Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Opening Our Wings

Yesterday I went and took a yoga class at BYS on the South Side, here in Pittsburgh. I parked my car a block and a half away, grabbed my mat, slung it over my shoulder and started my stroll to class.

Suddenly, something flitted across my face. I put my hand up as a reaction and the butterfly that had just brushed my cheek with it's wings landed on the back of it. I brought it up to eye level, and her delicate feet tapped around on my hand so she was facing me, her wings folded tight together.

We examined eachother. I watched her proboscis curl out and taste my skin. I observed the underside of her wings (all she would allow me to see)...soft and brown. Her graceful legs would carry the weight of her body with such strength as she explored me.

I continued my walk to class, assuming she would fly off when I began to move. I was certain the shift would startle her (as much as I truly tried to move gently) and anticipated her lift off at any moment. Yet she stayed with me. No traffic noises, shouts from my fellow pedestrians, or feathery breezes would deter her. As for my part, I tried to shield her from the warm breaths of air that brushed against us with my other hand and pulled her close to act as a buffer for her. We made it the block and a half to the door of the shala safe and sound.

Again, I waited for her to leave. Again, she chose to stay with me. Perhaps, I thought, I'm being given a lesson. So I allowed myself to pause and listen to her wisdom. I grew aware of each sensation of her tiny feet, each twitch of antenae. The longer we stayed there, I became further mindful of the sounds of the cars and trucks on bustling Carson Street... the coolness of the damp morning air... the scents of coffee wafting from windows near by. We two became absorbed in to the morning for what seemed like endless time.

Then, without warning, she opened her wings and allowed me to behold her colors. She was a beautiful Question Mark Butterfly. Her brown underside did little to prepare me for this unexpected grace. The contrasting colors popped and shimmered in the light. Her glory was soft, simple and strong at once and the top of her body was as striking and wondrous as her wings. I offered a silent thanks to her for trusting her beauty with me as she turned. Just as suddenly as she arrived, she flew away.

As I lay on my mat that morning, eyes closed and hugging my knees to my chest, I listened to the quiet chatter of my fellow yogis and yoginis as they waited for class to start. It occurred to me that our practice is much like that of my butterfly friend's lesson to me. We come to class and practice at our home for days and weeks... months and years. We shield ourselves from the outside. We wait and anticipate. We practice presence. And in those rare and precious times we wholly allow our expectations to dissolve and drink in each breath, each sensation, each glorious experience as it happens, it is only then that our inner guide can finally show us our colors.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Breath in, Breath out.

It's been a stressful and emotional week. I was in the height of my fears and frustrations when my husband looked at me and said, "Kristie, BREATH. This is all temporary." My husband found wisdom so simply stated. I had forgotten how we get through anything tough in life (or perhaps more accurately, how we get through life): one breath at a time. From that point on, whenever the situation I was dealing with got too tough, I breathed...consciously. The emotions came up, bubbled out, and passed.

Yesterday, a friend was asking me which Pranayama I practiced to calm myself down when feeling anxious. The first one that came to mind was the one I had found most cleansing and relaxing throughout the week: The Full Yogic Breath. What is that? How do you do it? This is how I like to teach it in class:

Sit with your legs folded and your spine long. Bring your right hand to your navel and your left hand to your breast bone. In your mind's eye, see a closed flower in each of the three origin points of the Full Yogic Breath-- the lower abdomen below the navel, the middle abdomen above the navel, and the upper chest under your breast bone. We begin by breathing in to each part individually before we combine them for a Complete Yogic Breath.

Send all the breath in your body out through your nose. As you draw new breath in, allow it to o pen the flower in the lower abdomen. As the flower blooms, your right hand will rise. Send that breath back out of the body and observe the flower closing again. This breath induces profound relaxation for the heart, reduces high blood pressure, stimulates digestive processes, and regulates intestinal activity.

Inhale again and release the blossom in the middle abdomen above the navel, expanding the rib cage and lowering the diaphragm. Again, release that breath and watch the petals come together. This breath takes the strain off the heart and provides new supply of blood to the liver, gall bladder, spleen, and kidneys.

Bring the breath in once more and observe the bloom of the flower under your breast bone, drawing the left hand up with it. Once again, send the breath away and close the blossom near your heart. This breathing pattern strengthens the hilar lymph nodes in the lungs and thoroughly nourishes the tips of the lungs.

On the next inhalation, we will open all three flowers with the same breath. Inhale and watch the flowers blossom one at a time- lower abdomen, above your navel, and breastbone. Each opening gives way to the blooming of the next flower. As you exhale each subsequent flower folds back in to itself, ready to begin the process again-- first your lower abdomen, then above your navel, and then your chest. Continue this process.

