Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Love Does That

Love Does That 

All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back
and sometimes just with worries
about things that bother only

And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.

Once in a while a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
than that,

he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears
and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,

because love does that.
Love frees.

-Meister Eckhart 

I think this poem spoke to me because I often feel like the burro – I’ll just come out and say that balancing work, practice, husband time, 3 kids, and all the other little details of life feels exhausting to me much of the time.   My back feels hunched and my jaw feels tight. We can get weighed down by working hard, and we can get weighed down by life.   And yet I know that when my 6 year old gives me a spontaneous hug, or my 9 year old rests his head on my shoulder in silent recognition of gratitude, or my husband smiles sweetly at me across the noisy dinner table I soften.  When we get so weighed down by our worries or our work sometimes we need someone to look into our eyes and just see us.  See our burdens and be the witness to our lives.  What lightens our burdens is knowing we are not alone, knowing that we are all in this together.   

I have a friend who is a bit of a complainer.  The first 5 minutes of every conversation is a litany of horrors of her life and it got to the point where I was beginning to distance myself from her because I felt exhausted by trying to solve all of her “problems”.  But I really love her and I didn’t want to do that, so I took some time to really reflect on our interactions.  It occurred to me that after her outpourings of stress and drama, our conversations progressed easily and smoothly into more uplifting subjects.  What I realized was that she just needed me to bear witness to her life and her experience.  I didn’t need to fix anything, I just needed to listen and then we could move on.  Like the burro in the story, she just needs to be seen through the lens of empathy.

In Chapter 1, verse 33 of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras he suggests:  “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened.”   The thing is, suffering is sometimes disguised under a thick outer layer of attitude.  It’s easy to think of those we love and feel compassion, but when we really want to dedicate ourselves to living a life of meaning we have to start looking at those people who really challenge us – whose ideas and values clash with ours, those who are nasty and argumentative, even those who have hurt us in the past – and realize that their behavior most likely comes from the burdens they are carrying.  Our yoga practice connects us to the part of ourselves that is connected to all things, allowing us to feel compassion and empathy for even those who challenge us the most. 
The nature of the universe is compassion and love.  We abide in an ocean of empathy, and when we let ourselves dissolve into it we can let go a little bit of the daily armor that we wear and become more sensitive to those around us.  We realize that everyone we meet is carrying burdens of their own, and if we can offer any small kindness, even just a heartfelt smile, we can ease the suffering of the world.  When we live a life of kindness and offer it to those around us unselfishly, we awaken to our true nature of generosity and love. 

Off the mat:
Make this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi your mantra this week:
Oh Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest of intentions.  What small thing can you do as you go about your day to ease the burdens of another?  Maybe something comes to mind now.  Set an intention to do it, whatever it might be.  If nothing is coming up right now, commit to staying open hearted this week, more sensitive to those around you, and when a situation arises where you can offer kindness don’t hesitate.

On the mat:
We worked this week on “un-burro-ing” our backs.  Through breath and alignment we lengthened our spines and offered our love and compassion energetically through forward bends.  This week, dedicate your practice to someone you wish to send kindness too, maybe someone's whose back is bent with hard work or burdened by worries, maybe someone who challenges you and you need to cultivate empathy towards.  

Open to Grace: Breathe in and open your heart to those around you.
Step into the pose and step into the moment with a silent prayer of kindness and compassion.
Source kindness and empathy for even the darkest thoughts that might arise.

Muscular Energy: Cultivate strength through compassion.
Strengthen your muscles to strengthen your connection to the place inside that is connected to everyone and everything.
Draw in (to the Focal Point of the pose) the compassion being offered by everyone in this room.

Organic Energy:  As your spine grows, grow your capacity for tenderness towards yourself and others.
Radiate compassion and empathy from your heart through your whole pose.
Send kindness out, creating space for those around you who’s views might be different than yours.
Lengthen your spine and let go of the burdens you are carrying.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Taming the Nag

Stay With Me A While

I lived with her night and day--
the Nag.

