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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.

The seeds for my practice were planted long ago

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Photo Credit: CIMMYT Flickr via Compfight cc

Have you ever been drawn to something in your life, only to see it blossom many years later?

Do you wonder what was the purpose behind those seeds being planted?

I checked out classes at SunMoon Yoga Studios in Mankato almost immediately when Mona opened it in 2001.

I had never done yoga before.

I didn’t really know what yoga was.

I was just curious.

So I went to a few classes. Classes had titles with names that were new to me — hatha, vinyasa. I quickly discovered that I enjoyed more of a flow practice. I was a runner and used to motion. At the time I didn’t understand the benefits of slow movement and paying close attention to breath. I will admit, I was “bored” in those slower classes at the time. (Oh, how things have changed thanks to teacher training!).

Around 2002, Mona offered an Ashtanga class. Almost immediately I thought, “this is the class for me.” Ashtanga offered me a major challenge physically. For the first few classes, I was wiped out after the sun salutations. Keep in mind, this is only about 10 minutes into a 90-minute practice! I couldn’t complete all the chaturangas in the sun salutations and was modifying on my knees.

But here’s what kept me coming back: I started to see my strength improve.

Ashtanga is a style of yoga with a set sequence that never changes. One of the things I loved about it right away was how I could see improvement. Week to week, I found myself being able to do more. Soon, I could do all the chaturangas in the sun salutations. Then, all the chaturangas in the standing poses. Then, most of them in the seated poses.

Over the years, my consistency with practicing Ashtanga has waxed and waned. But there was a brief moment of time when I could complete all the chaturangas in the entire series.

And a pose like headstand? For 15 years I had to opt for dolphin pose. Then, one day, I decided to try to get my knees up, and they floated right up. Today I am really, really close to completing a full headstand.

I have much more to say about my Ashtanga journey. Right now it’s poised to go in new directions, and I’m ready to make a serious commitment to study of the practice. In June, I will be completing my 200-RYT training and from there, I want to begin a self-directed study of Ashtanga. I’m starting with a weekend workshop in July at Ashtanga Minneapolis with Angela Jamison.

When I’m on the cusp of something new, I often look to my past to see if there have been signs there all along. I use the past to guide my decisions. I’m convinced my body and spirit knew this in 2002. It led me to Mona’s studio and then to the Ashtanga class.

Can you think of a similar circumstance in your life, when you learned something new but didn’t realize it’s impact until months or years later?

Meditation for writers

From the wonderful Brevity blog! I’ve recently introduced meditation into my own life, so this is perfect timing. I look forward to using meditation specifically to spark creativity and help me set and achieve writing goals.

By Sweta Srivastava Vikram At the 2014 Academy Awards, Robert De Niro’s intro of the best screenplay nominees caught the attention of many. “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing”, he said, before continuing, “Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.” […]

via How Meditation Can Help a Writer — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog

A self-directed personal growth education

 

Reflection has always been a huge part of my life. I reflect through writing. In my brain, thoughts remain jumbled and confusing until I can get words out on paper. This biggest example of this is my memoir, which was a 13-year process of trying to figure out how who I was as a young child, and my experiences as a child and young adult, made me into the person I am today.

On a daily basis, I’m constantly jotting down ideas and thoughts. Sometimes I do it publicly, as on this blog and my other blog, but most times the writing is private.

I think we go through different cycles of growing pains at different points in our life. A major one is adolescence, when so many things seem confusing and you’re learning how to navigate the world as an adult. But once you’re an adult, does that growth stop? No! I will always have so much to learn about the world and myself.

I went through a women’s leadership program in 2016-17 that set the stage for this new period of growth and learning. Before that, I hadn’t taken a lot of time to re-assess myself. I didn’t do any major self-evaluations in the time between my memoir being published in 2013 and the leadership program. And the memoir focused on my childhood. It was time to take a look at myself as an adult. Was I happy with who I was? Where had I been? Where was I going?

On the heels of the leadership program I began yoga teacher training. Using the foundation I learned in the leadership program, my personal growth journey has taken me in new, exciting, challenging (and sometimes scary) directions. I’m examining my negative patterns of thoughts and actions and trying to cultivate new positive patterns.

Is it easy? No!

Does change happen overnight? No!

Do I have moments where I move backwards and fall into patterns that have been with me my whole life? Yes! But I am learning to be patient with myself.

I’ve also assigned myself a reading list. These books have been immensely helpful to me on my journey. I am always looking for more recommendations, so please let me know what I should add to the list.