I sprayed lavender oil mist in the room. I recited a guided breathing exercise during savasana for anyone who was interested. I infused a brief yoga nidra during every meditation. I had created, in my estimation, the very class I always wanted to attend. It wasn’t perfect: I was nervous teaching inversions, but I tried every so often and most people didn’t really care for them. I was not teaching to change people, or to get them to do something they’re not comfortable with. My goal always, has been simple: to help people feel good and let go.

But the numbers continued to drop. One day, I was quite certain no one would show, so I texted the people that hadn’t let me know and one did come to class! I was thrilled to see her! In fact, I even had a drop-in that night! Two people in the room with me! It was really nice! But I knew it would be short lived, so I decided that night I was throwing in the mat.

If it weren’t for one seriously dedicated person, and she knows who she is, I would’ve given up a long time ago. She asked me one night, “Is it discouraging when no one else comes?” I was so touched and surprised and defensive of the question. I answered sort of automatically, “No, it’s nice you’re here; I enjoy being here with you…” But I do wonder about it all… I said to myself.

The concept of “walking out on this class” never occurred to me. Nor had the idea that I had a choice. Growing up in the world I did, with the mother I had and the father I had, I couldn’t leave my post, or my mother would falter. She could die. I couldn’t stop my sentry work, or things would fall apart. My father was relying upon me to keep watch, to let him know how things were going, to let him know if Mom was sick or where she was, or what she was doing or who she was with. I had to stay. I had to keep my post. The same thing happened with the yoga, I guess. Even as I type this right now, I realize that I’d taken the position of yoga instructor to heart. There’s nothing I don’t do that isn’t done 100% and I think people have come to expect that from me. I have come to expect that from me. That’s fine, because I’ll always try to deliver. But my duty was to the yoga mat, and to hold the door open, so to speak, to the space where we practiced. To always be ready for people to come in. And to wait, even alone, in the dark, in that big room for people to come because that meant they would be safe. That meant they would be well. That meant they were taking care of themselves. I could relax when people were doing yoga, because they were secure. I knew where they were.

I’d never been given permission to retire. Failure was not an option, nor was deciding that the seas were too strong and that the prevailing winds were simply trying to teach me something: to lie down, to batten down, to steer my craft to calmer seas… to stop waiting for adults to show up at night. (Woah, that use of “adults” just now, just typed itself.)

It’s hard to admit. If it weren’t for the health club where I was recently hired, and if it weren’t for the growth in those attendances and the news from the health club management that I “have quite a following” for my yoga classes, I would be crushed.

They say ego is not supposed to be part of a yoga teacher’s energy, but if it weren’t for a healthy ego, I would keep trying to make this work despite the obvious signs it wasn’t working. It’s November, chilly, and once daylight savings time ends, people go into hibernation mode. They do NOT want to leave their homes, no matter how glorious the yoga. I get that. But still… it’s hard on the ego. However, empathy must prevail: it’s cold and dark out, who wants to leave home?

What also must prevail is the absolute truth that anyone’s decision to not come to yoga classes that they’ve already paid for has NOTHING to do with me. I really have to get my head out of my ass.

I have had some really interesting students, too, in this evening class. These are amazing people with some pretty spectacular disorders and physical challenges; I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach these people because they taught me as well: that no matter how strong a teacher I want to be, there are SOME THINGS I will never match. (That sounds a little too familiar to my story growing up, doesn’t it?)

In the very beginning, I had a student who became very attached to me. She was sweet and sparkly-eyed. But I have limitations and I’ve done a shit ton of couch time to not only allow for the existence of the flags, but to see them and turn heel and run.

I can’t handle that, when people become attached to me. There are only four people and two dogs I will be OK with attaching to me: my kids, my husband and Charlie and Murphy. This is not to say I’m not a reliable person. I absolutely am reliable. Just don’t expect me to be your everything; I’m barely my own anything.

This one student somehow identified with me. Maybe it was my kindness, or my optimistic attitude toward her situation, and my utter newness toward her and her idiosyncrasies. I was sincerely proud of her accomplishments despite a major disability. But, like they all do, these empty souls whose mommies didn’t love them enough (raises hand sheepishly), she attached to me. She idolized me, for something, and inevitably, I disappointed her. I treated her like I treated everyone else, despite her identification of me. She thought she was someone special to me, because I was someone special to her.

