To Get In The Water, You Have to Trust It

Tonight is the YOGA Garden Spring Equinox class! All proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood of Minnesota. Here’s the schedule:


Meditation – 6:00 – 6:20, $5 (lead by yours truly)

All-Levels Vinyasa Yoga – 6:30 – 8:00, $15 (taught by all the YOGA Garden teachers)


 

With the Equinox, as the sun is half way between our darkest day of the year, and our lightest day of the year, our seasons are starting to follow that light, and come into the time of WATER. This class is first for the YOGA Garden studio and community, tagging on the popularity of our Winter Solstice class, and following our studio theme of using the five elements and the concept of cycles as descriptors for the physical body and our lives.

WATER COMING OUT OF EARTH, THE NEXT CYCLE OF THE YEAR:

WATER is motion, and fluidity, and flow. It is the first stage in any progress. It is change. It can also be chaos, and upheaval, and destruction. It is said to be the most powerful of the elements because it can move earth, cause wind, extinguish fire, and interact with ether in the form of clouds. Here in Minnesota, we get seasons that allow us to see a cycle mapped onto the calendar year very clearly: While we’ve been in the part of the year that signifies earth, our world has been (largely) frozen. Things are still, and dark, and quiet. This concept is where support lives. In yoga poses, it is our foundation – our feet, hands, knee, whatever body part meets the mat. In our lives it is our home to protect us from the elements (or predators, if we look at the history of human-dom). It is our supply of nourishment and financial means. When the concept and quality of earth is in excess, it is also where things get stuck and stifling.

BUT NOW, WE ARE MOVING INTO THE TIME OF WATER

AND SO A STORY!

(Duh, this is me writing.)
Cynthia Occelli seed quote

Just like the new seeds that will soon be making their way out of the Earth as plants, they
need water before they can bust open and start growing. Just like a pose that you want to be able to do… Just like a goal that you want to achieve in your life… Just like the notion that cellular turnover within the body promotes healing and growth… we need water before we can grow.

Yoga is not a path to achieve perfection.

Of course, Instagram might imply otherwise, but go with me for a moment: If you got into ANY new venture expecting perfection you would surely receive a fat dose of disappointment – ahem, the ol’ “you can’t learn to swim ’till you get into the water.” (See how I worked that in there??) Now for some of us, we love a new adventure – we’ll throw caution to the wind and try anything for the sake of “let’s see what happens.” Bravo to us. May we have excellent health insurance for the times when we go too far in that direction.

But the idea of getting into the water is terrifying for some of us.

We don’t know how deep it is, we’re not sure if we’re going to like what it feels like, and what’s more, we have no idea what’s under the surface or where we might end up once we GET into the water… These are real feelings, and they are real limitations. Sometimes our limitations protect us. And sometimes they hold us back. So, let’s look at the process:

Theres No Such Thing As PerfectJust because we can’t be perfect (there’s no such thing as perfect – click heels – there’s no such thing as perfect – click heels…) doesn’t mean we don’t want to be better. We all want to improve, and we want our improvement to have a ripple effect to allow us to better our family, financial status, community, etc. But getting into the water requires a lot of trust.

And so if you’re not a person who can easily embrace the adventure, the challenge, the flowing rush that water can bring us; If instead, you’re stuck in dread or disapproval of the inevitable change, I’ll steal one of the teaching concepts of classical yoga:

Aparigraha or “non-possessiveness.”

It is one of the five Yamas or “restraints,” which is one of the eight limbs used to explain and describe the path to enlightenment, as per classical Astanga (or eight-limbed) yoga. Now, in Tantric yoga, we take these concepts and tools for “enlightenment,” and observe how they weave through the process of creation down here in our current life on Earth.

So…. non-possessiveness. Letting go. Allowing your fear, your resisting, your anxiety to be separate from you in this moment. Allowing yourself to try something new, even when you don’t know what its going to be like. Even when it seems a little awkward. A little weird. And even if you can’t shake these feelings, if you can’t figure out how to allow trust to replace these feelings… Maybe you just take your anxiety, and your fear with you. Let it sit there, but ask that it also allow room on the mat for trust. Trust, that you are in the presence of friends, and competent teachers, who will allow you to try and fail. Who will allow you to test the waters. To find your own flow, your own fuel.

It takes a lot of TRUST to get in the water.

