Gratitude Gets Me Through

Gratitude gets me through.

I’m now old enough to say: I’ve been through some ups and downs in life. Some higher ups and some lower downs than I had expected to experience. And an attitude of gratitude ALWAYS gets me through.

For that reason, I take my gratitude practice seriously.

To find the start, I have to dig back to the late 90’s. This was before gratitude was trendy. Before it was written on t-shirts and splattered on Facebook in a sparkle of unicorns. And it was certainly before the idea of ‘privilege’ made gratitude suspiciously and exclusively a buzz word for the upper-middle class, college educated etc., etc. (We know who we are.)

I was newly separated with two little kids. My life was sad and angry and very messy as transitions can be. There was a free new age magazine offered in the Cleveland area that provided a glimpse of goodness and offered a flicker of light into my dark. I picked it up at Marcs every month. In that rag, there was a short story. And if you wrote it, I apologize. I don’t know the author. It went something like this…

Long ago and far away there was a wise sage by the name of Sono. Although Sono lived high on a mountain top, she was known by the villagers to be a wise and a powerful healer. Folks traveled from afar to seek her blessing and counsel. And to each, she gave the same advice. “Repeat this mantra daily: Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.” Realizing that everyone received the same advice, many people grumbled and complained. But those who took Sono’s advice to heart and practiced the mantra received many blessings, were free from affliction and found joy beyond their expectations.

I cut the story out of the magazine and tacked the little piece of paper to my bulletin board. I read it every day. I figured that since I didn’t even have to climb the mountain to get the advice, it might be worth a try. I repeated the mantra: Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.

What started as an experiment has over the years become a committed practice. 

Gratitude became my go-to, my life raft, my oxygen, my saving grace…and sometimes my desperate plea for help.

Here are a few snapshots:

I was carrying my kids into a friend’s house after a long day at work.  We had come for dinner but my exhaustion laced my delight with regret. Snowsuits, boots and grumpy weighed them heavy and awkward in my arms. State of being: overwhelmed. As I stepped around the car, something caught my attention and I stopped. A little grey mouse scampering across the snow. I could see that he left the tiniest little mouse footprints in the snow. Precious. I stood speechless and spellbound. No longer feeling my daughter sliding from my arms, my heart opened. Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever. Gratitude saved the day.

The kids and I had driven south for a camping trip. We drove down in my trusty little Chevy Malibu. The one who had given us its best years and now offered no air conditioning and, we would soon learn, scant radiator. The car died in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly in Buford, South Carolina with fluid running from its belly and steam from its chest. State of being: despair. (Me, not the car.) After hiring a local man to fix the car and having the radiator burst (yes) a second time, the kids and I found ourselves hanging out at the local Chevy dealer with no recourse but to purchase a new used car in order to return home. After a long, tiring and pricey day, we pulled out of the dealership in our new car with the AC blasting. I saw my trusty old Malibu in the rear view mirror. I was grateful for its service and yet also grateful to be driving home safe and secure in its replacement. Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever. Gratitude is the blessing within a blessing.

And this happened one day not long after leaving my full-time job. You know, the ‘real’ job with benefits and retirement. The job that I left to teach yoga…no benefits, no retirement…and at this point, no paycheck. State of being: fear. Little else to do, I stopped to take some fresh air at the park. I gripped my pen in one hand and my journal in the other hand. I forced myself to write a list of ten things for which I felt gratitude. One…two…three…written in black and white but feeling nothing. Four…five…six….okay, nice. Seven…eight…nine…and thank you! By ten…Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever. Gratitude for the win!

Over the years, I’ve experimented and I’ve practiced. And I’m convinced. Gratitude gets me through.

Now, to be fair, I will say this: the practice of gratitude is a privilege. It’s a privilege to live in a day and age when I’m awake to the idea that my attitude can influence my experiences. It’s a privilege to understand that a practice such as gratitude can have a meaningful impact on my life. And, through my awareness and my practice of gratitude, I honor my blessings.  

Looking ahead at another holiday season, I’m quite certain that I will experience the full array of holiday-ness. It will be merry and bright. It will be busy and stressful. I will feel willing and I will feel defeated. Grief, disappointment, bitterness, delight, love and joy are all likely to make an appearance. And I’ll know exactly what to say: Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.

There’s no need to climb the mountain. Simply take Sono’s advice.

Experiment. Practice. Gratitude will get you through.

The Colors of Fall

I love the colors of fall. They take me back. 

They take me back to other times and places, to other ages and stages, to other roles and responsibilities with all with the challenges and blessings that is my life.

Most recently, the colors of fall have reminded me of the days when I was teaching preschool special education in the urban public schools. Young children love the colors of fall too. And, they love the crunch of the leaves, and the scurry of the squirrels, and the search for acorns, and the carving of pumpkins. But most of all, they love the masks and costumes of the upcoming holiday of Halloween!  

In the falls of my past, I made Halloween masks. A lot of them. The simplest of these were made of paper plates. I have cut paper plates with two eye holes and one nose flap by the hundreds- nay, thousands. Weekends in October were spent cutting a pile of paper plates that the children, armed with crayons, would transform into cats and dogs, tigers and dinosaurs, mommies and Bob the Builders, and a plethora of Disney princesses. The masks changed day by day as the children explored and expressed through their imaginations a limitless number of characters, personalities, roles and ways of being in the world.   

I loved watching them. And I loved playing my role as teacher in their journey to self-discovery.

Coincidentally, I first walked into a yoga studio during this period of my life. Also in the fall. And one of these very first classes had quite an impact on my journey to self-discovery.

After greeting the class and directing us to child's pose, the yoga teacher suggested that we "take off our masks." She continued to talk about the masks we wear in our lives. The roles that we take on in different situations. The personalities we express. And how our various ways of being in the world, functional or not, are simply masks. Some we are conscious of but many we wear unaware.

How refreshing it was for me to feel the tight muscles of my face relax. What a relief it was to feel the mask of ‘teacher’ slide off my face after a long day. Perhaps you know the feeling.

