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

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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

Alone Together

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Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

What happens when we turn inward and can’t find anything to say? We finally clear a little bit of space, find a spot on our couch, open up our journal, or a new post on our blog, and…stare at the blank space, feeling more intimidated than comforted by it?

But perhaps I am skipping a step. Turning inward with the intention of writing isn’t turning entirely inward, especially if the writing is meant for an audience. It is turning inward to go outward, to create something, even something as small as a fleeting thought on an ordinary summer morning, to produce something. It is not enough to just be, to absorb and soak up the blank space; this kind of inward-focus has to have some output. In a journal, if we’re fairly certain no one will read it, we might feel free to write anything at all, a list of things to do that day, a quote, an affirmation, an observation about the tree outside our window. But on a blog it’s natural that censors will stand guard and protect us from sharing too much, or too little. There is the risk of TMI (too much information) and the risk of saying something trivial.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes about the limitations of our digital lives in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Her emphasis on the importance of human connection is one I share. I am equally horrified by the scene of families or friends in a restaurant all on separate devices. And yet I am at the edge, just beginning to scratch at the surface, of a new kind of understanding of alone together.

Trying to bring writing and yoga practice into alignment, I am asking myself to be alone (through yoga/meditation) but together (share it on this blog). At the end of my yoga class, each student fully absorbed in Savasana, we are alone together. Coming out of that focus, into the room, into the final “Om” and “Namaste” is difficult, disorienting. We are coming back to each other, in a way, to the rag-tag group of neighbors in a community room in Manhattan, about to be unleashed to the streets full of people, and back to our lives, but the communion we felt together but alone in yoga class slips away. Back together, we feel more separate.

Similarly I have been noticing more and more how my lifelong attempts at togetherness, belief in sorting through issues and difficulties and different points of view in conversation, often results in me feeling more alone. Rather than work through and sort out in conversation with others, I am relying more and more on retreating, meditating, going inward. It would be neat ending, a clear point, to say that ability to disconnect, go inward, meditate for a few minutes, write in my journal, allows me to ultimately feel more connected to others, but I am not sure that is true. Relying less on others, believing less in the ability to see eye to eye, accepting differences and distances, makes me feel more connected to something but not necessarily to other people. There is perhaps a loneliness to it, to saying, I disagree, don’t like the way you’re acting or treating me or other people, but I’m going to try not to say anything about it anymore.

 

—Rachel

Rachel

One Thing

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Focus on doing one thing.

How often do we hear that advice?

Yet how difficult it is to heed it.

Even when it comes to this blog, this moment. I want to sit here for a few moments breathing in and out listening to Snatam Kaur and writing, yet my mind is racing ahead to all that needs to be done in the next 40 minutes, the next several hours, several days. I hear Wally chattering in the background nervously, working last, last minute on a project he had all vacation to do. I did that many times, I remind myself, and when I was far older than him. One thing. Today I returned to a (tiny) morning routine. So simple. Light a candle, start the quiet music, breathe in, and begin. Yet how many mornings go by without it?

I read somewhere recently to start and finish your meditation practice with something that frames it. Lighting a candle and blowing it out can be one way. A chime or incense. One of those bowls—what are they called? Clearly I am new at this. I like that idea though. That commitment. For the length of this song, or while this candle is burning, I will (attempt to) focus on this one thing. I remind myself of that word “attempt” again and again. During meditation our minds may wander. As we’re working on a piece of writing we may keep thinking of a million other things we need to do. As we’re practicing yoga we may need to keep reminding ourselves to focus on the breath—to breathe at all. All we can really control is our intention.

My intention now (nearly 10 PM) has changed from when I began this post (before 7 AM). I had thought then that I would write quite a bit, having not written for a while. Perhaps I’d even write about the reason for the break. But the day carried me away. Whenever I could, I remembered to slow down, breathe, stay focused on one thing. Once in a while I was able to.

So here is this post after a long silence, one little offering.

 

—Rachel

Rachel

A Balcony in Seattle

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Photo Credit: Matt Sweet

 

In Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, David M. Levy recounts a demonstration he attended in the mid 1970s where a presenter showed the audience how he could respond to an email while he worked on his programming by switching between windows onscreen. In the audience, Levy writes, “an eminent computer scientist…was visibly upset by what he had just seen.” Levy summarizes the man’s response: “Why in the world would you want to be interrupted—and distracted—by e-mail while programming?” From our vantage point fifteen years after the book’s publication (2001), the idea of someone working at the computer distracted only by email might as well as well be an Orthodox Jew hunched over the Talmud.

