the art of transitions

There are some images that just resonate so deeply, they never fade. This 3 and 1/2 minute video is one such image. Once the senses move past the the scantily clad woman, the stunning cityscape, and the soft sultry music, what is left is asana that is so captivating…it steals the breath.

On my mat, I want to move like this woman. Not (just) because she is sleek and strong, but because there is not a singular pose visible in any of this. Rather it is a river of transformations, inhales and exhales that do not just move the body from one position to the next, but rather–and more importantly–keep it present to the moment at hand. Present to the change. Present to the transition. Present to the subtle and magnitudinous shifts. As a yoga instructor once said:

The transitions between poses are poses themselves.

Last week, I shared this concept with my seniors, who are in the midst of a large transition of their own. We just finished reading Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, a novel which sanctifies the space of shifting. I related to them the story of the video and its beauty. I stressed that we’re so busy thinking about our next pose (graduation, college, job, marriage, parenting, etc.), that we miss the glory IN the change.

The transitions in between poses are poses themselves.

I would be a fool to admit my own transition doesn’t weigh heavily on me. Changing job titles. Changing curriculum. Changing schools. Leaving behind friends with whom I’ve learned and students in whom I’ve invested–that’s a lot of love to leave in a pose. And it’s easy to be bound in thought by the next pose. How will I stand? How will I look? How will I relax into it? How will I ground myself? But in doing this, I’m already forgetting the most important part: the here and now, the present, the transition.

The transitions in between poses are poses themselves.

It takes enormous strength to change with grace,

leaving behind something that glows.

It takes deep rooting to transform with ease,

leaning into something that grows.

It takes daring courage to transition with honor,

so that on my mat, and off, it shows.

 

present in the pain

Sometimes the stars align so that the same message is being whispered over and over into your ear, at just the right time. A divine echo.

Saturday morning’s yoga class was one of those whispers. Led by a pregnant woman whose roundness in her belly was only rivaled by the curve of her carved biceps, she started class with the intention of being present. She shared that being in her second pregnancy lends itself to the tendency to want the carrying and labor part to be over to get to the “best part”–life with the child. But she explored the irony, that even then, with the joy of a life before her, she can want to rush through, to the next part, always forward, always beyond, always later.

So much rushing leads to the missing of life.

“Be here now,” she said.

But what I heard was, while bowed down in humble downward dog with tears spilling prayers in my eyes:

Be present in the pain.

Following that sacred message, I met with a best friend who also constantly gifts my life with divine whispers. Yoga in friendship, if you will.

And this card was her serendipitous gift:

peace

It’s almost as if she was in cahoots with my yoga instructor.  Divine whispers.

It is no secret that this year has been hard for me. And as the calendar turned to 2016, all that is anchoring my mind is “I can’t wait until next year.” The chance to start over. A proverbial January 1st.  The next part, always forward, always beyond, always later.

Be here now.

Be present in the pain.

It is easy to daydream and fast forward to a different time, where of course I’d be at peace and happy and fulfilled with this and that in place.

It is easy to daydream and fast forward to a different time, where of course I’d be at peace and happy and fulfilled with this and that in place.

That doesn’t exist. All that is is here and now. And true peace is thankfulness without terms, contentment without conditions.

Be here now.

Be present in the pain.

 

 

mind minefields and mantras

At a class I attended this month, the yoga instructor compared self-talk to shopping for clothes. We take a bunch of clothes into the fitting room, and the ones that fit us and serve us and make us feel good go home with us. The ones that don’t stay behind, crumpled on the floor for the unlucky and underpaid attendant to clean and restock. She asked:

Why don’t we do that with our self-talk?

We take all kinds of self-talk with us into the dressing room of our minds, and we try it on, the good and the bad, and we leave with it all, each and every time, the good and the bad.

At least I do. Especially as of late, when my mind has been demonized by negative self-talk:

I’m fat.

I’m lazy.

I’m undisciplined.

I’m overwhelmed.

I’m failing.

I can’t do this.

These thoughts do not serve me. Negative self-talk never serves us. These thoughts do not motivate me. Negative self-talk never motivates us. These thoughts do not drive me to change. Negative self-talk never results in positive change.

Instead, we become what we chant over and over and over in our minds.

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Clearly, God meant for me to not miss this message. At a different yoga class on the other side of Denver, another yoga teacher brought up the power of water to shape features such as the Grand Canyon, simply by following the path of least resistance. She compared this to the negative self-talk that runs rampant in our minds, etching and carving a path for negative energy to follow and build and become. And to combat this she directed us to create a mantra–a mind tool, a desire stated as truth, in the present tense. Here are the two resonating with me lately:

I am light.

