Goal Gardening, Busy Blanket, and Other Metaphors

I wrote a post a few months ago, while in training, about the transformative process of setting long-term goals for myself two years ago. Since then, I’ve graduated from Styles Yoga, and I now teach a class of my own every Saturday morning. It still feels a little strange to say that I teach yoga. Me? Teach yoga? At 200 hours, it almost seems like I’m suddenly an astronomer because I can tell you the phases of the moon. There are so many additional areas of study and training to consider. The learning never ends.

I’ve noticed, lately, that my practice feels equal parts familiar-good and familiar-eh. There’s an exploratory nature in the poses now, even the simplest ones, where I can sense so many places to check, adjust, relax, turn just a few degrees, etc. The eh part is that I feel a little uninspired as the new graduate glow wears off. It seems like a bit of a paradox–I’m more conscious than ever of how much there is to discover, yet I feel a little adrift. I’ve been practicing a lot less than I was in training, and my personal practice often becomes side-tracked by wondering how to present a pose the next time I teach, and then worrying about the next time I teach, because, am I really a good teacher? Wait, forget good, am I okay? Is my voice ridiculous? Are my sequences boring? Do I seem like a yoga teacher AT ALL? Downward (dog) spiral. Then, I teach again, and it’s fun. My students are sweet, and things are just fine even if I lose track of which side we’re on. My training served me well in knowing what can come next after the moment I lose my place. I love my studio and the early morning sunlight as 75 minutes flies by. I feel full of thankfulness that my life led me to this point. I tsk-tsk at myself for worrying. A few days later, I worry again. This cycle is comical, and pretty representative of my inner monologue about, well, everything.

I tend to soothe my overwrought temperament in two ways, one more successful than the other.

  1. Goal Gardening: Dear Reader, I don’t know if you’ve planted a garden before, but seeds grow at all different speeds. Some greens come up in 3-4 weeks, and other plants take 2-3 months before you’ve got a watermelon or a carrot. I like to have a mix of short-term and long-term goals in my life, whether it’s changing a habit or achieving something. I journal a lot, and I try to take notice of patterns, wishes, and negative consequences. These are the seeds for goal gardening. “I’m drinking too much coffee, let’s taper that down a bit,” might take 2-3 weeks, whereas, “I want to go on a yoga retreat vacation someday and put cucumbers on my eyes,” requires thinking about how to save money over a year or two. Having a blend of goals with staggered timing allows me to occasionally get a boost of confidence and reward to keep me going for the long haul.
  2. Busy Blanket: Staying constantly busy without necessarily making life any richer or more meaningful. Unlike my handy goal garden metaphor, where each plant is uniquely delicious, the busy blanket is a security blanket of always having something to do, whether or not the doing leads to anything good. When I’m under the busy blanket, everything is wrong. Whatever I come across, I should be worried about, and I start troubleshooting worst case scenarios instead of living with intention and confidence. The busy blanket is when I Google “how to reorganize my life” for 3 hours, buying self help books on Amazon, instead of doing the laundry, working out, and/or cleaning my car (you know, the things that would actually make me feel better?).

In the interest of getting a goal started to grow my personal practice, gain some insight, and hopefully some motivation/inspiration, I’ve decided to attend a yoga class every day for 30 days. The Capital Region is full of great teachers, and I’m going to throw my own one-woman, monthlong Wanderlust. Here goes…

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Transitions

So, I made it through the long journey: I’m officially a 200-hour certified yoga teacher now.

I completed my training at the end of January, with a great sense of accomplishment and a typical question: what next? I knew that I wanted to teach, but there is a certain ineffable leap to make from teaching in training to teaching in public, and I felt nervous.

Still, I recently inquired at a local studio I attend, and magically, given a chance to interview. I taught a practice class to the owner and she graciously took me on for one class per week. I have only taught a handful of small classes so far, but each time I gain a little bit of confidence. The confidence comes not so much in feeling sure of what I do know, but in my ability to learn, observe, and respond in the moment. It seems with many things in life, keeping a student’s attitude is supremely helpful.

Along those lines, I’d like to share three lessons from my new adventures in teaching over the past few weeks.

