How to Move Forward: An Open Letter to Finding Comfort in Discomfort

Potensial

They say that the two of the most stressful things a person can endure are moving and the loss of someone close to you. On September 7th of this year my grandmother, a women whom I loved dearly and will miss eternally passed away. The grief still unfolds new for me everyday, unveiling a new layer of knowing the absence of her presence. Each day it becomes more clear that I can’t pick up the phone to call her, that I will never hear her Brooklyn accent, eat her roast beef, ride with her in the back of her cherry red car, or share my life with her. She was the most amazing listener and the dearest of grandmothers. When she passed, our cousin who lived near her said, “I want you to know that even though you live so far away, she breathed you everyday.” I remember hearing that and thinking to myself, “Wow. What a sacred thing to breathe someone.” To breathe someone, to know that no matter the distance, no matter the situation you are loved by one another. You are held by one another in a way that is as permanent and as impermanent as the breath.

In the coming weeks, I signed a lease with my boyfriend, Josh. We ended up in a beautiful little apartment right off Main St. I knew that it was because of her that we got the place. I just had a feeling: The odds of a college student with no credit and a mother as a second reference with a post-grad swamped with debt made us unlikely candidates. Yet here we are.

The idea of moving in together was not a new one, nor did it come into play silently without any debate. Very early in our relationship I decided moving in with Josh was something I wanted. For eight months I continued to nudge and ask for this move. Finally, Josh said yes. He saw part of him wanted to pursue our relationship in this way and that he needed to get away from his current living situation.

I have never lived with a partner before. Needless to say, everything feels entirely new and not entirely how I thought it would be. Everyday since we’ve moved in I have felt heavy in my heart, feeling as if I broke something that didn’t need to be fixed. I have yearned and yearned for my old room, my old house, and my old roommates, simply for the fact that they were familiar. Last night, my partner looked at me and said, “When are you going to arrive? I feel like I have been living here a week and my roommate hasn’t showed up.”

Crushed by my self guilt and the notion that I am letting him down, I recalled a conversation I had with my mentor earlier that evening. With loving eyes and little detail of my situation she said, “Expectations take you out of the present. You cannot find happiness where expectations lie. Furthermore, you’ve signed a year-long commitment with this person so you need to give it your 100%. By the time your lease is up you will know what you need to do.”

All of this leads up to writing this post this morning. I flashed back to the moment another yoga mentor of mine told me in the most arduous of poses, “This is life, right? It’s so painful and uncomfortable, but it’s all about how you approach it.”

So yes, happenings like death and moving may be some of the most stressful things one can endure, amongst many others. However it is not our circumstances that define our quality of life, but the way we choose to navigate them that counts. I noticed, the most painful things require a great deal of adaptability, for it is great change, I believe, that haunts us most in this life. Still, each day is a choice to stay in Duhka (suffering) or find Dharana (contentment). Finding contentment is a continual practice, one that takes conscious and undivided effort. It begins with showing up in the midst of discomfort and knowing that is shall pass. Knowing that change will change again and it’s all about how you approach it, so you may as well enjoy the ride.

grandma

Dedicated to Shirley Klein Harwood

Pose of the Week: Extended Puppy Pose

puppy pose

Extended Puppy Pose

UTTANA SHISHOSANA

The body is my temple, asanas are my prayers.”

~ BKS Iyengar

Benefits of the Pose:

  • Relief spinal & neck tension
  • Relieves chronic stress, tension, and insomnia 1
  • Strengthens arms, hips, and upper back 1
  • Opens shoulders
  • Opens heart

Asana Breakdown:

This is a great gentle stretch and restorative pose. It’s very simple and easy to get into. In a Yin practice this pose is referred to as anahatasana, which means heart-melting pose 2. To get into it, begin in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Muhka Svanasana) and drop down onto all fours, checking your alignment of shoulders, wrists, knees, and hips: Shoulders should be stacked above wrists, hips above knees. Extend your arms out in front of you. Keep your arms active, being sure that they don’t touch the ground. Curl your toes underneath you. Allow the head to relax, coming to the floor, a blanket, or a block. Allow the collar bones to spread away from one another.

