The Yoga of Untying Knots

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June has been riddled with reminders of the passage of time for me, and I guess I have reached that age where I comment on it. “Repeatedly!,” my son reports. I am still in disbelief that the studio celebrated its 11th year anniversary last month. Jeni’s twin boys used to come to my Yoga Bugs™ classes when they were 7; this month they graduated high school. The last of the “shrubs” (the name we have called Jeni and Karen and my collective 6 children) to leave the nest-or the forest (one metaphor at a time). Karen’s daughter, Jill, just graduated from college. From college! How is that possible when just yesterday she was drawing crayon horses and organizing games for the younger shrubs? Our three families have been one big family for so long it seems.

The studio’s anniversary weekend is always a time that I feel such gratitude for my partners—this awareness of being blessed shows up during teacher training weekends too. There is always a moment that I find myself sitting, chanting, laughing or dancing next to my two business partners, sisters and friends when I am hit with a wave of the strongest sense of being right where I am supposed to be and the deepest sense of belonging. I become acutely aware of the divinity that put me on the path that led me to these two women. It’s like a gratitude hot flash.

Over the years, folks have shared horror stories with the three of us about friends going into business (perhaps I am jinxing us now even talking about it). What I know is, this partnership was divine in the making. No accident. 13 years ago, I met Jeni when I walked into a yoga class she was teaching. A year later I met Karen as the 3 of us carpooled up to teacher training in Seattle. 3 years ago when my 23 year marriage fell apart, it was Jeni and Karen that got my wheels back on the track. It wasn’t easy, or pretty or quick. And they showed up in unbelievable, unexpected and hilarious ways. Even while I was on my knees during that difficult process, I was aware that the field had been set—all the right players to support me and my boys through a tough time. My parents and siblings, my in-laws, my friends and my trees. And yoga. Thank God for yoga. And chocolate. By the truckload.

That doesn’t mean it is always smooth sailing. Relationships-any relationship that spans years is going to have some bumps. This is what I didn’t expect—as blessed as I feel during the laughing and dancing times, I feel even more blessed when things get bumpy. Maybe not right in the middle of it when things are difficult and disconnected and bitchy. But eventually I get there, because what I have come to know is, it is easy to bond when everything is unicorns and rainbows—but the really good stuff, the lifelong, “I will get down in the mud with you until we work this out” level bonding happens when it is hard and you both choose to show up anyway.
It helps that we have a very similar operating system with the same two central guideposts for conflict. The first is what yoga and mindfulness teach us all the time: don’t believe every thing you think. When you find your mind is telling a story of being slighted or judged or not valued, having the awareness of this simply being one of 10,000 stories the mind/ego could be telling is helpful. We then have the choice to not feed the current story line. Sometimes it takes awhile to remember this; self-righteous indignation can be intoxicating. And this blog could have easily been called, “Sometimes I am an a$$&*le.” Because sometimes I am. Sometimes we all are. Because we are human.

The second comes from a philosophy that Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about in regard to actively tending to important relationships and this was a game-changer in how the three of us came to discuss discord.

Thich described that if there is a misunderstanding or resentment or “story” that comes up with you towards another person or group of people, unless it is talked about, a small knot is formed between you. This knot can easily be dismissed as “no big deal” or something you can “let go.” It is hard to be vulnerable enough to voice a “knot”-especially the small ones; and if you are conflict-phobic then stuffing it down can be such an ingrained pattern that you would sooner walk into yoga class with no pants than to put words to feelings of being slighted.

But knots accumulate. Eventually little knots turn into bigger knots, now too many to untie. Separation and distance are created and what was once an energetic exchange that filled you up is now heavy. The connection is not what it once was.

This knot idea allowed us to clear out the little knots before they became whoppers. Now, there are some relationships that may never be ready for this level of communication. But for the ones that are, this is a practice of investing into that connection and keeping it knot-free.

