Trash or Treasure?

Once, many years ago, I received a trash can for my birthday. I’ll admit, it was a fancy stainless-steel smudge-proof one, but still…a rubbish bin. It was one of the first lessons for my then boyfriend, now husband, to not take everything I say so LITERALLY.  I had happened to call him while in the Container Store one afternoon, and having seen the price tag of said trash can, exclaimed, “Wow! This is like a birthday present!”

Expectations and communication fails.  A constant practice between myself and others and between my mind and body. All too often I can misinterpret someone’s facial expression and internalize it as something else; registering language through my own filter.

Examples:

“You look healthy” imprinted in my brain as “you’ve put on weight.” 

“Your job must be just so much fun” imprinted as “you are dumb and have a frivolous job.” 

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And THEN that negative filter continues into a pattern of defensiveness. “My weight has always fluctuated. It’s taken a lot of hard work to not equate virtue with thin-ness or to base my self-worth on my body.” “I take my job very seriously. This is why I spend lots of money to continue to train with senior teachers, to read philosophy and anatomy books so I can continue to grow. Sorry there isn’t an advanced degree this adds up to!”

ALL OF THIS IS AN ILLUSION. None of these thoughts are real FACTS. Even IF there was an ill intention in someone’s comment, my mind will distort any information, positive or negative through my patterned filters. It’s my job with the help of yoga to see them and either stop or divert them. THIS is real yoga. Choosing the samskaras/patterns you want to keep, stopping the ones that don’t serve you and creating new ones that bring you more in tune with the divine piece inside all of that flesh.

 How do we do this inside the physical part of Ashtanga yoga? Start noticing what you are thinking about as you practice. Watch how your mind directs your body to do things.

Examples of my own:

“I’ve been doing kapotasana for weeks just fine. Why can’t I do it today?! Let me try it for the 5th time.”

“Ugh. My left hip is achy. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?! There’s always something!”

These are prime examples when my mind tries to choose what my body SHOULD do or want my mind WANTS it to do. It’s a failure again to listen to what is actually available. Trying something SO many times over and over because you are forcing your body into submission demonstrates a lack of compassion, care and body awareness. Associating my whole practice with flare-ups also limits my understanding of what constitutes practice. There are SO many ways to practice and perhaps an injury happened because I wasn’t paying attention to other pieces as well.

Poor communication, distorted filters, forced results and a lack of compassion only create more disordered thoughts and increase suffering. Catching yourself in those moments and focusing on what your body is ABLE to do that day respects your body but also strengthens your mind to listen to what is actually in front of you. Creating curiosity rather than frustration is a choice that only strengthens with practice.

So even on the days when all you want is gold but you get a trash can, respect whatever is in front of you for what it is without turning it into a heaping pile of garbage.

Love,
Maggie

Who are you calling sister?

“Why don’t you become a nun?” Sr. Mary Margaret Ann asked me. I was in my late twenties, engaged and I hadn’t seen her in a decade.
 
She clearly still saw me as the other Mary-Margaret back at Saint Agnes who secretly LOVED religion class. Reading the bible, debating ethics, studying saints and learning prayers was fascinating but about as uncool as it gets. I always would find myself in the spirituality section of Borders Books, browsing different titles, some Christian ones, many not. My best friend would tolerate my summer reading books on different saints or later Buddhist ones.
 
While yoga is not a religion nor do I treat it as such, I can’t help but see how it provides meaning in a “soulful” way. The potential to bring peace when I’m grounded and listen, to provide perspective and ethical guidelines for how I operate outside of the studio space. It’s why I enjoy just how inclusive yoga practice can be. No matter what you believe in, it will teach you how to be at home in your body. You learn how it operates and listen rather than force it to do as you say.
 
For a long long time I would fall asleep saying prayers. I particularly liked how Sister taught me to pray the rosary. Saying the same words over and over again while trying to visualize a particular scene. Trying to embody a mental image while keeping you in the present moment through the tactile presence of a small bead.
 
It’s how I feel doing the japa meditation, saying mantra or even chanting. Even if I can’t visualize the exact meaning, the presence of the tones out loud redirect my attention to HERE. It’s why you will see me listening sometimes or even blasting to the whole class Dr. Jayashree’s chanting of the Yoga sutras. These spoken words through the genius construction of the Sanskrit language are said to affect our energy through their vibration. Dr. Jayashree would say that even just chanting the sutras reveals their message. I feel that way too about certain Catholic prayers or reading sacred texts from all religions or philosophies like Buddhism. The more exposure to the words, reading and reciting, the greater chance the truth is exposed or a new perspective is elicited.
 
Well clearly I did NOT become a nun. While I politely laughed off the prospect to Sister, she responded with, “I get to meditate all day!” She knew I had been teaching yoga. This revealed to me that she didn’t think what we did was all that different. The idea that prayer, bhakti/devotion, to a specific concentrated force or God or the entire universe was all the same. That is worthwhile to contemplate the divine and to hold attention toward peace.
 
I’m grateful for the perspective that we are all looking for something more and should cherish all the unique ways people choose to find it whether it’s through religion, philosophy or something else entirely. BUT of course the joke is on me now, going to church six days a week setting up in the early morning hours to feel at home, meditate and pray through a breath, body concentration practice.

Love,

Maggie

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If at first you don't succeed......

“Four Years!” said a student who twisted his arm around his leg and bound hands for the first time.  

I was SO happy he said that out loud. It was a brilliant reminder to all of us that change is often a slow burn. Persistent dedication even when tangible results are absent.

Instead, it’s so easy to compare ourselves with others’ timelines. Have you ever seen someone come in on their first day and do something that you’ve been working at for years?! I’ll never forget seeing a brand new student rock a clean jump-back to chatturunga on his first day. LIKE HOW FAIR IS THAT?!

