Plants are encouraged to grow; so are people

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It’s an honor to witness a revelation.

After class on Thursday, one woman said she had the best Ashtanga practice she had had in a long time. She said she came into class tired and weary and wasn’t expecting much from herself. But partway through she thought to herself, What’s happening here? The look on her face after class was one of amazement and surprise.

Leading an Ashtanga class is unlike other teaching I do. In the university classroom, I have knowledge about a topic and I try to impart that knowledge unto (generally much younger) students. They look to me as someone who has professional experience in the field, and they have relatively no experience. They are there to learn from someone with more experience.

But in an Ashtanga class, I am not the one with the most experience. Instead, I’m there to cultivate an environment in which students feel comfortable going inside of themselves to reach their potentials. How do I do that?

  • By showing up early, at least a half-hour before class starts. I turn on the lights and make sure everything is in order before they arrive. I don’t want to be rushing around getting things ready as students come in the door. That would set an anxious tone.
  • By greeting them as they arrive and listening to them. If I get there early, I’m ready. So when students talk to me, I can give them 100 percent attention. I’m not distracted. They may tell me something important, like an injury they have or an emotional or mental roadblock they’re facing.
  • By using a calming voice when leading them from asana to asana.
  • By using assists to help them get further into an asana.

It’s like a garden — you don’t make the plants grow, but you cultivate a favorable environment so they have a chance to grow strong.

I’m glad I was able to curate an environment in which the woman was able to achieve a fulfilling practice. I want to hear that and hope to never hear the opposite — that my class is a space in which people feel discouraged or unwelcomed. Her words encourage me to create a space in which she can continue to grow, as well as others.

Unlike Joe Biden, I’m not handsy: Powering through resistance in assists

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Assisting Peter in Marichasana C in Lynn Thomasberg’s assist workshop at One Yoga in Minneapolis on March 31. 

Touch doesn’t come natural to me. I grew up in a family that wasn’t demonstrative with affection — not uncommon in small-town Minnesota, populated by descendants of stoic Germans and Scandinavians.

So providing assists during an Ashtanga class presents a challenge to me. But I look forward to this opportunity for self-development. I will be spending some time contemplating my place of resistance and developing ways to break through it.

I attended my first assist workshop last weekend, led by Lynn Thomasberg at One Yoga in Minneapolis. Lynn focused specifically on the asanas found in the Ashtanga primary series.

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Lynn and me at One Yoga.

Right away, I noticed my discomfort. But confronting that discomfort was exactly why I signed up for the workshop. Prior to this, my only experience with assists was at David Swenson‘s weekend workshop last September. We paired up with each other, and I felt challenged by having to put my hands on strangers.

Lynn told us we’d be changing partners for every asana so we’d get a chance to work with all body types and all abilities. Wow, I’m going to be putting my hands on a lot of strangers today, I thought. But that’s why I was there, so I might as well dive right in.

I did what Lynn told us to do, pushing through my resistance. I was beyond my comfort zone, but that’s where growth occurs. At home at the end of that first day, I reflected upon the work I did and readied myself for the second day.

When I got to the studio the second day, I was feeling a lot more comfortable. That was a good sign! Knowing that I’d have to assist again wasn’t giving me anxiety; I was excited. I think I felt more comfortable on the second day for a couple of reasons: 1) I was more familiar with my classmates — they were no longer strangers; and 2) we worked on seated postures.

For some reason, assisting people while they were seated felt more natural to me than assisting in standing asanas. Hmmmm! Maybe I was just more comfortable in general and if I had assisted standing asanas on the second day, I would have felt natural, too.

Today is when I get to put the assists into practice in my class at SunMoon. I feel excited rather than anxious, so I’m relieved about that. The people in my class aren’t strangers — I know them all, so there’s a level of comfort there that I didn’t have on the first day of the workshop.

I think my resistance isn’t necessarily about touching people. I like to hug people (though I often wait for people to make the first move), and I will touch people on an arm when I’m talking to them (if I feel it’s warranted). I have warmed up considerably from where I was as a young person!

My resistance comes out of fear — I don’t want to hurt people. Even in the workshop almost everyone I worked on said I could push further — my touch was too light. I know that people will let me know if I go too far, but I worry about the people who might not say anything. Or the people who don’t realize I made them go too far until after practice, when a pain or soreness sets in. Or I am spotting someone in sirsasana and they tumble over on my watch.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to teach a led class so I can confront areas of resistance and learn more about myself. If I were only practicing on my own, this world would not be opened to me.

