Sunday, October 9, 2011

love everybody

There are people I don't like. I know some of these people. I don't know others. Some of them are just kinds of people. I might not be a fan of these individuals because of things they do or things they've done. They may have done these things to me or to my loved ones. There are other people, groups of them, I don't like because of the things they believe in or the way they act toward the world.

This is judgement. We've all said, "Far be it for me to judge, but..." There's always a but. The sentence rarely ends before the but. So, in actuality, we're judging. And that's not very cool.

We think about these people a lot. We talk about them often. There are several reasons why. It makes us feel better to talk about people who we feel are beneath us. If we can set ourselves apart from that person or that group of people, we feel better about ourselves. It's comforting to feel unique in what is such a vast, overpopulated society. Life seems to make more sense if we feel like an individual.

In the yogic belief system, this is an illusion. This is the ego taking over. This is that little proud voice inside of us that tells us that we're better, bigger, faster, smarter and destined for a better future than others. This isn't reality. We are, in a subtle, but very real way, all connected. Everything you do affects something or someone, or both. Every action and thought has an effect. Every time you think of that friend or ex or enemy who did you wrong, every iota of energy that you give to that person, place or thing has an impact. Not just on the world around you, but also (and mostly) yourself.

I'm going to go out on a limb here. It is possible to love everybody. It really is. Even that person who ran over your pet. Broke your heart. Stole your car. Gave you an STD. Cheated on you. Lied to you. Killed your brother. Mass murdered an entire group of people on September 11, 2001. Many of you might stop reading here. And that's okay. Come back when you're ready. No judgement.

At the start of many yoga classes, the teacher will ask the students to sit in a comfortable seated position with eyes closed. After a few deep breaths and mental excursions into being in the moment, the teacher will encourage the class to pick something to which they will dedicate their practice. This can be a person, an idea, a goal, anything. In most cases, this will be someone or something that the practitioner feels needs attention. I often dedicate my practice to a friend or loved one who is struggling with something. Other times I offer it up to the not-so-simple idea of eternal contentment.

It is thought that when one becomes a more proficient yogi, that your practice should be dedicated to something or someone you have ill will toward. In essence, I would be dedicating my practice to some jerk I don't like because of whatever he or she did. Mind you, one should not be dedicating this practice to the destruction of anything good in this person's life. That would not be very yogic. At all. Instead, the student is asked to send them all of that love and warmth he or she would send to loved ones.

Does your stomach drop at the thought of doing that? Maybe a little bit? I mean, if I'm not supposed to waste energy on negative thoughts toward these people and things, can't I just not send them anything? Can't I just leave it alone? Give them nothing?

Nope. You gotta love 'em.

This will be my first attempt at offering a yoga meditation exercise in this blog. If you're feeling open, read this and give it a go. In fact, if you're feeling closed, you should definitely try this, because it will probably remove a lot of blocks. That's how it works for me.

Find a comfortable position. Seated or lying down. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Listen to the way your breath sounds. Feel the rise and fall of all sides of your body as the air fills you and leaves you. Once you feel relaxed and ready, think of someone or something you don't like. Whatever pops in first will do. Don't be too grand, just let it pop in. Your finances, a mean person, a bad friend, a lousy driver, an annoying co-worker. Whatever. Now, think of all the things you don't like about this person, idea, place or thing. Let them in. How has your breathing changed? Has your heart rate increased? Is your brow furrowed? Do you want to shake your head, get up from where you are and busy yourself? Just watch these things. Feel them. Observe. Now, take these things and put them in a mental box. Wrap this box and put it on your lap. Grab it and hold it in your arms. Now, love it. Love it because it needs love. Love it because love is so much easier than hate. To quote a book/movie I adore, "Send them light and love. And drop it." What do you feel like now? Asses your physical body. Your breathing. Your heart rate. Don't judge it. Just observe.

When you're ready, slowly blink open your eyes and take a deep breath.

How do you feel? I always feel better. I hope you do too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

i am not that.

Raise your hand if you have a hard time focusing on what is actually going on at the present moment? I'm not talking about how the current situation makes you feel, or how it could make you feel better, or even how it could be worse. I'm refering to what it is, right now. In its most basic definition.

Example: Let's say it's time for you to go somewhere. Let's also pretend you have a car (you can apply this to any other method of transportation, if you'd like). You get in your car, hopefully you fasten your seatbelt, and you start your car. You put it into gear and you drive. You might turn a few times, stop a few times, change lanes, and the like, but all you're actually doing while you're in your car is driving it. That's all.

Now, who talks to themselves in the car? Who sings along to the radio? Who makes phone calls or sends text messages or updates their Facebook? Safety issues aside, most of us, at least when we're alone in the car (or anywhere), we think. We think about stuff that isn't happening at the present moment. We think about the traffic and how it's good or it's bad and how that makes us feel. We think about where we're going and if we're excited to be there or not. We think about what we were doing before we left wherever we were before we got into the car. We think about tomorrow, yesterday, last year, six months from now. We play out conversations we've had with people, or that we'd love to have with people. We fantasize. We grieve.

Aren't we amazing beings? Our only real task at hand, while in the car, is to drive. To be a driver. Not to feel one way or another about it, but just to do it. Look at all the other things we manage to pack into that task? The rest of the stuff you have going on may seem productive because it a) helps you get things done you otherwise wouldn't have time for, b) it's a time to clear your head (more thoughts on the irony of this in a moment) and c) it -- this one is my favorite -- passes the time.

Why do we always look for something to do to pass the time? To clear our heads? We always have to be doing things, it seems. When is the last time you sat down, closed your eyes and -- stop -- that's it. Just did that? Didn't think or worry or plan or reminisce?

I am a thinker. I dig into life and I pick it apart. I try to think of every possible scenario. I want to know what it all means. For many of my friends, this a big reason they call and ask me for advice -- because there's a good chance I've over-considered whatever they're about to ask me. For many others, it's what makes me seem a little bonkers. Just a little.

Since I've started all this yoga stuff, I've started working on clearing my mind. Just for a few moments every so often throughout each day. I stop what I'm doing, I close my eyes and, to whatever is buzzing around in my curly-haired head, I say, "I am not that." And then I ask myself what I am actually doing. Right then. Right there.

