Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fishing for Yoga

Similar to when a fish is pulled out of a great body of water and reveals its nourishment for the betterment of another body, some writing seems to hook into me, and pull things out that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, nourishing me in ways I barely understand.

Paragraph 1 from the introduction of Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar:

“The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. It is true union of our will with the will of God. ‘It thus means,’ says Mahadev Desai in his introduction to the Gita According to Gandhi, ‘the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God; it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that Yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.’”

I look to traditional yoga texts to deepen my study and inspire my growth. I seek to refine my understanding and continue along the path. And returning to the essential points can be helpful.

Yoga is aligning one’s will with something that cannot be entirely understood from a worldly point of view. It would be crucial that the will be a clear and empowered aspect of one’s self in order to align with a larger sense like that. A person’s will can’t defined by past pain or woundedness and be effective. It is still hard to imagine attaching will to something that cannot be entirely understood from an individual’s viewpoint. And it is very easy to see how the will is attached to worldly desires and aversions. The human body is designed to experience worldly things. It feels the pull of pleasure and the repulsion of pain. And at the same time it is also natural to look for deeper meaning in life.

Once a person gets a whiff of the sense that there really is something that is beyond one’s personal pains and pleasures, things can go in different directions. There is a choice. A person can start to deny one’s personal life and try to ignore the influence of past events. In this case you might see what looks good and just act like you think you should. It might be the best a person can do at a certain point, but there is falseness in imitation, and rigidity in this approach. I know because I tried it, and when I was in this space I had the best intentions. I was going to be the best person I could be in spite of the events that brought me to the place where I could make this choice. But, for me there is such sadness in this way. I am a person with a birthright to my story. There are specific events that brought me here. If I’m not embracing this aspect of myself, who is this “me” living this life? Something is missing. And what business does she have doing this? I say this because in some way I become an imposter acting in my own life when I’m not authentically embracing my experience.

A better and more authentic approach in my view is to get to know one’s self in light of the new awareness that there is something more to life than the daily grind. The denial path is totally understandable if, like me, someone has painful experiences in the past. You don’t really want to go there. You want to start fresh. And it looks like an option to live in a different space, but eventually every yogi must process their worldly experience. It might be the only way to clarify and empower one’s will. Once you know who you are, including weaknesses and strengths, I think it is possible to discipline one’s self and align one’s actions with a larger and more connected view. This is a constant and ongoing process. I am still working on knowing the self that I denied, and yet I am also working with the yoga and doing my best to align with my best understanding and sense of myself as I go.

Link to a post inspired by the second paragraph of Light on Yoga

Saturday, May 30, 2009

First Class at Yogaview-Division

When I announced my new classes on this blog, I had a request to write about it. So here I am aiming to please, and writing about my first class at the new donation-only yoga studio in Chicago, Yogaview-Division.

I arrived at 3:30 pm. It was half-an-hour before class time: 4 pm. I was taking a couple pictures like the one above (it is of the interior entrance to the studio), and thought I'd have a little time to settle in, but just then a couple came down from the Ruby Room Guest Rooms, located up the stairs from the yoga studio. They stayed a bit, talked about how nice it was, and picked up a schedule. Then students started to arrive (yeah!). Everyone (especially me) was excited to be there.

It is a wonderful space. I opened the door towards the back patio, and the sounds of falling water from the fountain outside filled the room. It was almost time to begin class. This class is called "Gentle" on the schedule and it is on Friday at 4 pm (come sometime, if you want—yep, I'm promoting it), so it was no surprise that when I asked around I found out that people wanted to relax. And a couple people had physical concerns. It is always helpful for me to know what is going on with people so I can lead the most beneficial class possible.

We started class in a comfortable seated position, and continued with the sound of OM. Because I was excited, I needed to focus on releasing that so I could be more present to the needs of the class. We released tension from the shoulders with some poses, and opened the groins and hamstrings with others. We did some balancing poses to help clear the mind. And we raised the heat in the body with work. Then we chilled out with some nice supported poses.

