The Gift of Yoga

I met Jason when I was 5 years old. He was a spunky, snot-nosed neighbor kid who came over the day we moved in and asked if I wanted to come out and play. We were best friends instantly. Over the next few years we did everything together, and days with him always started out with his grand ideas of what we could do, and usually ended with us getting in some kind of trouble. He even told my dad when he was allowed to, that he was going to marry me someday. On days I had steak for dinner, he would come over and eat all the grizzly parts off my plate so I could leave the table and we could play. In fact, I can’t think of a time in my childhood that he wasn’t a part of.

My family moved away about four years later, and my mom tried to help us to see each other whenever we could. Soon after we moved again, this time to the other end of the country, which at my young age, felt like the other end of the planet. I missed my friends when I moved and eventually the feeling faded, but with Jason it never did. So I decided when it was time I would move back so we could be together again. So at 21 I did.

When I moved back to my hometown I looked for Jason for months, but all I found out was he had moved away. This was before the era of Facebook and my search options were limited. I settled back into my hometown, and slowly built my new life there. By pure coincidence seven years later Jason walked into my workplace and just like that not a minute had passed by. He had just moved back to town and we instantly picked up where we had left off so many years ago. He was into martial arts and yoga, and I was into smoking and drinking too much coffee. He was starting a business and I was a stressed out workaholic. One day he convinced me to go to a yoga class, and reluctantly I agreed. I didn’t like the class much, because it was tough, I was out of shape, and all I could think about was a cigarette. I didn’t get why he loved it so much, and we agreed to disagree on his love of yoga.

Four years had passed and we were finally married, and at our reception he toasted my father and joking announced “I told you so” while the rest of us laughed at the irony. It was one of the happiest times of my life. One week before our first wedding anniversary we were on a beautiful motorcycle ride in Montana’s Glacier Park. He was in front of me sweeping around the mountain curves when he misjudged his angle and hit an oncoming SUV. Jason was pronounced dead at the scene and I felt like my world had stopped. I was in a mind fog over the next few weeks, and I needed something that could take me from this life I was barely living. Instead of walking by my local yoga studio as I always did, I listened to Jason’s advice and I walked in to a yoga class. It was hard, but I noticed it was quiet, which was a far cry from my busy home full of people who meant well. I started going every day, and I was becoming stronger, weeping in Savasana less, and learning how to be still. I had quit smoking for some time now, adapted healthier eating, and even though I didn’t know why or how, yoga was getting me through the most painful time in my life.

A year later I signed up for a Yoga Teacher Training Intensive program and I started to understand the deep healing aspects of yoga that I had experienced firsthand. What was happening to me was finally making sense. I didn’t know it then, but Yoga saved my life. I am a completely different person. I have an established practice now, and my mind is strong and my body is healthy. I have moved forward and was even lucky enough to have found love again, and I have recently remarried. On the fourth year of his passing, I think of Jason often. If I could express anything to my childhood best friend, it would be to thank him for taking me to my first yoga class.

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The Middle Way

“Take what you need and leave the rest” ~ Anon

Remember those Petri dishes in High School Biology? Perfectly round, transparent, sterile orbs of neutral ground. Imagine for a moment, we could reduce every human being on this planet into that agar ‘jelly’ and other nutrients creating that organic surface for interaction. Billions of us are together in this Petri dish living our lives, and waiting for something to happen. Now imagine this bright, artificial light of stress, beaming into our dish, all day and all night long…everyday. Chronically intense and ever-present, this stress has embedded itself into our lives and the light switch has been taped to the ‘On’ position. This means there is no option to hide from this stress, or take a break from it, because within this Petri dish there is nowhere to go. Now imagine the different ways this can change us, within our cellular make-up and the environment in which we live.

Dr. Susan Rosenberg, a professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College has proven that a single stress source alone will turn up the spontaneous mutation rates within human cells. This really got me thinking about all of the illnesses we face as a result of genetic mutations inside us. Angelina Jolie recently made headlines with her double mastectomy as a preventative surgery after finding out she carries the BRCA gene for breast cancer. One of my blogs last year was also about a woman in my yoga class who was undergoing this same surgery and it was like alarms started going off in my mind, that as a species, we were getting sicker, and only coping with, not improving our situation. It seems that high blood pressure, heart conditions, cancerous mutations and inflammation are all par for the course now.  According to Medical Qigong Therapy, once an organ or body part has been removed, there remains an energetic void within the Spatial Cavity of the person’s tissues. The energy of the organ or limb, however, still exists within the patient’s body, as a ‘Phantom Organ/Limb.’ This also means, the stress it was harboring remains in the body too, until it is dealt with.