I am driving to work. I am waiting for class to start. I am watering my plants. I am laying in my bed. I am reading a manuscript. I am making a sandwich.

And then I give every fiber of who I am, in that moment, to enjoy whatever that is.

Suddenly, what I'm doing becomes amazing. Holy crap. I'm driving a car. Something that was actually, as far as the span of time is considered, invented pretty recently. How lucky I am to be able to do this. I mean, I own a car. That's a luxury. Think of all the people who were a part of creating this one car. I may never meet them, but we're connected through this 1996 Mazda Protege. Look at all of these other people on the road. I might know some of them, I might meet some of them. We're all packed in like sardines trying to get somewhere and we're all acting like we're worlds apart. Think of the road. How many people made this possible? I'm connected to them too, simply because I'm using it. And so on...

Then, suddenly, you're at your destination. And instead of spending that whole drive thinking about or doing things that, well -- let's be honest -- don't really matter in the long run, you just said a little thank you to all the people who made it possible to do that little thing you do every day, and probably take for granted.

Try it some time. I am not that.

Monday, August 29, 2011

reminder: yoga is saving my life

Today was a day. I think I may have spent two-thirds of it crying. Reasons aren't important. I was hurt. Sad. Feeling lost. Scared. Lonely. You know, normal reasons for crying.

Interestingly enough, my class partner and I had to present on Santosha in yoga study this evening. Santosha means contentment. It goes further than just being pleased with things. It's about finding joy in everything. Every little, tiny thing. Finding joy in rush hour, in the DMV, in heart ache, in death, in divorce, in finding out someone lied to you, in being screamed at by a stranger, or worse yet, someone you love. It's about finding joy in e v e r y t h i n g. I have a tattoo that says, "Just be." Santosha means just that. You can call it coincidence, but I find it pretty amazing that I was given that topic, especially during this time of my life. It is single-handedly the hardest thing for me to do. And I've yet to meet anyone who has mastered it.

Based on the way my day had gone, I was certain I wouldn't make it through this presentation without crying. When I got to class, I could barely control my breathing. Everyone could tell I'd been crying. I got a few sad looks and a couple wordless back pats. Everyone knew. How was I going to do this without making myself look like a fool?

Before we presented on Santosha, a classmate presented on the two yoga poses she was given. After that, our teacher asked the class to chime in and direct her into the pose. Somewhere along the way I took over. Step by step, I put my teacher into extended side angle with verbal cues. I stopped halfway through and I said, "Someone else should do this, too?"

"No!" the class said collectively. "Keep going!"

And I did.

And I did really well. The whole class clapped and my teacher beamed at me. I'd never talked someone through a pose without also doing the pose myself. I found myself using words and ideas that I'd heard during classes. I might not be good at a lot of different things right now, but I'm good at this. And it feels really good. In nearly every class, I surprise myself.

Soon enough, it was time to present on Santosha. I was sure I wouldn't make it through this without crying in front of my class. My partner and I asked the class to sit in a circle and I read a meditation to them. A meditation about smiling. Then we spoke about our personal experiences with Santosha. The class was so engaged. There were no awkward pauses. Everyone wanted to discuss this. My partner and I had successfully stimulated the class and it felt so good to be talking with this group of people about the concept of contentment.

Then it was time to learn Sanskrit. The language of yoga. I picked up on it really quickly. I'm going to go buy note cards tomorrow and I can't wait to make flashcards for myself. 

Six hours ago you could have handed me a million dollars and told me that I could do anything in the world I wanted, without consequences and I still wouldn't have been able to stop crying.

And by reminding myself that I'm allowed to cry and feel like crud about things, I'm also allowed to smile in that moment. I have that choice. And now, I can't stop smiling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

But Master? When will we get there?

Like any good midwesterner, I've got a lake home in my family tree. It's a simple house in northwestern Minnesota with plumbing, heat, and a rarely used air conditioner. It's the one house that still exists in my family that I have visited since I was a baby. Everyone else has moved from the homes they had in my childhood. Every time I visit my cabin, it seems like it takes eight hours to get there instead of four. Whenever I go, I fish, I shoot the BB gun at cans, I swim, I eat good food, I sleep like a baby and I giggle with the purest form of happiness. It's the closest thing I have ever had to "going home."
When I was a kid, my brothers, cousins and I would ride up to the cabin with my grandparents in their van. We'd get antsy as soon as we got to this road that was very hilly and we'd start asking our grandpa, "Are we there yet?" And each trip, he would tell us the same story:
A donkey and his master went on a journey, they went over the hill, under the hill and around the hill, and the donkey stopped and he said, "Master? When will we get there?" And the master said, "Patience, patience." So they went on. They went over the hill, under the hill and around the hill, and the donkey stopped and he said, "Master? When will we get there?" And the master said, "Patience, patience." So they went on. They went over the hill, under the hill and around the hill, and the donkey stopped and he said, "Master? When will we get there?" And the master said, "Patience, patience." So they went on.
The story continues in a loop, without ending, and eventually one of us would yell, "GRANDPA!! WHEN WILL THEY GET THERE?!?!?" And he would chuckle and say, "Patience, patience." We did this every trip up to the cabin, because we loved hearing Grandpa tell the story. We would try to see how long we could listen to it before shouting. We loved the way his voice was the same each time he told the story. Same inflection, same volume, same chuckle. It was almost as fun as being at the cabin.
Now, when I bring friends to the cabin, I tell the story when we get to the road with all the hills. Some day, I'll tell my children and grandchildren this story. And I still, to this day, ask my grandpa to tell me the story. It hasn't changed.
The story itself has a pretty powerful and yogic message. The donkey is spending all this time waiting and anticipating the destination, while the master is riding along, enjoying the journey over the hill, under the hill and around the hill. Granted, I'd have a patience problem too if someone was riding my back the whole way, and it might be a little easier to take it easy if I was just riding along in a beautiful, hilly landscape. But sometimes you're the master and sometimes you're the donkey. That's life. In either situation, it's important to recognize that you're on a journey and be present in each moment (even the ones where you're sitting in rush hour or waiting in line or, heck, even using the bathroom). Life is full of destinations and departures, but if we all focus on where we wish we were - past or present - and how we just want to get there, we're going to miss out on over half of our lives. The opportunity for growth is in the journey. If you just spent the whole time being anxious to arrive at wherever you're headed, once you get there, it won't be nearly as rewarding as it would have been if you had taken in the whole ride.
This is, for me, like rocket science. I'm a list maker, I'm a detail oriented person, I like to plan my life down to the minute. But right now, during this particular experience of loss, financial and emotional struggle, and extreme change - I find myself excelling at taking in the journey. It feels safer this way. To take in this moment as it is and be thankful for it. If I start trying to figure out where I'll be and what I'll be doing in six months, I start to panic because so many things have to come into play before those goals can be reached. It's ridiculously overwhelming. So I acknowledge those goals, grateful that I have them, and let them hang out.
This idea can be experienced physically in yoga as well. For me, when I'm practicing yoga, as soon as I hear an instructor tell me which pose to move into, I race into it. I want to show my brain and my body I can do it, and then I sit in the pose for as long as I'm told and then race to the next one. In the last week, I've slowed that way down. I've used my breath to link one asana to the next, slowly, feeling my hips shift, my shoulders engage, my glutes tighten, my ankles wiggle. It has created one of the most intense experiences for my body and mind. I find that I'm able to stay in poses longer, my breath is deepened. When class is over, I feel like I'm buzzing. 
So, take a couple minutes this week, when you're in your car, waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting through a really boring part of your work day and be present in your journey. Move a little slower than you usually would and try to remember what that feels like. It'll save your life. I promise. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

