Earlier this month, I spent a week on retreat to study with one of my teachers, Elena Brower, and her teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker. Both are considered master yoga teachers and it was a privilege and an honor to not only take lessons with them, but to be able to witness them in the context of daily life—albeit at a lovely hotel in the quiet German countryside.
We were 55 participants from all over the world, mostly women, ranging from lifelong yoga practitioners to curious students, seasoned teachers to new instructors, and even a professional scholar. Every morning and afternoon, we gathered for a 2.5 hour session lead by either Elena or Yogarupa. Although my personal practice has shifted significantly in the year since I last saw Elena, her cues and style are familiar to me. Her voice comforts me and the postures she guides us into feel secure and soft in my body. As we slid into and out of trikonasana, triangle pose, the echo of hip-clicking in the room triggered the judgement loop in my brain, but I continued following the sequence to the rhythm of my own breath—generally half a length longer than everyone else.
For at least 15 of the nearly 20 years I have been practicing asana, I have been encouraged to honor my own breath rhythm and understood it to mean that the movement aligns with the length of my breath. And it has been a fundamental aspect of my own teaching. It’s probably my most repeated cue in class: “follow your own breath” or “let your own breath guide you.” So when Elena asked us to try to stay together with our movements, I freaked out. In my own head of course. Suddenly, the coziness of her language felt restrictive and my own left hip started to ache.
Though my body continued to perform the movements, my inner monologue went into overdrive: “what the hell is she talking about? We are not supposed to be a chorus line! This is not a Zumba class! I am honoring my own breath rhythm, my special and unique rhythm—the way you’re supposed to.” Then, as I started to look around and see that almost everyone was already in sync, I remembered something she said the day before: “scars of the past imprint on our bodies and show up as resistance in a posture.”
Switching from judgement to curiosity, I began to notice levels of resistance: physical, mental, emotional. How much of my practice is spent in resistance. How much of my day is spent in resistance. How much judgement my body holds as an ache here, a tension there. How, even as my movements link with breath, the key ingredient—present awareness— was missing, and therefore, so was yoga. Because it has almost nothing to do with shapes and everything to do with the body, mind, and breath being in the same place at the same time, yoga is not so much something that we do. It is who we are when we’re doing something.
And as Yogarupa reminded us later, “Our yoga should be increasing our accessibility to feeling the fullness of who we are.” And, just as yoga is so much more than asana, who we are is so much vaster than our individual self. Prioritizing my body and my breath reinforced a cultural, familial, and personal belief in a fundamental separation of self, in sanskrit terms jivatman, from Self, atman. My dear teacher’s request to practice in unison provoked self-preservation mode, sending distress signals in the form of aches, tension, and judgement, all reactions to a threat to the old way of feeling only partially who I am. Thankfully, I have had the support of masterful teachers whose embodiment of living as one’s fullest self serves as an ongoing inspiration for continual personal evolution, and after several days of considering the invitation, I finally stepped outside the boundaries of my familiar and solitary way and into the realm of collective synergy.
On the one hand, it’s so simple: breathing at the same rate and moving in the same way with others. On the other hand, it’s a radical act of affirming one’s own divine humanity. Practicing in unison takes the focus out of me and my experience and connects us to the field of awareness that precedes self. It requires that we attend both to our own breath and to the life force as it moves through everyone around us. It dissolves any sense of isolation and elevates perception to encompass an expanded awareness. It puts us in touch with who we want to be so that after we all rest and receive that slice of heaven that is savasana, we can gracefully attend to the rest of the day and, when resistance arises, instead of recoiling back into habitual ways and limiting reactions, we might pause, get curious, and make a choice that honors our fullest sense of Self.
"It's all happening." This mantra that runs throughout one of my favorite films, Almost Famous, is a delightful invocation to awareness and an exuberant surrender to presence. It's a light-hearted reminder to pay attention and be with what is. The characters in the film say it often, as a greeting and a goodbye, in the midst of a memorable moment, and when things are falling apart. Again and again, they remind each other that it, life, this, everything is all happening.
