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Yoga in real life

Yoga in real life

meditate

Yoga works in myriad ways.   Often it works intangibly in our multi-level capacity as human beings, mentally, physically, and spiritually, growing us into better people over time.   It illuminates, challenges, awakens, calms, invigorates, opens, heals, sustains.  Yoga clarifies and enlightens.  In other ways, yoga works more concretely.  We realize this when we experience immediate, observable effects after practicing specific breathing techniques or relaxation poses which bring us into better balance.  We can even put our hands on the results of yoga practice when we participate in different activities like benefit classes raising support for local charities.

Yoga doesn’t always work

But there are also ways in which yoga does not work.  For instance, yoga doesn’t work like magic, removing the crises or stressors from our lives at the moment of savasana.  Neither, unfortunately, does it work through osmosis.  We can’t slip the yoga book, video, or MP3 file under our pillow and wake up blissful.  Much like prayer, simply reading about it doesn’t make its benefits manifest in our lives.  Instead, the hard work of consistent practice is required.

Yoga as lens

For me, yoga has worked like a lens magnifying everything I hold it up to, whether that be the health of my body, the busyness of my mind or the mysteries of my faith.  In this new kind of light I have been able to perceive my self and all aspects of my life in a new way.  I started The Catholic Yogi website in 2013 as a way to communicate with my yoga students, but also as a place to dialogue about how the study of yoga has informed the rest of my life, especially my Catholic practice.  The Catholic Yogi grew out of the encouragement of a dear friend who insisted I start writing about my journey as a Catholic and a Yogi of sorts, as it is, she mentions, quite a unique place to be. I think it is unique because I keep the yoga “yogic” and keep my Catholicism focused on Christ; I don’t change the Sanskrit names or the shapes of the poses when I’m praying or practicing, and I don’t call Christ Isvara when I’m on my mat or in the company of fellow yogis. However, I do pray when I practice.  It seems God has blessed me with a contentment of sorts, as I am not “afraid” of the yoga because I know our God is big, and I am not timid about Christ because I know our God is big. This catholic-yoga dynamic has been a large part of my journey as a yoga teacher and as a Catholic woman.

Balancing faith and yoga practice

People ask me, “How do you balance your yoga and Catholic identities so effortlessly?  They seem to be at odds.”  Actually, there has been a lot of prayerful effort on my part, a lot of asking, questioning, looking, and listening.  At this point in my journey I can say there is too much absence of good in the world to resist embracing the beautiful for fear of blasphemy, especially if that beautiful leads us closer to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  I am a Catholic above all else.  It is only that God has gifted me with yoga, blessed me with its benefits, and used it to turn my face toward Christ that I can call myself “The Catholic Yogi.”  I’m reminded of a Dorothy Day quote:  “You will know your vocation by the joy it brings you. You will know.  You will know when it’s right.”  I feel great joy in my motherhood.  I feel great joy in my prayer life.  I felt a great joyfulness when I started writing at Love and Be Loved.  And after having my babies, when I decided to re-enter the yoga-teaching-world as “The Catholic Yogi,” I felt joyful and at ease.

Yoga as a calling

I feel that God simply wants me to help.  That’s my vocation.  I’m not here to do big, amazing, superhuman things.  I’m just here to help people on their way, and be helped by them.  That’s exactly how yoga works in my life.  I would be no where without God, my family, my friends, and my yoga students.  One of my favorite parts of The Catholic Yogi community is the benefit class we offer four times a year.  It’s a blessing to have so many people willing to come together to help others.  I also love knowing people are able to become healthy and stay healthy through their yoga practice.  When I see the smiles and the happiness after class, when I bump into people in the community and hear how yoga is helping them recover from an illness or injury, reduce stress, avoid different medications, become mindful and aware, or be nicer to their families, I’m humbled to be a part of the gift.  It is good to share the joy.

Breathing through grief

Breathing through grief

grief

I was sitting on a toilet in California when I found out my father died.

My cell phone rang at 5 a.m. “Oh, Damn, I forgot to call Dad to tell him we arrived safely in California.” I wiped the sleep from my eyes, headed off to the bathroom and dialed my voicemail. It was my mother, something was wrong.

The physical sensation of the emotion came immediately; heaviness in my throat, shortness of breath. I closed my eyes, took 5 deep breaths with my hands over my throat, and allowed the tears to well up and spill over my face. I recalled that true physical emotion lasts 90 seconds, everything after that is a result of our mental construct; our reacting to the thoughts surrounding the emotion or situation. After about 90 seconds I started to think that theory was just crap – I was still in pain, physical and emotional pain.

