Life is in the Transitions (cont’d)

“The Divine loves you too much to see you stagnate.” – Yogarupa Rod Stryker

Dear Friends,

How are you feeling today?

Today begins “stay-cation” for Jim, me, Baxter & Tortilla. So I’m feeling a bit mixed — both disappointed, yet also quite content.

Usually around this time of year we’d be packing the backseat of the Subaru to the max with camping/hiking/lazy-daying gear (the very back covered with dog beds for the boys, of course!). Jim would have planned a general route for our travels, with plenty of wiggle room for side trips or extra days at a favorite spot. Our boys would be at our heels throughout the packing & loading — just to make sure we know they’re going too ;).

Last summer we returned to New England:

So it’s a bit disorienting to NOT be doing much planning … & no packing, loading, or (in the dogs’ case) shadowing right now. Instead, last night we started to make a list of stay-cation ideas =). A few things on our list:

  • Sleep in
  • Watch “The Umbrella Academy” (stumbled on this last night & we are hooked!)
  • Phone / Zoom calls with family
  • Paddleboard … without dogs (there’s a story here)
  • Climbing (possibly with dogs)
  • Catch up on The New York Times (me)
  • Novel editing (Jim)
  • Treats, snuggles, walks, more treats (B & T)
  • Backpacking in Dolly Sods (a fave place of ours back in grad school)

We may get to all, some, or none of these activities — that’s usually how our vacations go anyway. And our various work projects will inevitably seep in … yet we’ll attempt to take our sabbatical from those beloved projects while staying close to home.

How have your summer plans altered this year?

How are you feeling about your 2020 summer transitions?

I think about Yoga — when we first start out on our journey into asana, meditation, lifestyle practices — it’s all new, there’s much to explore. We may feel excited, uncertain, challenged, frustrated, empowered, (enter-your-descriptor-here). A whole new world with endless paths of philosophy & technique. We learn, practice, become familiar — then add new territory to our explorations, maybe a new posture, or a new breath technique or daily Ayurvedic routine.

But what happens when we “stay home?” When we get on our mats/chair & practice Mountain Pose (Tadasana) for the one-thousandth time? What happens when we come back to our breath for the one-millionth time? When our mind wanders … to the same places … A G A I N ?

“Staying home” in my yoga practice can be challenging. I wanna do the latest craze in postures/sequencing, try an esoteric meditation, or get that herb that I just learned about.

And maybe where the juicy stuff of life IS — maybe where I actually dive deeper into my own radiant Self — is in doing the familiar thing with new, deeper, more full awareness. Trusting that the Divine loves me too much to see me to stagnate.

Can tadasana be familiar & at the same time NEW … each practice? Can my breath — which is always with me, mostly unnoticed — evoke wonder & awe with each inhale & each exhale? Can my mind, ever-wandering, teach me about my own tendencies … & can I approach my tendencies with grace & compassion?

So we will stay close to home this summer. We will visit familiar places with new eyes & hearts. I will visit my familiar practices with a “beginner’s mind” — & have faith that I will be amazed by the new territory I discover within.

Thank you to my teachers in the Himalayan Tradition, & all of you in this community – who are my teachers as well. May we continue to grow in our re-membering how vast & radiant & beautiful the Divine Light within each of us truly is.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti – Om Peace Peace Peace.

Life is in the Transitions

(also the title of Bruce Feiler’s latest book, which is now on my reading list πŸ˜‰ )

Dear Friends,

How are you feeling today?

I invite you to notice your next breath & the transition between inhale & exhale. How are you feeling today?

I’ve been feeling nostalgic & melancholy. Last night, Jim, our boys & I drove to Ohiopyle where we found an un-personed spot along the river to let the boys swim:

Our boy, Tortilla … dry for the moment πŸ˜‰ … the stick-retrieving soon to ensue!

As we sat at the Youghiogheny Loop Takeout, I looked at the rapid for the kayak line — Charlie’s Washing Machine (avoid), Frog’s Back (fun sneak line) — & realized that, after not getting in a kayak for almost 2 years now, I may not kayak this river again.

I reflected, nostalgic, remembering the times of skirting in & out of the waves & eddies — never a pro kayaker by any means, yet always endeavoring for smooth lines & strokes. THAT was my joy — the transitions — the smooth sailing in my Dagger RPM.

A deep sigh. A tinge of sadness. And a boatload of gratitude for the opportunities this river has afforded me. And will continue to afford me in new ways as we transition in our relationship with one another.