My job as a yoga teacher is to teach yoga, not cleanse your soul. I teach yoga, not emulate Jesus. I teach yoga, not act as your therapist. I teach yoga, not solve your problems. I teach yoga, not be your mother. I teach yoga, not set you apart. I teach yoga, I teach yoga, I teach yoga. I ask for payment. I expect you to show up. I teach yoga. That is all. If I am lucky, we will become friends, but we are equals. I am not superhuman, but I am very sensitive to energies, so the moment I feel people set me apart and think of me as special, I start to feel sick, as though I am picking up their self-loathing; it’s a very tenuous sensation: it feels like you don’t know if you’re coming or going: “are these my shoes?” After many years, I know when I start to do that to other people, make them my saviors. So I take a deep breath and I re-center myself. Don’t make anyone else your idol; it’s a lot to live up to. 

I liked to get to the space early, to loosen up myself and to prepare to teach, go over notes, play with a transition or a flow, or select a reading for the class. It was as though she could see the parking lot from her house because as soon as I pulled up, she would be walking up or waiting on the steps for me. She would text me in the morning, “Hey Doll! Have a great day!” on days we didn’t have class. I said inside to myself, for her benefit, please don’t do this to me, don’t do this to yourself.

On the one day she wasn’t waiting for me or preternaturally aware of my arrival, she stormed into the room. She started barking out her day. This was fairly common, but I could usually get her to simmer down, to let it go… but she was having none of that. I spoke to her gently and privately before others arrived about her disposition; suggesting that maybe she should take her dog for a strenuous walk instead of yoga, that I’d credit her for the class. She said the others knew her better and longer than I did. She wanted to pass out her business cards to the people in the class. She wanted to cross all sorts of boundaries. I said no. Absolutely not. “People come to yoga class to practice yoga, to get away from their day and their lives off the mat,” I explained to her. Do the business card thing later. Not before.

People started coming in. She was erratic. Like a loose puppy. I sat and waited, made small talk with students. I took up my chimes and started to sit up straight. People started to center on their mats. She fidgeted.

As I did during every pranayama (the seated opening breath and meditation sequence), I invited the group to give themselves “the gift of keeping the day outside and preserve this space, for the yoga, inside,” and I rang the chimes three times with our conscious inhales.

As usual during pranayama, my eyes were closed, so I don’t know if she glared at me, but I did open them after hearing her huff and snarl, to witness her get up, gather her things as noisily as she could, and let the door slam behind her.

Awwwwwkwwwwaaaarrrrd.

I spent a little longer in pranayama, for entirely selfish reasons, and we did some sort of conscious breathing exercise, likely alternate nostril breathing. I can’t recall the exact one, but we did it for another five minutes.

She never came back to my classes.

I fell from grace.

I became the “anti-her” person. Another bad guy. Another reason, as she told me in a text, during that class, for her to not leave her house.

Don’t give me that power. I certainly don’t deserve it, nor do I know what to do with it, I texted back to her the next day, followed by telling her I was glad she got home ok.

After several very quiet months, despite telling me to never contact her again (and I hadn’t to begin with), she sent me an email. A blog post from MindBodyGreen about how to be a good yoga teacher, “I thought you would find this helpful,” she wrote as an intro. It was about the importance of teachers keeping their egos in check; to not show off or show up the students with displays of magnanimous self-control or pious self-awareness. To not demonstrate crane, or bird of paradise, or dancer poses because it was too upsetting to those students who felt unable to perform them.

Ask any of my students if I’ve ever demonstrated crane or dancer without a request to do so; you will hear crickets. I purposely keep my classes mellow, meditative, mostly on the ground, and introspective because I know that no one is coming to me to look like the cover of Yoga Journal. I never expected this woman to exceed the massive limitations of her disability, but I never made her limitations the focus of the lessons. As an “all levels” teacher, you must teach to the highest ability, so that’s what I taught. No one was in those classes to levitate or balance on one toe, the classes were well-designed and challenging.

After Little Miss Backhanded-Awareness sent me that blog post about keeping the ego in check, I ceased all communication with her, and told her to give me distance as she demanded of me: “I’m not your Virgin Mary, your Jesus, your Buddha, your Saint. I’m a flawed, suburban mother of three who is working her ass off to conquer her own demons, so save your blame and finger pointing for your mirror.” >booya.<

But here we are again. Admitting the truth: the number of people coming to my evening classes has fallen. I can’t beat out the four health clubs in the 3-mile radius with their fee-inclusive classes; nor can I beat out the churches with their “Christian yoga” (ha! it is ABSOLUTELY to LAUGH!) versus my “satanic yoga,” I guess. So I am not going to try. I am finished being Sisyphus. I am letting the rock roll.

  
I’ve decided to go back to my teaching roots and teach children’s yoga. The classes are shorter, the students are shorter too. The kids are game, sometimes too game, but that’s what being a kid is all about. For me, teaching yoga to them is a game, and we play games. Kids are super honest and they are also really into noticing how things affect their bodies. At least in the way I teach it, they get that yoga is about everyone, not just one of us.

In my next post, I’m going to write about what it’s like to teach yoga to kids, and how we as parents can know if our kids are truly ready for the mat instead of us just wishing they were…

Thank you and namaste.

