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.


Anxiety & Yoga

Anxiety has been at the forefront of my reading material lately and also has been brought up in many conversations in and out of the yoga room. I am surprised with the number of folks, like me, who have experienced panic attacks or extreme anxiety and also relieved that I am not alone.

This practice has both helped me mitigate panic attacks but also occasionally increased my anxiety! Why is that? I think it has to do with the increased ability to focus on the breath, creating more awareness of the body’s movements and therefore becoming more present. It also requires that you persist through uncomfortable situations. Many of you may remember the first couple of supta kurmasanas, feeling constricted, bound, stretched, in a dark hole that you created with your own legs! Or maybe in the classic example, of kapotasana where you need to “crack” your chest open and vulnerably trust that your feet are somewhere back there for you to grasp. Then you learn to stay, breathe and soften.

This can translate to real life situations pretty easily. You may start to pay more attention to your breath while you are at work or you are more easily aware of your thoughts while you are folding laundry. You begin to process what is true or what you are avoiding. For me, yoga has forced me to take a look at the negative thoughts that I wished to avoid and bury away. In Ashtanga, you are BY YOURSELF doing your practice. If you don’t like what those thoughts are telling you or you struggle to be alone with yourself then its time to face those thoughts. This is HARD WORK! Like therapy, sometimes it is harder to manage before it gets better. We are spending less and less time alone, free from distractions. Use your practice wisely. Let it move that body you have on loan to change your daily actions and world view.

In fact, if you haven’t started watching your thoughts and questioning their validity and origin then you might want to practice a little more often and passionately. If you aren’t altering your mental bandwidth and becoming a more grounded, aware, kind person then what the hell are you doing on your mat for 90+ minutes??? You are wasting your precious time worrying about that bind.

In addition to the practice there is an extremely simple and effective breathing technique, Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing.) You may have seen myself and some folks in the room doing that as part of their closing postures. Give it a try! It is so safe and simple that even Sharath teaches it on youtube:

(I also do this if I wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety or even when I’m driving and feeling spun up.)

I am currently reading “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Cox Cabane and she spends a great deal of time talking about anxiety & self-doubt and how that impacts our successes in life and our interactions with others. She says that during a panic attack, “the mind thinks we’re in a fight or flight situation, declares a state of emergency and shuts down what it deems to be superfluous functions. Unfortunately, that means the body is reducing our cognitive abilities just when we need them most…rest assured that this reaction is an entirely normal, natural one.” She goes on to prescribe visualization techniques to help calm the anxiety. Where do we use visualization techniques? IN PRACTICE EVERY DAMN DAY! Can you actually see your sit-bones, bandhas, diaphragm? Nope. But you visualize them and reorganize your internal self toward samastihi. This is no different.

If you have ever had a panic attack, you know it feels like you are DYING. Just remember, that your intelligence has been shut off and you are now operating in fight or flight. I have found that in these times, alternate nostril breathing is also VERY effective. It is also important to remember that panic attacks usually last NO LONGER than 20 minutes! Guess what?! Eddie Stern (look this dude up if you don’t know him) just came up with a breathing app that is very simple and effective:

If you have a panic attack or some anxiety before a meeting you can set a timer (20 minutes for a full-on attack) and do your alternate nostril breathing with the sweet little ball that expands and contracts.

I decided to rant on this today because this popped up in my news:…/why-are-more-american-teenagers-t…

More real yoga people!

Summertime Sadness....A Call for Tapas

It’s true summer time as a student is ROUGH. Folks travel and stay out late. It is arguably the easiest season to fall off the wagon. I too haven’t had as much time to practice in the morning because I love sitting on the deck! Who wants to go to bed early when you’re being called outside by the warm sun? If you’re in need of some yoga inspiration, perhaps rethinking your time on the mat can help...
I'm almost finished with David Garrigues’ “Yoga Sutras Book 1 Summer Course” and fireworks have been exploding in my brain. He demystifies the connection between the physical asana practice and the guidelines in the Sutras' text. He discusses the recipes for stopping thought, realizing one’s true nature and discovering our unique purpose in this life. WHOA. I could discuss this for hours and with some of you I have. Some of you have walked right in as I am processing this information and I blurt out an unpacked phrase, perhaps sounding even a little crazy.
I used to hear the phrase “The mat is a mirror of your life.” I would think….hmm interesting. Yeah, okay…makes sense. I’m being lazy during X and so therefore I’m probably not paying attention somewhere in my life blah blah..
I am here to tell you that I am now ENRAGED by this phrase (thank you DG.) As David puts it, the mat is a laboratory or a training ground to learn how to use your body and your mind. You have dedicated time each day to practice higher levels of thoughts such as meditation on the breath or arranging your body along the imaginary central axis so that you can dispel all thought. Thoughts that are often fueled by desire and suffering (among others.) Your mat is a training ground to practice positive thought patterns that directly influence your thought patterns the rest of the day. THIS IS HUGE! This is not a passive practice. This is not simply exercise.

