Monthly Archives: May 2011

300-minute milestone

I just finished sitting still for ten minutes, for the thirtieth day in a row. My first guided meditation retreat is complete!

I haven’t written much if anything about my decision to set aside ten minutes a day for the last month, mostly because I didn’t want to jinx myself. I knew there was a real possibility of failure and didn’t want to have to be publicly accountable for my commitment. I put enough internal pressure on myself as it is; sometimes it’s in my best interest to keep my intentions quiet. But now that I’ve officially succeeded, I can talk about why I did it, and why I’ll do it again:

Self-discipline is crucial, and I want to cultivate it in myself. I read a refreshingly accessible book on how and why meditation aids in achieving self-discipline, and so I decided to try my hand at sitting still. Setting aside some time each day to notice my breath and my thoughts.

It’s simple enough in theory, sitting for a few minutes a day. But every day is different, and it’s not always easy to find the space for stillness. Some days I downright despised the notion of “wasting” ten minutes in the morning that could seemingly be better spent with the snooze button. But under the terms of the guided retreat, if I skipped a day, I would have to start over–and while the book assured me that would be absolutely fine, the fact remains that I don’t like to fail.

Of course in reality it is impossible to fail at meditation; the book makes that much clear. The point is just to become aware of how the mind is functioning, so that I have the choice of changing. And I understand that motivating myself with the threat of failure is not a compassionate technique. I’m working on being kinder to myself, but I have a ways to go. Which is why this first thirty-day journey won’t be my last.

And even though I’ve done it imperfectly, I’ve proven that it is possible to meditate for thirty consecutive days, and that is pretty cool. That’s more than I’ve ever meditated before: 300 minutes I’ve given to myself, that I’ve invested in my own development and well-being. I feel good about what I’m doing, and I can tell that sitting down each day is getting easier, feeling like less of a chore and more of a privilege. Practicing patience, ten minutes at a time!

Enthusiastic endorsement

When you come to passionately believe that the lifestyle you’ve discovered could benefit each and every person you care about, it’s hard not to endorse your product.

I’ve been trying to get my mom to start a yoga practice for years now. I don’t want to force it on her, but I suspect that she’d learn from it, and most likely be happier. And, caring is sharing.

So when she told me a yoga studio opened within walking distance of her house a couple months ago, I strongly suggested she check it out. She was interested, but busy too, which worked to my advantage when Mother’s Day rolled around: My sister and I got our mom a gift certificate for a massage and a few yoga classes.

She took her first class the other day, and I was thrilled to receive an email shortly thereafter, excerpted here with her permission:

“I can’t believe it’s possible for an hour to disappear so fast. I love the stretches, but I’ve also suddenly become much more conscious of my posture, and find myself trying to sit up straight without even thinking about it. And as I was weeding the front bed (in between rain storms) this afternoon, when my back hurt I consciously relaxed into a yoga pose and it instantly felt better.”

Yes! Yes. I had a similar experience after my first Bikram class: The next day on the subway I noticed myself standing taller–of being aware of my posture, of noticing and caring for my body. So I returned to the mat, again and again, and life has only gotten better.

Of course, it’s not always easy to have a yoga practice. Feelings are a big part of yoga (emotions in motion) and sometimes that’s tricky. My mom already noticed:

“It is frustrating not knowing what you’re doing, and I had to be corrected a couple of times, but another woman who’s been there a dozen or so times assured me it just gets easier.”

Thank you, another woman, for reassuring my mom! It feels good to think my mother will have a yoga community of her own; it’s fulfilling to spend time with people who care about their bodies, minds, and spirits.

And yes, it does get easier. Harder too, but then you are also stronger so it balances out. Balance, strength, flexibility. Focus, awareness, calm. Yoga promotes peaceful, joyful existence–and my mom is giving it a try! I am pleased and humbly hopeful for her, or, as my mom put it in the closing of her email:

“So far so great!”

Fresh (re)start

It’s been awhile since I took class at my training studio. I’ve been preoccupied, and a little reluctant. Among other things, I’ve been struggling with feeling rejected since I wasn’t asked to teach right after graduation. But I’ve had some time to reflect, and to take responsibility for my perspective. Today I felt ready to return, and I’m so glad I did.

Class tonight was wonderful. A fellow trainee was teaching, and my practice was strong and peaceful. The teacher, my friend, made us laugh in chair pose, and I felt the magnificence of my warrior postures, and I was in synch with my breath and pleasantly present, aware and grateful for my able body and its dripping sweat. I felt comfortable where I was. I’ve spent two hundred hours in that room, and it felt good to be back.

Afterward I got to catch up with two other pals from my training, and to see a couple more on my way downstairs. There is a community at that studio, of course, and I am a part of it now, whether or not I work there.