I continued on by breathing deeply and noticing what I was feeling in my body (the essence of the mindfulness practice), and after a few moments I was able to bring my attention to my daughter. I told her what happened, we held each other, and I got to the business of getting us back to Massachusetts as quickly as possible.

I stood at the airport counter for two hours organizing our flights.

On the inside I was noticing my breath, counting my breath, breathing deeply, and reminding myself “I am standing on two feet, I am breathing in, I am breathing out”, and what I wanted was a big sign to hang around my neck that said, “My father just died, please excuse any outward displays of emotion”. This sign would have been helpful as we sat at the gate in Philadelphia, the day before father’s day, as I noticed a sign “purchase a gift for dad” and completely lost my sense of the present moment, as I retreated into the comfort of a cup of coffee, released into an ugly cry, and felt gratitude for my daughter and our (possibly hysterical) laughter at my lack of presence and need for a sign.

The last time I saw my father was the weekend before we left for California The previous visit, had been seven months ago, the longest span since moving to my present home in Ohio in 2012.  This weekend, my daughter and I drove from Ohio to Massachusetts to attend our cousin’s high school graduation and birthday party. The first day was spent catching up, just the four of us, me, my daughter, my mom and my dad; we had a lovely lunch and frozen yogurt, walked around town, watched a movie on an old sofa bed, and most importantly, we laughed and laughed. The second day, Sunday morning, my dad and I, both lovers of the early morning, took a walk, just the two of us; walking and talking with the sun shining and the birds singing. It was a lovely mid-June day!

We said goodbye to my parents in my cousin’s foyer ending our weekend together, after the morning walk with my father, at the family party; my cousin’s graduation and birthday party. As I look back on the events of the weekend, I am reminded of the many times (I have been in the daily practice of yoga and mindfulness for the last five years) as I stood in a long line at the grocery store embracing the opportunity to breathe deeply or practice a Lovingkindness meditation, I wondered, how is this practice changing me? Is twisting my body around on a yoga mat creating a more meaningful life experience? Now I know that my mindfulness practice supported a weekend with my father, a weekend which turned out to be my last; a weekend when I was fully present.

Being fully present looks like listening deeply.

My father and I walked and talked. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of hearing him and being with him. I listened to his family stories – and we laughed, and laughed.

We talked town gossip, wandered to the oldest covered bridge, (And laughed, again, at how it wasn’t really the oldest covered bridge. It was rebuilt after a fire a number of years ago), stopped by the river to inspect the new boat launch, and paused to watch the waterfalls and discuss where the Blue Heron had been hanging out to fish lately; all simple and pure moments of joy.

And presence also includes a keen awareness; a deep awareness of the physical, emotional and intuitive sensations of your body. I expressed my joy at being with my parents, and frequently gave them big kisses and told them how much I missed them. When the time came to say goodbye, it was with my entire self, fully present and centered in love.

I remember, the moment my mother told me my father had died, alongside the shock, there was something else, an acceptance. I accepted and released any desire for things to be other then they were in that moment. I embraced the pain in all the ways it showed up, and continues to show up, and I do so without struggling against it.  This is the gift of the mindfulness practice; a resilience to settle in this moment to feel both the joy and the sorrow, and to even to accept that sometimes, the best thing to do is drink coffee.

 

Fifty–You are welcome

Fifty–You are welcome

Filled with amazement and wonder, I’m turning fifty years old this month.  Alas, I’m a quinqueagenerian (kwin-kwuh-juh-nair-ee-uhn)  When I was young, it seemed people who were fifty complained about their aches and pains all day. I’m thinking primarily of my grandmother who lived “up in the ‘hollar” in Pike County, Kentucky.

I wonder: Did she discover a purpose for herself after raising eight children? Did she continue to feed her soul and mind as she grew older?  In what ways did she contribute to younger generations?  I don’t know.  But I can tell you this; you won’t hear me bellyachin’ about anything.

Staring Fifty in the Face

Today, as I approach my own middle-age, I found an enlightening passage in Marianne Williamson’s book, “The Age of Miracles: Embracing The New Midlife that opened my soul.

“Midlife today is a second puberty of sorts. The experience, including its length, is being redefined. It is a period distinctly unlike youth, yet distinctly unlike old age. It doesn’t feel like a cruise to the end of our lives so much as a cruise, at last, to the meaning of our lives.

Now, the thought of a second puberty is rather dreadful, but as I reflect, I realize that all the experiences of my life have given me a unique gift. A unique meaning and purpose that doesn’t come so easily to many.  The ability to connect with every human being, everywhere.  Without judgement or contention. With only joy, love, and extreme acceptance.

