Adventures in Yoga – Trust Me and Surrender

yogastudio

I talk a lot about  the idea of letting go.

And the truth is I really mean what I say, but saying it over and over again can sound at best repetitive and at worst, disingenuous.

It got me to thinking- what do I really mean when I say let go? Do I mean that or am I trying to say something else?

Hmmm….

Let go…

At first, I think I meant letting go of control.

Last week, I found my deepest expression of ustrasana.

Oddly enough it was on a day that I didn’t feel particularly inspired to practice. In fact, I had to really slap myself around to get motivated.

I had spent a few days out of town and was beat. Every step toward the studio made me feel more put out than the previous one. I was rolling my eyes at myself (useless really…who loses when that happens? Silly rabbit) as I swiped my card to get on the train.

With headphones on and Esthero blaring the two sides of myself battled.

Can’t move on
But I can’t go home
And I’m not so strong
But I make my way
To the place I know
Inside my heart
Where I used to go
To get brave and
I don’t wanna be lost anymore

Hurumph. I’m tired. (Just shut up and go to class. You’ll be so happy when you get there)

Who needs class? Not me. (Yes you do, when you don’t want to go is when you most need your mat) 

Alas, the smarter side of me won. I got to class.

When I sat on my mat in the darkness I realized I had no fight in me. Maybe it was being tired from travel. Maybe it was lack of sleep. But I was able to turn myself over to my practice.

It was in a word, magnificent.

And while I found my new expression of ustrasana, I was more elated about my discovery.

It’s not about control. It’s about trust. 

I surrendered my body and breath to the pose. I didn’t let go with a ‘what if’ I can’t do it. With my chest lifted and hips moving slightly forward I bent backwards. There was no worry about whether I could. There wasn’t baggage about the last time I tried. Maybe it was because my brain was fried I wasn’t screwing around in my head.

There is a difference between letting go and complete surrender. Well there is for me.

The act of letting go doesn’t implies trust but doesn’t require it.

I can let go and stay in my skeptical shoes, but when I surrender it means that I’m turning myself over.

And that’s where trust comes in.

I’ll just say it- this is a big deal for me. The whys of this story aren’t as interesting as the now.

Yoga builds trust. It builds trust between your body and breath. Each complimenting each other working in unison to create harmony.

Yoga builds trust between me and the world. With a better breath my heart expands and with that I let more and more in.

This is yoga, and I surrender.

Namaste y’all.

oneika stripes

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African warriors, dancers and cobras

Do you know about the Africa Yoga Project? If not, please go right now and check them out!

Namaste y’all.

Yoga & Joyful Living

Sometimes you come across ideas worth sharing. This is one of them.

Thanks to the Africa Yoga Project over 250,000 Kenyans a year get to practise postures that can not only transform your body, but your mind. The project’s 52 teachers roll out their mats everywhere – yes, really. Everywhere. In prisons, schools or special need centres. They also teach members of HIV support groups, pupils at deaf schools and travel to rural villages.

So why is the language of yoga universal?

Because yoga’s language is the language of universal postures which speak to all of us, touch this very special, sacred space within us. No matter if we’re clad in Lululemon practising in NY or in a wonderful red traditional dress performing side plank in Kenya. But then, words are just words, and nothing illustrates the project’s impact better than – exactly, photos.

(All images…

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Adventures in Yoga – Silent Retreat (Final Thoughts)

Catskills

When the mind is clear of all noise and self talk, this is when solutions are revealed, artists are inspired, paradigms are shifted.
Stephen J. Kochan 

We entered back into the world of speaking as gently as we left it, with quiet words and a yoga practice.

After we made a circle to share a bit about our experiences. It was lovely. Clearly the weekend meant a lot for the entire group. It was a quite a weekend. Lots of yoga, an intense hike, a sweat ceremony, more yoga all the while drinking nothing but lemon cleanse juice with cayenne pepper.

Tough stuff.

We packed up and lots of us chatted, not urgently but intentionally. Words weren’t wasted.

And finally, we headed back home.

I want to tell you about a huge awakening. Regale you with tales of conversations with my spirit animal in the woods as I was covered in mud. Faint from hunger but strong as a warrior.

Yeah, um- that didn’t happen. Prior to the retreat I think I was half expecting something dramatic. Wondering if this would be some strange tipping point for me- I would fall into the yoga abyss never to return.

Nope.

Here I am. Writing to you.

But seriously- I didn’t walk away empty-handed.

In the quiet I realized that I worked hard over the past year and a half to find my version of happiness.

Guess what?

I found it.

I’ve lived most of my life yappin’ away. I lived a lot of my life looking. Seeking. Yelling even.

In the quiet it turns out- happiness and peace were here all along.

