One of the things I like best about New Year’s is that it’s a very unifying holiday; it’s celebrated around the world.  Few other holidays or events are shared by so many people at the same time.  New Year’s serves an important role: it provides an opportunity for reflection and re-set, renewal.  We look back on the opportunities and challenges of the year before and reflect on how we wish the year ahead to be.

Years ago, my teacher Suzie Hurley opened the first class of the new year by asking us to think about some limitation we think we have, and to imagine our lives without that limitation, to envision what would be different, how we would feel differently.  At the time, I took her suggestion at quite a literal level – for me, my limitation in my yoga practice was that I couldn’t do handstand by myself, just too scared to really kick up.  What would my life be like if I could in fact do handstand?  For me, I saw it as a gateway pose for me to go to the next level of class, for me to feel like I could do yoga well enough to start along the path of teaching.  Later that year, I did manage (after a lot of hard work and daily practice) to kick up into handstand, and it’s now one of my favorite poses.

But her suggestion really goes a whole lot deeper – what if we released our self-image of limitation?  What if instead of overcoming our perceived shortcoming like I did with handstands, we shift our view?  If I could do this, shift my view, then I can overcome any limitation.  For example, maybe I see my age as a limitation; obviously there’s nothing I can do about my age, it just is what it is.  So instead, softening my view and asking myself why I perceive age as a limitation, then I can address those underlying issues, or realize that I don’t actually believe that they are issues.

So this year, I repeat Suzie’s invitation – imagine yourself without one of what you consider limitations, envision yourself living that way, and then manifest it!

Meditation offering:

Start with 3 minutes of sama vritti pranayama (balancing the length and quality of your inhalations and exhalations).  Then return to a natural breath, releasing the breath count.  Softly envision yourself without your perceived limitation, and envision how things might be different.  Literally see this in your mind; for example, if your limitation is getting angry in difficult conversations with a family member, then see yourself sitting down with this person at the kitchen table and having this conversation.  Imagine how your voice will sound, how their face will look, when you have this conversation without your getting angry.  Imagine how you feel after the conversation ends, and imagine how future interactions will be different.  Sit for a few moments in the feeling of this new behavior.  When you’re ready, slowly deepen your breath, bring more awareness to your body, and then softly open your eyes to the new day, the new year.

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I read a beautiful article today by yogi Julia Lee.  About explaining what yoga is:

“People come together in class not only to practice physical poses, but also to acknowledge the divine in all of us. When we move and breathe together, we are moving and breathing not only in service of our selves, but also in service of something greater: humanity. We recognize that we share more commonalities than we do differences; that really, despite our age, gender, sexual orientation, belief system, or economic status, it’s all about just being good, kind, happy people.

Yes, Julia, that is it.  I practice and then I feel better.  By feeling better I can be kinder to others and more upbeat.  And hopefully this generates ripples, helping someone else out, and onward.

The change of seasons always reminds me of the fluidity of time, and how what I think of as static is just changing slowly.  Even when the season changes are subtle, they’re a good reminder that almost everything does change, the world around us, circumstances, and our relationships with others.  As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, it feels like it’s time to turn inside a little more, delve more into meditation, slow down and notice what’s around me a little more.  The season change prompts to revisit my relationships and feelings about those around me, and to try to soften and smooth out some of those edges, to view others with a slightly softer, warmer light.

I’ve practiced this with the lovingkindness meditation, in which you actively cultivate feelings of warmth and love, and direct those feelings to others.  It’s easy to start with someone who has supported or provided for you, such as a parent or teacher, feel their love for you, and send them love in return.  Then, thing of someone you love deeply, perhaps a child or life partner, and direct your love to them.  Then, you can move on to someone you’re neutral about, and then perhaps someone you have negative feelings about, this for me is undoubtedly the hardest.  I find myself sort of superficially sending them good thoughts without really changing my view on them specifically.  I think the teaching for me here is that everyone offers something I can love them for, that I can focus on that and through that focus, any hurt feelings or dislike I have of other attributes begins to soften.

A helpful description of and practices for lovingkindness: http://www.wildmind.org/metta

Peace and love to you!

