SUMMER SOLSTICE + MINDFUL LIVING

by Sarah Norris

The summer solstice is the day of the year when the sun shines on us longer than any other. It’s the ripest time to come together and celebrate our lives and honor our intentions with 108 sun salutations. The number 108 has so much significance, and here are a few reasons why:

108 connects the sun, moon and earth as the average distance of the sun and moon to earth is 108 times their respective diameters.

108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.

108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan mala (prayer beads, analogous to a rosary).
108 is twice the number 54, which is the number of letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, one set masculine (shiva) and one set feminine (shakti).

108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of movements linked to breath in a sun salutation.

Last June during the solstice, I was away in Virginia for a month of tantric yoga training, living in a house of eight women. We did a ton of work on ourselves in order to get clear about what we really want. The most surprising part of this was seeing that, mostly, what happens when we’re asked about what we want most of all in the world, is we get really…angry. People get defensive and upset when asked about their dreams. That sounds crazy, right? But doesn’t that make total sense? That question brings us right up against all the things we’re doing INSTEAD of manifesting our dreams, or, what we do that are exactly counter to that fulfillment.

So, for this month of training last summer, the eight of us lived in a pressure cooker in which we got clarity about what we want, our heart’s desire.

We were forced to look at the ways in which we weren’t supporting that, often by telling ourselves we don’t have time. To that end, we had to list ways we waste time:

Complaining

Gossip

Social media

Talking about the past

Worrying about the future

Then we had to choose one thing on our list that we were really and truly ready to give up in order to make room and have energy to invest in what we most want, so that it could become like a happy, chubby, juicy baby. In this way we would have to stop telling ourselves the story that we don’t have time for what’s most important to us. Because we would carving out the space now, deliberately. We did this, ultimately, with an incredible fire ceremony. One by one, we had to throw into the fire what we were giving up.

Into this fire, I threw “talking about my past relationships.” With love, with compassion, with gratitude, I set free the men I had loved or was hung up on in some way. It was a moment of reckoning for me. I was sabotaging the fulfillment of my dreams by focusing on relationships that no longer existed. My teacher and I talked about it, and she warned me, “Once you give them up and give up the energy you give them still, they will come into your life full force. Be prepared to hear from your past loves, names on this list and then the men who you’re not even aware now that you’re still carrying around with you in some way. They won’t know why they find themselves suddenly wanting to reach out to you. It will be because you’ve cut the cords and set them free. And this liberation has to come form a pure, pure place within you. You cannot do this if what you actually want is to be together with one of them and are hoping in some way that by going through the motions of setting them free, they’ll come back to you.”

We talked especially that last part, about how if, for some reason, I were to end up in love and together with someone from my past, it could only happen after I did this clearing out and my intentions were clean and open. I was fresh out of a three-year relationship, and this untangling was taking up a lot of my heart and my life. Setting us free from each other, I knew, was a necessary thing. Letting go of trying to protect him from himself, letting go of feeling his feelings, of taking his issues on as my own because I’d felt I needed to. Letting him go in order to save myself and live in the present. I prayed over this list, I meditated on it, I danced with these ghosts — literally danced, like a wild woman — and I laughed and cried and wrote in my journal and felt all of the feelings: joy, love, private moments shared between two people that I was leaving behind.

When I’d looked at first at my list of time vampires, this was the one I felt the most resistance about. It played itself out as an internal conversation: “Sarah, are you willing to give up complaining in order to live the life of your dreams?” And the answer, immediately: Yes, yes, of course. That’s how I felt about the others on my list, mostly, except for this one. “Sarah, are you willing to give up your past loves in order to make space for what you most want in your life now?” The answer, more slowly: “Ehhhh do I have to?” I didn’t want to, not really at all, at first. But the more I considered it, the more obvious it became that I had to. So I said goodbye to these men, from my heart. I prayed for the men I had loved and, one by one, I let go of residual attachment I had to living in the past. To living in the past, period, and to talking about it.

My teacher said, “Sarah, get ready. Now they come.” As if these exes would pop up be like a game of Whack-a-Mole, to test my resolve. I thought she was out of her mind, saying this because why would guys I’d not talked to in years — years — get in touch now? You can guess what happened, right? That very afternoon, I got an email from the boy I dated my junior year of high school. And the next day I heard from my an ex in Connecticut, with whom I’d not talked in more than three years. And it was like this for a few months. Or, rather, I should say it’s been like this for a year. I’ve been doing nothing differently and I can’t think of any other explanation but I’ve been hearing from my past.

For the most part, I have stayed the course. The test has been not to go searching for my future by digging through my past and recycling. The result of consciously liberating something that’s taking me away from my dreams is space and energy and time to invest in my own well-being and spirits. It’s alchemy: turning one thing into another. The tradition of practicing 108 sun salutations together is so powerful in this capacity because we connect to our respective purposes and close the distance between where we are and what we want. The extent to which we feel and believe our dreams are coming true IS the extent to which they are coming true. That’s what this practice is about. An invocation of honest mindful living. Embodied joy and space making.