I love the feeling of belonging at a studio but I dislike the concept of lifelong allegiance. I can’t be tied down to a practice that is always changing: it was Bikram before power vinyasa and lately it’s been more meditative and emotional than physical. But the beauty of this reality is that my home studio understands. They never told me I should not look elsewhere, should not continue my explorations outside their doors.

And so I’ll keep taking one day at a time. Keep snagging groupons for one-month specials at places around town, trying out new styles and vibes, experimenting with my education and how I want to share it. But the foundation I built during training will always be there, as will the incredible network of people I’ve come to know and love. I can lean on it, and learn from it, and remain so very grateful as I continue to grow.

Will = way

It’s cliche, I know, but it’s also true: Where there’s a will there’s a way. I’m seeing this more clearly than ever before, particularly now that I understand the will won’t always necessarily be my own.

I’ve talked about isvara recently–the 5th niyama that refers to surrender. But last night while reading Emotional Yoga I realized that the 5th yama, aparigraha, is closely related. Aparigraha means not wanting more than you need; having a desire but not clinging to it. For me, this means knowing that I want to teach without becoming neurotic trying to make that happen.

Obviously if I sit around and do nothing, I am not going to achieve my goal (unless by divine intervention, which I won’t rule out, but am not depending on, either). But if I am so busy fretting about the future that I forget to dwell in the present, I’m not doing myself any favors. I’m here, now, for a reason. Desire is fine and good, but so are my current circumstances.

I’m grateful to have my will, and it’s open to interpretation. As for the way, I trust it’ll become visible as long as I stay calm enough to see it.

Milestone manifesto

I love teaching yoga!

I think I’ve expressed that sentiment before, and I’m pleased/relieved it hasn’t changed. What has changed, however (and thank goodness) is my anxiety about teaching yoga. Near the end of my 200-hour training I realized one aspect of isvara–I surrendered my will and decided to accept my yoga fate. I stopped fixating on teaching at my training studio; I gave up the illusion of control. It feels better to go with the flow.

And that’s what I’ve done. I took a week for reflection and then I started my kids certification with an open heart and an empty cup. And I have mostly resisted passing judgment on my experiences over the past few days. But tonight was a turning point, and I am peacefully proud to say I’m ready for more.

I am ready to teach, to try again and again. I know enough to get me going–between my 200-hour RYT training, the yoga-for-beginners workshop I took last week, and the kids training I complete tomorrow, I have plenty of knowledge to keep me on my path. It’s time to take action, and, with gratitude, I feel like I can do it. I believe our world will be better if our energy is balanced, and I want to explain:

To me, yoga is the union of love and breath. It’s that simple. Energy and lifeforce. The better I understand them, the happier I seem to be. I don’t need much more proof for my own personal fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong–I’m thrilled when good studies come out. I’m all for empirical, repeatable evidence. But I hold a Bachelors of Science in Journalism, not for nothing. I know how to conduct an experiment, how to tell a story. How to find a truth.

And yoga is a story worth exploring, a truth worth sharing. I consider myself a healthy skeptic, but on one stance I stand firm: Yoga can make everyone better.

I’m not saying it should make everyone better, or that it will. But truly, the potential is there, just as it exists in any form of energy-balancing practice. Yoga just happens to be particularly accessible in this day and age, and I happened to discover it, and it happens to have enlightened my life (along with a number of lesser-known energy-balancing techniques and processes).

A core message of yoga–accept yourself, and try your best–is a message I want to communicate. Especially to kids, many of whom are still listening to their teachers. But really to everyone, because I can think of no one it couldn’t help. Because yoga is breath and love, and who doesn’t need both? I believe we all deserve to feel good about the lives we live, and I want to help people change if they want to.

I’m still practicing surrender, isvara style. I am not too attached to what happens next. But I am feeling strongly about my readiness, and able to offer what I have to give. I am seriously grateful for my life, and that feels amazing.

Keeping an empty cup

I’m starting a new training tonight, to get my certification in kids yoga, and I’m sure it will be unlike anything I’ve learned before.

(Well, not entirely unlike anything I’ve learned before, since the training is being led by the same person who introduced me to kid yoga during my 200-hour training. But that was just a taste; this will be a four-course meal.)

I’m tempted to have expectations. I sort of want this experience to change my life, to open up new opportunities for growth, for transformation–and for employment. Because I want to earn my living doing what feels fulfilling. I am grateful to have a job right now, but I have more to give than what my current position can take. I need to share the love that’s in me, and I suspect children will be more receptive than corporate coworkers. I suspect I could be an amazing educator, teaching yoga to the young, in a school setting or otherwise.

But I am suspending my suspicions for at least a few days, because I know that needless expectations take me nowhere. They also wreak havoc on my hopeful nature. I honestly don’t know what this week will bring, and I want to be open to any outcome, trusting that it will be in my highest good.