I don't mean my wife or mother-in-law,
they are both angels.

I am talking about that voice in me that would not
let me hold each moment
as I did my son when
he was born.

How to slay the Nag?

I am afraid I have become fond of you,
dear student,

if I spoke the answer,
you might


We’ve been talking in class this week about what our “Nag” is, what is says to us.  It’s been a beautiful and thought-provoking discussion.  My Nag is the voice of distraction – anything that pulls me away from the enjoyment of the moment.  It’s my own voice, with its priorities screwed up.   Our lives are so beautifully abundant that it is so easy to get pulled off track!

For example, what a gift it is to be able to check the weather, make a shopping list, text my husband a reminder about a soccer game, or see my sister who lives hundreds of miles away face to face, all in the palm of my hand.  But as much as I love my iPhone it can also be a curse.  The minute I open it there are 100 things pulsing and beeping and beckoning me to immerse myself in my digital world and out of the world I am actually in.  I call this being plugged in and tuned out, and I let myself get tuned out far more often than I’d like to admit.

Yoga is the opportunity to plug in and tune in.  When we seat the bones properly in the joints in yoga practice through mindful application of alignment principles (i.e. “plug in”) we make space inside and open up the flow of prana through our whole system.  When we engage our muscles in each asana we engage with our bodies.  We become more aware of our physical presence and the way that we join with it and use it in the world.  We notice moment to moment how we are feeling and can make better and more informed choices regarding our physical health, like what we choose to ingest either through food or drink or skin or breath.  When we actively participate with (or even just pay attention to) our breath, it’s pace, rhythm, and depth, we attune to the meeting place of our physical self and ephemeral (God) self and come to know a deeper connection to the essence of who we are. Yoga is the opportunity to connect to a still place inside ourselves, allowing us to awaken to and cherish each moment as a precious gift.

The Nag can be a just nuisance, or for some it can even be negative, the voice that keeps us in patterns of self-limitation.  Either way, it is a voice.  And we recognize that if that voice is inside of us that it is a voice of our own, like it or not.  So perhaps our goal should not be to slay the Nag, but rather (as my beautiful students Nancy and Meg shared on Monday) to tame it.   Own it.  Direct it.  As the title of the poem suggests, invite it to stay a while, get to know it, and shift it so that it becomes the voice that inspires us to cherish each moment like a newborn baby.  

Off the mat:
Be aware of how often your “Nag” appears, and what it says to you.  Are you plugging in and tuning out?  Take some time this week to think of a time when you were totally present in a precious moment – maybe it was holding a newborn baby, but if that is not an experience you have had and can relate to find another one.  A time when nothing in the world could have pulled you away from the presence of beauty and wonder.  The first step of being able to cherish the moment is to connect with your ability to hold things sacred. And the next step is to realize that that sacredness is available all the time, that you only need to plug in and tune in to make every moment that holy and wholly full of your presence.

On the mat:
In our asana practice this week we worked on plugging the head of the arm bones into the shoulder socket.  We worked balancing poses to bring our full awareness to the moment. When we practice balancing on our feet or hands (or heads for that matter!) we have to focus our thoughts purely on what we are doing or we fall over, so this is great practice for taming the Nag!  

Open To Grace: Breathe in and awaken to the present moment.
Cherish your breath and cherish this moment.
Hold this moment like you are holding a newborn baby.

Muscular Energy/Head of the Arm Bones Back: Pull into your heart to connect with a quiet place, free of the Nag.
Draw from the fingers into your heart, where all you cherish resides.
Draw the head of the arm bones back into the shoulder joint to plug yourself into this moment.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sit-bones to open up to the present moment.
Move your thighs back connecting to beautiful moments behind you that the Nag blocked you from seeing at the time.

Outer Spiral: Scoop your tailbone down and connect to the beauty of this pose at this time.

Organic Energy: Celebrate this pose as a celebration of this moment.