Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making an Asana of the Self

Sometimes I am a Facebook junkie. I like to peruse the status updates in my news feed, checking out what my friends have going on in their lives. I look at all of the precious baby pictures, see the glow of love on the faces of new parents. And get a kick out of the classic comments about sleepless nights, pajama-clad days or the morning hustle from bed to breakfast to daycare, work and home again. Busy, busy, busy seems to be the pervasive mantra. But one recent comment stuck with me. It touched a cord. It made me grumpy. It went something like this:

"Yoga? What is that? Since having kids I no longer have time to practice."

My initial response to this post was confusion. Since having children, my yoga practice has flourished. My life demands that I practice every single day. I practice humility when I make a mistake and apologize to my children. I practice grace when they become frustrated and can't understand their math lesson, thinking that I am the one who must be wrong. I practice compassion when they are quick to anger or fight with each other over Legos. I practice trust when they run outside to play in the neighborhood. I am called to step into the flow when my daily routine is in shambles, grateful for an opportunity to practice "vinyasa." The days are brimming with the practice of cultivating awareness; with the practice of yoga.

Then a thought occurred to me that made my brow furrow and my arms cross. The thought that the term "yoga" has come to mean, simply, "asana." To take on a physical form. To move through a series of physical postures. In short, "yoga" has come down to making an asana of the Self.

I did a quick Google image search to (unscientifically) confirm my suspicion. I typed in the term "yoga" and came up with hundreds of images of poses on beaches, in grassy meadows, in beautiful studios. Postures in bikinis, postures with babies, postures on paddle boards, even postures with cell phone in hand! Don't get me wrong - I love that yoga is everywhere. I am not arguing against asana practice - it is a great part of yoga! But it is just that - a part of yoga. And often it is an initial introduction.

I can recall teaching weekly vinyasa flow classes at a gym. The participants attending class tended to be quite fit and came to class for a good work out. And it was! But it was also so much more than that. Week after week they returned to class sharing stories of discovery. They often commented that they "didn't know that they had that muscle." Their bodies began speaking to them, sometimes very loudly! They were becoming more aware, gaining the choice to listen more closely. A choice to modify poses. A choice for self-honoring. Through asana they embarked on another path - one of self-study or svhadhayaya.

Practicing postures on the mat creates an opportunity to realize how we position ourselves in daily life. Can we humbly recognize when balance is lacking and nudge a bit closer to the wall? How much grace can we muster when the poses just do not flow for us? Do we push when we are in pain or can we respond with compassion and modify the pose? When the mats are rolled up and the props put away, does trust reside outside the studio walls?

Asana is an essential element of yoga practice. It creates strong and limber bodies - fit vessels to house the multitudes within each of us. Asana is a safe way to begin exploring our bodies and our minds. It is the opportunity to shift the tone of our physical being as well as the spectrum of our thoughts. And when we move this energy off of our mats and into the moments of our lives we yoke our mat-based lessons to our daily life practices. This union is called yoga.

I don't recall whose comment struck this cord, but I have gratitude for this "friend." Initially sparking a bit of negativity within me, the comment encouraged thoughtful exploration of my personal, daily yoga practice off of my mat and into the everyday moments of my life.

Namaste


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Whitman Wrote It. Do You Believe It?

This past weekend I witnessed some astounding athletic feats during two 12-hour endurance events. On Saturday, October 25, I marked laps for 35 individual racers and 15 teams who were biking for 12 hours. On Sunday I watched 35 individuals and 15 teams running for another 12-hour challenge. Some racers even signed up for both events! The objective for each race was to see how many laps could be completed in the allotted amount of time. Amongst these racers were a number of local youth, ages 10 to 17! All of the racers were remarkable in their perseverance and positivity.

It is a common assumption that physical ability is the foundation for successful endurance racing. From my personal experience as a racer and an observer, physical ability is very little of the whole picture. Yes, physical strength and stamina are key elements of endurance racing. BUT mental tenacity is the cornerstone of success, starting with a single question: "What are my limits?"

