Now is the Practice of Yoga

A couple weeks ago, I felt pulled to my copy of Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary of The Yoga Sutras. Specifically, the first Sutra (1.1) of the entire collection, “Atha Yoganusasanam.” I had been introduced to this Sutra during my 200 hour yoga teacher training, and reintroduced when I attended a workshop series discussing the Sutras, but it didn’t really mean all that much to me.

Maybe it was because in my yoga teacher training we, the trainees, we’re given the translation, “Now is the practice of Yoga.” My thought was, “Well, yeah. We were practicing yoga because we were at yoga teacher training. Duh.” Not much discussion was offered on this, instead we went to the next topic without obtaining much depth.

Or maybe it is because Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of “Atha Yoganusasanam,” is, “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” Satchidananda explains this as, “Anusasanam means exposition or instruction because it is not mere philosophy that Patanjali is about to expound, but rather direct instruction on how to practice Yoga. Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, page 3) Each time I read this I was like, “Neat,” and simply went on.  The thing is, though, the first Sutra of each book is the most important, and the first Sutra of the entire collection is the most important of them all. If I am a Yoga teacher, and I’m not connecting to this first Sutra, then how can I share any kind of depth with my students?

So I started to wade into the muddy water. As I kept coming to this Sutra and looking at Sri Swami Satchidananda’s words, the notes from the Sutras workshop, and other interpretations of this Sutra I started to feel like the water might be come clear at some point, but I still had some wading to do before I would be able see to the bottom of this pond.

One day as I was driving to teach a class I had a thought about the word, “Atha,” which translates to, “Now.” Now is defined as the present time or moment. I feel most people, including myself sometimes, think of Now as a finite concept, like an appointment. However, Yoga is repeatedly said to be a continuous practice because it is done, both, on and off the mat. If Yoga is to be practiced constantly, then it must be practiced throughout every moment. What if “Now” was replaced with “every moment?” That would make it, “Every moment is the practice of Yoga.”

When I made that small, yet profound, switch of verbiage in my interpretation I felt a bit more clarity, but still needed more to really understand. This was the catalyst that caused me to return to my notes from the Yoga Sutras workshop I had taken. The instructor, who had been a student of Satchidananda’s, had broken down a couple more Sanskrit elements.

“Yoga” means to “union,” “to yoke,” or ,”join.” (If you’ve taken any number of Yoga classes you’ve probably heard a teacher use that translation before, but usually referring to the union of breath and movement or breath, body, and mind. I’ve heard it countless times. I’ve even used it in some of my first classes as a teacher.) The next phrase she described was “Anu.” “Anu” is “little moments where you see the most vastness.” These little moments occur when we feel connected to our higher Self, when everything feels aligned and right. That everything is as it should be.

When these new elements are added to the Sutra, the result is, “Every moment is the practice of joining with your higher Self.”

In each moment of our lives, we are trying to attain this state of bliss or enlightenment. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, Yoga is a continuous practice. Yoga isn’t something that just happens on your mat. It happens at work, the grocery store, the park, in the middle of standstill traffic. Every waking moment the practice of Yoga is happening. And with each new moment comes a new chance for this union with your higher Self to occur.

Atha Yoganusasanam.

Now is the practice of Yoga.

Please, don’t.

*Around 2 a.m. one night I was struggling to sleep. The following is what came from my mind at that time.*

Please, don’t say you need to work on your beach body.

Please, don’t say, “I need to lose another 5 pounds.”

Please, don’t tear yourself down because you “failed” at or skipped your regular workout.

Please, don’t be mad at yourself for eating a cupcake or two and promise you’ll do better.

Please, don’t dismiss the messages your body is sending you.

Please, don’t disregard your emotions.

Please, don’t fall prey to beauty industry lies.

Please, don’t believe you are unworthy or broken.

Please, don’t stop wishing on stars.

Please, don’t forget you are made of stardust and contain all the magic you will ever need inside you.

Please. Don’t.

Good Vibes Only: A Practice of Spiritual Bypassing

It’s easy for me to get Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” stuck in my head come across the phrase, “Good vibes only.” However, I’m pretty sure the good vibes they sang about are different than the good vibes being expressed in this phrase.

