“So why have you continued with your practice?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she replied, “but I can feel it changing me, and for the better. It’s almost scary though. I feel like my whole way of thinking is being turned upside down. Hell, some guy at the gas station told me I have a nice smile. I haven’t heard that since I was about seven. What’s happening to me?”
-Excerpt from Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic
On Tuesday, March 4th at 9:57 am, I was texting a friend who had just received word that his biopsy was benign and he didn’t have cancer. My joyous reply was that I had been praying and dedicating all of my yoga energy to him during the previous week, and his reply was that I was “very sweet.” Having never been called sweet before, with an extreme lack of confidence, brushed the compliment aside and replied that he was one of the very few people who put me and “sweet” in the same sentence. His reply to that was, “Not true at all!”
I was humbled and touched by his kind words, but wondered how in the heck I got “sweet.” The more I thought, the more I realized that I had also been called “nice” and “kind” as well this past year.
Friends, most of you don’t know me, and if you do, you haven’t known me for very long. Those of you who have known me for an extended period of time know that no one has ever described me with any of those candy-coated, (albeit completely lovely), words before. I have been called tenacious and a go-getter. I’ve been adorned by my previous boss as the best salesperson in the industry. I have been “complimented” on my ability to work 24/7 and on my unique methods of busting balls, (yes, I came from the construction world). I lived a life of travel, constant work, of yelling to be heard, and worst of all, setting my family aside for the sake of being bigger and better at work. To sum it up, I sucked royally as a human being.
Fast-forward through all the pain of realizing my job didn’t love me back in the same manner I thought it would to walking into a yoga studio where my battered runner’s body could get some much needed stretching. That day was March 5th of 2013-a day I will not forget. I came to my mat to reap physical rewards that I could track with my fitness app to show I was working out. But what soon happened is something that until today, until reading the excerpt I posted above, I couldn’t find words to explain. I shifted.
As I started to practice, I unknowingly allowed my forehead to center on my mat in submission to see what was really inside of me. I practiced the series of asanas taught to me while focusing on my beautiful breath and I realized that I was human after all–I used air! The quiet place on my mat allowed my body to move and my mind to calm to the point where a gentle stirring in my soul started to confidently wake up to tell me that it had been hiding for so many years out of fear that I would chase it away. As I let a natural progression take place, my heart began to warm and the “kinder and gentler” side of me started to come out to see what this beautiful world was truly all about. My mat, placed in the back row of a studio, became the place where the real me would start to grow, get nurtured, and begin to nurture in return. Yoga wasn’t about the stretching but rather about the conscious breathing that transformed a cold-blooded, semi-unconscious woman into one who has let all the walls she so strongly built around her fall to the ground. One who now feels almost naked because there is abounding love that emanates from every pore of her being. It is scary at times to feel so exposed, to love so much, and be so vulnerable in a world where the survival of the fittest is exemplified, but I would have it no other way.
It is definitely a Monday and the rain outside isn’t helping. Chris is traveling, (which I don’t necessarily like), but we do what we must. I am trying to live the day being present and intentional with my thoughts and actions. Trying to find joy in the stillness of the day after a weekend of activity. Maybe God is telling me that activity does not need to be 24/7?
So today will be the practice of Santosha. Contentment. One of the niyamas, (observances). Yoga teaches us to practice santosha in three “steps”: to be present in the moment, to notice judgements about whatever is going on in the present moment, and to make peace with what is. By being content in the moment, we create the space and mindfulness to make the best decisions. Not living in contentment with the present moment allows the ego and drama to drive our decision making ability resulting in the quickest way to create situations that enable us to rationalize our discontent (thank you Darren Main for this guided explanation in Yoga and the path of the Urban Mystic).
Deep breath in, Joni. Deep breath out. Presence of mind and finding peace in the present. I am in this place today for a reason. I do not need to rush it away but rather need to listen for what it is teaching me. Perhaps today being still and listening for God’s advice is what I need to be doing.
Let me preface this post with the fact that I am not trying to lose any additional weight but am rather working to maintain where I am at and tone up, (I found a bicep yesterday! For proof, see below). Pfew! There. I said it! So here’s the new lightbulb moment that went off this morning as I stepped on the scale: sometimes a person has to eat more for better results! Yep. There you have it folks. You’ve maybe read or heard that a million times and you’ve nodded your head in supposed acceptance yet walked away and chuckled about the big dummy who just told that to you. Right? Right! I know where you’re at! But here’s the truth according to me: IT IS TRUE!
