Category Archives: Self-Inquiry

After Gym Class: Learning to Love Movement via Yoga

Malasana September 2018A few weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times entitled “How You Felt About Gym Class May Impact Your Exercise Habits Today.”  This is something that feels so obvious to me I was kind of surprised that it merited an article, but then again, I think way more about my traumatic life experiences (and other people’s) than is probably healthy, so I’m all over this topic.

Exercise and movement are such a big part of my life now that it’s hard to reconcile my current lifestyle (a daily practice of gym, yoga, weightlifting, occasional awkward excursions into Jazzercise, jiu-jitsu, running, biking, you name it) with the first three decades of my life, in which exercise was something you did if you were required to, or if, as one of my ex-boyfriend’s mothers said to me, “You are getting fat. You need to make exercise” (there was a cultural difference, so I’d like to think I’ve let this go, but here I am writing about it on the Internet 20 years later, so probably not so much).

As a kid, I liked to play outside, but mostly I used that time to enjoy being alone, spending time with my dog, reading and daydreaming. When my friends forayed into group sports (softball, field hockey), I gave it a try, but really struggled. I literally did not understand how the games worked or what the rules were. There was no Google to look these things up, and although you might reasonably ask, “Why would you not just ask someone?” it didn’t feel that simple to me. If everyone else already understood this thing that I clearly was supposed to have learned somewhere or somehow, the best my introverted self could manage was to kind of pretend and hope it would all work out one way or another.  Don’t pass to me, I’d pray during the game.  Oh, they’re running that way– must be time to run with them down the field now. 

You can imagine, then, how much I did not enjoy gym class. I was a child of the 80’s, and all I knew of politics was that Ronald Reagan liked jellybeans and that he, in his infinite, grandfatherly wisdom, had decreed that we must complete the Herculean tasks of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Pull-ups. Sit-ups. The Shuttle Run (ugh). The Mile. The Sit-and-Reach.  I can’t remember what I wore yesterday, but the agony of the Physical Fitness Test is super fresh in my memory. Our gym teacher had big puffy brown hair and chewed gum as she noted, bored, on her clipboard, my subpar efforts. A quick romp through the Internet tells me that I am not the only child who remembers the tests with a lingering sense of shame and anxiety (“Sit and reach. I sat, I reached, I farted. Ruined 5th grade,” says one person.  You can read more of “The Sad, Sad Stories of the Presidential Fitness Test” here).

Middle school was no improvement. Some of us threw hard rubber balls across the gym. Others were hit with a stinging whack (guess which one I was!). It was only an hour or so, but that was nothing compared to the mandatory public shower afterward.  In order to earn a passing grade, we were required to walk into the communal shower area (open to the entire locker room), take off our towel, place it on the low wall, and twirl around once under the shower so that the teacher could see us do it. This had nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with body shaming, anxiety and often bullying from older girls.

So yeah– gym class missed the mark for me. I know plenty of kids who enjoyed it– the naturally athletic ones, the ones whose bodies moved easily through space, who could kick or catch a ball or yell “Pass it to me!” with confidence. Extroverts thrived on the team experience– I shrank and wilted.

Let’s go to the Times article:

“People’s memories of gym class turned out to be in fact surprisingly “vivid and emotionally charged,” the researchers write in the study, which was published this month in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

And those memories had long shadows, affecting people’s exercise habits years later.

The most consistent associations were between unpleasant memories of P.E. classes and lingering resistance to exercise years later, the researchers found. People who had not enjoyed gym class as children tended to report that they did not expect to like exercise now and did not plan to exercise in the coming days.”

-Gretchen Reynolds, How You Felt About Gym Class May Impact Your Exercise Habits Today

All of this is a long preamble to say– despite my struggles with gym class and the US Physical Education system, I have managed to find my way to being a reasonably healthy person who loves to exercise. I like to learn new movement skills and I’m relatively confident as an athlete, even if I’m not good at something (I’m pretty bad at most new things, FYI). Was it a miracle of some sort? Life coaching? Sheer willpower? Nope. It was yoga.

