Throw off the mask

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Photo from MaxPixel: https://www.maxpixel.net/Venezia-Italy-Venice-Carnival-Venetian-Mask-Mask-1984724 

What does a yogi look like?

What does a writer look like?

What does a runner look like?

What does a mother look like?

Look in the mirror, and you will see.

We like to tell ourselves stories, don’t we? We strive for something and we think that means we have to be a certain way. If I’m a writer I should write XX minutes/hours a day. If I’m a runner I should run XX minutes/hours a day at XX pace. If I’m a mother, I need to do all the things other mothers are doing. And if I’m a yogi, I need to practice XX minutes/hours a day, I need to get into certain poses, I need to eat a certain way, I need to act a certain way, etc.

If you are living an authentic life, and striving to be your true self in your heart and not wearing any masks, then you are doing perfectly what you set out to do.

I’m in the process of letting go of what I think it means to be a yogi, a writer, a runner. I AM those things right now, in this moment, because I’m doing my best. Of course I need to hold myself accountable if I’m not trying to improve or learn more or am not being true to myself.

I just finished Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste, and I’ll leave you with his words:

“I see a real yogi as someone who is committed to growth and to being the best version of themselves, and, at the same time, is courageous enough to be fully present and authentic in each moment. Someone who is not afraid to get real about the whole mess of who they are — the good, the bad, and the ugly; someone who can be open and own that they get depressed, stressed out, pissed off; that they sometimes yell at their spouse; that they watch television, drink coffee, eat bacon.”

He goes on: “…hiding behind a mask costs us so much and leaves us with so little. On the surface, we may look polished and ‘perfect,’ but hiding our true self in all its dimensions saps our life energy and robs us of the freedom to express ourselves genuinely, from the heart.”

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Baron Baptiste

My first Ashtanga workshop!

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Me and Angela Jamison. Angela, what a beautiful soul. I’m so grateful that she represented my first Ashtanga workshop. 

I finished my 200-hour RYT training in June. As the training wrapped up, I knew my next move was to devote more of myself to Ashtanga. To me, this involves four aspects:

* Cultivating a home practice, seeing as the nearest shala is a 90-minute drive away.

* Self-study of Ashtanga and yogic principles through reading of classic and modern texts.

* Continued self-evaluation and self-improvement. In the words of Angela Jamison (see below), what’s my stuff?

* Learning through face-to-face transmission through workshops and teachers.

I’ve been working on the first one and second one since June. I’ve been working on the third one for almost two years, but seriously and consistently for about a year. And the last one is very new — I’m coming off a weekend workshop with Angela Jamison, hosted by Ellie of Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis.

I took pages of notes, practiced alongside 15 other ashtangis, and in general had a transformative and uplifting experience over the 10 hours. Plenty of blog posts will come from this experience! But for now, let me list some quick impressions:

* Angela Jamison is a beautiful soul. She is warm and empathic and encouraging.

* I just finished teaching a five-week summer session class at MSU-Mankato. That was an intense experience like none other, giving instruction day after day. How great it felt to sit quietly and absorb instruction, to be on the other side of the desk, so to speak!

* Ellie at AYM has a great shala space. The building is a former convent, and I could feel the sacred power of sanctuary lingering in the room. From where I sat, I could see the church across the street, which offered a symbol for quiet contemplation.

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* I soaked up the “tribe” aspect of Ashtanga. Back when I was practicing at Sun Moon, back when I thought it was only a physical practice, I still felt the power of the tribe and it was that I missed the most when Mona stopped offering Ashtanga. So to be back in a group of people committed to this practice felt like I was at “home.”

* I’ve been on this path for far longer than I had imagined. Angela said something about figuring out your stuff before you could fully embrace the practice. I have been drawn to self-study for the past year, for reasons that weren’t quite clear to me (or for reasons that seemed clear at the time, but now I see those weren’t the real reasons). The real reason was to prepare a clean heart for a commitment to the Ashtanga practice.

Have you attended yoga workshops? What has your experience been like?

My friend, the 24-Hour Bicycle Challenge champion!

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Becky Fjelland Brooks. Photo by Jackson Forderer, Mankato Free Pres. 

Do you want to be inspired? Read on! Otherwise, just skip this.

I’ve known Becky Fjelland (Davis) Brooks for I don’t know…13, 14 years? She’s that type of friend who you don’t even remember first meeting…you just feel like you’ve been friends from birth. I DO know that I started biking with her in 2007 and in that year, she invited me to join her writing group, which had already been meeting for about three years.