When we compare ourselves to other people, we disrespect the lessons our own body and experience is offering to show us. It’s our inability to listen, when we’re clouded by aparigraha, grasping. We miss our own present opportunities lusting after others. The wanting that never stops. Never mind the lessons they are working on. Why can’t I float like Laruga Glaser?! If only I were (fill in the blank.) Postures might come more easily to some, but we all have our own lessons to solve. Misidentifying ourselves with our bodies is a textbook classic. One of our innate distractions that stunts growth. Forgetting that we already have the perfect mind and body to explore, ready for our own dissection. If only we could quit wasting time measuring our own progress next to someone else’s. Wouldn’t it be so much more productive to discover who we are? To spend time wondering how and why we do things? Wouldn’t that provide some peace? Knowing who we are rather than who we think someone else is?   

In One Simple Thing A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How it Can Transform Your Life Eddie Stern says,

“The initial effects of practice are like picking low-hanging fruit. Within the first few weeks or months we see change. But then we have to stick with it over many years to get to the deeper levels of our habitual patterns. To uproot recurrent behavior patterns takes work…As we get used to paying attention and become sensitive to what is happening in our minds, we can develop the ability to step back and take a look at ourselves, and identify what the causes might be…Yoga and meditation practice are meant to show us clearly how we are behaving and reacting and provide us with options for being responsive in a more constructive way…When we are ready to start working deeper, the yamas and the second limb of niyamas become the typical next steps of a yoga practice.” (110-111).

It’s a natural progression to search for a deeper context of this practice. You realize, oh! Ashtanga means eight limbs. What are they? Best yet, the first two, yamas and niyamas, give us lifestyle guidelines. Ones that aren’t particularly surprising yet identify the moral highlights that breed a less tumultuous life. So you might read about the Yamas and Niyamas or pick up one of the books at the studio. If the physical postures are the bait, then why I am I fishing? Can this give me a deeper context into who I think I am and where I belong in the world? It certainly has the potential to with some study and searching. So many books have been written about this, teachers who have been teaching for 30+ years acting as living examples of this. It personally inspires me to strive for THIS.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state,

“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” (I.14)

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No quick fix. Think of the time you’ve spent in certain patterns. How many hours or years have you spent at a desk, driving your car, victimizing yourself or guilt ridden? Patterns are hard to break.  Your hour or two practice needs to transcend the rest of your day to chip at your own evolution. You might catch yourself at your desk and say, hmmm perhaps I shouldn’t sit like Santa OR you reflect on how you yelled at your husband instead of calmly explaining your point of view (no personal experience here.)

And boy oh boy do I LOVE RULES! They are a few of my favorite things. I love baking for the instructions. Measure, sift, mix…you get a cake. Go to school, study…receive a degree. Date, get married…have a….wait nope not yet.

I really thought Ashtanga was this way too. You follow this set sequence and MAGIC, it all comes along! I think the magic really lies in our ability to listen and adapt to what we need; to appreciate the brilliance of the sequence without worshiping it. Using the rubric to teach us how our body works and where we don’t even know how to use it yet. Have you tried a pose and noticed, WHOA! I can’t even move that part of my body…how interesting. Maybe with practice I’ll learn. More importantly though, it can teach us where we are distracted or just plain brain dead. Caught in a mental loop of rusty thoughts that keep us mistaking them for truth.

Just remember that when progress is no longer linear, when you feel like your life is in a rut. PRACTICE. You’re never the same even when you think you are. Who knows when that bind will surprise you or when you can finally let that self-limiting thought go.

Love,
Maggie

Setting your Practice

My mother is the ultimate party planner. No details are spared.

Mixed cheerful china patterns, crystal from generations ago and her own floral creations that are never set too high to obstruct a conversation.  Place cards are mapped after careful consideration of all the personalities attending.

I enjoy taking pictures of random spoons I find or pointing out an odd looking bowl and asking her what it is specifically intended for. Ah yes, a bouillon cup...not a tea cup. A mustard spoon…not a cute little baby spoon. Can I still use it for other condiments?

This all might seem superfluous for some. Why all the fuss? The company is what makes for a good party. While that couldn’t be more true, setting the tone of the evening can create a certain vibe. One that makes people feel both special and welcome. Designing an environment where folks feel at ease to interact with one another.

We conduct rituals for so many things in life. While they can give us the illusion of control, when not attached to the outcome, they help us to prepare. What if we acted as if everything we did was sacred? Not sacred in a religious sense necessarily. In The Mirror of Yoga, Richard Freeman defines sacred as “a captivating quality that allows the mind to flow freely.”

We would then need to ask ourselves, what are captivating qualities? Or perhaps in our case, what preparations can we make to set our mind up for that focused freedom.

How do you set up your physical practice? What have you physically and mentally ingested prior? We practice Ashtanga on an empty stomach because we are manipulating our insides around along with our arms and legs. It isn’t particularly comfortable otherwise. Practice the day after Thanksgiving is a bind-free zone for me. How much restful sleep you were able to get? Under six and it’s easy to feel slow and depressed.

Observing these factors helps us to manage our expectations by taking a genuine interest in what your body is able to do TODAY. You can start trying different timings of your meals, taking stock of what is easy for you to digest, going to bed earlier etc and see what logistically works best for you. You might not have control over some of these things at the moment but guilt and shame have NO home here. Any bit of practice is better than no practice.

Some historically recommended preparations include setting out your clothes the night before and showering before practice.  Minimizing the time you need to choose clothing and cleansing your body, set a tone of formality. If you start adding an air of importance to practice then it will become a priority.

What you read before practice can also have an effect. Have you ever read an article that got you fired up and then that’s all you could think about? The less mental stimulation the better! What we know to be true: Thoughts create more thoughts. All of these things can set up your intention in practice. Quieting your mind requires devotional care.

I know some of these things can be extra challenging for the evening practitioners. Try giving your body at least 4 hours to digest your lunch. Your body is more warmed up but your mind has had time for SO many thoughts. Maybe try starting practice in rest or doing some light pranayama or meditation to re-focus before you begin jumping around.