A LETTER FROM YOUR TEACHER

By Sarah Grace, Bikram Yoga Seattle

Summer is stretching ahead of us, but for me, the HYEN Hot Yoga Teacher Training is getting close, and I am excited, eager and ready. I already know that teacher training in Nashville this fall is going to be an awesome experience. After spending time in Nashville at HYEN a year ago, with its warm, friendly, and dedicated group of teachers and students, I can’t wait to come back and help launch the first-ever HYEN Hot Yoga Teacher Training. And I am truly honored to have the opportunity! This has come from a slow evolution, a gathering of experience and education. Some years back I started teaching not only yoga classes, but some workshops and private lessons. Eventually I was invited to teach workshops for teachers, and a section of a teacher training at a Seattle studio. This last winter, I created and taught (with the help of a dedicated team of experienced teachers) a teacher training program at my home studio, Bikram Yoga Seattle. It was successful (our trainees are now real teachers!) we all learned a lot, and it was fun. And I think I know why:

I love to teach yoga, and it becomes really extra special in the context of working with other yoga teachers, or teachers-to-be. We are united in a special love for yoga and our quest for greater understanding of it. When are there other opportunities to truly geek out, for lack of a better word, about a practice, a process, a way of being that so utterly changes our lives, pulls us into its depth and immensity? There are so many ways to approach this huge body of knowledge, but at the end of the day, we all approach it in the same fundamental way – through our practice: on the mat, in our poses, seated, with the breath. With dedication and humility, with effort and awe. Through practice we study yoga, and through practice we start to understand that really what we are studying is ourselves. Through practice we learn about ourselves, we are better able to connect with others, and be at ease in the world. This incredible gift comes straight from practice. I love to teach because I get to witness this process again and again in my students and in myself.

Why else is teaching so satisfying? I get to listen and observe. I now understand that teaching is is not about me (what a relief). There is exciting, tangible fulfillment when students have a moment of understanding, whether about a pose, a philosophical point, a specific anatomy question. Teaching is creative, and requires total focus, concentration and energy in order to be effective. And back to the root of it all – I get to see students connect with their true selves and in so doing become more at ease in the world. With ease comes laughter, love, fun, and a greater sense of curiosity. There is nothing better!

I am really looking forward to the HYEN Hot Yoga Teacher Training. It will be a unique process that will allow our hearts and minds to grow bigger as we learn together, knowing it is all in service of our students.   See y’all soon!

 

 

 

 

MINDFUL EATING – A MINIMALIST PERSPECTIVE

By Josh Garcia

Over the past 18 months, I have actively pursued a healthier weight through more mindful eating. The journey has not been without its setbacks, but I nevertheless derive great satisfaction from reflecting on how far I have come. I regularly receive compliments on my forty pound weight loss, but for me the truest satisfaction lies in the changes I have observed in my relationship to food.

The works of Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Gabrielle Bernstein and many others have guided me toward an approach to eating that centers on food’s value as a fuel and nutrient source. This description may seem bland, but it is in reality quite the opposite. When prepared and consumed mindfully, a meal can become a beautiful and exciting act of self care. As I have moved along the path of mindfulness, gradually transforming eating into a studied act of love, all other dietary factors have naturally fallen into place. The internet is replete with healthy recipes and weight loss meal plans, but I have learned that none of this knowledge could have an effect on me until I accepted a simple truth: my issues with food were emotional issues, and thus had to be resolved on an emotional level.

The process of unpacking and releasing my emotional attachments to food has been long, but rewarding. It has involved a great deal of self study and patience as new habits began to form. If you are seeking to develop a healthier relationship with food, take comfort in the knowledge that many of the specifics will sort themselves out after you get your emotional house in order. There is no need to rush out and immediately buy a new diet book or health shake: the tools and teachers you need will appear when you are ready for them.

Begin simply by planting the seeds of mindful eating within your psyche.  With time, they will grow. Know that no specific action is required on the physical plane; your practice of conscious eating will yield deep, sustainable, and tangible changes in its own time. Slowly, the seeds of mindfulness will grow and transform your life. You cannot resist this gradual, seismic shift toward your best self, not even if you wanted to.

Each time you prepare to eat, ask yourself one or all of the following three questions. Then take three normal breaths and allow mindful eating to run its course.

“Am I hungry right now?” Isn’t it amazing that such a simple question can cut to the core of compulsive eating? 

“What am I hungry for?” Hungry for love? Success? Peace of mind? Food can only eliminate physical hunger. Sit with this knowledge for a moment. 

“Why have I chosen this food?” It isn’t a sin to choose food because of taste, convenience, or even emotional reasons like nostalgia. Remember that the goal is not to berate yourself for making “bad” choices. Your aim is simply to understand your thoughts and the decisions you make. 

I would conclude by reminding anyone interested in this journey that mindful eating is a practice, not a destination. There will be times when your focus on healthy portions and nutrition is impeccable and borderline monastic. There will be times when you find yourself eating robotically and blank eyed while driving down the highway. As with a dedicated yoga practice, the only goal is to continue showing up, day after day. Surrender your attachment to outcomes, so that the vibrant, perfect, present moment may (at long last) arrive.

SPRINGTIME JUICE CLEANSE

We are well into spring, and by now, we may have done some Spring Cleaning in our spaces. Maybe our closets, our garages, our offices, our cars…. but what about our bodies? Does our body need a spring cleaning too? Why clean from within? There are many reasons to clear out the cobwebs in our bodies – a desire to have more energy, to increase vitality, to access and maintain a heightened clarity of mind, to realign with our internal guidance systems, and to examine our food-body-mind relationship. Not only does a cleanse help us bring into focus our relationship with food but it helps us to break away from cycles of dependency on, or addiction to certain foods that may only give us a temporary high rather than a sustained energy level. A good cleanse is designed to provide plenty of nourishment but we consume it in a different form than we may be used to – the form of juice or smoothies composed of raw, natural, fibrous whole foods. While the juiced food will provide all the calories we need, the respite from chewing on food (food that makes us very comfortable) for an entire three days will be a significant challenge. We will feel uncomfortable at times. We will start to notice that our instincts (the itch we can’t scratch) towards snacking and chewing may simply a withdrawal symptom of not giving our bodies the sugar/carb highs it’s used to, or that we have temporarily lost this crutch, this activity of eating to pass the time or mask some other feeling that we don’t want to sit with. This temporary discomfort will be an amazing tool to help us to be more mindful of when and why we go to food and will help us, after the cleanse, to view food with new eyes – as nourishment, a good and enjoyable part of life and not a source of escape and potential guilt.

