Category Archives: The Journey

Growing Pains

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My Cocoon

My Cocoon

“nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know
…nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. but what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”

― Pema ChödrönWhen Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

In late November of 2008, I had my first wrist surgery.  When some of the symptoms of my original injury resurfaced, I contacted and revisited my surgeon in April of last year.  During our visit, the x-ray and his examination were inconclusive.  He ordered an MRI and I scheduled a follow-up with him immediately following the test.  On the drive down, I was so busy convincing myself that it was fine; I almost turned around and went home.  There were about a million other things I should be doing and clearly, if he hadn’t been able to recreate the discomfort, it must be all in my head.  I sat in the room with him while he reviewed the results, waiting patiently for him to uneventfully send me on my way.  He was quiet, just a little too long.  He then took a deep breath, told me that there was more tearing, and then proceeded to calmly explain that he would need to operate again.  Giant, fat, hot tears formed in my eyes and began to slide down my cheeks.  Warm weather was fast approaching, we had vacations planned…not to mention the fact that I had just turned 40 in March and I had made such huge strides in my practice.  I had convinced myself that 40 was my year, that I would accomplish all of my goals.  He told me that I could postpone the surgery until after my boys had returned to school in the fall.  So, I began this blog post, 5 years after my first surgery and 7 weeks after my second with one of my two pins still in and my cast still on.  I also began it with every intention of it containing an in-depth and highly technical explanation of how and why it is possible for you to end up in an operating room because of your participation in Yoga.  However, the healing process and the writing process (often times critical to one other) have morphed me and this post into something else entirely.

My biggest question to him: “What am I supposed to tell my students?  How am I supposed to tell them that Yoga is good for them when I am recovering from my second surgery in five years, from an injury I sustained doing Yoga?!”  His answer was something along the lines of: “Now Amy, there are risks of injury with ALL sports.  Runners injure their knees, swimmers injure their shoulders, cyclists break their collar bones…”  And on and on, and so on and so forth.  I have had lengthy discussions with my trusted friends who are Physical Therapists and we are in complete agreement.  There are inherent risks with almost every form of physical activity.  However, the health benefits of moving your body far outweigh those risks.  Yoga is complicated.  It is a science and there is a great deal of learning and self-discovery that takes place as we develop a relationship with ourselves and our practice.

The truth is, accidents happen.  The initial incident was a complete fluke.  All caught up in the collective energy of a three-day intensive, glistening with sweat and inspiration, I slipped and fell.  I completely tore my Scapholunate Ligament and my TFCC was no longer attached to my bone.  Three years into the healing from the first surgery, with my range of motion reasonably restored, I was back at it.  I have always been very strong and athletic.  I was convinced that these qualities would serve me on my mat and that I would be able to accomplish whatever posture that I applied myself to.  I was attempting to “muscle through”.  I  thought that the surgeon had “fixed” the problem.  Except the true problem wasn’t my wrist at all.  It was a multitude of other things that required my attention, energy, and awareness.  As I sit here, many months later, on this damp, dark day, using my warm, jasmine tea to ease the small ache that still lingers in the palm of my left hand; I am attempting to wrap up this blog post (finally) and wrap my head around exactly what it was that this persistent issue/injury had to teach me?  My answers, in no particular order, are these:

    

*  That it is possible for me to have an incredibly strong Yoga practice that doesn’t consist of floating into a handstand in the   middle of the room.  That sometimes the strongest parts of ourselves do not serve us in every moment and in every facet of our lives.  Inviting our ego to dissolve and allowing the softer aspects of ourselves to expand can be profoundly useful.

 

*  There is an incredibly liberating amount of freedom that comes from maintaining a reasonable amount of flexibility in regards to our expectations.

 

*  When I allow this acceptance and understanding to take root and blossom fully, a beautiful spaciousness and grace develops in my life.  It travels from the cells of my body, to the periphery of my skin and beyond the edges of my mat.  This expansiveness benefits my family, my friends, my students, my community, and the world.

