If Walking Down the Street Was a Yoga Pose

If walking down the street was a yoga pose, how would we do it? Would we walk more mindfully, consciously, and with attention to how our breath informs our every step?

If sitting in a chair was a yoga pose, would we place our limbs with intention, keep our spine lifted and our gaze soft?

If having a conversation was a yoga pose, would we stay present the whole way through, listen attentively to every word, stay open and receptive?

If weathering difficult times was a yoga pose, would we root down into our reality, hug in to ourselves, and find the space we need to breathe, to survive, to endure?

If loving other people was a yoga pose, would we keep practicing it over and over, year after year, finding more expansiveness as we soften, stretch, and open?

If getting older was a yoga pose, would we observe our wrinkles without judgement, allow our hair to gray with grace, and stand tall in the body that has stood by us our entire life?

If today was a yoga pose, would we live every minute mindfully, simultaneously stand our ground while submitting to our hearts and aligning our actions with our intentions?

Alignment. Presence. Patience. Strength. Acceptance. We practice these things on our mats all the time, but all of life can be a yoga pose. We can limit the benefits of yoga to a few hours a week or we can tap into these same benefits every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.

photo: Corinne of Corinne’s Yoga Things

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

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I Don’t Want to Know What Kind of Yoga You Practice

I don’t want to know if you feel strong after yoga.
I want to know if you feel softened, receptive, and open to grace.

I don’t want to know if you can touch your toes.
I want to know if you can touch your heart, my heart and the world with your truth.

I don’t want to know if you can reach the sky as you rise.
I want to know if you can kiss the earth in mourning, in joy and in between.

I don’t want to know if you can balance on your head.
I want to know if you can shake and wobble and not give up.

I don’t want to know how often you practice.
I want to know how often you cry at the sheer beauty of your own heartbeat.

I don’t want to know what brand of clothes you’re wearing.
I want to know if you’re comfortable in your own skin and how it stretches over your bones just perfectly.

I don’t want to know how yoga has fixed you.
I want to know if you know you weren’t broken to begin with.

I don’t want to know if you meditate or not.
I want to know if you can look in the mirror and see who you really are.

I don’t want to know what kind of yoga you practice.
I want to know what kind of life you live.

Everyday Enlightenment

yogaAt yoga recently the teacher suggested this intention for our practice:

I will not take things personally.

This didn’t really resonate with me, so I chose an intention that rang more true to me:

I will take things personally.

As in I will get up close and personal with my dreams, my loves, my life and my fears. I will smell their sweat and place their sticky cheek next to mine and breathe in their outbreath. I will inhabit every ounce of this human body as I rest in the hammock of being and awareness that holds it up.

I sometimes get the sense in the yoga world we’re all trying to detach and be perfectly balanced, enlightened beings. I’m all for enlightenment, but in striving for that perfect state we can miss a lot of wonderful imperfection along the way because we consider it “in the way.”

For a long time I approached my practice and my life as if it were in the way of where I was going. I wanted to get “there” because getting there seemed to mean I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I envisioned a state of being where stress wouldn’t sway me, family wouldn’t bother me, loss wouldn’t shake me, and life wouldn’t hurt me.

What I was doing was detaching from my reality and skipping out on my own life. I was missing the point Peter Rhodes makes when he says:

“We make a mistake when we wait for heaven, wait for enlightenment, wait for change. It is not going to happen in the future. It is happening. It is within our experience. Now is the time.”

Yoga and meditation are tools that help us bring a quality of awareness to our lives so that we don’t suffer unnecessarily. It is just so easy to use these valuable tools to bypass what’s happening right now, what’s living and thriving in our bones and bodies and lives right now; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is not always love and light. Sometimes it’s pain and darkness. They are the two poles of life that together light up our lives as the full experience it is.

It’s easy to fall into a practice of seeking enlightenment on a mountain top while the everyday enlightenment passes us by. Lorin Roche reminds us of this in The Radiance Sutras:

Wherever, whenever you feel carried away,
Rejoicing in every breath,
There, there is your meditation hall.
Cherish those times of absorption—
Rocking the baby in the silence of the night
Pouring water into a crystal glass
Tending the logs in the crackling fire
Sharing a meal with a circle of friends.
Embrace these pleasures and know,
This is my true body.
Nowhere is more holy than this.
Right here is the sacred pilgrimage.

I’m so grateful to that yoga teacher for her offering and for sharing an intention that was relevant in her life. It helped shed light on my own process and revealed to me an intention that has been marinating in me all year.

I will take things personally. I will live life fully. I will love more than ever before.