In addition to breaking the cycle of mentally and physically craving foods that are not sustaining, these three days of cleansing can do even more to boost our health and energy! The three day cleans allows the stomach and digestive tract to rest, allowing it to Re-equilibrate and find balance in the microbiome (flora and fauna balance) an acidity levels of the gut. The liver is also allowed to rest and finally release the toxins it has not been able to pass if overloaded with the toxins from the food of the average American diet. In three days, you will find your appetite reduced – that you find yourself satiated with less food than usual. This provides the psychological boost to help change habits for the long term.

There are so many good mental habits gained through the cleanse and likewise, poor habits broken. When we have a prescribed cleanse to follow, we do not have to waste our energy worrying or thinking about what the next meal will be. We break the habit of an unhealthy focus on food. It’s wonderful to enjoy good food, and this cleanse will help us do that all the more but nobody wants to be a slave to eating – thinking about it all the time. This way, we don’t have to, at least not for 3 days.

The cleanse will temporarily eliminate foods that take away our energy, cause inflammation or other harms to our body, such as dairy, wheat, gluten, alcohol and coffee. Instead, we will flood our bodies with all of the vitamins and minerals it needs, as well as the amazing phytonutrients that are the workhorses for our clean-up and healing process. Juices are by nature raw foods — and retain nutrients that would be lost in cooking, including some B vitamins and especially (digestive and anti-inflammatory) enzymes. We may even lighten our load a bit with a few pounds lost along the way, providing the jump start we may need to a longer diet plan and/or clean eating lifestyle. With more energy from these whole, raw foods, more hydration (from the extra water and elimination of coffee and alcohol), we will feel like superman or woman in no time. Wake up and spring out of bed? What?!

Finally, the three days of cleansing and flooding the body with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories will allow maximum detoxification and restoration of our cells. The average American body carries 147 industrial chemicals in its bloodstream. This cleanse will help to remove the toxins that have accumulated in our bodies and allow our cells to function optimally – without the constant battle they face against free radicals and inflammation.

Get ready! We plan to start the cleanse on Sunday, May 3rd! The plan is this – it is up to you if you would like to do a 100% Juice Cleanse, drinking only organic, raw pressed juices or if you would like mix in homemade smoothies and raw, pureed soups. For ease and convenience, we are pairing with Juice Nashville, who will provide a 3-day cleanse packet including 5 juices per day, delivered in a refrigerated tote that you can keep. The package is offered at a discounted rate of $100. If you would like to make your own juices or supplement with smoothies or raw, blended soups, simply choose from some of the recipes we will be posting in the next few days. One person might drink the 5 juices per day and feel amazing. The next person might blend up a smoothie for breakfast, drink juices for lunch and snacks, and have a blended raw soup for dinner. This is a plan that you can adapt to your lifestyle and still receive all of the intended benefits. Just remember, no chewing. :)

While on the cleanse, drink as much water as you feel like or need, but be sure to consume at least 1½ liters throughout the day. Always begin the day with warm water with lemon, as this will assist in flushing your digestive system, preparing your stomach for food by increasing stomach acid, and alkalizing your entire system. Herbal teas are a great alternative to coffee, and you can choose ones that are particularly detoxifying, such as burdock, cleavers, chickweed, yarrow, nettle and plantain.

 

RECIPES COMING SOON! STAY TUNED!!

TEACHER TRAINING 2015

Taking a quick detour from Mindful Living to introduce the 2015 Hot Yoga Teacher Training at HYEN! I am beyond excited to host my teachers from Bikram Yoga Seattle, who will be leading an exceptional training in the “Hot 26” – Bikram-style yoga. By “my teachers,” I mean these are my O.G.’s, my  yoga instructors, my influences, my inspirations, my gurus if I were to have a guru. I look up to them and consider them the best teachers I have ever practiced under, and they want to come HERE to teach YOU! I am confident that this training will completely change the lives of anyone who attends, as my training did me and as this yoga did 10 years ago in my life. With over 50 years of combined experience, Kevin and Sarah will be bringing a wealth wisdom and technical knowledge. Their unique personalities, their deep care for their students, and their passion for this practice will no doubt inspire each of us in our practice our teaching. I am excited to sit with them and learn. Just soak in everything. I personally plan to attend every hour of the training and feel so fortunate to have this opportunity. They are excited too! Registration is beginning now. It will be 5 weekends in late Sept through early November (every other weekend). Just Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $3,000 for early registration or $3,300 after June 15th. More below:

Hot Yoga of East Nashville Hot 26 Teacher Training 2015: September 19 – November 15 (every other weekend)

The Instructors:

Kevin Cooke

Kevin began practicing yoga in 1978.  In 1980, he met Margaret Iris, one of the very first Bikram method yoga teachers in the United States.  Margaret ran Bikram Choudhury’s San Francisco studio from 1975-1979, prior to moving to Ashland, Oregon to start her own studio.  Kevin practiced for seven years under Margaret’s instruction; and began teaching for her in 1984 and by 1986 was running the Ashland studio.  Kevin attended the very first teacher training led by Bikram Choudhury in 1997. Thirty-five years after meeting Margaret, Kevin credits her for giving him the foundation and inspiration for his practice.  Kevin, in turn, has inspired and continues to inspire countless students attending classes at his Seattle studio – the first and longest-running hot yoga studio in Seattle and all of Washington.  His tremendous energy, experience, wisdom and humor both inside and outside of the yoga room have made him a beloved teacher to many.