Yoga bridged the gap between the social anxiety, poor body image and low self-confidence that I felt as a human adult attempting exercise. I’ve taught yoga for several years now, and I think I have an understanding of why yoga managed to convert me into an active adult when other modalities failed: it teaches body awareness, creates confidence, and it’s essentially non-competitive.

One of the most crucial skills that I began to develop when I began doing yoga was proprioception*. This is simply the sense of where your body is in space.  Some of us don’t develop this terribly well, for many reasons, but luckily it is a skill that can be learned and taught. Chronic “klutzes” may find themselves moving gracefully! It’s pretty awesome.

Once we have a greater sense of where we are in the world, it’s natural that we start to feel stronger and more confident. As I continued to practice yoga, I built strength and found that I could actually enjoy moving my body through space in a deliberate way. I also found that I could appreciate what my body was able to do, and to find ways to nurture it so that it could work even better.

I often remind my students that one of the best things about the yoga practice is that we can stop anytime. This may sound a little silly, but for me it’s quite meaningful. If exercise has been challenging for you, committing to a 90 (or even 60) minute yoga practice may feel too overwhelming. Perhaps it’s not the physical challenge that scares you, but social anxiety. In that case, too, knowing that there is no pressure to compete or keep up, that there are very few rules to be memorized, no team to let down, and that nobody in the room has any expectations of you can be tremendously freeing. You really can stop at any time. You can sit down, or do a different pose, or you can try something on one side you didn’t do on another. You can roll up your mat and practice another day.

Having this freedom– to try something different, or to simply stop when we need to– has an interesting psychological effect. Because they don’t feel that they have to, often I find that students are eager to practice and even try things that might always have been outside of their comfort zone. The anxious students, gaining confidence in themselves and finding that they can be comfortable in an “exercise” environment, find themselves relaxing and engaging with fellow students.

The pressure to perform is off, and the joy of movement and play has returned. In this way, yoga has the potential to repair the damage caused by a poor educational approach to exercise (I’m looking at you, Presidential Physical Fitness Test). I have seen time and again that learning embodied awareness and cultivating an appreciation for movement and our body’s abilities leads not just to greater health and more functional movement, but to strength and confidence in the rest of our lives and in our relationships with others.

Of course, not all yoga classes are created equal. In order for to be truly empowering, a yoga class should include instruction on and time for inquiry (rather than merely imposing external alignment principles). Variations on poses should be taught and celebrated, and students encouraged to meet themselves where they are that day (teachers– we’ll take a look at how to create this kind of environment in an upcoming blog). Otherwise, yoga classes run the risk of simply recreating the same uncomfortable, inequitable experience so many of us lived through in that gym class.

 

*Yoga and meditation can also teach interoception (a sense of the internal state of the body– am I hungry, thirsty, tired?) and exteroception (a sense of what’s going on outside of the body). This means we have the potential to use and care for our bodies more skillfully, and to engage with the world around us in a more mindful, integrated way. 

Advertisements

“I’m Here, But…”: thoughts on making your practice your own

image1Often, my newer students come into class with disclaimers: “‘I’m here, but…” or, “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do tonight…” they start, sometimes with a shamefaced look, “because I’m just really tired,” or, “Something’s going on with my left wrist,” or “I tweaked something in my back,” or “I’m still recovering from this cold I had last week.”

I think most of my regulars know me (and our studio) well enough by now to know what I’m going to say. It’s okay. I’m glad you’re here. You can do as much or as little as you want, and if you need to lie down for the next 90 minutes, nobody else minds a bit. You don’t need to apologize for the state of your body. 

During class itself, as I observe our students,  I can tick off the issues mentally: this one has tendonitis, that one a neck issue, she’s going through a hard time with her family, another one is suffering from almost crippling anxiety, there’s a foot issue in the front row and an ankle problem behind her. My friend in the back can’t raise his arms above his head or support weight in his shoulder. In other words, we’re all kind of messed up in some way. Or maybe, better said: our bodies function on a spectrum of change, and it’s pretty rare that any of us are in peak athletic form. I think that’s pretty average for the general population.

What’s not so “average” is that in this group, we’re learning to be okay with this. Throughout the practice, my students have learned to modify for themselves. So it might look a little bit like controlled chaos (are we all even in the same yoga class?!)– but we’re learning, together, that we can all do yoga and it doesn’t need to look the same.