My fascination with masks was apparently legit. When I got home that evening, I walked into my living room and stopped dead in my tracks. On the wall hung a collection of wooden masks. I had hung them there myself. At the time global décor was popular and I had collected masks from my travels to Guatemala. Nonetheless, after the yoga teacher’s comments, I was startled to see masks hung so prominently in my home.

I walked across the living room and took each of the masks off the wall. I set them on the floor in a neat and tidy row. I stood back and looked at them. And I asked:

·         Why am I so fascinated with masks?

·         Could my interest in masks be related to the masks that I wear?

·         Exactly what masks do I wear?

·         Would I be better off removing one or two…or all of them?

Thus began a study of and appreciation for my masks.

The mask of mother. The mask of daughter. The mask of teacher. The mask of athlete and cyclist. The mask of 'yogi’. The mask of ‘always late’. The mask of ‘sooo busy’. The mask of ‘people pleaser’. The mask of ‘I can do it all myself’.  The mask of ‘my life is a train wreck’. The mask of ‘I’m there for you’. The mask of ‘nasty ex-wife’.  The list is long.

Most of these masks were chosen by me. Fair enough. Some, however, were not. Some are imposed upon me by other people. Some are there by default. And I was wearing all of them.

But this what I had learned in preschool: Masks are not really ME. And masks can be changed.

I can get out my paper plates and crayons and make a different mask. I can throw away the masks I’m done with and make a new one. I can try on… play with... as many masks as my imagination can create!

If you’re curious about the masks you wear, reflect on your life beyond just the mask. Consider the roles you play in life as if you were a character on-stage in a theatrical production. What costume do you wear? Who are the key players? What’s the theme song? The title of the story? Look for patterns. What things work for you? What things no longer serve you? Would it be helpful to edit the story?

And if you’d like to remove your masks, consider a little face yoga. Face yoga claims to strengthen and tone the muscles of the face for a more youthful look. However, it is equally effective at releasing the stress and tension in the face. As we relax, we relieve the holding patterns (aka masks) of the face.

Try these simple moves:

·         Release the strain across the forehead by forming both hands into fists. Place the flats of your index and middle fingers at the center of your forehead. Using gentle pressure, drag the knuckles out from center across the forehead to the temples. Repeat three time. Sit quietly with eyes closed to experience the relaxation across the forehead and through the eye sockets.

·         Release the tension through the cheeks by wrapping the lips up and over the teeth. Form an O with the mouth and then form a smile with the mouth. Move back and forth between these two positions while keeping the lips wrapped in front of the teeth. Finish by lifting the chin and making a chewing motion a few times. Release and breathe. Feel the flush as tension releases from the cheeks and jaw.

·         This one is unusual but it works. Gently tug on your ears. First give three tugs to the ear lobes pulling downwards. Then give three tugs to the back of the ear flap by pulling backwards. Finally give three tugs to the top of the ear by pulling upwards. Sit in stillness and notice that there is a flush through the face as the tension releases.

And remember, everybody wears masks. We are all alike in this way. Consider the masks those around you wear. Perhaps some you assign to them. Offer compassion and forgiveness to those who don’t practice yoga or lack self-awareness. After all, we are all doing the best we can.

I extend my most sincere blessings as you enjoy the colors of fall…and the leaves, the squirrels, the acorns, the pumpkins…and the masks.

Still Learning

I am still learning.

I love that feeling…the feeling of ‘still learning’.

Like sitting in class on the first day of school and looking through the syllabus at all that will be discovered. Like stepping onto my mat for a power yoga class and feeling forgotten muscles that need awakening. Like looking at a situation with clarity and confidence then hearing a comment or reading an email and seeing that there is new information that enhances my understanding. Like meeting someone new and noticing that they are kind and compassionate in ways I have yet to master. It’s liberating to grow beyond myself in these small ways.

And that’s why I love to teach. Sure, I know some stuff and it feels good to share what I know with folks. But, mostly I teach because I love learning.

Plus I find myself constantly bumping up against what I don’t know. The size of what I don’t know far exceeds the size of what I know.

The challenge is accessing that not-knowing mind set. Finding a beginner’s mind is not easy. Because even though I know that I don’t know it all, I’ve got an inner ‘know it all’ that would love to run my show. However, this is what I do know:

When I find myself in that place of not-knowing, I’m fully present, inspired and alive.

I’m living the path of the seeker that way. There is a story that has been passed from yogi to yogi over many, many years. Perhaps you've heard it. It goes like this: 

The seeker left home and traveled far and long. He arrived at the door of the guru and knocked. The guru answered the door and heard the seeker’s request. “Please, sir. I’ve traveled far. I’ve studied the texts. I’ve learned from the masters of my community. Accept me as your student. “  

The guru welcomed the aspiring student, sat with him and set to pour him a cup of tea. The seeker told of his studies all the while watching the guru pour the tea. The tea rose to the rim of the tea cup. The tea spilled over the rim, filled the saucer and flowed onto the table. At yet, the guru continued pouring.

Finally, the seeker interrupted, “Whoa! What are you doing? The cup is past full!” The guru relied, “As are you, my friend. You come her wanting to learn from me but it is clear that your cup is already full. One must empty ones cup in order to learn. How might I teach you if your head is already so full of knowledge? Perhaps you come back when your cup is empty.” 

It’s not easy to empty one's tea cup. But recently, I was blessed with such an experience.

I had spent the weekend in another city for a family celebration. And it was a celebration! The fun and festivities definitely took a toll on me. The following morning, I was grateful to find a yoga class. I arrived super early and had time on my mat to settle. In the quiet, I was able to observe the folks coming into the studio and getting themselves set up.

Clearly, this was a community. The gals all knew each other. I assumed many of them to be teachers as the conversation was full of ‘my class on Tuesday night’ and ‘practice with me’ and ‘when are you teaching?’ and ‘it’s been crazy’. There was surely a little self-importance. Their tea cups were full!

Now I'll admit. If it had been my home studio, I would have been a part of the same dialogue. I, too, am full of knowing.

During the practice that morning, I struggled with the out-of-whack-ness from travel and celebration. I felt disconnected from my typical practice.