There’s also an element of your presence in the studio. Do you slam it down along with your props creating a loud smack? Do you slam doors or walk heavily? Do your eyes wander around the room looking for an escape route? All of this can contribute to the collective energy of the space. Ways to create positive energy I’ve observed, include introducing yourself to someone new in the hall or while you’re putting your things in the cubby. Sharing a smile when you walk in or bump into someone on their mat. This creates a compassionate environment. A safe place, where you respect one another’s desire to look inward.

So while some of these things might seem gratuitous, I suggest you give them a try. As you know, at the end of the day when the details aren’t quite right, it’s all about the company (YOU) anyway and that is the best party you can hope for.  


Love,
Maggie

Why are we chasing #joblove?

I find the whole concept of #joblove very concerning if not entirely a depressing trap. That somehow if you do not love your moneymaker, then you are wasting your life or were benched from something greater.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why necessarily it bothers me so much though; that our vocation is so tied up in what we do. Probably because it is everywhere. We use it to build our first impressions and create resumes of what we’ve accomplished over time. Perhaps even to prove somehow to yourself that you haven’t been wasting time. Yes, within the last year I’ve been able to X, Y and Z. Live life to the fullest they say. Why do I feel like really what they’re saying, is do something that makes you famous, or sets you apart from the rest. That distinguishes you from “the rest”; proving you are not only good enough, but better than.

In the Ashtanga system, Yamas and Niyamas come before Asana. These ethical guidelines are a prerequisite to your physical asana journey let alone your quest for enlightenment.  Santosha (contentment) is just one of them that applies here. So how does one stay fulfilled? It's common practice to search for happiness in your job. But does that create fulfillment?

James Hillman in “The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling” he states that “a typical mistake: identifying vocation only with a specific kind of job, rather that also with the performance of the job…the myth that the soul selects its lot in terms of a job…you are what you do, and therefore if you have a mediocre job like cutting meat in a supermarket you are not so called…again the mistake; for character is not what you do, it’s the way you do it” (252).

He points out for us that vocation is less of a call to a particular career, but rather relates to our character development. Character meaning in this case, your soul’s desire or what we would call in our yoga practice our lifelong dharma or life’s purpose.

This does not need to be some grand pursuit. “What determines eminence is less a call to greatness than the call of character, that inability to be other than what you are” (251). This asks us to begin to identify who we are by the habits and patterns we create. This is not inherent to our natural in today’s society. There is no resume for right effort, kindness or resiliency. Even the word contentment seems mediocre. As if it’s less than success. Who just wants to be satisfied? There is some implication of settling and we are always told not to settle but instead reach for the stars!

“As long as we regard people in terms of earning power or specific expertise, we do not see their character. Our lens has been ground to one average prescription that is best suited for spotting freaks…Character forms a life regardless of how obscurely that life is lived and how little light falls on it from the stars. Calling becomes a calling to life, rather than imagined in conflict with life. Calling to honesty rather than to success” (255).

A lack of contentment breeds frustration. “I am not satisfied with this and I can’t change it in this moment ARGHHH!” We all know this is a waste of time. Stewing in our lack of omnipotence keeps energy stagnant. This corresponds so well to our physical yoga practice. Sometimes we hold onto the ease of past accomplishments. “Where did it go? Will it ever come back?! I don’t know who I am anymore if it doesn’t.”

When you look at photos on social media, you really only see “the freaks.” So we become normalized to their abilities never minding the capable body they were born with or the time they can spend moving it around.  Somehow we think THIS is it. That’s how I should look. If I don’t, then I’m just not good enough. What I’m doing is not good enough. I am just so mediocre, dull, bleh. NO! It is our ability to try and focus for a little. Our attempts to stay calm when it gets difficult and to forgive ourselves when we freak out. It’s not rare for me to shout an expletive when I fall out of something. I have not perfected the art of acceptance but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still try. Learning to be okay with only the sound of our breath in the absence of approval and comparison is as hard as it is rewarding.

Contentment invites us to develop habits that make us strong enough to resist society’s interpretations. For me, the asana practice is my daily morning ritual designed to practice this. It is a reminder that I have exactly all that I need right there in my body; that I am enough and worthy of love.

We all have an opportunity to see that happiness isn’t designed for a special few. It can be found in daily offerings of service to yourself by clearing your mind of falsehoods. Also an opportunity to be of service to others through the compassionate recognition that you are the same. All of this has the potential to be practiced everywhere, no matter what you are doing; working, or moving through asana. Let your habits help train you to be reminded of this, especially when the present tasks are hard.  This is my prayer.

So maybe instead of #joblove the pursuit of happiness is better found in #charactercraving or  #SantoshaSoul; the acceptance and love of your unseen immeasurable effort to recognize you are plenty.

Love,
Maggie

Too Little or Too Much?

How much is too much? What is not enough?

I recently had a student ask how often they should practice. This is a tough one. The system says six days a week.

But what do we mean by practice? Sure, there is your set of postures. This we all know is 1/8 of the pie.

Anything that brings you closer to discovering your purpose, living fully is practice. Why are we practicing? To gain Samadhi – a oneness/union, freeing ourselves from the illusion that what we feel and identify with is NOT actually reality. So we are using this Ashtanga system to move our body around with elaborate, sometimes tiring, shapes so that our mind can chill out. Training that membrane to focus so that you keep identifying with its desires.

Barbara Stoler Miller translates the Yoga Sutras, “Tranquility of thought comes through the cultivation of friendship, compassion, joy, and impartiality in spheres of pleasure or pain, virtue or vice” (I.33) Hmmm. Compassionate friendships and impartiality to whatever life dishes. Not identifying with labels of pleasure or pain…

So do I think a physical practice is important? I certainly do. Taking care of your body keeps you actively participating in your life. Just from a physical perspective, yoga has made me feel strong and given me more energy. But it also does so much more than that.

