Interactive Intentions

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Be soft in your practice.  Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.  Follow the stream, have faith in its course.  It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there.  It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices.  Just follow it.  Never let it out of your sight.  It will take you.  - Sheng Yen, Chinese Buddhist Monk 

Happy New Year!  A few years ago I started a habit of taking time to establish my New Year’s resolution.  I generally set the intention in early January to be open to inspiration and then settle on a specific resolution for the Lunar New Year.  Adopting a fluid, rather than rigid, approach is often more helpful more me in the long run.

This year I tried something a little different.  I actually did set my resolution at the beginning of January and have been revisiting as I waited for the Lunar New Year.  In 2018 we've had an extra long time between the two beginnings.  Lunar, or Chinese, New Year arrived last Friday, February 16th.  Why does it change?  Lunar New Year falls on the second day of the new moon between the 21st of January and the 20th of February.

I appreciated the space this gave me to engage with my intention and modify as needed.  I started off with a commitment on January 1 to bring curiosity to my relationships.  I explored this in my writing for the Riveter blog, and community quickly joined curiosity as a focus.  I sat with these two ideas and another word came up for me - connection.  The past eight weeks offered me time to explore these three concepts individually and collectively.  

Curiosity - As a mother of a toddler, I find that I'm fairly starved for adult conversation.  When I sit with this longing, it becomes clear that this often manifests as a desire for adult attention.  I get the chance to interact with the outside world and I talk, alot.  I'm trying to be aware of that and balance my need to tell stories with curiosity about others' lives.  I want to engage in thoughtful ways with people I disagree with - in a manner than honors both of us.  When alone, I hope to wean myself off of mindless downtime like watching favorite shows and listen to more podcasts that engage my brain.  New Year's Intention #1 - ask questions and stimulate my brain.

Community - This winter I'm focused on how to hibernate and still build community, because winter can be a dark and lonely time of year.  Between cold/flu, short days, and traffic/schedule challenges, it's hard to find time and energy to get out of the house and be with people.  I'm working on small things, like meeting friends at a yoga class I'm already going to so we can practice together or get to know another parent at my son's school or take a writing class to remind myself that I'm not the only one passionate about this craft.  New Year's Intention #2 - be in community.

Connection - Speaking of writing classes, I attended one on dialogue last weekend and was amazed at the life lesson hidden in the group exercise.  We had to fill in half of a conversation for an assigned role.  I was given a card with an instruction to write four lines of dialogue as a teenage daughter in an argument with her mother, without discussing it with the mother.  Then I found the woman who wrote the mother lines and we engaged in the dialogue.  As you might expect, since we wrote our sides of the fight separately, we talked past each other.  The surprising aspect of this exercise was how true to life it felt.  Even when we're right in a conversation with another person, we so often have our own agenda to get across and don't listen or respond very well to what the other is saying.  New Year's Intention #3 - listen in order to connect.

Brené Brown summed up my thoughts for 2018 pretty perfectly in a recent interview with Krista Tippet.  She speaks to loneliness stemming from  "counterfeit connection" and "common enemy intimacy."  We've lost our ability to connect and truly belong.

And so this first practice of true belonging is, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” When you are really struggling with someone, and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or belief, move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection: How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?  Stay curious, be kind, and, listen with the exact same amount of passion that you want to be heard. 

Lunar New Year Intentions

For several years now, I've been experimenting with an extended New Year awareness.  I don't set a January 1st resolution (full disclosure - I haven't been up at midnight for several years now, but that has more to do with motherhood).   I've tied many of my daily rhythms to lunar cycle awareness, which includes celebrating the lunar new year.  Between Jan 1 and the next new moon I sit with ideas for intentions and let them percolate.  By the lunar new year, I’m ready to commit to a few ideas for shaking up my daily life.

It's taken me longer to settle on intentions this year.  But yesterday things clicked and I chose three lunar new year resolutions based on the theme of conscious living.

