Last weekend, I had plans to have tea with a student from my yoga class. We had been saying for months that we would get together and had finally set a date. I planned to get a certain amount of work accomplished in the first half of the day, and when the time to meet neared I realized I had not met my goal. I thought for a moment about asking if we could reschedule and was answered by my inner voice: “Stick to your commitments.” So I bundled up in my winter gear and stepped into the cold air. The snow had been whirling down from the sky all day. I walked the 15 minute path to the cafe, welcoming the feel of snowflakes on my face.

At the cafe, I ordered a green tea and sat at a small table, watching the door until I spotted my friend/student. I had not seen her in months and after we hugged, she pointed to her belly as she unbuttoned her coat. She was pregnant! She had trekked in the snow to meet me. She was happy to get outside and move her body, she said. We sat there, at the cafe, chatting about life for hours. It’s rare to meet people you feel completely comfortable around and she is one of those people.

I am working on sticking to my commitments (to myself and others) every day. Step by step. I realize now that every seemingly small decision counts, that all of the day-to-choices we make accumulate into something big: our reality. These daily decisions and habits are the threads of the tapestry that become our life experience. It’s okay if we mess up; it’s unavoidable (I shared this sentiment in my yoga class a couple of weeks ago and one student exclaimed aloud, “I’m in trouble!”). This isn’t meant to be a militant message (clean up your act or else!); it is simply a reminder that we have the power to change. At any moment. With each decision we confront.

Later that day, after meeting my friend for tea, I was back home doing research for a job I would be interviewing for and came across this sentence: “Excellent outcomes are the result of excellent habits”, followed with a quote by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.” I smiled at the synchronicity of the message.

I take a lot of classes during the week on YogaGlo (online yoga classes). One of my favorite teachers on the site, Marc Holzman, teaches a class called “The 60:60 Challenge for Endurance, Strength and Detachment.” Marc instructs us to hold each pose for 60 seconds throughout a 6o minute practice, committing fully to each posture, slowing down the practice enough to feel what’s happening in your body and mind. He reminds students that consistency, practicing each day (even if it’s only for 10 minutes) is the key to meeting your goals. It’s not the action of making goals that allows us to attain them (although that is step 1); it’s doing the work each day: that nitty gritty work that we love to avoid. Marc offers, the cool thing is that you can detach from the goal because you’re putting in the daily work that will take you to where you need to go; that’s when trust comes in. You can’t rely on motivation or inspiration alone, he explains, because those guys are fickle and elusive; it is consistency that you must befriend. For those of us who are not exactly consistent by nature (hello fellow Vata peeps), it is a hard earned lesson and one that needs to be learned over and over. And, yes, it takes discipline, Marc admits, but you get into a groove.

In the “60:60” class, Marc discusses the art of writing as an example of consistency. Lately, he shares, he has read a lot of blogs whose authors repeat the same message: the key to success is doing something, in this case writing, every single day (that annoying hashtag #yogaeverydamnday makes more sense to me now): wake up each morning and practice (yoga, write, meditate).

Last night, I was reading Sy Safransky’s preface to his new book, Many Alarm Clocks, in the February 2015 issue of The Sun, my favorite literary journal. He wrote this: “I write in my notebook early in the morning, almost always before the sun comes up. Some of the entries are long and carefully considered; some are just two or three run-on sentences; fragments of essays I’ll never write, snatches of conversation, postcards from the dream realm … I usually write each morning for at least one hour; on some mornings maybe a half-hour. Writing something every day is important to me – no matter how little sleep I’ve gotten or what mood I’m in. When I’m faithful to the practice, my skin has a rosy glow, the car starts in the morning, my cats come when I call. But I’m not always faithful. Sometimes I oversleep, or I wake up worried about an impending deadline and head straight to the office. Even then, I try to remember what the physician-poet William Carlos Williams said. He was also a busy man, known to compose poems between patients. He insisted that ‘five minutes, ten minutes, can always be found.'”

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I cringe at the phrase “let it go.” Not because it doesn’t hold meaning but because its
original meaning has been lost in a sea of spiritual clichés. Yoga teachers, myself included, often invite students to let go of thoughts or worries. But how do we let go? If only it was that easy, right? Let go, and poof!, your mind is pristine.

So what does it really mean to let go? Sure, it’s simple for a well-intentioned friend to flippantly encourage you to let go of an emotion or difficult experience, but, as most of us know, not quite as simple when you’re the person attempting to do the releasing. I think “let it go” can be irritating because it’s often used as though the phrase itself were a solution (i.e. blink your eyes or wave your wand) instead of a reminder of work that needs to be done. There may not be a magic pill to let go of your past or whatever it is you’re clinging to; however, you can begin simply by loosening your grip.