Do I practice six days a week? Yes, most of the time except for my menstrual cycle. Those six days are not full throttle. It would be an excellent way to get injured if I did. I don’t do all of my set poses every day. My senior teachers have said that fewer postures executed with concentration is better than a zillion with a distracted mind. Two days a week? Not quite enough to see behavioral and physical benefits. If you’ve had a lull in practice (we all have) and you’ve fallen a bit off the discipline path you might notice yourself getting frustrated because you can’t remember the sequence or you have to dial it wayyy back. But who is to say? But honestly, discipline has its limits. I’m not here to sacrifice my friendships due to physical practice or staying up late with Derek to watch a movie (fall asleep on the couch.) I also know though that if I’m slacking off too much than I get cranky and sluggish. Equanimity is a forever project.

I also happen to be a person that only runs when being chased. I enjoy the postures for their strength building on their own and then pair some counteracting exercises for maintenance. If you enjoy other physical disciplines than five or six days a week of intense practice is not so realistic or for that matter, healthy. You can practice that focus while running or spending time with your kids. There is a reason that family time is called seventh series because it is harder than any of the other six.

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How do we measure if our practice is working? Michael used to give the example that if you notice yourself staying calm in the Whole Foods line when someone in front of you is paying in change, then it’s working.

A few personal examples: Seeing more strangers in passing with eye contact, not pinching fat around my body, reading about God/Universe/Cosmos, taking a long walk outside in the cold rain

A few ways I know I need to make an adjustment: Panic attacks, restricted or overeating habits, rigidity in making plans (IT NEEDS TO HAPPEN THIS WAY!), taking people or things for granted

This is an ever-evolving list! I encourage you to think of your own patterns and assess what is working or not. After all it is the most cliché time of year to do so with us rounding out 2018 :)

So with that: we will not longer be observing Moon Days at Ashtanga Nation. We will also be adding a Sunday Led Primary Class at 10:00am with our lovely Julia Cho start date TBA. This means you will need to determine your own rest days and what works best for you. The moon is actually a pretty good guide for me but I also happen to work at the studio ;)

Get your physical practice in when you can but keep up the active self-discovery and participation up daily.

Happy Holidays and New Year to you!

Love,
Maggie

Opportunities for Obstacles

“Man, I wish I started yoga when I was fourteen years old!” We’ve all said some version of this. It would just be soo much easier. The binds, the backbends, the will power. Physically, yes this is true. Your body learns and heals faster when you’re a teen. But what would you have been able to use your physical practice for? How would it have changed your behavior if everything just came naturally?

In our summer philosophy course, my teacher David Garrigues said that the older you get, the more opportunity for suffering you have. WHAT?!

Yes! More opportunity for obstacles because facing, observing, and possibly overcoming them means growing as an individual. Challenges force you to question who you are, your purpose and what you want out of this slice of the universe.

Hey, even if you had started yoga at fourteen there would STILL be challenges. Frankly, I would argue that it would be beneficial to study a different discipline so that could learn something exciting and new rather than leaning into your strengths.

Sri Swami Satchidananda writes in his translation of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions are purposely put on the way for us to pass through…We seem to need to be challenged and tested in order to understand our own capacities…If a river just flows easily, the water does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength in the form of tremendous electrical power” (2012, p. 48).

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It’s true. Daily practice requires physical expressions and a quiet mind. This helps us better understand who we are beyond the mind chatter and physical projections. Our attitude and expectations impact our experience. Opportunities often yield gratitude. Thanks for the chance or the experience. If we look at these physical challenges as negative then we’ll never truly understand what we may learn. It is our choice how we experience the world. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that enthusiasm and perseverance are basic requirements for success in yoga. Treating each practice as brand new, listening for the lessons.

When presented with a challenge you can grimace, push through pain, quit altogether OR you can learn the mechanics of your anatomy, test your physical limitations and accept them graciously for what they CAN do. You can also listen to what goes on in your mind. You could berate yourself, identify with your body as your entire being OR you could enthusiastically listen to your body’s direction and compassionately watch what passes through your mind.

The choice is yours! I am so very grateful for these countless DAILY lessons (even though I sometimes forget and have an internal tantrum.)

Love,
Maggie

Savor the Cupcake!

I made puppy birthday cupcakes for Gypsy because well….she is the most spoiled. I sat it down right in front of her and gave her the “OKAY!”

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She inhaled the WHOLE thing in one swallow. EVEN the pepperoni on top! No sniffing, no chewing; just a single GULP.

I can’t help but be reminded that this is how many of us especially myself can want to practice asana in one fell swoop: Adding more, eyes on the destination, a satisfactory checkmark to complete. Yay! All done. I did my best to look like the picture and now it’s time for literally anything else. This is no different than swallowing a yoga cupcake.

It’s not “in vogue” to do a quarter kapotasana or a finishing backbend with the head on the ground. But that’s just it! To get the yoga, to become the best freaking listeners of all time to feel how the parts create the whole  we have to go SO slow and respect each moment. Taking five minutes to do one suryanamaskara A instead of five breaths. Doing wayyy fewer movements to produce MORE awareness.

We think…

“Well if I just watch these videos of other people doing it then it will really help me!”

I am NOT saying that you shouldn’t look at videos because they can often be a helpful tool BUT it is not going to make you a better listener to what is going on inside YOU. I urge you to practice beyond the five breath limit and see what happens. Close your eyes if it helps.

Our mind LOVES moving fast. It has downloaded a photo of the pose and it doing it’s damnedest to get in and on out! On to the next one! Soon it will be over! I won’t have to listen anymore and I will continue to control all thoughts! MWHAHA! YOU CAN’T SLOW ME DOWN!

Allow for extravagantly long and elegant movements. It’s often in these moments that vulnerabilities are exposed and you’ll see what your mind tries to do get you to do so you don’t have to focus on that! Maybe you find yourself picking at your feet for a second. Maybe you usually go to the bathroom at this point. Maybe you stare despairingly out the window about all this things you have to do in an hour.