  1. Don’t Judge A Pose By The Groans

It’s important to conceptualize a class fully–following either the generally accepted order of events within a style or fitting a theme according to those specifications–and to have a sense of the experience you want to give as a whole. However, creating too rigid of an expectation for students’ reaction to that experience can be disappointing. At the end of class, most students have thanked me and gave thoughtful feedback; during class, I’ve seen several grimaces and a few exasperated sighs. Rather than take lukewarm responses during class negatively, I’m learning to focus on what I am sharing in the moment. People come into yoga with every kind of ache, physically and psychologically, and an unhappy look may or may not have anything to do with whether or not the individual likes me as a teacher. Students (within reason) want to be challenged. Flexibility and strength take work. I’ve probably made a surly face at least once in every yoga class I’ve ever attended, without realizing it (unless it was in Pigeon prep, then I knew). All I can do as a teacher is center myself on offering the safest, most positive and engaging sequence for whatever part of class they might be in at that time. My sincere effort is what matters, and the outcome is a process beyond me.

2. Be The Spa You’d Like To Attend

So this is a jokey heading, but it’s a powerful reality. If I am not calm and sanguine, neither is the room. No matter how much it kills me to be the perfect model for the core work I’m instructing, when I’m already sore, while projecting my voice to the room, I can’t let that affect the look on my face or my tone. If I believe in yoga, I have to make an offering that is bigger than my mood. Chances are, by the end of 75 minutes pretending to be confident and happy, I’ll probably feel better, and I won’t be pretending anymore anyway.

3. My Practice Is My Preach

Letting my personal practice of asana and meditation go by the wayside is no longer an option. While I could have bargained myself out of it before when I didn’t feel like dedicating the time, citing that a lapse is only affecting me, that’s not the case now. I need a strong, ongoing inner relationship to yoga in order to keep my teaching alive. Without consistently experiencing the postures for myself, it’s difficult to find my own voice to teach with, and easy to fall into parroting cues verbatim as I’ve heard them before. Yoga is an oral tradition in many ways, and there are certainly repetitive aspects by design in teaching. Yet, I think it’s important to keep a living connection with the material in order to grow personally and professionally.

Teaching is really a natural extension of one’s practice–one wants to share something that’s so influential and beautiful in one’s life.” -Rodney Yee

 

 

 

 

Letting Go to Let The Light In

I came across this perceptive article on the blog of one of my favorite magazines, Tricycle. Instead of patching together the jumbled thoughts of my own reconciliation with 2016, I thought I’d share the message that to embrace the future, what we sometimes need is to let go of the past. The cultural mantra of “New Year, New You” is often too focused on self-loathing, extremes, and societal expectations rather than intrinsic motivation. This low-grade fever for transformation also typically omits the idea that we can be changed for the better through rest, healing, and relaxation. Don’t get me wrong, we all need inner fire, perseverance, and tapas, but in the sage words of one of my favorite yoga teachers, I hope we can place our attention on the effort, not the outcome. Savasana is one of the few poses where effort and outcome can dissolve together into pure being, and for a few moments, if we’re lucky, we enjoy being ourselves just the way we are.

Savasana for Deep Relaxation and Discovery

How corpse pose can help with the difficult task of letting go.

by Lauren Krauze

The end of the year arrives quickly, and often we feel a sense of urgency. Our pace quickens, both individually and collectively. In order to maintain balance during this time, we must slow down and prioritize rest. The sustained periods of darkness in the winter present many opportunities to move inward and engage in relaxing practices.

Savasana, a yogic practice that encourages rest and relaxation, is a Sanskrit word that combines sava (corpse) and asana (seat or connection). In the practice of yoga, savasana is often the last posture during which practitioners lie down and rest.

This simple practice can have profound effects. Physically, savasana allows the body to recuperate from physical exertion and intense mental concentration. The practice, however, also has deep spiritual implications; in savasana, practitioners assume the position of a corpse and invite the experience of death through means of deep relaxation. In the Tibetan Buddhist practice of phowa (samkranti in Sanskrit), practitioners consciously prepare for death through acts of meditation and devotion. Savasana is more passive. There is very little effort. Through the complete release of the body and mind in savasana, a person can practice the difficult and necessary task of letting go.

To prepare for savasana, choose a quiet room with low lighting where you will not be disturbed. Ensure that the room temperature feels comfortable and there are no drafts. Consider playing ambient or atmospheric music at a low volume. Set up a yoga mat on the floor or lie down on a soft carpet.

Create a thick roll with several towels or a heavy blanket. Lie on the back, place the roll underneath both knees, and extend the legs. Separate the feet six-to-eight inches apart and let the feet fall out to the sides. Place a pillow or another blanket underneath the head.  Move the arms a few inches away from the sides of the body and turn the palms face up. You can also cover yourself with a blanket. Close the eyes.

