it's all practice

When yoga isn't fun anymore

It's a common scenario: at some point after consistent yoga practice, a student will make the bewildered comment, "I used to feel so much better after yoga but lately I feel worse."

This is actually good news.

If one of the purposes of Yoga practice is to know ourselves more deeply, it makes sense that at some point we will encounter parts of ourselves that are not so... beloved. What we might call the dark or shadow side of our personality, which just refers to aspects of ourselves that are out of the light of conscious awareness.

This is a sign that the practice is working.

There are aspects in all of us that we'd rather avoid or hide, and we can pretty successfully do so during our regular lives. We have ample distraction, a dizzying pace and endless ways to numb or silence feelings we don't want to feel.

Enter Yoga, which brings us face-to-face with all parts of ourselves.

As we open the body...
as we get quiet and start to notice...
as we un-learn patterns of restriction and experience a feeling of freedom in the breath.

All those unowned aspects of our personality are Right There. Parts that have been rejected or shamed by ourselves or others, suddenly looking us in the eyes. We're bringing those "dark" parts out of their cozy hiding places and into the light.

How great is that?!

Because you're reading this, odds are you are a person who values the deep work of self-knowing and the radical practice of self-love. It's easy to lose sight of how much intentional and ongoing effort is required to live in that space.

This isn't a "make you feel better"
technique; it's liberation. ~Jon Kabat-Zinn 



The magic of Yoga is that it works on us behind the scenes, like an anti-virus program running in the background.

Although we may not feel "better" right away, owning all parts of our personalities, biases and projections is the only path to wholeness.

I'm curious about your thoughts and experiences. Leave a comment and let me know.

With love,
Michelle

Let's do better than right and wrong

Is there a right way to do Warrior I?

One of the things we've been exploring in class on Sunday mornings is how tempting it is to buy into the paradigm of Right and Wrong.

Even in Teacher Training, students will ask, after an hour of exploring the many dimensions of a pose, "Ok, but what's the right way to do it?"

There might be a right way for you...right now. But it makes no sense to believe that there's one right way to do...well, anything.

It can seem to be almost built into us -- this desire to get it right, to do it right. Which seems equally about not getting it wrong. As one student pointed out, we're trained from our earliest education to get The Right Answer. We're not celebrated for a creative answer, or questioning the answer. Just the one we were told.

This sets up some challenges for us as we navigate the world:

  • We might learn to value someone else's opinion or experience over our own.

  • We might learn to go to others for direction, advice or validation, be it a teacher or therapist or friend.

  • We might go against our own nudges or knowing, to the point of eventually cutting off access to our intuition.

  • We might lose touch with our curiosity, creativity and wonder.

  • We might think there's no point in doing "it" if we aren't doing it right.

  • We might forget that things -- including our needs -- change, so nothing stays right forever.

All of these can show up in Yoga practice. I know, because I used to practice this way.

Yep, I am a Good Student if there ever was one, and I wanted all the gold stars.
* Validation came from getting praise.
* I would push myself for someone else's idea of The Perfect Pose.
* I took great pride in following the rules.
* I sustained injuries from hands on "corrections" when I didn't speak up about my limits.
* Eventually I became pretty numb to my own knowing and insight.

It took years to unlearn this programming and it still shows up sometimes in my tendency to be linear, in the ways I question my own wisdom.

What helped?

Foremost: Being around people who modeled a different way, a belief system based on kindness and self-discovery. And then a whole lot of conditioning deconstruction.

What I learned is there are better ways than right/wrong to measure or assess our choices, actions and circumstances. Here are a few to consider:

  • useful / not useful

  • spacious / contracted

  • pleasant / unpleasant

  • empowering / disempowering

  • regulating / dysregulating

  • kind / unkind


Of course, nothing exists solely at the extremes -- all of these qualities live on a continuum. Something can be mostly useful or a little more pleasant than unpleasant. That's part of the limitation of right/wrong -- it doesn't leave space for the full spectrum of life's colors.

How about you? What continuums do you rely on? How are your insecurities soothed by the illusion of "rightness"? I'd love to hear.

