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This and That

What happens when we still the mind?

Many things and No-thing my friends.

The mind is not stilled, it grows less important, less influential.  It fades.

Then, the truth waltzes in as if We all suddenly knew what We forgot.

And, it all made sense somehow in the End because We were just confused and distraught.  We were too busy-minded to notice and remember that ‘This’ is not the reason.  ‘That’ – unfortunately, isn’t either.

The reason is to find contentment despite all of ‘This’ and ‘That’.

We remember the true lesson is the experience of existence itself.  ‘This’ and ‘That’ are merely distractions along the way to the Light.

Dharma

A blog is a curious thing.  It’s meant for the world to see but it seems to be a form of personal growth for the writer in the end.   I can only write when inspired and the process cannot be forced, it must flow.  Of course, the focus of my life for a time has been the science and spirituality of Yoga so it naturally fuels my writing and is the well spring of my inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I began to read the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Vedic text that is required reading for Yoga teachers.  This is my second attempt at delving into this deepest study of the forms of Yoga and Eastern spirituality.   It’s way over my head but part of the Yogic path is to study with a ‘Beginner’s mind’ and take the lessons you are prepared to comprehend as they arrive.  I find myself studying the same concepts over and over and only when I am ‘ready’, do they suddenly make sense.

The ‘Gita’ is the story of the battle for your soul.  The ‘battle’ of living to your highest potential- your greatest self.  Full of allegory and symbolism, the story is both an esoteric examination of self-realization as well as a simple tale of a ‘hero’ caught between his family ties and his life path.  Then, life happened and the words began to jump off the page into my heart.   My grandson became critically ill.   In my mind, the world began to move in slow motion and it was like the heartbeat of my life slowed.  Life…showing me who is boss…kicking me in the ‘jimmy’ (as a co-worker likes to say)…reminding me that I am not enlightened…I am what they call a ‘householder’.  Householders are Yogi’s that continue to live a ‘regular’ life.  We don’t live in an ashram and practice meditation and yoga from sunrise to sunset.  We have responsibilities and ‘attachments’ to others.  We serve.  We earn.  I am a worker, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend..and I occupy the role most cherished to me – I am a Grandmother.

The story of Arjuna (the ‘hero’) comes down to how he will interpret the scriptures and his place in the universe.  Will he act? Will he choose inaction?  Will he fight his loved ones?  Will he defend what is righteous?

Will he follow his Dharma (life path)?

In Yoga, we have a series of postures, we call Warriors (Virabhadrasasana).  We say they are ‘peaceful’ warriors and when you are in these poses, it can evoke many emotions but often, they bring a sense of grounded strength.  Life can feel like a battle at times.  We fight for survival and we fight for love.  We fight to be heard.  We fight to find our voice.   We even fight for the ‘best’ place in line at the grocery store or the best parking spot.  During this scary time, I found myself in Warrior …moving into the pose without thought.  When I was still, I could visualize myself in the pose or the flow of poses I teach so often.

A small lesson from the Bhagavad Gita became clear to me.  I must follow my life path and embrace my Dharma.  I must leave the old life behind and be The Peaceful Warrior.  This doesn’t stop the world from turning in the never ending cycle of births and deaths..love and losses…dark and light…movement and stillness.  As long as the breath of life flows in me, I will embody The Peaceful Warrior, my place in the universe.

I’ll close with a  poem for my grandson, Samuel: 

One Little Boy

One little boy brings a smile to the face of the world

His laughter is the honey of voices carried on bee’s wings

His bright eyes are the clear flowing milk of the sun

We see in his smile, the lotus flower that gently unfolds a thousand petals…a thousand rays of light.. revealing the brilliance of love within us all.

Melting the coldest of hearts and igniting the flame of unity in each soul with his Buddha spirit,

He’s one little boy

And that’s all the world needs to find its soul again.

 

Namaste

 

 

The Metaphor of The Mask

Nobody told me there’d be days like these.  Strange days indeed.”

John Lennon

Reeling from a pandemic and its effect on our society, economy and personal lives, we are all living in strange days…indeed.  While some remain untouched in their glass houses, most of us will not come out of this unscathed.  With an unemployment rate that rivals the Great Depression, our country is in the midst of a new kind of depression.  It’s a virus of not only body, but hearts and souls are also becoming sick.  Worry, stress and anxiety can overtake us as we navigate isolation, job loss and fear of the future.

