“OK. Look, you have no more excuses. You have no scheduled deadlines or commitments, and you don’t have to be in your shop this morning. You have to go to Yoga with me… now!”
That is how I started in Yoga: coerced, cajoled, however I may want to describe the conversation that led to an incredible change in my life. It came from a dear friend who cared for my well-being. She became my mentor for Yoga. I had been dedicated to backpacking and mountain biking my entire adult life. My work was mostly upper body torqueing, muscle, joint and tendon straining. My back was a total mess, stemming from a debilitating fall that occurred while mountain biking on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont before the craze went viral. The results were a severe neck injury that wrecked havoc on my entire back and took decades to heal.
I didn’t believe in stretching. I just hit the trail on my bike or with a 40LB backpack for days of crossing mountain passes; every moment just bearing the pain. A small price to pay. Right???
In the beginning, I could hardly stand straight, or bend over, or lay flat, or sit up straight without accompanying layers of pain and of course, embarrassment. The other folks doing the Yoga were not even looking at me but I was looking directly at this wretched creature in the mirror who could not do any of the poses even remotely close to their intended positions. I hated it at first, but not because of the pain. It was due to my inadequacy and my silly ego pride.
Months went by and a slow transition occurred. I was able to forgive myself for being incapable. My practice taught me one thing at first and that was to let go of all pretenses and really just go with the flow. After 6 months or so I could finally see a faint glow of hope and a light appeared in my body/brain connection. A realization occurred that my body was slowly gaining on a reversal of that havoc that created so much pain in my life. It released me from the angst of trying and delivered me to a state of actually doing. A flow of resiliency started to take effect. The poses became much more than a mere challenge. My body responded with a sigh of relief and my inner life felt a sanction that I had always sought in my every day life. Backpacking and hiking in the woods was a meditation for me. My inner landscape became one with nature. The trees were very forgiving and kind. I worked on blending my presence with all that was natural in life. This worked just fine when I was in the mountains. The peace ebbed when I returned to civilization. The monkey mind always surfaced and once again I was cursing the people who couldn’t drive according to my standards.
Things have changed. Tranquility now has its place in my day to day life. Life has become a practice of sorts. My time on the Yoga mat has transformed this wracked, impatient creature into a more compassionate and peaceful individual. The practice of folks like Iyengar have become my goal. I realize that he started Yoga in his teens and continued to teach into his nineties. I started in my sixties and want to continue and teach into my nineties.
I take classes, mostly with women who are stronger and much more resilient than I could ever be. My goals are slowly being reached because of a dedication to my practice. All of these folks that I practice with are mentors and I am thankful for having landed here, in Port Angeles and at this Yoga studio. Years ago, I started out with Bikram Yoga and gravitated towards the Hot Yoga classes, but realize now that so much of my own resiliency is a result of the Yin and Restorative classes. The instructors here, at Poser YOGA are my inspiration to want to teach Yoga.
So….. I’ve committed to taking a Yoga Teacher Training in Barcelona for the month of May with a lead-in of two weeks prior in order to become more prepared for the 200-hour intensive!!! Then 1 week of beach on the Med.
At first I was full of extreme apprehension and self-doubt. The instructors here, especially Jenny, have done nothing but encourage me to do this. My goal is to come back into the area and teach, to bring more men onto the Yoga mat and to encourage the older folks in our community to move around and strengthen their aging bodies. This is something I know so well.
Namaste, and see you on the mat.
The other day I was filling out an application to attend a work related training that specializes in helping people overcome job related stress and trauma. The application asked to list any specialized training that I had that could be useful for the position. I listed my yoga teaching and practice, including how long I’ve been doing both when it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve been practicing yoga for 18 years! 18 years! While it may not seem like that big of a deal to some, the fact that I’ve been dedicated to anything for that length of time truly amazes me. You see… I’m one of those types of people who has spent a lifetime searching for some greater purpose whether it be an educational degree, a rewarding career, a fulfilling workout regime, or a place of residence that I can truly feel at home in. I have wanted to be an actress, a forensic scientist, a helicopter pilot, and have lived in many different parts of the country and even world. Yoga has been with me through it all. While I may not have practiced the physical form of yoga every day for those 18 years, the philosophy and teachings have been with me every single day since I started practicing. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone like me that tends to float through life, bouncing off of one dream to the next, and often gets bored with routine.
