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. 

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?” 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!

Self-Study & Reflection

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

Dear Friends,

As you know, in our group classes we’ve begun to introduce the ethical limbs of Yoga, called the Yamas (outer restraints) & Niyamas (inner observances). The Yamas include Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya & Aparigraha … ways we interact with others in order to cultivate a peaceful, equitable, enlightened society. The Niyamas include Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana … inner observances we take on to get more familiar with & embody the Divine within us all.

Did you know, according to some Yoga traditions, that a student would not be allowed to practice Asana (postures) unless & until they had mastered the Yamas & Niyamas? (It begs the question for me: Would I even be practicing Asana right now? Haha!)

These past few months, & I believe for many months & years to come, have once again opened deep wounds, intense emotions, past traumas, generational traumas — both on an individual level & global level. Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries states that our systems – political, healthcare, economic, criminal justice & more — have been predicated on the idea that “some lives matter less than others.” My white skin has offered me unearned advantages, my body with relatively few aches & pains has been given unearned advantages, & more … what am I to do with this knowledge that my white, able, cis-gender body is advantaged by these systems? 

Hari Kirtana das has offered a quote in relation to the Bhagavad Gita, a primary text of Yoga: “The one thing a yogi cannot tolerate is injustice.” We who are students of Yoga have a duty, according to the Bhagavad Gita, to discern when to fight for what is right both within ourselves & out in the world. We begin with ourselves.Susanna Barkataki of “Honor Don’t Appropriate Yoga” says we can reunite with the true aim & purpose of Yoga through Svadyaya, orself-rule and inquiry, and “truly learn the full, honest integrity of an authentic yoga practice.” Our authentic Yoga practice propels us into the world with clarity, a sense of purpose, & an ethic to work for a better world.

Currently, I’m wrapping up an Ayurveda Immersion course with Luvena Rangel this weekend, & am in the middle of a 30-day meditation teacher training in the Himalayan Tradition with Tracee Stanley. I’ve been accepted into an Accessible Yoga Teacher Training intensive, which begins June 15th. (If you’re into Ayurveda at all, this drive to learn is my Pitta coming out, haha!)

I share my recent Svadyaya practices with one priority: to highlight just a few of the BIPOC teachers & organizations doing the work of sharing the full scope of Yoga. I hope you’ll check out each of these teachers / organizations as soon as possible. Too often, Yoga has become diluted in the West, i.e. equating this holistic system with “making shapes with our bodies,” mostly white bodies, mostly bodies with certain abilities (I am guilty of perpetuating these stereotypes).

That said, I want you / I to go deeper, to unlearn, to re-learn, & to honor the depth & breadth of Yoga — to learn from these qualified, lineage-based teachers/organizations that provide traditional wisdom in a modern context. We study ourselves in order to discover the Divine in ourselves & every other human, creature, & aspect of our environment. I am making mistakes on this journey daily … & yet am committed to self-study, reflection, & deep listening. I hope we are in this together.

I look forward to hearing from you, & connecting with you soon. What does Svadyaya look like for you these days? Not out of a “look at me” standpoint, but from a “this is what really moves me,” “this is what I notice in myself,” “this is where I want to dive deeper” reflective stance.

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

*Listen to an interview with Tracee Stanley on the Commune Podcast HERE

Notes to Self

First harvest from our garden …

Day 40 of #the100dayproject …

Venus Retrograde … May 13 – June 25 – Reflect, review, revision, revise, reclaim, reassess, realign, reacquaint, rebel, remember …

What is “essential” in my own life?

What do i value?

What brings me pleasure?

What grounds me in my senses?

What is my gift to the world?

What am I learning about love, beauty, finances, & that which is valuable?

How am i communicating with myself re: love, beauty, finances, and/or that which is valuable?

Observe, reflect, restore, revitalize.