I hit my goal weight around Christmas but it never remained there and I would put on and take off 3-4 pounds at times, yet I still ate what my trusty app limited me to, 1250 calories–still at that setting to lose 2 pounds a week. Truth be told, at 1250 a week, I felt as though I could eat my arm off each night due to being hungry so I would “sneak” some food and not tell my app about it. Shame? Not wanting my app to show a red number? Feeling of failure? I really don’t know, but what I do know is that I couldn’t remain consistent or honest with either my food intake of my weight.
But last week something changed in my noggin and I got tired of the self-defeating fight. I shit-canned my old trusty food-tracking app and integrated my existing exercise app, MapMyRun, (I love you, MMR), with MyFitnessPal, (you’re coming in a close second, my friend, in the love department), which sync together, and I honestly entered into MyFitnessPal that I was looking to maintain my weight, (Uff da! I feel like I’m in a 12 step program!). There. I did it. I entered information honestly. And you know what MyFitnessPal told me? It told me I could eat! Nearly 2000 calories a day of eating! You must be freaking kidding me! Yes! Being I could now eat, you know what I’ve been doing? EATING! I’ve been healthily eating and honestly entering my food consumption. And guess what! I haven’t gained a pound from my goal! As a matter of fact, I have remained stable–no fluctuations! I haven’t felt hungry! I feel human! There have been times this week where I couldn’t even hit the near 2000 calorie mark because I’ve been full. I haven’t felt like a failure and I haven’t felt like killing those around me due to the “lack-of-food-crabbies.” Talk about a glorious discovery that people have been insisting is the way to go for years.
The truth to this whole sinking revelation is that just like anything in life; you learn when you’re ready. A favorite yoga teacher of mine says to take from your mat what serves you and let let the rest go. This is true of anything, in that until we are ready to receive, we may hear, but we don’t apply. At nearly 49 years old, and after years and years years of trying to educate myself about nutrition and exercise, it wasn’t until just this morning that what I had known but not applied actually served me. So eat, my friends. Eat wisely to fuel your beautiful bodies. Restrictions may look good in your mind, but in the long run, you’ll be happier and more successful in your journey.
You know what they say when you “assume” something? Yep, it typically makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. Such were my assumptions about yoga-I was kind of an ass…
The assumptions I made about yoga were revealed to me throughout today after my morning started with a phone call from a friend who was shocked when she read in my post yesterday that I literally started yoga a year ago; she had assumed that I had taken a yoga break and was just coming back to the practice. Nope. I’m a newbie, I assured her. We laughed and shared our yoga stories over the phone and talked about the ways yoga has transformed our lives. She began practicing as a teenager and has a wealth of knowledge that I love to try and suck out of her! I in turn loved telling the story how just a year ago I had assumed that yoga was just about stretching and physicality. When I first walked into the studio, I was a beat-up and injured runner who needed to shed the 20 pounds I put on in a short 3 months time, (it really was a ton of fun gaining it, though!). I was also near completion of a 4 month physical therapy stint on my neck and shoulder to try to squelch my migraines and shoulder pain, and I had a chronic Achilles issue that had plagued me for the last 7 years since I gracefully fell off a curb that I didn’t let heal properly, (go future!). It is true that I have not a graceful bone in my body, thus why I have the title “Class Klutz” of the Monticello High School class of 1983! In other words, I was a hot mess!
All I wanted that initial day was physical transformation-and fast. I wasn’t looking to do slow/meditative yoga, (why would I not want a work out?), so I hopped right in to the upper level classes. After all, I was an athlete, right? My assumption that yoga was easy was wrong-it kicked my ass right into the beginner level class which was where I was meant to be. Also, my assumption that yoga was only physical “exercise” was also very wrong. As I told my friend this morning, one day, while laying in Savasana, I started to cry and I couldn’t stop the tears and the running nose. I was SO embarrassed! Then, a little while later, the tears started to flow while in 1/2 Pigeon Pose. In June, when my mother fell and was in the hospital for nearly a week, I bawled like a baby every time I hit my mat. What in the heck was going on? Why was I crying all the fricking time? Why was my mind not obsessively chattering? Why was I starting to be kinder? Where had I gone?????
