Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zenith

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.

Today is my very first class as a yoga teacher.  I am in Valley Forge Park where I've spent so many days running and being mindful and connecting with the universe on a deeper level than I ever thought possible.  I am teaching people yin yoga, a tool for self-transformation that I love and believe in so fervently that I trust my ability to teach others how to use it to transform themselves.  I am nervous and excited in equal measure and I feel like I'm on the cusp of something huge, some next great chapter in my life.  Although really, I recognize that chapter started a while ago.

I didn't plan it this way- I hadn't tried to arrange for this first class to take place on the same day as the conclusion of this month-long narration through some of what I've learned in my year in teacher training.  But i'm not even remotely surprised that that's how it worked out.

Because that seems to happen all the time, now.  All those little moments of serendipity, kismet, deja vu and the like letting me know- constantly- that I am exactly where I need to be, on exactly the path i'm meant to be on.  Really, it's startling how often it happens.  And yet it's already become a core way of how I react to and interpret life.

At the beginning of this journey I was this sane, logical, cynical person who valued science and "fact" above everything else.  I hated myself in so many ways and I fought a never-ending battle against that internal critic of mine which judged, weighed and measured and ultimately rejected everything I did, thought, felt, or wanted.  I pushed back hard against pretty much all forms of spirituality, and certainly the more woo-woo ones, because my mind- which I valued above all else- told me that couldn't be real.  I secluded myself inside of a relationship which justified, validated and reinforced every single one of these delusions.  And no, I was not what you might call happy.

Now, at the end of a year that has brought about more radical shifts in my worldview, personality, belief system and lifestyle than any other period of my life, I feel free.  I love myself, truly, genuinely and without constant effort.  (Certainly not without any effort at all, mind you, but without constant effort.)  That internal critic of mine- which used to be unstoppable white noise in the background of my thoughts- is so small now I hardly ever hear it.  It's still there, but it's quiet, usually.  Reserved.  A teacher rather than a tormentor.

 And all those judgements, measurements and rejections are so easily dismissed now that I marvel at the ease with which I can let them go.  I value my soul above all else and I use my intuition as the greatest guide I have in navigating and reacting to life.  And that relationship that kept all of those old systems in place, that I had been in for over a decade, that squashed so many of these now flourishing aspects of myself?  Yeah, that's gone. Or rather the person who I was while in that relationship is gone.   Replaced by honest communication and mindful relating that connects me more deeply to the people in my life than I ever have been.  I am the opposite of closed off now- I am open.  And I take in so much of what I used to keep out.

I don't know what comes next.  But I'm at peace with that because I am fully aware that i'm not supposed to.  Embarking on being a full-fledged yoga teacher will involve countless more lessons, journeys, insights and growths than I can possibly imagine right now.  This isn't the end of anything other than my initial training.  My journey, my soul's path... that is just beginning.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yoga

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions

My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.

I've spent the bulk of the past month talking about what yoga isn't so today it's finally time to speak to what it is.

As you can probably guess, there are many different definitions depending upon where you look.  However, there is one single definition that we ascribe to in my school and which resonates deepest with me personally.  (Drum roll, please)....
Yoga is a process for seeking out and removing obstacles to freedom.

There, is your mind blown?  Mine certainly was when I first heard it.  Hopefully that definition puts a lot of the rest of what I've discussed this month in some context.  Like, for example, why I would rally so hard against the idea of yoga as simply a form of exercise.  Why understanding the health benefits, nonetheless, is so vital.  Why it's so important to understand that asana are just one of the eight limbs on the eight-limbed path of yogic development.  And why I personally am so extremely devoted to this life-changing way of living.

Yoga is the single greatest method I have found to study, better understand and ultimately embrace this crazy, wild, wonderful soul that is me.  (And I've tried a lot of different methods towards that end over the years, trust me.)  And I am not in any way, shape or form saying that it is the ONLY way, simply that for me, it is the best.  And would it be what it is for me without everything else that I do that supports my overall well-being?  Of course not- those are also integral aspects of who I am.  But they were all there before I started this crazy journey almost a year ago.  