Last time we were together, my mom reminded me of a centering practice that our mutual teacher and my beloved friend Erin Geesaman Rabke teaches called "Weather Reporting" in which you simply report exactly what you are experiencing in a bodily way at the moment. Unfiltered and unembellished. It's called Weather Reporting because, just as there is no inherent drama in a thunderstorm--it's water and electricity and light and sound--there is no inherent story behind what we are experiencing.
It goes like this:
Sitting on my desk chair, my ankles are crossed and the left toe is touching the carpet. I am chewing on my lower lip and feeling heat and a dull ache in my lower back. Outside, an airplane buzzes by. A fly buzzes against the window inside. I taste the chocolate I ate earlier. I hear the wind chimes tinkle and in the corner of my eye, I see my daughter and her friend twirling, looking at their reflections in the windows. Softening my belly, breath comes in and goes out. The keys on the keyboard go clack clack clack cluck. Another airplane flies by, apparently going the other way.
What's the point, you might ask? Instead of getting involved in the story that each of these observations might inspire (fear about the pain, annoyance at the sounds, guilt about the chocolate, wistfulness about the girls' play, boredom with the writing, and on and on), this kind of straightforward inspection teaches us to become aware of what is happening independent of our opinions, beliefs, imagination, and evaluations.
This is especially helpful to remember when checking in with the news or social media. If I can catch myself for even a minute and just notice what's happening, I can let go of judgement, doubt, vitriol, indignation, and all the other shades of fear that 5 minutes on my phone tends to trigger. For me, it's easier to practice in nature, especially on my paddle board. The invitation is to test it out for yourself somewhere you are at ease. The more you practice, the easier it will be do access when confronted with what triggers you and to remind yourself that "it's all happening."
We have a little sign in our kitchen that my mom gave us. It says: "Do one thing every day that scares you." Our recently-literate daughter asked me about it the other day: "Mama I don't like being scared; why would I scare myself on purpose?" She has a valid point. At best, fear is an uncomfortable emotion. Most of us spend a great deal of energy avoiding, overcoming, conquering, quieting, and calming our fears; why would we intentionally pursue opportunities that activate them?
My response was to do a simple demonstration involving two pieces of rope that I learned from the group leader of an Outward Bound course I chaperoned when I was seven months pregnant with my current inquisitor (talk about doing something that scares you!). There's a great infographic that circles around every so often that illustrates the point perfectly (I've shared it previously a bunch of times too):
We should do things that scare us--and often--because it's where the magic happens. Facing fears is how we see fear for what it is (an emotion), release its grip on us, and recognize that our response is our choice. It's not about getting rid of the fear, but accepting it and making a conscious choice to act, or not. Because, of course, there are times when an inner alarm bell rings or we have a "gut feeling" that it's not a good idea to tandem paraglide with an unlicensed guide, that doing an inversion will do more harm than good today, that your blind date is a creep. Instinct keeps us alive and intuition guides us down the right path. But too often, we fall into the rut of habitually reacting out of fear and miss the growth opportunity that lies just beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone.
Following our chat, I resolved to do the thing that always makes my heart beat fast and my palms sweat: ask for help. If you've been following what I'm up to lately, you may have noticed that I'm organizing a Women's Yoga + Meditation Retreat with Prue Klausener. This event is truly a dream come true: the retreat center is idyllic, sharing sacred circles and self-care with women is my genius work, and all of it is happening in collaboration with a true soul sister who shares my passion and brings her own amazing treasure chest of talents. All this is to say that the stakes are high in terms of my personal and professional investment--I really want it to happen!
So I checked my ego and opened my heart and wrote some messages to women I have met over the years at workshops and events asking for their help in sharing our retreat with their yoga community and offering to share their work with ours. As I write it now, it doesn't sound like a big deal at all. At the moment I hit "send," it felt like a giant step into scary-town. All my insecurities and anxieties surfaced in my mind like scum on a pond. And then I remembered what I told my girl: remember, what scares you is also what expands you.
For the last week, I've been receiving super-supportive responses, and I've been able to share some of their work as well. I deepened friendships, and we even have a few more people interested in joining us. Magic. In the weeks ahead, I'll continue reaching out, although the butterflies in my belly have quieted. Because that's how it works with fear, once you face it and do it anyway, your comfort zone expands. And I'll even do it here: if you would like to offer your support by sharing our retreat with your people, let me know and I'll send you some flyers and a hand-crafted essential oil blend as a thank you.