What I get from this trendy expression is that good equals positive, and positive energy is the only thing acceptable to put out and to surround oneself with. Negativity should be avoided because negative vibes are bad. I find this to a very flawed way of thinking and experiencing life.

The pursuit of “good vibes only” is a form of spiritual bypassing. It is an avoidance tactic by using spiritual ideas to justify why someone is not facing issues. The Universe and life doesn’t always offer up what most people would consider positive. We’re not always given things that make us happy or content or joyful in every moment. Sometimes the Universe provides us with some really uncomfortable situations of negativity. Allowing yourself the opportunities to feel, observe, and analyze negative feelings and to visit your darkness or shadowside can bring about positive change through transmutation. You’re taking the energy in the negative situation or experience and changing it to something positive. Within this process of change growth and positive energy or vibrations are created.

If you are only seeking “good vibes” or positivity in your life experience, you are most likely masking negativity and pretending it is something it is not, or most likely, figuratively, burying “bad” feelings or thoughts. When these things are not dealt with they cause people to experience dis-ease, which may transform into disease because your body and mind are imprinted with your experiences. You also are vulnerable to having all of what you are avoiding bubble over and overwhelm you, and if you have not being practicing stepping into the darkness and gathering the tools to help you in those situations it can be quite scary when that overwhelming and sudden take over happens.

While I believe everyone wants to be happy and live a life filled with content, it is important to remember there is always some dark in the light and light in the dark. You can’t have just “positivity” in your life. There is always going to be some “negativity,” but you have the ability to morph what you might see as negative into something positive. This alteration is not always easy. It might mean that you have to give up something you’ve been holding on to for far too long out of fear, but the growth gained from that experience is what makes that experience so valuable in the end.

Self-Care Series, Episode 4: The Time I was Asked About Diets

Thursdays I teach a small group class at a local St. Louis corporation. Some weeks I share with them interesting things I’ve read about or have been studying. Other weeks I ask if they have questions or want to share something.

Today one of the students said he had been getting into learning about nutrition and asked if there were any diets I follow or recommend.

Such an interesting question.

I understand why he would ask that because yoga is becoming such a part of the fitness industry it is easy to assume yoga teachers would eat certain ways, similar to the idea personal trainers eat certain ways. There’s also the understanding that society is hyper-focused on achieving a particular “body” and the assumption that it can be “done” through diet and exercise. Because of these understandings and assumptions, I wanted to give him an honest answer — an answer that was authentic and truthful for me. However, I didn’t want to come off condescending or righteous because that can happen when topics of food and dieting comes up. I wanted to create a space of sharing and discussion, not confrontation.

Here’s my answer.

I don’t diet. I don’t follow certain food protocols, restrictions, whatever you want to call it. At least not in the traditional sense. When I did do those things, they led to disordered eating. (He was sort of taken aback, which tends to happen when I say I’ve struggled with food.) Now, I try to practice more intuitive eating. I try to listen to the messages and cues my body is sending me as best I can and honor them. I focus more on how the things I consume make me feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally, without restricting and placing rules on myself. The only foods I avoid are the ones in which I have a sensitivity, i.e. soy, avocado, bananas. I try to not judge or punish myself for choices or amounts. Instead of restricting, I am practicing unrestricting. At one time I had a list of foods, while not considered “unhealthy” by most people, that were on a list of foods I couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t eat because of their nutritional value, or lack thereof. Now I have an incredible list of foods that make me feel functional, whole, satisfied, vibrant because that’s more valuable to me. I am not going to judge anyone who practices a particular restrictive diet, like Paleo, Keto, Veganism, etc., but I also won’t promote those practices.

(This might not be the popular answer, but it’s mine.)

Why did I make this part of the Self-Care Series?

I truly believe if we were not meant to enjoy food and drink then our senses wouldn’t attract us to it. Why do smells make our mouths water? Why do the bright colors of produce draw us in? Why are we able to notice the different textures and flavors? Why entice us if we aren’t supposed to experience pleasure and satisfaction? I also believe food can be medicine for physical, mental, and emotional bodies. I believe making empowered choices regarding what each one of us consumes is a big middle finger to an industry that wants us to be complacent. I believe the way we think about what we consume is an indication of how we treat and care for ourselves.

