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On Monday I attended a memorial service for a friend’s husband, who died suddenly in an accident the week before.  What stood out to me most after the service, in addition to the sheer tragedy of it for my friend and her daughter, was that I feel like I missed out, I wished I’d gotten to know him better.  Everyone who spoke of him described him as being bold, and being extremely energetic and driven.  They described that when you first met him, you knew he was someone special, that he never met a stranger, and that he had lived so fully.

As too-early deaths often do, I’m reminded to live my fullest life now, to do and go for what I think matters, and to be fully present in the experiences I have.  He gave us a wonderful gift in his example of how to live fully, to be fully committed to what mattered, and to experiencing all that life has to offer.

Yoga is a practice that encourages us to live fully; our practice on the mat is simply training and preparation for life off the mat.  One of the things that keeps me coming back to my mat day after day is that I feel more alive, I feel more whole, and I feel more empowered when I practice.  This week in class, we will practice with radical expansion, with rooting into the foundation and expanding in all directions from there.  We will support ourselves with strong shoulder integration and challenge ourselves with a variety of hand balances including one armed handstands and vasistasana transitions to hanumanasana, and back.

With the empowerment of practicing asana fully, bravely, expansively, maybe we will be able to live more fully, bravely, and expansively too.  For me, this means actively pursuing goals I have set for myself.  There are a few I’ve made significant progress with over the last couple of years: taking the leap to live somewhere totally new (coast-to-coast move), sharing what I love so much with others (yoga), and doing work at a place whose mission aligns well with my values (job change a few months ago).  I’ve started chipping away at another goal of giving back to the community, though there is much more to do.  There is much more to discover, learn and experience.

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Courage is not being without fear, but acting despite fear, my teacher Sianna said recently.  In a way, this is more challenging, but in another, it’s a lot more truthful and achievable.  Often when I decide that I am unafraid of something, it’s that I stashed that fear away in a little box and refuse to consider it.  It’s not that the fear is gone, but that I ignore it and move on.  Acting despite fear is a more truthful approach, with more integrity, to say, “well, yes, I’m scared that X will happen, but I’m going to do Y anyway.”

I think many of us feel this way with the Anusara fiasco that started this February, with allegations against John Friend etc.  I, like many others, were holding out hope that the Interim Committee could rescue the good of Anusara and set up a new teacher-run school, independent of John.  The current reality is that this is not happening, despite tireless efforts by some wonderful people.  My fear has been, “well, if not Anusara, where do I belong?”  I am trying to convince myself that I don’t need a style of yoga or broader community (beyond the local groups with whom I practice and teach).  But I am still afraid.  I felt like I had found “my people” in Anusara and now I feel a bit stranded.

The story of the goddess Durga inspires me to act despite my fears, to keep finding my voice despite the dissolution and fracturing of what I think/thought were my people.  One day a long time ago, a demon was terrorizing everyone and everything, he had grown very powerful and thought he was invincible.  His name was Mahishashura.  One by one the powerful gods went after him, to fight him, and one by one they failed, including Shiva.  Mahishashura had been given a boon from Brahma that no man could kill him.  So the gods decided to create the goddess Durga to send after him.  On the 10th day of battle, Durga cut off his head and finally killed Mahishashura.

Do you think Durga was a little bit scared to fight this demon none of the powerful gods of the land could harm?  Do you think she felt the pressure of everyone depending on her?  I certainly do.  But she acted anyway, persevering over 10 days of battle and finally winning.  For me, I will think of Durga the next time my fears try to tell me I can’t do something, or that it won’t work out, or whatever.  I will recognize that yes, it’s scary, but I have that part of Durga inside me and I will act.

Asana recommendations:

Arm balances such as Eka Pada Koundinyasana 2, Parvsa Bakasana – start with hip openers such as lunges with elbows down, Agni Stambasana, and work into bound Parvsakonasana variations.  Attempt EPK 2 through slow transition from lunge, as well as from plank pose, pulling leg in and out, stacking knee above bent elbow and really moving heart forward several inches.