My body was tight. I had lost my habitual asana shapes. I had to listen to my body and work the shapes accordingly. I assembled warrior I one leg and one arm at a time. Same with warrior II…and so on.  And this teacher, she was new to me. I worked mentally to trust her cues and to stay with her rather than insisting on my own ways.

Even as I attempted to surrender, there were uncomfortable moments and times of downright ‘wrong-ness’. It was unnerving to be so out-of-sorts. It’s not easy to find that place of not-knowing.

And then, I felt it! The shift in perspective had emptied my cup. I felt the magic of beginner’s mind.

In my peripheral vision, I noticed that the teachers who were practicing around me were full of personality in their movements. Hands shaped lovely but dramatic like dancers and swirling arms taking on extra fancy expressions. These are all of the things I usually do when I’m practicing and feeling fine. It’s an expression of love for the practice really. It’s developed over years of showing up and enjoying the practice.

However, practicing like an expert is not beginner’s mind. And I was so deep in beginner’s mind that I’d lost the personality. There was a freshness and a realness to my experience. I was learning.  

In that moment, I was blessed with full presence and vitality. It was inspiring. 

If you’d like to access that blessing and become a learner and a seeker, consider the following:

  • I’m always surprised to hear people say that they only practice with this teacher or at that studio. Try something new! Step into a new studio, try a new teacher AND take a different style of yoga…like yin yoga or buti yoga.
  • Consider yoga teacher training. Yoga teacher training is a wonderful way to learn more about the history, philosophy and physicality of yoga. It’s a transformative journey guaranteed to enhance your relationship with yourself. Plus, you will gain a positive support system of like-minded people. Even if you never intend to teach….it’s a worthwhile experience.
  • If you are a yoga teacher, expand your horizons! Taking an advanced teacher training program (or even a weekend immersion) undoubtedly will bump up your game. I often hear teachers complain that additional training is too expensive when teaching yoga pays so little. However, once you invest your time, energy and intention into being an exceptional yoga teacher, your professional opportunities increase.  Your sense of self as a yoga teacher expands. Your offerings improve in quality. And through a variety of avenues (some unexpected), the financial investment returns.
  • This one is BIG! If you really want to empty your cup, take a retreat! There is no better way to drain the brain, rejuvenate the body and stimulate enthusiasm for a healthy, yogic lifestyle than getting away for retreat. When we get out of our gravitational set-point, we see things differently. We can release the trapped past and old habits. We find fresh insight and a burst of energy. Daily yoga, a little sunshine and healthy food…maybe even a massage! You will certainly go home as your best self.

Look for little ways or big ways, but do something back-to-school this September. Empty your tea cup. Live life still learning.

The Daydreams of Summer

These long summer days have me daydreaming. And I believe in daydreams.    

My life is full of activities and experiences that all began with a daydream. The most recent example is last week’s Elevate Akron at Lock 3. Perhaps you were one of the nearly 3000 yogis who showed up to breathe and move and connect and celebrate. Elevate Akron is an event that started as a daydream. Just a little tickle of an idea. And now look!

That’s the most recent example but certainly not the only example. My advanced yoga teacher training program, YOGAkron 108: School of Yoga, started as a daydream. The opportunity to present at The Sedona Yoga Festival started as a daydream. The Full Moon Rainforest Retreat in Costa Rica that I led with my friend Maria Santoferraro was first a daydream. The word boxes that I share with my yoga classes and offer on my website: daydream. I could travel back in time year after year and name blessing after blessing, experience after experience that began as a whisper of an idea. All were created from a simple summertime muse.  

And to be truthful, each of these daydreams were embedded in the fog of doubt and lack. Honestly. Each idea, each desire I’ve had in my life has been accompanied by fears and insecurities. I’m sure some are familiar to you.

They sound like this:

“Yeah, right! I wish!”

“I don’t have the money for that.”

“And when would I get that done?!”

“Well, now is just not the time.”

“I would need {blah, blah} and that’s not happenin’!”

“Maybe when the kids are older.”

I could share more, but thoughts of scarcity, doubt, fear, lack, and limit are a heavy load. And they suck the life out of daydreams. Daydreams need a friendly welcome, some sunshine, some fresh air and a little space. That’s why summer is such a great time for them. In the summer, we’ve got that stuff!

We’ve got the stuff, but –this is the important part - we have to make the choice. I’ve learned that the choice is mine. Always mine. I can fly. I can soar. I can sit in the nest. I decide.

In a yoga class I recently taught, I offered a balancing sequence: three variations of garudasana/eagle asana. First, we wrapped up the familiar eagle pose. Took a few breaths. Then, moved to awkward eagle pose. We unwrapped the leg and touched the knee to the back of the calf of the standing leg. (You’ve got to dip the bum and bend the standing leg to get that one.) After a few breaths, we opened it all up for soaring eagle. To soar, the standing leg straightens and the wrapped leg extends way out to the side with foot flexed.  The arms are wide open, palms up, shoulders down and the heart lifts. Depending on your breath, you can fly or….you can soar! Of course, if you prefer, you can opt out. Just sit in the nest.

That was fun but it’s not the most interesting part of the story. The most interesting part of the story happened later that afternoon as I walked my dog. My neighbor was outside and I stopped to chat. He enjoys wildlife and camping and telling stories. He told me a story from his long ago days. Imagine my surprise: a story about eagles! Hmm.

He was once cabin camping on a lake out west, when he woke to the sounds of squawking on the patio deck. He looked out of the window to see that the eagles who nested across the lake were on the terrace. The mama and two babies. Seriously. Three eagles were sitting right there on his deck!

Apparently the mama was teaching the babies to fly. And the babies were drooping and whining and giving the mama such a hard time. Despite the fact that they stood nearly three feet tall, they were hunched and defeated by the effort of flying. And the mama, who was only a few inches taller, was all puffed up. She was so determined to get them flying. She was squawking and screaming at them. I smiled and laughed at the thought of this! How crazy and delightful!

As you’d expect, the mama encouraged and the babies flew. The whole family of eagles returned safely to their nest. And it would only be a day or two until my neighbor saw the three of them soaring high above the lake loving the blue sky.

