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!

Take the Leap

Greetings, March! Are you ready? Are you ready to toss off the winter and wake up the spring?

The energy that spring brings always inspires me. And this year, I have tangible evidence of awakening. The seeds I planted in the fall are sprouting fresh green shoots in the garden. No, I didn’t plant tulips. I applied to teach at a national venue, was accepted and, in a few days, I’ll be leaping from Akron OH to Sedona AZ to present at the Sedona Yoga Festival!

And trust me, it will be a leap!

Perhaps you know the feeling. Perhaps there’s something in your heart and soul that you desire that seems like a huge leap from where you sit. Maybe there are seeds that you planted that you’d like to see sprout. Now is the time for action…fresh starts…large leaps!

Last fall when I heard the whisper of inspiration that suggested I apply to present at the Sedona Yoga Festival, I determined it pretty unlikely that I would be accepted. You’ve seen me teach at Yoga Bliss and Elevate Akron…maybe you’ve even done some teacher training time with me. You know I love yoga and that the passion for the practice inspires me to teach to large audiences. However, no one in Sedona knows me. And I’m not known by other big name teachers that could speak to my skills. Last fall I tossed my application into cyberspace and filled my calendar with other activities.

Imagine my surprise, and the fluster of doubt, I felt when I opened the acceptance email! I had agreed to something wildly wonderful….and then wondered if I was even capable. Was it was really within me to succeed? It was a Hanuman moment, for sure!

Who is Hanuman?

Hanuman is the monkey man in the Hindu mythology. And, Hanuman asana (the splits pose) is named for the leap Hanuman took from India to Sri Lanka. When Lord Ram’s wife Sita was kidnapped and taken to a mountain top on the island of Sri Lanka, Lord Ram went to his best friend and the general of his arm seeking help. Hanuman was devoted to Ram and Sita so, of course, he agreed to rescue Sita. However, the Indian Ocean stood between him and the mountain top. And Southwest doesn’t fly over the Indian Ocean. Yikes! Poor Hanuman.

Likely you’ve practiced yoga with me long enough to appreciate that this is exactly when things get interesting! You see, Hanuman is a great yoga teacher. And here are three things he taught me:

Faith: Prior to his leap, Hanuman knelt at the edge of the continent of India and prayed. Having been raised among the monkey kingdom, Hanuman did not know he was the son of Vayu, the wind. He did not know that he was Divine and had special powers (like super leaping abilities!). Hanuman prayed until he was centered in his quiet inner knowing. He had faith. And we need faith too. In order to rock the Red Rock, I must find the quiet inner knowing. Not the handwringing-insecurity but the inner stillness of certainty. Remember, we are each Divine and we each have gifts to share.

Devotion: Hanuman was so devoted to Ram and Sita that he took on this seemingly impossible rescue mission. He would do anything for Ram and Sita! The devotion was his fuel. The heartfelt love and passion for his friends were the raw materials that supported him in leaping across the Indian Ocean and rescuing Sita. And my heartfelt love and passion for yoga are my raw materials….the raw materials that will allow me to offer a meaningful presentation.  Identify your devotion, organize your raw materials and put your plan into action! We’ve got this!

Courage: Hanuman had his faith and his devotion but in order to complete the task, he had to summon the courage. He had to LEAP! I’m quite certain that he felt the fear even as his feet left the ground. That’s how courage works. He felt the fear and jumped anyway. The story says that he shouted Ram’s name as he soared effortlessly across the sky! And that’s exactly what we can do. Feel the fear and take the leap. Perhaps you’ll hear me shouting Hanuman’s name as I soar across the country next Thursday morning!

Faith. Devotion. Courage. Regardless of your purpose or project, these three qualities are sure to support you. Awaken from the slumber of winter and leap into a vibrant, exciting and colorful spring! Thanks for the inspiration, Hanuman! Now, I’ve got a flight to catch!

