Stepping in or stepping on?

Tucked behind a lone tree and rusty gate, it took us a week to figure out that the billboard advertising Fitness Basics Gym was directly in front of the gym itself. The first time we noticed the sign, and with it the list of classes, we took a picture and said we’d call.

We still hadn’t the day I looked a bit closer and noticed one more sign inside the gate. “Is it right there?” I inquired. As I did, the picture became clearer: there were stairs leading down just below the second advertisement— and was that music I heard coming from below? Curiously, I wandered in and met Meenakshi, the owner of the gym.

Sure enough, just as the billboard promised, there was a full schedule of classes: Power Yoga, Zumba, Bollywood Dance (!), Extreme Core. Behind the mirrored area were a handful of machines and, further back, some weights.

I joined that night. Continue reading “Stepping in or stepping on?”

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Walking toward grace

As you may have noticed, I’m back.

The answer to “back where?” is multi-tiered…

In reality, I’ve been back stateside for several months. I returned mid-March and spent the past months exploring some beautiful land and communities in our country.

A month ago, I returned to San Diego, the place I call home when I choose to name one.

And now, I return here: to this blog. Or, more significantly, to the practice of reflecting in a public space that invites others to my journey.

This final return is indicative of an arch I noticed in my travels over the past year. Within every core country, I experienced a ‘settling in’ period where my public writing paused. In these transitional times, I’d question many things while not yet being in a place to name them, often prompting further questions of my own integrity or reliability.

I am shrugging off those latter queries (read: doubts) and the urge to apologize profusely for my recent lapse. Instead, I will simply thank you for landing here when you do and acknowledge with gratitude the patience that this sometimes requires.

A part of my intention in this season is acceptance and I am working on accepting my process where it is, even when that place does not meet my ideal of, say, blogging weekly on solidarity or mysticism. I hold this aim of acceptance in tandem with growth goals that I am always walking toward. This means that I hope too to still get to that place of weekly posts. In time.

Holding the bothof acceptance and growth-momentum addresses a tension I feel in many areas of my life. Often, unrealized goals actually perpetuate worse performance from me. I need to call a friend back and in my guilt of taking so long, I delay the call further. I am working on not picking at my face (this is real), but messed up my clean record yesterday, so what’s one more relapse? I mean to blog, but dread the post that acknowledges the extent to which I have not blogged.

In writing this, I realize that at the crux of acceptance and growth is an orientation to process. When I am not fixated on a destination but instead on constant evolution, I create the space to be where I am while allowing that place to be fluid.

All of this reminds me of an important insight gleaned during teacher training. Our instructor frequently quipped, “the asana (physical practice and postures) is there to serve your body; not the other way around”. As White (2007) said, yoga is less about attaining than it is attuning– not forcing our bodies or our minds to a specific place, but cultivating an awareness that notices and listens to our bodies, our minds, and most pertinently, our inner wisdom.

The way that I understand this has implications far beyond the yoga mat. It invites me to let go of perfectionist ideals and lean into my own experience, as beautiful or as messy as that may be.

In short, my attention moves to being rather than doing. I’m brought back then, to a word that litters the faith tradition of my upbringing: grace.

When I think about grace, I hold a spacious image in my mind’s eye. I envision a meadow with tall grass and blooming wildflowers- with dry patches and weeds to be sure- but mostly, I see expansive land for grandiose dancing and a cartwheel or two, or twenty. I see scraped knees and dripping blood that accompanies the risk and rewards of living freely. I see a platform for memory making and mishap and the paradoxical adventure of learning to be human.

Today, I return to grace. And I breathe it into where I am today, and where I hope to go tomorrow.

 

References

White, G. (2007). Yoga beyond belief: insights to awaken and deepen your practice. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books.

With open hips and an open(ing) heart

YTT

I’m excited to announce that I just completed yoga teacher training with the lovely people pictured here. Prana Yoga of La Jolla proved to be a phenomenal place to learn and I am incredibly grateful for the knowledge, insight, and experience gained.

On one of our last days together, we worked on heart openers (aka back bends).

For those of you who read the term heart opener with raised eyebrows, there is an anatomical reason for talking about back bends as such. When we place emphasis on creating expansion through the chest, we tend to create a greater and higher arch in our back, taking the pressure off of our lumbar (lower) spine. People often dump into this area when they jump into a back bend; thus, the visual of a ‘heart opener’ is a movement toward a safer and healthier practice.

In our workshop, we learned this and a variety of tools to support people in protecting their spines while finding deep bends (or not so deep depending on the day, the person, and the body). After receiving all of the instructions on alignment and verbal cues to get into the postures, we spent time practicing adjustments on one another. When working on urdva dhanurasana, wheel pose, my partner placed his hand between my shoulder blades and gently lifted in and up. My reaction was immediate. Before I even processed what was happening, I exclaimed, “I don’t like that!”

Concerned that he moved my body out of alignment, he withdrew his hand quickly and asked, “did I hurt you?”

Coming out of the pose, I thought about it. “No.” I replied. “I just didn’t like it.”

Eager to learn, he pressed. “Okay… what did you feel in your body?”

I closed my eyes to consider the question. With dismay, it hit me just as suddenly as my reaction had: it opened my heart.

In asana- the physical practice of yoga- we recognize that we store memories, emotions, and experiences in our bodies. Hip openers are where this is most frequently realized, as we hold suppressed or unaddressed emotions in our pelvic area. This energy can resurface as we lean into lizard’s pose or breathe through pigeon. It is quite common for people to experience intense feelings after a class with several hip openers, or even one hip-opening posture that was particularly powerful that day.

When we do body work, there are mental and emotional processes happening which allow for breakthroughs to occur on all of these levels. We are literally able to release past trauma and emotional experiences through physical movement and alignment with our breath and life force. With three weeks of daily yoga, I am continually surfacing new insights and emotions- and my hips flexors are subsequently finding more and more flexibility.

Just as the hips invite emotions to resurface, heart openers bring vulnerability and trust.

Enter my visceral reaction to my partner’s adjustment. This moment forces me to look at the extent to which I am resistant to vulnerability. With his adjustment, I experienced the loss of my usual protection: shoulders hunched over my chest creating a cloak that veils my heart from the world’s touch.

The next day in an asana class, we were invited to hold camel pose (an intense heart and hip opener) for an extended period of time. My sympathetic nervous system went crazy as my flight response kicked in urging me to avoid such openness. Instead I took long, deep breathes. I closed my eyes. I visualized the space just behind my heart, and I crawled inside.

I found a little girl there. I told her she was beautiful. Worth loving. Strong.

You see, what prevents me from leaning into vulnerability is not only my fear of pain. It is my lack of belief in the beauty of the unfiltered me. When I see the power and divinity within, I cannot help but share her. It is when this belief dwindles and my relationship to self suffers that I close myself off to others.

It seems like no coincidence that these are my current lessons when I have not blogged for four months and my last post was an emotionally raw poem exploring relational loss. Peeling back the layers of insulation I’ve carefully woven, I returned to that heart-space after class. I reminded the little girl that she has a powerful voice that should be heard.

She smiled. The brightness in her radiated outward, luminous and warm. Body heated and chest still open, I decided to write. About open hips and open hearts… or at least the journey toward them.