Adventures in Yoga (Part Two)- Love, Sweat and Tears…The Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Do-one-thing-every-day-that-scares-you.

You are coming
You are coming among us.
We have everything prepared for you
and we are waiting.

– From  The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge: History and Contemporary Practice

My silent retreat in the Catskills was proving to be an amazing experience.

There was much to be learned when I shut my mouth. I think my biggest revelation was that not everything had to be fixed.

Being in the quiet with my thoughts helped me see that I was talking the talk of being happy but maybe there was a piece of me that was still insecure about my recent life choices.

If a steep (a steep a**) hike could help me be more at peace with every piece of me, what would a sweat lodge ceremony bring?

The night before we attended a Q&A with the leaders of the sweat. Both Sarah and Salvador followed the Lakota tradition of the sweat ceremony.

The sweat ritual would take place in a traditional inipi- it was a structure that had an igloo shape. Inside we would assemble in a circle around the stones that had been heated in a fire right outside of the inipi.

The Lakota see the inside of the inipi as a representation of the inside of Mother Earth’s womb. There are other interpretations but the idea is to cleanse and purify the soul.

sweat_lodge_22

You may be thinking sweat ceremony? Didn’t people die in a sweat ceremony?

I can’t speak about that experience, but I can say I felt really safe and comfortable with Sarah and Salvador.

They explained:

  • We would be dressed modesty (no nudity)
  • The ceremony consisted of four doors
  • The first door we were to let go of what was holding us back (fear, shame, guilt, past hurts, etc)
  • The second door we would focus on what we wanted to have
  • The third door was the pipe ceremony- no drugs. Salvador made it pretty clear that the pitch black, heat, steam and your own mind was plenty to deal with- drugs are not necessary.
  • The fourth door we show our gratitude

After each ’round’ or door, the door would physically open. So, you’re not sitting in the dark heat the entire time.

If it ever got too hot you could ask for the door to leave.

Yeah, yeah you’re saying.

We entered the inipi on all fours and said “Mitakuye. Oyasin”

Salvador asked if anyone was scared- I broke my silence to squeak, ‘ A little.’

He handed me some cedar to sprinkle on the first seven stones that were brought into the inipi. The stones are carefully chosen and are important to the Lakota because of all that they have seen.

After the rest of the stones were brought in the door closed it was dark and Salvador said, ‘It’s gonna be a ride!’

We all laughed- because we were thinking- uh-oh.

But Oneika, what was it like?

In a word- hot. How hot? Not sure- hotter than hot yoga- not so hot that my insides cooked.

In one more word- it was dark. Can’t see your hand on front of your face dark.

It was hot. And I was uncomfortable. I cried. Not a lot.

But enough.

And then I smiled. I hummed along with the songs.

Sharing the darkness with 15 other people and connecting with what they were feeling was a powerful and intimate experience.

It’s a very individual and personal experience.

On Sunday when we entered back into speaking we swapped a couple of experiences. I felt like the fourth door was the the hottest- almost about to call for the door hot.

Some other folks swore that the second door was unbearable. Which I thought was an otherworldly groove. So…

At times my hair was too hot to touch.

I laid down (which is hilarious to imagine because there isn’t much room and it’s pitch black) at one point to touch a space of cold dirt.

It. Felt. Awesome.

I didn’t see a wolf or feel a need to go on a vision quest. I’m not being funny (well maybe a little) but I did leave (on all fours, out of respect- and because I was exhausted) feeling peaceful.

I’m not here to recommend or dissuade anyone from participating in a sweat ceremony.

I think spiritual journeys are a very personal decision. This worked for me.

My hot yoga practice is also pretty intense so I think that may have also helped me deal with the heat element.

But as we shared stories we all got out of it what we needed.

And that seems like it is more than enough.

I’m grateful for the safe and transformative experience that Sarah and Salvador gave me.

Namaste y’all

Stay tuned for the last post on the retreat tomorrow!

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4 Ways to Release Your Wild Thing

Google-s-Epic-quot-Where-the-Wild-Things-Are-quot-Animated-Doodle
And the wild things cried, ‘Please don’t go! we’ll eat you up, we love you so!’

 

 

Google outdid themselves with the Wild Thing Doodle. They were celebrating the legendary Maurice Sendak. I was heartbroken last year when he died.

 

It seems appropriate to repost a few thoughts from last year.

 

Beloved author Maurice Sendak died at the age of 82. One legacy he left with us is ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. The best kids books have lessons for children and the adults that read them to kids. Here’s what we all can learn from Max and his friends.

 

1. The night Max wore his wold suit and made mischief of one kind and another. 

Oh merry mischief makers come out! Life is too short not have some fun.

