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?)

The Efficient Practice

It is a challenge to get good mat time these days. I pine for the days when I would have back-to-back teaching/practices or when I could look at studio schedules and think, “Well, if I miss the 4:30 I can always just hit up the 6:15. No big deal..”

Time is a precious commodity, managed and coordinated in ways I never thought I would have to manage and coordinate. When my baby is awake, I am chasing after her. When she is asleep, I have a long list of things that I need to do for my home, work and family. I also have to balance time for my husband – time for us to be together and give him space.

When I do throw my mat down in the house, I am often interrupted by either the baby waking up, the dog wanting my attention or the cat knocking something off the kitchen counter. Somewhere on these lists of priorities, there can be the briefest moments that are truly to myself that don’t include working on teaching/festival/writing or cleaning/cooking. (Cooking, ha! that’s funny!) Those moments are like gold.

I have become incredibly efficient with my home practice.

One of the best things I learned as a classical musician was how to practice. I was taught how to practice efficiently with consistency – that it was not about how many hours I spent in the practice room but how I used the hours spent in the practice room. Sometimes, the most effective practice technique was to simply sit in front of the piece of music, internalize/visualize, sing it and then pick up the horn to play.

I have brought this practice into yoga. I think about sequencing and poses all the time. For example, whenever my baby gets a bottle, I am usually thinking through a sequence (how could I open the body up to get to this pose? What happens on the way to the pose?) while kissing her sweet little head. Sometimes, while she is crawling around, I take a moment to explore a pose with a long hold to target a specific area.

When I have my asana practice, I am usually figuring out how a series I envision is going to really feel on the body and working out the kinks I feel from carrying around a little 15 pound wiggle worm. A lot of times I am practicing with YogaGlo. (Thank god for YogaGlo!)

Right now, the magic number is 45 minutes. More often than not, when I plan it just right and allow myself to really explore the possibility of movement and opening in asana, my efficient practice brings more opening than I used to get in longer, open-ended practices.

Seal Pose - Nicholas Wray Photography

“Planning it just right” doesn’t mean that each moment is clearly planned. It is the opposite of restrictive. With a destination in mind, I explore different ways to arrive. If something comes up on the way to the pose that seems interesting, I follow it. I prepare my body for what comes next and stay open to the question: what comes next? Knowing I don’t have time for a lot of repetition that defines some vinyasa styles, I play with the balance of long holds and movement.

I play. I create. I feel great.

Then I show up four times a week and share, knowing full well that time is a precious commodity to the people who have come to class. They have likely had to manage and coordinate time in ways they never thought they would have to manage and coordinate.  Time to themselves that does not involved cleaning, cooking, working or putting someone else first is like gold. I understand this and am constantly humbled and inspired by people who are able to come to a studio class.

Yes, I wish I could go to class every day and have unlimited time to play. For now, that is not my reality. From this, I have found a gift. I am grateful for all I am learning from the efficient practice.

Writing Heals

True story: The first thing I remember buying myself with my money (birthday & allowance saved up) was a Hello Kitty diary. It had a lock. I still remember going to the mall and picking it out. My first entries were pictures and moved on to reporting on current events.

I continued keeping a journal throughout my teenage years. I wrote everything down. Everything. I was always writing in journals, pouring out all that I felt. The writing dwindled when I got to college. It would come back every now and then, but mostly faded away.

The notebooks lived in my parents’ house for many years. When my parents moved, they sent the boxes to me. I promptly stored them away without even opening them up. “Oh God,” I thought when I saw them, “here is over ten pounds of teenage angst.” Cringe. I did not want to look. I did not want to see that image of me as an unhappy, selfish teenager and young adult. When I got those boxes, I decided that I liked who I had become and had no need to revisit all that.

Then my friend died. (This death touched me deeply and was, unfortunately, the first of three I would experience in 2011.)

A common friend who happens to live in the Bay Area came over after we heard the news. We got out the old yearbooks and shared our memories. We cried a little, laughed a lot. I took a deep breath and, for the first time in over 15 years, opened the boxes of the old journals.

What I found surprised me. I loved that sassy little teenager. I found so much compassion and love for that girl who was me. I discovered things about myself I had forgotten. (What? I used to draw?) The times when I was angsty and cursing the world, I just laughed out loud instead of cringing when I read the words. I wrote down quotes from what I was listening to and reading. I clipped images from magazines and made great collages.  I smiled over captured moments I had completely forgotten, like a night spent on a beach under a blanket looking at stars in Michigan…when I heard Rite of Spring for the first time at Tanglewood while it rained and then how the person I was walking with after the show kept hitting the trees to make them rain on me and I loved the light from the streetlights catching the rain drops. I saw friends who are all grown up now as kids and friends who I have lost along the way who may always be kids in my mind.