With love,
Michelle

TLDR (too long, didn't read): The paradigm of right/wrong doesn't work -- in asana or in life. Find another axis to assess the value or usefulness of your choices, actions and circumstances. I used to be The Good Student pushing for The Perfect Pose and found my way back to kindness and wonder through others on the same path. Because there's no one right way to do...anything.

P.S. The Fall Yoga Immersion is a great place to unravel right/wrong, tap into your own deep knowing and be with kindred spirits.

Bear It or Bare It?

Hard to believe we're into the seventh month of the year. And what a year it's been!

As I've been hearing from many of you as well, this year has been a doozy for me. Health issue after health issue, carefully crafted plans getting demolished, a lot of personal de/re-construction, all on top of family/ancestral wounds in need of healing.

Through it all, there's one story from earlier in the year that sticks with me.

I'd been dealing with kidney stone issues for a couple of months. Lots of questions, uncertainty and discomfort. I was on the phone again with the advice nurse -- asking about medication, wondering if I should go in, wanting any kind of reassurance that there was rhyme or reason to what I was going through.

After I explained my plight, the woman on the phone plainly stated: "Honey, with a kidney stone, you just have to bear it."

I was a little stunned.

She wasn't being unkind, she was just being honest. I could make myself as comfortable as possible, I could care for myself in the ways I was able, I could get the support I needed... and at the end of the day, I still had to go through it.

You know these situations. The ones no one else can do for you. The ones that can't be fixed. Divorce, death of a loved one, physical and emotional recovery, a kidney stone.

Bearing something also has qualities of being bare, as in unconcealed, undisguised, revealed, unadorned. Like we've been peeled back.

When life asks us to withstand pain, uncertainty or difficulty, to endure a situation with tolerance and patience, we can feel stripped, naked, bare.

Which then requires more bearing because that's also uncomfortable!

The alternative is to button up, brace and attempt to manage every detail. While tempting, we all have stories about how that ends. Makes me think of the phrase, "Let go or be dragged."

So here I am, feeling a little more bare to life. Exposed, divulged. And with that, wonderfully more sensitive (which is such a lovely, alive quality) and aware.

I'm excited to be posting a few new offerings for fall. Check out my workshops page.

What's happening in your world? Are you bearing or baring or....? Would love to hear.

Wishing you a lovely week,
Michelle

The energetic snow globe

snow globe

The holidays can be particularly challenging for introverts and empaths.

If you are exhausted by large groups or tend to pick up other people’s energy easily, parties can be a real drag.

Especially in the winter, most gatherings take place inside and it’s harder to justify stepping out for a few minutes if it’s 55 degrees.

As both an introvert and an empath, I am careful with my energy this time of year.

In case it’s helpful to you, here are my three best practices.

No more than two
Rule number one, I schedule no more than two high-social situations in a week. This doesn’t include one-on-ones (though I do limit those per week as well) or other general outings like the grocery store or eating out. This refers to parties and gatherings. Preferably the two are spread out over the week and I have downtime/recovery planned for afterward.

This also supports my practice of “increasing my tolerance for other people’s disappointment” when I have to decline social offers.

The bathroom is your friend
If you get overwhelmed in a party situation (or preferably before you get there), a 2 minute trip to the bathroom can be a life-saver. It might sound silly, but a quick break from the chatter, crowd, questions, awkward silence, etc. can make a huge difference. It moves your energy, and can be a great way to excuse yourself from, say, a political conversation (unless that’s your thing).

This goes nicely with the last tip…

Snow globe happy place
If you sense, intuit, take on or get wrapped up in other people’s energy easily, it’s really important to create an energetic boundary.

The fun thing about this time of year is you can throw a little holiday spirit into it! When I’m feeling a little leaky or I need to check in with myself, I’ll imagine that I’m in my own extra-special snow globe. Yes, it’s often in Central Park. And it’s snowing glitter. And it’s cozy and contained. Nothing unwanted is getting in!

Try it! The next time you need a stronger boundary in a situation, imagine yourself in your own personal snow globe. You get to decide who and what is in there with you :)

Wishing you all the things that make you happy this season.

Artwork by Cara Gregor, @caraemiliadesigns on IG

Wait 30 minutes

canyon ranch

While on our honeymoon road trip through the Berkshires, we spent some time in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was the middle of May and still very spring-like with unpredictable weather.

