Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Make sacred

This past weekend in Yogawood's teacher training, we created ceremony.

Every year as part of training, we investigate Bhakti, or the yoga of love. Usually, this day involves story telling about gods and goddesses and yogic mythology. My co-facilitator, Christie and I inherited a wonderful program to facilitate. We're also making sure that we feel clear on every element so the program gets to grow like all living, breathing entities. We thought through the part of the program on Bhakti and looked to make it more experiential. We created an altar, telling trainees to arrive later so we would have time to really consecrate the space. We instructed trainees to wear all white, so we would all be a bit more aware. We invited trainees to bring a sacred object that they could place on the altar, as they arrived silently and reverently. Lastly, we invited them to share stories and chants about their isvara.

For those of you not immersed in all things yogic, isvara is the aspect of God that you most relate to. For a Christian, it might be Jesus. For a Catholic, it could be Mary. For a Muslim, perhaps Muhammed. Many of various Hindu faiths relate to Krishna or Shiva. Some Buddhists relate to Buddha. Those in certain Caribbean or African faiths might relate to Yemaya or Oshun.

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, one of our first and most seminal yogic texts, we're told that the most direct path to the state of yoga, or integration and wholeness, is isvara-pranidhanadva, or surrendering to the Divine as you understand it.

Therefore, noticing the isvara you gravitate to and developing a clear relationship with that isvara is a powerful yogic practice.

Earlier in our teacher training we invite trainees to think through an aspect of the Divine that they relate to. As we'd never dictate another's beliefs, we leave this somewhat broad and for the purposes of familiarizing with the concept open up the possibility of identifying with a force like nature or love.

At this point in training, we asked trainees to circle back, and tell us more about their isvara.

We went around the circle chanting, telling stories, and explaining where we connected. As I listened to these beautiful people talking about what moves them, what connects to their inner life, I witnessed teachers. Yoga teachers know how to make big, amorphous, esoteric ideas connected and alive. They know that the universe lives in the details and let the specificity of their lives wisely be part of illuminating the all. It was beautiful and affecting for all involved. It was vulnerable and tender and fun.

I'm reading a beautiful book called Belonging by Toko-pa. She writes about dream work and how the subconscious can illuminate where we feel like we belong and are connected and where that disconnect shows itself. Yoga!

In one passage she writes that the etymology of the word "sacrifice" comes from the Latin word for "holy." In her understanding, sacrifice is giving something up to make it holy again. Giving our labor to a garden to appreciate the food. Giving our patience to a relationship to make it matter.

I thought about this understanding of sacrifice as related to the practice of isvara-pranidhanadva. We give some part of our trust, vulnerability, and inner life to make it sacred again. We create a mindful, meaningful relationship with something bigger than ourselves to make relationships sacred again. To make ourselves sacred again. When we perceive ourselves to be sacred, of course we feel connected to the all.

All photos in this post credited to the beautiful eye of Krista Sassani

Friday, March 16, 2018

I'll be your mirror

I co-facilitate a 200 hour hour yoga teacher training at Yogawood. We're at the point in the course where trainees are teaching segments of group classes. After the class, we sit down and dissect what worked really well, what can be improved, and how to implement growth. It is a beautiful practice, one where we see one another, honor the strength and courage it takes to put yourself out there, and celebrate the practice.

I love it.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I realized how to implement a mentorship that had been hovering around in my imagination. I realized it's a Mirrorship.

“We can’t find the truth only listening to our own voice’s echo. We can find ourselves only in someone’s mirror.” —Shams Tabrizi

You are your own best mentor. Let me be a mirror.

If you’re a 200 hour Yoga Alliance certified teacher, teaching public classes, let’s work together. We’ll establish a 3-month window in which we’ll complete our work. During that time, I’ll review* 5 of your public classes and give you specific feedback on what worked as well as what can be improved upon. We’ll get clear on your goals as a yoga teacher and how to reach them. We’ll circle in on your strengths and how they help you effectively share this ancient and wise practice. Your voice will get stronger and more clear. Your ability to communicate about what you do (also known as advertising) will become conscious and more authentic to who you are and how you operate. You’ll conclude the program with a greater awareness of yogic ethics as well as 15+ hours of on-going education to meet annual Yoga Alliance requirements.

We’ll work one-on-one to bring great awareness, care, and precision to your practice of teaching.

You can begin this program at any time. We’ll agree on a mutually convenient schedule.