Now, we all know eagles can fly. They are a grand bird that can not only fly but SOAR! It’s just who they are. No failed eagles…all eagles leave the nest.  All those babies needed to do was to be themselves. They were born to soar!

And so are we. You and I are soar-ers! All we need to do is brush away the fog and fear. Release the thoughts of scarcity and lack. Embrace the possibility and the potential. Make the choice. And soar ourselves right into our daydreams!

Just like mama eagle, I’m here to remind you and support you. Please don’t spend your life hanging out in the nest.

Here are few ideas to get you started:

Journal your daydreams. Get them on paper where you can see them. Read them aloud so you can hear them.

Practice the eagle sequence I’ve offered. Notice what if feels like to be tight in the bind. To be ‘in the nest.’ Then move to awkward eagle and feel the uncertainty of that attempt. If it feels awkward, you are doing it right. Then open up and soar. Breathe lots of life into your shape and fly high! Let that fantastic feeling fuel your daydreams.

You can fly with me: Align to Shine Day Retreat at Crown Point Ecology Center in September. Spend the day dreaming, organizing and preparing for possibility!   

And if you’re really looking to soar….join me in Costa Rica in March of 2018 for the Align to Shine Jungle Discovery Retreat. Your week will be packed with exciting experiences of adventure and transformation!

Here’s to the daydreams of summer!

Dad's List

This is all you need: Needle nose pliers, Bungie cords, WD40, Duct tape.

According to my dad, this is all you need to fix sh** in life.

To be honest, I’m a breaker. I break things. Necklaces, eye glasses, kitchen sinks, cars. Pretty much anything is eligible for breaking in my presence. To be fair, I’m a super nice girl. I care. I go slow and I be gentle. But I also tug and drop and crash and bang. Basically, me being me results in broken things.

Dad, however, is a fixer. He can fix anything. Necklaces, eye glasses, kitchen sinks, cars. Pretty much anything that I break, Dad can fix. He is just a born fixer! I spent my developmental years watching Dad fix, asking Dad to fix, trying to help Dad fix, holding the flashlight while Dad fixed. I wanted nothing more than to learn from Dad. How do you fix?

 Finally, it became my turn to adult. And I found myself face-to-face with Dad’s shoes. As a single mom and owner of an older home, the stakes were high. It was up to me alone. Fix it or die!

Seriously, I know you’re cheering for me here. “Go, Tracy! You can do it! You can fix it!!”

Well, I dug down deep and took it one step at a time. Walk like Dad. Talk like Dad. Fix like Dad. And over the years, Dad’s list has served me well.

Needle nose pliers: These little loves are the pliers with the long narrow nose-like shape to them. I like a small pair that fit my hand. They are exactly what I need for the little round rings on earrings and necklaces that get tugged causing my jewelry to fall apart. These are also handy for grasping tea lights and pulling them out of the candle holders. And when I need to stab a hole in something like the seal on the top of my coconut oil, these are what I grab. I’ve also used them to pull hair out of the tub drain but that’s kind of yukky and not something on which I want to elaborate.

Bungie chords: I must say, bungie cords are super fun. Kind of like shoes, they come in all kinds of colors and lengths and strengths and knobs on the ends or hooks on the ends. I am proud to say that I have become quite proficient at determining the best bungie for the job. I use them for strapping the kid’s jackets onto my backpack when we are hiking, for strapping the trunk down when it’s packed with bales of hay, corn stalks and pumpkins, for securing the tarp over the lawn furniture for winter storage and for strapping the screen door shut when the spring breaks and the wind blows. They also make a great house warming gift! Everyone loves bungie cords.

WD40: Since this is a bit of a ‘tell all’, I’ll share my deepest inner truth here. I just love the ways WD40 smells. And I love that you can buy it in bulk at Sam’s Club. I mean, that’s just cool. WD40 is great for all kinds of squeaking and sticking. And it’s the best stuff ever for keeping your bike chain in order. (Now I know there are those who say not, but I have used it for years to clean and lube my bike chain and I swear…the best!) The creaky car door. The chains on the kids swing set. The plumbing that I couldn’t get loosened. And, since grease gets out grease, a little squirt of WD40 on my oil-stained shirt, add a drip of detergent and Voila! Good as new!

Duct tape: Now you all know duct tape. But seriously, back in the day we didn’t have all the fancy patterns and prints. A gal’s only option was the plain jane grey tape. Count your blessings, friends. Regardless, my home is never without a healthy roll of duct tape. I wouldn’t risk running out. I’ve used duct tape for countless jobs as you likely have. But I do have one super-success story: the kids and I were driving south for a little camping trip when, in Charleston, South Carolina, the car’s radiator fill reservoir cracked spewing water all over the place. Duct tape to the rescue! I taped up the hole all neat and tidy. And on we traveled. Never go camping without it!

Even though, thanks to Dad’s list, I have fixed a few things, I know the truth. All the needle nose pliers, bungie cords, WD40 and duct tape in the world will not make my feet fit Dad’s shoes. He is the master of all tools and cords and oils and tapes. He is the supreme fixer of all I break. I’m blessed by his being my dad over and over again.

And he knows first aide…but that’s another story…

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Love you!

Summer is All Yang

I know you feel it. As soon as the cold, damp cloudiness cleared and the warm sun made its appearance, our eyes are wide open and our bodies are full on ready to take on the season!

While winter is the stillness, the allowing, the releasing, the yin, summer is the yang. Yang is action and engagement. Yang is going out and doing it…the run, the yard work, the picnic, the festival.

And we love it!

In fact, our society encourages yang. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Stronger, faster, stronger, faster. Until whoops!  All too easily, we find ourselves tight, tired and tense. Dehydrated from the run, sore from the yard work, bloated from the picnic, and all yang-ed out from the festival. 

So how can we step into the fun of summer without overdoing and overextending? Is it possible to create a yang and yin partnership this summer that provides a healthy, satisfying and balanced experience?

