I’m completely exhausted, motivated, excited, and scared. This past weekend was so dynamic; a wild mixture of practicing, connecting, intense focus, and managing a tsunami of information to learn. More next Thursday (so much homework)! ✨
I wasn’t very excited about my 25th birthday. I felt lackluster, adrift, and uncomfortable. I had been struggling with my mental health, as well as to make ends meet, for a long time. I was unsure of my future, and ashamed that I hadn’t achieved more. Up until that point, I maintained cognitive dissonance regarding my direction; because I never could pinpoint an exact course to take, I abstained from taking one altogether. A sense of urgency thumped against my ribs–do something! I grabbed an empty notebook page and began to brainstorm things I could do. Then, things that I wanted. Things that I held away from myself because “I don’t have the time, talent, money, resume, etc.” and closed my heart off from. Instead of saying, “I should become X,” I allowed myself to develop a diverse group of intentions I wanted to pursue. First I fantasized, then I narrowed those ideas down to goals, and finally, I set a deadline for achieving them. They are mostly things I knew I would regret not doing, with a few for career and self-improvement. They’re all challenges; chances to grow, refine, and create myself. They became my “Before You Turn 30” list. I took each goal and divided it into steps, with a general timeline. It’s been about 20 months since I sat down and wrote out my aims, and I can happily say that I’ve made progress on each one.
So, guess what one of my goals was? To become a yoga teacher! (Imagine confetti here. Or at least all the party-related emoji.) A big smile swept through me today, when I realized that this was a goal I set almost 2 years ago. It took a lot of patience to get here, and it’s really happening. In less than 48 hours!
This week, some of my new yoga supplies came in the mail. I upgraded to a Jade Harmony mat (the grip is incredible), and purchased blocks, a strap, and a meditation cushion for my home practice. Despite being a regular yoga student for over seven years, I never invested in these; I didn’t think of myself as “good enough” to deserve props like blocks or cushions at home. Now that I see the long view on self-investment, as a by-product of my goal-setting journey so far, that belief was so self-limiting! Having extra instruments at my disposal would have improved my practice all along–and they weren’t more expensive than dinner at a restaurant. Having spent many years assailed by bills, I understand the difficulty of funding activities outside the realm of necessity. But I can also say that money I’ve set aside (slowly, or at least semi-reasonably) to spend on my wellbeing has always given me the energy, confidence, and resilience to make wiser choices in my relationships, to take better care of what I have, and to seek out better opportunities for myself. Lovely lightning bolts of poems, essays, and clarity in editing come to me more often when I recharge my spiritual and/or earthly batteries.
I’m also extremely grateful when I reflect on how things are coming along, because I didn’t get here alone. It’s amazing what happens when you set positive intentions for yourself: people will help you. Even when you don’t tell them about what you’re trying to do! This both is, and isn’t, magic. In a very practical way, when you find the self-regard and courage that it takes to really set an intention in your heart, you behave differently. You start to do things your future self would thank you for, and you feel better about living, whether or not your current circumstances have changed much yet. I found that I started to see myself as more of a fluid continuum, rather than a fixed personality, and this allowed me to feel less embarrassed around, afraid of, or judged by, others. That shift let me be more present, a better listener, and more engaged with loved ones and friends, and new people as well. You can see the energetic dominos here. Simultaneously, I made more connections that were unexpected, and positive. New possibilities appeared, and while not all of them were objectively big moves, each one seemed to bring me a tiny bit closer to my desired goals.
The best thing about the list is that now that I’m actually in the thick of it, I love it. What was once impossible isn’t even scary anymore! Stressful? Yup. Worth it? Totally.
I like to write. I like yoga. Mix and mash and see what happens, right? Sort of. I have a lot of ideas for this blog. Two full pages of quasi-titles in my notebook that suggest stellar subject matter, ripe for the delving–and I believe it, too. In fact, I couldn’t be more excited to explore in this fashion, in these disciplines, on this very blog.
So, what’s the catch? Writing about yoga isn’t doing yoga, and writing about writing isn’t writing (per se).
These are complicated issues to address, yet I feel driven to face them. Specifically, because of time. I, and we as culture, have so little time. The weight of responsibility to work, family, education, and other commitments, plus the pressure we all experience between our real-world schedules and the maintenance of digital and online media, becomes this incredible piston-like downstroke, compressing time. Personally, I have two jobs, two ongoing freelance contracts, I’m a part-time student, I have two families (divorced parents), a boyfriend (who also has two families), and two beloved cats. I offer my sincere respect to any moms reading this, invariably shaking their heads (“she’s stressed? psshhh…”). If I’m barely able to put on my socks, why the heck am I blogging about yoga? More importantly, why should anyone read my blog about yoga?
I have a few ideas. First, inspiration. I don’t expect to inspire anyone because I have special powers; I hope to inspire because I don’t. I overbook myself constantly, I’m occasionally late on deadlines, I don’t practice yoga every single day, and I still can’t hold a handstand for more than three seconds. I cry in the car between jobs sometimes, I don’t make as much money or write as often as I would like, and I feel splintered in one hundred directions about what course of action will guide me towards a better future. If I can train to become a yoga teacher, and find few a morsels worth sharing about it, so could anyone willing to put in the effort. Seriously, you might have it way more together than I do!