So how else to explain how drastically, completely, revolutionary different I am in the course of a year?  You guessed it, yoga.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xenophilia

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions

My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.

Xenophilia is an attraction towards foreign countries, peoples and cultures and is worth consideration in the spread of yoga throughout the western world.  If not for strong interest in the culture of yoga's country of origin the practice would not be what is is today.
Perhaps part of the attraction is the bipolar nature of our two cultures.  Here in America we are materially rich, spiritually poor, irreverent, and obsessed with money and all if can get us.  India is the complete and total opposite (save for the interest in money- but there it is based on necessity, not obsession.)  I myself have been drawn to the country where this rich practice has come from and find myself fascinated by the endless differences between our two cultures.

India is one of the world's oldest civilizations, is the birthplace of several of the world's largest religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism), and fascinates the world with it's food, music and dance, clothing, cinema and, of course, yoga.  With such a diverse and long history it's next to impossible not to find some aspect of the culture intriguing.

I am personally grateful to the countless individuals who were so fascinated by this culture that they saw fit to spread all of the traditions we now enjoy over here.  (Not the least of which is yoga.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Western Yoga

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions

My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.

Western yoga, as you can probably imagine, is so far removed from the traditions of yoga practiced in India that they don't even call what we do yoga.  For them, yoga is a series of deeply spiritual practices designed to align one with the universal energy that flows through all living beings.  It involves intense meditation, chanting, lifestyle disciplines and (often) no asana (poses) whatsoever.
It's been around, in some form, for around 7,000 years over there.  We didn't pay any attention to it here in the US until the mid 19th century and there was no one here teaching it until the 1890's.  Early on, the spiritual practices and disciplines of the practice were taught but as the esoteric views of the late 19th century faded from popularity it faded as well.  It wasn't until the 1960's that yoga began to be seen again in the US. 

The rash of yoga that's we've seen in recent decades reflects a shift of perspective as to what yoga is- namely exercise.  When I tell people that I'm studying to be a yoga teacher they comment on my assumed physical fitness, flexibility and other physical attributes.  No one says "Wow, you must be a very spiritual person" (even though that's why I do it and want to teach it.)

I say this without any intent of soapboxing (though it may sound that way): yoga was not designed to be exercise.  Calling yoga exercise, exclusively, is like calling music noise.  Could you technically characterize it that way?  Sure.  Is that why people make it?  NO.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's fantastic that yoga has experienced a re-popularization over here in the West and the incredible health benefits of the practice are never going to be anything less than extraordinary.  But to view it simply as a form of exercise is to throw away some of the greatest gifts that mankind has known.

Thankfully, I am not the only person who feels this way.  In fact, I would argue that most people who stick with yoga and make significant lifestyle changes associated with it do it for spiritual purposes.  People who are looking for the next great exercise routine will likely do it for a while, never even scratch the surface of the deep spirituality contained within, and then drop it in favor of the next fad to come along.  Which, for them, is fine- health benefits, basic introduction to some really helpful concepts and whatnot are still great things to be exposed to.

But for me, it's so much more than that and I will always respect, revere and honor it as the life-changing process I have found it to be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Vinyasa

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions

My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.

Vinyasa is a form of yoga known for dynamic movement linked with breath which has become incredibly popular in most U.S. yoga establishments.  I don't have the statistics on the number of yoga establishments (including gyms, Ys and whatnot) that teach vinyasa but i'll wager is right up there with hot yoga and other very popular forms of the practice.  It was created by Krishnamacharya who is often referred to as "The Father of Modern Yoga".
The primary tenants of vinyasa yoga are equal and opposite movements (meaning poses are always followed by counter-poses), flow (meaning that poses feed into one another in a particular sequence of movement) and breath (meaning that your in breath and out breath matches the movements as you go through the sequence).

