Category Archives: Yoga

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Trust in the Process – How Yoga Helps us Process Life

My shoulders have always been tight, but recently, they’ve gotten worse. Now they are really tight and seem to be crying out for my attention: “We’re carrying the weight of your world and we can’t take it any longer!”

I’m going through a divorce, and truthfully, it sucks. While the optimist in me has uncovered some positive consequences of being suddenly single, the reality is that I’ve found myself living a strange new normal, full of devastating heartbreak and paralyzing fear, resulting in sleepless nights and yes, tight shoulders. Thrust into a disturbing world of constant conflict and divorce lawyers, I’m scrambling to find a decent, affordable place to live, and grasping to find a way to pay my bills.

However, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” So, I’m creating a brand new life… a new business, a new support system, and eventually, a place in my heart for a new relationship. I know I will succeed. But in the interim, the vacuum of uncertainty has left mounds of additional stress, painful introspection, apprehension and worry, because here’s the brutal truth: Recreating yourself at 48 is hard work.

Restless nights have turned into yoga-less days that have rolled into yoga-less weeks. Lack of time and energy, numerous part-time jobs, and difficulty prioritizing (a myriad of legitimate excuses) have made a stranger of downward facing dog. What was once a sacred, enjoyable, non-negotiable part of my life has become nearly obsolete. My unexpected divorce, an erratic yoga practice and long hours on my laptop have left my body in pain and riddled with grief.

One recent Saturday morning I was determined to make it to a yoga class. The focus of the class turned out to be shoulder openers. “Excellent,” I said to myself as we eased into the first sun salutations. “My shoulders are so tight, this will feel great.” What it felt like was being hit by a tsunami! Within the first five minutes of class, I was fighting back the tears. Shoulder opener after shoulder opener caused a torrent of tears to rain onto my yoga mat. Too much had been held in for too long. Wave after wave of sorrow surged through my body as the tension and tightness that had been residing in my shoulders was set free. All I could think was, “Seriously? It’s been 18 months since my husband left me, why is this happening now?”

Apparently, my loyal 20 minutes on my meditation cushion had kept me from acting like a crazy lady, yet it was doing nothing for the grief that had stealthily hijacked my body.

At one point I was so near hysteria, I actually had to leave the room. I returned, somewhat composed, and mercifully, class was over. We sat in meditation. It felt so sweet. After all, the point of a physical yoga practice is not to give you sculpted triceps and a yoga butt (whatever that is), but to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Propped up on a blanket, legs crossed and eyes closed, I dropped in. It was blissful… for about thirty seconds. Then, another storm came, thankfully, no more hysterical sobbing, but just a slow steady downpour. Tears rolled down my face as I suddenly got it. How could I have been so stupid? I know better, I’m a yoga teacher.

For the past 18 months, I have been hiding from my grief, which in turn has been hiding in my shoulders. At this point in yoga class, however, during meditation, I actually experienced the presence of grief in my chest. I didn’t feel something wash over my heart center, as flowery yoga speak might describe, but I felt and saw a dense, three-dimensional, black mass spreading across my entire torso and I knew instantly what it was. Grief had become my chest; it actually occupied my entire thoracic region. I could sense every ounce of what felt and looked like three tons of sorrow. It was as if my pain and heartache walked right up, stuck out a hand and forced itself upon me like some sort of grief Grim Reaper, “Hello Lisa, I am your pain and your sorrow. You can run from me, but you no longer can hide.” I sat and I cried. After class, I hid in the bathroom and cried. I cried the rest of the day. I sat at a girlfriend’s kitchen table that night and cried into the glass of wine she humanely offered. I was crying when I woke the next morning, only to cry through my meditation practice. The gates had been opened.

Yoga is sometimes said to be the union of body and mind. All of the grief from the past 18 months: the abandonment, fear, heartbreak, anger, all of these dark emotions and more had set up shop in my body, because what we think with our heads and feel with our hearts gets absorbed by our physical being. When we practice yoga, we stretch and move and keep the energy, or prana flowing. It keeps us from getting stiff from physical activity and prevents emotions from settling in and manifesting themselves as bodily tension. Yoga helps us process life.

