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.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Expectations in Sound

What would sound look like?
     Do you ever find yourself feeling agitated by sound? How about in places where silence is expected? One example that comes to mind happened while participating in a 10 day silent meditation. I was assigned a room with a very talkative roommate. Even after addressing the issue with the facilitator the woman continued to talk, both to herself, and to me. I certainly had not expected to room with a sound maker during a silent retreat!

Another time during a silent retreat, major construction was happening next door. The on-going sounds of table saws, hammers, and classic rock radio wasn't mentioned in the weekend program. Without a doubt, my expectations caused me to suffer. I was attached to the idea of an uncluttered environment, which included the absence of noise.

Perhaps it's sirens, a screaming child, or people talking all at once that causes auditory distress? Whatever it may be that irks your ears, try playing with this creative anecdote for embracing the "unexpected" sounds of life. Before beginning this listening experience, you might read & remember that "The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences."  Then, try listening to this sound meditation by Maximum Lotus with an open mind, free of expectation:

Begin by listening to the first few minutes of the composition with your eyes open (to enjoy
    the musicians). Close your eyes for the duration.
Listen & experience whatever arises in your body/mind, both pleasant & unpleasant.
Notice all the different sounds (in the same way you might acknowledge your thoughts during
  a more traditional meditation).
Allow the sounds to replace your thoughts for the next 13 minutes.
Notice where various sounds settle in your body. Do they move around? Can you let them go?
  *Continue sitting in silence for 5 minutes (or more)  and feel the effects when it's finished.*
Consider sharing your experience here, or with another.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Silent Night

Winter Solstice; Returning of Light.
     More days of tradition are approaching. Just as we finish a day of shared gratitude, it's time for the jingle jangle part.

My tradition includes discovering new traditions every year. It may sound like an oxymoron, but it may also be a legitimate tradition. Either way, planned gatherings are sometimes the focus on the 24th, 25th, 31st, and then some. This year, we're taking a break from driving and being overly social. Some possible activities may include washing windows (this is more fun than it sounds), building a fire, and a whole lot of aromatherapy (including fresh nutmeg, essential oils of pine, peppermint, and orange). 

Winter solstice feels like a real highlight among the holidays. I love that it can be celebrated anywhere, includes nature, and always has a present moment aliveness to it. Shortly after contemplating the returning of light, my mind starts to welcome in the tune of "Silent Night", (mostly for the silent part). The anticipation of a silent, healing night has long replaced the anticipation of present unwrapping. 

When we finally cease to scramble, there is a felt sense of our collective holy presence. I hope you will experience this too. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Time to Learn; Yoga as Therapy

Color Therapy in the City.
     I've been back in Minneapolis for just over a month now. The pace of a less frantic lifestyle is still with me. The idea of packing too many engagements into the week feels like a thing of the past. I can only hope this is true. The backdrop of autumn has also encouraged me to move more slowly. I know I wasn't the only one taking long walks this past month, while my eyes (and chakras) bathed in the brilliance of color.

A couple of weeks ago, while taking a break from autumn's color therapy, I spotted a flier for a fascia & asana workshop. Looking closer, I noticed the workshop had already happened, but kept the flier. Maybe the hosting yoga studio would have other interesting workshops in the near future. Checking their website later that day, I noticed a 500 hour therapeutic yoga teacher training program had just begun. It fit my interests in every way. In my research of yoga education options, I only knew of one program that was in line with what I most wanted to learn, but it seemed inaccessible (due to location and program fees). This new option was coming from Yoga North in Duluth! The only studio in a reasonable radius that is focused on therapeutic yoga education. For the first time, they were bringing this training to the Twin Cities. My eyes felt like they were popping right out their sockets with readiness.

Wisdom & Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I spent two days contemplating whether I would really be willing/able to shell out the money/time for this training. I also sent a message to Yoga North to see if it was even possible to join the group and make up the weekend I had already missed. I was feeling a strong "yes", but also a huge doubting "no" lurking in the corners of my mind, and gut. We've all heard the saying, "listen to your gut." My gut was in very noticeable pain, which could have been taken as a sign to forget about the training. Becoming more familiar with the tension patterns in my body, I finally translated the pain. It was just fear trying to run the show.
Recognizing the fear pattern, I decided to trust my decision to ignore it. I joined the training, and just finished the first fulfilling days of it. 

My own body is already feeling the effects of a somatics focused practice. How wonderful not to feel rushed in yoga, or in daily movements. Still very conditioned to hurry through things, I'm making a point to notice this conditioning and frequently ask, how could I slow down right now in order to be more present? How can I enjoy a cup of tea without needing anything else? Practice.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seasons Change: Letting Go of Alaska

Me and my very wise teacher.
     Experiencing the changes of the Alaskan seasons has totally refreshed my being. Instead of a clock, I have watched the Fireweed bud, grow taller than myself, bloom in glorious stages and now turn to white fluff blowing everywhere. Snow on the mountains was abundant when I arrived, disappeared, and very soon will return.

While here, I've learned to drive a boat, clean and can salmon and identify new plants. Digging up potatoes and winterizing the retreat center will be next, in addition to making jams from our wild berry picking expeditions. My taste buds still cheer thinking about the many buckets of blueberries, black (and red) currants, raspberries, watermelon berries, and salmon berries consumed these last few months. On a soul level, I've learned some things that are still hard to express with words.

It does seem curious that I ever questioned spending this time in Alaska. I had wondered if it would be "too long." Too long for what?! It has been the necessary amount of time to witness the natural world, with all of it's leisurely changes. It has been the right amount of time to really be here.

Fireweed in September
Together with the external changes in nature, I've noticed change within myself. An abundance of fresh air may be the reason for an increase in my strength and energy. This environment has promoted a true sense of balance, and reduction in overall stress. I feel closer to nature and much more, a part of it.

The closure part of this experience has begun. The inspiring child I've spent the summer with has started school. This has made it necessary to take longer trips to town. Slowly, I expect these town trips will help me welcome the return of cars and roads back into my life, along with commerce of all kinds.

Glacier kayaking
During this time, I am reminded of the wisdom pointed out in a dharma talk by a Vipassana meditation teacher. She mentioned that it can be a great challenge for some, to let go of formal meditation. At the time, I could not relate to such a dilemma. Letting go of  meditation was the easy part. Getting into it, the challenging part, right? Soon after that talk, I noticed a participant who was clearly immersed in the 10 day retreat. Sometimes, during retreat transitions, out of the corner of my eye, I imagined this person as a very advanced practitioner. At the end of the retreat, the man chose to continue his silence, while the other participants shared their insights and experiences. Suddenly, I wondered if he was someone who had difficulty letting go of retreat. Of course I didn't know his actual story, but the lesson from the dharma talk suddenly made more sense.

Mountains in early May
It is important to let go of our experiences (wonderful or otherwise), in order to continue to be present in life. May yoga & meditation practices help us be resilient, open to life, and willing to let go when necessary.

I may not kayak with a glacier again, but my mind/body/spirit will never forget the many gifts that being in Alaska has brought to my life. May adaptability be one of those many gifts as I get ready to switch gears.