Well friend, we've come to the edge of a new frontier and this is all unknown to all of us. As we all try to navigate the murky waters of information, data, advice, policy, and many more inputs on our behavior in the coming weeks, let's make sure that we are also listening to that deep inner voice that is whispering (or maybe shouting, depends on who you are!) our gut instincts to us.
In yoga we have these layers through which we explain the phenomena of being a living human being - they're called the koshas. From dense to subtle we have:
Anamaya Kosha - The physical body.
Pranamaya Kosha - The breath and energetic experience of pulsation, of expansion and contraction - this connects us to the idea of the pulsation of the macro-environment around us, noticeable in tides, in seasons, in population expansion/plague...we'll come back to that later.
Manomaya Kosha - The mental and emotion experience. Not so much (or not at all) the storyline of the thoughts you're thinking, but rather what it feels like in your head as you think them. Is is crowded, busy, wild, or flowing, easy, meandering, calm...?
Vignanamaya Kosha - The intuition, or wisdom body. This is underneath the thinking mind. This is less personal. This is ancestral...cellular. This is the little voice that I was alluding to up top.
Anandamaya Kosha - This is the bliss that comes from recognizing the WHOLE self - all the layers as they act upon one another, interact with each other and create a rich, woven tapestry of consciousness. As we see our WHOLE selves, we experience bliss in this human manifestation.
When we tune in to that Vignanamaya Kosha, we learn to trust what we know - even when we DON'T know, there is some part of us, or something about the thing we don't know, that we know. We know what feels right to us and what doesn't. We know that turning to anxiety and fear doesn't create stability. We know that destabilizing our routines is frustrating, can be scary and uncharted, but also that our self-talk doesn't have to destabilize us, our self-care routines can morph into a different order, a different time or place, but that shape shifting doesn't mean dropping and losing routines and habits forever.
What we need to trust is that we are resilient and adaptable. That we will make lemonade here. That this is the drawing inward piece of that larger pulsation - Spanda - but it won't draw in forever. As a natural rule, what contracts will expand again eventually. Waves are a constant in our world - they will reach both peak and trough...over and over again.
For many of us, we spend so much time in an extroverted world. Giving of ourselves and rarely catching up on enough inward-drawing that we become depleted. This is so common that I have a coaching group about it. We lose track of what we need to do to care for ourselves because we are so committed and driven to help those around us. Our families and friends, sure, but in the grander scope too - through our careers and larger life choices, maybe volunteering or just being there for people when they need it. A babysitting here, a dog watching there - often at the cost of our own quiet replenishment. Not that that is a bad thing - don't turn this into Alex trying to tell you to stop being a good human- that's not it at all. But there must come a trough to that peak, where we take time to catch up on sleep, on time outside, on restorative practices, on luxurious baths, and general quiet time.
So maybe this is that time on the world stage. Maybe we all COLLECTIVELY need to take a break. This is it. We kinda have no choice. And instead of dreading it and hating on it (of course there are legitimate worries, I am not trying to belittle health or financial struggle), we might look at it as mandatory me time, en masse. A mandatory slow down. Mandatory family bonding time, spring cleaning time, watching the clouds time, journal writing time, legacy creation time, gratitude practice time, yoga time, meditation time, adding miles to your running routine time....on and on. All the stuff that we always say we don't have time for. Well, it turns out that now we do.
So I'll quote the inimitable Mary Oliver here and ask you, dear friend -
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
What time to do you regularly get in bed? What time do you actually fall asleep? Are you getting quality sleep? Do you feel in rhythm with the natural world around you? Do you feel like your energy is optimized throughout the cycle of the day? All of these are great questions to ask yourself when approaching this habit.
These can feel like very triggering questions for many, especially those who identify as "night owls". I used to be like that - not a self-proclaimed night owl per se, but I used to stay up late very regularly, as I'd gotten in a rhythm with my husband (who is a self-professed night owl), that after we'd put our daughter to bed, we would eat dinner or snack, and watch Netflix. We considered this our "quality time". So not only was I not getting my earlier lighter dinner, but I was also not getting to bed early. But I was getting up very early, very regularly to run or teach yoga. To say that I was exhausted would be the understatement of the year. I was depleting my adrenals, I was dangerously fatigued - to the point where sometimes by 3pm I felt like I was unsafely driving my car, as tired as I was. I had to have a very serious conversation with my husband that began something like this: " I love you very much, but our time together cannot be relegated strictly from 8pm to midnight, and strictly to numbing out on Netflix. It is not quality time, it is just time, and it's eating into my health, at that". So we talked, and now I often am in bed by 10pm. And that is still not as early as is encouraged by the Ayurvedic dosha clock, 9:30pm is ideal, but it is a huge improvement that I've cobbled together over the last year of slow, continuous increments of 10 minutes per few weeks to get me here. And I haven't felt like I was going to crash the car due to extreme exhaustion since, I'm happy to report!
