Mantra for March
By Laura Mills
Gloves, hats, and scarves in March? Maybe…but so late in March? With spring’s arrival, spring break approaching, and Passover and Easter right around the corner, the extra-frosty air and brutal wind seem quite out of place. Sure, we had a stretch of really mild weather back in December when we expected cold…now that the weather is “supposed” to be warming up, though, the cold just doesn’t seem to want to leave.
But yogis, take heart! 2013’s weather so far has much to teach us. The lingering cold invites us to continue our practice beyond our mats, as unexpected challenges like this lead us—if we’re open and accepting—into new ways of approaching life, into places where we need to return to our breath and revisit our intentions. We slow down, look inside ourselves, and observe what’s there at the present moment. Meanwhile, the spring kept at bay invites us to step up our practice of patience. Not the strained patience of a parent or teacher begging Mother Nature to ease up so the kids can play outside, but rather the patience of a seed just under the earth, frozen, dormant, waiting for the perfect moment. This is a patience that reaches deep beyond the choice of how to respond; it reaches into the realm of following nature’s cues, of letting nature lead. To the seed, when it’s time, it’s time.
Remember that, no matter how we perceive our weather and its changes, winter never just gives up and spring never just takes over from there. Instead, winter flows away, and spring flows in. Any given year—when it’s time, it’s time. The planet breathes and moves in a practice all its own; no matter how long it holds any pose, it always encourages us to join in.
One Way or Another
By Laura Mills
I was feeling great, better than ever, about yoga at the beginning of this year, for I had recently discovered deeper places in both my physical and mental practices. But over the next months a variety of ups and downs lured me away from my mat…and when I returned to a regular practice in July, the challenges I met overwhelmed me. Something I had thought as simple as a Basic Vinyasa, for example, actually HURT, and even Low Lunges wouldn’t happen without aches and wobbles. I nearly cried on my way home from my first class back, and as my “yoga mood” fell, so did my confidence.
Only after a few weeks did I see that before me lay a chance to live one of my favorite yogic teachings. I often theme my classes around it, in fact: the importance of accepting ourselves as we are. It’s a choice we make, when things change or don’t turn out the way we want, at that dynamic point between utter despair and genuine “Ah, whatever.”
I chose acceptance. Which didn’t mean I was any more thrilled to be sore after sequences that hadn’t challenged me a few months before, or that I laughed when I pulled out of Side Angle or toppled out of Tree. But it did mean that I no longer measured that day’s practice against that of any previous day. It also meant that with every breath I restored peace to my heart, and that when I rolled my mat at the end of practice I did so with self-love.
I choose acceptance, as many times as I possibly can when I need to make that choice.
Easy? No. But then most of life’s most worthwhile choices aren’t easy at all, are they?
By Laura Mills
The other day, while driving to an appointment for which I was nearly late, I found myself coasting behind a car traveling way under the speed limit. While I normally would have switched lanes and passed, on this day a police car traveled immediately behind me...so I stayed in my lane, squeezing the wheel, gritting my teeth and watching the clock.
Something that surprises people—including me, when I first began my practice—is that yogis still get stressed. And we get stressed about more than only life’s greatest challenges. The simplest, everyday things like running late, needing to drive more slowly than desired, misplacing keys, realizing the cat avoided the litter box again…no matter how advanced in yoga our practice, by virtue of our humanness we still experience stressful moments. And for me, such moments include the rise in blood pressure and quickening of the heart that I used to believe I practiced yoga to eliminate. In fact, in the wake of such moments I used to think, “What kind of yogi am I? What’s going on?”
Thankfully, today I know a lot more about what yoga really is…most definitely not a collection of poses and breathing exercises that automatically fortifies one against stress. Rather, yoga is a method of opening body and mind, both on the mat and off, to make space within for the present. Yoga won’t keep me from experiencing stressful moments, but the space yoga creates frees up my awareness and reveals that I will survive regardless of them. Processing stress is, I believe, a practice as much as taking any series of asanas. And while even the most physically capable yogi can always go deeper, so can even the most stressed-out.
Remembering that—eventually—I relax my grip and enjoy the ride.
By Laura Mills
Last week I attended a 75-minute class that left me with achy hips and legs 24 hours later. I loved the class—it was one of those fast-flowing, core-centered sweaty practices—but the challenge caught me a little off-guard and left me wincing with every step long after Savasana ended.
Every yogi encounters moments like these on the mat. We struggle where we usually don’t and think, “Wait, I can usually do this without a problem. What’s wrong?” One of the most difficult things to do—on the mat as well as off—is to remain kind to and accepting of ourselves as we are. Until about ten years ago, I was used to surpassing most challenges with determination and hard work. But the challenges grew more difficult than I could handle, and I broke down…which is when yoga, thankfully, provided a safe place within which I could struggle but still ultimately find peace. I learned that all challenges, large and small, on the mat and off, eventually either pass or deepen into something that serves.
