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

 

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Rachel

Early morning at the lake

seaport during daytime
Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Hanging on the wall at this lake house where we are staying for a luxurious two weeks, there is a sign that provides the “Lake Rules”—swim, relax, sleep in. Despite torrents of rain, at times unrelenting, far more rain than not rains so far, we have managed to swim just about every day. Relax, absolutely, and even sleep in. My kids are old enough now (10 and 5), far too attached to their cousins (14 and 13), deliriously happy in the playroom, to care much about waking me up anymore. And so, for the first time that I remember since entering parenthood, I am waking up when I choose to on vacation. That has meant sleeping in until 8, generally, and—after a particularly bad night with my younger up and sick for several hours—even until close to 10.

That extra sleep I surely needed, yet now feel ready to return—if not to the early, early mornings of vacations past—to awaking early enough to greet the morning.

The air is wet, so the matches won’t light. It takes me seven tries. I stretch out a beach towel, and practice four sun salutations, taking deep, slow breaths (but continuously needing to remind myself to do this, even during yoga, even during these moments alone). I had wanted to hang the suits and towels on the porch, hoping they’d catch one of the rare moments of sun, but everything out there is still wet.

So many ways to enjoy the magic of this early morning at the lake. So much that feels possible now that somehow doesn’t for much of the rest of the day. Practicing yoga. Sipping coffee and staying at the water. Reading the book I brought, The Point of Vanishing, by Howard Axelrod, sent to me two years ago from my dear friend Matt in Seattle. Take quiet, nothing notes in my journal. Attempt to write something semi-coherent here. Take a walk. A quick little swim. Anything at this hour feels more purposeful, more imbued with meaning. The angle of the light, the solitude, the quiet, the invitation of another day.

Yesterday I practiced tree pose  in public, accepting that to improve, to expand my practice, I will need to be like the Chinese ladies in Chinatown, practicing Guang Chang Wu and various martial arts in an empty basketball court every morning. Inward focus, no matter the setting.

Now, as I am attempting to stay balanced in tree pose, an animal appears in the field across the street. It is a deer, gracing me with its presence. I feel this is a sign I am still enough, like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Now, coming out of tree pose, out of my yoga sequence, folding up my “mat” and pouring a cup of coffee, I notice various sounds—birds, a dog barking, a plane maybe overhead, insects buzzing, I’m never sure which ones. Someone starts stirring upstairs, the kids are growing louder, probably getting hungry and ready for breakfast.

The air here is enchanted, the lake rules easy to follow, but “sleep in” is one I’ll ignore as many days as I can.

—Rachel

Rachel

Alone Together

group of people enjoying music concert
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

Guest Post

GOOD VIBRATIONS

Here’s December’s Guest Post from Sharyn Hahn!  Enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments.

METTA: – kindness – engendered in us encourages us to accept ourselves and others, and so to understand ourselves and others. Understanding implies wisdom. And this wisdom is that which allows us to find the way, to grow beyond, or let go of, that which limits and binds the heart. The kindness expressed to others allows them to accept themselves and others. [1]

There are many forms of yoga being practiced these days and the number of practitioners are growing exponentially in the western world. People are coming to the mat for a variety of reasons; fitness, flexibility, stress-reduction, and meditation are the top attractions for new students. Those of us who have been studying and practicing for a while know that yoga has been around for thousands of years and has a profound tradition of ethics and spirituality. This is one of the reasons that I am so committed to this practice in my life and why I get such joy out of teaching and sharing what I have learned.

 

As I explained briefly in my first article, I decided to pursue my certification in yoga when I met my future teacher at the Kripalu workshop “The Guru is You.” I attended this weekend program with my sister who was searching for ways to heal from a tragic event. We had both taken yoga classes sporadically over the years; this workshop seemed like a promising approach to trauma that we were willing to try. I have to admit that we were a little skeptical when the yoga teacher strolled in and started to strum his guitar and sing to us. However, the ensuing breathing and visualization exercise resulted in a huge release of tears and emotion in the entire room, and the feeling of connection to everyone there was profound.

One of the most enlightening moments of the workshop was the explanation of creating and passing on positive energy. We did a few more exercises in the room, and the result was incredible. The teacher gave many examples of this phenomenon and its effect on us and ultimately the entire world. During the three days of healing work and discussion with other people in search of clarification of their own journeys, my path revealed itself to me so vividly that I immediately told the teacher that I had to study with him! It was a complicated process since his yoga school is in California and I am on the East coast with a family and a full time job. But we figured it out and I accomplished my goal; after two years I became a Deep Yoga Mastery of Life teacher. My goal was and is to share the ways in which we can cultivate self-love, compassion for others, and the manifestation of positivity and resulting personal growth.

Being kind to others is desperately needed in these troubled times for sure. Even small gestures have a ripple effect that travels to others in amazing ways. We often feel like it takes too much energy or planning to make a difference, but in fact a shift in mindset and a daily practice of positivity that we share will be felt by many people. My teacher described the scene in which you walk into a room where family members are all in a bad mood, complaining about something and yelling at each other. Although you are feeling fine before entering, once you are there, your mood is brought down to meet theirs and your energy shifts. When you leave, you bring that negativity with you, and you may overreact to a colleague or snap at a child because you absorbed a percentage of that energy from your family. This will be passed along in a chain to people who come into contact with others throughout the day. Have you experienced this situation? Think of a specific time when this happened and what the outcome was for you.

