Missives from the Mat #12 — Trapped and Released

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Who knows why anyone does anything.

I chose to pursue yoga because I knew that I needed centering, healing and quiet.

I was a recent first-time mother, my world was turned upside-down and I had an anger simmering in me that I didn’t understand.

I knew my anger had nothing to do with the baby, but I did feel trapped, as though becoming a mother had sealed the deal: I was en route to becoming my mother, with whom I did not much agree about anything. The only thing I knew how to do was to be Not Her. I did not know mySelf.

Suddenly I had these visions of her visiting endlessly –the proposition of which was absolutely terrifying– and never leaving. Mom would corner priests at the end of Mass; she would close down restaurants. She never said “good bye.” I remember witnessing my parents’ lengthy chats by the car in the driveway when my father would Just Try to Leave for Work. My fears and visions evolved into nightmares and then full-blown panic that I’d never be able to escape her. By giving birth to my son, I’d given Mom a lifetime pass to my … life.

It was all totally irrational. It was all in my imagination. Until it started to happen.

Mom stayed with my first son for several hours a day for nine months after I went back to work as a corporate communications manager for a major telecommunications company. At work, I had it all: stimulating conversations, deadlines, feedback, actual objectives which were attainable and measurable and money. At home, I had none of that, or so I felt. Looking back on all this, now 16 years later, I can see that I had all the measurable outcomes and objectives and goals I needed — they just weren’t mine to attain; they were my sons’. My own personal growth at the hands of my beautiful boys is priceless. No therapist could ever come close to helping me see where I needed to change.

So when I’d heard from my mother that my son was beginning his first steps and that I’d not be there to see it, I had to make a choice: miss out or miss out. I chose to miss out. I chose to stay home.

The morning I decided to leave my job; I had just printed my resignation. This is my beautiful son when he was about a year old. 

The morning I decided to leave my job; I had just printed and signed my resignation letter. This is my beautiful son when he was about a year old.

So I quit work. That job… yikes. It was amazing. But I had other things to do; I had to quit my old world to light up my new world.

But I was a mess still and I had to get out. “You have anger problems,” I remember my mother smirking at me in a smirky voice, as though my unexpressed, repressed rage and anger was all about me and not at all about her and her years of addiction, parentalizing and manipulation of me, upside-down mentality, and hocus-pocus “that’s not what happened” revisionist history.

Full disclosure: I am a peacekeeper by training. Still trying to win her graces, I didn’t want to upset my mother. She offered to stay with him that first year when she learned that I was interviewing daycare providers, “I’ll not have my grandson stay in one of those baby bins…” she would hiss. (I didn’t notice at the time, but I think I was being judged.) So we made a deal: she would clean up. No more drinking and no more pills and she could stay with him. But she had a price, I had to pay her. Every day she would take a cab to my house and be his onsite Mimi. Nine months later, when I left my job, she told me her world fell apart. That I had “taken away [her] reason for being.” The guilt of it all: to quit my amazing job, to stay home with my son, to lose mySelf in his mothering and lose mySelf in diaper duty, having no one to speak to but a toddler for hours on end was all a bit too much. This was supposed to be a happy time: MOTHERHOOD! But I had anger issues, right? Who would teach him Shakespeare? She asked. What about how he likes his lunch? She continued to visit daily, but I couldn’t pick her up, I was exhausted. But because I couldn’t pay her way over, or much of anything after I stopped working — we gave up half our income — the visits atrophied. She did teach him his first sentence, “Puck bit Mimi” after my father’s corgi, Puck, bit my mother rendering a dozen stitches in her right hand … much to the chagrin of our relatives and my mother’s friends, my father kept Puck. I could write vast tomes on my mother’s relationships with my father’s dogs.   

So I took up yoga at a local rec center on Sunday mornings. I’ve never been very churchy. This was a perfect compromise. It was the conscious breath with movement that was a nice departure, but the nap svasana at the end which hooked me. I remember thinking to myself, “And we get to take a nap too??” when each class was over.

I’m not an athlete, but I am athletic. I’m not a super-still person, but I can meditate. Get someone to tell me what to do and I’ll do my best to make it happen, so it was that people pleaser in me that helped yoga become a successful element in my life.

It was yoga’s subtle push to open my mind to my inner Self and see what’s inside it (rather than what’s outside it) which ultimately made me stay.

If You Go Looking for Crazy …

Anyone can flap their arms and kick up dust when crazy is going on all around. If you go looking for crazy, you will find the crazy. There’s never a shortage of crazy. So… why not try to be the stillness? Why not contribute to the silence?