This is a woman a generation older than me (she technically could be my mom, though she would have been a very young mom, lol!). However, she could always kick my butt on the bike! Which from Day 1 earned my respect and admiration. Even though she could kick my butt, she didn’t act like it. Becky is a woman that wants ALL women to bike and be active and is the hugest supporter of women and fitness — ZERO competition! I can’t tell you how many times she’s ridden with me WAY more slowly than she could have — but she just wanted to be supportive and have social time!

On Sunday, June 17, this woman won her age group at the National 24-Hour Challenge bike race in Caledonia, Michigan! Did I mention that her age group is 60-64?! Becky rode her bike for 24 hours, only stopping briefly for bathroom breaks and snacks. She completed 349.5 miles during that time to set the age-group record.

Less than three years ago, Becky suffered a brain aneurysm as she was preparing to go out for a December ride. This 24-hour challenge was her goal as she recovered.

“My son and I were kind of joking, ‘In two years, we’ll go back to the 24-hour race.’ It was a joke — but also a carrot,” she told the Mankato Free Press in the June 15 edition.

The one and only time I could keep up with Becky was when I went out with her on her first rides after her aneurysm, in the summer of 2016. I told her, “The only time I can keep up with you is when you’re recovering from a brain explosion!” LOL!

Becky is the ultimate role model. This is precisely what I love about her:

“People write things off when they get to 50, 60 years old and think they’re not going to get back,” she said. “But we can. We can do more than we give ourselves credit for. I made training a priority. I made getting in shape a priority. And it worked.”

I’m training for a fall marathon and Becky is a major inspiration. If she can get on her bike for 24 hours at the age of 61, surely I can run for 5 hours at the age of 43. If she trained hard during a harsh Minnesota winter, I can get out there for training runs during a Minnesota summer.

No excuses. We all have the power to change our lives, to change our level of fitness.

Let Becky lead the way!

Becky is also a super impressive middle-grade/young-adult/essay writer. Read more of her writing here.

 

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Sometimes the universe is just trying to tell you something, right?

My last weekend of RYT 200-Hour training featured the Ashtanga primary series practice. On Saturday morning, we did the complete series, led by Crystal Born — we took Ashtanga class together for years with Melanie Williams at Sun Moon. It was so nice to see Crystal again, and Emily S. also showed up, so it was a mini-tribe reunion.

I hadn’t practiced the entire series in, I don’t know, about two years? Whenever the last offering was at SunMoon. I’ve done bits and pieces of the practice, like a 30-minute or 45-minute version that David Swenson developed, and I’ve worked separately on some of the more challenging poses, like shoulder stand and headstand. But still, I feel a little like a loser…how can I call myself an Ashtangi if it had been that long since I’ve done the entire series?

(More on this later…I have LOTS to say about why I took that time off).

Dare I call this past weekend life-changing? I understood Ashtanga in a way that I had not understood it before, even in 15 years of on-and-off practicing. Something just CLICKED. Things CHANGED. I hadn’t been very kind to myself in the past two years and when I got home on Sunday, I viewed myself in a totally different light. Bad habits that had become a part of my life over the past two years just went away.

I came home and just started reading a couple of great Ashtanga books (The Power of Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga Mala). I had already booked a weekend workshop at Ashtanga Minneapolis in July and now I’m about to book another workshop. I’m motivated and obsessed about this practice in a way that I had never been before.

After 15 years, I feel ready to devote myself to this practice rather than simply dabbling, which is what I had been doing.

As Kino MacGregor says in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, “…only after many years of practice have I begun to realize just how powerful the practice really is.”

The 13-year process of writing my memoir and getting it published taught me a lot about patience and also the idea that things take the time they’re going to take. My book came out in 2013 rather than 2010 or 2005 for a reason. I don’t really know the reason, but I trust that there was a reason. The universe wanted me to practice Ashtanga for 15 years before I did anything more with it. That’s an encapsulation of life in general, isn’t it? We have a timetable, but the universe has its own timetable.

200-hour teacher training done! Now on to the next thing…

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The lovely women affiliated with yoga teacher training at SunMoon Yoga Studios. I will miss them! 

I finished my 200-hour RYT (registered yoga teacher) training! Starting last September, I devoted one weekend a month for eight months to this training. This was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and 2017 was finally the right time to do it. I was nearly finished with a Ph.D. program, I was settling into my job, and I thought I could clear my schedule enough to fit in the weekend training at SunMoon Yoga Studios.

Obviously I have learned things that will help me with teaching yoga — things like sequencing, how to modify poses, learning about fascia and connective tissue, setting up a welcoming environment for class, different styles of yoga, etc.

But what I didn’t expect going into this was how much I would learn about myself. This was absolutely a self-development program. You can’t teach yoga as a purely physical act (well, I suppose you could, but that’s not the intent). So if yoga requires attention to thought and emotion and inner harmony in order to achieve a rewarding physical practice, a yoga teacher will have to be attuned to that in his/her own life before teaching.