Secondly, what yoga teaches us isn’t entirely physical. For the first few years of my practice, I noticed how different Yoga Class Rachel was from Rachel in Life. By contrast, Yoga Class Rachel can fall over, flat out, and recover emotionally in ten minutes, while Rachel in Life can barely recover in five days from a questionable choice of words. Yoga Class Rachel is patient, compassionate, and dare I say, joyful? I often wondered how to integrate the two personalities. It wasn’t until I started journaling about my experiences in yoga and meditation that they began to cross over into my everyday life and mental landscape. For me, journaling made those insights internally accessible; yoga wasn’t happening to me, I was participating in yoga, and I could take its ideas with me when I left class. Sharing these lessons feels like a natural evolution of this process.
Lastly, both yoga and writing happen individually, but there’s an undeniable magic about collaboration. In yoga, the collective energy is palpable, breath filling the room like an electric charge. With writing, the process of workshopping or bouncing pieces back and forth with a group or even one other person can be transformative. The internet is certainly no substitute for here-and-now people, but it doesn’t have to be a binary, either. Creating a positive web presence isn’t mutually exclusive from real relationships, and it’s unrealistic in our age to separate from the billions of people online.
Yoga on the internet will continue, along with yoga on the mat, and writing on paper and digital page. Crisis averted.
This has been a busy workweek for me. Since I’m committed to posting here each Thursday, I decided to go with the flow of that theme and discuss some of my tactics for getting through large blocks of sedentary time. I work as a communications assistant for a university research center, and I also write and edit regularly on freelance projects; I spend a lot of time in front of a keyboard. I’m constantly catching myself hunched forward, shoulders tensed, inexplicably twisted into some odd, anxious configuration, as if craning my neck will help me evaluate a paragraph more thoroughly. While my coworkers are very friendly and open-minded, I don’t feel quite at liberty to get into downward dog beside my desk in the way that I do at home.
Aside from the well-publicized, longterm dangers of a sedentary life, sitting for long periods of time is just plain uncomfortable in the here and now. In the years that I’ve been practicing yoga, I’ve grown more aware over time of the inactivity paradox–it can be very tiring, and even life-draining not to move. Along with reduced metabolism and circulation, long periods of sedentary time also lead to shallow, inconsistent breathing patterns, among other problems.
Since it is unlikely that communications or web design will become an active profession (Wii Office Suite?), I’ve resolved to implement whatever strategies I can to both honor my health and remain productive at work. On freelance projects, I try to give myself 15 minute breaks every 1-2 hours, for a walk, some stretching, or at least a brief, full-body shake. I also have the luxury of breaking up my time more generously, if the project is small or slow-paced. This week, though, I accepted a massive editing job with a rush deadline, and my desk habits at home had to resemble the code of conduct I adopt at work. At the research center, I usually employ lots of freeform neck stretches, shoulder rolls, and forward folds in the secret of the bathroom (I hold off on touching the floor here and go with a rag doll variation). Most frequently, I check my posture approximately every 30 minutes, and also use this time to take 3-5 deep, meaningful breaths. Psychologically, these mini check-ins serve to remind me that I am a living thing–an extraordinary fact often forgotten in the crush of emails, formatting, and so on.
I also like to follow this short video occasionally, by one of my favorite online teachers, Adriene Mishler. This sequence can be completed at your desk chair, and doesn’t require sound, either! When you have a little more freedom to practice, she has a great library of videos on her YouTube channel. The videos span everything from Yoga for When You’re In a Bad Mood to Birthday Yoga, plus a lovely 30 Days of Yoga series to jumpstart a yoga love affair. If you haven’t practiced with her before, I highly recommend it, for both beginners looking to get started, and for more advanced yogis looking to spice up their home practice with something different. Whenever I don’t have time for a studio class, and simultaneously feel unmotivated to invent my own sequence, Adriene is a great resource. She feels so much like a funny, sweet friend, that it’s hard to find an excuse not to squeeze in 15-30 minutes of yoga once you’ve found her. If you decide to give this one a whirl at your desk, enjoy!
For the past few weeks, I’ve been a little anxious about the start of teacher training. The panic has formed a predictable pattern. “I’m not ______ enough!” my mind wails. As my arms burn in chaturanga, my tripod handstand falls like a heap of rocks to the floor, or my pelvis seems a mile above the mat in pigeon pose, I feel unprepared. I chide myself for not pushing more in my home practice, or reserving more free time for public classes. I imagine myself in child’s pose, peering underneath my armpit at the contortionists who will inevitably comprise the entirety of my classmates, fiercely beautiful people who will compassionately ignore my rectangle of mediocrity on the perimeter of the room. This is an awful thought. I counter it with one of my favorite Indra Devi quotes: “Yoga is a way to freedom. By its constant practice, we can free ourselves from fear, anguish, and loneliness.” The word freedom sets me straight. Freedom does not include worrying about whether shaking in a crescent lunge makes you look weak, or if your peers think your yoga pants have too much cat hair on them (they slept in my gym bag, I swear!). I try to scrub the negativity from my predictions and go back to the only thing that matters–to keep practicing.