This month, may we each commit to heeding the advice of my kitchen sign (thank you, Mom) and make facing fear a daily practice. Have the hard conversation. Say "no" to your boss. Say "yes" to an invitation. Look people in the eye. Practice arm balances. Talk to a stranger. Stay sober at a party. Speak up in a meeting. Dance wildly. Sing loudly. Eat cake for dinner, hell, eat it for breakfast! Resolve to step outside the confines of comfort and into the unknown, without expectation but with a great big heart full of hope and arms wide open to receive what awaits you on the other side of fear.
Exactly three months ago, on the last day of 2016, after spending the most delightful afternoon sipping tea with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years reminiscing about the good old days and filling each other in on where we are now, I popped into Nordstrom, arriving 10 minutes before they were closing and frantically bought an new pair of jeans, knowing it would be the last piece of clothing I’d buy myself for 365 days.
Inspired by my friend and colleague Michela Montalbetti, who has been documenting her year without clothes shopping (which finishes tomorrow), I considered the idea for several months. I started noticing how often my trips to the grocery store ended with a quick stop in Zara or checking my inbox often devolved into browsing the latest offerings at Anthropologie. In spite of having lots of colorful clothes, I noticed that my “look”, if you can call my uniform of yoga pants + t-shirts a style, is very “fifty shades of grey,” not for it’s sex appeal. Even though I’d done a full Marie Kondo clean out last spring, it seemed that at least once a week I pulled several items out of my closet that didn’t “spark joy.” In fact, few things in my closet spark joy. The rest spark “bleh.”
As I started to notice these tendencies, I started to change my habits. But the idea of doing a clothing-diet kept surfacing, along with a thousand reasons why not to do it, most of them about what items I “need.” And then there was this one: “I can’t.” To which the other voice in my head responded: WTF?! I can’t? I can’t not buy clothes for a year? Seriously? I can stand on my head on a paddle board in the middle of lake, but I can’t refrain from purchasing fast fashion? I can naturally birth two children—one on the floor of my bedroom—and I can’t refrain from buying more yoga pants? This is not the person I want to be. I’m still figuring out who that is, but I’m damn sure that I do not want my predilection for cheap grey t-shirts to overrule my ability to draw a line in the sand and stay on the side of my values.
Because, if I’m really honest with myself, not only do most of the items in my closet not spark joy, but they aren’t aligned with my principles. While I try to be a contentious consumer when it comes to groceries and I’ll pay extra for organic kale (though that has it’s own host of issues), all bets are off when it comes to what I wear. Of course this carries over into so much of our daily life—it feels nearly impossible to participate in modern life and not be an accomplice to injustice and a cog in the machine. And that creates a sense of dissonance and disconnect, a general unease that is always there, but we live with it because what other choice is there?
Well, I’ve found one: push pause. It’s like taking a child’s pose before moving into an arm balance: it offers some time to regroup, reconnect, and ready oneself for the challenge. So I’m hanging out in child’s pose now. Turning my attention away from the shops and inwards to take inventory of my values, and my closet. In my personal quest to experience alignment, it’s a helpful exercise and has been much easier to not shop than I imagined it would be. What’s proving to be more difficult is confronting my aversions and attachments and seeing all the ways that I settle for “bleh” instead of patiently seeking joy. But I know that resistance is a good indication that I’m on the right path out of my comfort zone and into the territory where real growth happens.
And the new jeans help too.
Driving in my car this morning on the way to teach my weekly lesson at Yoga Roof, I thought about what I wanted to say in this month's blog and how I might connect it to this marvelous day of celebrating Women the world over. Then a dear friend who is going through a difficult time called and we spoke of how, though she can't imagine it now, the devastation she is feeling at the moment will pass, and she will emerge from the wreckage whole and yet transformed in ways neither of us can imagine. Then, as I walked the rest of the way to class and thought about the plan I had crafted for today's lesson her words echoed in my mind:
"How will I get through this?"
