Yoga – A Date with Destiny

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To rise before the sun comes up. To awaken to a city that is still asleep. To breathe deeply into the stillness of dawn is bliss. Follow your bliss.

This dream of dreams. The one between waking and sleeping. The one of freedom, openness and joy. Follow your bliss.

This dream is the cool morning air softly touching my cheeks. The hush over the city unwilling to break its sleepiness. The traveler, travels on no matter the cities hush. Follow your bliss.

This first breathe in yoga reveals stiffness. The next fluid movement. The next openness and soon powerful expansion explodes over the mat. Follow your bliss.

This morning is perfect. The sleeping city. The fog and the traveler. Follow your bliss.

This quiet morning we were destined to meet you and I, we and us. To transform stiff into fluid. To shift closed into open. To expand and express. To flow, breathe and bend. To let go of the past. To breathe in fresh and new.

This morning a date with destiny. My destiny. Follow your bliss. Follow your bliss.

3 Benefits of Yoga for Florida Autistic High Schoolers

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Autism affects many lives. It greatly impacted mine. I had the opportunity to teach six yoga, breathing and anger management workshops for autistic teens at Nathan B. Forrest and First Coast High Schools in Jacksonville FL. These 60 Florida autistic high schoolers and I experienced how effectively yoga works. In 45 minutes we noticed marked significant change in mood, behavior and cognitive abilities. Incredible!

3 Benefits of Yoga were easily observable. Each one was instant, tangible and experienced based.

1. Change in Mood – Increased Happiness. We laughed a lot! Celebrated our successes. It’s awe inspiring to see how celebration like clapping hands and high fives make a difference. Celebrating produced increased willingness and ability for the teens to learn faster while having fun. Together we invented the “high thumb” it’s like a high five except you give each other a thumbs up and push your thumb into theirs. As the yoga practice progressed we observed collective and instant innovation taking place among the students. Finishing a pose they were proud they’d lean forward give me a thumbs up and press their thumb into mine and smile. The smiles just melted my heart.

2. Change in Behavior – Calmer. Yoga helps you to calm you down. At one point we had a heighten sense of nervous energy in the room. One teen demonstrated his nerves by hopping around the room without noticing people or the desks in the room. I began to teach them to breath through their nose. He stop jumping, listened to the other teens breathing and he quietly sat down. His nerves were calmed by hearing the breath and soon he was joined the crew in breathing. Amazing! In fact they were all quiet. Soon they also were able to communicate clearly and help each other to follow along. The standing and balancing poses created a sense of calmness. You could feel it in the room. We all focused on one thing, balanced on one leg and took deep nostril breaths. Which for those of you who have and/or work with autistic high schoolers is a monumental task in and of itself. This is from only 45 minutes with a group! The longer we practiced their behavior became increasingly calmer with gentler body movements and softer voices. Some of these kids had severe range of motion limitations and were so calm they were able to focus enough to practice with us. If you think you cannot practice yoga because you’re not flexible enough. Think again!

3. Change in Cognitive Abilities –  Easily Able to Demonstrate. They learned to use yoga and breathing to help them feel better while in school. Some were able to tell me what they could do if they were having a bad day at school. One guy sat up tall when asked how to handle a bad day and said, “Take three breaths.” Touched his nose, closed his eyes and on his own demonstrated nostril breath. Remember this is new information. I’d only been working with them for 30 minutes at this point.  The kids were thrilled to show or tell me how their body felt after taking just three breaths in child’s pose. Their retention of new experienced based  information was groundbreaking. They remembered names of poses and easily demonstrated them. On their own they began to teach each other to breath through their nose!

In essence yoga works! In 45 minutes these kids now have a chance at being able to calm themselves down. We saw significant change in mood, behavior and cognitive abilities. These teens are smart! They each have their own way of seeing the world. Their own challenges to live with that are unique to them. Yet in the midst of all their living with, they smile. Willing to try new exercises like yoga. We worked together as a unit and cheered each other on. These kids are shining examples of pure spirited human beings. They are now empowered to create their own happiness, calm and shift their thinking. May we ever strive to smile no matter what. Give high thumbs. Try something new and take deep breaths.

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Lessons from My Yoga Mat – When War Waged Between My Ears

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I woke up late. I didn’t hear my alarm. Despite an array of judgemental thoughts that swarmed through my head as I looked at my clock that read 5:35am, I jumped out of bed. My alarm had been going off for an hour. I didn’t even hear it. I rushed to get ready for yoga practice. I felt horrible for being late. The judgement just kept rolling like a memorized script that was beating me over the head. I arrived in the practice room at a glorious 1 hour late. I told myself I’d go to practice and I did, no matter what. I didn’t realize that I’d learn several lessons from my yoga mat.

