Just finished working and realized I needed to enter my post. I had all these pictures I had set aside for my blog but couldn’t figure out how to move them from the file where I had saved them, until just now. Hence my posts not having any images all these weeks!
The first thing I thought when I closed my work email, I need a pop of color, something that makes me happy. And flowers do just that. There is a meditation technique called the “Heart of the Rose” where you take a rose and look at it starting at its heart or center and then notice its color, texture, fragrance and design (Source: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma). Let thoughts come in and out and bring yourself back to focus on the flower.
Doing this for just even a few minutes, helps to calm your thoughts and cool your mind.
P.S. Thanks to Rachel for her kind words about my posts last week. While I would always miss her posts, I figured she was out or just got busy with kids or work. I’m super-glad that she felt she could step away and not feel any pressure – that is what is so great about doing this. Otherwise the process of writing becomes burdensome and loses its joy. When I was at Dartmouth, I think I lost some of that joy as a Creative Writing Major (that and being surrounded by a lot of literary egos). Through this process, I’m slowly starting to regain that joy with every shaky phrase and awkward stumble of a sentence. For me, I had been wanting to write the post about Tao for a while, it’s so nice when your peer/colleague/writing buddy sees an “expansiveness of voice,” I certainly was trying for more, so to speak, and it is so nice that it was noticed!
As I fling myself around the house giving the kids a final tuck and searching for my phone charger and preparing to get back to work and surveying the amount of dishes I still have to clean tonight, I catch sight of my simple/slow parenting books on the bookshelf in my room. Marie Sherlock’s Living Simply with Children and Bernadette Noll’s Slow Family Living and Jamie C. Martin’s Steady Days.
Are these days steady? Are we living simply? Living slowly? These past few weeks it doesn’t feel like it. I missed yoga last week and will this week again. Last week, instead, I took my kids to a holiday event. Tonight I took them to a milk and cookies reading hour at their school. Since we don’t live nearby, that meant hanging around downtown in the intervening three hours, first in the park and then a quick pizza dinner and a stop by the bank and Balloon Saloon to pick up a toy for a toy drive and say hello to our friend Mary Yellow who works there and used to watch Petra when she was younger.
When I first read these books on slow and simple living I was starting out as a parent, dreaming about how I’d like things to be. With an almost 10-year-old and a 4 and a half-year-old now, I’m in the middle of it. I’m either raising them that way or I’m not.
But now, maybe it is not so simple as that. There are times we have long, slow, stretched afternoons, cooking together, listening to music. There are weeks we do yoga and journal-time every morning together. Wally is still only doing one activity now (twice a week) and Petra is free every afternoon. Sure she has to schlep around with me to Wally’s activities sometimes, but that often means she and I get an hour to play dominos or draw pictures together while we wait. When that happens, I often reflect on that rapid way a hectic moment turns into a quiet and protected one. Here we are the two of us waiting, with nothing to do, and isn’t that just what I want? Yes.
It’s a busy time of the year for everyone. I’ve said yes to a lot more plans than I normally have been. I happen to have a few major projects all converging. It is not an easy time to go slow, but I remind myself that going slow is as much a mindset as anything. I can take deep breaths. I can focus. I can heat up a mug of warm milk and molasses, like I used to do as a child. I missed yoga class, and skipped sun salutations this morning, but it is not late yet. Perhaps it’s time to teach myself how to salute the moon.
I had to work late these past few days and didn’t have the chance to go to yoga. When there is an absence of yoga, I’m so glad it feels like something is missing because it reminds me of its importance in my life.
So I decided to wait to write my blog until I went to class. Our teacher first had us take a seated position and put one hand on our heart and one hand on our belly. She made a great point that oftentimes we go through the entire day forgetting that we have a heartbeat. It’s so sad, but true. Our heartbeat and breath signal we are alive, yet, we take them for granted!
Then she had us do a breathing exercise. Inhale into the right nostril, exhale from the left nostril, inhale from the left nostril, exhale from the right nostril, etc. At first, slowing down and just enjoying the breath was tough. The whole point is to clear the mind. I couldn’t get into it. Thoughts of work kept trickling back into my head.
Feelings of self-doubt, a surge of worry tried to break my concentration as I slowly flowed in and out of poses. I did my best to stay focused and eventually as we got to the end, after completing savasana and saying an Om, I was suddenly a lighter, better version of myself. Like all the pieces somehow got put back together and I was whole again.
And then I came home to watch the last five minutes of Chopped, where one of the chefs had the word ‘enough’ tattooed on her arm, to remind herself that she is enough. And I said to myself, “Yes, I am enough.” How appropriate.
I never really valued practicing Uttanasana before studying the practice of yoga. If I am being really honest, I looked down on the pose with a certain level of disdain. To me it was simply folding over the body and there was no “yoga” in it – whatever that means. I would rush through it whenever taking a class, working to get to the next pose that in my eyes was more challenging and made me work more.
I realize how foolish that sounds now and how contrary that is to what we have been taught about the asanas and yoga in general. When done properly, one can revel in an Uttanasana and gain so much from doing the pose. A key thing we learned in class was that, when doing the pose, the hands shouldn’t dangle and the thumbs should line up 1.5 inches to the baby toe. Additionally, the forehead should come into the knees. Understanding these basics really helped me to do the pose correctly and gain its benefits.