All of this holds a particular relevancy to something that I’ve been experiencing lately on a personal level in regards to my workout routines. Like many women out there I have struggled most of my life with developing a positive body image of myself. I poke and prod, and judge, and cringe when I stare at my reflection in the mirror each day and compare myself to unrealistic ideas. I try to combat those feelings and thoughts of inadequacy by sometimes jumping aboard the latest fitness bandwagon, by pushing and forcing myself into routines and programs to reach self-imposed goals; goals that don’t really have a functional purpose in everyday life, but rather hold me to a self-inflicted standard of beauty all in the name of vanity. You see, I’m not working out to train for anything. I’m not an athlete or a competitive sports lover; in fact I’m quite the opposite. I pride my solitude, like strolls through nature, and would rather play for the enjoyment of it all rather than the competitive need to win. But most of all I’m just a woman that wants to feel good when I put on a pair of shorts. So I give in to all the media bullshit of “try this fad, and you’ll see these results”, or “take these supplements and eat these foods to shed fat”, and while these things may work for some which is great… surprise, surprise, I eventually get bored. And that’s where I am. I’m bored with my usual cardio and strength training routines, bored of going to the gym, I’m bored of boot camps, bored of home workout videos, bored of trying to shed the pounds with fad diets… but more importantly, I’m bored and tired of doing something that feels burdensome and doesn’t make me happy.
And so the other day as I attempted to re-boot my enthusiasm to get back on track with my fitness routine, I found myself struggling big time. Then out of nowhere I heard this little voice from deep inside ask, “Why the fuck are you doing this then?” And the only answer I could come up with was, in order to look good. Not feel good, but look good. And that’s when the insanity of being obsessed with how I look on the outside hit me. It doesn’t matter how good I look on the outside. If I haven’t cleared the shit thoughts about myself cemented deep within my brain, and cellular tissues; no amount of burpees, dead lifts, or fad diets is going to help either. Enter my yoga practice, which I sometimes neglect to focus on, doing other activities like running, or pushups, or burpees (I really hate burpees) and indoor cycling, while mind you… hating every minute of it. But here’s the thing… never have I once felt that way about yoga. (Okay maybe once or twice during a Bikram Yoga class when I secretly wanted to rip my instructor’s face off for barking “more, more, more” at me, but Bikram Yoga is a whole other beast). With that one exception, I’ve never hated going to my yoga mat. It’s like that funny meme that floats around the Internet, ‘”I regret going to yoga”, said no one ever.’ Lately I find myself gravitating towards my yoga mat like a Rebel Starfighter being pulled to the Death Star by a tractor beam. But for some barbaric reason, over the past several years, I have put losing weight, which I really don’t need to lose that much of, ahead of my yoga practice… and I’m tired of doing that. Which got me thinking about the New Year, and I what I want it to look like for myself.
One of the reasons yoga has become such a powerful force in my life, is because of the physiological and psychological changes that come with a regular practice. In class the other night, we discussed the power of our thoughts and belief systems that we have about ourselves and how yoga can help to change that. We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, 95% of them are the same that we loop over and over again, while 80% of them tend to be negative. We spend our waking hours in a conscious stream of thought in what is called Beta brain wave activity. The majority of our thoughts however, are unconscious, or thoughts that can only be accessed or changed during Theta Brain wave activity and are harder to change during Beta activity. These thoughts shape much of how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It’s helpful to think of an iceberg to understand the magnitude of this. A very small piece of an iceberg representing our conscious or Beta thought patterns is seen above the surface of the ocean. But if we go deep underwater, we find a much larger portion of the iceberg representing our subconscious or Theta thoughts. This is where the power of yoga comes in. In yoga we spend much of our class linking our breath with certain movements, and enter into a Theta brain wave state. By accessing those thoughts in our yoga class, we have the ability to start changing the thought streams that persist in our consciousness that don’t serve us, and replace them with more nurturing, positive ones.
