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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Self-Awareness

Teaching has taught me so much about myself.  The more I teach, the more I crave to learn more so I can be the best possible leader and instructor for my students. 
It is said by Buddhists that just by being around the dharma (Buddha teachings), even if you don't understand everything you hear, it does a world of good and breaks down your egoistic and conceptual mind.
I love to be inspired and to learn from yogis and scholars and leaders who are more experienced than me.  So I couldn't think of a better way to start off my vacation than by attending the "Eight Verses of Mind Training" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a two-day workshop entitled "Soul Food" by international yoga teacher, Desiree Rumbaugh
After chanting the Heart Sutras in Vietnamese, Sanskrit and English, the Dalai Lama began his teachings.  One of the first things that struck me was when he mentioned that "the proper way to start to know the Buddha Dharma is here," pointing to his heart.  He explained that it is necessary to continue to study and read teachings and practice meditation along with all of the other limbs of yoga, but it is just as important to have your own experiences and apply what you have learned to your own practice. 
Pamphlet from "Eight Verses of Mind Training," Wang Theater, Boston, MA

It was such a good introduction, or segue into my weekend with Desiree because her words of wisdom complemented so well the teachings of the Dalai Lama.  She mentioned that here in the west, and all over the world, for that matter, those introduced to yoga focus so much attention on one limb of yoga - the asanas, or postures - when really the other seven limbs will help us so much in our posture practice and throughout our lives. She mentioned how important it is, as we age, to constantly oil this "machine", this human body, by performing the physical asanas and how this gives our body an innate intelligence to heal ourselves.  Coupled with a "sitting" practice, this will keep our minds sharp as we make our way into our golden years. 
Desiree Rumbaugh at West Hartford Yoga
When people who have never done one yoga posture in their life say to me, "I'm not flexible enough," I try to make them aware that this sentiment is far from a requirement for practicing yoga.  Desiree reiterates this when she mentions that the whole point of yoga is self-awareness - that's it!  What reminded me of the Dalai Lama's teaching was when she told a story about how, when you find yourself complaining about someone else and what they say, or what they do, and how this annoys you - stop and look at yourself.  Really stop and see if this very thing that drives you insane is actually something inside of yourself that you might need to work on.  The Dalai Lama says that 90% of the negative emotions that come out of our own mouths are just our own mental projections!
Imagine if you could stop and turn inward and fix it all on your own and turn all that anguish into peace?
That's exactly what we did in Desiree's workshop.  With a contagious smile, and an effervescent demeanor, Desiree has a way of making difficult poses simple and fun.  I was able to tackle a few different poses that I've struggled with in the past, namely Sirsasana II, Parsva Bakasana and Parivrttaikapada Sirsasana.  What this "success" in poses mostly does for me, however, is remind me that if I work hard enough at something, I can achieve anything I set my mind to.  I always come out of these workshops with more tricks for my practice and that of my students, but also a renewed sense of self and an appreciation of the journey of self-awareness. 

Check out some videos from the workshop here!
Full Wheel
Confidence in Cobra
Strength in Hand Stand

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dear Teacher

Dear Yoga Teacher,

I needed to get this off my chest so you'd know how I feel.
I know you haven't seen me in class in a while.
Sometimes I just can't make it.  I'm too tired. I've worked to much. I can't afford it this month. I'm involved in too much. I have an injury.
But I think about you a lot.
I think about how I'd feel when you'd tell me in downward dog to spread my fingers wide and push down through my index finger into the floor.
When I'd push through the balls of my feet and bend my knees, shooting my hips up to the air, how that extended my spine and sent my energy soaring.
I think about in a flow, how you'd cue the breath and remind me that the breath is what initiates movement.
I think about Warrior I - how a subtle nudge of my back foot could send my hips into alignment - in Warrior II - how just by telling me to be aware of my knee over my ankle, that I became mindful of not lunging too far.
In Tadasana, Mountain pose, the way you instructed to pick my toes up to feel the weight and energy under the balls of my feet and my heels was so awakening.  I would then place my toes back down, but you'd tell me to keep that energy pulling up from the earth into my hips and to give my energy back to the earth.  How a slight lengthening of the tailbone, shoulders down the back and my low belly in-and-up grounded me and made me feel so strong.
I think about you, yoga teacher, and how from these words, these words of wisdom, you planted a seed to allow me to know myself better; to allow me to become more aware of my actions, my thoughts, my character.
Because I was able to conquer Crow pose in your class last time I was there, the other day I took a chance in my business - a leap of faith.  I knew I wouldn't fall far. And I knew I'd come out stronger because of it.
I think about in Triangle, when I hinge at the hips, how aware I have to be of my spine collapsing, lengthening from my hips, and extending my heart forward.  I think about how this awareness has helped me to be aware of other subtleties in life - how I treat people - how I treat myself.
In twists, you teach us to twist first from our foundation; then lead with the heart - to let our gaze follow but to always stay in line with our heart.  Off the mat I act with my heart first. Thank you for that.
Once in class the first pose you cued was handstand. You said, "I wanted you to feel what it was like to be present." Thank you for that, too. I think of that moment every time I notice I'm too much "in my head."
And sometimes it was the way you made me soften.  After studying the Bhagavad Gita you had us believe we were the Atman - to find that power in our heartspace - and to lift up, full of love, into a full wheel.  I've never forgotten that moment - when I felt like I could conquer the world.