Pay Attention   I used to regularly set aside time to be tech free - nightly before bed and a weekly ritual silence for a few hours of family time with devices shut off.  As I slip further into motherhood, I've neglected this practice, spinning my wheels faster and faster to try and keep up and keep moving.  I try my best to say off computer and phone when my son is around, but am more hooked than ever in the time I have without him - eating breakfast alone, walking to and from appointments or meetings, sitting on the couch with my husband after our boy has gone to bed.  I'm equally disappointed with myself and addicted.  New year intention number one - conscious eating and walking.  I (re) commit, starting today, to just walk when I am walking and just eat when I am eating.  I will (try and) resist the urge to pick up my phone at the table alone and walking to and fro.  I commit to connecting with myself and the city around me. 

Moon Angels I love staying in tune with the lunar cycle through daily inspiration from Ryan Rebekah Erev's Moon Angels.  These cards provide thought provoking art and guiding descriptions for each day of the cycle from waxing to waning moon.  I've drifted from including these in my morning practice and have missed the ritual.  Today they are back and not a moment too soon.  Many of the systems in our country - political, corporate to name a couple - are dominated by a deeply ingrained patriarchy.  In itself, this solar powered energy we often associate with masculine qualities is not wrong.  But over centuries this way of living and governing has taken root to the exclusion of other ways of functioning and our systems are out of balance, serving only a few rather than all.  Lunar energy is linked to the feminine, to qualities of creativity, calm, and intuition.  Power is expressed in a very different way than we've come to know in our culture.  When we who live in a society dominated by the masculine/sun energy start to pay attention to the feminine/moon energy, we invite a shift towards balancing these two opposites.

Activism  Eight years ago I was inspired, like many, to go into public service following the election of Barack Obama.  I pursued a job with a councilmember at Seattle City Hall.  Two years later I left to pursue a Masters Degree in Sustainable Food Systems and, disillusioned with shortcomings, bureaucracy, and lack of creativity in government, never returned.  I stopped following local politics and grew complacent about (and took for granted) a national progressive agenda.  Eight years later I feel despair and anger at the election results and the decisions currently being made in Washington DC by mostly white, male political leaders.  I am inspired to activism, to an awake and conscious life that comes out of being and living according to a feminine, creative, compassionate rhythm.  

Conscious living - that's my motto for 2017.  Perhaps you'd like to join me?

Eating Together for Better Health

An article titled Simple Rules for Healthy Eating caught my eye earlier this fall.  I find it particularly relevant as we move through the holiday season and then set resolutions, often diet related, for a new year. I appreciated all of the tips, but number 7 resonated with me the most:

Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefits even outside those of nutrition. It will make you more likely to cook. It will most likely make you eat more slowly. It will also make you happy.

I'd add to this - eat sitting down.  Why?  Sitting down can help facilitate a slower meal and bring some awareness to the food in a way that standing around an appetizer buffet discourages.  When we eat together, food becomes about much more than fuel.  Tied to the ritual of gathering around a table, it offers an opportunity to disconnect from digital life and connect with each other in the flesh.  The very act of sitting encourages grounding, an important element to incorporate in daily routines during autumn (see my previous post on staying healthy throughout the fall season).    

You'll likely read plenty in the next few weeks about navigating holiday parties without gaining 10 lbs, which steps to follow to guarantee a healthier you in the new year (gluten-free? plant-based? protein-focused?), whether to cleanse or not, and on and on.  What if you keep it simple and sit down to eat, mostly in the company of others, without a screen? Without changing the contents of your plate, would you feel happier and healthier?  I'd argue yes, but don't take my word for it.  Try it for yourself.

 

 

Begin (again).

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction. — Cynthia Occelli

An apt description of my postpartum yoga journey.  15 months since the birth of my son, my practice has been completely upended, my body reshaped, and my mental state fluctuates wildly. I can feel a shadow of myself one day, and then the next I find I've more energy, creativity, and strength than ever before.  Throughout I've found it helpful to approach my postnatal practice with a beginners mind and I'm bringing this idea to my students as well.  Rather than overwhelm a room full of new mamas with a zillion options, in an effort to keep longtime practitioners engaged while simultaneously offering a safe space for beginners, what if postnatal yoga was really a space for everyone to explore an intro level practice? 

