yoga

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
 

why i started doing fitness classes

A couple of years ago I decided to add a fitness class to the schedule of the yoga studio. Because It's All Yoga is known for the highest caliber of yoga teaching around, people were curious, to say the least, about why I would add a gym-type cardio class to the line up.

Sometimes life surprises us, right?

Losing a mid-term baby affected every layer of my being. It took time to physically heal, I had lost faith in life and I was a good way down the tunnel of depression. 

Given my vocation and familiar practices, one might think I would get on my yoga mat. Not so. Asana practice was a landmine for a long time — too slow, too much “feeling,” too many associations. So I had to find something else.

Additionally, my therapist prescribed endorphins as antidepressants, which meant making myself do aerobic workouts for at least 30 minutes, 4-5 times a week. 

In desperation, off I went to the gym. Group fitness classes, no less. It was not love at first sight, and it didn’t work immediately. But after about four months, it became one of my most important self-care practices.

And something else started to happen — the chemical rush was good for my brain, but feeling strong in my body (well, not at first) was also a key piece. It reminded me of the importance of basic cardiovascular fitness.

Lastly, these classes and this type of exercise forced me to look at my scripts around “exercise:”

  • “I’m not fit in that way.”
  • “I could never do that kind of class.”
  • “I’m not that type of person.”
  • “I’m not strong enough.”

And looking at our scripts is always a good thing.

Because here’s an important fact — we need both cardiovascular work and rest.

We all have our preferred end of the spectrum. I like stretching and lying about. Type A’ers like Crossfit and power flow in 90 degree heat.

But we all need movement and a variety of ranges of motion, as well as stillness and rest. 

Heart rate variability, nervous system restoration, regulating hormones, healthy circulation, effective digestion and much more happen when you have both — not just one or the other.

So where can you get this range?

  • Well, yoga asana can be aerobic. Sun Salutations (commonly referred to as Vinyasa or flow) are active and dynamic. Be aware and purposeful through the transitions, go at a pace that is realistic for you and rest when your alignment starts to crumble.
  • Go for a brisk walk, a jog or a bike ride...then go home and put your legs up the wall.
  • If you belong to a fitness gym, try a group class! Yes, it might smell weird, the music will be loud, you might look or feel silly...just go with it.
  • You can pretend jump rope, do squats, push ups or lunge dips at home -- anything that appropriately challenges you and gets the heart rate up for at least 10 minutes at a time. Then sit or lie down and do a few stretches. Don't make it complicated.

Always great to rally a friend to do it with you -- more fun and accountability. 

Challenge the things you tell yourself -- I'm too this, I'm not enough this, I can't, I always. Yoga practice is in part about purification, refinement and self-knowledge. Use discomfort zone experiments as a way to deepen on all levels.

Let me know how it goes!

i know you're there...

…even though I can’t see you.

It was one of the high-intensity full moons this summer and I really wanted to see it. I’d been watching it’s waning and tracking the phases on my Moon Calendar app.

This full moon promised revolution, breaking free to new ground and clarity on how to get there. I wanted it all.

My usual walking route gives me several places to glimpse its rising, and ends with the perfect vista point.

I’d taken walks the two prior evenings, feeling the power build. So the dog and I set out on the full moon night to find it.

On the walk out, I was scanning the horizon, looking for that glowing ring you can see before you even see the moon itself. It was dusk and it wasn’t up yet.

Nearing the hill that was my destination and final vantage point, I was starting to feel disappointed that there was no moon, no glow, no sign.

My anticipation and excitement were fading. I was like a kid waiting for Santa Claus, knowing I’d fall asleep before he came.

I stayed on the hill as long as the available light would allow. Still, no moon.

Starting for home, I was calculating what went wrong – What time had I gone the nights before? Gauging from the remaining light, what time was it now? Maybe I hadn’t accounted for the shifting of the moonrise time. Maybe it was all a trick and it wasn’t the full moon night after all.

Heading through the last stretch where I would be able to see it rise, I heard someone say something. I looked down at the dog – she assured me it wasn’t her.

I looked back at the horizon and heard it again.

“I know you’re there, even though I can’t see you.”

It was a wiser, more patient part of myself speaking aloud. I was talking to the moon, but also to the larger forces that we are asked to believe in even though we can’t see them.

I know you’re there….even though I can’t see you.

It was reassuring. It was hopeful. I talked to that moon the rest of the way home. And even though I couldn’t see it, I know it heard me.

 

Two things struck me about this night. First, that I have faith again, after it was so shattered. For months on end, I did not know if my faith in life would return. Yet here I was, stating my trust in that which was beyond my ability to see.