There is a metaphor about full and empty cups that helps me keep my mind at rest. I think I heard about it in relation to Bikram yoga, but I can’t find attribution online so I’ll just chalk it up to yogi legend. It goes like this: If your cup is full, there is no room for more liquid–i.e., new ideas and experiences. Thinking you know what to expect–even if you may be correct–gets in the way of mindful awareness. But when you enter a situation with an empty cup, you are open to receiving whatever is offered. Previous knowledge does not distort your present moment.

I try to empty my cup before every yoga class I take, to remind me that although postures may be familiar, the feelings of my body and mind will always change while in them. Similarly, when I enter the training space tonight I will do my best to arrive with an open heart and an empty cup–ready to discover what awaits, willing to accept what it is, believing I can handle what I am given.

….But I woudn’t complain if I was given a new career. Not that I’m expecting one. I’m just saying.

A return to consciousness, in real time

I just took a short workshop on how to teach beginners yoga and I am now in an advanced state of overwhelmed.

Deep breath. And another. Okay. That’s a bit better.

I had semianticipated a reaction like this which is why I was planning to immediately head over to the studio where I did my teacher training and take a cathartic class in my comfort zone.

But. The workshop ran over, and I was nearly persuaded to stay and take a class there, until I realized it would be for ninety minutes and I didn’t have time. So here I am, brimming with anxiety and insecurity, with a mat strapped to my back but nowhere to lay it down.

Except, is that really true? Breathe… No, it’s not. There’s a park on my way home and my empty apartment awaits as well. There are plenty of places where I can connect my breath with my body, including right here, right now, standing still on a side street and noticing what is happening in my mind.

I am freaking out–and almost ready to use the past tense, by the way, thank you breath–because the self-hate that lurks in my mind wants me to believe I am lacking, that I can’t or won’t be a good teacher. That not recognizing the Sanskrit terms the teacher casually threw about today somehow means my recent education is moot, that I didn’t learn what I should have. That I don’t know how to correctly share knowledge.

But you know what, self-hate? Me and my breath are on to you. We know that you take advantage of new and unfamiliar situations to inject me with fear and doubt, and fair enough, it almost worked.

But I’ve been meditating, ten minutes every day for almost a week now, and those tricks are already less effective. So while sure, I was shaken enough to come to a halt and write a blog post from the sidewalk, you lose. I’ve breathed through it and am already feeling better.

The fact that in many ways I’m still a beginner myself can be inspiring instead of intimidating. I get to choose, and so I do: Breathe in, peace out, keep calm, and yes, carry on.

Now what? Deep breath, no worries.

Over and done and just begun–that’s how I feel about the conclusion of teacher training, which really just marked the start of a lifelong journey of learning, healing, and sharing.

I can’t quite bring myself to say something ended, even though I know it did. I know that next weekend, I won’t be spending nineteen hours inside a yoga studio. Next weekend, I won’t be constantly surrounded by a group of fellow trainees who continously challenge and inspire me to be my best self. In fact, I don’t even have fellow trainees anymore–I have colleagues. Because we are teachers now.

I am a teacher now! And more of a student than ever before. One of the wise mentor-yogis I’ve connected with during training pointed out in his commencement speech that becoming teachers means recognizing all we’ve yet to realize, and I couldn’t agree more.

I have so much more to discover, and so much more to give! I’ve scarcely scratched the surface of all that yoga has to offer, and I’m nowhere near finished sharing what I find. And while I’m still not sure exactly how and what I’ll contribute to my community of fellow humans in need of healing, I have some goals and ideas.

I’m going to keep teaching–at my training studio as scheduling permits, and to friends and associates as often as they’ll let me. I’m officially certified now, but there are still steps to take: I need to figure out what kind of instructor I want to be, to register with the Yoga Alliance, to get insured, to coordinate classes and clients and continue honing my voice as a teacher.

I’m going to keep learning–in a week I’m starting a training program to get my kids’ certification, and over the summer I’m getting educated in the therapeutic applications of yoga. I’m thrilled to explore these areas of specialization and discover what opportunities exist, how my life might further change. I’m also in the slow-but-steady process of reading the Yoga-Sutra, The Bhagavad Gita, Light on Yoga, The Sivananda Companion to Yoga, and an ever-growing list of other books that deserve my attention.

And I’m going to keep writing. I started this blog because I wanted to challenge myself to honesty, to make myself vulnerable, and to document anticipated transformation. All of those personal motivations are still present and valuable, so I see no reason to stop communicating.

Because I believe my words matter. They’re only mine, of course, and I offer them with humility. But by choosing to express myself publicly rather than privately, I allow for the possibility of affecting others, for the chance to be of service. Because if there’s one assertion that’s nestled into my heart over the last few months, it’s that we are all connected, that we will always benefit from considering different perspectives as we seek out universal truth.

So sincere thanks to all of you who have traveled with me thus far, who have supported and encouraged me both in my commitment to yoga and in my writing. I’m so grateful for growth, and for the ability to spread the word about breathing, being, and letting light shine. Namaste to the max!