Begin to slowly scan the body to identify areas of tightness. Start with the toes and progress to the top of the head. If you find an area of tension, linger there and silently invite relaxation. For example, if you sense a holding in the abdomen, silently suggest “abdomen, relax.”

Once you complete the scan, let go. Relax. Don’t follow the breath. Don’t watch the mind or observe the body. Don’t consciously practice anything. This is savasana. Remain in the posture for at least 15 minutes and as long as 30 or 45 minutes. Setting a timer can be helpful.

The practice of savasana helps us welcome a state of rest while we’re awake; however, if you find yourself falling asleep, let it happen. This is often a sign that the body needs more sleep in general. You may find that after an adequate night’s rest, you can incorporate periods of deep relaxation into your practice without falling asleep.

To come out of savasana, emerge slowly. First, take a few deep, slow breaths. Make small movements. Wiggle the fingers and the toes. Reach the arms over the head and stretch the arms and legs in opposite directions. Bend the knees and roll onto the right side into a fetal position. Stay here for as long as you feel comfortable. Then, lift up to a seated position.

In my experience of savasana, I’m still very much aware of my physical and mental state during the first few minutes. I shift. I twitch. My mind replays conversations from earlier in the day. Then, my body gradually begins to feel very heavy. I sometimes experience a sensation that feels like I’m floating away. I’m not asleep, but I’m also not actively engaged in a conscious awareness practice. After savasana, I often feel rested, calm, and refreshed. 

Merry Merry

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Last post of the year coming up next week (gasp). Thanks so much for reading. I hope you’ve found time on your mat throughout this crazy month, and if not, it’ll always be there for you when the time is right.

Namaste!

P.S. Have any questions about yoga? Send me an email: myyogaprose [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be happy to do some research and craft a post just for you in 2016!

Stealing Time

Many of the most useful intersections I find between the physical practice of yoga, yogic philosophy, and everyday life come from the eight limbs, defined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I outlined the basic terms of the eight limbs in an earlier post, and since then one of them that I’ve been working on is asteya. Asteya means ‘non-stealing’, and is illuminated in Sutra 2.37 as, “to those established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.” At first glance, asteya seems like a precept that most of us would have learned thoroughly by grade school. Until you start to apply it to time.

The modern interpretation of asteya is most closely associated with how we use time, whether it belongs to us or to another. How economical, or equitable, are we with our words in conversation? How much do we procrastinate, consciously or unconsciously through a lack of presence? How do we use our resources, whether material or energetic, in light of time? My initial response to these considerations was a mixture of something like intellectual excitement (whoa, deep stuff!) poured over optimism (this could really help me transform my actions/attitude) with a dash of weltschmerz (iPhone addiction: I have it).

When I first considered how to practice a little more asteya with conversation, I tried to notice what my motivation was for the words I was about to say. This part can get, well, icky–I realized that a lot of what I said was either trying to garner attention, seem interesting, direct awareness towards my strengths and away from my weaknesses, or conversely beat up on myself to suit a depressed mood, and so on in a self-serving fashion. I’m only human and I know everybody does this. However, I realized that I could be more respectful of other people’s time if I at least thought about why I was saying what I was saying, and whether it needed to be said at all, maybe thirty percent more often? Just a bit more discretion, a tad more refinement in my speech. That’s the hope. I notice when I forget to screen what I’m saying because afterwards I feel a little off–as if perhaps I just dumped my neurosis on some unwilling person. The beauty of this is that there’s always the next conversation, and therefore many opportunities for reaping the subtle benefits of restraint.

I also made the mental leap that time well-spent is also practicing nonstealing, by honoring the future. For example, when I keep to my scheduled commitments, tiresome as they might be, I gain something from it over time (all wealth comes). When I skip my study session at night in favor of an internet binge, skip a workout without a compelling reason, skip an important task at home because I don’t feel like it, avoid a work project because it’s tedious, etc., those things ultimately become more beastly to return to the longer I ignore them, and the increased difficulty later on as result could be construed as a microtheft from the future. Of course, I’m referring to the ways I let things go out of laziness, fear, or a negative attitude that might otherwise be overcome (not to be confused with genuine intervening circumstances which preclude doing what was planned).

This is really common sense repackaged, but it’s comforting to me, at least, that in many ways spiritual principles can be addressed through small adjustments we make in our everyday lives. It’s also important to note, I think, that how we treat ourselves is excellent practice for how to treat others. To value our own time, resources, talents, body, and state of mind with care, humility, and reverence makes it easier to regard others that way. While it’s a platitude, I can say from experience that when I’m not treating myself well, I sometimes begrudge the time I bestow on others; I feel hollow and fraudulent when my external manners are better than my internal ones. Being kind and generous to oneself also cuts down on what we perceive we really need to take from the outside world, because there are fewer black holes of the soul, bending our behavior by their gravity.

