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“A state of mind is always temporary.” ~Jack Kornfield

A huge part of yoga is the practice of letting go. Something I’ve been contemplating quite a bit lately is the letting go of judgment. The past two weeks, I’ve noticed much more anger, frustration, and judgment have welled up within.. and I didn’t know why. Recently, I had a visiting friend who I don’t see all that often..and I was Grumpy Grumps-A-Lot. And it made me feel badly that I couldn’t be not-grumpy – and faking cheerful giddy is for high school cheerleaders, something I’ve moved beyond. At first it was hard to recognize. Well, at least the reasons why were hard to recognize. I hadn’t felt like that in years, and I felt like I was losing my mind. Turns out it was due to a hormonal imbalance, but that’s beside the point. Practicing yoga teaches us to recognize the emotions that rise up in order to observe the root causes without judgment, so that they may pass. So just saying “oh it was all hormonal,” in my mind, is a cop-out for an opportunity to grow. Sure, perhaps my hormones did make me a little “get-bent”, but what caused the insanity was not the anger and frustration that manifested, it was my self-judgment of “why is this happening? why am I going crazy? why can’t I just let it go? WTF?” I noticed I was expressing my anger in my teaching – though my students may not have known it at the time.. I mean, it’s Ashtanga.. the Primary series is what it is. I was never aggressive with my adjustments, I just noticed myself being overly cautious to adjust in a hands-on manner because I didn’t want to physically express my frustration upon another person. So in that regard, my students might have sensed a pulling away from my usual hands-on approach.

Clarity is a funny thing. I discovered the root cause to the hormonal imbalance and rectified it. But it took a few more days to realize some other underlying causes to the wells of anger, frustration, and judgment. Of course, meditating on these emotions helped clear the cobwebs so that I could see what lied beneath. Tuesday morning, I taught a very aggressive Primary series – to which all the students responded with “that was great!” and the like. And I appreciate that they had a wonderful experience, that my pushing them as I worked out underlying issues in myself opened windows of self-reflection. Of course, *enter another self-judgment* I begrudged myself for working out MY issues while teaching THEIR class. Teaching is a time to give everything to the student, not work on my own issues – that’s what my practice is for. Perhaps a yoga class is catharsis on both sides – I always say I learn more from my students than they learn from me.

It wasn’t until the evening Primary series that same day I had a window open up for myself. I took it a bit different since I only had a couple of students, and they are open to having me play with it a little. I didn’t follow the exact layout of Pattabhi Jois *gasp*, but in that “rebellion from tradition” I discovered something beautiful. I threw in some Intermediate series poses in appropriate places, I held them in each pose a little longer and reduced the number of vinyasas, and instead of cueing alignment issues (since this pair is pretty spot on in their alignment), I discussed more the feelings of the posture – what does Uttitha Parsvokonasana feel like within you, and not on you..or what emotional whispers rise up as you work in opposite directions in Paschimottanasana or Marichyasana. Cues of that nature.. There was much laughter and experimentation when we tried some of the more challenging poses. It was a release I think we all needed. Then my Thursday morning Ashtanga, I taught in the same manner.. more self-reflective than alignment-based. The energy is the room was focused, inward. Whether they knew it or not, I feel that each one in the room touched a little Pratyahara. Again, all the students seemed to have an enlightening experience – no matter how fleeting. This is merely my perception of the events, and what is truly happening within them only they know.

So with the clarity of the underlying issues – beneath the physiological (hormonal imbalance) – I seemed to have rediscovered why I teach yoga and it re-inspired my desire to practice yoga (a whole blog post in itself on that one). Maybe because it had been so long that I needed to experience such a physiological insanity so that I could realize I was still self-judging on a subconscious level. My feeling badly because I felt grumpy is a judgment that needs to be released. Just let go and observe the grumpy. Sometimes people feel grumpy and it’s okay.. even yoga teachers get grumpy, frustrated, angry. Yoga teachers are still students of yoga on the same path as our students we teach every day – it’s our experiences and perceptions of the path that differ, but we’re all walking side-by-side. Those who have moved beyond the path are enlightened and having tea with the Buddha..but us mere mortals area still working through the cobwebs.