Sarah Grace

Sarah has spent over 15 years practicing and studying yoga in the Bikram method and beyond.  She began a frequent, dedicated practice in 2000 at Kevin Cooke’s Seattle studio, and began teaching there in 2003, after completing Bikram Choudhury’s 500 hour teacher training at his Los Angeles headquarters.  In 2013, Sarah sought additional training and education and completed the 200 hour teacher training at the Samarya Center for Ashtanga Yoga and Integrated Movement Therapy, with a special emphasis in anatomy and yoga therapy.  She continues to teach both Bikram method and Vinyasa style yoga and is currently studying Ashtanga yoga under Troy Lucero in Seattle.  After 15 years and counting, Sarah continues to be amazed and inspired by the natural intelligence, insight and sense of connection revealed by a consistent yoga practice.  She seeks to draw forth these qualities in students of every age, experience level and ability with her skillful, patient and thoughtful teaching style.

The Training:

The HYEN Hot 26 Teacher Training is an opportunity for you to acquire the necessary foundation, knowledge and skills to teach a Hot 26 hatha yoga class to all levels of practitioner.  The training includes discussion and practice of teaching techniques related to classic hatha yoga postures and breathing exercises, a specialized look at both gross anatomy and energy anatomy, an introduction to yoga philosophy, development of skillful speech and voice communications and instruction of modification of poses for special needs.  The course is designed with two goals in mind: giving you the skills to become a confident, effective teacher in any setting, and supporting the continued development of your personal practice.

It is recommended that applicants have a minimum of one year of hatha yoga practice experience; exceptions may be made on an individual basis with consideration of unique experience and a written recommendation from the owner/director of your home studio.

As a trainee, you can expect:

-Detailed discussion of each posture and how to teach it – proper technique, breathing, and sequencing of instructions

-Instructions in learning to “see” your students – proper alignment, adjustments and appropriate modifications

-Anatomy and physiology related to the postures

-An introduction to yoga philosophy (the 8 Limbs) & energy anatomy (the chakras)

-A thorough discussion and understanding of teacher ethics and responsibilities

-Instruction on developing effect speech and voice communication

What will be expected of you:

-Be on time and prepared to actively participate in all training sessions.

-Class will be held Sept 19&20, Oct 3&4, Oct 17&18, Oct 31&Nov 1, Nov 13&14. Saturdays will be 8 am to 9 pm and Sundays will be 8 am to 6 pm.

-Read 3 assigned books

-Practice 7x/week at HYEN (6 weekday classes, and mandatory attendance in the 8am Saturday class)

-Demonstrate thorough understanding of all material, including any homework assignments and assigned outside reading.

Cost:

$3,300 for registration after June 15th.

$3,000 early bird registration between April 15th and June 15th.

KEEPING OUR EYE ON THE PRIZE

It’s March. It’s actually three-quarters of the way into March, which means it’s over one-quarter of the way into 2015. Yikes! And also, slow down! But time never listens. He just keeps on tickin’ at the same speed day in and day out. As always, it is me who needs to slow down. Every so often – perhaps on days with which I find some extra moments of stillness to think – I think about my goals, take a brief inventory of my progress and, hopefully, refocus. Sometimes and for some goals, I’m pretty much on track. I get to pat myself on the back and just ride the momentum onward to the top of the mountain. Other times, with respect to other goals, I am shocked to notice where I am in comparison to where I intended to go.

Some goals send me clear signals to let me know when I am on or off track. Immediate gratification when I am practicing moderation in eating and drinking by the reward of energetic mornings, a happy attitude toward my wardrobe, and a fresh face to greet the day with. Or in contrast, when I am not practicing moderation or remembering my goals, I receive that swift kick in the butt, which comes in the form of ill-fitting jeans, indigestion, and the guilty memory of fried foods in the wee hours. It may not be fun, but it is simpleenough to observe these consequences, refocus and do better the next day. In other words, I don’t let myself get off track for too long because honestly, I wouldn’t have anything to wear, and that would be a real problem. Though I stray here or there and would like to find more balance, I can at least return to my intentions in a relatively short amount of time.

It is those other goals that are more lofty or idealistic, which tend to have more subtle consequence-signals to remind me that I am getting off track. Being kind to strangers, living authentically, speaking from the heart, leading by example. You know, those little ole things. Those goals can be up in the sky and I don’t look up to see them and remember them very often. Days and weeks go by that I haven’t consciously been any kinder to the strangers I’ve encountered than that State Clerk was to me when I was waiting in line at the DMV for a new driver’s license. Getting caught up in the hustle and bustle at work, the mundane annoyances and the running of errands, I forget to lead by an example of openness and selflessness. Instead, I become short and snappy with an attitude of “figure it out for yourself.”

And then this one here . . . I was specifically instructed by my 97-year-old grandmother this last July that I am to “wait for the very best one.” She’s not worried that I’m in my 30’s and not married. She says it’s just as well, as it can take a good long while to find the very best one. Her words touched me deeply at the time and have ever since then when I stop to remember them. But how often do I look at the dating landscape with my grandma glasses on? Are the ones I am considering around me the “very best ones” by my grandma’s standards. Not even close. Not yet anyway. But I can get very far from the path to the very best one as I walk the roads of Nashville and make justifications for many of the candidates I see, or use my imagination to dream up how great they could be if I were to change them. I don’t think that’s what my grandma meant by waiting for the very best one. I think she meant WAIT. Until the best one comes along. Not attempt to change a mediocre one into a good one.

So again, how do I stay on track? How do I keep my eye on the prize? How do I remember the things I want and take the steps to get them or be ready for them when they come to me? Per usual, mindfulness stands out as a practice that could greatly help. Living with intention in every little thing. I can hear my dad as he used to lecture us kids when we’d gotten into trouble, “you’ve got to THINK before you DO.” It’s easy to go with the flow and do what all the other kids are doing, even when it is obviously leading to nowhere good. It’s harder to blaze your own trail. Sometimes mindfulness and living intentionally require us to stick to our own path, however long and hilly and solitary it may be. It also requires faith. We have to believe in our dreams with all of our might and have faith that our path will lead to the treasure, providing a beautiful journey along the way.

