No Complaints

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What happens when you stop complaining?

Sometimes, a complaint dissolves, stopping in your throat or behind your teeth.

Sometimes, it escapes and you start the practice all over again….and that is why it is called a practice.

With each complaint that bubbles up, you get the opportunity to consider its source. You notice these sources of malcontent.

Perhaps your complaint is a manifestation of anger. There is an anger that can spark a positive movement. You can see something in your life and say, “I don’t like this, will not stand for this!” You have decided to stop complaining, so you will act.

Other complaints may feel like anger. Look closer and see how deeply entwined anger is with grief. Grief over life’s shoulds, coulds and woulds. Grief over the things you think you have lost. Grief over things and circumstances, real or imagined, that you think you want. You have decided to stop complaining, so you will begin to make peace with your grief.

You will notice how often you try to control things that cannot be controlled. You will see elaborate arguments with reality distracting you from a life of gratitude and purpose.

You will soften. You will let go.

Conversations will become simple, more fulfilling. You will feel cleaner, more grounded and present. Unrepentant, you will feel more connected to living as your best self.

Why am I trying to stop complaining?

I decided a long time ago that I do not want to live a life seeing the world as lacking or made up of dumbasses, dirtbags and stupid people. I do not want to look at the world as a construction of circumstances contributing to my discomfort or failure. I want to live in a beautiful world, full of possibility. Even in the dark times – even in situations of unspeakable violence and destruction – I want to see an opportunity for change and healing rather than blame and name-calling.

The stakes are now even higher. I am raising two girls, two humans, two little adults in training. Do I want to be a family that meets up at the dinner table to complain about the day? No. Do I have an opportunity to pass on positive values and useful tools to bring good people into this world? Absolutely.

I have the opportunity to do my best every day.

No more complaining. It’s a practice I am willing to take on. I am willing to stumble, fall and get back up, bigger and brighter each time.

This is my action.
(And, seriously – how fortunate to live in a stable home, not in a war zone or a garbage dump? How fortunate to have running water and the opportunity to wonder “Oh, I don’t know, should I buy the organic ones?” at the grocery store. What the EFF do I really have to complain about?)

Sanctuary

This past week, I posted this on my Facebook page:

One of my favorite words is Sanctus. It is the Latin word for holy. From that word we get Sanctuary: sacred, holy space.

More and more these days, I fall deeper into gratitude for the times I can unroll my mat and just practice – asana, breath, watching thoughts & emotions. My practice is a sanctuary where I can acknowledge then set aside worries and concerns for others and check inside to the holiest of places: my heart center. From that sanctuary, I remember that I am part of a larger community – how lucky I am to have the worries and lists that I have.

I can go inside to this sanctuary to remind myself that I am not alone. Far from it. We are all in this – make that we ARE all this – together. I can cast aside the childish things separating me from everyone else and remember…we are all holy spirits.

I can’t tell you how true this is for me. I am feeling the challenge of having to carefully orchestrate and plan any moment I want to spend away from my house. In that orchestration is a need to balance time so my husband also has time for himself out of the house. Oh yeah, we also need to spend time together.

So I don’t get to practice or teach as often as I would like. (hello, first world problem)

 

These days, it is downright special when I walk through a studio door, throw down my mat and practice with other people.  Not every practice is profoundly life changing. (How exhausting would that be?) Getting on my mat outside the home simply reminds me that I’m not alone. It gives me time to focus on what’s going on with me – not having to stop and feed, clothe, or clean up after anyone else.

I am reminded that being able to even consider taking time to simply put a piece of rubber on a wood floor and move around is a luxury. What makes that piece of rubber so sacred to me is something reflecting back from inside that I tend to bury while meeting the needs of others and chasing all those distractions from the monkey mind.

That sanctuary is not limited to a mat, a studio, or even a church – that sanctuary is always inside. I just need reminding every now and then – don’t we all?

Next Chapter….Scratch That…New Volume

It’s official – I resigned from my FT job. For the next year, I am going to focus on being a mom and teach. I feel incredibly grateful. I feel the mix of fear and excitement that comes with any major transition.

What does this mean for me?

I am not in this alone by any means. I am not making this life change, we are making this life change. The only way I can do this – specifically: make a decision that significantly reduces our household budget – is in partnership with my amazing husband.

