Adventures in Meditation – Learning to Stay

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My mama said
Baby don’t ride that crazy horse
And my mama said
You must push with much force
And my mama said
Go get all that you’re after
And my mama said
That love’s all that matters

But I’m always on the run,
Always on the run,
But I’m always on the run ( on the run )

– Lenny Kravitz ‘Always on the Run’

 

Sometimes meditation just- sucks.

It ain’t been so easy the past week. Sitting still has been a struggle. I’ve been grasping at frustration and physical pain. Added to that are the thoughts that I should be headed down a different path than the one I’m currently on.

But I’m sticking with it.

This morning while walking Dakota I was listening to Pema Chödrön (as I am wont to do when I am feeling a bit out of sorts). I pulled up any track. Pema was talking about learning to stay. My facetious face reared its snarky head. Oh great. I listened anyway.

In meditation there will be bad days. But if I can learn to be with the thoughts and stay compassionate with myself, it’ll be okay. On the days that I’m feeling growly is when I most need this. It’s on these days when seconds pass like hours that I learn the most. The space in between the seconds is my opportunity to open my heart a little more. Acknowledging feelings of hurt, frustration or fear during a sit helps me move beyond instead of running away.

Yes Meditation, you are a crafty vixen but I see you.

Namaste y’all.

 

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Don’t be Sorry, Be Yourself

Oneika Tree

It seems like when you get down to it when we’ve lost our peace we should go look in ego’s backyard. It’s sure to be lounging under a tree with an overfed belly and head full of worry.

A few days ago I read a great post, 3 Things Yoga Students Need to Stop Saying.

My favorite was #3- saying I’m sorry.

Students apologize. Despite constant conversations about non judgement, students (and teachers) can get caught up in ‘I’m sorry’. Which is really saying I’m not enough, I’m not worthy. Put one more way it’s all about ego.

And it’s hard not to judge sometimes. I must remind students (and myself) not to do someone else’s practice. For as many reasons as we come to our mats, we have as many different practices.

Trying to match someone else’s outside won’t mesh with your inside.

Let it go.
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It’s one of the reasons I love teaching a long, slow meditative savasana.
With the eyes closed its easier to let go of judgement.
It’s easier remember how to love yourself when the gaze isn’t dialed into an external picture.
Sometimes if I’m feeling a lil off I let go of anxiety as I release a body part into the mat.
I let the back of my head melt into the mat and release any thoughts of feeling anxious. 
When my hips let go I release lurking feelings of inadequacy. 

 

By letting go of the body and the feelings I can open myself up to drift with looping thoughts or excess chatter.
Sometimes it works like a charm. Other times, it’s a struggle.
But it is always my yoga.
And that makes me feel peace.
This is yoga. Do you, yo.
Namaste y’all.
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What I Learned from 108 Days of Yoga

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Here is a list of the things I had done for more than 108 days in a row:

1. Smoke
2. Quit smoking
3. Breathe
4. Eat
5. Sleep

It’s not a very impressive list.

I didn’t intend to do 108 days of yoga. It was something that I had planned for later in the year. But we never get to plan our greatest lessons.

After doing 45 days of hot and vinyasa I decided to keep going. So overwhelming was the thought, I wasn’t ready to get into the details. It was more personal than I anticipated.

Now that I’m done and have taken some time to reflect, I may have learned a little somethin’.

1. Flexibility

I’m a reformed partially reformed control freak. When things go as I plan, I’m okay. When I expect things to go awry, I’m also okay. But when things go okay and I expect awry, I’ve been known to fuck bring unnecessary chaos where it wasn’t needed. When things go awry and I expect okay I can also get a bit stubborn. While my body is flexy, not all of me is always so willing to stretch.

Work in progress…

I got sick during my 108 days. Panic set in- all I could think of was missing a practice. Fortunately, I’m not all crazy, so there was a side of me that said chill out.

What is yoga anyway? It’s a uniting of body and breath. Maybe your yoga is to do a few restorative poses that foster healing instead of going balls to the wall in 105° heat. This thought didn’t come until after I had practiced two days with no voice in the heat, but like I said I’m a work on progress.

