Rikers Yoga – Teen Meditation

Photo via Groundswell.org
One of the many hallways at Rikers Rose M. Singer Center for women Photo via Groundswell.org

 

 

“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” 
― Pema Chödrön

 

After teaching in one of the sentenced women’s dorms I made my way to the dorm that held three teens who aren’t living with the rest of the teen population for various reasons. They were still in school so I waited until they got back. Things are always changing. ‘Tasha’ had been moved to another house (I think she’s back with the teen girls) and ‘Shakira’(not her real name) who was with the teen girls the week before was back in the ‘isolated’ (my word, not Rikers) section. Shakira lit up when she saw me. The CO in the bubble had let them know that I stopped by but I don’t think they realized that I’d be coming back. Shakira grabbed the only other girl in the dorm and told her to try yoga that it would be fun. ‘Andrea’ eyed me dubiously. I hoped that she would warm up as we began to practice but she didn’t and left class a few minutes in. Shakira unruffled asked if we could practice handstand. Andrea wandered back to see why we were on our hands and stayed for a few more minutes and then left again. Shakira asked about practicing crow and hurdler AND headstand. Who am I to get in the way such enthusiasm? As we were winding down practice I asked Shakira what was her favorite thing to do in yoga. She replied, ‘Meditation.’

‘A five-minute meditation?’ I suggested?

‘Can we do longer?’ she wanted to know.

I was all cool on the outside. ‘Um, sure we can sit and do a 15 minute guided med-,’

‘I don’t really need guided if that’s okay. I can focus on my breathing.’

‘Yeah okay- let’s do a 15 minute sit. ‘ But inside I’m like:

hermoine

My head had been pounding all morning so a seated meditation without support did not seem like a great idea. I let Shakira know I’d be moving my bolster to the wall for back support. She said, ‘We can do that? That’s cool because sometimes my back hurts sitting up.’

So we sat. I don’t drop into a deep meditation but it was hard not to chill out because the dorm is silent. I did think about Shakira’s desire and willingness to be still for 15 minutes. Not an easy task for an adult in this distracted world, even more challenging as a teenager. If you add the element of detention and stress of Rikers Island, it’s almost an impossible task. And yet, when I glance over at her just to see that she’s okay, her face is smooth and her breathing natural. This is no BS she’s in meditation.

Pema Chödrön talks about folks who really take meditation seriously because they have to. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) those that haven’t had lots of serious trauma or addiction enjoy meditation and can treat it more like a trend. However, if you are a card carrying member of the shit hitting the fan club you get real serious real quick about meditation. Life can be pretty grisly where there aren’t any options left for a decent life. If meditation shows up an an answer, most take it. Because once you can look at your naked truth and not run, you can do just about anything. (Can I get an amen for Pema?) Sorry, I digress.

I thought my class with the teens would be about jumping around and laughing. And sometimes it is. But other times it’s about being quiet. This is what trauma informed teaching is about – listening and honoring the students. It’s not about my personality, my goals for a class or my wants and desires for students. It’s about my big ole mouth being shut , my hands and heart open, saying what can I give to you. How can I serve where you are in this moment.

I will not ignore people who are locked away. I will continue to speak up and out about the need to END mass incarceration. I will continue to plead for the need for more volunteers to visit people in prison as we work to end the system. I will continue to encourage people to volunteer and give assistance to those who are out of jail and need support, love and encouragement. I will not ignore those I can’t see. I will not be silent. This is my mantra and my meditation.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

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Thursday Yoga – The Power of ‘I’m Sorry’

Photo adventures in grace
Photo adventures in grace

I was bad at saying I’m sorry. Sometimes, I’m still pretty shitty at it. I read that when somewhere that when we say I’m sorry we are really trying to forgive ourselves for the hurt we have inflicted upon ourselves. Yoga says that ahisma is not to be practiced. We do not practice violence against others or ourselves.

You may know that hanging feeling of knowing an I’m sorry that needs to be said. Instead of saying the words and opening up that space of healing, we squash it down with distractions. We distract ourselves with other thoughts, work, a drink, a smoke, an argument, errands…you get the picture. All of these things only prolong the suffering of not saying those two words.

So why not be free?

Live in the now.

Maybe the idea of I’m sorry to the person you’ve wrong isn’t possible. Stephen and Ondrea Levine have a page set up, that allows you apologize- anonymously. Because the act itself of being sorry can be powerful.

So go ahead. Say I’m sorry.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Health Yoga- Signs You May Be Falling Off the Wagon

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Making life changes can be empowering. Taking control of a an issue or situation and finding a solution is gratifying. I think this why I love watching shows where people triumph over adversity.

In the TV show that is my life, I’ve worked hard to become and stay self-aware. It keeps me healthy, both physically and mentally. But mastering my own emotional blueprint can be a gift and a curse. Once I have figured out why I do something and deal with it, it’s almost impossible for me to do that behavior without having my conscience rear her knowing head, eyebrow raised and finger wagging. The adventure of quitting smoking was blast inside that large dome that is my mind. Alas, another story for a rainy day.

I’m going to keep it real…

While backsliding does happen- it’s important to do recognize the signs. I like to think of it as becoming less present. When I’m distracted from being in the moment, I lose connection my center and ultimately my peace. As a result, I can feel off-balance, anxious, angry, nervous or empty. Instead of investigating the whys and breathing through the icky feelings my ego tries to convince me to cover it up or fill the hole with bad behavior or stuff. C’mon level with me, you know you’ve been there. 

I’m human. And you are too.  Distraction happens. But staying distracted is not the way to live a satisfying life.