Missives from the Mat 14 — After a Year of “Teaching” Yoga

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It’s been more than a year since I started to teach yoga to adults. I am the student, I am realizing.

That said, because I am still and always learning, and quite open to that reality, I have a few things to impart:

People come to yoga for a variety of reasons, but the most frequent one I hear is “stress reduction.” What they don’t understand, or what I think they don’t understand, is that yoga really isn’t what’s reducing their stress, it’s the fact that they are paying attention to the stress in the first place. I say this at risk of throwing away income, of disgruntling fellow yoga instructors, and all the rest, but the fact remains that the first stage of correcting anything is the acceptance that it needs correction.

Granted, if people don’t come to yoga, chances are quite high they’re not doing it on their own. We just aren’t that cool of a civilization.

Want to feel great? Right now? Go ahead and sit or stand up straight. Gaze ahead softly with a gentle focus. Release your jaw and pay attention to any tension in your face, neck, shoulders, belly, hips, thighs, knees and ankles. Just note it. Now take a big deep breath. Slowly let it out. Do it again. And one more time, only on the third time, lift your arms with the breath — you don’t have to go all the way up, just open the chest. As you let out the air, slowly lower the arms. Repeat it a few more times. Now your body is digging this. It will tell you what it wants. Just be sure to connect with your breath…  Breathe with the motion.

Speaking of breath…

Many people don’t like to hear their own breathing. I get this. I used to be that person, the one who would inwardly roll my eyes when the yoga teacher would say, “I want to hear your breath…” but now I realize that maybe that reluctance to hear our own breathing stems from a subconscious hesitancy to actually live as fully as we can. Is it rooted in shyness? Is it rooted in shame? Is it rooted in fear? Self-loathing? Inadequacy?

Whatever the reason, I learned about a year ago, that if my students don’t hear me breathing, then I am DEFINITELY not creating a space where they find their own energetic license to breathe audibly. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten better about the breathing audibly thing and here’s why: IT FEELS GOOD. (It’s also essential as butt for me to come out of an inversion or a forward bend with a massive inhale or I’ll experience super-fast super low blood pressure drops.) So I make a point of it now to say clearly to my students, “Can you hear your own breath?”

I go on… “Welcome the sound of your own vitality; the proof of your life and the connection between the mind and the body. When in doubt, breathe it out.”

WHY WHY WHY??? Because I want people everywhere (including me) to not be afraid. I want you to get to a point where you either key in on a sensual level to the feel and rhythm of your own breath, and just note it; or that you key in audibly to the sound of it… because when we can hear the breath, we know we are transferring energy. Woo-woo alert: We know that we are part of the dance of life, everywhere, and that we are connected. Trees do it silently, yet we know they do it, or we’d be toast. So breathe, people.

It’s “just the little things…” Mini-anxieties related to mini-moves.

One of the aspects of yoga I try hard to share with my students is the awareness of a sensation. The proposition of doing things we are unaccustomed to, even in the most subtle way, and then bridging the awareness emotionally and intellectually with the experience that we’ve survived it practically.

Case in point: I have my students interlace their fingers in a non-native clasp. The first time they do this, they are very thrown off. Resistance presents itself. But they do it anyway, facing the obstacle. These micro-moments of confusion or “different” and even perhaps, anxiety, flood in. Through the breath: calm, a sense of ability to deal and then awareness (or at least my promotion of it) of the breath and the fact that they are “winning” over the emotional / mental moment.

I say to myself, “this too…” as I’m going through it with them. I don’t like the way this feels. But it’s not threatening me, if I breathe through it, I can get through it… and before you know it, we are all releasing back to a native interlace and learning about ourselves… Then a few more rounds for good measure and we are done with that.

The fact is though, every moment in yoga presents a new awareness of our being. How often have I held warrior 2 pose for a minute or more, at the suggestion of my teacher and wanted to punch something? What am I fighting? Why am I forcing myself to do this? Just a few more seconds… transition… Woo-woo alert: what I’m experiencing is the experience. Nothing more, nothing less and the choice is mine to come out whenever I want, but the fact remains, that I know I can stay in it, and I know there is a lesson and new fibers and new neural pathways and all sorts of shit I just can’t see going on inside me that will be really great for me is happening.

I am more at peace with my warrior 2 holds now. I am constantly tweaking them: what’s my back foot doing? How’s the front knee tracking? Am I lifting through the chest? What about my shoulders… are they engaged? Hips too? Release the jaw… breathe… steady gaze… and by the time I’m done that inventory (which happens automatically now for the most part) I’ve got another 20 seconds to “rest” into the pose.

But what if I come out… am I a failure?