After a few months of yoga, I realized that how I felt about / related to / fit in with the outside world was a direct mirror of how I was dealing with my inside world.

I’m reminded of those spin-art cards created at carnivals and festivals: you drop colors of paint on a card and then someone sets the card on a turntable which spins. The centrifugal force sends the gobs of paint to  radiate from the center and then you have your art.

Instead of being like the spin art, when our inner world starts to leak through to our outer world, I’ve learned that I need to go inward, go inside, and settle down and figure out how to deal with myself instead of oozing on to everyone else. That’s what yoga does for me: it keeps me from oozing on to the people I exist with. Yoga keeps me from being like spin art (which is always left behind at the carnival anyway).

Yoga’s near-compulsory / encouraged mindfulness has taught me to keep mySelf in mind in all of my reactivity. Do I still react? Yes. It just takes longer to happen now and is over much sooner. Also, my apologies are more freely offered. I’m also a much better listener. Not perfect! But better. I also have gained the freedom to be OK with making a mistake or to draw back on a boundary if I’ve spoken too soon. It’s OK to change our minds.

No Longer a Baggage Handler.

Yoga also gives me a more open mind which helps me allow people their baggage if I get static from them. I don’t have to take their baggage either — that’s another benefit of yoga. What’s on my mat is mine and what’s on your mat is yours.

I used to get terribly enmeshed with people. Now, I just smile and nod.

Some people come to yoga because they want better abs. Some people come to yoga because they need to stretch after sitting in a desk all day. Some people come to yoga because it’s cool. Some people come to yoga because they don’t know why, they just know it works.

I teach yoga because it has changed my life.

It’s been quite a year for me. A year ago, I had just written the check to attend a 16-day yoga teacher training retreat which beautifully humbled me. Three weeks after that, my mother suddenly died and the next day, school started for my kids. Three weeks after that, I pushed through to complete my RYT-200 written exam as my birthday gift to myself. Then on a snow day from school, I wrapped up the final stages of my yoga certification. Three weeks after that, I was teaching yoga in this beautiful room:

nice huh? it's a 40'x40' space surrounded by woods. all you hear when it's silent is the ticking of the wall clock, the chirping birds and children at the nearby pool in summer. i can't imagine myself teaching anywhere else.

nice huh? it’s a 40′x40′ space surrounded by trees. all you hear when it’s silent is the ticking of the wall clock, the chirping birds and children at the nearby pool in summer. i can’t imagine myself teaching anywhere else. at night, when the evening class ends and it’s dark outside, you hear the peep toads and crickets. in the winter as the snow falls outside…it’s like a dreamland.

The first time I stepped into that room to take yoga from my own teacher several years ago, I remember saying to myself, “What a gorgeous space. I would love to teach yoga in this room.”

Yogi Bhajan, the man who taught my yoga teachers Kundalini yoga has a saying, “Start and the pressure will be off.” That’s basically how my teaching started: I was trapped.

My first adult class came on the heels of serendipitous and universe-at-work, power of attraction, power of intention woo-woo: I set the intention, I got the room. I got the students. They came with the deal. They have stayed and re-upped and brought friends. It’s all a little too magical to believe, so I just accept it. I don’t try to figure it out.

Practicing Vs. Teaching — Oy.

Teaching yoga is quite different from taking yoga.

When you join a class, you go, you practice and you can leave. When you teach, you teach, you demonstrate and you don’t leave until the last person leaves. I get to lock up the beautiful space.

Last month, I wrapped up an eight-week session teaching children for pay and this coming Monday will mark the end of my first 12-week two-class session of being an actual paid yoga instructor to adults. I pinch myself from time to time. The earnings are very modest, but it lets me take the kids to Starbucks or pay for haircuts, or low-grade car maintenance.

Kids are honest, funny, physically adventuresome, openly competitive and curious. It was a blast to teach them; they were game for anything. The hardest thing I had to do with them was rein them in. Adults are not always like kids: they don’t tell you when it hurts, they keep their expressions to themselves and so it’s largely a mystery how things are going unless they offer a comment. I have learned to accept that if they keep coming back it’s because they like it. I can’t go looking to them for my happiness or fulfillment as that would be completely unhealthy; so I need to grow-up and see the data for what it is: proof.

Part of the Work of teaching yoga is practicing care for our students while also practicing detachment. All of my teachers have privately spoken to me about the varying personalities in a yoga class. I remember myself when I started: I was a super-pissed people pleaser. Somehow it worked out.

For Students: Respect the Space.

I encourage my students to be self-aware too.

