Holiday giving

Time for the holidays... and all that GIVING. For many of us, myself included, too often that giving includes advice, thoughts, sympathy, outrage along with the person I'm talking to, defending myself... lots of words... and though I hate to admit it, very little listening and very little actual time.

I attended a wonderful workshop recently, where we practiced active listening. Yes, this is a skill. (And a good one to have.) Our instructions were to just listen for a set period of time - say 5 minutes. We weren't to comment, interrupt, sympathize, or even respond after the fact. Just listen. It sounds super easy in writing about it, but let me tell you, it was a lot harder than it sounds. 

So, this holiday, rather than giving your friend yet another battery operated cylindrical gift, try giving YOURSELF. Grab a friend. Tell them you just want to listen to them - for 5 minutes - 10 - maybe more. Let them talk. Listen. Allow them to meander their way through their thoughts. Give them your ear, your time, and your openness.

Yoga and Anger

Here’s to the anonymous person who trolled me the other day to suggest that my “instagram is full of hate, intolerance and violence against those who may disagree with you…[that he] didn’t realize that yoga could be used fir {sic} focusing and channeling hate. Just some observations” and then suggested I spend a little more time in “self-reflection.” 

First, of all, have you actually seen my Instagram?  It’s a lot of butt crack shots, malas, inspirational quotes and flowers.  Not sure where on it you think I’m advocating open borders (his words) and not spending enough time protesting against muslims (all of whom “want every gay killed” - I may need to speak to some of my muslim friends about his theory because I’d never quite heard this before… lol.)  Please show me the hate.  Please show me where I advocate violence.  I dare you. 

Second, we in this country seem to have the notion that a good yoga teacher is some super bendy woman wearing $400 in Lululemon clothes whose thighs certainly do not rub when she walks and speaks in that breathy “yoga” voice.  

I can assure you, this is NOT yoga.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love the asana (the physical practice).  It helps calm me down, it opens my hips so I can sit and meditate longer, and it builds an ability to stay calm and breathe while holding a strenuous pose or being in a difficult circumstance.  That’s all good.  But it’s really not yoga. 

Here are a few things that I have learned about yoga: 

  1. Question EVERYTHING.  How does this feel?  Why do I feel this why?  Is this true for me?  Is this real?  Is this a reaction?  This is easiest when noticing the body (part of the reason for the physical practice) - we begin to observe ourselves and and how we cope with difficult poses.  But more importantly that observation translates into the ability to gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our reactions.  How do I really feel about being trolled… it’s taken me over 2 weeks to sit with it and really begin to understand these things - how do I feel?  Is this true? - all rather than simply react.  Question, question, question.  I adore my teacher, she is wise beyond what I can often comprehend and so many times I’d love for her to simply give me the answer and yet I adore her all the more for insisting I find it for myself. 
  2. We are all connected.  There can be no doubt that we are all one.  And yes, through intense meditation, I can honestly say that I KNOW this.  I have felt it.  I have witnessed it.  Again and again. There can be no doubt that if I’m inflicting pain on myself or on another (or on this earth) that I’m inflicting pain on all.  We cannot escape this interconnectedness.  If I stand by and watch others inflict pain, I myself am guilty of inflicting that pain.  
  3. That yogis have a higher moral code.  You can read on and on about the Yamas and Niyamas.  You can read the Bhagivad Gita to gain a greater understanding of dharma.  And hopefully all yogis are actively engaged in an academic understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  But, for me, it really comes from a deeper and more personal place.  Precisely because I’ve spent the time trying to understand myself better, precisely because I have trained myself to question everything, and precisely because I cannot deny that interconnectedness of ALL of our actions, it’s vital that we tread through this world with more care.  To simply react, to simply lash out, to simply follow the lemmings as they hate gays, hate Mexicans and other persons of color, hate women, hate folks who aren’t “christian”, hate poor folks, and hate whoever the group du jour is, is no longer a viable option.  It’s a cop out. 

In short, it is not in spite of being a yogi and a yoga teacher that I speak up about the injustices around me.  It is BECAUSE am a yogi.

When I see families being ripped apart at our borders for absolutely no reason, I’m going to speak up.  When I see our election system being undermined and interfered with my a foreign enemy power, I’m going to speak up. When I see Klan members gathering in Charlottesville and taken off of “hate group” status, I’m going to speak up.  When I see public parks being sold off, drilled in or torn up for needless pipelines, I’m going to speak up. When I see the government ripping healthcare from countless people who desperately need it to live, I’m going to speak up.  When I see more and more tax cuts to the rich and corporations, those who least need or deserve it, I’m going to speak up. When I see Supreme Court nominees dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, I’m going to speak up. Hell yes I am. 