~Namaste

I read an article this morning on elephantjournal.com entitled “Die and Live?” that spoke of life and death, plans for the author’s (Roger Wolsey) funeral, living in the present moment, and it ended with a list of Roger’s things he will miss about life when he dies. I’ve often contemplated my own death – ever since I can remember I’ve been intrigued by death and more specifically, the cessation of life. It’s not that I have a death wish – though that’s not to say that I never did, but that’s a different blog post – but it’s more a fascination with the mechanisms that we label as life (basic individual cellular metabolism- ATP, glucose-6-phosphate, ion channels, etc.; and then cell-cell signaling to make it work on a systemic scale)..and subsequently the cessation of those mechanisms which we label as death, followed by the decomposition of the physical organic matter we call our body. In addition to contemplating the physical aspect of death, I often ‘plan’ my funeral services – wishes I’d currently like to be fulfilled (and of course, these change over time as my views on life change).

But I digress.. back to the article in question. The point of it all is to identify those things in life which truly matter to you, what your priorities are, and how to appreciate the present moment – because truth be told, it’s all we have. I love making lists, but I realized as often as I contemplate death and my dying, I never made a list of things which I’ll miss about life. I found this to be a great exercise in gratitude, appreciation, and in the psychology of myself. Roger decided to make this list as part of his Lenten ritual..and while I don’t partake of Lent, I think a once-a-year reevaluation of self and that which you appreciate is not a bad thing. Just as we turn a new leaf at New Year’s, reflecting on the past.. perhaps we can reflect on our future inevitability to appreciate the present. So here is my first, and hopefully annual list, of things I will miss about life. I recommend you give it a try yourself. 🙂

**in no particular order**

Things I Will Miss About Life (2011)

*The vibrancy of the colors at the onset of spring just before the first blooming (the first release of pollen).
*The smell of toast, and fresh baked bread.
*Making a cup of tea.
*The first sip from a fresh cup/pot of tea.
*The first breath in Savasana – that initial release.
*The last few breaths in Savasana – the reawakening.Supta Kurmasana
*The stillness at the moment just following the cessation of the OM before the next inhale is taken.
*Post-pranayama bliss.
*Supta Kurmasana.
*Laughter in surround sound created by a group of loved ones.
*A broken heart.
*A pain-filled cry because the ache in my heart is too intense to contain, and thereby becoming satisfying.
*Kissing the corner of the eyebrow on a lovers face.
*Being greeted by my dog upon arrival home with ecstatic joy (and returning that joy in kind).
*The smile on a dog – any dog.
*Baking for sharing.
*Thunderstorms in the afternoon.
*The ocean in all it’s physical and metaphorical nature.
*The Mr.’s salsa.
*The smell of a freshly mowed lawn in the hot summertime.
*The sound of an antique mantle clock.
*Going weak in the knees (literally) from the intensity of a lovers kiss.
*Acoustic guitar.
*Having my hair washed lovingly by another.
*The melancholy, joy, sensuality, depression, excitement inspired by music.
*The under-rumble and half-wimpers of a dog dreaming.
*Dancing.
*Stilettos.
*The musky scent of a man (and by extension, the greasy smell of a man who has been working in the garage).
*The smell of whiskey on a man.
*The smell of Autumn when it begins.
*Sharing the perfect cup of tea with a best friend.
*The rare moments I realize I truly love myself, letting go of all my self-flagellation, self-loathing, self-expectations.
*The comfort of a dog resting their head on my ankles or waist.
I did notice a theme – friends, laughter, love, the in-between moments.. and that which stimulates the senses. The sounds of things, the sights, the tastes, the smells..and the subsequent emotions those senses inspire. In essence these are all things that inspire comfort and joy in my heart (yes, even the conventionally labeled ‘sad’ ones). Because what is living if you can’t experience it in it’s entirety..not just live it, but experience it.~I wish you Experiential Living!

“Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas.” ~Henry Louis Mencken

This has been an interesting week for me. There have been a lot of would-be ups and downs, and luckily I have my yoga to keep these oscillations at a manageable capacity. As most of you know, this was the week in which we had our official 1-year anniversary (or birthday) – March 15th – though we are celebrating all month long. This is a great cause for celebration. We’ve been open for 1 year, and in that year we’ve seen growth in student numbers, growth in student practice, and growth in our community. I’ve become a lululemon athletica Yoga Ambassador for The Woodlands, and you voted our studio into the Top 5 of Houston’s Best Yoga Studio! Many reasons for celebration and jubilation. In this past year, we’ve also seen loss.. loss of two deeply loved instructors – Ejiro and Jennifer. Though, they are both alive and healthy and working on growing their own paths, their presence is still felt within the boundaries of CBY; their physical presence is missed on a daily basis (if only in my own heart).

