Beginning meditators often come to me full of anxiety about sitting still. The idea that they have to be perfectly still creates a lot of self-judgment and feelings of being trapped. There is also the fact that when you start sitting with your mind, you notice not all of your thoughts are very nice. Then you judge yourself for having thoughts you think you shouldn’t have.
I have been around animals all my life, and as a kid I had all kinds of different pets. Some pets too anxious to calmly sit, but most of my pets were able to relax. I have ridden horses for fun, walked in the woods with my dog, sat at the computer while a cat snoozed at my side. The pets taught me about companionable silence. You can be with someone without having to talk or interact. You can simply BE together. Meditation is learning to sit with yourself in companionable silence and enjoy your own company as thoughts come and go.
I have a student in one of my seniors classes who has a tough time. Occasionally one of the other students makes a comment that “maybe he shouldn’t be trying to do yoga, he doesn’t look like he’s breathing well.” I am always astounded to hear such things. EVERYONE should be doing yoga! How else does one learn to breathe? I think this student is amazing for showing up and working with the cards he’s holding at the moment.
Yoga is for EVERYONE! NONE of us has a perfect body. ALL of us have been sick or injured at some point in our lives and many of us still have the after-effects of that injury in the body. If your happiness and health were a garden you would have to tend it for it to thrive. That’s what we are doing here.
And for those of us who are noticing other people in class and having thoughts about those people, be they kind or judgmental, our job is to just notice that the mind has wandered and lead it back to our own practice.
I have been focusing on the physical aspects of my practice lately because I am trying to improve my tapas–my inner discipline and zeal for my work. Sometimes I find it easy to lean towards the nurturing aspects of the yoga practice and allow myself to rest . . . but then I find myself avoiding my discipline in the name of self-nurturing. This summer I am dedicating my practice towards exploring greater levels of strength work and working through discomfort.
This in and of itself is a contemplation.
Fortunately, the Universe saw fit to throw me a drama to remind me that my spiritual part of my practice needs tending, too. I have two students who are very upset with each other and they are disrupting class. I tried to stay out of the drama, but now, as a representative of they gym, as well as the leader of the class, I am being required to step in and offer guidance and protection, and boundaries. At first I was very angry about this because I feel it is everyone’s responsibility to behave, and it is really bizarre that I am being required to put on the hat of the gradeschool teacher.
I was angry about this for a week. Then I remembered that when an emotion sticks with us, that is the time to observe it and meditate on it.
Boy howdy. I have a lot of stuff going on over this. Primarily–the expectation I had in my head that everyone else should behave! When I expect others to behave, I am not loving reality as it is, and I am causing my own suffering! Add to that my anxiety about stepping up to conflict and telling other people how they should behave, my childhood crap over conflict and volatile personalities, blah blah blah.
In the end, it is clear that I need to grow here, and be more than I have been before, and not be afraid of that. I have been trying to model loving kindness and acceptance, and the message is not getting through in this circumstance. So it is time to face the problem explicitly. And I need to be ok with the fact that I may not be smooth and perfect. But I need to try.
*deep breath. sigh*
Wish me evolution!
Today I was able to do a series of squats in a class without the aid of a rolled up mat under my heels. Usually I use the rolled up mat because my calves are very tight, and hence, the mobility of my ankles is limited. This time in class, we systematically released the fascia in the bottom of the foot before squatting. I was able to release my ankles from the fascia! This is why I am so enamored with myofascial release on a rubber ball. I thought I couldn’t do something, and then I rolled something out, and I was empowered.
Never underestimate the power of releasing what you are holding on to. We have more support and range of motion when we are not locked up. Our potential is so much more available.
Conducting oneself from the highest part of our selves
Sometimes we are tired, and we don’t feel well, and things have happened to us in our days, and we simply cannot be gracious about everything. It happens. Believe it or not, sometimes I am grouchy and impossible to please. But sometimes I see myself going that direction and I look within and find that I do have enough energy within me to have a generous spirit and conduct myself from the highest part of my self, even in the face of events that are not to my preference.
When I am centered in the highest part of myself, I leave the house on time to make it to yoga class early to set up my mat.