How do you feel about assists in a yoga class, whether giving or receiving?

Toe meets wall. Wall wins.

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I fractured the proximinal phalanx of my big toe nice and good. 

The doctor comes back into the room, holding a couple of foot boots. I’ve seen people wearing those boots. I haven’t envied them.

He’s a resident doctor, young and chipper and smiley. “You want to see your X-rays?”

“Sure.” I grimace. “Did I break my toe?”

Without skipping a beat, he says, “Oh yeah!” and chuckles.

That’s what I thought.

All day I’ve been thinking, do I tell people how I broke my big toe? I mean, my whole goal is to get people to try yoga. Yoga is supposed to be healing. Breaking a bone while DOING yoga is the opposite of that!

But hey, even the things we love to do aren’t always sunshine and unicorns.

I was up in headstand this morning. My headstands have been strong and steady. For many weeks, I haven’t even put my mat near a wall. I’ve been going up rather easily and if I ever feel off-balance, it’s only for a split second.

Today I went up, held it for eight breaths, came down into half-pike for a couple of breaths, and then went back up. Maybe I went up too fast. Maybe my mind wandered. As soon as I went up for the second round of breaths, that’s when I went straight over.

This was actually the first time I’ve fallen in headstand. I’ve feared this day. My first thought was, “My neck! Gotta protect my neck!” Honestly, I was surprised at how easily my body rolled over, how instinctually I took care of my neck and shoulders.

But my toe…

It smacked right into the wall. I’ve been practicing in a small space in our very cluttered basement, only because it’s warm and in the depths of a Minnesota winter my yoga room/porch is out of the question. I feel a little “off” in that basement space anyway, but until today I’d been making it work.

The next 4-6 weeks will be about adjustment. I will not be able to do a traditional Ashtanga practice. I will only be able to do asanas that allow for a flat foot. No down dogs, no jumping forward (and I was just starting to get the hang of that!). But there are a lot of asanas in the sequence that I will be able to do, so I will have to map that out.

I won’t be able to run or walk on the treadmill. But I should still be able to bike or do the elliptical. I was given the option of wearing the boot or wearing shoes with a sturdy sole, so at least I can still wear my normal shoes and tennis shoes.

This is a setback, but it could be so much worse. I could have hurt my neck. I could have cracked my ankle. I could be training for a running event and have to cancel it. I will miss not be able to snowshoe or go for a nice snowy run or walk at my favorite park, especially now when we have tons of snow.

What kind of setbacks have you encountered? How did you work through the setback?

We are our harshest critics

Photo Credit: mag3737 Flickr via Compfight cc

I can’t do yoga because…

* I’m uncoordinated.

* People will laugh at me.

* I need music.

* I talk too much.

I heard this all today, in a matter of a few seconds in conversation with a few other women. We should be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves, whether they have to do with yoga or anything else.

Is it that you can’t do yoga, or you won’t? Sometimes we know ourselves well and we know what we will or won’t enjoy. Maybe you’ve tried yoga and thought it’s not your thing. But can you drill deeper? Was it a particular class, style of yoga, or teacher that didn’t work for you? Was it your mindset that day? Was something else going on in your life that made it a poor experience? Are you willing to give it another shot?

The conversation also made me sad because I could see how hurtful women can be toward themselves and how they fear others will perceive them.

A yoga studio is a welcoming place for everyone. There’s no audition process to get in, no proof needed that you can touch your toes. There are no women on mats lined up against a wall holding cards numbered 1-10 like in the Olympics, ready to judge you. It’s just you and your mat. You come to yoga to work on yourself. Come to my class, or any class, as uncoordinated as you are, and with regular work you’ll get more coordinated, if that’s your goal. Maybe you have a different goal. Maybe you have no goal at all. It doesn’t matter. Just show up to your mat.

Ladies, be kind to yourselves. The world needs a lot of love and healing right now but it starts with loving yourself.

Rules are made to be broken

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Eat your vegetables! How often have you heard this “rule”?

Photo Credit: verchmarco Flickr via Compfight cc 

How well do you do with rules?

Eat this, and don’t eat that.

Do this much exercise each day, and these types of exercises.