March 15th is also bittersweet for me, as it is the observed birthday of my beloved pooch Copper. He died in 2008, yet still has a profound effect on my emotional state. His presence in my life was filled with ups and downs as well – beginning by my rescuing him from euthanasia as a recently weaned puppy, followed by my rescuing him at the age of 1 year from an abusive ex-boyfriend (abusive to Copper, not me), but failing to rescue him at the age of 8 from a brain tumor. He was my rock in times of distress, and my pillow in times of solace. And it’s times like this that I miss him most. He loved the springtime, when the flowers bloomed – I would catch him out the window at times, literally stopping to smell the roses and peonies in the backyard.

With the tragedy of two female lululemon employees being sexually assaulted and one of them murdered, in Bethesda, Maryland, along with the catastrophe occurring in Japan..these become trying times – when it feels like the world itself is in a Dark Night of the Soul. But it’s these dark nights that allow us to find the light. We can use the darkness to shed light on that which lies deep within us – the strength, wisdom, and peace. This is when we need to reach out to our community, and our loved ones for support. With loss of life comes an inspired sense of connection. So while these events fill me with sorrow, I celebrate the life of loved ones past. I celebrate the joys in life that surround me – new friendships blossoming, engagements and wedding anniversaries of loved ones, birthdays of loved ones past, birthdays of a business Johanna and I have cultivated and continue to nurture. I celebrate the lessons sorrows have taught me in the past, about myself and about life, and I celebrate the lessons sorrow and tragedy have yet to instill in me.

Yoga helps to keep my highs a little more close to my heart so that my lows don’t take me so far down that I can’t return. Yoga helps to keep these oscillations of the heart a little more even and manageable.

“Instead of weeping when a tragedy occurs in a songbird’s life, it sings away its grief. I believe we could well follow the pattern of our feathered friends.” ~Unknown

~Namaste

I’ve been finding inspiration in many places lately – and isn’t that where we want to find it, in a multitude of sources? It’s no secret that I love dancing, whether I’m donning pink tights and a tutu, black tights and barefoot, or a mini skirt and stilettos (read: ballet, modern/jazz or possibly cleaning the house, Saturday night). I love moving the body, and truly tapping into how that makes my body and spirit feel. Reading through some quotes, I stumbled across this one:

“The dance is a poem of which each movement is a world.” ~Mata Hari

I also love Mata Hari – seductress, dancer, alleged spy.. And I feel this quote can extend to yoga – each movement being its own world. I’ve been chatting with friends and colleagues here lately about feeling yoga..truly feeling each movement, on a “5-senses” level..not just feeling in the figurative heart. It was brought to my attention after a class recently of something I said during my cues, “Don’t just take your arms overhead, but reach and lengthen the body as you inhale.” This student mentioned it really changed that moment for him, and that’s one thing I live for as a yoga teacher.. to change ones viewpoint of their own practice, and at the same time helping me change mine! Students don’t often realize that as teachers, we learn more from teaching and watching you than you learn from us. So when the student brought this to my attention, it returned me to a period in my personal practice that I felt I was truly feeling every stretch and lengthen and twist and fold with every fiber and breath of my being. After teaching as much as I have been lately – 7 days a week, multiple classes a day – it’s easy to fall back into ‘going through the motions’ during my own practice and I found myself craving the connectedness with my body, every morsel as it moves within my skin and breath. So next time you’re in a class… perhaps try tapping into the moment within each movement. It’s another level of being present and aware. Sure, you can be focused on the alignment and the poses and such, but going a little deeper and actually feeling the massage as you fold your torso over your legs in Paschimottananasa or Uttanasana is truly a beautiful thing. And perhaps it’ll relieve the burnout factor if you feel you’ve just been “going through the motions.” Perhaps try to feel the motions. Spring is a beautiful time to till the soil and plant some fresh roots.. in your garden, or in your practice!

“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.” ~Sam Keen

Don’t let the winter blues burn you out.. Spring is springing, let’s awaken and take advantage!

~Namaste

I was talking with a friend the other morning about the difference between yoga instructors, classes, and the different feelings we come out with from different classes with different teachers. All other things being equal – say, if we’re discussing Vinaysa – the relative format is the same. You go into any Vinyasa class and you can expect to merge movement with breath. The variables: pace, sequence, energy of the room, how long you hold each pose, and of course, the level of experience of the practitioners. While these seem like common variables in any given yoga class (regardless of style, save your designated sequences like Ashtanga, Bikram), there’s another variable that we often fail to consider. This is the focus variable. In my years of study, I’ve found there are two types of focus – the focus within and the focus without.

