murphyormel

wacky reflections from a nutcracker wannabe

Category: yoga

we topple over. we get back up.

We can only be authentically present with ourselves when we feel safe, loved and protected. And we can’t give that presence to others unless we find it within. The investigation of self is not only ever-changing and always within reach, but also assuredly a trail of wild and windy twists and topples and flops of fun.

As I was in a group setting seeking stillness and meditation this week, I found myself losing focus and wondering why. The setting? No. My energy level? No. Intention? No.

Instead, it was concern that I wasn’t in a safe place. Nor were my peers, also there to seek peace, held in a safe, sacred space. As I thoughtfully engaged my breathing and pushed out the “monkey mind,” I realized I would never reach a place of true stillness of self unless I could find a sacred place of safety and love. And ONLY by choosing completely to let the outside go.

You’ve likely heard the term “just be” or “to be present.” But how does one arrive at a place of presence while the world spins so chaotically around us?  Can we find stillness and safety in the chaos?

An Erich Schiffmann book, “Moving Into Stillness,” teaches the connection of life to a spinning top. “Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it is moving, but because it is spinning at full speed. Stillness is dynamic. Unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. Our lives however are more like a top that is NOT perfectly centered, instead wild, erratic and chaotic. We know we are alive. Stillness happens when we relax inside and are in harmony with ourselves.”*

But to find this stillness, I now see I must feel safe, loved, protected.  When your teenage children are first driving, “being present” is difficult as protective mama bear mode is on.  When a movie or book is disturbing to our senses, our balance of self is off kilter, and we may not sleep well.  If an ambulance or loud noise catches us off guard, our heart may race as we quickly worry for a loved one.  Essentially, fight or flight  responses send us toppling over.

So it is in the moments that precede and follow where we “practice” the opposite of chaos, and get back up.  We again search for the stillness of the perfectly centered top and find our personal harmony.  It is in those moments where we learn to be present and accept ourselves for whatever we are that day.  Meaning, it is enough to simply show up and “just be.”

You are enough.

white lights,

Mel

 

* http://www.movingintostillness.com/teachings.html

Be gentle with yourself.

Invited to join a new friend’s ‘chair yoga’ class at a local cancer treatment center today, I found a new sweetness to a practice I so love. Over 15 elderly cancer patients and survivors enjoyed their weekly one hour of stillness, healing, camaraderie, compassion and strength….from a chair. The practice of meditation (centering), breath-work (pranayam), warm ups (pratapana), asana (postures) and relaxation all remaining true to the core elements of yogic philosophy. There is beauty in knowing the room held a majority of chair users over the age of 80+.

All of whom have or had some form of cancer.

These yogi and yogini practitioners demonstrate that survival indeed prevails. I watched the gentleness with which they watched their own alignment and trusted their own inner yoga teacher. No ego, no judgment, just love and what yoga teaches us as foundation, meaning breath and oneness with self.  Sweetness indeed.

Asked to set an individual intention as traditional yoga teaches, these yogis likely selected very different types of intention than many of us able-bodied…..I often set intention for good health for my family, love partnerships that sustain, or that selfishly, my professional anxieties will dissipate; while today’s chair yoginis may very well cherish patience through chemotherapy, praying a former chair patient and friend stays out of hospice a more few weeks, financial stability allowing for further treatment, and/or best yet, signing the survivor quilt so proudly displayed in the entryway.

The lesson in walking away for me today wasn’t about sequence or structure or even body type, rather it was about introspection of self, fragility of spirit, strength of friendship, appreciation of stillness and knowing that age isn’t a number when we believe in ourselves… and finally, that all of us, regardless of strength, balance or flexibility, benefit from being one with the moment.

be gentle. with yourself. with your body. with your spirit.

Om shanti,

Mel

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 2.40.54 PMp/c: dailydoseofhannah.wordpress.com

a splendid bouquet of wildflowers.

I am blessed to have joined a splendid bouquet of wildflowers. And unexpectedly so. The journey for learning a craft I adore became an emotional journey of learning far beyond the mat. As such, wildflowers of all wonders, whimsy and open hearts embraced a me that is evolving and blossoming in its own right.

you, my sweet sukha sangha, are…..