On the flip side, when we walk into a room filled with positive energy and compassion, we also absorb that, carry it with us, and share a spark with others whom we meet. Our gestures of kindness and compassion as a result of this energy kindles similar behaviors in others. As Adrian Cooper writes at Our Ultimate Reality:

“The laws of attraction and correspondence are always in operation whenever we project thoughts, ideas, emotions and anything at all involving our imagination. In all spheres of life, including the physical world, like always resonates with like; if you therefore focus on something negative it will result in the resonation of the corresponding negative Energy, in turn resulting in the attraction of more of the same negative Energy and corresponding negative circumstances, in other words negative effects. Of course, the very same principle also applies with positive thinking; positive thinking will always result in the resonation of positive Energy, in turn attracting the corresponding positive results.”

You know that warm, fuzzy feeling that you get when you offer help to a person in need or reach out to a lost animal? That is compassion; it creates a perceivable shift in the energy field and affects your mood. An act of kindness often encourages the receiver to help someone else. Within the teachings of yoga there are many precepts that invite the practice of compassion, love, and acceptance of others. As Dee Yergo writes: “According to this teaching, we learn to develop four attitudes in our interaction with others: loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. Loving kindness (maitri) is wanting others to experience joy. Compassion (karuna) is wanting others to be free from suffering. Appreciative joy (mudita) is taking enjoyment in the successes of others. The last of the Four Immeasurables is Equanimity (upeksha). This is the practice of seeing all beings as equal and not holding some dear and others distant.”

When we make kindness a regular and deliberate act, the way that we view and experience the world shifts. Our own sense of happiness and well-being increases and we develop a feeling of interconnectedness with others, and a sense of belonging, and peace within our hearts. It takes some focus and intention-setting in order to be able to create a mindset of positivity in all situations. Being able to accept bumps along the way on our path without falling into a negative space is an outcome of practicing yoga and meditation. My levels of stress and anxiety as well as my reaction to problems at work and in my family have all changed as a result of establishing a practice that embraces positivity, kindness and compassion.

Finally, I would like to share a beautiful example of how a small helpful gesture can have a large impact – please watch this awesome Youtube video that we viewed in my 7th grade classroom. Enjoy and pass it on! Namaste.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwAYpLVyeFU&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQWsPsW5PQQ5gj5OBewwgUw&index=4

 

—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.

 

 

[1] https://www.fsnewsletter.org/html/31/31.htm

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

Tigers, real and imagined

I was amazed when I read a few years ago in Yoga Journal about how our sympathetic nervous system—meant to empower us to outrun, say, tigers,—is constantly fired up in response to minor stressors throughout our days. Kajal has written about this phenomenon on this blog as well. It made so much sense that, like many things that make so much sense, it seems absurdly obvious once you see it. We who are fortunate enough to live in a relatively peaceful and stable country are not existentially threatened most days. We do not need to activate the stress response that would allow us to meet serious danger most days. Firing up that elaborate fight-or-flight response continuously throughout our days is taxing.

Yoga helps us to combat minor stressors—missing a deadline, forgetting a close friend’s birthday, having a heated political discussion—without the elevated heart rate, increased lung activity and increased cortisol of a full stress reaction.

One of my favorite quotes, by an ancient Chinese philosopher named Mencius, is often associated with yoga training.

“If you know the point of balance, you can settle the details. If you can settle the details, you can stop running around, your mind becomes calm. If you mind becomes calm, you can think in front of a tiger. If you can think in front of a tiger, you will surely succeed.”

I say the quote to myself often. I want to focus on finding the point of balance, for me, and trying to focus like a laser on the central purpose of my days and hours. I try—fail often, daily, multiple times daily—to call on deep breathing and other techniques not to allow my body to go to flight or fight response to minor stressors.

Yesterday afternoon, as I waiting with the kids at the city bus stop after school, chatting happily about Halloween plans, another mother from the school came running toward us saying there was a man with a gun nearby and she’d just heard it go off. I felt a deep wave of heat go through my body and a sudden decrease in my literal field of vision. I felt all the classic reactions of the stress response but could only think that my pre-occupations at that moment, which had so far been about how much candy-snacking to allow pre-trick-or-treating, were suddenly reframed into life and death decisions. Do we stay where we were, somewhat, though poorly, protected in the bus stop? Drop to the ground? Do we risk drawing attention to ourselves as targets by running off? The best course of action seemed to be to run. The five of us, me with the two kids and this woman with her kindergartener, ran back to the school where we were sheltered in for the next three hours along with many others in downtown Manhattan schools.

It turns out the gun shots must have been from the police. The man was a good block and a half away from us at that point and as it turned did not have real guns. We were not under the immediate threat I thought we might have been.

We were lucky. We were safe. We were fine. That is not true for the eight killed and 15 injured and for all their friends and family. I am so sad for them. And like Kajal, I Heart NY. New Yorkers, as Obama wrote, are “as tough as they come.”

Yet I have also been thinking continuously since that moment at the bus stop. We train and train not to think like we’re in front of a tiger when we’re not, but then there may be times when we are. For times like that, one tends to think of studying self-defense. Yet that quote I always recited talked about this very thing. Not only not reacting like we’re in immediate danger when we’re not in any real danger, but how to learn and train yourself to think calmly if and when we are.