As the chest opens up, allow your heart to melt towards the floor. Notice, the tendency here is to compromise the lower back by dropping the ribcage too low. Take a moment here to wrap the ribs in closer like they were going to fold onto the sternum. Tailbone should descend here, activating Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. To activate these locks within the body, feel as if you tightening a belt a notch or two tighter than usual, causing the belly to move upward and in.

Bandha-Basics

Image from: http://bluezeliayoga.com/tag/uddyana-bandha/

Ultimately, this is a yummy pose and should feel really safe and comfortable to the body, take a moment to get settled into the pose, making micro adjustments to find your sweet spot. Find your breath here and breathe deep. ❤

Sources:

  1. “The Health Benefits of Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) | CNY Healing Arts Wellness Center & Spa.” CNY Healing Arts Wellness Center Spa The Health Benefits of Uttana Shishosana Extended Puppy Pose Comments. CNYHA, 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.
  2. “Extended Puppy Dog Pose – Uttana Shishosana | GaiamTV.” Gaiam TV. Gaiam TV, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.

Quit the Midol: Alternatives to Menses Pain

truth about midol

This one is for the ladies. After having one of the most painful first days of my life, I felt inspired to write this post. When I was younger, I used to take Midol for period pains. It was the only thing that helped, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was doing my body harm for the price of taking away discomfort. Even just the few seconds it was in my mouth, it tasted like I was swallowing poison. I figured anything that tastes like that can’t be good for you. So I started doing a little research….

Basically, Midol is a version of Ibuprofen. Depending on what type of Midol you are using, you may be putting your body at risk, mainly the liver and kidneys. For example,”Midol Maximum Strength Menstrual may harm your liver,” Midol Complete research says, “Severe liver damage may occur if you take this product with other drugs containing acetaminophen or if you consume 3 or more alcoholic drinks every day while using this product”(Midol Maximum, Midol Complete). Even regular Ibuprofen “and other NSAIDs inhibit prostaglandins, and that can cause a problem [in the kidneys] because prostaglandins dilate blood vessels leading to the kidneys. Inhibiting prostaglandins may lead to kidney ischemia (dead tissue from decreased blood flow) and thus acute kidney injury”(Orrange).

So here are some alternative ways to make peace with the pains:

smoothiePeriod Smoothie:

2 bananas

1/2 cup strawberries

1-2 tbsp Cacao powder

1/2 cup of spinach

1 coconut water

Optional:

2 tsp Chia Seeds

1 tbsp flax seed oil

Bananas contain B6 and potassium, both of which can help ease bloating and water retention, while adding strawberries “helps to reduce a heavy menstrual flow, stress and irritability, and prevent anemia by increasing iron absorption” due to its vitamin C components (Orenstein, Merriment). Fresh fruits in general are good for fatigue and irritability during menstruation because of their natural fibers which are introduced slowly to the body and then converted into more energy (Merriment). Spinach is the go-to for menstrual cramps since it’s chock full of Folic Acid, Vitamin E, B6, and Magnesium (12). Coconut water is a great flavor in any smoothie, plus it’ll help to keep you hydrated. Surprisingly, coconut water is more hydrating that regular water because its chemical structure is similar to our blood. I also like to add in a little bit of chia seeds and flax seed oil to get some good oil, Omega-3, and antioxidants in the body. Chia seeds are full of protein, Vitamin B1, B3, E, zinc, copper, iron, flavinols (such as quercetin, myricetin, kaempferol), phenolic acids (such as caffeic acid), and lignin. Plus, Chia seeds have an antioxidant rating higher than “blackberries, mango, noni fruit, grapes, pineapple, or carambola” (Why). Allow your food to be your medicine, I promise it will serve you longer in this life than anything else.

