“I’ve reached the floor. There’s nothing there.”

Hand FloorI remember the first time I heard someone say that phrase in reference to yoga. It struck me how very ahead of myself I was.

This idea is very “BE HERE NOW…” however, we live in a very DISTRACTED time. So maybe a little demand on the current moment ain’t such a bad thing, for some of us.

In applying tantric philosophy, we focus on ourselves as a system. There are innumerable possibilities for what we should be focusing on in our body, mind, heart, spirit today in order to reach this goal of “insert pose.”

So the goal for me in this particular class was half moon, and

4671138c3c850fa635dd8dfe5dd149e1
Ray Long, M.D. 

we were approaching it from standing up. It started with a standing thigh stretch, then I pressed my bent-leg foot more firmly into the binding hand in order to pitch my weight forward. And then, for me, came the challenge. While I’m breathing and huffing, and TRYING to focus, all I really wanted to was to get my goddamned hand to the floor. That’s the pose, so that’s what I wanted. And then those words from my teacher at the front of the room: “Guys, slow down, feel your breath, feel where you are connected into your legs… so maybe today you don’t reach the floor, that’s not the point. I’ve reached the floor, there’s nothing there!”

And suddenly it dawned on me that I was truly missing the point. I mean… yeah, once you get your hand on the floor, what? Up opens a magic portal and you’re suddenly welcomed through the doors of enlightenment, showered in champaign and those delicious asian rice sticks? No… no. So WTF, Calley! Just stand here. Feel the strength of your leg muscles, the grip of your hand on your foot. Feel that as you get stronger in your legs, your hips start to soften and open up so that I can shift my weight farther forward. And then suddenly I could see that one day – if I stayed where I was, and focused on that, allowed the growth and the strength and the flexibility to come as it will… that one day I would reach the floor. And there would be a mountain of rice sticks.

Nearly ten years later, I don’t even remember when I actually reached the floor. I don’t really remember how long I’ve been doing the full version of Half Moon. But does it matter? No. Because some days I still fall. (Like life.) Some days I notice that I’m pinching in my back, or not using the front of my thigh muscles… I’m ignoring something. (Like life.) But that’s why we practice. To gain strength, to keep strength. To move through our lives with our bodies, and to notice what we’re doing and not doing, so that we can use more of ourselves physically, and learn more of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

 

Hot damn, I love me some spicy asian rice sticks. Hope to practice with you soon.

Namaste, Calley

Yoga For You? Yes. Yoga With Calley? You Be The Judge.

Hello readers –

I start teaching TWO NEW CLASSES this week at Modus Locus, a community space in S. Minneapolis, starting bright and early tomorrow morning at 8am. See the calendar with class descriptions here on the Modus Locus website.

We all know “yoga is good for you.” I’ll refine that a bit and say that gentle movement of the body that activates the muscles and mobilizes the joints in a safe way, while stretching the brain’s concept of “body awareness,” is, indeed, good for you. In a world where there are free yoga classes in every park, how do you decide what is the right place for you to familiarize – or continue – the learning process of your body and life through yoga?

I’ll start with a caveat, focusing on my word above – safe. This could be a whole other soap box for a whole other blog post, but for today I’ll just say this: in a world where many of the images of yoga we see as marketing material are very skilled practitioners with advanced practices doing advanced poses, its easy to get away from the fundamentals and foundation of what a yoga practice is for.

So here it is, folks: My “THIS IS THE YOGA I TEACH NUTSHELL”:

A time and place to unify your body, mind, life experiences, and spirit into safe and applicable movement and stillness for you, as they exist today. 

So THIS is what I aim to teach every day. Where are you today? Where is your life? Where is your body? Where is there mobility in your body, where do you feel your breath? In our western establishment of medicine, we largely treat our bodies like a sum of parts. The reason I have stuck with yoga and opted out of sparkly ideas about getting a nursing degree, or a behavioral counselor’s license is this: I am interested in not only getting you to think about the sum of your parts. I’m interested in getting you to think about all of what makes your body and your life. Your body is a system, just like your life. Yes, there are parts. And yes, occasionally there are parts that break down, or get injured. But those parts are connected to other parts. Learning to connect your body to work together as one optimally productive unit is like an insurance plan for when one of the parts breaks down – it has a strong connection and access to the strength of all those other parts.