At the same time, part of that journey is the lesson of perseverance – getting back up when we fall. Not wallowing in our failures or being waylaid by some hurdle that comes along. Instead, when the difficulties come, we learn resiliency. I have to learn this lesson over and over again. I get better at it but I still have more practice ahead of me. In my yoga posture, when I fall out, I learn not to waste energy moping about the fact that it wasn’t as good as yesterday. I get back into it and make the most of the rest of the time I have to practice it that day. When I fall off my course, I must give myself grace, learn a lesson, and waste no time in getting back to living full-heartedly and giving my all to whatever it is I am doing.

In all this talk of keeping my eye on the prize and sometimes loosing sight of that prize, it may seem that all I do is criticize myself. But that is not my purpose. Self- reflection and critique is simply an expression of faith in ourselves – that we can become all of what we were made to be. An acknowledgement that the work in us is not yet finished and that our imperfections can be viewed through courageous eyes that aren’t afraid to see things as they are and believe in what can be.

I want to end with a short story. A story about balance and enjoying life. A girlfriend and I set out the other night to take a walk in the nice weather and maybe treat ourselves to a little something along the way. We walked and walked and talked and laughed as girls often do. We shared stories of growing up and teenage years and memories of family and friends. We talked about the people in our present lives and what they were going through and how we desired to be there for them. We stopped for some refreshments in the forms of hummus, pita, chips, and beers. We walked some more and stopped for a final treat. It was going to be just a coffee but some muffins in the display case looked so good, we had to try them. We shared a couple of muffins (we had to try both kinds). Something we don’t normally do in our anti-carb society. We laughed more and talked about all the things we love eating (like cereal and pad thai and Mitchell’s Deli sandwiches) …. like girls often do. The muffin was glorious, and the company was even better. We may not have planned to eat amuffin that day but you can’t plan everything. Women have been eating muffins together for hundreds of years, and there’s no reason we should stop now. It was, in actuality, a night of mindfulness as we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of being alive. “Intentions” came up more sporadically (less like planned intentions and more like “why nots?”) but we allowed them in. We talked about the past, we lived in the moment, and we created memories for the future. Mindful living in practice. Grace and flexibility with our intentions. Balance and authentic living.

THE MARATHON – BY SARAH NORRIS

This is a story about running but really it’s about yoga. And when we talk about yoga really we’re talking about life. They’re the same. How do we know that yoga is working? Our lives are better and more fulfilling; we have clarity and our relationships are improving.

The Sanskrit word prapti describes shortening the distance between where you are and what you want. Learning that where we choose to focus our energy is where our lives are going has been and remains the sweetest nectar of practice, even and sometimes especially when yoga/life is hard and hot, uncomfortable, aggravating, and there’s a voice in our heads telling us that we can’t go on or we’re not doing it right and should give up and admit defeat. I’ve developed over time so much compassion and gratitude for that voice—my harpy, ungenerous, frightened inner critic—because as soon as it suggests failure, I know I’m doing something right. To feel afraid I won’t succeed is proof that I’m taking a risk.

Growing up, I hated sports. Forced to serve time on teams, I wildly swung softball bats and slogged through swim practice, never hitting a home run or placing first. Assigned to defense on the soccer field, I skulked in the grass like Ferdinand the bull, braiding chain necklaces out of clovers. When the ball was kicked towards me, I jumped up and down, hands flapping, shrieking, “Somebody, do something!” In the seventh grade, I managed to get my orthodontic braces tangled in the badminton net during P.E. class. The universe had a message: it was better for everyone if I stayed on the bench.

After my father took over as our YMCA basketball coach when I was in fourth grade, he had a much higher stake in our victories and losses than I did. I would have preferred to hunker down with a paperback, lapping up a bowl of Rocky Road. Understanding that my dad and I would likely never bridge the divide between his obsession with and my aversion to activities that wouldn’t appeal to a housecat, I showed up for my basketball games to support him.

My father is a born-again super athlete. After college and before law school, during a period he refers to as the “lost years,” he supported himself as a pool player. He rented a creaky-floored apartment in Nashville, only blocks away from the house where he grew up on Fairfax, furnished with only a mattress on the floor. One day a little girl from an apartment above popped in and looked around before asking, “But where’s the television?”

The scope of his ambition changed one afternoon while hanging onto the door frame of his parents’ basement, when he realized he could only do one pull-up. Every morning since, for four decades, he’s woken up while it’s still dark so he can exercise. Last month, at 65, he finished a marathon in just over four hours, qualifying for Boston in 2016.

Throughout my twenties in New York City, I walked everywhere and practiced yoga, meditating regularly. As for running, I found it ridiculous that people willingly “did laps” or, on a treadmill, went nowhere as quickly as they could, with faces set in fierce and sometimes grim determination. I loved to sit still for hours, which I viewed as an integral part of my identity: not a competitive athlete.

Then one night, eating Chinese food shortly after my fiancé and I had broken off our engagement but were still together, I opened a fortune cookie that read, “You have to do the thing that you least want to do.” Stabbing a piece of tofu with one chopstick, I determined that the last thing I’d ever want would be to finish a marathon. Feeling waylaid in romantic purgatory—knowing my relationship was over but not having the guts yet to let it go—the prospect of running struck me as radical. Necessary. I resolved to take on a marathon. I’d do it with my dad.