Vinyasa is usually fast moving, involves somewhat challenging poses (meaning individuals with physical disabilities or injuries may have trouble with it) and stretches muscles to induce improved physical mobility, ability and muscle control.

My yoga teacher (who is training me to be a teacher) practices vinyasa and is (needless to say) incredibly talented at instructing others in it.  I, on the other hand, am not.  I find vinyasa to be... I don't want to say stressful because it's still yoga and the basic principles of body awareness, quiet mind and everything that makes yoga yoga are still there.  But it's not my favorite form and it's not where I gravitate towards as a teacher.

My preference is yin which is much more slow moving, involves staying in a pose for a long time, stretches muscles through gravity rather than physical strength and involves significantly more quiet moments for self-reflection and self-study.  Because the poses tend to be earthier there's a lot of time spent on the ground with supportive apparatus holding the body in a particular shape and are therefore able to practiced by a wider audience.   There is the same emphasis on breath control (though it's more meditative) with significantly increased emphasis on self-examination (which is why I love it so much).

What has always amazed me about both of these practices (and the many other styles of yoga in general) is that they're both aimed at the same goal: achieving Vidya (another V word!) or "clear sight" meaning one's ability to perceive the world as it is without all of our mental habits getting in the way (like ego, fear of pain, etc).  But they go about it in extremely different ways.  

Finding the practice that works best for you is one of the primary reasons that one who is starting a yoga practice is encouraged to try out different styles.  You have to find what fits.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Understanding

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions



My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.

 If you've been following me through the alphabet this year you've probably come to see that one of the primary purposes of yoga is to gain a greater understanding of oneself.  To see the patterns of behavior that keep us stuck, to draw connections between those patterns and the things that trigger us in everyday life, and then to consciously observe ourselves when being triggered so that we can change those patterns by doing things differently.  There's a lot of tools that all come under the general category of yoga to help us in these tasks, but that quest for understanding is at the core of all of them.
 
I used to think, based on my professional experience, that understanding came from telling the story, dissecting it and studying it (much the same way one would in a lab- through logical, orderly testing and note-taking.)  Based on my experience in applying the techniques of yoga to my own personal journey of self-exploration I've come to believe that these techniques I've described through the month (meditation, asana, artistic creation, tribal discussion and all the rest) are far more effective and efficient tools.  Understanding doesn't come from telling a story.  It comes from feeling- mindfully, with total awareness and with all the compassionate observation in the world.
Because that is the place where change comes from.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Househunting

You asked me once why I was going house-hunting with you if I was so deeply unhappy with you.  I said, because it was my best guess at the time, it was because I was in denial.  Ending things with you was the hardest thing I'd ever done.  Even thinking about it brought on panic attacks for years.  It hurt too much to really look at honestly,  until you forced my hand.

And while I would still say that all of that is true, I see another layer to it now.  I think it wasn't just denial of how things were, it was that intoxicating possibility of how things might be.

When we drove around those neighborhoods and remarked on the yards, the nearby parks, the trees or bushes or windows looking out on all of these things I imagined.  I imagined me sitting in one of those gardens, surrounded by green and light, meditating.  Quiet.  Peaceful.  Serene.  I imagined myself as unbothered by all of the things that bothered me.  I imagined myself transcending my obsessive worrying and all those resentments that would eventually break us.  I imagined myself happy within myself.

And I imagined, like we all like to imagine, that the dream house would somehow fix you in so many of the ways you wouldn't fix yourself.  You'd sleep, finally.  Because of the privacy, or the comfort, or something.  You'd work less because you so loved the home, our home, and you'd want to spend more time in it.  You'd be happy because all of your hard work over the years, all of your misery over the years, all of your monotonous toiling had led you to this... victory, I guess?  That was sort-of how you talked about it, at least.  Like it would define some level of success that you hadn't yet achieved.