As a yoga teacher with pre and postnatal credentials, I have the added experience of exploring yoga in my own body through pregnancy and after birth.  My teaching is now informed from both training and personal understanding.  What I've found is the unique challenge of approaching yoga with the curiosity I had the first time I rolled out my mat, while allowing space for muscle memory and accumulated knowledge from years of practice.  Life becomes instantly more complicated with the birth of a baby, and there's relief in straightforward physical postures. Discovering yoga after pregnancy is a wonderful time to learn or relearn the basics of asana, pranayama and meditation.  I try to offer my students a space to approach their practice in this same way.  For those returning to yoga after giving birth, there is an incredible opportunity to begin again.  The postpartum body invites mothers to approach familiar poses with wonder, patience, and compassion. 

Whether you are new to both yoga and motherhood, returning to the practice in a new body, or moving through post birth experiences for a second or third (or more) time, you might find comfort in how effective the simplest of poses can be.  Revel in the simplicity - how the most basic of poses can provide challenge.  Feel the pose as if for the first time, and refine it.  Return to poses you had to forgo during pregnancy (twists!).  Rebuild your abdominal muscles from scratch, and perhaps discover them stronger than ever.  I used to avoid abdominals at all costs, I mentally disliked the work.  Then it became necessary for daily life - to ease low back pain, to feel good in my jeans again, to be able to pick up my son day after day as he grows.  It's taken much longer than I every dreamed, but starting from scratch and working diligently has produced a deep core strength I've never had before.

All that said, postnatal yoga classes are more then a place to awaken and tone stretched-out and saggy abdominals.  It takes tremendous courage to start (or start over) a practice.  For many mothers, it is an enormous effort just to leave the privacy and comfort of home and enter into the public realm with baby.  Crying might be viewed as disruptive, diaper changes could turn messy and chaotic, unspoken assumptions about exposed breasts hang in the air.  My biggest priority when I show up to teach and hold babies is to offer a safe space for vulnerable bodies and spirits, a place for you to find support and affirmation for your own journey through motherhood.  Come as you are and begin (again).

(Join me Tuesdays 1:30-2:45pm at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill)

Experts and Intuition

To live in our current culture is to be surrounded by experts.  It can feel comforting to outsource decisions about my health, my parenting, my emotional state, my career path...  I'm constantly overtired and short on time.  Can someone just tell me what to do?  On the face of it, turning to an expert seems terribly efficient and there's a certain element of checking out that I can do. 

[side note...As I privately mull over experts vs personal intuition, we're regularly digging into this tension over at Bricoleur Collective.  It dominated our most recent discussion, which I summarized in this blog post. Then I found I had more to say, especially in the context of motherhood and yoga and so...]

Following my intuition is a huge time commitment.  I need space in my day to be quiet and listen, to get in touch with Ajna Chakra (Third Eye). As I feel my way along, my path might not look consistent or concrete the way it might if I follow prescribed steps laid out by a professional. I'm making decisions based on what's best in real time, and that often adds up to a whole lot of messiness that sometimes seems like "failure."  My head starts spinning with "if only I had done it the way so and so said, this situation would be neat and tidy right now."  I fret, I try and clear some space again to make friends with my inner voice, and that space inevitably gets co-opted by the cries of a toddler. Did I mention I'm exhausted?  

The thing is, I'm also growing weary of all the experts. Especially regarding motherhood. I've read a good number of parenting blogs and books.  Money has been spent on a sleep training plan, with mixed success. I've had a pediatrician tell me it's time to wean and I've had another congratulate me on still breastfeeding my 13 month old son.  What works today may not be helpful tomorrow. Even with all the outside opinions taken into account, I'm still tinkering with this method and that idea.  My son is a real person, living in real time, surrounded by parents living real lives. The advice I get seems made for a baby in a bubble. Seeking outside advice actually doesn't seem to be saving me time.

Here's an ongoing example. A good night's sleep is illusive in our household.  Despite what he's "supposed" to be doing at his age, my son continues to wake around 5am to nurse before sleeping for a couple more hours.  About once a week he wakes up before that and lately will not be consoled unless I hold him. It happened two nights ago. He awoke at 1:30am, screaming, SCREAMING. I knew he wouldn't go back to sleep if I simply forced him onto his back in the crib and walked out.  And I can't sleep through his cries, I'm in the next room.  Wary of physical contact leading to breastfeeding when I've sworn it off before 5am, I picked him up and brought him to bed. He didn't ask to nurse. In fact, he fell right to sleep in between mama and dada. Two hours later he did wake up and start poking my chest. But he was calm. We put him back in his crib and after a little cry, he went back to sleep for another two hours. It wasn't the best night of sleep, but it could have been a whole lot worse had I never picked him up.  

