Rules are made to be broken

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

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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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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?

 

 

Think you can’t meditate? Think again.

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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

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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?

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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

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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.”

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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.