With this beautiful, liberating birthday, I’ve discovered my specific purpose and key to true happiness is being in community and collaboration with others.  This enables me create, nurture, love and grow things/people/experiences.

At fifty, the things I don’t need are:

  • Minivan for taxiing the team all over the state.
  • High heels – because I just don’t feel like it.
  • Super-sized anything.

What I do need.

Belonging, well-being, community, growth, integrity, acceptance, brilliance, love, joy, and boots.  I really like Boot Life and their cool western boots.

When I was young, an 80’s girl, all I wanted were material things, cars, jewelry, clothes, and parties. Today, my life is fuller, deeper, and fully engaged with a community of friends who seek the same ideals I do.   Glad I survived it all.  Fifty was worth the wait!  And, I’m glad you’re here to read this too.

Now it’s your turn!

If I waved a magic wand, what does your future look like? And, how are you going to make that happen?

Disappointment Revealed

Disappointment Revealed

Recently I gave a 30 minute talk entitled, “I’m not stressed, I’m relaxationally challenged”, to a large group of associates from the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.  As I’m organizing my talk and creating the power point, I am becoming increasingly more aware of the fact that I am actually extremely stressed.

Ok, so fast forward to the day of my talk with the Library associates.  By this time, I have fully acknowledged that I am a stress monster, and I am planning to use my experiences as talking points during my presentation.  And then…that morning, I found it necessary to make the very difficult decision to pull out of reconstruction of a gorgeous facility that would house the new company I was building.

At the moment of my talk, 11:30 am, I was the antithesis of calm.

I was so stressed, I must have been undulating; parts of my body visibly rolling from head to toe, toe to head, like a shock wave, an earthquake, or the graph of an EKG. (I feel that actually, the EKG graph; my body convulsing with every beat of my heart.)

So, I’m halfway through my talk and approaching the point when I take a deep dive into the teaching about mindfulness, and out of the blue, appearing in my head, is a story about a leading mindfulness teacher.  (on a side note…this story is from my memory and is likely not exactly what happened, so please don’t judge me if bits of it have been embellished or altered)

This teacher, who had given hundreds of talks and presentations on mindfulness, was giving a talk to a packed room of academics, when his mind went blank.  There was absolutely nothing in his head; he couldn’t remember why he was there, or about what he was speaking.

He remained completely silent.

He was silent on stage, with his eyes closed, and in front of the microphone for many minutes.  So many minutes, that the crowd began to fidget and cough; I imagine they were uncomfortable and confused.

Finally, at just the point the host was going to save this teacher from further embarrassment, the teacher speaks, saying just one word – “Scared”.  This one word followed by a long pause – “confused”, pause, and “embarrassed”.

At this point, the room begins to feel charged with an indescribable energy, (think goosebumps) as the crowd is beginning to realize what the teacher is demonstrating.  Then the teacher continues to speak in single words, listing the emotion he is feeling in that moment. Eventually he lands on words like “calm”, and “comfortable”, and with full mental clarity finally returning, the teacher began his talk.

Following the talk, the attendees expressed their gratitude to the teacher for demonstrating, in a very vulnerable way, the practice of mindfulness; being present in this moment, with a deep awareness of what’s happening (physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and intuitions), and with acceptance or no judgment.  In that moment he truly had a lapse in memory, and instead of laughing it off, or covering it up, he allowed that lapse to be an impactful teaching tool for those who were lucky enough to share that place in time with him.

So, I told the story about the mindfulness teacher to my room full of librarians, basically as I transcribed here.  Following, I offered the attendees my mindfulness practice in that moment.  I stood up straight, balanced my weight on my feet, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. My first word was “sadness”, and as the tears slid down my cheeks, “anger”, followed by “frustration”, and “hopelessness”.

I have to admit, I was pretty surprised, and yet, I accepted that this was how it was to be in that moment.  I then offered the attendees the opportunity to note their own evolving emotions on a piece of paper.

My one regret is that I didn’t ask them to share.

In that moment, for me, disappointment revealed itself as sadness, anger, frustration, and hopelessness.  Disappointment, for me in  the moment I am writing these words, is felt as – “empty”, “numb”, and “resigned”.

And…now on the day of publishing, a full 13 days later, my feelings have evolved.  I no longer sense disappointment, only gratitude and excitement. The vision for Mind Body Align was never about the space; it was about the collaboration.  It was about investing energy in the community and it’s people in order to create a woven community of support and wisdom shared.  Watch out – Mind Body Align has great plans and I hope you will join us!

For more information visit us at the Women’s Business Expo at the Renaissance Theater, October 14th, 11:00 – 2:00.