The diet industry is a big business. It makes approximately $60 billion dollars a year, and the focus is not on helping people. The industry’s focus is on shaming people into to believing their bodies make them unworthy and they’ll find happiness if they change their appearance. The diet industry is focused on making people feel guilty when a diet fails, and plays hero by swooping in with another diet for the person to try so the cycle can continue. The diet industry is about sales.

Start to notice and analyze your relationship with food. Do you feel empowered by your consumption choices? Do you find pleasure and satisfaction with food? Are you able to interpret your body’s messages? Can you read them loud and clear? Or do you ignore your body? Do you feel shamed, guilty, beat down? Do you spend more time thinking about food and planning meals that it takes away from the other things in your life? Is your list of “no-no” foods a hell of a lot longer than your list of “yes, please” foods? If you are feeling more negative toward yourself and food, maybe it’s time to practice something different. Maybe it’s time to say, “Fuck you,” to the diets. Maybe it’s time to become friends with your body because contrary to what the diet industry tells us the body is quite intelligent and knows what it is doing.

The Void: April’s New Moon

*I’m going to preface this post with the acknowledgement that I am in no way an expert in the Lunar Cycle or Astrology. Last August’s Total Solar Eclipse was an incredible event, which reignited my connection to the Moon and the night sky. The knowledge I share in regards to the Moon and her cycle is basic stuff I’ve learned so far.*

The Lunar Cycle is comprised of multiple phases. Some of the more widely known phases are New Moons and Full Moons. Today is the New Moon for April coming off of the Full Moon on March 31st.

The New Moon is both the end and the beginning of a Lunar Cycle. It is a time when the Moon in invisible to the eye creating a moonless night sky. Because of this we’re in a moment that can be viewed as nothingness, darkness, silence, a blank slate, a void. This moment is like the pause at the end of the exhale before the lungs begin to draw breath in again. (Take a moment to observe your breath. Can you feel the space between exhale and inhale?) However, this space doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Within this void there is release and creation, surrender and control, rest and action.

This is a time when some people feel called to draw inward to visit their shadowside or darkness to examine and evaluate what is found there, release that which no longer has purpose or serves, and create new intentions or beginnings. While some can embrace this experience freely, there are many people who avoid such things.

Think about how voids show up in your life. Are you ever excited to pause? Do you embrace the stillness? Or does stillness make your cringe? Do you try to find something to fill the empty time slot because you feel lazy or guilty about not being “productive” all the time? Why is stillness considered unproductive? If a room becomes quiet, do you feel compelled to speak? Why is that? What would happen if you let the stillness or the silence envelop you? What would happen if you turned inward, cleared a plot, tilled some soil, and planted some internal seeds?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves and the Tapestries We Weave

(This is a piece I wrote and submitted to Elephant Journal. The piece is on their site, and I would appreciate if you could head over to their site and heart and/or share the piece. The more views it receives the more likely I will be able to continue sharing ideas with EJ. Thank you! ~Shel)

Why we should practice self-reflection, self-study, and share our truth.

Have you ever had difficulty with internal dialogue or self-talk? You know, listening to the voice that is sometimes a complete ass hat?

Sometimes I struggle with an ever-present inner monologue, creating stories in my head—stories of unworthiness, negativity, fear, and anger. The stories can sound something like, “Someone covered class for me last week. What if students stop coming to my yoga classes because they realize I’m not good as a yoga teacher, and I’m not actually worthy of being their teacher,” “My body is a waste. It’s not worthy of taking up space,” and “How can I help people see that their bodies want love and compassion if I struggle with mine?”

From an early age, I have had a remarkable ability to weave threads together and create a tapestry of untruth. For years, I was not able to see that I was telling stories. I truly believed all the things I was telling myself about me and others. By all means, these tapestries were not only created with threads I spun and dyed myself, but also from threads given to me by others, like comments from strangers, biases that were taught, beauty standards, social media, and many other sources.

Recently, I landed in a place where I was creating a lot of negative stories. I was struggling with my body image, fighting the urge to reinstate my gym membership, change to controlling my food intake and choices, and telling myself I wasn’t good enough in most aspects of my life.

