Friday, June 29, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Why crooked teeth help me be a little more me.

"The pursuit of perfection, then, 
is the pursuit of sweetness and light."
-Matthew Arnold

When I was younger, my two front teeth decided to grow in opposite directions causing a little gap between them and I also had an underbite. It looked like I was continually pouting, which wasn't too far from how I felt life to be in junior high and high school. As all my friends started getting braces in 7th, 8th and 9th grades, part of me wanted to belong to the "cool kids club" and do the same. I wanted to complain about the appointments needed to tighten the metallic oral contraptions too, or switch up the colorful rubber bands every few weeks just in time to match the holidays. But, my family couldn't afford it and while I was willing to do whatever it took to help me fit in a bit more, the other part of me was also very hesitant to do anything that would draw attention to my already awkward appearance.

My aunts and parents told me regularly that I wasn't pretty, that I was too brusque, too selfish, too anything-but-perfect. They said I laughed too loud and when it came to many of life's events, I didn't understand the ways of the world. "Ni bu dong shi!" they would exclaim again and again.

Inside, I believed they were wrong. But outside, with the adults colluding around me and puberty beginning to hit, I thought they were right. As I became more aware of my body image and reflection, I noticed that I had a bit of a mustache and got teased at school incessantly because of it, especially from one particular bully who'd point and laugh and then elbow his friends in the ribs to get them to point and laugh, too. Ultimately, I felt so out-of-place growing up that I would spend most of my teenage and young adult years straining to look prettier on the outside in hopes that eventually, it would seep deep into my insides, too. 

My parents were unsympathetic and told me to simply bear it, that I shouldn't care how I looked anyway. There was no consolation, no heartfelt encouragement, nothing but more distance and pushing back. Decades later, I can see that if they were projecting "tough love" onto me, then inevitably, they were treating themselves that way, too. 

The moment I was legally able to get a work permit, I immediately aimed to pay my own way for everything — at 15 1/2. I got two part-time jobs after school and would catch the bus from one location to another, before finally getting home and plopping down on my bed out of exhaustion, waking up past midnight to do my homework, then rising extremely early to start the day all over again. 

My parents were angry at me that I was working, at times ferociously upset that I was supporting myself financially, perhaps because it reminded them on a regular basis that they couldn't provide in one of the most primary ways that was a part of their natural roles in our lives.

I took the money I earned, not to spend frivolously at Contempo Casuals or the GAP at the mall, but to pay my way through SAT prep school and for all of my college applications. I'm now amazed that I took control of my life to actively make it different from how it could have been. I often wonder why it was that my siblings and I, all four of us, turned out with big wounded hearts rather than towards drugs or louder forms of rebellion. Instead, despite the pains we carry, my younger sister and two younger brothers are some of my favorite people and among the funniest I know.

By the time I got to college, and subsequently entered into my second long-term relationship, I thought it'd be okay to get braces. (Finally.) And so, with my own money from the updated two part-time jobs I was working in college, I spent part of it on fixing my teeth. 

My orthodontist loved me, because I did exactly what he said. It may have been the fact that I was now eight years older than his average client, but if he told me to wear rubber bands every day, I wore them every day. If he told me to wear my retainer at all times, I did. And every time I came back for a check-up, he would happily smack my shoulder and just beam with pride. 

"You do so good!" he'd say in a thick Mandarin accent. I'd smile back broadly, displaying my silver grille at his affirmations. 

I wasn't the first in the family to get braces — that was my younger sister. My parents, as seemed to be the pattern, would spend very little on me, but would willingly invest more with my younger siblings. By the time I finished my orthodontic regimen, my sister's teeth were becoming crooked again, because her diligence and desire to continue wearing retainers after getting her braces off was a bit less than mine.

Tough love has it's benefits. Because I worked my ass off to get the things that I wanted or needed, I valued them more. I wore my retainer all the time, regardless of whoever might see me, because I wanted my teeth completely straight after the years they were in lockdown. Yet, in recent years, I've come to see that the braces were just another example of always feeling like there was something in me that needed to be fixed. I wasn't whole, I wasn't complete, I was imperfect and needed to remedy that somehow. 

My friend Kate in high school was the popular girl. We became friends because we both had to re-take a Math Analysis course in summer school, and I used to count my lucky stars that this was so. She was a teeny sprite, half-Asian half-Spanish, and gorgeous. I distinctly remember, one afternoon at her house as we were studying for an exam, she remarked about her teeth and how the bottom few were somewhat crooked, but she loved them anyway, because it's what set her apart from others, the distinctive way in which these couple of teeth kind of bunched together. This is a girl who was often booked in commercials and music videos, someone who seemed so carefree, because it was as though her life were filled with one blessing after another. 

In that moment, I saw that she loved herself completely. Even in the horrendous high school years, she could care less about what other people thought. She had a unique style, a broad smile, and a giving heart. She knew that she wasn't perfect, but she was perfectly happy with that awareness. Everyone around her loved her just as she was, and she didn't need to do anything differently to be regarded so highly. All she had to do was be herself, which she was taught how to do at a young age by her nurturing and affectionate parents, a couple who I often wished could adopt me in some tiny, tiny way. 