Lately, I sometimes ask if I am stealing from myself when I make a decision. Catching this is less serious than it sounds. Laughter, or at least a smirk, is best. A deep breath. Minimal tsk-tsking. Even if I continue on stealing from me next week or next month, it’s not a secret anymore, and that seems like progress in the rehabilitation of my inner thief.

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The Middle

You know that nervous feeling when you’re too far into something to turn around, but not quite sure how you’re going to pull off getting to the end, since you’re barely handling the middle right now?

I’ve got it. Bad. The feeling sort of weaves through my day, fading to the edges, coming center again, then blending with other anxieties to form one ultra-mega-doom-you’re-doing-life-wrong montage of misgivings, skirting back to a homework item or two on a to do list, catching in my throat a few hours later, drifting out of reach but not out of sight as the night winds down.

Sanskrit. Anatomy. Public speaking. Sequencing. Assisting. Leading meditation. Connecting without oversharing. Vocabulary. Being serious without taking myself too seriously. Refining my own practice. Energy. Money. Scheduling. Reading. Injuries. Diplomacy. Persona. Philosophy. Practicing what I preach.

My anxiety is perhaps less symptomatic of teacher training than it is indicative of how a radical personal challenge can emphasize the aspects of ourselves that aren’t so helpful. For me, it’s sort of an interesting paradox that I was drawn to yoga teacher training at all, given how down on myself I can be in many of the areas requisite to teaching yoga. Teaching anything takes confidence, something I’ve struggled with my whole life. So why even try?

Because my heart said so, and because I’ve taken a lot of cues from the outside world about how I should look and who I should be that led me nowhere particularly good. So, I might as well follow this smoke signal from the inside and see what it’s all about. Maybe we’re not the people we need to be when we start something, but we become those people by doing the thing we love. I really love yoga. It’s a channel for acceptance, presence, health, gratitude, healing, and it’s a way to tune in on our own potential. What’s more enchanting than humbly appreciating your own existence, in real time? When I practice yoga, it’s always enough. Just to be present, and to breathe, I always feel more whole afterwards.

“Imagine that the universe is a great spinning engine. You want to stay near the core of the thing – right in the hub of the wheel – not out at the edges where all the wild whirling takes place, where you can get frayed and crazy. The hub of calmness – that’s your heart. That’s where God lives within you. So stop looking for answers in the world. Just keep coming back to that center and you’ll always find peace.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

I want the lessons of yoga to use me as a conduit. I want to support other people in being their best selves. I want to put out the subversive message that fulfillment comes from within. I want to believe it, too. I’m certainly tongue-tied on transitions and awkward at assists right now, and there’s a small mountain of homework between me and knowing what I’m talking about, but if I can excite one person someday about having knees that bend or a mind capable of observing itself, it’ll be worth it.

 

Taking Up Space

I’m writing this post in sphinx pose on my mat, in my lovely new yoga room. A few days ago, this small space was full of unwanted clothes, unsorted papers, my boyfriend’s shoes, an unwanted bed, and several coffee cups from failed attempts at taming the chaos in here. It was not messy in the cute, lived-in way that polite people apologize for–it was disheveled. I had the idea of transforming it into a mini studio about eight weeks ago, and each time it came up, an equal and opposite cringing about the mess chased after it, and following that feeling was the when-I-have-time-but-that-time-will-never-come blues. Yet, here I am, with a yoga relevant book collection at my fingertips, essential oils organized and displayed, and all my props at arm’s length.

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It took approximately four hours of the following: “Now? Now! Now.” Et voila. I’ve used it for the past four days in a row, beginning each morning with yoga and meditation. This morning I woke up very tired from a poor night’s sleep, but I still got up on time when I thought of the dreamy peaceful stillness waiting for me in here. I can’t say enough how much it’s helped me to create a dedicated space. Though I can’t control for other sounds in the house or outside, it still feels like a sanctuary. Living in small (and strange) studio apartments prior to my current home, as well as with roommates, I know how difficult it can be to carve out space for yourself. Still, I wish I had taken more time in the past to set up even portable or psychic elements of my own space for yoga. I used to lay my mat down unceremoniously in the living room and hope that no one came around for that hour. This past week, I’ve lit a candle before my practice; I’ve been using my essential oils; I brought my journal with me to write down any insights after meditation or yoga. While there is a serious benefit to having your own room for doing this, I realize that those additional elements of TLC could’ve aided my home practice all along, even in the living room (where cats roam freely under your plank pose and roommates blink at you as they eat cereal eight feet away). I suppose I could boil down my experience to the following advice when it comes to your home practice: take up space! Find rituals that set the tone for going within, which honor yourself and your physical reality, and create beauty, whether you have a whole room or not!

