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.
“Find your center” has become a pop culture phrase within the yoga world; it’s catchy, but largely ineffective. Every time I hear people say, “Find your center”. I think, “Okay, yeah and how do they do that?” Catch phrases are catchy, ok great, but how’s it helpful to you after it catches you? Take a vacation and get away from it all? When you get back from your vacation you bring yourself back with you. It’s your center that you’re looking for anyways, not a martini. Your center ‘gets lost’ (to stick with the terms) because often we listen to and salute what other people say over what we say. Saluting the dress code, language, and even technology of the times is easy. Thinking and living by choice is challenging. It’s definitely the road less traveled. You don’t have to take a road trip thousands of miles to find your center, it’s already within you.
The road trip to finding your center is all about you. I often hear people say, “I can’t seem to find any peace or passion in my life.” Even ancient spiritual teacher/leaders like Buddha and Jesus acknowledged the fact that you don’t have to go away to find your center. They took a road trip to find their center, but realized somewhere along the way that it wasn’t necessary. Sitting quietly became a practice instead. They allowed the noise of the world to melt away so that they could listen. Listen to what was going on within them, without the opinion or noise of other people. Buddha went away from his family, royalty, and even his own children only to realize that his peace and calling in life was already within him. He was just wrapped up in the daily grind and not listening to his own spirit. Once he got quiet, his ‘center’ was right there in the stillness. Jesus went away into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Then he spent countless early morning hours alone in prayer and meditation. They both did ‘go away’, ultimately only to realize that you don’t have to. If you listen to your heart, mind, and soul you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to find your own center, for it is already within you. Have you sat down today? Are you listening to what you have to say?
The other day I had a voice mail from my sister. I tapped the ‘play’ button on my phone and heard a loud laughing voice booming over the speaker. She yelled, “Help! I’m stuck in a permanent Down Dog. I don’t know what to do!” Immediately I burst into a big smile. I loved her joke, it was funny. I don’t know if that has ever happened, but I’m sure it would have been all over the news. Her joke has kept me thinking about how downward facing dog is one of the basic essential yoga poses. I know many people don’t know how to get into it or how good it feels. Let’s get to it!
Downward Facing Dog – adho (downward) mukha (face) svana (dog) is one of the essential yoga poses. It’s good if you’ve had a hard day. It’s like medicine for those that love pills. If you like immediate results, it’s literally a quick fix for a serious case of the blues or a stress filled day. It’s a simple pose that anyone can do, with or without a mat. It delivers total body strengthening and relaxation. It allows your body to lengthen out; stretching your arms, spine, and legs. I know you’re excited about trying it out, so here’s how to get into it. This is a step by step guide to getting into down dog (and enjoying it).
How to Get into Downward Facing Dog
- Get onto your hands and knees
- Hands shoulder width distance apart slightly in front of your shoulders
- Spread your fingers and palms flat on the floor
- Knees hip width distance apart, tuck your toes under
- Lift your sit bones up away from your pelvis creating an upside down “V” with your body, heels press down
- Lift the pit of the belly in and up towards your spine
- Drop your head and look in between your feet
- Take several deep breaths through your nose (notice: you feel better, right?)
- Smile! Repeat!
(If you down dog doesn’t look this < one on the left, its okay. She’s just showing off. You can tell by the look in her eye. She does this pose at least twice a day, every day, for a life time. Everyone must start somewhere, don’t let her get to you. She was born a natural.)
Child’s pose (Balasana) is often the first pose most yoga practitioners learned. If you are a beginner or a seasoned yogi it’s important for you have this pose in your practice. It immediately eliminates stress as soon as your forehead is on the mat. You’ll likely experience a relaxing feeling, it allows for centering, and it can also be a resting pose. It creates opening in the body; especially the top of the thighs, back, and arms. I love this pose because you don’t even have to have a yoga mat for it. You can do it at home, the office, or even outside. If you already have a yoga mat, great! If you don’t you can use a towel until you get one. Don’t let anything hold you back from practicing yoga. Even if you don’t ‘pose’ perfectly you can still feel immediately a sense of relaxation and peace.