In the last year I’ve been specifically doing a lot of reading about the nervous system. As a creative mind myself, I spent eleven years making a living in a performance and performance-teaching realm, all the while learning and bulking up my knowledge base of yoga and related healing practices and modalities. After eleven years of study and practice, and after learning how to transform my own body from a sickly pile to a resilient, strong being, I took a dive into this world of “teaching yoga.” And as a person who gets giddy like a goldilocks about connecting the concept of “create,” and “body state,” in ways that can be practically explained and practiced, the nervous system is, to me – and in our modern world of medicine – the vast mystery we are trying to learn more about in quantifiable ways. THIS IS WHY I TEACH.

I’m fascinated by the effect that experience has on us. When you go to a concert of music you love, when you are engaged in building something, or riding a motorcycle, or reading a book, or maybe even writing a book – any activity that brings you joy – when you are actively participating in the thing that brings you joy, you feel different. You have a sense of care-free-ness. You feel light, and happy.

By contrast when you’re presented with a problem – you get an awful cold, your boss gets mad at you, you are the boss and you’re mad at an employee, something in your house breaks, or, you know, something in your life breaks… you feel stuck. Frustrated, angry, or just plain sad and miserable. All of these experiences play out into our bodies, in an over-simplified explanation through small individual components called neuropeptides (among a host of other physical functions that are simultaneously happening – remember, the body is a system.)

So these neuropeptides are like signals for the nervous system. As stated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “neuropeptides are the most diverse class of signaling molecules in the brain engaged in many physiological functions.”

THIS IS MY JAM, FOLKS! And its why I play specific music in my classes. It’s why I cue you to feel where your breath feels good. We all want more good in our lives. And while we can’t avoid the reality of “oh shit, that just happened,” what we are learning is that through PRACTICE, we can learn to participate in the very basic functions of our brain, and therefor body. We can chose to turn our attention, our focus, to practice and breathe in a certain way. We can choose to address or ignore the “parts” of our lives that are causing ailment. We can create guidelines, which, with practice, become habits that help us to move forward in the ever-changing wheel that is life.

We learn to observe all the parts of our lives, so that piece by piece, day by day, pose by pose, we can create a life that is abundant in health and happiness.

This. This is what I aim to teach. Yoga is so much more than poses to me. And we are so much more than just a pile of skin, muscles, and bones, just as our lives are so much more than just making money and owning things.

We are a complex system, us humans. I am endlessly inspired and energized to participate in learning about my own existence and health, and to aid in that process for any who come to take yoga practice with me.

Namaste, CalleyYOGA WITH CALLEY2

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

Dr. David Simon on KFAI Radio Twin Cities

“We remind them of their capacity to create inner joy… and what we find is their illness gets better… most likely whatever the psychological or physical illness you’re suffering from will become less.” – Dr. David Simon on KFAI Radio Twin Cities

THIS IS THE SHIZ, FOLKS.

imgresOk, I know I tend to get a little pedantic and dramatic. (Imagine that, a yogi and creative type.) But seriously, when I opened up the live stream of Radio KFAI on my computer for the first time, thanks to my student Genna (THANK-YOU GENNA!), I immediately started writing this blog post based on the program that just happened to be on: Health Notes (KFAI Monday nights Minneapolis folks, 6:30 – 7:30). Take heed: a Neurologist, also an expert in Ayurveda, is telling us that at healing retreats where he hosts patients with ailments as serious as cancer, he doesn’t focus on their illness at all. He focuses on getting them to find joy in their own brains, by triggering ideas and situations which bring those feelings. With that feeling of joy, they bring gentle movement to the body through yoga, tai chi, etc.

This is where it gets interesting… With all that movement, while focusing on the feeling of joy, we enable all those happy hormones to infiltrate our whole bodies – our blood stream, our cells, our selves… and thankfully, we have research to show us that there are HUGE physical and mental benefits to bringing more of these happy hormones by way of cellular turnover to further and further corners of our bodies. With practice, and at our own pace, we see-saw from comfort zone to just beyond comfort in order to get into those tense, never-before-reached bodily corners… and with lots of breath.

This is what I have come to believe as the most direct path to health. Is it an absolute guarantee that we will STAY healthy all the GD time? No. “Absolute” is – aside from being a delicious vodka – a **concept** sold to us in order to get us to buy in.

Taking those happy thoughts and feelings, and getting further into those corners is the tricky part. That’s why there’s a word for it in Yoga philosophy: Dharma. Meaning work or purpose.