I believe there’s no safer place for a little bit of struggle than a yoga mat. It’s okay; we never push to the point of pain, but we learn to gradually accept struggle as a teacher while we mindfully assess, align and adjust our way towards more positive tomorrows.
By Laura Mills
Earlier this week I attended one of TBY's Restorative Yoga classes. I don't often practice Restorative, but this particular day I happened to be at the studio at just the right time. I love how I feel after a Restorative class, and I know I would definitely benefit from more frequent practice of it. But given a choice between Restorative Yoga and a more-quickly-moving Vinyasa flow, I opt for Vinyasa most of the time. As someone who can barely sit still even when tired, the thought of holding any pose longer than a few breaths doesn't thrill me and the thought of practicing supported, long-held poses for an hour or more actually intimidates me quite a bit.
But I suppose this is just where an opportunity for real yoga arises, since Restorative Yoga invites me to nudge myself just outside my well-established comfort zone. It asks me to open a little bit more than usual, both physically and mentally, and to balance my own practice with a style that soothes in an entirely different way. Yoga as whole is, after all, all about openness and balance, and the way I feel after a Restorative class shows me Iím on the right track.
By Laura Mills
Right now I am sitting at my kitchen table in front of my computer, having just finished my cereal, drinking coffee, listening to classical music. The patio door is open and I’m looking into my yard, and I’m hearing the chirps of crickets and birds. Of course, not every moment of my life is this easily sweet; just this morning before breakfast I dusted the living room, swept the kitchen, and fed and cleaned up after my cats. Soon enough, I’ll head back upstairs to get ready for work. But right now, in this moment, I am exactly where I want to be.
We all experience snippets of life like this in which the immediate circumstances just seem right. We are content to breathe and feel and be without immediately moving on to something else. We think, “Ah, so THIS is happiness.” Our challenge, I believe, as I discuss so often with other yogis, is to nurture the contentment of these moments and apply it to the times when life isn’t so accommodating. Our yoga practices help; with yoga, we encourage our bodies, minds and spirits towards lasting and perfectly balanced peace.
But in the meantime, we relish the peace that comes easily. We sigh, take a deep breath, and give thanks.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY GANESHA REMOVER OF OBSTACLES! GUEST BLOGGER RACHEL DEWAN
SEPTEMBER 21, 2010 FROM GUEST BLOGGER RACHEL DEWAN
Dear Peaceful Yoga Warriors,
It's Ganesh's birthday, so I hope you can join me on the mat this week to celebrate. Ganesh is the sweet, gentle elephant-headed deity of Hindu mythology. He is the bearer of auspicious beginnings, and he has much to teach us. Generally referred to as the "remover of obstacles" (join me in class to find out WHY...and how he got his elephant head!), the Tantric twist on the teaching is that he represents the obstacle itself. He is the reminder that challenges come up, that life is often hard, but that WE have the power to transcend and grow. When we actively engage with the challenges we face, rather than looking for someone (real or myth) to take them away, we live an awakened life of intention.
Join me 4:00pm Tuesday or 10:45am Friday for an empowering practice, facing our challenges head on with a little wisdom from our elephant-headed friend. Learn the story of Ganesh, delve into the iconography, do a little chanting (kind of like "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in sanskrit :-), and have an all around rockin' birthday party!
Kisses & blessings,
Rachel Dewan, ERYT and Anusara Inspired
MARCH 30, 2010: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” -Dr. Seuss
Dr Seuss is a stud for sure. As you know I’ve been selling my house. I have bombarded myself with ever more complicated questions related to why no one comes to see my house, why I can’t sell it, why did I pour a gazillion extra dollars in this last year to prepare it, why did I list it lower than I wanted to…and on and on. Well bottom line is that complicating my life with too many why’s and questions is only hurting me. The answer here is simple.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~Leonardo DaVinci
I am now trying to learn from this whole thing as it has been a really challenging form of yoga for me. I have come to realize that just like collecting poses doesn’t make you happy, well collecting too many chairs, tables, and “stuff” hasn’t made me happy either. So now I am simplifying. I am learning what Vernon Howard means “You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.”
On the mat we look for ways to conserve energy, to become more efficient and simple or subtle in the practice of asana. Therein lies its beauty or Shri. And the more we practice simplicity in class the more clear headed we become to recognize and seek that off the mat. We certainly don’t come to yoga to practice being more complicated! Which I looked up means Thorny, Dense, Convoluted, Intricate, Difficult, Problematic
Ugh. That’s not anything I want. I aspire to Lao Tzu description “Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” That is true abundance.