IMG_2646In addition to the smoothie, treat yourself lady!

Get your butt into a bath, and scent it with essential oils like lavender and tea tree — or whatever your favorite scent is — even add bubbles and candles if you’d like! You may be surprised to find that this is the quickest relief to any of your pains and it’ll take away the physical stress on the body in no time. Set yourself up with a tall glass of water (of which you should continue to refill through out the day to keep your body hydrated and feeling good) and Chamomile or Peppermint tea. Chamomile can “relieve muscle spasms and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps” (Orenstein). In general, this will help reduce anxiety and stress that can and often does occur during menstruation. Peppermint tea is also good because it can help relax constricted muscles, especially the ones located on the uterus’ wall (Goodwin).

When you’re not in the bath, set yourself up with a hot water bottle to place on your stomach. These bottles are a lifesaver and deeply help to reduce pain, especially in the night when it can be hard to fall asleep.

Additionally, a lot of women crave dark meat on their period, however, this is not the best time to consume it. Really, what your body is craving is the vitamins and minerals that can be found in the smoothie above. The reason you want to avoid dark meats is because they can contribute to your hormones, therefore increasing your moodiness and pains. An alternative is to cook yourself up a nice salmon meal (follow link to find recipe) as it is full of omega-3, B6, and vitamin D (Orenstein). All of these components will will help to relieve breast pain, irritability, and fatigue.

IMG_2473 salmon salad

And if that’s not enough, and you find yourself tempted to reach for that bottle of Midol, here’s something different you can take. I am fortunate enough to work for a Master herbalist in my home town. She makes a variety of herbal formulas for just about everything. However, for the pain I just can’t beat, I take her Mense-Soothe. Works like a charm! (She also carries a formula for PMS). And good news: We ship! Just go to www.dancingwillowherbs.com and you can order a bottle of your own to see for yourself.

Mense soothe

So here’s a list of things to try next time your cycle comes around! Mainly, just go slow, take care of, and be kind to yourself! You work so hard the other 28 days, give yourself the space to be unruly, angry, tired, and crampy. Hopefully these help! As always, feel free to leave a comment bellow! Let me know what you think and if you thought this was helpful ❤

Oh, ONE MORE THING! Speaking of periods…If you haven’t, you should watch this video of a poem written by an amazing women… it’s titled The Period Poem. It’ll change your view of periods forever. Blessings to Dominque Christina for writing and inspiring all women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vu2BsePvoI

Much Love ❤

Sources:

“Midol Maximum Strength Menstrual: Indications, Side Effects, Warnings – Drugs.com.” Midol Maximum Strength Menstrual: Indications, Side Effects, Warnings – Drugs.com. Drugs.com, 31 Aug. 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

“Midol Complete – (Acetaminophen) Side Effects, Dosage, Uses, Interaction – PDRHealth.” Pdrhealth. PDRHealth, 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Orrange, Dr. Sharron. “Is Ibuprofen/Advil Bad for My Liver and Kidneys?” GoodRx. GoodRx, 30 July 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Orenstein, Ben. “8 Foods That Help Fight PMS.” EverydayHealth.com. Ed. Niya Jones. Everyday Health, 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Merriment, Mary. “Food Remedies That Reduce Symptoms of PMS.” HubPages. HubPages, 4 Nov. 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

“12 Best Foods for Fighting Menstrual Cramps.” Heal With Foods. Heal With Foods, 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

“Why Chia Seeds Are Good for You (and the Healthiest Way to Eat Them).” Heal With Foods. Heal With Foods, 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Goodwin, Lindsey. “Peppermint Tea Health Benefits and Side Effects.” About Food. About Food, 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Image from: http://diannemalone.com/blog/?p=1950

Pose of the Week: Garland Pose

malasana

MALASANA

Garland Pose

Benefits:

  • Opens hips
  • Heart opener
  • Strengthens legs
  • Opens & Strengthens ankles
  • Develops core

Asana Breakdown:

This is not one of the most difficult poses, but it is so powerful and is one of my favorites. I love coming into Malasana: using it as a transition, a rest, and a heart opener. It’s pretty basic to get into, however, every body is different and some people do experience a bit of difficulty when they first get into it. To start, get into Mountain Pose (Tadasana), heal toe your feet as wide as your mat, take your hands to heart center, and squat down. Allow your elbows to line up with the crux of your knee, feeling the sensation of your hands being pushed together while your elbows push gently into your knees. Allow the heart to lift and spread . If you find any pain here you can place blanket or a block underneath you to achieve a more restorative rendition of this posture.

Asana Variations:

  • Place a block or a blanket underneath your sit-bones.
  • Place one hand on the ground and open up to one side by lifting the other arm off the ground. Do this on both sides.
  • Take a side bind/twist. Rooting down through both feet, wrap one arm in front of your leg while the other comes behind your back. Both hands should meet behind the knee. Do this on both sides.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this! Let me know if this was helpful or if you have any pose requests bellow! ❤

 A Response to Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

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My mornings are very similar to those of Darren Main: The alarm goes off before the sun arises: it’s time for practice. I’m awake, but my eyes have not yet opened. I begin to weigh out how badly I really want to practice today. I think to myself, maybe I’ll sleep a little bit longer instead…. This thought never wins out. Eventually I get out of bed and turn a regular living room into a sanctuary lit with candles and incense. After my practice, I feel infinite and peaceful, as if nothing could shake me of this truth. But just like Main, the world hits me with a harsh reality. Whether it’s conflicts at work, a sour conversation, or just a multitude of little things not going my way, the ego flares up and the momentary bliss is gone. This is the life of the Urban Mystic: a spiritual practitioner and devotee who has one foot with spirit and one foot in the physical world.

This state of being between two worlds sets the grounds for Dharana, one of the eight limbs. Dharana translates into concentration. It has been described to me that one who embodies Dharana is like a candle flame that flickers in the wind and then continuously comes back to center. As yogis of the modern era, we are asked to do the same. The world continuously will distract us from our path, but we must choose to recenter ourselves as the flame within us bends one way or the other.

For me, this is one of the most important concepts in Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. It reminds me of one of my favorite excerpts from Nichala Joy Devi’s book The Secret Power of Yoga:

“Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.

The lotus flower has long been a symbol for the unfolding of spirituality. It is one of the most elegant illustrations of the meshing of our human and Divine natures. 

The lotus seed is planted and grows in muddy waters, below the surface of the lake, far from the light. Though the light is murky and clear, the flower blossoms by drawing energy from within. As the bud passes through the muddy waters, it lifts its face to the sunlight and finally emerges. Miraculously, not a trace of soil remains on the flower. It lives in the mud yet it is not affected by it….

Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodahah. Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart” (Devi 16).

We see from both Main and Joy that the ability to draw the attention back comes from continual practice and focus within. No matter how hard it can be to get out of bed or to take a breath in the midst of a heated moment, as yogis we have the opportunity to continually choose between the two words: like the lotus flower whose blossoms face the light, but whose stem is rooted in the darkness. From our position we see that both light and darkness have created out beauty, our strength, and our faith. We are living examples of the lotus flower. It is our choice to be affected by the mud or to shine our face towards the light, to drift from our path or to continuously choose to come back to it.

Sources:

Main, Darren John. Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn, 2002. Print.

Devi, Nischala Joy. The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras. New York: Three Rivers, 2007. Print.

Photo credit: Damiane McMillen

The True Purpose of Yoga

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Hello All!

Often when people find out that I practice yoga, one of the first responses is, “Oh that’s so wonderful! I wish I could do that.” The statement is often followed by me saying something to the effect of, “Well, why can’t you?”. The reply usually has something to do with not being flexible or strong enough.