And no, I’m not going to do it in a breathy yoga voice. I’m going to do it in the voice these atrocities warrant.

Voting is yoga.

As I drove to the polling place this morning to vote in our NJ primaries, the song Powerful, from the tv show Empire came on.  It literally made me sob. Like ugly sob.  How the hell can children continue to be slaughtered and nothing has happened?   

Folks, let's get super real here.  We have some serious problems here in this country. We are sinking fast.  Maybe my lily white privileged butt was in denial about this (there's really no maybe to this) thinking that we were headed into a world where folks of all different colors, ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds had a genuine chance here.  A world where we could celebrate our differences and yet still recognize that underneath of it all, we're just the same - a beating heart, the breath, hopes, fears, loves, joys, sorrows. 

Yet, I look around, and those currently in power now have absolutely no interest in changing in that direction.  Quite the contrary, they'll happily take their NRA checks and allow shooting after shooting to take place.  They'll happily stand by as policy that is ripping families apart is implemented.  I could go on. 

It's devastating to me.  And demoralizing to feel that the values I hold dearly and hope to pass to my son don't seem to be the values of millions in this country. What can I do?  What can I possibly do to change this?

Here’s our practice: Stop.  Take a breath.  Feel the earth underneath your feet.  Take your shoes off and really feel the ground.  Take a few slow breaths, feeling that steady, securing energy of Mother Earth holding you.  Feel that in your body.  Take a few more breaths.  Connect in with the Divine - whatever that means to you - and really embody that, feel that energy.  Hold your arms out to the Universe.  Breathe that in.  Feel where the energy of Mother Earth and the energy of the Universe meet, intertwine, and play.  It’s the heart.  Take a few breaths focusing on that heart energy.  Hope.  Feel it.  Embody it.  See a world that lives joyfully, peacefully, and in harmony with one another and with the earth. 

Now here’s the real yoga:  Take a step.  To quote one of my heroes, “Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.” Barack Obama.  I repeat: TAKE A STEP.  

One of the most simple ways we can effect change is to vote.  And if you think your vote doesn’t matter, the Virginia assembly would have flipped blue except 1 vote this year.  One.  

--

I see a colorful future

Where skin don’t define any human

And stars are the only thing shooting, shooting

Oooh, oooh

Mothers who bury their child

How can we sit there and hide?

Change comes when all take a stand now

Stand up

Stand up

Martin’s speech still echoes in my brain

Every shade was beautifully made

And powerful

There’s so much strength in you and me

Powerful 

A breath away from victory

I matter, you matter, we matter all

I matter, you matter, we matter all

--

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/powerful-feat-jussie-smollett-alicia-keys/1185063432?i=1185063487

Giving Back

I find that one of my biggest issues lately is a matter of staying focused and staying engaged.  We’re constantly barraged with the ways in which our world seems to be crumbling around us - mass shootings, ripping away of environmental protections, extensive cutbacks in funding for women’s health and HIV research and services, bills and legislation targeted against the LGBTQ community. The list goes on and on.  I’m distracted even trying to list out the areas on which we are backsliding.  I tend to vacillate between super super motivated to change the world and falling into despair that the world my son is growing into looks nothing like the world I’d hoped for.  The net result, all to often for me, is inaction.  

Sure, I’d love to be able to donate to so many amazing organizations and to forward thinking candidates.  (Alas, until Lululemon steps up to have me be their spokesmodel, donating the way I’d love to isn’t really an option.  (Well, and there’s the whole ‘don’t like to practice in clothes’ problem with my get rich scheme. Maybe I’ll rethink that one.)) So I get stuck in a rut of how can I help. 

Help doesn’t have to be huge.  It doesn’t have to be showy.  It can be one small step each day.  It can be committing to recycling more (stop taking plastic straws, for one).  It can be volunteering for an organization dedicated to making the world a safe and better place for those less fortunate than you are.  You name it.  Just dive in.  

And it can be FUN.  This will be my 8th year doing the Braking Aids Ride.  (www.brakingaidsride.org) I would LOVE for folks to get involved.  I know, 300 miles in 3 days sounds daunting - but it’s totally doable.  And there’s amazing support if you can’t.  And yes, the fundraising sounds daunting, but again, amazing support and I’m always shocked at how easily the fundraising happens.  And Housing Works.  Oh my.  What an amazing support of folks in and near NYC who are living with HIV/AIDS.  

Do something.  

Inspire us. What’re you doing to help?

Sometimes the best yoga is no yoga

I have a dear friend I’ll call Samuel.  Samuel and I see each other outside of class fairly regularly.  We talk. We laugh. He’s a really super guy.  Each time he sees me, though, he tells me he wants to come to a naked class - that he’s super eager to try nude yoga.  Then he signs up.  Invariably, the morning of class, he cancels.  Now typically, this repeated behavior is a button for me - either come to class - or stop signing up - particularly if the class is full and its preventing someone else from coming.  