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Who wants to stay where it requires physical work and hyper attention?! The mind sure doesn’t! It doesn’t like that you are exposing your weak spots and drawing attention to them. It’s labeled them unpleasant. Instead, we work to retrain our brain to not associate weak or vulnerable with BAD and scary. Try smiling at the sensations of wanting to get the hell outta there! Your mind-body patterns don’t get a chance to improve unless you teach them how to work better together. Give a rest to the powerful dominating muscles and let the smaller, tighter ones have a chance. So what if it doesn’t look like the pictures…those pictures aren’t you and they never will be. Brace for the slight changes in movement and revel in it.  

We might not all get to turn off our minds completely. But how do we listen better? Imagining a line from the top of the head through the soft palate down through to the pelvic floor as you practice is one way. Focusing on full even, strain-free breathing is another. Keeping a soft gaze at one spot certainly helps. Learn to feel for each piece of a posture with all of your senses.  Not just when you are in it but your entrance in and exit out of it. Not moving to the next one until you have tediously and lavishly maximized your focus. Search for all the parts and listen to what arises uniquely in you.

Listen and, for heaven’s sake, taste the peanut butter, carrots, honey, wheat flour and Pepperoni on top!

Love,
Maggie

Discipline & Motivation

Discipline and Ashtanga Yoga are best friends. The practice IS a discipline and it requires discipline to experience any results. But I am not always a discipline enthusiast (at least not any more.)

Punishment comes to the forefront of my mind. Weighing and fearing the results of not having self-control or motivation. When I was younger, it was the fear of ending up in Hell but now it comes through fear of not being good enough.

I used to look at exercise as penance for food intake or simply something I had to do in order to be perceived a certain way, no-nonsense and driven.  Discipline to me meant hard work and sacrifice. 

There needs to be a balance for sure! Is it important to show up on your mat as often as you can even for just a few minutes? Well, of course. I’ve been known to say, “I hate skiing!” but the truth is I had my one and only experience skiing at night in college. Can I actually say I’ve fully experienced skiing? I have made zero effort to go again. If you try Ashtanga a few times or stop it and try to jump back in where you were, you can’t expect to have it change you all that much.

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We all have a limited amount of time and dedicated energy to put towards things; to put toward relationships and interests. If practice starts stealing that energy from those things rather than giving you more energy (i.e. through mental clarity or self awareness and purpose) than it’s time to reduce the amount of postures or time that you are practicing. You’re not going to have a boyfriend or girlfriend if you’re not going out on that date. If that is something that is important to you, then allow physical yoga practice to take a back seat. (Sorry I keep using dating as an analogy but the truth is I’ve decided that I would either teach yoga or manage online dating profiles.)

I used to practice in the morning BEFORE teaching. This was starting to impact my energy levels and also my marriage. I just had less physical energy and less time to spend with Derek in the evenings. I had to ask myself WHY was I practicing so early when I could try and find time elsewhere. Was it because Sharath says I should? Was it because many teachers do? Neither of those really made sense to me when I thought about it.

There is an Ashtanga Community joke that there is a secret “Ashtanga Police” that will come and arrest you if you are seen fudging the vinyasa count or adding in a little play here and there. I am not a fan of this idea as I enjoy researching poses in ways that are not “traditional.” So come arrest me

But that brings us back to necessary discipline. Losing motivation is an honest part of continued ANYTHING. My now afternoon time slot alone can be tricky. It’s easy for me to lose the sacredness of practice; to slack, get bored or to lose focus. So I try to see Michael Joel HallCory Bryant and Georgia Gerstein to have some oversight and surround myself with others . Sometimes I'll throw on a Led Primary to get me moving or some Vedic Chanting because it reminds me of the feeling I get in India. All of this to remind myself that practice is not a place where I should fear the outcome.

It is a place where I can find God in me. It’s a place where I can use my body to experience a quietness. A place to offer whatever effort I have to God/Universe/Fill in the blank.

The moral of the story is I strongly suggest not being that yogi that won’t have pizza on a Friday with friends because you won’t bind the next day. Also, though not being that yogi that skips practice because you only have fifteen minutes or are too tired so you might as well not do it. Every little bit counts! Manage your energy for things and people you want to be with. Let practice be something you look forward to and makes you a better all-around person.

AND I promise I am not trying to police you if I check in because I haven’t seen you in a while. Rather, I am here to help motivate you, even if that means you are practicing at home or in an airport lounge.

Love,
Maggie

Same Message, Different Avenues

I listen to roughly one podcast a day while walking Gypsy in my neighborhood. Usually NPR related because they offer such a wide variety and I have come to trust them. How I Built This, TED Radio Hour and now Hidden Brain are alongside yoga and spirituality based ones like Chitheads, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, and Asana Kitchen Podcast.

Lately, it seems that so many episodes are devoted to self-awareness and improvement, sustainable relationships and God/the Universe. We are in an era where we can dissect the reasons WHY we make certain choices, WHO inspires our decisions and WHY our actions matter.

This is not unlike the Yoga Sutras, the manual for stopping thought and being united in a blissful union with all that is True.  

This practice allows us to wrestle with these questions. We establish a language we can understand: arms, legs and the buttocks so that we can communicate. Developing control to recruit or relax them. We can discuss based on our own experiences, emotions that flare up, or eyes that wander because although we are all uniquely shaped, we share many of the same fears and desires.

I personally want to surround myself with people who elevate me. Folks who support me but also challenge the reasons why I am doing things.  Is it because I believe in Karma? Will my intentions in my thought processes determine the outcome of my choice? Do I believe that we are all interconnected, the same divine essence? In David Garrigues Yoga Sutras course suggests (I’m paraphrasing) that getting to know these thoughts and our bodies allows the seer, (the true self) something to experience. The idea that our “material,” our body and mind, can produce our dharma or purpose.

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This can be a lonely endeavor, which is why our community is so important. Even though we are independently moving, we are all looking to be better in some way. To observe ourselves and use that experience to build empathy for others. To see whether or not our thought patterns in physical practice can train our mind to see results from our choices. Also to wonder why we have gratitude? Is it to God/Universe? Are your actions rewarded in some way?