Now, we wear masks when we venture out in public.  The masks prevent the spread of the virus between our bodies but an important human connection is being interrupted.  I find myself smiling under my mask yet no one can see it.  I cannot see the facial cues from others…are you a threat or a friend? “Are you smiling under your mask?”, I wonder as I observe the changing landscape of human interaction.  After my job loss, I ventured to my old office to pick up my ‘stuff’ and say goodbye to the people I spent the larger part of fifteen years working beside.  We all wore our masks and there were no goodbye hugs.  I could see their eyes but this didn’t tell me much.  There were no tears and I was left with an odd numb feeling.  I have been on the other side of this situation. I was the survivor and now, I am the loser.  I know they felt a sense of relief that they were on the ‘right’ side of the situation (better you than me).  I felt immeasurably smaller and my role in the world suddenly diminished.  A younger person who I trained now occupies my ‘space’ there.

The ‘mask’ I wore in that job role has fallen away.  My ego is bruised and I am angry and hurt.  The irony is that I didn’t want to be there any longer but couldn’t seem to dislodge myself from the perception that I ‘needed’ the money.  I know it’s right for me and it will allow me to attempt to make a living at teaching Yoga.  I guess I wanted to choose the time and place of my exit but that wasn’t what the universe planned.  I am being ‘paid’ to leave so it couldn’t be more ‘ideal’.  I will do without A LOT of material things and I will be living on a strict budget.  We all know that those material things don’t make us happier yet the fear of losing the ability to buy stuff is real.  In reality, we are being conditioned to believe that we need all this ‘stuff’ to be happy and acceptable to society.

I keep hoping that the isolation…the quiet places we find when we are alone will help us to lift the masks that hide our true selves.  We are not the roles we play at work, we are not our possessions and we are not the ‘identity’ that we have built around all the stuff we accumulate.  However, many people are going to go right back to identifying with all the junk clouding the perception of the truth.  They will even somehow believe that if they are the ‘lucky’ ones who still have a job that this makes them superior and more deserving than those of us who were freed from those chains.  We need to wake up and not be afraid to have fewer possessions.  Many in the spiritual community feel this is the time to wake up but truthfully, I don’t believe most of us will.  Those superior people still buying up toilet paper and disinfectant and clinging desperately to their identity will look down on those who cannot or choose not to continue to consume everything in sight like locusts.

Even when literal masks can come off, many will still have their metaphoric mask firmly in place.   They will not see that fear rules every aspect of their lives.  They will not see their true potential and will continue to believe that they are what they can buy or where they stand in the ‘pecking order’ of the workplace.

While walking with my grandson in the park, we saw a man sitting by the pond.  Sam pointed to him and whispered, “Nay Nay, does he have the virus?”.  I had no other answer than, “Sam, we just don’t know”.

We don’t know do we?  Who has the virus?  Who will come out of this alive or ‘on top’?  Who will wake up?  Who will remain asleep?  If enough people take off their masks, can we make the world a better place?

I don’t know.  Strange Days Indeed.

Namaste

Renee

A full-time Yoga teacher

Taking the Long Road Home

Fear, Anxiety and the Evolution of Global Consciousness

Unless you are blissfully living under a rock, I am sure you are aware that right now, the world is in the midst of a global pandemic.  The effects of this are widespread.  We practice ‘social distancing’, working from home or not leaving our house at all.  We order our groceries for delivery.  Some of us are soothing our anxiety and fear by purchasing comfort food, stocking up on an enormous amount of toilet paper and compulsively checking social media.  The less fortunate are suddenly without a paycheck and no safety net to stave off homelessness or hunger.  The inequities in our economic, health care and political systems are being exposed while the rich sell off stocks and governments fight over who deserves help and who should languish.

As a Yoga teacher, I have radically changed the way I teach. My classes are on-line, streaming from Facebook and YouTube.  Teaching to a camera is strange, disorienting and it feels cold.   I am so used to watching my students and laughing through the inevitable snafus (knocking things over, falling out of a pose, getting my left and right mixed up) and moving on.  However, now, my ‘boo boo’s’ are on display for strangers, trolls and will be out there for infinity.  This is a small sacrifice to pay and my ego will survive.

But…what about humanity? How does this change us?  Obviously, it will make its mark on each individual.  However, some believe this is a much bigger wake-up call…much more…‘spiritual’ in nature.

Yep, that’s right.  I am saying humanity is waking up – not just some of us, but hopefully, every single one of us.  After the dust settles, some will still ignore the true nature of consciousness and our ‘reality’ but many millions will be forever changed for the better.  Don’t mistake what I am saying- what we are experiencing is not great right now.  People are sick. Some are dying.  I am not making light of that.  Loss and death are painful.  We all know in our heart that we are not making it out of this ‘state of mind’ and physical body alive (in a way we understand with this limited brain). I am full of fear and anxiety myself. My only relief is Yoga, chanting and meditation (and a good dose of humor now and then).