Baby Steps

I remember when a close friend told me to relax my body on a frigid winter day. To breathe into the cold rather than bracing against it (i.e., hunched shoulders, tense jaw, tense everything). And ya know something? It worked. I was still freezing my tush off but I was more comfortable in this tush-freezing state as I softened into the cold air, as I breathed with the harsh winds, and as I basically accepted, rather than tried to escape, the artic-like temperature.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a heart-opening restorative yoga workshop in Manhattan. Our teacher, Mona Anand, pointed out that the exhalation, which reflects the process of letting go in the body, is akin to generosity. When we are in this more generous state of being, there tends to be a sense of “flow” or connection in our lives. When we “hold on” or “hold in” (picture a person crossing her arms in front of her chest with rounded shoulders), Mona offered, we are in a self-protective state, which generally stems from fear and can cut off a sense of flow, or make us feel stuck.

Some of us have a hard time letting go of our physical possessions. The accumulation of physical stuff can reflect stuck emotions—emotions that have nowhere to go and therefore stagnate. I have a childhood friend who admits to having trouble discarding items she knows she no longer has a use for. She’s found a way of dealing with her desire to save everything she ever owned by first moving the item in question outside of the room where it’s located and into a hallway, where she can contemplate its next destination. Eventually, the item makes its way to her front door, where it usually sits for a period of time while she gets used to the idea of parting with it, until she feels ready to finally send it on its way. I think we can consider releasing old emotional patterns in a similar way. Slowly. Methodically.

Emotions begin in the body. We can feel where our emotions live if we tune into them. In a recent video on the Huffington Post, Pema Chödrön tells Oprah that the way to deal with suffering and discontent is to face it, not to run away from it. “Sometimes I say, ‘What does your heart feel like?'” explains Pema. “People will say, ‘It feels like a rock.’ ‘What does your stomach feel like?’ ‘It feels like a knot. It’s as if my whole body was clenched… because I’m so miserable.’ So, breathe in and let that heart open. Let the stomach open.”

We face emotions by sitting quietly, breathing, feeling them. Simple, but not easy when our impulse is turn on the TV or log onto Facebook.

That’s where the yoga comes in. We shift and change negative emotions by first bringing awareness to the body. We can start simple. We bring attention to our posture by lifting the sternum and dropping the shoulders. In seated postures we use blankets, if needed, underneath the seat. The added height helps to release tension in the hips and back so the spine can lengthen, which makes space for the breath to move freely through the body. When hunched over, we are closed off and it is difficult to breathe. Try it.

When we change the way we automatically interlace our fingers or the foot we always lead with, we are changing our habits. I have switched the interlacing of my fingers so many times in class that I no longer know which is the “weird” or “unnatural” way. They both feel right. I have stepped back to downward-facing dog so many times with my non-dominant leg that I no longer automatically lead with the same leg. When we change up our unconscious patterns, we can open to new ways of doing things, to different ways of being in the world. We can loosen the places in the body where we habitually hold by bringing awareness there, by imagining we’re sending our breath there. Over time, we coax tight muscles to soften through steady awareness, breath, and movement. In the same way, we strengthen weaker, underused muscles so that we can protect the vulnerable parts of our bodies. Do not underestimate the mind-body connection.

Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” It’s not that we must rid ourselves of something we don’t want, something “bad.” Instead, the key is learning to accept it. And the first step is to look at whatever it is that you are holding onto (as they say in the 12-step programs, “admit to having a problem”), to sit with it and be with it until you are ready to loosen your grip on it.

That’s what yoga teachers mean when we talk about “letting go.”

Original Article Date: January 2015

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shutterstock_162142580-584x364I’m a brand new yoga teacher. Newbie city. Being a beginner at anything, especially teaching, is challenging (to put it lightly), and I’ve been questioning my life choices and wondering how I’ll pay my looming bills, and if I’ll wind up in a garbage can.

But as a yoga teacher it’s my duty to inspire my students, to leave them feeling buoyed. I can’t tell them that I sometimes lose faith and feel like a giant mess. Well, I can, but they might not come back to class.

Is it more important to share philosophical reflections or to share my truth?

I’ll go out on a limb and say it probably won’t feel authentic if I go into class and tell everyone to trust in the universe, if I’m not feeling very trusting myself that day.

And what if my current truth is that things suck; how do I weave that into my yoga class? Remember Adam Sandler in Wedding Singer? Maybe I’ll become the depressed yoga teacher who, instead of sharing inspirational musings, tells her class that life sucks big wompom.

Meditate on THAT, people!

Okay, I probably won’t morph into a bitter Wedding Singer/Yoga Teacher, but I can share a story with my students about how sometimes things feel bleak (key word ‘feel:’ feelings are not permanent), and that that’s okay, because when we allow our feelings to ‘be’ they have a way of dissipating and transforming.