If you are lucky enough to be in a tribe of open and strong-hearted people (and I happen to know you are because you are reading this blog), it can be an amazing experience when someone you respect and value puts their ego aside, allows themselves to be vulnerable and makes the choice to invest into your friendship.

One of the central themes of the 3rd chakra (our energetic power center and the place where true transformation is possible) is this: our work is to fight for that which is precious to us-or it will be lost forever; there is a call to do battle for our dharma. Have you experienced the depth of a relationship being lost forever because of unsaid things? I have. And I am a big believer that a critical element to any dharma is the tribe you choose along the way. Unresolved issues between people can burn up a lot of mental and emotional energy, distracting us from our spiritual path (talking to you, Real Housewives of any County.)

Once you tackle the untying of the first knot, your language with your friend is as simple as, “I have a knot.” Once discussed, you can both get back to the important job of living out and supporting each other in the dharma of the day, the month or your lifetimes—with, hopefully, a lot of laughing and dancing along the way.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”~Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Whitespace Warriors

“Within each of us, there is a silence, a silence as vast as the universe. And when we experience that silence, we remember who we are…” – Gunilla Norris

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Visual artists know that whitespace in art is an essential ingredient to aesthetic composition; as important as the design elements of a piece.   Without whitespace the beauty and complexity of art can be lost.

My friend and soul sister, Pat Curran is an amazing interior designer and real estate agent. One of the multitude of times I asked her advice on paint colors she told me “the eye is drawn to whitespace. When you enter a room it is the first place your eyes will rest.” I took this to mean, our eyes NEED to rest on some whitespace in order to take in the noise of color. A clearing of the palate of our senses in order to be more engaged with everything else.

In music, the empty space between the notes is essential in creating a backdrop for the notes that make up the composition. And in our breath, the pause between the actions of inhaling and exhaling can be a beautiful, sweet still point. A time of deep rest and absolute peace.

This path of yoga that we are traveling together integrates the body and mind so that we can better navigate and gain insights around the business of being human. My human body needs whitespace second only to air. Well… I am pretty attached to food as well. Ok, I’ll keep food but bump water down the “essentials” list. My basic human needs: Air, Food, Whitespace, Water (in the form of tea, please). What I know is that my soul needs some unclaimed time when scheduling my week; especially this time of year.

Sometimes the forces of busy-ness conspire against me and offers the opportunity to know just how essential this is to me–again. For the 343 thousandth time. The first week of November was a week of back-to-back meetings and appointments, some lovely visits with friends and an endless to do list. At the end of each day, when I finally had the opportunity to relax I found myself unable to settle. When I reviewed the week, I had accomplished a lot but did not feel engaged with any particular moment; all the days blended together—I just moved through them like a ghost.

I noticed myself thinking thoughts like, “I’ll get some time to rest on Monday, only two appointments that day.” This thought happened on a Thursday—my rest was 4 days away. Seriously?   I had just taught a class that morning; the theme? Finding time to recharge and restore. An announcer in my head boomed, “…and the mindfulness award for self-care and living in the present moment goes to….”

I remember attending a seminar with life coach Cheryl Richardson 20 years ago. Her big message and challenge to us all, “it’s not what you add to your week that will make a big difference—it’s what you take away.” She was advocating white space. Empty time.

This is such a great time of year to prioritize making whitespace part of your life. Outside we can see that our world is moving into hibernation-just as the frenzy of the holidays ramps up. Our instinct is for hibernation. Our culture is about busyness, overdoing and more (stuff, sugar, drink, work, socializing).

My concept of whitespace is unscheduled time that I am not working at home (put down the laundry, walk away from the dishes), on a device of any kind, making lists or even visiting with others. Totally unplugged. In the woods; meditating; yoga by candlelight; having a cup of tea while looking at the Christmas tree; giving my full attention to some Theo’s gingerbread spice chocolate. For me, white space offers an opportunity to connect back in with self; get grounded; be still.