Second, that my moon walk didn’t have to have a happy ending to be beautiful. Not everything is fixable, not all stories end as we want them to.

I did not see the moon that night. It didn’t rise like a Hollywood moment just before I walked up our drive. And that was ok.

 

As much as it has been tested, I know that I am a strong, resilient spirit. A big part of that comes from my Yoga practice. It comes from knowing that I am supported unconditionally. It comes from being surrounded by community.

You, too, have your story…the ways Yoga has saved you, given you strength, been a shelter in the storm.

Sometimes it's helpful to reflect on that. Not to measure or conclude, but to acknowledge -- yes, this is a positive thing in my life; yes, I am different today than I was a year ago; yes, my commitment and consistency serve me well.

And once in a while, our own faith in life can surprise us.

out of hiding

This is not a message I planned on writing. From the very beginning of this story, through the twists and turns, I intended to not draw attention to it. And yet, as time passes, I find myself compelled to share as a practice of receiving, as a hand reaching to others who feel alone or shamed in their suffering, and as a way to honor the life and loss that is so profound right now.

I have spent the last six months hiding.

Last fall I found out that I was pregnant. I was sick much of the time, which kept me away from teaching. I felt cautious knowing the risks at my age, and I wanted some privacy as I adjusted to my new and very unexpected circumstances.

The weeks turned to months, and I made it past the magic three-month mark. At one of the few classes I taught in the latter part of the year, I shared my news. No more hiding my changing body, my absence, my new role. I was excitedly rearranging my plans (inner and outer) for my life.

In the following month, I received the results of a blood test that showed that the baby had an extra chromosome. Like Noah’s Ark, we come with two of each – he had three of one. It was a terminal diagnosis.

Despite the accuracy of the blood test, my doctor emphatically urged that I wait three more weeks until I could have an amniocentesis, which would give a definitive result. This was an unbearable time of fear and dread… and more hiding.

In the middle of January I got the call. Joan Didian starts her book, The Year of Magical Thinking with the line, “Life changes in an instant.” Mine changed dramatically three times in a very short amount of time. The baby did in fact have the extra chromosome. Only one in 6000 babies with this condition make it to term, only to live a few days.

For my physical and emotional health, I decided to end the pregnancy.

It’s difficult to put words to all of this. I have been in a washing machine of depression, despair, grief and rage. This is a physical healing as well as emotional, psychic and spiritual.  It has dismantled my life in many ways. I suppose that is when we get to decide how we put things back together.

By making the brain organize words around this incomprehensible story, I can start to integrate it into the fabric of my life. It slowly begins to find its resting place.

While I do not have the big insight or list of lessons learned, this does bring up conversations I want to be a part of:

I am struck by how much silence there is around events in the human life cycle, particularly related to death. Maybe even more so around women’s health. Infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy challenges are private matters, certainly, but in keeping these experiences hidden, it’s easy to slip into shame, isolation and guilt. For me, it also dishonors the life that was and the loss I feel.

No one is exempt from loss and pain, so why pretend it doesn’t happen? (Many reasons worth investigating.)

Let’s open a dialogue about how to be with someone who is in grief. I believe we are asked to increase our capacity for discomfort and vulnerability so we can be with someone who is in deep pain. Without wanting to fix it, without making it about us.

As my therapist confirmed, most people want to talk about their loss. It’s probably the most real and constant thing in their lives. It may be awkward or uncomfortable to call attention to someone’s suffering, but to not acknowledge it is like pretending you don’t see the sign they are holding that says, “I’m hurting.”

This doesn’t always require elaborate words – a touch of the hand, a simple “I’ve been thinking of you” can be enough.

At the same time, a well-meaning “I’m glad you’re better now” or “it will get better with time” can come across as, “Please get back to ‘normal’ so we don’t have to talk about it.” Even when a person is past the acute stages of grief and having moments of enjoying life again, the loss is always right underneath the surface. You can't "remind me" of my loss -- there isn't a moment when I have forgotten.

Some things can’t be fixed. This is a foreign idea in our culture. When recovering from loss or trauma, there’s no way to shortcut or lessen the blow (at least not healthy ways). We can’t figure it out or make a plan, which the mind is so anxious to do.

There's also no "right way" to grieve. My experience may be very different than another woman's.

We eventually heal, but grief is slow to scab and always leaves a scar. It’s also cyclical and can be triggered by the smallest of things. It’s essential to not rush inner healing – our own or another’s. How difficult it can be to remember this. The practices of kindness, compassion and forgiveness become as necessary as breath.