  • wildflowers who are now my sisters.
  • wildflowers who accepted (and without judgment) my “stuff”, and in return shared your own pieces of broken
  • wildflowers who are now trusted ‘heart and souls’ – and demonstrated this purity visually while in silence through a human art landscape of supportive touch, love and steady sweetness.
  • wildflowers who were and are now shoulders for tears and hugs for moments of success
  • wildflowers who experienced very real altered states of being at my side; thus, strengthening our individual paths and containers of being… to be stronger friends, parents, children, lovers, students and teachers

You are my newfound pasture of splendid wildflowers.  And I thank you for gifting me your kindness and inspiration.

Four weeks living in like-minded community is a lot like kid camp. Sneaking downstairs in our PJs (without shoes, yes, breaking more rules) to get milk for cookies before bed. Sharing walks in the deep snow on breaks or the dark labyrinth of the evening cold. Selfies anywhere and everywhere, even as we quizzed flashcards of Sanskrit in a hip Hartford bar just before entering the bubble and world of no alcohol, clean eating and little-to-no caffeine. Studying and stressing (or not) in pairs, teams and 1:1 very late and very early to graduate without “the note”. Laughing, laughing and laughing- during practice, during breath-work, during meditation (snoring does occur), and of course, during silent meals.  Breaking more rules with the massage tables / secret Reiki sessions. And of course….talk about boys and boys and boys.  That’s camp at its best, except there wasn’t a cool kid group or the ‘mean girls’ to shut anyone out.  Every wildflower is accepted.

We opened our heart to new experiences (tongue scrapers and neti pots for nasal irrigation) and new foods (squasharoni, the kitchari cleanse, lima bean soup, chai, chai and more chai….and again with the kale).  We learned over four weeks of long days that stillness is a gift but not ideal when we are told NOT to talk. We did laundry as New England took the Superbowl. We cried, cleansed, Om’d and rocked some serious postures to depths that screamed, “I want more” or “I hate this”. (Next time, I choose a side plank series over a 20-minute bridge. That, I can rock!)

Years ago, a spiritual and wonderful friend told me, “nothing happens by accident, Melissa.”  He was right.*

  • One lovely wildflower said, “you don’t have to be good.  You just have to love what you love”.
  • The lovely Marina whose first language isn’t English and now “loves Americans” because of the sangha
  • James the Bold.  Enough said.
  • Audrey, a beautiful South American flower, who gushes love, language and hugs, and told us “grandma would shower us with roses” (and personally, the only wonderfully sentimental doll, who could use the word “climax” in a practice teach and make it sing!)
  • Dietlind, I thank you for sharing that you too now see you hadn’t been taking full, healthy breaths for far too long before this experience.  We both walk away knowing stillness can be ours again.
  • The youthful (not just in age), energetic group of women who ran at lunch, played in the snow, planned a polar bear plunge, played fire starter, sung Dixie Chics without a trial run, showed their bad ass dance selves and engaged in friendship and love regardless of age or background.  Cheers to being so brave and opening, as your paths begin and dharma unveils.
  • Justin and Rob, two of the most authentic and loving men I’ve known.  Neither afraid to be just who they are and accept and give love to all.  Wit, intelligence, love for the Earth and Karmic yoga and substance.  I am honored to learn from both of you.  We love you “like the sun loves the moon” too.
  • To Sohini, the smart, authentic ayurvedic expert who smiled and concurrently screamed Jai on the way home when her car was pulled over, and there we were.  You make me want to be healthier, learn the peruvian wind chimes and spray rose water 24/7 to have your youthful skin.
  • The woman of wisdom who from ages 35-70 fell into my category of “about our age”….shared chicken dinners and gluten free treats in a private suite after scoldings for talking, kicked some major ass in tough asana, loved on the young teachers as their own children, could read hearts in silence with just a look, and eloquently offered wisdom with love, laughter and tears of their own.
  • Heather, Lindsey and Kyle, your growth from beginning to end was powerful and rich to watch.  And the bravery it takes to share with the full sangha is enviable to all of us a little broken.  And all three of you are bad ass yoga teachers!
  • To the love doctor, Tam, who wears a purposeful Wednesday pink for breast health awareness and gave me permission to trash all L. Hay books blaming me for my own cancer, thank you for understanding the high achieving family, and please know I’m thrilled for your husband’s love of your newfound porn-star teacher voice (I do what I can).
  • To our sweet Shari, do not ever grow up. Your baby girl will be proud of her strong mama for owning her own path. She trumps all.
  • Bridget, the young,strong, feminist, who I instantly adored for her intellect, depth of activism and beautifully clear path of where she can make a difference in this world.  Today, she lands in Santiago to begin living Gandi’s words, “Be the change…” when the words she left with us were, “Everything you do may be insignificant, but do it anyway”.  I found myself with this motherly instinct and want to mentor this wonderfully, gifted woman with a big future.
  • To Doug and Colleen, who offered me strength, a shoulder, kindness, resources for my over-the-top reader addiction and reminders to love myself. And who didn’t showcase their impressive professional lives while in community. You are simply deep, down goodness and heart.
  • To the ‘outgoing, introvert’ and former Navy pilot, Sheldon, who stayed true to his room/mat placement, engaged with few but reminded me I can open my heart again, I am much more than what I do professionally, and to not only look back on my “puddle of was” with respect, but to also give myself a break for that which I can’t control.
  • To my new sister, Sudha, whom I met in December as a roommate but quickly became my best friend. We appeared polar opposites in every way, and I am so incredibly touched what I learned from you in our days of silliness and rule-breaking. You never stopped laughing and loving me.  And boy, could I use some more yoga with you at my side.