So for me, this New Year ushers in the awareness and resolve to start doing more of what I truly love to do, by spending more time at the base of the iceberg and not worrying so much about the surface appearances. From now on I’m working out to initiate real change, not just the superficial change located at the exterior or tip of the iceberg, but rather the stuff that lurks at the bottom and has me believe that I’m fat or unworthy. This year I resolve to do more of what I love to do, and let go of the shit that brings me down. (This means you burpees). I resolve to dedicate myself to be the best person I possibly can, and let go of norms and standards that are imposed on me by an image-obsessed, commercialized, profit hungry world. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that, “a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” Well, that’s going to be me from now on… a good traveler. A traveler who recognizes what makes me happy and what doesn’t… and if it doesn’t… giving myself the permission to let that shit go, and do more of that I love.
Namaste lovelies… and Happy New Year.
Yesterday our dear, kind-hearted teacher Ann shared her thoughts on the most recent national tragedy, and how she turns to Yoga to help calm the flurry of emotions and fears. Thank you, Ann. Your perspective is on point, and such a good reminder that we truly DO get to choose the thoughts we think, and how we respond to things that happen around us and to us. Love and light to you, and to all beings.
GETTING BACK TO OUR ROOTS Series: A Yoga Journey with Ann Carlson
It’s a tough Monday. I’m walking around my house and can’t seem to finish one task. My mind can’t focus as the events in Las Vegas last night are so fresh, Tom Petty’s death is strewn about all over social media, Port Angeles is scheduled to slide into the sea any minute now (earthquake woes), natural disasters everywhere, my cramps are worse than ever today and I don’t have the energy to cook (I’m hangry). There are so many things wrong in the world today, so much fear, so much negativity. It’s easy to fall down the worm-hole of it all, feeling hopeless and helpless. I think it’s valid to feel those low-level energies, they are the first steps on the path of renewal, action and hope. Another struggle I often feel is white/first world guilt. When I see the tragedies happening all over the planet, all the people suffering, I can’t help but think “why me?” Why do I get to live comfortably? Why is my life so easy? It doesn’t seem fair at all.
Yoga has taught me that opposites are necessary. That without darkness there is no light. That life is hard, and bleak, and terrible sometimes but that love wouldn’t feel so good, powerful, strong and healing if we didn’t also have the experiences of fear and hate. Yoga can help transmute those low-level energies into new awakenings, new perspectives. So today instead of walking around feeling helpless, unworthy of my good life, frustrated at the world; I stopped. I sat and I put my hands on my heart and I bowed my head and cried. Instead of trying to analyze and label and wonder “Why” I let the feelings come through my body and out my teary eyes, I felt my heart get warm and I connected to a space bigger, more spacious that is overflowing with love. Love for myself and love for the world. I felt hope. I felt the weight lifting. I opened my eyes and felt almost instantly re-charged by my little love/cry mediation. Because what yoga teaches you is that it doesn’t always have to look like a pose, you don’t even have to move to be “doing yoga”. You can live every minute of every day practicing your yoga. Practicing mindfulness. Witnessing your experiences without judgment and reaction, moving from a place of connection to your truth is very powerful; and your truth is always love. It’s been my experience that things like forgiveness, hope, love, compassion and empathy; they’re stronger than their lower counter parts. They aren’t going anywhere, either. They will always be there to grab a hold of in the face of fear and tragedy. If you’re new to yoga and reading this, you might be attracted to yoga because of the physical benefits, but the coolest part about it in my opinion is the way it will start to show up in your life outside of class. We practice patience, non-judgment, self-acceptance in our physical practice, so we shouldn’t be surprised when that compassion starts to change our lives outside the studio. The world can always use more love and light, and it starts with cultivating it inside ourselves so we can give of it freely to others.
