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Archive for September, 2013

Practice

The other day I was thinking about yoga.  OK, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise because yoga is a big part of my life.  But I was thinking about the fact that when one does yoga, when one takes a class, it’s referred to as a yoga practice.  So what are we practicing for?  When we do other sports, our practice refers to the fact that we are getting ready for a game, for the real thing. I took dance lessons when I was younger and all of our practices led to this final moment when we were all on stage, dressed up and made up and under bright lights performing.  So what is our yoga practice getting us ready for?  Well, I think it gets us ready for life.

                There are so many ways in which what we learn on our yoga mat can extend into the world around us.  The most simple of those is this:  just keep breathing.  It’s amazing what simply focusing on the inhales and the exhales can do when you find yourself starting to lose sight of things.  I often like to begin my yoga classes with extended child’s pose, in which the forehead is connected to the ground.  I tell my students to imagine that with the inhales, they are pulling in the strength and energy they need from the earth beneath them; and with the exhales they are able to release what is no longer needed into that same earth.  And though we can’t live our lives on our yoga mat, we can always breathe, right?  Stuck in traffic, faced with difficult coworkers, or dealing with the challenges that must come with life we can always inhale the good stuff and exhale the bad stuff.

                In yoga, you are forced to deal with the fact that you will never look just like the person next to you in class.  There are poses that you can rock out and poses that will continue to elude you.  But that’s cool.  How boring would it be if we all looked the same?  The important part is that we keep working on those poses that are difficult for us, because it’s in these weak parts of our life that we learn the most.  Yes, love that strength that comes when your warrior couldn’t be fiercer and you feel like you’re flying in an arm balance.  But also be gentle with yourself when you butt right up against that edge.

                One of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had in a yoga practice came on my second to last day of teacher training in Costa Rica.  We were instructed to stand in mountain pose, with one arm extended overhead, reaching for energy, and one arm extended out to the side, releasing that energy.  We were asked to hold that pose for a full five minutes.  Try it…it’s not easy.  But our instructor reminded us that we’d been through things much more difficult than that in life.  With that reminder, there was no way I was putting my arms down.  In yoga, we learn that we are capable of probably more than we thought we were.  That feeling when you get a pose that you previously thought was impossible—man, that’s like nothing I’ve ever felt.  It’s a pride and a confidence and a lesson of resilience that has somehow carried into every other difficult situation I’ve faced in life.

                Practice makes perfect, goes the old saying.  But in yoga I think that our practice will always make us acknowledge our imperfections; and our imperfection makes us human.  We will never have a yoga recital, with applause at the end of the number.  We will never ‘win’ yoga against the other team.  It is a practice that will always provide a promise of more practice.  It will continue to teach, we will continue to learn, we will continue to roll out our mats and let the lesson unfold.  We will practice life.

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Broken Windows

In my old house, I had a “drawer of all things.”  It’s where random stuff ended up if it didn’t find a more comfortable place.  You might have that in your house—a ‘catch all closet’, a stack of papers that is, yes, in a stack but still completely disorganized, or maybe a secret pile of clothing that you will one day sort through.  One day….

                Although I may appear completely pulled together in my outward appearance at all times (feel free to insert laughter here), I actually have an entire room in my small apartment that serves to catch all things random.  I live by myself in a two bedroom apartment and when I moved in I was excited that I would have an extra room to use as an office or perhaps a yoga space.  Currently it houses these things— my ridiculous shoe collection which often overflows the neat little rack that sits inside the closet, an ironing board in the middle of the room, one bicycle, one old dog bed that Buddy has deemed unusable, and a desk that is literally overflowing with a mass of papers to be filed away.  Every time I walk into the room to grab shoes, iron clothes or throw another piece of paper on the desk, I get a little frazzled.

                Guess what?  I found something to explain this.  In law enforcement there’s a concept called the broken window effect.  Basically, it means that if there are things in a neighborhood such as graffiti or broken windows, it sends out these subconscious cues to inhabitants of the neighborhood that it’s OK to break laws because these minor violations are going unchecked.  However, if someone goes in and fixes these minor things, repairs these windows; then this cleaning up results in the residents cleaning up their act a little bit.  Crazy, huh?

                This blurb that I read about the broken windows theory takes it a little further…into the lives of those of us who live in more outwardly pristine environments.  The argument states that these little areas of chaos in our house/car/closets can trigger bigger feelings of chaos.  We see these little areas of our lives that are unsettled and we start to feel like we can’t accomplish our bigger goals in life because we can’t even tackle that pile of junk mail/trash/laundry.  These areas of our lives that are in disorder are our broken windows.