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

The Practice of Remembering

I spend a lot of time focusing my senses on external things. It’s the nature of the mind to think, to get distracted, to stay busy. I often find myself mindlessly clicking through social media with a vague sense that I’m looking for something.

I never find it, whatever I’m looking for. An answer, a connection, a direction, a purpose.

I don’t find it because it’s not out there. It’s in here.

It’s in here, in the deep dark chambers of my heart where love and fear sleep side by side.

garudasanaIt’s in here, buried in my muscles that hug my bones where tissues and issues embrace.

It’s in here, behind my ribs where my inbreath and outbreath dance cheek to cheek.

It’s in here, hiding in the space behind my eyes where seeing gives way to knowing.

It’s in here, in the attic of my soul and the basement of my body.

It’s in here, in my throat that swells with song and wails with weeping.

It’s in here, in my chest that rises in love and bows in gratitude.

It’s in me, the answer I seek, the connection I seek, the company I seek, the purpose I seek.

I don’t have to find it. I have to remember it. When I do everything falls into place. Everything falls into the place it’s always been in, I just become present enough to see it, to stay with it, to appreciate it, to inhabit it.

This is my practice. Remembering.

3 Steps to Transition Mindfully

the pathWhen going through transition it can sometimes feel like we bring all of our old stuff into a new place. Kind of like moving houses. Our surroundings change, but we don’t.

I often feel resistant to change because it requires me to get uncomfortable. I sort of grin and bear it until I’m through the ickyness and back in my comfort zone.

When I approach change and transitions this way it feels as if I’m trying to walk through a door carrying five bags with me. Cumbersome, difficult, and frustrating. It’s much easier to walk through the door with one bag or no bags.

To truly transition is to “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”

It is to transform.

When I find myself at the doorway of change, internal or external, I ask myself these three questions:

1) Where are you now?

Grounding into the present moment and into our reality, whatever that may be, is essential in order to move forward.

Transitions are uncomfortable, awkward, and make us feel vulnerable. Often all we want to do is get away from the discomfort. Yet sitting with our discomfort is one of the most courageous and transformational steps we can take.

David Whyte simplifies it in his poem Start Close In: “Start close in. Don’t take the second step or the third. Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.”

2) What do you need here? 

In a process of transition and change everything is in flux, including you. What serves you here, where you are now, may be very different from what served you a month ago or a year ago. Relationships that nourished you before may be draining now. This is your opportunity to mindfully clean house internally and create space for new opportunities and experiences to take root.

If it’s one of those five bags holding you back from crossing the threshold, leave it behind. If your glass is already overflowing there will be no room for you to receive more.

3) Where do you want to go?

In yoga there’s something called a drishti. It’s a gazing point one focuses on to stay grounded externally and aware internally. Sometimes it’s external, such as focusing on a spot on the ground in tree pose, and sometimes it’s internal. An internal drishti is when we draw our awareness inward so that we aren’t disturbed by external stimuli.

In order to stay balanced when moving in new and unknown directions the focus has to be internal because everything external is changing. Setting a soft focus on where we want to go while staying grounded in our reality enables us to step clearly in the direction of our choice.

Any transition we may be going through is fertile space to transform. Don’t just endure it. Don’t just survive it. Let it transform you. Let it ignite you. Let it deliver you to a new, unexplored place and a new, unexplored you.

The Secret to Staying Free

Rachel's skeleton
the spine

My chiropractor once shared with me that he took part in a study that observed what happened to the bones after a chiropractic adjustment.

What he saw was that 30 minutes after being adjusted the muscles pulled the bones back into their old, incorrect spot. Then 30 minutes later the muscles moved the bones back into the correct position.

It’s as if they were reminded of where they were supposed to be and then the body corrected itself.

This reminded me of what happens through yoga. We go to yoga for a metaphorical adjustment. We intentionally adjust our bodies and minds to realign them and we leave feeling great.

But our ingrained habits and traits are very strong. Yogis call these habits samskaras. They’re like the muscle that pulls what we’ve just aligned back into its old patterning over time.

Years of reacting in a certain way can reach out and grab us just when we think we’ve left them behind for good.

Longtime yoga teacher Christina Sell puts it this way: “One fun (and humbling) thing about growing up is seeing how many times I thought I was changed only to realize what I thought was lasting change was simply a moment of freedom.”

Years of practicing yoga, instituting good habits and cleaning house internally can improve our lives externally so much that we sometimes think we’ve been cured. We’re past whatever it was we wanted to get past. We’re free of whatever it was that had us in its grip.

Life has a way of testing the new-and-improved us to see if we’re really walking our talk. How we respond when life meets our expectations is not as revealing as how we respond when it doesn’t.