So thank you - yoga teacher. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for teaching and doing what you were put on this earth to do. Thank you for giving a part of yourself to your students and sharing your gifts with the world.

You may not see me in class all the time, but you are always teaching me.

Om namah. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Feeling...Hole

Although I feel like I've been teaching for a while, with having taught private classes and having taken so many trainings, I finally and officially taught my first "Intro to Ashtanga" class the other day to a room full of students.  I was a little anxious leading up to it.  Since Ashtanga is such a unique and specific sequence and is something I trained in years ago, I wanted to make sure I practiced it enough to get the sequence perfect in my head and in my body. 

In the hours leading up to the class, I practiced the entire Primary Series to feel it one more time before teaching - and then I was just excited.  I felt so ready to impart the knowledge I had learned over so many years, from so many different sources, and really make it my own for my students. 

The class was pretty full.  I started out at the front of the class, demonstrating when I needed to, and walked around the room, helping people into poses or just showing them the pose up-close.  Some people had been to an Intro-to-Ashtanga class before, and for some, this was their first time.

75 minutes go by of ujjayi breathing, vinyasa movement, upward and downward dogs, and finally...savasana.  I spoke with a student in the class for a while afterwards who was so excited that I was teaching this particular style of yoga.  I was glowing.

I went home and ate, hung around for a while, then I got out of my clothes to take a shower. I looked down at the pants I just threw in the hamper. My eyes grew big. I picked up the pants.  There was a HUGE HOLE in the back of my cute pink yoga pants.

Like - not just a little hole that had started to unravel at the seam - I'm talking a RIP that started at the seam, and went to the middle of my @$$. 

I was mortified.

I looked down to see what kind of undergarmets I had on. Black. Phew! Pink would've been better. Thoughts raced through my head, "When did this happen?" "Did I sit on something in the car?" "Did all my students see this or did this happen on the way home?"

Shocked, all I could do was get in the shower and laugh. I thought to myself, "I wonder which was worse - this, or when I walked out of a public bathroom with toilet paper hanging out of my pants."

A few days later, I finally emailed a student I knew in the class if she had noticed my "hole" to try and solve the mystery of when the rip actually happened.  She replied, "I did notice it but because you had black on underneath I thought you knew and just wore tights. Hahaha. I thought to myself seems odd she would wear torn pants for her first time teaching but whatever."

Brilliant.  First day on the job and I introduce my students to my gluteus maximus.

A few days later I went to a family party and I noticed my 9-year-old step-niece had a hole in the back of her shirt - I guess she had just ripped it playing outside.  Apparently someone else had pointed it out to her earlier and when I said something, she felt embarassed.  She had known the week prior that I was going to teach a class and I said to her, "Hey remember that yoga class I went to go teach the other day?"  When I told her the story a huge smile of relief came over her cute little face and I realized that my "hole" had served it's purpose.

If yoga and meditation has taught me anything, it's been to go-with-the-flow and not care what other people think.  And if I can inspire a 9-year-old to do the same, well then my job was successful.

Here's to feeling...hole.

Om namah.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Letting it all Go

Happy Spring! Mmm. I know - real happy. Today on my way to yoga class, ice pellets were hitting my face and covering my car!  Oh well. I guess it's a good lesson to be in the moment and not get too excited over warm weather just yet - because it all may change.

That brings me to the topic at hand - letting go of what you think the outcome might be or of what may happen at any moment.  From the teacher perspective, this lesson has presented it's way differently than when I was just a student of yoga.

