I don’t know if I’ve said it before here at Continue to Breathe – but I prefer meditation to yoga. Maybe yoga is supposed to be a moving meditation. But let’s get real, I don’t have to move to meditate. I can sit and enjoy the ride. And it is a ride. It’s an internal ride with complete surrender, yet grounded in joy. I prefer meditation. Yoga is good. I love leading my classes, but for myself I prefer mediation.
Successful blogs require video. Successful blogs have a great social media following and include video blogging or video instruction/information.
I filmed a video. Okay, I filmed four days of video. I learned a lot in four days.
Number 1. Don’t wear crazy yoga outfits. They only look crazy. I think the reason people wear crazy yoga outfits is because they haven’t really seen themselves in it. When you do a quick pass in the mirror this simply does not get across the entirety of a crazy yoga outfit. I learned this information on day one.
Number 2. My living room does not look like a studio, or a nature center, or a film set. It looks like a carpeted living room with a lot of big furniture in it. As I reviewed the video I see that it would take a week to get all the furniture out. And then I would have to paint the walls, or cover them with curtains. HEY! Maybe I can just go pick up curtains to hang in front of the entertainment center – the one that no longer holds a television in it. How do I disguise the fishing poles? And where do I hide the couch off-camera and still have a hallway in the house? I am still thinking on these questions.
Number 3. I have a common thread in each of my yoga practice days. I have a favorite modification. It seems that modification shows up every single day. It may be because I did the video in August. This modification is the Towel Swipe modification. Towel Swipe modification is available in pretty much every posture – Downward-facing Dog, Wild Thang, Gate Pose, Locust, Any Warrior. Even trees and mountains modify with a towel swipe. It was hot. I am not meant for Hot Yoga.
I would set a video in here. Video as a challenge to myself. But I reveiwed it again. No way. I’m just going to sit back and continue to breathe.
On Sunday as we went through Chair Pose (Utkatasana) I saw that Sunday was holding her neck and shoulders funny. Funny, as in awkward. I said the usual, “Drop your shoulders.” But I could see that Sunday’s shoulders were fine. It was her neck that was out of kilter.
“Let’s get your neck aligned with your back.” I said. I kept us in Utkatasana while I spoke. “Feel the angle of your spine and bring the back of your neck along the same angle. Your neck is an extension of your spine here.” Sunday lowered her chin, “Oh!”
These ah-ha moment are great! Sunday’s shoulders came down naturally, all by themselves and I could see how much more comfortable Sunday was for adjusting her neck.
We came and went in and out of Chair pose two more time. Sunday let me know each time, “This is so much nicer.” And “See, that’s why I like doing yoga with you.” I was allowing myself to fill up just fine with all the praise. My ego feels good for doing yoga with Sunday.
For the rest of our time together – during flying warrior, triangle pose, side angle – all through our standing poses I stayed focused on the alignment of Sunday’s neck. I found myself stumbling over myself, iterating and re-iterating the balance and alignment of her neck for every pose. I had found my focus, but was undercutting Sunday’s focus?
As I went to bed last night I came across the Dharma talk from Seanne Corn in February 2017 – “Get out of the way of your students. They will have aha moments. Those are for the students, not for you. Get out of the way.”
I can only hope, after reading that in my notes, that Sunday has another aha moment soon so that I can practice, this time, staying out of the way.
Fridays is the drop-in class. I have gotten used to the same people coming pretty much every week for this drop-in class. There is a series of six people that seem to trade off so that each week three people, more or less, show up for class. This week we had a new student come in. Dottie has never done yoga before. Ever.
Dottie tells me she has wanted to try yoga for years now. She told me this first thing Friday morning as we walked into work together. I told her we have class today, and that she is dressed right if she would like to stop in. Dottie is wearing the stretchy pants that are in fashion right now. “Here’s your invitation to join us, Dottie. It’s a perfect day to give it a try. We met up on the right day, so come on in.”
I did make some promises as I tried to talk her into coming. I promised we don’t sweat. I promised to have her back to her work area on time. I promised it wasn’t hard to do yoga. Yes, I do some incredible personal marketing when given the chance. So far Dottie is only the second person I have talked into joining us. The first one never came back – that’s another blog post.