The yoga room is a sacred space. When joining a yoga class — whether it be the first time or the 1,000th time — it’s crucial for the success of your own practice as well as your classmates’ that you leave your “day” at the door or at least with your shoes. Why? Because not everyone just got engaged. Not everyone just got fired. Not everyone just lost a friend or dropped the roasted chicken on the floor (guilty as charged). It’s because not everyone lives the same life. I try to do my best to allow everyone’s humanity while at the same time protecting everyone from everyone’s humanity… it’s a delicate balance.

I love that the students mostly know one another — after all, I was the new kid. They were already assembled, I took over the classes. That said, whether the students are adults, children or families: we are there to practice yoga, not share and have coffee — that can happen after or before class. I respect my students enough to begin and end on time, which I think is a rational expectation; everyone pays the same price to be in the room for the same amount of time.

you, your mat and your strap.

no matter where you practice, at the end of it all it’s just you, your mat and your strap.

The thing is — while these 90 minutes are all we have, everyone’s 2′ x 6′ rubber rectangle mat is all anyone needs to come to terms with themselves. They don’t need me to do it for them, in fact I can’t do it FOR them. They might need me to keep them in alignment, to help them not hurt themselves, to inspire or encourage them to go to their edge, but in the final analysis: it’s all them. I’m just there to hold the door open. They are the ones who step over the threshold.

Get Lost to Find YourSelf.

Many people look to find friends or a Teacher (not just of yoga) at a yoga class or session. That’s not what this is about.

Some of these yoga teachers out there are like rock stars to their students followers. I do not have that ambition. I’m not there to want you to love me. I’m not there to get you to trust me — either you do or you don’t. I’m not there to get you to hold that adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) for three minutes. It might be a goal, but it’s about YOU being willing to Listen to YOU and not try to impress anyone. ‘Get lost and find yourself,’ I say to myself when I get on my mat. That mat above is my fourth mat. I’m still looking, apparently.

When I first started this teaching gig, 14 weeks ago, I wanted to be liked. I’ll totally admit that. I also wanted to be The Best Teacher Ever and reinvent yoga and create lasting memories in peoples’ lives about how amazing and revolutionary my yoga classes are… now that I’ve exhausted myself trying to live to that standard, and have realized that people just want to be guided in movement, stretched out and relaxed, I have given myself the gift of my own perspective and have released myself from the crazy expectations I placed on myself. Why? Because I never expected that from ANY of my teachers. I just wanted them to tell me how to move.

Practicing yoga is truly about you giving yourself and your mat the time of day. It’s about you trapping whatever you are dealing with on that mat and then working through it so that you can release it and come off the mat that much kinder to yourSelf.

The best gift I can give people is a moment to help them to find themSelves.

Thank you.

30 Days of “A Year of Living Your Yoga” — Day 16: How Do You Want To Grow?

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Welcome one day late to Day 16 of my floundering blog series based on Judith Hansen-Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.” We have 14 days to go and by golly, we will get there.

After I share the randomly chosen quote, I try to keep these posts to less than 500 words.

Here is the quote:

July 19 — Which do you want: the pain of staying where you are, or the pain of growth?

Well.

Shit.

I am a day late and was just saying this morning to a friend over chat that I could really use a break from trying to Be Mindful all the freakin’ time. Sometimes I want to let my id run absolutely wild and take hostages.

If you told me one year ago, a week before I left for my yoga training retreat, that I’d go on an amazing week away with a cousin to North Carolina, that my mother would drop dead of cardiac arrest, that we’d have another dog, that I’d be teaching yoga, that we would endure the bullshit of crazy friends, that my father-in-law would succumb to complications of pancreatic cancer and the other thing I’m experiencing in my family (that I can’t talk about at the moment), that my son would would surround himself with truly amazing young men for friends (whom he met because he DIDN’T make the high school soccer team!), that my other son would be rational about confronting the backwards choices he’s made, that I’d grow closer with new people, and that I’d grown emotionally and spiritually in ways I could never have imagined through it all, I’dve told you to get your head examined.

I’d think: I don’t court this kind of energy, I don’t court growth in such extreme measures.

Apparently I do.

So which is it, dear reader?

Do we yearn for the duck-and-cover, wait for the “all-clear” from someone else to emerge into the dusty, hazy tormented remains, step out onto the shattered glass and shrapnel in our bare feet and grow that way?

Or do we watch the forecast, see what’s coming, do our best to fortify against it in order to experience it: put on battle gear, to withstand and grow?

The best yoga pose, as far as I’m concerned which exemplifies confronting, withstanding, maintaining and empowering is Virabradrasana II, “Warrior II”:

unfortunately, this doesn't show my back leg, but you can see that it's all about personal power, this pose.

unfortunately, this doesn’t show my back leg, but you can see that it’s all about personal power, this pose.

