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I have been reading a fabulous book by Stephen Cope called The Great Work of Your Life. It is a surprising page turner. Using concepts from the Bhagavad Gita about discovering one’s unique life purpose, Cope weaves in stories about famous people such as Jane Goodall, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau and their path to finding bliss and dharma with everyday people struggling to find their way, committing to or missing their true calling.
My inspiration for teaching yoga is the power that yoga has to guide each and every one of us toward our unique path. Yoga creates awareness, openness and questions that help us move toward our best selves.
In the last year, I have had many changes due to yoga.
- I completed a 200 hr teacher training to become RYT certified.
- I gained more insight into how I teach and why I teach.
- I have become kinder to my body and live more compassionately in general.
- I recently have become more aware of how certain food and beverages effect me and have started making different choices not because I feel I have to but because it seems like the natural steps to take for me.
- I am diving into teaching and learning and living yoga.
- My relationships are more open. My communication is better. I don’t hold back as much.
Even with yoga teaching being my main gig besides being a mother and wife, I continue searching for my dharma. When I teach, I am fully focused, present and passionate. But there have been other times in my life when I would be so immersed in my pursuit that time would disappear. Were those dharmas that ran their coarse or should I be trying to put them back into my life again.
That is where I am. Where are you? And where do you want to be?
I saw this today. Enjoy!
Why do we run, swim and bike, but practice yoga? We practice an instrument or a dance routine in the effort of finding perfection. However, perfection is not what we are practicing when we get on our mats. What we practice when we get on our mats is our way of being. We practice opening our hearts so that we can love more deeply and find more compassion and acceptance. We practice balance so that we find balance between work and play, family time and personal time, being strong yet being vulnerable in our lives. We practice to find the moving meditation that helps us clear the “monkey mind”—the chaos of thoughts that jump around in our brains— to bring more clarity, grounding and inner calmness into our day. We practice finding our inner voice and inner strength in discomfort so that we are familiar with acting with purpose or sitting with the discomfort versus reacting to or running away from the discomfort of life that comes in the form of disappointments, challenges and frustrations.
In each class we can practice all of these ways of being. To find which one resonates most we begin our practice connecting to our breath. Breath is the channel to our inner voice. We quite our mind with breath to allow our deepest desires and needs to be heard amidst the usual chattering of intrusive thoughts.
Once we find an intention, we can focus on it as we move on our mats.
Are you looking to find love, deepen connections, accept yourself for who you are flaws and all? While practicing find ways to open your heart in every pose. Back bend in mountain, warrior one, anjaneasana and crescent lunges. Find more heart softening in down dog or opening in side angle and triangle.
Are you looking to increase energy? Bring more energy in by exuding more energy out in each pose. Find strength from the ground up, express energy by keeping fingers and toes active, use inversions to move stagnant energy from within.
Are you looking to clear your mind and find peace? Focus even more than usual on your breath creating a moving meditation. It is easy to lose your breath if you are trying to come to your edge in class. Work on staying with your breath and practice with ease. Use the sound of your ujayi breath to help calm and ground you in your practice.
Are you looking for balance in your life? Though most practices include balance poses, find the yin/yang in each pose during your practice. Find the solidity and the fluidity, the strength and the vulnerability, the control and the surrender in every asana.
Are you in need of more strength in life to go after what you really want? Begin each asana from the ground up, creating stability to increase grounding and strength but then find the flight to move you into action. In standing poses keep a 90 degree angle in your front knee, only coming out for a moment when needed and then finding it again, in order to increase your strength and learn to breathe through the discomfort. Change comes from challenge and fear and doubt can be dissolved by staying put in times of challenge instead of taking the easy way out. Find moments of flight in arm balancing poses.
Yoga is not about trying to find perfection in poses or your practice. Yoga is about coming to our mats to find the truth and acceptance in our imperfections. We practice BEING on our mats so that we can be bigger, more honest and show our true selves off our mats.
Next class, listen to your internal voice and follow your intention to greater possibility in your life.
I am nearly done leading an 8 week program for middle school aged girls in self-empowerment and yoga. It has been an incredible experience. The Girl Power program teaches so many important lessons in a very short time.
1. Just as hunger pains tell us to eat and thirst tells us we need a drink, feelings tells us information about our authentic self that we need to address.
2. Our thoughts alone do not give us enough information to make good choices. We must align our feelings with our thoughts to get the most accurate signals to make the choices that are best for our true self.
3. Self care has to do with how we treat our self. Do we pay enough attention to how we are treating our self on a regular basis? Not paying attention to self care hurts our ability to handle stress.
4. Yoga. It helps to bring our attention to our bodies, feelings and thoughts. First we find this connection on our mats through asana practice then we take it off our mats into our daily life to live more authentically.
5. Media is very influential in how we see ourselves. It is meant to make us feel lacking. The way media portrays women is harmful to our self.
6. The path to happiness starts with being authentic.
Yesterday I read the girl’s journal entries that were in the format of a letter to their bodies. I got goose bumps. I felt such a thrill seeing that the messages that we’ve been working on were sinking in and that they have the tools to treat their true self with more kindness and understanding.
It was an honor to lead this program and teach this material, but the real honor is being able to be a part of these girl’s life path and to have given them real tools and skills to leave them with so that their life’s journey doesn’t get cluttered with baggage from bad choices. They have the tools to live authentically.