It's funny, but in the end I think I did see all of those fantasies for what they really were.  I realized- and I even said it to you- that if you locked yourself into this big mortgage you could only afford by being a workaholic that you would just work that much harder, sink that much deeper, disappear that much more.  And all of those reasons why we'd pick the house in the first place- the large yard and huge windows and all that precious privacy- would become liabilities.  Things that had to be paid to be maintained, fixed, kept up.  And I would be there, in that big, beautiful house, alone.  But even more so, because of all that privacy.

So I abandoned that dream.  And I faced reality.  And I found out, as everything fell apart, that the dream house was one of many fantasies I'd been nursing for years.  Much like the fantasy that when you said nothing it was because you understood me and nothing needed to be said.  Like the fantasy that our life together was benefiting both of us, making us both better.  Like the fantasy, the story, the one that took the longest to abandon, that we were forever.  We weren't.

We were a dream house that never really existed in the first place.
And now, standing at the welcome mat for something else, I find myself being pulled into another fantasy.  So many more things to imagine, so many more possibilities.  And they are enticing, warming, ever so intoxicating.  But they are no more real than that dream house that never existed. 

So the challenge, the mental marathon of disciplined thought, is staying here- right where I am, right now, without letting myself be pulled into that ever-so-lovely possible future.  

It's so much more difficult than anything I've ever done.  And yet, it's real.  And it's enough.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Teacher

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
In a little over 3 weeks I will be graduating from teacher training and will be a full-fledged teacher.  It's an odd thing to ever feel comfortable calling oneself (which is why I tell people that "I teacher karate" rather than calling myself a karate teacher).  Especially in an endeavor where the entire enterprise is about transcending ego.  So, in all likelihood, I'll end up saying the same thing about yoga- that I teach it.
 
I think it's an important thing to consider, though.  Especially in the days of self-proclaimed gurus who take their status and use it for evil.  There are, unfortunately, many example of individuals who seemed to miss the whole ego-transcendence thing and tout themselves as leaders who then go on to make headlines with charges of sexual assault, abuse, and horrifically unethical treatment of their students.  These people abused the power appointed to them by people who placed them pedestals they never deserved, earned or could stay on.
 
Yoga, as I've been revealing over this month is about a hell of a lot than just asana and I'm no less likely to admire someone who seems to be on the right path and offers advice on how to do the same within my own life.  But here's the thing about the right path: it's something that only you can walk.  Really, there is no "Right path", there's only YOUR PATH.  And how the hell can someone possibly tell you how to walk your path?
 
The obvious answer is that they can't.  Which is why yoga teachers, however wise and transcended they may personally be, are always only just pieces of the overall puzzle that your yourself have to put together.  Lets not hero worship our teachers.  Lets just appreciate them for what they are: folks offering instruction, advice and cheer-leading our efforts.  I think we'd all be a lot better off for it.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Sadhana

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
Sadhana means "inner alter" and is used to describe one's personal spiritual process.  For practitioners it usually involves some asana (usually ones that nourish a deficient chakra), meditation, artistic expression and some kind-of ritual designed to enhance one's relationships with a higher power.
 
For personal reasons, it exist to nourish one in the way they need to be nourished For ethical reasons, it exists to keep a yoga teacher's classes focused on the needs of the students (because that teacher is meeting their own needs within their sadhana).
 
 For me, my sadhana consists of meditating, chanting Om seven times to align each of my seven chakras, and trying to be open to what the universe has to offer me on a given day.  I do it every morning before I start my day with the hopes that it will allow me to be mindful, focused and aligned.  
 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Raga

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
Raga is the condition of wanting and one of the four types of avidya that cloud one's perception and prevent them from seeing things as they truly are.  Raga creates suffering because it keeps one perpetually craving something other than reality.
 