The practice of yoga is a unifying one, not one of disunity. Through yoga we begin to unveil the inherent unity of our mind and spirit, of our head and heart, of our body and soul.

It’s not that we create the union, it’s that we become present and still enough to observe what’s already there, thumping in our hearts and rushing through our veins.

We are already whole. We are already complete. We are already free.

The more we remind ourselves how to stay aligned, the easier it is to return there when our samskaras pull us out of alignment. This is how we find the freedom hidden in the most compressed situations and how we maintain that freedom when life becomes challenging and intense.

We keep reminding ourselves. We keep creating healthy samskaras. We keep holding space for our self to grow in, whether that means digging through dirt or blossoming in the sunlight.

When our old habits show up we allow for them, we forgive them, and we learn from them. We bathe in the freedom of being ourselves.

Yoga As An Undoing

I recently attended an evening yoga class at a small studio near me that holds classes outside on a large wooden deck.

I practiced next to a large tree trunk that emerged through the deck and the ocean air reminded me to inhale fully.

At the end of the class as I set up for savasana and stared at the open sky, I remembered these lines from Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind.

The ancient Greeks had a structure they called the temenos: a four walled enclosure with no roof. The warriors would come in off the battlefield and remove their armor to lie down on their backs and open their hearts again to the sky.

Laying there I felt like that warrior. I’d spent the previous hour removing the armor I wear all day long. The safe space I was in encouraged my body and mind to soften their constant gripping.

Without the weight of my defenses and the stiffness of my judgements weighing me down I found I could easily slip into the sacred space of my own heart.

Here in my heart it’s dark and I am alone, but somehow I’m able to see so clearly and I don’t feel lonely.

I say I do yoga, but really yoga is undoing all my doing. It unravels my tension, releases my breath, and softens my mental and physical gripping. It reveals to me who I am under my armor and my judgement. It polishes my heart and reflects back to me a capacity for love that I often forget I’m capable of.

In a world where doing is praised more than being, yoga as undoing is exactly what I need to become more present, more conscious, and a more authentic human being.

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood

Baby

Everyone told me having a baby would change my life.

No one told me it would change me.

I knew about the physical transformation I would experience, but I thought it ended when I had the baby. Little did I know it was just beginning. The process feels strangely similar to how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

I spun my little cocoon with and for baby. This was the fun part. What I didn’t know is that after a caterpillar spins its cocoon, it has to melt down.

Completely.

It actually turns into caterpillar soup. There’s no remnants left of its prior caterpillar body or being except for what are called “imaginal discs.” These discs contain the information needed to produce all the necessary butterfly parts, such as wings, eyes, etc.

I wasn’t expecting this meltdown.

The meltdown of all I thought I was and all I thought I’d be. The meltdown of the last 37 years of what I like to call progress and refinement. All gone. All turned into mush.

I knew I was still there, but not in any recognizable form. Exhaustion made me irritable and months with little yoga made me stiff and achy. I felt like an old lady when I wanted to feel like a glowing, new mama. Was this who I really was?

Thanks to the imaginal discs a butterfly begins to form in the soup. And here’s the part we all know about: The butterfly grows and struggles to free itself.

Like most of us, I like to focus on the free and flying part, skipping over the struggle part, but a whole lot of struggle was in store for me.

I fought and wrestled with my process out of fear. Fear of who I’d become and fear of who I’d lose. Fear of the unknown and fear of the uncontrollable.

Through its struggle the butterfly develops the strength to fly. Without the struggle it would never be strong enough to survive on the outside. Intervening with this delicate process can result in a failed transformation.

At my most challenging moments I reached out to a yoga teacher who had also recently had a baby. I wanted to know what she did and what worked for her. I wanted her to give me the answer, to show me the way out of this cocoon.

She did the best thing a teacher could do. She didn’t help me. She let me struggle through it. She shared with me these powerful words:

Really only each of us have the answers because each of our lives are the same and yet unique at the same time.

I knew then I was on my own.

The way through for someone else was not going to be my way through.

I had to rely on my internal compass and trust my process. I had to summon the inner strength to rise to my unique challenges while simultaneously softening enough to let the old me melt away, leaving only my pure essence and the promise of what was to come

I try to remember this when I see my son struggling to roll himself over or grab a toy and I’m tempted to do it for him.

The struggle is how we learn. The struggle is how we transform.

This metamorphosis of the caterpillar is a journey it must submit to and survive alone if it is to successfully transform into a butterfly, and so is motherhood on many levels.

It’s a unique transformation because each of us get to decide what kind of mother we want to become. We aren’t limited by the mother we had or didn’t have. When we are given our wings we are asked a question we will answer daily for the rest of our lives: What kind of mother do you want to be?