I find that there is always a balance between what I have planned for a class, and what the class actually calls for. In other words I strive to pay attention to what each class needs as well as what individuals in the class need. So if I had planned something that was inappropriate for the particular group that showed up, what I see that would serve the group that shows up always trumps the plans I arrive with. And there have been times where I really just wanted to do what I had planned, but if half the class has shoulder injuries and I had wanted to do arm balances then it is clear that we will have to go in another direction.

For this class I had thought that we might have to be more "gentle" than the actual class ended up being. This was a class of experienced and fit yogis that mostly just wanted a little more relaxed practice on a Friday afternoon. And that was great with me! I left that evening with a teachers-high that lasted into the night.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Soul Yoga

BlissChick wrote a post about moving through depression that Svasti has been talking about, too. In her post BlissChick identified something I have been working on, and explained it really well. It has to do with unpacking the stories of one’s life.

I have had some old stories packed away inside myself and during these last several years I have been unpacking these treasures in every way I can.

One thing I think it’s important to understand about this process is that you can control the flow. In fact it might be unhealthy to do this too much or too quickly. We have the rest of our lives to unpack our baggage so there is really no rush. Working too fast can be overwhelming. It is of vital importance to move forward compassionately, and it can be helpful to include other people that you trust.

The benefits of defining your story are enormous. Unrecognized past trauma festers under the surface like a psychological boil. And when it is released we are free to heal from it. Otherwise, our reactions in everyday life can come from this unresolved stuff, resulting in unintended consequences that we do not want.

There are a number of ways to do this. As BlissChick said in her post, journaling is one—a good one. There can be fears around telling (even a piece of paper) your darkest moments. So you have to find a way that feels safe.

A student once voiced a fear of the evidence a journal might leave, and said there might be situations where a journal might be used in the court of law (perhaps, in a divorce). If this is the case, I recommend opening up a blank file on the computer, write your story and don’t save it. Just trash it at the end of the session. To be psychologically free of something we have to define it. Otherwise we can become like marionettes controlled by the unconscious machinations of repressed trauma. And there is no reason to go back to these words. Once it is done, it’s done. So I think it’s okay to throw away old journals. The benefit comes from understanding your self better, not from having a bunch of old books.

This being said, I realize that it could seem funny coming from me. After all, I write this public blog where I write personally. However, as you might imagine, I do consider what I want to share. I find a way to share the personal story if I feel that it serves the purpose of this blog. That being said, I have experienced incredible healing benefit from keeping this blog. My commitment to it has kept me moving with writing in an incredibly satisfying way. And knowing that I am sharing it with others forces me to communicate an idea fully—so someone else can get what I’m talking about. So keeping this blog has helped my growth tremendously. Another thing I consider is how these words might affect someone else. And I hope that this work is helpful to others.

Another way to define your personal story (besides journaling) is to tell it to someone else. You must trust this person, so your truth can flow freely. And this person must listen and show that they understand. It is crucial that you get a caring and non-judgmental ear for these revelations about your self.

You can also find the support of a group. I have found some of the techniques taught by Woman Within to be helpful. And I meet with a group of supportive women every two weeks.

There are also other psychological techniques where people get to experience or act out their stories. Find a way that suits you, if it suits you to do so. As I say this a mama-bear aspect of myself comes up and says: Do not allow someone else tell you that they know the answer for you, because they can’t. At this level of personal, soul work we are each on our own. What another person can teach you is a helpful technique. You must find your own understanding.

This is soul yoga—another level of integration. When we are repressing our stories to show the world an unblemished face, we (perhaps unknowingly) are also cutting ourselves off from our life force and our personal treasure. And when we become more integrated and accepting of ourselves, we also become happier and able to live more fully. Loving your self enough to define those dark bits by expressing what happened AND how you felt about it, with words written or said (possibly also with other arts like music, painting, dance, etc.) has the power to take you out of despair. I know this through my experience. It is ongoing work. It is worthwhile work. It also becomes joyful work. I dance on the bones of my past trauma. I know it might sound macabre, but this is a strange world where there is wisdom and insight to be found in birth and death.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's all in the mix...