dead branches and exposed leaves

Sorry for the delay in posts. My life has been turned upside down in recent weeks. But like in yoga, when you're in a good headstand, you might not be seeing life the way you usually do, but you're still seeing it, albeit differently. When you go to stand on your feet again, as the blood trickles down from your head, back into the rest of your limbs, you feel refreshed, renewed and ready to shake and move. It's important to remember what you learned in your headstand because that's what made your following upright pose so marvelous, so real and so alive.

I am no longer living in that small farm community I told you about at the beginning of this blog. I am no longer in a relationship. It ended at three years of dating. Two of which we lived together. We did all the usual things. Talked about our kids names. Picked a time of year and a location for our wedding. But that's not happening anymore. I am now living in a southern suburb of Minneapolis with good friends who care about me. I am crying a lot. I am not doing very much yoga. I am not doing very much studying. I am not eating very much. I am trying to breathe. That's one thing I can do, I can breathe. Some times are easier than others. I'm going through one of the biggest and hardest changes of my life. I'm sure there will be more changes that will trump this one, but I don't have that frame of reference just yet. I sure do look forward to it though.

I am suffering from a loss. Several big losses rolled into one. A house, a dog, a second family, a rural community, a comfortable lifestyle. But it was time. For whatever reason, it was time. You can rest easy knowing that I've spent days thinking, dreaming and talking about what went wrong. I've asked myself who is to blame and who will walk out of this whistling and happy and who will make the same mistakes over and over again? This doesn't really matter, of course, my friends tell me. It all takes time, others say. The one thing I know is: it hurts. A lot. For so many reasons.

Today, I arrived to work at the front desk of the yoga studio entirely too early because I'm having a hard time adjusting to a shorter commute time (it's only day two, though, I'm sure I'll get it down eventually). I asked the person working the day shift if I could go into the studio and do some meditating. This is the second time I've been on my mat to do any kind of yoga since the split. And the first time I've tried to do it alone in an empty room since I left the farm.

I had 20 minutes to spare. I was sure I'd get antsy after four. I tried different mudras, I focused on different chakras. I whispered mantras to myself. My mind cleared almost instantly. It was so thankful for a break. I allowed myself, for a short time to leave the world alone and turn inward to that pure peaceful place, that, even through all this, is still inside me. 

After awhile, my eyes fluttered open. I looked out the big arched windows at 3rd Ave in the Warehouse District. My eyes came to focus on a tree across the street. It had lost a large branch. It was resting on the sidewalk, making it hard for people to get by. While the branch looked to be a vital part of this tree, it had no leaves on it. It was dead before it fell. At first I thought, Poor tree. You're missing such a big chunk of who you are. Just like me. Then I looked at another tree on the street. It was full, big, robust and perfectly shaped. How boring, I thought. No one is paying attention to that perfect tree. But everyone keeps acknowledging the broken one. 

The lesson in this was two-fold. Very rarely, especially during a stormy time in our lives, do we stop to look at the beauty. I'm talking about the real beauty, not the well-at-least-I-have-a-place-to-live-and-good-friends beauty. But the big picture, look-up-at-the-moon-and-think-about-how-small-and-tiny-you-are-compared-to-the-rest-of-the-world kind of beauty. It's a beauty that can't be described in words. It's like how you feel when you first fall in love with someone. But instead of it being about making out and playing games with someone you're totally into, it's about giving that feeling to the state of mind you're in right now.

How beautiful is it that I can hurt this much but still get out of bed in the morning and find something to laugh about? How beautiful is it that even though this sucks so hard, I know that so many other people have it way worse and I am fortunate to be where I am for so many reasons. How beautiful is it that I was able to give myself to someone completely without ever being totally sure it would work out. There's gotta be a lotta beauty in that, right?

The other half of this lesson was in the exposed portion of the tree. That dead branch fell to leave a very internal part of this tree exposed to the sun and rain. The leaves that are growing there will flourish.

Perhaps losing this limb will water and nurture this inner part of me that I've left abandoned for...ever? It will allow this peaked, weak little part of me to grow and consume the area where that dead branch was hanging out. (Aside: I'm not maliciously trying to call my former domestic partner a dead branch, so don't read into that part too much.)