This post was originally published on elephantjournal.

photo credit: j. danenhauer

There’s No Prerequisite for Presence

I’ve been practicing Yoga Nidra (also known as yogic sleep) the last few months to help me unwind and rest. The tape I’ve been listening to has this instruction early on:

Bring your attention to what’s already happening.

I like to think of attention as being my full awareness, senses, and being. This is altogether different from merely bringing my mental attention to something. The first is a tangible, full-body experience, with the latter often being a distant, detached evaluation.

In the context of yoga nidra it’s referring to bringing your attention to a particular body part, but I love the phrase because it can be lifted out of my yoga nidra practice and applied to anything in my life.

Bring your attention to what’s already happening.

It does not ask me to change or fix anything. It asks me to show up for what is already there.

The most successful shifts, progress, and change I’ve experienced in my life have come from this simple act of being with what is. The more aggressive approach of trying to fix or change something has never worked very well for me.

But I forget that sometimes.

I forget that the most powerful healer, shifter, and connector is presence. I forget I have this tool with me at all times, and I forget how simple it is to use.

I like to make it harder than it is. I tell myself I need to meditate or I need to do yoga or I need to get outside or I need to rest before I can be present.

While those things make it easier to show up and soften the resistance I often bring to the present moment, the truth is they aren’t a prerequisite to presence.

There is no prerequisite for presence. It’s simply a matter of bringing our attention to what’s already happening.

When I step into my reality I find a unique clarity as what is comes sharply into focus and everything else fades away. This clarity and focus allows me to step consciously in the direction of my choice.

From Here anything is possible.

The Universe Wants to Fill You Up (Literally!)

I’m really fascinated with the breath lately. Perhaps that’s why I’m coming across so many unique perspectives and details on the breath itself, as well as how breath relates to yoga.

If you practice yoga, you know the breath is a large component. Many say it’s the most important component.

If you’re alive and reading this, you know the breath is one of the most important components to staying alive.

I recently listened to a mind-blowing interview with Leslie Kaminoff. If you’re interested in hearing the interview in its entirety, you can find it here.

I say mind-blowing because it totally blew away my preconceived ideas about the breath, how the breath works, and how to teach breath awareness in yoga.

In the interview he speaks, not only of the spirituality of the breath (the word Spirit coming from the Latin word Spiritus, which means “breath”), but also of the physics of the breath in relation to our literal universe.

He talks about how the atmosphere of our planet Earth contains air molecules which, thanks to atmospheric pressure, will fill any space available, including our bodies. We often refer to this as empty “space,” but this space is filled with air.

When we think about astronauts on the moon, where there is no atmosphere, we start to develop a deeper appreciation for our precious, life-sustaining atmosphere.

Kaminoff says, “Make the space in your body. The universe will fill it. It always does.”

He’s referring to both the literal physics of the atmospheric pressure filling our lungs with air, as well as the figurative space we can create and the trust that the universe will fill us with what we need.

When we think that we are the ones filling ourselves, that we are the ones in control of our survival, success, and keep reaching or trying to control the universe, this is where Kaminoff says we get into trouble.

Fullness comes from “surrendering to the thing that’s bigger than you.”

In the case of the literal breath, to receive a full and 3-dimensional experience of the breath it is less about controlling the breath and more about creating a space for the breath to fill and bringing our attention to it.

“When you take care of the exhale, the inhale takes care of itself.” The universe will fill us, but only if there’s a space to fill.

Kaminoff points out that as humans we are used to applying action and energy in order to get somewhere or effect a result. In most of our lives we must act in order to receive.

This is not the case with the breath. Instead of working hard at it, we actually have to work less.

As he says, “It’s really hard work not to work so hard.”

The other interesting concept I’ve run across in relation to the breath is the breath as a bridge to deeper layers of our Self. Because the breath can be both conscious (controlled) and unconscious (autonomic), when we bring our awareness and attention to it, it can serve as a virtual bridge to step consciously into what is unconscious.

Perhaps this is why sitting still and concentrating on the breath for even just a few minutes can be so challenging. Mindfulness meditation is a meditation that largely focuses on resting the attention on the breath. Even as other sensations arise, we stay with the breath. Through this process we start to see deeper into our subconscious or unconscious patterns. It’s similar to how you can see deep down into a pool of water if the surface is calm and clear, but not if it’s rough or cloudy.

As you fall asleep tonight or even right now, take a few moments to bring your awareness to your breath. To observe it without controlling it. Consider that the universe is filling you all the time, whether you are conscious of it or not.

This is the generous universe we live in. As long as we make space for it, it will continue to fill us up.