Lately, I've stopped wearing my retainers so much. It's part laziness, somewhat because it's now almost ten years since I've had them (and maybe that's a little expired now that I actually think about it), but also because I'm finally starting to like my idiosyncrasies. Little by little, I'm starting to feel free to be who I am regardless of what other people say or think. To be loud and goofy and burst out in a random dance move in front of someone else if I feel so inspired. 

When I let go, I'm pretty damn funny. As my beau likes to say, "Oh, you've got yokes," in a silly accent. And, I find that when I teach yoga and I let go of the thinking or the wondering "Is this good enough?" mentality, then everything flows so freely and I'm able to pull ideas from the deep recesses of my brain that I didn't even realize I remembered, things I can't access when my overworked mind is cluttering everything up.

So, I feel that the more crooked my teeth become, likely noticeable to no one but me, then the more I give myself permission to be exactly who I am, in my entirety. Imperfect, and perfect precisely for that reason.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reflections & Musings: No one ever told me this would happen when you became a yoga teacher.

"Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one's being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union — the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Astadala Yogamala

During the 300-hour training, one of our teachers led us through learnings about Restorative Yoga and mentioned something that I've observed over the past couple of years, but had never actually heard anyone say aloud,"Now that you're all yoga teachers, it's hard to shut off the mind when you go to class. You start observing what the teacher is doing and thinking, 'Oh! I could use that!' or 'How did we get into that pose? I have to remember that!' Taking classes is never quite the same again."

And no, it isn't. Part of me wishes that someone had offered a precautionary warning prior to my enrolling in a yoga teacher training program, a flicker of a yellow light to encourage me to yield for just a second so that I would know what I was about to let go of and what I was about to gain.

Yoga, when I first found it at the age of 21, spoke to me in a quietly mysterious way. During my 200-hour training, we learned that it's extremely important to honor the integrity of this ancient practice and to create a welcoming atmosphere in class, since it may very well be the first time that a person has ever been exposed to yoga. I'd heard horror stories from others who took classes that jarred them from coming back for years, and I was lucky that my initial encounter with yoga began with an extremely wise teacher who had been training with his mother since he was young. He was Asian, had an accent, and unbeknownst to me, began to awaken a bit of spirituality within that had been dormant for quite some time. 

I barely knew what yoga was, had heard it mentioned here and there, and felt like it was still on the periphery of being "cool," just another up-and-coming trend like step aerobics that might simply fizzle out over time. But, there it was, on the schedule of the affluent gym, down the street from my first full-time job in San Jose. I was even luckier that my generous CEO had given each of his eight employees a fully paid monthly membership, which meant that I had an opportunity to explore without pressure.

So, I took a class. I don't remember what I brought to use as a yoga mat the first time around, but I do recall that a few weeks into it, I convinced my boyfriend at the time to come with me. I was excited, I wanted him to experience that-thing-I-couldn't-put-my-finger-on. Something kept gently tugging at my heart strings to come back and I did, on a fairly consistent basis. 

Then, my mind goes blank. I started losing myself in my eating disorder again, letting it progress in various ways until I made my way back to Los Angeles. There, a friend encouraged me to try Power Yoga in Santa Monica. 

"You're going to love it," he told me. "Ashley's incredible."

We walked into the space, this time I believe I had a mat in hand, and the room quickly filled up. I remember that there were parts of the class where I was actually laughing, because of how challenging it was. Then, when we were through, I walked out of the studio and had never, in all of my life, felt so incredible. It was almost indescribable, as though my body and mind were floating above everything. I felt expansive inside and calm and spent, but absolutely reinvigorated. I was on a high. And then, I was addicted.

Over time, I would move away and come back again, though no matter where I went, I would never find anything comparable to the practice of power yoga. Running, climbing, surfing — nothing gave me that same feeling of inner peace and tranquility, strength and confidence, safety and playfulness, letting go and finding myself all over again. At one point, I had even encouraged a whole group of my male friends to start practicing with me (and, being that they were climbers and surfers, they were quite a good-lookin' lot to be surrounded by!).

Eventually, I began to realize that somehow, going to yoga felt like going to "church" in a way that I was comfortable with. There was an element of the sacred, a beauty in the temple, a reverence and a quiet honor for what was happening in the room. I had opened a gateway and never wanted it to ever be closed again.

Once I became a teacher, my intellect began to take over. I couldn't stop "taking notes" in classes I attended, trying to learn how to cue different poses. I couldn't shut off my mind from remember the sequence and the flow. I couldn't make the thoughts stop about how alignment should be and what variations I could incorporate. The practice went from my heart to my head, which is where I started from in the first place, and the last place that I wanted to end up again.

So, I stopped going to classes. I started doing a personal practice at home, which was better, but there was still no way I was achieving the same effects as when I would go to the class week after week in L.A. My mind, though quieter alone, still spoke up and caused distractions. It didn't nudge in me in ways that were expansive, but instead usually in ways that were testing and punishing. I tried on-demand classes over the Internet or YouTube video, which proved to be a fairly decent alternative, but again, it was more for the learning aspect of how to be a better teacher rather than how to be a better student. 