Everything happens for a reason. Time heals all. It will get better. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Next time I'm in the fetal position missing all the good times, I'm going to think of that tree, take a couple deep breaths and get on my mat. Even if it's for only two minutes. But if that experience ends up anything like this one, 20 minutes will fly right by.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

it began before it begins

Tomorrow, I will experience my first actual class that will accrue hours for my yoga teacher certification. It's a tech session, which means, there is a topic/technique/concept covered and discussed for an hour and a half. I get to pick which of these I want to take as I go along. In addition to these, I have a core session (comparable to homeroom) each week that covers the basics: anatomy, sanskrit, namas and niyamas. There are also reports due each week. In August, I'll have to report on downward facing dog and Samtosha.

On top of all that, I get to take workshops, visiting instructor weekends, and take free yoga classes - all included in my tuition. Pretty awesome.

In tomorrow's tech session, we're studying magical mudras, or hand positions. I'm very excited.

But what's so wonderful about this journey is that I haven't taken a single class yet, and those of you who read this blog have followed me so far already.
  • Before even stepping foot into a class, I'm finding myself reacting to certain situations differently. I'm stopping myself from losing my patience when I would usually let it fly off the handle.
  • I often find myself repeating: I have no control over this, so let it go. It will work itself out. I don't rush the clock, I try to find joy in the present moment, even if I'm bored out of my skull.
  • I'm eating less. By trying to focus on serving others and being selfless, I eat less because I know I only need a certain amount to get through the day. I don't need to eat so much that someone has to roll me to my next destination. 
  • In moments of conflict between friends and lovers, I've found myself admitting fault sooner with a humbled voice and heart.
  • I've noticed people peeling out of the woodwork to ask my advice, to use my listening ear, to open up to me honestly about sensitive subjects - in discussion with these people, I feel more compassionate and humbled than ever.
  • Instead of calling my friends to tell them something crazy that just happened, I am calling them just to listen because I thought of them and I wanted to know how they are doing.
  • I've also watched the function of most of my friendships change, for better and for worse. This has been one of the most emotional experiences I've ever had. 
More than anything, though. There is a lot of schtuff coming to the surface. I'm seeing all of these things I've never seen before. I'm noticing unhealthy habits, choices, fears, actions, words, and thoughts that I would usually excuse as that's just how I am behavior. But it's who I have become, not who I am. There is a really cool, pure, peaceful me underneath all that unhealthy stuff and I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to find it.

Yup. All this has happened and I haven't taken a single class yet. Imagine what classes are going to uncover. Oy-vey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

on flight

This is not a blog about levitation. So stop reading if you wanted to hear about how I started floating during meditation. Hasn’t happened. Yet.

As I write this, I’m aboard a small plane headed from the east coast back to the Midwest. My two-week vacation of yoga, family, food and rest is over.

Most people, especially nowadays, experience some level of anxiety when they travel. This includes but is not limited to: packing anxiety, worry regarding time, fears about the safety of traveling and that other scary T-word that you’re not even supposed to think about when you’re within 10 square miles of any airport because the government may hunt you down and pat you on your private parts.

Like many people, I find packing to be a very painful activity. There really should be a way for me to bring my entire closet with me wherever I go. But I can still somehow manage to squeeze two weeks of clothing and personal needs into a carry-on.

My real panic begins about 20 minutes from any airport. The bottom of my stomach start to shift and churn and I’m sure I’m about to go number two right there in the car. I’m not sure why, but it happens every single time.

I always have my boarding pass ready to go when I get to the airport so I don’t have to speak to a soul until I ask for my ginger ale on the plane. I head straight to security to possibly get naked and take my bag apart for the under-qualified, underpaid teenagers they have protecting our airports.

Even though I am quite careful not to transport any illegal items when I travel, I’m always afraid I’ll get patted down and someone will discover something I’m not supposed to have. Read: I watch too much Law and Order.

Once I get to the gate, I sit quietly. Sometimes I cry after saying goodbye to loved ones. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I stare unflinchingly at strangers without an ounce of shame. Okay, full disclosure: most times I do the latter.

As soon as everyone has boarded the plane, settled in and secured safely via their seatbelts, I sit back and fixate on the employees on the tarmac. I’ve always wanted to job shadow someone out there. It’s like some foreign world. You have to have thick skin to hang out with planes outdoors all day long, all year long.

After a bit more obtrusive staring at strangers, I’ve been known to pass out before the plane taxis and not wake up until my ears start popping during the descent.

When I can’t or choose not to sleep, I find myself letting out a very long, slow moving exhale once we’re in the air and we’re not in that crooked, sky-rocket-in-flight position.

From this point, until we land, I am at peace. I am neither here nor there. The vehicle in which I travel is going quite fast, but I just feel suspended in time and space. There was a seven-month period when I was in a 1,000-mile, long-distance relationship, and even though parting ways with my boyfriend was a really difficult thing to do, I remember getting up high in the air, exhaling and feeling perfectly peaceful mingling with the clouds.

I imagine this is the “just be” mentality for which many yogis and yoginis strive. Just suspended in space and time, with the inevitable subtitles containing thoughts of where you just were and where you’re going, but those fade in and out while you just sort of hover until it isn’t time to hover anymore.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

yoga = mind over matter (much easier said than done)

In my reading of the yoga sutras (A.K.A the yoga bible), I've come across one phrase, several times, said in several different ways. This phrase makes sense on the surface, but when I try to put it into practice, my brain shorts out. Have you ever repeated your name out loud so many times that after awhile it sounds foreign to you? That's exactly what these phrases do to me when I think about them and try to meditate on them. It's pretty disorienting.

"There is nothing wrong with this world. You can make it a heaven or a hell according to your approach."
"By changing your mind, you change everything...there is nothing wrong with the outside, it is all in the mind."
excerpts from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is essentially the ability to control your mind. The entire world is as you view it. If I can control my mind and how it takes everything in, I am living yoga.

What?! How now brown cow?

So, what I'm saying is: If you perceive it to be true, it is. If I stare at a piece of green cloth and tell myself it is red, it will become red. Right? Sounds weird.