                Want to know the worst part about my room of disaster?  It’s the room that I had set aside for yoga, meditation and writing.  It’s one of those things that once I step back and take stock I speak aloud these words—“Really, Ashley?  Really?”  Because the parallel is pretty crystal clear here.  I had taken that space away from myself and filled it with useless clutter.  My window wasn’t just broken…it was painted over and sealed shut.

                I had every intention of cleaning this room…someday.  But someday came and went many times before it finally arrived.  Last week, I felt this inner pull to take action regarding some things in my life in which I felt stuck.  It began with cleaning that room.  In total, it only took about an hour.  I filed, I threw things away, I hung pictures on the wall, and I set up the meditation space.  I dusted the bookshelf and the areas of the desk that had not been protected from dust by oodles of crap.  When I got home from work that night, I walked into the room and instead of this crazy-making feeling of ‘someday’ I instead had this sense of relief; this sense of accomplishment.  Cleaning that room made me feel like it was possible to move forth and tackle other areas of my life that are ‘cluttered.’

                I knew for a while that I needed to take a little time for myself; and to create a little something else in my life.  Space was what I was craving; I wanted to make a little corner of peace in which I could sit quietly.  I wanted to rip things to shreds that I no longer needed.  I wanted to clear off a surface so that I could create once more.  And so I cleaned my room; I repaired my window.  And the view is amazing.

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Feeling Grateful….

There’s a whole lot of happiness going on around me right now and I can’t say that I’m complaining.  Yesterday I was just feeling extremely fortunate about what I had in my life.  I had spent a weekend full of fun times and it left my heart smiling.  I posted an update on Facebook, just saying how grateful I felt for the good things in life and noticed that a few other friends, some near and some far, had posted very similar updates.  It uplifted me for a few reasons.

                For one, I am always happy to hear that my friends are happy.  Two, I am a firm believer in the fact that the good stuff needs to be reported on as much as the icky stuff.  I have always said that there needs to be a ‘good news network.’  It would be a place where we heard about all the positive aspects of humanity instead of the many ways in which people seek to hurt each other and the earth that we inhabit.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I want to just live in a world of unicorns and rainbows and deny the fact that there’s some real bad crap happening all around me.  And it doesn’t mean that I can’t all see through the person on Facebook who constantly posts about how wonderful their life/lover/kid is (we all know that person don’t we?).

                And it was just last week that I was in a not-so-great mood.  Did my kick ass weekend negate all the other stuff going on in my life?  Well, no, but it sure did help.  I went for a little run yesterday and started out by chastising myself for sleeping in because it was hot and 1000% humidity when I stepped out the door.  But then, at about the first mile, something just popped into my head.  “Things are pretty good these days sweetheart.”  That’s what popped into my head.  And yes, my little voice calls me sweetheart.  I had this weekend in which the sun shone on everything that I did.  It was running through paint and swimming through turquoise pool water.  It was long talks with friends around a table on a summer night.  I didn’t solve all my little problems but man, I felt like I was taking the right steps towards doing so.

                So as I was writing my status, I typed that I was “feeling lucky” and then backspaced.  Lucky indicates that all of this fell in my lap, that I did nothing to create this little destiny of mine.  It also whispers that it’s luck, a thing which can turn on a dime in a hot second.  And that’s not very comforting.  No, I instead said that I was “feeling grateful”… because I’ve actually done a good deal of work to get my life to this point.   I have cultivated healthy friendships, I followed my bliss to become a yoga teacher, and I know when I need some time alone and when I need to be surrounded by similar souls.  And, most importantly, I’m usually smart enough to realize when things in my life are good and take some time out to offer some silent thanks for it all.

                That’s the big thing of it all I guess….that we realize how many good things are happening in our life so that we don’t take it all for granted.  Because nothing in life in permanent, and everything is always changing so what’s the harm in realizing what you have when you have it.  It sounds simple…but it’s something that is taking me a while to get to.  In times past, I’ve looked at my situation as a giant jigsaw puzzle and if absolutely everything wasn’t shored up into neat little corners, then I felt like a failure.  But here it is, this beautiful little piece of a Labor Day weekend that might not fit anywhere really but if I keep moving it around and finding more beautiful pieces….well, someday it will all take this shape that maybe I can’t even perceive right now.

                A few weeks ago, I was in Canada at the top of a very tall mountain, being guided in yoga by Native American musicians.  It was the absolute definition of bliss.  As I sat in beginning meditation, the sun from a bluebird sky warming my face, the teacher spoke these words—-“what awesome karma we must all have to be here right now.”  And maybe you don’t believe in karma.  But believe in this—something happens when you recognize the good stuff in your life; it’s like you give the universe permission to bring on more good stuff.  Because, be rest assured, bad stuff will happen and more so than that, drastically in-the-middle mundane stuff will happen even more.  So if you’re joyous, feel that, and love that feeling.  And make it a piece of your puzzle.

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