And since some of the best ways I know to sort through questions of the heart are movement and meditation, I put this question to the class and we practiced paying attention to how we confront challenges on our mat: do we resist, recoil, harden, blame or shame? Can we learn to relax, to receive support, to soften, and even smile? Might we meet the challenges of life with the same sense of softness, steadiness and play that we bring to an arm balance or bind? As we closed with a blessing to each other and others who are facing challenges (everyone on the planet) I sent a special blessing to my sweet, suffering soul sister and gave thanks for the grace of seeing her through to the other side.
And then at the end of class, some folks stayed for tea and we sat beneath the new sign on the studio wall:
"just for moment I park myself in the middle of the joy and surrender"
More than the beautiful words what touched me was seeing the name beneath it and being able to tell the story of how I know Kate Hoyle.
Her genuine smile, punctuated by the sweetest dimple in her cheek, is what first endeared Kate to me when I met her as a college freshman. During the four years that she cared for our daughter, our dog, and our home, Kate became a precious part of our family and a dear friend to me. When I think of the qualities that I want my own children to possess, I think of Kate: kind, courageous, vulnerable, adventurous, reverent, loyal, generous, radiant. A few months after her graduation from college, she sent me a copy of her self-published poetry volume, home. Several times, I have shared one of my favorites in class:
i drew you there
when your eyes were closed,
before the day and the people touched you.
i drew you in words and light.
i wonder if you'd see yourself in my portrait.
you might see God and not know she shares your face.
An artist, writer, yogi, activist, traveler, sister, daughter, and whole-hearted life-liver, Kate is a soul sister. What a gift to see that her words and her light will live in the hearts of the yoga community where her passion for the practice was ignited and to be able to share our story with anyone who wonders about the origins of that magnificent sign.
When I got home to write this, I checked my email as all good procrastinators do, and found a message from Yoga Roof congratulating me for my anniversary with the studio. Six years ago today, I took my first class at Yoga Roof. Having left a yoga community in Salt Lake City that filled both my soul and my social needs, I longed for something similar and, for four years, searched out the few options to no avail. Then, hearing that a friend had rented a space in town to offer lessons, I showed up to the first class. Along with one other woman, we practiced in a black-walled room rank with the smell of stale cigarettes from the previous nights' event.
At the end of the class, the other woman in the class introduced herself as Mara and shared that she and her husband were opening a yoga studio shortly. A few months later, they opened and I came to take my first class. My prayers had been answered.
As a new mother still feeling the effects of postpartum depression and working part-time at a job my heart was no longer in, the studio became a refuge for me and the weekly classes I took with Kelly Griswold re-ignited my desire to teach again.
When I approached Mara, she wasn't convinced, but was willing to give me a shot--outside the studio. So I proposed Walking Yoga and for an entire summer we traversed around town and practiced asana everywhere--including the Riva Caccia Bagno Pubblico where we received strange looks and now, over 100 people gather every Saturday during the summer to practice! In the fall, I got a slot on the schedule and within a couple years, followed my heart to make teaching yoga my vocation.
Through it all, from hybrid-adventures like Stroller Yoga Workout and Yoga Hikes, to my latest experiment with a Yoga + Essential Oils workshop, Mara has always given me the space and support to grow, to make mistakes, and try again, and to share my passions. It hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows, and as with any meaningful relationship, we are stronger for having faced challenges together. I am forever grateful to this soul sister who invited me to try her studio and has been inviting me ever since to show up and contribute my talents to realize our shared vision for a thriving yoga community.
When I met Mara in that terrible room, I could not have imagined my life right now. Though the details themselves have changed only a little, my inner life has transformed--in large part thanks to the soul sisters like Mara and Kate who have come into my life. On that day, ujayiing away in the rancid air, I too wondered how I would get through it. Not just the toxic air, but the challenges of living a life that didn't feel like mine. I couldn't have know that six years later, I'd have the privilege of spending the morning breathing fresh air in a light-filled room with my beloved, dedicated students. I couldn't have known that I'd have a collection of women to celebrate, cry and collaborate with. But that's how it is with miracles. In fact, it was Kate who said on a summer afternoon while we sat by the lake with our mutual soul sister Prue: "miracles are everywhere. You just have to look and you will find one."