Here's a more practical, real world application. It's almost 2:30 a.m. My boyfriend isn't home from hanging out with his friends at the bar. He said he would be home by midnight. He hasn't responded to any of my texts and when I've called him, it goes straight to voice mail or only rings twice. How many scenarios can you come up with, explaining what could possibly be happening in this situation? Before you even started thinking, I've come up with at least seven.
  1. He drank too much and he got arrested for being drunk in public.
  2. He got hit by a drunk driver on his way home.
  3. He was the drunk driver who hit someone.
  4. He fell asleep behind the wheel and is in a ditch somewhere.
  5. He hit a deer.
  6. He met some charming girl and has gone home with her and when he comes home he will break up with me.
  7. He didn't go where he said he was going when he left the house and he's joined a secret society and is now planning my death.
  8. He is purposefully ignoring my calls because he finds me annoying and he doesn't love me anymore.
  9. He left his phone in the car on purpose because he knew I would be worried about him and he doesn't want to talk to me. Because he's a big, fat jerk.
  10. I said seven scenarios, didn't I? Here I am at 10, already.
Now, no matter which option I choose, I can totally convince myself that it is a reality. He will get home and I will be a fit of nerves, shaking with the certainty of the reality I've created. All by myself in my brain. Granted, I will use past experiences, my friends' situations, films, and other fun fabrications to foster this forged reality, but it will be anything but reality.
What a waste of energy, no? I could have just said to myself, I'm really annoyed that he's not available to communicate right now. But, instead of worrying about something over which I have no control, I'm going to pour myself a glass of wine, pop in a movie, make a bowl of popcorn and enjoy this peaceful night at home. Then, when he gets home, instead of accosting him with the questions that I could have been forming to figure out if my alternative universe was indeed a reality, I could just say, "Hi. How are you? How was your night?" And then after he shares that information with me, I am totally allowed to say, "I was a little worried about you for awhile. You didn't take my calls or answer any of my texts. I'm glad you're safe." Because that's honesty. And honesty is important.

But what about for harder situations? Like illness? I'm currently developing a handsome, little cold. Can I convince myself that this won't be a full blown virus and thereby I will feel better as soon as I perceive that to be true? How do I convince myself that I'm not getting sick, while I feel like absolute crud? 

I believe the answer is: very carefully.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

on faith

Before this blog gets too far along, I'd like to explain my thoughts on faith/religion/spirituality. I know I'll end up referencing this as we go along.

The reason I like yoga and the lifestyle it embodies is that it allows you to cherry pick your faith. If you lean towards the Jesus faiths, you can do your yoga to honor Him. If you're Jewish, you can do your down dog in the spirit of God. You can even say Shalom at the end of your practice. If you're Muslim, you can bow to Allah in your Mountain Pose. If you're atheist, you can thank Reason for your life. If you love the earth, you can thank its mother. So on and so forth.

In the literature I've been studying, every single introduction begs the reader to continue on his or her own personal walk of faith or non-faith and to use yoga as a supplement to a higher form of living.

Higher form of living? What? That sounds pretty hippie-dippy, right? I know. I agree. But, simply put, "higher form of living" can mean whatever you want it to mean.

I want it to mean this: I want to take time out to breathe. I want to take time out to just be. I want to be able to listen to nothing and not feel unsettled and nervous. I want to, instead of jumping to every possible conclusion of every uncertain situation I encounter, be at peace with the unknown. I want to enjoy eating a tangerine, slowly, with pleasure, just for the sheer fact that it's a delicious tangerine (yes, that was for you, Joe).

But you might be different. You might want to find enlightenment (whatever that is). You might want to use the power of prayer to fix your problems. You might want to get fit. You might want to use it as an excuse to get an hour to yourself every day with no interuptions.

The beauty of yoga is: ALL OF THIS IS OKAY. Just don't use yoga to take over the world or kill people. That's not really kosher. The general public frowns on negativity combined with yoga.

So, walk on, homie. And go in peace.

big ups, ganesha. you did good. real good.

Ganesha did indeed remove the obstacles I was worried about for my little babysitting adventure. We played catch, pretend, and charades. We ate. We watched educational movies. We read books, we sang. They slept. They didn't get out of bed once after I put them down. And I didn't even drug them. Promise. This morning, they creeped into my room at the bright, silly hour of 6 a.m. (the earliest they are allowed to disturb adults from their slumber). We had a little cereal, read several books and then did some sunny salutations out on the deck. Now we're watching more educational movies while I write this blog and prep a bigger breakfast.

Moral: If you're tweaking about something, let go. As hard as it might be, just let go. It will take care of itself and everything will be okay. Because honestly, besides seeing that shape of an elephant in the clouds yesterday, I did nothing more than let go of my stress and welcome in the love I needed to care for these beautiful little babes. As a result, everything has gone swimmingly.

P.S. I plan to take an earth-shattering nap later.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

seeing visions

During my yoga and meditation this morning, I worked with chanting for the first time. I started small, just simply chanting "om," giving the 'oh' and the 'mm' sounds longer stresses than the other, alternatively. It felt a little strange at first, and then, after I stopped caring what people would think if they saw me, it was very grounding. Focusing on the vibrations the sound made throughout my body and just being in that moment was one of the most authentic experiences I've had in toying with open, thoughtless meditation.

In the beginning of many yoga classes, the instructor tells you to set an intention for your practice. This is usually supposed to be the time that you dedicate you practice to someone you love, someone you've been thinking about or worrying about, to an international tragedy, to something you're struggling with internally, to the power of letting go or just to something simple like happiness, love, peace and joy.

Today I dedicated my practice to something pretty unique. I'm going to be babysitting my 2- and 4-year-old cousins this afternoon, into the evening, putting them to bed, waking up with them at 6am, serving them breakfast and playing until my aunt and uncle return from their romantic night away. I am a nervous mess about this. The children are wonderful, but they're also children, little tiny children who are just learning to lie and sass. You would think that because of working at a school, I would have no qualms about this. However, at school, when a child becomes too much to handle, I just radio the principle or the teacher and they swoop in. I have extreme reservations about using any sort of physical force or loud voices with children. I scare myself when I do those things. But, sometimes, taking a child by the hand and walking them to their room (after you've already asked them more than once) and using a firm voice, is what they need. For some reason, this action gives me the heebie jeebies.

