Discovering Your Truth

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Yoga is described as a journey of the self through the self to the self. This is done through physical movement, meditation, sensory deprivation, ethical living, etc. The first step of the journey is through ethical living, and the guidelines for ethical living are called Yamas and Niyamas. Within each guideline is a set of rules or commandments, so to speak.

The focus of this post is truthfulness, which is the Yama known as Satya. “Sat” means “true essence,” “true nature,” “unchangeable.” The practice of Satya is being true and consistent with reality in ones thoughts, speech, and actions. Our thoughts, speech, and actions are interchangeable and tend to be a result of how we feel in a particular moment, a result of primitive thinking, rather than seeing things for how they really are, the unchanging truth. Usually the reaction within a moment comes from a place of fear and conditioning. Thoughts, ways of speaking, and actions are influenced and conditioned by our life experiences such as events, trauma, and relationships.

How does one practice Satya?

First of all, in order to be honest with others we must first be honest with ourselves. It’s typical for people to identify with judgments. For instance, “I am a bad person…,” “I am not in a good mood…,” “I have a bad shoulder so I just deal with it.” These judgment usually arise in the moment and we attach to them. In order to detach from irrational thoughts or feelings offer yourself some space and stillness. Allow yourself to slow down and sit in observation of your thoughts. One way is to observe each thought as it comes up, offer a polite greeting, then watch each thought pass by, as if you are passing someone kindly on a street or watching cars drive by.

However, sometimes a thought or feeling sticks around or continues to come up. In that instance, allow yourself to analyze the thought or feeling. Instead of letting it multiple and grow into this mass of irrational thinking, ask yourself questions. “Why does this thought keep showing up?” “Why does it show during this particular scenario?” “Why do I feel this way?” Begin to dismantle the thought, gently and non-judgmentally taking it apart so you can arrive at the root of the thought or feeling, the truth.

This practice of observing thoughts can be done with regards to other people. Watch your thoughts as they come up. Analyze the recurring thoughts or feelings. Come to the truth about why you feel or think that way toward that person or group of people.

As you start move away from fear based thinking and feeling you can start to live and speak your truth. Allowing your entire self to be seen by everyone and voicing your needs. Speaking the truth can be just as difficult as, if not more difficult than, observing thoughts and feelings. When one is speaking it is easy to state an opinion or judgment. “I don’t like the way you fill the dishwasher.” “I can’t believe you are wearing that dress. It’s so ugly.”

Satya is the second Yama. It follows the first, and most important, Yama, which is Ahimsa (non-violence). In speaking our truth we must also practice Ahimsa. This means we must try to speak in a way that will not hurt ourselves or others. This requires us, again, to slow down and observe what is happening. A way to practice non-violent speech is Non-Violent Communication. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is observing thoughts and feelings, creating a dialogue, and expressing needs in a way that contains compassion and truth. For instance, you come home and your partner forgot she had a cup of milk on the side table and one of the dogs had gotten on the furniture to get the cup, which resulted in milk spilled on the rug. A lot of thoughts are probably popping into your head, “I can’t believe she left a cup out again! Our dog is in so much trouble! This is ridiculous! I just got home and I have to deal with this crap!” Instead of immediately reacting and coming to your partner with all of these thoughts in your head, give yourself some time to slow down, breathe, and start to observe. Start the conversation by making a non-judgmental observation, “There is milk on the floor.” Then consider and state your feelings, “I am frustrated.” Followed by stating your needs, “I need to come home from work to an orderly space so I can relax.” Then make a request, “Would you be more conscious of where you leave things?”

This type of dialogue will result in less arguments, people will be more willing to accommodate your requests when you approach them in a calmer manner, and you will have spoken your actual truth. This can be used in all kinds of scenarios with all kinds of people. I try to use NVC when speaking to my classes. I recently had two very full classes. One being 36 out of 41 spots filled and 34 out of 35 spots for the other. I become very nervous and very concerned with student safety in classes that full because students only have about a block width between them and each person around them. I handle this by stating the obvious fact, “Wow! There are a lot of people here today!” Then I express something like, “I am so excited to have all of you! I’m also a little concerned about safety.” Followed by my needs and request, which is typically, “I need to create a safe space for each student, and because there are so many of you I need your help with that. My first request is you become and remain conscious of those around you. I’ve literally been kicked in the face while taking a class. It’s not fun to have someone’s foot touch your face. [pause for laughter] My second request is you refrain from doing particularly complex postures, like handstand. Save those for another time, please.” It is incredibly rare for a student to not honor these requests.