What a gift to be able to share a few stories of some of my soul sisters. I am blessed to have many more, and someday, I'll share them all with you. For now, on this International Women's Day when we honor half the human race, let us reach out and share the stories of our soul sisters. Let us thank the women who have held up the sky for us when we felt our world crumbling to pieces. Let us admire the women who are leading by example and celebrate the women who are helping us to realize our dreams. Let us applaud the women who are taking the day off to take a stand. Let us forgive the women who have hurt us and lift up the women who are reaching out for help. Let us remember the women who have passed. Let us welcome our girls, the women of the future, into a sacred sisterhood by telling them the stories of the women in our lives and in this way, we will get through it--any challenge however mundane or grave, personal or political--together, softer, steadier, maybe even smiling.
I am a light-seeker. If you’re taking the time to read this, you probably are too. Actually, I’m convinced we are all on a quest to awaken, we just take different paths. While I’m sure that many roads can lead to enlightenment, lately I’ve felt like I keep running into dead ends. In an effort to attain clarity and because I tend to get nostalgic and reflective this time of year, I made a “year in review” list of my personal peaks and valleys of 2016.
While recollecting the important events it occurred to me what counts as a Big Wow has totally shifted. In my teens and early twenties, I sought enlightenment through a range of consciousness-altering approaches: drugs, drinking, and yes, yoga—catching glimpses of illumination, but also a whole lot of fuzzy memories. The next years were filled with the kind of momentus occasions that mark the passage into adulthood: marriage, moving away from family of origin, losing loved ones, having babies.
Now at thirty-six with two kids, a dog, a husband whom I’ve loved for exactly half of my life, the Big Wows are no longer the result of a mind-altering substance, a major milestone or an epic event, but are rather epiphanic moments of realization in the most ordinary instances. Enlightenment is no longer about getting high and escaping reality. It’s about getting fully immersed in it.
Big Wows occur when we are attuned to what is happening right NOW. When I look out my window and notice the sun highlighting the last of the red leaves on a tree across the lake. When my daughter comes into our bed in the early morning and the three of us lie still, breathing together. When my son is about to cause mischief, and I catch that twinkle in his eye before he launches the pasta across the table. When I place my hand on a woman’s back as she rests in downward dog, and we both exhale completely, hearts softening simultaneously. Big Wows are moments of conscious connection and resonant awareness. Big Wows allow for openings to new possibilities for being in and relating to ourselves, each other, and our world.
And as such, Big Wows are not always happy moments. Some of my most significant Big Wows have literally brought me to my knees. And isn’t that how we pray, how we show reverence? By resting our bodies on our great Mother Earth and surrendering wholeheartedly? It was in such a moment a couple months ago, after I’d exhausted myself with a cathartic cry on the laundry room floor, that I asked for the courage and discipline to shift destructive patterns of thought and behavior that have been plaguing me for what feels like always. In the silence, I heard my own inner voice speak with such sweet conviction that I knew my call had been answered.
In these moments of awakening, I often remember these lines from “Variation on a Theme by Rilke” by Denise Levertov:
The day’s blow
rang out, metallic—or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.
In that moment, surrounded by piles of clothes worn by the people I love to the moon and back, the doubt about my own capacity began to slowly dissipate, replaced with a resolve to speak the truth. Starting with myself. Recently, it’s meant when asked, even casually, “how are you?” sometimes remembering to pause to check in with myself and reporting what is actually within. Today, it means sharing with you my Big Wows of the past year. It’s a small step, but a significant step nonetheless down a path that I have tread only trepidatiously for fear of being rejected, judged, excluded, or admonished. But now, the weight of being out of integrity weighs heavier than any momentary heartache that being vulnerable might provoke.
So, I’m sharing my list of the past year’s Big Wows—moments of recognition and reckoning—as a way to let go, lean in, and lighten up.