From the Heart

The new moon on January 27th aligned beautifully to support me in launching another year of my YOGAkron 108 Advanced Yoga Teacher Training Program. That opportunity is a gift that fills my heart with gratitude. It’s a privilege to walk this life path with others. It’s an honor to witness the growth of adult learners. And it’s a pleasure to share that which I’ve learned and discovered myself from books, teachers, practices and experiences. I offer my most sincere respect to the yoga teachers who are participating as students.

As I prepare for weekend one, I stumbled up a teaching from the lineage of hatha yoga. The idea tickling me is this: The sun is representative of the heart. The moon is representative of the mind. The sun offers the light. The moon reflects the light. They cooperate. We need them both. But it’s the heart that is the source.  When the heart is guarded, crusty, full of aches and pains, there’s an impact on the mind. The mind will reflect in the form of fear, anxiety, paranoia, greed, self-centeredness. When the heart is open and free to glow brightly in its true nature, the mind reflects love…compassion, empathy, helpfulness, happiness, joy. And these are the necessary components for success.

In terms of the science, the heart sends more electronic signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. (Check out “The Heart Code” by Paul Pearsall, PhD.) As we go about our daily lives, the heart communicates instantaneously to the thinking mind. The information that hits the brain triggering thoughts, opinions, responses and reactions come from the heart!

Considering that, I must ask myself some tough questions about the condition of my heart.  Am I forgiving, releasing grief, processing my hurts and angers, listening to my inner whispers, caring for my heart in a way that allows my mind to reflect my truest, most beautiful inner self?  Conversely, do I mind-muscle myself or slack into complacency thereby expressing beliefs, choices or behaviors which are disconnected or misaligned from my heart?

My yoga practice has revealed to me the tenderness, the love, the compassion and the tolerance held within my heart. My yoga practice as incrementally improved the quality of my heart space through both healing and growth. And I’m not unique. Every day I see yoga working its mystery and magic on countless people.

The program I offer, the teachings I share, the experiences I create remind me to care for my heart. They are opportunities to look at life with a fresh perspective, release and clear, open and expand the heart. When that happens, the mind will reflect the love of the heart…the words will reflect the love of the heart…the actions will reflect the love of the heart.

From my heart to yours: Happy Valentine's Day

It’s Time for THE TALK

It’s time for THE TALK.

Here’s how I know: It was the Thursday before Christmas. About 2pm. I was driving through the valley appreciating the magic of the moment. It was a moment of transition…a moment between worlds. 

The past week of teaching had been full-on special. The studio was mat-to-mat with college students home from school and adults free from work. Every one of them buzzing with excitement about the upcoming holidays. The winter solstice on Wednesday night accentuated the beauty and the promise of the season. I had taught wide-open heart and soul all week and was just bone-tired in the very best way. I wouldn’t teach again until Tuesday morning and it felt good to have that space. 


Ahead of me was the holiday season. A list of to-do’s clenched in my hand but not a care in the world. I love planning for the holiday fun. I was looking forward to creating a wonderful weekend for my most special people. My brother and sister-in-law on Friday night, the Valentino’s on Saturday and the whole crowd on Sunday. Experience has taught me that I must be organized but I needn’t worry. My calendar was clear. All will get done. I planned to love my way through with a smile.

And in that sweet moment of transition, I received a text that said, “Tracy, are you teaching Friday morning? Can’t wait to see you!”

I heard from my gut, “noooo!” And then a whisper, “you know you’ll do it.” 
First voice, “Just ask for a sub. You can’t do anymore.” Followed by the second voice, “No big deal. You’ll do it…you’ll say yes.”

Immediately, I dialed the phone and asked Beth at Yoga Bliss to check the schedule. And I was saved from myself. Official word: I was not teaching again until Tuesday morning. After a friendly little text reply to my yoga-fan, I was back in my groove.

But seriously, it’s time for THE TALK:

Hey you…second little voice…step forward. That’s right…come out of the shadow. We need to talk. 

Honey, who are you? And what are you trying to do to us? 

Why would you say ‘yes’ to one more class when clearly you’ve given all you have this week? 

Are you trying to protect us? What are you afraid of?