In this way, your breath is the sun warming the petals and drawing them open- fresh with new energy. As you exhale, the petals reunite and restore. This should not be forced-- it is as natural as a morning glory blooming at first light.

This process of bringing in renewed energy and restoration is a powerful instrument that can be used to induce deep relaxation. It encourages the body and mind to unwind and rest.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Early Spring

Whew! What a week it's been! We've been buried under 22 inches of snow here in Pittsburgh. The city has been at a stand still and many of us have been stuck in our homes.

This universe supported pause has created a bit of cabin fever in my household-- at least for everyone but me. As my kids and husband have climbed the walls, I found myself grateful for the hushed world outside. Rather than feeling self inflicted pressure to get back to "my old life", I was offered an opportunity to allow myself to slow down and appreciate what I have right now. There is no "old life" to get back to. I am alive. I am here. I have changed and grown. I have this life now.

These cooped up hours found me in meditation as I rolled out dough for stromboli or folded loads of laundry. In that time I saw myself lifting through the dankness of the last few months and bathing in hope and faith. I discovered an organic process of my spirit budding-- beginning to have faith again in my Hatha practice and hope of what moving back towards my daily practice might mean for my life.

After my blog post about how I had been avoiding my Hatha practice, a wise Yogi suggested to me her suspicion that it was not avoidance but merely that I was not yet ready to practice again. Her words have been on my heart in my meditations.

Tonight as I nursed my daughter to sleep, I felt overwhelmed with desire to move my body...to breath my prayer in asana. I find myself ready once again-- no longer scared of my Hatha Practice but EXCITED to meet myself on the mat and discover what I need to learn.

I look out my window to the cold darkness. Under the heavy weight of all that snow, little green things patiently burrow in the dirt, waiting to feel the warmth of the sun coaxing them up through the earth. When plants are dormant, all life processes are going on, but only at a much slower rate. This interlude allows for a reawakening in the spring. If the gardener looks carefully, they see that the old brown parts aren't turning green-- they are being replaced by new growth.

It would seem that in the time following my surgery, I had my own personal winter. It took a blizzard to show me the importance of pause. It may be eight degrees outside, but it feels as if spring has come early in this house. Little buds, roots, and shoots are starting to grow!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Living in the Guest House

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~
(The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

I took my first class since surgery last night. It was a gentle class taught by my teacher, Cindi. While I was driving there, my hands were trembling and I couldn't believe how nervous I was! Then it hit me-- my practice is a living prayer. I've been angry with God. When I'm angry with someone, my tendency is to shut them out. I wonder if not being ready to practice was my way of saying, "I'm not talking to you." Well, it felt time to open the lines of communication.

I walked in to the studio and was greeted with a warm hug and an understanding smile from Cindi. She's been with me through all of this so she had a keen awareness of my trepidation. I have found it such a blessing to have a teacher with whom I can completely be honest about where I am. There is no judgment...no advice...she just lets me be and then offers support and information. She's present with me.

Class started and it felt like coming home when I brought my awareness to my breath. With my new limitations, I found myself having to discover new ways of moving. In many respects, I felt like a beginner... and it felt WONDERFUL! I offered myself the gift of presence. My legs didn't stretch as far as they did two months ago- so what? I had limited mobility in my left shoulder- so what? I was once again moving in meditation!

Then, we moved to balasana (Child's Pose). This was the asana I was in when I was shocked by my ICD. I panicked a bit. My breath became shorter. Then I felt Cindi's hands on my back. She just held them there a moment (I learned later she was offering me some Reiki). Then all of a sudden, I felt grounded. My entire body softened at once. I made it through...crossed a major hurdle!

The next challenge was in Savasana. I found it blissful and scary all at once. Cindi gave a beautiful Yoga Nidra and I felt myself bouncing between enjoying the hum of my body and wanting to jump out of it in anxiety. Eventually, as I sat with the fear, I saw it's roots as distrust. The challenge has now become finding ways to work in my body and trusting it, in spite of its imperfections. I suppose that trust needs to develop out of acceptance.

I find myself excited to work this out. These feelings of fear are temporary and fleeting...So I will take Rumi's advice and invite them in for tea.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I admit it: I'm avoiding my practice. I'll chant mantras throughout the day with no problem. Heck, my 4 year old can chant "om gum ganapatayei namaha' right along with me. I will even use Nadi Sodhana when I feel a bit of stress during the day.

Yet when I think about carving out some devoted time and sitting down to do some restorative yoga or yoga nidra, I get all nervous and anxious. Yes, I realize it's counter-intuitive. These techniques are supposed to sooth the parasympathetic nervous system and I would likely feel calmer after I practice.