This is also the first time in fifteen years that I have not had a job with an arts organization. Counting performing, it’s the first time in over twenty that my name won’t be printed in a program. I realize I am taking the advice I have freely handed countless student employees over the past eight years – Careers are long and life is short.

For now, life calls me to be home and I am so lucky to be in a position to follow that call. My new boss is adorable, yet demanding. She challenges me to be my best, truly only wanting to see me succeed in a way no one else has ever been there for me.

 

What does this mean for yoga teaching?

My story is not one that will include maxing out credit cards, cashing in my retirement, and draining our savings account to do all the things I want to do. (I call that the charismatic yogi prosperity doctrine – I should write a post about that…)

Many things are just not in our budget that would have been before making this decision – lots of infant care, a teacher training in town, teacher trainings out of town I would love to experience, going on retreat, workshops in the city, etc. I teach and practice when I can rather than always when I want.

First world problems.

Through the lens of gratitude I have decided to practice this year, I realized I have quite an extensive library of books and DVDs. There’s also that big stack of Yoga Journals I’ve been meaning to go through. I put them all together on a shelf and was pleasantly surprised by how much I have and humbled by how much I haven’t read cover-to-cover.

I’ve also been tuning in to YogaGlo when my new boss lets me. I can practice with amazing teachers in my living room. By fine-tuning my perspective, I realize there are so many resources available for home study that are available to everyone.

I know that the next time I able to do a teacher training or workshop, I will have such a deeper appreciation for learning in person with other people. (It’s just not the same to chant by yourself. I wouldn’t be surprised if my daughter’s first words are “Samba Sada Shiva” or “Sita Ram.”)

Every time I get to step on my mat to practice in a studio is truly, truly a gift. I can’t tell you how much I now appreciate being able to go to a studio, say hello to the people around me and move. This has also brought an added element of gratitude to be able to teach – knowing how much it means to me to practice and spend 75 to 90 minutes by myself on my mat, it is such an honor to provide that space for others.

So stay tuned. This year is about realigning along new priorities – letting those priorities guide these major shifts in career, home, and identity rather than the other way around. It’s not going to be easy, but I will keep up the practice of letting the spirit guide the way and pinch myself when my monkey mind gets bratty: gratitude, gratitude, gratitude…..

She’s Here!

“Prana is God’s breath. Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels…All vibrating energies are prana…it is the hidden and potential energy in all beings, released to the fullest extent as a response to any threat to one’s survival. It is the prime mover of all activity. It is the energy that creates, protects, and destroys.” ~ BKS Iyengar

I had a post in progress about how climbing the walls sounded like fun – if only I could climb them without hurting myself! I was getting restless and uncomfortable, feeling every moment of the past 9 months. I trashed it today. Instead, I’m happy to post this:


She came a week early and, goodness, was she excited to get here! It took 4 hours from the first  wave of mild contractions to delivery. She was literally almost born in the car. Literally meaning actually – ten minutes after the nurse midwives got me out of the car into the delivery room, she was here.

There was no time for drugs, tubs, or anything. I don’t say that out of pride, but out of bewilderment – the last thing I said before we left home went something like this, “I’m not interested in being some @#$%ing hero. Tell them to give me the drugs when we get there. This @#$%ing hurts.”

Going back to we teach what we truly need to hear:

Send the breath to wherever you feel tension, stress, unease. Wrap it up in an inhale and let it go in an exhale.

It all seems to come back to the breath for me through this whole experience. Pranayama – focusing on the breath, sending it to wherever there was pain/sensation got me through that experience. The breath anchored me to each moment. It was a 20-minute car ride to the hospital. My husband calmly put his hand on my back (I was adamant about lying on the floor of the car) and repeated, “Remember your breath.”

The body awareness cultivated through regular yoga practice – specifically bandhas, pelvic floor  – helped tremendously. However, it was breath that delivered her and gave her life.


Pregnant Yogi Post: Learning My Own Lessons

As of Monday, I am on maternity leave from my FT job. Hard to believe. I am truly in the calm before the storm.

When I say storm, keep in mind that one thing I really miss about the Appalachian summers of my youth are the dramatic thunderstorms that came each afternoon and evening. That distinct feeling and smell in the air as they approach, looking up to see if the clouds are dark yet to signal a run for cover. The mix of fear, awe, and excitement as we count seconds between thunder rolls and lightning strikes watching the storm roll in from the comfort of our home. Something is going to change, things are going to get blown away, the power will go out, something might get smashed, but it is a force of nature that can’t be stopped. There’s a mix of patience and anticipation that comes with watching storms roll in.