Let’s look at this see-saw idea with a bit of a storybook approach. We’ll call our story,

THE DARK TEACHER and the JOY FINDING FAIRY:

The counter to the concept of focusing on what makes us happy is not to say that we should just pull up our boot straps and look on the bright side every time. When I teach, I often try to remind students that we are always moving in two directions. We are pushing down from our pelvic floor / belly through the legs into the feet, while also drawing that energy from our very connected-to-the-mat (aka grounded) feet back up into the stability of our pelvic floor… and there’s a lot of surface area between those two points, might I add, which is why this stuff is never immediate, and why PRACTICE (broken record, Calley…) is still… yep, the most important part.

So, enters the Dark Teacher, an opposite force to our protagonist, the, ahem, Joy Finding Fairy. Sometimes you have to sit with whatever crappy situation has presented itself to you. And, one step further, we are best to really sit and look at all that **stank** and spend some time assessing how it came to us, and what can we learn from this situation… looking at the mess – weather its a physical injury, an emotional scar, or some kind of situational turmoil – and being willing to question how we really feel about the situation is a humbling humbling teacher. (Mutter expletives under breath at Dark Teacher.) Sometimes we need these Dark Teacher(s) for a moment… They give us new awareness IF we choose to look at it that way… but when these Dark Teachers stick around too long – THAT is when things get, well sticky. We get stuck. Depression. Anxiety that won’t go away. Or, to put it more literally, perhaps a broken arm that we just can’t seem to stop using long enough to let it heal…

And so these are the trying times – to get away from the stuck place, where we go again and again and again toward the power and pull of the Dark Teacher, and we start to think that this is just the way it is. This is where we figure out how to find and follow the Joy Finding Fairy. For which, I’ve linked some great articles by clicking here, and scrolling down to the stress, anxiety, and depression section.

So, really, the thing is we need the Dark Teacher to, well, teach us new things. But we also need the Joy Finding Fairy when it seems like our lessons of darkness (mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha) are consuming us day in and day out.

Namaste.

 

2017: What Are You Practicing?

practice-project-1-0-victor-wootenIn one of the top five experiences of my life happened while I was teaching contemporary music to middle and high-schoolers in Idaho. Victor Wooten, electric bass great (or wizard, as I like to call him) blessed us with his presence at the school for an all-school assembly / workshop. Later that evening he played at The Knitting Factory in downtown Boise with his band.

During the workshop a student asked him a question, wanting to know his recommendation about “the best way to practice.” Mr. Wooten’s response hit me like a rainbow-on-fire, shooting out little balls of explosion that melt into sparkly warm fuzzy bits of enlightenment. Or something. He said, with his eyebrows raised, and looking very intently at the student:

“You’re always practicing SOMETHING.”

This is the idea behind the Yoga With Calley Practice Project. Its about coming back to what we are already doing – already “practicing,” even if we’re not thinking of it that way. And through commitment, repetition, and observation, we develop and interact with “what we’re already doing” so that it evolves in a way that works with us. With our bodies, with our minds, with what each of us needs at this phase of life.

So I took this idea, added a good dose of research that tells us it takes anywhere from 8-12 weeks for new concepts to become concrete, where learning goes beyond just information intake and becomes information application… and viola!practice

Yoga With Calley Practice Project is meant as 9 weeks of supported group practice. Most of our time will be spent practicing, but at the end of every session will be time to share small amounts of information about specifics of asana and philosophy. The goal is simply to learn about YOU, so that we all may help guide our observations and knowledge to work toward greater health, and develop new healthy habits that we can take home with us. It’s like growing a “yogi-in-your-pocket” that you can then take home as your friend, and whip out when you need a little help.

 

Email me if you want to sign up, there’s a few spots left and I’ll never be the pot calling the kettle black for being last-minute! calley@calleybliss.com

 

Snuggle Up To Shakti

ny-day-yoga-2017I’m teaching a class on New Year’s Day at my favorite Minneapolis yoga haven YOGA Garden. As I thought about what I would use for a theme, I wasn’t too excited about the regular old 108 salutations, or the popular Sankalpa (“inspired intention”). While those are great ways to inspire and start your new year – or anything new for that matter – I wanted to continue on the themes I’ve been building in class lately, and it seemed like a perfect time to pause and dive into Shakti – the energy behind inspiration, behind action, behind consciousness. As you start a new year, bring the last year with you to assess where your energy is right now.