My meditation practice had enabled me to keep grief from overtaking my mind, but there it was, present and demanding to be accounted for, in my shoulders. What I learned that Saturday is that we can’t just tend to one part and turn a cheek to the rest. We are not dualistic creatures. We must care for both our bodies and our minds.

I’m still crying, but now I know why. It’s because even though I’m moving forward, I’m still scared and I’m still sad. But I know that if I make the time to roll out my mat and practice my yoga, it will help me look Mr. Grief in the eye and say, “Not these shoulders, buddy. ”

Photo courtesy of Glori Berkel, www.berkeldesignstudio.com

This article was published by Elephant Journal as Moving Through Grief with an Open Heart.

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Balancing Act

Confidence, trust and fear

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This year’s early spring in Middle America might lead us to believe Mother Nature is a bit off-kilter. One day it’s cold and rainy, the next day it’s unseasonably warm. Perhaps we can relate to Mother Nature. I know I can. Sometimes the balancing act of my life looks and feels more like severe weather…electric outbursts and pouring tears, interspersed with moments of quiet and calm, reminiscent of the lull after a Midwestern thunderstorm.

What do we turn to when the storm sirens are blaring? For many of us, there’s nothing like a solid yoga and mindfulness practice to keep us grounded and balanced. Asana, pranayama and meditation are tethers that can stop us from flying off to Oz with the next passing tornado. If unpredictable weather, challenges at home, or too many deadlines at work have you hanging on for dear life, it’s a great time to try standing on one foot, on your hands, or on your head.

What does a yoga pose have to do with real life? Quite a bit, as it turns out. What we learn and cultivate on our yoga mats is simply a metaphor for our lives.

Think about what it’s like attempting to stand on our head in sirsasana, or headstand pose. First, we have to be brave enough to even try – confidence. Then there’s the uncertainty of figuring out where we are in space while upside down – trust. And once we’re up, unless we’re Dharma Mittra, who can stand on his head, on a manhole cover in the middle of a New York City street—with no hands, there’s the ensuing wobbliness and danger of toppling over – fear. No matter how you slice it, it’s a tricky proposition.

So why even do it? We attempt headstand, or any yoga pose, because the pay off is worth it, because it teaches us to believe in ourselves. We prove that no matter how disoriented we may be, we can bring it back to center. We show ourselves that we can look fear in the face and say, “Whatever!” No matter how many times we fall, we stare down some scary demons on the way up, and that’s empowering.

So the next time some serious stormy weather comes our way, let’s roll out our mat, and practice our balancing act.

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Contentment

As spring finally blooms in the American Mid-West, Lisa explores how trusting and believing in the present moment can help us find contentment on and off the mat…

Lately, I’m feeling a bit anxious about the future, and this anxiety is interfering with my ability to find balance between contentment and my feelings of indolence.

You know what I mean – It’s a cloudy, rainy day (well, for you desert dwellers maybe it’s a hot and sandy day), you’ve finished your chores and would love to curl up with a book, but doing just that would make you feel antsy, like you should be doing something more. But being content does not mean we are lazy.  Contentment is satisfaction. It is trusting, knowing and believing in the present moment.

Take the daffodils in this picture. I planted these last fall. Truth be told, it was a very cold and rainy day at the end of November, as I tend to leave things until the last minute.  But nevertheless, look at them now! I planted the bulbs lovingly, and then packed up my garden tools to let Mother Nature do her thing. They might come up and bloom, or the squirrels might run off with them. Knowing I had done my part, I could relax and let go of any attachment to the results of my actions. Finding contentment is powerful and gives us a sense of freedom.

It’s like that in yoga, too. Can we learn to be okay with the likelihood that many of us will never put our foot behind our head? Can we stop trying so hard and appreciate that every time we stretch our hamstrings, hips and backs, that yes, we are indeed getting closer to sneaking that foot back there, but we are also doing something of much greater importance?  Contentment is faith that focusing our intention, stretching, breathing and meditating, all plant the seeds of something much more powerful than any physical shape.

As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, always do your best. And I say once you’ve done that you’ve earned the right to rest in contentment. And that’s not being lazy.

