In the next two blog posts, I will express a series of ideas that I have cultivated from my daily embodied yoga practice. These thoughts, some rather evident and some more obscure, have woven themselves into the fabric of my being and I continually call upon these pillars, these anchors, for humility, grace, support, and guidance. Perhaps these principles can help all of us see ourselves and each other more clearly.
The intention to pay attention brings clarity.
When I remember to pay attention to a specific relationship in my body, eventually that focused attention in a particular area brings clarity and I get better at finding that relationship. For instance, paying attention to my pelvic halves relating to my legs and feet; through focused attention, I develop a more keen sense of this relationship. The familiar sensation or perception of what I once experienced, gradually shifts over time, bringing forth a freshness, an unfamiliar perception in an area of body. The intention to attend to, listen, feel, stay awake and let my body move without getting in the way of its’ wisdom, as best I can, continually brings forth a deeper and clearer understanding of myself. There is always another facet to learn about yourself.
Get curious about the relationships in your life.
Every day, I open my tissues and my skin, I move my muscles and bones, I roll through my organs, in order to awaken to the continuity and presence of me. More of me becomes available to feel, respond, move, breathe and enter into a rich conversation, full of various relationships and pathways. These rich relationships and conversations with myself, allows me to be present and open to having rich relationships and conversations with others. The more I listen, see and feel in myself, the more I am able to see and empathize with others. Opening to the beauty of myself helps me remember to open my eyes to see the amazing beauty in others. This internal embodied practice does not bring me so far into myself that I can see only me, it brings me so far into myself so that I can expand out and be available to hold and support others with compassion and understanding to the best of my ability.
Difficult is okay.
Difficult moments arise often in life, and this fact remains true in one’s practice on the mat. When I practice, I work to meet the difficulty with patience and acceptance, and I continue to hold myself with understanding and support as I move through the challenging experience. The more I go through this process, the more I trust that I can get through a moment even if it is difficult. I learn to be with the difficult or uncomfortable experience. The difficult or the uncomfortable will change, and knowing that reminds me, again and again, that I can grow more capacity for feeling, for difficulty and for challenging moments.
Respond vs React .
The more I practice from an embodied perspective of yoga, the more I become conscious of how it is I am responding in any moment. Practicing this way develops self awareness and trust in the intelligence of my body. When I trust my body, and as I become more self aware, I am more able to feel where I might be hiding, harming or serving… where I might be over reacting, over doing or not doing enough. As I spend time feeling, sensing and perceiving, this gives me the support and trust to adapt and respond to the moment in front of me. To react is to shut down, or to act quickly or impulsively without reflection or awareness. We need to practice in a way that makes pausing, feeling and reflecting our default mode… we need to make space to be responsive, to be curious, to step back and see how else we might approach a given situation.
Wisdom really does stem from experience. Recently, I took an Iyengar Yoga class online with over 100 other students from all over the world. The class was taught by Genny Kapuler, a New York based teacher who I took classes with, religiously, for five years when I lived in NYC. It has been more than 15 years since I had last studied with Genny in her Soho Loft. Genny had stayed with us in Dallas when she came to teach at the Dallas Yoga Center 10 years ago, so our relationship has continued over the years, but this was the first time I had heard her teaching voice in 10 years.
I received many things from being with her recently, but what I experienced so clearly and very loudly is the notion that the layers of meaning in the words of a great teacher are only accessible in stages that are necessarily tied to our own experience. In other words, we can only hear what we are ready for and, therefore, there is always so much that will only be revealed in time, after many years of coming back to our practice consistently and over time. One can hear this very same idea in the ancient yogic texts and I knew it to be true, but practicing with the primary teacher from my formative years, after many years of not practicing with her, allowed me to feel just how true it is.
Returning to a class with Genny was so familiar and, yet, I experienced myself so differently and I heard her words so differently because I have changed. All of the anatomical structures and the words we use to describe movement don’t register fully until our experience catches us up to the words and ideas. My experience of coming back, again and again, to myself and my practice of movement and locating, feeling, finding myself through this practice allows me to hear Genny’s words so differently, and perhaps more fully than ever before.