Keep in mind observing thoughts and feelings is a difficult task. People are used to having a constant monologue of self-talk in their heads. People are used to reacting from an emotional place. Know there may be times that you are trip up and cause yourself or someone else pain. It happens. In those instances, offer a heartfelt apology, then keep going. This is one of the reasons why Yoga is a practice.

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“A pose isn’t supposed to look like anything.”

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At least once a week, a student will either say to me before class something about being very sore or having an injury and following that statement with something like, “So please don’t be upset if I don’t do some things or change things,” or a student will come up to me after class and apologize for not doing everything I offered or for modifying postures. I usually follow these statements by asking them why should I be mad about them listening to their body. As a yoga teacher, I love when students know their limits and respect their bodies, whatever that looks like in that moment.

There’s this idea about students having to mimic a teacher exactly or doing every single posture given, and I say (warning adult language) a big, “Fuck that,” to this concept. As a child I developed knee issues shortly before I turned 11 years old. It started with an osteochondroma, a benign tumor on the growth plate of my right knee, then several boughts of bursitis, Osgood-Schlatter Disease, and Runner’s Knee. I also suffered a break of the talus bone in my right ankle at the end of my freshman year in high school. I was lucky to have a dance teacher who taught me to listen to my body, and at times who made me take breaks or would change choreography because I was stubborn and would ignore what my body’s demands to take it easier. She taught me, maybe unknowingly, that poses and movements can be tailored to suit the body performing said poses and movements. For me, I believe there is not a single perfect pose that everyone needs to strive toward. Instead, I believe each individual body has a perfect pose for each individual moment.

One day I had experienced a student talking poorly of their practice. I had commented how I love to watch her practice, and she immediately replied trying to be tongue in cheek with, “Because it’s so lazy?” I was taken aback. No, her practice was wonderful because she listened. She modified. She moved with ease. She took breaks when she needed them. A day or two after that encounter I found myself reading How Yoga Works by Michael Roach, when I came across a paragraph that helped affirm my belief.

It was during an exchange between Friday, a female traveler who was jailed and acting as the local yoga teacher, and the small son of the jail’s sergeant, Ajit. Friday wants Ajit to teach the other boys that day. Ajit agrees saying he’d teach the boys giving and taking, breathing, etc., then get Friday when it’s time for the poses. Friday makes it clear she wants Ajit to teach everything, including the poses. Ajit quickly says he can’t because he has a crippled leg and can’t do the poses perfectly himself. Friday is quick to reprimand him, gently.

“I took his scarred cheek in my palm, and he let me, innocently — did he know it already looked better? ‘There’s something you have to understand, Ajit. It’s very simple and very true. A pose isn’t supposed to look like anythingNobody can do a pose so it looks perfect. A pose is perfect only when you are doing the very best you can –gazing steadily, breathing sweetly, and thinking of how it will help someone else. And I watch you every day, doing lots of these perfect poses. And that’s the kind of poses I want our wonderful boys to learn.'”(How Yoga Works)

If you are planning on apologizing to me or any other instructor, then stop and ask yourself the following questions first. Did you breathe consciously, sweetly, actively? Did you focus and use your drishti? Did you think of how this might help someone else? Did you do your best in that moment? If so, then you have nothing to apologize for. If not, you still don’t need to apologize to me. Take a breath, release judgement, and move on.

Coffee, Accessibility, Bali, and Connection

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Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my lovely friends for coffee. She’s also a yoga teacher. A little about my friend, she teaches weekly classes at a couple of studios, goes into a local prison to teach inmates, teaches life skills and yoga classes with inmates about to be released, and teaches yoga at a shelter for women recovering from violence, addiction, and sexual exploitation. She is one of my favorite people, and it had been a month since we’d seen each other.  So much had happened in a matter of four weeks. Time to connect was definitely needed!

As we sit down, we’re both so excited about what the other has going on in their lives. I’ve been diving deeper into my passion of body positivity, inclusivity, and accessibility of yoga. She’s been traveling. First a yoga retreat in Aruba then a trip to Mexico with friends, and soon…Bali.