We are warned against distraction; we know about the false promise and  myriad downsides of multi-tasking, we are seeking relief from fragmented attention. Yet much of the time we frame the dilemma in terms of what we don’t want. We don’t want to be toggling back and forth between screens. We don’t want to be hooked up to Twitter like a drip-feed. We don’t want to be dependent on the dopamine release of Facebook updates. We don’t want to phub. We don’t want to hear pings. We don’t want to switch back and forth between real and virtual conversations.

But maybe trying hard to avoid distraction, we are thinking about it too much. Maybe a better approach is to think about where we want to put our attention. Maybe we’d do best to focus on focusing, to concentrate on concentration, to recognize how much better it makes use feel than hours of split-screen fragmentation, half working/half distraction. Maybe we should put the emphasis on producing rather than merely consuming.

Recently I reconnected with a friend from elementary school Whitney Barrat (whose Guest Post will appear this Friday here) via Facebook. Today she sent me a text with a photograph and entry from Humans of New York an apology: “Excuse the potentially intrusive text but I saw this on FB and it immediately made me think of you.” The man in the photograph is wearing a Thurgood Marshall College Fund t-shirt (an organization my dad and I have worked with for over fifteen years) and talks about “an awakening on a balcony in Seattle” where he understood that he is the “awareness of [his] mind.” He goes on to say:

“We’re all just drops of consciousness and if you get to the point where you can turn around and see your drop, you’ll discover that it’s connected to an ocean of consciousness. And then you’ll be illumined.”

A friend from elementary school, the man in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund t-shirt, the revelation on balcony in Seattle, this morning’s perfect and not-at-all intrusive text. Perhaps the utopian dream of the early World Wide Web is still available, that dream of connection. For all the downsides, potential for distraction, the lost hours, days, weeks and years, the potential for connectivity is there still too, traveling along that murky web, hidden in gray clouds, available endlessly, if we know how to use its power wisely.

Guest Post

Mindful Social Media

My younger child and Andrea’s oldest were born a day apart and spent three years together in the most wonderful NYC daycares first in Soho and later in Chelsea. I noticed Andrea bouncing down the stairs and gliding off into a Soho morning looking lighter than air just a month or so after she’d had a second baby. We have tried so hard during the past three years to meet up talk about yoga and writing and life—post-drop off coffee? pre-pick-up happy hour? river jog with running strollers?—and other than big-group get togethers haven’t to this day been able to arrange it. Meanwhile I’ve watched her light-filled, lovely social media posts and, eager to offer a counterpoint to my frequent bouts of irritation and frustration about social media, I asked Andrea she’d be willing to write about her approach to sharing her life and her practices online. Happily she said yes. Here she is in the photo on the left and below, her words. xo, r

Photo Credit: Yui Holbrook

I struggled with the concept of social media for years, and still do. I will never get used to the blatant self-absorption that it illuminates. It makes me sad when I walk through NYC’s famous landmarks and watch hordes of tourists taking selfies during their entire visit, parents posing and directing their kids before snapping the perfect social media shot while the kids look irritated and frustrated. Of course cameras have long been a part of vacations and life, but there is a frenzy now that was not there before. As a mother, I could spend an entire outing taking social media pictures of my kids and that kind of self-absorption takes me away from them, my husband, and the beautiful family moment that is happening. My husband and I have a rule of maximum three photo moments during any outing.

One of my favorite examples is of my friend whose kids wanted to do a lemonade stand. She spent two hours building and staging the perfect social media “lemonade stand set” and while she was perfectly posing her perfect kids they said, “Mom, we really just wanted to have a lemonade stand. This is not fun at all.” After that my friend quit all social media, realizing that she was unable post “imperfect” pictures and understanding that her life would be too controlled by it.

When I was pregnant with kids 13 months apart, my body and life went through so many changes and there were periods when I felt very isolated, unmotivated and lost. During that time, I enjoyed looking at Instagram and Facebook, keeping up on friends and family, but I was reluctant to post on my own. I felt too exposed and anything I thought to post felt cliché, especially since I was not feeling inspired.

Something shifted when I started to realize the incredibly inspiring, positive and encouraging social media posts that were positively affecting me. Seeing what other yoga teachers, writers, artists, mothers, women and entrepreneurs were doing motivated me to share my practice and my life. I knew that if I had gotten to the other side of some difficult moment with kids, work, life, that posting about it honestly could be a positive addition to the social media world.