I’ve been contemplating integrity, as part of the broader theme of living my life in accordance with what I stand for.  To me, one aspect of integrity is what I do when no one’s looking, how I behave.  I support myself in this endeavor by creating healthy habits that align with what I stand for.  I lean on these support habits when things go wonky and it’s hard to stay in balance.  Two of these habits are daily meditation and a gratitude journal.

I attempt to meditate for a measly 8-10 minutes a day, which I miss when I skip it.  Also, I keep a gratitude journal and write a word or phrase in it every day, whether it’s my loving kitty’s name, that I was able to help a yoga student somehow, or for my wonderful life partner.  These support habits don’t happen all the time, but they happen a lot, and there’s a tangible impact to my life and happiness when I do them regularly.  They create a nice shift in my mindset that makes me feel happier, more satisfied, and more optimistic about the future.

My invitation to you:  Ponder what will help you maintain your integrity, your alignment with what you stand for, even when no one’s looking; and to take action to support yourself in this pursuit.

Asana recommendation:  Find integrity in your standing poses, which can be very grounding and stabilizing.  Start by standing in Tadasana, then move your thighs back an inch or two (toward the space behind you).  Next, tuck your tailbone down just slightly, as if tucking your hands into your back pockets.  Your spine will be in its neutral curve, your pelvis and hips level, and your lower belly will have a slight tone.  As you move through standing poses, take these actions – thighs back, tailbone scoop, and see how your back and hip flexors feel at the end of your practice.  In asymmetrical poses, focus on moving the forward leg thigh back more, and scoop the tailbone more on the rear leg.

As my teacher Noah Maze says, “If you want a fun, happy life in alignment with your spiritual aims then you must cultivate, not just the energy necessary to manifest and live that vision but you must also have the requisite focus, determination and discipline to direct your energy consciously toward what you really want.”

Build tools that support your determination and reinforce your discipline to live life as you want it to be.

Everything we do speaks, whether in conscious or unconscious ways.  Maybe you have very deliberately pondered your legacy, what you want your life to have been when you back at it in old age.  I certainly have, and I’m still working to develop my views of what I want my impact on the world to be, and to take actions and shape my life accordingly.  But what’s easier, more tangible and needed every day, is to consciously shape the ripples we create in every day living, through every action we take.  What do we want the impacts of those actions to be on the ones around us?

I’ve been biking to work recently, and on my way to and from I see a lot of other commuters, particularly in the mornings.  I watched last week as a woman on a bike gave a huge smile and a loud “good morning!!” to everyone she passed.  Many looked back at her blankly, some smiled back, most seemed to be a bit caught off guard.  But, most interestingly, I then heard more “good mornings” between folks after she’d passed by.  To me, this was a concrete example that one person’s simple action affects others.

Asana recommendation:

Bring more awareness into each action you take in your asana practice today.  Focus on moving deliberately and on the spaces between the poses.  These spaces are the unconscious ripples we create in daily life, whether we scowl or smile as we move through our lives.  Keep the sides of the torso long, lengthening the distance between the hip bones and armpits, make space for the positive.  Carefully place your hands and feet in alignment and watch the way you feel.  Try to share any good that comes out of your asana practice with those around you.

thursday evening, i successfully kicked up into handstand, without any assistance.  for more than a year i have been trying this, and very much in earnest for the past 4-6 months, practicing almost every day.

feelings: empowerment, the relief from doubt about the strength of my asana practice, the sense of accomplishment, pride of having really worked for it and now accomplishing it.  it did feel like i was flying, and i felt i was lighter once up there than it often seemed when coming up via an assist. my partner was in the room and witnessed it; i could see his pride and joy at my accomplishment, i’m very thankful for his support and excitement for me.

saturday afternoon i was out hiking a trail which is intersected by a stream; the only way across is a log.  last time i sat down and scooted across – -this time i just simply walked, i felt less fear (after all, i’m a handstander now) and just did it.  woo-hoo!  very excited about the doors that are now open, not only inverted asanas but maybe other doors in life, maybe i’ll have less fear…

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