In my early yoga years, I was a slave to my practice. I struggled to force my body into shapes– binds, backbends, balances– despite the messages of pain that my body was giving me. I practiced whether I was sick or tired. I never allowed myself a day off or an “easy” day.

This worked pretty well for a few years. My body adapted and compensated- I hyperextended some joints (developing a chronic elbow issue), aggravated an existing lumbar issue, and learned to push through the pain to achieve an end goal. I allowed teachers to push and pull me into poses that my body was begging me not to do. I had a beautiful yoga practice, strong, fluid, graceful, and a body that was crying out in pain and neglect.

I recognized that this wasn’t working when my body began to give out on me. I was exhausted all the time, unable to walk up a flight of stairs without resting. My muscles no longer responded to my commands. I couldn’t go on. “If my yoga practice were my spouse,” I said to a friend, “someone would have called the police by now for domestic abuse.”  I simply couldn’t do what I had done before, and had to modify my practice. At first I felt apologetic, and ashamed. Like my students, I wanted to explain, justify, what I was doing.

So many vinyasa yoga classes speak contradictory messages. We verbalize self-acceptance, self-love, encourage compassion. And yet the unspoken message is push yourself a little further. It’s not okay to rest. Intricate sequences without pause, countless chatturangas, and no options given to modify. Our culture (and by osmosis, our yoga culture) values hard work, discipline. How do you know you did a good job? It hurts. How do you know it was a good yoga class? You feel a sense of relief when the effort ceases and you can relax.

This was how I taught for many years. As my own practice changed and I could no longer ignore my body, I found that my teaching had to change. I don’t want my students to hurt, or collapse, or ignore the signs that their bodies are giving them. I want them to know that it’s okay to have an injury and you can still practice mindfully. That some days are strong practice days, and other days are for nourishing and restoring. This is a truly mature yoga practice- working with the body you have, rather than forcing your body to work beyond its capacities or resources.

It makes my heart happy when I see our yogis modifying their practice. During a vinyasa, for example, some students will skip it and take dog or child’s pose. Others take cat-cow, or do cobra pose, or locust. Some will do extra chatturangas or practice a handstand. I do my best to create a community where students know what the options are, how they can modify, and that they are always encouraged to engage in inquiry and dialogue with their body.

After a while, when students come in the door, they don’t need to apologize or disclaim their practice anymore. There’s a confidence that comes from understanding that our body is not an object to be used but a source of strength and vitality, which requires deep listening and nourishment in order to be our thriving partner on our mat and in our lives. As we learn use our energy and our bodies skillfully, we become more available to ourselves and others, and our kindheartedness can encourage others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

Moment of Weakness: Hitting the Workshop Wall

A few years ago, when I first became enamored with yoga, I decided to attend my first weekend workshop.

In order to get to the studio on time for the first night’s session, I left work early. I’d changed out of my business-casual-Friday-attire and was wearing some sort of yoga outfit and my lime green plaid plastic Keen shoes. I stood by the water fountain to fill my bottle, and fielded questions from co-workers. Several of them were about the (perceived) ugliness of my shoes, but most were curious about the experience.

unisex-keen-yogui_3668568_175

“You’re going to do yoga ALL WEEKEND?” someone said. “Yes, she’s really good at yoga,” another person (who’d never seen me practice, nor understood what ‘being good at yoga’ might mean) responded.

For a brief moment, at the call center water cooler, I was a yoga goddess. Crazy shoes, eco-friendly water bottle- I was poised for success. I’m sure I felt excited and optimistic as I drove off to my first-ever yoga workshop.

Three hours later, I was in a different world.

Visiting a new yoga studio for the first time can be, in itself, an intimidating experience. For a shy, insecure, or new-to-yoga person, going for a workshop is a special sort of social torture, not unlike attending some other high school’s prom. Everyone knows each other. The air is thick with full-body hugs, inside jokes (like, inexplicably,”Prana Butt!”), and the scent of Luon. You are wearing the wrong thing, you don’t know where to put your stuff, and suddenly you are sure you forgot to put on deodorant.