This, of course is a "trick question" (have to throw in a few tricks - we are approaching Halloween, after all!). Chances are the answer(s) to this question is in your head. And that is where your limitations exist - in your head. They are the result of interpersonal communication or self-talk. So here is a second question: "What do you say to yourself on a daily basis?"

As I was pacing my friend through the first of the final 2 laps (13 miles) of the 12-hour running race, (her goal was to complete 50 miles or 8 laps), she commented that she did not think she could complete the eighth lap. This comment was insightful; (1) she was in the future rather than in the present; (2) she was limiting herself with her thoughts. In the moment that she uttered those words we were running at a pace that suggested ample time to finish an eighth lap. She was heading towards her goal with time to spare! But rather than giving herself credit for her efforts, she chose to focus on her perceived limitations. She turned "I am" into "I can't." After helping her redirect her thoughts more positively, she was able to focus on the present, recognize her accomplishments (40 miles of trail running!) and open the spectrum of possibility. I can't" became "I am" and "I can." These are powerful thoughts that shaped her reality, bringing her to the finish line with a smile on her face and a new understanding of her limitless potential. I was honored to be the voice outside of her head helping to recognize and change the voice inside of her head.

Self-talk, also called "intrapersonal communication," is a key component in how we view ourselves and, thus, perceive our limitations. Upon reflection, I began wondering if "I can't" was perhaps a stock response. When we find ourselves in challenging, uncomfortable or difficult circumstances, what is our response to our Self? Is it "I can't?" Or perhaps it is "I'm not good enough." When making a mistake, does "Geez, that was stupid" surface? How often to we underestimate our potential with belittling or negative self-talk? And how long have we been engaging in this type of inner dialogue?

What we say to ourselves on a daily basis is a template for our mindset, our perceived limitations and our self-worth. Self-talk is an indication of self-love.

It is difficult to catch ourselves in the act of self-degradation. It is almost an auto-pilot response; a default setting that creates a negative mental state. This negativity becomes our "normal" and can be so pervasive that we sabotage our potential for physical, mental and emotional abundance. So what can we do about it? Be present. Observe your thoughts. Understand what you are telling your Self ABOUT your Self.

One activity I find helpful is to first recognize what I am thinking about myself and then turn it inside out. I ask myself if what I am saying internally would be a compassionate and understanding response to someone externally - a friend or a family member. Often times I find that it is not. Would I have told my running friend that, indeed, she cannot meet her goal? That she is not good enough? Or that she was "stupid" for trying? No. Absolutely not. I offered only the utmost support and encouragement to my friend during her attempt. And success followed. Offering the utmost support, encouragement and compassion inwardly will also lead to success. Personal success.

Once you've begun realizing your self-talk, take the time to congratulate yourself on the times that you are compassionate and pleased with yourself. Recognize the self-talk that is positive, motivating and energizing. Notice how a smile creeps onto your face in these moments. This is our response to love! Then, begin recognizing any irrational or distorted thoughts. These thoughts do not serve. They do not honor, they are not loving towards. They can be released from the mind. Let them go - you do not need them! In fact, replace them with more productive ones. Rather than "I can't" give yourself credit for what you are currently doing. Recognize the worth of your current actions. Replace "I'm not good enough" with "I am enough." Re-evaluate a mistake with "I am learning" or "I am trying" rather than "I am stupid." You will find that reshaping your thoughts will reshape your life and release limiting views.

There are many authors and teachers offering similar observations about self-talk and techniques for positive mental shifts. Byron Katie offers "The Work: Learning to Love What Is" which is a step-by-step guide to recognizing and changing negative mental patterns (http://www.thework.com/index.php). Louise Hay offers interesting perspectives on how our thoughts affect our ability to live healthy and fulfilling lives in her book "You Can Heal Your Life" (http://www.louisehay.com/about-louise/). Another interesting investigation of self-talk aired recently on NPR (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/10/07/353292408/why-saying-is-believing-the-science-of-self-talk) These are just a few resources helping me recognize and release the limitations I've placed on myself through my thoughts. Ultimately, I've learned that my limitations are all in my head. And so are yours!