Drink 8 glasses of water a day. No, 12. No, make that 16, or 24. Do it, and don’t fail or else!

This time of year we’re given a lot of rules, especially if our goal is to eat better or get more exercise or just try to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

I think rules work for some people. They want a clear set of guidelines and succeed when they can check off boxes. But others chafe when given a set of rules. That would be me.

If someone says I can’t do something, or can’t eat a certain type of food, or need to give up caffeine, I instantly want to do the exact opposite.

So my goal is to find a plan and adapt it to my lifestyle and schedule at the moment.

Ashtanga is a good example. The “rules” of Ashtanga say that you do the series for 90 minutes a day first thing in the morning, six days a week. That just doesn’t work for me right now. So instead, I aim for the six days, but my practice is anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. I trust that my body and mind will adapt to where I will be devoting more time to my practice.

I’m also experimenting with Ayurveda, both in terms of food and also lifestyle. Today I went to a workshop with Julianne Englander at Yoga Barre in Shakopee and learned some great details about Ayurveda. Julianne talked about the morning routine, which if you did everything would probably take about an hour. I know that’s not anything I’m going to do right now. I’m going to start small, like getting up and scraping my tongue and washing my face — getting “clean” before heading to my mat. Julianne also said this is like a yoga practice — it develops over years.

Regarding my diet, there are just some things I’m not ready to give up yet. These include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • An occasional social alcoholic drink with friends

If you want to succeed in a diet or exercise routine or other lifestyle change, you have to make it  work for YOU. Find something that sounds doable and that you’ll enjoy, but ADAPT from there. Remember, a small change is better than nothing. See how that small change goes and if you feel good, add more changes. Because the second you dislike something you for sure will stop doing it.

How have you adapted a diet or exercise program or lifestyle change to make it work for YOU?

What does broccoli have to do with Ashtanga?

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Photo Credit: cold_penguin1952 Flickr via Compfight cc 

Do you love Ashtanga?

Do you dislike Ashtanga?

You can only answer this question if you’ve tried it.

Like with anything, you’ll discover if you like it or dislike it only after you have tried it.

Did your mom or dad ever say to you about broccoli or Brussel sprouts or anything like that — “Just eat one bite, then you’ll know if you like it or not.” I bet they did! Or if you’re a parent, do you say this to your kids?

I’m offering a nine-week Ashtanga class at SunMoon Yoga Studios Jan. 17-March 14. I’m asking Ashtanga newbies to give it a try for the nine weeks. I don’t expect that at the end of the session, everyone will be an Ashtanga devotee. I fully expect some people will say, “This is not for me.” I love Ashtanga, but I don’t expect everyone else will love it, too. It’s challenging and structured and routine. That doesn’t appeal to everyone.

But all I ask is that if you’re curious, give it a try.

That goes for anything in this new year. What is your intuition telling you to do? Just try something new. You don’t have to commit to it — just try it.

What are you curious about?

Blossoming into the new year

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My journal, and Melanie’s center table and oracle cards at the Mindful Intentions workshop on New Year’s Eve.

“Take a look at each deck. Choose from the one that speaks to you,” Melanie says.

I kneel down, inspect a few cards, finding myself drawn to the ones that are colorful. A couple of the decks feature whimsical illustrations, which are cute, but for me maybe a little too cute. I spot the deck from which I drew last year, but want something different. When I see “Goddess Guidance,” I know that’s the deck for me.

I shuffle once, twice. I almost pick the top card right then, but something inside said to shuffle one more time — something about the number three felt important. I shuffle again, then I take the top card:

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My heart sings. This card, this notion of blossoming, feels exactly right.

We might think of people blossoming in terms of adolescence. How often are girls said to “blossom” into womanhood? But just because we hit middle age, or even older, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep blossoming into new things.

For 2019, my plan is to delve deeper into Ashtanga. I want to continue to build a home practice that I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I want to attend more workshops and trainings. I’m excited to be teaching Ashtanga at SunMoon Yoga Studios starting in a couple of weeks.

I also have learned more about Ayurveda in the last three weeks or so. I’ve been trying out recipes and am loving the plant-based diet. I want to learn even more about this practice.

As always, I’ll be reading and writing, learning new things that way, both about other people and events and also about myself.

This seems like a good year to focus on “blossoming.” I’ve made an effort to put negativity behind me in the last year, and by doing so I feel ready to grow.

What’s your word for 2019?