Let’s take it to the mat:

The yang portions of my yoga practice are the sun salutes, the strength of the warriors, the balancing on one foot and the splitting open of a backbend. Certainly these aspects are yang: engagement, action, full of fire and sometimes fierce.  

In chair pose, I can feel the yang in the burning of my legs. In this full-on yang moment, the practice is to balance the yang with a little yin by focusing on the ease of the jaw, by relaxing through the shoulders and by softening around the heart as I breathe.

Conversely the yin portions of my yoga practice are floor poses and longer holds. The surrender of half pigeon or frog. The release and rinse of a supine twist. The settling in of thread needle. The letting go of legs up the wall. These asanas target the shoulders, hips and spinal line. And, because the asanas are held for a duration, the muscles can relax and lengthen which allows the connective tissue to receive positive stress (the short version of the story). 

And yet, you know that half pigeon pose benefits from some yang engagement in order to organize the hips into optimal alignment for the deepening stretch.  There’s always a little yang in relationship to the yin.

Furthermore, as a whole, the yin asanas at the end of the practice provide a restful contrast to the earlier active (even athletic) yang portion of the practice. The yin experience allows the nervous system to settle into rest and digest mode which is supportive of immune health, counters the impact of stress, and promotes a sense of overall wellbeing.

The ability to integrate our yang and yin expressions is a skill that brings balance to our entire lives. Living a little yin and we yang and using a little yang to help us yin is key to enjoying ourselves in all seasons. On or off the mat this balanced engagement is optimal. 

Here’s a story to illustrate what I mean:

My son went back country skiing last weekend. It’s one of his favorite adventures. He has special skis for this. They are wider and shorter than typical skis. And they come with a sleeve. He drives to the bottom of the mountain, loads himself with his gear, puts the sleeves on his skis and hikes up the mountain. Last weekend it was Mount Whitney.

The sleeves on his skis prevent him from sliding backwards as he climbs. And the shape of the ski acts as a snow shoe preventing him from falling through the snow. (Did someone say ‘snow’?) Nonetheless, it’s hard work climbing up the mountain. It’s definitely yang. It takes action and effort and intention.

Once he gets to the top of the mountain, he enjoys the view, heats some food, pops open his tent and spends the night. The next morning he removes the sleeves from his skis, straps his gear on and skis down the mountain. The ride down is letting go and allowing. All yin. He just slides down the mountain on his snazzy skis.

When he gets to the bottom, he loads the car and drives home. A little tired but happy, relaxed and satisfied.

After his trip, I spoke to him on the phone. And I asked him, “Which do you like best? Climbing up or skiing down?” It was a good question because in his answer I could hear all of the things he noticed and discovered and learned. He told me about the yang of climbing. It was hard work that tested his strength. There were times when he stopped to rest (yin). But it was a great way to spend the day and brought a sense of accomplishment. He told me about the view from the top and how it touched his heart and brought tears to his eyes. Then he talked about the yin of skiing down the mountain. The skiing was easier but at first it was tough. He fell. And getting back up, finding his skis, reorganizing his gear was a lot of work (yang). After that, it was all downhill….smooth skiing. He felt excited and it was over too quickly! He shared his story with appreciation for each aspect of the experience.

And I thought, “Hmm. Integrating yang and yin. In yoga. In life.”

So, enjoy the summer. Yang it all up and stuff!

But integrate a little yin…in your practice, your run, your yard work, your festival...your life!

 

All the Feels for Spring

To be honest, we got off easy on the April showers and most of us have dug right into the May flower-ing. Around here, we appreciate spring. No doubt. Her colors are nourishing for the eyes and her sounds are welcomed by our ears.  She affords a deep breath of fresh.  But I think I appreciate her the most for the sense of ‘awe’ that she inspires.

As the winter weather breaks and the clouds and mud of early spring clear, Mother Nature offers an opportunity for wonder and awe. It’s as if we’ve never before seen a green so green or a pink so pink. The trees go from their drab brown to the red bud tips to the evolving shades of green leaves. And even if we are noticing the changes, there’s always that surprise moment when we catch our breath with ‘Wow! Spring!’ And life is once again a miracle and a gift!

The sense of awe and wonderful flush warm sensations of vitality and gratitude through me. Every year I feel my mind clear and my body strengthen into the spring season and I ask myself, “How can I feel this way all year long? How can I capture this sense of awe and wonder and live from THAT 365?” And to get at it from another angle, I ask, “How does life go flat? How is the childlike wonder forgotten?” We say spring fever but why not winter fever or fall fever? Certainly, summer, fall and winter all present opportunities for wonder and awe.

When I consider the teachers that I most admire and respect…the teachers that inspire me and bring me to my inner ‘aha’, I realize that these folks are creating the fever. They deliver awe and wonder to their students. And they do it day after day, class after class. They reveal the potential and the freshness within even the most familiar experiences and potentially uninspiring circumstances.

One such teacher is my mother. She brings childlike wonder to life’s everyday moments. She has a knack for noticing life and bringing it to others for fresh consideration. And although this example is from winter, it’s one I’d like to share. It’s a memory from my childhood so full of awe and wonderment that it lives in my body to this day.

It’s hard for me to determine how old I was. I don’t recall my brother being with us so that might mark the time as 1969. I would have been four and a half. My sister two and a half.  As I said it was winter. We were sleeping. My mom woke us with such excitement. “Hey!! Wake up!! We’re going to a movie!!” I remember the confusion. What could she mean? We grabbed our blankies and she put us in the car still wearing our pjs. (An aside: 1969; no car seats, no seat belts. We stood in the back with our arms hung over the front seat.)  She backed out of the long driveway giggling with excitement. We were wide awake with expectation. This was certainly going to be good! As she began the drive down our country road, she exclaimed, “LOOK! Look at the movie!! It’s beautiful!! Do you see the snow on the trees? Look how the flakes are coming at the windshield!! It’s a movie!!” She laughed even louder at our confused faces. We opened our eyes wider to improve our vision. Sure enough, there it was….a beautiful, dark and snowy winter night. Inspired by her enthusiasm, we gazed at the scene with sincerity until confusion became wonderment.