Going to bed early, especially when stacked on top of eating an earlier, lighter dinner, creates the perfect set-up for waking up with (or before) the sun tomorrow. The belly is happy but not too full, having done it's most heavy lifting earlier in the day, and the body is ready for sleep. This sets up the day to run smoothly. Like a beautiful dominoes structure that all tip over with the momentum of the ones behind them to give them support and gravitas.
Even for those self-proclaimed "night owls" - humans are not wired to be night owls. Even if this is a habit that you've been practicing since college, or before - staying up late and either waking up late in the morning, or not getting enough sleep by waking up too early after a late bed time the night before, this is not a natural human biorhythm, it is artificial and superimposed because we've convinced ourselves that we just like to stay up late, or our bodies just work like this. They can also work a different way - the way they were intended to: to sleep in the dark, and wake with the light. Plus, the rest of the habits work so much smoother - the dominoes will fall so much more cleanly, when this habit is online.
I want to be perfectly honest with you and super transparent. This is my hardest daily self-care habit. And the funny thing is that I LOVE waking up early! I get up early every single day without fail, meditate, exercise, do all the other habits happily, except I'm way tired a lot of the time, when my early bedtime isn't dialed in. I have to work the hardest at this and kaizen the you-know-what out of this one, (make those very small, incremental changes) setting my time back literally 5 minutes at a time to get anywhere. And this is the first one of my self-care habits that slips out of automation for me too. But I recognize the benefit and importance that it bears on my life, and so I prioritize it.
Now, even my husband, the self-proclaimed night owl, often will come to bed not long after me and has been sleeping better since I've instituted this into my rhythm. It has been a real gift to not only my health, but that of my family members.
So maybe this next week, give it a try. Dial your bedtime back by a few minutes and see if you don't feel a bit better at wake-up time in the morning. See if you feel better prepared to face the day coming. And if you want to try this but feel like you want or need more support, let's talk! Leave me a comment and we will get a call going to move you into deeper sleep integrity!
Understanding some of your self-sabotaging habit patterns is essential to being able to work with them and make positive changes. Let's take a deeper look at how to move through some of your conditioning toward this bad habit to the other side of sabotage, to freedom!
Here is a link to a little Self-Sabotage questionnaire. If you are ready to get personal up in here and really address what's holding you back, go ahead and take the quiz, and come back to learn more about breaking up with this negative pattern.
Ease OUT of Self-Sabotage!
Start Where You Are - Look back at your quiz results. If you answered a 5 or higher on any of these, make a little list. Read through the list and notice which ones seem most relevant to you right now. What intuitively feels like it is tripping you up the most, as you are today? If there are a lot, pick the three that resonate with you the most.
Reframe the Habit in Your Own Words - Make it as relevant to your life as you can. Can you see this pattern interfering with your current success? Write your thoughts down about this.
Once you bring light to the unconscious behaviors that trip you up, you will begin to see them as they happen in real time. You can set a trigger for behavior change right now. When that problematic behavior crops up, you can have a strategy for how you will respond in the future. For example, if you're feeling a bout of low self-esteem and drawn to go on an impulse shopping trip to numb out those feelings, let that be a trigger for you to take 2 minutes, sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and then find a place to get a cup of tea instead of heading to the mall. Use your time to focus on your breath, and on a nurturing behavior instead of one that will compromise not only your bank account and maybe relationship, but also your integrity.
Any Behavior Change Strategy Needs an Identifiable or Tangible Trigger - When you notice or do X, instead you'll do Y. EX: when I start ruminating about going to Athleta to buy myself a new pair of leggings because I'm feeling bad about myself and I start to feel that dopamine hit, that's when I'll catch myself, sit down wherever I can, take 3 deep breaths and make a plan about where I'll get tea instead. Maybe I could even keep a running list on my phone of how much I'm saving when I skip the impulse buy, and when I've tallied $1000, THEN I congratulate myself with a gift, not as therapy, but as reward for hard work.
Changes Should Be Small to Succeed - When we try to change too much at a time, we set ourselves up for failure, thereby ensuring that the negative habit that we're aiming at will win out in the end. Make your change small and doable instead of giant and unattainable (for a long period of time). Rewire your brain with a methodical, slow meticulousness that will help you want to and be able to maintain going forward.
Give it a try and please let me know how it goes for you. I'm deeply interested in your habit evolution! Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In evolutionary process,
I heard some pretty grim news yesterday. It was a story that a friend told me about a good friend of hers, but only an acquaintance of mine. It was a story about how this woman's ex-husband had been molesting their 6 year old daughter. Now I've met this family before, and they've been very kind to me and mine in the past, but as I've said, we know each other only peripherally. But this story was hitting my friend very hard, and as I looked forward into the long day of teaching yoga that was ahead of me, having to show up for so many others as a neutral vessel in the facilitation of their embodiment process, I had to wrestle with my own reactions to this news. I kept myself toghether until I was on the road to teach my first class, and then felt a wave of grief and violent anger sweep over me at the gross violation of the innocence of this child. I cried a lot and contemplated what it might feel like to murder someone with my bare hands. Just for a minute. I'm not above addmitting that, because I am a human being and we all experience the gamut of emotions, no matter how much we meditate to open our hearts. And then, I was at the studio, and the situation required my neutrality at the very least and truly, pleastantness, if we're being honest about what a valued customer service experience is in this country. We show up and put on a happy face for those coming in to experience your service. So I wiped my tears and went upstairs.