So, during my outdoor meditation today, I dedicated my practice to letting go of this fear and to opening my heart to caring for these children with all the love they're capable of giving back. I asked for guidance and patience in the harder moments if they get fussy. I requested that even when they're being difficult that I do all that I'm doing to discipline them with as much love as if we were sitting on the couch reading a book.

I went through my practice (headstands, handstands and shoulder stands) and then, in corpse pose, I took deep breaths, relaxing every part of my body. My eye sockets, my throat, my cheeks. My toes my fingers. My armpits. Then, suddenly, I had the impulse to open my eyes and look at the sky. I was, after all, outside.

This is where things get a little weird.

I looked up and, with a childlike smile, I noticed a shape in the clouds. It looked sort of like an elephant with his trunk turned up.

Wait a minute, I thought. Isn't an elephant one of the Hindu gods or something? Doesn't it mean something in yoga or India? (Yes. I'm still learning about all of this. So give me some credit.)

After I finished my practice, I googled, "India Elephant God." Up popped good old Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. How fitting. I sat at my computer smiling. Well, what do you know? I thought. I'm not as worried about babysitting, after all.

Friday, June 17, 2011

on truth

Today, I read an article in the June issue of Yoga Journal (the publication that inspired my almost daily home practice) that spoke about honesty. It was one of those empowering women stories about all these ladies who are doing amazing things with their lives through the guidance of yoga and its sutras. In the midst of all the inspirational hoopla, there was a section about honesty. The author challenged the reader to be honest with him or herself and said that through this conscious action, the things with which you struggle will start to fade away. Or, at the very least, you'll be able to notice them before they flare up and smooth over the frayed edges.

So I've decided to use this blog as a release. I'm hoping, that by typing this out and sending it into the open interweb, I'll feel more accountable, more honest and thereby more collected in my moments of highest stress and passion.
  1. I'm high strung and controlling. I find myself to be happiest when I have something completely planned out and it all happens according to plan.
  2. I take my urge to control to the next level: when I'm certain that whatever it is that I'm planning isn't going to go the way I want it to, I explore every other possible outcome: negative and positive, no matter how outlandish they may seem. It makes me feel better to have thought of everything before it happens so that I can deal with it, whatever it might be.
  3. I love attention. I will do whatever I can, no matter how crude and lewd (and sometimes dishonest) it may be, to garner laughter or shock from my audience.
  4. I have a hot temper. Counting to five or 10 is nearly impossible. If I went on a walk before I talked to someone about something that made me upset, I would save my friends and family a whole world of hurt.
  5. I despise fibbing and lying and I assume that every time someone keeps the truth from me, they are doing it to hurt me. Badly.
  6. I don't designate my feelings before I share them with other people. I start to feel something and before I assess the situation and make a decision about what I should do, I call other people to see what I should do first. Thereby proving that I don't trust myself.
  7. I like to run away from my problems. Ever since the seventh grade. When things get sticky, I start planning a way out. And I'm pretty public about it. But often times, I don't actually leave until a couple years after I knew it was time to go.
I think those are the major ones. I'm sure more will surface once I start my yoga teacher training, because, from what I've heard, stuff really hits the fan and reveals itself in the strangest ways. So look for a part dos in the coming months.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

on energy

We hear it all the time: "Send some good energy my way, please." "Oh, do you feel the energy in this room?" "My energy is all off." Some of us might even know people who call themselves energy workers. Others may scoff at the idea of using "energy" in a sentence, reserving that word for a definition regarding inertia or what happens when they drink coffee or a Red Bull.

In this particular instance, I'm speaking of none of the aforementioned uses. In certain types of yoga, they spend a lot of time asking the practitioner to focus on the energy within. This reveals itself in many different forms, but my personal favorite is during savasana when the teacher will take the yogi on a journey through his or her different body parts, usually starting from the heart center (a magical place somewhere in the very middle of your upper torso) and stemming out in all directions. The teacher asks the student to feel the energy in each joint, muscle, tissue and cell of that body part, until it's time to move on to the next. The goals vary, but ultimately it would be great if the practitioner sat up and felt a more connected sense of self (whatever that means, right?).

In a recent class at One Yoga, the instructor used his soothing voice to start us on this journey. Many people fall asleep during this part of yoga. Others (me! me! me!) spend this time thinking about what they plan to do when the class is over, or what they did before class, or about how annoying their significant other was when he/she said that one thing last Thursday. What a jerk. What I should have said to him was...oh no...crap...I'm supposed to be focusing on my -- what body part are we on? Knees? Okay. Knees. I have strange knees. They sometimes look fat. How does one have fat knees? NO! BLAH! What body part now? Ankles...ankles...

And so on. But in this particular class, on this particular day. Energy made sense to me. Perhaps it was the teacher, perhaps it was me, perhaps it was the day, perhaps it was the room. All I know is I used my imagination (which I honestly believe is the core foundation of any faith-based living, but more on that later) to see a little bright light resting somewhere between my sternum and my spine. The light looked very much like this moment in the Neverending Story:

You remember that little glowing grain of sand that the princess handed off to Bastian? That's what I found somewhere inside my innards. Then I turned it into something that looked like one of those old 1995 Windows screen savers and sent that into each body part. First the right hip, then knee, then ankle, then each toe and back up and down the other leg. Then arms, then neck, and throat, then face and head. For the first time in my yoga experience I could not only see these parts with my eyes closed, without touching them, and without twitching them, but also, as I focused on each part, I felt it getting warmer. Those little strands of screensaver energy were somehow making my knee warmer than the rest of my body.

Instead of standing up and shouting, "HOLY CATS! I THINK I FIGURED OUT WHAT ALL YOU CRAZY HIPPIES WERE TALKING ABOUT! THIS IS TOTALLY DOPE, YO!" I relaxed into a pretty beautiful half-concious state where all I cared about was feeling each part to which I was directed. There were plenty of moments when I thought about changing my cat's diet, or buying new plants for the deck, but they were quick little thought bubbles that popped as soon as they were blown.

Since then, in my personal practice, I've managed to get back to that little place using 80s movies and old computer software as my guide. It's been just as amazing and even more pleasurable.

Moral: Using whatever extraneous means possible, you really can do just about anything if you make special use of your imagination.

