it's all practice

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.

 

joy *and* sorrow: santosha

“We try so hard to separate joy and sorrow into their own boxes,
but the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama tell us that they are inevitably fastened together. Neither advocate the kind of fleeting happiness, often called hedonic happiness, that requires only positive states and banishes feelings like sadness to emotional exile. 
The kind of happiness that they describe is often called eudemonic happiness
and is characterized by self-understanding, meaning, growth, and acceptance,
including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness, and grief.”

This is a quote from The Book of Joy. In Yoga philosophy, we might talk about the qualities described here as Aparigraha (non-grasping or letting go), Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender), and Santosha (contentment), which I’d like to highlight today.

All of these concepts are layered like sedimentary rock, and to say that Santosha means passively accepting whatever happens in your life is overly simplistic.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 4.28.03 PM.png

Let’s take the example above from The Book of Joy. Every life will have moments of loss, disappointment and grief. Does that mean we should just be “fine” with it? Not exactly.

While the translation of Santosha is usually contentment, acceptance, satisfaction, ease or harmony, the deeper layers reveal a quality of openness that acknowledges oneself and one’s environment as it is.

Rather than being at war with reality, Santosha invites us to stop relentlessly chasing the next thing — more more more — and instead, rest into ourselves as we are. That place of willingness and honesty is the only place from which true change can occur.

It could also be described as the lack of trsna, or craving. This speaks to the common definition of suffering as “wishing things other than they actually are,” which is the opposite of Santosha.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. Which is why we need support, reminders, and a healthy dose of discipline to keep practicing (because like strengthening a muscle, we can get better at it).

Arguably, the practice of Yoga could be described as the process of self-reliance, self-examination and self-development.

For me personally, this is the heart of practice and teaching — to become aware of myself more honestly, to see what I would otherwise try to camouflage, and ultimately to develop the aspects of myself that do not serve me or the world.

Consider what your intention is in practice:
How does the way you approach practice create its outcome? 

 

get uncomfortable

The Discomfort Zone… 

It’s not a place we talk about often. Certainly not a place we strive to be.

But it is a very important place.

It’s possible that our extreme desire for comfort keeps us a little too protected. We successfully avoid situations where we are forced to grow, where there is uncertainty, where we don’t already feel adept and safe. This can make us reactive, entitled and a little lazy.

Not to mention what our desire for comfort — and convenience — has done to the planet…but that’s a topic for another time.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama offer his sage wisdom on building resilience against mental/emotional suffering. He says:

     “Like physical illness, preventative measures are the best way. Yes, if some disease has already developed, then there’s no other choice but to take medicine. So similarly, once a person develops a strong negative emotion, like anger or jealousy, it is very difficult to counter it at that moment. So the best thing is to cultivate your mind through practice so that you can learn to prevent it from arising in the first place.” 

By getting into our Discomfort Zone, we can practice non-reactivity, observe how a feeling or sensation changes and meet the moment in reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.

You might be familiar with these qualities in your yoga practice, certainly in your meditation and asana practices.

This is one of the skills Yoga helps to develop — being with what is, as it is, without immediately discharging it, trying to fix or distract from it. 

Here are a few ways to strengthen this skill, like a muscle, on your mat:

  • Practice meditation — anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes — in complete stillness. Sit with the itch, the wanting to fidget, and watch the feeling or sensation change, maybe even disappear.

  • When in a yoga pose, stay even when it becomes (safely) intense. Warmth and tingling in the thighs in Warrior II? Awkward and humbling in the arm balance? Again, stay with it and watch the sensations change and move.

  • In Savasana, resist the impulse to move immediately at the “end” of the time. Notice that some of your urges are habitual rather than conscious choice.

  • How does aversion to discomfort show up in the rest of your life? Especially considering the attitudes and actions surfacing in our country right now, it's crucial for us to stretch out the comfort of complacency. What's one thing you could do -- make a phone call? Write a letter? Volunteer? Organize a group?

Why does any of this matter? What good does it do to go into a discomfort zone? Isn’t that opposite of what Yoga is for?

As my teacher Mary often says, Yoga is not a practice to make us feel better, it is an opportunity to feel.

Additionally, Yoga is a practice of Action, not just witnessing.

This is a whole-life path. It builds mental, emotional AND physical strength and flexibility.

And goodness knows we need it.

 

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.