 

*  Integrity, peace, continuity, and longevity are my goals for my practice. 

*  Honoring our bodies is an advanced practice.

 

*  The true beauty of a Yoga practice exists in the luminosity that emanates from a body, mind, and spirit dancing in harmony as one.

 

*  That perhaps my job as an instructor isn’t always to help you find the answers but to assist you in discovering the perfect questions.  And I hope you will continue to return to your mat until it has taught you what you need to know.

 

 

Brighter Than The Sun

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“There’s courage involved if you want
to become truth. There is a broken-

open place in a lover. Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp

compassion in this group? What’s the
use of old and frozen thought? I want

a howling hurt. This is not a treasury
where gold is stored; this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change. Lukewarm

won’t do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by? Not here.” Rumi

The word Niralambaya comes from the Anusara Yoga Invocation.  The invocation is about the true teacher, within and without, the auspicious, intrinsic goodness within our hearts.  Niralambaya suggests that the essence of this teacher, the “Tejese”, the divine luminosity within is independent in existence and completely free from limitation.

At times external circumstances can make us feel rough and worn down.  It can be challenging to trust or believe that our light is still there.  Our yoga practice helps to polish us from the inside out.  We do the work so that we are able to tap into something bigger than us, to source, to an effulgence that can not be extinguished.  Our practice creates an alchemy that melts obstacles, transforming the dull and rough into something that is brilliantly bright.  I have been told that sometimes, at the end of your practice when you have all but exhausted your physical strength, can be an opportunity for you to achieve the greatest metamorphosis.  That when you have to rely on your intention alone, a shift will occur.  We can often find our greatest strength and teachings from those moments when we are tested and feel most vulnerable.

Diwali, The Festival of Lights, began yesterday in India and will last for five days.  During the festival, thousands of candles and lanterns will be lit to celebrate the victory of light over darkness.  Symbolically, the lights can also represent the triumph of good over evil.   Dipali Desai states, “Diwali represents ‘rows of lighted lamps’ but also it represents a time of  lighting up millions of lights or lamps (individual awareness) to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and expand the radiance (Consciousness) of wisdom…”

I hope that we will all light a candle or a lantern to celebrate our increasing awareness and grace.  It is my deepest wish that we will continue our individual practices, both on and off the mat, in order to keep sight of our wisdom even in times of struggle and darkness.  Let us all continue to burn brightly, so that we can collectively set the world on fire with a love that burns brighter than the sun!

Balancing the Polls

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Your Other Name

If your life doesn’t often make you feel
like a cauldron of swirling light –
 
If you are not often enough a woman standing above a mysterious fire,
lifting her head to the sky –
 
You are doing too much, and listening too little.
 
Read poems. Walk in the woods. Make slow art.
Tie a rope around your heart, be led by it off the plank,
happy prisoner.
 
You are no animal. You are galaxy with skin.
Home to blue and yellow lightshots,
making speed-of-light curves and racecar turns,
bouncing in ricochet –
 
Don’t slow down the light and turn it into matter
with feeble preoccupations.
 
Don’t forget your true name:
Presiding one. Home for the gleaming. Strong cauldron for the feast of light. 
 
Strong cauldron for the feast of light:
I am speaking to you.
I beg you not to forget.

–Tara Sophia Mohr

This morning I had the great pleasure of experiencing another one of Elena Brower’s extraordinary classes on yogaglo.  The class was called: Cultivate a Deep and Generous Connection to Your Self.  During the class, Elena stated: “We create a very strong & clear vessel, with boundaries, with sweetness, with crazy amounts of courtesy.  And then, inside, is softness and listening and receptivity…”

At the end of class, she shared the poem above.

The practice was perfection.  Her words, as always, timely.  You see, today the world is in a state of upheaval.  It feels a bit like standing on the middle of a giant seesaw.  There are a lot of people on both sides and I am stuck in the middle trying to find some balance.  I didn’t want to feel defensive or on edge.  I made sure to take the time this morning to cultivate that necessary equilibrium on the inside.  Firmly rooted and connected, with a deep remembrance of who I am, I can walk through the swirling voices, opinions, and signs.  From a place of spaciousness and softness, I now go out into the world to vote my truth.