As Spiritual Teacher, Eckhart Tolle, says, most humans are in a conflict relationship with the ‘is-ness’ of life. His point is that we create more struggle and pain for ourselves by fighting against our present reality.  That fighting takes many forms – complaining, thinking negative thoughts, blaming others and ourselves, and thinking things should be different rather than accepting ‘what is’ and making decisions from that more peaceful place.

Can you align yourself with the ‘is-ness’ of your life today – whatever it may be? Can you share your truth with others even if it’s not neatly packaged? Can you share it because it’s not neatly packaged?

I believe we heal (ourselves and others) by telling the truth. By sharing our unadulterated truth (not some sugar-coated version of it), we are helping people to not feel so alone.

And that, I think we can meditate on.

My lovely yoga teacher shared this poem recently in class.  I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me…

Go in and in.
Be the space
Between two cells,
the vast resounding
silence in which
spirit dwells.
Be sugar dissolving
on the tongue of life.
Dive in and in,
As deep as you can dive.
Be infinite, ecstatic truth.
Be love conceived and born in union.
Be exactly what you seek,
the Beloved, singing Yes,
tasting Yes, embracing Yes,
until there is only essence;
the All of everything
expressing through you
as you. Go in and in
and turn away from
nothing that you find.

-Donna Faulds

Original Article Date: December 16, 2013

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feet_smallLife is messy.
Yet I spent most of my life trying to avoid the messy stuff.

As a kid, I remember tip-toeing to avoid a dirty floor surface, my camp counselor looking at me curiously and laughing at my disgust over the wet, sandy floor. I grew up in a house with a mom who was constantly on hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor in an “out, damn spot” sort of fashion.

What can I say? I was accustomed to a clean floor.

Our parents’ hang-ups have a sneaky way of seeping into our psyches and hearts, perhaps carrying on the legacy of those who came before us. And at the same time, they present an opening, an opportunity for change.

Although I am a hippy at heart and my feet love to be free, I still have a thing about walking sans shoes if I think the floor is dirty, has been stepped on by dirty soles (that have been God-knows-where), and I encourage friends (and more aggressively, family members) to take their shoes off when they come to my home.

While I stand by my no-shoes-inside rule, as my yoga practice deepens and old habits and patterns unwind, I begin to see the connections more clearly between my inner and outer worlds. And I begin to understand that there is something more to my avoidance of messy surfaces.

I am not only protecting my feet. I have been protecting my heart.

My dating history is spotty and bizarre. Dates and relationships have been rare, yet when I do meet someone, strange and inconsequential details like the color of the guy’s shoelaces become deal-breakers. Sorry, no-can-do on the green laces; next!

It has dawned on me that this tendency is a means to avoid intimacy.

Maybe the part of my brain that fears intimacy lights up at the first sign of it: danger, danger. I have, as a result, spent many years alone. Lonely, I should say, since you can be alone and fulfilled.

I have longed for someone to connect to, to share my life with in a deep, soulful way, yet I have continually gravitated to men who are not good for me in hugely obvious ways. They are unavailable due to emotional issues, addictions, dating around, being non-committal, or, in more extreme cases, married.

These broken men are the ones I obsess over, I believe on some innate, cellular level will cure my loneliness. Yep, absent papa issues wrapped up in there for sure.

But this has been slowly changing thanks to my yoga mat, and I am beginning to feel comfortable, whole even, in my aloneness.

From my yoga mat, I see out of my peripheral vision the whole class moving together in a meditative dance. Ujjyai breath like ocean waves. Movement and breath. Connection. I am suddenly aware in this moment that I am not isolated on my mat.

Sometimes in class, we become so in tune to our own practice (is my Warrior I perfect?) that we forget there are people around us and that we can tap into the power of this connection at any time. I suddenly know, from the deepest place inside of me, that I am not alone.

Recently, I was in the park with a guy friend. We were sitting, barefoot, on yoga mats under bright pink cherry blossom trees. The wind was out that day, all feisty and refreshing. I didn’t know this person well, had only recently met him, but felt comfortable around him like one would with an old friend.

As we were getting ready to leave, he walked across my mat, leaving big dirt footprints on it. I immediately started wiping them away, saying something like “Gross, my mat is all dirty.”

He helped me wipe away the dirt, smiled at me, and said, “That’s life.”

Indeed, I thought to myself, that’s life.

Later that day, I went to my yoga class and another student commented that she liked my shirt. I pointed out that it, unfortunately, now had holes in it from my devilish but beloved two-year old kitty who I cannot keep from biting and eating my things. Without missing a beat, she said “You can have love in your life or you can have things.”

She went on to describe how messy her husband can be and that she realized at some point that she could have love or a clean house, and she chose love. I thanked her, telling her it was the exact message I needed to hear and laughed inwardly at the perfection of the universe.

In class that day, the theme of the sequence was “heart openers,” poses that warm up your upper body, especially the chest and shoulders (chronic areas of tightness for me) so that you can physically open up the heart area.

I get it, universe. Namaste.

Original Article Date: August 14, 2013

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