Monday, June 13, 2011

vacation ≠ relaxation

Vacations are one of the hardest times for me to do what I'm supposed to be doing, what I've been looking forward to doing: relax, let loose, kick back, and just be in the moment.

Everyone gets packing and airport anxiety, to some extent. But usually, hopefully, when we arrive safely to our destination, we let out a big sigh of relief, serve ourselves a beverage and get our smiles on.

I, however, arrive at my destination and immediately focus on what I left behind. Did my boyfriend remember to feed the cat? I wonder what time he'll go to bed? Do you think he misses me? I wonder what my friends are doing? Did they even remember that I left? I wonder what it will be like when I get home. Will people call me to hang out because they miss me so much? Will my boyfriend be super duper excited to see me? There are other, much-too-embarrassing-to-mention thoughts that fly through, in addition to these.

Allow me to mention that my current vacation, which started today, is set to last for two weeks.

I realize that my concerns foster anything but focusing on being in the moment, enjoying where I'm at, being grateful for the ability to travel, or allowing me to sit, smiling happily as I watch my family bustle around their New England home in the woods. Instead, I'm back home, trying to keep tabs on everyone else and everything else going on. Not to mention, I sound like an egocentric, attention-starved freak.

In addition to this major flaw that often prevents me from fully enjoying myself, I've created another inner struggle. In an attempt to avoid thinking about home and about all the things on which I'm missing out (like a little kid who hates taking naps because she's worried she'll miss something awesome), I try to make myself so busy that I don't have time to think. I veil this business with the mantra of, "I'm taking advantage of my time." So, I pack my days and nights with activities, social interactions, tasks and goals. Thereby leaving no room for any sort of relaxing, whatsoever. I also do this when I'm left alone in my current house. When my boyfriend/roommate goes on vacation, I have that whole weekend planned out, minute by minute, so I can distract myself from missing him, worrying about him and being bored in a giant house all by myself.

This predisposition sickens me. I despise myself when I see myself doing this. But, as a glutton to food, or an alcoholic to booze, I watch myself worry and plan, worry and plan, worry and plan until the end of the vacation (or lonely home stay) and I stand back, with my hands on my hips, observing the situation and I smile, halfway, trying to convince myself that all of it was energy well-spent. I obviously know, not even that deep down, that I've kind of blown it.

So here I am, trying to sleep in my four-year-old cousin's bed, trying to plan out what my routine will be like for the next two weeks. After writing this, I've decided to just make sure that one thing happens every day: yoga. And in my practice, I'm going to work my hardest on staying in each pose, mentally and physically, while meditating on the idea of just being.

Yes, I'd like to spend time applying for jobs. I'd like to get through one of my yoga books. I'd like to go running every day. I'd like to write something amazing in this blog every day. I'd like to let loose a few times. I'd like to know what is going on at home.

But I'm just going to make sure that I take time out for yoga, and I think, based on past experiences, everything else will fall into place.

Friday, June 10, 2011

my aunt calls it grace

Ever since I started doing yoga more regularly, I've experienced a phenomena that I couldn't explain. I compare it to what devout deity believers call: answers to my prayers. In a text message my aunt sent me, she called it grace.

It's been a rough couple of years for my finances and my career goals. A year ago, I was "let go" from two jobs within weeks of each other. I experienced four months of unemployment last summer. When I found a job, it was for a school, getting paid very little for part time work. When I found another job to supplement my income, I gave up a second job I had previously acquired, only to be told that the new job no longer desired my services, thereby removing hundreds of dollars of income I had planned for and needed badly. (Are you still with me?)

I've joked about starting a scrapbook of my rejection letters, and turning it into a book, titled: A Book of Jokes. With love, from the Economy to my Generation. When the school year ended, I was planning on applying for unemployment once again, only to find out that because I signed a form accepting a position at the school in the fall, I would not qualify. Basically, the state was saying, "Bummer you don't have a job for the summer dude. But it's not our fault."

So when I went to the bank collect my loan money for the yoga teacher training program, I spent several minutes staring at the $3,200 check made out to the Yoga Center of Minneapolis. I sat there, running my fingers across the perforated edges, wondering if maybe I should just keep the money for the summer and use it to, you know, eat and pay for gas.

I decided, with shaky resolve, that I had to use this money for its intended purpose. I drove to the yoga center and handed it over to the program coordinator with a weak smile. Because it seems that people who practice yoga regularly are more open and compassionate than the rest of the world, I walked over to price out the required reading materials for the program and explained how I am officially jobless with no current plan for income.

Weeks ago, when I first met with the program coordinator, she mentioned that a staff person was leaving in August and she would be interested in seeing my resume, if I wanted to apply for the job. After sending it to her, she wrote back saying she would get back to me as she had other interested applicant.s To me, in that moment, it was a verbal rejection letter.

After sharing my feelings of monetary hopelessness, she looked me square in the eyes and said, "You know that girl who was going to quit in August? She's now leaving July 1. She just called to tell me. Like five minutes ago. This seems like fate. Do you want to come back into my office for an interview?"

Thirty minutes later I was filling out employment forms, agreeing to my new, 15-hours-a-week work schedule, and planning my training shifts. This was yesterday.

Today, I went to the yoga center for my first training shift. For those of you who have worked in customer service for any significant amount of time, you know those annoying first few shifts, where you try to learn the software and how to deal with clients. A lot of the time, you train with the weathered employees who show you the shortcuts and roll their eyes at every annoying customer and their overbearing boss, giving you a sense that this job probably gets old quickly.

Take all that knowledge and toss it. Here at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, it's rubbish. The customers are eager yogis and yoginis, some more pompous than others, but all of them are usually heavily laced with good intentions. Then there are the teachers, who wander in smiling and leave pleased, even if there were only two people in his or her class. Finally, there are the passersby who wander in asking confusing questions about yoga and its different forms. But, even as misinformed people, they are sweet and kind and seeking truths.

This job will, by no means, cover my bills this summer. But it will fill my happiness cup, for sure.

I think my aunt was right. This really does feel like grace. I hope there's more in store.