One day, I decided to post about it on Instagram to share this idea of storytelling and untruth with my classes. For me, sharing my thoughts when I have felt stuck, no matter what the thoughts were about, has helped me find answers. After sharing these concepts online and with my students, I was thrown back to my college days.

During college, I studied Architecture and Interior Design. In my design studio and art classes, I was taught and required to justify all the decisions made during the design process. I had to constructively criticize and critically think about my projects. When asked, “But why did you…,” the answer, ”Because it’s neat,” or, “Because it’s pretty,” or, “Because it has pop,” or any other surface-level answer was not acceptable because they were subjective and based on opinion. If those answers weren’t acceptable in those hypothetical situations, then why was it acceptable to give my self-surface level, superficial, subjective answers to the stories being woven into my head?

This ignited my inquiry of “but why.”

But why was I struggling with my body image? But why I was struggling with self-worth?

The first couple of answers were the surface level answers—those easier to believe and digest because one doesn’t really want to get to the actual reason since one would then have to feel and learn something. With each “but why” I was able to look at each thread I had used. Inspecting the threads qualities, characteristics, and if it actually added anything of interest to the overall tapestry. As I looked at the threads already in the tapestry, I was able to observe and analyze what was really there, and decide if this was worth saving, or it if would be best to remove it from the loom and start fresh.

The practice of questioning our stories and asking “but why” is the practice of Satya (truthfulness)—one of the Yamas (ethical guidelines for living; one of the eight limbs of yoga).

This self-reflection and study allow us to decide if the story is actually fact or fiction. It allows us to go deeper within ourselves, see our truths, and then share those true stories. Sometimes, this inspection of our self is uncomfortable. Sometimes, it requires that we ask harder questions and receive unsavory answers. It’s not just the stories about ourselves that we can begin to question, but also the stories we tell other people.

What are the stories you tell yourself? What are the biases you’ve been taught to believe? What are the threads used in the tapestries you weave?

Can you start to ask, “But why?” Can you start to look at the qualities of the threads in your story’s tapestry? Self-study and reflection will allow you to speak, live, and share your authentic self with others, even those who’ve lived a different life than you. It will guide you as you continue to weave and display the pieces of art that represent who you truly are.

Self-Care Series, Episode 3: Mindful Movement

Welcome, everyone! It’s Self-Care Sunday, again, and we’re talking Mindful Movement!

(I apologize for not posting an episode last Sunday, but I needed a self-care day with zero obligations. Now on to the show!)

Something I realized when I was an interior designer, and I see it even now as a yoga teacher, is people are all about instant gratification and results. Whether we want that new custom sofa or the lengthiest hamstrings there ever were, we want it yesterday. What happens, and this is seen a lot with New Year’s Resolutions, we dive all in – gym time for 2 hours 5 days a week, running 5 miles a day, etc. – get burned out, shame ourselves, and do it all over again.

The world we live in is based on results quickly and in large amounts. Deadlines are ridiculously short, sometimes unattainably short, but we’re still expected to meet them. Work loads are overwhelming and sometimes more than even two people can handle. Stress hormones are in a constant state of flux, which causes people to believe it’s normal to be on a constant adrenaline rush, and if we aren’t on this constant adrenaline rush, then there must be a problem…right? Our world is very much focused on quantity and instant results to that point that if our movement isn’t giving us gratification immediately then it’s broken.

What if I told you that the type of movement and how much you move isn’t as important as how you engage with movement? Or that moving your body mindfully is a way to honor and celebrate your body, rather than punish it? That movement can be for pleasure?

How does someone practice mindful movement?

Mindful movement requires the development and practice of dual awareness – proprioception (a sense of the position and movement of one’s body parts) and exteroception (a sense of external stimuli) and/or interoception (a sense of internal stimuli, i.e. hunger, pain, etc.). In yoga, students practice proprioception and interoception by becoming aware of how and where their body is moving and landing on their mat, but also noticing how their body is responding to postures and transitions.

Rather than thinking about movement in a quantitative way, what would happen if movement was thought about with a qualitative approach? In other words, instead of focusing on steps taken, calories burned, pounds lost, think about how the movement makes you feel, are you actually engaging, and do you even like how you are moving.