Now, I find that the closest I can come to that "wow" factor, the point where my body, mind and soul fill with wonder at the journey unfolding before me, is when I have a private session with a client and I can see that same sense of awe awakening with them as it once did within me. I hope that this will change, and I believe that it can with even more diligence to break through any barriers that the manas monkey mind creates. 

I take solace in the fact that my travels, like life, have simply shifted directions. I am still partaking in unbelievable moments, where I am honored and blessed to be able to inspire others to look deeper within themselves and see what they uncover. And together, we embark on mutual learning opportunities that are unparalleled and special in every way. I love being a teacher, there's no doubt about it, I feel that it is a part of my genetic make-up (my mother was once a teacher in Taiwan and on Saturdays at Chinese School in Los Angeles) and what I am meant to do. There's a Buddhist saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." I will forever be a mix of both.

It's just different than it used to be. And it's okay to mourn and acknowledge that. Change is the one constant we can count on in life — nothing lasts forever. That hard pose, the easy relaxing one, everything moves in time. This moment now will eventually give way to something else. And, the more I can trust in the process, the more I believe that it's all meant to be part of the path I'm treading, where perhaps this is exactly where I need to be to be a better student after all. 

Because in the end, I'm definitely learning.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reflections & Musings: The power of your intention.

"Kindness is the greatest wisdom."
-Author Unknown

It's been a whirlwind past few weeks — I moved in with my beau, got sick, started an Advanced Teacher Training, tweaked my neck, then got right back into the swing of things. Time stands still for no one and, at the same time, metaphysics says that time is an illusory linear idea. We start where we finish and everything is happening all at once and not at all.

At the start of our training, we were asked to set an intention for the 10 days that would follow. I was asked to be the first one to speak and was struck by the idea of compassion. "I'd like to practice compassion and kindess towards myself, in the way of Kwan Yin, because I am often told that I exhibit these qualities towards others, but have the hardest time nurturing myself in that way."

The Universe immediately delivered plenty of opportunities to practice. It started off with a cold I could not seem to fight, which then became a physical injury in my neck, when I tried to get bodywork done to alleviate aches and pains. Then, it came to managing pain while sitting for long hours in captivating talks by master teachers, finishing my move with my beau, and trying to complete freelance projects, too. By the end of the training, I realized how challenging it has always been for me to care for myself, ever since I was young. Everything was topped off by a conference call with my business coach who gave it to me straight...

"We're past the one-month mark now, so the gloves are off, Judy. Are you ready to hear what I have to say? It's going to be a fun conversation — and I mean that ironically."

"Okay..." I said, hesitant yet ready for what was to be delivered. I've had a rough upbringing, I can handle harsh critiques.

"Based on the emails you've sent me and the interactions I've had with you up until this point, YOU ARE WAY TOO HARD ON YOURSELF." 

"Tell me something I don't know," I responded, and laughed. "People have been giving me that feedback for as long as I can remember. It's almost become a badge of honor."

"That laugh, the way that you responded. The reason you're even laughing is because you know how deeply ingrained all of this is in your behavior and how challenging it is going to be to change," he continued. "You need to be more compassionate with yourself. There is no way that you are being this hard on yourself and not taking it out on others or showing it outwardly somehow. This is actively blocking you from attracting the type of people you want to work with. Clients, especially in your industry, want to be working with someone who's compassionate. At some energetic level, they can sense that you're not this way to yourself, so there's no way that you can be like that with them."

His feedback immediately got me to thinking about my relationship with my beau. What I have appreciated deeply about the two of us together are the incredible lessons being together teaches me on a daily basis. I see reflected more clearly than I thought possible that what I believe about myself, I outwardly reflect and project onto my partner. I see how critical I can be, how judgmental, how much I do not allow any room for error. Truly, what I focus on — the good or not-so-positive — are immediately compounded, and he holds a mirror up to me to walk the talk that I espouse in class.

"You always talk about compassion and acceptance," my beau said to me a few weeks ago, "and I see you doing this with all of your students. But, I don't see you doing this with yourself and I don't feel like I get that same kind of leeway either."

On the last day of our training, we concluded by tying a red string around one another's wrists, reminiscent of many eastern spiritual practices. Whether to ward off negative energy, to remind ourselves of the light we hold within, or to remember how to stay calm in any situation, with every knot that we tied onto one another came a blessing our fellow teachers would bestow upon each other. After this, I ran into Mo on the way out, a phenomenal teacher who created the entire program. She said softly to me, "If I were standing beside you in our circle, I would have blessed you with kindness and encouraged you to be more gentle with yourself."

My business coach gave me three things to do: 1) Awareness: I need to look for it, I can't wait for it to happen to me. Because this judgment and harshness is always occurring, I need to be on the lookout for where in my life I'm expressing it today. 2) Practice discernment. Catch myself that I'm being hard and punishing in the first place. In our training program, we learned that Yogananda was often referred to as the Great Swan, because given a mixture of milk and water, the swan will suck out all the milk and leave the water. 3) Make a choice. I can either choose to keep being the bully within or choose to have fun and compassion, to acknowledge myself. 