So! We’re gonna get snuggly with Shakti on New Years Day.

Shiva is sure a popular guy – ahem, deity. How many variations of “Om Nama Shiva,” have you heard sung, chanted, called, themed, etc. in yoga classes? In the dual-energy concept (which could be related to our western-scientific notion that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) of Shiva and Shakti, he certainly gets a lot of attention.

But as we enter into a new year in the middle of winter, where days are shorter in the northern hemisphere, and – unless you’re in a marine bubble like San Fransisco or Ireland – its noticeably colder. Things are naturally slower, less energized. Plane fares drop, the economy generally slows at this time of year… this slow, still, darkness is all around us. This is a great time to let Shakti get to work. It makes sense – especially in our modern times with a resurgence of civil rights movements – that Shiva has gotten more attention in general. He is the process of liberation. The one that helps us get out of stuck behaviors, old patterns and habits, and helps – ahem – liberate us from our current state. When you’ve got that frustrated, oppressed, angry, stuck, how-do-I-get-outta-here feeling… liberation sounds like a fantastic thing to focus on.

ysfgjcepaextghbnlnpl
Kenneth G Libbrecht, Professor of Physics at Caltech, snowflake designer

As a creative mind, I like to see Shakti as that beautiful soft phase which allows us to be in the flow of creation. Before the heat and motion of liberation you get to slow down, and not just “do what you’re supposed to,”but listen to that little inner voice. Listen to the state of your body as it is today. Allow these concepts and this energy to guide your thoughts, your action, in a way that is sustainable and realistic. It’s creation at work: A little more red in the painting… nope, that’s too much. This recipe needs salt… and maybe some fresh herbs or citrus zest… lowering yourself in cobra enough to soften your stuck shoulders, and use your ribs and breath more… The process is often slower than we thought it would be to creating something new, and its often filled with side-steps (which can feel like missteps) and countless rounds of edits… but instead of seeing it all as a frustrating block to where you want to be, I like to see it as a gentle see-saw, going back and forth, slowly getting closer and closer to where it is that you want, what feels right.

Shakti is the power of consciousness. Your car is what will get you to the party, but with out fuel it has no power. Your body will carry you around all day, but if you weren’t alive, with the energy of life, you would move, well, nowhere.

Shakti is manifesting energy.

At the end of the day you’re tired, and you couldn’t do something concrete -something productive- to save your life. Your physical body – which is the physical piece of matter that you have to deal with, no matter the state its in as you exist today – is only as strong, and as capable as the energy you have to put into that matter. Your matter – your shiva – your “consciousness-in-real-time” we’ll call it, is kaput without the POWER of consciousness.

So hopefully this has given you some ideas about how you can better listen to your own inner energy, so that your inspirations and actions can take form in way that actually helps brings about the change you seek.

dear-2017-1-2And while we’re at it, I’ll put in a short plug that this where my own energy built into a project I’m running this winter called The Practice Project: Nine weeks of focused practice with a small group to create support around change. If you’re curious to join in, I still have slots open for the Saturday morning slot, being held at Modus Locus in S. Minneapolis on Bloomington Ave.

 

Happy 2017, all!      – Calley

Darkness – Honor The Still of the Winter Solstice

I teach yoga from the perspective that your “center” is what we’re after. It gets rid of those nasty lines that say one side is better than the other. You’re gonna bump around on your own “life wheel,” going too far in one direction, only to come back and maybe over-compensate and go too far in another direction… All this bouncing makes us feel like its all on a line: Healthy or lazy. Fit or fat. Smart or dumb. But I invite you to think of it this way: as you bump and bounce, each trip brings you through – or at least passing by – your center. And on each trip, hopefully you become a little more familiar with where your center is, and what are the things that help bring you back there when you need it.life-wheel

 

Darkness is half of what we deal with in life. I’m sitting in it right now in my living room.

Ok, no, but for real – DARKNESS is a big topic. Why? Because of all the things you do in life – eat, sleep, poop, make love, go to movies… even work – which, in our world is generally thought of as 40 hours a week – which is only 24% of our total week… even work is not as abundant in time as darkness.

could take this through all kinds of metaphorical stories about struggle, and shame, and guilt, and release, and frustration… but the point is that you already know what your darkness is in your life. You don’t need me to tell you what it is with some artistic story. Instead, I’d like to point out to you that darkness – in a literal sense – is half of our lives. No matter where you are on the planet, the Earth and Sun will balance each other throughout the seasons to give you half a year of lightness, and half a year of darkness.

