Think you can’t meditate? Think again.

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 5.14.40 PM
This is what I try to envision when I meditate — a screen of static.

“I’m terrible at meditation.”

“I can’t meditate.”

“I don’t do meditation right.”

“My mind wanders too much when I try to meditate.”

Those were all things I’ve said at different points in my life. I knew people who meditated, I knew people got a lot out of meditation, I have had meditation “assignments.” But finally, finally, in taking my own journey and my own path to meditation, I’m settling into a practice.

For me, it’s like anything — it takes practice. I practice the piano to get better. If I write every day, writing is going to get easier and flow better. If I run most days a week, I’m going to be a better runner.

I’ve been meditating most mornings. I started short, just 2-3 minutes. But after a while, that became easier — those minutes went by quickly instead of plodding along like they did when I started. This morning for the first time I meditated for 5 minutes.

Yes, my mind wanders. My mind wanders on my mat, too. But instead of giving up, I bring myself back to the moment. Some days I have to do this countless times. Other days, I’m more present. Whatever is going on that day is “right.”

Another cool thing is happening: I’m viewing my Ashtanga practice as meditation rather than physical. I had always viewed it as physical — it’s a challenging and demanding practice, which takes a lot of physicality. I used to measure my progress by my strength and ability to get into poses. But lately, I am experiencing how the physical is a path to the meditation, not an end unto itself. This is bringing a new level of meaning and excitement to my practice.

What are your experiences with meditation?

Love your practice and show up

29514102416_7965434bd8

Photo Credit: c3lsius_bb Flickr via Compfight cc

From Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga:

“Many people assume that because they cannot easily bend their bodies into the pretzel-like positions of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that this method is not for them. The sole qualification for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga is to love your practice and to ‘show up’ on your mat as much as possible. It does not matter what level of asana you perform, because the inner work of yoga is fueled by the authentic search for inner peace.”

Since June 8, I’ve showed up to my mat much more than I ever have in the past 16 years since I was first introduced to Ashtanga. I show up on my mat most mornings. Do I spent a ton of time on the mat? No. Most mornings at least 20 minutes. Only about one morning a week am I showing up for 30-45 minutes. But this is a vast improvement over other years when I didn’t even have a home practice and was doing Ashtanga only when I showed up to a led class 3-4 times a month.

Moving forward, I’d like to increase the time of my home practice to at least 30 minutes most mornings and to get back into doing the full series at least once a week.

My major challenge right now is motivation. I’ve hit the low point of the semester — long days at the office with lots of meetings and advisee appointments. This means that prep work and grading is happening in the evening when I get home and the weekends. It’s been hard to get up in the mornings knowing I have such a full day ahead. But that is exactly the time to bump up my practice.

I have the excuse of teaching yoga two mornings a week, which forces me out of bed. When class is over, I spend 20-30 minutes on the primary series finishing poses plus some cardio work. If I didn’t have to get up to teach, I think I’d probably opt for staying in bed as long as possible. I hope once I get past this busy time at work, I will feel more motivated.

How do you stay motivated for working out or for your yoga practice?

Run away? Or confront?

04AECAA0-4286-4711-B7E8-017052300022
My favorite place of tranquility: Artists’ Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota. Photo by author.

At the end of the Ashtanga prep class I’ve been teaching at SunMoon Yoga Studios, I like to read a short passage while students are in savasana. I usually read from Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga.

Last Thursday I read this:

“The asanas work first on a practice level to burn through the toxins in the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies The poses also work to change the basic hardwiring of the mind. Normally, when we confront difficult situations, we want to run away. If we encounter a scary memory, we often want to bury it. The pattern, while totally natural, is not effective at creating a truly happy, healthy life. Yoga trains the mind to stay in places of difficulty instead of running away and developing protective measures. In yoga, there is no room for defense mechanisms. In fact, the yoga poses are designed to strip away every protective layer you may have developed to reveal the inner purity at the heart of your being.”

Ashtanga, like most physical endeavors, is a challenging practice. I have never been on a run or a bike ride or done an Ashtanga practice and said, “Wow, that was easy today!” Part of the reward upon completing physical exertion is the satisfaction in knowing that you pushed yourself in a difficult situation.

What do we find challenging on an emotional or mental level? There’s a tendency to push it away and not want to go there, just like there’s a tendency to stay on the couch or stay in bed rather than move your body.

Because Ashtanga yoga is done in silence, with the focus on the audible breath, it creates a meditative state as you challenge your body in the asanas. Running and cycling for me also have a mind-clearing quality, but not as much as Ashtanga does.

We often turn toward more destructive habits when we don’t want to confront difficult thoughts and emotions. I have been guilty of this, but I find that since I’ve been practicing Ashtanga regularly I’m not running away from myself and I’m treating myself better. It’s a slow process — I’ve only been practicing regularly for about four months — but I am hopeful for continued growth and strength. For me, and for all of you, be patient and kind to yourselves and trust the process, whatever that may be.