I'd read Our Sleeping Training Nightmare on the New York Times site just the day before and it stuck with me. "Could every professional be wrong," asks the author/mother. "My instincts say yes, but I've never really been on speaking terms with my instincts." She gets on speaking terms and ultimately concludes that "this is parenting, then: trying and failing and reaching and missing and sometimes getting it right, and always loving." 

And this is parenting: holding space for ourselves, our children, and our families. Parenting is an opportunity for continual mindfulness practice. It's never giving up on that time to myself I try and carve out every morning after the 5am feed, but really only happens twice a week. It's creating some spaciousness in my body and mind through Tonglen Meditation. It's giving my son room to roam while keeping focused on him as boredom creeps in and I reach for my phone and then stop (and reach and stop and reach and stop) and go back to holding a safe space for him to keep exploring and expanding his world.

 

 

Right and Wrong (more on the middle way)

It's been a long month.  I started this post in mid-May, just before our in-city move.  I put off final edits and now it's June.  This is my life at the moment.  Disorganized, distracted, dazed.  My daily routine involves chasing a crawling, climbing 9 month old through the box maze that is our new home.  Rather than procrastinate any longer, or start over, I'm ready to just post my thoughts from several weeks ago....

(May 12) My son finally "did his nights," as the french say, for the first time last night at 8 months and 10 days old.  He took longer than the other babies we know around the same age.  But he beat his dad by a few weeks.  We'd gotten to a manageable place at 7 months, then hit 8 months and it all went to hell.  Screaming, unable to console even when brought to bed with us, many night wakings, still nursing twice, impossible to put to sleep, short naps again... I planned to wait it out until our move Saturday, but by last weekend I had had enough and saw a window of opportunity to implement "cry and console."  Parents will probably know what I mean.  If you aren't a parent, it's pretty simple (but oh so controversial).  My own partner has resisted it.  Let the baby cry for increasing intervals and only console for 1-2 minutes between each, without picking baby up.  Sunday night...we went rounds for over an hour before he fell into an exhausted slumber.  Monday night...30 minutes.  Back to two night wakings to feed.  Tuesday night...12 minutes with, surprise, one night waking!  I was pretty happy.  Then last night he went to sleep by himself in 3 minutes...until 6am.  

Of course I woke up feeling pretty pleased with myself.  I had doubts about this strategy, especially going it alone.  But so far it's working.  Better than expected.  My husband is surprised.  I feel good about being right.  

Of course Pema has something to say about this.  I'm taking it slowly through her book, When Things Fall Apart.  This morning I re-read chapter 13 for about the fifth time.  It's easy for me to get caught up in feeling bad about being wrong - I spend a lot of energy there.  Yet parenting has me on the flip side - feeling good about being right.  It's so easy to get cozy with that superiority.  Pema reminds me to live in the middle - without attachment to right or wrong.  It's hard to move away from that black and white world.  Yet compassion can be found in the space you create in between extremes; a compassion necessary for leaving suffering behind.

 

The Middle Way

I got a little sidetracked from Pema Chodren last week.  It was good to return over the weekend during my morning practice.  I'm trying something new, in an effort to let go of my attachment to completion and order.  So many habits have formed in my life around these desires- I rush through much of my life in order to be done and check something else off my list.  Books are just one example.  It feels so good to finish; I love that sense of satisfaction when the chapter is read, the book is done, and I can take it off the "to read" pile and put it neatly in its place on the shelf.   So I've begun to placing my bookmark at the end of a chapter, rather than the beginning, to encourage myself to sit with what I'm reading a bit longer.  

This morning I found myself, still, at the end of chapter nine - Six Kinds of Loneliness.  

The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA.  We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern.  It's the human pattern we project onto a world, a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution... We not only seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution.  We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that.  We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.
Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness... The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things ok... Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are.  Loneliness is not a problem.  Loneliness is nothing to be solved.
Another aspect of cool loneliness is not seeking security from one's discursive thoughts...  We don't seek the companionship of our own constant conversation with ourselves about how it is and how it isn't, whether it is or whether it isn't, whether it should be or whether it shouldn't, whether it can or whether it can't...  We can gradually drop our ideals about who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be.  We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are.

