Little Birdie

Several years ago, I was relaxing in a yoga class. The teacher was guiding us through a meditation, and used this wonderful visualization that I will never forget. When you sit quietly in meditation, all kinds of things pop into your head–I need to buy dog food, the car needs an oil change, I’m still ticked off with that crazy lady from work…you name it, it enters my thoughts as I am attempting to quiet my mind.

She spoke of seeing those random thoughts like a little bird, briefly alighting on a park bench, then just as quickly flying away. When thoughts come floating in about body pain or work stress, acknowledge them, but don’t hold onto them. Let them go on their way.

The little bird is my gentle reminder to return to the present moment. She has helped me to let go, at least for a moment, worries about my health, my work, my car, you name it.

Before the first of the year, I got into my head that I would journal every day, move in some way every day, and do something creative every day, even if it was just a doodle. I didn’t make this commitment to myself from some outside pressure, I had arrived at it because I listened to my intuition. I made this commitment to myself because I knew that a regular practice such as this soothed my body, mind, and soul. Such a practice would clear my thoughts, heal my body, unleash my creative self. I stayed with it for about a week, and then with the busy-ness of life, I lost my focus.

This time, the little birdie showed up as a reminder to return to my center in a new way.

Instead of being the thoughts I needed to release, it was the embodiment of the practice I needed to keep.

The journaling may be only be a few lines, the creating may be a leaf drawn within the lines of the journal, the movement may be a 10 minute walk or 3 minutes of yoga, but I will have taken the time to honor my entire being, to spend some quality time with myself.

So, thank you, little birdie, for your gentle presence.

Yoga and Self-Image

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 Whenever I am thinking about buying a book, I tend to read the reviews about it on Amazon.com.  If there are 1 or 2 star reviews, I check those out first.  It amuses me to read these, because you can often really feel the vibe of the author.  Sometimes, they’re just malicious spammer types, and it stands out that they are simply slandering the book, probably without reading it.  Other times, they didn’t appreciate the author’s style of writing or were distracted by typos in the book.  If I’m lucky, I get an insight from a reviewer that really resonates with me and gives me a grain of truth that helps me decide to buy or to move on.

 Last week, I came across someone’s list of “10 Best Yoga Books”, and I was looking at reviews to further evaluate them for myself.  I got to one book, I don’t even recall the title, but the book was personal stories of how yoga had helped people with their body image and overall sense of wholeness. The negative review was rather long and spoke a lot about how “if you are anorexic, bulemic, obese, or have serious body image and self esteem issues, this book is for you.  If you are a regular person, this book isn’t for you.”  The reviewer also seemed to suggest that if this book resonated with you, you probably needed professional help.
 
This assessment really made me think.  You see, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have some issue with their self-image. Listen to the most fabulous woman you know, and you are likely to hear at least a whiff of self-criticism.
 
That doesn’t mean I hate myself or that I have a deep, gnawing self-loathing.  It means that like most human beings, I tend to be more critical of myself than I am of others.  I mean, after all, it IS my body, I live in it 24/7, so I have plenty of time to notice things.
 
Here’s where yoga comes in. 
 
It didn’t really hit me until I had finished teaching my yoga class last night.  As I instructed my student to lie down for relaxation, I came down into a crouch-sitting position.  In that moment, I felt invincible, strong, whole, complete.  It didn’t matter what the facts of my body composition might be. Sitting there, I was perfect, content, and full of the wonder of all creation. 
 
This is what makes yoga such a powerful experience.  You don’t have to be flexible.  You don’t have to be thin.  You can be any size or ability.  You can even be broken–achy joints, sore back, bound up from surgery, weak from chemotherapy, or stuck in a negative emotional place.  I have been all of these things along my yoga journey.
 
Yoga helps me explore the boundaries of my discomfort.  Sometimes, that discomfort is soreness around surgical scars. Sometimes, it’s anger at the events of my life.  Sometimes, it is an aching back from sitting at the office too much.  I might even be an emotional wreck.
 
Yoga helps me focus on the present moment.  I hold or move mindfully in a pose.  I focus my attention on my balance.  I notice the quality and depth and feel of my breathing. Sometimes, I am instructed to draw to mind anyone I am angry at and to use the fire of that emotion to provide the fuel to hold a difficult pose.  I am reminded not to push beyond my limits, to a place where I might be injuring myself, yet I am encouraged to seek that place of challenge or tension.
 
Each yoga session is about MY challenge, MY body, and MY experience.  It isn’t about anyone else.  I do my best with wherever my I am in that particular moment, and that is all that matters.  I face my fears, I honor my body, I allow emotion to pass through me.  I bring discipline and grit to the mat that goes with me into the big wide world.
 
And I enjoy that moment afterwards where I feel whole, complete, invincible, powerful, courageous and at one with all things.  I have not one morsel of criticism in my being for myself.   Yoga helps many of us transcend the chatter of whatever nags us, no matter how big or small the concern.  
 
I’m not sure what my dear Amazon reviewer gets out of their class, but I sure as heck get more than stretching and bending in mine, and I would not trade that for anything in the world.