Change happens- it’s the one thing I can count on. 108 days taught me that I can always breathe through it.

Learning to breathe cultivated my flexibility more than any asana.

2. Commitment/Trust

I may or may not be known to twitch just a smidge when it comes to commitment. We all have out shit. This is mine.

But when you show up every single day for 108 days, you learn to trust the process. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at the end.

Maybe nothing.

Maybe everything.

Regardless, I wanted to see it through. On the days that I really didn’t want to go, I learned the most. There were also days that when I hit my mat and felt like a rock star, only to be humbled, a crumbled sweaty mess.

But fall down seven times, stand up 8.

3. Peace

Say hey, doing 108 days of yoga is a row is hard. But, I did it. The act of practicing daily became meditative, down to the way that I prepared my yoga bag the night before. There was a sense of calm that I took with me once I left my mat.
I think I’m most grateful for this.

I realize that while coming to my mat each day is pretty much given- what will happen in that moment is unknown. That is a little scary. And a lot of fun. But no matter what, I can be with whatever happens.

This is yoga for 108 days and beyond.

Namaste y’all.

Evolution Revolution aka Birthday Yoga

Evolving

I’m a May baby.

It’s hard not to get reflective around your birthday. On Friday I was walking to class listening to Badu’s Window Seat. This doesn’t make the day unique, I listen to this song a ton, but the weather was finally May warm. Everyone seemed to be rockin’ a lil bit of swag in their steps. It’s awesome when people around you unknowingly are cast in your real life music video.

I love everything about Erykah Badu. She seems to live her life eloquently out loud.

A smile crept on my face…Can I get a window seat, nobody next to me…

I resisted the urge to strip as I walked down Newark Avenue. I was feeling pretty  absolutely great.

I’ve read about women truly becoming who they are when they turn 40, but I was in my 30’s so of course I thought it was utter bullshit.

What we don’t plan for when we are young is our constant evolution as people. I’ve changed so much over the years, each year coming closer to what I believe is my most authentic self.

As birthday 42  up, I realize that I couldn’t be more complete. It’s quite a revelation because for so many years I was always searching.

Searching for the perfect job, partner, weight, look, hair etc…

But as I walked in that warm sunshine, I was exactly where I wanted to be literally and metaphorically.

Ooh-ra.

At first glance it might seem like it’s because of my yoga practice.

To say I’ve met some incredible people because of my yoga journey is an understatement. Yoga people are my people, it’s all good in the hood ( as the kids used to say).

But that’s not the source of my peace.

You might think it’s my physical practice. I’m strong again. I love it. There is a joy my body feels because I practice a few hours each day.

But that’s not the source of the peace either.

As my 108 days of yoga comes to a close I realize that yoga brought me close to me. No matter if you are single or married with 10 kids loving others begins with loving yourself.

My love for self goes beyond the regular self-love that I discovered in my 30’s.

It’s the kind of love that comes with unapologetic acceptance of every inch of your body and soul. I love the good in me. I love the stuff that makes me icky.

And living yoga helps me move closer to a place where it’s all okay.

This is yoga and it’s always evolving, just like me.

Namaste y’all.

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When Your Yoga Brings You To Tears (aka Free to Be You & Me)

photo credit elephant journal
photo credit elephant journal

 

 

In the third grade I saw ‘Free to Be You and Me‘.

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I don’t remember if it was planned or if some weather induced incident prompted the rolling in of the projector, but we gathered in the atrium.

Do you remember that feeling? The excitement of the projector? Freedom from some schoolwork and the lights turned off during the school day? It was an adventure.

Have you had the pleasure of seeing FtbYM? Have your kids seen it?

It turned 40 last year. Marlo Thomas and friends tackle gender indentity, racsism, sexism and class with songs, animation, live action and of all things- puppets.

Just thinking about it makes me smile. You get to see a teenaged Michael Jackson sing with Roberta Flack about growing up and not changing. (Sort of eerie to watch now)

FtbYM was a landmark album and film by the Ms. Foundation for Women that introduced a generation of parents and kids to a new world order that was not just tolerant, but celebrated difference.

But…the greatest part of the movie for me is Rosey Grier singing ‘It’s Alright to Cry’.