Yoga is an eight-limbed path (“ashtanga”). The physical practice, asana, is just one of the eight limbs. The first two are yama and niyama — things to avoid in your life and things to embrace. Avoid violence, untruth, and greediness. Embrace purity, contentment, and self-discipline. Only then can you begin to work on the physical practice.

My other major takeaways from training:

* Keep an open mind. In September, I was all like, “I love Ashtanga! I only want to practice and teach Ashtanga! Ashtanga is the best! I dislike other styles of yoga!” But had I ever tried other styles of yoga? In small doses here and there, but I had no experience with yin, Bikram, restorative, etc. And what did I discover? I like those styles, too! Will I become a devotee of those styles? Probably not, because I still feel called toward Ashtanga. But I had the exposure to different styles and learned to appreciate them for what they are and how they serve the body and mind.

* “Let the sweat drip.” Wow, this was a mind-changer. I think of this all the time now. When I regularly practiced Ashtanga, I wanted to be cool. I thought if I got warm that I would feel sick or pass out. But heat and sweat are a necessary component of the detoxifying process and I was trying to avoid that because I wasn’t “comfortable.” Well, is life always comfortable? Those uncomfortable moments are the ones we need to get us to where we’re going.

* I now see yoga as a holistic practice. Up until teacher training, it was purely a physical practice for me. That served me well for what I was using it for. I basically used it as cross-training for my other activities like cycling and running. Yoga kept me flexible and for the most part injury-free. But this is like using a car only because it has a nice stereo system. You’re ignoring all the other things the car can do, especially the major things, like getting you from Point A to Point B. The other seven limbs besides asana have opened new possibilities for me.

I highly recommend a yoga teacher training program even if you’re not planning to become a teacher. Several women in my group do not have plans to teach. And even if think you want to teach someday, begin the training knowing that is only going to be a small aspect of what you learn.

I’m excited to continue this journey of yoga education. I have a couple of things planned for the summer that I’m excited about!

That 10 percent…

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If you came across $100, but somehow lost 10 of those dollars, would you incessantly focus on the $10 that was lost, or the $90 that you still had?

I have a theory of 10 percent that I’ve used for many years to refer to my classrooms. No matter how big the class, about 10 percent of the students are problematic. Maybe they don’t show up, maybe they give me a hard time, maybe they are disruptive.

I used to find myself thinking constantly about these students. They frustrated me and caused me to question my abilities as a teacher. Finally, one day I realized that 90 percent of my students are great — why was I not focusing on them? Why not focus on what was going well?

I still think about that 10 percent, but I am much quicker to turn my thoughts around and focus on the positive. I see how this thinking filters into other areas of my life. For example, I’ll be training for a running event, working hard to get in several runs in a week, doing some light weight work, complementing my training with yoga, drinking lots of water, eating right, etc. Then I’ll go out for a run and feel horrible! It will feel like I hadn’t even been training. Those bad runs really get me down, until I realize that it’s just an off day and I’m allowed to have an off day. I am learning to trust that the next day’s run will probably feel much better.

Or in terms of relationships — how easy it is to let your mind settle on the relationship that isn’t going well. But then taking a moment to pause and think about all the love that surrounds you.

It’s about deciding which thoughts will take up your precious mental space. The 90 percent positive, or the 10 percent negative? Are you going to focus on what’s going well in your life, or concentrate only on what’s not going well?

Finding the sacred

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This month I’m working on the concept of “sacred” — specifically, finding the sacred in everyday, whether it’s within or external. I’m traveling in England right now, co-leading a group of students from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I didn’t go into the trip planning to seek out the sacred, but I am noticing it all around me.

Finding the sacred has given me some precious “down” time. I’m so excited (and excitable!) when I travel and I tend to move quickly from one thing to another, just wanting to experience everything that I can and engage in as many conversations as possible. I have to remind myself to take a few quiet moments, whether it’s a morning or evening meditation or finding a quiet space.

England is rich with history, and I’ve always been drawn to the solemnity of historical places. I was talking to my friend and colleague on this trip about how the churches here just seem so much quieter than churches back home.

Here are some places that I’ve found so far:

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Parish church on Holy Island. This wood carving by Fenwick Lawson depicts monks carrying the relics of St. Cuthbert from the island during a Viking raid.

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Detail shot. The expression on the face is impressive.

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Holy Island churchyard.

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St. Michael’s Church, Alnwick.

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St. Michael’s.

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St. Lawrence Church, Warkworth.

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St. Albin’s, Bamburgh.

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I lit a votive at St. Albin’s.