It would be sunny and warm, then we'd go outside again and it would be gray and windy. Pretty soon there would be a little drizzle. Then it would be overcast and humid.

And that was all in one day!

We were talking to a Lenox resident about the climate there compared to California and he said, "If you don't like the weather, wait 30 minutes." 

We laughed and parted ways.

I keep thinking about this wisdom -- if you don't like something, wait 30 minutes (or 30 seconds) and the conditions will likely change.

Don't like this sensation? Don't like that sound? Don't like this state of mind?

We pass through so many moods, preferences, responses in a day. So much stimulus, so much input. All of it changing, all of it impermanent -- both what is coming at us and our response to it.

Spiritual practice is in part about stepping back from these fluctuations. Like stepping back from a picture on the wall -- when your nose is at the glass, you can't see much of the picture. Stepping back will help see the whole story, the broader context.

Being a witness of your experience. Noticing, with interest and curiosity when possible, the constant flow of life.

I'm trying to keep this playfulness when I notice my inner narrator chiming in about not liking -- or even liking -- what's happening.

"Wait 30 minutes," I tell her.

berkshires

A poem in honor of this wisdom.

Thinking Like a Butterfly

Monday I was told I was good.
I felt relieved.
Tuesday I was ignored.
I felt invisible.
Wednesday I was snapped at.
I began to doubt myself.
On Thursday I was rejected.
Now I was afraid.
On Saturday I was thanked
for being me. My soul relaxed.
On Sunday I was left alone
till the part of me that can’t
be influenced grew tired of
submitting and resisting.
Monday I was told I was good.
By Tuesday I got off the wheel.

Mark Nepo
From The Way Under the Way, 2016

 

It's Just Yoga

After selling It's All Yoga last year, I realized that if I were to open a studio now (which I'm not and don't have plans to ever:), I would name it It's Just Yoga.

Not that the practice isn't a serious endeavor. Not that our practice doesn't sometimes feel like life or death. Not that practice doesn't make a huge difference in our lives.

In fact, I think the two phrases could mean something similar.

Like in the talk by Stephen Batchelor, the spiritual path can lead us to perplexity, wonderment, even doubt, rather than answers.

In the What is this? approach, the aim is to penetrate the Mystery. And in that, it becomes MORE mysterious, not less.

That's where the awe and curiosity and surprise live.

It's All Yoga feels solid and knowing.

It's Just Yoga is less certain, leaving room for discovery and the not-yet-known.

What do you think? What would you name your yoga studio? ;)

 

The practice of perplexity

"Part of the spiritual tradition is to unsettle us."

That's a line from a recent On Being podcast with secular Buddhist teacher and writer, Stephen Batchelor.

The discussion is about what Batchelor calls the immediacy of the mystery.  Many traditions have practices of perplexity, wonderment, astonishment, curiosity and even doubt at their core, connecting us to possibility and surprise rather than certainty and answers.

Yesterday I taught my last class at the studio as It's All Yoga. This week the name will change to Ritual. This is a change I knew was possible when I sold the studio last year, and still, there was sadness as I watched the new coats of paint being put on the building as I left class. Never a moment of regret...but, surprise...some sadness.

rose quartz

Batchelor spent months in deep meditation with the question, "What is this?" His experience of stillness and quiet with that question eventually led to a place where the words fell away and the question became a physical sensation, infusing the consciousness with a deep sense of curiosity.

What is this? is not a question in search of an answer. It is intended to help us penetrate the mystery more deeply so that it becomes more mysterious. Where every situation and experience becomes truly surprising. A place outside of our habitual views and conditioned responses.

A non-reactive stillness.

Softening the grip around what happens next.
Putting down the article on The 5 Steps to....  
Actively engaging in the art of not taking things for granted.

mark nepo

There is no certainty, there is just the Immediacy of the Mystery.
The possibility of continual surprise and wonder.
A way of life guided by engagement and openness.

The practice is here for us. All the time.

 

Under the sadness I find relief. Curiosity. Aliveness.