Even moments of dismissal — if we pay attention to what we’re dismissing: a feeling, a moment of vulnerability, a sensation of fear, a memory we weren’t expecting… we have a choice: pretend it didn’t happen (which is what a lot of people do, hence anxiety medication prescriptions, but the anxiety never goes away, does it?); simply notice that it happened and leave it there; make note that it happened, and visit it later or not at all; and countless other ways of managing the situation. The point is this though: you’re on the bus. You’re noticing something and now things are in play.

Things are always in play, my friends. That’s the nature of life. As I say to myself, “This is my first June 22, 2015 too… Give me a moment to get the hang of it…” Mistakes will be made. Lessons will be learned.

No. If I come out, I’m not a failure. I’m tired. I’m listening to my body. I’m figuring things out. There’s a reason there are no trophies in yoga.

Yoga teaching for me isn’t about a “peak” pose. It’s about letting my students feel safe knowing that we are here to grow. I’d rather have two students who are on the bus to personal awareness, hearing their own breath, allowing their own breath TO BE heard by others, than a room full of people who can hold a handstand, or crow pose, or scorpion (even though that’s my goal pose) for six days. I am a firm believer that there is NO SINGULAR POSE that makes you a better more self-aware person than anyone else.

I have a Facebook friend who told me of a memory about growing up with Deepak Chopra. This person told me that Deepak was once at the high school cafeteria table debating with another student about who was more spiritual than the other. “I am more spiritual than you are,” Deepak was overheard saying. I laughed my gluteus off.

I prompt people. A lot.

Here’s what you will get out of a class with me: a reminder to let go of things not only with the mind, but also with the body. I’m big into reminders to release the jaw and the space between the eyebrows. (I’m doing it now as I type.) To listen for the breath (what is it with me and all this breathing??). To feel the chest open. To feel the back expand. To take in one more heartbeat’s worth of air. To hold a pose for one more heartbeat longer. To protect the joints: make sure the glutes and quads are flexed. Just bringing awareness to sensations in the body is about 90% of a good yoga class.

Lots of people think yoga poses are just about making pretzels out of your body… dude, you couldn’t be more wrong. At least in my class. Some of the most basic poses — standing up! — are designed for you to check in and contract your muscles. You’re not just standing there like Homer Simpson: stuff is going on. Then we stand with consciousness for half a minute. Feel that… what’s slipping? What in your body are you letting go? Do another scan… bring it back to the breath…

I say all these things to my students BECAUSE I KNOW it’s slipping in me. You can’t be a hypocrite and be a good yoga teacher. Truth comes out, it always does.

When I prompt in a stretch that we reach for the sky, I’m taking it further: reach for a cloud, higher. I use lots of visual cues in class because I’m a visual person, but also because I want people to “get there.” So often people reach with closed hands… NO! Splay your fingertips, spread open the palms… LIVE! Grasp! Reach! Send energy through the fingertips! Let it go!

Even though what I teach is what I would consider a gentler form of yoga (I like to call it “sloGa”), it’s not easy. I spent a long time of my life rushing, not feeling, getting stuff done and moving to the next thing. In my yoga classes, I have fully embraced the art of slowing down, connecting with the breath and the body, and listening to the body. When we do cat / cow pose, I tell my students to take it slow, to feel the discs separate and lubricate the spine and to let the abdomen drop as the throat opens… and to LISTEN: when your body says “I hate this” you simply affirm it and then act. You can come out or you can stay in… but in the meantime… what’s the lesson here that my awareness [of my sensation] is teaching me? This should be no big deal…  Where does this hurt? What is my body trying to tell me? 

Maybe I talk too much. No one has ever said so though. Part of the reason I talk about the poses is because I’m really into them and I hope to encourage my students to be into them too.

So here’s an alternative to all the introspection on pain. Just as going into a pose requires consciousness and awareness and listening to your body, so does coming out. So it would stand: if you feel pain, pay attention. Conversely: if you feel joy or release, WHY?! What is your body trying to tell you? What is WORKING? This is the part that bugs me a little bit about yoga. Yes, we all have pains, but we also all have joys and pleasures and frankly, let’s promote them too! We are what we think about.

Emotions come up.

Emotions can come to the surface in a yoga class. I don’t mean just the heavy ones. I sometimes find myself in the middle of tree pose (vrkasana) suppressing a giggle. I think about Joyce Kilmer and the fact that I thought the poet who wrote about trees is a dude, not a chick. Go figure.

In eagle pose (garudasana), I’m a mess. I call it “laughing bird” because while I find the pose absolutely challenging, it also reminds me of not being able to laugh in church because you’re not supposed to laugh at church. When I teach this pose to my class, I tell them to squeeze their thighs together (and if the thought “like you’re holding back pee while in line at a Bruce Springsteen concert” comes to mind, that’s on them).