Walt Whitman was right in 1855. I am large. I contain multitudes.

(Special thanks to Dr. Kristen Gullicks McIntyre whose Facebook post inspired my thoughts on this blog)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pinning down the wind

"And you? When will you begin that long journey to yourself?" ~ Rumi
Lately I have felt ungrounded. I have felt that the plans I was so sure about yesterday are the frayed ends of a rope today and will continue unraveling tomorrow. My mind is the leaves falling from the trees, swept up and carried off on the wind. I lack concentration and focus (where did I leave my keys?). As the days get shorter I feel increased pressure to gain control with less time and energy to do so. This leaves me feeling out of control, anxious, frustrated and stressed. Like the birds flying south, like the animals preparing to hibernate, I am in a time of great transition. My instinct is to hold on more tightly to what I want and to what I expect of my plans. To force these plans to come to fruition, even if it means trying to pin down the wind. Sometimes I vainly make more plans to gain a feeling of control! I call these efforts "spinning." Round and round I go. Where I'll stop, I don't even know! Life happens while we plan it. This can leave us feeling anxious, nervous and/or fearful. How do we ground ourselves while the winds of change blow? The more external we become, the more ungrounded we feel, filling our lives with distractions that remove us from the foundations of our existence: our Self.

Paying attention to our foundation is essential during times of change. A strong foundation offers a feeling of support, comfort and security - even during times of of great transition.

Think of a yoga flow session on your mat. More specifically, think of a sun salutation. During this sequence we flow through a variety of postures: standing, forward-folding, plank, back-bending, inverting (yes! downward facing dog is an inversion!). The beginning practitioner may experience insecurity, discomfort and even aversion to this flow. Mentally, there may be thoughts of doubt and confusion about what they are doing versus what they are "supposed" to be doing (don't worry - it is called "yoga practice"; not "yoga perfect!). But with practice, we learn to identify and utilize our foundations - our hands and our feet - building strength, confidence and security while shifting from pose to pose. Additionally, we practice focusing our mind on the breath - a constant source of stability - to increase our mental focus through each transition. We use this foundational strength to root down into our mat in order to shift and rise up from it. Now, take this practice off of your mat.

Our plans are our postures. They shift. They change. They transform. How will we step into this flow of our life? By establishing and strengthening the foundation that is our Self. You know, the part of you that is YOU, regardless of the external details - the plans, the thoughts, the decisions. Knowing the Self and truly listening to what is needed is an honoring process that strengthens the foundation.
Each time we connect to our Self we establish roots that reach into the foundation for stability and security. A strong foundation helps us recognize what is actually happening rather than chasing the stories that ride on the changing wind. And sometimes this means recognizing the chase!

From this foundation we can grow into the flow of our life without getting blown away. We can maintain our internal compass without becoming overwhelmed by external factors. The wind can blow as hard as it may without uprooting who we are. In this way we can be open to the many choices, experiences and opportunities - positive and negative - that may blow their way into our lives. We can see them all, watch them spin around us and let them be carried off on the wind without being carried with them.

How do we make this connection to the Self? Through the Breath.

Try this breathing practice:

1. Find a comfortable place to sit. If you choose to sit on the floor, feel the sits bones reaching down to create a firm foundation. If you are sitting in a chair, place the feet firmly on the floor. Your hands can rest comfortably in the lap.

2. Close your eyes. Bring the corners of your mind into the corners of the space around you. Take several breaths here to calm the mind and body, releasing the earlier moments of the day and placing your proverbial to-do list face down.

3. Now bring the corners of your mind onto your breath. Inhaling, say to yourself "I know that I am breathing in" and exhaling, say to yourself "I know that I am breathing out." Take several breaths here, aligning the mind and the body through the breath.

