Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Be All In. (Thanks Jen)

The other day I took a Vinyasa class from a really amazing instructor, Jen. I loved her voice. I loved her class. I loved her message. One of the things she said has been burning through my brain for a week. "Be all in" she said. I think she only said it once, but it hooked in and stayed with me.

I've had an upsetting few days due to things happening in my world that are beyond my control. Life feels like it is on high speed and my steering wheel is broken. This morning I really needed Yoga.  As I got my mat set up to take Frani's class,  I told myself to use this 90-minutes wisely. I recommitted during Pranayama deep breathing to be here. To be all in.

During Frani's class, I kept finding myself surprised to be at the posture. "Arms over your head," Frani would say and, as if waking up from a nap, I'd catch up to her setting us up in Half-Tortoise. It felt so good. I really was all in. The gift was that, for those 90-minutes I got a break from the troubles in my heart and head.

I waste so much time on a daily basis trying to slow down the everyday train I'm on. I push, pull, grind, always with the same result--- the brutal reality that I don't have control. It's in Yoga, of course,  that surrendering control gives me exactly what I need. Now, if I could just figure out how to do that during the rest of my life......

Monday, June 15, 2015

What resonates for you?

About 20 years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I ran a program for girls in the King County Juvenile Detention Center. The program, called YWSP (Young Women's Support Project) was designed to serve the emerging number of girls entering the criminal justice system. A lot of the girls were deemed criminals because they were chronically truant. Some were victims or really horrible home lives and were acting it out-- prostitution, using drugs. There wasn't a ton of robbery, burglary, murder, rape, etc.

The "issues" these girls came in with generally created harm to their own beings and not those of around them.  Because the girls were in juvie for really short spells (3-7 days usually), we tried to get them into the program as soon as they were booked into the facility. YWSP consisted of a social worker (me), a health educator, and a nurse. We structured the group as one big infusion- 2 1/2 hours of information sharing, team building, and light group therapy. It was intense-- intense enough that I only lasted a few years. And though teaching Yoga is a much better fit for me, I learned a lifetime in those few years.

Often, I'd see the same girls come into juvie over and over again, doing the same self-destructive behaviors. In a moment of hopelessness and despair, I said to my colleague Ann, "What's the point? This group isn't doing anything. I see the same faces over and over again."

"Laura," Ann said, in her wise, calm voice, "this is just the beginning. The girls are getting a taste of something, a moment where they see themselves differently, feel their feelings in a new way. They are being seen by others with a different lens, maybe a way they've never been seen before."

"It might be next week or next year," Ann went on, "but our hope is that one day, some day, these girls will be in an environment that is healthy, that supports and nurtures them and they will say 'ah-ha'; and the goodness within them will resonate. They will connect to it, and seek more of it."

I feel this in Yoga- both when I am practicing and teaching. There are these perfect moments of self-acceptance, or "being enough" that I notice when I practice. I see it in others when I am teaching. When I am out and about doing my life, I am reminded of these precious glimmers. When I am meeting with bureaucrats from the city or doing my taxes or hosting my in-laws, moments when I am susceptible to feeling swallowed up or overwhelmed, I can find a little bit of it.  The feeling of "I am enough." The feeling might be buried, but it's in there. It's familiar enough that often I can connect with it and feel the sense of goodness that comes along with it.

This morning when I was teaching I told my class to be open to those moments of calm, of peacefulness, quiet breathing, and try to connect with them. "It's practice for your brain," I told them, "and this practice will help you when you need it at other moments." It might take weeks or years, but it will come. All that you create in Yoga will come through for you when you need it.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Let there be light.

Every day at the studio I talk about the weather. I know it must be boring, borderline annoying. But it's so amazing right now. Everyone is so appreciative, so grateful. One of the best things about living in Seattle is the light. We go for months without having it, but when it comes, it is a wonder. For the last few weeks I have heard the birds chirping busily as early as 3:15am. It's my first alarm clock and by 5:30am, I am up and making coffee. I'm not tired and I don't begrudge leaving my cozy covers to start the day. The light is warm and inviting; it reminds me of the time I went to Santorini and opened my windows to the Aegean Sea for the first time.

On the landing down to the first floor lives one of the most stunning views in our house. It's all windows and you can see the lake, the I-90 bridge, and, on a clear day, Mount Baker in the distance. It's nearly impossible to feel resentment of any kind regardless of what hour of the day.