In chair pose (utkatasana) I call it the “regatta bathroom” pose when I work with rowers and “public bathroom pose” every once in a while if the mood suits me. You have to be careful about bathroom humor when you’re dealing with different students and settings.

In warrior 2 (virabadrasana ii), I tend to identify with feeling like a badass, because that pose is so empowering. I remember from my youth, the silhouette of women in the Charlie’s Angels opening credits. Warrior 2… let’s do this.

All too often though, I think people think yoga is this place where we just sit and “experience” and “feel” and “be one” and all that. While I absolutely hope those ideas and concepts come into peoples’ minds, I’d be a blame fool if I thought that was all they thought about AND all they “needed” to hear. Life’s too short, man. Lighten up.

In cow face pose (gomukhasana) I just laugh because, um… this resembles a cow’s face, how?

The thing is — we have these feelings come up because we are still. If we’re constantly rushing, there is no feeing of anything. That’s why people who rush all about the place, REEEEEEEAAALLLLY need yoga. Hence, me on the mat.

That said, everyone has one. The hated pose. The pose that makes then learn. The pose that threatens to shatter their carefully shaped image of self control and composure. The one that reminds us of our humanity.

I hate camel pose. Just thinking about it makes me nervous. For starters, you begin on your knees. Talk about supplication. Then you end up with your chest opened, your back bending, thighs stretching and pressing to what’s in front of you, shoulders reaching for each other, hands resting on blocks or ankles behind you, beside your feet, and then your head is back, if that’s good for you. You can’t see what’s coming. And then you’re supposed to just … “let go…” ??!?

So if you’re in a protected space, like where I teach: I can lock the doors and attempt to bring the psychic energy down in the room to a nice grounded place (but that’s up to the people really), it should feel like it’s no big deal. Only for me, it’s not. Something releases in me emotionally, and no matter how hard I’ve tried to keep it together, I end up weeping in camel pose. I can’t really stop the thoughts or memories or people who flood my consciousness. I try to connect with the breath. I try to be “open hearted” as the pose so clearly suggests. But it’s all about trust. Camel pose is all about trust. So I continue to learn…

Ustrasana - camel pose. I don't know why they call it camel. Maybe things were all on their sides back in the days when yoga was invented...

Ustrasana – camel pose. I don’t know why they call it camel. Maybe things were all on their sides back in the days when yoga was invented… Upon further inspection, I have noticed that I did not completely let go in this pose; I didn’t let my head drop all the way back. Hmm. But in the first one of the series for the photos, I did. The angle was off so I didn’t include it.  

After I did camel maybe 10 times for this post, I will submit that I didn’t get emotional. For some reason, trying to get the angle and the lighting “right” which was a nice “distraction.” What’s the opposite pose of this? For me: child’s pose.

But the feelings do come up. What came up after I finished all that? Relief. So I wonder why.

I also don’t know if it’s a good idea to constantly push one’s self to do things which bring up feelings that we’re not really ready to face. There is never any shame coming out of a pose. Even in my restorative classes, which I teach once at the mid-point and again at the end of the sessions in my classes, people can feel vulnerable and fearful. That’s much more common, paradoxically, because we are really being still. Not just for another 15 seconds, or five more breaths, but until I remind my students to deeply breathe in and prepare to transition into the next restorative pose, which I encourage them to hold for seven minutes.

I’ve seen people change over the year. I’ve seen balance and upper body strength improve. I’ve seen anxiety drop and confidence build. Smiles come easier and slower and softer. They tell me they hear me in their heads, “belly buttons in toward the spine, nice tall back…” I hear my own teachers tell us the same. This stuff sinks in, slowly if you let it. That’s what is super rewarding: that it works when you work it.

Boundaries.

I have learned to say no. I have learned that it’s ok and it doesn’t make me a crappy teacher if I don’t let someone dump all over me, either in private life or in yoga teacher life. And that it doesn’t make me a crappy teacher with shitty boundaries if I DO let people share and dump on me. The choice at the end of it all, always exists. I can live with that person’s story and wear it as my own, or I can place it where it belongs: in a compassionate place where I can hold that person’s personal and separate story as it is. Not mine and not shared with the intent to encumber. Yoga teachers who do have shitty boundaries, I’ve come to believe, have them because they want to be liked and loved and needed. I am OK with that now. Yoga is the thing I can give to other people; as in all aspects of life: people don’t have to take it, and no one is a bad person.

Final thought so far: I have become my own brand of teacher. I no longer wonder too deeply or too often if I’m any good at this, or if students prefer other teachers to me, or if I am doing something “wrong.” I don’t other trying to be like another teacher, and it’s so completely liberating. I read a lot and watch lots of videos and experiment with movements, sometimes right on the fly, to be a stronger version of me as a teacher. I watch and try to retain what I do like about other teachers instead of what I don’t like. 