I do shameless promotion of the drop-in class. I mean, really, it’s free. It’s a no sweat way to get yourself out of your work area. It’s easy and quiet and fun. It’s perfect when the weather sucks because we are inside.
So Dottie came to class! I was grateful – actually grateful – to have her join us. My regular yoga expert was in class this Friday. She right away introduced herself. It was wonderful. Just sharing names was welcoming. I introduced Dottie as her first ever yoga. I am glad I did. This shared information gave me the power to slow down our postures. My regular practitioners knew to hold their postures while I instructed Dottie on what, or rather how to move into the next asana. Everyone was totally cool with it.
It was wonderful to have a seasoned practitioner in class to help show good posture and movement while I narrated what we are doing and how to get there.
Dottie did not make it correctly into a posture or two. Like Natalie’s’ Law of Algebra she caught on after the test, or as we were moving into the next posture. But she caught on. I saw the light of understanding blinking repeatedly in Dottie’s eyes. The light was always just in time for some adjustment.
One of Dottie’s concerns was that she would slow down the rest of the class. I assured her our class is slow enough she can’t slow it down. Of course, I lied. I take verbal shortcuts with the regular group. We do more repetitions or stay longer in a pose with particular muscle group in mind. For today I just wanted to introduce Dottie to yoga so that she was comfortable.
So yes, I slowed the class down. In our forty minutes we did seated twist, cats & cows, two sun salutations (one each side), mountain pose, warrior series, forward wide leg fold, boat pose (twice), windshield wiper knees, 4 pose, knee to ankle twist, happy baby and Savasana. Fifteen poses in all. That’s it. I did allow us to stay in our poses a little longer, to breathe into the muscles. My regular participant went ahead more than once on the warrior series while I was explaining knees behind toes and opening one’s chest to breath and accept the amazing energy of a warrior. In this way I know we lingered in the pose a little too long, but Dottie was still getting situated, so she may have felt a little rushed. I hope that this feeling of being rushed allowed her to believe that we did not slow down the class for her.
Dottie did ask, at the end of class, if she can invite someone to join us at these drop in classes. I was enthusiastic in my yes – please do, we want you to. Dottie asked, How many can come?” and my Subject Matter Expert piped right in, “As many as the mats we have here on the cart.” That was THE perfect answer! Oh how I would love to have all those mats in use. How many mats are there? That’s how big I want my class to be…every week.
They think I’m an expert.
I still hold a full-time job. I like being able to pay my bills. I like having the lights on at home and good food in the cupboards. At work, when people hear I am teaching yoga, I get visitors stopping by to ask about quick fixes and physical or health advice. It is flattering to be considered the subject matter expert. Even when I know that I most certainly am not. I am not supposed to be flattered. I am supposed to be humbled, and I am actually. When the questions come up, I am very humbled that my co-workers would ask me health and yoga questions. It is after they leave that I feel all full of myself. I feel like maybe I am pretty good at this and of course they would come ask me. I am as ego driven as the next person.
So far I haven’t steered anyone wrong on the yoga and health questions. So far, I am two-for-two. Okay, so this advice thing is not an everyday occurrence.
I had been visiting in the office with one friend – the kind of work buddy that makes work bearable. She has been feeling miserable lately. Her legs are swelling, her feet hurt, etc. Now my buddy has some physical ailments – her back, her hips, extreme weight, I don’t know what all else. But I hate to see her in such pain. She shared with me when I said I had finished yoga instructor training that her doctor recommended for her to practice yoga. For me, I would love to be her yoga instructor. But I would want to be there every other day like clockwork – or she won’t do it.
In the meantime I told her there is one yoga pose that may do her more good than any other right now and that is Legs Up The Wall. I told her to go home tonight and for the next week and put her legs up the wall. I even got on the office floor, real quick before anyone could come by, to show her how easy this is, and to prove it is just what I am saying it is. This asana is to simply lie down and put your legs up the wall. (Insert Photo
Together we laughed at how crazy we are to be getting onto the floor and how the visit had deteriorated into one of those visits. I did tell her before I left her area to do it. Put her legs up the wall every night for the week and then tell me how she feels. My buddy has not told me how it felt. We haven’t talked about it.