But with Samuel, it’s ok.  

You see, Samuel messages me fairly regularly.  He tells me why he wants to try nude yoga.  He admits that the idea turns him on a bit.  He then admits that he feels some shame around that and discomfort around sensuality and sexuality.  

He tells me that he’s had surgery and gained a few pounds and that he is really battling with his body image right now.  One message he tells me about how he was teased as a child and how he carries those voices with him.  He shares with me that it’s these voices he hears when he’s feeling particularly critical about himself and his scars.  

He shares with me how he’s being more mindful about dealing with those voices.  He tells me how when he hears them, he stops and takes a breath.  

Just the other day Samuel signed up and canceled - again.  As usual, he was super apologetic and beating himself up for his “fear.” 

I told him to stop and take a breath.  I told him I don’t particularly care whether or not he ever comes to yoga.  You see, he’s practicing yoga. He’s learning more from his own journey and self-examination than I could probably ever teach him.  One has to be quite fearless to dive into the self. 

We, as Americans have gotten so focused on yoga as stretching, yoga as meditation, yoga as relaxing, yoga as sport, yoga as beating ourselves up, yoga as the latest Lululemon fashion, yoga as social hour or clique, yoga as a thing — that we’ve forgotten to actually practice yoga.  

Sure the jumping around the mat is fun.  I like to be upside down. I like to practice naked.  I like the community.  The crazy Instagram yoga party tricks are fun and inspiring.  But that’s NOT YOGA.  

Yoga is cultivating self awareness.  Yoga is peeling away the layers, the fears, the darkness and examining that.  Yoga is about being messy and imperfect and accepting that.  Yoga is about making mistakes and owning up to them.  Yoga is about speaking the truth even if not graceful or easy. Yoga is about truly understanding who you are and living in that magnificence, no matter what.   

So, if Samuel makes it to class one day, super.  We’ll have fun.  We’ll laugh and play.  If he never makes it, super.  He’s more yogi than most of us already.

Shivaratri

So, I’m been feeling a little off lately. Not really bad, but not really good either. I feel a bit like I’m slogging through life and nothing feels like it’s as easy as it should be. I spent most of January not eating terribly well, not sleeping terribly well, and beating myself up about it. Even writing, which I usually enjoy doing, has felt like a struggle, like what of any importance do I really have to say. Kind of meh. But today I’m feeling a bit of new lease. And maybe what I have to say is, in fact, meh, but at least it’s a breath and forward movement. It’s shedding some light in on the dark.

 

One of my favorite things about a yoga practice, is that it teaches you to observe. You begin to observe life, the world, others - and most importantly, yourself. You cultivate a continual awareness. Throughout my day, I check in with myself “how do I feel now?” “am I present or where are my thoughts?” “what’s really going on here?” It’s this awareness that allows me to step out of the instinctual reactive mode. It’s this awareness that grants us the freedom to choose how we want to respond. It’s this awareness that affords us the opportunity to learn about who we are, what motivates us, and why.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we should shy away from strong emotion - quite the contrary. There are many times when getting fully swept away by emotion can be quite beautiful - lovemaking, meditating, mourning, anger to name a few. What I’m suggesting is that we examine what’s behind the emotion. Is it something real? Or are you reacting to something else - perhaps way in your past?

 

For example, I had a funny legal work situation come up recently, and it’s brought up all sorts of strong emotions. The narrative in my head has been something along the lines of “they don’t like me” “I’m not doing a good enough job” “someone must have said something bad about me” and diving into defensive mode immediately and then falling into the same old “I’m not good enough” story. But how much of this is real? How much of this is actually even related to the current work situation? Pretty much none of it. And yet off I go with my strong emotions reacting to something entirely different. Boring. Same old story.

 

I find I often do this with my body as well. If only I were a little thinner, if only my laugh lines weren't quite so pronounced. If only, if only. Blah blah. Same old story.

 

That’s when the observer comes to the rescue. That’s where I get to choose how I want to be in any given situation. But it takes being willing to go there - being willing to overturn a few rocks and look for the mucky stuff underneath. It may take some time of just allowing yourself to feel meh before you figure it all out. That’s ok. That’s good. It's how we break the cycle of the same old story.

 

Tonight is Shivaratri. It’s a night to celebrate Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. Tonight is a celebration of Shiva’s conquering the enemies of goodness. It’s a time to step into the dark with an open and honest heart and have a look. It’s in this way that we learn, we grow, we heal, and we move on.