In the classic sense, raga only leads to more raga because when we get what we want we just go ahead and start wanting something else.  It's a cyclical pattern, a snake eating it's own tail, and it is one of the root causes of all human suffering.
 Image result for wanting quotes
In the Buddhist philosophy it is the primary cause of all human suffering.  Yoga sees a few other forms of avidya that contribute (including fear, avoidance and ego)- but either way it's important to understand how it impacts one's life.
 
Raga isn't just about wanting what we don't have, it's about not wanting what we do have.  And it is usually brought on by comparison and described in "should"s.  For example "I should make more money" (the classic desire issue), "I shouldn't be freaking out over this" (the comparison issue, in this case based on the assumption that someone else in this situation would be handling it differently) and "I shouldn't have to deal with this" (the flat-out denial issue).
 
Every form of wanting creates suffering because every single form argues with reality, with what is.  This is where that quote comes in: it is what it is.  It's a reminder to not let ourselves get sucked into this trap.  And, if you want to get spiritual about it, it's reminder that we already have everything we need.  Freedom (the opposite of suffering) come abut when we stop arguing wit reality and accept what is.  Because once we accept, then we gain the capacity to change it.  And yoga, needless to say, helps us do both of these.
Image result for katie byron quotes 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quiet

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
One of the main purposes of yoga and meditation practices is to quiet the mind, a process described in many of the texts i've read as "yoking".   Traditionally, yoking refers to the process of fitting an animal or two with a device used to attach a harness to them for the purpose of plowing, pulling or otherwise utilizing the power of the strong animal to do work.  They use this word in reference to the mind because the same idea applies: the brain is incredibly powerful thing and we must harness its power in order to direct it energy towards a particular goal.
 
 Here's the problem: most of us have no earthly idea how to do that.  Usually our thoughts run free, unchecked, like the proverbial bull in a china shop (or ox if you're staying with the yoking metaphor) and we get stuck i patterns of thought that do not serve us.  It's a condition we often refer to as "crazy monkey mind" because it feels like our thoughts skip from one thing to the next much like a money swinging from branch to branch- uncontrolled, scattered, and destructive.
 
Yoga, mindfulness, meditation and all the other techniques we practice within this realm are all designed with the same end: quieting that crazy monkey mind of ours.  The techniques are varied but all have within them an element of distraction: giving the money something to do while you, the observer of the mind, do more important things.  This is why we meditate- focusing on breath gives the mind something to do.  This is is why we do asana (same goal).  This is why we chant, create mandalas, hold mudras with our hands, etc.  Yes, there's a ritual element to them, there are other things going on but the primary purpose is the same:  "Here, brain- go do this.  And I'll be over here, gaining a greater level of insight by watching you work."
 
Quiet is the space underneath the conscious activity where we finally have the ability to observe.  And what we're observing here, from a non-mind space, is reality.  We're seeking something called "clear sight" or "vidya" (see V) and it's why we do what we do.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for pranayama

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
Pranayama means breath control or, alternately, breath liberation and describes the process of deep breathing one engages in while meditating.  In my teacher training we learned about 4 different kinds of basic breath that the human body engages in.  (This doesn't include the various types of breathing practices one learns in yoga like fire breath.)
 
In paradoxical breath, there is a sharp inhalation and the diaphragm moves up within the abdominal cavity (like a gasp).  In constricted thoracic breathing the volume of breath is low, the abdominal muscles are rigid, the diaphragm moves upward and the body is in a state of stress.  Both of these forms of breath are extremely unhealthy as it decreases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and constricts the muscles.
 
In thoraco-diaphramatic breath the diaphragm moves down and the rib cage expands up and out- this expands the entire thoracic cavity and allows the lungs to fully inflate.  In abdominal breathing the diaphragm moves down into into the abdominal cavity in the lower torso, forcing the belly to expand outwards (thus why it's referred to as belly breathing.  Both of these types of breathing are very healthy due to the increased amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and improved muscle control.  
 