6’5 burly, intimidating Rosey Grier tells us that it’s alright to cry. He croons:

It might make you feel better.

It’s alright to feel things,

though feelings may be strange.

And they change and change and change.

To this day I can’t help but hum the song in my head when I see tears or cry myself. (Imagine, I’m hysterical and still somewhere in my head singing- I accept my weirdness and way my freak flag proudly)

In many ways it was yoga.

Have you every cried on your mat?

I have. I remember once after a particularly bad break-up I wandered to a local studio. I needed to cleanse and didn’t realize at the time that I was in the midst of huge emotion changes. Isn’t that always the way? We don’t recognize change when it’s happening.

When I lifted up to Ustrasana (Camel Pose) a dam burst. Tears streamed down my face. Whoops- who turned on the faucet? I sucked it up and let it out at home.

Knowing what I know now I would have went with it. Pushing it back down wouldn’t have been an option. This actually makes things worse. When you can let a feeling come up and just be, it’s easy to let it change and change and change (Thanks Rosey!)

Releasing emotions is one of the amazing benefits of yoga. In a world that rewards stuffing down feelings, letting go and showing emotion in class at first made me very vulnerable. I got past my urges to ‘just do the poses’. My flow changes with my emotions and sometimes it changes in spite of my emotions. Now when things come up on my mat that make me say, ‘Hmm, I didn’t even know I was thinking about that.’ I can let it go and deal with it or release it if it isn’t serving me.

Turns out when you don’t resist most things aren’t a big deal.

Imagine that shit.

As a teacher I keep an eye out for this, especially with new students. Tears can come up  and it’s crucial that when I see it- I gently leave a tissue and check in with a look or hand on the shoulder to make sure everything is okay. Doing this discreetly is obvious, but for the sake of clarity I’ll mention it anyway. I want to create a safe space.

The point is, it’s alright to cry.

Yoga is my grown up version of Free to Be You and Me.

This is yoga. And it’s free to be whatever I need it to be. For me.

Namsate y’all.

Adventures in Hot Yoga – Half Locust Pose

Tony Parrish has a football yoga workout. This is pretty great for a variety of reasons.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a heat junkie. Can’t lie- it does something for me. The heat makes me pliable and that pliability helps me look deeper inside. With all that is going on with Bikram and his latest stroke of idiocy, it would seem easy to dismiss the practice.

I want to, I really do. The guy seems to have taken the yoga out of yoga. One thing I’ve learned though is that lessons are everywhere, the people we find distasteful can teach us the most.

I’ve learned from Bikram, beware the ego for it will take you over and take everything from you if you aren’t careful.

So hot yoga and I aren’t breaking up anytime soon. With all yoga I love when my body leads me to deconstruct a pose. It’s like learning it again, but inside out, or something like that. ,

Lately I’ve been focused on locust pose (pictured).

Before getting in it the teacher instructs, “Put your mouth to your mat”.

I always end up trying to sneak in a pucker- is that weird? Bear in mind you are already covered in sweat- this is the downhill part of class as far as I’m concerned.

After you ‘put your mouth to the mat, you roll onto your arms until they disappear underneath you. Doesn’t sound so hard- but- wait for it- your palms are facing down. If you don’t think this hurts- I’m not judging but you’re crazy. It was so painful at first I looked up at my teacher and I swear horns were sprouting from her head.

Mouth to the mat.

Roll on your arms so they disappear.

Palms down.

Lift one leg up.

Hold.

Then the other.

Hold.

Then- both. The first time I tried this it felt like my legs were glued to the floor. And I’m no punk. I can get my legs up much higher now- but one day I’d really love to look like the photo.

The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) has an article about Carpal Tunnel treatment and yoga. This pose is mentioned. Pretty cool.

Every time my practice deepens- I discover another little nugget about the world and myself. I’m less shy than I was and engage in conversations with strangers more often. This may sound strange coming from a yoga teacher, and frankly when I tell people I’m shy I get eye rolls and ‘Oh yeah, sure Oneika, you’re really shy.’ But I am, seriously.