When I am centered in the highest part of myself, I am happy to scootch my mat over so that one more person can come into the yoga class.
Because we all need yoga.
I gave a dharma talk today about how the ego gets offended when it seems like someone is being mean to it, but it’s all an illusion. After class one of my students today came up to me and said that just today she had an experience of this. Student 1 says that Student 2 never says Hi to her before or after yoga class, even though they’ve met at the nail salon. Student 1 was very hurt and was feeling snubbed. Today Student 2 saw her and said “Hi” and Student 1 got tearful and explained that all this time she’s been feeling snubbed. Student 2 said “I have macular degeneration. I didn’t even know you were near me in class! I can’t see you clearly!” You just never know what’s going on with the other person when they aren’t behaving how we expect!
Yesterday I taught a workshop about the Gunas: the mental energies of rest/inertia, activity/hyperactivity, and clarity/purity that affect our mind and mood. I’ve been dedicating my practice to noticing the gunas for the past month. I am most struck by the cyclical nature of the gunas. We sleep all night. We wake up. We work work work. When do we have the Satva? We may sit and meditate, we may have epiphanies, but eventually the Rajas and Tamas have to happen again. It’s built into the cycle. We have an idea to cook a beautiful meal–Satva. We make the meal–Rajas. We eat it all up and it’s gone–Tamas. Always in flux.
Life is fluid. The end is always attached to the beginning.
I had so many experiences of loving and being loved today I feel very healed.
“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” –Bene Gesserit Axiom, Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Dear Universe: may I choose light.
The mind wanders. Come back to the breath. Come back to the heart. The mind will wander again. That is the nature of mind. It is mind’s dharma to wander. Bring it back home when you notice. This is the training on being a human being.
Today I saw two different people eating pizza on a bus. One gentleman had a particularly sloppy, melty slice and used up all his napkins. The other person, at the end of the bus, noticed and got up and gave him her extra napkins. She didn’t want anything in return, not even a thank you. Random acts of kindness!
internal wisdom from today’s meditation:
1) I want mac n cheese. I want mac n cheese. I want mac n cheese. I want mac n cheese. I want mac n cheese. I want mac n cheese. I want mac n cheese . . .
2) The reason meditation “seems” so hard is because of the way the nervous system works. It’s a physiological thing. It’s recently been proven that “multitasking” does not exist. Some of us can switch back and forth between tasks very quickly, giving the illusion that we are doing multiple things at once. But most brains don’t really want to work that way. They want to focus on ONE task. When we are concentrating on our accounting and our sweetheart keeps interrupting to ask questions, we get irritated at the interruption. Because when the brain is concentrating it wants to stay concentrating. When we are walking and someone bumps into us, we get irritated, because we had a groove going there. Similarly, if we are “trying” to meditate, and our minds are all over the place, it can “feel” stressful. Because our own minds are the distraction. Interestingly, it is a feedback loop. The more “irritated” we get with our own minds, the more distracting thoughts we have. When we can relax and watch everything unfold naturally, the stress hormones stop getting secreted and the distractions actually slow down enough to give us some success. in summary: it’s physiological AND perspective, and we can use perspective to change the physiological
3) Internal Wisdom says: “So basically, don’t’ be so stick-up-the-butt about meditation.” [sic]
Today I had a new student to a Basic Gentle Yoga class who I thought for sure was going to quit. She has RA, one of her legs –every bone has been replaced by metal. She is overweight, in pain, and her insurance has run out so she can no longer do physical therapy. She did not know that mat yoga would require her to get up and down from the floor twice –she almost burst into tears when I had to help her up from the floor because she was ashamed and frustrated. But she stuck it out and promised to come back next week. I am praying she does. I’m sure yoga will help her so much. I am very humbled by all this. Yoga has healed me a great deal but many of my students have much deeper issues than I do, and I feel like a charmed person telling others this will make them feel better. But I can’t suffer everything everyone ever anywhere suffers. I can only do my best to access the universal wellspring of compassion and be skilful.
If old age, disease and death are coming for us, and everything we love and lust after is impermanent, all my cares are stripped away. 98% of my thoughts are knocked out like bowling pins. What is left? Well, all I can say for myself is I should try to harm as little as possible and I should try to help as much as possible. And that means cleaning up what I say and using my time more wisely.
