Rachel

Endings

shallow focus photography of sunflower with bee
Photo by Jennifer Murray on Pexels.com

The sunflowers in our garden were enormous. They blocked out the sun for the rest of the patch. In the shade, with so many days of rain, everything grew, overgrew, wild and tangled. A mess of morning glories ravaged nearly everything in its path.

When we pulled the sunflowers out, after they died, I couldn’t believe the stalks, how thick they were. The bulk of them. “All this from a seed!” I kept saying. “Since May!” No one else seemed as impressed as I was, as surprised by the fecundity. The huge growth in a short time.

They were so tough, those stalks. Unpleasantly tough. You could build a treehouse out of them. I worried about putting them into the compost bin. They would take forever to break down.

There is a little bit of sadness in the end of a project. Even a shaky, uneven one. We didn’t post twice every week as planned. And for the past several months – more? – it has been mainly just me posting. This didn’t become the place for conversation and collaboration I had dreamed it might. One wants to write “but” and offer something to offset the disappointment —a lesson in self-reliance, a glimmering metaphor about finishing a hike alone. But no, I’ll let it stay as it is. I’ll sit with the disappointment and not spin it into something that attempts to obscure it.

Yet this ending is a beginning too, as all endings are.

Here we are at the start of the school year, and the start of the Jewish New Year, even as the days are growing shorter and the light is leaving.

With writing so often things grow, overgrow, wild and tangled, not what you intended. Maybe you hack away at the mess and find a treasure, or maybe there’s nothing there but emptiness, a patch of dirt, the chance to begin again.

Of course I’ve always known Jewish holidays begin the evening before, but until attending my first ever Rosh Hashanah service last week, I never stopped to think that the Jewish day itself begins in the evening.

The birds ate the sunflower seeds, the remains of the flowers and stalks are now part of the compost bin, ready for metamorphosis into dirt for the garden next spring. The light is gone, for today, this project over, but in the evening, on our way soon to sleep, the day is also beginning. Let’s dream it into something worthy of all the growth from this past year, and the many others we’ve already lived and bid farewell.

—Rachel

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Rachel

Practice

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Though I came to this project as a daily writer and sporadic yoga-practitioner, I would say I often find it easier to practice yoga than writing. Not well, but I have no expectation of flexibility or coordination or strength, so the poor quality of my yoga poses is not particularly frustrating. I almost always feel better after a sequence than I did before.

Not so with writing. No matter how many years I’ve been doing it for school, for work, for fun, stories, songs, personal essays, evaluation reports, blogs, a thousand different journals, the process on any given day can be intensely aggravating.

It was aggravating tonight. I began this blog four different times. I tried for a list of Lessons Learned. They sounded a forced, and unoriginal, all “lessons” that had already been described here.

I tried writing about a wonderful book I recently reread Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict by Judy Ringer. I needed to give it more thought.

I started to write about how tomorrow is the Day of Atonement. Okay, and?

We’ve had a run of fevers in our house recently and I’m intrigued by the rhythms of the fevers, how they spike at night. Why is that? How is that natural rhythm so strong? But, these were all half-thoughts, scraps of beginnings, possible entry-ways into little essays, but nothing more than that.

What to do? Push forward. Try again. Open a new post. Turn to a notebook and write be hand. But all these attempts made me feel like I was forcing something (and I suppose I was). Wait. What if I stop forcing this? What if I stop. Pause. Take a deep breath. Think again about why I came here. When I paused, I realized I should try some yoga poses. Why not—right in the middle of the writing process—see if a warrior pose and crescent lunge could help me loosen up in my writing.

After a few poses, it’s not like I make a breakthrough or have an “aha!” moment. Yoga flow doesn’t translate to writing flow. But it does make me think that if we pull back a little, stop trying so hard to control things, pause instead of press forward. we can sometimes gain a better perspective. The idea was to see how writing and yoga go together, and yet, until now, I’d never really tried a sequence that combined them. The energy changed. The frustrated feeling was gone. The practice continues.

—Rachel

Guest Post

Embracing Your Warrior Within

Here is our 7th and final Guest Post for The Light Within from Sharyn Hahn. I’ve been  trying to incorporate warrior poses into my daily yoga practice. This advice came at the perfect time and is such a great send-off from my neighbor mindfulness guru. Could there be a better way to begin (or end) the day than reaching for the sky? Happy travels—in yoga and writing—and look up what Sharyn’s doing on her sites, linked below. xo, Rachel

silhouette of women on lake against sky

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Though yoga cannot cure all of our problems or remove all the obstacles we face in life, it can help us prepare for them. Many that practice yoga frequently find they become less bothered by everyday frustrations and annoyances. Then, the larger challenges that life throws our way also become easier to manage.”