Through the years, my sister and I have given her some serious grief for that night. “I mean who does that, Mom? And by the way, you said a movie! What a rip off!!” And later with adult laughter, “What was in your sippy cup that night, Mom?”

But I learned something pretty important from that experience. I learned that enthusiasm and awe and wonder could be given as gifts. I learned how to see through the eyes of another to share the simple beauty of this life. I became a mother who made worms seem like the most fascinating creature on the planet and every rock a special expression of art and every wind a lyrical song. I shared so many “movies” with my kids based on my mother’s gift that night.

What does this have to do with yoga? Likely you know. Especially those of you who practice or teach several times a week. It’s so easy to become disconnected, uninterested, in habit, ho hum. After all how many times have you practiced warrior II? Perhaps thousands. Why would there be any wonder or awe left in warrior II? And how many times have I taught Warrior II? Perhaps thousands. Exactly what is there left to say?

But that’s the practice, folks. And it doesn’t matter if you’re on your mat practicing or walking the room teaching. And it doesn’t matter if you’re teaching kindergarten or selling computer equipment. And it doesn’t matter if you’re hanging with your kids or your honey or your bestie. Take a lesson from my mom. Treat every experience as if it is the greatest movie you’ve ever seen. Sell your product like it’s the best thing since sliced bread (That expression’s Dad!) Teach every class as if your topic, your asana, your suggestion is an absolute miracle. Infuse wonder and awe into every season of your life via an enthusiastic attitude.

How? Here are three suggestions:

Use your five senses. Life is life because we FEEL it! Use your five senses to bring you to life in any moment. And trust me, this works on the most ordinary of moments. Look for details and colors and hidden shapes and unusual objects.  Listen with attentive care and you will hear layers of sounds. Find your skin and feel for temperature, texture, shape of your body, movement of your breath. Taste the taste of your mouth, your lips, your food, your water. Smell is our most primal sense. Wake up your sense of smell by noticing the smell of the air, the car, the office. It’s natural to label and to judge so you will have to be very attentive and committed to a practice of ‘just noticing’.

Find eyes. Look at everyone. Really look at them. And to discipline yourself, take note of the color of their eyes.  I often do this before class. I look at every single person in the room. Who is here today? Look at the gal ringing out your groceries. Do you see her? Look at your children, your honey, your pet when you speak to them. Really see them. What do their eyes reveal? What do their faces say? When we see someone’s eyes, we see their humanity. So enter this practice with a compassionate heart. It’s likely to enhance your connection to others.

Be a creature. Pretend you’ve just landed on this planet and in this skin. Pretend you want to figure out what kind of living creature you are. Be fascinated by everything you do and how everything works. Use a statement like “Isn’t it fascinating that…” to bring appreciation to the practice. “Isn’t it fascinating that I can sit in this contraption called a car and my body will be moved at 30 miles per hour across town?” “Isn’t it fascinating that I can tap this little contraption called a phone and hear my daughter’s voice even though she is twenty miles away from me?” "Isn't it fascinating that my body breathes all by itself?" Life is fascinating. Open yourself to being fascinated!

Sure living a life of wonder takes commitment and practice. But a little bit of awe and wonder is all it takes to turn the showers into flowers!

Asteya means Non-Stealing

The Sanskrit word ASTAYA mean non-stealing.

If you’ve spent some time contemplating your own thoughts and words and actions around ahimsa/non-harming and satya/truth these past two weeks, you’ve likely made some interesting discoveries. At first glance, there may be blind confidence but if we are diligent in our practice, there are definitely ways in which we all harm and lie.  Maybe not in obtuse ways, certainly we are good people here, but in subtle and potentially meaningful ways. I know this work is not easy so I appreciate the fact that you’re still with me. Let’s travel on!

Week three is an investigation of astaya/non-stealing. We will sweep aside the armed robbery the grand theft auto and get into the heart and soul of stealing. Stealing is taking what is not yours. Period. If it is not yours and you assume it, take it, deny yourself or another of it, manipulate to gain it or avoid it, et cetera, you are stealing.

Through examination, we find astaya is another step towards spiritual integrity. While ahimsa allows us to create a container of loving kindness and satya fills that container with honesty and respect, astaya allows us to interact with our world with healthy boundaries and responsible autonomy. Astaya allows us to clarify what is truly ours and to discern what actually belongs to another be it possessions, rights, opportunities, accomplishments, resources, lessons, and on and on.

In her book “The Yamas and Niyamas”, Deb Adele notes that we steal from others, the earth, our future and ourselves. Any interaction with ourselves or another has to potential to be muddy and messy or clean and respectful depending on how we express our individuality.

Let’s face it. With 8 billion people on this planet, we are going to bump into each other. In fact, that might just be the point of being here. Riding this rock is all about becoming a better person and the folks that push our buttons are quite simply our teachers. Our interactions with each other are the life lessons that we are divinely offered for our growth and development. That said, I have found that clear boundaries (aka astaya) are key to living in joyful relationship or at least in comfortable relationship with others.

Here are three ways in which astaya challenges me to examine my human habits and tendencies:

“Non-stealing means allowing others to have opinions even if they are different than mine or outright wrong.”

Yup, I’m going right for the jugular here [cue wicked laughter]. This one is personal. If you know me you understand. I know a lot of stuff. I’ve read a ton of books and studied all kinds of things. In addition, I consider myself open minded and curious about other points of view. One would think that those two qualities would combine in such a way that others would be interested and maybe even excited to engage in intellectual with me. But the truth is that my knowledge and my openness sometimes mix together for a lovely offering of know-it-all-ness. Um, not fun for anyone. And when I reflect on these situations, my heart heavies with disappointment.

Focusing my heart and mind on asteya has helped me reframe my intention and shift my behavior.

My mantra: It’s theirs. Let them have it.

My self-talk sounds like this: “Please Tracy, don’t steal their human right to have a personal opinion by correcting or judging. After all, we all have a right to what we think.  And maybe, just maybe, I’m the one that’s wrong.” As my boyfriend Bill says, “That’s why they make so many different colored cars.”