“How about the half?” my dad suggested gently, offering to email me a training schedule. This will be a breeze, I told myself as I set out to jog the following morning. A few blocks later, legs aching, I realized I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I had to learn how to run. First, humiliatingly, I had to learn how to walk. What had my arms been doing my whole life? Coming along for the ride. They had no idea how to get involved in what my feet were doing. Anger about my inability to quit my relationship got me started but I kept running because I got hooked. I leapt through snow and cyclones of trash, when my fingertips turned white from the cold, and on the evenings when I wanted most to get together with friends to drink red wine on fire escapes instead of taking Epsom salt baths because my body was so sore. Still, again, most days for months, I forced myself through those clunky rhythms until it was easier and more satisfying to run than not.

On race day my dad and I stayed side by side. Or, rather, he slowed his pace to stay with me. He timed every mile so we wouldn’t burn out in the beginning. After awhile, I didn’t mind the rain on my face and the cramp in my calf went away. When we got to the 13-mile mark in less than two hours, my father slowed down to let me cross first. I bounded over the final 30 feet in a rush of endorphins and gratitude for my dad. I hadn’t broken any records, but secretly it stood as my triumphant Rocky moment: the reward in every step. I had challenged my view of who I was and what I was capable of, and the result was victory to my spirit. I felt my heart pounding; I felt strong in my body. My relationship with my then-boyfriend wasn’t over yet but in that moment I knew that it would end and that I would be OK.

The idea that sweating and effort wasn’t for me? Or that it was best if I didn’t show up? Or showed up only to give up? These were only as true as I’d made them, and they weren’t anymore.

Now 34 and happier than I’ve ever been, I choose joy every day. I choose bliss. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get upset, sad or frustrated, but I know that how I react is my responsibility. I choose to be here, wherever I am, and learning from as well as teaching my students to be present. That’s the breath. That’s the amazing grace of being present. On my steering wheel I taped a little piece of paper that reads, “It’s not them.” When I lose patience or get distracted or overwhelmed, I know I need to let it go. I know I can come back. I keep coming back. I fall and come back. I take bigger risks now, succeeding more and also failing better, with more courage. I don’t run regularly but I’m on my mat most days. Sometimes when I don’t feel want to, when it’s hard and my eyes sting from sweat and I have a to-do list that’s spilling over. It’s never a mistake to practice. I don’t always do what I know I need to do in order to show up and be my best in the world, but I know that practice is one of those cores. The times I feel I’m too busy or stressed are when I need it most. The extent to which we feel annoyed by anything in our lives is the extent to which we need our yoga practice.

To show up, to stay the course, to stay focused and intentional, to forgive myself when I get distracted and return to being mindful of my breath and to be present, to get comfortable getting uncomfortable, to trust this process as a catalyst for growth physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually: that’s the practice. That’s prapti. It’s giving up complaining and excuses to make room for what we truly desire. No one else can do this for us. If you’re searching for that one person who can change our lives, look in the mirror.

SNOW WEEK

It’s been a snow week – for some more than others – but for most of us, we have been affected in some way by the snow and ice storm. Maybe you had the whole week off work, maybe you got to show up late for a couple days, or maybe you had to work extra to cover for someone who could not make it into work. Whatever the case, your schedule was likely altered, and your routine was surely interrupted. This was probably a positive thing if you had some unexpected time off, some freedom from being at a place at a certain time. Maybe you got to spend time with family or friends, maybe you caught up on sleep, maybe you had to be creative making meals out of the things that have been sitting in your cupboard or freezer, maybe you walked to the coffee shop instead of driving like you do most days. A spirit of adventure and spontaneity might have taken over as you lived out your day a little differently. You might have felt more connected to others as you all crowded into the one open coffee shop in your hats and boots. You might have even met a neighbor you never knew before!

 

It’s interesting how it takes a mild emergency to get us to slow down a little. I also found it incredible how I could make work for myself and create some routine even when I was “off the hook” for those very things. As always, I’m reminded that I have farther to go on my intentions and more mindfulness to practice. The thing is, there is a time to rest and a time to work. When we have a chance to rest, we should do our best to use it without thinking of the task we have to do after our rest is over. When it is time to work, we should do it 100 percent so that we feel we have done our best and feel a sense of accomplishment for that. Maybe we Americans just have a harder time with these concepts because we are told to work 40 to 60 hours a week so we do it sometimes begrudgingly, and our idea of rest usually involves the addition of distractions like watching Netflix or scrolling through social media feeds. When we have unexpected time without work, if we sit without a distraction for very long, we will inevitably start planning what we are going to do next. We put ourselves right to work again. I am one of the worst offenders at bad resting habits. I notice my habits often in savasana when I’m supposed to be resting but realize I’ve quickly turned my mind to planning, making lists, getting things done by just thinking about doing them. Being productive. But how productive is it to constantly be in motion or be distracted, even when I’m not actually moving my body physically?

 

If we can rest when it’s time to rest, it really is more productive in the long run, so I have to think of it this way to keep myself from making other work for myself to do while I’m resting. Fully resting helps us conserve energy so we can use that energy when it’s time to work. And we do love to work. That was apparent when 22 people showed up for yoga at 10 am after being snowed in for just one day. We like our work and our routine just as much as we like our rest. And we don’t have to feel bad about that. The thing to do is to be present in both. Enjoy the rest, enjoy a small indulgence, enjoy a day off of the routine with mindfulness. Minding the fact that it’s healthy and minding the fact that you can resume the work or the routine even stronger the next day. I do well with routines and goals but I tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of girl, so when I take a day off, it can turn into 3 or 4 days off or a few weeks off. Good thing my jeans don’t let me raise hell for too long. However, the point of all this is that it shouldn’t be the job of my jeans to keep me from going off the deep end. A little indulgence here or there is healthy, and it doesn’t mean the whole day or week is shot. It’s a state of mind. A state of mindfulness.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday this week. I’m not Catholic but I’m familiar with Lent and the idea that people give things up during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday to practice moderation and to preparation for Easter. It has always seemed a novel idea to me, even if it’s not my own tradition. First of all, structure and boundaries, but more than that, structure for a reason. Purposeful sacrifice and mindful moderation. With New Year’s Resolutions becoming foggy and after taking my snow days pretty seriously, I started to think that maybe I should try this tradition out for myself – 40 days of focused moderation.

