“You’re never too old, you’re never too sick, it’s never too late to start from scratch once again.”

This is something Bikram tells his students, and this is something Shavon reminded us as we lay in savasana yesterday morning.  “If you’re struggling right now, if your mind is racing, it’s ok.  Just take a deep breath and start again.”  Take a deep breath.  This is something that many of us at times struggle to do, or take for granted, and it’s something we all need to do all the time.  When we practice yoga, we are reminded how important breathing is.  It can make the difference between a great class and one you’re barely able to complete.

 Yoga has a way of reducing us to our most raw and basic functions: drink water, breathe, move, sweat.  We are muscle and tissue, a working system, a well-tuned machine. The practice can be so beautiful when these things work together, but take one away and it wouldn’t work at all.  So much of what is true in yoga, is true in life.

 I have a friend who got her chance to take a deep breath and start again last night.  She has cystic fibrosis, and she received her new set of lungs.  Thanks to the sacrifice of an organ donor, this beautiful, smart, inspiring woman will be able to continue to laugh, smile, make an enormous impact on everyone she touches, and all because she is most importantly able to breathe.

 If you are not already an organ donor, please register here (in the U.S.).  You could potentially give someone the chance to start from scratch once again.

 Don’t take your breath for granted. 

 Sincerely,

 Claire

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My hamstrings have finally finally been getting more flexible.  Mostly I’m super stoked about this.  In the not-so-distant past I thought I would literally never be able to lock my knees in any of the stretching postures, and now I may not be locking my knees, but my legs are straight in the seated stretching pose at the end, and even in the stretching part of half moon with stretching, there is a glimmer of hope that one day I’ll get my knees locked and magically morph into a japanese ham sandwich.

What I didn’t realize, was that this added flexibility would really effect the amount of strength I need in my legs to sustain a locked knee posture.  Standing Head to Knee, for example.  Wow.  My knee does not want to stay locked in this one!  And standing bow… again.  Seriously knees? I am trying to see it as progress.  Two steps forward one step back and all that jazz.

What I’m realizing is that this yoga is really truly an exercise in patience. It isn’t about how far I’m going in class each day.  It is about taking each day, each moment, each posture as it comes.  Danny, at my old studio in Vancouver, used to say: “a millimeter today, a millimeter tomorrow, and eventually you’ll get there.”  When I really think about it, my long term goals in fact have nothing at all to do with depth of posture.  They have to do with mental well being, physical well being, self esteem, letting go of ego, and developing patience, compassion, and respect.  For myself and for everyone else.

I have been having a terrible time at work with my little kiddos.  I don’t know if it’s me or them… maybe we all have spring fever and are super wonky due to the Super Moon astrological phenomena currently taking place.  I have really been trying to take the time in my classes, especially in my morning classes before the day begins, to meditate on patience, respect, and compassion.  That is really the key combination that can make all of our lives easier.  It is amazing how focusing on those three components in the morning can help my day go more smoothly.

I still have days where I come home and cry a little bit though.  I am going to try tomorrow to leave my expectations outside on the way to get the babies off the school bus.  I am going to try to stay present.  I am going to try to stay comfortable in uncomfortable situations.  I am going to try – very very very hard – to bring my yoga with me to work. Because the kids, my coworkers, and I all deserve that effort.

Sullenly (but hopefully) yours,

C

Hi readers!

Today in school we had a professional development day, which in half day preschool means we didn’t have any students. My coworker and I went to observe another general education preschool in the district this morning.

As we arrived in the classroom, we heard a tiny bell chime, and then absolute silence. When we entered the classroom, the students noticed us, but none of them said anything, and we all sat in silence for exactly 3 minutes. Another tiny chime, and the teacher calmly directed the class’s attention to the board as the day began. Every student in the school had just begun his day with 3 minutes of silent meditation.

It is amazing to see a group of 4-5 year olds attending so perfectly to themselves. This is something that I know I and many other students of yoga struggle with when we are practicing savasana.

Savasana is one of the poses I am focusing on throughout this challenge. Focus, in general has been something I have tried to work on lately, and I have found it has effected my whole practice in a very positive way. When my internal monologue is limited to “breathe in, breathe out, don’t be afraid,” the teacher dialogue still has a way of seeping through my brain and into my body. I am finding my postures are improving, and that I am able to go much deeper into them than before. Most importantly, I am learning how to stay more present, that makes me happier in class, and happier in my life.

Practicing these mental skills in savasana makes them easier to access in the rest of the postures. Practicing this meditation in the other postures, helps me to use it in my life. At work, at home, with my friends. As thoughts and feelings come to me, I am more easily able to feel them and then move on without getting caught up in the meaning or the drama of a situation.

Watching those preschoolers practice meditation this morning, I was struck by the notion of how much it could improve their ability to think, learn, problem solve, make friends. There was an element of calm that was very pervasive throughout the school. It was beautiful to see these children and adults using the practice of meditation to improve their lives. It made me realize how important it is to practice being calm, centered, and relaxed.

Mindfully yours,

-C

This is a continuation of the series of posts I have been writing on pain. Emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain. Pain.

Yoga is painful. There is no way around the fact, that one of the goals of practicing yoga, is learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable physical situations. I have already written about how that is applicable both within and outside the studio, but there is another aspect of pain that I have not discussed.

A question I have been playing with in my mind is why people do things that they know have the potential to cause them pain. For me, in my specific situation, going to a place of pain tells me where I am on my way to healing my heart. I know it’s stupid, because I don’t want to be brought to my knees by something that is really nothing, and I don’t want to hurt. At the same time, I want to feel something, because so much of what has passed feels like a dream, or a vision from another world. I want to know that it was real, and I want to know how I feel.