I have been saying this statement a lot lately, “You hear what you are ready to learn.”
I don’t think Genny is saying anything profoundly different than she would have said years ago, even though she has certainly evolved in her own ways, but I hear and understand her differently.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, when I took classes with Genny, I was preoccupied with all things related to the exterior form. After every weekly class, I would diligently write her sequence down. I was completely focused upon the form and trying to understand why she sequenced the poses the way she did and why she chose the variations of the postures as she did. At the time, her poetic words and other deeper and more complex ideas of relating to the body just washed over me. As must be the case!
I know at the time that her words were seeping in somewhere, somehow, and sometimes landing in some semblance of understanding, but most of the time they really did wash over me like waves because her words did not mean something to me… yet. Her words flowed through me and I remember thinking I will never understand why she says what she says.
After more than a decade, when recently practicing with Genny, I wasn’t preoccupied with the shapes and sequences; I was listening and hearing and remembering the shapes as they unfolded from the inside out. And I found that Genny’s teaching had so many additional layers and so much nuance, and I could meet her teaching from a point of view that incorporated many years of steady practice, research, experience, change and evolution.
As I continue to practice with Genny (thank you coronavirus for bringing Genny’s teaching online!), I can see so clearly where I have been and where I am now. I can truly feel how this practice effects me from the outside to the inside… and then what becomes known on the inside effects the outside again… and back and forth, forever more, just like a mobius strip.
I like to think about the fact that it takes ten years for some wild flowers to germinate. This reminds me that trusting and being patient with the process of our practice is so very important. Good things take time. Many things can only come into existence over time. And this is not only okay, but one of the beautiful rewards of working at something for many years. Like a wildflower, we must let all things germinate fully in their own time.
Experience really does grow wisdom.
Our perception and our beliefs are shaped by what we have been told, taught, and what we have come upon in our own experience. Very few people have been told, taught or have experienced on their own that there are many options for the breath to travel through the body. Like with so many things, there are many options, many choices, for how one breathes, for how the breath can travel through the body. Exploring these many options allows your breath to be responsive, resilient and adaptable, just like in your asana practice and general movement choices.
For the longest time, I thought slow, long and steady was what I was striving for when breathing because I was striving to be calm and peaceful at all times, or at least that was what I thought being a good yogini was all about; a constant state of calmness. And by the way, I was unable to achieve this state, especially if I wanted to be in relationship with any other person. This ideal state of calmness was something I aspired to, and when I wasn’t calm I would work to find calm again because I was determined to achieve what I thought was the ultimate goal of a good yoga practice. Those days of such ideals are long gone.
What I have realized is that if I am trying to maintain a certain state of calm then that goal limits my options to experiencing a variety of states of expression in my breath and in my being. By limiting my perception of what my breath is supposed to be and always striving for and seeking calm, I was not allowing my breath to also be shallow, quick, rhythmic, erratic, uncertain, or changeable and adaptable. What if my breath was allowed to have a range of expression?
If I allow my breath to respond to what I am experiencing then my breath can become a dynamic tool, another experience that I can observe, pay attention to and respond to. I can learn something about myself by paying attention, based on how it is I am breathing in the moment. I can also change how I am relating to the moment by directly manipulating my breath, choosing from an expanded experience of possibilities.
Having a limited idea about what my breath is supposed to be, limited me in how I related to moments in my life. Creating resilience in my movement options as well as my breath options cultivates more resilience in my life.
Do you have the ability to breath wherever you are, in whatever situation or shape you find yourself in? Can you find a way of breathing that relates to the situation you are in? Does your breath arise organically or do the ideas you have around your breath enforce a particular way in which you are breathing? Whatever way you are breathing right now, can you find a different way to breathe? Do you have options in regards to your breath? What is moving when you breath and what is not moving?
This whole discussion about breath relates to my previous blog about habits…any pattern of breathing is problematic because a whole set of choices are not available to you if you only think that one way of breathing is correct. All of our habits are based on our ideas, assumptions, hopes, dreams, histories and any notion of rightness. Therefore, it is in the act of observing, practicing and spending time paying attention that the breath becomes a very potent place to explore our patterns and inquire about our experience.