I'm excited to see how Ritual unfolds and what beautiful new offerings it brings to this community. And I'm delightfully unsettled and unanswered with how It's All Yoga will evolve in its next iteration.

So brilliantly described in the Long Way Home by Mark Nepo -- this is our practice.

long way home
 

manage your waste line

This was the clever title of an article in the SF Chronicle this past Sunday. Molly de Vries, from Mill Valley, is a self-described "passionate advocate for living a (nearly) non-disposable life." Though she refreshingly admits, "I'm not a minimalist. I'm even a bit of a hoarder."

As someone who strives -- and often fails -- to refuse single-use items like cups, straws and napkins, instead using ones I've brought with me, this article caught my attention.

Like with pretty much everything, I don't think there's a magic pill, forever-after here. For me, it's being reminded again and again of the importance, even urgency, of making small changes.

And then it's about MAKING small changes. Remembering just one time to put the mug in my car before the trip to a get a chai. Then it's a little easier to remember the second time. And on and on.

The Chronicle article included de Vries "baby step" action items. I liked them and thought you might, too.

If you have tips on how to spare the single-use "disposables," I'd love to hear. And if you're up for doing a 30 day Refuse Single-Use pledge, let me know! It's been on my mind and it's always more fun to do something like that with a pal.

 

Baby steps toward big actions

Molly De Vries realizes that the idea of achieving a zero-waste life can seem paralyzing, and she insists it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. “Moving toward a nondisposable life is less about perfection and more about deep awareness and lots of tiny actions,” she says. Below are some of her suggestions for inching one’s way into the pool.

Arm yourself with information. Plastic pollution is a growing plague: clogging waterways, damaging marine ecosystems and entering the food web. Learn more at www.5gyres.com.

Know your waste stream. Every city hauler picks up different items for compost, recycling and landfill. Check your hauler’s website for specifics on what goes where. 

Produce doesn’t require a plastic or compost bag. To keep greens crisp and fresh longer, wash lettuce, wrap in a clean textile like a furoshiki, and place in an airtight box in the fridge.

Know where your food comes from. “I don’t want to see ‘USA’ on my carrots; are they from California?” de Vries says.

Make a personal commitment to refuse obvious items. No more plastic water bottles, disposable cutlery, straws, disposable coffee cups. And use real tableware when entertaining (it’s nicer, anyway!) rather than disposable plates and cutlery.

Collect cloth shopping bags. Use for produce and bulk-bin items such as grains, pasta, nuts and dried fruit (also a good way to avoid excess packaging).

Build a cleaning pantry. And choose cleansers with basic, pure ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, castile soap, essential oils.

Patronize. Frequent markets and products that support good practices by offering organic local ingredients, minimal packaging and quality products built to last.

Try something new. Try washing clothes in cold water and line drying; eating less meat; looking for alternatives to driving; planting an herb garden. Small actions lead naturally to bigger ones, and it’s easier than trying to do everything at once.

 

See the full article here.

 

memories

Like many people, at the end of every year I do a general review of how things have gone the past 12 months and some dreaming and scheming for the coming seasons.

This has been especially helpful in business -- assessing what programs and events were well received, which did not go over so hot and what new things I want to create.

As I did my review of 2017, selling the studio was a major focus under the headings of triumphs and changes and biggest gifts. 

It also made me feel a little nostalgic and the memories have overflowed, especially memories of the early days.

 

My stepdaughter was 8 when It's All Yoga opened. She's 21 now. Our whole family was "in the business"... carting, washing and folding endless towels; checking in every class on the paper cards we used for class passes; cleaning, promoting and caring for the studio daily.

I taught 12 classes a week, both at the studio and on-site at a local law office. All while working a full-time job as a business consultant. After two years, I made the scary leap to full-time business owner. At the time, it was a huge risk for our family and opened us to a wonderful simplicity of time and resources. It also forced me to develop (a small amount of) business savvy, expand my creativity and eventually grow into a larger space.