The reality is that life is simple. We can see the Shri in the world around us more easily with less stuff in the way! So may we all be satiated with what we have, not over stuffed and with courage may we will simplify those areas of our lives that feel thorny, dense or difficult. Peace in all ways, Silvia
PS THE ANSWER? It is love.
ENTHUSIASM IN THE WINTER: STOKE YOUR INNER FIRE
JANUARY 24, 2010: Gosh during the Winter it gets just a tiny bit more challenging to maintain the internal fire of enthusiasm. Ok to be honest it’s more than just a little hard. It is just out right challenging. I’m cold and surrounded by snow what is physically easiest is to CONTRACT. This is the exact reason why during this time of year here in the Midwest we must try harder to remain enthusiastic and light up our lives from the inside. By this I don’t mean reflect on how great summer was or day dream nonstop about Spring for those things take us out of the present. The only time we can be really happy is now. Heed the advice of the Alchemist, “Because I don't live in either my past or my future. I'm interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man.”
Happiness is a direct experience of enthusiasm. It is what we show on the outside to the world about how we feel inside.
This speaks directly to a favorite quote from the Alchemist, “There was a language in the world that everyone understood. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired. We are riding the wave when what we think and what we do are done from love with great enthusiasm and vigor. This happens when we are living in “the present.”
So there is a way here to use the challenge of Winter to help ourselves feel more alive! It is in this way that the emotional challenges of life are an opportunity to feel more human. “Even sadness opens a hidden doorway into being more alive! Just as anger can be a doorway into strength, even sorrow can trigger humility, and other profound spiritual emotions.”
This is why I so strongly encourage us to gently attempt these postures. I know you might say to yourself I can't do them but I’d rather have us face the discomfort of experiencing ourselves as beginners then get stuck or trapped in endless repetition of what we already know whereby our enthusiasm for life diminishes. You see when we give up in the face of challenge, we cheat ourselves of the immense satisfaction that follows from building any skill into understanding. It is not how or when we accomplish something it is that sense during the process of enthusiasm in just trying our best. Today, don’t wait until Winter is over to radiate joy and become interested in your life. Do it now. Life is too short not to stay engaged with ourselves. Love yourself, love your day, love your life! Silvia
COURAGE TO KEEP GOING
OCTOBER 13, 2009: We have a gazillion opportunities to practice courage each and every day. Not the land a plane safely, pick a car off a trapped person sort of courage but the quiet courage of daily life. There is nothing more heroic than not stopping the ride we’re on and just keep going. We don’t know what the outcome of our actions will be and likely it may not be the outcome we want it to be. Courage is saying Yes I don’t know what comes of this and Yes I will try none the less.
Courage in this practice comes from the heart. And our hearts are more resilient than sometimes we give them credit for being. “It is not easy to keep your heart open in the face of the trials of being human. Life can so often be difficult, disappointing. When we finally stop struggling with life, stop wanting it to be anything but what it is now – not giving up – then our heart will indeed fall open, and we shall know beyond all doubt that, however dark the night, all is already well.” (unknown author)
Fellow yoga teacher Sadie Nardini says “Alongside positive change, challenge appears. You will confront old fears, old ways of being, as you drive through to your soul. Along the road to your best life possible, be prepared for delays. There will be potholes, irritating construction, and long stretches of open space where nothing seems to be happening. That’s life, imperfectly perfect. The lag times and frustrations are necessary to hone your discipline and commitment to your path.” Yes having the courage to keep driving, not pull over and stop the car is like being in a pose in class and just staying with it or doing the same pose more than once in the same class, or practicing that pose over months of time where it still may be hard or nothing seems to be happening but nonetheless we keep showing up. When we have the courage to keep going we are really embracing our humanness and by doing so we embrace the perfectly imperfect nature of all people. We are doing the best we can, it simply is the doing the process itself that matters the most. Wishing you your own best courage! Sat Nam, Silvia
CYCLES OF LIFE BY GUEST BLOGGER MARA CAMPBELL
The thing that inspires me about this succession of life is that it never ends. After every ending, there is a new beginning. For instance, when a bone breaks, some of the cells will die but the bone will quickly start regenerating and will actually seek out similar cells to mend. Then the place where it was broken but has come together now becomes the strongest part of the bone! It is the death, that allows the rebirth of a stronger, transformed body. Another example is the prairie, where the burning of fire is necessary to release the seeds that are captured in strong shells.
Shiva, the destroyer is celebrated in Hindu mythology as much as Bhrama, the creator, or Vishnu, the sustainer, since they are connected in a constant loop of life and death and rebirth. A study on longevity found a common thread among those who live long is their ability to endure loss. This shows me it is not the losses that define us but rather how quickly we recover our emotional equilibrium after difficulties and allow the healing cycle to take place.