I wanted to bring this into awareness because the idea that yoga has anything to do with capability or, rather, flexibility is delusional. Can you breathe? Yes? Great. You can do yoga.

Our culture has saturated our minds to believe that the practice that has so little to do with competition, value judgements, and image, is, in fact, all of these things.

It comes from a distorted idea that yoga’s true purpose has to do with flexible, hot, trendy-dressed, acrobats who sit in a hot room for an hour or so and basically do really intense stretching and contortions, with maybe with a little more focus on the breath than usual. THIS. IS. FALSE.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and translates into the word “yoke” or “union”, meaning to unite the bodies (of which there are five: physical, energetic, emotional, wisdom, and bliss), mind, and spirit. It has absolutely nothing to do with Lulu Lemon pants or getting into a full Hanuman (splits). In fact, in yoga there is something called the Eight Limbs. The Eight Limbs function as a “Code of Conduct” for yogis and the practice of asana (poses) is only one of the Eight Limbs.

Additionally, while the limbs offer yogis guidance, there is the question of what they are guiding us to? If it’s not the toned body or sexy yoga instructor, what is it?

Often the next belief is that the purpose of yoga is enlightenment.

We see the eighth limb is Samadhi, often referred to as ecstasy or being one with the eternal. This, too, is not the goal. One does not practice yoga for the Physical Body nor does one practice yoga solely for the Bliss Body. Again, the purpose of yoga is not to strengthen our own desires to obtain a certain image of ourselves or perception of the world. These are, in fact, only the side effects of yoga. Therefore, we see a culture worshiping the chest and not the treasure.

Well then, what, pray tell, is the treasure?

Patience. I will get there.

Does anyone ever wonder why we practice Savasana (corse pose) at the end of every class? Why laying down is so, so important that every single teacher in every single lineage, home practice, or studio does it repeatedly, every single time, without fail?

So that we can take a nap because we’re really tired after our exhausting hour of stretching?

No, I’m sorry. That’s not it either.

Does anyone ever wonder why it is considered to be the most important pose? Why laying on the ground for five minutes is more important that down dog or a vinyasa, which most classes, including some of my own, do a hundred times in a hour?

It is said that the yogi practices Savasana to prepare for death. This idea is often taken quite literally, however, it took me a long time to understand what it meant on a deeper level. The truth is that yogis adhere to the knowledge that every second is death and rebirth. Every moment is wilting to blossom into a new one, every season is changing; constantly moving towards death and in the very same breathe moving towards new life.

We see this in every corner of our lives. Take for example oxygen: Billions of years ago, oxygen was introduced to our atmosphere. Cells quickly had to evolve to process this new element. Many couldn’t and perished, however, those that were able to lived on. Interestingly enough, this one element is what allowed single-celled organisms to evolve into complex organisms, that over the course of another billion years lead to us. But with this new found evolution also came decay. You see, oxygen, itself, gives us life, but it is also the very thing that causes us to age and eventually die.

And here. Here in this knowledge lies the truth. The truth that from the moment we are born, we are terminal. So we face death in the corner of every day, knowing someday it will greet us. Some people accept this as the sole truth of reality: every body and every thing dies. This is often looked at as a very sad thing, but yogis, on the contrary do not. We see death as a cycle of life, in line with the law of physics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed.

And so what does death really have to do with yoga? Do we just lay in Savasana so we can feel what it will be like to lay in our graves?

No.

For those of you who are familiar with Hindi mythology might recognize this linguistic clue: Savasana (pronounced Shiv-Aw-San -Nah) auditorally sounds a lot like the name of the God Shiva. Shiva is known as the destroyer, but also the creator. Here, we see again both life and death spouting from the same seed.