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Anxiety, Ahimsa, and A New Earth

Feeling overwhelmed with training homework and a busy schedule, I took last week off from posting–and wow, did I beat myself up for it! Every day I felt guilty, and often had repetitive worries surrounding my next post, because secretly I thought that “this one has to be really good to make up for skipping.” Meanwhile, my jobs go on, dishes pile up, and preparation for my next training looms over me–reading, sequencing, creating my own ten minute warm-up to teach, finding and learning to lead a new pranayama practice, identifying areas I need to work on, attending classes, and so on. An unkind voice goes with me. She says, “You’re forgetting things. You didn’t do _______. What’s wrong with you, this is supposed to be your passion! Maybe you’re just kidding yourself about this. You want to be a writer, and a yoga teacher, and you can barely write or keep up with yoga!”

So, let’s explore that.

On my first teacher training weekend, Sept 12th &13th, we briefly went over the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Despite the two hundred hours that we could spend discussing those alone, training requires moving very quickly over a lot of material so that we can safely teach a physical vinyasa class, not just guide a philosophical dialogue. To scratch the surface, the Eight Limbs are comprised of: yamas (restraints), niyamas (disciplines), asana (physical practice), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (liberation). While traditionally the limbs must be mastered in succession, modern interpretations see them as concurrent practices. The first of the five yamas is ahimsa, or nonviolence–a semi-familiar concept in contemporary culture via civil rights and peace movements. Less common to the conversation of nonviolence is the necessity of its cultivation towards the self, “observing with compassion and gentle humor the successes and setbacks on the yogic path, [taking responsibility for one’s own behavior],” as described by Linda Sparrowe’s summary in Yoga. The phrase “gentle humor” should follow me wherever I go. I get way too bogged down by the seriousness of my aims, and it sets me up for the following problems:

  • not enjoying my life
  • not noticing the present moment
  • always becoming, never being
  • comparing myself with others
  • rigidity in thinking/lack of creativity

The spectacular thing about the Eight Limbs (and, of course, the Sutras) is their scope; one small idea, phrase, or image can have massive implications for delving into one’s own, or social psychology. I could run my self-criticism through many of the principles of the Limbs, but that would consume pages and pages, and perhaps be a bit pedantic for the updates in thinking and practice that I want to convey here.

Once I applied some “compassion and gentle humor”, presence came back to me like a boomerang: how useful is it to beat myself up about the past I can’t change or the future that hasn’t happened yet? Does stressing out about missed items on my to-do list give me more brainpower, more time, or even a strategy? A resounding no, as everyone experiences.

Another sneaky, previously undiagnosed facet of my worries came to me earlier today, by remembering a few passages from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, which was part of my required reading over the summer–“when you want to arrive at your goal more than you want to be doing what you’re doing, you become stressed.” So often, when I’m disappointed, lacking, or frazzled, I build my story of how things are going off of a few outliers, and dive even deeper into depressed fantasies of becoming someone different than I am. Everything that supports me, and that I do well *now* goes out of focus. Time, external events, and other people become distorted into the narrative that the future could be better and is therefore what matters. But the truth is that as long as we are alive, we’re arriving, never arrived. It’s not so much that these ideas around compassion and presence are novel–they’ve been expressed in countless ways across cultures and millennia, and have come to me in a plethora of forms and people, but to really incorporate them into the response I have to daily life makes them meaningful now. Tolle asks, “What is the relationship between something that you do and the state of joy? You will enjoy any activity in which you are fully present, any activity that is not just a means to an end. It isn’t the action you perform that you really enjoy, but the deep sense of aliveness.”

Do I go to yoga for it to be over? Do I want to write just to have things written? Both cease to be practices, then, and seem hollow, like objects instead of experiences. The busy nature of life often feels so alienated from the sense of spirituality and consciousness that I’m drawn to; meditation reminders pop up from an app on my iPhone, I most frequently listened to A New Earth in morning rush hour traffic, trying not to lose my temper at anonymous strangers who are in reality, living Beings with an emphasis on that capital B.

Finding the balance between doing and Being, Presence and planning is difficult. C’est la vie. That’s the work. I remember a gem from one morning’s car-ride: “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”