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On those pages, I saw myself struggle to be compassionate and often fail, but get up and try again anyway. I saw a painfully shy girl who did not want to be shy, clumsily faking it until making it (or not…) looking for a place to call home. I saw a girl walking a spiritual path built on complete trust in God/Universe/Love, even when it scared her.

I was also pretty damned funny at times.

Those journals were a healing, safe place for me to go write down and say whatever I wanted to say without judgment from anyone but me. Years later, I was not expecting them to heal the relationship I have with my younger self. When I finally opened them, I opened to me. I accepted me – all of me.

I am a believer. Writing heals.

This is why I am teaching the writing + yoga workshop series in October at Asha Yoga. I hope that others will find the healing (and laughs) possible through conscious writing. Check out Asha’s website and the Living Yoga tab at the top of this page for more information. I hope to see you there.

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…..

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.

Simply Sitting

I generally open up my basics classes with an explanation that the basics class will be simple – simple meaning it is entirely up to each student whether it will be hard or easy. It’s the simple things that tend to eff us up if we let them because we think “Oh, it’s so simple, I can do this without much thought. No sweat.”

Case in point: sitting.

My teacher training concluded with a retreat at Lake Tahoe. I drove a car full of people up the hill to the retreat center. It was winter, we had a lot of gear, and my Honda Element was absolutely packed. After we unloaded and went to our bunks, I realized my meditation cushion was nowhere to be found. I kind of freaked out inside and hopefully maintained an appearance of being cool about the whole prospect of sitting for hours on a yoga block. I picked up every purple Hugger Mugger in the center looking for the pink embroidery I had lovingly stitched along the handle. Finally, I realized I must have left it behind and resigned myself to the fact there was nothing I could do about it.

Non-attachment, right?

I sat for hours on a mash-up of yoga blocks and blankets over the weekend as I tried to find something that would give me the support I have from my beloved cushion. I finally found it, but it was after hours of bad sitting that wrecked my body for the following week.

If you are interested in meditation or consider yourself a pro at sitting for days, check out this video from Amy Ippoliti. This is a really fantastic breakdown of how to sit.

On Chanting

Once upon a time, priests conducted services in Latin to multitudes of people who did not understand the language. Bibles were printed for select few while the majority of people did not know how to read. Yet the multitudes still went, faithfully, to hear these men speak to them in a language they would never understand.

Some truly beautiful works and devotional pieces came from this tradition. In fact, composers like Palestrina, Dufay and others would use popular (often political) songs like L’homme Arme as the melody for Masses for the masses who may not understand the words but surely knew the melody:

I’ve been thinking about this recently because chanting has been popping up in my teaching and in conversations I have with other teachers. I’ve been chanting a little in some of my classes when I can provide context, translation, and tie it in to the class.

I take time to do this because most of my experiences with chanting have happened with a teacher leading a call and response with absolutely no explanation of what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. I always feel a little left out when this happens and go straight home to type things like “Govinda Jai” into google to find out what the heck I just did at yoga class. On the other hand, when a teacher has taken time to provide context for the chant, it has always been a powerful experience.

And, sigh, there is some ugly: I’ve heard some teachers make small yet slighting remarks about other teachers/studios not chanting enough or at all.

It’s my opinion that chanting for the sake of chanting doesn’t make any one class more spiritual or authentic than another one. People have been singing together as long as we have been people in every language, which is why singing hymns

or kirtan

or rocking the #@%& out at live shows

are all equally powerful and beautiful.

I love music and I love to sing – especially with other people. I also like to know what I’m singing and why. Language is communication, no matter what the tongue. Just because Sanskrit is old doesn’t mean it is inherently or exclusively magic. Case in point – the clips above are pretty magical. But so is this:

We are *so lucky* to have so many resources (books, internet, podcasts, albums) to help us dig deeper into this stuff and provide context to students about what we are doing as a community. I’m really enjoying adding this element to my teaching. I have a blast rocking a little Shiva Shambo at the beginning of a class. I feel much more connection to my students when I know that they know why I’m asking them to close their eyes and sing their hearts wide open.