So now I will tell you: The true truth of yoga, unmasked by any marketing scheme religious, propagandistic, or the like is that yoga’s true purpose is freedom and ultimate liberation. Why is Savasana the hardest pose? Because death is the ultimate liberation. Because it is preparing for death in life. Death before death has occurred. The death is not one of pain, but one that causes the ability to renounce all pains and all things, and then renounce the renouncer of all of these things.

Imagine a moment, after a yoga class where you lay down and suddenly, you are no longer aware of whether or not you are in a yoga studio, you have no idea what you’re wearing or what magazine you saw it in, you have no attachments to your belongings, your friends, your family, your joys, or your sorrows. You are able to, for the first time, be completely capable of being present and allowing the present to leave and continuously show up again and again as a new gift. This state is completely aligned with the universe. You know all of your needs are met. You are whole. You are God remembering Self once again.

page1_blog_entry383_1 life and death

No, I’m Not Sorry: A Path to Self-Love

flowers

For the past year, I’ve been battling with the question of self-love: Do I love myself? What is self love? How does one achieve it? How do you know that you have it if you do?

In fact, this weekend I was out in the woods pondering this very question: What is true self-love? As I began to think about what it means to me, I couldn’t exactly pinpoint how I was not loving myself, yet I knew that I didn’t fully. And so today, I went to a kickboxing class. It was only my second one and I was very nervous. I wanted to get everything right and perform as well as the other students. Throughout the class I kept telling my partner “I’m sorry.” I must have said it about 50 times in the first twenty minutes. With loving eyes my partner just looked at me and said, “Girl, you gotta stop saying that. You don’t have anything to apologize for.” Her word hit me like a seven combination punch. I realized how I have continued to diminish my self-worth, my stances, and my opinions in my life by continuing to say “I’m sorry” for things that I don’t need to apologize for.

I think the act of overly saying sorry is a deep seeded issue that is rooted in our culture and upbringing. Birthed from the idea of  original sin, we have subtly and not-so-subtly invested in a Western Culture that believes our very existence is something we ought to apologize for.

For me personally, however, I think this is only one part of the puzzle. Even still, I couldn’t believe how empowering it was to hear that I didn’t need to be sorry. So with every thread of doubt — even when I had to bite my lip– I stopped saying I was sorry. Every time I threw a punch, I let me fist scream for me, “I am not sorry and I have nothing to apologize for!” It was a silent victory and one I am pleased to share. ❤

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

~Marianne Williamson

Let Go of All Your Efforts: The Continual Practice

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When I first found my devotional practice, I have to admit I yearned to be enlightened. For me that was the ultimate goal. The Sutras speak of the Siddhis and benevolence that is obtained by the enlightened and I wanted it so deeply. Ever fiber of my being wanted to know what the great sages know and become untangled from the intensity of day to day life.

When I asked one of my teachers how to become enlightened, he replied,”Enlightenment is like a joke, it’s like a fish looking for water….We are all one, so really, when you think about it, either we are all enlightened or none of us are enlightened.” I sat with knowledge for a long time, understanding it, without knowing how to incorporate it into my life.

As the seasons started to change, I let my practice slip away along with my ideas of enlightenment. Now that I have come back to my practice with new breath, I see that my goals have shifted. Enlightenment is not what draws me back to my practice day after day, I don’t take my breathes with the hope of finding nirvana in the apex. So if enlightenment is not the goal what brings me back?

Well, today when I came to my meditation practice, anticipating my feelings of boredom and reluctancy which often appear halfway through, I recalled Iyengar’s words in Light on Life about how enlightenment is not the goal of yoga. I prepared to lie down for Sivasana and decided just enjoy my time with myself, regardless of whether or not I would enter into deep meditation. As I made myself comfortable on the ground, my awareness went to the sounds around me. At first, I could hear everything clearly and suddenly the noises began to fade until I was no longer present to the happenings around me. I had slipped back into united consciousness. I opened my eyes and realized my efforts and wantings were the very thing that had been standing between myself and my Self. That this practice is indead a practice. It is a practice that yields great rewards, but the rewards are often unanticipated. In the sutras, they say the fruit of yoga sewn from the devotional heart is freedom, and ultimately love. And that is what brings me back. It is the thread that stitches my temperament, fears, and worries into compassion, understanding, and lightheartedness. It is the sweetness between the inhale and the exhale, and those fleeting moments of clarity and truth scattered throughout my day.