4. Concentrate on the exhales. Imagine each exhale creating a line of energy from the crown of the head, down the spine and deep into the belly - the seat of your Self. As you imagine this connection with the breath, feel your sits bones or feet become more securely anchored towards the earth. You are becoming grounded.

5. It is normal to have thoughts pass through your mind during meditation. Recognize any thoughts entering your mind's eye. Ask yourself if they serve your intentions for this breathing practice. If the answer is "no" let them go. Do not connect them to your breath - you do not need them fastened to your roots.

6. As you breath here, concentrating on the exhales, allow each breath to extend from the depths of the belly into the earth. Feel the anchoring of each exhale securely connecting you into the soil. Let each breath become a strong root securing you to your foundation and then securing your foundation into the depths of the earth. Breath here and connect to your Self.

Namaste

 


Friday, August 29, 2014

Going Through the Motions

Let me be honest. Sometimes I go through the motions. Sometimes I don't notice the small joys that accompany each day or each breath. Sometimes I don't count my breaths on my mat. And sometimes I don't know how many sun salutations I've done or even if I've practiced both sides of my warrior pose.

These distractions on our mats are common for most, if not all, yoga practitioners at every level of practice. But what about when you take these distractions off of your mat and into your day? Here is
my average day:

Each morning I get up around 7am and go out of the house to do something: yoga, running, cycling, paddling, swimming, etc. I return to my home by 9am to have my breakfast (always porridge, meaning oatmeal made with milk rather than water) and a few cups of coffee. While I eat my breakfast I generally read the local paper online, peruse the same websites and check various email accounts. When I am finished I prepare to homeschool my kids and, generally, make more coffee. Throw in different types of work on different days (sometimes I teach yoga, sometimes I teach public speaking, sometimes I teach health and wellness) and I've essentially created the last 7 years of my life.

The consistent sequence of my life sometimes reminds me of practicing consistent  sequences on my mat. I remember a performance I once saw that punctuated this point. I was at a Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado - what a breathtaking place to explore for 10 days of yoga bliss! Yoga Journal conferences generally include a Saturday evening event - like a concert or Kirtan or something. The 2007 conference showcased performances by the yoga dance troupe named Tripsichore. One performance in particular had a lithe yogi robotically walk into the middle of the stage, unroll her mat and begin sun salutations. Only there was no joy in the sun salutations, no lightness, no soul, no grace. Only movement. Robotic movement. She went on with her routine, moving through the opening sequence of the Ashtanga tradition choreographed to industrial electronica music.

A practitioner  of Ashtanga, myself, at that time, I laughed at the mechanical representation of the practice on stage. Ahhh, yes - we Ashtanga practitioners carry out the same sequence, day after day, week after week, month after month until we become proficient enough to continue into the next series which will also be practiced in the days, weeks and months to follow. During that time of my life the seemingly infinite days of future primary series taught me to focus on the present rather than getting caught up in the endless prospect of future poses. I learned the discipline of waking each morning to practice, even though at times my bed was a much more appealing prospect than my mat. My poses advanced. I grew strong and flexible. I grew to be a terrific asana practitioner. But what about the rest of the practice? The joy? The heart? The soul? Had I become the mechanical practitioner that I'd seen represented in Estes Park? Or worse, was this practice on my mat representative of how I live my daily life? Was I just going through the motions? The horror!

The truth is that sometimes we all go through the motions. Sometimes the objective is to just "get things done." I can't honestly say that I think about the individual blades of grass as I cut my lawn. And sometimes I don't pay attention to the water running down my hands or down the dish while I am at the kitchen sink. And yes, I admit, sometimes I am unaware of what my son has told me because I am mentally absent as he speaks. But when this practice becomes our way of life - when "sometimes" becomes "often" or "always" - we lose the heart of our practice. And we lose the feeling of life.