Given the “positive vibes only” Western yoga culture, my feelings are uncomfortable to some, even to myself. I’m “supposed” to emanate these hyper-smiley vibes because I practice Yoga. More so because I teach its practices. 

Well, let’s set that thinking to rest right here. If you’re seeking a positive-vibes-only human to practice Yoga with, I may not be your gal ;). **

As I’ve gone through many transitions in my Yoga practice & teaching, what I CAN offer is this: 

A continuous, messy, & seeking process.

This process to understand my own self better. First & foremost, I am a student of the Himalayan Tradition.

This process to offer what I’m finding supportive, revealing, rejuvenating, clarifying from the Yoga practices of the Himalayan Masters. I am a teacher within a time-tested, lineage-based, & living tradition.

What I shared 5 years ago is different from what I’m sharing today … hence, the “living tradition” which evolves as humankind & the planet evolve. And I hope what I’m learning & offering 5 years from now will evolve as well.

A book I’ve picked up by Justin Michael Williams titled “Stay Woke: A Meditation Guide for the Rest of Us” demystifies this idea that meditation is meant to make us “feel better.”

Not so.

Meditation (which is Yoga) is meant TO MAKE US FEEL.

If you have a meditation practice, you know this ;). If you’ve tried a meditation practice, you may have tasted this fact — you may have felt bliss, peace, boredom, anger, joy, agitation, “when the hell is this going to be over” — & maybe in the first minute of your practice!

What if life is in this transition FROM an unattainable stereotype of Yoga as bliss … TO Yoga as one method (of many) to get to know ourselves better, with all our foibles & feelings & most of all radiance?

What transitions are you experiencing? How are feelings coming up for you? Do you notice discomfort, a fix-it mentality, a sitting-with these feelings? (no judgment, just an opportunity to notice)

May you feel all the feels today. May you be gentle with yourself. May we be gentle with each other. You are loved.

Baxter & Tortilla – brothers from different mothers πŸ˜‰

**Note: There are Yogis & Yoginis out there who radiate positivity authentically, while also acknowledging their more challenging feelings as part of the process. Pema Chodron comes to mind …

Gentle is the New Advanced

“Study thy Self, discover the Divine.” – Yoga Sutra II.44

Dear Friends,

How are you feeling today?

The light, consistent rain is plumping my spirits today … Jim & I walked in a light rain this morning … it was restoring. (I do a little happy dance, too, because the garden gets watered!!)

Sheepskin Trail

The title of this entry – Gentle is the New Advanced – I first heard from J. Brown, a renowned yoga teacher questioning the West’s obsession with pretzel-like postures & repetitive postures that can lead to injury over time. He & I both share shoulder injuries which, in part, are a result of years & years of chaturanga dandasanas … & there are several high-profile Western yoga teachers who’ve had hip replacements due to, at least in part, prolonged, aggressive, asana-focused practice. This is not good! We who share in the Yoga practices have a duty to honor the ENTIRE system of Yoga, & to practice & share in its fullness.

To this end, I’m so excited to finally have the confidence to offer a gentle yoga & yoga nidra class regularly.  What does confidence have to do with offering a gentle yoga class? Well, expectation. I have felt the weight of expectation from myself … influenced by the Western yoga “industry” … that yoga = asana, slick asana, “hard” asana …

What images over the past 20 years have you seen of modern yoga in the West? If you’re like me, the images convey that a certain type of person doing a certain type of pose wearing a certain type of clothing & in a certain type of place IS yoga.

I think we’re cheating ourselves at best, & culturally appropriating & blaspheming at worst.

But that’s a soap box for another day ;).

For now, confidence. Confidence that the subtleties of a gentle yoga practice will seep into our bodies … not in an “in your face, ta DA!” way … rather in the gentle, light rain-like way of my walk with Jim this morning. Confidence in the Himalayan Tradition, which teaches a holistic system of postures, breath, relaxation, meditation & lifestyle. Confidence that the gentle-ness of the practices, rather than shoving us down the Yogic path, actually allows the body & mind to advance toward our own unique best selves in a more profound way.

This has been my own experience.

I’m still looking for a more authentic phrase, however. “Gentle is the new advanced” still has that Western competitive tinge to it, that “oh-this-is-better” framing. Maybe you’ve found a phrase in your own practice / teaching that conveys the need for a holistic view & practice of Yoga to truly reap the benefits for ourselves & our world. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I look forward to seeing you online Sunday evenings to begin your week. What would it be like if, rather than striving to be more & to-do lists, we began our weeks/days/next moments with gentle care & deep rest FIRST thing?

Revolution.

