Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Rub Down on Massage

A Circle to Center
     I completed my first massage training in Minneapolis twenty years ago, with no intention of actually working as a massage therapist. My hands were reserved for friends and family, usually in lieu of shopping for a special occasion gift. It seemed like the perfect get-out-of-shopping-for-life card.

I was not interested in massaging strangers or dealing with the transaction of touch for money. Massage seemed like something that should be given freely, like when the Pope washes the feet of the people. Then there was that dreaded misconception of linking any kind of massage with the sex industry. I didn't want to be associated with 'happy endings' and other back pages massage practices.

Other mental obstacles arose. What if I wasn't good enough to charge money for massage? What if someone was offensive, demanding, or creepy? Most importantly, I did not want to face the discomfort over any of these feared scenarios. Yet, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable would prove to be as valuable a skill as the massage techniques themselves.

My real interest in massage and bodywork came from experiencing it for myself. I preferred to be on the receiving end of what felt like profound (albeit momentary) bliss. Receiving massage introduced me to the state of being present in my body. Without massage in my life, I probably would have viewed yoga as another routine exercise class, and meditation as a complete waste of time. Instead, these practices have given me a felt sense of life. Transporting me from an over thinking mind to what feels like a sacred state. A state of contentment.

In the last few years, massage has circled back onto my radar. It has arrived with a new level of interest and understanding. Giving massage has become almost as gratifying as receiving. Trust in the potency of these embodied practices have replaced the fears. It turns out, we all just want to feel our aliveness. We all crave healing, human touch, and connection to our own centered selves. People of all personality types, ages, sizes and shapes want to be free from suffering. Massage helps us to sense, feel, and remember our wholeness.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Modes of Travel

    
A New Point of View
     Taking a break from habit in order to administer the medicine of change may require some kind of travel. Whether this travel involves an airline ticket, or a turn inward for meditative travel, resistance can lurk.

In order to embrace needed change, I first need to acknowledge any protesters to it. These mind critics sound a lot like the weather channel reporting on an event, 'Stay safe, don't travel unless absolutely necessary.' If it didn't feel absolutely necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health, I probably wouldn't travel outside of known comforts.

A change of scenery can be as simple as taking a walk through an unfamiliar town, or finding a new tree to lean against for a while. One thing is for sure, fresh eyes awaken when our routines are shaken. Our brains work differently when we step outside of our patterns. We become more engaged, creative and interested in our surroundings. Mood is often lifted.

If traditional ideas of travel are not practical or accessible (or even if they are), we can always rely on a change of scenery through inner body travel. Inner modes of travel such as meditation, yoga, massage, tai chi, or acupuncture are excellent ways to break up our habit patterns. There is no Rough Guide for inner body travel, which make it particularly adventurous. Sensing and feelig our way through embodied practices, we get a needed break from the deep grooves of habit.

Whatever the mode of travel, curiosity and non-judgment might be the most important qualities to pack. Since the depth of open minded travel is uncharted, staying curious to whatever is happening (inside and outside the body) will make any journey worthwhile.

It's said that an enlightened being would know freshness in all moments, no matter how mundane or redundant. Perhaps the Enlightened One has cultivated a traveler's mind in all circumstances? Whether traveling existentially, by train, plane, or yoga pose, you'll know you're experiencing a traveler's mindset when the moment at hand has the fullness of your loving attention and interest.




Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Art of Crotch Flashing

painting by Jessie Fisher
     When I think about yoga, I do not imagine a person in tights standing on one leg while pulling his/her opposite foot up towards the sky. Natarajasana (Dancer Pose) is undoubtedly a valid and ancient yoga pose, though perhaps it isn't the quintessence of yoga. Still the mere mention of the word 'yoga' frequently produces a tremulous demonstration of it by someone in the room. This yoga-based skit might draw out some "oo's," "ahhs," and sometimes even laughs. Artful crotch flashing makes for entertaining yoga theater.

Part of my cringe regarding this coveted pose comes from early attempts at teaching it. I regularly included it in classes as an impressive goal pose. It seemed easier to please our  egos than challenge them with too much yoga philosophy. Though easier was definitely not as interesting. 

Essential guidance from yoga's Yamas and Niyamas encourage non-harming, non-greed, and non-grasping as focal points for yoga practice (and life). When our minds and hearts are aligned with such intentions for practice, the poses become loving experiments in self-acceptance and inner peace.