‘Let them call it mischief: When it is past and prospered t’will be virtue.’ – Ben Johnson (poet)

 

2. That very night in Max’s room a forest grew. 

Imagination makes us grow as children and can help keep our brains in shape as we get older. At work it can help us find creative solutions to problems and bring forth new ways of leading. Playing at home reduces stress and frankly gives us life. Who couldn’t use a bit more of that?

 

3. …til Max said, “BE STILL” and tamed them all with a magic trick.

Being afraid and doing something in spite of it is when the magic truly happens. Tame your wild things and write your own destiny.

 

4. LET THE WILD RUMPUS START! 

Need we discuss how dancing cures all that ails us? There’s nothing like a dance party to get things going and make us laugh out loud. So turn up the stereo and break a sweat!!

 

May we all have adventures like Max!

Namaste y’all.

 

Why So Serious? Maintaining Joy in Your Practice

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A few days ago a teacher encouraged me to come to class two days per week with nothing but a mindset of letting go.

I’m thinking too much.
I’ll wait for the shock and awe to sink in.

*crickets*

This is what good teachers do.

They see you.

They watch.

They give good advice.

My over correction issue seems to be getting the best of me.

I may be a little hooked when it comes to letting go.

My backbends are where it’s most obvious.

The good ole heart chakra. I wonder if I have lingering trust issues that are keeping me from falling back. Not relationship kind of stuff, but the trust that comes from making big life changes. Falling into my yoga completely means the letting go of my old life. Am I trying to straddle two worlds? This would explain why my hamstrings have been freaking killing me.

I kid. But for real- there’s some truth here. I have to leap. I have to trust.

I’m resourceful.

I work really hard.

If anyone can make this work- I’d say that I’m probably a good candidate.

Am I keeping all of this fear in my backbend?

Seems crazy- but since I’m writing about it, uh- there’s a good chance that it is so…

Back to the studio…

A deal was struck. Two days weekly I come to class just for fun.

You might infer that I’m waaay too intense on other days, so let me clarify.

There will always be a side of me that is like Alice through the looking glass. My curiosity is infused with tapas. So my fire to learn can burn a bit too brightly.

Striking this balance is just what I need.

This morning I showed up at the 10am. I’ve never been to the Saturday morning class.

Just what the doctor ordered.

I just chilled. I smiled a lot.

It was dare I say, fun.

Disclaimer- I thought about taking the next class thinking maybe I needed a little more.

But I didn’t. Huzzah! Progress.

I was walking to the subway when I saw the teacher who gave me the advice. We said hi like passing ships and I shouted, ‘Hey! I had fun in class today! ‘

She replied, ‘Best news I heard all day!!! I’m so glad.’

Exhale.

Have a great weekend everyone.

This is yoga.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Being Wrong Feels So Right

Yoga Costa Rica

I was wr- wr- wr- wrong about something.

Clearly this yoga ish works because despite the false starts, in the past the word wrong was the ‘he who shall not be named’ of my vocabulary.

Back up, back up!
In the not so distant past, it (this notion of wrong) wasn’t even a thought.
There was what I knew to be true. That’s it.
I know- what a maroon.
Enough of my silly past- the point of the story is far more interesting than my arrival at said point..
How or why one starts yoga doesn’t matter to me.
Let that marinate.
Let me explain, of course I care why someone decides to come their mat. The catalyst matters to the extent that I shape a class or a program for private clients.
As a teacher and yogi it’s my job show them a path that helps connect body, breath and individual goals.
I think I wanted students to arrive at their mats with grand plans of a seeking higher awareness. This was a secret I kept to myself until I realized yesterday that it’s unfair to impose such expectations on anyone. What the hell Neik? You know better… I came back to my mat for good because someone broke my heart. No grand shit there. Pretty cliche actually.
This is a little icky to admit, but isn’t that the point of yoga- to share what makes me feel awkward and dorky so I can embrace it?
This acknowledgment is my connection to the world I suppose. This is how I breathe.
Learning to breathe is a funny thing. If you have been living life with stifled, ragged breathing learning how to exhale can be revolutionary. It can change your way of thinking.
It can also make you face some shit. That’s the dirty, happy secret about body and breath. Once you learn how to do it, all sorts of truths can rise to the surface, some good, some not so much.
No such thing as a little bit of freedom- you are free or you are not.
Not everyone wants to sit with that on their mat.
That’s cool.
Really it is.
If a student discovers that they are a fellow traveler, a seeker if you will- she/he will ask questions and it will be apparent.
Some people just want to relax.
Some people want to learn how to touch their toes.
Some people want to learn how to sit up straighter.
It’s all good.
It’s not my job to judge. It’s my job to teach, love and grow.
Most days I feel like two steps forward, two steps back.
Today, I can flip that.
Ha! It’s a good moment. I’m going to enjoy it.
This is yoga and it loves me even when I am dead wrong. Word.
Namaste y’all.
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What I Learned from 108 Days of Yoga

magiczone

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.