 

There’s an intimacy that comes with sharing our humanness, and in that intimacy, many things can come up. I share my story with sensitivity and respect for what it can trigger in others. As part of this practice, make room for whatever emotions, memories or judgments that may have come up for you.

 

This practice asks us to come out of the places we hide. If you want to share stories you’ve held inside, I welcome them. My intention as a teacher has always been to have a space where things that have been hidden can be shared openly, from the physical to the esoteric.

And this is when I am reminded what Yoga is. It’s not poses, it’s not having an OM tattoo, not being able to speak the lingo. Or at least it’s not only those things. Sometimes it’s the honesty of anger or elation, sometimes it’s hiding and today, it’s being undisguised, letting myself be seen.

There isn’t anything that isn’t Yoga. It’s all Yoga, right?

image, grief and the big d

One thing has become very clear in the past month – my schemas around being “a yoga teacher.”

Yoga teachers don’t have rage or shame.
Yoga teachers don’t do things that are vain and selfish.
Yoga teachers don’t… get divorced.

Well… of course they do.

And even though I thought I’d explored it, this schema was hiding very very deep in my belief system.

If you’ve ever come to my class you know that I tend to share personal stories in a way that I hope supports the understanding and larger context of Yoga.

When I signed up to teach yoga, and later when I decided to create a physical space for the practice, I made a commitment to be real. To be appropriately transparent and honest about my flaws and struggles on this path (and there are oh-so many!).

Even though I talk about my life, one of my main tenets as a yoga teacher is never make the class about you. This can be a delicate line to navigate. How much to share? How personal to get? How to stay off the strange Yoga Teacher Pedestal?

Naturally, I offer only parts of myself. Only the parts I want to be seen. Of course — we all do this, all day! But in the past month I’ve become aware of how strong a motivator “image” is, and how I want to be perceived in a warm glow of “yogic” light.

So friends, in the spirit of honesty, I share here that I am getting divorced. More than sharing that flat detail, I humbly offer pieces of my experience from the past months. The beautiful mercies that have been offered… which are less about me and more about all of us.

  • Grief is a physical experience. Poet Linda Pastan describes, “How heavy it is/displacing with its volume/your very breath.” For those of you who have experienced death or great loss in your life, you are nodding. You know. I did not.
  • We are not alone in our grief and pain. A friend of mine just had intense surgery and is in a wheelchair, another’s husband lost his job a week after they had their second baby, another had a mastectomy and is going through chemo. And you — you have your story of battle, your secrets, your fears that speak only in the night. Even in the most painful moments of self-absorption and aloneness, I knew I was touching something that is universal. This knowing led to how…
  • The heart can break open to vast skies of compassion and feelings of connectedness. One Sunday morning I saw a young man in the park who appeared to be homeless, and I thought ‘the line between us is so very thin…’
  • Beauty exists even amid deep pain. Simple moments, the breath, light through the leaves.
  • It is easier to give than to receive. The amount of love and support, spoken and unspoken, that I have received has been overwhelming and at times unbearable. It takes courage and strength to be vulnerable, to accept care, to open the heart. And for many of us, most challenging is to receive self-love and self-forgiveness.
  • There is no beginning and there is no end. The erosion and unravelling of a relationship doesn’t just happen, just as healing is a process. After what seemed to be the darkest time in my heart, I had several consecutive “good days” and thought, Oh, I’m better! I’m done grieving!  I was quickly reminded this is not a linear process.
  • We each have to follow our own way. For me, that was isolating. For others it might be processing through work or activity, or by being in groups. I recognize how blessed I have been to be able to step back from my life during this enormous transition (though we should all be able to do that as a practice of self care, even without a major life event).
  • There’s something to this yoga thing. While much of my Yoga in the past month has not included asana, as I venture back into my body, I am in utter awe of the innate healing power within. I feel increased sensitivity to grounding, gratitude, and intuition.

Being away from It’s All Yoga has ironically shown me what a true and rare gift the space and community are. How precious and essential it is to have a place you can go to just be with yourself. To just be yourself. As one of our gifted teachers, Bob, put it:

Every day there are people who come to the studio for refuge.  None of us is exempt from the pain that life events sometimes bring us.  This space is special because it offers a place of safety for restoring the body, mind, and soul.  This doesn’t just happen.  It happens because we each contribute to creating this supportive, safe, and respectful environment.  Today, the person on the mat next to you may be seeking a bit of refuge and a chance to heal.  Tomorrow, you may be here for the same purpose.  The pain that each of us feel is not individual pain, but shared pain.  The healing that each of us find is also shared.  Thank you all for helping to make this space, and this community, sacred and special.

After not being at the studio for a month, I look forward to shedding my cocoon and coming home.