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.


Friday, March 7, 2014

The Blame Game

You know those  people? The ones that bug you with their…habits? The ones that really get under your skin? The ones that you just wish would go away? Would the world be a better place without them? Would your blood pressure be lower if they weren't around? Would your day be brighter without having to deal with that other guy? If everyone else wasn't in your way?


When you point your finger away from yourself, you'd better be looking in a mirror.

What we see surrounding us, what we see in the actions of others is a direct reflection of what we see and feel about ourselves. This can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes. How can the rude woman on her phone in the checkout line reflect how I feel about myself? Well, we could begin by looking at the assumptions we are making as to why she is using her phone. Perhaps her child is sick. Maybe her dog just got hit by a car. This call could be urgent.

"No,"comes your retort,"I've just heard her talking about what happened last night on the latest episode of (insert reality tv show here)." Again, question your assumptions. How are you judging her choice of entertainment? Why does it matter to you how a complete stranger spends their free time? And why are you listening to her conversation so closely? What do the answers to these questions say about you? Growth happens one question at a time.

Are you getting the hang of this? Let's look at another common scenario; well, common to me: dinner time.

You've planned all of the meals for the week. You've made a list of the needed ingredients. You've inconveniently hiked the kids through the grocery store on a weekday evening out of necessity to fill an empty fridge. You've had to promise them to look at toys or purchase treats to reward their good behavior as you trudge under glaring fluorescent lights, amongst rows of sugary, salty snacks that leave your kids begging for their purchase. Your "No, honey. Lets keep going" grows sharper and less accommodating with each plea for Go-Gurt and Goldfish crackers. And you haven't even gotten to the milk. Or the bread. Or the eggs. Stuck in the middle somewhere, you head towards the toy aisle early because the hour is getting late. And the subsequent meal - tacos again because they are a family favorite - is the result of this previous drudgery.

Planned, prepared and placed on the table. Getting cold. Waiting for your partner to get home. Even though your agreed-upon schedule suggests an ETA around 5pm, even though this tardiness is commonplace in your home, even though you've planned dinner for 5:30 "just in case," you are still surprised, shocked and hurt when he arrives at 5:40.

How can a partner's inconsiderate attitude towards timeliness be a fault of your own?

The situations in which we find ourselves are the result of the choices we've made up to this moment. Have you set aside time to tell your partner about your struggle with their lack of time management skills? Or have you only expressed your animosity with a sharp look and a sharp tongue? Do they know that behind your resentful stare is a well of tears? And digging deeper still, we find the strength to ask why we accept this treatment from the one we love. What does this say about our compassion and understanding for ourselves and for what we need? Why have you placed yourself in the center of someone else's life rather than at the center of your own?

I stuggle with this oscillation of looking out in order to look within. When I stare into the mirror I come face to face with all that I am. The reflections are a compass pointing to a road map for growth. Those who I meet along the way are reminders of where I am going, where I have been and where I find myself now. We truly are one.

So the question is, "where do you want to go?" and "how are your experiences affecting your journey to get there?"

 Happy hiking.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Yoga Class in Grand Forks!

It is always exciting when more yoga is offered. Here is information about a new yoga class to begin in March. It is a FREE event with a good will offering encouraged. Here is what you need to know:

Blue Door Gallery Presents: 

Vinyasa Yoga Levels 1 & 2

Instructed by Shylah Schauer 

March 9, 2014

| Blue Door Gallery Presents: Vinyasa Yoga | Levels 1 & 2 | Instructed by Shylah Schauer | 
We're proud to announce a series of yoga classes to be taking place at the Blue Door Gallery and Studio, instructed by Shylah Schauer.

There is no charge for this event, although a donation is encouraged. Session size is limited to a maximum size of 12, so please RSVP on the Blue Door Gallery Facebook page or email esc.artist.collective@gmail.com