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

 

Who are all these people?

Turns out labeling the thoughts and feelings we experience makes us less crazy.

A few years ago I started naming the voices that live in my head. Polly the planner obsessively gets my ducks in a row. Helga the Holier-Than-Thou is absolutely certain how every one should live their life. Nora the naysayer is pragmatic and claims to see life as it really is. Now, before you send me a referral to a good psychiatrist, I was following the advice of a meditation teacher who has some evidence to back up this practice.

Researchers at the Brain Mapping Center at the UCLA school of medicine made the case that labeling calms the mind. In this study, subjects were shown pictures of faces expressing anger or fear and it turned out the fear centers in the subjects brains showed increased blood flow indicating their own fight/flight responses were being stimulated. However, when asked to label the expression they were seeing, the blood flow to fear centers diminished. AND parts of the pre-frontal cortex, a brain area that regulates emotions, showed increased blood flow.
Researchers concluded that labeling, which takes place in the higher regions of the brain, can regulate emotional responses, helping you to feel calmer. Polly keeps my life on track but she gets completely bent out of shape when one of the ducks goes AWOL – which makes her exhausting. Helga tends to put healthy meals on the table but she can get super preachy when she finds fast food containers in the garbage. Nora keeps me from making mistakes like chucking it all to be a ballerina, but she also tries to keep me small and tells me not to write blogs because people might find out what I’m REALLY like.

There’s also Miserable Martha; Complaining Calliope, Aster the Anxious…frankly, its crowded in here. Simply by naming them, they tend to sit down. They stop running the show. The gloriously freeing part is that I don’t have to fix them, or spend energy trying to get them speak differently or even to go away. They are here because sometimes they serve me well and because I am a human being who isn’t perfect. (Prudence the Perfectionist is having a hissy fit over that one). Labeling them reminds me they are not my identity. They are not the Truth of who I am. And when I remember that, I come home to my self. Home to the aspect of me that is loving and compassionate and forgiving and peaceful. This exists too and it is far larger and more powerful than all of the others because it is not alone and separate. It is connected to Life, to the larger Whole, to Source, to the Divine. I don’t create it or build it or sustain it – I need only align with it and allow it to flow to me and through me.

That is the greater truth of Who I am. What a relief.

Invitation: Start noticing and labeling the inner narratives and voices in your head and see if they quiet down a bit once you’ve got their number… and affirmed they are part of this present moment experience, but they are not your identity. (note: If I have inadvertently used your name in this post feel free to label one of your voices Karen the Crackpot).