My teacher often says, “Let go of all you efforts.” It took my about one hundred times of hearing that before I could, but I suppose that is why they call it a practice.

When Life Gives You Lemons

We’ve all had those days…. The sours days that you wish you could just delete from the record or a string of really bad days that leave you feeling beaten and dejected. And sometimes it seems like everything just rubs you the wrong way. As a yogi, or as someone generally trying to be a decent person, when someone aggravates you almost want to skip over the anger. We try to cool our ego with compassionate lessons we’ve been taught: “Oh, we’re all one,” “They are just mirrors of my personality, so I’m really just aggravated by myself,” “They are doing the best they can,” etc. But, regardless of our best efforts we may still feel anger, and that anger turns to guilt and self-hatred. Before we know it, we have turned on ourselves. Unable to offer the same compassion and forgiveness that we are trying to give to someone else. And as the ego continues to churn out terrible thoughts, we are left with a choice: to either continue to run the hamster wheel of hatred until it spins out of our control, or find it with in ourselves to be with our emotions as they are. Sure, it is true we are all one and we are only hurting ourselves if we fail to see the fault within others is also a fault within ourselves. But if you can acknowledge that and, further more, accept those emotions as they arise, well…that is power my friend, and true self love. We do not have to be the angelic, passive, everything-is-always-fine yogi, because that is not our truth. Part of the beauty of yoga is being able to be firmly rooted in Satya (truth) and our truth is that we are beautiful human beings who are doing the best we can at our own level of awareness at any given moment. We find our lemonade in the sweetness of our own truth, emotion and owning ourselves as we are, regardless of whether or not we label that state of being as good or bad. So own your anger, and your bad days, and sit with it the thoughts and emotions as they arise with in. See what part is you, what part of it is ego, take the passive state as the observer, and when the anger and frustration ensue? Own it. Love it. And make lemonade.

Light on Life

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Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself.   ~Bhagavad Gita

The last year of my life has been a mixture of both great pain and great wonder. I started the year off in Nosara, Costa Rica where I was certified by Marianne Wells in Hatha yoga. When I came back home from this delightful experience, I was fully immersed in my practice. Every day, with great enthusiasm and devotion, I took to the mat. Intermingled with knowledge of Ayurveda, holy texts, meditation and chanting, I had a daily routine which would last up to two glorious hours. I was in love. Yoga consumed every part of my life with welcome arms and moments of ecstatic and spontaneous elation. 

As the summer blossomed I was working a series of three jobs, an internship, and I volunteered as yoga instructor. My practice was evident in my life, in my manner and in my speech, but my actual time on the mat began to diminish. It was not until the fall, once school had begun, that I lost touch with my practice. Papers began to take president over breath work and sitting in lecture halls replaced my practice of asana. As you can imagine my elated nature began to deflate and my energy began to dwindle. Five months passed like this until my well was dry and I was feeding off of what felt like my own soul. My absence of practice had left a void in my life that lead me into the depth of the shadow self. My kind and patient nature became one of depression, confusion, and unruly ego-feeding. Thus creating a life of discomfort.