That's right.  After over a decade of practice, I now am itching to teach - a lot.  I've completed almost 300 hours of teacher training over the past 3 years, not including the many workshops I've completed with some of the greatest teachers of our time.  Over the past year, I've been teaching a weekly class of private students who graciously allow me to try out different sequences on them and who have noticed improvement in my tone, pace and assistance in postures. This particular 200-hour training will be finished in May.  And as part of our requirements, we must observe 16 hours of classes at the studio, making notes on these very characteristics in the teacher.

Today I went to observe an intermediate class that one of my teacher-training instructors was leading.  I ended up walking in the class with him and proceeded to the back of the room.  I set up my yoga mat length-wise but folded it in half trying not to take up so much room.  I always bring my iPad when I observe: I turn the sound off, fade the light until it's almost off, and the keypad is also silent.  I really don't make a peep.  I was way back in the corner but there's another group who like the back corner too: Beginner yogis.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I begin typing and observing the class.  After about 5 minutes of cat/cow pose and then downward dog, a student near me dropped to her knees, turned to me and said, "Are you going to be doing that the whole class?"
"I'm observing the class," I said without much emotion.
"Would you mind doing that somewhere else? It's really distracting." I looked up to find my teacher's eyes which were gazing inquisitively in our direction and I motioned to him with shrugged shoulders, "Where do I go?"
He pointed to the front of the room and shrugged as well, as if to say, "I guess there?!"

I settled in as quietly as possible and continued observing but had wanted to write my feelings down.  For a little while I felt bothered - not so much in the "I can't believe she told me to move" sense, but my mind raced around a bit: "I wonder if I'm bothering anybody else? I wonder if my iPad is really distracting.  The pad of paper I had last week sounded so noisy - I thought this was better!  I wonder if I'll ever be a great teacher.  I hope she doesn't know I'm going to start teaching here next week." And this went on and on in my head for a few moments! I noticed a "breathe" cue from the teacher and started to relax.  I came back to the present.

I began noticing this woman's practice.  Since I was at the front of the room, I tried not to look up when the class was facing the front - there were enough down-dogs and side-of-the-mat poses for me to do that. This was an intermediate class and the woman who told me to move was far from intermediate.  I started to breathe with an even deeper, relaxed breath and thought back to my beginning practices.  All beginners want to stay at the back of the room.  No beginner wants an advanced practitioner to notice or look at them.  She must have felt unconfident and conscientious about her practice.

Later I spoke with my instructor who explained that it was fine to sit at the front, and like I had guessed, just better that I not stare into the class when they were trying to focus their drishti (focal point or gaze) at the front of the room.

I was feeling fine about the whole thing when I left and then noticed more ice had fallen all over the back window of my car.  I turned the car on and started brushing away the blanket of sleet.  The woman in the back of the room was walking out of the studio in her hospital scrubs after a shower and came over to me.  "I'm so sorry I asked you to move - I just didn't want anyone to look at me!" I thanked her for telling me to do so, apologized that I was so close to her and said that I didn't mind at all - that I was happy to move to the front.

This small, kind gesture put a smile on my face and just reinforced that even though she communicated directly to me and it seemed that I was a real bother, her asking me to move actually had nothing to do with me at all.  It was all about her feeling comfortable in her own body and in her own space.

So even though I was observing from a teacher perspective, I was a student once again - humbled by another student and by the lesson of letting it all go.

Om namah.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Getting Real

To each his own.  I truly believe that.

Letting the universe and the spirits that make it up take its course is just about all we can really do.

At the ripe ol' age of 31 I'm noticing a few things happening, all due in part to my continual reading of the dharma and yoga practice and training:
1) I am more aware that I (and we, and everybody) judge people.  This can be as simple as thinking, "I really like that shirt," (positive judging) or "He really should not have worn that color," (negative judging) or "that bird must've flown a long journey to get here," (neutral judging).
2) I try to stay away from any kind of excessive judging - if our ego allows us to do it so naturally, why would we succumb to watching, or listening, or looking for it?
3) I try choose new friends more wisely, and don't take what my friends do or say as personally as I used to since we all have our own paths and journeys and essentially all come from different planets, so to speak.

I have a friend who watches a reality show every week.  He says it "reinforces why you shouldn't have friends."  He says it's a mindless show that allows him to unwind and decompress.