Marianne Williamson says that when you ask the Universe for help, when you are speaking your truth and setting your intention, it responds in great magnitude. And that's exactly what it did for me, the moment I shared my intention with the group. From every area of my life — personal to professional — I was offered one opportunity after another to choose differently.

Sometimes, I did. Sometimes, I didn't. But I do have amazing support all around me to remind me that I can do this. And I see it every day in a little red thread around my wrist. It's the little things that make the biggest difference. For this, and every breath I take, I am grateful.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mini-Moments of Teaching: The Stories From Master Teachers I've Loved This Week, And Then Some.

"When the student is ready, the Master appears."
-Buddhist proverb

"When the student is ready, the Teacher disappears."
-Nischala Joy Devi

There have been so many wonderful anecdotes shared by master teachers this weekend that I just wanted to jot them down as a reminder of how powerful storytelling is. Great teachers, we were told, inspire the student to fulfill their greatest potential, not what the teacher wants for them. And, they impart offerings of lessons, yet don't tell the students what to see. 

***

During Philip Goldberg's presentation on the American Vedas, he showed a clip of Ram Dass being interviewed about how he discovered Indian spirituality and met his guru. At the time, he was still Dr. Richard Alpert, a Harvard psychologist whose life changed when he met Neem Karoli Baba. He recalled being brought by Bhagavan Das to meet the guru, and while Bhagavan immediately lay prostrate to kiss Neem Karoli Baba's feet, he could not fathom doing the same. Ram Dass stood in the corner, hands in his pockets, questioning everything. He told of how the day before, he had looked up at the Indian sky and thought of his mother while looking at the stars, since she had just passed away six months prior. While witnessing Bhagavan's actions, Ram was called over by the guru. Skeptically, he inched closer, until the guru said to him, "Last night, you were thinking of your mother while looking at the stars. She passed away six months ago from a disease of the spleen." Ram was shocked, his left-brain couldn't process how this guru could have known that information. "I felt that there were things about myself, things that I hadn't shared with anyone, things that made me unlovable. And here was this man, who seemingly knew my thoughts and experiences. I realized that he knew all of me and still loved me anyway. That changed me forever." 

That last sentence of Ram Dass's interview made me realize that is all anyone ever wants in life — to be accepted fully and completely, to be loved without question, to not be punished for previous actions or choices. That is the type of love that I would like to practice, because I know that in my relationships now, my ego still often leads the way. 

***

Nichala Joy Devi spoke of how she and her master were once going to an event, and that they were always encouraged not to walk on the grass, for all of the life and living that happened in the blades of and beneath the soil. One day, there was no avoiding it, they had to walk on the lawn. So, she followed behind her master and noticed something — the blades of grass beneath his footsteps seemed to pop up immediately after he lifted his foot. She looked down beneath her own steps, and the blades of grass would remain squashed beneath her weight. She looked at the footsteps of her fellow disciples and noticed that they too created imprints in the green. So, she asked her master, "How is it that your footsteps are not creating any impact whatsoever, and yet you weight twice as much as I do?" Her master's response, "I imagine that with each step I take, I am stepping on my Mother's bosom." And to Nischala, she felt that the earth was responding to that tender type of love. 

The way that Nischala shared that observation, it made me realize that is how I see so many details of life. I notice the nuances and the itty bitty things that others may glaze over, which I've always attributed to my writer-ly ways. This is one of those times that "thinking too much" actually works to my advantage, since every attribute has a light and shadow side. It is these things, these smallest of actions and moments and observations, that add an array of color to any experience. And for this, I am grateful.

***

Both Philip and Nischala shared how we are crazy, but we just don't see it, because we're surrounded by other people who are just as crazy as we are in similar ways. We take things for granted, because blessings are just the norm in Western culture.

Nischala was in India and saw someone scraping the bottom of a trash can for food. "I thought, what must it be like to be so desperate that the only choice you have to eat is to scrape the bottom of a trash can?' Let food be a spiritual experience for you each and every day."

Philip shared an audio clip from Yogananda where he was on a train chatting with an American celebrity who obviously viewed him with disdain for all of his beliefs and lifestyle. By the end of it, the American had opened his mind to a greater worldview. And throughout the clip, you could hear the levity in Yogananda's voice, the lightheartedness that Nischala shared all enlightened masters have, because the truth is, we are all joy, and we just forget that we already are the light we are seeking. When we are not acting out of love, it is because we have forgotten who we really are, and we begin to live from our wounds. Tom Kelly once shared a quote I've always loved, "Anger is just love that's forgotten that it's love."

***

When speaking to Philip Goldberg, as he was signing a copy of his book for me, I asked him how it was to interview the over 300 people he talked to for his book. He said it was his favorite thing to do, that at some point, he had to tell himself to stop and write the manuscript, because it could have gone on forever. 

"That must've been fascinating," I commented. "I've always said that one of my dream jobs would be to be Ira Glass and go around the world interviewing people and weaving together stories and programs." 