But she must feel okay, because a week later an old supervisor stopped by my desk to tell me her doctor has recommended yoga for her ailments as well. She has issues with hips and joint pain. We were chatting away and I described some hip-openers she can do in bed before she gets up and some floor twists to just gently “wake up” her hips and knees. I didn’t demonstrate this time. I know better now. My old supervisor seemed to understand. I only shared maybe three things to help.
Is she feeling better? I think so because I got word that the two of them have been talking about how they do yoga now and Sarah helped them with their yoga moves. Between the two of them I only shared maybe four different asanas. There was no assist. I spoke of alignment, but how much information was retained? How can this be considered “doing yoga”?
If I jump rope for one revolution is it considered jumping rope? Well, yes, I suppose I did jump the rope. But hey, the full effect of rope jumping (and yoga) is lost on these one-hit wonders. And yet, hey, if each of them are doing these postures, semi-regularly even, they are doing themselves good. It’s not about me. It’s not about the yoga. It’s about feeling better. It’s about individual healing. I need to step away now that the advice is given.
I am no expert. And they are only doing a yoga posture or three as far as I know. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble regarding the full nature of yoga, it’s not in a posture. Who knows when they will want to expand or deepen their practice? I would like to be there for that. In a dharma talk I was able to attend the speaker said, “These are not your students. They are here for a little while for you to prepare them for the next teacher. You are only the bridge to what is next.” Maybe my advice is all I get to give them. I need to be okay with that.
Heat of the Sun
It’s been cold outside. The room we use for Friday Drop-In isn’t so wonderfully warm. As I walked into our room yesterday I felt a hollow chill. I am missing the sun. It wasn’t hard to mentally change up my practice plans for the day. Sun Salutations. We needed sun salutations.
This is a mid-day class. I tend to go slow. I do a lot of explaining. We breathe deep into our postures. Those that can go deeper into a posture have plenty of time to do so. I stay away from postures and pacing that is going to send anyone back to their workstation with sweaty faces or fresh body odor. We do a quiet set of postures. We release tension and open ourselves up to breathing.
Yesterday though, yesterday we needed to warm up this room. I’m glad I decided that. Three people showed up in sweatshirts. Two women in the group have never done yoga other than with me and we’ve not been at it very long. So together the whole group did the first salutation while I did a lot of explanation. I’m sure I was huffing through the inhale and exhales while I called them out. I tried to gather my breath in Samastiti – Hand to Heart Center. Then I let everyone know we are going to do the same motions for the other side. This second side I shortened the cues. I was able to breathe better. It was good to see that everyone was keeping up.
As a group, we went through three full Sun Salutations (each side) today. Sweatshirts came off. There was too much activity for Resting B*tch Face to set in. The Warrior Series was relaxing after the salutations. I guided the group into a severely modified Flying Warrior (Virabhadrasana III) as the key posture today. It just seemed to want to happen, as if I meant this to be the peak pose.
Seated and Floor postures suffered. There just wasn’t any time left. And time was already out as I guided my merry band to relax in Savasana. I am so thankful there is no clock in that room. More than once I have played with time to get one more thing in. My band of merry yogis has no idea.
Savasana was pitifully short, a minute and a half, maybe. I am not sure anyone had enough time to let go and relax plus incorporate their practice into their bodies yesterday.
Thing is, it’s all good. As this merry band of yogis walked the hall I heard everyone mention how very relaxed they felt. I even heard, “more than usual”. And they were all walking comfortably as if they were actively relaxed. I need to remember this.
Note to Self on benefits of repeated Sun Salutations:
- No time for Resting B*tch Face.
- An active relaxed mode sets in.
And everyone continues to breathe.
Let’s get serious here for a moment.
There is a connective tissue of desire and receiving. When we ask, we must open ourselves to receive. Without the opening to receive, all our desires stay out there without the path to us. There is an almost (but not the same as) a tangible tissue that opens during meditation that allows our desires to come in to us, we receive in meditation.
We ask in prayer. Prayer changes us, not the circumstances. We may be praying for someone else, but ultimately it is ourselves that are changed. By changing us we may now change our circumstances.