I guess my point is that living and teaching yoga is a daily practice both on and off the mat. I love it and I love what it has done for my mind body and spirit. I feel different, I look different, I act different.

I am different.

But I do wonder if I’m starting to replace yoga for other things, like dating. Normally I’d obsess about it. But I’m not going to worry about it right now. I’ll let my yoga take me there.

This is yoga, heated up stretched out and lifted.

Namaste y’all.

 

half locust

My Features Form with a Change in the Weather

snow city

My features form with a change in the weather

– ‘Mother’s Talk’, Tears for Fears

Two days ago a sleet storm graced the NYC area. Just lovely. I stepped outside after class and the streets were a slishy, slushy mess. It was dark and my open pores made my body feel like a sponge as I got full with cold air. I pulled my hat down over my ears and rolled my eyes at Mother Nature.

‘This is some ole bullshit.’ I grumbled to no one.

The streets were fairly empty and the snow still white, looked pretty. Sure I was cranky, but once I accepted the snow I could appreciate it the moment.

Accepting what ‘is‘ can be so hard. I think we are trained and socialized that run away from discomfort.

‘If it doesn’t feel good I don’t want to be near it’ seems to be a way of life for so many.

Imagine though, learning to stay with a feeling and see it through.

Imagine if we could learn to accept the icky parts of us without judgement or reservation?

That kind of revelation could change a life. If I can accept and then love all parts of me(warts and all), I’m ready and open to love every part of everyone.

This could come in handy especially when people I love try my patience (grrr).

We are imperfectly perfect.

If I can love Mother Nature with all her tantrums, I can certainly unconditionally love/accept myself when I have my own.

Everything we do puts us on the path to enlightenment.

This is yoga, for every season.

Namaste y’all.

Waitin’ in Vain… Bob Marley Yoga

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Bob Marley‘s birthday was yesterday.

I don’t have Bob on playlists for classes I teach.

Can’t do yoga and listen to Bob.

I do, obviously. Hear a Bob Marley song while doing an asana practice, I mean. Never responsible though, for perpetrating the crime.

Inevitably, you’re in Warrior I pelvis squared off, back foot planted and Jammin’ comes on. I cannot help but screw up my lips, let my head do a blunted bop as my hips drop in time with the beat…

I won’t judge you if you don’t do this.

Who are we kidding? I will, but won’t say anything about it because we are cyberspace friends…Just don’t let me catch you in class dissin’ Bob.

Even then, I probably wouldn’t judge you out in the open, mostly because it’s politically incorrect and bad form. But because I can’t believe you’re not jamming to Bob Marley, I will assume that there is something deeply, deeply, deeply wrong with you. I’m guessing most people would.

There are people who love Bob Marley.

And there is everyone else.

*rant over*

*drops mic*

Do you remember your first Bob Marley song?

Oh- I do.

I remember it better than that other yada yada….

14 and searching baby. Searching for my place in a new neighborhood. Searching for my place as a budding teenager.

God, I was awkward as hell and full of more emotions than I can describe.

It was weird being me.

Guess every teenager feels like that. I was alone (like every teenager).

Until I was introduced to Bob Marley’s Legend.

I could groove to Bob Marley and not have my parents freak out. I liked hip-hop but ‘talking street’ in the Mays’ household was frowned upon. It makes me laugh thinking about it. I was not what you would call a tough kid, my love of Tears for Fears, UB40 and General Public notwithstanding.

But it was okay to listen to Bob. He was after all, political. And being political was always okay in the Mays’ household.

And Regggae music was mellow (we will not discuss the herbal refreshments….thank you Bob…)

You do not forget your first Bob Marley song.

Not if you’re legit. That first song moves you. Stays with you like a tattoo.

It makes you feel.

Feel like a grown-up stirring feelings of love. Stirring feelings of injustice.

It makes you remember. Remember a struggle that you are too young to know, but  old enough to know you fight.

It makes you wish. Wish for a life that is like Marley’s. One full of struggle. Full of chances to change the world by singing a line…

Redemption songs…these songs of freedom

Waiting in Vain was my first. Wow. It still makes me sigh…Probably because I was in love with some boy that I can’t remember. But I remember the feelings of longing and the one-two rhythm of reggae music that made me sway in ways that I didn’t understand and made my heart thump in time with the lyrics…

Tears in my eyes burn…

Tears in my eyes burn,

While I’m waiting, while I’m waiting for my turn

Is there anything more romantic than your first musical crush?

