Fond Farewells

Today’s yoga class is the last one I’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite regular students. She is an older woman named Carol. I felt a strong connection to her right away and was always pleased to see she would basically only come to the studio on Saturdays for my class. We would always stay and chat for a few minutes after class about our practice or about politics. She was truly a delight. There was a palpable absence when she didn’t come to class.

A few weeks ago I found out that she was moving back to her home state. I was quite sad knowing that soon I’d have to say goodbye to one of my students and a good friend. As I prepared my class for this week, I decided to design it specifically for Carol. At the end of practice she always works on her bakasana (crow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose.) As a special treat for her I made the whole class a build up to get us ready for those exact poses. I was happy to talk with her after class to discover that she noticed and appreciated this gesture of mine. I also gave her a small farewell gift. I had planned to give her one of my many hag stones since they are supposed to be good luck. However, I forgot them when I left this morning. Fortunately, I had a lucky howlite crystal keychain I decided to give to her instead.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I am not very good with people. I’ve never really understood how to appropriately approach different social situations. So while these kind gestures may seem second nature to a lot of you reading this post, know that for me it took a great deal of consideration and effort. To be honest, I don’t really know if that was “normal” or not when saying goodbye to someone you care about. I often worry that I am being over the top. As I was contemplating what type of small gift I could give her, I even second guessed doing anything special at all. She is just someone I see once a week for an hour or so that I probably won’t ever see again. I’ve certainly parted from people that were more integral in my life with less fanfare, sometimes without as much as a goodbye. I noticed that I was asking myself if it was “worth it.”

Most people seem to interact with others in the way they do simply because it comes naturally. For me, each interaction requires a lot of thought and careful consideration. I spend my mental and emotional energy very sparingly. So when I thought about the fact that I would never see this person again, the cold, logical side of my brain told me it would be a waste to exert any energy making an effort for a relationship that was inevitably ending. Normally I will justify kind gestures by telling myself it will end up being a benefit to me in the future. Even though that may sound heartless and selfish, it’s just the way my brain works even when I do genuinely care about the person involved. It’s usually the only way I can keep myself from avoiding the interaction all together.

I decided to just ignore that icy, calculating side of myself this time though. I felt like I wanted to do something for Carol, so I did. It felt right, and that was enough. Then, as I saw how much my small gestures meant to her, as I saw her teary eyes above her mask as she thanked me for everything, I knew I made the right decision. It doesn’t matter if I don’t see or hear from her again. It doesn’t matter if ten years from now I don’t even remember she exists. Sometimes it’s okay to just be grateful for the fleeting moments in life. Today was about honoring the meaningful connection I made with another human being if only for a brief period in time.

I am always so focused on the future, that sometimes it can be hard for me to find value in the temporary. Yet, nothing lasts forever. Today was a reminder of that. It was a reminder that each moment must be appreciated for what it is, without worrying about what it could be or what it will mean for the future. Isn’t is good enough to be happy just for the sake of being happy? It doesn’t have to last indefinitely for it to mean something. There is truly a lesson in everything if you care to look for it. I am grateful for Carol and the many lessons I’ve learned thanks to having her in my life for the time that I did. I hope she has gained as much from our time together as I have.

Photo by Cliff Booth on Pexels.com

Healing Through Yoga

As I’ve mentioned before, I began yoga for pretty superficial reasons. For years, my practice was about changing my body, trying to make it fit into a certain mold through simply practicing different shapes. Yet, even with a practice that hasn’t yet scratched the surface of yoga, it is impossible to avoid receiving some of the more spiritual benefits. Even without meaning to, you start to drop into the breath. You start to really become acquainted with it, maybe for the first time. You have moments of perfect peace, of true presence of mind. In the beginning, these were just pleasantly surprising pluses from my practice, not the focus of it.

Throughout the years my practice has grown. At times it almost feels like a completely different activity all together from those first forays, which I would now think of more as simply stretching. Back then yoga was all about the body. Now it is also about the mind and spirit. It is incredible how much this mental shift has changed my practice. On the outside, it may look identical, but now I am able to more fully absorb all the goodness yoga offers me and use it to heal.