That first yoga workshop was a rite of passage for me. Had I been told what I would have to endure, I’m sure I would have skipped it. The Friday night class was the worst- we were forced to pair up into partners. As almost everyone in the room had completed teacher training, I was easily the most clueless person there, and my partner didn’t bother to hide her irritation at the fact. If I could have died then and saved her the frustration of having to deal with my yoga ignorance, I would have done it.

With two more days to go it did get better: I met some people who reminded me that I wasn’t a total loser who deserved to be hanged with a yoga strap. I did my first handstands and got closer to full Hanumanasana than ever before.

Despite these successes, by Sunday afternoon, I had hit what I’ve come to know as the Workshop Wall. I was totally exhausted, physically and emotionally. It’s not easy to spend so much time with strangers, even when they are kind and supportive. To be smiling and friendly after hours of challenging physical activity is hard enough. There was also, for me, the additional challenge of being reminded that I really wasn’t awesome at this yoga thing. I just felt stupid in my body. Like, why couldn’t I do this stuff? Why didn’t my body just “get it”?

Something about this prolonged intense physical activity coupled with the intensely intimate social cocoon of the workshop environment triggered the absolute worst in me, emotionally. I fell back into the ruts of depression and negativity. The narrative in my head sounded something like this (warning- it’s mean): “You’re too old/heavy/ugly/stupid. You’ll never be able to do these things. Nobody even wants you here.”

The Workshop Wall: bricks of physical exhaustion, dehydration, possibly pain and soreness, mortared together with comparison, insecurity, self-criticism, self-doubt, and even self-loathing.

Now, it’s been a few years, and I’ve gotten stronger emotionally and physically, and since I’ve been practicing with this South Florida community for a while, now I more often find myself on the “inside” of the “inside joke” crowd, though I do my best to remember how lousy it feels on the other side, and bring people in as much as possible.

Still. Still. Still. The Workshop Wall exists for me:

Last weekend I went to my first-ever  AcroYoga “Solar Immersion” Workshop with Daniel Scott and Chris Loebsack at Trio Yoga in Miami. I’ve only been practicing AcroYoga for three months and this was a total whim. In order to “qualify” to attend the workshop, I had to get some of my skills up to speed (check out the pre-requisites here). In a few days, with some help from a friend and teacher (we’ll call him Jake, he’ll be in the story later), I learned to do several things I’d never done before, but I knew I was weak in some areas.

1385408_10151745486078063_525398848_n

Practicing for the weekend!

I made the impulse purchase a few days beforehand and then began to wonder why I’d done it. The workshop was on my birthday weekend, historically a time of intense depression for me, and I’d chosen to put myself in a physically challenging environment, with strangers who were all going to be more skilled than I was. Yep, Jake would be there on the second day, but until then I’d be on my own with a bunch of people I didn’t know at all (not too long ago, this would have been completely impossible for me. See this post.)

Even worse, when I considered it, was the fact that AcroYoga (maybe yoga in general?) appeals to me so much because it gives me a second chance at one of the saddest parts of my life- my adolescence. I’d always wanted to be a gymnast, and I envied the cool girls who were strong and flexible and popular and wore patterned tights and stuff. I’d say they were sexier, but at 13, that’d be weird. You know what I mean, though. Hell, I envied all of the girls who were able to do any kind of physical activity. In my mind, I was ugly, unhappy, uncoordinated and unpopular.*

So basically, guys, I’d set myself up to relive the hardest time of my life- a time when I was bullied and suicidal- with the additional handicap of being the weakest practitioner, in a strange environment, with a bunch of people (think of them as the Cool Kids) who all knew each other well. Happy Birthday, sucker! Welcome to the Wall.

I arrived at the workshop five minutes early (which, to my mind, is like, 20 minutes late) and came in the door feeling like a hot yoga mess. Everyone else was there already being all friendly with each other, and it took me a quick minute to check in with myself and say, “You know this is okay. You’re not an outsider, you just don’t know them yet.”

AcroYoga doesn’t let you be a stranger for long- it’s all about intimacy, communication and connection with others- so before too long I was finding my social feet and feeling pretty good. For the first day and a half I was able to keep up with almost everything without a problem- I’m relatively strong and flexible and have a decent yoga foundation.