It is the blade of grass, the water and the listening moments that make up the simple joys of each day. We practice this on our mats by - you guessed it! - paying attention to our breath, one inhale and one exhale at a time. This is what keeps us in each moment. This is what ignites an awareness of feeling in a pose. This is the cultivation of awareness that allows us to slow down and take notice of what is actually happening around us and within us. This is the practice of yoga, on or off of the mat.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cold Comfort for Change Exchange

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Source Yoga Studios in Winnipeg to train with a fabulously compassionate and caring teacher by the name of Dillon Cherrett. (As some of you may know,  Dillon has been my teacher for several years now. Access the Source Yoga studio schedule here)  The training was a 9-day intensive for yoga bodywork, which is derived from Thai massage. I've worked with Dillon in this modality over the past few years and was ready to dig deeply into this treatment in preparation for offering this service to others. I was excited to go!

I love Winnipeg! The restaurants are diverse and delicious, the green spaces throughout the city are gorgeous and I was invited to stay with my very close friends, known for their silly shenanigans. I belly laugh every time we are together. Everything about this trip screamed benevolence.

As part of the teacher training we were expected to attend Dillon's Sridaiva yoga class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. The Sridaiva method is in its infancy and concentrates on opening the back body. Now, when I say "back body" I will take the liberty of assuming that many reading this will only read "back" as in the tailbone to the base of the skull. This is one of the most - if not the most - common areas of complaint for many. But the Shridaiva method energizes the back body, meaning from the sole of the foot (yes! the sole of the foot is included in the back body!), through the calves, into the hamstrings, focusing on an anterior tilt to the pelvis in order to extend up through the spine to the base of the skull. In effect, Sridaiva opens the front body by enlivening the back body.  I call it "yoga for Westerners" because it counteracts much of what we do throughout our day - sitting hunched over our computer, standing hunched over our phone, sitting hunched towards the steering wheel of a car and effectively closing the front body. Sounds good, right? It is. BUT I find it an extremely uncomfortable practice - physically, mentally and energetically. It is a marked change from my "normal" practice of sun salutations, downward facing dogs, triangles and the like. And as such, I struggled with the change.

Sridaiva, Day #1: A very physical struggle. The poses are demanding. My physical awareness is challenged to activate the gluteal by grounding down into the "magic button" - the space on the ball of the foot between the big toe mound and second toe and the golden ticket in this practice. This button is magic because it then allows the legs to root down into the earth in order to open the heart to the sky. I'll take Dillon's word for it - I'm still trying to find the magic of this button. Don't even ask me if I breathed during this practice. I'm alive, so my assumption is that I did but I have no recollection of being aware of it.

Sridaiva, Day #2: Adding the mental struggle to the physical one. The advantage today over previous practice is that I now know what to expect in this class. Part of the challenge is understanding how to activate the verbal cues. In other words, how to get the mind and the body on the same page. I tend to feel stupid and helpless when I cannot make this connection and my insecurities begin to surface. Put bluntly, I feel vulnerable. This class cracked this feeling wide open for me, surfacing in the form of tears streaming down my face throughout the practice. Something is moving. Energy is moving. Ahhh, the release feels divine.

Sridaiva, Day #3: There was laughter in class today. Unlike the last class with unfettered tears, this class was fraught with unfettered hysterics. These exploits at the back of the class (instigated by yours truly) commenced when Dillon commented on our "Stiffy Stifferton" attitudes in class. He was seeing our furrowed eyebrows as we tried to follow the class cues. He saw the corners of our mouths stiffen while we activated the magic button. The lift in our shoulders, the dropping of our chins and the general lack of flow in our bodies were telltale signs of our over-efforting. The joy of this movement was lost on such serious students. Leave it to laughter to loosen us all up. Smiles always brighten a studio.

Note: I generally place my mat front and center, eager to learn and practice. In this class, however, I found myself in the second to back row of the class. Hmmm...something to think about in the context of learning this practice. 