The reason this pose is so evocative to me, and to countless others, of empowerment is because it’s hard to do and also because every action in the body in that pose is all about steadiness, power and strength and awareness.

It’s hard to know where to start talking about what’s “most” influential in this pose because like all challenges and opportunities in life, each one affects each person differently. I’ll start at the feet and then bounce around: the position of the feet is established from mountain pose, when your feet are a comfortable hip-width apart and the line between the feet is parallel. From there, one foot goes back — at that same “gait” width apart so the balance is assured, and the big toe of that back foot is turned about 30˚ toward the front.

Pause a second: People ask, “how far apart should my feet be?” a lot. I like to say, “as is comfortable for you.”

For me, I usually place my ankles directly below my wrists as my arms are extended. But as you lunge forward, the wrist will extend beyond the ankle.

Shoulders engage, squeezing toward one another. Why? Ask any warrior if they have a better chance of being ready if their shoulders are loosey-goosey. Doing this with the shoulders starts to activate the core. Then you pull the navel in toward the spine, again bringing awareness to the core, the back straightens up… it just does. Then you turn your head toward the direction of the forward-facing hand (the one that is above the forward facing foot) and the fingertips are reaching behind you and in front of you. I like to say to the kids I teach, “pretend you’re shooting lasers from your fingers.”

As you exhale, bend the forward-facing leg to a lunge (keeping the forward-facing bent knee either within or above the front toes, not going beyond them and the tracking of that knee above the foot, not caving in toward the inner thigh or wrenching out toward the outer thigh). All of this is fruitless of course, without pressing the outer side of the back foot into the mat, raising the arch of your back foot which activates the calf of that back leg.

Next, you turn your head to stare beyond, but set upon the direction of your forward hand’s fingertips. Both palms are facing the floor.

What’s your torso doing? It’s not leaning forward, “like a hood ornament” (snort!) as my teacher says. It is ready, not on the offense, not on the defense either: just saying, “HERE I AM. Let’s do this.”

THERE’S A LOT TO YOGA!

Now here’s the ironic part of this pose: while you’re looking all bad-ass, facing forward, eyes steeled for the storm, the POWER of it all actually comes from that foundation foot and leg in the back. If that back leg is “all whatevs” about this pose, you’re toast and you’re not ready for growth.

There is no “all whatevs” in this pose. Not in the least.

If you start to think about other things, you will lose the integrity of the pose. So, Lasater is right in terms of growing. Do you want to grow in Warrior II as you experience it: monitor your legs, check in with your breath, feel any tension in your jaw (which absolutely happens) or do you want to take longer to grow, lose the pose, lose the power of it and the lessons it teaches you about endurance and your own character and end up trying again and again to get it solid?

So you just hang out here for about five or so steady and deep breaths to start and add more breaths as you gain strength. You will gain strength quickly with this pose (mentally for certain). Soon your front thigh will start barking.

To come out of the pose, on an exhale: gracefully lower your hands, straighten the front leg, and bring your BACK foot up to meet your front foot. Take a couple breaths and then reverse to the other side where the front leg now goes back and your gaze extends beyond the fingertips of the opposite arm.

This was a long post. It’s hard for me to talk about Warrior II and not get a little carried away by it; it’s my go-to, check-in-with-myself asana; I suspect that’s because I’ve learned to be ready for anything these days.

Thank you.

 

30 Days of “A Year of Living Your Yoga” — Day 15: Let it Slide

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HALFWAY!

Welcome to Day 15 of my blog series based on Judith Hansen-Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.” While the book has 365 quotes, I picked only 30.

I will try to keep these posts to less than 500 words.

Here is the quote:

August 7 — The only people who seem to be done with everything are dead, and we don’t even know about them. Today notice your tendency to want to finish everything and make everything perfect. To experience working with more ease, pick a task and commit to doing it for ten minutes. Then leave it and come back to it during the coming days, but still only for ten minutes at a time. Revel in both how the task gets done and how you don’t need to be done all at once.

Oh! The irony! (I’m typing this at 11:32 the previous evening; I had a huge multi-day buffer of previously written posts and today, my world blew up a little and so here we are. I did get to go for a row though and that was sooooo niiiiiiice.)

So if one reaction is irony, then another reaction of mine is hilarity because I don’t think this Lasater woman has children in her life nor do I think she knows how little I care about finishing projects.

Well, that’s a stretch. But not really, I’ve not tapped at my book in weeks months.

I do know what she means: laundry. Do ten minutes at a time then let it go for three days. Then just do another ten minutes and let it go for three more days. Then do another ten minutes and find a divorce decree at the bottom of the basket. Or dishes.