I no longer care to push myself into my fullest expression of every pose when I lay out my mat each day. I am not trying to prove something to myself or anyone with my practice anymore. If I learn to do a handstand without a wall to support me, that’s great, but these types of things are no longer the types of goals I set for myself. Now it is more about what I would learn on the way towards such a goal. How do I deal with frustration? How to I react when confronted with limitations? Can I be patient? Can I embrace where I am now? Can I be resilient? Can I persevere in the face of adversity, of failure? Can I trust? Now most of the work is going on inside of me. When you approach your practice (and life itself) in this way, no effort is “wasted.” If after years of working towards a handstand, I never quite make it, that’s perfectly okay. I will still have gained so much through my efforts.

Now it isn’t about how a pose looks. It is more about how a pose feels. How it affects the breath. What thoughts come up? Can I allow them to pass through me without clinging to them or pushing them away? Can I find the perfect balance between effort and ease? Can I notice what my body needs today? This inner work, this is what yoga is truly about. Truthfully, learning how to do impressive physical feats is cool, but ultimately doesn’t matter much in life. What we really learn from yoga is how to live. I am much better off having done all of that inner work and never being able to do a handstand than if I learned how to do a perfect handstand but nothing else.

Yoga allows us to explore what it means to exist in this body, with this mind, through this breath, right now. It teaches us how to cope with life’s struggles, how to more fully savor life’s gifts, how to work through anger and frustration and sorrow, how to be there for ourselves. In my opinion, yoga is therapy. Except you are the therapist and the client. You design and guide yourself through your own healing journey. After all, who is better equipped for this than you? All of the answers that we seek are already within us. Yoga teaches us how to tap into that wisdom, how to listen to the body, to the heart.

I still have a lot to learn, but each moment is a lesson. Not only during my work on the mat, but off it as well. True yoga isn’t left behind when we step out of the studio. We try our best to take it with us into the rest of our life as well. When you stay mindful, every moment can be part of your practice.

All of this, this is the reason I became a yoga teacher. I am overcome with gratitude whenever I think about this gift of yoga that has been passed down through the ages, eventually finding its way to me. I simply had to do whatever I could to share this gift with others. It is my sincere hope that this beautiful practice continues to help the whole world to heal. I will keep doing my part by learning how to heal myself through this ancient art and passing it along to others so that they may begin their own healing.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Pushing Past Your Comfort Zone

This weekend is for teacher training at my studio. I am always excited to get to help new teachers learn more about yoga. It’s also nice to get to stay after my class for a bit and hear feedback on my own teaching. I’ve been looking forward to it all week.

The teacher trainees had only positive things to say about my class. However, my mentor from when I was a trainee myself had some constructive criticism. It was nothing I haven’t heard from her and others many times before. Because of my anxiety, I am pretty disconnected from my students when I’m teaching. I am immersed in my own practice, modeling every pose and going through the flow with everyone. This is what I always envisioned for myself when I decided I wanted to teach. This is also what I’ve learned from online yoga teachers who constitute the vast majority of my history with yoga.

But online yoga teachers do not have a classroom full of students in front of them. Students who have come to a studio to be in the presence of their teacher. I am doing my students a disservice by not engaging with them more during class. My cues are flawless, my practice is beautiful, my flows are creative, fun, and different every week. However, I do not watch my students nearly enough. I do not give adjustments. I do not compliment or comment on their expressions of the poses.

I know I could be a much better teacher and greatly benefit my students by doing these things. The only reason I don’t is because I am afraid. Even though my social anxiety has practically disappeared thanks to Paxil, it is still quite intimidating to stand in front of a group of people and meet their eyes. I’ve only learned to make eye contact in general a few years ago. To closely observe and engage with my students in that way has always been something I felt I simply cannot do.

I’ve comforted myself with the excuse: “Well this is just my unique teaching style. If the students don’t like it they can go to another class instead.” But that is absurd. I don’t want to make excuses for myself anymore. I want to be brave. I want to push myself to try new things, to face my fears. I’ve done it before. And even though it is scary, it is also so rewarding.

We can never know what we are capable of if we don’t test our limits. Yoga is about personal growth. Not just in the body but in everything. It may be safe to stick with what you know, with what you’re good at, but it is also boring. It isn’t truly living.

There are a lot of changes I have been planning on making. And they scare the hell out of me. Yet once again yoga has given me the opportunity to challenge myself within an environment, a community of curiosity and love. Maybe if I show myself that I can do something scary, try something new and still be okay, it will give me the courage I need. Maybe it will remind me how good it feels to face my fears and overcome them. It is one of the most exciting, empowering things we can do.