Namaste, Calley

MBSR: Mindfulness Weeks #2 & 3

So, I live in a bubble. Actually, we all live in a bubble.

mbsrWe usually don’t like to THINK that we live in a bubble. It’s much nicer to our ego to assume that we are worldly and aware. Except that what we know from science, and what we know from practice, is that our reality is shaped by our experiences. You cannot know that which you have not experienced. Hence, innately, you have a limited perspective. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. It’s no one’s fault. Its just the way it is. #YoureOnlyHuman #GiveYourselfABreak

This is part of what mindfulness teaches us. It is also what the act and process of learning teaches us. (Thank – you Dad, the career educator who jammed all kinds of statistics about learning (10-year-old-Calley-eye-roll), and processes (double yen-year-old-Calley-eye-roll) into my young brain. I finally appreciate all that research information, and have accepted my own human-imperfect-state enough to say out loud, “YES, I LIVE IN A BUBBLE, AND MOST DAYS I’M NOT EVEN AWARE OF IT.” Until I am. Until we are. This is also why classes and groups are a great way to learn new things. Because while you are learning one thing, taking in information by understanding things as they relate to you, someone else is learning something entirely different, based on their experiences and way they take in information. You’re both in the same class, but your experience of the class is going to be different.

So here is what I learned about my buuble this week, by observing my experiences against the others in my MBSR class. And it was a good reminder of something I try to be very conscious of in my teaching, and to explore in my own mind, body, and breath: Practice is something that takes… well, PRACTICE. As someone who’s been practicing sports and dance and music since I was 5, and practicing yoga since I was 19, I have come to love my practices. Sometimes I do the imperfect human thing and have a little trouble making time every day for my current practices (yoga, meditation, singing, writing), but almost every time I practice, I love it.

But not everyone feels that way.

You mean, not everyone is just all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to get down to practicing!?

snow-white (,said Snow White…)

No… No.

Often, beginning a new practice is uncomfortable. Often it feels odd, and unsettling, and we loose a sense of “I know what I’m doing.” We all want to know what we’re doing. But that’s what learning and practice are about. They are about un-doing what you “know,” and exploring what you think you “understand.” And I remember that when I, myself, have been going through tough times, the actual process of a practice might not be entirely pleasant. We’re faced with fears, which we rarely like to admit. We’re faced with insecurities and negative beliefs about ourselves, and – gasp – weaknesses. We’re faced with the scars of our unpleasant life experiences. And we’re faced with stuff we didn’t even know we were dealing with, or hiding, or trying to get away from, or thought we had dealt with. So this whole practice thing takes a lot of work, and humility, and courage to go through – not around, or between, or skip onto the “fast track” stones, but THROUGH – all that stuff buried in your psyche.

But once you DO go through it… once you allow yourself to sit with it, and look at it, and just accept that its here. It’s in your lap. It’s covering you in something stanky… once you can just be there with it, and then get pulled away… and come back to it for a little more time… and then get pulled away… and come back, and get pulled away, and so on and so forth… there is something at the end that feels really really good. Like you figured something out. Like you worked hard. 

And so, after 3 weeks of my MBSR class with Terry Pearson at The Marsh, I am reminded that I have learned to enjoy the process of practice like an old good friend who will sit with you when you scrape your knee. Because they are a good friend, they’re sure-as-shit gonna pour something on that scrape that’ll hurt for a second, or maybe a minute. But its temporary, and then they’re gonna say, “hey, you can cry (scream / sweat / bleed / fart / etc.). It’s ok, you’re dealing with something, I’m here for you.” I have come to enjoy the benefit of that process, and focus on that benefit over the discomfort that the process sometimes brings.

But not everyone is there. And hey – I don’t know their experiences – maybe its way more painful for them than it is for me, I don’t know. I can’t know. And some days its not roses for me either. But I recognize that with so many years of practice under my belt, my mind is perfectly happy to be in a place of “practice.” Things do get easier with time, and I literally have thousands of hours of time in practice to my experience. But setting the foundation for a practice takes ….well, I bet you can finish my sentence…

practice

Which is why I freaking LOVE this video that simplifies and de-bunks common thought about meditation (from the perspective of those who have not developed a practice.):

 

How

HOW -Its all just information. What you do with it is what we call practice or process. How you practice shapes the patterns of your life.

Ok, you’re stuck.

But when we don’t know HOW to get better, move past it, get over it, shrug it off, push through, etc., it can feel like a lost cause. We all – myself included – have fallen subject to that old voice that tells us that we’re different… a loner… an odd ball out. Someone offers a remedy – a correction – and the immediate pattern of the mind goes to, “They don’t understand.”

Which may be true! They don’t understand. But that is not the point, right? The point is you feel lost and frustrated as to why you can’t seem to do the thing you want to do. You’re stuck. And this always happens. And you don’t know why it always seems to happen to you.

Ok, what does this have to do with Warrior II? Yoga is about bringing a union – a connection – between what we think, what we feel, and what we do. Meaning that every idea we have, has a physical pattern in time. When our thoughts about our physical abilities are challenged… and changed (wink, wink)… and the physical result of that is being able to perform a new physical pose… well, then, what does that say about our other thought patterns? Which brings me to my new favorite phrase of late:

THOUGHTS become THINGS

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to forget – or maybe you didn’t know – that the brain is able to change beyond stuck. (Thanks Dr. Ruth Buczynski PhD.)