At our first location on 11th Avenue, we had a quirky neighborhood coffee shop next door. Espresso Metro was the perfect pre- or post-yoga hang out. Which was great, except for the dogs tied outside our windows who would start barking or the people who would congregate for long (and loud) goodbyes. I thought it was my job to protect the perfect container of peace in which the students could practice. I have since learned that the "noise" is a part of the practice, not in opposition to it.

michelle marlahan at it's all yoga

Our 2nd birthday was quite a party. Southside Art School had an art show and their band performed. There was, of course, cake. And somehow, the evening culminated with fire dancers. Cervantes Park across the street held all of our birthday parties, as well as a community arts fair, poetry classes, innumerable Yoga in the Park and 4 R Friends benefit classes, many with coordinating bake sales. It was always fun when the sprinklers would come on in the middle of a down dog.

southside art show
fire dancers
yoga in the park

Our second location came at the last moment possible. I had already declined renewing the lease on 11th but had not found a new place. A friend had been shopping at the antique store at 21st and X and got to talking with the owner, Steve, about the "annex," which is now the studio space. He was trying to pare down inventory and wanted to sublet. It had concrete floors, florescent lighting and the most disgusting bathroom you've ever been in. We renovated in less than 20 days.

before remodel
a big pile
before remodel
outside painting
it's all yoga

So many memories....

In those 12 years, It's All Yoga held people through personal transformations, diagnoses, births and deaths, marriages and divorces, job changes and moves. It's been more central to people lives, friendships, health and sense of "place" than I could have every imagined. What a blessing to have been a part of it.

 

new year motto

Like many of you, I like to choose a word of the year. Something to use as a filter for decisions, a guiding idea, a reminder. I choose a word that brings a felt-sense of something I want more of in my life.

2018 seems to be a multi-word year, warranting the power of a full-on phrase.

I'm a big fan of mantras or mottos -- often attention grabbing and outcome-oriented, they can get right to the heart of the thing.

I've been sharing some of these in class, and like a catchphrase, folks have reported finding them helpful. In that spirit, I thought I'd share a few I'm considering this year.

 

You already have an A
This comes from the book The Art of Possibility (highly recommend). 

The book outlines 12 practices for reshaping one's world. Giving an A is the first practice and is the one that stuck with me most persistently.

This could loosely be thought of as giving the benefit of the doubt or seeing someone else's perspective. But it's bigger than those things, too.

It's acknowledging that our story, our version, isn't the only one or even the right one. It invites us to get out of our own small world and consider that there's more to the picture.

And even if we can't do that, we can leave room for the possibility that the other person is coming from integrity and the best of intentions.

It's important to give yourself an A as well: I did the best I could with what I had.

 

What you think of me is none of my business
This is a phrase that I learned many years ago from a southern female preacher on a cassette tape recording of her sermon. I still hear it in the Southern drawl of a strong woman.

As I remember it, the sermon was about living in alignment with one's higher beliefs and letting go of the preoccupation with mortal distraction and need for approval. When one is right with God (or her Self), she needn't be concerned with what others think.

Passionately, the preacher repeated over and over, "I take dominion." The recording was full of gospel music and Amens. I wore that tape out.

 

I am increasing my tolerance for _____________ (my two go-to's are "other people's disappointment" and "discomfort")
The original phrase, "I am increasing my tolerance for other people's disappointment" came from a therapist who was helping me not be such a good girl. I mean, being good is fine, but not at the cost of your own life.

It was a phrase I would repeat to myself in situations that involved family or marriage or step-parenting or business. So pretty much all the time.

And it was incredibly helpful to hear, and later experience, that I can disappoint someone and we will all live through it. Chances are it won't even matter next week.

Reconditioning my tolerance was so helpful I started using it with other things -- to increase my tolerance for discomfort or uncertainty. In some situations, it might make sense to swap "tolerance" for something like "capacity." Try it!

 

Who am I absent other people's feedback?
A lot of my writing and personal work this past year has been devoted to strengthening my Sense of Self. Here again I've been challenging and questioning old patterns and beliefs, especially those related to other people's opinions.  

Similar to What you think of me..., this one has reaches in to social media, looking for signs and nudges that come from within, developing my trust in myself and it calls on continued Yoga practice to slough and shed all the guck that can get stuck or in the way.

 

If you don't take extraordinary care of yourself, who will?
A friend from New York sent this question when I was in Nepal, struggling with health issues and wanting to go home. It felt like this great mix of empowerment, kindness and responsibility. So I brought it home.