There might be an opportunity to share my viewpoint in a way that supports the other…or there might not be. My most respectful offering to others when they share disagreeable information is an honest and compassionate statement that keeps me from getting tangled up. “I hear you” sometimes works. I don’t nail it every time but I’m getting better.

“Non-stealing means allowing others to express and create and share and shine in every way they would like to.”

This is a sensitive subject for many yoga teachers. Even within the Namaste world of yoga, there is competition and gossip and fear of the other. It’s a gritty edge that any honest yogi would admit to feeling now and then. Cooperation sounds great but competition is the human ego’s way of protecting and self-serving. And with so many yoga teachers and so many yoga studios and so much yoga, yoga, yoga now available, the feeling of competition hangs in the air like the smog over a city.

Competition clouds and pollutes and all who breathe the air feel the impact. When we compete against another, we are stealing the right of the other. The truth is we are all here to serve and to create. Each of us has a purpose to fulfill. It is by Divine design that each and every one of us is here now. Which means that

a) it’s going to take each and every one of us doing our best and creating our all for the world to work the way it’s supposed and  

b) there’s room and space and enough of whatever for each of us to offer all that we have to give and to create all that we are inspired to create.

Folks, it’s going to take all of us doing all we can to heal this world. I’m not going to be able to do it all alone. I’m hoping that everyone else will be busy helping.

So my mantra: Lift each other up. There’s room for everyone.

When we appreciate the ‘we’ is the ‘me’ then the edge of competition softens and cooperation becomes a little easier. Together we are better. 

“Non-stealing means allowing others to change and grow and choose and become…or not.”

One of the most important tasks I have undertaken in the name of personal growth and development is practicing of releasing my stories and letting go of my limiting beliefs about myself. There’s no way we can grow to become anything beyond who we are today unless we examine our ways and untangle ourselves from the past. That means examining our personal stories and beliefs, determining their impact or limits and discerning what serves and what fails to support.

It’s like cleaning out the closet. You need to pick up every piece of apparel and decide “Does this still fit?” “Do I like wearing it?” “Is this comfortable and stylish and ME?” No one else can do this for us. It’s a personal and intimate task so certainly best done by our own selves and for our own selves. And how miserable would it be for someone else to go through the piles of ‘no’s…or the pile of ‘yes’s!...and force us to keep or wear or BE that which we decided we were done with! And yet it is so very human to interact with the other in a way the fails to respect their choice to keep a story that we feel they should be done with…or to leave a story that we are certain serves them.

In essence, it is a product of our own human nature to control those we love. Acknowledge that and work from that place to respect, to honor and to release…no more stealing. Our parents, our children, our partners, our co-workers can live their own lives.

Try this mantra: My life is my choice. His/Her life is his/her choice. Let them change. Let them not change.

Let them live their way. Love them anyway. Love them despite their choices and because of their choices.

The truth is this: Me living my life is a full time job. I honestly don’t have time to take on their life. And more often than not, when I stop stealing their life power and focus on managing my own, the relationship relaxes. I see that we get along just fine. There’s space for everyone to be themselves. Honestly, there is.

Oh, I could go on but I promised three and that’s three! And I’d like to not steal our own discovery and investigation! I wish you well in your contemplative practice on asteya.  

Satya means Truth

The Sanskrit word SATYA means truth.

Seems simple and maybe even familiar. Do the Ten Commandments not include “Thou shalt not lie”? But therein lies the problem. It is familiar. Perhaps too familiar.

The human ego is capable of glossing over this very challenging yama (restraint) without a ripple of concern. Meanwhile the very word truth brings the wise to tremble in their shoes. The wise know the depth of challenge and personal accountability involved in practicing truth. They appreciate that satya is a tremble-worthy inquiry!

In her book “The Yamas and Niyamas”, Deb Adele offers a scene from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as an example. But I remember very vividly a personal experience of trembling in my shoes over the prospect of truth.

It was during my 200 level teacher training. Tami Schneider of Cleveland Yoga had gathered a large group of prospective yoga teachers for training in 2010. (Likely you know a few of us from Yoga Bliss!) She created a safe space for growth and we felt comfortable in her presence. Although there were many of us, we had become a community rather quickly. We enjoyed each other and felt safe together.

Despite that, I have a visceral memory of the day Tami assigned The Mirror Project.

It was a sunny spring Wednesday afternoon when she reviewed the requirements of The Mirror Project. The assignment was basically this: strip completely naked, look at yourself in the mirror and write about what you saw. Make no mistake, Tami wasn’t asking about the color of our eyes or width of our girth. This was to be a soul searching, heart opening, and honest conversation with ourselves. We were to write about what we saw through the window of our own eyes. Not only that but we were expected to read our project aloud to the group in a future training session.

Whew! The room fell silent. The thought of that assignment brought instant sobriety. The lightness and laughter that had been dancing in the air dropped heavy to the floor. And as we walked into the adjacent room to set up for the evening’s yoga practice, there was not a word exchanged. I don’t think we even made eye contact. Not one of us could support or save the other from the daunting assignment we had just received.

That’s the power of truth.

The fact is truth goes well beyond the little white lies we tell or even the big bold fibs! It moves beyond the obvious to slice right through the fake, the phony, the pretending, the hoping, the manipulating, the exaggerating, the desperate maneuvering…oh, the ego has countless was of shielding us from (and helping us dodge!) the truth. Until we face the mirror. Until we are courageous enough to look into our own eyes and ask, “What’s going on here?” and “Who are you really?”

In its most mature expression, truth is authenticity. It is integrity. It is stripping naked and looking in the mirror. And it is not easy.

And that’s why, when one is working with satya, we return to the first yama,ahimsa/non-harming the first yama. A solid foundation of ahimsa is necessary before even approaching satya. If we are unable to hold loving kindness for ourselves, if we have no capacity for ahimsa, truth will lead us into our shadows with no compassion from which to make benefit of the experience. Similarly spouting our truth rashly and non-discriminately at another will not facilitate helpful healing within our personal relationships. And is the purpose of the practice not to create those very results: loving connection to self and others?