—Mind Fuel Daily, “Can Yoga Help With Life’s Challenges?”

 

Always be proud of your strength. Not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally. Take care of yourself and there will be more of you available to give to others. Yoga and meditation are very effective ways to cultivate strength and flexibility, as well as mindfulness. You will find that you are better able to deal with the problems that arise in your daily life when you feel good physically and mentally.

As a middle school teacher and a yoga teacher/practitioner, I have discovered that certain poses and breathing techniques are especially effective in making me feel balanced and ready to face my day. I have been sharing them with my students at different times during the school day, and they have had positive results. In particular, focusing on the breath and warrior poses are very effective in relaxing us, focusing us, and empowering us!

There have been studies about the body’s response to doing power poses, and they reveal that there is a positive health outcome as well as a behavioral change. Yoga stances that include strong leg positions, with distance between the feet, squared hips and raised arms fit into this category. Warrior 1, 2 and 3, Chair pose, and some balancing poses are examples of this type of “asana” (pose.) Self-esteem and confidence are boosted over time with repetitious practice, and hormonal changes are evident as well. This has a big impact on our ability to deal with stress, difficult situations, and obstacles that impede our progress in areas of our lives. Consider the results of a study conducted by Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy:

“…While high-power posers showed an 8% increase in testosterone, low-power posers had a 10% decrease in the hormone. Meanwhile, the inverse relationship happened with cortisol, the hormone related to stress. While high-power posers experienced a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, low-power posers had a 15% increase in their stress levels.”

These outcomes suggest that yoga poses and mindfulness practiced in settings that require performance and progress, such as in schools, would be a very helpful addition to the daily routine. Inspired by these potential benefits, I was recently certified by the Breathe For Change program, which is a Yoga Alliance 200 hour certification training for educators. The idea behind this program is that teachers have the opportunity to reach many individuals every day over many years, and if we all were able to instill good practices and mindfulness into their routines, we would be able to make an impactful change. As the site explains, “Breathe for Change empowers educators to enhance well-being into their lives, classrooms, and school communities.”

Giving ourselves times relax our bodies, connect with our breathing, visualize a positive situation that we would like to see actually happen, and standing in strengthening poses only takes about ten minutes, but can change the way we feel and interact with others during our day. It is something that can be done alone or in a group, at home or in a specific setting. I encourage everyone that I meet and teach to begin a short practice that can then possibly expand into a longer amount of time.

Breathing exercises can encourage the body to release tension, circulate oxygen more effectively, and wake up the mind. Inhaling into the belly while sitting comfortably or lying down will allow you to follow the breath as it goes in and out. Filling the belly with your breath and then gently pressing the belly button towards the spine as you exhale is a wonderful way to start a practice. Be sure to keep the inhale and the exhale equal lengths to begin with. Later on you can extend the exhale to two more counts then the inhale.

Warrior and balancing poses are uplifting and strengthening. When we raise our arms towards the sky, we are connecting with our inner power, and the sense of balance and control that result from mastering these “asanas” has a positive effect on our well-being.
Warrior 1 pose is the first of three related powerful standing postures that improve strength and flexibility. There is also Warrior 2 and Warrior 3.

Standing tall with your arms at your sides, relax your shoulders and feel your feet grounded into the earth and supporting you.

In this pose, the legs are placed in a lunge position with the back foot turned at a 45-60 degrees angle and the front leg bent at a 90 degree angle so the knee is stacked over the ankle. The heel of the front foot should be aligned with the heel of the back foot. The hips are squared so the torso faces the bent leg and the arms are raised overhead with the palms facing each other or touching.

We usually begin on the left side and then repeat the pose on the right. This is true of all of the poses. If you would like to learn more about the different poses and their alignments, you can contact me on Facebook (Sharyn Hahn’s Fitness, Yoga and Mindfulness for All) and Instagram (suryyama_yoga) for more information.

Being a warrior means being grounded and centered and also ascending upward to connect with the path that is unfolding before us. Stand strong, be alert, and set your intention to fight for freedom, truth, and equality for all. Now more than ever.

Journaling is central to this process. I encourage you to start if you haven’t already. Here’s a question to get you thinking: what personal trait do you feel most comfortable sharing with others? Which one are you least comfortable sharing? How can you focus on this in a positive and uplifting way? I hope that you take some time to think about how you interact with incidents during your day, and what steps that you can focus on to allow a positive change to unfold for you. Namaste.