I look forward to ALL of the classes I get to share in with you this week. Deep bows, E

Viparita Karani is a “gentle posture with deeply profound benefits. A great time to read a chapter … pictured here “Stay Woke: A Meditation Guide for the Rest of Us” by Justin Michael Williams.

p.s. (!!!!) In my e-newsletter (subscribe here) I shared a link to Beautiful & Blessed, a local, woman-owned business — I don’t get any kickbacks, just want you to check her out! Here’s one of the earring sets I ordered yesterday:

So fun!

I flipped out on Thursday … Navigating the Waves

“Study thy Self, discover the Divine.” – Yoga Sutra II.44

Dear Friends,

How are you feeling today?

Today, Sunday, I’m feeling more grounded than Thursday … more on that later …

SUMMER

Right now I’m sheltering from the intense heat in SW Pennsylvania … which is nothing like hot, humid Oklahoma summers growing up. Me & my younger brother spent all day, every day outdoors in Oklahoma summers as kids (after loads of sunscreen applied) — playing in the creek, riding bikes, exploring. As a young adult, I trained for marathons over the summers in Ohio, guided backpacking trips in Virginia heat / storms, & studied prairie chickens on the National Prairie Preserve in blazing heat … no prob.

In adulthood, my relationship with summer has evolved — I’ve found summer heat to be draining to body & mind, & shift my outdoor schedule. Early mornings & late evenings you’ll find me outdoors, enjoying activity under the sunrise or moonrise =). Some of you have shared your joy in getting out before the world has heated up with the sun, noise & busy-ness of the day.Β 

YOGA

Last Wednesday evening’s rooftop yoga class in honor of the full moon was the first time I’ve shared yoga in-person since March 13th. A beautiful evening with 14 beautiful souls under the almost-full moon. I remembered why sharing the practices brings me joy, & most of all remembered the joy of being in community, in-person with long-time & new friends.

And … the experience reminded me how much our world is changing. Masks. Six-foot distances. Stay on your mat. Don’t touch anything, or give anyone a handshake or hug. And being tasked with ensuring people follow these guidelines for their own & others’ well-being. An underlying current of “what-if” amidst a timeless practice of cultivating a peaceful flow of awareness.

The intensity of a global pandemic like the intensity of the July sun in SW PA from which I’m currently recoiling.

INTENSITY – THE FLIP-OUT

So, the next day – Thursday – I’m working on 4-H virtual summer camp content. I’d remembered Wednesday evening’s class with elation & also uncertainty (what if we didn’t distance enough? what if …?), & yet didn’t think too much about it as I worked.

Jim calls from the next room, “DID YOU READ ABOUT THE ROOFTOP classes that …” & I couldn’t hear the rest … but my whole body went into panic mode out of nowhere … heart racing, eyes scanning, agitated … I couldn’t process what was happening quickly enough as Jim called again, “HONEY! DID YOU HEAR … ” All I heard was intensity.

I totally flipped out & yelled, “I CANNOT HEAR WHAT YOU’RE SAYING RIGHT NOW & IT’S REALLY FREAKING ME OUT! PLEASE STOP & COME HERE RIGHT NOW!”

I automatically sat down, closed my eyes, head in hands & shut the world out … just breathe. What the hell is happening?? NOTHING happened but Jim asking me a question … & hear I am in full panic … what is happening?

After several minutes, I felt myself come back into my body — have you ever felt that sense of leaving your body? By that time, a confused Jim was right next to me, wondering what was going on, too. I told him, “I have no idea, I just could not process the yelling, the rooftop, the not hearing what you said about the rooftop. Please give me a minute.” I felt myself start to cool down – heartrate, a settling, a deep breath.

Jim, bless him for being calm & cool, was just trying to let me know that all TYG classes were being moved to the rooftop for the summer. Simple. Information.

REFLECTION – COOLING OFF

And I realized, upon reflection, that over the past few days 1) I’d been hyped up about teaching in-person, because 2) there are more rules to minimize health risks, because 3) we, collectively, the world is facing a pandemic with no end in sight.

And that one simple act of a raised voice with muffled information I could not hear was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” that day.

When have you freaked out (internally or externally) over the past few months, or even just had an intense reaction come over you “out of nowhere” … ? What happened? Was the intensity due to that moment, or did you trace it back to a bigger thing, seemingly unrelated yet related? If you haven’t had these moments, that’s ok too! I’m just thinking if I’m not alone in this, how can we reflect together

GROUND

I shared this meme with my 4-H co-workers at the beginning of the quarantines in the U.S.:

In navigating the waves of this current crisis — which has revealed & cracked open the unsound foundations of many of America’s systems, i.e. that those systems value some lives more than others — these 6 points have grounded me immensely when I feel the heat waves build & burn. No matter the “work” you / I do — it is first affected by the fact that most of us have been restricted in our movements and/or are home-bound, & ALL of us are experiencing COVID-19.