I’m reminded that even for master yoga teachers, bodies are in flux more than they are constant. Progress in flexibility and strength is often cyclical, rather than linear. These realities are supported in yoga by knowledge of the poses. A sustainable, lifelong yoga practice relies on knowledge of the articulation in the poses–beyond the shapes they make. Following the intention of a posture, instead of pushing too hard into a shape, can save a yogi from injury, burnout, and possibly even envy of other practitioners. This is true both as a beginner, and especially when developing more advanced poses. I constantly have to check my ego as I venture into challenging poses, and follow the internal messages of the posture rather than trying to mimic a shape. Going too deeply into a pose that I’m not prepared for can be damaging to the joints, such as forcing a pigeon pose without a block or blanket and sacrificing my knee, or ignoring a wrist sensitivity and going into upward-facing dog when I’d be better off in cobra to start. I’ve found that the best way for me to determine how deeply to attempt a pose is to check how the rest of my form is affected, typically assessing what I’m doing with my knees, shoulders, abdominal wall, and pelvis. For me, full lizard pose can be difficult, and I have found, at various times, my back knee dropping or my front knee extended too far over the ankle, my back rounded against the discomfort, my belly sagging, or my shoulders scrunched up to my ears with a tense neck. Instead of pursuing the shape, I accept my body’s messages and assist myself with a block under my forearms, or push up to the modification on my hands. I’ll get to the floor eventually, and I won’t have hurt myself along the way.
As I prepare for teacher training, I remind myself that consistency is more important than mastery, and most importantly, that mastery is not a fixed state. The humility to quietly continue on with a practice is required from all levels. This is especially true as we age, experience setbacks and changes, and even grow in flexibility; paying attention to the energy of the poses allows us to tailor our flow to who we are today, with an effort towards who we’d like to become.
I’ve always loved summer reading lists. In school, I think they appealed to me because I had more time to absorb the books, and read at my own pace. The luxury of reading outdoors, sprawled over a blanket on the grass, propped against the cool bark of a tree, or reclined on a chaise at the town pool, more than compensated for the imposition of how to use my time. Looking back, I can see that those books affected me, too–the slower, more savored reading time gave each summer a particular tone, according to what I had picked up.
This past June, I enrolled in yoga teacher training. The course begins mid-September, and the program includes two prerequisite readings–A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose and Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study & Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. While I certainly have less time to sink my teeth into books than I did as a teenager on a break from school, I have greatly enjoyed returning to the practice of a summer reading list, so much so that I’ve included a few other books on my nightstand and in my Audible queue.
In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle details his vision for a “transformation of consciousness” that develops meaning through compassion and transcendence through the rejection of small-minded value systems. He highlights through many historical and spiritual examples that the foundation of global change is personal growth–an uplifting and powerful reminder to remember the significance of our own actions. I also recently read Better than Before, a fascinating and hilarious look at the science of our everyday habits, from happiness expert Gretchen Rubin. One of her Secrets of Adulthood, as explained in the book, is the maxim, “We can’t make people change, but when we change, others change.” For me, this provided a very grounded perspective on some of Tolle’s work. Changing ourselves is not always linear, nor does it often directly alter the course of others in the way we would like; yet, over time, our increased joy, patience, health, self-awareness, and so on, affects other people–and the butterfly effect of positive change takes hold. Additionally, in the area of personal transformation, I listened to Caroline Myss’ audiobook, Self Esteem: Your Fundamental Power. Since I spend at least 30 minutes in the car each weekday, I love to use audiobooks to create a benefit from this time. Myss’ wisdom on cultivating a robust sense of self hinges on her experiences as a renowned medical intuitive. Her enlightening lecture explains how when we honor ourselves, we are naturally empowered by the energetic field of the divine that flows through all beings, and we gain the ability to listen to our intuition with courage and grace.
Since reading all three books mentioned so far, I have regarded my beliefs and habits much more curiously–questioning, with as much objectivity as I can muster: How does this action/thought serve me? How does this action/thought affect others, or my subsequent behavior towards others? Is this action/thought in alignment with my highest principles? How will I feel about this action/thought tomorrow/in one month/in one year/in ten years? The process can be arduous, and I sometimes don’t like the answers I receive, but I am ultimately always grateful to hear the truth, even from myself.
Reading Inside the Yoga Sutras has also been incredibly rewarding, and I’m still working to finish the book at the close of August. I would highly recommend it to any yogi looking to enrich his or her practice. Even just a few pages a night can be very dense, and charge your next physical practice with awareness and meaning. Since the Sutras are a realm of study unto themselves, I plan to write future blog posts dedicated to exploring them, rather than doing them an injustice with an all-too-brief summary here!
Any books that have bolstered your yoga practice? Recommend them in a comment!