I’m a day or two late to the game but as I consider picking 2 or 3 things to give up, I found the following questions and suggestions (from another blog by Rachel Evans) helpful.

 

  1.  What am I preparing for? How would I like to feel different when I wake up on Easter, after 40 days             without something I normally have?
  2. Is there something in my life— a form of excess, a habit, a grudge, a fear, a prejudice, an addiction, an emotional barrier —that keeps me from loving myself, loving my neighbor, or loving God fully? How might I address that over the next 40 days?
  3. Lent is a time to listen. To God or yourself or something you believe in. And to those who might show you something about yourself or God – particularly the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and suffering. To whom should I be listening? How can I cultivate a listening posture toward others whose perspective and experiences might differ from my own?
  4. Is there a discipline you’ve been wanting to try – prayer, meditation, reading a particular book? How might I alter my daily routine to include one of these disciplines?
  5. Other things you might want to consider “giving up” are things that might allow you more time or mental/emotional capacity to allow the things you do want: social media, sleeping in, TV, perfectionism, comparison, cynicism (replace with wonder, compassion, and hope).
  6. And finally, one ”fast” that has crossed my mind this week is the idea of giving up the consumption of people for Lent. Our culture (through social media, reality TV, celebrity gossip, etc.) has so profoundly commodified people—actual human beings— it’s become a phenomenon we hardly even notice anymore. If we practice mindfulness towards people over the next 40 days, can we start to notice when people, even ourselves, are being commodified and consumed and can we choose not to join in and propagate the problem. Can we stop the cycle when it comes to ourselves?

MINDFUL LIVING – WEEK 5

I am on a retreat. I am in-flight actually, but my retreat has already begun. I awoke to the new week yesterday morning, and my first thought was literally, “God, give me something to do this week.” I don’t usually have such lofty thoughts first thing in the morning, or really any thoughts at all…. it was certain to be an unusual day. Truthfully, it has already been an unusual year for me. In terms of my work and my time, I am closer to my goals than ever before. It’s a destination I’ve been running towards for about 3 years, with this particular point in focus, but overall, I’ve been running the race for much longer. High school – 4.0 and no less because I was planning ahead to get into any college I wanted. College math and science major (with no time for anything else) because I was planning to get a job in engineering. Master of Science and thesis in hydrogeology because I was planning to get a job in the Hydro Group at GeoEngineers. Eleven years of working as a consulting geologist because I was planning to start my own business later on. Selling everything, leaving my friends and bands, moving to Nashville, working 3 jobs at once, and risking the previous 16 years of effort to build this new life. A “simpler” life where my passion is my work, and I am my boss, and I have more time for hobbies and friends and me. Always planning ahead and looking forward to the future. We all do it. The next weekend, the next vacation, the next season, the next life event…. We are always looking forward and planning ahead. It’s natural. We have goals and they help us grow up and achieve things that we want and are proud of. But it can be hard to live mindfully in the present moment when we are so focused on the destination, which is always out in front of us, just out of reach.

After years of these habits, apparently, one day Future Life walks through your door unannounced, sits down on your couch and waits for you to look up from your very busy, important life. “Oh hello, I was just sitting here waiting for you to notice that I got here.” Of course, life is always there for the experiencing, but there are finite points in time when goals are achieved – some are momentous like receiving a degree, while others are gradual and take years to accomplish such that you may not realize when you are finally there. I am trying to figure out why Future Life doesn’t feel like I thought it would and how I can fully embrace Future Life without looking more. “Oh hey Future Life. Yeah, you’re alright but now I’m going to need to also remodel the house, fit into my skinny jeans the way I did after that one breakup, get a new tattoo, . . . Oh, and find my soul mate to hang with now that Future Life is here. It’s not really perfect until. . . “ It seems like we can say that forever.

It’s weird when you imagine the future – where you’ll live, what you’ll be eating for breakfast (including the table you’ll be sitting at with sun always beaming through the windows and the white cotton pajamas you’ll be wearing as you look and feel as fresh as a daisy), how you’ll arrive at your job ready to change the world each day, the friends you’ll share meals and laughs and walks with. And somehow, even if your reality comes close to achieving that scenario, it never quite feels the same as when you dreamed it playing out in your mind. It doesn’t feel as serene as we imagined. It feels normal. Average. It’s just me, I guess. It’s not that girl in the white pajamas. Maybe the answer to removing the mundane and revealing the beauty is as simple as Mindfulness. Being present to notice and enjoy what you choose to eat and are blessed to eat for breakfast – whether the sun is shining on you through the window or you are watching the rain watering the ground outside. Even noticing if you are focusing on the rain itself and the fact that it might make you cold when you go outside or focusing on what the rain brings – hydration and life to the earth and the promise of spring and summer. Being self-aware enough to know that you have never owned white cotton pajamas and you prefer your old sweats, thank you very much. Mindfully extending grace to yourself when you wake up looking less than daisy-fresh. Giving your all to your job – at every task, big or small – so that you can make a difference in other people and the world. If Future Life is here, or rather just, Life is here, it is time to practice Mindfulness. Not a moment to loose, not an experience to pass us by unnoticed or regarded as mundane.

