Love Unconditionally and Don’t Forget to Breathe

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I’m sidelined from my asana practice until my wrist heals. It’s annoying, but it’s also a chance to pause and reflect.

I love my practice without any conditions. When I can’t get to my mat it doesn’t mean that I’m not doing yoga, it simply means that I’m not doing asana. Yoga is not just about handstands and working on fancy arm balances (though they are fun). My practice loves me back. It has no expectations, no judgements. Yoga accepts me as I am whether I am feeling strong or weak.

My yoga is more than what happens on my mat. Yoga is a way that I get through ups and downs.

Yoga is how I work through pain when I am hurt. I’m given a way to move more slowly and listen to what part of my being is calling out.

It’s a chance to say to my body, I hear you. I am listening. Things don’t always go the way I want, but things occur the way they do. Yoga is my way to acceptance of how things are, not how I wish them to be. In this moment, I am restricted in movement. Rather than fight or deny it, I’m being with that idea, because it is so. Acceptance opens up a path to healing. How can I not love this? Yoga has shown me that I must love all of the time, no matter the circumstances.

Most importantly though, yoga is how I breathe. Yoga is how I love.

Yoga is life.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Don’t forget breathe. Keep head your above water, but don’t forget to breathe.

-Alexi Murdoch

 

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Adventures in Yoga Teaching – Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

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I really like Tuesdays. However, this week I was cautiously optimistic about what would take place in 3 South A, the sentenced women’s dorm. Last week had a shaky start but seemed to end on a high note. I was hoping that I’d see some new faces in class.

I felt fantastic despite the rain and made my way to the 5th floor of the 800 Bed Annex. I was chatting with Ms. Gregory for a few minutes and headed to the dorm with the cart  packed with mats and blocks. I saw heads peeking around the corner and someone said, ‘It’s her, she’s here.’ When I got buzzed in people were waiting. This was definitely a change Normally, I come in and announce that yoga was happening. To have students waiting is a great sign.

We didn’t write this week, but we did have a great discussion about meditation being a way to calm the mind. Everyone listed ways that meditation makes them feel better. This list was a way to come back to a sense of peace and stillness when future bouts of anxiety surfaced. After our conversation I talked about pranayama. We did a few rounds of Kapalabhati and everyone commented on the change they felt in their body.

I’m noticing the level of focus increase over a short period of time. When I first started teaching we were doing some of the basics but didn’t have a full flow class. Each week the classes get longer and I’m adding a bit more. There are still lots of women who watch and do poses from their seats, but each week the floor is getting full of mats (I even see the COs sneak a look inside the class to see what’s going on). During meditation, everyone is quiet. After class a young woman asked me if there were poses that she could do that would help her relax when she had a headache. Right after someone else asked if there were poses to do for cramps. I’m encouraged that there’s a connection being made between yoga being a way to feel better and not just as a physical activity. I made a mental note to incorporate the therapeutic benefit of poses in classes from now on.

After I packed up- I took a gulp and headed downstairs to 3 South A. I wasn’t nervous, but I was bracing myself for the noise. It makes me want to cry thinking about it. If I had to live with that much noise all of the time, I’d lose my mind. Honestly.

I made my way in and announced that it was yoga time for those who were interested. Eight women came over. Someone turned off the TV. I tried to be cool and not dance around like a clown. But I was dancing on the inside.

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Yes. Yes, I was dancing like this on the inside. But back to class.

I asked everyone’s names and if they had ever done yoga before and many had. We had solid class and worked fairly hard. Meditation was very long and got a bit noisy with a spirited game of spades going on but I could feel the stillness of the group, and that’s what mattered. And after class someone asked about poses that help with back issues and cramps.

I think it’s clear that there’s a desire to use yoga for self-care and that’s great. Next week should be interesting.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Meditation – Ch-ch-ch-changes

keep calm and turn off your cell

 

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it

God only knows what I’d be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

– The Beach Boys

I’m a bit to attached to my phone. Don’t get me wrong.

It’s a necessary lifeline. It’s my calendar, my lists, heck- I’m writing this post from my phone right now.

At night I use a white noise app that lulls me to sleep. My alarm gets me up and Insight Timer gongs me back to reality from my meditation practice.

Even my apartment building is in on the act- when someone buzzes my apartment it comes to my phone.

However, my addictive self started to rear her tempting head. It was as if I couldn’t do anything without it.

Thankfully, my meditation practice has begin to spill over into my life.

These days I’m walking the dog without my phone. Why shouldn’t there be a time when I am just walking with intention without have to be available to a text, phone call, email, tweet or status update.

It’s not a big deal but it is a change, a change that has happened because I am more mindful.

Progress is measured in inches not feet.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Namaste y’all.

 

Adventures in Meditation- Mindful Walking

 

 

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An alley

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” 
― Thích Nhất HạnhPeace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

 

These days meditation is at the forefront of my life. Being still has brought a sense of peace and helped ‘unstick’ some stuck places.