Philip responded, "My dream is to be Terry Gross!"

And it was then then I rekindled a broader perspective of the world, of how I could combine the things that I love and all of my talents into doing what I want to do, purely for the sake of wanting to do them. While learning from Tim Miller on yogic philosophies and sutras, I started to piece together elements of my second (or maybe it'll be my first) book on how so many of these ideas have been woven throughout my life and only when I discovered yoga did they begin to take a form I could physically work with, move through, deepen, let go of. 

***

The lesson I'm learning most by being around and away from these teachers is something completely unexpected. Being sick during this second module of teacher training has been tough. Then, having my neck go out on top of it made it all the worse. My intention was to practice compassion, the way Kwan Yin inspires,  and apparently, a whole lot of opportunity manifested for that to be tested. Marianne Williamson says that when you ask for help from the Divine to move through your crap, you'll be dumped on tenfold to really have a chance to get through the gunk. And, what I learned in therapy, is the only way to move through it is to move through it. Not skip around it, not try to leap over it, not hold back, but to face it full on. And, what I've learned from yoga is to try to do this with grace.

When I got sick when I was little, my mother was not generous in dispensing care. It seemed to be a burden and an inconvenience, and I felt that it was my fault I had gotten ill. When I had the flu and a fever, she still made me have my piano lesson. When I was crying and needed attention, she looked at me in frustration and left me alone. And, when I had chicken pox and wasn't yet fully healed, she dropped me off at school. Marianne says that we heal in the present, and that no matter who did what to us in the past, it's us who's carrying it now. Our adult minds have the tools to work through it, but we like to blame factors in the past rather than rectifying it here and now, so it's no longer a load to carry. In retrospect, I can see why my mother did a lot of what she did, but the burden that I now hold onto is not knowing what to do when I'm ill. I get frustrated at myself that I can't operate at 150%. I get irritated that I can't heal fast enough. And, as was the case recently, I feel like even though I was trying to do things that were designed to help me heal, they only put me in a worse condition, so that I began to blame myself for that, too. (See the parallels with how my mother approached my being sick decades ago?)

"It's amazing to me, how creative your brain is," my beau remarked. "Sometimes, treatments don't work. Sometimes, things get better immediately, sometimes it takes awhile, and sometimes, it gets worse before it gets better. But your brain doesn't see that. It just sees that you went and got a treatment, and then you get hurt afterward, so you did something wrong somehow."

And, to add from Flossie, "Who says that you're not healing? That what's happening to you right now IS healing? Did you feel like you were worthy to get taken care of, or you were only doing something because you felt it was the thing you were supposed to do? It's no wonder you manifested this right now as something you need to work through. Have you thought that maybe your body, mind and spirit are getting rid of old stuff and that's why you're feeling how you do now?"

I felt I was using my voice, asking for what I want while sick, and apparently, I wasn't. I didn't feel like my needs were getting met, and partly, it's because I didn't know what those needs truly were. The other part was that I couldn't be patient enough with having to slow down, to simply do nothing but heal. As I began to start a fight with my beau last night, he asked very clearly, "What is it that you want right now?"

I didn't have an answer at first, but the truth quickly rose to the surface. I just wanted to spend time together, but I had a long to-do list I felt I couldn't finish in the midst of not feeling well. Instead, I focused on all the things that weren't going right and decided to pick a fight, because I was too afraid to say I would like unconditional loads of attention. Flossie was right, I didn't feel like I deserved it. 

"When you were little, you weren't well taken care of, and you were pissed! You had every right to be!" my beau observed. "But you're an adult now, and sometimes, I can see that little girl inside of you acting out, behaving badly, and you don't reign her in. You're the one who's in charge now. You can choose differently."

A couple of days prior, my beau said, "You're so sexy right now." And I responded, "What? I'm coughing and I can't even move. What are you talking about?" 

"Vulnerability is sexy," he responded.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm being vulnerable and you don't think that's sexy!" I immediately retorted, "You just get annoyed!"

"No," he corrected, "sometimes, when you think you're being vulnerable, you're actually being defensive. There's a difference."

While I sometimes feel and wish that my beau were more intuitive and considerate in bringing me thoughtful gifts, the Universe has a perfect order where he is incredibly in tune and offers me gifts of a different kind.

I listened to something Marianne said today in her Enchanted Love workshop, where she likened vulnerability to yoga. 

"In order to be able to fully relax in yoga, you need to first build that firmness and strength of your muscle. Otherwise, you're just being sloppy."

And, in relationships, in order to fully let go without becoming co-dependent, you first need to be firm in trusting yourself and one another. Then, you can relax. Being vulnerable means to fully put your hands up and say, "Hey, this is all of me. Right here, right now. Just like this." No defenses, no pretenses, just Self. 

I'm not fully aware yet of the lessons that I'm learning from being ill this time around. I know I run myself into the ground — pneumonia, strep throat, bronchitis, staph infection, shingles — those are just a few of the diseases I've happened upon because I couldn't slow down or express a need for care in any other way. My previous eating disorder would also fall into this category in a big way. But, I know it's teaching me something. And something that will likely carry on as I step more into the person I have always been meant to be.