As both a teacher and student of yoga, I am constantly looking for new ways to feel inspired about my practice, and in turn inspire others. While I appreciate what social media has done to promote the benefits of a regular yoga practice, I worry that in the rush to look good and to take snapshots of advanced poses in exotic locations, that we water down the real essence of why we practice asana in the yoga philosophy. We practice asana to explore all the subtle layers of our physical being that have developed over time to reveal that deep resting place of who we really are. Aristotle once said that, “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Yoga helps us to get there by learning acceptance, compassion, and gratitude for who we are. When we truly know ourselves, we deepen our understanding of our place in this world, our purpose within it, and our relationship with others. In the rush to perform advanced asana, we miss out on the opportunities to explore those deeper, more subtle layers. In striving for the ultimate pose, we miss out on the exploration of those built up layers, and how they ever came to be in the first place. Our bodies hold our stories. Avoiding and denying those stories just calcifies them deeper. Rushing to the end result of an asana, without exploring the imperfect bits of who we are is not yoga, it’s denial. Doing a bunch of poses without any deeper reflection is not yoga, it’s a workout. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s important to recognize the difference. Because unless we truly dig deep within ourselves, get uncomfortable and “workout” our inner selves, our outer-physical self is just a shell, an empty vessel full of denial destined to repeat the same unconscious stories over and over again. A flower doesn’t bloom from the petals down; it blooms from the roots up. This is the true essence of yoga. We go within to understand without. To explore this further, and overcome my own denial I’ve been using props a lot more in my practice. In doing so I’ve been able to sit with those deeper, uncomfortable layers that I tend to run away from with more awareness and compassion. By acknowledging and embracing them breath by breath, I give them the freedom to change and evolve. Advanced yoga is not advanced asana, it’s advanced awareness. As Eckhart Tolle stated, “awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
This is me, in 2003, back when I thought Yoga was ALL about the physical practice. I was invited to participate in a Yoga competition, because my physical postures were so ‘good’. On the outside, yes, it appeared as though I was ‘good’ at Yoga. But ask me to meditate? Ask me to sit in stillness for more than a few minutes? Ask me to participate in a slow, methodical Yin Yoga class? No way. At this time of my life, I was very much about how my Yoga looked on the outside. And I won’t even begin to tell you what my Yoga looked like in my daily life, off the Yoga mat. I was in my 20s… need I say more?
And that is okay.
The physical practice was appealing to me, and that is what initially drew me to Yoga. And for that, I am grateful.
A short while later, I followed one of my favorite Yoga teachers to another studio that she taught at. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and tried other styles of Yoga. I was rattled, and I was angry. I was asked to hold back, and not sit in my flexibility. I was asked to ‘be’ with the discomfort of not PROVING or SHOWING how far I could go. “Yoga isn’t a competition, even if you’re only competing with yourself.” I didn’t like that. Why wouldn’t I do standing splits, if I knew I COULD do standing splits???
My internal pot was getting stirred up, and it was very uncomfortable.
Maxing out our bodies isn’t what Yoga is about. Pushing and forcing to the point of exhaustion and/or injury isn’t what it’s about. Of course there are times when we might want to test our physicality, to see what is possible, but this should never be the norm. As our lovely teacher Brookesays, “Advanced Yoga is not advanced asana, it’s advanced awareness.” And advanced awareness is so much broader than the scope of our Yoga mat.
I was soon discovering that my Yoga practice was shifting to what was going on with me, on the inside. All the thoughts, and feelings I had about my practice, and all the thoughts and feelings I had about myself, my life, and every single interaction I had with another human being. I started to see myself from other people’s point of view, and I didn’t always like what I saw.
This was when I realized that my Yoga practice was just beginning, and I was barely scratching the surface. I was peeling back layers of assumptions, flaws, perceptions, and guilt. Gosh. It wasn’t easy, but man it felt good to let it go.
What’s interesting, is that a few years after that Yoga competition in 2003, I ran into the fellow who got 1st place. I asked him where he was currently practicing, and he said that he quit Yoga altogether, shortly after that competition.
He said, “I got bored. I could already do everything.”
My jaw dropped. Embarrassingly so. If you know me at all, you know that I wear ALL my emotions on my sleeve. I was flabbergasted! And to be truthful, my heart instantly broke for him.
“Oh, no!” I said, “That’s too bad! Because that is when it really starts to begin!”
These days, I can barely get my butt into a class, nevermind standing splits! My challenge is in finding peace with the fact that life isn’t all about me. Life doesn’t move as swiftly for me as it used to, and for now, having a little one means I don’t get to be as productive as I’ve been in the past. My physical practice is close to nonexistent most weeks, but when I pay attention, I see opportunities to practice Yoga in any given moment. A deep breath. A side stretch. A twist. Another deep breath. A change in perspective. A letting go of judgement. And… another deep breath.
Letting go of what I think my Yoga practice SHOULD look like isn’t always easy. And sometimes for me, it can be 100 TIMES more difficult than standing splits.