I love this, especially the last part.  I spend so much energy in my life analyzing what I think others' expectations of my life are.  Stories within stories within stories until I'm exhausted and very far from a calm appreciation of who I am.  I want things to be this way, to be that way, to be just a little bit different from how they are, how I am.  I've missed a lot of my life while I run back and forth between what could have been and what should be.  Maybe it's time to spend some time in the middle.  Loneliness gets a bad rap, but it can be a very rich space, as the ancient Persian poet, Hafiz , well knew.  

Super(new)moon

The moon is once again signaling a new beginning.  I love this about the lunar cycle.  We don't have to wait for another January 1 or another birthday or another season.  Every month we are invited to join the lady moon for a fresh start.  She signals us quietly and calmly, just a sliver of cool light.  She whispers to us, "join the creativity happening all around you.  play and dance and make something.  let go of your quest for the alluring, yet ever illusive, linear (upward) trajectory through life and surrender to the cyclical rhythm of nature." 

Within this fresh start offered each month is the paradox that we continue on with our life.  We keep moving and breathing.  We start again and continue on.  I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert's delightful book Big Magic.  She concludes with a reminder about life's paradoxes. 

Creativity is sacred, and its not sacred.  What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all.  We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.  We are terrified, and we are brave.  Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.  Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.  Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise -- you can make anything.  So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?  The treasures hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.

I love that she asks us to be playful and at the same time, nudges us to settle down and just do what we were made to do.  It reminds me of the dual nature of the moon celebrated in the yoga asana pattern Chandra Namaskar (moon salutes).  They are wonderfully alive, while intensely calming. The moon herself can invite heightened or grounded energy depending on whether she's new or full. 

So what will I do today, Day 1 (in the fourth month of the year, in the 36th year of my life)?  Rather than move on to the next book in my stack, I think I'll start this one again.  See what I might have missed the first time.  Allow the encouragement and inspiration to sink in a little deeper.  Start the same journey and see how it becomes its own, different from the last.

 

Good Enough Practice

"Good enough" is popping up all around me.  6 months ago I entered motherhood and now good enough parenting catches my eye.  I'm nearly finished with Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Big Magic, and themes of mundane and persistence stand out - a sort of gentle nudge to just do it every day, even if your writing is total crap and you don't feel at all creative.  I even tried to write this blog weeks ago, the words came out just right, and then as I went to publish I accidentally deleted it.  My second attempt will have to be good enough, because the ideal first version is long gone.

Good enough is normally unacceptable.  I have high standards, my family's are even higher.  I'm genetically predisposed to perfectionism.  But I'm tired to my bones.  I don't know when I'll really sleep.  And so "good enough" isn't such a stretch.  My yoga practice is a shadow of what it once was.  My work is adequate.  My cooking lacks creativity, but is edible.  I dress merely to be clothed, not to make any fashion statement. 

Good enough feels like failure.  I suffer greatly in my attachment to perfectionism.  I like to believe I'm in total control of my life and when it's merely a fraction of what I believe I'm capable of, I think I am to blame. I wrestle constantly with hope, which seems so virtuous but always lets me down.  My instinct is to run from hopelessness, but I can't shake it.  So here I am, muddling through, suffering greatly, and then my friend brings Pema Chodren back into my life.  She's got everything and more to say about my particular suffering.  This week I'm re-reading this passage from When Thing Fall Apart as if my life depends on it.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience up or liven it down or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.

Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keeping looking for alternatives.

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape? We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, and embarrassment and not believe there’s something wrong with that. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better “me” who one day will emerge. We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It’s better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises.

It's funny, this passage.  It gives me a new perspective on the moon cards I read every morning.  Earlier this week, before reading chapter 7 in Pema, I picked up my card for Day 19 of the lunar cycle. 