After lunch on the second day, though, I could spy the Wall heaving into sight on the horizon. I’d been acting as a base (the person on the bottom who “flies” others) for most of the day, and this was challenging for several reasons- first, it played into my physical insecurity. Here’s my (mean, irrational) mental dialogue around that: You’re too fat, you’re too butch, you’ll never be small and delicate and you suck at backbends.** Second: dude, have you seen what bases have to do? Go watch the video I linked above. It’s hard work!  Third: I really wanted to fly, and was feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t getting to do what I wanted to do.

We’d also just gotten to Barrel Rolls. I’d flown this a few times with Jake, but basing is different- and I still felt absolutely confused about foot placement and hand-switching. My quads were exhausted and quivering and now I was going to ask them to support a person who weighs almost as much as me on one leg out to the side.

I watched the demonstration with glazed eyes.  I was up against the Wall.  I wasn’t the only one- the energy in the group was subdued and we were all a little confused. I tried to keep up with the demonstration, asked a question, watched intently and nodded at the appropriate places. I knew my mask was slipping, though, when I looked up and saw the two instructors looking at me, whispering to each other, and looking back again. A few minutes later, Chris came over. “Are you okay?” she asked. Ugh. I was becoming the weakest link. Earlier that day, Daniel had given me some encouragement as well. “You’re doing awesome!” he enthused. I confessed I felt I was over my head, and he denied it vehemently at the time… but now I’d hit the Wall, and I knew there wasn’t much I could do.

Back to small groups to try Barrel Rolling. I did the best I could and I really don’t believe I embarrassed myself with my group (who were kind, supportive, and reinforced me in every way they could)- but I was starting to feel it. You suck, I thought to myself. You’ve got no right to be here. 

This time, though, I understood. I visualized myself against an impossibly tall wall, and felt compassionate. Of course you feel like sh*t, I thought. You’re exhausted. You’re surrounded by people you don’t know who have been doing this for years. You’re going to fall back into patterns of social anxiety, insecurity and depression, but it’s not going to last. You’re okay. 

At the end of the day, I gathered my stuff and prepared to leave. I was drained and emotional and just needed to get the hell out of there, but I hugged my new friends and thanked the teachers. I said goodbye to Jake with a minimum of words. “Okay, bye.” He hasn’t known me very long- three months- so he tends to think of me, I would guess, as a gregarious and exuberant person. Sorry, buddy, I thought. This is the best I can do right now. I dragged my carcass to the car and cradled my face in my hands, preparing for the two hour drive. Come on. You can do this. 

I’m always pretty honest with you guys, so I’ll tell you: I cried on the drive home. It wasn’t all self-pity, though. I felt exhaustion, and grief for my life over the past year. I felt the weight of being alone on my birthday, unsupported by a relationship. I felt the weight of thirty-six years, twenty of them full of violent cycles of depression, anxiety, and self-loathing. And then- this is sweet- I felt compassion and love for myself. I was proud of myself for what I’d done. I was against the Wall, but now I knew the Wall was on wheels and rolling away slowly.

I was about an hour away from home and feeling much better when my phone rang- Jake, unexpectedly calling me. “I just wanted to see if you were okay,” he said. “You seemed really quiet when you left.”

In the brief pause before I began speaking, I saw this post unfold in my future. I knew I wanted to share this with you, if you wanted to take the time to read it. Because if I’m hitting the Wall, I think maybe someone else is too.

For the nice guy on the other end of the phone though, who didn’t sign up to read (literally) 2000 words of my life: Reader’s Digest version. “I got really tired,” I said, “…and it makes me feel drained and kind of emotional. But I’m really okay.”

I’m really okay.

🙂

*Though after a time, I made a nice niche for myself with the art class flannel-wearing alternative crowd. I had these sweet plaid Doc Martens. Why do I like plaid shoes so much?

il_570xN.368705096_t5hc

Karmic Growth and Collateral Damage

922677_511516475577211_306241704_n

I think a lot about karma. How our past choices, our past relationships, draw us together and apart, create dynamics that can cause joy and suffering. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, you can easily see and grasp the most elemental concept karma on the short-term level. Well, I told a lie, and now the lie was found out, and I need to suffer the consequences. As you sow, so shall you reap.