I hope you do too : )

Teaching is an Exploration, It’s a Conversation, It’s a Dance

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One of the biggest questions I am asked as an instructor of Yoga is “What style do you teach?”  I used to cringe as those words were leaving their lips.  I know it would simply be easier to say “Hatha” and be done with it.  However, the answer is so much more complex than that.  I read a blog post yesterday about teachers creating their own styles of yoga and how that may not be an authentic approach to honoring such an ancient practice.  The bottom line is most of us teach our own style.  Our style becomes an intricate blend of the styles of our teachers.  Much like cooking, we learn from other people, their shared ideas and recipes.  Then when we actually sit down to make the meal ourselves, we do it our way, the way that feels comfortable to us; ultimately creating a flavor and design that makes the most sense to our taste receptors.

I was very fortunate that my initial 200 Hour Teacher Training Program consisted of teachers of all lineages.  It was as though the creator of the program had laid out a buffet table and we had the opportunity to sample a multitude of flavors.  We were than able to decide which ones we enjoyed enough to revisit and which ones we would leave behind all together.  Many years later when I developed my own Teacher Training Program, I designed it the same way.  I invited teachers who I respected and who had a style of teaching that resonated strongly with me.  Each one of my students that graduates from my program does not tell people they practice “my” style of Yoga or even my school’s style of Yoga.  Each one of them has developed their own recipe for teaching that is an intricate and beautiful blend of what was taught and what was genuinely true for them.  You can spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on training but until you actually digest those teachings and serve it up in your practice, your teaching, and your life, it is not going to taste or feel authentic to you or your students.

This summer I have kept my teaching schedule quite light, teaching one class a week with a few private clients sprinkled in between.  I was excited to receive an invitation to teach two back-to-back 90 Minutes Classes as part of a summer dance intensive at Academy of Performing Arts New England.  As I was preparing for teaching two different age levels of dancers, I realized, there was no tangible way for me to develop a theme or even a basic class outline.  I needed to walk in and begin a discussion with them.  Ask them questions about their previous experience(s) with Yoga.  What they liked about it, what they didn’t like, what postures they might be interested in exploring.  From there, I just let the classes organically unfold.  The best way to approach teaching this way, I find, is to do something Amy Ippoliti calls “vessilifying” or “vessilification”.  For me, this means, doing my best to ensure that my body is fueled with the right nutrients, the right amount of sleep, plenty of yoga practice, as well as inspiration from my teachers and my vast library of Yoga Books.

I took a fabulous class with Amy on YogaGlo last week called “The Power of Faith and Intention”.  She talked about Shraddha, the Sanskrit word for faith.  When I researched Shraddha further, I discovered that, rather than meaning faith in a religious context, it means something closer to “trust” or “conviction.”  “It most commonly refers to the conviction that develops from one’s own direct experience and practice.”

Amy also talked about Nataraja, the dancing Shiva, how it is said that he dances on the boundaries of the ever expanding and contracting Universe.  Our classes are filled with students whose expectations, abilities and boundaries are ever expanding and contracting.  How then, can our style or our teaching be labeled, rigid, or defined?

When I teach my style of Yoga, I have to vessilify, I must have Shraddha.  I have to walk into that space and trust; allowing all of the teachings I have received from training, practice, experiences, and books to just flow from the universe, through me, to them.  Teaching is not a style.  Teaching is an exploration, it’s a conversation, it’s a dance.

Team Circle Tribe

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A short while ago, March 20th to be exact, my soul sister posted this quote on her facebook wall: “Surround yourself with a team of people who are 110% on your side and can provide you with the counsel and wisdom to get you through all the challenges you’ll face.” ~ Lea Woodward.  Someone commented on her post, wondering out loud, if such a “team” exists.  This started me thinking.  If we are truly going to achieve our goals and reach the stars that we have hung our dreams upon, it is vital that this team exist and it is our responsibility to create and cultivate it.

