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

The Hermit’s Life For Me

 

Hermit hike

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you and do not worry that life is turning you upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come? Rumi

 

After 18 years of service, I am retiring this fall.

I’ve been trying to think of this as the naturally occurring third ashrama or stage of life (usually between ages 48 and 72) referred to in India as Vanaprasta, or the Hermit Stage.

The Vanaprasta Ashrama follows the Grihastha Ashrama or Householder stage where devotion to one’s family has taken precedence. The Vanaprasta or Hermit Elder is encouraged to lead a life of contemplation, meditation and prayer alone or with their spouse, often removed from other family members. It is a time to evaluate and reflect on life and to discover who one truly is and what life is all about without the distractions of a busy life.

Although Vanaprastas are typically encouraged to move to a modest hut in the forest, that would only appeal to me for a couple of weeks. I will compromise with long hikes in the woods, returning afterwards to my comfy bed and warm cozy home in town.

After a life spent almost entirely as an extrovert, I have some serious concerns about this new quiet life of contemplation. However, I have studied the introverts that have enriched my life, and I think I can embrace at least some of the lifestyle choices usually associated with them: staying home and hanging out in PJs; having uninterrupted time to read and write; saying “no” to meetings and other unnecessary social events; and saying “yes” to making soup and growing a garden.

 

For so long I have identified myself by my work that I am curious about this opportunity to examine who I am when I am not doing what I’ve done for all these years. As a child I played “teacher” and “mother,” enlisting my siblings and cousins to be my students and kids. As a young adult I spent ten frustrating years longing for this job before finally realizing my dream. Although my yoga practice taught me long ago, on an intellectual level, that I am more than what I do, I don’t think I ever really wanted to feel myself as separate from the job I eventually stepped into almost two decades ago.

This September, when Cody and Devin are in college, I will rise early, not to make breakfast and pack lunches as I have for so long, but to meditate and do my yoga practice in a quiet house. Instead of doing loads of laundry, I’ll read a book for more than ten minutes at a time, or write the stories that have been yearning to get onto a page. I’ll plan my day around a hike with Rocky and my dogs instead of figuring out my boy’s busy schedules and who is going to use my car. Dinner won’t have to include teenaged boy’s must-haves like pasta and dessert and might just be a simple homemade vegetarian soup. In the spaciousness created by this inevitable retirement from my favorite full-time job as “Mom,” I will likely have more time to just be still.

It is said that the Vanaprasta Ashrama can be a harsh and cruel life for an elder, especially one used to a full, rich family life, and for that reason it is now virtually obsolete in India. (Did I mention that you are supposed to renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures during this stage?) The key for me will be to approach this stage with moderation rather than a complete abandonment of my former activities. Rocky is relieved about that!

And there are always the holidays to look forward to when the boys will arrive home with suitcases full of dirty clothes; go back to leaving food-crusted dishes in their rooms and stinky clothes on their bedroom floors just to show me how much I’m still needed. The house will be filled with their noise and laughter again and I will temporarily return to my former position, glad for the glimpse back at my old beloved life.

During this tenuous transition to the hermit stage, I’ve enlisted the help of my business partners, Suzy and Karen, to stop me from my overwhelming urge to rescue ten dogs or adopt a child as a way of holding onto my current Householder Stage. Of course, I’ll also still have my other favorite job teaching yoga that will keep me out of my pajamas a few days a week.

You didn’t think I could give up teaching yoga as well, did you?

 

When she’s not doing yoga, Jeni Martinez juggles a busy household with two 18 year old boys, Devin & Cody, a very drooly 90 lb chocolate lab named Rudy; a 7 lb yorkie-poo with dreadlocks named Tanner; her delightful husband, Rocky, whose passion for cooking delicious food has kept Jeni happy and well-fed for 30 years; and her mother, Mary, who in spite of advanced Alzheimer’s can still kick Jeni’s butt in Scrabble.