"…even though the negative grabs more attention, most moments in life—if you evaluate them one by one—are actually positive. So the opportunities to experience positive emotions are much more abundant. Indeed, negative emotions grab our attention partly because they’re relatively rare in day-to-day living."
-Barbara Fredrickson interviewed in The Sun magazine, May 2009

I really enjoy Ms. Fredrickson’s quote from The Sun magazine because it factually states that most moments in life really are positive in quality. It just so happens that the negative ones have a more attention-grabbing quality. Finally, a scientist tells us that life is mostly good. I can see that. And, by simply recognizing this fact, life can start to seem a little better.

But in practice I’ve seen this taken to both extremes. In the yoga world I have experienced the positivity police, and in the business world I knew some negativity-mongers. Both extremes hurt.

A couple of years ago I received an abrupt notice that I had to move in thirty days from an apartment that was going to be gutted and converted into a condo. It was hard news to take because I didn’t want to move right then. I also had a fabulous month planned that would make it difficult to find time to find a new place. So I was feeling a little down about it.

I shared this with someone in the yoga community—a “friend” who tried to tell me I was wrong, and to force me verbally to see it as a positive event. And at the time it just wasn’t. This positivity policewoman really hurt my feelings with her response. It is ridiculous in my view to censor negativity. To deny it is just to shove it down, where it will eventually resurface.

And, when I was working as a Production Manager for advertising, I worked a job with some people favoring the opposite perspective. One time I was at a client meeting in an upper floor of a monolithic glass and marble building, when someone suggested that we all jump out the window rather than face the project. This comment was intended as a joke, but I felt it. It hurt.

It’s clear to me that neither extreme works. It’s shallow to limit one’s self to only seeing the positive aspects of life, and it’s equally flat to dwell only on negativity.

On the ratio of positive to negative emotions Fredrickson says, “…three (positive emotions) to one (negative) is the tipping point. The healthiest thing would be to aim above that—four to one, five to one, or even six to one. Actually there’s research that suggests married couples who share about a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative emotions with one another are in solid marriages.”

The nugget of wisdom in her scientific research is that we require a certain number of negative experiences to flourish as human beings. Just like a good story has a dramatic conflict, to be satisfying our lives, too, need some crisis. And the trick to working with this reality is to be able to balance the negative emotions with plenty of positive ones, which life naturally provides—if we are awake to see the good that shows up every day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Yogaview! And a Day to Honor Ashtanga.

I am very excited to be on the schedule at Yogaview/Division opening Tuesday May 26th! My classes will be at 4 pm on Mondays and Fridays. I hope you can check out my classes there sometime. For more info stay tuned into the Yogaview Web site.

It's heartening to walk into a freshly painted, beautiful yoga space, and to imagine the classes that might happen there and the people who might come through. And I imagine myself learning more through teaching at this new venue. There is a lovely fountain burbling in the back courtyard. Love it!

Strangely enough on this very same day that I was dreaming a yoga future, there was also the passing of an important teacher of yoga, the founder of Ashtanga yoga: Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. I feel sad as I connect with these thoughts. He was 93 years old. I never met him, and yet through his teaching he has affected so many people, including friends, and including myself. His Primary Series gave me enough to chew on for a long time. I learned so much about myself as I hit my mat to practice this way. It was the first time that I trusted a process that I didn't understand. Even when I got injured I trusted that my body was working something out. This trusting initiated radical transformation in myself that is still in process. I am so grateful for the lessons learned in the sweaty yoga dojo. Blessings to all the people who have been affected by this practice!