So… maybe that grouchy co-worker, or car repair, or divorce doesn’t seem so… final.

When you realize that by design of nature, darkness is supposed to be half, it makes you not only feel less alone in your worries & struggles, but more grateful and alive when the sun does shine.

Next Wednesday, December 21st, I’ll be joining my fellow YOGA Garden instructors for a very special Winter Solstice class on the darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. We will take some extra time to honor and participate in the stillness all around us with an optional 20-minute gently guided meditation, followed by a 90-minute slow-paced vinyasa class focusing on grounding postures: hip openers, laying stretches, and a nice long sivasana at the end. And for those who care to stick around, we’ll share in a toast to the new year.  All proceeds proudly donated to Planned Parenthood of Minneapolis. 

I hope you are able to allow for small moments of rest in this time of year when mother nature has given us peacefulness all around. May allowing your body to sync up with your surroundings bring the calm or healing you need.

Namaste.yg-winter-solstice2016

MBSR Weeks 7 & 8: The Definition of Depth

mbsr-week-7-8Holy shit folks. It’s been a bit of an active couple of weeks. Like most of you (probably?), I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed, and its taken me until now to sort out what it is that I’m even feeling about my life, our lives, the collective. Let alone have something cohesive to say in a blog post?!

Six days after the election I had my final class (week 9) of MBSR. And pretty much since then, I’ve been feeling like a royal f#%* of emotions, thoughts, and whirling “what-do-I-DO-now?-let-alone-SAY-something-intelligent???,” thoughts and feelings.

On that ninth and final class, I was reminded  of what I believe in. (It seriously took me till the last class, on the last day to come full circle… this is why practice, and for me patience, never become irrelevant (As annoying as that concept is even to me. Not torch-passing-teacher-of-yoga me, but impatient-human-working-on-my-own-patterns me.) It may seem simple, but I hope at least not trite. (Although, let’s be real, shall we? I’m a white woman in the midwest, with white mid-western woman problems.) If there’s anything all these years of practice and study and travel have taught me – including my recent 9-week foray into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and all its proven clinical studies – its that our simplest thoughts are often the most powerful, and what propel us into greater states of intellect by way of mind AND body consciousness…

It’s only in recent years – and in relatively small circles – that we’ve come to see the value of the wisdom of the body in addition to the mind. The more I learn about the idea of consciousness through yoga philosophy, the more I see that my body knows things that sometimes my mind is blind to, because I’ve spent the majority of my time each day shaping my mind a certain way…

So here is what I’ve come to, with an attempt to be clear, honest, and intelligent (fingers crossed, here we go):

  • I believe that life is about balance: Our selves in personal physical / emotional / mental / spiritual balance, in whatever ratios work for us individually. Our communities in economic / social / educational balance. Our states, our city – to – country relationships… all these things affect the greater balance of our nation. Though my leanings toward certain political beliefs are obvious to any who know me well, I aspire to be someone who is always more interested in the effort of balance, than the effort of, “I win.”
  • In this light, I understand that to believe and / or expect EVERYONE in the human race to be well, fed, loved, and mentally stable… well, kind of a farce-based notion that we do-gooders are having an awfully hard time letting go of. Does this mean I wish it were possible? Yes. Does it mean I wish harm on anyone? No. It means I understand that the very notion of balance (and ultimately the necessity for the dark and the light, shiva and shakti, to reference it to yoga) requires both sides of the equation. It is what makes us alive. It is what allows us to understand pain and suffering so that we can better appreciate health and abundance.

Now back to that bit about balance…

  • Our nation and culture has been changing a lot in the last ten years. And I believe there is a large portion of the population that has been left behind in recent years, leaving more imbalance than we’ve seen in half a generation.
  • I believe that the way out is NOT just through “love and kindness.” It IS about a LOT of that – and perhaps even shifting our focus to that — but it is also about learning how to live with tough decisions, about fighting and conceding… Especially for some of us who have had a “larger piece of the Comfort Pie,” it is about stepping outside of the comfort zone… or perhaps its about you pushing someone else’s comfort zone in order to push an idea forward.
  • Like yoga, it is about learning to deal with temporary discomfort in pursuit of something bigger, stronger, and more evolved than the current state.
  • It is about evolution.
  • Really, its the only thing Mother Nature / God / Buddah / Government / Allah / The Great Bambino-Bambina / the Magic Poobah has to offer us: a way forward.