I've been teaching the Yamas and Niyamas in my classes for about three weeks or a month now in my yoga classes. I begin with a little check in, and then introduce a philosophical element that the Yoga Sutras invites us to contemplate in order to align our lives more resonantly with the virtuous life of integrity that is the yogic path. The Yamas and Niyamas represent precepts of righteous living according to the ancient yogis - what to do and what not to do, to do the least harm and the most good in the world. As the first two limbs on the yogic 8 Fold Path, these concepts are there to teach us how to get our minds right, how to prepare ourselves for the robust life of the yogi and not just the way the body will react to movement, as is often represented here in the western interpretation of yoga. Physical movement is but one of the limbs of the 8 Fold Path. But I digress.
We began a few weeks back with Ahimsa which is about non-harning, or active kindness, compassion and generosity in our lives. Ahimsa is important to practice toward ourselves and outwardly too. It is a complete practice unto itself. But also, upon ahimsa, all other virtues stack. We moved into Satya, or truth telling, and I encouraged the students to contemplate ways that we hide the truth even from ourselves - in the shadow of our consciousness - ways that we manipulate our understanding in the direction of our ego directives, ultimately creating a dissonance with living in integrity. And this week the teaching had moved on to Asteya, or non-stealing. This one seems pretty straight forward - don't steal shit from other people, duh. But there are nuances here too that relate to subtler questions of ways we take from ourselves and others, and this is what I had slated to discuss this week. And truly, it is a very powerful teaching to begin to look into how we steal time from others by being late, how the ego steals wellness and balance from us in a yoga practice by disguising goals and achievement as "the path". But I was a little distracted as I came into the yoga studio that morning.
As I began opening up the studio on Sunday morning, I was about to sweep the floor when a group of people new to the studio walked in, which in and of itself isn't a big deal, but when you also have other duties ot take care of it adds a layer of stress. Then a man currently experiencing homelessness walked in, who was in need of a very real energy download. As I was getting the new people checked in, stressing about the dirty studio floor that I hadn't swept yet, and pushing thoughts of sexual abuse and my own anger out of my mind, I squared up to another challenge - meeting this man with kindness, compassion and openness, and treating him like the human being that he is. He was asking about the malas (preayer beads) that we sell at the studio, and did we have anything that would help him with his mental illnesses including schitzophrenia? Luckily the floor wasn't that dirty, and most people were quite self-sufficient in getting themselves situated in the studio while I was talking with this man. He decided that he wanted to use a part of his very limited funds to purchase one of our malas when I started having a problem inputting his payment information. I asked him to give me some time to teach my class and to return when it was done and we would get him his mala. He said ok.
I'm lucky that I've been teaching for a long time and have a lot of experience focusing on the moment, so the class was undisturbed by all that was in my heart about the innocence stolen from this child, and the dehumanization of people experiencing mental illness and homelessness that is all too often the case. I was able to get accross the idea of Asteya in a much more neutral way than the way I was personally experiencing it. And while teaching, I made the decision that if that man did indeed come back after my class was over, I wanted to buy him the mala and gift it to him, because that kind of thing, while a very helpfull tool in my own life, seems a bit of an extravagance to someone that has $71 to his name. I wanted him to get to have the experience of counting mantra and prayer as much as it could help him through the dark moments of his life, and also be able to buy a meal and a blanket for survival. And I guess I came around to using Asteya in the sense of seeing the light - that is moving forward in a constructive way and actively GIVING to someone else, instead of getting mired down in my own darkness about what is stolen from too many people every day, and allowing the shadow to swallow me up in sadness, fear and anger.
In the end, I really just want to offer my deepest gratitude to the teachings of this path that I started walking when I was 19. Learning how to deal with my own shadow and to turn the light on when I am experiencing those feelings of anger and helplessness and shine it outward instead of suffocating in darkness. To have a foundation in compassion, to be able to be as honest as I can be with myself and with others, to excavate my own shadow first, and to try my very hardest to honor that honesty in treating people with generosity and not shrinking in fear. I pray that that man finds some comfort and closeness to God in repeating his prayers while passing the mala beads between his fingers. I will say some prayers for him, for my friend, for her friend and her daughter and all children who have experienced a theft of their trust and innocence in any way. May we move in the direction that the 8 Fold Path would have us walk - that of integrity and treating ourselves and others with respect and kindness. The path of ultimate love.
Namaste. I bow to you.