It is fully embracing the “being” part of the human experience rather than the “doing” bit that can be bossy and take over. “Doing” is the ego steering the ship, “Being” allows our true essence to take the helm.

This time of year, empty time is hard fought for, but can feel downright luxurious if you claim it.

What do you do to recharge? To just “be?” To claim peace during the holidays? I’d love to hear…

In the spirit of slowing down, I will meet you on the mat

Suzy

 

What’s Good?

shutterstock_95148214In the past couple of months, I have had several wonderful conversations with soon-to-be Moms. This always takes me back to own first experience being pregnant which was 22 years ago and yesterday. The contrast between these practical, thoughtful, organized women and the raw mess of uncertainty I remember being makes me wish I could make a cup of tea and offer some reassuring words to my younger, preggo self.

I spent my first pregnancy overwhelmed at the vastness of all that I would need to know as a new parent. All that I would need to teach this new little person. I read books, took in negotiations between Moms and their misbehaving children at the grocery store and watched my trail-blazing friends with their toddlers. The more I watched, the more I realized I was in over my head. This feeling would be the most extreme when I would visit my parents. They had all the answers. My Mom knows grammar better than most teachers I ever had, she can name just about any flower, tree, bush you happen upon and she did easily and regularly make us delicious meals, all perfectly timed (there have literally been times that my entree was ready a full day after the sides. Sadly, I am not kidding.). Once, she sewed (from scratch) a down vest for my Dad. A DOWN VEST PEOPLE! Yeah-after my visits with them, my overwhelm would turn to out right terror. And my Dad? Ask him anything. Serioulsy, ANYTHING. About the name of the clouds present that day, how to irrigate an orchard, wire a house for electricity or the function of the spoiler on the wings of a Boeing 747 during final approach. Anything– I am telling you.

But when my son, Sam, was born I learned the secret most new parents find out but never seem to talk about: The pressure is off because they are going to teach us far more than we can ever hope to teach them.

My boys are now interesting, strong and openhearted men of 20 and 22. I am thrilled to still be learning, expanding and evolving through the blessing of being their Mom; this happens sometimes in big ways, but mostly in small every day ways.

This is one of those seemingly small but absolutely perspective-rearranging lessons that I got from my youngest, Dominic:

Sometime during his senior year of high school, I noticed Dom and his buddies would greet each other as they arrived at each other’s houses, at school or on the phone by simply saying, “What’s Good?”  No hello first. No ridiculous beer commercial greeting of “Whhuuuuussss Uuuuuuupppp?”  Just simply “What’s good?” I smiled every time I heard this and thought it was such a wonderful way to frame the beginning of a conversation.

Then Dom started greeting me this way, in the morning or late at night as he was slipping in just before (or sometimes after) curfew. Every time, no matter what the hour or what I was doing, this simple question would make me pause and start scanning my memory for the most significant good thing to report.

A few years after witnessing and being the recipient of “What’s good?” greetings, I read the book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, Phd. and discovered that Dom and his friends had actually been dabbling in neuroscience. That this is not only a great way to greet a friend but it can actually rewire the brain. In Buddha’s Brain, Hanson claims that our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences. This hard-wired negativity bias has been a survival mechanism, keeping our species alive all these years by scanning for threat. Here’s the rub, we are no longer running from saber-toothed tigers. Our cell phones, our busy workday, overpopulation and our commute home have become our saber-toothed triggers. Our sympathetic nervous system records these negative, stressful experiences and, unless we have a way of mitigating that stress, it can make us feel that we have a tiger chasing us through our day.

There are many practices that can help us diminish stress and our negativity bias, and you already know some of the very best or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Yoga, meditation, prioritizing “white space” in your day and connecting with community.

