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

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).

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