The inspiration for me comes when we remember this succession of life as we live our yoga. When we are in a challenging situation in life, do we cling to the drama, rehashing it over and over, staying stuck in past and future? We can actually get in the way of nature's cycle by not loosening our grip on our difficulties. I know I do this as I over analyze my life, trying to figure out my next steps or trying to understand the why things happened the way they did. Yet, the gift of the present moment is constantly moving, with or without my connection with it.
So we practice this on the mat; we present each other with challenges to learn about ourselves and practice the art of staying calm, centered and connected to the present moment. Our breath is there to help us on this journey and we practiced 4-part breath. We moved in circles to remind the brain that life is not a linear race but rather a series of cycles that expand and contract as we live our days.
As Rolf Gates states, We wake up, we are stiff, we are fatigued, our minds wander, we come to the mat, we forget, we loosen up, we relax, we have energy, we remember, we live, we sleep, we wake up, we are stiff, etc.
I hope to see you soon on the mat where we will continue to connect with our unique current moments within the cycles of life. Much peace, Mara
INCONVENIENCES OF LIFE AND LOVE
Life is simple not easy says Jon Kabat Zinn. Nothing is promised to us as easy. Life requires effort and discipline mostly because we have a lot working against us in keeping us mindful and present, more all the time to be honest. So a certain amount of work is required. And this is what inspired me today. When Pema Chodran says Life is so inconvenient I said to myself YES! that’s true. I just never heard it said so straightforward like that before. The word inconvenient is very different than something like saying life is hard. And what I’ve also found to be true is that following our hearts, love itself is inconvenient.
Pema Chodran writes, “when you hear some teachings that ring true to you and feel some trust in its being a worthwhile way to live then you’re in for a lot inconvenience. From an everyday perspective it seems good to do things that are kind of convenient; there is no problem with that. It’s just that when you really start to take the warrior’s journey – which is to say, when you start to want to live your LIFE FULLY, when you begin to feel this passion for life and for growth, when discovery and exploration and curiosity become your path – then basically, it you follow your heart, you’re going to find that it’s often extremely inconvenient.”
This single teaching continues to resonate with me, not just the first time but in all the years since. To read more check out her book The Wisdom of No Escape.
Hey remember when we were kids on a road trip with our parents and from the back seat we’d ask, “are we there yet?” So why were we asking? The truth is that it’s easier to just stay home. It’s a lot more convenient, especially for our parents but they took us on the road anyway. My own parents not only took us around the
The waking up is inconvenient. Quite frankly waking up to one’s life is very inconvenient. But Pema goes on to say, “But what spiritual practice teaches is that once you know that the purpose of life is simply to walk forward and continually to use your life to wake up rather than put you to sleep, then there’s that sense of wholeheartedness about inconvenience, wholeheartedness about convenience. If we choose cozy, safe as our primary reason to exist then this becomes an obstacle for our very existence in trying to live fully where we take chances, offer ourselves to making new choices, take a risk, explore.”
COMFORT ORIENTATION MURDERS THE SPIRIT
When we are on the path, involved in our own pilgrimage its inconvenient to be on the road (as a road warrior in the corporate world traveling 70% of the time I know this) but staying home and avoiding life but not engaging it is the death of our spirit. It’s not easy but certainly it’s worth the inconvenience to dare the difficult.
It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare;
It is because we do not dare that they are difficult. Seneca 4 BCE – 65BCE
You guys, really if you think about it there are lots of inconveniences about life. It’s inconvenient to buy groceries, it’s inconvenient to make the bed each day, to brush our teeth, to prepare our meals, to get sick, to lose your job, to have your kids throw up on you, to get divorced, to get married, to clean the house, to get gas, to have a baby, it’s inconvenient to find yourself embarrassed or heart broken too. Tell me what do you think is convenient? And is that meaningful?
The thing is that if we want to love life we’ll learn that the inconvenience is not the obstacle. Of course we’re going to get “poked and prodded like someone’s laughing in your ear, challenging you to figure out what to do when you don’t know what to do. It humbles you. It opens your heart.” (Chodran) And when it comes down to it I’d rather have my heart opened up then live life tight in the bud. I’d rather have something spectacular on my tombstone when this life ends than to have written, “had great health insurance and lived an ok life” So please really sit with this and see how it can change your life as it has mine. Love your day, your life, yourself! Silvia
The way of experience
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance;
Let me use danger as material for courage;
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering;
Let me use praise as material for humility;
Let me use pleasure as material for temperance;
Let me use pain as material for endurance.
-John Baillie (1886-1960)