I am even conscious of why I am having this reaction. I'm scared because the last time I went in to child's pose I was shocked by my defribulator. The last time I really had to dig deep and rely on pranayama, I was on a gurney waiting to be wheeled in to surgery and terrified. The last time I truly sat present with myself for any length of time, my chest was cut open and doctors were digging around inside of me.

A friend did a beautiful guided meditation with me on Sunday. She really got me to touch emotions so delicate I almost couldn't hold them for fear they might break. It's strange to be in a paradox like this... I need to go there to invite these emotions to the surface, acknowledge them and let them go. Yet at the same time, there is primitive fear that embracing such depth would bring me to despair.

I question where to go from here... how do I break through the wall between me and myself? The old Nike commerical goes running through my head, "Just do it."

Maybe tomorrow?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Going with the Flow

It's been a tough week. Let's be honest: it's been a tough few months. In addition to dealing with a sick husband and a wicked cold, I ended up in the emergency room last week. It turns out that because they had to place the new wires for my ICD in the same vein as my old, capped off wires, there's a bit of a blood flow problem. There's far less space for the blood to move. When gravity isn't on my side and I'm not completely vertical, I get a tremendous pressure on my head and neck. It's a sensation I can only liken to my neck being squeezed... highly uncomfortable. It makes leaning over to put the kids in car seats, tie shoes, or make beds take so much longer because I have to keep standing up to make the blood move. Sleeping is uncomfortable as well. The hope is that as my body adapts to the wires, this will all go away in about two to three months.

To say that my health issues are starting to get to me is and understatement. I was bitching and moaning about my frustrations with my health on facebook. My status read,"Kristie would like-- someday soon-- to feel healthy. It's been since Nov 12 that I've been 100%. Since then: 3 icd shocks, two surgeries, recovery, scratched cornea, slow blood flow in veins around the leads of my ICD, and now this nasty cold resulting in stuffy nose, fever, cough and chills.... I'm over it!" The next day my status read, "Frustrated that I am not the mommy my kids know and love and haven't been since Nov... And I have at least two more months until my neck issue clears up and I can bend down or raise my pulse without feeling like my head will explode."

One of my wise friends wrote back and suggested I use this as an opportunity to practice patience. Intellectually, I realize she speaks the truth. I get it. Patience, however, has never been a strength of mine. I sat there reading her words and it was as if I was reading Greek. Patience? What's that? How does one go about having patience?

The answer was discovered within. The more my heart rate rises and strains to make that blood move, the more pressure I feel as the blood tries to work around the wires. The exertion my heart puts forth in trying to force the process only makes the situation that much more painful. It exhausts my energy and drains my resources. hmmm... sounds familiar. Just as the blood in me must slow down endure these new obstacles, so do I. I'm thinking I might have to take a lesson from my blood and learn to go with the flow.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

learning to let go...

The concept of Aparigraha is a difficult one for me—and one lesson that the Universe has repeatedly tried to teach me in this life. My struggle is not with attachment to material possessions. Though I was raised in affluence, my mother’s puritan New England values taught us to value people above things and to recognize the simplest riches in life- love, nature, curiosity, imagination…

It is in my relationship to others and my struggle to control that which is out of my hands that I find Aparigraha particularly hard to grasp (pun intended). Indeed, it may be one of the root causes of my anxiety. I have learned in the last few years (basically because the Universe had to bluntly show me!) how to greater appreciate Aparigraha in regards to letting go of my attempts to control my life. Two great lessons stand out to me.

The first lesson came with the birth of my two children. With my son, I was so focused on having the ‘ideal’ birth. This meant drug free and as close to a home birth as I could get in a hospital (I had to be there because of my heart condition). I also tried to control when he would arrive. By 38 weeks, I was trying everything to encourage him to come out- hikes, caster oil, evening primrose oil…you name the old wives’ tale and I had tried it. Finally, I had done enough and had my dilation checked enough that I basically induced my own labor before he was ready. My water broke and I was not in labor. The doctors induced me and I labored for 12 hours on Pitocin before finally giving in to a light epidural. Seamus was born 45 minutes later. As I cradled my perfect little boy, I could not help but feel a twinge of disappointment that I had forced things to the point of having a managed birth.

With Emelie, I was determined to allow her to come in her own time. She was due on the 8th of January (1-08!). The day came and went. My mother and sister flew in to town and walked and massaged me. They left days later with no new baby. My doula came over and did a fear release- still no baby. I finally realized I had not let go of her ‘due date’- this arbitrary date that the baby could arrive two weeks before or two weeks after. She was her own soul who would do things on her own time (a lesson my son’s growth and development had taught me). When we went to bed the night of the 17th, I looked at my husband and actually told him I was fine if I didn’t go in to labor that night because it would just be a lot of stress with Seamus. The next morning I woke with contractions. I checked email, took a nice bath (shaved my legs!), and played with Seamus. When I finally couldn’t walk or talk through a contraction we went to the hospital. We met my doula there and found I was 7 cm. I caught Emelie Anne as she left my body two hours later after a drug free birth (1/18/08). When I let go and let her come when she was meant to I was able to relax and enjoy what was meant to be.