Sridaiva, Day #4: They say you have to do something for 21-28 days to create a habit. I would take issue with this "fact." I think it largely depends on the mindset of the practitioner. A couple of years ago I was given several 21-day meditation sadhana practices. With the end of each 3-week-long daily practice session came the end of my meditation "habit."Why? Because each session was a mental challenge that I was not ready to accept. My attitude going into each sit was one of hassle; of having to meditate as an "assignment." When my assignment was done, so was I.  But by practice #4 of Sridaiva I do believe I was hooked. My body felt more open, as did my heart and my mind. I felt like I was learning more about my Self. Mentally I was ready for this challenge. I recognized the worth in re-establishing my beginner's mind. Clearly, I had more to learn and was ready for the lesson.

I've brought a Sridaiva session home with me in the form of an audio cd. I am excited about exploring more on my mat in new ways, learning and growing. I am at the very beginning of this practice - still concentrating on the physical cues, still trying to remember to breath as I move. I am a beginner again, exchanging the comfort of my previous practice for the challenge of change and the opportunity for growth. I've gotta take the risk to reap the rewards.



Monday, May 5, 2014

Simple versus Easy

"Mom! My elbow hurts when I bend it," cried the child.
"Then don't bend it," replied his mother.

"I don't like my job," complained his wife.
"Then quit," replied her partner.

"I've become overweight and unhealthy," lamented the patient.
"Eat less and move more," replied the doctor.

One thing that all of these scenarios have in common is a simple answer. Some might say too simple.

The response that the child, the wife and the patient might likely offer is, "It's not that easy." And I would say they are absolutely right - these solutions are not easy. But they are simple.

I don't mean to minimize the complexity of these issues; rather, I mean to point out the complexity of the problem as well as indicating the simplicity of the solution. And implementing the solution may be easier than you think. It all begins with a single action.

The mind will attach to any number of distracting details in order to avoid a challenging change - to avoid taking action. These distractions can also be called excuses and they are a dime a dozen. They range in validity from "not enough time" and "not enough money" (among the most common) to "I am too old" or "I don't know how." I've used all of these excuses at one time or another. The trick is to recognize them as excuses as opposed to realities.

We get mired down in the details of how we would go back to school in order to make a positive job shift: how we would pay for that education, what would our new schedule look like and is there a job for me when I finish - I'll be too old. We are overwhelmed with the advice from experts on what or how to eat: juicing, veganism, vegetarianism, elimination diets, organic, non-GMO - who has that kind of money? We balk at the prospect of moving for 60 minutes a day, five days each week or that taking the stairs rather than the elevator will actually make a difference (yes, it will!) - who has that kind of time? And we settle on a course of inaction.

Action is challenging. Action is difficult. Action is scarey. But to actually act is a simple and effective solution. Again, it is not easy. So how do we motivate action?

I had the opportunity to teach a health and wellness course this past semester. The first assignment required the students to create three goals to work towards throughout the semester. Goals are a way to focus your efforts in a specific direction. We do this at the beginning of each session on our mats when we set our intention for our practice. And then, we practice. We move energy in the direction of our intention. We take action.

They wrote these goals down. They created a step-by-step process for achieving these goals. Then, for the remainder of the semester they wrote journal entries reflecting on their progress and modifying any unrealistic expectations based on their progress (this is analogous to how we modify our poses on our mat!). By the end of the semester they were motivated, inspired and proud of their progress. They felt better about themselves and their lives. They successfully created positive change for themselves. It was not easy, but it was a simple answer to some of their most pressing problems. They simply took action.

What I learned from these students and throughout this course (yes, teachers are continuous learners!) is how to create effective goals and how to work in a positive way towards these goals. What follows is a simple way to create your own goals and motivation to act.