In yoga we regularly practice a combination of the last two wherein we attempt to fully expand both the thoracic and abdominal cavities so that not only does the belly expand but the rib cage also moves up and out.  Breathing in this way is a difficult endeavor when first practiced as we are not used to using our muscles in such a way.  However, with regular practice individual gain control and learn to harness the breath.
 
The single most interesting thing about breathing, in my opinion, is the way that the air moves.  Most people believe (incorrectly) that the body is sucking the air in, like a vacuum.  In actuality, expanding the cavities in the torso decreases the air pressure inside the body such that the air pressure outside become great enough to force the air in.  So it's not really your body breathing in, it's opening up the space for the universe to force its way in. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Om

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
 Om is a Sanskrit word which represents life, the universe and everything which is chanted a a mantra in meditation practice.  It is comprised of three different sounds: A, U and M.  These represent three different states of being: consciousness, dreaming and deep sleep.  Chanting it is meant to allow one to transcend one's limited physical being and ascend to a higher level of awareness, thereby connecting to the universal oneness that links all of us.
Om is said to be the most sacred of the mantras and is certainly the most commonly used.  It is often said at the beginning and end of most meditative chants, much like the word amen at the beginning and end of a church service.  While derived from Hinduism it has come to be associated with most yoga classes as a way to focus, show respect and harness power.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Shapes

The shapes our lives take are as different and unexpected as the ones our bodies do.  It's not just the cuts and scrapes and unexpected injuries along the way- though we seem to love to tell those stories the most.  It's the way the breathe moves you, the way time moves you.

I'm supposed to be grieving, that's the instruction right now.  Society calls for quiet consideration of the ending that has brought me here.  It is meant to be a time filled with memories, emotions, pain.  And yes, it should be spent alone.

But that's not what I've been finding.  In the space that life creates for me everyday I find myself opening instead of closing.  I find that the memories aren't nearly as bright and vibrant as the laughter or the movement or the sun.  I find myself feeling more alive than I ever have before.

I am changing shape.  Life has held the space for me to fill out and I am fleshing out the parts of myself that were undernourished and atrophied from lack of use in order to fill that space.  Who I am, how I think, what I feel- all of these are growing, expanding, becoming.  And while that may involve pain it isn't the pain I expected.  It's not the sharp sting of the memory or the emotional flood of tears.  It's the jolts and starts and aches of change.  It's the best kind of pain- pain from growth, pain from new life, pain from becoming.

And I am so, so grateful for that.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Niyama

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
 One of the most famous works on yoga (if not the most famous work) is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras written in or around 400CE.  This work describes an 8 limbed path of spiritual transcendence (with asanas being only 1 of the 8).  Among the other 8 are the yama and niyamas.  The yamas have to do with how you relate to other people (instructing kindness, honesty and non-attachment) while the niyamas have to do with how you relate to yourself.
There are 5 niyamas in total which include: cleanliness (both of body and spirit/morals), contentment, change and purification, surrender (to a higher power) and self study/self knowledge which instruct on the methods one should use in order to achieve these states within themselves.  
 
 Ishvarapranidhana (which I spoke about on Monday) is one of the five niyamas.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Mandala

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions



My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
A mandala ("circle") is is a meditation tool used to enhance one's focus on a particular goal or desire.  It helps one not only to train their eyes in a soft mediation gaze but is also said to act as a connector between the mediation individual and the cosmos (because it represents the cosmos).  It is typically comprised of four gates witha central focus point in the center.
 
The design and creation of a mandala is, in and of itself, a meditative act and many individual report the activity calming (which is why mandala coloring books are so popular nowadays. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Lunar Energy

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
 Today we are talking about lunar energy (Ida in sanskrit) and how it flows through the body.  Lunar energy is one of two types of celestial energy currents in the body with the other being solar energy.  When the two combine it is said to be the perfect union leading to an activation of all connected energy currents and igniting the subtle body.
 