I’ll tell you where I went: far away! And I sure hope that old me stays far in the rear view mirror! She wasn’t the nicest of people. It didn’t take long for the transformation of my innards to begin taking precedence over the transformation of my body, and I liked it, having assumed that I wouldn’t. I found that as I set my head on my mat in Child’s Pose, I wanted to pray-to give thanks for all of the blessings I had been given. I would pray for those in need, for the beautiful transformation that was happening in my life, and I prayed for the entire world to experience this peace and beauty that I was finding. After all, I thought, all the needless anger and battles that people engage in could melt away if they could just set their foreheads on the mat and cultivate compassion and kindness toward all of creation. Even I was looking people in the eye and actually listening to them! I wasn’t staring past them trying to move on to the next item on my task list.
So what’s the point of assuming anything anyhow? When we assume, we’re usually wrong, right? Don’t we usually assume that the thing we’re thinking about is more grandiose, (and usually negative), than it really is? What’s the point of all that wasted brain power trying to assume what is happening or what someone else is thinking? Because more often than not, the truth usually ends up revealing something that is actually a million times better than we ever imagined. Welcome to yoga!
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and my 1 year anniversary of starting yoga. The reason I bring both of these things together is because for Lent I am removing myself from my personal Facebook page to focus more on the yogic pieces of my life that nurture and grow my spirit. I started a FB paged dedicated to yoga and healthy living a while back, but never took the time to invest in it, until now. I had reached an obsessional point at the computer and iPhone scrolling through FB checking for new updates when I was bored or even while talking with my friends or family. How, with everything I wanted to do, I wondered, could I be bored and even interested in spending so much time on FB? How could I be so rude that I didn’t pay full attention to people? Well enough is enough. The timing was perfect, so and I gave it up on a day when I was celebrating the anniversary of a life event that has changed me inwardly as well as externally.
It is time to read the plethora of books I have on my nightstand instead of perusing FB at night. Books that will remind me of the beauty of Jesus’s love and ultimate sacrifice for us during this Lenten season, and books that will grow my mind and spirit so that as I walk through this life, I will be a reflection of His peace, compassion, and love for all things.
It is time again to write here as well as in my well-loved recycled leather journal. It is time to make consistent time for my devotions. It is time to start my seeds for spring planting. It is time to breathe and reflect on all that I have been blessed with. In 1 short year, I have been transformed in mind and body through the practice of yoga. It has deepened and broadened my relationship with God and I have learned to quiet my mind and seek His voice. It has strengthened me physically and emotionally. I have learned calmness, kindness, and compassion. I have deepened my understanding in the fact that life is a journey and every step we take, pleasant or unpleasant, is there for a reason. I am learning, through friends and yoga, that the things we experience are not truly even good or bad; they just are, (thank you, Liz). You can’t have one without the other or life would be out of balance.
It has always been my goal to be His hands and feet each and every day, and to die having nothing more to give. I want to be all used up. I want to suck the marrow out of each and every day of this life.
Here’s to life and using each minute wisely.
It is not easy looking inside. As a matter of fact, it’s really a deflating and embarrassing feeling. The practice of svadhyaya is another one of the niyamas that I am learning about as I continue this adventure of yoga teacher training.
Svadhyaya is the process of being aware of your actions as they are happening as well as reflecting on your actions during the course of the day. Have you had times when you’ve had an immediate awareness that what you’re doing is something that you shouldn’t be, (gossip, not being truthful), and your brain clicks in that this is wrong, but then your body has to think about how to react. Do you stop gossiping or lying? How do you change the conversation you’re having? Is the person you’re with going to think your weird if you stop and fess up how you’re really not wanting to continue this conversation of gossip? It’s just so much “easier” to continue and tell yourself you won’t do this again. Right.
When I stop and think about my actions, two things happen: either I get embarrassed or proud. And then I struggle with feeling shameful, or conversely, wonder if my sense of pride is really my ego getting the best of me. I am a much different person than I used to be, and while I was never a mass-murderer, I wasn’t very kind. I yelled and screamed a lot, I took advantage of people for the sake of “business,” I lied, I coveted just about everything that everyone else had, and last but definitely not least, I didn’t love my neighbor as myself. Now, my actions in these areas are quite different as I have really allowed myself to open up and love people….really love them. I am more careful with my words, I am very content with what I have, and I have stood on my ethical soapbox to the point where I have lost a job because of it. I am proud of these changes, yet is that pride a contributor to ego? How can I be proud without being egotistical? Awareness.