When you can look at your problem, and the factors which contributed to why you are stuck, with different eyes… maybe hear it as a different problem… maybe just be willing to try something different even if you’re 99% sure its not going to work… now we’re getting to the inside of HOW.

SO THIS IS THE TRICKY LITTLE SWITCH TO FLIP.

When you don’t know how, or you’ve lost your hope that you can figure it out…well, you have to be willing to try something different. And you may not know immediately if this idea / remedy / tool / practice tactic is going to work, but in order to even try the idea / pick up the tool / attempt the practice tactic, you have to make that switch from impossible to possible. And it can be helpful to know that the very pattern of the mind that got you here, can help you get out. WHAA??  Ok, this is cool, stick with me.

Observe where you are for a moment. Observe what was either lacking or in excess that put you in this place. Now imagine that the very process which brought you here to this crappy, stuck place, is the backwards process to getting out of it. Here’s 3 ways to look at this idea:

#1) SIMPLE WORDS

MIND –> perceives what it sees (influence).
 
FOCUS –> shift from moving out a.k.a. “external experience,” to moving inward a.k.a. “internal experience.”
 
FEEL –> use perception and labeling of external to perceive and label internal
 
–> From here, we learn to feel MORE, and in DIFFERENT ways
 

#2) UNDERSTANDING NEUROPLASTICITY

 Print

#3) TRY IT BACKWARDS

Try It Backwards
Hopefully this gives you a new way to look at HOW… which is how it happens in the first place. ✨✨✨✨

Things We Tell Ourselves

I went to the bank today, aFEEL.jpgnd ended up chatting with the teller about yoga. He told me he once went to a class without too much thought about it, and was surprised at how different it was than he was expecting. I was reminded of the first two months that I practiced yoga. I remember thinking, “WHAT am I doing? I don’t even understand what’s happening here.” Even though I felt clumsy, and awkward, and pretty insecure about the whole thing… I also was kind of addicted to how much better I felt when I was done. So it was worth it to keep going, and keep trying. It was after about three months of weekly classes that I finally felt like I could comprehend what my body was supposed to be doing. And THEN I could start to refine the basic actions, focus on breathing… all the stuff we attempt to do with this thing called yoga.

If you’ve never practiced yoga before, its likely that you think of it as “good for you,” or “I know I should do it,” or “I’m not very good at it.”

Maybe your narrative is something else, but I’m willing to bet that there IS an existing narrative. This is a normal and important part of being human: intellectual discernment. We label things, and make judgements about situations and people and things, so that we can understand them. Judgement is not necessarily a bad thing…. but with the process of practicing yoga, comes a decomposition of our fixed judgements, or your “inner narrative.” As you physically start to understand what your body does by default, and how you can start to create the flexibility, strength, and control to adjust that default, your beliefs about what you are capable of, and what is possible starts to also change…

Sometimes the sheer process of practicing will bring these “yoga-piphanies,” as I like to call them. But the more I practice, the more I learn that as my brain will follow my body, I can also switch that relationship around. Body also follows brain, and if you are willing to change the things you tell yourself from:

I can’t,”

I’m nervous,”

I’m not sure if I’m doing it right,” etc…

into:

I’ll try,”

I know I’ll get this eventually

I’MA BADDASS OUTTAH MY WAY

Or you know, whatever you’d like to tell yourself… I bet you’ll find the results as interesting as I do.

So I encourage us all to be careful with “these things we tell ourselves.” Your brain and your body are more linked than you think.

10313324_10105704786713630_55739205661043419_n.jpg

Yoga for that mental thing you’re trying to get under control

I’m writing this post for any and all who are trying to overcome their own selves.

(Yes, I’m aware that was not a grammatically correct sentence. This is a private yoga blog, not the New York Times.)

First things first: you are the only one who can tell what you are feeling. Whether or not you are struggling. Whether or not the habits and routines and people in your life are actually helping you or not. So as you read this, please use your intelligent if somewhat stressed and over-taxed brain to determine whether or not these sentences are true for YOU.

I’m seeing ailment all around me. Anxiety. Depression. Panic attacks. Lethargy. Feeling strangely disconnected from… maybe you don’t even know what. Perhaps I’m seeing this more because now I’m teaching yoga. Maybe its because this time last year I was in my own pit of depression, and I’m grateful that one year later I’m effectively on the other side of the wheel.

In my opinion, the biggest misconception about mental health is that you can’t help yourself. You need doctors and expensive medications to fix you. And when those don’t really work or you don’t like the way they feel, then you’re a lost, broken cause. You feel like no one gets it. No one sympathizes. No one wants to help, and even if they did want to, they can’t. 