I rolled out my mat and began with downward facing dog. I shook my head to shake the thoughts out. At first it didn’t work, they wouldn’t leave. Amping up my practice to the tune of, challenging I began to sweat as I took myself on. The more challenging it was the less I judged myself for being late. Because when your quads are pulsing and your breathing through your nose who can think, “Oh gosh, I can’t believe I was late.” It was more like, “Breath, girl, you can drop from Flip Dog into Wheel. Ready, set, go!” Slowly I began to smile at the woman next to me from time to time. I dove into my practice like a high diver dives into the water. Soon my judgement turned into peace. The self diminishing thoughts melted into feelings of courage. Courage to show up because I gave my word. Showed up just like I was, no matter what anyone else thought. It took courage and I’m glad I did. Taking on the arm balances, felt easy. Everything seemed to flow with a sense of lightness once I stopped the mental yelling at myself. My head was finally quiet. If you don’t know yet, being in headstand requires focus and quiet. Mentally yelling at yourself while upside down just doesn’t work. The very thought of it makes me laugh! Can you imagine it, in headstand with a word cloud of negative thoughts swirling around? Oh wow!

The lessons from my yoga mat I learned before the sun came up.  I’ll carry them with me for the rest of day. I learned that commitment is an excellent bus driver. She’ll drive you straight to where you said you want to go. You also have to hop on that bus no matter what. That showing up authentically and in all your imperfect glory, works. Practicing without a fuss, works. Showing up kicks not showing up’s tail, every time! Taking on a challenge helps clear your mind. Beating yourself up for being imperfect, doesn’t work. Instant forgiveness feels amazing! Plus, I still got to go upside down and when I stood right side up, I felt like a warrior princess. Who’d won the war waged between my ears. Courage, commitment and instant forgiveness helped me win. (Ok, so that forgiveness wasn’t instant. It took about an hour, it still happened nonetheless). Tackle the wars that wage between your ears today with courage. Don’t worry if the battle rages for an hour stick with it, your head will shut up eventually.

Alice – The Extraordinary Woman Who Loved

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Fall is here! I’m excited to be outside! I was walking in a park thinking to myself, “Aren’t I lucky to be here, feeling the sun and breeze on my face.” I passed a woman sitting on a park bench who looked sad. I made a few more circles in the park and each time I passed her I noticed more about her. She had amazing bright white hair, sitting on the park bench knees pulled into her chest and blank look of pain on her face. As I kept passing her by my heart strings were tugged a little more each time. Finally my last circle she was still sitting there and I had to stop.

Stepping close to her I said, “Are you alright?” Not even lifting her eyes off the pavement she said, “No, I’m tired.” Crying like I’d just poked a fountain that was ready to burst, she said, “I’m tired. I don’t want to do this anymore.” What happened over the next hour truly threw me for a loop. I know that it’s the worlds game to seem cool and not surprised by anything, however her story surprised me. I’d like to introduce to Alice, we’ll call her Alice.

Alice was at the park as a part of her bucket list wishes before she jumped into the St. John’s River ending her life. Today was THE day. My heart ripped from my chest and went out to her’s. She told me why she was tired of living. Pain body, heartache, loss of loved ones and a sense of intense pain from soul to heart and into her body. I knew why I was meant to stop and share this afternoon with her. She was beautiful! Her heart and soul shone brightly when she spoke of the good times. She threw her head back and laughed as she recounted funny times and people she loved. Tears streamed down her face as she said, “… and now I am invisible.” To me she was anything but invisible. I could see how beautiful she was, her white hair glowing in the sunshine and moving with the breeze. She had a big heart. She’d spent years bravely sharing it with others. She’d had her heart broken and stomped on one to many times. Now she was telling me how tired she was of giving it to the world. The world had paid her back with pain. I saw compassion and love in her eyes. I saw the value of who she was. She couldn’t see it. Her eyes only saw and felt pain. She just wanted it to end. Pain so great that even the strongest meds didn’t help for more than an hour or two each day.

I shared with her what I saw in her, she blushed like a like a school girl. Even though now she’s 50 something, for a moment she looked like she was 10. For a split second the long haired girl of the 60’s was back and a smile spread from ear to ear. She dropped her eyes and whispered, “Thank you. I haven’t heard a compliment in a long time.” It was beautiful to hear her speak. Moving between pain, love, laughter and tears like an passionate dance packed full of heart. She was lovely. When her story was just about done, I invited her to yoga as my gift to her. She accepted. We made a date. I hope she shows up. I hope that she chose life today. Digging deep within herself to find the brave parts of her that aren’t tired. The parts still willing to give life a go. I hope that we all have the courage to share our hearts. Now, not tomorrow because now is the only moment we have. To follow our intuition when it speaks to us. To love on people just because they are people. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve so I could relate with her. I know what feeling invisible feels like. Rejection, heartache and pain have visited me as well. Listening to Alice may have saved her life.