Uttanasana is also such a key pose in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). Matching the ujjai breath and understanding to exhale when moving through this pose is so helpful. I also didn’t realize the crucial role it played to linking other poses together in a Vinyasa sequence. Plus when you do the right breath, the pose has so much more to offer. These are such a technical pieces of information but gaining this knowledge transformed my view of the pose.
In Light on Yoga Mr. Iyengar states about the pose: “Any depression felt in the mind is removed if one holds the pose for 2 minutes or more. The posture is a boon to people who get excited quickly, as it soothes the brain cells.” (p. 93)
Through the study of Vinyasa and Sun Salutations, I learned how important it is and really understand the value of the pose. I look forward to it in my practice. There is such simplicity to the pose – anyone can do it – yet the benefits described above are truly priceless. Imagine if everyone took the time to do an Uttanasana – how much more peace we would bring to the world!
What if every day we woke up without any of the hurt, pain or anger we’ve accumulated over the course of our lives? Wiping away all the negativity could make us like newborns able to start over fresh each time without any judgment of ourselves and others. Literally starting with a blank page would erase the insecurities, doubts and uncertainties that come with being a writer.
Yoga is a way to release some of that baggage, if not permanently, it can give perspective to what we are trying to accomplish when we write. (Perhaps, not when there is an alarm blaring outside during savasana, as was the case in Rachel’s last post.)
Jogging up the river I got “caught” behind a woman slowing down to check her phone or change her podcast or playlist because she cannot just run and have her own thoughts; she must also be entertained. Not that I don’t sometimes (and love to) run listening to music too—and adore the soundtracks to my yoga classes—but for the purposes of this rant I want to describe what was going through my head. (And I do think it’s important to be able to run or walk or sit or work without also always being distracted and entertained.)
Do you know when you get caught because when you try to pass the person slightly speeds up but then when you fall back in line they slow back down and then when you try again to pass there is a Parks Department golf cart coming from the other direction? While I was in my head launching a full-on attack of this narcissist woman, and launching off from there into a full-on attack of our “hyperconnected distracted” culture as Cal Newport calls it (and also, elsewhere in the same book, “hyperdistracted connected”), I glanced ever so slightly to the side and realized I had already missed half of the short wooden path that extends a bit below Laight Street along the river. That is my favorite part by far of this morning jog up from the school where I drop my kids. Because I’d distracted myself with this distracted woman, I’d already missed half. I fell back behind the woman, veered right, and caught up to the path.
Soon I was off it, but I soaked it up and enjoyed it and breathed deep of the wild grasses that grow there with a strong smell I can’t identify—it’s on the High Line too. I thought, yes I missed part of the path because I was distracted, fighting the wrong fight, but I found it, here I am on it. A new day, a new week, so many things are possible. An easy lesson, an easy metaphor.
Then I walk in the door and I see the news about Vegas and my heart sinks and I think, I cannot believe—but yes of course I can (why would it have changed?) this is happening again. And that it is always written as a contest, a superlative, an honor, a “biggest and best”—the “deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history”—one more dead, it appears, than Pulse—and I think: What are the lessons that again and again we refuse to learn if that most basic right, the right to live, we will not as a society even try to protect?
One week into this practice of daily writing and yoga, I find myself wondering which one should come first.
There is the matter of logistics. Doing yoga before the kids wake up makes it easier—no one climbing on and around me!
The kids are used to me writing in my journal most mornings. It’s not like they see me writing and quietly tiptoe off to get their own whatever they need in that moment, but they no longer physically impede the process.
I do find that sun salutations ground me more immediately where as free-writing often leaves me with a lot of anxiety. I know it’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to clear your mind. Jot down everything that’s worrying you and then—magically—you won’t be worried anymore! After free-writing for a few pages I often feel a bit scattered and on edge, like I’ve started an awkward confrontational conversation with a friend and suddenly one of us has to go.
I suppose the order relates to the questions from my post last week about how Kajal and I (separately and together) think about this pairing of writing and yoga. Because writing is my focus, my default mode is to think of yoga as a tool for my writing. In simple terms, how can I use yoga to help me become a better writer? Yet even as I write this, I know there is something else that I get from yoga that doesn’t merely serve writing. It is not simply that I don’t want to privilege writing in the context of this collaborative project but that through yoga I find it easier to access an elevated awareness beyond language that has been more powerful at times than almost anything I have been able to access through language. There are moments in reading and in writing that approach that dimension, but they are rare. In yoga, that “place” feels like it is always available.
I am thinking very much in terms of ritual, both because I like the spiritual (for lack of a better word) dimension it helps to access and because I have been reading Cal Newport and Gretchen Rubin and David Allen and others who insist on the power of ritual when forming new habits.
Today I chose yoga first, which left little time for writing. While the sky was still dark I put on Deva Premal’s Aad Guray and did four sun salutations.
By mainly free-writing first thing in the morning, perhaps I am not properly channeling the insights to be gained from that fluid, dream-state. Why don’t I use that writing space to capture whatever traces remain from a subconscious state? Using yoga as a way to “greet the day” helps me pull back from an entrenched seventeen-year habit of just writing first thing whatever comes into my mind. Yoga feels like a portal to a space before language. It reminds me that daybreak is sacred.