I care so much about you but we cannot continue this way. I need for you to work with me here. We need to create something wonderful and that’s not going to happen if you keep getting me overcommitted and run-down to nothing. 

Okay, I hear you. I know it’s scary to miss out on opportunities especially when there are so many folks attending class during the holidays. And you worry that they will like another teacher better. And there’s the money too. And sure you just love teaching yoga! Sure! I hear your concerns.

But here’s the truth: saying ‘yes’ to everything just makes for busy and busy becomes chaos and chaos becomes disaster. If we are going to move life forward, we need to establish a clear vision and a sense of purpose. We need make ‘yes’ and ‘no’ choices aligned to that clear, focused purpose. It’s going to take a disciplined commitment to maintain our priorities against our habits. That’s why I need your help. But sincerely, if our goals are based on our values, it will be so worthwhile. 

Stick with me, little one! Let’s say ‘no’ when we need to and make something great happen in 2017!

So starts, THE TALK. Trust me, it is neither the only nor the last conversation I will be having with myself in the next couple of weeks. As 2016 rolls into 2017 (and I experience this as a broad sweeping transition), I will be getting my sh** together in many different ways. 

I will be practicing more because my practice connects me to myself. I will be seeking places in my body, mind and spirit that need to be opened and examined. I will meditate inviting guidance, support and inspiration. I will engage in conversations with folks I trust to help me clarify my thoughts. I will be brainstorming with wild abandon and, if my desires require growth, I’ll need to challenge some limiting beliefs and false truths. At some point, I will create a vision board to so that I can see with my eyes representations of all I aspire! And, I’ll be resting to fully absorb whole messy and beautiful process. 

Yes, it will be messy and yes, it will be beautiful. (And yes, I will need to occasionally say ‘no.’) But it will be so worthwhile! 

After THE TALK, I’ll be welcoming an OM-azing New Year!

Shop Like a Yogi

The holidays are only a week away and I’m feeling GREAT: I’m done with my shopping!

Honestly, I had a blast shopping this year. Sure, I suffered the mall for a couple of items. But for the most part, I purchased local and small business. Which means that I spent quite of bit of my gift-buying time enjoying my friends. I reached out to the talented and ambitious local artists and shop owners for their ideas and support in choosing gifts for those on my Christmas (and Hanukah) list.

Why not buy from friends? They are, in fact, FRIENDS! I like them. I want them to be successful and to prosper. I want them to be able to make a living doing what makes them happy. I want to support them by purchasing their products. When they are happy, they are fun to be friends with….and when I am supportive, they want to be friends with me!

If that’s sounding good to you, consider finishing up your shopping from this list:

Pamela Price is an Akron yoga teacher and artist with a outpouring of loving creativity! She makes meditation alters (one-of-a-kind!), jewelry and wearable art. Her work is sold at Don Drumm, at VIDA & CO, via her website and through private commision.  She is the yoga goodness behind Fresh Air Yoga at Crown Point Ecology Center and teaches (with meee!!) at Yoga Bliss. Access ALL of it at www.pamelajprice.com

Ylonda Rosenthal-Greene is a friend and yoga teacher from CLE. She makes beautiful malas. I get so many compliments on the one she made me…you see it around my neck always. She will help you choose stones to empower your intention. And she will chant mantra to bless your mala in her soul beautiful voice.  www.awaketomysoul.com

Evan and Eileen Middleton are ESquaredGlass (Independence). You see Eileen at lululemon and Evan at Towpath Fitness. They repurpose wine bottles for drinking glasses and serving trays. Super hip! They are on etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ESquaredGlass or message them through Facebook.

T-shirts with a local flare? Angela Fachs is Universal Architect (Canton). You might have met her at Elevate Akron. She’s at some of the local yoga studios as well. Online at etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/UniversalArchitect

Erin Shanahan is originally from Georgia but is now Akron proud! She's a potter-extraordinaire! She is Shanahan Studios on Facebook and @shanahanstudios on Instagram. Expect a few furry faces and lots of puppy love...Shannon rescues!  