These days the root of chronic stress seems to be most common in excessive living.  Whether it is getting the biggest, baddest house or car, we are wearing our bodies down mentally, physically, and energetically trying to keep up with these decaying, impermanent things, and missing the whole point of it all. I had many reasons for moving out of that beautiful home on the beach recently, but truthfully, the most important one was what it was doing to my stress levels and my quality of life. Every weekend spent maintaining this house, cleaning rooms we never used. Since I have left I sleep better, breathe deeper, and I really feel like I have gotten my life back. It was an important lesson learned for me, and I will not forget it. As we look for another house, it will be comfortable, not excessive, and most importantly … easy. You know that motto, everything in moderation? It is mostly true, except common sense stuff like heroin or gunshot wounds, but what about stress…is stress okay in moderation? Primal types of stress are a necessity, like the fight or flight syndrome when confronted by a lion, but the stress we create ourselves in our everyday life is not, in any measure. As I purge my excesses, and bring my life back into its own peaceful harmony, I am reminded again that bigger is not always better, and just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Namaste

The Beauty in Trees

I loved this one commentary in a documentary I watched over the weekend on America’s view on what’s beautiful. When an East African woman was asked whether or not she loved her body, she looked puzzled by the question. “Why wouldn’t I?” she said. “I have hands that can do everything for my family, strong arms to get water and carry food. My legs are so powerful they can wrap around a man and hold him there; I love my body.”. Then the East African woman asked the narrator why she would ask such a question. The narrator replies “Well, I don’t particularly like my stomach since bearing children and my arms are droopy…” to which the East African woman interrupts “It is your body, and it is amazing. Do you see that tree over there (and she points) do you think that tree is beautiful? And this one here, (she points again) is this tree beautiful? They are both different, but do you think the first tree wishes it could look more like the second tree? Women are trees. You are a tree and I am a tree, and we are beautiful.” When asking teenage boys and young men what makes a woman beautiful, they were quick to answer with celebrity names and faces, but when asked why they were beautiful, what was it about them that made them beautiful, and they weren’t able to answer. In recent years, I have come to learn how to drop my inner critic, and although I still strive to improve, it is much nicer when it comes from a place of love and tolerance rather than the result of criticism and fault-finding missions. So how do we celebrate our uniqueness when we are constantly barraged with images of waif thin women and muscular men? It may seem overwhelming to try to change an industry, but we can start by supporting the companies who fall into line with our own values. Most importantly, we have the power to change ourselves from within, and how we view each other… and once we can do that, we will see a world that is so full of true beauty.

Living Life, or Posing Life?

I am at one of my local eateries by the ocean two mornings ago, and I catch an elderly man gingerly lowering himself into one of the beach chairs on the sand. Before I could complete my thought, silently happy for him that he made it into that chair without breaking something, his daughter (I think) yells at him to turn his head back so she could get a good picture for her Facebook page and then they really need to go. I realize watching the old man straining to get back out of this low laying chair that I am staring now, so I avert my gaze to others enjoying the beach and spectacular scenery.

I look around to see girls posing for an iPhone in a “candid” shot as they pretend to be in a water fight, and immediately hop back onto the beach to continue the shoot. A mother telling her son to “do that again” this time she has her camera in hand to catch the moment that happened once already ten seconds prior. I think to myself, it’s a beach; of course there will be a lot of camera happy visitors and resume to my breakfast. I live in a “touristy” area now, and rationalize to myself that this is all a part of the package. But this thought lingers with me. I think back to my own childhood, and vacations we used to take to the beach. I remember sometimes posing for one or two family snaps and my mother would maybe take a couple more as we played. We would build gigantic turtles in the sand, taking six hours or more to complete (looking back, I think it was a clever way to keep us busy so my mother could relax and suntan), and when we were done, it never even crossed our minds to ask mom to get a photo of it. We all hopped back into the family car sacrificing our turtle back to the ocean, and it didn’t really phase us. I would like to think I was a pretty observant kid. As I search the far corners of my memories, I don’t remember seeing so many “photo shoots” happening on vacations as I saw that morning on the beach. I never posed much for pictures, unless we were at Sears for our portraits. I remember those because I was not the type of child who could stay still for that period of time, the artificial carpet seats smelt like chemicals, and I couldn’t wait for them to be over with.

Since Facebook came on the scene, taking pictures has risen to a whole new level. Photos used to be mementos, a way to remember the times in our lives. We would frame them, scrapbook them, or keep them in boxes ready and waiting for our next trip down memory lane. I can’t help but feel as I watched the fragile man in the beach chair struggle to appease his daughter that pictures are taking on a life of their own. It’s as if the picture is more important than enjoying the moment that the picture represents. Seconds after a photo is snapped we can upload it to Facebook to show all of our friends what we were lucky enough to experience five seconds ago. Don’t get me wrong, I also love uploading interesting things I see to social media sites to share with my friends and family. Living so far away from them I find it is a great way to stay connected and close. I am guilty of having 46 virtual photo albums, and significant Facebook worthy life events are always on the horizon.