On my personal path, I have struggled with the spinning of my own mind, the likes and dislikes of my ego and my ever-changing emotions.  I have tried to force my brain to wrap around complex subjects like consciousness and enlightenment.  The only time I make any ‘progress’ is when I let go of all conceptualizing and look within.  I can credit Eckhart Tolle for my ideas here.  He was asked about reincarnation and just ‘who’ is it that keeps coming in and out of physical forms to become a being ‘having a human experience’. The great thing is..he didn’t explain ‘who’ this is in his answer. He simply said to look within and find all the answers you need.

Whether you believe in reincarnation or not is irrelevant.  We all ‘know’ there is more to everything than this limited scope of bodily senses, spinning thoughts and experiences.  When we step back from all the buzzing and noise and activity and become still, something magical happens.  There’s something more and words can’t even come close to describing it or explaining it.  It just IS.  Some call it a ‘witness’ or a ‘soul’ or ‘God’.

So, how does a pandemic of epic proportions help us wake up?

This physical disconnection between us as human beings (we are social creatures after all) is showing us just how connected we are!  I miss hugging people…all kinds of people!  I am hugger although I know everyone is not, but most people need to be in the physical presence of other human beings at times.

People are going outside and appreciating nature!  Watching TV and surfing around on social media can become quite tedious.  Reconnecting with the natural world is key to raising our consciousness.

The better angels of our nature as humans is expressing itself during this crisis. The majority of us are being kinder, more patient and willing to help others.

The earth is healing a bit – and getting a breather from pollution!

The pace of our daily lives is slowing down as we are required to ‘shelter in place’.  While there is stress and chaos, there are more moments available to pause and reflect on what’s truly important.  For those of us who are ‘tuned in’ and meditating or chanting or doing Yoga, we are more and more aware of the effects of our practice and how important it is to us.

There is power in global consciousness to lift us all up above the turnings of our individual minds.  Eckhart said…Consciousness is turning to look at itself, its own creation- like a mirror.  After eons of creation, it’s time to step back and breathe in the beauty of life and know that inside each of us is the same thread.  ‘We’ forgot where we came from, but ‘we’ can wake up and remember.

I know I probably didn’t answer the question.  Perhaps, if I meditate, it will come to me.

Namaste

Renee

Aspiring Yogi

Human who has none of the answers to life’s big questions but keeps on asking anyway.

Lover of goats (who just realized there are no photos of goats in this post and this must be remedied immediately)

white goat in grass field
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

A Story of the Cosmos

No one is illegitimate
No one is inferior

All are imbued with divinity
All are coming to the light
In their own way
In their own time.

All judgments are a way to delay wisdom
When we pay attention
We already know the divine

Why?
Because divinity already lies here, there and everywhere
This is too simple for us
As we want it to be
Out of reach
For those who do not appear to be seeking.

Yet, there it is
Floating just within our grasp
And we want it to be special
As if, special is not common.

No, you are not special.
You are only the divine.

Truth – why does it seem elusive?
It seems to be within the grasp of anyone who chooses.
Yet, to the last, it flows through the fingertips
Like wisps of smoke on ether.

What if
We are rejecting the truth that
Begs to be born in thought, speech or deed?
Falling back to the depths of ignorance
We passively float on the wings of the wind of fate.

We feel the pull towards the nape of the neck
Lifted and saved by the brace of gravity
Afraid again to be lifted to what is real
Fear embedded so deeply in our consciousness
It has swarmed and taken over like bees
Building and evolving
Into a hive of unrelenting stickiness.

Stuck, we accept our fate
Marching along in the tasty muck
Barely tasting our karmic creation
Yet we may not see it is the honey of knowledge
And the milk of wisdom.

Many, many, many times
We have journeyed here.
Exploding worlds and burning skies
Are not foreign or familiar.
Destruction and rebirth are
The Story of the Cosmos

 

Renee Howerton
Aspiring Yogi
Lover of Goats
Potential Poet

Level Up Your Life!

It’s no secret that I believe in the power of Yoga to transform your life, your relationships and your health.  As a Yoga teacher, I have witnessed the magic of Yoga through my students as well as my own ongoing personal journey and Yoga practice.  Before I start to sound preachy or condescending, I still struggle to live a balanced life, relax when needed, eat and sleep properly, meditate daily and practice Yoga daily.  Old habits die hard….and I have 50 years of poor habits under my belt to overcome.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at how becoming a Yoga teacher (or attending the 200 hour Yoga Teacher training to simply deepen your practice) can help you improve your physical and mental health and infuse your life with new purpose.