Well that sucks. And it doesn’t seem to be working. Shall we try something different? I know, different is scary. It’s not familiar. It’s probably not comfortable. But is it comfortable where you are?

(By the by, you’ve heard of the placebo effect? Why does it work? Because we believe we’re taking something that is helping us. We believe.)

THIS MIND SHIT AIN’T NO HIPPIE JOKE, PEOPLE.  I digress.

We know that moving our bodies is good for us. We know that breathing is good for us. Often the problem that gets added to that health salad is the demon spice: trying to do too much. Causing more injury (mental or physical) than good.

The hardest thing – especially when you’re going through something hard – is that it’s going to be hard for a little while. You have to be willing to stick with your own progress, and you might have to change your expectations as to how much progress will be made. And you HAVE to be willing to start with something easy and build from there.

And this is why my guiding word for the year is SMALL.

And, preaching what I teach, I’m not actually doing it for you guys. If you want to hop on board and help yourself, by all means. But I’m doing this for me. To remind myself that if I want to grow, I have to first be willing to be small. And I might need to be small for a while, until I gain the strength to grow bigger. And no, I’m not patting myself on the back for figuring this out and suddenly all my problems are gone. Some days I kick myself when I realize that for days or weeks on end my expectations have been unrealistic. And then I remind myself to NOT kick myself, and to go smaller… start with being grateful that I figured OUT that I need to go smaller. And then do a small thing. A breath. A bath. One minute of breathing with my eyes closed. Laying on my tired back and just… laying there. Damn, that feels good, maybe I’ll stay a while. Maybe I WILL get my ass out of bed and go to my colleague’s yoga class. And maybe I won’t because what I really need is to chill out alone for a morning.

This is my process. I don’t know yours, and I can’t. I’m not you. But we DO know that the person who will make the biggest difference in your life – in the way you feel – is you. You have to want to help yourself. You have to believe that you can try. It’s that simple. And its amazing how challenging simple is because the people in our lives have all kinds of opinions that have clouded it. Pretty much, we’re just a bunch of humans running around in life, trying.

Try: it starts by doing something small and celebrating your tiny ass step.

Simple Repetition


There has been a re-occurring theme that keeps surfacing in fairly different areas of my life this year: overcoming fear.

We all have fears.

For some of us even admitting that we are fearful of something IS the fear. (ahem, not that I know anyone like that, because I’m always fearless and powerful, and amazing. Oh wait. That’s a lie.) And if you’re anything like me, the fear comes from a bad habit: comparing ourselves and our skill(s) with those of people who happen to be better at said skill than we are, and expecting that we should somehow magically be as good as said person, even though we are avoiding the very thing that would bring about improvement.  Sound familiar?

You’ll hear me say it a lot: I approach yoga from a practical stance. One of the ways I have combatted some of my fears — and an approach I used DAILY as a classroom teacher and private lessons instructor is this concept:

Overcome your fears with simple repetition.

I got the idea from for this post from reading this article today (thanks to the lovely yogini Laurel Van Matre of Yoga Garden), and I love this quote from the article:

Article courtesy of Fast Company 

“The notion that a habit takes 21 days to form if you stick to it every day is a myth, says psychologist Jeremy Dean in his book Making Habits, Breaking Habits.

On average, a habit takes more like 66 days to form, with more intensive habits like doing 50 sit-ups every morning taking around 84 days to form, according to research out of University College of London that Dean references in his book. 

But these figures will often vary greatly from person to person.

In its simplest form, repetition is how habits are created. If you really think about it, this is how we create our lives. Most of what we do every day is simply a series of habits: where you buy your groceries, what time you leave for work in the morning, who you call when you’re having a bad day, the first thing you do when you walk in the door… Creating new habits is hard because its unfamiliar. But breaking it down into something simple. And repetitive
And repetitive
And repetitive
And repetitive
And repetitive
And repetitive
And repetitive…

…makes it easier to pave the way for a new habit. Enter my argument (again) that Ashtanga is GREAT for the following people:

Avoiders stand proud! 
Procrastinators unite! 
There’s-not-enough-timer-ers stay busy! 
The fearful, shameful, and trepidatious be meek!

If you already know this is who you are, why worry so much about changing? Find a yoga that works for you!

Ashtanga IS simple repetition. 

It’s the same set of poses, in the same sequence. So it’s a little easier, in my opinion, to create a new yoga habit with Ashtanga because there’s no room for “If I try to practice on my own, I don’t know what to do next,” which is when the demons and distractions take over. Of course if you look at an entire 90-minute Ashtanga Primary Series you’ll freak out because it looks like alien behavior. But remember, people who can do an entire series of Ashtanga have been practicing for YEARS, and probably on a daily basis. It’s OK to just learn parts of it, and repeat that. Progress happens because of repetition. Whatever you repeat is what progresses. So focus on something simple and it will be easier to stick with it.