Sometimes growth appears in an obvious manner and other times it is slow, requiring some trigger for us to look back and see that indeed we have grown or changed.  One of the ways to grow your asana practice transition from beginner to more intermediate or advanced level, is through extending out to literally grow bigger, “organic expansion” in the Anusara terminology.  This is literally rooting into your connection with the floor and rising up from there, actually growing taller, extending spine, arms and legs a little more.

Recently in a class I attended, my teacher had us work with this extension.  I was amazed to see the difference that expansion made in my fellow student.  He was very much an athlete and had a fairly strong yoga practice, but had only practiced for a year or so.  It was incredible to see him literally extend his spine in a standing pose by at least a half inch, and in his handstand, he literally lengthened a full inch.

Organic extension is what took my backbends to the next level.  Full disclosure: backbends are naturally a relatively strong area for me.  Each of us is different, and we all have poses that easier, and poses that are harder.  Because they are relatively easy for me, I had focused on other poses, and didn’t work too hard on my backbends.  But when I learned to extend my heart up to the sky, my backbends exploded.  Rooting down through my feet keeps my foundation strong and my low back safe, and upward extension through my chest is how I find room to curl more, to reach back further and peacefully extend into deeper poses.

It’s an interesting comparison: physical expansion through the chest and heart opens up your body, while expanding your view opens up your heart and your connection with others.  To grow our inner selves is also to stretch ourselves from our starting point.  For our relationships with others, we do this by opening our hearts, by seeing the other’s view, and making space for people to be who they are, versus trying to change them.

May your practice on the mat improve your life off the mat.

Meditation is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Somehow it’s easier to get to a 90 minute yoga class after a busy day at work, or to lace up my sneakers and run 8 miles at 6 in the morning than it is to sit for 10 minutes in meditation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my meditation timer chime and I realize I spent the entire time thinking about whatever thoughts floated in.  The worst is when I catch myself avoiding actually meditating by thinking about meditation!  I mean, really, does it get much worse than that?

It turns out, yes, it does.  Worse is not meditating at all.  When I meditate regularly (and I meditate 10 minutes a day, it’s still a struggle even after 3 years), I feel calmer, more settled, more able to think creatively, less likely to snap at my beloved or those around me.  Really.  The first time I noticed benefits from meditation was when I stopped it after sitting regularly for about a month.  I just had that feeling of unease, of ennui, and was more irritated.  Now, I’m more likely to have wacky nightmares or get distracted (now what did I come into this room for?) when I haven’t been meditating.

Don’t meditate because I said so.  Try it for a week because I said so. Then when life gets in the way and your practice is interrupted, notice if you feel any different.  Then meditate because it enriches your life.

Have you ever recalled a story from childhood only to find out from your family that it didn’t really happen that way?  I have plenty: for example, thinking my parents had taken me to the Nutcracker ballet every year when in fact I just watched it a million times on the VCR (yes, I said VCR) when I was really sick with the flu one winter?  Or the one about testifying at the courthouse trial for the neighborhood dog that had killed my cat (it was actually a zoning meeting about a dog kennel nearby and I certainly didn’t speak at it, I was five or six years old).

Or the story I told myself for years that I was just too tall for handstands, that I just had too much legs to get up.  Maybe you’ve told yourself even scarier stories, that that awful thing that happened was your fault, that you somehow deserved it.  Or that you’re not smart enough to do X, or whatever.  We all tell ourselves these stories.

One of the things yoga has taught me is that these are just stories.  Think of the stories from childhood, and how your mind innocently remembered things differently than they really were.  As it turns out, I’m not too tall to do handstands.  I do them quite well, thank you, once I got over my fears and actually kicked instead of half-kicking while mentally freaking out about falling on my face.

The trick is to see these as what they are: stories.  Everything we observe and recall is a product of our own filters, biases and views.  That doesn’t make them true.  Sadly, failing to recognize them as just stories versus “truth” is what affects our lives: these stories become self-fulfilling, where we hold ourselves back from our full potential.

My invitation to you this week: challenge something you think of as “true” – what makes it true, versus a story you told yourself?  Can you become aware of the filters you use, and identify and release a story you no longer have to hold yourself to?