Because I am ok with being who I am as a teacher now, I really have no clue if my students go nearly as deeply as I encourage them to go. I know though, thanks to feedback and kindnesses that the yoga is making a difference. I need to be better about taking compliments. I minimize a compliment when it’s given. I’ve been introduced to people by students as “My favorite yoga teacher” and “the best yoga teacher” and I say a quick “thank you” internally and then I blush and say, “I’m your ONLY yoga teacher…” but the fact is that I need to be kinder to myself and take the compliment.

To all my students, past and present, thanks for trusting me. Namaste.

Thank you.

On Suffering #Nepal #Baltimore #Ahimsa #Silence #hellonearth

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My youngest son woke up this morning like a rocket. Today his class is taking a field trip to a natural landmark about two hours away.

I said to him, “You should go on field trips more often; you’re so ready to face the day!”

He said back to me, “I just like the idea of getting away from the regular. I’m excited to be on a charter bus, and use the bathroom if I want when the bus is rolling along. I’m excited to sit with my friends or read a book or play ‘yellow car’ or ‘alphabet signs’ on the trip.”

“Yes, it’s nice to change things up.” I agreed.

“I am sad for the world, Mom,” he said. “Finnegan and I got into a fight last night; I couldn’t take the news. I went to grab the remote and I accidentally scratched him and then he got mad and put his hands on me… It was scary, but it was my fault. I should have just walked away.”

“WHAT? Where was I when this happened?”

“Teaching yoga,” he said.

“Oh. Dad was with the dogs?”

“Yes. We stopped almost right away, but I know we are both sad about Baltimore and the earthquake and the drones…”

He is eleven.

When I was eleven, I don’t think I knew who was president.

Let’s see… it was 1939 …

Earlier on that day, my older two came through the door from school very concerned about the riots in Baltimore. Confused, angry, and scared. Their sadness turned to apathy which turned to antipathy not long after watching CNN.

“This solves nothing. This isn’t about equality. It’s about violence. It’s about intimidation,” one of them said.

“It’s scary and it’s wrong. It’s also mis-channeled rage. This is also completely missing the point,” the other added.

The words and fear and sadness and fear fear fear were flying at me. I was overwhelmed with how to tone them down, how to get them to feel safer. How to get myself to feel safer.

I had just spent the afternoon watching “The Road” on video — a movie adaptation based on a beloved book of the same title by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is about a post-apocalyptic America. It’s also a love letter from McCarthy to his son. It’s about “keeping the fire” and “being the good guys, not the bad guys.” The world envisioned by McCarthy’s words is not a world I want to live in; the world envisioned by the director of the film, John Hellcoat, is gray, smoky, dark, fiery, inhumane, dirty, gritty, smelly, dead and terrifying. I don’t think anyone wants to live there.

I decided that silence was the answer. Only silence can tell us what we need. So I asked them to turn off the TV, the screens and to open the door and listen to the birds and hear the breeze rustle through the newly sprouted leaves. To look around themselves and to see what we have left — to appreciate it and to be grateful for it because as we woke up to on Saturday, it can be snapped apart like it was in Nepal, vaporized by earth; or it can be destroyed by choice as what we’ve seen far too frequently in Baltimore, Ferguson, the Bronx, North Charleston… and that’s what happens to make the headlines.

I often say to my sons that I don’t believe in hell. I believe that we can do a fine job right here by our little ol’ selves creating hell in our minds, on earth and in our thoughts. There’s no reason to fear an afterlife — what could possibly be worse than the sadness and fear we inflict on ourselves and project upon others –wittingly or not– on a daily basis?

So last night, I dedicated my yoga class to Nepal and Baltimore and all the corners of the world — privately held internally because we are all suffering at one moment or another and publicly known — because stopping, breathing, listening and putting our hands to our heart, and our heads to our heart, and praying and intending peace and compassion — FOR THE SELF FIRST as well as for the world — is to me, the only way to stop this train of suffering.

It absolutely must begin within. If you harbor dark thoughts and feelings toward yourself, there is NO WAY you can authentically extend compassion and peace for anyone else. It’s just not possible.

It’s in the mirror. The answer to all of this is in the mirror. Love yourself, accept yourself, and then you can share that with the world in thought, humor, deed, and spirit. It’s the first tenet of yoga: Ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-violence, which means it must absolutely begin in you. You don’t have to be a yogi to do this. You just have to be aware, sentient, and humane.

You’ll drive a little softer, speak a little kinder, smile a bit wider, laugh a little longer and love more sincerely.

Thank you.