Listening to the sounds of an Indian morning during meditation with my teacher
Betraying a good friend and losing her friendship
Isla losing her first tooth on our first night of holiday in Sweden with her grandparents
Moving to a home my family loves
Empowering 8 amazing Wellness Warriors and myself to evolve
A weekend of learning from a masterful teacher and laughing with soul sisters
Spending my birthday with women I love, doing nothing
Snuggling with my boy as he slept on the beach
Surfing with my Pal, just like old times
Vacationing with friends who feel like family
Grandma in the hospital and feeling disconnected, isolated, helpless
The day I played hooky on my paddle board
Time with my boy while my girl visited her grandparents
Discovering Desire Mapping and identifying my core desired feelings
Three days in Copenhagen with my honey
Hearing Isla say “I hate you”
A summer day with my parents and children that ended with eating ice cream
A day of wandering Zurich with a dear friend
Realizing how much my husband helps after he injured his hand, having to pick up the slack and feeling ungenerous and unkind for resenting him for it
Watching Robb teach Isla how to ride a bike
Yelling at Maverick for the first time
Maintaining a regular meditation practice
Sobbing on the laundry room floor
Celebrating a stress-free Thanksgiving with old and new friends
Arguing with my mom and feeling the divide between us expand in spite of our wanting it to be otherwise
Finding myself stuck in old patterns (again and again and again) and also recognizing tiny shifts
In the time between writing this and coming back to edit, another Big Wow happened. Following a brutal showdown at lunch with my daughter triggered by her disappointment at not being the recipient of the sole purple spoon at Ikea, and my ineptitude at guiding her towards a resolution, I dropped her and her friend back at school and abandoned the ubiquitous to-do list for a walk in the woods. Finding myself at the clearing, I did the best thing I know to do when in emotional crisis: put my hands on the earth, breathe, and do yoga. Sun on my face, tears in my eyes, I held Warrior II, Triangle, and Downward dog until my arms trembled and the tightness in my chest subsided. As everything does, the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and frustration passed. Left alone, I thanked Grace and turned back home to finish writing.
On the one hand, I wanted so much to write this from a place of power, looking back at the past as though I’ve moved through and moved on and am on to the next great awakening. On the other hand, that’s not how it is. The reality is that I’m constantly seeking, finding, losing, and regaining my balance. Confronting the same challenges over and over again until the lesson is (or is not) learned. Or, as Yoga Amrit Desai explains: “Habitual ways of reacting and reliving the same event perpetuate unconsciousness. All lessons will be repeated until they are learned. The debt of karma is paved in consciousness.” Reviewing the list of lessons aka Big Wows of the past year I’ve learned one thing:
So here I am, trying something new. Satya. Usually defined as “truthfulness,” it has as its root sat, “to be” or “to exist.” Georg Feurstein defines satya as “that which is real.” Being real. Being honest. Being myself. In my writing and in my relationships. On my yoga mat and yes, even on social media! For sure, it’s going to take me awhile to get the hang of it. Considering that I’ve spent the better part of my life carefully crafting a veneer of false perfection to conceal and protect myself, it could take the rest of the time I’ve got here. It could take longer than that. No matter. That voice within which I hear as my Beloved Guide and yet know is my own soul beckons me down this path of small steps towards The Big Wow.
“[We] become out of balance because of small, daily abuses, and will most completely be healed with small, daily gestures of caring.” - Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa
This promise of the individual’s capacity for self-healing is inherent to Ayurveda, and rests on the understanding that our human body is a microcosm of the universe. In other terms, the same materials found in all of nature--earth, water, fire, air, and space--are also present within us.
For my 6 year-old daughter, this inherent unity (yoga) is as easy for her to accept as it is for her receive the huge hug that awaits her every time she bounces off the school bus. Our family’s creation myth begins with the stars, and our daughter often references the time before she was born as “when I was a star in the sky.” Her six year-old mind has not yet forgotten that she is, in fact, made of the same stuff as the stars—a diamond in the sky—and destined for brilliance. For her mother, it’s a different story…
As the first rays of light beckon me off of my mat and into the kitchen to prepare breakfast, the memory of my inner peace fades, and I focus instead on getting three other people fed, dressed, and out the door by 8 am. By the time that Herculean feat is accomplished, I am plagued with worry, doubt, and resentment. Instead of wondering how I can fulfill my destiny, I’m calculating how I’ll get the laundry done.