Those substantial lessons, they will indeed keep coming around until we learn how to fully reconcile them. Flossie had mentioned that neck injuries tend to relate to not having a broad enough perspective, not being able to look at things with a wide enough lens, and being very rigid with what we choose to see. The more I let go, the more my neck literally starts to ease up, too. That mind-body relationship... it's always so fascinating.

Time for bed. And, as I was walking down the stairs just now, I realized something. I have always wanted to live in a two-story home, ever since I was in elementary school and my father promised we would have one though it never came to fruition. Now, here I am, in a two-story home. And, most incredibly, there's a smell at the top of the stairs that is reminiscent of something in my childhood, where when I start to take that first step, always takes me back a little bit into my past consciousness. Maybe that's why, at the top of the staircase, that's my favorite place in the whole house to meditate. 

Funny how life works. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mini-Moments of Teaching: The Yoga Sutras from a Woman's Perspective.

"Spirituality doesn't have to be rigid."

I'm halfway through the second module of my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training program and continue to love learning from great master teachers of all sorts. Yesterday, we spent time with Nischala Joy Devi, who is the first woman ever to interpret the Yoga Sutras through her book, The Secret Power of Yoga. White-haired with fading purple highlights and always dressed in brilliance, Nischela is a spirit to behold.

Her personal story is extensive, having served as a swami for 18 years in an ashram and studying medical science for many years prior to that. But her teachings even surpass the wonderful stories she shares, which all come from the heart, the place she encourages each of us to live. 

I loved that she interpreted the sutras in a way where we can go back to the Sanskrit meaning before the west's "puritanical perspectives" were used to interpret these ancient learnings. It was fascinating to learn about the same ideas from Tim Miller the day before, one of the leading figures in Ashtanga Yoga, in a male perspective and then to have it balanced with the yin point of view immediately afterward. 

Nischala brought a softness to everything, a reminder that we should all practice allowing the extraordinary to happen, to dance with it and whirl with it the ways that Rumi once did with the art of living. She taught us that, "You must allow the extraordinary to happen!" and that spirituality doesn't have to be rigid. "Find what makes you sing, what makes your heart go aflame," Nischala encouraged, because this is how you will learn to touch the Divine. 

What, in the end, makes you feel that through your action, intention, and purpose, you became a more loving person? What can you share with others? 

"Be reasonable!" she exuded, where you decide what you want to be each day and approach yourself with compassion and a full heart. There are so many things in our lives that we don't need to force to change, but instead, all we need to do is to change our hearts. I also loved learning that when it comes to flying into space, you first gain altitude and when you come home, there is a point at which you can no longer see the moon. This is called the "attitude." So much of what we are experiencing, if we could simply change the attitude, then all would be different in many beneficial ways.

In Zen, we learn of the beginner's mind, to approach all with the curiosity of a child ("Go find a three year-old guru," was another tidbit Nischala shared) and in her view, the sutras are a way to develop a beginner's heart, where in every moment and relationship, we remember what brought us together in the first place, that initial attraction that spoke to the deepest parts of ourselves.

Nischala clarified that ideas like vairagya are not non-attachment, a dangerous idea because we tend to misinterpret that to be a spiritual being means that we need to keep someone at arm's length, the way that we have been taught in monastic orders. Rather, separation causes us to be cut-off from the other lights in the world. Instead, we approach ourselves as a crystal, a clear entity that simply reflects the colors around us, so that we can always remember the self in all conditions — happy, sad, depressed, and the list goes on. If we can remember who you are without taking on the "varna" (colors of the mind), then we can always be at peace.

One sweet idea is to spread out the joy as much as the pain, to remember that we are all indeed one sharing every experience, so it's not just on our shoulders or weighing on our souls, but that we can each help one another carry the load — especially in the midst of another's joy, to prevent jealousy. When another is happy, because we're all one and interconnected, then we are happy, too.

A friend of Nischala's once told her that there are three vital words in the English language: "No," "Yes," and "Wow!" She followed with,"If you always choose 'no,' you will find yourself restricted. If you always choose 'yes,' your life will never be dull. But if you always choose 'wow,' then your life will always be filled with wonder!"

Her explanation of the eight limbs of yoga, were not that they were limbs after all, but different facets of a diamond, because that connotes a complete interrelatedness that makes the diamond shine. And, what truly makes a diamond come alive is not simply the light surrounding it, but the light that comes within it. 

And, for all of us students who feel that our poses should look like something we've seen in magazines, her encouragement is that we keep the integrity of the pose, even if it looks different. What we're doing is practicing truth, and truth follows where we go. The more we can open to being our own brilliance and living from our divinity, then everything manifests. 

Her teachings of levity, of how all masters have a lightness to their being, because they have remembered the truth in everything and everyone. We are heavy in our lives, because we've forgotten. And yoga, meditation, being in nature, any number of ways accessible to each and every one of us can help us to find that happiness again and again.

Asana, mentioned so infrequently in the sutras, is there to help us find the natural comfort and joy of our being when the body becomes steady. As our bodies yield to all efforts and holdings, we let go and the infinite within is revealed. We're free from the fluctuations of the gunas and find our way to bliss.