 

I usually hate drawing this card.  I want to skip over Day 19, pretend it doesn't exist.  Except this time through the deck I'm confronted with shit head on.  Flying shit.  My son sneeks a dirty diaper into our afternoon.  I go to change him, expecting just another wet cloth.  I fling the the diaper open and there goes poop.  I can't see it, but I can smell it.  I'm forced to let eyesight play second fiddle to my sense of smell and let my nose seek it out.  I find a nice little stinky clump sitting on the pretty cream crib bumper.  I shake my head, hold my breath, then go ahead and grab that little piece of poop and toss it out.  There's a tiny mark left behind, but really, no one else would know.  I could undo all those nice little ties and do yet another load of laundry.  Instead, I just leave it.  It's clean enough.  And time to let good enough be good enough. 

A Return to Maitri

I've been a big fan of Maitri (loving kindness) Practice, since my dear teacher Lisa Steele introduced me to it years ago.  It's been a consistent part of my daily practice, at least it was until about two weeks after my son was born and my world turned completely upside down.  I let it go.  And then the hours of lost sleep started to add up.  And my support systems fell apart.  And we had the rainiest winter in Seattle in a century.  And I found out I have to move my family, again.  The world started looking pretty ugly.

Then my best friend brought Pema Chodren back into my life.  While I holed up with a new baby, she discovered secular buddhism and maitri and all the practices I love.  She did the kindest thing for me that I've experienced since she left a daffodil on my doorstep on a dark day 7 years ago.  She reminded me about mindfulness, gently, over and over throughout the long winter.  She sent me passages from Pema's When Things Fall Apart.  She reminded me to breathe.  I'm deeply grateful.

It's a transformative experience to sjmply pause instead of immediately filling up the space.  By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness. -Pema Chodren

Practice - A Balance of Effort and Ease

Be soft in your practice.  Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.  Follow the stream, have faith in its course.  It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there.  It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices.  Just follow it.  Never let it out of your sight.  It will take you.  - Sheng Yen 2014-08-02 14.16.25

My daily home practice was flowing smoothly last fall, but once I hit January it ran right into a brick wall.  I couldn't pry myself out of bed early for a bit of asana and meditation to save my life.  It became, at best, a feeble weekly attempt.  I hoped the season of Lent would jump start my efforts.  No such luck.  Daylight savings seemed like another good marker for gathering momentum, but it came and went and still I struggled.  Surely the transition to spring would have an immediate effect...it to passed without significant influence. Then last week, for no particular reason, I woke up early and found my meditation practice lengthened 10 fold without any real effort.  I resumed my study of the Sutras.  I welcomed the ease.

We like to think we have control over most things in life.  We like to think our shear will power is enough to keep any practice strong at any time.  We feel guilty when we fall short, convinced we've failed.  But life has a force all its own and we can not separate ourselves from the influence of all that swirls around us.  Darkness - whether lack of daylight or seasons of personal struggle - can hinder the best intentions for practice.  The effort to keep going can seem momentous.  And that feeling of exertion can build and build until we are all but ready to give up.

We can't predict when the balance will shift back towards ease, but we can trust that at some point we will cycle back around to a more peaceful place.  Our responsibility is to show up - not to be perfect, not to be the best - simply to show up.  To keep some semblance of commitment going, acknowledge when it's hard, and savor the times that it's effortless.

Be soft in your practice.  Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.  Follow the stream, have faith in its course.  It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there.  It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices.  Just follow it.  Never let it out of your sight.  It will take you.  - Sheng Yen

Time Crunch

Pike Place ClockI'm still adjusting to the recent leap we took to "spring forward" an hour.  I love the extra light in my living room come late afternoon, but I feel behind as soon as I open my eyes each morning.  We're also coming out of a season that is supposed to provide a chance to hibernate and move at a slower pace, but with the holidays and new year's resolutions, winter is often just as exhausting as any other time of year. The shift of seasons (spring starts Friday) give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what's working in daily routines and what isn't.  As we say goodbye to winter, I'm ready to re-focus my dwindling breath and meditation practice.  Turns out, this isn't just for yogis.  Anyone can feel less rushed and stressed by starting a simple practice. The New York Times recently featured an op-ed highlighting the link between our level of anxiety and our perception of goals.  That we live in a world of constant connection--allowing us to try and juggle numerous things at once--heightens our sense of busyness.  Mental exercises that focus on breath and re-framing how we think about time can actually lessen stress!