Lunar energy courses along the left hand side of the body in an upward direction, represents feminine energy, and is associated with goddess Shakti.  Solar energy, conversely, courses along the right hand side of the body in a downward direction, represents masculine energy, and is associated with the god Shiva.  
 
These two energy currents, when operating properly, are equal and opposite forces and allow the body's overall energy current to circle the subtle body in a balanced, healthy state.  When one or the other energy is too powerful or two week the energy current becomes unbalanced and the health (both physical and spiritual) of the individual suffers.

One of the goals of yoga is to align the energy currents in the body so that they are perfectly balanced.  There are certain poses that enhance either lunar or solar energy which should be practiced regularly to keep the energies of the subtle body balanced and healthy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kundalini

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions


My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 
In yogic philosophy, kundalini is an energy source that, when aligned with all seven chakras, leads to a shift in consciousness wherein one reaches a level of enlightenment.  It is described as a sleeping serpent coiled at the base of the spine (kundalini literally meaning "she who is coiled") which is awakened by breathing practices (meditation).
 
Several yogis and yoginis have claimed to have awakened kundalini energy and describe the sensation as a surge of power coming from the base of the spine (root chakra) and shooting upwards through the remaining 6 chakras to 'explode' out of one's crown chakra.  When this happens, one's shakti energy (that of the subtle body) is combined with one's shiva energy (that of the cosmos) in a blessed union resulting in a level of enlightenment or clear-sight not otherwise experienced.
 
Yes, it sounds kind-of esoteric and not the kind-of thing normally experienced in a run-of-the-mill yoga class.  That's because it is and, usually, it's not.  Individuals practice meditation for years to achieve such a state and even then it is fleeting (but then again, what in life isn't?)

However, that doesn't mean that we can't strive for it and practice the techniques that can help us try to achieve it.  Because meditation, however it is done. is ALWAYS a good thing.
 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Judgement

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions



My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 In a large way, yoga and all the things that come with it (meditation, reiki, etc) are paths to seeking vidya which is a sanskrit word meaning "clear sight".  It's about trying to see reality as is it really is, without all the millions of ways in which our individual perspective misconstrues things.  At the top of that list, of course, is judgement.

We judge everything.  Other people, the world in general, ourselves.  Especially ourselves.  We see ourselves as lacking, as less than, as not enough of- in almost every way.  And we torture ourselves with an endless sea of judgements (or, at least, I do.)

Yoga is about, among other things, trying to see past that to the real truth: the fact that you, with all of your perceived flaws and failures- are exactly what you are meant to be.  Which is perfect.

It's about celaring our minds of that judgement so that we can see the truth.  Which is that we are already held.  Already healed.  And already whole- exactly as we are.

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for Ishvarapranidhana

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions



My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
 Ishvarapranidhana is a Sanskrit word meaning (roughly) to lay one's practice at the feet of god.  It is one of the five Niyamas (ethical instructions) of the eight-limbed path (more on that later in the alphabet!) Despite it's difficult pronunciation it has a rather practical meaning.
Every yoga class is different.  No matter how many times you go, no matter how much you practice, no matter how bad-ass your downward-facing dog pose may be there is always a limit to what you can do.  Some of this is pure genetics- not all humans are shaped the same.  (And no, I don't mean some are short or tall or fat or thin I mean people have differently shaped joints, bones and other unchangeable factors that make them quite different from the next person.)  Some of it is incidental (injuries, aging and the like that prevent the body from moving the way it used to).  Some of it is simple limitations of the day in which you are practicing (i.e. you might not have the best yoga class ever when your life is exploding and there's nothing you can do about it).

All of it means that on any given day, for any given number of reasons you will reach a point in practice where you can't go any further- that's the deepest expression of the pose, that's as far as your body can bend that way, that's as good as you can focus with all those life altering worries plaguing you.  Ishvarapranidhana is coming to that place and accepting it- this is all I can do.  It's a mindful awareness that you have done everything you can do and it does not involve judgement, disappointment or negativity of any kind- because it's not a bad thing.  It's simply what is.