I saw her. I stopped and told her that I saw her. I hugged her pain body with mine. Gave her all the love and compassion I had. Pulling away from the hug I said, “I see you”.  Our blue eyes locked and it was magic. She felt seen. Today really see with your eyes, ears and heart the people in front of you.  All they may need to stay alive is you telling them, “I see you”. Don’t be afraid to open your heart. Yeah. It might get hurt, that much is true. If I didn’t open my heart to Alice though she may not have lived.

The Happiness Question – What Makes You Come Alive?

ImageHave you ever felt dead inside?

Like a machine that’s only clicking it’s way through time without thought or feeling. No meaning to life. Click, click, click…the machine that perpetually moves along. Why are you staying in a space that makes you feel dead? Stop trying to fix and force what isn’t working. It’s time for a new question.

What makes you come alive? 

What makes your toes tap without even thinking about it? When are you smiling ear to ear and don’t even realize it? For me it’s yoga and salsa dancing. When I land warrior II pose, getting deep into my legs and ground into the mat, I feel alive and powerful. When I stretch out my arms and reach, with an energy that shoots out past my fingers, I feel alive. Salsa – oh where do I begin?! The movement touches my soul like nothing else does. It feels like heaven when one smooth turn flows into another. When I’m in synch with my partner – when our hands, arms and feet flow seamlessly. I could dance until my toes are swollen and legs too sore to move the next morning.

This is not about me and what makes me come alive; ultimately, it’s about all of us. The world – each person across our globe doing more of what makes us happy. That’s why asking the happiness question is important. Imagine with me a world where each person smiles every day all day long. Where people are applauded for their craft and what they bring to the world. That happens when each of us are brave enough to fall in love with brings us alive. To practice our craft, to fall in love with it again and again. To play with it and make it ours.

What makes you come alive? Tell me. Now that you know, go do it! Practice it and make it your obsession. We want to experience you when you’re at your best. Share it with us – the world. We want to see you come alive.

Going Upside Down A Yoga Arm Balancing Lesson

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It was me, my mat, and the music. Alone in a big room, hardwood floors, and large windows. I challenged myself to a yoga duel. My courage vs. my fears of not being strong enough. It was going to be an epic battle or so I thought. I began slowly in a solid downward facing dog. Grounding my hands, my feet, and letting my head drop. Ah, my body relaxed into the sense of release. It began to open up and let go of  the tension  built up since my last practice. Every move felt familiar and yet fresh. My breath was the link between one pose and the next. Timing it like a metronome to a powerful piece of music. Once warmed up and I was ready for more challenging poses. Without hesitation I dove in head first, literally.

I began with crow; balancing my knees on my triceps, leaning forward, feet lifted off the ground. Building on crow I placed my head down and pressed my feet up, tripod head stand. “Landed! Score!, I thought to myself. Intuitively I knew it was time for something fresh. Tripod into flying pigeon! My head filled with doubts, “I don’t know if I can land that from here. I challenge my students all the time to take a risk so, here it goes. Walking the walk baby!”

Still in Tripod Headstand I slowly began my transition into Flying Pigeon. First I bent my right knee, placing my foot on the outside of my left knee, rock solid core drew both legs in and landed my shin on my triceps. “Yes! I did it!”, I said out loud barely above a whisper. Determined not to stop, because I knew I could do more. Pressing my feet up into Tripod again and then finished with Crow. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I shouted. I swore it was a moment that rocked the Universe. Then I looked around and it was a celebration of one. Literally, just me, jumping around pumping my fists in the air like a silly girl. I ran to the phone and texted the news, delayed response. Not to be let down by the silence the party of one continued. Excited I moved through a series of different combinations, it was like a weight of limitation had been lifted. All of the sudden genius was with me. Creativity was everywhere! I thought, “I could combine those arm balances with those inversions. Oh goody! I can transition here and float into it there. It was like being in a yoga candy store and trying all kinds of flavors at the same time. Each flavor although familiar combined in a new way opened up my taste buds to exciting possibilities. On fire I kept creating combos until my muscles gave out. Flopping on the mat in happy exhaustion.

I bet you’d like to know the lesson in all of this. There’s magic in the familiar. Magic in the daily practices. There’s magic everywhere; in being open, in combinations, and in beginning again. There’s space for surprises in the familiar. In fact it makes them even more delicious. Having ears to hear, eyes to see, and a willingness to explore it works, it all works. Dance with the familiar,  it has a lot to show you.