I stress this because I sometimes catch myself (and notice others) using ‘authenticity’ and ‘truth’ as a platform from which to behave badly. To post this and share that. To curse unnecessarily. To truncate relationships. To vent. Basically to create a personality or posture that may or may not be ones best self. It’s like the ego has found a back door through which authenticity becomes another mask. And there is neither ahimsa nor satya in that.

In order for us to live with integrity from a place of wisdom, ahimsa and satya must partner.

So I say seek the truth, certainly. Absolutely acknowledge the truth. Yes, reveal your deepest heartfelt truth with all of the courage you can muster. But always, always from a place of loving kindness towards self and others. Live truthfully without harming.

And you’ll know when you’ve got it. It’s a tangible sensation. When we speak the truth without harming, the knocking of the knees stops. Our stance is solid and our gaze steady. The message comes from the heart with clarity and purpose and without the edginess of ego. It’s not necessarily easy but it is kind and honest. Wisdom has that feeling to it, that’s for sure.

This week I invite you to strip down and look in the mirror. Okay, maybe not literally strip down but consider taking on the mental exercise. Search for honesty around the stale, hard edges of yourself. Look with curiosity and listen with care. Courageously investigate yourself from a place of compassion and non-harming. Practice with integrity and if you need to act on what you discover, do so with wisdom. Ahimsa + Satya = Yoga!  

 

Ahimsa means Non-Harming

The Sanskrit word AHIMSA means non-harming.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are recognized as the first written instructions for yoga. In this ancient text, the gurus offer the definition, the philosophical ideals, the methods and the benefits of the yogic lifestyle. Among the teachings are guidelines for moral behavior called the yamas and the niyamas. The yamas are the restraints – what NOT to do. The niyamas are the observances – what TO do. These standards for moral behavior are considered the first step to a yoga practice. So set aside your mat and give this some thought….

The first yama (restraint) is AHIMSA. Ahimsa means non-harming. A quick glance might lead you to believe that this means being a vegan. And, for some, it might. Certainly the gurus intend for us to be kind and compassionate to all beings. But there is much inner work to do in the arena of non-harming for deeply rooted non-harming means kindness and compassion for our own selves. And that’s a big job.

There are many physical and mental habits that prevent us from living easy with ourselves. Poor eating, limited exercise, stress and worry, over-scheduling and self-limiting beliefs and thoughts….you get the idea! If you’ve spent any amount of time inside your own head, you know. The human mind and the modern day lifestyle provide an endless stream of self-harming thoughts and behaviors. And even though it is considered the first lesson of the first step along the yogic path, I would suggest that ahimsa is a practice for the most sincere and courageous yogi.

So what is it that keeps us from non-harming with ourselves? I suggest that the root is SHAME.

Shame is like a dandelion; there’s a long deep root that snaps when you try to pull it out allowing the weed to simply grow back stronger. And the pretty little flowers that seem harmless shed an infinite number of seeds that allow the weed to take over the entire yard.

And, don’t get me wrong; I love dandelions. I call them the flowers for the children and hold sweet memories of my kids picking me fistfuls when they were small and innocent. Sweet smiles for the memory. But back to business here, shame has deep roots as well as the potential to impact our lives preventing other beautiful flowers from blossoming. Try as you might, dandelions are difficult to eliminate.

Just like the landscaper caring for our own front yard, we might best consider simply working with shame. We may be most effective working to soften, weaken, and ease its grip on us and its ability to negatively impact us.

Here’s a personal story to inspire you:

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Dyer. I went to a lecture at Lakeland Community College…arrived early and planted myself front and center! So excited!! Wayne’s work was instrumental to my first steps on the path of self-discovery. I rewired my thinking by listening to his audio lectures and felt so fondly of him. I am certain that my heartfelt admiration and respect radiated to him on stage because, when he needed a volunteer, he pointed straight to ME! I found myself on stage with Wayne Dyer!!

He called me up to demonstrate kinesiology…muscle testing….a strategy for reading the energetic impact that thoughts, objects, statements, etc. have on the body. Kinesiology allows us to gain information and get feedback from our bodies on whether something has an affirming or disempowering impact on us.

I held out my arm and followed Wayne’s instructions: “Think of someone you love dearly.” I did. Wayne pushed down on my arm. My arm stayed strong. “Think of something that made you feel badly. Something horrible that happened.” I did. Wayne pushed down on my arm. My arm weakened and dropped to my side despite my attempt to hold it up.

This works, folks. You can try it on any number of things. You might hold an organic banana to your belly and compare it to holding a box of Oreos to your belly. Your body won’t lie. You’ll stay strong to positivity and weaken to negativity.

Anyway, back to Wayne….he talked to me, shared his insights to the audience, demonstrated a few more ideas then gave me a good-bye squeeze. First of all, Wayne Dyer hugged me with such a loving presence! Adore him!! But he also whispered in my ear. He shared a compassionate and powerful message. “Don’t shame yourself.” I lost my breath for a moment then responded with a thank you.

As I returned to my seat, Wayne continued his lecture and shared a few thoughts on shame. Turns out shame has the lowest, most destructive vibration of any emotion. As I listened to him, my eyes swelled with the silent tears of truth. I was holding a ton of shame. And it was heavy. And it was dark. And it was limiting. And it had deep, deep roots.  

As I said, this was many years ago. The healing continued from then to now…and continues even as we share this moment. I’ve worked long and hard to find compassion and kindness for myself. I’ve softened, weakened and eased the impact of the dandelion I call shame. I’ve practiced ahimsa sincerely and courageously just like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali suggest. And I’ve made progress for sure.  The yard looks better!

Today, I’m digging in fresh for some spring gardening and I’d like to invite you to join me. On April 2nd, I’ll begin a ten week sadhana (personal practice) structured around the yamas and niyamas. Each week I’ll consider one restraint or observance. I’ll share my thoughts and practice around each yama and niyama in a Facebook post on my page Tracy Rhinehart Yoga. You can practice with me.

We’ll start on April 2nd with my practice for cultivating ahimsa. Let’s till the soil, pull the weeds, plant the seeds and let the garden grow!