Here is another: Meditating on what is good. Research supports this practice as increasing neuropaths ways for positive feelings. It is a meditation called “Taking in the Good” and this is how it works:

Take your seat, close the eyes and think of a moment in the last 3 days that made you smile, laugh or feel loved—a positive experience. Now for 20 seconds, hold that thought in your awareness as you try to “feel” that moment. In every cell you try to translate that experience into an exaggerated physical feeling throughout the entire body. You can contemplate the various qualities of the feelings it creates; bring a vivid picture of that moment into your mind. Now turn up the volume on that feeling, imagine your whole being soaking in that positive experience. Marinate in the felt sense of the experience. Remain curious and open during this practice and know that sticking with this memory as a physical experience may at first be a challenge. It is not currently how we are wired and changing wiring will take some time, dedication and effort.

If you would like to hear Dr. Hanson talk about “Taking in the Good” click on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA3EGx46r4Q

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I invite you to think of a sweet moment with your own Mom or simply witness a Mom in the trenches at the grocery store. Look for that magic moment, then see if you can wire it in.

And when you next arrive on your mat, close your eyes, drop into your breath and ask yourself, “What’s good?”

Meditations on Love from Unexpected Places

I LOVE Valentine’s Day! I know a lot of folks think of it as a Hallmark holiday but for me it has always been a day of getting to watch expressions of love as action (which along with chocolate, is my love language—but we’ll get to that later). For me, words can be wonderful, but action? Well, it can bust my heart wide open.

Having my heart busted open is what has happened for me every Valentines Day for the past 8 years. You see, I have a specific meditation practice that I do every Valentines Day. Have you seen the movie “Love Actually”? The ending (spoiler alert) shows clips of expressions of love between families, friends, and lovers all happening as they greet each other at the airport. I have never looked at an airport arrival area the same since watching that movie. Well, translate that scene to the Fred Meyers parking lot on Valentine’s Day. I sit in my car in the morning with my Starbucks drink and watch (mostly) men walk into the store with determination, fear, concern, bewilderment on their faces and walk out with carnations, roses balloons, chocolates. For the bewildered ones, all of the above. Then there are the kids coming out with something they are proud of for a teacher, a parent or a grandparent. It is love in action and it gets me every year.

How we love each other and find ways to love each other can be tricky. We all have unmet needs, we all have past wounds, we all have an ego that can jump in the way and muck things up; but I think for most of us there is an enormous discomfort with laying it all out there and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. So this might knock your socks off, the way it did mine…

Recently, a sweet man and beautiful soul called me with a question that he had been contemplating since reading an article from Buddhist Monk and meditation guru, Thich Naht Hahn.   He asked simply, “How can I love you better?”

Can you imagine being asked that question? I believe my response was a 3-minute, “uhhhhhhhhhhhh” while my brain melted down.   It was like some small corner of my heart that had never seen daylight just had the blinds thrown open. When my brain was back on-line, my response was the truest thing I have ever said, “you just did.”

Since then, I think about that question a lot in relation to my sons, my parents, friends, my peeps in my 7am class on Mondays; I even thought it recently of a guy working at the pharmacy that I wanted to throttle (a story for another day.) I allowed myself to feel the throttling urge for a bit, but I eventually got to “love you better” with him. Which consisted of simply choosing to not throttle him, of course.

This Valentine’s Day, I invite you to melt the brains of the people you love. “How can I love you better?”

Their answers may surprise you. If they are speechless, like I was, pick up the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It’s a guide that helps you outline how you best feel and receive love (acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch). It also helps you identify which language resonates with your loved ones best, how they best feel loved.   Often times, we give in a language that we like to receive in, when the target of our love may have a heart that speaks a completely different language. There is a version of the book for every relationship: couples, kids, teens, singles even an edition for those in the military.

Brene’ Brown says “vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.” So I invite you, on the Valentines Day, be courageous, show up, ask good questions, melt someone’s brain. And don’t forget to ask this question of yourself as well. How can you show up for yourself, love yourself better, allow for more self –compassion with the same care that you do the people you love most?

In the spirit of this deep practice, I will meet you on the mat…and possibly in the Fred Meyer’s parking lot on Valentines Day.

Suzy