The past several weeks have been very challenging on my ego. I am discovering just how much of a, “but I can do it all AND have it all!” person I am now that I am in a situation where I am truly not in charge. My life and my body are in surrender (note: surrender does not mean “giving up” – more on that in another post) to this little girl and the process of bringing new life into this world. Let me tell you: It is humbling and I don’t think I’ve every really used that phrase to the extent I use it right here right now.

I have been realizing, more and more, that we truly do teach the things we most need to learn.

Here are some things I often talk about in class:

Ahimsa: Non-harming.

“The definition of Ahimsa is to live so fully and presently in love that there is no room for anything else to exist” ~ Julia Butterfly Hill

Rest: one of the most advanced yoga poses known to humans.

You are perfect just the way you are.

Each body, each person is different. Don’t compare yourself to others.

A foundation of an honest yoga practice: Ahimsa is being kind to your body by honoring it as it is. Being kind in thought and action towards yourself and others. It means sometimes, you really have to give yourself a break.

This one has been hard.

About a month ago, I started feeling some pain under my skin around my belly button. When I brought it up with my midwife, she told me it is my rectus abdominis muscles separating. (Those are the “six-pack” muscles.) Apparently, it’s completely normal, especially with petite women. Despite the “it’s normal,” assurance, I kind of freaked out for a good week. It’s still small, but I can definitely feel it after physical activity – sometimes even walking for a few blocks or being in table-top hurts due simply to the weight of my belly.

I don’t want them to separate any further, so I have had to seriously cut back on asana. I can’t tell you how much I miss it. I miss the community. I miss walking in to the two studios that have been like home over the past six months and just moving and breathing the way I want to next to other people – especially right now with a completely open schedule. I have to take care of myself and do what I need to do, instead: take it easy.

I realize I have been comparing myself to others. The other women in the community who seemed to have been practicing regularly right up to their due date. (there are LOTS of yoga babies arriving in the Sacramento area. It’s crazy!) I have no idea, really, what their experience has been/is. Being patient with the rational knowledge that arm balances, jump-backs, back bends (not recommended for the ab thing) and inversions are just not in my practice today but will be back soon has been an increasing battle with my ego. However, doing those poses would be doing just what I encourage students not to do: watch other people and do something that could lead to an injury rather than listen to the body.

What this has taught me: I really, really appreciate asana and the community of yoga more than I ever have now that I am limited. I get so excited to teach and provide a space for other people to experience and explore the amazing ways our bodies move, breathe, and feel.

What I have to look forward to: There is going to be a long road back to regular asana practice and my expectations will have to shift. The opportunity: I will be able to re-learn poses I have been doing for years and, as a result, be able to teach them more effectively. (Bhujangasana, can’t wait to see you again. I think we’ll have the opportunity to really get to know each other this time around.)

Despite the gradual separation of muscles and changing energy levels of each moment, I still wasn’t getting the message I need to chill the eff out. I have been making great effort to “fit it all in” before the baby comes by working, teaching, and committing to all sorts of things over the past eight months. (It’s even hard for me to let someone carry my groceries to the car. I’ve only relented once.)

My body kept dropping hints and then finally said, “Fine. You think you don’t need rest? I’m going to open up and bring a nasty cold that will land you on the couch for close to a week.” I spent last week 35 weeks pregnant with a cold. I had no choice but to rest.

Okay. I get it. I have a hard time taking it easy. I have a hard time letting my body rest. I have a hard time finding compassion for myself.

But don’t we all? Isn’t that why those teachings hit home no matter how many times we hear them? Isn’t that why it matters each and every time we say them?

At the end of many of my classes, I say something to the effect of:

Honor where you are on your path.

That, right there, is my yoga practice right now. That is the teaching that guides how and why I teach, how and why I take each breath and step in my life. Maybe I say it so frequently because I really, really need to hear it.

It’s called a practice for a reason.

The Pregnant Yogi Post

There are many things I haven’t been writing about – teacher training, the loss of a beloved family member, where my teaching is going, and being pregnant.