To begin the program, complete this application. Purchase here

Within an agreed-upon 3 month period, the mentorship includes:

  • Review of 5 open classes (recorded and discussed over GoogleChat or possibly in person if in the Philadelphia-area and able to schedule)
  • Working together to goal set around teaching development
  • Creating a solid plan to meet goals, which may include reading, journaling, or other concrete ways to grow teaching skills
  • Strengthening teaching voice through specific feedback on word choice, effective direction, volume, and cadence to wisely guide students
  • Assessing your strengths as a teacher and amplifying them
  • Gaining clarity on how we communicate about teaching; including reviewing bio, social media outreach, website, and/or email lists
  • Think through teaching ethics such as how and when to adjust and assist, boundaries, authentic marketing, and more
  • Creating on-going experiences to learn
  • Aligning with the work that inspires
  • Gain 15+ hours of Yoga Alliance Continuing Education credits with a YACEP E-RYT Continuing Education provider

If you’re in the Philadelphia-area and we can smoothly coordinate schedules, we’ll meet primarily in person! If you’re outside of this area we’ll coordinate GoogleChat sessions to work together.

*If you live outside of the Philadelphia-area you’ll record your classes and email me audio or video files to review. Our meetings will occur over GoogleChat.

A little postscript! When this program came to me in a flash I also saw that the image was a tarot card with a mirror-- an ancient way of finding our own reflection and in it, clarity. It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Maggie Martin for the design! I commissioned the work, she gave me clear timelines, options, and edits to bring this idea into reality. I love giving the work visual clarity and am so grateful to work with artists towards those ends!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Live Slow

I read a recent article comparing a simple life to a “mediocre” life. The author’s definition of “mediocre” seemed to be a life without striving and with greater, softer, more attainable pleasures like being with one’s family and enjoying it.

I understand how simple living feels mediocre to many of us individually. We get a lot of messaging to strive and dream and do. We all feel the weight of that push. Some of us use that pressure and let it align us with what we’re meant to do and create. I think some of us are here to be. Messaging to strive and do can feel like ulcerous pressure that’s not aligned with our purpose. That always feels challenging.

We live seasonally. We may have seasons of action. Ideally, there would be some seasons where we move more slowly. Some of us might extend that pace from season to the expanse of our life. 

I think the undiscussed aspect of much striving is a path of destruction left behind. When we’re busy achieving goals it’s highly likely we can’t sufficiently tend relationships. We’ll devour resources, burn gas, buy quick food while out, and consume technology to spread our work. Often, striving involves reaching for higher rungs in institutions and structures that we don’t even find to be equitable or just. 

Slow, simple living is more often in balance with our environments. There’s time to grow your own food. There are enough hours to cook it. There’s patience to be present with the humans in our midst. 

Most of us can think of central figures in our life who shored up some internal world and these were often those who were living slowly— our grandparents, a teacher, or a neighbor. I think they’re often elders because they are the people in the season of living more slowly and therefore have the time and attention to give us when we greatly need what they offer.
Most people throughout time and geography have lived slower and more simply within the confines of their environment. There are limits and frustrations. The pace doesn’t always align with an inner drive. But sometimes it does. And not apologizing for that alignment but rather sinking in fully, can be a wise and important counterweight to the overwhelming pressure of this moment to do and be more. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The cabin came in

I've chased cabins these past few years. One room spaces on the creek's edge, tiny homes on farms, converted barns by grazing sheep. I lit fires. Sat in a river-house-boat watching a muskrat swim. Screened in porches. Pecan pie. Ambling hours.

Every time I arrive, I see that I no longer have cell reception and grin. I unpack a stack of novels and books of poetry. I brew coffee. Light slides geometrically through pines. A veil is lifted in my imagination. There's a spark of a story and I grab a pen. Hours slide away, longer and leaner than I normally know them. I run through them but there's no rush, just open space.

I wonder, every time, could I live like this?

I come home and it stays for a bit. The cashier tells me I'm "friendly" because I still carry a whiff of a long evening watching fireflies. I'm unencumbered by the momentum of home. But, eventually, it gets me. And I get it. I like the pace and possibilities for anonymity. I like endless coffee shops to hide in and classes to take. I sign up for stuff, begin projects, and clutter my desk.

And then it gets to be too much and I run away to a cabin in the country.

Something odd happened this past week. The cabin came in.

Over these last two years I shed a lot. A sort of unimaginable lot. In the process, I fought plenty. I raged and grieved. Projects, ideas, relationships, identities all came undone.

It's done now. I feel that and know. It's done.

After the storm, I felt space. Open, undefined space.