I would love a show of hands.  The last time you were in a room full of shouting people - especially rich housewives who gossip about each other and each other's spouses and family (if you were ever so lucky) - do you feel at ease or "un-wound?"

I have absolutely no problem with anybody's habits, hobbies and extra-curricular activities - as long as they don't cause harm to someone else and it makes you happy - all the power to you.  If I don't want to be involved, I'll let you know or I'll leave.

Watching a reality TV show about rich housewives' personal lives is not on the top of my list.  Here's why.

A friend told me recently I had to "up my twitter game" in order to run a more successful business.  I totally agree with this.  I don't have a smart phone, however, and really don't like being on social media for more than an hour a day.  She suggests I tweet every hour, at least. Ugh.

After a really successful twitter day with re-tweets and tags and #hashtags galore, I felt like I had brainfreeze. Legit. You know when you eat ice cream and you can't do anything to rid you of the pain that is permeating your brain?  That's what I had.  A complete Twitter freeze.

I get a similar feeling if I'm on the ol' FB too long.  It's less hectic feeling, but it's as if I stopped breathing for a while and then someone woke me up and told me to breathe again. ahhhhh.

Think back to a time if you ever over-heard someone gossiping about someone else or talking about a topic that you felt really strongly about.  Did you want to say something? Did you say something?  Did you feel a pressure in your chest or your throat?

Take the above three sensations and put them all together in one big juicy package.  That's how I feel - physically and mentally - after watching maybe even ten minutes of these kinds of reality TV shows.  It takes me back to the middle school hallways - the high school locker room - the back of the bus (aha, huss that fuss).

Thich Nact Hahn would probably say something like: Watching this kind of behavior is akin to punching a pillow over and over again.  Some psychologists in the western world recommend this action to rid yourself of anger.  Thich Nact Hahn would say, this just reinforces the anger inside of you, building it up and making it worse.

The funny thing is - about my friend who watches this stuff and thinks it decompresses him - I wouldn't say his behavior either during or after watching the show is - peaceful.  I usually sense agitation, frustration and stress.  Being his yogi friend, I've tried to impart just a little peaceful wisdom on him so that the agitation doesn't sink into his physical body and make it worse.  Problem is - this stuff is addicting. 

Well - as I said - to each his own.  The practice of yoga, after all, isn't for everyone.  Maybe I live in a dream world.  I mean, who knows what is real and unreal anyway?

All I know is that when I go and sit in silence or read some kind of dharma while my friend watches a shouting match over haircolor and man-stealing - we emerge with a very different definition of friends and of hope for the world.

In tribute to "getting back to reality" I bring you this Thursday throwback :)

Om namah.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Letting it Happen

There's all sorts of reasons why our mood might change from moment to moment.  We all have a million things going on at home, at work, with our parents, our siblings, our kids, not to mention what goes on in each of our minds.  It's as if each of our heads is a different planet - all with different make-ups and with different ideas swirling around in there all day long.

No wonder we all react differently to every situation.

Have you ever wanted something to happen really badly - and then it doesn't happen - and then you realize it was better that that certain something didn't happen anyway?  Like to buy that house, for example - you really thought your offer was going to be taken, and you had everything planned out in your head - only to find out that someone else beat you to it?  Then you find out later the foundational beams were all rotted, and they had to spend a fortune tearing down the place - and you found a better one, for less money in a better location?  Okay well maybe not that exactly.  But try to remember a time when you got so wrapped up in a specific outcome and then it turns out that outcome was a bad idea all along.

Outcomes are like material things.  It makes absolutely no sense to get attached to them.  They might (and will) disappear someday and as far as outcomes go, they might not even happen.

The other day I was planning on going to a Flamenco-style music event in Boston.  I had pre-paid and was happy to support the musicians and performers, one of whom I know, and I was so excited to see this unique performance.  The last time I had seen or heard Flamenco-style dance and music was when I visited Madrid a few years back.  The passion of that style of playing stuck with me and I was happy to share this gift with my man and bring him to Boston for the show.

Boston is in New England.  It snows in New England. A lot.

The day of the show, another blizzard was predicted.  Ticket sales were final.  When you're not in the best of financial situations, when you have final-sale tickets, you'll do anything you can to make the show.  But I heard the weatherman - and my man and I would be driving from Connecticut - so a 2-hour drive, at exactly the time the storm was supposed to hit - in a front-wheel-drive car?  Not a good situation.  Have you ever been stuck in a New England gridlock? (Tip: Always pack granola)

This put me in a bad mood.  I called the Box office and they had informed me that "even in yesterday's storm when we had 12 inches of snow, we didn't cancel." Awesome.