Some people believe that a big breath is best or exhaling is relaxing. Others believe there is a right and best way to breathe. Perhaps it would be best to simply let your breath just be what it is. As you breathe, observe what is happening right now and then observe if there is an obstacle to your breath or a place it is getting stuck and then make a different choice. Everything can help our breath and everything can be an obstacle to our breath.
I find that part of my job as a teacher is to do my best to create an environment in which people feel safe and can begin to find comfort and settle into themselves so that they can begin to feel the movement of their own breath. Our patterns determine how we see the world and our breath is just another layer of our practice in which we can make new choices and experience ourselves differently.
Just a week ago, I was saying to a friend, “All I have is time.” That statement is such a huge contrast to what I typically feel and say, “I never have enough time!” In an instant, so much has changed for all of us, and we are all responding and adapting to this change in pacing, rhythm and how we use this time.
How are you responding to the time that you have been given?
I noticed that it was challenging for me to just carry on as I did before, do the same things as I did before shelter in place was implemented. This was because I was not able to do the same things, but also because this time felt simultaneously urgent and precious, and this time has given me space to make different choices. This time is definitely limiting my options and, therefore, my attention is being placed on other things, highlighting aspects of my life that I might not have noticed before.
This is exactly what our practice does for us. Our practice reveals, over time, what we have been attending to and what we have not been attending to. It gently nudges us to feel, notice, and find other parts of ourselves that we may have forgotten.
I feel so grateful to have this new space in my life because I am remembering to make different choices with my family and with myself, and I am choosing not to waste any precious moment in spite of the underlying feeling of unknown and uncertainty.
The following is a list of 10 things I have been doing with the extra time that our communal quarantine has provided, and maybe you are finding yourself doing similar things, too:
1. I am really noticing spring. I sit and gaze upon the trees in our yard that are just budding and blooming. My husband is the one who always brings my attention to this time of year and takes me for a walk outside to see all of the daily changes that are occurring in our yard, but now I am more inclined to go outside every day to see these changes. There are so many amazing changes every day in the nature around our home!
2. For the very first time, my husband, son and myself took a bike ride around White Rock Lake. For fourteen years now, we have lived just 5 blocks away from the lake, and yet we never have done this until now. We have all agreed to do this many more times together.
3. I feel so well rested. Prior to this coronavirus pandemic, I would typically take a nap everyday for 20 minutes, but the past two weeks I have not needed to nap. I am actually sleeping until my body wants to wake up and I am going to bed when my body needs to sleep. I am getting the sleep that I need.
4. I am playing the piano every day. I have played the piano since I was 7, and throughout my life playing the piano has brought so much comfort and joy. However, for the past 10 years there has not been so much piano playing. I am really enjoying this time to remember my love for playing this beautiful instrument.
5. One of the most surprising gifts I have received during this time is that I am reconnecting with students from years ago, those who have moved away or haven’t been able to make it to the classes I teach in Dallas. These old friends and students are now able to practice with me, all together again, online. Community is being created in ways I never imagined.
6. My son is expressing to us daily how much he misses school. I never thought I would ever hear him say that.
7. A new daily happening in our home is that my husband, son and I have a mid-day routine of eating lunch together, followed by a walk and then 30 minutes of reading time. This mid-day ritual has become our favorite time of the day. Taking the time in the middle of the day to relate and share together has been so meaningful for all of us.
8. In the past two weeks, I have talked on the phone, texted or zoomed with more friends, family and students than I ever do in any given month (maybe in any given two months!).
9. My family is laughing a lot together, being silly, being spontaneous and being more relaxed together. Our son reflected to us, “you guys are not as stressed as you typically are.” I didn’t even know I was as stressed as I was until there was space to be anything different.
10. I am trying new things, like Pranashakti classes with Dr. Deb in Austin, TX, and Gaga classes online with teachers from NYC and TelAviv. They are both so much fun. Here are the links if you want to give them a try.