Yoga and in our case the Ashtanga practice assumes that we all have these problems, desires and pitfalls in our nature that cause us to think that we are only our body and our memories. Instead, the Ashtanga practice is intelligently designed to awaken your awareness to the one unchanging piece in you, your true self. To separate what changes from what doesn’t.  And we can realize this through the simplest series of postures. You don’t have to do your whole freaking practice every day. This is training so you can get out of the illusion that you are your body or your suffering. This practice has the potential to elevate your thinking and bring about wellness in your body too.

This is YOUR practice. The work is up to YOU. You have to face suffering and look at what is real and true. You are not doing a pose because ahhhhh this feels so good or this music really jives with this flip-dog. This is your life right here in every moment and there is no time to waste. When you practice, each jump out or inhale is an opportunity to align yourself to the truth, to the awakened unchanging self. So, no. No mirror. No mere reflection. Train yourself to elevate your understanding. With that, you are RESPONSIBLE for taking that into your life and applying it. To be an example around others and to react with compassion and joy, which the sutras say are finer thoughts than anger.  You are encouraged to find your purpose. I’m stating this to you but I am even more so writing this for me too. I needed to hear this through this summer course. To remind myself that I am lucky to have found this lineage that is designed for me to discover my truth.
Thank you David Garrigues for always expanding my understanding. I sure am looking forward to his visit in April :)


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 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.  


All Practice Counts

March 2017 is going down in history as one of the hardest practice months for this girl. I’m wracking my brain. Stiff. Unmotivated. ZERO concentration.  
Mary asked, “dips?”
Sure. Just so you can see how stiff I am.  
If I were to also describe my mood this past month in all honestly I would say the sammeeee thing. I even found myself shopping in the Amazon “New and Interesting Finds” section titled “MEH.” I considered purchasing prime a graphic-t featuring “Meh” but then I realized I needed to take a harder look at what was really going on.
Is it the flip-flops to boots in a day weather changes? The new puppy potty breaks at 2am? My Lady Holiday sugar cravings that spilled over well past the holiday? These could ALL be reasons why. So I’m taking a step back. My practice this month is a wake up call that changes are happening and it’s OKAY! No one is going to care if I didn’t get my full practice in. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I need this reminder or else I will force myself to go through the whole thing. As if it’s not an honest practice if I only did a little. And GUESS WHAT? Those days are so crappy. Those are the days I tweak my knee or lay on my mat in despair looking at the high high high ceilings WHYYY MEEE!  
I find myself fighting the common battle with myself:

Patient Practioner: “Oh did I miss something? Today is yesterday?"

Eager EGO: “This was starting to come so easily and feel SO GOOD.”

Patient Practioner: "Did you honestly think that once you do something once or even regularly that it’s going to remain THE SAME?!” Has this been true in any other aspect of your life? Shit changes, Mary-Margaret."
So it could all be entirely out of my control! Either way, it’s time to hit the reboot button. I’m doing a spring detox cleanse (Derek too mwhaha) to redirect my digestive system, sleeping patterns and over all habits toward the new season.  Pay attention to my daily decisions and mood swings. I’ve been here before of course. It’s just easier for me to recollect the good feelings and practices. The effortless speed or the floaty mcfloatness. Nope, not this month. I could easily stop practicing. But now is the time for Tapas (HEY BOOK CLUB YOGIS YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS!) to invest my energy (however much is there into my practice.) Short. Long. More sirsansana. Less backbends? It all counts.
Enjoying practice for me means not feeling anxious about the amount of time or postures. This is my motive for April. April showers bring May flowers, April detox brings May tick-tocks? Perhaps. Perhaps NOT. Meh.