I recently lost a friend to cancer. She was 40, a yoga instructor and nurse, an impeccably clean eater and a generally well balanced and healthy person. It was shocking, in fact, when she told me that she was living with stage 4 colon cancer and it had metastasized to her lungs and liver. Shocking. And what shocked me more was how easy it was to be with her. This is a testimony to my friend's kindness that she made everyone feel comfortable. Even when we spoke of cancer, it never felt awkward. I rarely thought of her diagnosis when we were together. I thought about her yoga practice, her bone broth, her sweet puppy snuggles and her thoughtful lessons on meditation and self inquiry. But, when we were apart, I thought about cancer a lot. I wondered if my thinking about her death was bringing negative energy to her life and I tried to shut off my thoughts. Instead I cataloged her amazing qualities, those that made it so that I was comfortable with HER diagnosis. I thought about her tenacious focus on continuing to learn about herself and her commitment to excavate the phenomenon of her own existence. And now that she is gone, I often consider those qualities. I ask her for help when I am feeling ungraceful, unskilled, or too cautious. And, at the risk of sounding heartless, the thought of her makes me feel happy, not sad. Sure, I wish sometimes that she were here with me in the flesh, but I also know that wishing for the impossible is a futile waste of my own potential, and I would rather do something positive with her memory, than remain solely focused on my own interpretation of life as lacking her presence in it. It's all perspective. I am not missing her. She is within me. She was just a projection of mine the whole time. A projection of grace, and beauty, kindness and generosity. Those qualities that she showed me, I have access to within my own self, as we project onto each other all the time. Because she showed me so much, because she helped me find more clarity in myself, she is with me all the time.
I lost another friend about three years ago to a red blood cell cancer that came on fast, and took her fast, and was a complete surprise to everyone. She too was young, and seemed healthy. She assumed that her fatigue was from having two small children, because in part, it was. But as it turned out, a much more serious issue was at hand. She was a massage therapist and one of the best mothers I knew. She was one of my top two go-to moms for advice. And probably due to the suddenness of her decline, the feeling of loss lingered longer. I still think of her often and have a giggle at silly massage situations that we would laugh about in life, or funny happenings from the gauntlet of parenthood that we would chuckle over as we watched our kids climb the jungle gym together.
This post is not a catalogue of all those that I've lost in this life. Don't worry.
In Sanskrit, the word Vinyasa means "to place in a special order", and it refers to a specific arrangement of postures in the physical practice of yoga. And in this flowing from one posture to another we get lost in the absorption of the mind in movement. I have seen this described as serving the purpose of teaching us that things are impermanent, they keep moving from one form to the next, thereby implying that to attach to any specific form is folly. My yoga teacher often globalizes this word to refer to any happening that is a dance, a sequence,...a flow. I love her liberal application of vinyasa, as so many things in life get placed in a special order. The traffic vinyasa, the parking vinyasa...you get it. So many things teach us that attaching to any one form is folly, yet it is our nature to attach. We assume that our projections are not only true but unchanging, and so we cling to them as real. That the way I saw my friends in my life is definitely the way they were, and that they would remain so for a long time, because that is how life goes. But this is flawed thinking - do you see? Because my friends were not always the way I interpreted them to be in those moments. I saw them as I am, not as they were. And there is no guarantee that anyone is sticking around for any prescribed length of time. If we are so lucky as to have a long life, we get each moment to adore anew, and if we choose to let it go by unattended-to, un-adored, well, that is the real loss in our lives. That is the take away, as I see it. The vinyasa of death is that of placing our memories and our actions in a special order. That of making us more understanding, kinder, more compassionate people because of what we have experienced and learned. We are here, and we have the opportunity to self-inquire, to excavate, to giggle, to lean on each other and to stand up for ourselves. One day we too will be gone - another fleeting moment in the vinyasa before we take the next form. I, for one, hope to leave a legacy of joy, laughter and inspiration, as those before me have left for me.
And so it goes, the vinyasa of life - handing us both joys and grief, freshness and loss all jumbled up to keep our minds and our hearts moving from form to form. All to mull, to compost and grow from. Of course, grief is a funny animal...it swirls around, never moving in a clear linear path toward diminishing. Sometimes it rhymes slow, sometimes it rhymes quick. It too, teaching that we cannot attach to it or push it away, as it always changes the game on us. The vinyasa of life. The vinyasa of death. The vinyasa of grief. The vinyasa of letting go. The vinyasa of being made anew. Scarred maybe, but with new vision and a deeper well from which to give.
The loss of the people whom I've lost has given me the gift of grappling with how to live up to the best qualities that I saw in them. Just as those whom you've lost have done that for you. We have the opportunity to use our hurt, our memories, our conscious awareness and our hearts to raise our vibration. We can become more compassionate through our tears. The vinyasa flows on.
The wound is the place where the light enters you."
- Jalaluddin Rumi
In loving memory of Jenn Morey and Kai Conroy.