What is Yoga? 

Good question, right?  Do not be fooled by Instagram photos, magazine covers or Youtube videos!  You do not need to be hyper flexible, ridiculously thin or own fancy pants to practice or teach Yoga.

Are you alive? Check.

Do you have a body? Check.

Can you breathe? Check.

Do you want to live your best life? Check.

There! You already have everything you need to get started.   The Yoga Sutras (one of the most important ancient texts on Yoga) states: Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodha which means: Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.

Yoga can include poses or postures (known as asanas), meditation, breathing exercises, chanting, mudras (hand gestures), prayer, study…ANY action (or stillness) that calms you.  There are thousands of ‘styles’ of Yoga.  I happen to practice and teach Kripalu Yoga- an accessible, gentle form that can be modified to suit almost any ‘body’.

Am I ready?

Have you have practiced Yoga in any form for any length of time and has it changed your life in a positive way? Check.

Do you feel that you found a missing piece of your life when you began the practice of Yoga? Check.

Have friends, family members or other important people in your life noticed the positive changes in you? Check.

Are you telling your friends, family and anyone who will listen that they should come to a class? Check.

When I began teacher training, I had been practicing Yoga for a whole 6 months.  The inspiration came during Savasana (the deep relaxation at the end of any good yoga class).  A single thought popped in my head: “I should teach Yoga”.  With the encouragement of my mentor and first Yoga teacher, Amy Andrews (owner of the famous Yoga Hut in Belleview, FL), I enrolled in training with Jennifer McCracken (of the equally famous Blissful Life Corporation in Ocala, FL) and my journey began.  It wasn’t easy! I dedicated 2 months of my weekends and many evenings of practice, reading and study to the training.  I was out of shape in both body and mind. I struggled to keep up with my classmates physically.  I struggled with my spiritual beliefs (or lack of any belief).  It was the best challenge I ever accepted.

What will I learn in Teacher training?

Most initial training programs are 200 hours in length and include philosophy of Yoga, Asana (yoga poses or postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Meditation, Anatomy, Sequencing, Ethics and more. You’ll do A LOT of Yoga (duh) and you’ll do A LOT of ‘practice teaching’ (cringe!).  You’ll have homework and be required to take Yoga classes each week outside of your training time.  You will spend time on spiritual subject matter but Yoga is not a religion.  You’ll begin to explore the meaning of consciousness and how your mind and body work together to bring bliss…or distress.  In order to graduate, you will be required to teach a class and pass a written final exam.

Yoga: Side Hustle or Career?

Once you have completed your training AND make the commitment to teach, Yoga can bring financial rewards.  Local studios, fitness centers, and spas are always looking for qualified, trained teachers.  Opportunities are available at senior centers or nursing homes, large planned unit housing developments (HOA’s-Homeowner Associations) as well as schools or churches.  Employers are also adding Yoga as a benefit with classes offered during the work day at larger corporations.  By leveraging your social media presence, you can find opportunities to teach private lessons.  During your training, you will learn more about how to promote yourself as a Yoga Teacher.

Teaching Yoga is a rewarding part time job.  You choose when and where you want to teach!  However, whether you make this a full time endeavor or a side hustle, it is vital that you do not flake out.  Just like any other job, your reputation is crucial to your success.

Get ready to LEVEL UP!

Once you are ready to dive in, do some research.  Currently, there is no shortage of Yoga Teacher Training opportunities.  A quick search on Facebook or Google will reveal several area Yoga Teacher Schools.  However, not all training programs are suited for everyone.  Find YOUR style. Talk to your Yoga teacher.  Attend a class at the school to get a feel for their style of Yoga.

The best resource for more information about Kripalu Yoga is linked below (you can learn benefits of Yoga as well as how Kripalu Yoga compares to other styles):

www.kripalu.org

If you are ready to take this leap of faith in yourself OR if you know someone who may be interested, follow this link to learn more:

https://www.blissocala.com/200-hour-teacher-training

Or, you can email me directly at: reneeihowerton@gmail.com

It’s never too late to find your passion.  It’s never too late to reboot your life.   Yoga has healed people for thousands of years.  We (the world and all of humanity) need that healing more than ever before.  Whether you decide to teach Yoga after the training or evolve your practice to the next level, you’ll be practicing Seva (service) to the world.