Invitation: Stop Reading. Look Away from the screen. Rest your eyes on something green & alive. Reflect.

BACK TO YOGA

The 3,000+ year-old Yoga philosophy & practice in the Himalayan Tradition support & expand on these 6 points — that the world, & in turn our minds, is in constant flux (citta vritti translates loosely to “monkey mind,” & Yoga’s aim as outlined in Yoga Sutra 1.2 is to cultivate stillness amidst the fluctuations). That it’s our job to re-member who we ARE –luminous, whole beings — & that as a result we act with ahimsa, or non-violence, toward ourselves & others who embody that same Light.

So, if I have all these tools of Yoga to support me in times of uncertainty … & I’M flipping out at unexpected times … how does this inform my internal response & outward action toward those humans facing the same intensity (& often additional trauma on top of it), who DO NOT have access to these tools?

Do I hide behind the facade of the “yoga industry” … which capitalizes on Yoga philosophy & tools by putting forth an ideal of wellness, i.e. able-bodied, able to afford, able-to-dress a certain way? Do I use these tools as a power-over tactic — “if you just do this like I HAVE, you’ll be as enlightened as I AM” — hiding my own very-unenlightened, vulnerable states of being? How do I share these practices/tools of Yoga from my own vulnerability … in a way that acknowledges the VERY REAL REALITIES of fellow humans’ lived experiences?

Pause. Another Invitation to Reflect.

We can shelter ourselves & each other from the intensity of these waves. We must do this together, with practice, with humility, with love … through all the freak-outs as well as all the joy. Yoga is union – not only within ourselves, but with the whole of humanity, creatures, & the environment.

I look forward to conversations with each of you about how we can shelter each other through these intense times, & widen that circle of shelter to all of humanity / creation, regardless of race, creed, belief, sexual orientation, ability, education, economic status, or any other label that tries to divide us.

May we seek the goal of Yoga:

Pattanjali Yoga Sutra yoga chitta vritti nirodha pics. Very ...

In honor of July Full Moon Guru Purnima, a day to honor our teachers & our wise guides — I give gratitude for my teachers in the Himalayan Tradition, including Kate Kill & Tracee Stanley, & their teachers Rod Stryker & Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, & THEIR teacher Swami Rama, who came from the 3,000-year-old lineage of the Himalayan Masters. I give gratitude to wise guides Luvena Rangel & Susanna Barkataki, who share Yogic wisdom regarding Ayurveda, cultural appropriation & honoring Yoga. Thank you.

Svadyaya (cont’d)

Go to Radici Studios for free coloring pages!

“Study thy Self, discover the Divine.” – Yoga Sutra II.44

Dear Friends,

How are you feeling today?

Right now I’m far from discovering Divine in myself … I am feeling equal parts frustration, impatience, enthusiasm & hope.

As we continue to navigate the choppy waters of personal life, community life, & the global realities of COVID-19 & racist policies & systems … which many experts in a variety of fields predict we’ll be swimming in for months, even years, to come … how are you feeling today?

This question has been asked of me daily for the last 8 weeks by my teachers BEFORE any breathwork, asana or meditation — before what I’ve assumed is “the REAL Yoga” — happens. Jivana Heyman greeted us each morning of our Accessible Yoga teacher training with, “How are you feeling today?”Β And would proceed to WAIT … online, with 300 people … for us to contemplate this question. Silence over the airwaves. Gasp.

How often have I asked this question to a person / group in passing, simply as a transition to my next thought?

Jivana then let us know how HE was doing that day … from his home in California, with vulnerability & authenticity. “Today I’m feeling a bit anxious …” WHAT?! Our teacher is feeling anxious? Isn’t he supposed to be transmitting love & light & good vibes??

IT WAS A RELIEF TO HEAR HIS WORDS.

What a RELIEF to hear that folks farther along the path of Yoga are real people with real feelings & all the day-to-day thoughts that race through and/or clutter my own mind.

Sprouts in our little garden!

In the traditional Hatha Yoga practice of the Himalayan Masters, like many other traditions, we begin practice with centering – a time to arrive, check-in with our body & begin to settle our breath & mind for practice. This internal check-in is super-important to let our nervous system transition – to send our body messages like, “Hey, we’re going to do this now, you’re safe, pay attention.”