And I thought about what it's like to have Spacious Mind. Like a big, open sky. And how thoughts and emotions like to flood in, crowding out the space like clouds and making a lot of shadow. What a trick it can be to just drop that story and create space to accept what is arising in those moments. And how as much as I've attempted to disassociate myself with the anxious, nervous Nellies that are the women of my lineage, I've begun realizing that once I can see my habits of letting nervousness get to me and interfere with my peace, the more likely I am to be able to let them go and surrender into that spacious mind. We do not have to succumb to the patterns that continue to be destructive in our lives. Slowing down and looking at them is hard, usually humbling and always revolutionary, if done in the true light of our consciousness. But how else will change happen? How will I be that easy going, chill Colorado girl that I envision, unless I see the anxiety-laden worry wart that keeps showing up instead? I have to catch her before she invades my perception. Like it or not, this is the story that keeps showing up for me, and before I get a bladder infection, I'd like to take a peek at why, and how this affects my life. That is a tall order, though I have moments of clarity, like today.
I expect that this will be a long road. One of catching the pattern too late another thousand times before maybe I catch it ahead of time once - if ever again. But the alternative is to keep letting that pattern happen with no investigation, and where has that gotten me so far? Looking like a crackhead begging for a bathroom, that's where. (No offense to crackheads. Everybody's got to pee).
Peace friends. And happy investigating.
xo - Alex
I walked outside with my almond milk latte and indulgent chocolate-peanut butter chip cookie, and immediately saw a friend, sitting, drinking in the long ago forsaken sunshine on a glorious spring afternoon between clients. I had been granted a rare block of time to sit and read all by myself, and figured I would sit outside at a coffee shop instead of in the office, where it is so easy to get distracted with actual work, and it was finally a nice day in a string of weeks of rain. When I saw her, I sat down, and we chatted of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, which we'd planned to spend together. We talked about what other families and children would be there. What wines we'd like to sip on. Basically we were adulting in the sun.
She had to run soon thereafter so I turned around and sat at a table in the shade. (Making this choice...also adulting.) In my new line of sight was a pretty girl, sitting by herself. I noticed her, but pulled my books out to dive in.
Soon after that she too got up, pulled her backpack on and turned to leave. I was immediately plunged into memories of being in high school and going off campus for lunch. Being in high school and wearing John Lennon-y sunglasses. Being in high school and spending an inordinate amount of time at a non-Starbucks, local coffee shop (much like the one we were at now, as I still like that) to the point of getting heart palpitations from drinking way too much caffeine. ...Being in high school.
Though I had just been adulting, seeing this girl and waxing nostalgic at my own teenage years touched me with a pang of "I'm still that girl somewhere inside". Of "what a beautiful afternoon to be simple". Of "how do I have a three year old? Wasn't I just sitting at the coffee shop five minutes ago myself"?
Don't mistake my musings for regret. It's all been a beautiful ride. It's just that time is such a slippery fish. There is a cliche tossed around often in the parenting world that frequently it can seem as though moments can drag on for hours, and then you look back and years have passed in the blink of an eye. What is that? Why is it that our perception of time is so unreliable? Is time so malleable? Textured more like swiss cheese than like the smooth surface of glass like we imagine?
We humans have conceptualized time down to these tiny increments that we can theoretically measure, but why are we so militant about it? I am not so naive as not to understand that we need a common denominator to communicate with other humans. That we need a socially agreed upon standard to have shared experiences. But what if we let go of that construct for a minute, and just lived in that weird space of life being less measured and more payed attention to? In which I could be both that teenager in high school, and the (very slightly, in fact, not much at all) more mature version of that girl - the "long ago me" and the "now me" kind-of all at the same time. And I'm not talking about those memories of myself, housed in my medial temporal lobe, that inform this moment, but that actual girl.
It was so palpable, that moment of watching the girl walk away, conscious of getting back to school on time. I remember so clearly those feelings of both feeling a little unsettled to be alone and not with my peer group, but excited to have the independence to explore the world (one coffee shop at a time) by myself at once. I'm sure that feeling intensified for some time once I learned to drive. Anyway, I digress. I was clearly experiencing a memory, but the sharpness was striking and made me feel like that girl was so close...like she was in my skin currently, like her thoughts were my thoughts and I was thinking them in the present. And instead of chiding myself for getting lost in a reverie of the past and not being aware of this moment - I actually felt more present than ever, seeing through eyes of the past, maybe, but watching this moment from that perspective in the present. Not wishing for it back. I didn't have to do that. It was here.
It was wild and actually got me thinking more about our interpretation of the space-time continuum than my glorification of the simpler time of my girlhood. While usually, we take time at face value, there are these occasional moments where it just drops out from under us, like a trampoline that someone is bouncing on with you, in opposite rhythm.
I remember when I rolled my Jeep, about 7 years ago on a windy section of an icy highway in the Vail Valley in Colorado. I was commuting to work and going a little too fast for the conditions. The Jeep fishtailed on ice and spun around, started to tip over, the guardrail caught it mid-flip and I hung upside down, suspended by the seat belt for a few seconds before coming back down on all four tires. That felt like the longest 30 seconds of my life. I remember it happening like it was a movie on slow motion playback. Every second was in high definition. Nobody was hurt, thank God, and the moral of the story is that in inclement weather the law is that you drive 10 miles below the posted limit. That's your new limit. But that's not what links this experience to the girl at the coffee shop. It's my wonky perception of time. Another wormhole in the continuum.