How To #Breathe #Meditatively for #Health and to fight #Stress for #Free

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Irony / paradox / inanity: I recently got into a Twitter tiff with a meditator over my sharing an article about the exorbitant fees associated with learning Transcendental Meditation®. The article is here and I happen to agree with it heartily. She came right off the bat with a defense, natch, because she is a TM® trainer…

Ridiculous prices? 500,000 folks learned TM free in past 10 years. The article is fictitious. Facts:

to which I replied,

I’m not so sure it’s fictitious entirely. There is truth to it; it’s investigative. I was asked to pay large fee to learn.

and I added:

and fact is this: ANY meditation can work; copyrighting one is unethical; it’s like “Jesus®” — Bikram® yoga® is example.

to which she replied

unethical? Only if all meditations were exactly equal in their effect. Science says otherwise:

and she added:

part of every TM course fee funds someone to learn who can’t afford to pay. If you can’t afford, there are scholarships.

and then said:

seems you’ve already made up your mind, which is okay, but if you’re open to another perspective:

to which I replied and to which she did not:

no dsgrmt on bens of . Do u see hypcrsy of “grading” & celeb endrsmnts? “we are all one”?! Do fees pay celebs?

And that was a dig, an intentional one, at the end. Transcendental Meditation® is, in my book, a crock. First tip-off: it’s trademarked®®®®, like Bikram® yoga is (and we all know about that slime ball). Second: celebrities are endorsing it by the magic carpet load… uh, why do you think that is? There has to be a kickback — please, someone tell me Jerry Seinfeld does things for free and I’ll take all this back. Third: you have to pay to learn how to do it.

My point is this: anyone can meditate and if it works for you, then why rock the boat®? Americans, especially, have this ridiculous notion that if we don’t pay a lot for something then it’s no good®, and the more you pay the better the whatever®.

Well, I’m here to tell you … you don’t have to pay $2,500® to learn how to meditate®. Also, there is no perfect way to do it — the point is simple: get you out of your head, release some stress, focus on something that’s NOT what you’re obsessing over all with the noble intention of simply giving your brain a break.

We freak out: AM I DOING THIS RIGHT? Well, did you forget where you were for a moment? Yes? Then yes. AM I DOING THIS RIGHT? Well, do you feel physically and emotionally better after taking a few mindful breaths? Yes? Then yes®. AM I DOING THIS RIGHT? Well, did your life blow up while you took a break from it? No? Then yes.

You can focus on a candle, on a water fountain, on a clock, on a cloud, on a tree, on your breath, on your pulse, on a sunny spot, on music, on the rain, on the snow, on a leaf on a tree… while you’re cleaning (no knives or heat), while you’re walking (away from traffic), while you’re running, while you’re dancing, while you’re rowing (sweeps is best, sculling is a little harder), while you’re yoga-ing… JUST NOT WHILE YOU’RE DRIVING. In the middle of a conflict, in the middle of a wedding (not yours), in the middle of a movie, in the middle of sex®, in the middle of an airplane trip (not piloting), in the middle of a meeting… you can do it on a plane in the rain on a train (that ba-dump rhythm is cool) or in the sea. You can do it in private or go off with your bad Zen self and whip out your detached awareness in front of others.

I recommend you do them seated upright and relaxed, but honestly, if that gets you all twitchy, just do it how you are. Try to become aware with each breath of the quality of your breath, where it gets “stuck” or where you find yourself losing your awareness. Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream…

The point is to start where you are.

Here are four no! FIVE of my favorite, proven, wonderful and twilight-anesthesia-like breathing meditation tactics in no rank, but just how they come to me… Do these sessions when you know you won’t be disturbed for at least seven minutes.

1) Alternate nostril breathing: This is maybe something you’d wanna do in private just because people will look at you funny…

Place your right hand on your face with your thumb closest to the right nostril and the index & middle fingers at the space between the brows and the ring finger by the left nostril.

Close off the left nostril — GENTLY — with the ring finger and you inhale through the right. when you get to the top of the breath, you pause, and you close off the right with the thumb and then you release the breath through the left side.

Then you inhale through the left with the right closed off.

When you get to the top of that breath, you close off the left, you pause, then release the thumb and release the breath through the right. (Y’see? We’re alternating here…)

Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream… You go a few more rounds of this to get to 10 and then you just sit for a few moments and let your brain balance. It’s AWESOME. I would say that’s my favorite one. The benefit of ANB® can be found everywhere. Here’s a high level link: http://www.livestrong.com/article/86731-benefits-alternate-nostril-breathing/

2) Nose / Mouth in / out: Very simple and totally transformative…

Inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose.
Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the mouth.
Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth.
Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose.

Loop back up at the nose/nose and repeat at least four more times. Taking it to 10 would be ideal and really great. Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream… I’d say that’s my favorite one.