If you are someone who “punishes” yourself through movement, ask yourself why? If you are someone who focuses on the results, ask yourself why? Then ask yourself, what would it be like to move for the pleasure of moving? How would it feel to move because you enjoy it and because you have a body capable of moving? What do you notice when you focus on the quality of movement, what your body is doing, and how it’s responding?

Dear America,

**Disclaimer: If you want to focus on light and happier topics, raising vibrations, or sending thoughts and prayers, then this post is probably not for you.**

 

Get your shit together. I thought the worst thing I was going to hear yesterday was the attempt to access the National Security Agency campus at Fort Meade, which resulted in an officer being shot and three suspects taken into custody. Instead I turned on the news yesterday afternoon to a special report of, yet another, school shooting. This time in Parkland, Florida.

What will it take for legislators to change gun laws? I’m sure that statement has caused someone reading to think, “She’s a freaking snowflake. She just wants to take guns away from all of us. She has no idea what she’s talking about. She’s probably never even held a gun.” I learned gun safety and how to shoot at about 10 years old. My dad, now a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, took my brother and me out to one of my grandma’s pastures with a handgun and a scoped rifle and taught us not just how to shoot, but how to handle the guns safely, and afterward we saw him store the guns away. It’s a skillset I have, but a skillset I wish I will never have to use. I feel the same way about my CPR/AED training.

I see no problem in someone wanting to hunt, shoot crab apples, or have a firearm as a form of home security, if that’s what speaks to them. However, I see no reason why any civilian needs a military grade weapon. I don’t understand why anyone can purchase a gun (in some cases) without having a background check done. Some people have equated guns to cars. Each is a tool that can be used improperly. People will argue that teenagers get to drive cars, but they forget to mention each state has different requirements for new drivers. In Missouri, teens get an instruction permit at 15, at 16 they receive an intermediate license, and finally at 18 they receive their full driver’s license. Each level of licensing has certain requirements that must be met before going to the next. This means a teenager has three years of training before being left to their own devices behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, whereas you don’t have to have any training to purchase a gun. A person a only required to wait three days for a background check, and in some cases they don’t even need a background check depending on how the gun is being purchased.

Along side a need to change gun laws, the country needs to work on the stigma around mental health. I just heard on this morning’s news coverage that the shooter’s mother had passed away the year before and he was depressed, and that the family who took him in got him a job. Not therapy, not appointments with a counselor, but a job. As if a job could help someone get over the loss of a parent. The access to mental healthcare is deplorable. So much of it is not covered by insurance, and fees are too high for a lot of people to afford. Many interventions focus on relieving a symptom and not actually working on the root of the problem.

People are taught that asking for help is shameful, weak, and that they just need to “let go” or “get over” what is bothering. We especially need to listen to young people when they say something is going on and observe so we notice changes when they aren’t comfortable saying something is going on. I remember being at a physical exam for junior high cheerleading, and the nurse practitioner looked at my fingernails because the governing organization for cheerleading in Missouri has a length limit for nails. The nurse practitioner berated me for chewing my nails and asked why I did it. When I replied that I did it when I was stressed or anxious which was all the time, I was laughed at and was asked what I had to be stressed about. The stress of having to get good grades? The stress of having heavier homework loads all the time? The stress of getting all my school work done and participate in extra curricular activities? The stress of peer pressure around sex and sexuality? The stress of bullying? Maybe instead of blowing off what a child is telling you actively listen to them. If further intervention is needed, try to help provide that.

Oh, what’s going to happen to the students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and community members effected by this? What help will be provided to them? They are going to be dealing with the trauma from this event for a very long time. Long after you forget about it and move on to the next tragedy even though you tweeted “#Neverforget” they’ll still be dealing with the psychological effects of this event.

You say it’s not time to talk about these things. That right now we need to send thoughts and prayers. Your thought and prayers won’t do shit to resolve our country’s problem. Your thoughts and prayers won’t increase the ability to prevent this from happening, AGAIN. Changing gun laws, increasing access to mental healthcare, and bettering interventions are what’s needed, among so many other things.

 

Sincerely,

Appalled citizen

Have You Grounded Today?