Monday, June 6, 2011

new friends seem to come so easy

Meeting with Michel today was like hanging out with my own personal celebrity. When she walked into the coffee shop, I was darn near giddy. We sat and talked for about 30 minutes. She told me about her life, her yoga journey, her family, her job and how it all related to yoga.

I just sat there, listening to her talk, smiling, blissful that she was being so open and friendly to me, a silly little novice yogi. She had to rush off to her next appointment and as she was hugging me goodbye she said, "Oh, yay! This was fun! Let's hang out again! I really like you!"

It was like my biggest crush checked the "yes" box. Not "maybe." Definitely not "no."

I went to a gentle yoga class after our meeting and spent most of my practice smiling, thanking whatever power brought me to yoga. Today was kind of a crap day for several different reasons, but after a 30-minute chat, followed by an hour-long class, I felt leveled out and a happy sense of peace.


today, i meet an inspiration...

After school today, I'm meeting with Michel Tigan, a yoga instructor and the director of the St. Croix Valley Big Brothers Big Sister organization.

Michel is the first and only teacher to bring me to tears. I was practicing at a studio in a nearby suburb last summer and towards the end of the practice, she had us laying in the open and relaxing corpse pose (savasana), instructing us to let go. She told us to grab whatever tension we had in our ankles, head, neck, heart, core and let it go. As I diligently shoveled through each part of my body, trying to let go of whatever I had kept there, tears started filling my eyes and sliding, warmly across my temples and onto my mat. As each tear fell, I felt lighter, happier, more scared and even a little hysterical. I was very vulnerable, but it was thrilling and peaceful at the same time.

I left the class in such an intense state of unnerving bliss that I forgot to catch her name. I tried to find her on the website a few days later, but there was no contact information made available. I eventually stopped going to that studio after my month of unlimited yoga ran out. I eventually forgot about that moment and forgot about Michel.

Until about a month ago.

I started my free week at another yoga studio in another nearby suburb, testing out the waters of a studio at which I would potentially take a teacher trainer course. On my second day, I walked into the studio to a smiling brunette wearing silver dangling earrings and feathers in her hair. She was so warm when she spoke. We started talking about teacher trainings and she told me, briefly, about her yoga journey. I asked her questions about the different programs, skill levels etc. The more we spoke, the more I felt I knew this woman. She felt so safe. I trusted her.

It wasn't until class started, I closed my eyes in half lotus and Michel started to speak, that I remembered who she was. I left the practice feeling cleansed and giddy. But, like a school girl with a crush, I was too nervous to tell her what she meant to me, so I slipped out of the studio and tried again to find her on the internet.

After little success, I met with the studio owner and asked her if I could have Michel's contact information. I shared my story with Michel via e-mail and she agreed to meet me today at a local coffee shop. She's even offered to do a mentorship program with me. I feel like, in about 10 hours, I'll be hanging out with my own little personal celebrity.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

follow me on my journey

I've done it. I've really done it. I'm going back to school. To become a yoga teacher.

Let me start at the beginning. Five years ago, I took my first yoga class. I was 21 years old, living in that small, clinically clean, doctor town known as Rochester, Minnesota, muscling through an internship at the local newspaper. It was a hot, July night. I don't know what led me to that studio - perhaps a lingering interest in a fitness routine that seemed more manageable to someone like me. I was very lonely in that town, so there's a very good chance I took the class because I thought I'd meet a few young, limber people to befriend.

After my first class, nothing earth shattering happened. The teacher of the class invited me to go camping with her friends over the weekend. It thrilled me to be accepted into a group of people so quickly. But I never went camping.

I spent the next four and half years looking for a yoga studio like the one I found in Rochester. While I enjoyed the mental and physical health benefits of the practice, I wanted to find that sense of community I had stumbled upon in southern Minnesota. In my attempts, which were usually several months apart, I would try a new studio, using the free week they offered, or buying a punch card or just dropping into a class.

A big part of yoga is practicing non-judgement for both others and yourself. You're also supposed to focus on "staying on your own mat" while you're taking a class. These are two very, very hard things for me to master. So after a few classes, I would usually stop attending because I felt like I didn't fit in with the clientele. I wanted that sense of community so badly, and I couldn't find it.

About four months ago, I stopped looking for it. I stopped making excuses for not practicing yoga. I knew I needed it. I kept thinking about it. I changed my reason for doing yoga. Simply put, I re-started doing yoga just for the sake of doing yoga. To feel my body move, to engage my brain in a different way, to feel my breath and to practice the mantra branded on the back of my neck: Just Be.

I started a three-week, daily practice, yoga challenge offered on Yoga Journal's website. Just before the program ended, I found myself in a book store, buying yoga magazines and books, eager to keep this going. Somehow. I didn't have the money to take the classes, but I could afford a book.

So, using this book, I started learning new poses, practicing meditation, learning breathing techniques. The more I practiced yoga, the hungrier I became for more knowledge. More history. I found myself dropping certain foods out of my diet, avoiding certain beverages, and carrying myself differently throughout the day. I became less angry when things didn't go my way. I started to let things go before I could even grab on. Not all the time, but just frequently enough to notice the impact.

After a couple of months of developing a beautiful home practice routine in my little green walk-in closet. I bought additional props and started shopping around for a studio. In all my google searches, I kept finding myself clicking on links to teacher training programs. I'm not good enough at yoga to teach it, I would say to myself as I clicked the link. But wouldn't it be cool to learn tons of things about yoga, maybe not to teach right away, but at least to have a broader understanding of this powerful practice that has made a significant impact in my life in such a short amount of time?

In the last couple of weeks, I've met with different yoga teachers, teacher trainers, studio owners and practitioners. One of the conversations was so meaningful, I started weeping right outside the Dunn Bros. in Hudson, Wisconsin. After doing my research, like the good little journalism grad that I am, I found a program that clicked. It felt right. I met with the program director and in that annoying, hippie, energetic sense, I just felt it. I knew I had to enroll in the next nine-month course and continue on this journey.

My classes start in July, and I'd like to share my journey with you. I've had so many moments in recent months that I wish I would have written down so that some day I can look back and smile on where I've been, and remember the day I kicked up into my first headstand, or the time I was able to quiet my mind for five whole minutes. Join me?

Away we go...