I attended a series of workshops with one of my all time favorite teachers, Desiree Rumbaugh recently.  She taught with a focus on drawing the front ribs in, then scooping the tailbone.  This has really improved my practice.  For the other former Anusara folks out there, it reminded me a lot of engaging kidney loop and then using that power to really engage pelvic loop, scooping tailbone.

I have always had a tenuous relationship with my tailbone.  I think I’m scooping my tailbone but in reality it’s weak.  What I was missing was the connection of drawing my ribs in first, before scooping my tailbone.  This way there is so much more power in the scoop.  I’m sure in one of the very many classes I’ve taken, others have told me to do this, but somehow the way Desiree explained and taught it, it stuck this time.  I really had convinced myself that my ribcage just jutted forward more than others’ did; even when I’ve gained some weight (I’m always at a moderate weight), one can often easily see my ribs poking out a bit.  I’ve always found backbends to come more naturally and easily than forward bends; I am still significantly better at backbending than in forward folding, though I spend much more time practice forward folds.

Bingo!  It’s all related.  Drawing my front ribs back then scooping my tailbone created a much safer feeling to my forward folds, and frankly it was easier and allowed me to go deeper than usual, without the scary feeling that most of the stretch was in my hamstring attachments.

Guess what else?  My inversions feel more balanced and steady, and I can balance away from the wall longer in pincha and handstand too.

Give it a shot: from a neutral pose like tadasana, play around with allowing your ribs to poke out and your bum to extend behind you a lot (thighs back in the old lingo) and then take it the other direction — draw your ribs in so much you feel you look like a hunchback, and then scoop your tailbone as much as you can.  Then, take a simple forward fold such as parsvottanasana, and as you fold forward, do a few iterations of ribs in, tailbone scoop as you go.  See what you think!

About a week ago, I received a great gift.  A relative shifted his attitude toward me, and built and cemented our friendship.

We are related through marriage and have known each other for almost a decade, but we have never really clicked.  He seemed just so different from me, and we had difficulty connecting with each other.  It might not be a stretch to say that we didn’t really like each other a whole lot.  Last week, he shifted his attitude toward me and really opened up to me; we are truly family now.  And all it took was for him to make a conscious mental shift, for him to decide we are good, and to take the small risk of trying to reframe our relationship.

In addition to the gift of his friendship and support (he is an amazing person), he gave me the gift of the lesson underneath it all.  He taught me that by shifting my attitude, I have the power to change my relationships with other people.  To some extent it takes two, but even if the other person is unwilling to change, I can still shift my half of the relationship.  I suspect that most of the time, it will work fully; that the other person will be receptive to the shift and embrace the change.

In teacher training, we learn “Attitude, Action, Alignment”; that an asana practice must start with the right attitude.  Like most of what we learn on the mat, learning to skillfully adjust our own attitudes extends to and pays dividends in real life.

I hope I can always remember the gift my family member has given me: that truly, attitude is everything, and I have the power to change my relationships just by shifting my attitude toward those around me.

What do you do for the love of it?  Do you get up early on weekends to bike or run?  Do you stay up all hours of the night working on a personal project of some kind?  What keeps your favorite activities fresh and engaging?

Last weekend, I ran a race.  I’ve run that race before, and others of the same distance.  The day before I was anxious, nervous and was really asking myself why I was doing this, why I was putting myself through this.  It certainly dictated most of my weekend plans, I had to go to bed early Saturday night, and made no plans Sunday other than the race.

In a race of 35,000 people, including invited athletes from around the world, I was certainly not going to win.  So what did I have to be nervous about?  I recommitted to having fun over anything else.  I run because I enjoy it, and it just took me a while that weekend to remember that.  I did run the race, and had the most fun I’ve had over the five or so races I’ve done.  Whether related to my revised mindset or not, I beat my time goal too.

This week in class I’ve been offering yoga for the love of it.  Practice because it’s enjoyable, whether or not you get your legs straighter in your forward folds or hold bakasana for two more seconds, but because it’s fun, and hopefully you feel better afterward.  That’s why I run and is a lot of why I practice yoga.  Really focusing on your breath and developing your skill at feeling your body is a way to deepen your enjoyment even more, by tuning in more deeply.

Yoga hacks: our fun hacker dojo community in action today.  We meet weekly for yoga fun, geek jokes and tech talk afterward.