So back to my question yesterday morning. I had 4 days ahead of me that were almost commitment-free. Since that never happens, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste an opportunity. I wanted to do just the right thing with the gift of time and savor every bit of it. I had actually been thinking over this the previous night, and had only come to a point of frustration at the options to do nothing or to do everything and to do it in what order. I even started fantasizing about 60-hour work weeks, waking up at 6 am, speeding down highways and road raging to get to the next place, stressing out over what yoga class I could fit into my schedule that day… “wasn’t that exhilarating?” I thought . . . . Oh the irrational places the mind can go at night. . . . Mindfulness – sometimes the mindful thing to do is to remember that you cannot always make rational, mindful decisions late at night after a glass or two of wine. It can be very mindful to just leave the thing alone and pick it up again in the morning. I woke up picturing my ideal day – spending time at a coffee house reading and writing, doing yoga, eating amazing food, walking around a city, visiting friends – and then it hit me. Seattle. The place I can do all of these things, and now, without working the other 8 to 10 hours of the day. I always wanted to take a Stay-cation in Seattle but in 11 years, I never did. Now I can, which was indeed one of my defined and ultimate goals of the simpler, Future Life. And so, I will. Embracing Future Life without hesitation and without second-guessing. I will return to my homeland to rest and rejuvenate, to practice being present and mindful in Future Life here and now. A savasana.

  • Buti yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Bikram yoga,  Hot yoga,  East Nashville
    Permalink Gallery

    BREATH IS LIFE – 7 BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR BIKRAM-STYLE YOGA

BREATH IS LIFE – 7 BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR BIKRAM-STYLE YOGA

by Wendy Westmoreland

Seems pretty obvious; ‘breath is life’. I think it’s safe to assume that at some point, most adults learn that although you can go a while without food, a few days without water, you can’t go more than a few minutes without air. Stop breathing, stop living – pretty simple concept. What’s interesting is that most humans hold their breath when they are afraid. Ironic, as it seems that is when we need it the most. It’s also interesting that breath is automatic; it still happens when we’re not focusing on it. That’s good news. Considering the part about holding our breath, humans probably can’t be trusted with the responsibility to think about every inhale and exhale … heck, some of us forget to eat (pointing at myself here!)

Yoga inherently teaches about breath. In Sanskrit, ‘Prana’ literally means life force. It is defined as life-giving energy or force of the universe. If there is no breath, there is no yoga, there is no life. ‘Pranayama’ is the process of breath control. Every yoga practice, every yoga posture incorporates some form of pranayama. I am a certified Bikram instructor. Therefore, I am writing specifically about pranayama of the 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in that series.

To my current knowledge (and I reserve the right to add to it as I travel this yoga path) there are seven identifiable pranayama or breathing techniques used in the Bikram series. Most obviously, there are beginning and ending breathing exercises – bookends, alpha and omega for a complete experience. Continue with your practice, keep listening to the words, explore your breath and you will be able to identify the others.

Normal breathing: There are many ways to label this kind of breathing but put in simplest terms, it’s equal inhale and exhale. This is the base for most breathing in the 26 hatha yoga posture series. The breaths can be short and shallow or long and deep but ideally, they are equal to each other. Holding your breath for just a millisecond briefly interrupts the uniformity of the flow and is not considered ‘normal’ breathing.

Compressed breathing: Deep forward rounding, bringing your forehead to your knee(s), naturally compresses the front side of your body and the internal organs encased within. This includes your lungs. Exhaling all of the air out of your lungs as you round forward can help to find physical comfort. It alleviates pressure on the other organs. While compressed, there is room to take short and shallow breaths. Do the best that you can to make those breaths ‘normal’.

Savasana breathing: Dead body pose promotes relaxation. Breathing long, slow, deep breaths releases tension from the body, mind and spirit. It is very common for students to find difficulty with this breathing technique. We hold a tremendous amount of tension in our chest, shoulders, neck and face. Also, some of us habitually tense our abdominal wall. Watch how babies breathe and you’ll see that when they inhale, their bellies rise and when they exhale, their bellies fall. Learn to relax your abdominal wall, breath normal and follow the baby’s breath in savasana. Bonus! This breathing technique is an excellent remedy for insomnia.

80/20 breathing: This technique is helpful in postures executed belly side on the floor. When you are lying face down, it is difficult to take consistent, long inhales because your body weight is pressing down on your chest or abdomen. With 80/20, breathe in as you begin the posture, filling your lungs. Throughout the posture, keep most of the air in your lungs (80%) and exchange only small amounts (20%). Try to keep you breaths ‘normal’. Exhale all of your air out only as you release from the posture.

Sit-up breathing: There are many different sit-up techniques and corresponding pranayama. It’s agreed that sit-ups are front side compressions and that open mouth exhaling is beneficial. I find inhaling before and exhaling throughout execution to be effective for me. It supplies a quick spurt of energy while releasing a short blast of metabolic waste from my lungs – out with the old, in with the new.

What about breathing in backward bends and spine twists? Postures that include these kinds of spine manipulations are innately intense. In the beginning of your yoga life, you may find breathing deep intensifies discomfort in back bends and spine twists. In this case, try starting with short, normal breaths. With consistent practice, the body opens, becomes more strong and flexible. With time, the student achieves true relaxation and deep breathing may become more comfortable.

Breath is a tool and used correctly, it can bring release and relaxation to your practice, your body and your mind. To test this, think back on the effects whenever you yawn or sigh. Yoga is an intimate, individual engagement and pranayama is but one experience that demonstrates such. I encourage all yoga students to continue the exploration of breath throughout this life journey. Yoga teaches faith. Yoga also teaches how to be our own best teacher. Consistent practice builds a strong physical and mental foundation. Eventually, the yogi learns to trust that they will know what is needed and when.