The transformation junkie, the energetic and compassionate zumba teacher, the ‘loves to hug’ skier who eaves dropped via sign language skills in the whirlpool, the lovely flower whose parents think she joined Hare Krishna, to more than just one teacher who learned not “to feed the bad wolf”, to all of us who can now LinkedIn we speak a second language of Sanskrit, and to my corporate peer, Adele, the rockin’ cool attorney who co-lectured with me, and somehow found a way to use “conclusively” and “dude” in the same sentence.

A field of wildflowers brings together difference and same in one lovely image. You, my sweet and steady sangha, are a breathtaking image of meditation in motion, bravery and sweetness.  Ong Namo. **

Om Shanti and Jai,

Mel

* Over 12 years ago, I fell in love with Sukha yoga center and my hero, Sarah, ignited a passion for stillness. June of 2012, I blog posted a Dana Faulds, poem, Sangha. And last week, the “Super Sukha Sangha” class graduated as Kripalu Yoga Teachers. Nothing happens by accident. Jai.

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Snatam Kaur/ ‘Ong Namo’  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1XCS0g6J4A

The mat is a magical place. Just breathe.

“Breathing gives man strength, vitality, inspiration, and magic powers.” – Chuang Tzu[1]

Teaching college coursework and years of public speaking in advance of yoga teacher training gave me confidence in front of a group. Prep work, delivery of material, study of my 20+ year professional world and critical lingo to the subject. Check!  But to be in the real seat for the first time in this new world as a Yogini Tour Guide – a world that brings me deeply profound and personal passion and emotion that I don’t teach in a college class room- has indeed been humbling. The mat is safe. It is sacred. It is mine.

I knew having fun was key. I knew prep, material, time and sharing an authentic me would make for a strong teacher and rich class experience where students want to follow and return. But when the bell rings and class starts, I am again reminded this journey of a beautiful practice of asana, pranayam and anatomy take time to strengthen (a practice of its own), and they are looking to me to guide them through a journey, an experience not for a grade or degree but for something deeper and heartfelt.

My magic wand of knowledge can indeed be magic only if treated with respect, integrity, candor, knowledge, selflessness and loving-kindness to the body.

The opposing forces of knowing what I have learned thus far; however, are causing me internal angst. I know just enough to be a yogini snob, meaning test my own waters of ego, as I briefly return to the role of student. I’m struggling with alternatively trained or not trained teachers leading postures that I now know are risky to my body and full of ‘Simon Says’ moments and ego. I find myself having to breathe deeply and let go of my want to correct their approach, cry out or protect my neighbor who doesn’t know any better. Certainly, this is some awareness to Santosha[2] (ethical concept of Indian Philosophy, one of the Niyamas meaning contentment, satisfaction) I didn’t see coming my way. But I continue to come back: 1. To remain faithful to my mat. 2. To observe this experience as it continues or dissipates. This “practice” of letting it go- like letting a passing car go without thinking about the passengers or destination – is the test.  And my self-reported inability or insecurity around the concept of “letting go” is an entirely separate blog post. 🙂

The most significant observation I’m practicing today is the role itself, meaning Teacher v Student. Sure, I can prep the class sequence with planes of movement in pratapana (warm-ups), teach basic pranayama, explain benefits/contraindications for varying asana, share a poem or reflection for meditation prior to Savasana, etc., but guiding someone’s personal journey doesn’t require a course syllabus.