What ever it is in life – Faith must, must, must, absolutely must come first. With faith all things are possible. That is not a cliché. That is real. “Everything you can imagine is real.” -Picasso. Faith IS the molecule, the element, which carries imagination into reality.
Diasaku Ikeda – “The entire universe exists within us.” It is all available within us – all the time, at any time . Cellular and macro physics – e v e r y t h i n g is within us. Each and every one of us. It is up to us through our desire, through our faith and our absolute knowing to pull this existence up to come into being. Everything is available within each of us.
Cher said, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.” In my own life, this is true. I may not be rich, but I am no longer poor. This change was through me, not from the outside. It was affected by me, in prayer AND in meditation. I am just regular Josephine Schmoe. I’m nobody special, but I am witnessing a transformation in my life every day that over the course of a year is noticeable to those around me. Over the course of the last decade, I am not sure I am recognizable from where I was ten years ago. And all I am doing is getting quiet with myself every day. I am meditating.
Nichiren Daishonin – “An ordinary person is a Buddha, and a Buddha is an ordinary person.” God is truly sitting next to us on the bus, regardless of how he smells. God is One of Us. Thank you, Joan Osborne
Still prayer is not meditation. Prayer is not a half-hearted longing or a wish or a plea, either. At its core, prayer is a personal vow to make something happen. And a strong prayer that fills one with resolve is the personal vow to make something happen without fail. If only we could remember that our future self already knows everything we pray for is already here. It is already present. It is now. In prayer our present self is asking for that connection to the future self, and this is a beautiful by-product of prayer.
Meditation is the connective tissue between prayer and results. Meditation is the opening, the emptying, the invitation to arrive, to come in. Meditation facilitates the cycle of desire and receiving.
Prayer is ourselves opening up to god to share our most heartfelt desires, and hurts and sympathies. Prayer cries with god, the source, and rejoices with source. Prayer is our communication with god. Meditation is the communication of god with us. Meditation is the receiving mode on the tuner. We have one mouth and two ears, but we sure talk a lot. In Meditation we are opening our spiritual ears, and closing our mouths.
I have been practising buddhist prayer for well over thirty years. Life is still ups and downs, I felt good for having a mode of expression to air my frustrations. It was not until I added the meditation – straight up, no bells, no whistles meditation – every day for the last three years that my life has become filled with the rewards of my dreams.
When I yoga, I am not in moving meditation. I am not in prayer either. I am firmly in my body. I am here, in this body, just as it is, right now. This is what I have to work with. I breathe and open my lungs. I rejoice with the infinite and sacred pockets of humanity that reside within me. I find myself rejoicing how good I feel. I open my mind to consider the parts of me that may not feel good today; it is only for today. Every day I feel different. No two days are the same. I appreciate and rejoice in the variety. My meditation is only seated, calm, considered meditation. My prayer is only seated, calm considered prayer. Yoga is not my meditation. It is not my prayer. It is my humanity as I continue to breathe.
There are times when yoga expands into daily life…at least for a while. Somehow along the yoga way I have been caught by my sweetheart standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth while I am holding my leg up with my other hand. The yoga pose is Extended Hand-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana – don’t ask me to pronounce that.). I found it interesting one morning that I was able to grab my toe and hold my leg up there parallel to the ground – and I happened to be brushing my teeth at the time. I wasn’t really thinking about anything that morning and I just started positioning myself to hold my toe and stretch out my leg. It worked! So I tried the other leg, and lo, it worked too. A couple mornings into this my sweetie walked around the corner and bam, I’m caught. It is hard to brush my teeth with my leg up in the air while I am laughing and trying to explain myself with a mouth full of toothpaste. Oh, the joys of yoga when you live with someone.
