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?)

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.

Vinyasa: Putting Things in a Certain Order

I am in power vinyasa yoga teacher training. I have three more weekends, a seva (community service) project, and dvd/critique to go in order to complete my 200-hour yoga-alliance approved training. I know power vinyasa yoga gets some flak, often categorized with things like super-sized xyz or extreme sports/makeovers – so let me break it down:

Power: Acting on your own behalf
Vinyasa: Putting things in a certain order
Yoga: Skill in action

Overall, I’ve been experiencing vinyasa off the mat. My second week of teacher training, I likened the experience of moving into a beautiful new apartment after months of anticipation. In this new space, surrounded by boxes without labels, I realize not everything is going to fit. The bookshelf that fit perfectly in the old place and held so many books is too wide, the kitchen does not have room for all the fancy appliances, and half of what I’ve been carrying and carefully packaging isn’t necessary. Writing yay is one of those metaphorical boxes that made it to the “to be unpacked” pile, but was low on the priority list.

It is intense and life-changing. Intense introspection like I have never experienced – getting behind my thoughts and really looking honestly at the ways I have chosen to present myself and live my life. I am emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of each weekend I have training. My homework is equally intense, designed to train my mind to look at life through different lenses (a.k.a. yamas and niyamas). I have come to truly appreciate the word “weary” and understand why this particular word (as opposed to “tired” or “exhausted”) is used in hymns and poems. I am pushed to tap into my inner power (see above definition) and learn how to speak powerfully from a place of stillness. Over and over, I ask myself the exhilarating yet frightening questions: “How did I get here, to this point in my life?” and “Where to next?”

Waltzing on the edge of beauty and terror, embracing the complexities of simply being human, I have often thought about one of my favorite Rilke passages:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.

My celebration of being human is not inspired by Michael Franti. (I feel it is important to make this distinction, despite fear of being excommunicated from the yoga community.) For me, it is inspired by Beethoven (Dresden playing the 7th to be exact), Walt Whitman, Bach, Patanjali, Kabir, the unconditional love of my dog, listening to Madeline Albright talk about diplomacy and Jonah Lehrer talk about the mind, watching the changing leaves, listening to falling rain, slowing down on the highway to see birds in the wetlands, pausing to feel the rumble of trains rattle the windows of my little house as many other have since 1916, smiling at strangers. With the community of training, I have felt the supportive experience of breathing in time with 31 people and been able to laugh, cry, succeed, and fail without judgment in front of others.

My celebration of being human is inspired by slowing down and living namaste. I want to always really mean it when I say namaste and bring it to each moment: recognizing that we are all the same by seeing the same fears, hopes, and joys in others that I feel so sharply and deeply.

I realize I love pranayama (breath work) and want to go deeper outside of teacher training. I remind myself to remind myself that each breath, each moment, is a gift and that it is my choice to accept or ignore these gifts. (No, there is not a typo in that sentence.)

It has been painful in many ways. One of my friend’s mother told her that she is feeling pain because part of her is dying and part of her is being born – both are painful processes. Relationships and perspectives change. My body aches after Sundays of 7:45 a.m. ashtanga (which my inner I-don’t-wanna calls asstanga when it is roused to get out of bed at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday and is subsequently chided for being so childish) followed by back-to-back practice teaching/practicing. But, as one of the seven axioms we learn in our training reminds us: Fear and Pain are Life’s Greatest Teachers.

In short, yoga teacher training is one mind@#$% after another in the process of metamorphosis. I am grateful, humble, and inspired.

unfolding: bloom where you’re planted

21.5.800 post talked about unfolding.

I got a postcard in the mail this week. It was folded in two and taped together. The return address was from my childhood church in Tennessee with my current address in California handwritten on the outside. I unfolded the postcard and found a notice to nonresident members for an out-of-town audit. There were two options on the card: check here if membership is still with this church or check here: I have transferred to ____ Church. I smiled when I opened this. This woman always finds my address – every other year, I find a newsletter in my mailbox. I moved away in 1995 when I went to college and moved to the West coast in 1999. It’s 2010.

When I went back a few years ago for my grandfather’s funeral, she found me in the reception and asked, “Do you want to move your membership to another church? When you do, let me know which church so I can transfer you.” I was in the middle of a packed room surrounded by my family, old neighbors, and people in the church who loved my grandfather. I remembered my grandmother saying, “Did you hear Mr. White died? He never went to church, but he was so nice. I wonder what happened to him. I would just hate for him not to go to heaven. I wish he had gone to church.”

I responded as honestly as I could: “I don’t really have a church.” She told me, “Then we’ll keep you here until you find a new church, you just let me know when you find one.”

I felt so silly. Though I felt fine about my spiritual path, I had a moment where I hesitated to out myself as a non-Christian in front of family and the church community. Didn’t they see me not say the Nicene Creed during the service? And, really, Emily, do you think they would care that much? Mr. White didn’t go to church and people still thought he was nice.

When I was a kid, I was at church two or three times a week. As a teen, though, I felt an unsettling call I could not ignore. I went on a retreat in North Carolina and took a night hike (hiking in the dark, no flashlight, no talking). I sat on a mountaintop listening to the wind in the pines and, though it was cold, felt an incredibly warm love surround me. Months later, I was missing this love and wondering where it had gone. God came to me in a very vivid moment and let go of my hand.

I stopped going to church, which did not go over well with my family. I was scared, angry, lonely, and stubborn for years. I hardened my heart and went into a protective mode. I collected inspiration and stories from different faiths, art, music, literature, poetry, to try to break the shell and find that love. I was lost and looking for the way home.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

from The First Elegy, Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell

I finally came to a place of reconciliation and peace. Over the years, I had been stuffing a suitcase in my psyche with experiences, reactions, and teachings while wandering through the wilderness. I finally found a place in my heart to unpack and unfold all these things I had been carrying for so long. Some I could discard, others I had to clean, some I thought I had lost but were actually there all along, buried deep. I arranged them all and made a home.

Through disciplined yoga practice and further spiritual study, I felt my heart ripping open and discovered a deep emotional and spiritual surrender. One day in savasana, after about three months of regular practice of 3-5 times a week, I felt the presence of love that I felt on that mountaintop in the pines. It whispered in my ear: god is love.

Now I get it. God is Love.

In that moment, I knew that it never left me. Quite the opposite, God/Love let go of my hand so I would learn how to walk on my own. We’ve been walking together, side by side, all along. I felt tremendous relief and happiness upon that realization. I still stray off the path or and get distracted in the fog, but I have faith that love will always be there for me. All I have to do is reach out my hand or call out for help and love is there. My heart unfolds more each day.

This is by no means a unique story. Knowing it’s not unique is very comforting. What makes this ordinary story extraordinary is a foundation of a spiritual community.

When I unfolded that post card from church this week, it wasn’t just where I am on my spiritual path but something she wrote that made me smile and respond that she can finally take me off the mailing list.

“You will not find another [Church like this one], but as I like to say, “Bloom where you are planted.”

So let’s get planted, even if your physical address changes every other month. Let’s bloom. Let’s unfold together.

Namaste.