Pain is one of the most acute sensations. Emotional immediately centers you. It can take over your world in an instant. For me, pain can bring clarity to my life. It can help me place myself in this crazy mixed up world of ours.

Going to yoga can have that same effect. If you make your body hurt, there is no question that it is real, and it is there. Your body is reacting in a normal healthy way to certain stimuli. Health, life, and vitality are all confirmed by pain.

-C

I am going back to yoga. If peace is the baseline of the spirit, the measuring stick that we can use to assess where we are emotionally, then both pain and happiness are impermanent.

Things, people, places, all can inject us with emotion. Being around someone makes you happy, being away from someone makes you sad, being in a certain location makes you sad, buying shoes makes you happy. Me happy anyway. These items are band aids. These items aren’t good for the spirit if peace is the goal.

The person who said this to me said that he strives to live by this mantra, and that the material items he does invest himself in, are vessels through which he can reach permanence. Of course I immediately am trying to define for myself what permanence is, and all I can come up with is that it could be a personal sense of peace.

I’m going back to yoga, because it gives me peace. It allows me to reach out to something greater than myself. I have talked before about the energy of a class, the seemingly ironic sense of intense introspection coupled with the distinct feeling of being a part of a greater, moving, entity. The class moving together, sweating together, experiencing sensation together, yet each person having a deeply personal experience at the same time.

I need this feeling that I am not alone. I need this feeling that I am part of something bigger, and I need something that brings me peace in the midst of uncertainty. I have forced myself back into a place of deep thinking, and it has brought with it sadness, but also a sense of hope that is flickering but bright.

-C

On Thursday I went to a studio in Seattle, WA, while I was visiting my family. Bikram Yoga Seattle is a beautiful studio in the Fremont area. It has wonderful facilities, including a water faucet in the class, so if you run out of water you can get more without leaving the room and disrupting your body’s temperature.

It was a busy class (4PM) and it was full of people of many different body types and many different levels – more diverse that the studio I usually go to in Vancouver. At the beginning of the class, it was clear to me that the teacher was going to do nothing to challenge me, but in it’s own way that was a challenge. I think I have mentioned it here before, that Katie (one of my favourite teachers I have had) likes to remind us “I don’t have to make the class hard for you, it is hard enough on it’s own.”

During the class, I pushed myself as hard as I could. This is a different experience than having a teacher who makes the class difficult. A teacher can make a class more difficult by being strict with timing, and encouraging the students to push themselves, lock their knees, and “stretch back, fall back, lean back, way back” in the backward bending poses. A less demanding teacher can still be just as valuable in her own way.

It is so important to know how to challenge yourself and push yourself, because most of the time in life you don’t get a teacher telling you to study harder, wake up earlier, and do the other real-life equivalents of locking the knee. Ideally you come to a place where you can set your own challenges in life, and force yourself to do the things that will help you achieve your goals.

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Bikram: “you want the key to success in life? Lock the f****ing knee.”

This week I’ll hopefully get to give a studio in Newport a try. This is the only Bikram studio I have been able to locate in RI at all… the whole state. So we will see if I can make it there, and what kind of class the beautiful state of Rhode Island has to offer.

In the meantime, I will be tanning on the beach, eating good food, and relaxing with my family.

Lock the knee!

-C

Inside the yoga studio; outside the yoga studio; don’t panic.

I don’t know if you remember my earlier post about the class I took in Seattle at The Sweatbox, Let’s Get Personal, but in it I referenced the fact that “I knew it was going to be a tough class from the start” because I was breathless during the first few breaths of the first breathing exercise. This is true and it’s something that I still deal with regularly during class. It is one of my most persistent challenges.

The feeling reminds me of what I hated about swim team as a kid (and why I quit). That feeling of having a lack of oxygen, wanting to hyperventilate, getting dizzy and trying to gasp for air. This was what was happening to me in class the other day, when the teacher said “Don’t Panic.” Immediately I tried to rationalize my thoughts. I was getting enough oxygen (in fact the reason for dizziness is the increased amount of oxygen flowing to the brain). The only way to slow down my racing, panicked, heart was to slow my breathing. I concentrated on timing the movements and breathing so that the flow was constant and unbroken; so I never had to hold my breath. I attempted to clear my mind of everything and simply breathe.

I won’t tell you that I magically calmed down and found this incredible meditative space. That isn’t what happened. I was able to slow my heartbeat down a bit, and I was able to free myself from the grasp of terror to some extent, but I still felt scared. I still had moments of lung burning panic, but I continued to struggle through them to try to find a more calm space for myself. I believe that this will continue to get better.

In this fantastic article, by a woman who did a 60 day challenge (!!) she refers to some of her thinking as “all-or-nothing” thinking. This is really what it all comes down to, because it’s about not letting one thought overwhelm your whole thinking. In a challenging class, for example, you can have an internal monologue that says something like “I did poorly on the last posture, and so this whole class is going to go badly.” Alternately, you can have an more positive dialogue with yourself that encourages a clean slate for each posture. Every moment you spend in class is an opportunity to change, grow, learn, and try your very best. Every posture has the potential to be the best you’ve ever done. You can do this in life too: every moment is an opportunity to start over. If you make a mistake, so what? The next moment is a fresh start.

Positivity is about being able to gain perspective, and allow yourself to accept the fact that you are in control of your thoughts and actions. Positivity is about learning how to forgive yourself, and try again.

That’s a lot of power when you really think about it.

-C