I thought back to my New Year's theme: Gratitude and Giving.  I breathed in and closed my eyes.  I instantly released the mood that I had created - all in my mind - and the thought that missing the show was a bad thing.  I thought of reasons why the universe was making me stay home that night.  I could get into an accident.  My throat felt a little sore so maybe I should stay home and rest. My hunnie has to go to Boston twice this week so he should stay home and rest too and save on gas.  My mind was okay with all of these ideas, my heart felt better, and I considered the ticket payment a donation for the talented performers and for the organization running the show. 

Next thing I know, I got a message informing me that "due to the city-wide parking ban and blizzard on the way, the show would be postponed.  All ticket-holders would be refunded."

I smiled.  Spirit had my back.

When I had released my tense thoughts, I realized that my intentions were good.  When you give good intentions to the world, they'll come back to you tenfold.  As Gabrielle Bernstein says, "Your intentions create your reality." The more negative your thought pattern, the more negative your mood and the mood of all those around you.  

So we stayed home, and for the next three days I got to go to bed early and sleep in.  My throat felt a lot better.  On the third day, I got a call from a friend who wants me to sing at a memorial service - in two days. Done. 

All these things were much better than trying to drive through a blizzard, don't you think?

More and more these days, I try to let things happen.  Don't get me wrong - I still write out my goals every year, and every month, and sometimes every week to try to create the reality that I want.  And I create smaller goals with baby steps to put those goals into action.  But I'm not so much attached to the outcome.  I know spirit's got something in store for me as long as I have faith in spirit. 

Plan big - and then try to let it happen.  Breathe in to your mood changes.  Be aware. Enjoy the ride. 

Om Namah





Monday, January 13, 2014

Snow Days and Setting Intentions





Sometimes after a few vacation days off, you might feel ready to go back to work to mingle with colleagues, to get out of the house...I know the feeling.  After being sick and in bed for over 13 hours a day from Christmas through New Year's, I was pretty ready to get out of the house and start my daily routines.

Then two more days of snow came.

I would've been fine with getting into a warm car, then hanging out in a warm office, reconnect with folks, but because work was closed and i didn't want to really hang out too much outside after a long sickness, I hunkered down again. Instead of laying around and falling into a state of boredom, however, I tapped into my storage of yoga wisdom and decided to take advantage of this extended vacation.

I set an intention for the day: To clean and disinfect my space, to study some of my yoga teacher training materials, and to write down all of my 2014 goals (since I usually do this on New Year's but was in bed by 10pm after winning a Michael Jackson karaoke contest!).

Snow days, if you are lucky enough to experience one or two and not have to always shovel your way into work, are an amazing gift.  It is the perfect time to get centered and reconnect with the "self" that we tend to lose throughout our busy lives.  If  I don't have to rush out the door early in the morning, I make sure I wake up slowly, perform all my shoulder exercises (for an impingement injury), meditate with my favorite blanket over my shoulders, and do some light stretching (if not a whole asana practice!)

Just to share a few 2014 goals with you, of course Giving is more or less the theme of my 2014 - giving of my time, giving my ear, my heart, etc.  Another is to dance my ass off for at least 20 minutes once a month.  I was going to make this once a week, but I have so many other monthly goals that I limited each goal to once a month and thought that would be more attainable.  
Another one was to attend some kind of social networking event each month which I have already accomplished in January by attending a Worcester Local First event at The Perfect Game. 

I have a bunch of big goals too but I like to write down these smaller goals too and immediately start looking for opportunities (new dance playlists, ways to volunteer my time or ideas of giving, social networking events) and jot them down in my calendar.  I literally wrote "Dance for 20 minutes" in the middle of January, February, etc.  THAT WAY I'LL ACTUALLY DO IT!

If you haven't written down your 2014 goals, there's still time. Don't know where to start?  Write down maybe one thing you want to accomplish this year and then one thing you will do this month that will take you one step closer to attaining it.  If that was easy, add another thing for this month.

I hope that this year you have enough snow days or can create enough snow-day-like days or even just little chunks of time where you can set goals to accomplish whatever it is you set out to accomplish.  I hope you feel and believe that you are perfect exactly the way that you are, but that if you want to learn something new or better yourself in some way, that all it takes is setting an intention, and taking small steps to achieve your goals.

Happy 2014!
Namaste.