There was a moment, while spending time with a soul like Nischala, where I suddenly became clear about why the word "God" has been so difficult for me to grasp for so many reasons, and even after my journey towards deeper spiritual understandings, though I understand the ideas of the higher powers around and within us, this idea of a masculine force was still never quite the best fit. It finally occurred to me, during a subtle moment in our workshop, that I've always been drawn to the goddess, to the energies of Kwan Yin and the devas, to my grandmother. Through Nischala's subtle and vibrant teachings, I felt I was both given permission and encouraged to explore the feminine, the mother, the sacred that exists within the yin.

I like that, the idea of the goddess. And when I teach, I remind the male and female students that we all have the masculine and feminine within us, two vital energies interplaying in variances and degrees. But right now, I am loving being within the power of a lady. And, maybe that's why people have been commenting about my energy lately, about how I apparently am looking more beautiful than ever, despite having a long-lasting cold, a tweaked neck, and being on my moon cycle. Maybe, no matter what, the goddess is always supreme.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mini-Moments of Teaching: Everything we do is a quest for happiness.

"Happiness is not an ideal of reason,
but of imagination." 
-Immanuel Kant

In the midst of my advanced 500-hour yoga teacher training program, and at first I was reluctant. It's a journey that involves a lot of opening — heart, mind, body, spirit, energy — and while I love learning, it seemed a daunting undertaking given that I'm also in the midst of building my business, getting over a gnarly cold, and moving in with my beau.

On the positive side, there is so much knowledge I'm absorbing on a daily basis that it's plenty of fodder for reflection and writing and sharing. Today, we had an amazing learning about the art of storytelling, especially when it comes to Hindu Mysticism, and all the parables that we can learn and teach through a good oral narrative. 

One of the assertions our teacher Trisha Kelly made was that everything we do, we do it because we want to be happy. We understand at some level that we are pure joy and so we try to get back in touch with that essence of ourselves through outside actions — food, play, nature, sex, love, sleep, etc. 

She pointed out that there are two ways to satisfy desire: 
  1. Go out and get it.
  2. Use your imagination. 
The latter enables you to visualize what you think you want over and over, throughout which you can ask the Universe whether it's something that you genuinely need, which will help serve you and the greater good. If so, then so be it and let it come to fruition. Or, you can ask whether it's something that you need to transmute and move beyond. And if so, so be it. 

It's a simple tip to use for meditation, especially when our monkey minds harbor old stories, stands ground upon repetitive thoughts, or simply refuses to let go of the fight. 

How do you use storytelling in your life? Have you tried it as a method to teach your kids, by planting seeds from which they can grow their own garden of learnings and life experiences? Have you used it as a yoga instructor or any other sorts of professions? How does imagination and embellishment play a part? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Reflections & Musings: The energetic element of sharing space with your partner.


"Man is a knot into which relationships are tied."
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This past weekend, I moved into my beau's condo. We chatted about finding a new place together in Cardiff, where I love, and all sorts of different possibilities, but in the end, what made sense for here and now is to combine our lives into a home a little further away from the sea than I normally prefer. 

Compromise. It's an interesting concept, and one in which I'm not very used to practicing, because in my life, I've fought hard for the things that I've wanted and have pretty much been able to manifest everything — even the ones that were tall orders — thanks to a lot of moxie on my part, the support of the Universe, and of course, the people in my life. Being the eldest of four children enhanced this idea of being gung ho and not taking "no" for an answer. 

Now that we're sharing space together, especially because it's a place that he owns and has been in for years, it's a matter of creating something new together, so that it feels warm and welcoming for the both of us. I'm grateful that he continues to encourage me to infuse my creativity into the house, and is willing to adapt and shift whatever needs to happen, so that it feels as though we're both building upon a fresh foundation. Best of all, he's given me free reign to transform our office space/guest room into whatever I'd like it to be, and because my last apartment was only a scoche bigger than this second bedroom, it's as though I'm creating my own studio space within the condo. 

We agreed, prior to moving in, that it'd be important for each of us to have space to be ourselves, since we're both incredibly stubborn and independent at times. And, over the past few days, I've realized that I have lived on my own for so long without having to adapt to anything or anyone, that it's taken more openness than I thought to accept having someone else around in my space, even when we're not in the same room. Energetically, I can sense that there's another being around, and it's definitely different from what I'm used to. 

Last night, when I said that I was having a little bit of a hard time adjusting, I mentioned that it'd be nice to have a "safe space," a zone where I can just be in my writer-ly head and girl-out (I believe he does the masculine version of this at the driving range and on the golf course). In fact, when having dinner with his parents the other day, his father even commented on a story he had read about a family who specifically have a room in the house where fighting and disagreements are not allowed — a Zen room of peace and love. We both thought this was a wonderful idea. I mentioned to my beau that I was thinking of bringing the Japanese futon I had been using as a bed at my last apartment into the spare room for both friends and myself and he immediately offered to grab it from the closet downstairs, so that I could have it in my office space if that would make me feel more comfortable.