The word “ground” is used a whole freakin’ lot in yoga classes. “Ground through your back heel.” “Ground into the earth.” “Ground within yourself.” Sometimes we, yoga teachers, will switch “ground” for “root.” What the heck does “ground” even mean? Why are we grounding so much in classes?

Ground, typically, means two things; 1) to physically connect with the earth/ground and 2) to draw inward. There’s some kind of connection with the ground in every yoga posture. Generally, teachers give alignment cues from the ground up in an effort  of Creating a study foundation. This not only brings physical stability to the body, but it also creates a feeling of being centered, or stable psychologically.

What got me thinking about this idea of grounding was some reading I did. In Yoga of the Subtle Body, by Tias Little, the entire first chapter is about the foot. Why? Because as bipedal beings our feet are our foundations, the feet are usually what gets us from Point A to Point B, and our feet are what’s used the most to connect us to the floor/earth/ground. As I was reading the description of the anatomy of the foot, stretching the plantar fascia, standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and how if there is a misalignment in the feet the rest of the structure can be thrown off causing pain and discomfort in other parts of the body I started to ask some questions.

Do people feel less grounded mentally and emotionally because there is less physical grounding? What would happen in people were barefoot more often? How would that effect them both, physically and psychologically?

The next time you are in a yoga class, weight lifting, running, walking, sitting at your desk, etc. try to 1) take time to actually ground/root into whatever your feet are touching and 2) notice if by taking the time to physically ground do you feel more mentally grounded.

I think there is so much more that can be discussed on this subject, and maybe one day I’ll revisit this, but I think for today we’ll stop there.

Self-Care Sunday, Episode 2: Bath Time

Bathing dates back to Ancient Greece and has been practiced by many cultures. Bathing can be done for hygiene, therapeutic, and religious purposes. I want to focus on the therapeutic aspect of bathing. While bathing can help with the rehabilitation of an injury, many people bathe for relaxation.

Bathing, aka soaking, is one of my personal favorite methods of self-care. For me it’s a great time to be with myself and my thoughts. It also relieves physical pain. I was diagnosed with my first knee issue shortly before I turned 11, and the conditions piled up for years. I’ve had surgery to partially remove a tumor from my right knee, several bouts of bursitis, Osgood Schlatter Disease, and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome aka Runner’s Knee. At one point, if I remember correctly it was when I diagnosed with Runner’s Knee, the doctor told me I should NEVER use stairs again. I was about 16 years old. To say the least, I’ve struggled with knee pain for about 18 years. It comes and goes. But I find when the pain is particularly uncomfortable a hot bath helps me find relief.

Isn’t soaking just sitting in a tub of water?

Well, put like that is sounds pretty lame. True, sitting in a tub of water with lights blazing can be pretty underwhelming, so while the tub is filling set the mood. Create some ambiance by dimming the lights or lighting a candle or two. Decide if you’d like music or not, and if so, what type of music. My musical choice varies depending on my mood. I’ll listen to anything from instrumental to Birdy to East Forest to Def Leppard. Listen to whatever is appealing in the moment. Then it’s time to decide if you want to add anything to the tub; Epsom salt, essential oils, bubbles, bath bomb, bath salt (not the synthetic kind that make people zombie-like). This, too, depends on my mood, but I’m partial to tub tea. Tub tea is a mixture that steeps in the water as a person soaks. The different elements of the mixture offer different benefits, some physical and some aromatic. I’m currently using a Chamomile Calendula Tub Tea mixture. The recipe can be found at the bottom of the post.

What are some benefits of bathing?

Soaking in a tub of water can do the following:

  • Increased blood circulation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • General relaxation
  • Improved sleep
  • It’s been reported that soaking can help with Diabetes by reducing levels of glucose and sugar in the blood
  • Steam from the hot water can help reduce mucus and clear nasal passages
  • Relieve pressure on joints

These are just a handful of benefits. If you don’t have a tub, don’t worry. You can still take get some of these benefits from a hot shower. While there are some limitations with showering, you can use salt or sugar scrubs to exfoliate skin. For aromatherapy you can hang a bundle eucalyptus stems from the shower head. The steam from the water will help to release oil from the eucalyptus leaves.

Chamomile Calendula Tub Tea