While I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of quieting the mind stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how to find ways to still my mind as I’m living life. The benefits of mediation of yoga are amazing. How could I be more mindful while doing day-to-day activities?

For example I can’t tell you how many times I commutes home from work careening down the NJ Turnpike at 80 mph only to arrive at the parking garage with no recollection of any of it. Yikes.

Even now, I walk from point A to point B without remembering the journey.

Why?

I’m distracted by an outside force like a phone or by an inside distraction like my wandering mind. Lately though, I’ve embraced the idea of meditating while while in transit. Some call it mindful walking. Buddhism says that by being mindful we create a foundation of well-being and happiness.

Yesterday afternoon, I grabbed Dakota and headed out into my neighborhood. I didn’t have a destination, just a desire to stay in the moment.

Five things that helped me during my mindful walk:

  1. Posture.  Standing tall I closed my eyes and mentally scanned my body to see if I was holding onto tightly in certain areas and made a conscious effort to let go.
  2. Breathing. Before I started walking in took deep inhales and exhales. As I began my walk I tried to pay attention to how I was breathing.
  3. Intention. Setting an intention was helpful. It allowed me to create a shape to the practice without feeling like a test.
  4. Attention. Before walking I noticed the ground under my feet. As I moved I directed my thoughts to how my heel connected with the sidewalk. It felt like cat/cow, I observed my foot touching the ground and felt the moment just when it lifted off the ground.
  5. Acceptance. Once I was moving I noticed the breeze on my face and the hang of my jacket on my shoulders. I acknowledged smells, sounds and sights.

 

Are there ways that you meditate while in motion? Mindful cycling in next on my list.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Below are pics of a few discoveries.

 

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A window pops out- unexpected

 

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Kasa Buddha a local business

 

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I never knew that part of the East Coast Greenway was a block away

 

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Dakota looks down an alley

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.

 

Stand Here, in This Place – Adventures in Yoga

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I wasn’t able to get out of my own way this week.

Out of sync.

And because I like nothing more than making matters worse, I tried to rush each day along.

Futile and insane. We’ve all done it, tried to rush past the shittiness so we can get back to the good stuff.

The easy stuff.

It didn’t work. I slugged through it both frustrated and sleepy. A brief respite came Friday during a local teacher’s practice. This week’s focus was Yin yoga and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Being with nothing but a pose and pranayama was a great first step back in the direction of balance. After a long hot shower and a glass of pinot I was ever so grateful to climb into my bed at 9:30. I needed my day off.

After a morning visit to Brian the Chiropractor, I raced on my bike to class. Frustrated again because I left the house ten minutes later than I should have so I walked into the studio at 12pm for a 12pm class. Grrr.

And then…a shift. The previous class was running late. I saw bodies under blankets with eye pillows. Yes!

I am not sure if things come up because I need them, if I attract situations that I think about or if I notice things because they are on my mind. Who knows, it could be a combination of all three.

A chance to catch up.

I smiled at my luck. When I went to check in- I was offered a complimentary class because of a mix-up on the snow day.

A do over.

Class started in Virasana, my least favorite pose but I was relaxed and went with the sensation. The warm- up consisted of a wave of movements that slowly churned energy and gently brought quiet heat to my muscles. Kevin, the teacher tenderly urged that we let go of judgment. Instead, we should release the notion of good and bad around actions and feelings. And lastly look at ourselves from a place of observation whether nothing and everything just- is.

My spirit fascia loosened up.

A chance to breathe.

And then, we moved into Tadasana.

His next words put the past week in perspective and were the safe harbor in what turned out to be bear of a f*cking class.

‘Stand here, in this place.”

His words made me rise from my ribs and lift my heart.

‘Stand here, in this place.’

So I did. I stood feeling rooted, shaky and  suddenly without reason, very vulnerable.

But I stood there, in that place.

A mountain. Breathing. Never moving despite storms and clouds and the pounding sun.

‘Stand here, in this place.’

Because if I can stand when it hits the fan I can rise in the sunlight. If I can stand without judgement of myself and others, I am open to infinite possibilities.

So I stood. Without expectation.

I missed opportunities all week to stop and stand in the place that I was, but it was okay because I was doing it now.

I am doing it now. Standing here in this place without judgement but with observation.

Namaste y’all.

Stop Breathe & Think

tools-for-peace-app

Tools for Peace™ teaches people of all ages how to develop and apply kindness and compassion in their daily lives.

This app is perfect. Teens are encouraged to use this and check in.

When we can stop and take a better breath we make better decisions and that leads to a better life.

While the app is geared toward the teen set- methinks there’s an adult or two out there who could see their lives transformed by using this.

This is yoga. Take a better breath. Live a better life. 

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga – Trust Me and Surrender

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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

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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