1. Consider some areas in your life that you would like to see improvement (physical health; mental health; emotional health; diet; exercise; personal relationships; etc). Write them down.
2. Choose 1-3 of these areas that you are most interested in improving and most likely to complete. Write them down.
3. Create a process for achieving each goal. The following is a process that my students implemented, called the SMART plan:

Specific: be specific about what you would like to achieve. If this is a large goal, consider breaking this goal up into smaller steps in order to give yourself motivational boosts along the way. (This is your opening meditation and setting of intention.)

Measurable: be able to measure this goal in order to manage it. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, plan the amount of time you will exercise each day or each week and keep track of your progress. For example, 30 minutes on 3 days each week. (We often count breaths as we hold a pose or even set a timer as we release into a Yin pose.)

Attainable: set goals that you can achieve over a few weeks or perhaps 2-3 months in order to recognize progress and maintain motivation. This may mean reducing a very large goal into progressive steps. (We do this on our mats when we break down an advanced posture into preparatory poses.)

Reward: honor yourself with accolades upon achieving your goal in order to recognize your efforts. (Ahhhh, Savasana!)

Timeline: set a start date and a finish date for your goal and then work towards it! (This is akin to practicing towards a feeling tone on your mat.)

You see, we've taken these steps on our mats with each practice. We can take these lessons off of our mat and into the flow of our lives.

Remember, when we move our energy towards a specific intention or goal, there is nothing stronger. We cannot help but be successful. It is just that simple.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Goldilocks Was On To Something

First published by a British poet in 1837, the story of Goldilocks is over 175 years old! Easy to dismiss because of its age as well as its status as a children's fairytale, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears has a lot to offer. Did you know that the Goldilocks Principle is a metaphor used by astro-biologists to explain the narrow margins of acceptable climatology required to sustain life as we know it? Cognitive scientist and developmental psychologists use it to explain the cognitive capacity of infants. Even economists use this principle to explain economic growth patterns of moderation and inflation. Yes, all of these situations require a climate that is "just right" for optimal, sustainable results.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Goldilocks perplexity is that we are not privy to the experience of her choice (or anyone else's for that matter!). We know that she found a bowl of porridge that was not too hot and not too cold. She found a bowl of porridge that was just right...for her. We know the bed she chose was not too hard and not too soft. She found a bed that was just right...for her. I'd say Goldilocks was a self-actualized woman who knew what she wanted! And this is the heart of the story for me.

Imagine a yoga class filled with different shapes, sizes and abilities. It is an evening class and all participants have come to class carrying various aspects of their day and their life with them onto their mats. The woman in the corner has a shoulder injury from playing a sport in high school. The shoulder healed well enough, but still bothers her in certain positions. The man in the front of the room is a runner with a self-limiting knee problem that only hurts when he kneels for too long, which he is willing to do to maintain the perfect pose. And the student on the mat by the door walked in late because she stayed a few minutes later at work trying to tie up loose ends and then decided to try to make yoga class instead and then sat at an extra long light on her way to the studio. Distracted and flustered, she tries to become present. She usually takes advanced positions in every pose but today she feels tired, overworked and preoccupied.

The instructor invites the class into triangle pose. What does this pose look like with a shoulder injury? What does this pose mean for a knee issue? How does this pose feel for an overworked and distracted student? This is the moment when Goldilocks guides the way.

The instructor guides your practice but is not privy to your experience as you flow into and out of each pose. You must decide on the expression of a pose that is just right...for you.  Not too much effort, yet not too little effort, either. We are searching for what feels just right physically, mentally and emotionally. This changes from day to day and from pose to pose. What felt good yesterday or last year may not be the answer for today's practice. We are dynamic individuals. We flow in and out of circumstances just like our practice flows in and out of poses. Each position offers an opportunity to realize what we need right now as opposed to what we "usually do" or what we "should do."

If we are too rigid in our practice we become rigid with ourselves or with others. If we are too flexible in our practice we may become too flexible with ourselves or with others. Neither of these situations is optimal or sustainable. Both can lead to injury. There is a middle ground - that sweet spot that is "just right." The practice is to find what is just right for you, in  your practice and in your life.