We're both cognizant that we've lived with previous partners before, and they've never turned out as we had hoped. We've shared with one another that we don't want to make the same mistakes, and because this relationship and the potential ahead is meaningful to the both of us, we're a bit more cautious and conscientious about each next step we're taking, because we'd like to "get it right" this time around. 

The other concept that's coming up and proving a bit challenging is patience. As my business coach said, it takes energy to be impatient, because you're trying to force things to happen that would either get there on their own time or simply turn out in ways that would be best for the greater good, ways that you couldn't foresee. So, I'm telling myself that with time, we'll find the perfect couch and the just-right accessories and continue creating a home that we're eager to come back to again and again. Most importantly, I'm reminding myself that the one thing you can count on in life is change... and even if it's not the most comfortable at times, it may be just what I need to grow into more of my life, and that rather than resisting, I can learn to embrace it with open arms. 

How do you feel about living with your partner? How do you both share space in a way that honors each of you and the dreams that you're building together? What happens when children and pets are added to the dynamic? What lessons have you learned that you feel are valuable to share? 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Reflections & Musings: "Herrings & onions" — how vice becomes virtue.


"It has ever been my experience that folks who have no vices,
have very few virtues."
-Abraham Lincoln

This morning, I taught a fabulous power flow class. Why? Because I feel like I'm finally coming to a point where I am owning my voice and sharing a part of myself as I observe what students are looking for, too. And, we're all having fun together!

Did I feel like teaching this morning? Not so much, because I definitely came to class with a sense of heaviness. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, "How like herrings and onions our vices are in the morning after we have committed them." The stench of my habitual behavior of overeating late at night, especially when it comes to sweets that my body no longer craves, followed me into the studio. 

What did I do with it? I used it in class. We meditated on being present, of letting go of the yesterday and the day before and not worrying about what's to come. We focused on approaching those parts of ourselves that we dislike with forgiveness, compassion and acceptance, as the more we practice it within, the more we can express it without. We learned that there are two sides to every attribute — similar to the philosophy of homeopathic medicine, where the poisonous element can also used to heal you in the right amounts. We discovered our center point where everything comes into balance.

Whether my intuition speaks loudly or hums quietly, I tend to find these incredible moments where I am reminded that the Universe loves me every step of the way, even when I am filled with guilt, shame and self-criticism. This morning, I noticed a free magazine underneath a table at the Soul of Yoga after I taught, and picked it up. Flipping through the pages of Energy Times, I came across an interview with Andie MacDowell, where she mentions yoga as a transformational tool for enjoying life even more fully at the age of 54. I often think (and hope) that when I am that age, I will be filled with a grace and contentment that simply exudes from every cell in my being. 

One of my favorite quotes she shared was about the fantasy life we all wish we could lead:
When we're little kids we watch TV and go to Disneyland and want to see Mickey Mouse. So we're preprogrammed to want to have this fantasy world outside of what we do every day. So if you have all these fantasy people out there on whom you can project your hopes, your dreams, your disappointments — quite often it's your disappointments — it takes you out of your own life. And it really is a fantasy world. It's not really healthy, but it is what it is and it is how we are programmed.
And, asked why the movie Groundhog Day remains ever so popular, she observed:
It's about getting it right, and wouldn't it be great if we could do everything over again and have a chance to fix the mistakes that we make? We're all fallible. It's about making the right choices. But it is interesting because a lot of times [Bill Murray's character] would get frustrated and continue to make bad choices. There had to be a shift in him [to set things right]. And I think that is ultimately what we all hope for — some kind of shift to become conscious, to become aware, and that's what yoga is for me. And it does not mean that you may not take two steps back, but the goal is to become a conscious human being and to make good choices.
So yes, last night, I took two steps back. I also know that my moon cycle is about to happen, so I understand my hormones are a little awry. And, I try to understand that I am, as best as I can, making better choices each and every day. One of the greatest conflicts that I get into with my beau surrounds a bad habit he has that causes an almost visceral and repellant reaction within me. We talked at length about it and realized that I have such a problem with it, because it's not just an unattractive habit, it represents everything within myself that I can't control, that I succumb to, that is not perfect. Once again, in being with him, I learn how to love myself more unconditionally, because there truly is nothing in anyone else that isn't reflected in ourselves in some way.

One more quote for the day from W. MacNeile Dixon, "There is more than a morsel of truth in the saying, 'He who hates vice hates mankind.'" We all have vices. We all have parts about ourselves that we keep falling into, as though we're tripping over cracks and crevices we're so much more aware of yet continue to stumble upon.

This is humanity. This is where we learn how to be divine. As teachers, I believe we share the lessons we most need to learn, because it comes from a place of truth and people resonate with that. Love the parts that are imperfect, embrace the parts that are wonderful, and infuse everything else with a grace and beauty that the Universe would impart on you.

I admit it. I'm fallible. The good news? I'm also conscious. And hopefully, I can learn to intertwine the two with a lot more forgiving kindness.

***


What things in your life do you trip on most often? How does it feel when you indulge in your vices and how do you approach the before, during and after?