Baby Girl is 26 weeks along and my goodness, she is rowdy! It’s been quite a process and transformation in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Here are some thoughts/observations in regards to yoga:

  • If I go more than 48 hours without practicing – vinyasa or yin – my legs feel like they are stuffed with steel wool.
  • I cannot practice in heated rooms. This is a HUGE change for me – I used to practice in rooms that left me drenched and turn up the heat when I taught classes.
  • I love props. LOVE them. Bolsters, cushions, blankets, bean bags, blocks, walls. Yay for props.
  • Everything in my body is amplified. As a result, I’ve gotten more particular about where and how I practice. I am slowing down. I am noticing in a way that I haven’t before. I am feeling, with this amplification, the importance of a well-built sequence where one thing leads to the next. In other words, the importance of going one step further from vinyasa to vinyasa krama (vinyasa krama: placing things in a certain order methodically, with a purpose in mind.) This has completely changed how I practice and, as a result, how I teach. More focus on alignment and how things feel. I’m taking my time.

    Sometimes this means I’m doing my own thing. I had an experience a few weeks ago where a teacher was encouraging the class to go faster going side to side from Vira 1 to Ardo Mukha Svanasana. As she stood by me and encouraged  “We’re warmed up, feel yourself start to move faster!” Something deep inside of me politely said, “No thank you,” and happily moved with full, deep breaths a full pose or more behind the cues.

    I even had the experience of applying the, “if you take child’s pose for the whole class and just breathe, you’re still doing yoga,” saying. Wow. It’s true. It was a great class and wonderful savasana.

  • I can still do running man and bakasana, yet I struggle to put on my shoes and socks. This makes me laugh.
  • I look at arm balances and sequences that aren’t accessible to me right now with excitement. I think about how much more I will enjoy them after this experience.
  • I wobble a lot as my body completely changes day-to-day. This makes me laugh.
  • There aren’t any pre-natal classes that fit my schedule, so I’m still going to regular classes. I am learning so much from modifications. There are things I just can’t do (like fold right in half, deep twists, anything on my belly) so I have to listen and analyze what the pose is doing.

    For example: Instead of bhujangasana, I use a cow variation on all fours focusing on lengthening the side body and arching the thoracic spine. To warm up for chaturanga, I do these little 1-3″ push-ups focusing on the alignment of open heart/back with active core instead of lowering right down to the floor.

  • By taking time, I am noticing nuances and details – like right now, I am so fascinated with hasta bandha and hands-arms-shoulders-heart connection. Also, equally fascinated with the diaphragm-pelvic floor-hip connection. I have noticed where my body was hiding weakness by moving quickly. My definition of power yoga is changing.
  • The little girl interacts with chanting. If she’s been quiet for a while, she will wake up when I chant. She went nuts when we were in the room with a harmonium. One day, she was kicking me so much I thought she would break my ribs. I put my headphones on my belly and she settled down to this:
  • Zobha and Beyond Yoga are awesome.

Resonance

Recently, I received the sad news that my last horn teacher died suddenly from a stroke. She was only my teacher for a little over a year, but there is still a list of important lessons that I learned from her.

She had an infectious love for horn music. What made her a great teacher was her ability to create space (in a very no-nonsense way) to help other people cultivate their own passion. She wasn’t playing in an orchestra. She wasn’t making recordings. She was a teacher and, believe me, she could play the @#$% out of the Brahms Trio.

One of my favorite memories was when the university paper interviewed her about being a female brass player*. Apparently, she told the student (who was likely expecting a feminist manifesto), “Look, sometimes you just need to learn to drink with the boys.” She taught me how to choose my battles. She spoke up for me when I needed it. She supported my decision to put my instrument down, even though she didn’t fully agree with it. She held the space for me.

When I heard the news, I felt simultaneous sadness of her loss and gratitude that I was able to study with her. I clearly saw the tremendous gifts, opportunities and responsibilities of being a teacher. I hope to hold the space for my students the way she held the space for so many young musicians. I realize that even brief moments of connection with a teacher can resonate throughout a lifetime.

I feel gratitude, inspiration and can’t wait to teach my next class!


*For those of you outside of the industry, being a female brass player it’s not for the thin-skinned. Case in point: the widespread use and acceptance of the word brasshole.