The following summer began to bear the fruit of my shadow self: every aspect of my life could no longer be served by my absent practice and demanded modification. My life at work, my choice of career and how to pursue it, my relationships, and my living situation were all up for grabs by the hands of change. It seemed pain was within every encumbered decision and clarity was no where to be found. In Iyengar’s book Light on Life he writes a passage which explains the intricacies of suffering titled Pain: Finding Comfort Even in Discomfort. He begins this section saying, “Pain is there as a teacher, because life is filled with pain. In the struggle alone, there is knowledge. Only when there is pain do you see the light. Pain is your guru. As we experience pleasures happily we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes” (Iyengar 47). It was with this knowledge that my perspective began to adjust. I remember one of the first ways this knowledge was re-introduced to me. I was invited to an Ashtanga yoga class that was taught by my soon-to-be mentor. I didn’t know it at the time, but this class was one of the first dominos to fall in the series of events that would lead me back to my spiritual practice. During this class, the instructor lead us into what seemed to be a version of Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Fold), only in this variation we were instructed to heal-toe our feet as far away from one another as bearable and lower our forearms to the floor. The pain was real and mind consuming; the kind that stops your breath from flowing with ease and causes your body to shake. I look up to hear my teacher say, “This pose is just like life, right? It’s so painful and uncomfortable, but it’s all about how you approach it.”

In Light on Life and on the mat a new concept had been introduced to me: the idea that intense, heat building yoga was not solely meant to tone the abs or strengthen the legs, but also to create an uncomfortable sensation that teaches us to go beyond the visceral pain of they body and enter into the meditative mind. As yogis, we do this because “practice is not just about the pleasurable sensations. It is about awareness, and awareness leads us to understand both the pleasure and the pain” (Iyengar 48). Recently, I have been able to gain elements of this lucidity. I have begun a mental practice which reminds myself when I reflect on a trying moment that it has passed: it is no longer something the mind has to endure. Thus, I am able to take the role of the observer and can allow the rumination to dissipate and, consequentially, ease the tortured nature of the mind. Iyengar and the reintroduction of my practice has reminded me that “If you can adapt to and balance in a world that is always moving and unstable, you learn how to become tolerant to the permanence of change and difference” (Iyengar 48). Including those pieces of change that carry elements of hardship and mental or emotional suffering.

When I first came back to my practice, I would go to classes where the teacher would by chance say something to the effect of giving gratitude for your life or this breath and it would cause me to cry, for I knew I had spent the last several months forsaking my life. My mind was so wrapped in the webs my ego had spun, I could not even see past the illusion long enough to be grateful for one breath. Surely, it is no coincidence these experiences happened on the mat. Yoga seems to have a way of putting a bright mirror in front of ourselves, which can unveil shocking and painfully disagreeable qualities. However, “It is not just that yoga is causing all of this pain; pain is already there. It is hidden” (Iyengar 49). Even so, the presence of pain can be a welcome visitor. Iyengar moves to speak in this passage about the difference between good and bad pain. He describes good pain as something that is arduous and leads you towards greater growth, compassion and understanding, whereas bad pain can be misdirected, disheartening, and selfish (Iyengar 50-51). As Iyengar expands on his ideology of pain, I am reminded of my favorite poem by Rumi titled The Guest House. In one of his verses he muses: “Be grateful for whatever comes [A joy, a depressions, a meanness,/ some momentary awareness comes/ as an unexpected visitor]/ because each has been sent/ as a guide from the beyond.” It is for this reason these experiences of pain have become my most cherished moments of my life. I have begun to see new love for the parts of me that harbor pain and darkness because they are the reason I no longer have to be afraid of it. Iyengar says “There are only two ways to confront pain: to live with the pain forever or to work with the pain and see if you can eradicate it” (Iyengar 49). These bouts of circumstance that have elicited pain in my life have caused me to see that there is no way out, but through. Like the variation of Prasarita Padottanasana, the things that can elicit some of the greatest pains are not only temporary, but can also lead to the greatest of joy. And again I am reminded why I practice yoga, “not just for the enjoyment…[but] for ultimate emancipation” (Iyengar 52).

Citation:

Iyengar, B.K.S. “Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom Paperback – September 19, 2006.