Yet even with the lessons taught to me through the births of my children, when it comes to my loved ones I struggle with Aparigraha. Clearly, I am highly bonded to the people in my life. I even practice a model of parenting called “attachment parenting.” I have great fears about dreadful things happening to them. Working towards letting go of those fears and having faith in the Universe has helped me reduce anxiety. Yet, the concept of Aparigraha still alludes and confuses me—I am an attached person.

The second lesson took a bit longer for me to learn. When I had to stop dancing, I was lost for a very long time. I searched and yearned to fill the void with every little idea that came along. I resisted the change out of fear. If I didn’t dance, who was I? I had to let go of identifying who I was with what I did and discover that Kristie is not just someone who dances.

My road became varied and bumpy. Of course, those 8 years of wandering along my path were not for nothing. I was forced to fill the void by trying all sorts of lovely things. In this way, I discovered I had so much more to offer-- so much more to be than ‘just’ dancer. I discovered qualities about myself I never knew existed because I was so myopic about dance.

It was not until my therapist suggested that I not try to hold on to the dancer identity and just be open to what comes my way that I felt the call to teach Yoga. Once I listened to that call, I found peace. The bitterness that I felt towards my body, my career, my life…it all dissipated. The space that was left was then able to be filled with understanding, perspective, and appreciation for the time I did have and the level of professionalism I was able to experience. I realized that what was fulfilling for me in dance could all be developed in Yoga. I don’t need to dance to find playfulness in moving my body or joy in cooperating with others to understand movement. The anger and disappointment I had always felt towards my physical being was gone because in Yoga, it is still strong and able. Additionally, I found benefits that were not present in dance: instead of working in a world that is highly competitive and superficial, I can foster a career based on collaboration, depth, and respect for those in my field. All these gifts came only when I let go of Kristie the Dancer.

Working towards Aparigraha appears to be one of the great lessons of this lifetime for me. Each time I practice, I learn to let go of trying to grasp what the practice should be and simply let it be. As time goes by this becomes easier in practice and that ease seems to bleed in to my daily life. I may never fully understand this Yama in this life. For now, though, I’ll just keep on practicing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

an obstacle to practice

"In the process of identification, powerful obstacles arise."-- Yoga Darshana

I had two surgeries in November. Needless to say, this has put a bit of a damper on my asana practice. In Yoga, the obstacle of illness or sickness is called Vyadhi. This obstacle, however, has given me new opportunity for growth. Vyadhi reminds me to stay in the present and accept where my practice has to be at the moment. There will be times when my asana practice will be strong and regular because my health is good. There will also be times when the other aspects of yoga need to take precedence because my physical limitations do not allow me to practice asanas, or perhaps just specific asanas. These times become an opportunity to maintain presence in my body while focusing more on the other 7 limbs of Yoga. Even while laying on my bed, I can practice asana in my mind, recite Mantras, and lay in meditation. I can practice jnana yoga--the Yoga of knowledge-- by reading sacred texts.

When I feel up to it, I am given the chance to continue the presence of my body through slowly moving in to asana practice... starting with restoratives, and gradually increasing my strength using props. What a great way to maintain focus on how my beginning students might feel!

What I love about Yoga is that the Mat meets you where you are. Where you are can change from day to day-- even moment to moment! The challenge of the asana practice then becomes working to accept what you can do right now. It is not focusing on what you could do or what you will do... you just do what you can now and you don't HAVE to be or do anything more.

The more I practice yoga, the more I realize just why we call it "practice." You practice on the mat what you need to practice in life. The practice of Yoga reminds me that it is ok to just be where I am...feel what I feel. I don't have to be brave or strong, even when others say that I am. I have learned through this that the real bravery is being present with all that arises, even when unpleasant. In receiving my heart condition, I was offered an opportunity to practice my humanity and acknowledge I do not have to be anything but what I am right here and now. My lesson in 2009 was that in being brave enough to be present, the acceptance of being gives birth to strength....to wisdom...to peace... to trust...to truth.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

here goes...

My mother always suggested to her three children that we journal. In her mind, it would help us to view our world more clearly and realize our intentions. In yoga, we create intention so that as vibrational beings, they will come back to us.

As a yoga student, instructor, and stay at home mom it is always my intention to "live my yoga." This term that is often tossed around is quite meaningful to me. It means that I intend to incorporate the yamas and niyamas-- the ethical precepts of yoga-- in to my daily life... To practice in life what I practice on my mat.

So here goes... my journal of intention and my journey of living my yoga. Enjoy!