In my own Yoga practice, I take time to notice how my body is feeling, how my breath is flowing & maybe set an intention. I think it’s a good start =). To sit with, “How am I feeling today?” for any amount of time is … for me … hard. I wanna get to the “real Yoga” … & this contemplation hasn’t been on my Yoga radar.

During a group feedback session, our moderator Melanie Camellia challenged my way of thinking about group yoga classes & check-ins. I remember saying, “The check-in concept has been a revelation to me … I’m a task-oriented person, & have assumed that I need to make the most of people’s time by getting to the ‘real part of the practice’ … & from this [accessible yoga] training I’m re-defining what the ‘real practice’ actually is …” They listened as I worked through the revelation that the “real Yoga practice” is about PEOPLE, not a sequence.

IT WAS A RELIEF TO TAKE IN THAT TRUTH.

Yoga is about regular people like you & me re-membering the Divine in each of us. That may be through living an ethical life (yamas/niyamas), practicing certain postures (asanas), practicing breathwork/meditation (pranayama/dharana/dhyana) … that may be through gardening, walking with your loved ones, or taking naps … which have been my Yoga practices the past few months. Feeling what it is we feel in the moment without judgment. Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary.

So, I am feeling frustration, impatience, enthusiasm & hope. I sit with these feelings AS PART OF my practice, AS EQUAL PART of the “real Yoga” as I currently understand it ;). I look forward to broadening my understanding — I thank my teachers at Accessible Yoga, my teachers Kate & Tracee, their teachers Panditji & Rod Stryker, their teacher Swami Rama, & his teachers of the Himalayan Tradition of 3,000 years & beyond.

I look forward to checking in with YOU during our online & outdoor yoga experiences together this summer. I thank each of you who continue to regularly check in with me — it means so much to connect with you. E

This Week of Svadyaya – Self-Study

“Study thy Self, discover the Divine.” – Yoga Sutra II.44

Dear Friends,

SIMPLICITY.

What are you craving right now? My introverted, Taurus-Sun soul is enjoying simplicity as summer begins. While I continue my Yoga studies in lieu of teaching live classes for another week, part of my practice of svadyaya has resulted in taking my Yoga into the garden … into daily walks with Jim & our “boys” Baxter & Tortilla … into creative practices. (I’ve also enjoyed your messages sharing your wildlife sightings, your Yoga practices, your summer happenings! Keep ’em coming!)

Yesterday I took part in a virtual “tea meditation” with Being Tea. Pre-COVID-19, I would toss a tea bag into my mug & run out the door, then gulp it down mindlessly throughout the day. During this 2-hour session, the simple act of brewing & drinking tea was made profound & meaningful.* We practiced two different tea meditations along with journaling prompts. Suzette offers an informative, relatable, & soothing experience … I highly recommend checking out an online experience (or if you’re in Chicago, check out a live event when she re-opens!). In addition, all donations for this particular event went to The Bail Project.

SIMPLICITY.

I continue my studies with Accessible Yoga in order to complete this additional teaching certification. Over 300 students from across the globe participated in the live virtual training, & my perspective has widened 100-fold. I learned how much I DON’T KNOW, & how many more questions I have.

With continued reflection, I’m re-visioning how to widen the circle of practice & accessibility of Yoga in Fayette County. First, I pay homage to the souls who share Yoga locally — Laura, Jenny, Courtney, Kim, Caitlin, Crystal, Kristin, Leah & Leann, Cathy, Brynn, & more. What a pleasure to share Yoga in their company. Second, too many of us have been taught that Yoga is making pretzel shapes, or for those who are a certain body type, or only for those who can afford it … & if we’re honest, too many of us have seen Yoga portrayed as for white cis-gender women only. (ALL of these conceptions are false. Period.) As a white cis-gender woman, I fall right into the stereotype — haha, whoa, yikes! — so my studies have been / continue to be exercises in humility. And simplicity. To return to the simple, holistic Yoga system with humility & gratitude toward the Indian & South Asian cultures who have brought this system to the West.

SIMPLICITY.

I’d love to hear from you. Keep it simple. Which often leads to the profound. How can we, together, widen the circle of practice & accessibility of Yoga right here in Fayette County? Get in touch with me about your thoughts.

THANK YOU for sharing your Yoga practice together in community with me. I look forward to practicing with you online & in-person (outdoors!) soon.

Deep bows to you, Erica

*I would love to have tea when we practice together again!