We go back and forth between our desires, dreams, goals, etc. She’s decided to ask herself if she could do anything without having to worry about anyone or anything else what would that be. She wants to immerse herself into her study of yoga so she can go further into her teaching. She’s found, what sounds to be, an amazing school in Bali that aligns so much with who she is. She’s also allowing herself to be open to possibility. While she has a ticket back to the States, she might take some extra time to travel to neighboring countries before returning home. But only time will tell. A hope of hers is to apply new teachings and a new understanding of herself to her work serving the under-served.

I, on the other hand, am staying put. I’ve recently completed a training called Yoga for All, in which I learned how to teach open-minded classes that are accessible to students of all body sizes, shapes, types, and abilities. In the near future, I am hoping to offer a workshop focusing on body image and yoga. As part of my teaching philosophy, I wholeheartedly believe every single person who wants to have a yoga practice can have a one, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, size, shape, income, and whatever else. Unfortunately, yoga is quite exclusive, but I’m hoping to add my voice to choir of those fighting for inclusivity.

Although, her path and mine appear to be quite different from the outside, I really don’t think they are. I think our end game is the same. What I see is two teachers looking to create deeper connections with themselves so they can connect more fully with others, especially those who are “unseen.” I’m going to miss my friend so much while she’s gone, but I am so excited for the moment when our paths will cross again and we get to reconnect…hopefully, with coffee.

 

Impermanence: Life’s Fleeting Moments

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Recently, I’ve been granted an opportunity to inherit classes at a local studio. This particular studio has values that align well with my teaching philosophy, and there is diversity among the students, which I rarely get to see. Excitedly, I accepted the studio owner’s offer to take on these classes.

The particular teacher I was inheriting the classes from had been with the studio since the first location opened four years ago. The students love her, and I can’t say I blame them. I was able to take a class with her before she left, and she is quite lovely. As I was preparing for my first night of classes I kept remembering the words of one of my teachers who recently moved away. When she announced she was leaving she said, “When a teacher leaves that is the Universe saying you’ve learned all you can from them in this moment, and the Universe is making space for a new teacher to come in with new lessons.” This kept sticking with me, but I couldn’t quite pin-point other ways to express this idea. I didn’t want these yogis to think I was humble bragging or coming in with this gigantic ego to teach them The Yoga.

I decided to put my teacher’s words down in my journal and re-focus on my sequences for the night. For whatever reason, I decided to start listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons – which is wonderful by the way – while I was working. I got through the first three episodes before I had to teach some other classes. That night during the drive to the new studio I turned the podcast back on. The concept of episode four was Impermanence, and the light bulb clicked in my head. This is what I needed to share with my new students! This is what I was looking for!

Impermanence. This idea that everything is in a constant state of flux. Elizabeth states an insightful observation, “The beautiful and equally terrible thing about our lives is that nothing remains the same.” Which is so very true and amazing, and yet so heartbreaking. We go through our lives wanting the beauty to last forever, and the bitter to leave immediately. For these students, they were in a very bittersweet moment of having lost this teacher they clearly love and having to go through the change of a new teacher coming in. Obviously, I can’t take her place because I’m not her, but having gone through a similar situation I can relate to how they felt, which I hope was a reassurance to the students.

This idea of impermanence brought up ideas of earthwork, artwork created with materials found in nature and are meant to deteriorate and return to nature over time. I spoke to this idea of creating impermanent art. That our mats are blank canvases each time we roll them out. Our bodies create the art as we connect with ourselves and move. Some days the art might be messy. Other days the art might be soft and elegant, but once we roll up our mat the art is gone. So if it’s a “bad” day put it all out on the mat and release it because it’s not serving a purpose to hold on to the negativity. If it’s a good day enjoy the feelings and file them away in the heart space. Even though our canvas is washed clean each time we complete a practice what we can take with us is the lessons we learned in that instance.

Going forward I know I’ll be trying to keep this idea of impermanence with me. Nothing can last forever. Although, we can’t keep the sweetness we can hold on to the memories of it and return to them as needed. And while we can’t make the bitter end a quickly as we might like we can choose to release what it brings up for us. In both instances, there are lessons to be learned.

As the students were leaving class one of them said to me, “You are no longer the new girl,” which was so true. In an instant I went from the new teacher to just their teacher. I’ve filed away the excitement and warm feelings I had while teaching those first classes with them, but I’m glad to no longer be the “new girl.”

“Impermanence is the soul of the universe.” – Rob Bell, Magic Lessons, Season 1, Episode 4