I see all of these questions in these podcasts and think how grateful I am for having a system that offers insight into HOW I can begin to know myself and train myself to make better informed decisions. By starting with a physical practice surrounded by others that both challenges and inspires us we can spend time reflecting on the results of these choices. Dedicating time to listen for my purpose and reflecting how I can live it fully.

xoxo,

Maggie

Walking with Intention

“Stand up straight, you silly girl!” Mrs. Haddad would say to me. She was my ballet teacher but she could have been a Navy Seal as far as I was concerned.

We would practice standing up as tall as we could while imagining we were holding “Mommy’s large china plate.” The idea was that wherever we moved this imaginary plate, we would stand proudly with long necks, chests forward and shoulders back and down.

She had a way of instilling the discipline of good posture. She taught me that the way you hold yourself is indicative of how well you believe in yourself and offers more opportunity for connection. True, in this case, connection meant between the music and me. Learning to evoke emotion through movement. It also meant connecting with the audience. Using technique to allow the body to move more freely through grace. Turning choreography into a living emotional experience.

Practicing yoga operates in a similar way. A proud, erect posture is no different than samasthiti. It requires a degree of necessary pride because it takes discipline to uphold, a certain level of grounded “togetherness.” Consistency is required to progress through the technique of the sequence of steps. Unlocking areas of the body and making them free and strong. Coming to practice and fully embracing emotions without letting them direct you. But there is no music nor audience. Your breath creates the rhythm and your willful concentration creates the connection to what is the true self.

How you carry your body as you walk around offers insight into your mental and emotional health. The yoga practice will help you to control your muscles and skeleton so that you can walk tall. However, it’s so easy to go right back to poor postural habits once you leave the mat. This is where the connection piece comes into play. Having had the opportunity to connect with yourself on the mat, can you uphold that or at least periodically tap into that connection elsewhere?

I find the simplest way for me to dip back into this connection is to adjust my posture. Bringing awareness to my steps. While I am walking am I looking at the floor or directly in front of me? Imagining that if I were to run into something it would be my chest first, my head staying back in line with my shoulders. Where is Mommy’s plate?! Staying disciplined to stand erect and meeting people at eye level. Meeting someone directly in that way allows an opportunity to see the other person and to be seen myself. Creating room for connection. Not needing an audience to project.

I would suggest as your own social experiment, seeing the effects of an upright posture as you go throughout your day. Even setting a reminder timer midday to check in. What does it do for you? Does it provoke anxiety at being seen by others? Does it make others feel at ease?

I know what it does for me, but I don’t want to give it all away or impact your experience. Also, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with being silly. I enjoy being silly! BUT if I am to take myself seriously and make a difference in how I interact with myself and connect with others, then I need to walk tall.

Love,
Maggie

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Yoga for Adults.

I often receive messages that folks are intimidated to start Mysore style yoga. “It looks too advanced.” I certainly understand why! If you google images of Ashtanga Mysore style you will see some crazy stuff. Legs behind heads and confusing twists that both look inspiring and impossible. No one starts that way. It’s like looking up baking recipes and thinking you should start with a chocolate soufflé.

I once had a new student describe Mysore classes as “Yoga for adults” because you are taught bits of choreography at a time. Ultimately, it’s up to the practitioner to remember and execute postures in accordance to their breath and ability. The teacher will potentially point some patterns out or new approaches but in the end, the student makes the decisions.

In my opinion, this level of student independence is crucial to personal development. As in, the desire to be a better human for you and for others. Empowered with repetitive technique, the student can take practice anywhere, learning to trust their body and what it needs. It sounds easy but it takes discipline! (Yoga for adults.) Taking responsibility for your actions. Showing up to your mat or rug and dedicating some minutes to LISTENING! Not asking your body to play along with your mind’s intentions but the other way around; using a familiar framework to go inside.
 

It would be much easier to be told what to do every turn. At least I think so for me! Inhale stick my foot here, put my arm here…blah blah. But in truth, so many of us already spend so much of the day doing that already! You have projects to get done and someone or something that demands things of you.

Treat yourself to some self-guided yoga. Yes, in the beginning you are taught the steps, but over time you can enjoy the freedom that practice creates; challenging your beliefs and conceptions of who you really are and what you are meant to do.

Love,
Maggie

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Keeping it Together

I recently took a personality test. They fascinate me and frankly it has been a WHILE. As usual, it’s typical for me to dwell on the parts that ring true but are considered less desirable. One result in particular was the need to appear that I have it all together. That there is some control or steadiness at all times. Unrealistic, but it sure makes for a good impression.

I love a regimen. Heck, I even love a hairstyle. I braided my hair the same way for years because it was my uniform – my identifying mark. Another ritual of control over an unpredictable body and mind.

Perhaps one of my number one reasons for daily practice is that it allows me the very opposite; space for me to not have it all together. To tune into what is going on – especially when I don’t like what I see. Trying to find steadiness when inside it feels weak.

The rest of the day you can put on a “happy” face to be a professional, a parent, or a friend but the asana practice gives you space to look at your thoughts and question their validity. How are my thoughts controlling my decisions today? Am I able to shift them? What will support me today so that I can live the rest of the day more fully?

Sometimes for me that looks like pushing myself past limiting thoughts that say, “Quit while you’re ahead.” Paired with a wince of disapproval at the inability to perform proficiently. Other times that means keeping my practice to fifteen minutes. Allowing myself the ability to focus for a shorter duration so I can then use that focus and energy elsewhere; teaching, meeting friends, even mundane household chores.

I know I’m using my mat-time wisely if I have energy for processing emotions, researching my interests and feeling motivated to connect with God and others. What does energy management look like for you?  How can you better use your asana practice to support times when life feels jumbled?

Love,
Maggie

 

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The Evil Power of Should

I have certainly felt self-imposed pressure in physical practice.  The thoughts,"I should be able to do this by now!" and "Shouldn't this posture be easy?" These are usually met with a grimace. A dissatisfaction with myself.