So on this day that I was dreamily projecting forward, I also found myself rooting deeply into my past, and thankfully I spent many moments in the present. Wonderful life! 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek

I enjoyed the Star Trek movie! Revisiting the starship Enterprise connected me to aspects of myself that I value. In books like The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talked about the importance of stories in life and he talked about connecting to the archetypes in Star Wars, and I got it intellectually. But my experience of this recent Star Trek showed me more.

I remembered a few things from my childhood. At Christmastime before my seventh birthday I moved in with my Dad and Stepmom in Ohio. I remember seeing that my Father watched Star Trek, and thinking that was pretty great because I liked that show, too. It helped me to connect my experience from one household to another. I had been living in Georgia and Alabama with my Mother’s side of the family up to then, so the story of Star Trek actually helped to provide some continuity to my experience. It might sound strange, but living in those different homes with different inhabitants, rulers, customs and rules…even environments, was similar in story to Star Trek. From the perspective of a six-year-old: I had been going from planet to planet, too.

I also remember a mystical experience, of sorts, from around the same time. I was lying in my bed with my eyes closed, and I had a sense of being surrounded by infinite space in all directions. I felt safe: I could see distant stars, and thought that when I opened my eyes I might be anywhere.

So I’ll just call it the “space” archetype, it’s a metaphor for consciousness. Exploring outer space in a spaceship just gives us to tools and images to explore ourselves.

I also identified with the characters Jim and Bones because it was their wounds that sent them into space (of course, Spock, too!). And that’s how it really works. If there is no reason to question one’s existence then we can be happily complacent. But when natural pains come into a person’s life we seek “space” (as in the space archetype) for solace. Jim grew up without a Dad and was reckless and smart, and Bones’ ex-wife had “left him with just bones.” So both characters went off to Starfleet to prepare for space travel.

And through the experience they found connection, achievement, and even love.

This group of actors is young! So I hope that there will be many more movies that are as true to the spirit of Star Trek as this one is.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blog Love

It’s time to acknowledge some kind words and recognition I’ve received from some great bloggers: Graceful Yoga and Bliss Chick.

Thanks! Blogging has brought in another aspect of my life that I love. I feel as though I’ve met some really great people through blog words. And I think it would be really fun to do a yoga retreat for bloggers and yogis. It would be fun to meet, practice some yoga, and hang out. Those who wanted to could write about it (of course!). This way Dr. Jay could have in-person support if he were to get stuck on vacation again.

Here are some more blogs and bloggers I like:

Yoga for Cynics
Ordinary Enchantment
Wouldn’t stop picking at it
The Wicked Witch of the Web
Southern Yogi

And I enjoy the blogs in the side bar of this blog!

Thank you, bloggers! I especially like to read when you talk personally about things you care about and share beautiful pictures.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Alive Inside

It’s not enough to automatically go through one’s life: signing up for the right programs and paying the bills. It’s also important to make your own way, even to cut your own path.

In the springtime, gardeners turn over the soil to get it ready for this year’s plants. Similarly, we need to till our own internal space so we can be alive to the changes life inevitably presents.

Just because we don’t see something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. We might keep a clean, fresh environment inside our personal homes, but what are we doing to the larger shared world? We might see the closest thing to our eyes, and think that what we see there is everything. But when we think that way we are not thinking clearly. The world is bigger than any personal view.

If the world is restricted to what we already think we know then the internal landscape is stagnated. The earth inside is packed down from the heaviness of the winter snow and clogged by the leaves that fell last fall. It’s time to till the soil, and to allow the terrain to breathe freely with new life. There is an incredible richness in this old growth that gets turned under, in fact it nourishes the new life. So the past understandings are a good foundation for fresh insights. In fact we need those old leaves and decaying matter of past events to create the richness of our current being.

And just like we can pilot a remote controlled car from afar, we can also put the body through the paces of a yoga-style workout without much personal investment. But, when we work this way we are missing out on the deeply rejuvinative benefits of a mindful yoga practice. It is important to be open to a fresh perspective. This can come from trying out new instructions from a teacher in class, or from listening and responding to feedback from inside your own body. Keep it fresh!