I’m especially interested in karmic relationships- in the idea that we meet others, are drawn into complex dynamics with them because we have something to work out together. Perhaps (as I believe), it’s because you have karma from a past life together. Or maybe (as others believe), it’s simply that they are part of a divine plan for you to learn something.

Sally Kempton’s article “Seeds of Change” offers a fantastic summary of the situation that I often find helpful:

Question: What is a karmic relationship? How do I know I’m in one?

Answer: In one sense, everyone who comes into your life is someone you have karma with. But a truly karmic relationship is one in which you have a powerful, almost fated sense of connection with another person. You may feel you know the other person well—even if you’ve just met. You know you’re in a karmic relationship when you feel obligated toward someone or inexplicably drawn to them, when a person has a powerful influence in your life, or when you try to extract yourself from a relationship and find you can’t….Another sign of a karmic relationship is a natural feeling of obligation. Sometimes you feel as if you owe something to the other person. At other times, you feel that the person is obligated to you. One of the old definitions of the word karma is “debt.” Something is owed.

When I first encountered this concept a few years ago, I immediately felt a sense of recognition and relief. There are in my life a few relationships (“good”, “bad”, romantic and platonic) that seem to have more complex dynamics beneath the surface- a web of emotional ties that feel hauntingly familiar, like an echo in my soul. Sometimes these are painful, or frustrating- other times it’s a source of great joy to have so much closeness. Sometimes they’re all these things at once.

I believe that these karmic relationships are in play in our lives in order to highlight our samskaras, or karmic imprints. You might think of these as grooves worn into your life- a way of doing things habitually, again and again. that will continue to create similar results. Samskaras can also be a lesson to be learned, if I’m lucky.

I often find at the end of a week, when I sort of look back and review what’s happened recently, that I’ve been presented with the tools from various parts of my life to learn such a lesson. Sometimes the tools come from funny places. This week I saw (maybe you did too!) this Louis CK video. You might enjoy watching it, because he is both hilarious and wise in this clip, suggesting that we hide behind our smart phones to avoid feeling sadness in our lives- but what I really took away from it was this sound bite, in which he is explaining to Conan why he won’t let his kids have a smart phone:

“Kids are mean. They’re trying it out. They look at a kid and go, ‘You’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘ooo, that doesn’t feel good, to make a person do that.’…  But when they write (on their smartphone) ‘You’re fat,’ they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun.'”

In one of my interactions this week, I chose to communicate with someone by email, rather than in person. This was a poor choice, as it turns out. My email caused this person great distress. I was fortunate enough, through a series of complex misunderstandings with another friend (crazy karma at work), to find out accidentally that I had made this person feel really, really crappy.

As soon as I found out, I called the person and spoke to them honestly, but the damage had been done. I felt really lousy, of course. And then I realized: That lousy feeling? That’s karma at work. I have the opportunity to learn from this situation, to feel, as Louis CK mimes on the video clip, that icky stomach feeling.

Oh, it sucked all right, but it was only the prelude to bigger pain. Later in the week, I was presented with an opportunity to learn a much bigger life lesson- one I have been presented with many, many times in my life.

936104_509961995732659_1325932059_n

It’s not a coincidence, I firmly believe, that recently Facebook has reconnected me with some of my earlier karmic relationships. I’ve been working through some memories, and having conversations with these old friends about how we interacted together 20 years ago.

So as the needle dropped into the groove with this most recent karmic relationship, I had a little more awareness. I saw my pattern clearly. I even narrated the pattern to myself, shared with my closest friends- “Look, I think this thing is happening again.” I felt the witness in the back of my head saying, “You know this isn’t a good idea.”

But oh, this samskara was deep, and I wasn’t done learning my lesson. I had to live through it again, I had to cause myself pain, and watch another’s pain, and this time I saw the face and I thought clearly of Louis CK’s child and thought, “Let this be the last time.”

Please, may I not cause any more suffering in this way.