This whole thing started after I found myself in Ashtanga Yoga classes. That Hand-Toe Pose that has invaded my morning, and then my evening, dental routine is basically standing on one leg while holding the other outstretched leg by the big toe. (add photo here). I can’t seem to achieve this pose during class. Well, not for enough seconds to count. But, somehow I am able to do this posture in the morning while I brush my teeth, and again at night. While I am holding my big toe neither of my legs is particularly straight. My back is rounded so that my fingers can just get out there far enough to grasp my toe. Just so you know I will not be posting a photo of myself here to prove 1. that I can in fact do this pose, nor 2. how badly I do this pose. And I certainly will not be showing off my toothbrush to you either. The fact remains that while my battery operated tooth brush is working away at quadrant one and two I can hold one leg up. And when my toothbrush is working on quadrants 3 and 4 I am able to hold up the other leg. This comes to a full minute for each leg. It’s a matter of pride. And apparently this is a real hoot for my sweetie.
The Ashtanga Yoga Instructor has relocated and we no longer have an Ashtanga option at the studio I practice with. The closest studio that does offer Ashtanga is now forty five minutes away by car. I don’t know how long I can keep this dental routine going, and continue to breathe.
What?! Another yoga blog? Another somebody spouting the virtues of strong body, mind and spirit? Yep. I’m lovin’ on my yoga. I’ve been at it, on and off, since I was nineteen and there’s nothing you can do about it. I feel good. Let’s be clear, I still like me some wine, or a dry martini. I like my chocolate and my late nights partying with my peeps. I indulge in popcorn, and chili dogs and texting while walking. My phone and I like to check in with each other every few minutes to feel the love. One of my favorite breakfasts is regular ol’ buttermilk pancakes with cheap sugary syrup and a couple slabs of Spamtm. No, I’m not Hawaiian, I just like Spamtm. I like it grilled, otherwise don’t mess with it. It’s perfect just like it is. I didn’t even know Spamtm was a Hawaiian specialty until I moved to western Washington and met my Island friends.
I also like to hear my breathing, as in Ujjayi Pranayama that sounds like the ocean in my body (to me). I don’t have to huff with the exertion of running or skipping rope or pounding a punching bag. I can just breathe. I have learned to use my nostrils to alternate my breath and gain inner balance. Who’d of thunk that would be so cool? I have expelled “negative” energy in a Lion’s Breathe that was probably such bad breathe it would have knocked over an entire bed of roses. On a side note – I now scrape my tongue in the morning to help with my breath. That’s probably too much information.
Yoga opens up my body, my chest, my hips, and my back with each of the poses. I like knowing that my ankles are getting stronger the longer I stand on one leg regardless if I am pretending to be a tree or a flying warrior or a half moon – and even when I am just brushing my teeth. I like pretending to be a tree and a flying warrior and a half moon. I like pretending I am young and pretty too. My favorite pretend is that I am intelligent. Sometimes that one works best.
I don’t have to sweat to feel my body grow stronger. I don’t have to disturb anyone or even turn on the lights. What I make teaching pays for my own classes. With yoga I have found a community that gets together on a regular basis. And we all feel good after practice. There is everything right in feeling good. We are not kidding ourselves. We just feel good.
I come away from yoga feeling centered and complete. My whole body is working with me and not against me, even if just for a little while. And the more I do yoga the more my body works with me. This feeling is sustainable. When my body feels good the rest of me just tags along for the good ride. Stability in my body pours out as stability in my emotions. That’s huge. That’s better than any little pill, and I have tried a couple.
Really, I’m just another yoga chick. Feeling the good, wanting to expand on the feeling, wanting to share and support other yoga lovin’ yogis. It’s a real thing.
Class is getting easier to lead. I kind of feel I am in the groove. People are coming every week. I have a couple regulars. I don’t know how to grab back the people that haven’t returned. There are two young ladies that were really excited that yoga was going to be offered. One of them came to the early – non-sanctioned classes and really liked it. She brought her friend with her to the group class and then neither of them have been back. I hear things like; I forgot my stretchy pants. While I know yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea I still want to fill the room every week.
Today was a good strong group. There were four of us this time. Three are new to yoga. I am their first yoga instructor. Ever. For me that means I will be doing a lot of talking, a lot of explaining the mechanics – left foot back, right foot back, square up your hips, describing where center of gravity should be, how to plant one’s feet for alignment, allow yourself to breathe into the posture.
It always surprises me that I can’t remember “arch” of one’s foot. As in, “Line up the heel of your front foot with the arch of your back foot.” For some reason the word “arch” escapes me. Another glitch in my instructions is requesting everyone walk their hands to their feet when I mean to say, walk your feet up to your hands. Having new students, I am finding that I am not doing my own yoga practice, I am guiding others in theirs.