 

Reading over these, most seem to be a similar version of the same thing. Clearly there's a pattern in what I'm working on this year! 

How about you? What are you working on? What word describes the feeling or value you'd like more of in your life? What phrase sums up your approach? Share in the comments below or feel free to email anytime -- love to keep the conversation going.

Wishing you wellness of body, mind and heart as we move into the seasons ahead.

Michelle

 

winter solstice rituals


You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
                                         -David Whyte

 
Winter Solstice -- the shortest day of the year -- is Thursday. 

“Solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol meaning "sun" and sistere meaning “to stand still.” It's the longest night of the year, where the sun seems to stand still.

After the solstice, our half of the earth (in the Northern Hemisphere) begins to tilt toward the sun again, and we round the corner back to lengthening days and the "rebirth" of the sun. (National Geographic explains the science of the solstice.)

People throughout history have celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of hope, promise, rebirth, and the ongoing cycles of life. Monuments, tombs and temples have been constructed to celebrate and capture the solstice light since as early as 3200 B.C.E.

So what does "celebrating the solstice" mean?

You can find some beautiful ideas here, but it doesn't have to be elaborate. 

Anything that is done with your full attention, presence and personal meaning can remind you that we are all part of a larger order.

Consider these suggestions from CircleSanctuary.org.

  • Make a wreath with evergreens, which is said to symbolize the continuity of life, protection, and prosperity.
  • Build a circle of candlelight, one for each person present, and then blow them out and sit together in the darkness for a few moments offering gratitude. Then light one central, larger candle to symbolize your unity over the coming year.
  • Ring a collection of bells at sunrise and sunset.
  • Offer seeds to winter birds and other outdoor creatures.


Other simple ideas include:

  • Visit a place outdoors that is special to you.
  • Make a list of loving wishes for the people in your life.
  • Make a point to watch the sunrise or sunset.
  • Spend a dedicated amount of time in silence.
  • Offer a prayer of gratitude for the dark and faith in the light.
  • Purge or declutter a room or corner, simplifying and bringing more clarity and light.
  • Spend some time talking with a loved one or friend about your dreams for the coming year.

Regardless of your spiritual heritage, the solstice can be celebrated as a way to remember our place in nature and the cyclical ways of life. Especially this year, we can also lean on and gain strength from the promise of returning light.

In this time of cultural busyness, give yourself the gift of a few quiet moments. Even just a simple breath.

In sweet darkness...
Michelle
 

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.
-David Whyte

long way home

The most perfect description of the on-going-ness of spiritual practice and the practice of yoga -- or any relationship, for that matter -- comes from Mark Nepo, poet and teacher.

Mark's most popular book, The Book of Awakening, was recommended by a friend many years ago and has since become my constant companion and my go-to gift to loved ones. It's a daily reader that will have different meaning each year. You can read it every day, put it down and come back months later or pick it up randomly and it will offer exactly what you need that moment.

the book of awakening

My copy as been through a lot (as you can tell from the photo). If I were stuck on an island with only one book, this would be it.

 

I was fortunate to spend a weekend this summer with Mark at the Omega Institute outside of Rhinebeck, New York. It was a weekend of poems, stories, sharing, nature, tears and laughter. He is just as warm and wise in person as in writing.

There he recited many poems, most of which I'd never heard, out of his poetry compilation, The Way Under The Way.  I ordered it when I got home, and it is through this book the magical practice poem found me.

Long Way Home

I want to have a conversation
that we can return to without
conclusion, one that lasts for
years, that feels like a walk that
has no end. Until the walk
itself is home.

I want to converse this life with
you, the way the old horse and
the young bird trudge and circle
each other in snow.

I want to reach with you into
the heart of things, where the
stitching of the Universe
shows its golden knots.

~Mark Nepo

 

And isn't that what this practice offers us? A conversation that lasts for years...that we can come back to again and again without conclusion. Where we can reach into the heart of things and allow the mystery to reveal itself.

What does the poem evoke in you? Are there other ways you relate to or describe your life practice? This is a space where we can enter that conversation together.