After the first lesson, I noted to myself that it was a real shame when my life lessons come at someone else’s expense. Karma Collateral Damage, I thought. But then I remembered a famous dharma talk given by Khandro Rinpoche when a mouse was found dead at the Mindrolling Lotus Garden in 2006:

“For the mouse, itself, this death may be a good thing. It may be its first encounter with Dharma. This mouse could have been born on the adjoining land, or in town, or across the street. Instead it just happened to be born on this particular spot, with the causes and conditions for becoming the basis of a Dharma discourse that enables more than a hundred people to better understand karma. That is a lot of karmic fruition.

Maybe this mouse was a bodhisattva, born for this particular activity. One never knows. It could have been the Buddha sitting in that field—because of which we’re talking about karma. If its death becomes the basis of a hundred practitioners understanding karma and having a moment of genuine compassion, what greater merit could a being accumulate?”

A karmic relationship takes two people. As painful as it is, when I hurt someone else, when I see their face scrunch up because I have done something stupid to them, I can only be responsible for my future actions. They’re living their own karma, too.

Listen: I don’t take this as license to be an asshole. I am growing up more every year, and learning to be less of a fumbling moron of a human being. But my job is not to take on someone else’s pain- that’s theirs. I’ve got my own karma to learn from.

My dear friend and fellow teacher Jaye shared this with me and I think I’ve shared it with you before, but here it is again- Melody Beattie, from The Language of Letting Go: 

“We are each in our present circumstances for a reason. There is a lesson, a valuable lesson, that must be learned before we can move forward. Something important is being worked out in us, and in those arond us. We may not be able to identify it today, but we can know that it is important. We can know that it is good….We must go through it until we learn, until we accept, until we become grateful, until we are set free.” 

When I spoke to my first Karma Collateral Damage victim this week, I said to her: “Tell me what I can do or say to you that will make this better- that will help you to understand how much I value you, and how little I meant to hurt you.”

“There’s nothing,” she said. And I remembered: I used to try to apologize to my ex-husband for the mean things I’d say to him, for the way I often made him feel. My apologies were useless- he didn’t want to hear it. “Just don’t do it again,” he’d say. “If you do it again, then I know you’re not really sorry.”

I hear you, Karma. I think I’ve got a chance this time. May I become grateful. May I become free.

Life on Hold

292539_546373118737339_508226416_n

I received some beautiful advice from a teacher a few weeks ago, and I’d like to share it with you. She said:

“Anytime that we are left waiting for something to change it is kind of interesting to look at the waiting itself.  Life is on hold and is this ok?  It doesn’t mean that we have to be doing the perfect thing but rather how we are using the energy in that moment.”

If this strikes a chord in your soul as it did mine, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What am I waiting for?
  • Am I waiting for some circumstance or another person to change, or…
  • Are there parts of myself am I not willing to accept as they are?
  • If I didn’t wait, what would be the worst that might happen?
  • When I am waiting, what message does that send to others, or to myself? 

Sometimes these questions seem painful. Why go digging around, creating a new wound?

Here’s the thing, though: When I hear a difficult truth- when someone says something to me and my initial reaction is “ouch,” or even defensiveness- well, the wound is already there. These are signs that something isn’t right. At this point, gentle inquiry is merely peeling off the Band-Aid, exposing the damage so that it can be cleaned and properly treated.

There are lots of areas in life where you might find that you are putting yourself on hold. As a yoga teacher, although I don’t ask, people often feel like they need to tell me why they don’t do yoga. I hear a lot of this:

I’m too out of shape… I’m not flexible… My husband doesn’t like me to come home late on weeknights… I’m too old. When my kids are bigger, I’ll have more time. 

It’s fine with me if you don’t want to do yoga (really!). If you really want to do something, though, and you feel like you’re waiting for something to change- then maybe it’s time to ask yourself these questions. Listen compassionately for the answers, and let yourself be led by your own wisdom.

This week in class I’m sharing this beautiful poem, Love After Love by Derek Walcott:

The time will come, when with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome

and say, sit here.  Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you.

all your life, whom you have ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit.  Feast on your life.

Note: If anyone knows where the original image is from at the top of this post- please let me know so I can give credit!