The early morning is my favorite time of the day and I am grateful to the birds waking me up to join them. Usually, in the early early hours, I drink my coffee and either read or write in a sunny spot in the house. It's a rare time to appreciate the light that I know will eventually fade and then leave us for many months. Do the birds know this too? Are they aware that they have to maximize their hours in the sun? Does the light make them as happy as it makes me?

On a sunny day like today, I will ride my bike to work. For several miles, my ride is along the lake. I'll ride by the ducks and coots and cormorants, and maybe a lone heron busily doing their day's work on the lake. I'll ride by men and women running, walking, riding their bikes in the sun, happy, smiling, glowing with the energy that comes from all of this beautiful light. It is as if the added hours of the day change us somehow-- our bodies, our brains, our hearts.

How can I hold onto this feeling?  Store it up? Remember it when November comes? Or is this just part of the rain dance. Can we only be this happy with the new light because we live in the darkness for so many months of the year? Maybe. When I am at work today I know I will talk about the weather. Again. I won't be able to help myself. When I do, please forgive me. It's just my way of being grateful for Seattle in the summer.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I don't knowwwwww...

My daughter Lucia can play piano and guitar, do geometry, read adult books, and play soccer, all really well. She's a hard worker, a good listener (sometimes) and can really focus when she wants to. Her weakest link is decision-making. Whether it be what to eat for dinner, who to invite for a sleepover, what color undershirt to wear, she becomes a complete bonehead. I have theories as to why she might struggle. As the child of divorce myself, I can relate to the divided loyalties that Lucia, as a singleton with divorced parents, experiences as a daily part of her life. Lucia is also a perfectionist and she overthinks every decision. Her prefrontal cortex is way over-active.

When Lucia gets stuck on a decision, "Mommy, I don't know..... I can't decide.... what do you think?",  I try to encourage her to go to the feeling. "Close your eyes," I coax, "and just try to feel what you want. Try not to think about it." Sometimes she can get there, but more often, she just panics and, like ripping off a scab, she makes the decision as quickly as possible.

I'm forty-six years old, and, like Lucia, a perfectionist. If I choose the Carbonara, will I wish I'd chosen the Bolognese? Will salad be too much? Malbec or Tempranillo? Which is the one I really like? Should I text Nancy to see if she remembers if that was the kind I had in New York? Packing for a trip is a saga every time. I love my yellow slacks, but will I really wear them? Does it make more sense to just bring the black, even though the weather is so unpredictable and it might be hot and then I'll really wish I had the yellow... or what about shorts. Shorts might be good. I might really be bummed if I don't have shorts. Maybe I can borrow shorts? But what if they don't fit? I guess I could always go to Target and get some emergency shorts! Jesus Christ! It never stops.

So, finding a way to slow down the brain, get to the feeling, is an important life skill for me to develop. And, it's something I want to do my best to impart to Lucia so she can spend her future days with a little more peace of mind.

For me, releasing the over-thinking only consistently happens in one place-- Yoga. When I practice, especially at the beginning of class, when I am filled with resistance, residual static from life still coursing through my veins, the only way for me to actually get through the postures is to put all of my energy--mental and physical-- into what I'm doing. Usually, by about fifteen minutes into class, I am where I want to be. I am in a different brain state. My reptilian brain is turned on more than my neocortex and I can literally feel a state of calm take over while crazy brain takes a nap.

It is often when I am teaching, when I can see the bodies of other humans, that I start to understand what happens for me in my own practice. Yesterday I had a class with a handful of strugglers. Seeing their bodies, I could imagine what was going on in their minds, and I could totally relate. "Try not to think so much," I said, "just feel what you need, and give yourself that." It's a hard place to get, and it can take years of committed practice to get there.

This permission to simply feel what you need or want, and give it to yourself, is a huge part of Yoga practice. You are not performing, not competing, not trying to be perfect. You are simply practicing--practicing the physical postures as well as the mental exercise of listening to your feelings instead of your thoughts. This mental exercise tells you when you need a break, when you can give more, when you need to cry, laugh, breathe. You'll start to notice both inside and outside of the Yoga room, that life feels easier. Your brain is like a muscle. Like your quads eventually develop the strength to hold you in Standing Bow Pose, your brain will get stronger with practice. Take if from me, packing, though still intense, is way easier than it used to be!