Treat her right with all natural paleo skin care. Trina Felber is Primal Life Organics (Fairlawn). She’s worth having a conversation with…not just for product recommendations but for a ton of solid scientific research on what’s in commercial skin care products…deodorants, toothpastes…just ask her. www.primallifeorganics.com

Yogi fave: Indu Lotion. Marni Task is on the map! Hailing CLE, her product is everywhere yoga. Get it direct at www.indulotion.com

Don’t forget my word boxes! Words for the Journey are wooden treasure chests containing fifty four wooden cards...each with an inspiring word to align you body, mind, heart and soul. They are available at www.tracyrhinehart.com or at Yoga Bliss. I’m giving a few of these myself! 

Zach Friedhof is an Akron singer, songwriter and warrior/activist for peace. His CDs are on his website www.zachmusic.net and are available at The Market Path in Highland Square.

While you’re at the Market Path, take a look around! The Market Path is a fair trade store that features many talented local folks…ask Carrie to share her stories!  www.themarketpathakron.com

Another local gift stop guaranteed to gift you well: The Gardener of Bath. Creative gift ideas from Justin, Heather and Gus. Sometimes complimentary fresh-made margaritas! (I told you…friends!!) www.thegardenerofbath.com

Once you've done your bop around town, enjoy a mug of kombucha from Canton yoga teacher Kristi Leahy. Her home crafted beverage is on tap at Royal Docks Brewing Company. Learn more at https://royaldocksbrewing.com/brewpub/kombucha

A class pass for YOGA makes a great gift! There are many great yoga studios peppered around the Akron area. Each offers yoga classes in many different styles for many different physical, mental and spiritual needs. Trust me, they might not all be for you but they are ALL good!  A few mentions: Blue Hen Yoga (Nancy Holland in the City of Akron), Release Yoga (Pattie Wagner in Green), Lifesource (Diane in Fairlawn), Yoga Squared (Nikki Shell in Highland Square), Kent/One Love Yoga (Tim and April Huth in Kent), Hudson Yoga Lounge (Eric and Leba in Hudson), Spiritual Life Society (Matt and Larry in Hudson), Yoga Strong (Amanda Fulmer in Canton), Yoga Bliss (Caroline Granowski in Fairlawn…my home!)

There are so many talented healing arts practitioners in the area! Just a few to consider: Julie and Amanda offer great massage at Yoga Bliss. Jenn Shope is reiki at Zen Path Healing in Stowe, Jeffrey Zayda is massage and bodywork in Fairlawn…find him on Facebook. Dr. Shannon Francis acupuncture and chiropractic care on Springside Drive in Fairlawn. The healing arts staff at both Lifesource and Release Yoga is also talented and ready to treat your friends and family well.

Consider gifting a donation: Zenworks Yoga provides yoga in the public schools but CLE and AKR. Power up your gift and offer a donation at www.zenworksyoga.com

Now if you’re shopping for a yoga teachers (like ME!) consider gifting professional coaching or business services from my supportive yoga-sisters, Juli Hicks and Sarah Clark. Juli is a yoga teacher, lifestyle and professional coach at www.julihicks.com Sarah is a master at web design and marketing. Find her at www.raysandroots.com.

Okay…here’s the deep sigh and fine print disclaimer. This is not an all-inclusive list. As a matter of fact, this list will haunt me. I’m certain that I’m omitting very lovely people that I truly adore. Please, forgive me in advance. I welcome you to reach out with your ideas for additions. Let’s make sure that next year’s list really rocks!!

And have a very Merry Christmas…and Hanukah too!!

Stay in a Place of CHOICE

My advice for the holidays? Stay in a place of CHOICE. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I love the traditions. I love the decorating, the shopping, the baking, the caroling, the parties, the fa-la-la and the ho! ho! ho! However, as the excitement builds and Christmas approaches, all of the holiday cheer can give way to a serious case of the bah humbugs. If I’m not mindful, I can lose my “Joy to the World,” my “Peace on Earth” and certainly my “Goodwill towards Men.”