Words on Loss & Grieving

A week ago, I found out that one of my best friends from Middle & High School died. How it happened, I wish I could say. I heard via Facebook too late to call back east and spent three hours of the next morning sifting through rumors, calling the cops, her phone, and even the newspaper until I got a hard confirmation from a family friend. I still don’t know how she died. All I know is that she is gone, leaving behind twin 3-year-olds and a lot of people who love her.

I’ve been reading (and very much enjoying), Stephen Batchelor’s book Confession of a Buddhist Athiest. In his travels, he came across a teaching that doubt should be explored and celebrated because it mirrors the potential depth of understanding/awakening.

As I cried my eyes out and spent the week finding space to try to wrap my mind around what happened, I thought about that teaching. I started to realize that the depth of sorrow I was feeling over the loss of my friend mirrored the depth of love I have for her, the depth of gratitude that she was such an important part of my life. Grieving is the healing process of finding balance between the two.

Like so many simple teachings, it is such a hard lesson not only to learn but to live.

More on my man doesn’t do yoga in a studio…

The post about my man not doing yoga in a studio has sparked some really sweet conversations over the past 24 hours. A friend of mine posted this beautiful quote on his facebook status to honor his father, who passed away recently. It says what I was trying to say so much more eloquently:

Cultivate regular periods of silence and meditation. The best time to build judgment is in solitude, when you can think out things for yourself without the probability of interruption.

Each of us yearns for a special place. With the frantic pace of everyday life, uninterrupted seclusion with special items of comfort and kin make for a refreshing oasis in the media madness, cell phone intrusions and all the characteristics of the 21st century.

I personally find that the fraternity of carefully chosen and well cared for tools coupled with the kinship of workspace, however small or humble, is a great source of rejuvenation-my way of slowing down if you will. Taking time to take joy in the simple act of polishing out a piece of chrome or rebuilding some component serves both purposes of therapy and practicality.

Whether you actually carve out your special corner or vicariously do it through the projects and lives of others you are on your way to reducing levels of stress in your life and increasing quality of life.

~ Gerry Durnell, Editor & Publisher of Automotive Quarterly

One woman’s asana isn’t necessarily her man’s yoga

“Does your husband do yoga?”

I get asked this a lot. I used to just say no, it’s not really his thing – he’s tried it, went to class regularly for a while, but decided it’s not for him. It was mostly met with puzzlement – probably since I am on my mat so frequently.

Since diving deeper into the community, we’ve been in social situations where people I know have said things like, “You really need to start going to the studio.” Though well-intended, that sort of language completely turns him off. (We both have a stubborn streak.) I even had someone ask, “what is your husband’s spiritual practice? does he meditate?” My honest answer that he lives and sees the world in a way that brings him peace rather than living a defined spiritual practice – like he doesn’t read the yoga sutra, sit in meditation, or listen to buddhist podcasts. This answer inspired a subtle shoulder shrug, not-so-subtle arched eyebrow, and “oookay,” from the person asking me the question.

Seriously, people, we have to stop this. We must fight the tendency towards yoga a-holeness. Not just for us, but for the students who say, “I wish my girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife would start doing yoga.” Why? Because asana does not always equal yoga and we don’t want to seem like a “you’re with us or against us” community.

I teach on Saturdays, so I’m usually away from home between 8:30 and 1:30. One Saturday, I came home and found my husband in the backyard holding a circular saw. He was sweaty, covered in saw dust and smiling just like I was after teaching two classes. After I left to teach that morning, he woke up and decided to build a porch off the side of our shed so he could have more workspace. He leveled the ground and framed the structure all by himself. Working with his hands to create spaces around our home quiets his mind and puts him in a state of flow (flow: when we become one with our actions.) Make no mistake, it’s hard work – maybe even harder than holding chair pose for ten breaths. After his day’s work, when the tools are all put away and the shed is finally locked, he is smiling like he just got out of an awesome savasana.

Yoga is not a perfect triangle or getting into handstand. Yoga is skill in action. There are volumes like the yoga sutra that teach us yoga stops the spinning of the mind. So when people ask me, “Does your husband do yoga?” I think about how he doesn’t have to get on the yoga mat and put himself through vigorous asana to achieve stillness and contentment. (Besides, I do enough of that for the two of us.) He finds the same thing we find in a vinyasa series by working with his hands – by landscaping the front yard, planting trees, building a fence, restoring his bike. That is his yoga.

wiring the kitchenasana