Light as a feather…jump-throughs and jump-backs in yoga

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Photo credit: https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/982792 

Will I ever fly?

Will I ever float?

I know one thing: If I never work on it, I’ll never be able to do it.

I attended a “flying and floating” workshop on Saturday at Good Vibrations Yoga in Hopkins, Minnesota, with Sara Mandel. I’ve been working on my jump-throughs and jump-backs and I had a lot of fun experimenting with those movements on Saturday.

It strikes me that many of us think, “Will I ever _________?”

In other parts of my life, at different times, my questions have been:

  • Will I ever publish a book?
  • Will I ever run a marathon?
  • Will I ever be able to swim almost a mile in an Olympic-distance triathlon?
  • Will I ever be able to do sirsasana (headstand)?

The answers to those questions have all been yes. Because I worked at each one, sometimes for years. Through each process I have learned more about patience and trust.

How do you fill in that blank? What are you doing to make that answer “Yes!”?

The key to sustaining a movement

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My faraway picture of Ericka Huggins at Minnesota State University, Mankato, on March 1, 2019.

“How do you keep a movement going?” a young woman in the audience asked.

The venue was Minnesota State University, Mankato. The event, the 43rd annual Michael T. Fagin Pan African Conference. The keynote speaker, Ericka Huggins, member of the Black Panther Party and political prisoner.

Huggins took a moment before responding.

“Take care of yourself to sustain a movement,” she answered.

It reminds me of the talk they give on airplanes before takeoff. In case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before you assist others.

People who are working to enact change in their communities, state, nation and world often do so tirelessly. They rarely rest and devote themselves to a cause. But that’s a recipe for burnout. I’m glad Huggins chose to tell the young woman that self-care is so important if you hope to care for others.

Huggins said that she meditates daily, something she picked up in prison nearly 50 years ago. In prison, the meditation kept her from losing her mind. She has the calm and thoughtful demeanor one would expect from someone who meditates regularly. In her talk, she often referenced love, how it’s love that has the power to transform the world.

I was so honored to hear her talk. If you get a chance, watch The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. I found it fascinating and eye-opening.

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.

Time to move to Plan B, or C, or D…

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Photo Credit: www.ilkkajukarainen.fi Flickr via Compfight cc

I have a group of students at the university who haven’t always taken a straight path to graduation. They’ve transferred schools, changed majors a few times, or in some cases, left school for many years before deciding to come back.

I recently read the reflection papers they submitted as part of their last course. Some wrote about their disappointments in getting poor grades or not getting accepted into programs they had their hearts set on. For many, this interdisciplinary studies degree was Plan B, or C, or D…

Here’s what one student wrote:

Let the learning and exploration take you on a path, instead trying to dictate it yourself. I immediately saw the correlation with my own academic career. I had been viewing my adult life as being on a “Plan B” path since I failed at becoming a teacher. However, I wasn’t weighing all the positive involvement activities I participated in, all the courses I did well with, and even all the learning that happened with courses I dropped. In my mind there had been no other option than to be a teacher or double major from a Wisconsin school. And there I was working as a development officer at a prestigious theater oblivious to how much my path had changed, how much I achieved, and most importantly, that that change was not a failure.

I left a variation of the same feedback for almost every student: “Your degree took you the time it was meant to take, and you were meant to be an interdisciplinary studies student.”

I have struggled with this concept myself at times — I have a plan for things and then feel disappointed when that plan doesn’t come to fruition. I have had to let go and realize there is something bigger going on.

I have a writing project that I have been working on since 1999. Yes, that’s right — almost 20 years. Sometimes I get impatient or down on myself, thinking thoughts like, if I were a better writer, I’d be able to kick this thing out. I see other writers who are so productive and produce a book a year. But quickly I try to banish those competitive thoughts. This book is taking a long time for a reason. It certainly has changed in the nearly 20 years I’ve been working on it, and I actually think the topic is more relevant than ever.

Is there a timetable you’ve struggled with? Have you been guided to a Plan B, a Plan C, etc., and now you understand the reason for the change?

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.

 

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?