 

This is from one of my teachers, Douglass Brooks:

 

Don’t leave your dreams unattended. Never ignore what comes unwanted. Take time, tend the heart--- if you do then the seeds of destruction cannot strangle your soul. Remember that everything finds a way to live that lives inside you. Gods and demons both need to find a place, to make room for each other. That is the purpose of the night: to give everything permission to emerge so that we can have the conversations we need to have.

 

This means we will need to make space in our garden for all that grows, and learn to tend carefully those difficult conversations. Day will come again. Don’t be afraid to welcome the sun, however it may burn, and when the rains come, even if they flood the heart, you will find beauty in them too. When you wake tomorrow you will find yourself moving towards the light again because you had the courage to sow all of your seeds. Try not to forget the strange feelings that emerge under the absent moon tonight. They too have something to say if you dream while awake.

 

Original post by Douglas Brooks here:

https://rajanakadesa.blogspot.com/2018/02/waking-dreams-on-shivas-night.html?m=1

Tuesday morning thoughts

Not gonna lie - I'm in a bit of a fake it till I make it kind of mood. I must have put on 5 different outfits this morning, put 3 of the tops into the Goodwill pile and put one of the tee shirts into the "I like this tee and I'll keep it, but I don't think I'll ever wear it pile." (Don't ask me why I have this pile. Sentimental tees?! That's probably a different discussion.) 

My brain has gone to a million different solutions - sign up for a half ironman again, never eat flour or sugar again, be one of those people who run 5 miles a day through wind, rain, sleet or snow, go back to crossfit (though owing to my own ego, my shoulder STILL hurts 2 years after stopping crossfit), swim 3x a week, give up running and biking so I can just do yoga because that guy I saw on instagram was super bendy with no fat and I kind of want to look like him and do press up handstands ... the gist is, all of them being all or nothing solutions - all of them being the same old do battle with my body story - all of them wanting my body to be something different from what it is. 

Tiring. And more or less the antithesis of everything I try to teach. 

So I'm back to the practice... the real yoga, not the jumping around fancy trick stuff... but the come back to breath. Come back to center. I even managed to look at my belly and tell it I love it without cringing too much. 

Yes, I probably will sign up for a half ironman for next summer. Not because triathletes are skinny, but because I genuinely love racing that distance. Yes, I probably will eat sugar over the holidays, but I can also make some healthier changes, too. Yes, when I look at another body and see a sexy man with a belly, I'll remind myself, if you can think he's sexy, you can think you're sexy, too. 

"We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." ~Pema Chodron.

Some Saturday morning thoughts...

The question I’m asked most (even more than the “what if I get an erection” question,) is why naked yoga - what do you get out of it? That’s generally quickly followed up by my least favorite comment/joke “I just don’t want to see anyone naked in Down Dog.” (Are butts seriously that scary to you?? But maybe that’s another post.) 

For me, naked yoga is truly the only time I feel 100% comfortable in my own skin. I know it seems crazy, but it’s true. I think there’s just some button that clicks and sends a signal to my brain - it’s all out there - you can let your body judgment go now. And I do. And it’s such a wonderful feeling of peace and freedom. Yep, there’s my belly, oh well. Yep, my balls are swinging awkwardly in this pose, oh well. Nope, I can’t really get “fully” into that pose, oh well. I’m just going to enjoy where and how I am now. 

Another aspect of naked yoga that I love is how totally equalizing it is. I often say at the beginning of class - this is an opportunity to free ourselves of layers - obviously the physical layers of clothing - but more importantly to me, the layers of stuff we carry between each of us. Once the clothes are gone, I find it’s much easier to genuinely connect, to genuinely see one another, and to put down all of that perceived crap between us. We’re people. We’re bodies. We’re beautiful. We’re just the same when you get right down to it. 

Another aspect I love, is the sensuality. It’s nice to be in a room full of naked men. It’s nice to be in a room full of naked sweaty men. Sure. There’s something sweet and sexy about that. However, in my opinion, it’s not the sexual/sensuality aspect that draws me - if I just wanted to see naked men being sexual, the Internet is full of that. Boring. What I find in naked yoga is the openness and acceptance of the group. Sure I may make a few side glances at the gym locker room, but (at least at my gym) it’s furtive, it’s taboo. We’re not really supposed to look at other men, much less enjoy it. We were taught that long ago. And I was taught it deeply. So naked yoga is a safe space to do just that. In most of my classes, I try to do some partner work to take that even one step father - it’s turns out we can be naked and touch one another. Gasp! And we can enjoy it! Shock! And it doesn’t have to be sexual. Heavens! So the class provides me an opportunity to feel very comfortable looking at another man’s body, skin color, hair, tattoos, piercings, belly, nipples, butts (even in down dog!) - maybe even touch that body and explore it a bit - in an environment that’s safe, accepting, and whose goal isn’t go for the genitals. 

What do you like most about nude yoga? What scares you the most?