With the gratitude of Thanksgiving still echoing in my heart, I set an intention…and make a commitment… to spending December in a place of CHOICE. That means all things are optional. 

This is a strategy that I happened upon accidentally. It was a lesson learned, as many are, the hard way. You see I used to be a plain and simple traditional holiday gal. I loved all of the holiday traditions. More than that, I needed the traditions. I had a long list of must-dos and must-haves. Christmas decorations went up the day after Thanksgiving and came down on New Year’s Day. No exceptions. Christmas cookies meant the iced sugar cookies and pumpkin rolls. All lined up in the freezer and enough to gift the hairdresser. No exceptions. Christmas cards sent no later than December 10th. With photo. Personal written note if we haven’t talked. No exceptions. Gifts beyond my budget, wrapped with ribbons and candy canes and organized with time to spare. The list continued endlessly until I found myself half-sick and nursing a whopping cold sore on Christmas Day….Grinch-y!

The idea here is that I was bound by my own holiday rules. I was clinging to my expectations. And I gave the holiday traditions power over my own health and mental well-being. So how did I change my perspective? I got hit with the wake-up-stick! 

My marriage fell apart. My kids were quite young. So young in fact that it made me want all of the holiday traditions…all of the traditions that I loved from my childhood. Except that, in the tug and pull of divorce, the traditions unraveled. The expectations could not be met. The way I wanted it to be was neither likely nor possible. Some holidays I could piece together an attempt, but some holidays I was alone with the pain of the change. The choice was clear: either re-write my story on the holidays or be miserable. I chose to re-write my story. 

The first thing I did was clarify my values. Spending quality time with my children and parents became the priority. It doesn’t matter if the lovely family dinner is on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or an average Tuesday. What matters is that we are together with love and laughter. 

Everything beyond the quality time with family is a CHOICE. Christmas cards are a choice. Send them or not. Most often I send them after Christmas. Sometimes there is a picture included. 

Christmas cookies are a choice. I make them or I buy them or I skip them. I never go without them. They seem to show up. Probably from the visions of sugar plums that dance in my head!

Gifts are a choice. I make a heartfelt list. Except for the family, the list is a little different every year depending on the year’s experiences and situations. Sometimes I make gifts instead of purchasing. And I stay within budget. (BTW, a card with a hand written message of gratitude and love makes a great gift.)

Parties are a choice. And I usually stay in ‘maybe’ until the day before. My friends understand. And they understand when I scoot out early to get a good night’s sleep…gotta feel fresh to teach Sunday 8:00AM Power Yoga!

Decorating is a variety of choices. This year: stockings, mistletoe and candles, yes.  I’ve cut some pine boughs to lay across the mantel and to accent the centerpieces on the tables. No tree. Well, if the kids want one when they come home….okay, maybe a tree. 

The point is: I have learned that my Christmas is much merrier when I loosen my grip on the expectations and holiday traditions. I now look at every holiday activity from a place of CHOICE. There is always an option. I’m okay going ‘yes’ and I’m okay deciding ‘no.’ As long as I stay aligned with my core value and share quality time with family, I am satisfied and heart happy. No cold sore required. 

There you have it! My advice for a happy holiday season! 
Merry Christmas to all and to all a NAMASTE!!!

A Dream Coming True

This yoga thing has taken me for quite a ride.

When I look back at who I was and how I was when I first started practicing (home, 1999, Kathy Smith Yoga, VHS tape), I hardly recognize myself. That was a different Tracy, for sure. She was anxious and fearful. She had a head full of worries (only half full today) and ran a tight ship.

Everything organized just so. She used exercise to deal with the stress and emotional pain of single motherhood and messy divorce-ness. A lot of exercise. Flat abs were a distraction from the pain and fear associated with daily life. Cycling for hundreds of miles ensured that she would be too tired to feel the sadness and fear hidden in her heart and soul. The funniest thing: She thought she was fine.