This week I have a fresh sequence that includes several twists. With the new patrons I didn’t think to revert back to last week’s sequence. I was excited to bring in some fresh postures. Twists are great for loosening stagnant energies. Twists massage the internal organs. Twists help to dislodge pent up stress in our bodies. I was so pleased to incorporate some twists throughout today’s practice. Twists may not be good for first time yoga practitioners. But I give away the story there.
Class actually went very well. I was good at mirroring my left to their right. The twist were easy and understandable. We started our practice with regular cats and cows, rotating our hips back and forth. I then had everyone thread the needle, this is more a pose for releasing the shoulders and the back. There is a twist in it, but we focused on our shoulders. Then we moved into a Child’s Pose (Balasana) to relax, to feel our shoulders and open our back a little more. As we moved into our standing poses, starting with Half forward fold (Ardha Uttanasana), then forward fold -holding our elbows for deepening our posture, I had the group rock back and forth. I cue’d for grounding our feet, feeling our hips, back and hamstrings opening. We came up to Mountain Pose, Samasthiti and back to forward fold. We repeated full-fold, half-fold, Mountain Pose and Samasthiti. Then we went to Chair Pose (Utkatasana) returning to Samasthiti a couple times and then complete this with a twisted chair pose – once each side. I did not have the group hold this pose but for a breath each side, I could see this was the extent of their abilities today. We moved on to a Warrior Sequence. The Warrior went over well. Everyone seems to know Warrior II (Virabradrasana II). I spoke of hip placement and elongating the core with the inhale. We completed this sequence with Triangle pose (Utthita Trikonasana). Though to me this is not a twisting pose the opening of the core in this pose can feel dislodging to one’s gut and mid-core. Regardless, the class was moving along really well. I felt like a real yoga master.
Once we made it to the floor poses I was having the group twist into a Belly Twist with legs extended. It feels great on the back and hips. I feel this pose up into my shoulders, my pectorals as well. I heard sighs of release from the group. I knew I was reaching everyone. I was happy to be a part of this. We held our knees and made little circles to massage the lower back. I guided the group into Happy Baby pose and then we came to rest for Corpse Pose. Everything went just as I had sequenced it. The group was responsive and flowing. We were in the groove.
Later, it was later that afternoon that I received a chat asking, “Should I be feeling all jittery?” It was then that I realized I too was unable to calm myself or to focus on the project in front of me. I was feeling scattered and agitated for no known reason. My confidence came crashing down. Did I teach inappropriately? Did I do this? What am I to tell her, a newbie at that, about dislodging energy? What should I have done to get everyone back to the calm and focus that we look for after yoga practice? Did I sequence this right, or was the sequence even healthy? I’ve been doing yoga for a long time and even I felt the effects of this twisted session. I don’t think it’s just an advanced class sequence, I think it really did shake up people’s bodies.
My answer back, and the general e-mail I sent out said, “Thank you all for coming today. I appreciate being able to guide you in your yoga practice. I wish you all a wonderful weekend. We worked some powerful energy today so please drink lots of water and be kind to yourself this weekend. I look forward to seeing you all next week.” I refilled my own water and started drinking to calm down.
Here’s the thing, did I do something wrong? I admit, I’m a little panicked. Was the sequence too invigorating? What kind of damage does this create? I’m feel like I’m on shaky ground. I don’t get it. Is it the twists? It seems an obvious answer to me. I don’t have enough training here to know. I don’t have enough training to know that this would happen. I haven’t heard from anyone else. Yoga is meant to heal not create crazy. I am worried about my peeps. I had no idea yoga was this strong.
For future reference – this Friday Lunch Drop-In is meant as a quick, light-fare, lunchtime escape. I need to keep in mind that there may always be new people. I want to pull together two or three light sequences for the shoulders, the hips and the back and leave it at that. I am not some guru-yogini-master. Lunchtime yoga is not here to heal anyone. It is ginger-ale for whatever may afflict you. That’s it. I am a new instructor. Full stop. May we all just continue to breath.