That’s it folks. We have to move forward. The place where we now have choice is in weather or not we participate, and to what extent. Weather we act in motion or in sitting still, the clock will bring us forward no matter what.

 

That’s what I believe. That’s what I can stand behind. I believe in science to show us trends. And I believe in individuals to push the parameters, realities, and societal expectations of those trends. I do believe in acceptance of different types of people. I believe in listening. I believe in expectations. I believe what my therapist once told me that anger is evidence of a value being mis-met.

This is what I practice, this knowledge, so I can better see where I am, and where my fellow humans are, to understand how to move forward, and not leave others behind due to anger, or frustration, or fear, or greed. It doesn’t mean I won’t feel these things, or have to deal with those who feel these things… it means these feelings come from somewhere. And that somewhere is real, and it deserves some attention.

This is what I was reminded of in my last week of MBSR. And in reflecting on the election. And in hosting Thanksgiving for my family for the first time, with my partner’s family and my 94-year old grandfather who survived the great depression, WWII (including Normandy Beach on D-Day), raising children in the midwest on a mechanic’s salary, the red scare, the 60’s, the 70’s, 2001, 2008, breaking both hips, and losing his wife of 70 years. SEVENTY. The man has survivedHe has WORKED.

And we would all be well reminded of the work (dharma) we have to do. The universal element is that none of us are immune to the work of being human. None of us are immune to the charge of surviving of our own (rather entitled in this corner of the globe, yet not immune to suffering) lives. The practice of work – shaping and refining the way we work – the way we practice – the way we practice work… that’s what yoga has taught me.

 

That is what I got, my friends. This is what feels true, inclusive, and honest.

 

 

I hope to practice with you very, very soon. With love,

Calley

MBSR Mindfulness Weeks 5 & 6: TIME

mbsr56Hello readers! If you’re just jumping in, I’m taking a course this fall on mindfulness at The Marsh in Minnetonka, MN, and I’m dedicating my yoga blog to document and share my experience through the middle of November.

I had to miss the majority of class 5, due to a work obligation that was unavoidable. But since my last post, I’ve had class 6, and also the day-long (or 7-hour long) silent retreat. It’s been interesting to see how I’m finally settling into this class and what its lessons hold for me: first I was excited about the knowledge and tactics that I would be able to pass on to my clients and students. Then I started to get impatient. For me, the very methodical practices and tactics were tedious, and I just wanted to get back to my silent meditation, my self-led yoga practice. But in week 6’s class, I had a very interesting experience as the volunteer for a group exercise around reactions to anger. And during the silent retreat I finally saw how much I’d been missing before… and had the TIME to put it into practice.

Week 6:

insula-preso-55-728Reactions: When something happens in our lives – in our relationships, jobs, etc. and that something is unexpected, we tend to have a reactionary response. It’s at least partly due to a primal part of the brain, our Insula, where our visceral subjective emotion is processed.

During this session we did a simple exercise derived from Japanese Aikido (“The way of unifying life energy,”) to help reflect on four common reactions to the emotion of anger. I was asked to come at my instructor as if I was really angry at her. This was a particularly interesting challenge for me because I’m an actress, you would think this should be no problem for me. Except that I tend to struggle with anger. I don’t get angry very often, I tend to get very shaken up by anger when it is directed at me… in short, it was an uncomfortable challenge for me to try and be angry at my lovely, gentle instructor, and to admit that I should be better at putting my insecurities aside in light of an exercise in acting. But aside from my personal processing around this, the exercise was meant to point out four common reactions to anger:

  1. Fall down and cry.

  2. Become confused / freeze up / not do anything

  3. Fight back and also get angry

  4. Listen, and let the aggressor know that you are listening

Its a simplified explanation of MOST people’s common reactions to anger – and a helpful tool in assessing what are your normal reactions around anger. Once we understand that most of us fall in one of the first three categories (and – let’s give ourselves a break -because of primal instincts), it helps to step back from feeling like we’re being blamed for our reactions, and helps to put us – along with everyone else – on a spectrum. And to understand the power of attempting to integrate more of the 4th reaction (the Aikido-inspired reaction) into our lives.