And my actions that aren’t so stellar? In what areas of my life now can I afford to be more aware of my actions as they happen? The first thing that I think of is my mouth, especially when on the phone and not being face to face with someone. I seem to lose my moral compass when I am on the phone and I easily slip back into negative talk about others. I swear, (oh my, do I swear!). I get agitated, angry, and vindictive., (and I enjoy doing so until I hang up and think about it). I had coffee with an awesome man last week, and we talked of morals and values in relation to our work. He shared with me that over the last 7 years in his job, he has chosen to get up ever morning and ask for one simple thing in prayer, “help,” and has chosen to watch his words and align them with his values. Man, this is so hard! For me, there is also an element of peer pressure to this that I get uncomfortable with. How do you stand up for your values and say what is right when with others around you are being negative and saucy? It’s so much easier to just jump on the bashing-bandwagon and pile on the negativity and criticism instead of stopping and backing, or better yet, pointing out the actions of the group verbally. Awareness.
Another area of my life that I need to be more aware of is my thoughts. I have a very imaginative brain, and I can head off in a daydream state and blow the littlest element so far out of proportion that I soon become physically agitated and start to sweat. It’s truly so dumb! I’ve often wondered what the trick is to keeping my mind aligned throughout the day on goodness and truth because there has to be a trick to this…it’s just soooooooo hard! Awareness.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. I also know that I am not perfect. I will have thoughts and actions that aren’t in line with my belief of right and wrong, but I do know that the more I become aware of what I am doing and what I am thinking, the more I can change my behaviors. A few years ago, it dawned on me that if I ask in prayer at the start of each day to be His hands and feet, and I intentionally behave in that manner, I should become the person I want to me. In reflecting on svadhyaya today, I guess this really holds true. If I ask the Lord to be His hands and feet every morning, (perhaps I should add “His mouth,” as well), and I mirror my actions to match this, I should be able to put my head on the pillow each night knowing I haven’t hurt anyone and I have made the world a better place.
The 3rd Niyama I am reflecting upon in my own life is that of tapas, or self-discipline. The word “tapas” translate as “heat” and regardless of what I originally thought, it does NOT refer to whether or not my body prefers cold weather or hot. What it rather refers to is the internal discomfort that comes when breaking a non-worthy habit, (either behavioral or thought) in order to allow positive change to come about. Think about this for a minute…when was a time you tried to break a habit, like being a couch potato, or reducing the amount of caffeine that you consumed. Remember how it physically felt? I sure do! I remember when I first started to exercise and my body was so incredible sore, and the more I pushed my development, the more I hurt. Heck, beginning a consistent yoga practice last spring brought about incredible tapas not only in my body, but in my mind as well, and it was happening naturally!
I didn’t begin a yoga practice for my thought patterns-it was a strictly physical endeavor. Yet almost immediately, my thoughts began to change and I wrestled with all of the new light that was being brought into my being. Talk about internal discomfort! My old, perfectly fine ways of thinking, (or so I thought), were leaving me for better, bigger, more profound thoughts, and providing a great deal of questioning and reflection internally. This was, and still isn’t easy! The things I am learning and the awakening that is happening in my spirit is oddly fearful. It’s freeing, yet at the same time, being I cannot control it, I worry about where all this new love and mindfulness will lead. Loving is very vulnerable, and when you grow up learning only guarded love, this new unconditional love for not only for your family and friends but the world around you as well, is a bit like being naked.
Overall, I believe I practice tapas pretty well, but would really like to practice on a deeper level-it gets very easy for me to succumb to the desires of my surroundings in certain situations. For instance, I am a 100% full believer in eating a plant-based diet, yet when everyone around me has a bit of ice cream, I succumb even while knowing the living conditions of cows in many factory dairy farms. When it comes to exercising after work, many nights it’s easier to just admit to being too tired and lethargic from the day instead of doing what I should by lacing up the running shoes or going to my yoga mat.
I would like to be rock-solid in my actions of self-discipline instead of being full-on at times and lax at others. You know…that describes me pretty well; when I get something in my noggin, I go 100 mph, but then I start running out of gas. I get gas, find something new, go 100 mph, run out of gas, and the process repeats itself. My desire and goal should be to find a consistent practice of self-discipline to act in mindful moderation instead of living on a personal roller coaster. I think I need to lift this new revelation up in prayer and ask God for a bit of help here. After all, there’s nothing I can accomplish without Him!