Why does the old man stay in my thoughts? As I watched him struggle to get in and out of the chair, I realized that the real experience for him was to be in it. To feel the sun on his face and listen to the waves and the gulls that flew overhead. To inhale and exhale the saltwater air, and just be. Who knows if he would ever be able to come back here again? Although there is a picture to document him on the beach, it wasn’t really an accurate reflection of the moment.

Pictures are supposed to be reflections of our experiences. They are nothing more than a way to look back and smile at the times we have had. The key though, is to make sure the experiences we document are ones we took the time to enjoy, or the photos one day might be worth less to us than the paper they are printed on.

Being Awake

When was that last time something moved you? How long has it been since life stopped you dead in your tracks, jolted your mind into the present, silencing the past and the future to focus on right now?

If you had to think about it, it’s been too long, because this is a truly amazing time to be alive.

As you read this the next Great American Novel is waiting be discovered, and poets around the world are capturing the essence of feeling in a way you never knew it could be written. A self-indulgent painted self-portrait graces the wall of your local museum begging you to ponder another human being’s significance, while a painting down the hall expresses the color red in a way that makes your heart want to burst out of your chest. A cinema can pull you into the screen and convince you the world is ending, aliens walk among us, and immerse us in true life stories stranger than fiction, deepening our compassion for one and another.

A cell phone can scroll its page up or down based on your eye movements alone. A car can tell you when you are falling asleep. We live in a world where the internet can instantaneously settle a debate between friends, and warn entire communities of an impending flood before it’s too late. Tonight you could make an authentic exotic meal in your kitchen, expanding your palette in ways your grandmother had never heard of. You can introduce your children to her through a computer screen from thousands of miles away, so her love and her beautiful spirit can fill up the room, and the hearts contained within it.

The planet is becoming smaller, and we continue to explore every square inch of its mystery and wonder. There are waterfalls as tall as skyscrapers and exotic flowers that have yet to be named. A sunset can inspire your entire body to inhale and exhale, and flood your being in peace. There are forests so quiet a calm mind can hear the trees breathe, and our lungs open to the sound. We see happy people who have nothing and yet are beyond rich in joy and love, and they inspire us to love again, too. Mother Nature can devastate us, reminding us that nothing is permanent, how much we need each other and that everyone is beautiful.

You can call your mother, because someday you will not be able to and the stories she carries are the stories you are meant to revel your children with. You can let the nostalgia grow with every page you turn from those old photo albums you keep tucked away, and maybe even see something new in the faded moments they fossilized. You can listen to your children, they way they laugh and love unconditionally, and be grateful to catch those moments of amazement in how effortlessly they see the world without our filters. Remember how a ladybug could command every bit of your attention, and how you connected? And when that ladybug flew, flew, flew away home, you felt a piece of your being leave with it, watching until the spec in the sky was no more. The ladybug is truly free, and so are you.

When was the last time you felt completely alive? There is beauty in everything, and it is never too late to wake up.

Namaste

A Poem by a Native American Healer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me to know how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or if you have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine, or your own. I want to know if you can dance with the wilderness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, realistic, or to remember the limitations of the human being.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself and if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.

I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not a pretty day, and if you can sort your live from God’s presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine and still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are, or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moment.

The Sea

When I stand in the ocean, I feel like a tiny speck in this vast planet. A body of water so large it is impossible for me to comprehend the distance to the other side.

I am so small. And so are my problems.

My feet sink into the sand under the shoreline, covering my toenails, and then my toes entirely. If I stand there long enough will it sweep me away? Maybe, but I cannot stand still that long. The water comes up to my ankles and I lean back to stabilize myself. As I pull my foot out of the surf, I study the indent in the sand. The ripple my feet have left has already begun to wash away.

My mark is already starting to disappear, not long after I’d left it.

I begin to think of the Buddhists who make elaborate paintings of colored sand, that take hundreds of hours to create, only to blow it into the wind when done, as if it never existed at all. This is a lesson in impermanence, a reminder that nothing lasts forever.

My footprints have almost disappeared now.

There have been thousands of shipwrecks just over the horizon according to local legend here. I think about the treasures that roll up to shore, and the lost souls attached to its story. The ocean keeps its secrets from me for another day, and I take notice of its smaller gifts.

The seashell I spotted is almost entirely intact.

There is a small crack in the softened marble like surface, but the spiral remains obvious. This was a creature’s entire world once, now it exists purely for my observation. I begin to think about how my entire world is like this seashell to another body and I can feel my possessions become irrelevant.

I breathe into the lessons the ocean has created in this moment.

As soon as this moment is created it fades, and my thoughts float back out with the tide, and my mind is completely silent. My footprint has completely washed away now. All that is left is the sound of the water rolling over itself, and the evening breeze has set in. I feel briefly as if I have had an out-of-body experience, and I pick up my sandals to make my way home.

We are all seashells on a beach, experiencing the sun before we are pulled back in again. Enjoy it, don’t over analyze it, just experience the warmth and love in this brief moment we’ve been given.

Namaste