And that's a bit terrifying.

My old habits have been chomping at the bit. I liken it to an empty living room. There's some impulse urging you to buy a sofa! Any sofa! Just put something in there, dammit!

But I knew that's habit. That's reflex. It's not intention.

So I've waited. In the empty room.

The space has felt deafening. It's felt a bit frightening. I'm so used to being set on my path, moving forward one step at a time. Where is a path in an empty room? Shouldn't I just do something? Anything?

But a smaller, wiser part said, "wait."

I've waited. I decided the answer is "no" until it is a clearly lit, brightly felt, undeniable "yes." And the undeniable yes hadn't yet arrived, so I've waited in the empty room. I've said "no" to many sofas.

Finally, last week, I got sick. And surrounding being sick for a few days were endless March nor'easters. Even when I would have rejoined the world around me, I couldn't. Roads were closed. Everything was canceled.

Initially, panic. I am home alone in a metaphoric empty room. What am I doing? Don't I have to decide it?

And I know that frenetic reaction is the devil. So I waited. I decided the job was to heal and rest because those were the opportunities in front of me. I got lots of sleep, read novels, and tended to my own health. And it returned fully.

Something else began to take shape in those open hours too-- that feeling. The phone didn't ring. I had stacks of novels. I watched the snow fall.

The cabin came into my house.

I looked at the ceiling and it looked like my ceiling but it looked softer and sweeter. It looked like my ceiling but not the one I have to make sure to sweep and repaint and tend, but like soft points of focus during day dream. It looked like the ceilings in the cabins. The ones I'm not responsible for.

I realized that the cabin could live in here. I can live in the cabin. Even in the midst of my life. My life has its own pace and momentum, but I have some say here too.

I always wondered what the ingredients would be to take that open, sunlit cabin feeling into my daily life. I'm starting to wrap my head around it-- it's time. It's open, unencumbered time. And not being afraid of that time. Being within the open space.

That's the cabin.

No wonder I couldn't do this on my own. I had no frame of reference for bringing the softer space into what I know. I'm good at making it hard and defined. There's a level of surrender in allowing something to grow.

I don't know if I'll be able to sustain this and I'll say that outright. But I intend to try. At the very least, when I find myself with a gaping calendar and the predictions for a couple of storms, I won't fight it. There's peace in there.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Hands full of Time

Over the last few days, successive nor'easters and a bug kept me home. I suddenly had ample amounts of something that often feels scarce-- time. It freaked me out a little bit. Having it, in some weird way, almost felt like a failure. If I worked harder or was more successful, I wouldn't have this thing we all crave.

I know that thought is the devil so I tried to settle into it. I visited my list of things to get to "when I had time." Books I'd meant to read. Preparation I could do for upcoming workshops. Using therapy balls to roll out my feet and hips.

I did that stuff and I also took great care of my health. I ate so much raw fruits and vegetables. To me, a pear is a commitment! You have to sit down and see that thing through! I lived in the ways I always intend to-- some ginger tea first thing, a couple of yoga stretches, a tangerine and banana, reading a chapter. My days meandered and yet looking back, I got to a fair amount.

My body and its health were tended to with the care I give my work.

That's crazy.

I'm OK listing the projects and deadlines I need to get to in my day planner because I get compensated and I get attention for their completion. I like those things. Both are connected to how I view my worth. And, practically speaking, they're necessary. I need income to stay sheltered and fed.

I'm pretty attentive to my health. I'm a yoga teacher for chrissakes. And I absolutely do have daily rituals of movement, diet, and rest to keep my health balanced. However, that attention is nowhere near as great as the attention I feel my work deserves. Work feels important and justified. I'm allowed to be busy with it. Doing so, I get to join the masses of overwhelmed. We get to commiserate together. We get to feel important and valuable together. I'm totally a part of it.

I've recognized this value-as-doing and tried to at least pause it and create some counter-weights. I think by and large, I've found some means that help me like having one day a week offline to stave off the constant stimulus of the internet.

But how weird. We collectively decide our work is justified. Our bodies, our lives, indulgent.

And that is completely possible. We could all succumb to endless rituals of health that amount to navel gazing and stop creating together. Again, balance.

These past few days I had abundant time. I used it to brew ginger teas, juice vegetables, eat raw foods, and rest, and all the things that restored my health fully. I listened to some of my favorite Alt-Country-- the stuff I tend to listen to on my favorite mountain sojourns. I saw a pattern there too-- I listen to that stuff when there's open road and open sky. When everything opens up.