This quote, link, and thought process ultimately lead me to finally purchase a few issues of Wild Sister Magazine.  I can’t believe I waited this long to enjoy this wonderful online publication!  I purchased seven issues including Issue #09, The Women We Admire Issue:http://ow.ly/9xImc .  I wanted to read the whole article and discover the context in which the quote was written.  The article is called Discover Your Superpowers / An Interview with Lea Woodward by Amy Palko.  Between the time I read the post and the whole article, I took a good amount of time considering who was already a part of my team and thinking about which positions might still be available.

My COO Team.  My main men:  The Illustrious T to the Double D, Bear, and the X-Man.  They keep my Modus Operandi in check.  Everything I do and say, I bounce it off the idea of how it will ultimately affect them.  Their happiness is my Mission Statement.

I have a couple of CAOs.  That’s Chief Awesomeness Officers to you.  The regal and radiant, Ruby.  I check in with her on items big and small, frequently.  She reminds me of my awesomeness when I have forgotten and helps me locate it when I have misplaced it.  Ruby also sidelines as my Editor-in-Chief.  She is a real Dymond in the rough that one!  My brilliant brother Brom advises me and keeps me apprised of and attuned to my highest.  He is a Maestro of Mudita!

I have two people that share the role of CEO.  My Chief Energy Officer Team consists of my acupuncturist, Warrior Goddess Mama Joy, who assists me in the care and keeping of my internal energy.  There is also Prime Minister P, who is the Proprietor of Positivity as well as the Facilitator of all things Feng Shui.

A CFO in my Tribe is referred to as a “Chief Fun Officer”.  Everyone deserves to have people with whom they can be completely themselves.  I have a few of those too.

Some organizations have a Board of Trustees.  I have a “Sounding Board”; my three Crown Jewels.  I also have my Sassy Soul Sister S, the Benevolent B, and the Magnanimous M.  Then I have the elders of my tribe, the matriarchs, who nurture the very essence of who I am; The Mystical Mrs. M. and Kindred K.

I also have an Executive Board of Chief Information Officers.  These are the people that provide me with the information I rely on to inspire me.  Writers, Teachers, Musicians, Artists, etc.  There are far too many to list here.

As you can see, the list could go on and on.  The possibilities are endless!

In the article, Lea also states:  “It’s important to know your super power because it’s the foundation on which you can build the life you want – it helps you identify what value you have to offer in the world, upon which you can build a business.”  I believe identifying your super power enables you to create an outstanding existence, a life that you cherish sharing with others.  She goes on to say: “It helps you operate in the world, knowing the value you have to exchange with others – and in this way you can begin to create your own economy. Exchanging your value for money or other things which are valuable to you.”

We should surround ourselves with those who help us discover our super power.  Our circle should consist of individuals who are not afraid of introducing our super power, for fear that it diminishes theirs.  Play off of and even delight in each other’s strengths.  This is Mudita at it’s finest.  Altruistic, vicarious joy.

Another author from Wild Sister Mag, Erica Staab, wrote these words: “you will find people who see your light, your radiance, your sparkle and who flock to be with you, who want to lift you up, who add something to your life…These friends will offer peace, stability, compassion, love and true friendship.”

Developing and nourishing relationships with individuals who see what makes you shine and thrive on reflecting it back to you.  Enjoying the rich depth, texture, and color of weaving these precious people into the fabric of your life.  Most importantly, utilizing your time and energy being the type of person you want on your team.  Cultivate this tribe of kindred spirits and indulge in a delicious relationship of reciprocity.

Who is on your team?  A part of your circle?  A member of your Tribe?