I’m going to interrupt myself here® and say that the point of all of this breathing stuff is to get us to a relaxed state, to induce what’s known as the “parasympathetic nervous response” which is a fancy way of saying “out of fight or flight reflex,” which is a state many of us exist in on a daily basis. RAISE YOUR HAND!® if you know what I’m talking about. 

3) Counted breaths: Inhale filling the lungs and then exhale mindfully, feeling the texture, the place of the breath, where you have catches and hitches… release the space between the brows. That’s one. Repeat… nine more times until you get to 10. Just think about the breath, how it feels, watch your shoulders for creeping up, any tension in the chest or hips. Just breathe and release. The point is staying with the count… it will do the work for you and take you into a nice relaxed state. Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream… I would say this is my favorite.

4) Increase exhalation: Same concept as above, in terms of body and breath awareness, but with emphasis on the exhales as they deepen and increase in count.

Start on the inhale from 5 reversing to 1 (“1” being full lungs) and exhaling 5-1 (1 being empty lungs) and then increasing your exhales by 1 each time… each inhale, you’re probably increasing the volume of the air, but NOT the length of time it takes to get there, so there’s this conscious deepening and opening of the chest and shoulders rolling down and back as you choose to sit higher in the chest. Between each extended exhale, give yourself a your native breath in and native breath out — the goal is to remind you that you are in control of it, but that you’re noticing some changes.

WATCH YOUR JAW and EYEBROWS and SHOULDER! We can tense up here, and that’s what we want to avoid, so just do little check-ins with yourself (I prompt my students on these very body part awarenesses as we work in yoga with the breath) and as you learn to increase your exhales, you will feel yourself soften, I hope.

Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream… Over time, as you near the fifth or sixth round, you might see that the volume of your air does not change, just your release of it and your awareness of it.  I would say this is my favorite. Wanna get competitive? In for 10 our for 20. I heard on retreat that Tibetan monks do something like 30 / 60. But they don’t have carpool and deadlines to deal with.

5) 4-7-8: This might put you to sleep. It’s very simple: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. This one is sort of advanced, I’d say. Or I would definitely go to it for a high-intensity situation, or for insomnia. Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream… Still keeping your mind aware of the breath, your posture, your jaw, brow and shoulders… letting the air flow as calmly as possible.

There are all sorts of alterations you can come up with: increase inhale, steady in and out breath… you can think of an alphabet letter with each breath; or an animal or fruit or state beginning with the alphabet letter you’re on… Thoughts will come in. Let them. Don’t judge them. Just let them float by like a leaf on a stream…

Oh — and what is Transcendental Meditation®? It’s chanting a two- or three-syllable word, like “pa-per” or “mu-sic” or “let-it-go” or “kay-ak” or “gui-tar” or “O-hi-o” or “med-i-tate” or  “be-lieve” or “Je-sus” or “can-dle” or “foun-tain” or “A-bra-ham” or “A-men” or “shi-va” or “boom-er-ang” or “trade mark®” or “car wash” (honestly!) with the exhale. Just try to make the word something neutral or at least pleasant — not a food — that will take your mind off your mind. The TM® people like to say these are “sacred®” words® and that only they can give them to you and you can never share them… ” from the link below:

TM MANTRAS – SAVE YOUR DOLLARS!

Why would anyone pay maharishi $1000 for a word. In his early writings he said “any word, even the word mike can be taken…we find that any sound can serve our purpose of training the mind to become sharp…we select only the suitable mantras of personal gods. Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal gods.”

If you want the grace of Maharishi ‘s personal gods here is the technique.

1) Pick a mantra from the following list used by *some* TM teachers:

but if you want to see some of them, go here. I love exposing things that I think are just trying to exploit people.

There is another (bazillion) methods; this one I like too, and it’s a lot like what I think  TM® is. It’s called “Japa meditation” and it’s FREEEEEEEEE!®

So if you want to add a word or a chant to the five methods I gave above, go for it. Look, whatever works is what works. Or go with the super-popular “Om.” Really… anything.

You don’t need TM®; you just need two minutes at first, then three, then five, then ten then twenty… and who knows…

Oh! There’s a great app too, http://t2health.dcoe.mil/apps/breathe2relax — commissioned by the DoD in cooperation with the National Center for something or other. Anyway, it’s free and is designed to help our returning veterans recover from PTSD and battle fatigue and stress of reintegrating into American life… it’s amazing. Check it out. (I’m sure the TM® people hate it.)

As I said above, the point is to start where you are. I would love to hear from you about this post — tell me if you start a conscious breathing program and let me know what you think! I love that ®®®® sign.

Plus, you can just go on YouTube and search for a ton of free guided meditations to listen to. There’s no reason anyone has to pay to feel relaxed.

Now get out there and SIT STILL!®

Thank you®.