How to Get into Child’s Pose
1. Get on your hands and knees
2. Hands shoulder width underneath your shoulders, palms flat
3. Take your knees out to the outer edges of the mat, big toes together
4. Sit your tailbone back towards your heels
5. Stretch your arms forward
6. Place your palms flat on the mat
7. Forehead on the mat (Viola’! You’re in it!)
8. Take three deep breaths through your nose
9. Enjoy this time just to take a break
10. Yes, you can come back into Child’s Pose any time you like
My day started with a yoga practice. I practiced yoga off the mat and into my world. Walk with me if you will into my morning…
I felt groggy as my feet touched the floor. Nonetheless I started walking into my day; little did I know I was walking right into a miracle. It’s my life! The life that I have created isn’t perfect by any means, but it is mine. I began to realize as I washed my face and brushed my teeth, I thought, “Choice. “It’s all about choice.” I can choose that this morning is still dark and no one should be up this early. I could crawl right back into bed, but I didn’t. I went to teach my yoga class. Eight brave souls showed up this morning. I took a moment as I looked around at them at the beginning of class and choose to connect; to take that hour and share myself and yoga with them. I wasn’t teaching them, we were experiencing the practice of yoga together. I’m glad that I didn’t stay in bed; I would have missed out on that experience. Instead of mopping my way through the day, I’m now empowered to live today with courage. I’m making velvety rich coffee and scrambled eggs for my husband. I sang and danced as I started my day. (I’m glad you weren’t in my kitchen, it doesn’t sound so good and the dancing looks funny.) All in all it comes down to choice. Choice is everything. This foggy morning it landed with me, in a minty fresh way. This is my day; I can live it anyway that I choose to. I choose to live in freedom, possibility, and love. You can practice yoga off your mat. So, yes, this is a good morning!
Put away all that you know to be true about connection and vulnerability. Go with me on a trip to experience the impossible connection. Ask yourself these questions, what is connection and vulnerability? Is connection holding hands, an angry slap across the face? Is vulnerability internal, like chills up your spine or a gut feeling?
Being vulnerable creates connection. Connection is when you feel what I feel at the same time I feel it. Notice how we laugh at the same time, grin, and giggle. Or even become angry, just because someone else is feeling angry. This is being vulnerable and connecting. “Connection is not possible without vulnerability, Dr. Brene’ Brown.” Dr. Brown is a researcher of vulnerability, authenticity, courage, shame, and connection. To say the least this woman is fascinating. She enacts the imagination, throwing each person a curve ball of truth that goes straight down to the root of the root. Her message is clear, be vulnerable, courageous, and authentic. Take a look at the shame you feel, as the warm feeling that washes over you. Doubt your doubts. Notice where your doubt comes from, it typically comes from a reaction of shame. The shameful feeling is involuntary, habit even. It takes a hold of your mind and heart. It becomes a daily action so common in fact that you don’t even notice it until someone points it out. I thought about putting her theory to the test, but I chose to put it off for another time. I didn’t create a plan, but accidently used my yoga class as a lab. Let me tell you about it. It was opened my eyes to connection in a new light.
As I taught my yoga class I demonstrated how to assist Camel (a back bending pose). I asked each person to be the participant as well as the assistant. They all chose a partner. It was breathtakingly beautiful to notice men and women becoming vulnerable. Opening their hearts up and allowing someone else to support them. As the partners were finishing assisting each other they were all talking up a storm. I couldn’t get them to be quiet, so I started to OM. As I OM’d the whole room joined in. We created a chorus of standing OM’s. I didn’t realize I was testing the theory until I was middle of it. It was a moment like none I’d ever experienced. In the moment all 30 of us stood connected, at the same time, with a sense of awe.
What I learned is, it has little to do with the yoga pose it’s self. It has everything to do with your way of being with the person. Before the pose started three things needed to happen in order for each person to feel connected and willing to be vulnerable. Both participant and assistant had to experience: A sense of trust that their partner would physically support them. Demonstrate the willingness to connect and be vulnerable. Create a connection. The results were astounding! If they trusted their partner they opened up in camel. If they didn’t feel connected or safe enough to be vulnerable, they wobbled and fell. It’s 98% how you ‘connect’ to the person and 2% how you physically support them in the pose. Being vulnerable creates the possibility of a connection. Without connection you experience living alone and lonely. Connection can create laughter, love, and a life worth living. I invite you, live vulnerable and people will want to connect with you.