Rather than consider this as one more "to do," start small and see if it works for you.  Meditation doesn't have to be an hour-long practice to have benefit.  Five minutes is more than enough, if that's what you feel you can reasonably make time for.  Set your alarm 5 minutes earlier tomorrow, go sit in a quiet place, and set another alarm for 5 minutes.  Connect to each of your five senses in some way.  Then focus on taking three conscious breaths.  Follow the inhale and exhale in and out of your body.  Then think about a time you were at ease - feel the experience of relaxation throughout your body.  Try and stay with the sensation for about 30 seconds.  Go back to your breath and finish with three more slow inhales and exhales.  Repeat the following morning.  See what happens.

Less is (often) more

I have a pretty short attention span.  I love new projects, I hold multiple jobs, I haven't lived in the same home for more than four years since I was eight years old.  In fact, yoga may be one of the most consistent aspects of my life since I took my first class over a decade ago. For a discipline that is truly the essence of simplicity when you boil it down, yoga in western culture has become a circus.  A practitioner can choose from a myriad of styles, products, teachers and studios to create a perfectly tailored experience.  Teachers often become entertainers, spending quite a lot of time outside the classroom to develop new and exciting sequences, not to mention playlists, in hopes of keeping students engaged.  It's really quite a spectacle and a long way from executing basic postures to ready the body for lengthy periods of seated meditation.

A student stopped me after class this week and politely suggested my teaching lacked the variety he feels he needs to advance his practice.  And so I spent a few days wondering - is our collective quest for new and exciting experiences, products, and relationships really advancement or just distraction?

Truth is, I saw some of myself in this student.  I went through a period of time where I craved new poses and sequences every time I unrolled my mat.  I mentally criticized teachers who repeated playlists.  I went through a teacher training and found I had fun developing the strength to execute complex poses I had previously shied away from.  More recently however, I've been influenced by practicing and studying with teachers who are returning to the basics.  Who spend entire classes on the pelvic floor, tiny backbends and alignment of bones in a handful of postures.  Who repeat the same sequences week after week to give students the chance to familiarize and refine poses.  Over the summer I spent a week working on Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and discovered a way to shift my alignment so that it felt effortless to stand upright on my two feet.  I came away as elated as if I'd conquered handstand.

Advancement in yoga doesn't have to be about mastering difficult poses.  For me, it's become about subtle shifts and attention to detail in poses I've been working with for years.  It's about how I move through my boredom that can surface during a short and repetitive daily practice.  About staying committed when I feel like moving on.  About believing that advancement often looks like standing still, or even moving backwards.

Fall is a particularly good time of year to return to basics and invite repetition into your yoga practice.  The season is full of chaotic energy, as evidenced by the weather outside my window today.  I woke up to rain, then ate lunch in a patch of sun.  Blue sky disappeared as deep, dark layers of clouds moved across the sky and the wind churned up the gray waters of Elliott Bay.  Soon my herbs and pansies were being pelted with driving rain and hail.  The rain continues as the sun creates a bright glare over the waterfront.

The pace of life, if it slowed at all during summer, has picked up speed once again as we hurtle towards December.  It's the perfect time to cozy up to the poses you love and fine tune them.  Explore the familiar faces of Downward Dog, Chair, Lunge, Bridge, Forward Fold.  Move through Surya Namaskar A & B over and over again.  Try these poses and sequences with eyes closed, with deep attention to the structure of your body.  Practice them until boredom sets in and then see what you can find within the monotony.  You just might discover a steadiness and peace of mind.

Welcome Autumn!

A subtle shift in the air today announces the change of season.  Autumn, held at bay by an almost unbelievably warm (hot!) Seattle summer, is done waiting.  She arrives gently this time, easing us toward the inevitable gray.  Weaker sunlight pokes through high clouds and muted colors seem to surround a garden that only recently bloomed with vibrant energy.  For some, the goodbye is hard; others celebrate fall as the return of a dear old friend.  Those who find summer's pleasures overstimulating count on cooler, wetter days to rejuvenate minds and bodies. HydrangeasWe've managed to make every season busy -- too busy -- for our own good, yet autumn has always carried an expectation of activity.  Time to harvest, time to store up what we need for winter!  Unless you're an avid gardener, farmer, or canner, you likely aren't bustling around to gather and preserve food, but you probably are looking at an overflowing calendar.  Our lives mimic that windy, dry air soon to be swirling colorful leaves to and fro.