Adventures in Yoga – Over Correction Reflection

toes:fingers

My chitta vritti or mindstuff has been getting in the way of my yoga.

My asana practice is a microcosm of what’s going on off the mat.

A few weeks ago while taking class, my teacher told me to relax- more feeling, less thinking.

I wonder if this happens to other new teachers… I’m spending lots of time teaching giving adjustments, living in teaching mode has started to takeover my entire practice.

Don’t get me wrong, being our own best teachers is necessary, we grow in our practice because we learn how to find a deeper expression of a posture using our breath. As my body awareness expands both in depth and breadth, I can tweak a previously unfamiliar muscle or make a minute correction.

It’s awesome.

There is of course a downside.

Anything strength overused becomes a weakness.

Over correction can result in a pose becoming distorted. You could even hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. As you start to get more flexible this is even more an issue.

It may come as no surprise then to know that as I work on my business plan I may need to step back a bit, take a breath and remember the satisfaction that comes from building something. It doesn’t have to be all about furrowed eyebrows and punishing myself until 2am. Every thing takes time, I can’t rush to the next thing if I haven’t finished what I’m supposed to in this moment. Additionally, I don’t have to work on a particular aspect of my plan until it’s almost unrecognizable.

Be in the moment, make adjustments be keep it moving.

I’ve said this about myself before- but it’s worth repeating. Sometimes when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

And you know what else happens when you over correct? You lose joy. You lose balance.

Yoga is the union of body and breath.

Sometimes I need to remember that. What I seek isn’t in the best expression of a pose.

It’s what’s inside.

It’s what I do after my asana practice is over.

This is what I love about my yoga. My practice tells me when life and not just a posture is out of whack.

Should I be a bit more self-aware. Yeah, but I’m not. Sue me. I’ll get there one day, or maybe not. But every experience brings me closer to enlightenment.

This is yoga and I stand less corrected.

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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Be Where You Are, When You Are

Budha in Garden

“You’re running and you’re running and you’re running away. You’re running and running but you can’t run away from yourself.”

– Bob Marley

I checked out during my hot class. It happens, I’m human.

The slip took place in between poses. The ‘in between’ is a big part of my yoga.

Am I moving mindfully as I transition? Or do I wander somewhere? In the instance mentioned above, go somewhere I did. I wasn’t where I went that mattered. The issue was leaving.

It’s almost too easy to run away. When the going gets tough, ducking out seems like the best option.

In a real or perceived crisis making my exit and kissing it all goodbye seems better than what I used to do- which is fight. Meeting obstacle with obstacle.

Also not a good plan.

There’s middle ground. It’s not all or nothing.
But what would happen if instead of checking out, I checked in? Instead of meeting the heat with a brute force attitude. What if I just hung with it for a sec?

It was only an instant but I came back to the heat. It wasn’t as bad as I had initially thought.

As if she was in my head the teacher started talking about a cabbie who’s sage advice was to be where you are when you are.

I wanted to get up and leave class- not because it was hot, but because that was the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking.

Un. Freaking. Believable.

Have you had those kinds of moment on your mat?

I checked back in.

Leaving is never the answer.

Deal with being uncomfortable.

Things are never as bad as they seem if you stay.

In fact, things can only get better.

This is yoga and it’s always there for you. So stay.

Namaste y’all.

It’s Not the Size of the Pose but the Motion of Your Flow

mudra white outfit

I love Friday night yoga. The vibe is mellow. The playlist always has a moody, sleepy, sexy feel. I may have made up the sexy part, I’m projecting.

Whatever.

It’s also a hot class. Vinyasa in a heated room on a Friday night. So yeah- it is sort of sexy. Scratch my previous apology.

Last night the focus was about alignment and looking inward to find a deeper expression of a pose.

Juicy stuff.

My stance was wide in my warrior and I felt like I could float up and root down as I tried not to make my head bop too much to Alana Davis and Queen Badu. But damn, music can provide that little shift that changes my head space. It gets me all up inside a pose. Tickling it from the outside in while my breath zigs and zags magically and collides with my heart.

Sometimes class is that good.

Sometimes it’s just cool to fcuking groove on your mat.

Yaknowwhatimsayin’

What a way to end the week.

Because Daba was teaching, I knew I’d be in for some aha moment- it was just a matter of when.

It came after a focused standing series. We transitioned to the floor and did a hand workout.

Hand relevés and finger splits.

By mindfully stretching the fingers and shifting weight to the fingers I was able to take adho mukha svanasana to another place. By rooting my hands into the mat, my hips felt like they could reach up to the ceiling while my booty headed to the back windows…

I know, right?! There’s such a thing.

Will I ever stopped being amazed by discoveries in yoga? I hope not.

Subtle but powerful movements make the difference both on and off the mat.

This is yoga, providing tiny movements and big changes.

Namaste y’all.

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