This article/book is about romantic love, but it could say the same about your pursuit of your welnness or spiritual ideals. Many of us fall in love with yoga or whatever we love–but then we start getting sidetracked and that thing we love totally falls by the wayside. This article has some advice we could give ourselves:
Yim gave his daughter, Marilyn, this advice when she got married: “Love can be a convenience, an illusion, we look at love as a now, an instant result. In reality, it’s an action, something you have to constantly work at. The stuff you do at the beginning of a courtship you have to continue doing to keep the romance alive. That and, also, remember what matters most.”
Love one another as though in the throws of courtship. Do you good stuff the same way. Paint your paintings, play your instruments, lift your weights or do your yoga, eat your health food–in the throws of your love for those things. And if you really don’t feel like it, do it anyway, because love is steady and constant as well as urgent.
Right effort is not about working hard.
Right effort is not about being “good” or doing something “right.”
Right effort is not about being better than someone else
Right effort is not about proving you can do something so your parents will approve of you
Right effort is not about proving you can do something so your peers will admire you
Right effort is not about doing something so society will validate you
Right effort is not about gaining money, fame, trophies or other material proofs
Right effort is not about doing something so you can forgive yourself for your real or perceived shortcomings
All of that is nonsense we prop ourselves up with in a futile effort to cope with a world full of other people’s unattended neuroses.
Right effort is about working to the best of your abilities– because you want to. Because you want to be your very best you, at this moment, right now. Because you know you have it within you. Because you don’t want to miss this opportunity to live authentically. A human birth is privileged. We have minds and hearts. Let’s not waste them. Let go. Don’t “Do.” “BE.”
A startle reflex is a perfectly natural and necessary function of the nervous system, unless it gets stuck on “ON.” Then it’s a panic attack. Anger is a perfectly natural and necessary function as well–it lets you know that your boundaries have been crossed. But when it gets stuck “ON”–that becomes an obsession. This happened to me for half a day on Monday. I was SO TRIGGERED I was PLOTTING–and couldn’t rest. Then I remembered the infinite toolbox of yoga. I went through a few of my favorite contemplations and they took the edge off, but didn’t eradicate my anger. And then I remembered this ritual in which someone said “take the light into you.” I simply took a deep breath and invited the beauty of the world to come in through my eyes. Within seconds I went from a compulsive plotting mind to a relaxed joy mind in which the simple colors and shapes of trees, buildings, cars and summer dresses filled me with sublimity. And it broke the spell of plotting mind. Just like that. Yoga is magic. Find the right incantation and your demon will vanish. Take the light into you.
Most of us have people telling us we aren’t good enough, multiple times per day. Either a boss or sibling, or the internalized voices in our minds. Yoga says we don’t have to be good. We simply have to breathe and practice being who we want to be. And if we miss the target, we pick up the next arrow, and keep breathing.
There is no such thing as a Beginner Yogi. Some people are athletic but do not meditate. Some people are not athletic, but meditate every day. Some people are not athletic, and don’t meditate, but are loving and kind at all times. Some people are wind musicians and already do breathing exercises. Some people are none of these but have a poetic heart, or a natural inclination to sense and work with subtle energy, or poetic words. And some people think they know everything about yoga but are too busy showing it off to feel the brilliance of this moment, right now. We should not pigeonhole our beginners as beginners. We should connect to each practitioner individually. Yoga is magic, and it comes through everyone in a different way.
I taught a seniors pilates class yesterday and one little old lady was really struggling with her 2-pound weight. Her form was poor and she refused to put the weight down because everyone else had one. She was frail and stiff. I tried to help her as much as I could but she kept waving me off and saying she was fine. I felt pity for her. After class I put away the props and another class began. I passed it and saw it was a traditional Chinese dance class. And this little old lady I had pitied was moving and bowing with complicated steps and arm positions, perfect rhythm– transcribing gorgeous arcs in space–dancing and flowing with energy. I was DELIGHTED. The universe was telling me to take my pity and shove it up my ass. May we all find our groove and shine!