The focus within is an internal focus, where regardless of the teacher, the sequence, the energy, the style..you are focused within yourself, within the four corners of your mat, within your breath. You see your practice through your mind’s eye, not your physical eyes. You are listening to the cues of the teacher, listening to their silly jokes and quips (without pulling your attention). You are not listening to the grumbles of your neighbor, not focused on their practice, their level of advancement (or lack of advancement) in the given poses. While you are aware of these other beings, you are not focused on them, and they don’t affect your practice one way or the other. You may not even “see” them because your gaze is so strongly focused inward. You feel the breath on the internal layer of your skin, caressing your organs, interweaving with the brain cells, muscle tissue, bone marrow.

The second type of focus: the focus without. I don’t mean a practice without focus, but in the adverb (literary, archaic) sense of the word ‘without’ meaning ‘outside, not within’ – an external placement. Your focus is on the group collective. You focus on your breath and your poses, but that focus is turned outward. You feel your breath as part of the group, your pose as part of the collective corps de ballet, as something you’re giving to the room, to the world, to the teacher. Your contribution to the world of yoga. You view your practice through your physical eyes, not your mind’s eye. You physically see the objects and people around you. You feel your skin at the surface, how the air feels against the outside layer of skin, how you push through the molecules of O2 externally. Now, this is not the same as a distracted class where there is much chit-chat with your neighbors, laughter, and clapping – I consider this to be a class without focus, not a class who’s focus is without. While levity and questions can be appropriate during class, extensive conversations are a recipe for injury (through distracted practice). There is a seriousness to the practice for reasons of safety, no matter how light and casual the atmosphere.

I’m not saying one focus is more right than the other.. I’m simply making an observation I’ve come to find over the years. In fact, I think we need the existence of both. For those who are constantly in their heads, constantly taking from the world (not in a negative/greedy way), continuously receiving and never having the opportunity to give, I feel the focus without is a more fulfilling type of class. For those who are constantly extending themselves and their words to others, constantly contributing to the world, continuously giving and never having the opportunity to receive, I feel the focus within is a more fulfilling type of class. This is why it is important to try different styles of yoga, and especially different teachers. If you come out of a class with feelings of agitation, perhaps ruminate on the practice – first, did you do a lot of hip openings, but then see if you felt inward or outwardly focused. If you tend to be a giver in the world, find a focus within and take a little time to be selfish. If you tend to be a receiver, find a focus without and have a chance to share something. On the flip-side, take note if you come out of a class feeling like you’ve just come home..examine the tendencies of that class. One teacher may be the kind who encourages the focus without, and other may encourage the focus within. You need to find what works for you, and at the same time..allow yourself to evolve. In one lifetime you may flip between focus depending on which aspect of your life needs balance. And isn’t that one of the grander points of yoga practice, to find balance (and no, I don’t mean in Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana 😉 )…

~Namaste

“Selfishness, if but reasonably tempered with wisdom, is not such an evil trait.” ~Giovanni Ruffini

There are good yoga classes, and bad yoga classes. I define a good class as one where I can focus inward the entire time, upon myself – a bad class.. when there is unending distraction (whether through my own lack of focus, or the class itself is unfocused). Don’t get me wrong, even bad yoga is good. I still feel good coming out of it physically, but the mental tidy is not there. The main reason I practice is for the mental tidy. For the rare selfish time I get to spend with myself and only myself (spending 90 minutes listening to my body, listening to the subtle cues of what’s going on in my throat, heart, liver, intestines, hips, knees, soles of my feet, pinky toe knuckle..all of it.. I WANT TO HEAR IT!) I practice for the rare time I get to remain a student these days, not the owner of a studio, not the instructor.. I crave to remain a practitioner as well! Maintenance of practitioner status is the only way I feel I’ll grow as studio owner and instructor. While I loved my practice (so much so I chose this path), I feel in a small ‘unbeknownst to me’ way, I took my practice as solely a student for granted, and now crave the “getting lost in the breath”.. letting the world melt away and experience everything that I share with my students as an instructor. But in order for me to continue sharing my entire being..going in wholeheartedly, I need to be able to be selfish. Even as a student, I seem to be occasionally pulled into ‘instructor’ or ‘owner’ mode these days. I know it sounds, well, selfish.. but I think in this world you need to be selfless with yourself so you can be selfless with others..and that means, at least to me, being selfish and taking time just for you. Give over completely to yourself, and let your Self hoard a small portion of your undivided attention. Whatever that task may be, golfing, hiking, painting, singing, jumping on the trampoline.. whatever it is.. indulge in yourself for a small window of time, and don’t let anyone (including yourself) distract you from yourself for that designated time.

~Namaste

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