Even if we “fail” it will still be a success. Because we tried. And now we’ll know we can always try again. So allow your curiosity to inspire courage. Surprise yourself every day. And no matter what, love yourself. Trust in yourself. You are capable of more than you know.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Yogic Wisdom

As I drove to my yoga class this morning, I was contemplating what I would say before starting practice. I have been having some minor issues involving poor circulation recently, so I thought I could emphasize directional breathwork. Teacher often tell their students to visualize the breath traveling through the body, often down to the soles of the feet or the tips of the toes.

Thanks to medical science we know so much about the body and the breath that the original yogis never could have known with any certainty. We know that our breath is absorbed by the lungs into the bloodstream so that oxygen can be transported throughout the whole body. So in a sense we really can “breath into our toes.”

I found this thought rather amusing so I continued pondering it. I began to wonder what other ways the wisdom within these ancient teachings may come to be better explained through science. I know we have come to learn even more in the last few decades about the incredible power the mind has to influence the physical body. Placebos can have real healing effects if we believe that they will, for instance. We are also somewhat able to control our heart rate and cortisol levels with mindful attention to the breath.

I wonder if directional breathwork can actually have the power to guide more oxygen to different areas of the body. Perhaps just focusing on the blood circulating, bringing that breath into every cell can really physically impact the way the body is working. Yet another concept I would love to have tested scientifically in a controlled experiment. I often wish I had my own research team at my disposal to gather new, interesting data for me. Without that these are all simply intriguing thoughts.

However, anecdotally, I have noticed that “sending the breath” to the areas of the body feeling the most tension in a pose seems to make a noticeable difference. I’ve always felt that helps my muscles to relax and find that sukha and sthira, the ease within the effort. I have little doubt of the breath’s power. And I am always finding new ways to explore that power.

Even though I am not sure I’ll ever discover the amount of truth behind this idea, I am going to try to implement it in my practice as if it were. After all, it couldn’t hurt. The next time I settle in for my daily meditation, I am going to focus not only on my breath but sending that breath into my toes, my fingertips, the tip of my nose. All of the extremities that are effected most by poor circulation. Who knows? I may even begin to notice a difference in my body. If you decide to experiment with this visualization in your own practice, let me know how it goes! I hope somehow it can be helpful.

Confessions of a Yoga Teacher

For the last few months, my yoga practice has been feeling stagnant. As a result of that stagnation my yoga teaching is beginning to suffer as well. I’ve also been going through a very tumultuous time mentally which hasn’t helped. I had been so excited for the class I planned for my students this morning. However, I felt my instruction was lackluster and becoming almost robotically mindless. Whether it was just my imagination I can’t say, but my students seems to pick up on the vibe I brought with me to class today. I don’t feel that they enjoyed themselves very much.

I feel like I am held to a very high standard as a yoga teacher. Whether it is the perception of the general public or just my perception, it has still been hard to deal with. I feel I fall so far short of the ideal I’m trying to live up too. And this lack of confidence bleeds into my teaching. Not only that, while I look online for class inspiration, I am bombarded with images and videos of practices far more advanced than my own. Which is exciting, but also disheartening.

At the studio where I teach, the students are generally older and so I can’t make my classes very intense. I also don’t have time throughout the week to go to other classes or even follow along with more advanced flows online like I used to. I have come so far in my personal practice. I am now able to do things with my body I never imagined possible. However, now that I’ve gotten farther than I thought I ever would, it’s hard to keep my practice progressing. I’ve become complacent with where I am now. Yet I still want to push my body and my practice to discover new heights. Perhaps I’ve gone as far as I am able to on my own at this point. It would be nice to find someone to guide me from here.

I wonder if other yogis feel or have felt this way before. I think part of me thought that after becoming certified that I would be able to give myself all the answers. But that certainly isn’t the case. I still feel lost and unsure of myself in my practice as well as my life. Our practice always seems to reflect our life, doesn’t it? I am at a loss as to how to overcome the roadblocks in both. And part of the reason I am unable to resolve either seems to be my unwillingness to face things head on. I know that is the only way that I’ll ever be able to keep moving forward in my practice and my life as well. Yet I just want to stay safe inside my shell for a little while longer. I wonder if that’s okay or if it’s actually more of a danger to stay here.