My yoga will shift to compliment the weather and counter the heightened pace of life.  The body will need heating practices to sustain the warmth built up over summer months.  The mind will crave symmetry and routine to take respite from the chaos.  Fall is a time for intentional sun salutations, kapalabhati (a cleansing breath), steady rhythms, and grounding focus.  My teaching will offer space for students to explore these practices in depth.  My blog will offer tips for how to best approach the next few months of your life both on and off your mat.  I look forward to our journey together as we scurry towards Winter Solstice.

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Transition Time

Setting Sun

It’s Labor Day, and though fall is still a few weeks off, this weekend feels like a transition time. School starts soon, nightfall is creeping earlier and earlier, vacations are becoming a distant memory.  

As a teacher, I talk a lot about the importance of honoring transition. "Focus on the journey, not the destination," is a common mantra in yoga. We encourage our students to pay attention to what's in between each pose, rather than rush through without awareness. And yet more than a few times this summer I found myself driving as fast as I could across barren stretches of road to "get there, asap!” On a plane to the east coast, I spent much of the flight longing for it to be over, convinced I was in the depths of misery as my skin dried out and ankles swelled.  

Travel is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I love adventure and consider a handful of places dear to my heart -- spots I love just as much as home. Unfortunately, none of them are easy to get to.  Much of my childhood was spent in the mountain town of McCall, Idaho and I try to return every summer. My choices include an 8 hour drive or a 4 hour flight/drive plus airport madness. My best friend lives across the country in South Carolina. I adore my visits with her, but despise the plane rides (no direct way there). Preparing for the trip seems to take just as long as the actual travel time. I'm a notorious over-packer, anxious at the thought of leaving behind something I might need. I bring the comforts of home with me in attempt to feel poised, but the result is usually utter inelegance. I find myself lugging impossibly heavy suitcases through crowded airports while quickly working up a good sweat. Juggling a homemade lunch on my tray table never goes as well as I planned. Delays are inevitable.  

I couldn’t miss this Southern wedding, and so I became just one of way too many people headed somewhere else mid-August. As I tucked into a crowded seat near the back of economy, the guy next to me promptly hunched over our shared armrest and fell into deep sleep, head hovering just above my lap. I fervently wished to be anywhere but way up in the sky hurtling east. Then, somehow, I finally let go of my discomfort enough to do some reflection. I realized that over the past two months when I rushed the travel to and fro, to maximize my experience at home or my destination, I often set myself up for disappointment. What I rushed to get to wasn't always what I hoped for, like I somehow robbed the experience of some of its sweetness by trying to ignore the effort to arrive.  

The journey can be part of the adventure though. In June I went to Ashland with my love and two friends. We took our time as we drove, though I-5 isn't a particularly awe-inspiring trek. We stopped for a proper lunch and dinner, adding a couple of hours to our travels, yet pace felt just right. We got so caught up in our conversations that we literally ran out of gas many miles from our destination. We called for help and waited and eventually got back on our way. Though we spent less time in Ashland than anywhere else I travelled this summer, it didn't go by in the blink of an eye. We took walks and cooked. We found a yoga studio. We ran smack into my friend's sister before a play, unexpectedly.    

So much happens while I look back or wait impatiently for what's next. When I made peace with my two hour delay in Atlanta, I began to take notice of the people waiting with me. As we finally boarded the plane, the guy behind me offered to help with my carry-on. I’d seen him at the gate and pegged him for a southern boy. Now his manners convinced me I was right. We sat down across the aisle from each other and he struck up a conversation. “You were on the plane from Seattle, right? I was in the row behind you,” he offered. Turns out he was born and raised down the street from the University of Washington. We chatted about the Northwest, his plans for college this fall, and sustainability. Suddenly I wasn’t just one of millions on a plane that day. I became known, for a short flight, as a yoga teacher who just finished graduate school and can’t sit still on long plane rides. We landed, finally, in Greenville. As I waited for my friend outside baggage claim, the college boy from Seattle eased passed me one last time with a mountain of luggage. I smiled and waved, he did the same. Off he went to check into his dorm and I to the embrace of my dearest friend. My trip, flights included, turned out to the be sweetest of the summer. I chalk it up to making peace with the transitions.