It took me a couple of years to move beyond that VHS tape to a yoga studio until I noticed an advertisement that showed a picture of Baron Baptiste in crow pose. A studio called Strong Stretched and Centered was advertising the first class free.

I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was curious, but skeptical: “It will cost money. I can’t afford it. Am I strong enough to do that? When would I have the time?” Finally I couldn’t stand to hear my doubts any longer. In the summer of 2001, I sucked up the courage to walk in the door of that yoga studio. And yoga took me on a magic carpet ride that continues today.

There have been countless ‘aha’ moments, breakdowns and breakthroughs, and miseries and miracles since that day. I mean, yoga is like gravity. It works whether you believe in it or not. Gravity has a purpose which is fulfilled as it holds you on the earth. Yoga has a purpose which is fulfilled when you’re free from all that binds you. And I was bound tight…tighter than I realized. 


Here’s one example: I was sitting on my mat at Cleveland Yoga (formerly Strong Stretched and Centered). It was a Wednesday noon class taught by one of my favorite teachers. She was a favorite teacher because she is striking and beautiful and joyful and magnetic and lovely in her lovingness. And that’s attractive. Well, when she walked in the room on this day, she exchanged greetings with many people. Those who knew her asked where she had been the past week. She said, “I was in Costa Rica for a retreat! It was beautiful!! The food was amazing and I really got to dig into myself.”

Hearing that, my brain came to a complete stand still. I did not know it was possible for someone who wasn’t a movie star to go to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat. I was absolutely wowed. 

The contrast between her life and my life in that moment was like black and white. We might have well been from different planets. The distance between us suddenly felt insurmountable. And yet, she was my favorite teacher because she was approachable and accepting. I started thinking about that space between us and recognized that it was created by my own mind. I dared to think a thought that sounded like this: Someday I want to go to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat. 

Now, if you just skim through the book of my life, you’ll catch the little moments that began to align in a divinely orchestrated way to make to manifest this thought. But you’d have to skim through many, many years because I had a long way to grow. I didn’t just put COSTA RICA YOGA RETREAT on my Saturday morning shopping list, toss it in cart and trot off for the party. The inner work needed to be done. Quite a bit of inner work. As I’ve indicated, I was bound by many limiting beliefs. 

Here are some of the highlights:

Bind #1: I can’t take the time away from the kids.
Truth: I need to take time to care for and nourish myself. I need to take time to create grace within myself so I can be the loving mother I truly am.

I opened my mind to the ‘maybe’ of finding time for myself around my motherhood schedule. Once I allowed the ‘maybe,’  the calendar shifted and I found slivers and slips of time for myself. For example, if I needed an hour after work before picking the kids up from school, I allowed them to stay with the sitter extra. Or, when the grandparents would stop by, I slipped out for a walk by myself. 

Bind #2: I don’t have the money.
Truth: Anything my heart truly desires is possible and the money will be provided. 


Seriously, if I only did what I could afford in life, I’d never leave the house. To break free, I started noticing how financial energy flows and taking the time to responsibly organize my finances. If there was something that I wanted in my heart-of-hearts, I offered gratitude and waited. Life inevitably rearranged to grant my request. Thank you!

Bind #3: I’m not good enough at yoga to go on a retreat. 
Truth: Yoga is for every body.

Trust me - yoga is a beautiful art form. I did some asanas in front of the mirror and saw that I look alright. I opened my eyes to the people practicing around me and saw all kinds of ages and shapes and sizes. They all look great doing yoga. I must look okay too. Gradually I began to appreciate and my edges started to soften. I stopped pushing my body and a compassionate relationship was created between my body and my mind. I enjoy me now. And what does ‘good enough at yoga’ mean, anyway?

Bind #4: I’m just not the kind of girl that can do something so exotic.
Truth: I am the creator of my life. Like, seriously.