On the mat, it comes when you allow yourself to fall back into child's pose or take an extra few breaths or finally lie down in savasana.  Off the mat (in real life) it comes when we are smart enough to realize that we're hitting our heads against the proverbial brick wall and finally try another tactic.  Or when we allow the experience to be what it authentically is without getting tied up in what we want it to be or had planned for.  Or when we let go of the parts our life that have ended and make space for new parts to begin.  Or when we look at ourselves in the mirror with all of our mistakes, less-thans and limitations and love ourselves exactly as we are because we realize that we are exactly what, where and how we're meant to be.

This is one of the most fundamentally important concepts of yoga to practice in everyday life.  And what your body can and can't do is only the tiniest portion of it.
Come back tomorrow for J!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Perfect Timing

It's been happening to me a lot lately- the universe coming in and telling me (in unequivocal terms): "I've got this."

Why did I change my entire life around, leave a decade-long relationship and finally take that huge plunge of moving and starting over NOW?  Because I had exactly what I needed in place to be able to do that: the support system, the courage and the fierce self love (all three of which were lacking in the past).

Why did I get this apartment- the one I'm sitting in right now as I type this- at the exact right time to allow me to get off of my friend's couch after only a couple of weeks?  Once again, exactly what I needed- exactly right time.

And why this week, when my current employer threw an unacceptable demand my way did I find myself lining up enough yoga classes to allow me to quit?  Once again- perfect timing.

I've been seeing it everywhere I look lately.  In the people I find myself constantly surrounded by who are constantly saying exactly what I need to hear.  In the course of each and every day as I'm reminded of lessons I desperately need to learn.  In the opportunities that crop up at exactly the precise moment I need them.  The universe has got me, big time.  I have everything I need, exactly when and how I need it.

And I think, and this is the lesson here: I always have.  I just never noticed before.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for Health

 
 As always, a huge shout out to Ninja Minion Master Captain Alex and his army of ninja minions!
My Theme: Yoga.  For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200.  As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
Probably the single greatest reason yoga has caught on like wildfire over here in the U.S. is its long list of amazing health benefits (though, as I've mentioned and will continue to harp on that is but a tiny percentage of the overall impact).
 
A partial list of the ways in which yoga improves physical health includes:
-Improves flexibility
-Increases muscle strength
-Strengthens spine and improves posture
-Lubricates joints and prevents cartilage breakdown 
-Strengthens bones (because your body is bearing it's own weight)
-Increases blood flow and blood oxygenation
-Drains lymph thereby improving the health of your lymphatic system (making you less susceptible to illness.  This is one of the major reasons yoga is so beneficial for cancer patients) 
-Lowers blood pressure
-Lowers cortisol thereby reducing stress, regulating adrenal glands, preventing osteoporosis and making you happy  (cortisol does a lot of bad stuff throughout our entire body)
-Increases serotonin thereby improving sleep, regulating appetite and, again, making you happy (serotonin does a lot of good stuff throughout our entire body) 
-Lowers blood sugar (great for diabetics like me)
-Lowers cholesterol 
-Improves respiration (people who practice yoga tend to take longer, deeper breaths in general which gives their entire body more oxygen) 
-Prevents digestive problems like IBS and the like (literally massages the organs from the inside thereby improving mobility of wastes out of the body)
-Alleviates pain. Period.  (You name it- injury, illness, autoimmune disorder- there's not a type of chronic pain in existence that isn't improved by yoga)
-Makes your fascia super healthy (as I spoke about on Thursday
-And so on, and so on, and so on...
They're coming out with new studies literally every single day on other ways in which yoga improves health so the list is only going to grow.  Scientists are sort-of losing their minds over how effective it is (while folks who have been studying the progression of yoga over the past several millennia are going "duh, why do think people have been doing it for 7,000 years?" ^_^)
Have a happy Sunday, all!  And come back Monday for I!