Moments can drag on for hours, and then you look back and years have passed in the blink of an eye.
I suppose an easy way to think about this is that we get old. When we are young we do not have context for time. When a parent says "You need to tie your shoes because we are leaving in five minutes" they might as well say five hours. A kid doesn't have a sense of how long five minutes is. And I remember that lasting a long time. It may have been lessened, but the sense of no/low consequence because I had forever to deal with any situation stayed with me through high school to some degree. And of course, fast forward to having a child myself, and it feels like the years are passing so quickly that I'll never have a chance to do anything because, before you know it, I'll be in assisted living dying my hair blue and playing mah jongg. This speaks to exactly the shadiness of the space-time problem. And it's subjectivity to our changing perceptions. So how could it be dependable or a constant? Exactly! It can't. Because we humans invented the concept of time as a way to order our days, our years, and our lives. We cannot stand the feeling of not having control, so we try to give order to everything. Do hummingbirds or sloths have an understanding of space and time? Does one know that it operates at hyper-speed and one on uber slo-mo? Doubtful. They just live it. They live each moment fully because they don't remember previous ones and cannot conceive of future ones. That's actually a little bit cool, I think. It's like being 3. My daughter is always saying stuff like "last night when I was opening my Christmas presents"....ummm, baby...it's June. She has no idea. That is kind of very cool. Instead of impatiently waiting for her to get more indoctrinated with our concepts and "order", I will just take her, each day, each moment as she chooses to show up. It's a beautiful and innocent way to see the world. And I can be the girl at the coffee shop, late for high school and the mom, dreaming about a cool glass of rose at a hot Memorial Day picnic at the same time.
So, I’ve been getting a little sciency lately. Mainly spurred by my love of the Radiolab podacast. They are just sciency enough on that show to get me hooked and colloquial enough so that I understand what the hell they’re talking about. They brought up this interesting story in an episode about the Voyager Probes that are exploring our solar system currently, and will hopefully soon be pushing through the edge of the heliosheath, or the outermost layer of the helioshpere, where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of meeting other interstellar medium. This is the podcast episode if you're curious to listen to it. First of all, this is so bad ass. Nothing has ever been so far away from us on Earth or still had the capacity to report information back. These little guys are exploring the outermost edge of our sun’s domain and beyond…. I’m ridiculously enamored of this whole endeavor. Voyager 1, is currently in the heliopause - the place that signifies the outer limits of the sun’s magnetic field and outward flow of solar wind, so it’s between the solar wind and the interstellar wind which is pushing back in towards the solar wind (or maybe all around the solar sphere of winds and the sun’s magnetic field). I’m no astrophysicist - I just freaking love this stuff, so all of this is from this nasa website and interpreted for you to the best of my understanding. So, a piece of what has been discovered by the Voyager mission is that the solar winds are blowing around at a supersonic rate inside of the heliosphere, and in this heliopause, because they are meeting the resistance of the interstellar winds, there is a slowing of the solar winds to a subsonic rate. They basically are dying down to virtually nothing. Crazy. I always thought, when I imagined what it’s like in space (did I ever tell you that when I was a little girl, I wanted to be an astronaut? Well, that, my friends is a true story), that there was only quiet nothingness between stars, galaxies, etc. But, come to find out, NO - there is a lot of energy flying around out there. The vast majority is what is called Dark Matter, which means we haven’t found a way to experience it at all, and what we can see/hear/feel - experience with our senses is only like 4% of what is out there! Anyway, I digress.
What this all got me thinking about is my own understanding of the human body and human experience. Especially as I’ve learned to see and know it through the practices of yoga and meditation. And specifically experiencing our bodies as a microcosm of the world, or the universe as we understand it, with respect to the yogic principle of spanda. Spanda refers to the pulsation of the universe, and not only of the universe as sort-of one unit, but on down the chain - the pulsation of the planet, of all life, of humans specifically, and even smaller. It is experienced in the ocean tides, in the seasons, the dance of the sun and moon, the migration of animals, our circadian rhythm, our breath, heartbeat, the transformation of potential to kinetic energy. It is everywhere and in everything we can know through our senses.
I never really knew much about space or the universe. The tide of curiosity is pulling me along for this absorbing ride now, though. The moment I heard this bit about this stilling of the solar winds...the profound still point...made me think about my own breath. The experience through meditation of feeling the inhale. Feeling the exhale. Of knowing the sacred pause between the two. However tiny or short that space of stillness - it also brings the mind to stillness when experienced. As does the one pointed focus of riding the breath in its kinetic form of movement as well. That we are TRULY but a microcosm, a tiny speck of imitation of that great expanse from which we came just sunk in on a vastly more personal level. Sure we can contemplate cute stories about how we are made of stardust (At a Hanuman festival one year I heard Amy Ippoliti tell this wonderful story about going to the planetarium with John Friend and having this moment of realization of everyone being made of stardust. I don't remember the details but it stuck with me, this image of sparkly people glittering like the stars we watch in the sky. How very Edward Cullen! I'm totally in love with this romantic view), but it still never really landed with me just how connected we are, until I heard the story of what those Voyagers are learning about the universe. I guess we all just need our own stories to ground our experiences in.