I see this in my friends as we turn thirty this year. Somehow the new decade measures levels of success in adulthood. How far in career and an intimate relationship we should be or owning certain things. And when we haven’t met certain steps, there is a disempowering fear that without these goals or items, life will derail. Perhaps we will succumb to loneliness or an acceptance of weakness.

I see this in my brother and his friends as they graduate college. Pressure to figure out next career steps. They have studied for an extended period of time and yet it doesn’t create an obvious path. Even when they make plans, sometimes they realize that they no longer want what they thought they did. This fear that every step could easily prevent a chance for happiness.

Measuring our lack of ability to reach these “ideals” or goals that we ourselves or society has set doesn’t give us a chance to question our purpose.  To pursue enough wealth that allows us to make our own choices. Why are these goals set and who set them.

Why is my inability to do “X” well, embarrassing instead of an area of growth; a steady evolution in my own time.

These fears of should-haves and weaknesses in character give opportunity to build strength. They are not shameful or another item to add to your list of faults. It is not something you should fix, but experience for yourself.

This is what I tell myself when I get entrapped in fear. I’m currently experimenting with my physical practice in such a way that might create lots of asana issues; exploring my physical weaknesses and seeing what shows up. Maybe what I thought could only happen one way can actually include so many more avenues.

This rule-follower is excited to throw away the should and research the why. Healthy questioning that I hope will permeate into my third decade of life choices.

Love,
Maggie

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Standing silently at the front of the room reminds me of my role. Not to fix but to simply function as a mirror.

Say what you need to say out loud. Tense your jaw, shake your head, squint your eyes, even lose your drishti. But I hope you also exhale deeply, spread your eyebrows & laugh. These reactions reflect who you think you are. What you say to me, you really are saying to yourself.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

Is this good enough?

You have God/truth/the whole universe inside of you. How could you not be enough? This bind does not represent whom you are inside. It can’t be measured with a clasp of the hands.

I can’t do this.

What is THIS exactly? What is your image of perfection? Are you imposing a certain end point on your body?

I’m too tired.

Let’s shift then. Sleep more? What are you eating? What patterns are making you less vibrant? Is it a pattern you can change? If no, then let go.

Is this right?

Are you moving with intention and breath? Everything else will fall into place. Breathe and just go.

Why?

What are you receiving from practice? Feel stuck, motivated, joyful or bored? You know through consistency that these feelings change. Respect that and monitor your ability to evolve as a person.

Reflecting back on what you’ve said out loud or in your head, breathe compassion and remind yourself of the perfect unchanging piece inside of you. Surrender everything else to change. The real you will remain the same.

 

Yoga for All.

“It is virtuous not to be integrated and centered, but to be flexible, embracing, tolerant, patient, and complicated.”

– James Hillman

Mary said, “I like that there’s no bandwagon to jump on in this group.” I asked her what she meant. She said, “You don’t have to subscribe to a certain diet, wear specific clothes or conform to any one way of ‘being a yogi.’”

It’s true. There aren’t too many should(s) or musts other than overall cleanliness of mat & body and showing up as often as you can. But in terms of how you arrive, the mood you’re in or your approach practice—that is entirely up to you. Your grimacing practice face or sweat does not offend me in the least. When I made the Ashtanga Nation signs I added, “Yoga for All” as a reminder that however you show up is good enough.

Your appearance or ability is meaningless. Embracing yourself and showing compassion toward your mat neighbors is what directs the energy inside of you and of the room. Dedicating time through physical practice to try and see who you really are is plenty.  

I’m sure glad to have had this modeled for me in Michael Joel Hall’s room and with Stair Calhoun. If not for their general outlook on practice, this rule follower could have easily turned into a drill sergeant (and perhaps for a little while I was…)

Our diverse room shows commonality with its commitment to change. Patience for the changes of body and mind. Learning to witness thought patterns and poses come and go.

Stay complicated and kind :)

 

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Practice will always be waiting for you.

Cold bunk beds. Morning wedding. What to do when Seventh Series demands your practice time?

I tend to be an all or nothing kind of lady. Sometimes that’s good. When I started Ashtanga, I told myself I would show up everyday to give it an honest shot. It’s also not useful. When practice is cut short due to 7th series (family time) or an injury, I can dwell on all that I was unable to do. Attached to my practice and a mourning of its shortcomings. Will all the poses I wasn’t able to do go away? All this does is rob joy from my practice. It cheapens it to a militaristic exercise game. Quantity over quality.

This past extended weekend I was gone for a family wedding in Hill Country Texas. No service, shared bunk-beds, cold nights, & the early morning wedding and brunch made little to no time for practice. I found myself coming home beating myself up for not getting more practice time in. Noticeable stiffness and lots of party food to boot.

Part of me doesn’t want to practice because I don’t want to see how much I can’t do. At least if I do way less, I won’t have to see what I’m missing. All or nothing.

I asked myself what the alternative was? Wake everyone up in our shared room to practice on the creaky floor in the cold? Expend all my energy so I couldn’t fully participate on the dance floor? None of these options were nourishing to me or loving of my family and their time.

Sometimes being a present participant is all I can ask for and expect of myself. It’s useless to beat myself up.

How many postures does it take to learn the same lesson? That it isn’t about how much but for how long you can pay attention. Some days it’s longer than others. Can I find Samasthiti and breath there? A small focused moment in time is everything.

xoxo,

Maggie

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Bringing Breath to the Foreground

Breath is my inner tempo. Background music; often ignored but it allows me to concentrate on everything else. The breath is expected, undervalued and taken for granted. Often shallow, withheld, and restricted. I depend on its rhythm but rarely recognize its capabilities.

Luckily I practice within a system that states exactly when and where to inhale and exhale. Seems elementary? No. Not when I try to follow it with the prescribed vinyasa. Not when I realize I am blissfully unaware of its quality.