Pop-up sidewalk meditation. (I'm the teen on the right)
The benefits of yoga could be missed if I'm more concerned about getting my toe to my whatever. Those types of external benchmarks are not measurements of yoga competency.

Instead, being aware of how we meet our bodily experiences and sensations as they arise (and pass), show us valuable information about how we meet life. Can we practice without struggle or strain? How do we sit comfortably with emptiness? What would right effort feel like?

As a teen, I spent a few summers living in a home with a Japanese Buddhist family. My brother and dad resided in a shack in the backyard. My dad worked on the home in exchange for our accommodations. The family also happened to be our friends, and enjoyed having us around the premises. A small Buddhist temple in the living room often caught my attention. MTV was going downhill, so mimicking the Buddha statue gave me something else to do with my free time.  Even though I wasn't aware of any meditation techniques, showing up, ringing the bell, and sitting down felt like enough. This precious practice introduced me to the feeling of being at home in my own body, if only for a few minutes at a time. 

Yoga is sometimes referred to as a goalless practice. There is no final destination and nothing to be accomplished. The expansive present is the practice. Beyond achieving, posturing and proving.

"Yoga asks us to walk a razor's edge, to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to a particular pose, while fully understanding that on another level, the pose is arbitrary and irrelevant. If we cling to the form of the poses as ultimate truth, we miss the point. The poses were born from the practice of yogis who looked inside themselves..." -Anne Cushman








Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sidewalk Somatics

 
Urban camping; view from my sleeping bag.
  Spending the night on the 48th street sidewalk the other night gave me a chance to practice SomaYoga in a unique setting. Inside my sleeping bag it was easy to utilize somatic movement without anyone knowing a yoga practice was in session. Subtle, conscious movement eased some very tense muscles calmed my shivering nerves, and soothed my reactive mind.

Seeing Saturday Night Live was the catalyst for the overnight adventure on the streets of New York City. In order to see the show we would need to be in line for stand-by only tickets a day in advance. Some fans had been camped since Wednesday. "That's crazy, " I judged.

I felt like a well-off homeless person for the night, with proper gear, and money for food trucks. Yet it was still an exercise in suffering with near freezing temps. I struggled to stay warm and failed at being cheerful. Across the street, I saw those who had no choice but to sleep on the street. I felt guilt for being a pampered person of privilege, willing to suffer for my own sense pleasures (entertainment). I watched the arising and passing of the 5 hinderances all night long.

Sleepless on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, the city provided non-stop auditory stimulation, which started to have a redundant theme of idling garbage trucks and yelling. New Yorkers generally offered their full approval (SNL being the prideful institution that it is here), but the tourists were not as understanding and expressed their opinions openly. "You people are insane!" After being called crazy by countless strangers, I started to wonder if it were true. Had I gone mad? Am I like one of those shoppers waiting in line for a giant television discount?

 I thought again about the chronically homeless and the reactions they must endure every day. I mulled over the hypocrisy of humanity. I watched women walk by in unhealthy shoes, carrying loads of shopping bags. Men unable to walk straight due to alcohol poisoning. Many of them shouting out their opinions, as if they somehow had the recipe for the right way to live. All of us labeling what we don't understand as "crazy." Eventually I took refuge in the Oneness. We are all in this swirling mess together trying to make sense of it in our own ways.

It would have been fun to see Tina Fey and Amy Poehler work their comedy magic. Unfortunately, we did not make it into the show with the stand-by tickets. Fortunately, I do not live on the street. A hot bath, good sleep, and attitude adjustment later, I'm still thinking about our brothers and sisters who are still out there trying to stay safe and warm.

                    ~May all beings be free from suffering and from the causes of suffering~


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Yoga for the Ages

Artful interpretation of yoga.
     Learning to slow down and tune-in is possible at any age. Since focusing on the therapeutic applications of yoga, it's funny how often I hear, "you should work with the elderly." This is often followed by the number one question asked by the yoga curious, "do you teach that hot yoga?" I began wondering if people were under the impression that only those 100+ years would benefit from slowing down, while the rest of the population prefers extreme heat and speed?