Nothing is too exotic or too adventurous or too farfetched. It sounds kind of corny, but it’s true: If I can dream it, I can achieve it. This is the yoga. Once the sweat poured out of me, the love could soak into me. And love knows no limits. Love is pure potential and possibility. I took baby steps. I signed up for a Team in Training fundraising century bike ride and raised the money to go to Sante Fe. I went to Sedona for my birthday. I went to Guatemala and hiked through the rainforest to the Tikal Ruins. Incrementally the practice released me from the binds of the mind. The freedom became something that I could trust and play with. I’m the kind of girl who can do anything!

So as you’re reading this, I’m in Costa Rica on a yoga retreat! Not only am I enjoying beautiful scenery and amazing food, I’m leading the retreat! I am the guide that will facilitate an exciting and inspiring adventure for 17 participants. It’s a dream-come-true experience for me. 

And it’s an experience that bridges the gap that I experienced that day on my mat: the gap between someone living vibrantly and someone stuck in their stuff. Now that I’ve stepped across the gap, I’m reaching back and offering YOU a hand in stepping across as I host another yoga retreat in Costa Rica THIS January 2017!

If you’d like to learn more about this opportunity, join me for a free informational meeting at The Mustard Seed in Highland Square on Monday, November 7th at 7:30PM. You'll learn about the Align and Shine Costa Rica Jungle Retreat. It will be beautiful, the food will be amazing, and you’ll really get to dig into yourself. 

The Beautiful Changes of Fall

Colorful leaves decorating the trail. Crunchy acorns under my feet. Squirrels scurrying across my path. This is a great time of the year to walk in the woods. Not just for the sights, sounds and scents, but also for the quiet contemplation. Fall reminds us that life includes changes….regardless of our personal agenda. It is simply the law of the universe, yet we still we resist the very truth that could save us!

There is a children’s book about fall that I so enjoy from when I was a teacher that I would pull from my shelf every fall. The book is “Fall is Not Easy” by Marty Kelley. It’s a picture book and has no text except for the title sentence written on page one under a summertime green tree.

Each page that follows shows the tree as it struggles with the changes and expectations of fall. On one page, his leaves colored as a rainbow, on the next a smiley face. Then the leaves become a cheeseburger and then an ice cream cone and then a neon sign, “Eat at Joe’s!” Silly, but true. At last when the tree has his colorful fall foliage, his leaves blow away and the snow blankets his branches. Even the very youngest among us can recognize that change has its challenges (even for the trees).

My life has included several significant changes that seemed to coincide with the fall season. Probably the greatest change was my transition from teaching in the public schools to teaching yoga full time.

My story about leaving my day job is neither a rebellious nor celebratory story. It wasn’t an effortless leap from a "toxic job" and to a "rainbows and butterflies" life teaching yoga. That’s just not the way I roll. I went down kicking and screaming in terror and avoiding and trying and trying and trying to make it work but knowing it had to be done. And really, I knew. And did I say I cried? I cried a lot.

I knew in my heart that my time in the school system was over. I had been bored and ready for change. I applied and interviewed for a variety of other jobs with other districts and institutions. I knocked on those doors and the answer was "no." I thought to myself, “One more year.”

Simultaneously, my working relationships began to go sour. Administration changed and I no longer felt the respect and appreciation to which I was accustomed. I applied and interviewed for different positions within the district. I blamed others when those doors too remained closed. And one more year became two more years and then three.

Then, I was offered an undesired change. Despite declining the offer, I was assigned to a classroom that was significantly more stressful to me. Body, mind and spirit it was not a good fit. At first, I was angry and worried. Then I took it as a good sign. I got motivated. In the spirit of “Fill your tool box, young lady,” I took advanced yoga teacher training and developed other skills in anticipation of leaving the schools. But still, I could not walk away. Another year… and then another.

Finally, I made arrangements to work part-time. A job share. I taught more yoga classes around that schedule. You see, I wanted change to be comfortable and easy. I wanted a guaranteed that the change would not cost me anything. Like time… can I still have summers off? Like money… you can just keep sending along that paycheck! Like security… let’s frame that ten year no-fail warrantee and hang it on the wall in the living room!