What happens when I bring breath to the foreground? Pause all the worry over being worthy enough to teach, catching my heels in Kapotasana & Saturday night plans. None of that is relevant. None of that is real.

SO I say to myself…

Can I slow down the inhale? Will it match the length of my exhale? Breath before movement. BREATH BEFORE MOVEMENT! Let the breath carry you. Notice the burning muscles but override the sensation with breath. Can I make it louder?

Remember Mary Margaret, slow and steady breeds grace but short and strained brings fear.

Maybe today is the day I breathe more fully! Move steadily past the anxiety and cut through the projections. Perhaps it’s not. Lord, give me the compassion to move forward and not beat myself up.

Then I get to ask YOU the same questions. Find your breath patterns, test your capacity and mirror my breath to match your tempo.

Is today the day?

Yes?! Good. Keep your attention there and enjoy it.

No?! Good. Have compassion & try again tomorrow.

xoxo

Maggie

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Returning from Mysore (India)

Where to begin?
 
Two months in Mysore complete. Fond memories imprinted and fresh ideas ready to be implemented. This experience is always about more than the practice.
 
It’s...
 
Eliminating all expectations. Get your order wrong. Bathe in a bucket. Cake dirt on your cracked heels. Live with one spoon. How much do you really need to be happy?
 
Building patience. Curled in a ball for two hours outside the shala. Wait for food & friends to arrive. Learn that five minutes means an hour. This builds resistance to needing things immediately. Waiting turns into reflection time and the realization of how little I spend alone.
 
Making family out of colleagues. All taboo topics are on the breakfast table. Folks who can handle discord and offer insight. Compare notes and swap ideas. What makes a good teacher anyway? Friends who create community in a career that is often lonely. Laugh so hard together we can barely breathe. Cry hard when we leave.
 
Zipping around on the scooter. No four way stops are there, just four way goes. Keep moving even if it’s unclear. Weave with everyone in the chaos. We will all end up somewhere.
 
Practicing in a focused cauldron. Sweat and breath. No technique required. I am enough but do I believe it? Do I need more than I already have? What do I have to prove and whom am I trying to impress?
 
Flexing the brain. Creativity spurts and anatomy courses. Study for me and my students. Books of every variety. Motivation to better myself.
 
Being in the presence of your teacher. Thrive on intense practice in the hands of an expert. Question and reflect on the subtle energetic offerings. Learn to embody his compassion, presence & dedication. 
 
All of these pieces comprise an alternate life. It would be easy to keep it separate but I want bring the best pieces back with me for you.
 
My teachers.
 
I am grateful to Sharathji for offering me his blessing this trip. With or without this paperwork, I am beyond grateful to be teaching and part of this lineage. He and his space have rejuvenated me. I anxiously look forward to the next trip with him.
 
What to say to Michael Joel Hall? Grateful doesn’t quite capture the sentiment. Feeling “blessed” falls short. I wouldn’t be teaching this way if not for his passion and commitment to excellence. He has always given himself abundantly and supported me as student and teacher. I am so proud to be linked to him in this lineage.
 
I am thankful for getting to practice under David Garrigues. He inspires me with his wealth of knowledge and the endless energy with which he delivers the teachings. I am looking forward to seeing him in a couple months at our shala.
 
Thank you, Mary, Allison, Jonathan & Ning for holding the space for the students and for making it possible for me to have this opportunity.
 
I have thought of you often and look forward to seeing you. I plan to practice with full jet lag on Saturday. I have a small something for you and will bring it then! The schedule will remain the same as it has been these last two months. My first official class will be Monday morning!

I look forward to getting back into the swing, practicing and learning with you.

xoxo,
Maggie

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Resiliency in Practice

Mis En Place.
 
Everything is in its place. This is commonly referred to having the kitchen prepared, vegetables chopped etc to cook food.
 
Over the last week, in our current chilly situation, I have been thinking about this phrase and how it applies to practice. Is it ideal, that the boiler in the church is broken, that we have to wear more layers and huddle together to practice? No. While it is temporary, it opposes challenges. You have to likely do all 5 Sun As and Bs, maybe keep the speed in your vinyasa, or conversely allow for more time to allow muscles to lengthen. But when is anything in your day ideal? Can you ever expect it to remain the same each day? To have your meals planned out, preparations for meetings, commute calculated, positive interactions with friends? Also, No.
 
How do you react when something imbedded in your routine is absent?  Your meeting runs late and you can’t make it into the studio. Your long awaited beach vacation is flooded with rain. Or in our case, the boiler is being repaired and it’s rather chilly!
 
Do you panic? Do you get angry? Do you pity yourself? Do you neglect practice?
 
In truth, you have everything already in its place. You have BREATH and a body to manipulate it with. You are equipped to handle these alterations if you simply carry on. And no matter what shifts, you can still practice.
 
In fact it is arguably MORE important to practice when you think something is missing. When you’re heartbroken, depressed, lethargic, cold, fearful, or anxious. Instead of opting out, why don’t you practice less with longer breathes. Allow yourself to enjoy the luxury of a movement practice. Come with the intention of allowing your practice to support you. To remind you that everything changes and that you can train your thought patterns to respond more openly to it. When I remind myself that everything IS in fact in it’s place, then I get a sense of relief. The reminder that while I can’t control the variables in my day, I CAN choose how to I respond to them.  
 
Why bother coming into the cold space then and not practice at home? Because there is power in community and to set an example for one another that you can always practice. Showing up is enough. Showing up for yourself creates the community. Maintaining your practice in difficult times elevates the community. Positive lifestyle patterns in the face of adversity are powerful.
 
Sometimes I fantasize that our Mysore Program is a troop preparing for deployment. That one day, if we were deployed to defend Yoga (yikes…that is quite a task) that we would be the first and last people on the field. That despite low rations, clothing, & even faith we would be able to represent resiliency.

Thank you ALL for practicing that resilience this week in the alternate room and for simply moving and breathing.

xoxo
Maggie