It shapes you. Waiting in Vain may have been my first Bob song, but I was also forever changed by buffalo soldiers, redemption songs, choruses about Kaya and misty mornings…
I jammed until the jam was through. Natty was my ride or die dude.

I liked bootlegs of bootlegs and since this was before the days on mp3s, those of you in the know, know of what I speak. No

3 o’clock roadblock was keeping from rebel music and pimps paradises. I was sussed out but not in doubt of what his lyrics did. They impacted generations and made me want to fight.

Bob stretched my brain and preconceived notions of the world.

Made me want to dance for change. I didn’t know that fighting the power could be done with a stereo and liner notes. Not in some silly girlie girl way but in some Buffalo Springfield kind of way. For what’s it’s worth.

I was committed. For real. In a way that a girl who loves a movement is committed. The way that a girl who discovers that her crush fought for people before she was born was committed.

He was my original guru. Man, now that I think about it. Bob had me practicing yoga waaaaaaay before I found a mat.

He makes me feel alright, like a sweepstakes winner.

This is yoga. And it’s like winning the lottery. Thanks Bob for satisfying my soul.

Namaste y’all.

To the Other Black Woman I See in Yoga

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I love the blog post Open Letter to the  Fat Girl in Hot Yoga by Joshilyn Jackson. The world of yoga is definitely becoming more diverse, but I really identified with the sense of ‘otherness’ that was poignantly captured in Jackson’s essay.

There’s a small smile and nod I get and give when I see a Black woman in a yoga class.

I want to tell her that I’m so glad to see her in class because African-American women get more unhealthy each year. I smile at her because even though there are still so many people who think we all know each other, in this moment I do know her.

I know that’s it’s nice to see walls broken down. Not the walls of a yoga studio but the walls of our own community. Our community that tries to tell us that certain things are ‘Blacker’ than others.

Yoga will help change that. 

Yoga is/was not Black (Though I am convinced it is the new Black). And though some people will say, will ask, why does something have to be Black or White? I will say that it doesn’t but  (because of reasons that are too long to explain here) they are, for now anyway.

Yoga will help change that. 

I will say that I recognize that snicker or look  from ‘the’ community when you do something this is out of the ‘norm’ or realm of Blackness.

Makes me think of Lisa Bonet on the Cosby show, Lenny Kravitz, Living Color and Bad Brains…

I get frustrated as I try to explain that we are not one single experience. We are not one neighborhood, TV show, music channel or type of food.

I turn to my mat to think. Black history shouldn’t be celebrated for one month, but every day along with women’s history, Latino history, Asian history, Native American history and every other group who has come here in search of a better life.

I wish that more of America looked like the 6:30pm Yoga to the People class on 27th St in NYC. It is a sea of color drenched in sweat  in the 105° heat. Sweating with common purpose and smiling because everyone completed class together.

Yoga will help change that. 

I don’t want to admit it, but it’s nice to see a face like mine and feel like I’m back in the club, if only for a moment before my music, book or music choices get my privileges suspended again.

Yoga will help change that. 

I’m part of something. Something bigger than me.

Before, sacrifices were made to be called ‘Black’ enough. But seeing her in the studio, a space that is my church, I am happy. I am smiling, I am peace.

Peaceful as I flow through class.

Sometimes the class is Bikram. Sometimes it’s vinyasa.

We chat after, for a moment. Chat about hair or how long we have been practicing. It’s never a long conversation, but it’s nice. It’s even nicer now when I tell her that I’m a teacher and she wants to know where I teach, because her friends want to practice and she thinks it will be helpful or inspiring for them to see a Black teacher. We agree that yoga is amazing and it has invariably changed us forever.

Our differences make all of us stronger, not weaker.

And as I take my yoga off the mat I keep my hands in a metaphorical prayer and say:

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free”

 

This is yoga. And with any luck it will change the world.

Namaste y’all.

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