In terms of yoga, I tie it back to this idea: work with your body, instead of against it. Sometimes we don’t even know when we’re fighting something, because we don’t see it as a choice – its just the way things are, its just what happens.

water_flow_bBut once you can observe what your reaction is, you can then start to see how much you are fighting to get what you want… (hint, hint Calley, enjoy the time of the silent retreat to let this info settle into your physicality!) instead of using the best resources in front you – where your body has strength, or flexibility, or where you CAN feel your breath move freely… it is a subtle but powerful shift in behavior, which not only

brings us to flexibility and strength quicker than if we were to fight or manipulate the process

but it is also a much MUCH more enjoyable W A Y to get there.

MBSR Mindfulness Week 4: Discipline

mbsr-week4This week’s class reminded me that even if you have been practicing yoga, mindfulness, breathing, meditation, etc. for a number of years, WOW if we don’t still have ingrained patterns. Mine? Issues with discipline…

Which also reminded me that the point of this stuff is not to “fix” something. (Which seems counter-intuitive, I know.) The point of this specific class, and these tools, is purely to bring awareness around that which already is. (MBSR is based on Vipassana Meditation which means to “see things as they are.”) Ok two soap boxes right off the bat —

  • #1) This is the reason I took this particular class, (MBSR) instead of any number of other workshops, classes, info-sandwhiches that I could have spent time and money on this fall. There has been a pervasive theme in my teaching and practice this year around OBSERVATION. The pure and simple act of not trying to change something, but just look at it. Spend time observing it, noticing it, assessing it. Which leads me to the second soap box.
  • #2) This is why practice never becomes something you don’t have to do anymore. OBSERVATION is not meant to deliver the win, the goal, the sudden “I’m all better.” Which is a very challenging concept for our minds that have been attuned to a culture of  “I want to achieve X,” and “I want to have Y,” and “if this, then that.” The point of this stuff is to expand what you know – what you are aware of – by observation. THEN you can make a more informed decision about how to act.

It’s a tricky little step that we like to skip over. We are so concerned with gettingif-this-then-that someplace the fastest way possible, that we forget the incredible value and learning potential of taking time to stand still and just watch what is already happening.

Amazingly, I’m four weeks into this course, three years into teaching this kind of thing, and thirteen years into practicing it…. and this week I was reminded that my old habit of trying to skip over and take the fast track has been winning my attention without me realizing it. What does this mean? It means, I tend to go with where I want to be, instead of practicing discipline to go through the steps that someone has laid out for me (with mountains of research to show that this process is important.) Here’s how this has played out for me:

I have a silent meditation practice that I very much enjoy. I get to take time to breathe, and bring breath and energy into the places of my body where I think I need it, when I feel that I need it within the time frame of sitting. MBSR asks the participant to listen to a 30-minute body scan every day. A voice slowly guides your attention to different parts of your body, feeling your breath, noticing this and that. Personally, I tend to find the recording distracting, and not nearly as pleasant as my silent meditation. And I have been justifying the prioritization of my silent meditation over the body scan because I strongly believe that we all need to do a better job of listening to our bodies, and I found it easier to listen to my body in silence……… ahem, and I’m also incredibly stubborn and struggle with focus and discipline.

I suddenly saw that my patterns – which I am theoretically aware of, due to former “yoga-piphanies” (realizations) during practice – were keeping me from fully engaging in THIS process… from choosing discipline which is required to try a new process, over what I know and am comfortable with. Gulp. Humility, you’re such a stubborn bitch sometimes.

Now does that mean my silent meditation practice is bad, and this other practice will be better for me? No. It means I became aware of a pattern of mine rearing its head again. Even when I was trying to be proactive, or thought I was being proactive. I am going to have patterns – we are all going to have patterns – and that is ok (and in fact good) because our patterns help us to have structure and be comfortable. On a very primal scale, our patterns help us to survive by defining when we are hungry, when we are in danger, when we need sleep, etc. But being aware of our patterns allows us to try on something different. It gives us options, and sometimes we find that our patterns are actually not serving us always, every time.

What is does mean is that we’re always going through life, so as long as we want to stay current, and have our greatest capability and potential to evolve and be present, we must must must must practice…

if-this-then-that-copy

We often think that when we have completed our study of one, we know all about two because two is one and one. We forget that we still have to make a study of “and.”

– Arthur Eddington, Astrophysicist