As I continue this transition from student to teacher and back to student, I continue to observe my ability to be in the moment (or not). A student yogini for many years, I know my own body, I shift when good pain turns to bad, I adjust/realign based on my own anatomy, and I know to breathe thoughtfully in order to maintain my balance. I don’t even think when I do these things, the mat is the magic carpet with a guide leading the way.

So now, I face a world knowing far more about anatomy, philosophy and pranayam (breath work) than ever before. Acting as the tour guide not the traveler is a shift of self-awareness, breath, and trust. I must be AHEAD of the moment for the students’ experience and protection rather than IN the moment with my own body. And most importantly, I must learn to let go of my own ego as “teacher”. I am honored to know what I have been taught thus far, but realize this is simply the beginning of the practice as teacher.

Joyfully and with thoughtful intention, I commit to inhale the experience and accept my opportunities for change as new learnings of discipline, philosophy, acceptance, non-judgment and friendship emerge.

The mat is a magical place. Just breathe.

Om Shanti,

Mel

[1] Anatomy and Asana, Suzi Hately, Section 3:Principles, pg. 27

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santosha

“the only corner of the world you can change is your own.”

The only corner of the world you can change is your own“, my yoga teacher, Sarah, said these words to me- and bizarrely, I dated the quote 3/13.  Oddly, that date hasn’t arrived yet, and I held on to it when I can’t explain why today.  Regardless, she has been my healer for over 10 years- not knowing her wise words would do the trick and/or how often I call up words she said to me years ago during a Sunday morning practice.

Even if I haven’t had the energy to be back in her studio in some time, I go back to the mat in my living room even just to sit, when my body can’t do more than simple asanas and sometimes just breathe, because even that is some form of healing and brings calm in a most needed moment.

I am one week from returning to work and strangely my anxiety is incredibly high.  I am terribly bored at home and sleep nearly 18 of 24 hours on a good day, so you’d think returning would be ideal.  I really enjoy what I do, so that isn’t the issue either- in fact, I’ve missed some great successes with a talented team.  Seems like I should be thrilled to return, and yet, I’m wondering if the reality of returning to an every day cycle of life without the mess of my life swirling so close to me and “out there” is what has me anxious today.  Is it that folks will expect normalcy when I don’t know what normal is anymore?  Is it that I have to face the next phase head on with a more positive lingering of sickness?

Sure, I will do this silly junior mint cancer thing again in a year, but my intuition says I will get the A and finally a negative read and thankfully, the nightmare of this mess will be over.  Is it that a wonderful man from my past wants a real relationship, and I’m terrified of letting anyone down or being hurt myself ?  That jealousy takes over, and I can’t find a way to manage this hurt that he didn’t create.

And my sweet girl….I’m humiliated at what I have put her through in the last few years.  Am I teaching her anything with these sweet mistakes – meaning, vulnerability, humility, giving of my heart and believing in people, or am I hurting her when I can’t get it right and so many others do?  (ok, that alone is its own blog post with a divorce rate so high and more people concerned about my junior mint experience than the loss of a marriage)

I have been reading this great book, “A Wild New World” by Martha Beck. She talks about being a wayfinder, a healer.  What she doesn’t say is in direct correlation with my wise yogi teacher and wayfinder, Sarah, “the only corner of the world you can change is your own”.  She speaks of feeling from within, going into wordlessness and using the power of energy to feed and feel others interconnectedness, others “oneness” (ironically, a previous blog post- are we all interconnected after all?).  Folks who are highly creative, emotional and often gregarious on the outside but have a deep need for quiet on the inside are often part of this “Team” as she refers to this membership of sorts.  What I love is where it takes me- somewhere outside of my own life, somewhere possible to make change.

So Sarah through me to Ms. Beck herself are now interconnected, as “the only corner of the world we can change is our own.”  We simply each find our own way to change our corner.  I, however, am still searching.

Cheers to deep breathing, closing our eyes and feeling our insides sing and love that exists, even when we don’t feel so lovable.

I am blessed.  Just have trouble seeing it sometimes.  I suspect I am not alone.

Mel

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