I am disciplined.

I have meditated with my mantra both on and off my mat. And it allows me to try on the negative self- talk, but then leave it behind in the dressing room, creating in my thinking a vortex of affirmation instead of deprecation. It allows my brain’s streams and canyons to shift direction, away from criticism, towards love.

I am light.

I am disciplined.

photo essay: joy from this weekend

When you look for joy, you will find joy. When you find joy, you will look for joy.

This morning I practiced yoga with over 3000 other yogis in the beautiful Denver Sunken Garden Park at Yoga Rocks the Park. And under the warm embrace of the sun, atop the prickly green of the earth, I could not help but thinking:

I am blessed.

Here are some pictures of today’s joys…

A glorious day for outdoor yoga!

A glorious day for outdoor yoga!

Colleagues and friends.

Colleagues and friends.

We love Fabletics!

We love Fabletics!

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

The collective breaths of over 3000.

The collective breaths of over 3000.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Sunshine selfie.

Sunshine selfie.

Twist.

Twist.

The joy continues at home. As I sit on my beautiful back porch, looking at the lush green woods, I see my husband and my best friend napping…

IMG_5447

The epitome of peace.

Though I was inside yesterday, I also experienced joy. My bestest friend in the whole wide world is moving here, into our place, in less than one week. The lives that we have lived from a distance will now be woven together in the most common of daily activities. It was joy to prepare a space for her…

IMG_5446

Welcome.

My weekend joy began with horse therapy as I spent some time riding Bruno. Just he and I, alone, working and breathing and sweating in the quiet of an indoor arena, while rain anointed the barn roof. Heavenly joy…

An earlier picture of Bruno and I.

An earlier picture of Bruno and I.

And all these are what occurred within the last 72 hours. It’s not even counting the joy of Thursday night happy hour with my husband, good-bye hugs for seniors at our luncheon, and our amazing trip to Portland.

I am blessed.

When you look for joy, you will find joy. When you find joy, you will look for joy.

the yogi’s creed

Breath is the worship of this blessed moment, in this blessed moment, in this present heartbeat where the Sacred and the Mundane dance together, until the boundaries between them blissfully blur–until all boundaries and dichotomies and binaries blur. It is life inspired, in the literal etymological sense–breath into; into breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the surgeon’s scalpel, piercing into my deepest parts, dissevering what does not serve, even when the curtain of anesthesia is drawn over the mind’s eye. It is surgery for the soul, severing what is toxic and sewing new wholeness in its place.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the three-time click of red ruby shoes, taking one home to the only place that has ever been both possessed and possessive. It is the familiar essence found in the scent of Mom’s cooking, the cuddle of a little girl with her Dad, the shared songs with sisters, the late-night games with friends in the neighborhood. Breath is always a one-way ticket home.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the circus act of a young acrobat, tinkering both above death and the fear of death, balanced on a spider-web-thread. But breath is also the safety net below, always waiting for the embarrassed stumble. The place between flying and falling, it is the quintessential exercise in balance, the embodiment of faith.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the simple gold wedding band, not just between two people, but among a collective people, a tribe of humans indistinguishable. A circular and glorious energy of force, it links me to you and you to him and him to her and us to them. It is the unity of humankind, tactile and eternal, dismantling the idea of “other.”

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the lock on a myriad of doors, colorful and unique, lining a hallway of infinite possibilities. But it is also the master’s key, whispering metal-codes to each door’s guardian, unlocking treasures upon treasures, hidden and now revealed, in breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the gift a child has asked for the entire year, silver wrapping mouse-torn at the corner because of insatiable curiosity. It is the pretense of surprise, the ferocious tear of paper, the astounded gasp of a tricked child, the single tear of gratitude because the gift is not what was expected, but so much better. Always so much better.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is an ineffable scroll of metaphors, because breath is beyond language.

Inhale…

Exhale…

present to the I AM

To be mindful is to be present. To be present is to be fully engaged in the only life we have been gifted. In this present moment, we meet God, who names Himself “I AM”–not I was or I will be, but rather I AM, in this moment alone, here, now, the only moment available.

A lot of the Bible speaks of adhering to God based on his past credentials. His street-cred-resume: “great is His faithfulness” and “remember when He” and “the God of your ancestors” is a reoccurring trope throughout the Old Testament. The implication here is not to be here, now, with God, but to rely on a manifested-God of other people and other places and other times.