—Sharyn

Sharyn Hahn has been a teacher to students of all ages for 33 years, with a focus on teaching French at a private school in NYC. During the past eight years she has added a new dimension to passion for teaching and is now an ACE certified Personal Trainer (FitWomaNow!), and a YogaFit instructor with a 200-hour RYT certification in Mind-Body Balancing from the Deep Yoga Center in San Diego, California. She is currently pursuing a certification in Yoga for Traumaas she continues to broaden her understanding of the significance of yoga, meditation, and breath in her students’ lives. Sharyn holds a Master’s degree in French literature and language and runs Tutorcise.com.

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Rachel

End of Summer

End of Summer Checklist

  1. Walk barefoot in the grass
  2. Get an ice cream cone
  3. Listen to music outside
  4. Make a dish using zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers from the Farmer’s MarketWP_20180916_14_10_29_Pro.jpg
  5. Watch the sun set
  6. Make one last pitcher of Sangria
  7. Hold tree pose
  8. Take a Saturday afternoon nap
  9. Flip through a magazine sipping iced tea
  10. Ride the carousel even if you’re way too big for itWP_20180822_15_40_23_Pro.jpg—Rachel
Rachel

On the Move

action blur car child
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

I began something on a recent I hadn’t done in well over a year- kids yoga in the morning. I did it mainly because the wild energy of Wally (my 5th grader) was driving me crazy. It’s an electric charge that’s always on him, especially in the mornings. He wants to wrestle, he can’t stop chanting, bumping into me and Petra, catapulting from room to room. For the first few years, I just did my best to get him out of the house as early as possible. I think it has always made me feel stressed, but now that he’s older and easier to talk to it suddenly occurred to me that maybe there’s something I could do to address it.

Today I decided to try a kids’ yoga routine. It didn’t help all that much, although Wally was able to stay focused during it (Petra too – for her, it’s never been as hard, she’ll even—drumroll—sleep in on days she doesn’t have to go to school.)

Afterward I asked them how they felt. Neither answered. I asked if they felt calm. Petra didn’t really answer—still practicing downward dog. Wally said he doesn’t like to feel calm, that it makes him feel sad. I suppose that is true for many people. They don’t put it exactly that way. It’s talked about more in terms of staying busy, or being a work-a-holic, or needing constant stimulation and distraction. But the way Wally put it was simple and clear. Perhaps it can made me more flexible, in how I respond to him being always on the move.

light sunset people water
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

—Rachel

 

Rachel

September 11

I visited the World Trade Center site today, as I have all but one of the past seventeen years.

The one-year anniversary was filled with events, music, messages, reverence, and remembering. I went to a service with Kristin, the friend with whom I had watched in horror from a rooftop in Brooklyn as the Twin Towers burned. After the service we went to an installation, left messages of peace somewhere, sang songs. Other years I caught part of the recitation of names. Twice I went to St. Paul’s Chapel. Now, finally, there are the water memorials to visit, with the names engraved along the sides. Today someone had placed flowers all over the names. Calvi, Cisneros, Muvoolo, Schneider, Jeffers, Hoffman, West, Armstrong, Swaine, Leo, Sullivan, Buckley, Levine. I realized being there today that, while the memorials give us place to honor the lives lost there, and pay tribute to the disaster in a beautiful way, they also remove the visitors from the event. Those years where you stood looking at the hole in the earth, a gaping wound, allowed access to something of the rawness of the ground. It is a different kind of site now. A different kind of pilgrimage.

Here’s a little piece I wrote, years ago.

Rachel

September again

fashion woman notebook pen
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

It’s clear I haven’t posted here every day as was my stated intention on August 3, when I thought about how to end this project, looking back at how we’d begun.

I liked trying to post every day at first, for a while in the middle of August. It drew out the days, marked them, protecting them from simply flying away. I don’t share the feeling that I’ve heard from so many around me that the summer flew by. For those of us lucky enough to live in a land of abundance, it always tries to fly. If we want to hold onto it, we have to be intentional about slowing down, not just intentional about reading articles about it, dreamily gazing at photographs about it. We have to really think—What makes the weeks feel like they are fully lived, not racing by, not getting away from us?

Yoga and writing, and within those practices, deep breathing, music, meditation, those are the best ways I know how to accomplish that pacing that feels closer to what I remember from childhood. Practices that help us returning again and again to the moment we are in.

I think looking past and forward can help too, though a Buddhist would likely disagree.

Throughout the summer I would stop and think about how many weeks had gone by, what we had done during them, what plans still lay ahead. During bouts of insomnia, I would sometimes think down to the day and the hour since summer began, trying to remember everything. It’s not that I’ll be able to, but even the attempt made me feel more deeply rooted in the season.

—Rachel