That we are not only made of the stuff of the universe, all of the proportions of elements found in the universe exactly mirrored in our own makeup, is humbling and unifying at the same time. But, also that we DO exactly what the universe does on our tiny level... how beautifully synergistic. So when I get on my mat, and I bow to the insight inherent in my own being, it now has taken on this enormous significance in a very personal and also completely impersonal way. We are all the same in this way. We are all made of stardust. We all pulse just like the world and universe we live in. And how utterly majestic to behold and to feel this divinity pulse through our own veins. The mighty universe shows itself to us through every cell that we contain, and every action that we take. The still point is so huge... it is the universe. What else is there to do but to bow and touch the earth with my heart?
When I first came to yoga it was about 1998, give or take 6 months, and I was about 19 years old. I remember so vividly the karate dojo where we practiced. My first teacher, Julie, rented the space, as there were no yoga studios in Raleigh, NC then. It was kind of dingy, but tidy and it had light blue carpet on the floor. I used to wear pajama pants and t-shirts and not think twice about it. I mainly practiced along side people who were at least twice my age, Iron man triathletes and in general under-the-radar bad asses. Well, let me back up a little to say that while that is how I remember them, I was in college and there may be a bit of romanticism in that description, as it took me several years to get my head on straight and realize that yoga was what I was looking for all along in all of those crazy things I did back then that muddied my awareness. Anyway, back to the story. Julie introduced me to breath, bandha and drishti. She taught and showed me patience and balance and kindness. It was a glorious time. The period of my first falling in love with the practice.
One thing I don't really remember from back in those days is how I felt about my body in relationship to my yoga practice. I don't have the typical "yoga body" and never did. Even before there was such a thing. I mean, in general, I've always been body conscious and hyper aware of my weight and size, especially how it relates to exercise and sports, but yoga was a little different, especially back then. It was truly about mindfulness, not sport, and certainly not about image or celebrity. NOBODY had leggings on and nobody cared. We moved and breathed and delved deep into the experience of our bodies, all from inside, gasp...- baggy pants!
From Raleigh I moved to New York City in 2000, and began practicing at a dance studio and at some yoga specific studios, as yoga was beginning to have a bit more popularity, and also I was out of the deep south and in a generally more progressive place. I purchased a few more yoga-specific items to wear (though even then, that wasn't nearly the thing it is today), and began the comparison game with all of the "serious" yogis and dancers that I newly practiced along side. This was a heady time. I was learning in leaps and bounds. My practice was progressing steadily and it was ah-mazing! But the self-conscious teenager inside of me was beginning to get very uncomfortable in a world that I'd felt pretty good in, so far.
As I moved around the country and practiced in more and more places and with more varied teachers, time also marched on and yoga developed into a full-blown industry, with merchandise, large-scale events, social media, celebrities and "a look". I also got pregnant, had a baby and worked my ass of to not-really get back to what my body was before the baby, because, well, chocolate and wine. Hashtag SorryNotSorry. And now yoga is only recognizable to me when I get on the mat, but really only then. Not when I go to a popular class at a hip studio. Not when I open Instagram (though I can't lie, I like IG and yoga on IG. I find it beautiful and inspiring. By the way - @alexalexmo. But not the yoga that I knew, exactly). Not when I go to a store and look at the slippery yoga pants (that I have lots of, because they are "the uniform", and people need to see your body as you demo - but I sure as hell had a panic attack upon wearing leggings the first time to teach in public).
Listen, I understand that sometimes people balk the first time they come to my class. I know because I can see the skepticism in their eyes. I can't lie, there is a part of me that loves to break all those stereotypes in about 10 minutes, and gain the confidence of a skeptic. Maybe it's even better because I had to earn it the hard way and almost nobody walked in assuming that the class would be challenging or teach something new. I know I don't look like many of the teachers at the local power yoga studio. And it takes a bit of composure to push that out of my mind and to face people in public... wearing leggings. It's a very weird progression to have both grown into this self-consciousness and also grown accustomed to it and able to roll with it, and through it all at once, but that is what happened. I went from not even understanding my body, to finding a deep admiration for it through this practice, and with the advent of the yoga machine (imagine that spoken by James Earl Jones...in the Grand Canyon) also coming back to insecurities that I thought I'd figured out long ago. But, I also keep coming back to my confidence in my practice, and in knowing that when I get on my mat, nothing but self-discovery arises. It isn't always in the form of joy, but I do learn something, or learn to trust in my body and the process of a mindful practice a bit more each time. I know that when I stand up to share my practice with the people who show up to practice with me, that there is something of value there to convey. And I am confident that something in my teaching, somewhere in my life experience, is a thing that someone in the room needs to hear. Even my cellulite has a place in the room. Because the call for radical self-acceptance has a place in my heart.