My yoga teaching focuses a great deal on personal practice and self-study. I have great respect for the ritual of self care and am committed to reminding myself and others that we have the ability, every day, to choose to check in, take care, breathe, stay present, be mindful, be kind, communicate, listen, acknowledge the choices we are making and strive to be the most authentic version of ourselves. I work with my sister and we have a joyful, respectful, honest working relationship and an incredible sisterhood. We realize this is unique, inspiring and something to be grateful for and so we are inspired to share that with others.

From the lens of truth, gratitude, inspiration and honesty, I now feel good about social media. I stay present with each post, making sure it feels authentic and honest before posting. I try not to get hooked into the numbers of Likes and comments, which is difficult, and requires me to stay mindful. I appreciate the way people are using social media as a positive platform. It is something that we will have to coach our children towards as well. As with everything in life, authenticity and honesty are important;  social media is no different. We are all inspiring in our own ways and if we show our true selves it can a beautiful way for us to connect.

Andrea Curry is a yoga teacher based and teaching in NYC. She teaches retreats around the world with her sister, Christina Curry, also a yoga teacher, who is based in Milan, Italy. You can find her at www.andreacurryyoga.com Instagram: @andreacurryyoga and
Facebook: andreacurryyoga
Rachel

Living by the Water

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On Mondays after I drop the kids off at school I walk up the river a bit and then jog and the first thing I remember is that I have yoga tonight. I remember this only when I’m away from the kids because it’s the first time I can clear my head enough to think beyond the present. Thinking ahead to that evening to a time where, the hope is, I can be fully present for an hour. And yet that thought—yoga tonight!—fills me with a rush of anxiety. For that to work requires an elaborate acrobatic act. My work must be done, dinner ready, laundry folded and put away. Most everything the kids need – permission slips signed, Kung Fu clothes clean for tomorrow – ready so that Alex can handle that hour and fifteen minutes that I’m out of the house while the kids are still awake. From the vantage point of 8:40 AM, getting everything done I need to get done in the upcoming 10 hours so that I can go to yoga class feels overwhelming. I battle these anxieties throughout the day. You didn’t finish this so that is not going to get done! Then that won’t and that won’t and that won’t either! Domino effect of not-dones cascade ahead in my imagination.

So on the day I should maybe be the calmest, knowing I’ll have that blissful hour to myself, I find I am off balance, jittery, unsettled.

That makes me think of the quote by Rumi, which I often think about when I go to run and mentally catalogue the obstacles to getting out to the river—the construction, the crowds, the street closures, crossing the West Side Highway.

But I cannot find the quote now and I “need” to send off this post. It is about how you live near the water but all you can see are the obstacles to the water.

Begin · Rachel

Showing up

I feel the beginning of a nag. An impatient voice from the sidelines. A finger wagging in my direction. An imposing item on a To-Do list. A ticking clock. Slightly haunting piano music in the background. “You are supposed to post on the yoga/writing blog today!”

To reassure myself, I read through Kajal’s words here and here. Specifically, these words: “Rachel and I had discussed not putting pressure on ourselves for the blog to keep it fun and fulfilling and not like a task.”

I will myself to breathe. Better one real, true, deep breath than 10 shallow, manic breaths. I search around for matches that I am always hiding and then forgetting where they’re hidden. We can always begin. We can always write a few lines. We may not have the space to write further, to pull the various threads we’d like to pull, let alone think about how to tie them back up again, if that is indeed what we want to do. More and more—or I suppose I was always this way?—I am drawn to Rebecca Solnit’s embrace of the unknown, her suspicion of the known. About Woolf’s line: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think”  Solnit writes: “It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into the known through false divination, or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives; it’s a celebration of darkness, willing—as that “I think” indicates—to be uncertain even about its own assertion.” Often we characterize uncertainty as weak (and female)—I think, it might, I’m not sure, maybe, sorry, what do you think?— when it can so often be the opposite. Female yes, but not weak at all. A brave willingness not to know and to admit to not knowing.

There is an honesty and a peace to this approach to writing. To commit to just showing up, and that’s it. Why does an anxiety still hang around it then sometimes, like today? It is not that I am too busy to write a few words. It’s that I feel too busy to write from the center. It’s that I feel I’m the one on the sidelines somedays, too.

I suppose when I think about it, my embrace of the unknown is not new, but it no longer feels like something for which I must apologize. I like open-ended. I like unstable meanings. I like postmodern literature. I like wandering and, metaphorically at least, getting lost.

I’m chilled by Woolf’s line. Today, too the future feels dark.

I dig around again and finally find the matches. I find a candle. I light it and look at the words etched on the side of the glass jar that holds it. A single word. “Begin.”