yoga

Work in Progress

Flexible Body = Flexible Mind

I can’t help but think this is one of the greatest cases for maintaining a yoga practice. That restoring joint function and increasing your mobility only enhances your life experience. Yes, less chronic pain but also the potential for deep vulnerability.
 
You are given tools to stand firmly in the four corners of your feet, lift the arches and to take up space purposefully. This directly leads to a healthy sense of “I.” One where you can choose your thoughts more often than be victimized by them. One where you can assess the validity of your thoughts and question EVERYTHING. Eeek!
 
So we attempt to bring the mechanics in asana to our daily life. You might find yourself about to lose your temper but you choose to breathe fully first.  A little Ujjayi goes a long way even if you sound crazy. You might stand steady and masterfully, exerting your presence to the world before giving a presentation. Your mind will then act accordingly if the body is there offering support. The strength in your legs and an upright, spacious spine gives you the room to deal with struggles; to move throughout life with a solid foundation and to have meaningful interactions with others. Time to learn your body’s unique mechanics AND assess your own moral values.
 

Our asana practice is a series of patterns that increase in difficulty. When you get comfortable, more gets asked of you. More space, more strength, endurance, speed, etc. Then one morning, you can finally breathe in a twist that felt like you were suffocating so many times before. The time you can control an arm balance after falling on your face. The desire to change your eating and sleeping habits to be more fully functional. It’s in the consistent attempts that amount to something. Gratitude for the chance to try to improve in some way. Yoga “practice” because you’re in pursuit of ultimate bliss. We’re works in progress!

 
And yes, I believe directly from experience that postures have the ability to make me think and act differently. I know that backbends and twists for me have created the most extreme variety of emotions. I’ve felt random tears (not always paired with sadness) before, the inability to speak, extreme energy, quiet spaciousness, disgust, angry determination and the list goes on and on. Sometimes the feelings come from something that is going on in my life outside and it gets brought up, NO HIDING! Other times, it feels entirely random. The key for me is to try not to be beholden by the sensations. Curiosity and appreciation for the experience rather than dissecting the “WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!”
 
I think practice has made me feel more myself than anything else. It’s given me the strength to gamble on teaching yoga full time and the vulnerability to also rely on my husband, family and friends for support. It has brought out qualities I didn’t know I’ve had (patience for one) but also made me deeply self reflect…which is not always so pleasant of an experience. The shifts in the body and mind might not always feel pleasant. In fact I would say there was a good long time in practice for me when in felt quite scary; necessary for self development but also quite painful in the sense of assessing faults and shortcomings. Perhaps most of all, it’s tested my capacity for any emotion; made me question the variety of ways I can love and also what I think about death.
 
Everyone has a different body therefore everyone will experience postures differently. The sooner you can create healthy curiosity for your uniqueness the more interesting the whole process becomes. Questions like, what do you think about during practice? Do you spend time dreading a pose coming up in 10 minutes? Do you look off into space rather than the drishti points? No answer is bad or unworthy just as no practice is worthless. It’s just data for you to be aware of and then redirect if you are interested in pursuing a different outcome.
 
As they say, our body remembers more than we can. You can read “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk if you want to freak yourself out a bit. We all have holding patterns, ticks, and protective stances.  Yoga postures come in and try and redirect them; teach your body how get out of it’s own way so that you can hopefully do the same in your life.
 
All of this forces healthy questions surrounding the choices you’ve made and how you want to move forward. Observing and acting with the Yamas and Niyamas as an individual and as a citizen in your community. CHOOSING to view all the parts of you and ATTEMPT to participate in life more intentionally.
 
The postures are powerful and if you pay just a bit more attention, you might just notice their impact on you. Of course, you can practice without paying attention to the mental pieces but what a missed opportunity that would be!

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

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

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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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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Why Ashtanga?

I’ve been really curious about WHY you all are practicing Ashtanga these days. I’ll admit that I came to Ashtanga because I got bored with power yoga. It was no longer challenging or exciting for me and I wanted to do MORE....like handstands! And then of course only to find out that you don’t really get into handstands much much later (but really THANK GOODNESS because there is so much other fun to be had.)

My current reason is that I feel like I have a capacity to FEEL MORE; experience more emotions more fully and often. This is both thrilling and sometimes exhausting. It's as if more than before, I can explicitly list what I love and enjoy but at the same time fully experience anxiety and gloom. It’s no longer buried as deep, and there is the room for all of it to be felt. I also sense that I have so much further to go. As if there is a direct correlation between connecting with deeper parts of my anatomy and realizing that they are there and that there is MORE SPACE, a greater capacity for SOMETHING; yes, strength and flexibility but something beyond that. It’s so thrilling really.


There is never an end! That the same postures still have possibilities and expansiveness. This for me personally is NOW why I practice. I had to really think about that when I had hurt my back a couple years ago and had to scale back practice. Well if I can’t do all the cool shit then WHY?! Because even with so very little there is so much possibility. My perspective is constantly challenged and what I was so very positive and “right” about is often turned upside-down. How exciting that is! To never actually know anything for sure and to question what I believe in or why I do certain things. This used to TERRIFY me so I can only attribute daily practice to this change. 
 
I’m really so curious to hear from you all on this because I promise there is no wrong answer. There can’t be, because whatever reason it is, you are showing up and working on SOMETHING. That is so much better then nothing :)
 
And who knows, it might completely change on you and throw your "perfectly made for TV" reason into a spin like it has mine.  

xoxo
Maggie