Because everyone who wants to be can be a yogi.
I ran my first marathon about 5 months ago in Richmond, VA. There are times when I think about it and am amazed and awed at my power, endurance and willpower. I always felt like that kind of display of athleticism is for other people...you know - real athletes. There are other times when I think "duh, of course I ran a marathon". My body is strong, and I can do anything that I set my mind to. There's no real gray area - I'm either in one camp or the other.
There are times, in reminiscing about being pregnant that I am amazed by what a completely magical time that was in my life. For example, there was one particular weekend that I remember pretty vividly, that I took a weekend off to go to Denver for a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training. So, I was pregnant at a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training. That in itself was pretty wonderful, and I felt enveloped by this nurturing, earth mama, goddess kind of energy. But as another wonderful part of that weekend, a girlfriend of mine who was in school for photography was going to take as-naked-as-you're-comfortable-with pictures of me as a part of a project that she was doing for school. I didn't get down to my birthday suit, but, it was daring for me and also empowering to step into my feminine power like that. The whole weekend was really quite glorious. And, I also remember with shocking vividness the lack of preparedness that I felt, as one can never quite be prepared to give birth for the first time, no matter how much prenatal yoga, or birthing classes of any kind you've done. No matter how many books you've read. No matter how many people you've talked to, and informally interviewed. No matter how many strangers tell you their story of birth. There comes a moment, when the story becomes your own and you take the power in one way or another, or have it taken from you. There is no other choice. That moment was a make-it-or-break-it life moment for me. I wrote a whole blog post about it then. You come face to face with your power. Your inner goddess and also your inner demon. YOU choose who will prevail. And finally, hopefully, if all goes well, the outcome is remarkable, amazing, mind blowing and all-encompassing. Your child. And a life-affirming, transformational experience.
Long before I was ever pregnant, back when I was just a tyke myself, studying prenatal massage in massage school, I remember a teacher saying that often times a woman who has gone through labor and vaginal delivery (I imagine an emergency Cesarean birth after hours struggling through labor would lead to this too) feels as though she's just run a marathon. Well, back then, the idea of running a marathon was so far removed from my consciousness that I had no concept of what that could feel like. She said that arms and legs get sore from long holds in weird positions, and from gripping or pulling on beds or her own legs. Muscles would be tired, and energy zapped, of course, but those tales only served up a larger plate of conceptualization of what that could be like in my head.
Now that I've run a marathon, though, its a bit more than an abstract concept in my mind. And I can see the similarities from the side of the marathon too. You put in months of training and preparation, both physically and mentally. Then comes a REALLY hard few hours - you get in your head, you get in your body, you try to get out of your body, and then back in...., and finally, hopefully, if all goes well, you wind up with an AMAZING outcome. A feeling of accomplishment that is truly remarkable.
There was a time, on our 15 mile training run, that I entertained a shadow of a doubt that I could actually complete a marathon. It was a hard run. I bonked bad at the end. It took me about 20 minutes just to take off my running clothes and put on my going home clothes. I was completely out of it. Struggling to maintain consciousness for a few minutes there. And I thought, if I can hardly make it through 15 miles, how the hell am I going to add another 11.2?! It was a real downer. And of course friends encouraged me to keep on, and I did. I had a great 18 and 19 mile training run, and felt maybe even a little overconfident about the marathon. Most of the time, during my training I honestly felt, with my whole heart that I could do it. I went in, fresh, confident and ready to face the demons, and walk, or run, as it were, through the hot coals with the goddess by my side.
There was also a time, during my daughter's delivery that my belief in the possibility of this event happening did flicker, and a moment of "I might actually die here today" did darken my consciousness. It was one of the two scariest moments of my life. I walked with the demon for a while. We had a nice chat. She scared the shit out of me. And I decided to kick her ass. That I was going to make it to meet my baby. So I welcomed the goddess in. I gave her my trust and knew that the more I surrendered, the more powerful I became.
Just like running a marathon. Through the darkness of many miles spent in my head, I made it to cross the finish. Though my body was all used up for a while after, I had turned to my faith in my training, to the trust in my power and to my joy of running and playing on the earth to pull me through. And it did.
Not only do I get to share however long I get of this life with the most amazing sprite of a little girl, but on her birth day, I also was reborn as a mother. And, though I had run for years prior to running that marathon, I was then reborn into an endurance athlete. I pulled through, both times. My eternal gratitude goes to the goddess that not only walks by my side, but is in fact ME. The mystical, powerful, abundant light that has now shined into scary cracks and crevices of my consciousness and showed me the joy of embracing the scary, and standing up, standing in, and moving through to the transcendent.
Run on, witchyo bad self.
As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!