The other implication–just as dangerous–is the reliance on God based on His future promises. These bubble to the surface repeatedly in the New Testament: “you will be saved” and “will supply all your needs” and “you will know as you have been known.” In these, I rely more on what I’ll get from God, than who we are together, here, now.

But the more I’ve been focusing on being mindful in the present moment, the more I’ve come to see how being with God, here, now, is the litmus test for our relationship and my faith in Him. Can I worship in this moment, regardless of what came before or what will follow? Can I be grateful here, now, instead of relying on past or future revelations? Can I lean into both beauty and brutality, unsure of what influences shape or outcomes follow the here, the now? Can I know God only as He reveals Himself to me, in this present moment, here, now, rather than through others’ tainted histories or contextual comforts? Can I let God, here, now, just be I AM, instead of I was, or I will be?

Here, now, I say yes. And for each here, each now, an ineffable myriad more yeses.

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will the real yogis please shut up!?: on the gift of silence

559f62c66f5b45d0a2e7adc2b0d96589Every so often, I visit the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House to escape the demanding distractions of American life and meet God in silence. I remember my first time there noticing that on all their publications, they had a slogan that went something like:

We give each other the gift of silence.

Such an expression both surprised me and touched me deeply; I’ve never thought of silence as a gift to others… a gift to myself.

But it is. And it is the gift I long to get and give every time I walk into a yoga studio to practice present breathing and mindful movement. I spend my entire day in noise–delightful and important noise, but noise nonetheless. I hear the chatter of my students discussing a text and how it moves them; I hear the collaboration of my colleagues; I hear (from my mouth as well) the complaining during unhappy moments; I hear myself trying to transmit information as eloquently as possible; I hear the bells signaling transitions and the halls loud with middle school chaos; I hear music motivating me on the commute. All day long, I hear…and it is exhausting.

On the blessed days when after all this noise I reach deep inside for the energy to walk through the doors of a yoga studio, I am humbled and eager. As I walk past the sign that reads, “Please practice silence in the studio,” I am grateful. And as a rule-follower, I am also expectant, assuming others will honor this guideline as I do.

Most do. But, some don’t. And when they don’t, there is a loud uproar (ugh, more noise) within me, a sense of injustice in regards to something precious, but unnamed, that has been stolen from me. In this post, I name it: the gift of silence. I do not, whilst bowing my head to the ground in child’s pose to heart-whisper my intention, want to feel the energy of a New York dancer’s studio, bustling with hello’s and how-ya-doin’s and other declarations of social obligations. I do not, whilst on my back in Savasana, coming into my breath, feeling the rise and fall of my belly, want to hear the girls’ latest gossip or health reports of their families or updates on romances or careers.

What I want, and what I gift you, and other yogis, is the sweet and sacred space of silence. So I kindly request, for and from all the yogis who treasure their practice as much as I do, both the quiet and the talkative, the following:

  1. Please designate your conversations with your friends for before or after at the bar next door, or the coffee shop next door, or at the very least the wooden bench near the changing rooms. Your catching up time should never be in the sacred space of a yoga studio, where so many come for silence and internal contemplation.
  2. As teachers I work with frequently tell their students, whispering is still talking. If your mouth is moving and any kind of sound is coming out, you are a disruption. Sometimes the I’m-trying-to-be-subtle-whisper-conversation is even more distracting than the all-out-volume-appropriate-for-a-bar.
  3. Yogis: be mindful in a space and practice ahimsa: non-harming of the sacred silence. Are other people around you quietly folded into an asana of quiet intent? Are some mats occupied by people who look hungry for the sacred space of silence? Are some people rolling their eyes at you or mean-mugging you? There are a lot of reminders from the Universe–or your neighbor–to kindly shut up if you just would pay attention.
  4. Teachers: please honor the responsibility of protecting the sign’s intention on those doors declaring a space of silence. When you come into to spray your essential oil, wipe the sweat left behind from last class’s quiet yogi, and format your intentional music, look around the room. Or take a quick break from checking-in students and peek into the studio. Are yogis talking? Politely ask them to protect the quiet space. Or remind them after class with private dignity that the studio is not a space for conversation.

I recognize in my honesty I may not sound much like a yogi, but more like a curmudgeon. But I guarantee, if I could just get a little peace and quiet, maybe, just maybe that might change.

Namaste.

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yoga as right relationship

This afternoon, as I settled into space on my mat, I read this from Meditations from the Mat:

The yamas and niyamas bring us into right relationship with ourselves, others, and the spirit of the universe.