Yoga’s inner story and outer story

43712444175_410b3082cc

Photo Credit: davidstewartgets Flickr via Compfight cc 

It can be easy to see what’s on the surface. But what’s beneath? That’s often the key to unlocking understanding.

My theme for my memoir/yoga workshop this weekend is inner story and outer story.

Inner story and outer story is usually the first thing I talk about when I give memoir workshops. A memoir that just stays at the surface — this happened, then this happened, here’s what I looked like, here’s what our house looked like, etc. — doesn’t have any substance. Writers have to dive deep within themselves to discover what all those things meant. How did it change the writer? What transformation took place because of those events?

Writing the inner story is difficult because it takes time and contemplation. We may know we have an outer story, but perhaps we haven’t spent a lot of time articulating on the page what it meant or how it changed our lives. At least that was my case when I wrote my memoir. I knew I had a unique story in that my dad was a gravedigger, but until I started to write I didn’t realize exactly how that upbringing impacted my life. The thinking-to-writing ratio while I was working on the memoir was definitely skewed toward the thinking!

This is why I’m so excited to do this yoga/memoir workshop. Yoga lends itself to looking inward and contemplation. There’s the physical practice of yoga, what we see. If we practice regularly we may see changes to our body — more defined muscles, increased strength, new flexibility. If we let our practice sit there on the outside, like a memoir, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it can be so much more.

It’s when your mind and body are strong when the real transformation occurs. As Kino MacGregor writes in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: “Strength in yoga is an integration of the sum of the body, mind, and soul in a way that gives access to something much larger than any individual part.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 8.08.22 AM
Kino MacGregor, Ashtanga practitioner and founder of OMStars yoga TV network. Photo from @kinoyoga on Instagram.

For memoir, the strength is in the combination of outer story and inner story. To borrow Kino’s words, that is going to give access to something much larger than the individual parts.

Have yoga mat and running shoes, will travel*

img_0135

I was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week for AEJMC, a journalism educators’ conference. I found a way to squeeze in both a run and a visit to an Ashtanga yoga studio.

The run went well despite the 100-degree heat index! The 5K was loosely organized by a member of AEJMC. Whoever wanted to show up in the hotel lobby at 5 p.m. on Wednesday was welcome. We each paid $15, which went toward student scholarships. It wasn’t a big group, as you can see, but we stuck together and had a great time getting to know each other! I saw one of the women in the lobby later that night and she kindly invited me to hang out with her and some other people she knew, two of whom are living in Minnesota so I look forward to maintaining those connections.

img_0091

On Thursday evening, I took the Metro for a short ride up to Woodley Park. I went to the 7 p.m. led half primary series. Earlier in the day, I didn’t feel like going. I was completely exhausted from “conferencing” (those of you who have been to multi-day conferences know what I mean) as well as spending Thursday afternoon walking about 5 miles in between visiting the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery.

I went back to the hotel room to change and it was so cool in there! The bed looked so comfortable! But even though I was exhausted, it was exhaustion that just felt gross. I knew that if I stayed in the room all evening and laid around, I would feel even worse and more gross.

Thankfully I’ve been practicing ashtanga long enough to know that the physical activity would give me a boost of energy. So I packed my travel yoga mat into my bag and walked (again!) a few blocks to the Metro.

I’m so glad I did! If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have experienced:

  • A part of DC I hadn’t been to before.
  • Seeing another beautiful ashtanga studio.
  • Mental clarity and a lift of my mood (which continued well into the next day).
  • Sharing my practice with welcoming, kind and gentle people.
  • A fabulous Lebanese restaurant down the street from the studio that nourished me after practice.
  • A gorgeous summer evening sitting outside in the city.

I’m still getting used to practicing yoga and running while traveling. The running thing has been working out well for about a year. Usually when I travel, I am busy and tired. In the past I have given myself a break while traveling. Traveling by itself is tiring with the flights and time changes and strange hotel rooms where you might not sleep well. But finally I have realized that squeezing in a quick run is the perfect antidote to that exhaustion. And honestly, after a day of sitting and taking in conference sessions, I want to move my body and not think anymore.

Yoga while traveling is really new to me. I found a yoga studio in Alnwick, England, when I was there in May, and now Woodley Park Yoga. I also did a morning practice in my hotel room on Wednesday, which I had never done before. So this is all part of my renewed commitment to Ashtanga.

Tell me about your workouts/yoga practice while traveling! Please share any tips you have. For example, I have a travel yoga mat and also some Yoga Paws gloves and socks. My travel mat is slippery so the gloves and socks work well, and you wouldn’t even need a mat with them because the grip is good.

* Title is in reference to this old TV show:

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 8.05.56 AM

Throw off the mask

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.47.30 AM
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.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.43.51 AM
Baron Baptiste