Fortunately, there are red flags that let me (and all of us) know we may be about to veer off course.

 

Signs that you may be about to fall off the  wagon

The first six months of any major change are critical. It feels like the change is permanently made. If it is, great! But for many of us, we can unconsciously slip back into old patterns. Stay alert.

We all have triggers right? The stressors that send the signal to make us (insert bad behavior here). Before you know it you’re asking yourself, ‘How? How did I get here?”

david-byrne

 

1. You start to slip up in your  routine. One missed yoga practice turns into a week. You know who you are. It’s happened to me and I teach. I know that something is up when I notice that my meditation practice gets sloppy.

 

2. You start to rationalize bad eating habits. There’s noting wrong with the ocassional splurge. Life is meant to be enjoyed. But when the end of the work week brings empty pints of Ben & Jerry’s, it’s time to stop and evaluate.

 

3. You have less energy. I’m not talking about full blown fatigue. If you are feeling full blown fatigue for more than a week or two you should be talking to a doctor. I’m talking about that sluggish feeling. Maybe you’re lacking your regular up and at ’em energy. (Perhaps because you missed a workout, asana practice or after dinner walk or two?)

Being honest with yourself isn’t as scary as it sounds. We are programmed to beat ourselves up. That can lead to denial. Instead admit it. You’ll feel better about taking control back.

 

What to do?

1. Create a plan.  More than likely you made a plan to reach success in the past. It’s time to do it again. Outline the thing you need to do in order to get on track.

2. Talk to someone. Do you have a friend or yoga buddy? Someone you workout with? Give them a call. Talk to a supportive friend or family member. Sometimes saying the words out loud is all we need to get the ship back in the right direction. Other times a good conversation with someone who knows your health goals (and possible past struggles) can help you pinpoint a place where things started to go awry.

3. Write. It. Down. Ah, accountability is a tough but loving vixen. Pull out a journal and start scribing. This may help you identify what caused the slip in the first place. Old school notebook not your thing? Download an app. During HealthMinder Day at the BlogHer12 conference I listened to a lot of women talk about apps that really helped them stay on track and accountable. RunkeeperiMapMyRun, and Nexercise all have free versions of apps you can use. I keep track of my meditations on Insight Timer. It’s a really basic app, but I love it because it has a journal feature. Find what works for you so it becomes routine.

4. Forgive yourself. You made a mistake. One key to sustained success is the ability to let the stuff you don’t need go. Holding onto to bad feelings helps you how? Exactly. 

 

All that talk we hear about making lifestyle changes is true.

For me, yoga isn’t something to do it’s a way to be. Yoga has changed my life. And with this glorious yoga life comes bumps, lumps and the occasional mountain to climb.

And you know what? That’s okay. There’s no there, there. But the more I stay in this moment and honor my true self, I see that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Namaste y’all. Keep truckin’.

Adventures in Yoga – Forgive Yourself

What-does-the-Bible-say-about-Forgiveness

When I was in the third or fourth grade I discovered flavored lip gloss. Fantastic! It came in different colors, flavors and tasted faintly sweet. What’s not to love?

One day, in CVS I saw some root beer lip gloss that I had to have. We learn desire and suffering so early. I had to have it. My mother said no. So my grubby paws and racing heart palmed the lip gloss. I know, I know, I know…..

 

 

In the parking lot walking next to my mother, I pulled out the lip gloss. (I said I was desperate for root beer lips, not necessarily  the sharpest tool in the shed). Needless to say my mother went f@cking apeshit  because it became clear too her that she had given birth to a budding criminal. I was marched back inside the store and required to report my crime to the manager. She was none too pleased and if memory serves (which is tricky) I got in pretty big trouble. But like all good moms- she forgave me. I went on to do even bigger and more stupid things and she forgave me these trespasses as well.

 

It always seemed harder to forgive myself. I would let the shame or guilt coat my skin. Rather than let things go and start fresh I became a series of bad things I’d done.

 

I guess we’ve all done things that make us less than proud of ourselves. Yoga has helped me let go of my past while staying accountable so I live my best life in the now. In some cases I’ve been lucky enough to be forgiven for some of my past transgressions. I’m forever grateful for the people in my life who have loved me unconditionally.

 

In other cases I haven’t been so lucky and I’ve had to lose people because I burned a bridge. Living a life through the breath helps me feel okay with the idea of things being what they are even when they are good and bad. Because even feelings or things that are bad can end up being good. I’ve also realized that a big part of this whole process of becoming enlightened is learning to forgive yourself.

 

I am more that the bad shit I’ve done.

I am more than what I do for a living.

I am not the stuff I have.

I am not the stuff I don’t have.

 

Last week in class I lost myself. I became too connected with my breathing and missed a cue from the teacher- in a effort to catch up I rushed through my flow- completely reacting to the idea of catching up rather that truly remembering why we do the asanas- to connect to the now.

 

Eddie my teacher, gently said- ‘if you ever miss a cue, don’t worry- come back to downward dog. It’s okay no need to rush- forgive yourself.’

 

There’s no perfection.

 

I felt a flash of shame. Not because of what he said, but because I still struggle with the idea of saying to myself, ‘you’re forgiven. Let it go.’

 

And then something happened- I let it go. I actually let the shame of it all go on an exhale into a forward fold.

 

Not surprisingly, the rest of class was like opening of a flower- I wasn’t stressed- I didn’t hyper focus on technique- I went with my flow. I gave myself the ultimate gift.

 

I’m forgiven.

 

Namaste y’all.