It occurred to me while I was participating in my Baron Baptiste Level 1 Teacher Training that everyone there arrived with baggage and not just the obvious duffle bags and suitcases. We all came with stories from our past that we’ve taken for truths that create limiting thoughts and don’t serve us on our life’s journey. In truth, this may just be part of life and growing up. But what if there was a way to prevent some of that baggage? Instead of seeking therapy, hiding in destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, drugs and alcohol use or risky sexual behavior to flee from our feelings, what if we learned to tune in and understand our feelings and our inner voice? If given the skills at an early age to help us tune in to our true self instead of tuning out by escaping through texting, music, tv, Facebook and video games, might we avoid the adult versions of feeling avoidance?
Thankfully I don’t have to recreate the wheel. A friend and fellow yogi, Dr. Catherine Cook-Cottone, that I met during my teacher training developed a program for 5th-7th grade girls to teach them skills to help them navigate through life’s ups and downs. I am fortunate to be able to bring the program to life this spring in my home town. Dr. Cook-Cottone tested her program through the University of Buffalo where she teaches psychology for effectiveness in preventing destructive behavior in this population (specifically eating disorders). The program never focuses on a specific destructive behavior as it uses positive psychology and active learning techniques. The results were positive. By teaching teens awareness of their feelings and how they create thoughts and actions, the girls learn that they have opportunities to make good choices. Using yoga, discussion, journal writing and art, the girls explore who they are, what they feel and what their inner voice has to say. They leave empowered and with real skills and tools to help them through their life’s journey. Maybe these girls will avoid some of the pitfalls that my generation fell into or maybe they will fall too but with a greater understanding of themselves to be able to pick themselves, dust themselves off and leave the baggage behind.
E.E. Cummings once wrote,”It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” That quote has hit home hard.
It probably started with my planning to attend a week-long yoga teacher training this summer. Making that week happen took a lot of planning, coordinating and a huge amount of fear facing. I was very present to my fears during training. I made myself get up to speak at the mic the first day knowing that if I didn’t, I never would. Then I made myself go up again. Facing my fear of what other people thought of me, possible rejection and potential embarrassment was a huge step toward being the kind of teacher I want to be.
I was and wasn’t surprised to find so many fellow teachers in the midst of personal crises. I think yoga teachers are a thoughtful and soulful bunch looking to better themselves and others so it was somewhat obvious that many would be searching and evolving. Being very content and grateful for what my life is I really didn’t think that I would have a huge AHA! moment as many around me did. I did have a small ahhh moment however when I discovered that I was a pleaser when looking for an archetype that describes me. I was so disappointed in myself! I wanted something romantic like a dreamer or explorer or someone thought highly of like a pillar or adviser. But pleaser it is. I had been in total denial. It makes sense to me upon reflection. Now that I am aware, I find myself in that role all over the place. The thing about being a pleaser is that I tend to find myself in the middle a lot. The uncomfortable middle place between wanting to please two groups with differing view points. Yoga is great for learning to sit with those uncomfortable moments. But, until I realized that I was a pleaser, I didn’t realize that I had a real say. I reacted without really knowing to sit in the discomfort for a bit to figure out my voice.
All of this leads to my latest uncomfortable middle place. I have recently gone against the wishes of my parental units when they didn’t approve of some personal choices. Don’t most people do this in their teens! Either I never had a need to or never noticed that I pleased without listening to my voice. It has not been easy standing up for my beliefs. I have had to fight through a lot of pleaser guilt to find the strength in my convictions.
I recently read that growth only comes in times of discomfort, and so it seems, that at 42 years old I might have just finally grown up.
I recently completed a week long teacher training with Baron Baptiste. It was intense, powerful and surprisingly life changing. Not only did we practice and learn to teach yoga, but we did a lot of personal exploration. Baron believes that to teach yoga you must find your authentic self and teach from the truth that is you. We talked a lot about possibility.
As the weeks have passed since returning from Menla, I have found that my training hasn’t finished. Not at all. In fact my training seems to have just begun as the lessons that I learned while away are integrating into my life. Change is happening and possibilities abound .
I see how my interactions are different because of learning more about myself and knowing that I speak from a truth that is part of me and can’t be ignored.
I see how possibilities open up in strange ways. My running has been curtailed by injury and in its place has crept mountain biking which I find thrilling, new and very yogic. The more I’m in the trails, the more I see how mountain biking requires you to be NOW HERE (as Baron would say) because if you are not totally absorbed on the trail right in front of you, you will find yourself NO WHERE in a tree or down a cliff. You have to get the stories out of your head and just be.
Being open to possibility also means that I need to be attentive to the talk in my head that makes me doubt myself. I have to remember that we all are full of awesomeness, and with that confidence, I need to approach everything that I do.
I realize now that my training will be a life long pursuit, but if I step up to the edge in my life, the possibilities are there to be seized.
In trying to come up with meaningful lessons that kids can take off their mats and into their lives, I recently bought a great book called 10 Minute Life Lessons for Kids. The lessons are divided into categories such as Things We Value, Potential and Self-Worth, Love and Kindness and Attitude to name a few. When applying ideas from other sources into my class, I always try to find a yoga slant.
I decided to give my students a lesson on attitude. I strongly believe that what we think about and what we say influences our perspective and the outcome of different situations. This idea was not one that I was taught as a child but really would have helped me growing up.
I first made sure that none of the children had food allergies. I gave each student a Smartie (I chose this type of candy because it dissolves slowly but quickly enough to move onto other things in class when we finished this lesson). The kids were not allowed to eat it until I gave them the go ahead. We all then got into chair pose or a standing squat with backs against the wall. The idea behind this exercise was that while our legs started to burn from our position, we were to suck on the candy and try to keep our thoughts on the sweetness versus the pain.
There will always be difficulties in life but by training ourselves to focus on the sweetness in life even when things are hard we will create a more fulfilling and happier life in the long run.