I never think of the yesterdays and I never think of the tomorrows. That leaves me just a small moment – the present moment – unburdened, uncluttered, clean. Free. – (Osho)

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Just Do It!

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Lisa shares her insight into what winter across in the snowy Midwest has taught her about her practice… 

Spring is just around the corner. I’m sure of it. I saw a robin yesterday, and she told me so. But here in Kansas City, where I’m currently living, we’ve had a tough go of winter with big snows and near-Arctic temperatures; it snowed again just yesterday!

As I no longer reside in Dubai, but in Middle America, winter is part of life. I may not like it when temperatures hover below 32° Fahrenheit, (that’s 0° Celsius to some of you!) but I have to make peace with it. As we approach the second half of March with a dusting of the white stuff on the ground, I’m resolving to consider winter as part of my practice, like doing my asana or sitting on my meditation cushion. I can’t fight it so why not embrace it? Every time I pull on my big long down coat and don my hat to head out into the sharp air with my dog, Oscar, I’m observing my breath and my thoughts and realizing this is simply part of my yoga.

Yoga, meditation and mindfulness aren’t about accomplishing complicated postures on your mat, standing on your hands or going for 10 days without talking. There is so much more to this sacred practice. A solid practice can help us through the freezing temperatures of a lingering winter as well as the tough times in our lives; and it teaches us, that like everything, winter will pass. We simply have to do the practice.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”  John Steinbeck 

 

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The Sounds of Silence…

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I spent the week of Christmas at my mom’s farm in Iowa, with my standard poodle, Oscar. It’s a three and a half hour drive from Kansas City to her place; and once you’re there, it’s 15 minutes to the nearest small town. Des Moines, the closest decent-sized city, is nearly an hour away. I spent a considerable amount of solo time (not including Oscar’s excellent company) in the car.

The evening I arrived, the flakes started falling. I measured 7″ but my cousin who lives down the road swore it was at least a 14″ snowfall. Sounds more like fishing season, doesn’t it? No matter how you counted, there was a ton of the white stuff and temperatures were brutally cold. We spent a lot of time indoors, in snow jail.

Even though it was Christmas, with the requisite last-minute shopping and joyous family dinners, it was amazingly peaceful. Between my time in the car (Oscar doesn’t say much) and the solitude imposed by Mother Nature (I absolutely love the silence of falling snow) it became apparent how hectic and loud my regular life is…full of good things, for sure, but loaded with distractions.

It’s amazing what we hear when we slow down, quiet down and listen. Sometimes it’s tough emotional stuff, sometimes it’s the lyrics to an annoying song; and sometimes it’s nothing much of anything. But it’s all there, and it all needs to be heard.

Our yoga mat or meditation cushion is the perfect place to leave the noise behind and take a break from life’s distractions; someplace where we can tune in, listen to and make peace with the sounds of silence.

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Gratitude

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“Gratitude is a state of being in which we feel connected to everything in the universe. It is a fullness of the heart that recognizes the blessings of Nature within and without. Gratitude is love for the goodness of life itself.” ~Deepak Chopra

I recently returned from an inspiring trip to India where I was blessed with the opportunity to study with my beloved teacher, Lucy Roberts. If you’ve ever been to India, and even if you have not, you may be aware of the intense poverty and challenging circumstances in which many Indian people live. Yet everywhere I looked I saw beauty, contentment and grace, like the lovely woman pictured above, making a pot of chai.

She lived with her family in a small compound with rooms open to the elements, on an island in the middle of a large lake. Now I don’t know her – I didn’t even get her name. But as she lovingly made her privileged visitors Masala chai, I could see the fullness of her heart. She moved unhurriedly around her humble kitchen, tending the fire, slowing stirring the pot. Her whole being seemed rooted in gratitude and perfectly content with the goodness of her life. By our Western standards we would consider this woman poverty stricken. Yet to me she seemed blessed beyond belief. And she served me the most delicious cup of chai I have ever tasted.

Cultivating a mindfulness practice consisting of yoga, meditation, pranayama, chanting, knitting, even running(?!) can be a beautiful way to cultivate and express our gratitude.