Circles

Let the Rain

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On the Other Side

     When I sustained a serious wrist injury during a yoga workshop, it was a hard lesson to learn.  It required surgery and months of rehabilitation.  Students would arrive at my classes and upon realizing that the person in the cast/brace was the instructor, they would inquire if they were in the right place.  I found this question mildly amusing due to the fact that during the whole process, from injury, to surgery, to healing, I would frequently ask myself the same question.
     The forecast for this entire week was, originally, all rain.  Even though the earth desperately needed this forecast, I did not.  I was not happy.  Saturday morning I began to feel a bit “under the weather” (pun intended).  By Sunday I had a full-blown cold and my mood continued to deteriorate.  I was sullen about the rain, my cold made me irritable, and I was downright furious that I was grumpy.  This morning, I decided to try a different tactic and to just let everything be as it is.  I stopped trying to resist my mood and gave myself permission to get a little rough-and-tumble with my dark side.  I also began to entertain the idea that a low-key week with plenty of precipitation might be just what I needed.  Ironically enough, both my disposition and the sky began to lighten as I made this shift.
Rumi’s Poem “The Guest House” says it all so eloquently:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

     The inability to get into a certain posture, the injury, the illness, the weather, the bad mood…these things are not the problem.  It is our resistance to them that creates the problem.  Our struggle with the the things that we have the inability to change or control simply stand to make matters worse.  When we are in the middle of these circumstances, it can be challenging to find the switch, to change our sign from “closed” to “open”.  The illnesses can be severe and the storms can be devastating.  The clearing out process can be painful and finding gratitude for that discomfort can be difficult.
My Grandmother use to say: “Let go and let God.”  I say, let the rain.
 

A Bit Like Herding Cats

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Earlier this month, I was a chaperone for a number of children in my son’s second grade class.  It reminded me of a saying I had heard a while back: “It is a bit like herding cats.”  I had to account for them, occasionally reel them in, and yet allow them enough freedom to enjoy their experience.  I wanted to watch out for these little people as carefully as I would want someone to watch over my little one, if the roles were reversed.  This is a daunting responsibility.  I was exhausted at the end of the day.

The following week, I received an envelope.  The envelope contained four meticulously written letters by some of the children I had in my group, thanking me for attending their field trip with them.  Thanking me for keeping them safe.  One little girl wrote: “I think you are the best shaperoen in the world.”  These little notes, and the words contained within them, warmed my heart and brightened my whole day.

As I was gathering and generating some inspiration for my class that evening, I was reviewing the book “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” by Jack Kornfield.  I have adorned my copy with a rainbow of highlighters, a multitude of post-it flags, and the random note in the margin.  On one of the bookmarked pages, I found the following quote highlighted:

“Suppose a person who was not blind beheld the many bubbles of the Ganges as they floated along, and after careful examination, saw how each appeared empty, unreal, insubstantial.  In exactly the same way we can carefully examine sense impressions, perceptions, feelings, and thought, all that we experience, and discover them to be empty, void, and without a self.”

It all of a sudden occurred to me that my meditation practice is “a bit like herding cats”.  It is my job to witness the thoughts that are racing around, however, it is not my job to contain them.  I should visualize them dissolving like a bubble on the Ganges.  I must let them go along, on their merry way, so that my experience is as it should be.  If I pause too long to attempt to restrict my thinking, I will spend unnecessary time and energy becoming frustrated and distracted.

All of this also applies to my work on my mat.  My practice involves fastidious attention to detail.  It is necessary for me to draw my awareness to my breath and to the details of my alignment.  Reeling in my thoughts from the external to the internal in order to keep my body safe can sometimes feel like a daunting and exhausting responsibility.  Ultimately, the whole process is worth the investment.  I receive thank you notes from my body, mind, and spirit.  The quality of my interactions with those in my sphere improves dramatically and I notice a shift in my relationship to self.

This week, I was practicing with Noah Maze via YogaGlo in a class called Kneessentials.  He began the class with a quote from Douglas Brooks: “Clear Boundaries, No Limits.”  If we define very clear parameters for the children in our care, they can be free.  If we delineate very precise boundaries for our bodies during our yoga practice and our minds during our meditation practice, we can be free!  Where are you feeling as though your work is “a bit like herding cats”?  Where are you feeling so free you can fly?

Sakhi Stretching
(which is a bit like flying)