Truth be told- the other half of me suspected that I might discover this in a weekend of quiet.

It’s nice sometimes to confirm exactly what you suspect.

You. Are. Exactly. Where. You. Should. Be.

Rock on.

It feels good.

Sssh.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Yoga – Silent Retreat in the Catskills (Part One)

Menla retreat

Silence is a true friend who never betrays.

– Confucius

When I heard about the Silent Retreat with Yoga to the People last year, I promised myself I would attend the next one.

This year when it was announced, I thought of reasons not to go.

I couldn’t think of one.

Silent retreat here I come.

A weekend in the Catskills with cool peeps.

The weekend would include, hiking, yoga and a sweat lodge ceremony – all while sipping on nothing but Master Cleanse juice.

Sound insane? Looking back maybe it was a little crazy- but it was bad ass fun.

Day One 

After a 3 hour ride in the rain we arrived at Menla Mountain.

The grounds were beautiful and I couldn’t wait for the rain to leave to walk around a bit.

I changed my clothes and headed to do some yoga and a Q&A about the sweat lodge ceremony.

Here’s the thing- I’m sort of socially awkward. Not creepily- just incredibly, painfully shy.

You wouldn’t know it and spending the better part of two decades in retail does a lot to mask that.
I’m the kind of person who always mostly bulldozes through what scares me.
This pushes fear aside without having to deal with it.
A silent retreat seemed like a perfect way to deal  avoid my shyness.  More on this later.
Let’s get back to it…
At the top of our class we had a ceremony that led us into silence.

As soon as the silence set in it was clear that I had not been listening to my surroundings or even myself.

Class started and no joke, MY THOUGHTS WERE SO LOUD that I couldn’t hear the teacher guiding us in a low tone. It took about 20-30 minutes to adjust. At one point I relaxed in balasana (child’s pose).
I used my breath to gently tell my mind shhhhh…. there will be time later, for now just let the body do the asanas.
It was as if the volume turned down in my mind and the teacher’s voice increased. I think by acknowledging that I would deal with whatever came up I was able to release it.
What an amazing practice. There was a tea light on the floor that we could blow out as we left the studio.
I sipped my cleanse drink and headed to bed excited for what the rest of the weekend held.
Sleep came easily.
Day Two 
Sun Menla
I popped up at 5:30 and decided to relax a bit more.
At 7:30 we would get our cleanse drink and find out the schedule.
There was a 2 hour steep hike and then my group would leave for the sweat ceremony.
After the ceremony there was an optional 90 minute class- then more cleanse drink a 60 minute class, a bonfire, then bed.
It was interesting to get the first drink and see folks from the night before. Everyone seemed to mill about comfortably. I smiled but wandered around a bit to check out the grounds.

 

Time for the hike.

 

Steep hike was an understatement. Holy f*cking shit.

 

So steep that midway, I had an Arrested Development moment and said to myself or course (because we’re in silence) I think I’ve made a huge mistake.

 

I huffed. My legs hurt. It was steep. The group was moving- quickly. I huffed. My legs hurt. It was steep.

 

The mind can fuck with you. It can tell you that you can’t do something that you actually can. My heart was pounding like crazy. I wasn’t gasping for air. My legs hurt. I was tired. I hadn’t physically pushed myself like this in awhile. I was uncomfortable, not dying.

 

Let me be clear- this was really hard for me.

 

But, how could it be a mistake? The hike was only two hours we were already 20 minutes in. I’m in fairly decent shape for crying out loud. And before I knew it we were at the top.

 

It was at this point my mind suddenly shifted to thinking about my shyness (It’s funny how our brains and emotions work).
I had a rough time with the hike. I have a rough time with being shy. I don’t  have to get over everything. Some things get dealt with in the moment. Not everything has to be handled, fixed or squashed.

 

Some things can just be.

 

This is the thing about tough times- if you aren’t careful you can miss the lesson while it’s happening. At the top- the sun was through the clouds. I was still thinking- wtf, this climb was hard but I was smiling.

 

As I caught my breath covered in sweat I took a look around at the group and the view.

 

On the way down I realized that the hike was definitely a bit much for me- I had fun getting down eventually- but the first few hundred feet there were a few drop offs that made me think of the nightmares you have about walking across bridges…

 

One foot in front of the other.

 

I thought two things- sthira and sukha.

 

That and Dory from Finding Nemo- just keep swimming.

 

I made it down.

 

It was a really big deal and was grateful for the experience.

 

Only 10:15am and I was already feeling more alive that I had felt in a while.

 

I went off to get changed for the sweat lodge ceremony.

 

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s on Love, Sweat and Tears….

 

Namaste y’all.
Hike

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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