Another Kind of Holiday ;)

ARE YOU OKAY?! WHY aren’t you practicing?!
It’s okay everyone! No need to sound the alarm. I’m just on my period, or as Ashtangi’s call it “Lady’s Holiday.” I can usually tell when it’s getting close to a “moon day” or couple days leading up to it when practice gets SO slow and I give Jeb Bush a run for his low energy title. This month I knew it was on it’s way when I cried about the laundry.
I didn’t always respect these three days of glory. I would persist through practice OR I would try and do something else extreme like a HIIT workout because I am a STRONG DETERMINED WOMAN. Ummm calm down Mary-Margaret! You can be both. Stira, Sukha, what? Oh yes yes. Strength and ease. Opposing forces. #Respecttheforce
Why isn’t it suggested that you practice these three heaviest days of your cycle? Well, there is the natural fact that there is a downward flow of blood and energy that the body is expelling. In the asana practice we try to redirect energy with bandhas, and physically challenging postures. It is not recommended to invert during your period because don’t we want to have a shorter period? There’s only one exit…
For me, it comes down to the fact that I need to trust my body’s natural process and not get so worked up every time it happens. In “Yoga Sadhana for Mothers” there are many women who write about their cycle and how to use that time for rejuvenation. Many also talk about the ability to give up attachment to the practice during lady’s holiday as a preparatory practice to motherhood and the body’s natural fluctuating process. (Note: Mom, if you are reading this, just because I read a book that has “Mother” in the title does NOT mean I plan on becoming one yet! I know you’ve seen that Rocking Chair in the studio!)
What is something positive that I can do with the extra time I would normally have for practice? I can take more time to read, bake something, sleep more, eat more, write, shop etc. Oh I also like to watch something that makes me cry solely because it feels so damn good to. Like tears are pent up and hormones are waiting for the slightest chance to unleash the waterworks. Have you seen the t.v. series “This is Us” with Mandy Moore? I really didn’t like Mandy Moore before but now I have to say, she’s prettttyyyy wonderful. Tissues are a must!
IF YOU ARE A DUDE: Maybe you just support your partner or mat-mates during their holiday. You might think to yourself, how would I know? Oh, keep practicing and listening. You’ll pick up on it. Derek folded the laundry I cried about. (He’s a keeper.)
So unfortunately, we don’t get the whole three days to take a full vacation somewhere. What are some small things you can do for yourself that can embrace your femininity? You may find a well rested and respected body appreciates the practice more, like I have. Try it! I dare you :)


On the Move!

Change is rarely seamless. The move to the new studio space at Faith Lutheran was DEFINITELY sudden. On Monday we ekam inhaled on Wilson Boulevard and Tuesday we dve exhaled on Arlington Boulevard. Typical Ashtangis (myself included) can exhibit a strong distaste for change. After all, we do the same postures, at the same time. We have a routine prior to practice that involves some fasting, coffee and bathroom time. Some of us even balk at the idea of setting up your mat on the other side of the room. Quelle Horreur!
You know though, that somehow within these same postures, practice is never identical. One humid Wednesday morning, those index fingers latch onto each other for a precious moment in Supta Kurmasana. You start gasping, sweating and wondering, “What changed?!” Well, YOU did somewhere along the way.  One day you smile at the person next to you whose dusty foot extends onto your tank top instead of panicking that you now have foot sweat up in your business.
Hey! I have news for you. The more pro-change you are the less suffering. Adapt or Cry! (I hope my husband doesn’t read this or he’s going to make me recite this every time we go camping.) Really though, even if you don’t like change you somehow knew it was the leafy greens for your mood because otherwise you wouldn’t be committed to this practice. Every time you inhale you have an opportunity to experience bliss (or suffering.)
Lucky for us, the space is the only big change. It is filled with the same warm group of crazy people that I love and recognize (even from upside down and in a twist.) We will continue to adapt as individuals in our behavior and develop as a troop.
This first month we have exciting events in our midst! First off is our Grand Opening Soiree next Friday, the 3rd at my house. Interact with your mat-mates and meet people from the morning and evening that you don’t know yet! Second, is that I am so tickled to host Jeff Lichty in the new space next month. I am rarely going to offer workshops and I am a little star-struck that this Canadian is coming to the nation. He has been to India over fifteen times and offers a practical approach to teaching. He will guide us through KEY topics like samastitihi in foundations, intermediate series highlights and sutra and pranayama discovery. Talk about learning some extra tools to change your practice! I hope you can join us for one or all of his workshops and take advantage of his time and experience.
I have never been happier, more energized (or caffeinated.) It is my utmost pleasure to see you every morning and evening in this new space changing alongside you.