For the next 60 minutes, as I flowed through 108 delicious salutations on this winter solstice, my mind chewed on that intention and my heart lingered in that prayer: right relationship.

Yoga creates the space for right relationship…first on the mat, then like the aroma of fresh-baked bread, it permeates beyond the mat into my daily life, nourishing all the hard postures that this messy life demands. IMG_1193

Yoga creates a right relationship with God. On my mat, thank you’s flow as freely from my lips as sweat. When I bow low into forward fold, and then lower into child’s pose, I am taking my rightful place before God: prostrate and humble. As I stand solid in tree pose, leg tucked up, poised between the push and pull, I honor the rightful space of being rooted in God’s faithful foundation, a small but glorious part of Creation. I grow my branches in worship.

IMG_1186Yoga creates a right relationship with my body. On my mat, I feel the heaviness of hurtful choices; I am weighed down by my weak will. And I twist, turn, small and insignificant, towards health and self-care. And then I twist, turn again. Ever twisting, turning, I rightfully see myself as worthy…worthy of breath, worthy of boundaries, worthy of stillness, worthy of sweat, worthy of fruits and vegetables and water, worthy of the sweetest life without sugar, worthy of saying the immediate no for the eternal yes. I stand strong in Virabhadrasana, a warrior of my blood and beauty.

IMG_1197Yoga creates a right relationship with those around me. On my mat, I send my liquid-energy and breath-prayers to those around me, who need it. On my mat, with my hands at heart center, I see that we all need it. We are a part of a collective yogi-body, aching and breaking and faking and shaking and making shallow paths through dark forests of pain and error. So I squat low in horse, pulling strength into my hidden self, then offering it up for those around me–those on mats or in memories.

Yoga creates a right relationship with righteousness. In the mental space of nothingness, where breath meets and greets breath, I learn my wrongs: my disproportions dragging my heart to the ground in balancing stick. So I pull my shoulders down and shine my heart towards the Divine Sky, where Light pours in and changes me, so that I can say sorry and see glory and not the gashes of a wounded life.

Right relationship. I sit with this. I bend with this. I live with this. Thank you yoga.

Sunday Stillness

Yes. This. So worth the watch.

let it go: it’s not as easy as the pop ballad sings

9103b1151dd8dc751f2ae73f0f408a93For those of you who have had even the shortest tidbit serving in restaurants, you know–like I do–that no dining out experience can go uncritiqued. The same is true now that I’m a certified yoga teacher. Yesterday Dave and I went to a level 1 class…and let’s just say I gave up about halfway through listening and following the instructor and finished my own practice in Shavasana. Everything about the instructor was off: the setting of intention was sloppy; she taught from the back corner of the room with a mousy voice; her assists were not grounded; her cues were weak at best, absent at worst; she ignored an older gentleman in the class who clearly needed modifications and cues; her pace was off; she made poor choices for postures; she failed to cue modifications consistently.

But of course, I practice yoga in non-judgment. Ugh…

I tried so hard to release judgment, to just be present with my breath on my own mat…but I just couldn’t. let. it. go. The minute I found peace in my breath, her voice would chime in, and then my mind would criticize and compare. A vicious cycle, I finally gave up and laid in Shavasana, palms pressed into the Earth, focusing with my inhales ” my thumbs are grounded, my pointers are grounded…”

Naturally, this is true off of my mat as well. I think about when I am in meetings, or PD, or conversations that are not going to my standards and expectations. I find myself daydreaming, diverting, distracting, disengaging, because I just can’t let it go. The question, the challenge, arises: how do I stay present when I do not deem a task worthy of my presence?

Ouch. That’s a raw reality.

For me, the answer to this question lies in a critical distinction: what I can control versus what I cannot control.

  • 235bef9b0da84b1fbd92f5eded8f17c5I can control how I sequence, cue, and sanctify a yoga class. I can learn from what I don’t like and do differently the next time I teach. But at the moment I am in class with another teacher, the only moment I have in all reality, I cannot control her teaching. I can only control how I respond.
  • I can control meetings, PD’s, or conversations in which I have influence. I can structure those with honor and intention; I can make them meaningful to all parties involved. But at the moment I am in a meeting or PD that I do not have control over, the only moment I have in all reality, I cannot control “them” or “it.” But I can control how I respond.

So what is my response? How do I stay present? Breath. As Thich Nhat Hanh says,

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.

To be present and mindful in the current moment, the only moment I have in all reality, I need to come back to the root and wings of my breath. In the inhales, I find intention. In the exhales, I find surrender. 

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