I survey the silent wreckage of breakfast in my pajamas and dirty hair, take a full breath in and exhale loudly. It is during the pause that follows the end of that long exhale, that my attention mercifully shifts from being stuck in habitual thinking to wholly present. From this inner vantage point, the future comes into focus. And even if I’m only able to hold this vision for the micro-second before the next breath arises, that moment of clarity illuminates the next right action.
So that as I reset our home, review my endless to-do list, and commence another blessed day, it is with the remembrance that all of it—the home-making, the meditating, the teaching, the cooking and cleaning, the writing, and yes, even the laundry—is in service of my highest intention: to radiate whole-heartedly with the light of awareness.
And of course, as soon as I remember, I forget. And so it goes throughout each day and into the next; forgetting and remembering, abusing and taking care, hurting and healing. But each time I remember is one less time that I forget. Each time I enact a small gesture of self-care: a walk in the woods, a phone call with a friend, a cup of tea, a good night’s sleep, is one less time that I sabotaged myself.
This month, let us practice remembering. Remembering how to care for ourselves. Remembering how to be kind to each other. Remembering that we are brilliant and beautiful. Remembering that we already know who we are and what we are here to do.
And when we forget, because we will, we can sing to remember:
Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are?
The shift from summertime to school mode is an exercise in patience and persistence. Establishing new routines, reinforcing healthy habits, and building better boundaries can help to make the transition relatively simple and harmonious, thus helping to avoid the burn out that often sets in just as the leaves begin displaying their magnificent riot of color.
In fact, the changing leaves hint at what can happen when we over-do it. With constant activity and commitments, the well of energy and inspiration we stored up from the summer gets depleted, leaving us feeling dried up and worn out.
Ayurveda teaches us that Autumn is the season governed by vata or wind energy, which itself is characterized by movement and change. When we are in harmony with this season, we can experience a sense of lightness in the body, clarity in the mind, and expansiveness in how we relate to others and to life. On the other hand, feeling unstable and erratic mentally and emotionally, constantly on the go, bloated with undigested food and overwhelmed with stuff to do is an indication of imbalance and an opportunity to evolve.
Thankfully, making a few small but significant steps towards building better boundaries enables us to harness the creativity and clarity, and avoid the potential chaos inherent to this season.
If alarm bells start sounding at the first mention of boundaries, good, because that’s the voice of the essential human desire for freedom or moksha, defined by Yogarupa Rod Stryker in his book The Four Desires as “the longing to be free, to experience unfettered awareness, to be completely unburdened.” However, unlike barriers, which entrap us in a false sense of security, boundaries establish structure which supports freedom. Whereas barriers divide, boundaries reinforce. Barriers promote hostility, but boundaries provide stability. Barriers—like the infamous wall proposed by you-know-who—are externally imposed blockades in an eventually futile effort of resistance. Boundaries—like the banks of a river—from through an organic process of going with, not against, the flow.
The best boundaries arise from the inside out. They are not programs or prescriptions bestowed upon us; rather better boundaries are an organic extension of your inner wish, your intention, your dharma. Yet, just as the breath mirrors the natural pulsation of life which is never static and always in flux, a better boundary expands and contracts according to what is needed. A better boundary is responsive not reactive. You know when a boundary is better because you FEEL better—simultaneously supported and free.
I’l share a couple of the ways that I’ve been experimenting with boundaries to create structure without feeling stifled. But rather than adopt mine carte blanche, I encourage you to listen within and discover the boundaries that will best suit who you are now and who you are becoming through this next phase of your evolution.
TIME BLOCKING There’s an app for everything, and surely there’s one for this too! Instead of trying to squeeze as much as I can into one day, I’m leaving space between events so that I can drive the speed limit, eat a solid-food meal when I need to, make a spontaneous stop if I need to, or just have a few minutes to do “nothing.” I’m scheduling in time each week for me to do something I love: read, be in nature, practice yoga, meditate, be with friends, or get a massage. I’m setting timers and giving myself a limit for how long I can spend on something. Like this blog. I’ve got 21 minutes left!