My time and my life had opened up. I had that cabin in the mountains sense in my own suburban home. That felt great and again, highly unusual. In the rural south I pace myself to my environment and it feels delicious-- a long sip of iced tea. Here, outside of Philadelphia, I felt other than the environment and it gave me that same nervousness. If I was successful and on-the-path, I should feel much more rushed and harried. Something must be wrong.

I tried to slow it again. Part of why Kevin and I are growing a food forest in our suburban backyard is to remind ourselves that you can live intentionally wherever you are. I want to leave as many spaces as wild as possible so I'm staying with the humans in population density. But I can still carve out my little bit of country.

The country, rural life that feeds my creativity, came in slowly as my schedule opened up. They live together, that ambling mind and slowly tended stew. The projects I took on like food prepping lots of roasted vegetables and a long, hot soak with epsom salts and essential oils took much more time than I usually have in the window here or there between a class or before a meeting with Officiating clients. I shoveled the walk and talked to my neighbor. I didn't have anywhere else to be. I got groceries before the storm and let someone else in line ahead of me. I wasn't in a hurry.

It's a way of being I can rarely connect to here. I don't know what it would look like to maintain because it's against the grain and against the current. But I know it feels well-rested, settled, well-fed, quietly moved, and gentle. There's a current and a rumbling, there's a responsiveness if needed. But there's no rush.

I feel my history in these moments. This is how my grandmothers lived. They tended their homes, prepared things, and had time to read novels in the afternoon. I've thought recently about how all of my women ancestors were artists-- my paternal grandmother a vocalist and pianist, my maternal grandmother wrote, crocheted, refinished and restored antiques, and painted detailed china. They created so much with the time in their hands.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sitting is the devil

I tried my hardest, but whatever bug is going around got me. I've seen this thing hit a few people and observed a trend: those who tried to push through suffered a prolonged bout. Those who just rested and let the thing run it's course recovered more quickly and completely.

I surrendered.

Through a host of weird circumstances, I actually found myself with a few days to just rest. It hasn't been great because I haven't felt great but I am grateful that I'm able to take time and heal when needed. As I've recovered my body felt weird. Not, sick and sore weird but like, immobile sore. While sick I primarily laid down or sat. My body isn't so accustomed to this. Teaching yoga means a lot of moving around. I'm literally walking to and from teaching appointments in addition to moving when teaching. I purposefully don't practice alongside my students because I see teaching and practicing as two fundamentally distinct activities. I prioritize my own practice and make sure to be a student at a yoga class several times a week. When I teach, I teach. I observe the students in my class, if something I'm verbally instructing is unclear, I demonstrate it or demonstrate a piece of the pose, and I'm continuously assisting. I've found that the posture I'm in most often when teaching is a squat. Which is great. Super healthy. And my squat is improving in time. I'm finding more hip mobility, ankle mobility, and length in my spine.

After being sick, my low back hurts. My low back very rarely hurts. I realized it's from sitting too much!

Sitting is the devil!

Thankfully, as a yoga teacher, I have some tricks up my sleeve. I'm still home due to a similar host of circumstances, still staying pretty quiet and preserving my energy, but I am doing prep work for upcoming facilitations. I laid out my yoga mat, a nice thick blanket over top, and did yin. I added my yoga tune up balls (a lovely gift from dear Rachel Cope!). I rolled out my feet while I stood reading. I laid on heart bench and put the balls under my glutes. I rolled out the front, sides, and backs of my hips. I laid down and placed the balls under my upper back and shoulders where I could roll those tight areas as well.

After about an hour or more rolling and reading, I got up to fix myself an espresso. I feel so much better.

And simultaneously so sad for those who don't know how to care for themselves.

I hear complaints of lower back pain continuously. It's not one of my personal afflictions so I can't commiserate, but I can offer suggestions towards alleviation.

I'm increasingly grateful for the work that I've chosen and how it allows me to structure my life. Convenience is the devil! I've noticed it these past few days as I've still had to trudge outside to retrieve clothes that were drying on the line. I didn't want to. I grumbled as I didn't feel well. And then, getting outside for a bit made me feel much, much better. The fresh air was incredibly restoring.

I'm trying to remind myself of this continuously because I want convenience. I want a remote starter for my car. I want to sit and relax.

And yet, when I do just sit, it hurts.

Humans aren't meant for that. We're meant to move. Even when we're under the weather. Movement relieves us.

Seen on a run through Philly. I took this run super reluctantly just prior to getting sick. I didn't regret the movement. It showed me this frame of sweetness.