There are so many incoming messages regarding yoga styles. Yoga Journal and other popular magazines tend to feature the most advanced poses on their covers. As if the general population might be able "to do" the poses advertised, or at least wish they could. Yet, at its core philosophy, yoga is a practice of undoing. The undoing of attachments, expectation, greed. The undoing of holding on so tight, not only in our muscles, but around our concepts of what we "should" be able to do. It is not possible for the experience of yoga to be simulated or photographed.

 A new friend demonstrating "yoga" at 90.
Many people (of all ages) do not feel comfortable slowing down.  Perhaps it seems too passive? How can I be "better" if I'm not "doing" more? For others, slowing down can be the most difficult instruction imaginable. All the more reason to advance your practice by slowing it down. I feel sadness when I hear people approaching yoga as if it were something to be performed. When one thinks they are "not good at" or "can't do" yoga, they might be discouraged from practicing at all. Though the external appearance of a yoga pose can be quite stunning, it is the inner body experiencing that makes it uniquely yoga.

Comparing and striving are not part of yoga's guiding principals. The yamas & niyamas rather, emphasize dwelling in the recognition of presence/energy/soma, not developing a stronger ego/mind.

Approaching yoga in a somatic way challenges our habitual movements and hurried minds. I am already a pro at rushing and multi-tasking. These are skills are valued in modern lifestyles. I wanted to be valued, so I learned to hurry at a young age. Perhaps this is why feeling and sensing the inner body experience is what I most cherish about yoga. It is a chance to be, not a thing to get.

This month I've decided to add yoga sessions for people 80-100+ to my schedule. This is easy to do, since I have connections with 3 grandparents and their communities. I'm not concerned about what my elders will be able to "do." Breath awareness, yoga for the hands, face, shoulders, feet, eyes, and ears make for deep and healing yoga practices at any age. The pose pictured above will definitely not be the goal, but does demonstrate that the body can be flexible (or hypermobile) at any age.

Monday, October 19, 2015

SomaYoga at Stillpoint

Peace in every step?
     When I watched the guests at Stillpoint Lodge move with curiosity through their yoga classes, it inspired me to do the same with my daily living habits. An essential aspect of SomaYoga is to "stay curious." Stay interested in what's happening, as it's happening.

Most of us dabble in auto-pilot living. Sometimes we get stuck in reflexive living. We've all pulled out stale or canned responses in newly given moments, and sometimes this routine response to life becomes hard wired in our brains. This might be fine if rote living didn't create tension in our muscles, minds, and affect our relationships. On the flip side, staying curious turns boredom into entertainment, and makes the most overwhelming situations more manageable. Being grateful for whatever curious thing arises next, keeps me from being a slave to my particular set of likes and dislikes. As a major bonus, whenever I remember to trade in judgement for curiosity & gratitude, I experience peace.

Understanding that each moment is an original, why not get interested in every given one? Why limit ourselves to enjoying life only when it is meeting our demands? When I fall away from a playful curiosity towards myself and others, I miss the opportunity for gratitude and happiness.

No rushing going on here.
Rushing to get to the next, possibly better moment, in order to continue rushing to the next, is no longer a lifestyle I want to support for myself. Knowing that I can only live one moment at a time, as they are given. Now is the time to get curious about life, in all the ways it presents itself.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Who's Your Mama?

     Another round of the warm seasons in Alaska sounded like a good idea, even though I had not planned on repeating last summer's itinerary. But as Heraclitus wrote, "No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

Mothering Hen
I arrived back in Halibut Cove ten days ago, noticing how many things really had changed. For starters, my nanny gig has a new baby in the mix! Her seven year old sister is displaying a growing maturity and a sassy new haircut. I thought about all the obvious changes while watching one of the hens, remembering her as a tiny chick last year at this time. This hen, lovingly named Poof, had been sitting on unfertilized eggs, anticipating they would hatch. The situation gave her human caregivers an idea. They purchased 6 chicks and placed them under Poof in the night. The broody hen is now caring for the chicks as if they were her own.

I couldn't help but notice some similarities between me and the hen. I too, had become an instant mother figure for the season. "We are all children of the Universe" is an adage that keeps going through my head. It led me to think that we are probably all mothers too. Whether you hatch your own chicks or not, male of female, I think there is a mother in all of us. Mine is excited for this summer. Another new element this season is that my room floats on the sea! How soothing to be rocked to sleep by Mother Nature herself.

There is also a new crew, which is sure to bring up ample opportunities for mind-study. Indeed, it is not the same river and I am not the same woman.