Well, the Universe continued to push me… hard and then harder. It was like being hit with a brick. Or, watching a train wreck. (Insert wicked laugher here.) I made it to Thanksgiving. Submitted a request for a leave of absence. And began recovering by sleeping for six weeks.

Don’t worry, the story ends well. Here I am. Doing what I love. Loving what I do. Celebrating the opportunity to live from my heart. Hugging my family and friends huge for all of the love and support that makes my life possible. The change I feared spit me out in a much better place.

My point today is this: the change didn’t have to be that hard. There are valuable lessons in this story for me. Lessons about faith, the quiet knowing that everything works out for the best. Lessons about honoring the guidance that the Universe sends. Lessons about allow the natural flow of life’s events. Lessons about taking responsibility and responding gracefully to situations and relationships. I didn’t have to make myself a cheeseburger, an ice cream cone or a neon sign. Going with the flow allows my leaves to change into the colors they are intended to be….effortlessly and beautifully.

So, take a walk. Listen and feel and look carefully at the signs of change from Mother Nature. Look around you and look within you. Contemplate, reflect and inquire. Then let it happen! Change is the law of the Universe and you will indeed land exactly where you need to be!

Here’s to a beautiful fall… whatever it brings!

 

Devotion: Get Back-to-Practice

You don’t have to be a student enrolled in school to get that back-to-school feeling. Regardless of the weather, Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. It’s a part of our culture to feel a transition as August turns to September….and the transition that we feel is an opportunity. It's an opportunity to bring back a little discipline and a lot of devotion. I like to think of back-to-school as back-to-practice. 

In this spirit, I'm asking myself some questions and I invite you to join me.

First question: What am I devoted to?

Take some time to reflect on all of the relationships, projects, situations and/or topics in your life. Listen to your heart…the quiet whisper of your heart. Feel deep down into your gut. Be patient with yourself so that you can discern your deepest truth. This is a great inquiry to take to your mat.  Let your practice inform you. What is important to you? What do you value? What is closest to your heart? What brings up your passionate enthusiasm? What brings you heartfelt joy?

Create a list of top priorities. You can go one of two directions with this:

·         Identify your top three for a laser-sharp focused perspective from which to move forward.

·         Choose one priority in each category of your life (home, work, educational, physical, and spiritual) as a way to organize yourself for a broad sweep make-over.

Second question: Am I living a life well aligned to my priorities? Am I living my resistance or my dreams?

This is worth a second reflection. At the end of your day, take a mental review of your activities and conversations. Where did you spend your time? Where did your attention go? Where are you thriving? Where are you stuck? Try not to make excuses…you’ll want honest answers. But listen to your mind’s rationale…you’ll want to know your blocks. Do this for two or three days so that you can make a fair assessment.

Now, return to your list of priorities. Following each priority, write the following three points:

·         Describe the current state of affairs

·         Report the resistance, the blocks and the challenges.

·         State your dream-come-true outcome or scenario…write it down there in black and white.

Third question: What daily practices need to happen to support me in moving forward towards my dreams?

Here’s where you consider your practice. How can your practice support you in living well? Do you need to meditate, to journal, to breathe deeply? Is your asana practice regular enough to anchor you? Would reading supportive books or listening to podcasts help you stay focused? Is it time for you to dust off your practice by visiting a different studio, trying a different yoga style or taking a retreat? Are there classes or social groups aligned to your dreams…like a vegan cooking class or an evening of kirtan/chanting?

Think outside the box…because there are NO LIMITS to what might support you in making changes and manifesting your dreams. Check my schedule for offerings outside the yoga studio!

Now, take action! I will say in all seriousness: you have to do something different on a day-to-day basis in order for change to happen.  Make a simple and realistic plan and stick with it.

If you do the same meditation and the same Tuesday night yoga class, you’ll be living the same life and getting the same results.  Don’t live the same day over and over for ninety years and call it a life! Not when you’ve got your yoga practice! If you need support and encouragement, reach out to your yoga teacher…me!….even if you’ve never spoken to me before. As a matter of fact, in offering you support on your journey, I get support for my journey!

August has turned to September...get back-to-practice!