Accepting It As It Comes

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My dog Emma is closing in on 15 this summer, which i truly find amazing, and in general, is an inspiring thing to watch. I have a hard time not convincing myself that i can make her situation “better”, especially when she has marvelous days where she is lucid, active, and has her wits about her. Then we have nights like last night where she didn’t eat great most of the day, then got a bit of a sundowners kind of thing in the evening, walked her bony self around and around the den, even when I scooped her up onto a sofa to rest, she just couldn’t rest. Then she wouldn’t eat the Tramadol I hid in the ice cream…I thought that she was in pain, and thus restless last night…we finally got the pill into her, and she finally did settle on the bed upstairs, to some degree, but I was uncomfortable most of the night, as she was just restless enough…

Today, she is sleeping up a storm on the sofa, eating a little bit every few hours. I find myself filling my days home with “what shall i try to feed her next” She has so little mass on her frame, and i feel like it isn’t about not taking in enough calories (I feed her almost constantly), it just seems to evaporate once it’s in her system. How does that work? Is it about not digesting that food as well, or what? And strangely, it feels like she plumps up on days she eats well, but looks even more gaunt on those days she doesn’t, which are usually the days where she is a bit weird and off in her manner.

I am getting my first up close dose of Old Age. She is 94 and she is feisty and agreeable and disagreeable and wants help up the stairs then DOESN’T NEED MY HELP AT ALL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH and then she might spaz out as if she were being snatched up by a kidnapper and she drools her drinking water and she stares at us and barks for no reason at all or she barks at us because she wants to eat. She knows what she wants, she doesn’t know what she wants, but she will be heard either way, thankyouverymuch!

She was always happy to sleep in her chair at night, and suddenly, she decided she couldn’t (not wouldn’t, she flat out COULD NOT sleep there)…that she positively HAD to sleep on the bed, with me. I presume that it is a feeling of security that the chair could no longer offer…she pushed herself out of it a time or two, and I think she holds a grudge…though during the day, she WILL sleep in the chair, but never, ever at night. I love having her in the bed, I hate having her in the bed. I am a light sleeper, and wake every time she shuffles around, or trembles…or pushes herself off the bed. Despite falling off the bed, she does not hold a grudge against the bed, unfortunately. All efforts to create a just as comfy bed on the floor or closer to it have been in vain. For what it’s worth, a baby bed at WalMart costs $38, and is soft, waterproof, and way cheaper than any dog bed. The other dogs like it a lot.

I’m glad she is a dog. I wonder if I would be so patient with a human being, because when the 50 pound dog spazzes in your arms, it is distressing and frustrating. When 120lb gramma does so, well, she might give you a black eye and bruise your ribs and send you both tumbling down the stairs.

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I work very hard at being present, of not trying to make things “right’, of just being here for her, and staying out of my own way, not getting in my head too much, and sharing my concerns or fears, otherwise, I’m guaranteed to get into my own head a little too deeply, and that never leads to a good place.

She is helping me learn to be vulnerable, to love and tend no matter the demented moment, and to be able to have a degree of disconnect from that…This is what it is, and it is neither good nor bad. It just is. I get to choose how I approach this journey.  She has lessons to learn in this life, and she has lessons to teach that are just as important.  I plan to be a good student.

 

Author’s note: I wrote this essay April 2013, not long before Emma’s passing.  She was an humble, generous soul and I hope to know her again in this lifetime.

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You Get What You Need

This is what I believe.
One, that the Universe provides what you need.
Two, that when something comes up in your life over and over again, it is there to help you learn a lesson.
I started taking yoga classes when I was beginning my chemotherapy for breast cancer.  I was losing my mind from the fear, anxiety, stress, and worry of the 3 months that started with my diagnosis, reeled with 3 surgeries in 45 days, and that moment when I knew I had to find something that would help me find some peace of mind.  I couldn’t keep living in this space of desperation and fear.
I found a life-changing kundalini yoga class, and I never looked back.
Instantly, despite being physically challenged from a bilateral mastectomy and mentally, emotionally and spiritually depleted, I felt joy, peace, and acceptance.  My life was changed in profound ways as I faithfully attended my weekly class.
When I emerged from my treatments, I was drawn to attending a teacher training class to deepen my personal practice.  I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to teach, but once I finished my certification, I knew that I wanted to reach out to others who were suffering and share this incredibly powerful practice with them.
So I began to teach.
On a good day, I would get 4 or 5 students.  Sometimes, one or two students. Sometimes, no one would show up at all.
I was, of course, discouraged when no one showed.  After a second week in a row with no students, I had a good bawl in my minivan on the way home. Was it worth all this frustration?  Was it worth my time?  What was the point?
Then I had a conversation with my partner, who reminded me that it wasn’t about me, it was about the yoga.  The Universe would bring me the students that needed it, when they needed it.  It wasn’t about making some money on the side, it wasn’t about ME, it was about the yoga.  The first thing I had learned in teacher training is that it isn’t about YOU as a teacher, it isn’t about your ego, having groupies, or having a huge number of students show up.  The teacher is the conduit for the teachings.  The teachings flow through you. Yoga heals, not the one teaching it.
I reorganized the class, I laid aside any attachment to how many students came to class.  I vowed to be fully present for whoever showed up.

When I again had weeks with no takers, I took that time for myself, to grace myself with yoga in that special space, to chant, to meditate,to sing, to dance, to go within, to reconnect, to rejuvenate. I just flowed with whatever energy or vibe was flowing within me on that given evening. Even though I know how transformational yoga has been in my life, I often made excuses not to carve out that time for self-care in my day.The Universe knew I had a lesson to learn, and it kept sending me reminders until I finally caught on.  I was reminded to take the time to take care of Myself.Nothing changed about my external circumstances.  Still now, sometimes, there are students, sometimes there aren’t.  The only thing that changed was My response to it.  And so it is, not just with yoga, but with everything in life.  I can meet challenges or disappointments with resistance, anger, fear or anxiety, or I can dip my toes into the flow of the Universe and know that grace and peace come with it.

As the Rolling Stones might say, “You can’t always get what you want, but  you get what you need.”

p.s.–Thanks for checking out my first blog post.  I had a lot of beginner angst with the process, but finally decided to just dive in and go for it!