HIGH-VIBE COMMITMENTS Before saying “yes,” I am learning to ask myself: “Will this (event, activity, conversation) replenish or deplete my energy? Is it in alignment or conflict with my priorities?” Usually I know the answer before I even ask the question, and because I am a perfectly flawed human being, sometimes I consciously choose to do something that I know will deplete me or is out of integrity with what’s important to me. And when I catch myself here, it helps to look for how this experience can serve as a growth opportunity—what can I learn? How can I raise the vibration or, at the very least, maintain an inner state of equanimity instead of being at the mercy of the situation. But more often now, the ways that I am spending my time resonate with what matters most to me.
SUPPORTED ASANAS As useful as these boundaries are in my life, they are equally potent on the mat and it’s fascinating to discover how maintaining boundaries in the body opens pathways towards experiencing an abiding sense freedom physically, mentally, and emotionally. One simple practice to try is uttanasana or standing forward fold at the wall. Beautiful for experiencing the simultaneous sense of support and freedom of boundaries. Supported asanas are also balancing to vata to bring a sense of grounding and ease to the body and mind.
I hope these offerings inspire you to discover better boundaries, and when you do, please share your experience!
I'm not sure who coined the phrase of the moment, "September is the new January," but I love it. In fact, September has always been my January. The anticipation of a new start, the fresh supplies, and the return to routine fill me with both an eager determination and a wistful mourning. For, as much as September is a time of beginnings, it's also a time of transition.
Summer's heat and hours spent lounging by the water give way to dropping temperatures and adjusting to shorter days with packed schedules. As tans fade, so does the vacation vibe, and it's easy to get caught up in the frenzy and, even before October hits, experience burn out. Or, we can take a different approach and transition smoothly into autumn.
How we flow from one asana to the next gives us some insight into how we can move into this next season and the next stage of our lives. Here's what I'm practicing on my mat, sharing with my students, and living with my family:
Historically speaking, September is the start of a season that has been challenging for me so I’m looking forward to contemplating these inquiries during the time I’ve scheduled for personal study, exploring the topics of focus, foundation, fluidity, and fluency in my classes, and implementing the self-care strategies with my family. May these principles and practices be of value and use to you and the people you care for, and may you move with ease and an ever-expanding sense of possibility into the next stage of your becoming.
Hej Hej from Sweden, where my family has been spending a fun week exploring and eating our way through Stockholm and now immersing ourselves in the local ski culture and reuniting with dear friends.
Last month, I wrote about sprouting seeds and sure enough, many ideas planted during the past year began to germinate all at once. Among them, one that I am particularly stoked to share with you is a Yoga Retreat that I am hosting next fall…in the Maldives! More information on this and other happenings is on the website, under "My Offerings." With several new projects to tend to, I have been deeply grateful to have my daily practices to rely on for support, energy, and balance.
As with many good habits, it takes commitment, patience, and time to establish a healthy routine, but a minor disruption or a short break—like a holiday--can be all it takes to land us back in outworn patterns.
Because it’s unrealistic—and also no fun—to try to maintain our diet, fitness, and lifestyle habits all the time, we can determine which healthy habits are most essential to maintaining our well-being and stick with them no matter what. Knowing which habits of eating, exercising, and daily living are absolutely key to keeping us feeling good means that when we go on holiday or have extra demands at work or home or face some other interruption to our daily routine, we not only withstand the change, but we flourish through the challenge.
My essential habits are:
1.Drink hot water in the morning
2. Practice yoga asana and meditation
3. Eat Greens
Wherever I am in the world, whatever items are on the to-do list, however jam-packed the day may be, I make sure to do these three actions to the degree that is possible that day.
Ultimately, however, it is not the actions themselves that matter as much as it is the feeling or flavor—the bhavana—with which we act. No matter how many green smoothies you imbibe, sun salutations you perform, or hours you spend in silence on your cushion, if you’re doing it with the aim to fix, perfect, improve or punish yourself, you’d might as well to sit on your couch drinking beer and watching reality television—it’s a lot less effort and will lead you to the same results: unfulfilled, disconnected, and probably very bloated. On the other hand, when our actions arise out of our own heart’s deepest intention, the results are behaviors that enable us to thrive..
Perhaps you can spend some time considering which habits are fundamental for you to feel good in your body, mind, and spirit? Write them down. Do them every day. No excuses.
Feel good every day no matter what.