Or dog walking… that would be rich: leave the house with the dogs and let them go loose after ten minutes and then come back three days later to see if they’re still there. Or if they’ve been picked up by the animal police.

Laundry is a perfect example for how I can “revel in both how the task gets done and how [I] don’t need to be done all at once.” Why? BECAUSE LAUNDRY IS NEVER DONE. It goes on and on, ceaselessly droning like my eighth grade math teacher, Mr. Wallace, at Key Intermediate Middle School.

“MIZZ TUHRNEHR … would you MIIIIIND putting DOWWWWWWN that bath towel and addresssss the problemmmm on the boarrrrrd?”

I will stop making fun of this quote now.

I get what she’s saying. She’s saying to take a break from what you’re doing, say as an air traffic controller, and come back to it a few days later and devote another ten minutes to it and “revel.”

But maybe she’s referring to busy work, like answering emails or returning phone calls (remember those?) or . . . ?

This is the same woman who says to practice yoga every day. Just for 15 minutes. Ok. But … what about the ten minute thing… ?

Oh… It’s me. She says to “pick a task” (any task, just go ahead and pick one… ) and commit to doing it for ten minutes.

Ironing?

Washing the car?

Balancing a bank account?

Painting a bedroom wall?

Writing a blog post? Oh… now we’re talking.

Thank you.

30 Days of “A Year of Living Your Yoga” — Day 14: When Your Back Is Up

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Welcome to Day 14 of my blog series based on Judith Hansen-Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.” While the book has 365 quotes, I picked only 30.

My goal is to stay close to 500 words excluding the quote.

Ready? …

November 7 – Emotions arise when beliefs are challenged. Today notice when you are agitated, or angry, or upset. Then ask yourself: What belief of mine has just been challenged?

Dayyyuuum.

Right there. That’s mindfulness and emotional awareness and self-challenge and an invitation to reframing.

Right there, that’s couch time.

Right there, is the first step on the path to enlightenment.

What belief has just been challenged?

That’s hot.

So then I ask you: What makes you so smart? What makes you the arbiter of right and wrong? What makes you the authority on whatever Belief you hold to be Truth?

Ok — we can all agree that child abuse is wrong, and that addiction is a scourge, and that several other moral and ethical standards are established.

But aside from that, why should anyone’s get-up of buchanan tartan argyle socks and Black Flag t-shirt, combat boots, nose ring plaid kilt offend you so much? I’m the one who has to wear them. I’m the one who totally doesn’t know if a Dead Kennedys t-shirt goes better with which plaids go with which boots and hey! It’s my “problem.”

Let’s say you’re sitting in traffic and totally pissed about sitting in traffic. Because sitting in traffic is probably the most vexing experience to you. You say you’d rather have a root canal or perform natural child birth than sit in traffic.

What’s the belief that’s been challenged? That other people should get out of your way?

Here’s me: You get out of your way.

I think one of the saddest things of all is expending an amount of energy comparable to having a baby over having to sit in traffic. I mean … really.

But then there’s my belief that is challenged: that I shouldn’t have a consideration or care about what other people think of traffic. If Bipsy wants to shred her energy and amp up her adrenaline response, charge up her cortisol, which builds fat around her organs, including her heart, liver, and spleen, and tax her glandular systems bitchingandmoaning about traffic, who am I to stop her?

GO FOR IT, BIPSY!

Equanimity, right?

i love The Google! I typed "traffic and football" and look what came up! Grumpy Cat for the win!

i love The Google! I typed “traffic and football” and look what came up! Grumpy Cat for the win!

I’m in. Just don’t expect me to give a crap about American football. Go Bills! That’s all I say every Sunday during football season. It’s not that I think people who watch “the running around and falling down game” (as my then 2-year-old called it) are goofballs, to each his own, but don’t expect me to really care and don’t get mad at me when I yell, “ICING!” or “GRAND SLAM!” when a touchdown is scored.

To each his and her own. I don’t look in your trash, don’t look in mine.

(Why did I write that? I don’t know. I’m typing outside and so naturally I thought of my neighbors looking in my garbage… that is really weird.)

So yeah, when you get irritated, ask yourself why. Likely it’s you who has to chill out. I think about the bullying thing again, and I ask myself often, “Was I overreacting? Was I out of line? Was I unreasonable?” And even though I know that if I read about it in a magazine, I’d totally understand the reasons for the upset that the me-character was feeling, I still wonder if I’m overly sensitive. 

Thank you.

ps – happy birthday to my concert-going and calling brother, bruce wayne.