Namaste

Renee

Aspiring Yogi

Lover of Goats

Will shamelessly use gamer lingo although I am totally not a gamer

Will also shamelessly and relentlessly promote Yoga, Teaching of Yoga and Better Living Through Deep Breathing at any given opportunity

The Inner Brat

bratty goat

Pursuing the practice of Yoga as a lifestyle (not fitness, not fancy leggings or mats, and definitely NOT how much you sweat or the tone of your ass) is at once life-affirming and disconcerting.  There are days when it brings me great joy and other days where I am frustrated with my lack of progress and irritated by my own thoughts.  As I familiarize myself with the role of ego, the constant flow of random thoughts and my own fixed beliefs about myself and the world, I am confronted with aspects of myself that I really do not like very much.

The style of Yoga that I teach and practice, Kripalu Yoga, is known for its accessibility (anyone can do it!) as well as its focus on the mind/body connection.  There are three stages to this form of Yoga: Willful practice (physical poses and alignment), Surrender and self-observation (holding poses longer, release of emotional blocks, meditation) and Meditation-In-Motion.  The stages are not necessarily practiced in ‘order’ and you may flow back and forth between them as you grow.

As meditation has become an important part of my Yoga practice, I’ve been introduced to My Inner Brat.  She’s always been there but now, I notice ‘her reactions’, ‘her desires’ and ‘her anger’ when she doesn’t get things her way.  She occupies a big part of the workings of my mind and ego.  Her voice is pretty darn loud in my head.  She screams inside when I keep quiet on the outside.  She stomps around like a child when I practice self-control in the world of Adults.  By the way, she HATES meditation…and makes sure to distract me as much as possible when I am practicing.

My inner brat is my shadow self.  These are the darker aspects of any personality: selfishness, greed, anger, hatred, bitterness and other ‘less than desirable’ human traits – traits we ALL possess in one degree or another.  Ranging from the benign (geez, this is boring) to the profane (I hate everyone!), these traits are like spices in the human soup of the mind.  The soup wouldn’t have any taste without the spices.  The sky doesn’t have stars without the backdrop of dark matter to put them on full display.  We need the sun and the moon to light the sky just as we need the rain and sunshine to balance all life on earth.  Negative emotions or thoughts can propel us to change and transform or to simply see truth.  In fact, I am beginning to see that when I embrace the negative thoughts or emotions or even negative ‘stuff’ happening, it’s an opportunity to clear the way and make room for more productive ways of being.

So, what have I learned from my Inner Brat?  She’s impatient. She’s angry …OFTEN.  She yells.  She’s SO inappropriate and immature.  As I practice this self-study, I dig in and find out what’s underneath these feelings.  If I totally reject these feelings, then I learn nothing.  First, I accept them as valid.  Second, I seek to understand their true meaning, so they don’t take up SO much space in the real estate of my mind.

Impatience:  I relate impatience to a need to be more mindful.  If I am in such a hurry to get to the next ‘thing’, I am missing a BIG part of real living.

Anger: Deeply embedded in anger is actual emotional pain.  When we push away pain, it doesn’t go away.  It sits and waits.  When we are triggered by rejection or frustration, it will jump out in unexpected ways.

Judgment: Judgment is like a mirror- we hold it up to show what is ‘wrong’ with someone else.  Yet, when we gaze into the mirror, we can see that it is really a reflection of something we do not like about ourselves.  We project into the world what we reject within ourselves.    When I am strongly repelled by someone’s behavior, I know I need to look at myself to see why I feel this way.

At the heart of it all, I find my whole self.  I work on acceptance and compassion for where I am on the ‘path’ at any given moment and know that while I do not ‘like’ my Inner Brat, she’s an important part of me.  Without her, I wouldn’t speak up when I am being mistreated.  I wouldn’t understand what I really want and boldly insist on going for it!  I laugh with her when she’s being ridiculous and I cry with her when she’s feeling alone and unappreciated.

Without her, meditation WOULD be boring!

Now, I sit silently and watch as her teachings unfold…grateful for the inner wisdom that allows me to listen and learn.

Namaste

Renee

Aspiring Yogi

STILL loves goats

Still a bit of a brat

bonus photo of the early stages of the Inner Brat…

bratty person

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Struggle

So far, my efforts to write a blog on a regular basis have failed in a spectacular fashion!   Despite my procrastination, here I am once again to share random thoughts about Yoga and Life accompanied by photographs of goats and terrible attempts at humor.

Lately, life has been handing me some challenges which have humbled me greatly.  However, the most painful times in our lives can be a catalyst for personal growth and we don’t realize it until much later after the dust has settled.  There are NO guarantees that we can avoid suffering.  In fact, we will experience suffering at many points in our lives.  Buddhist teachings state: ‘Suffering is Universal’, the first of the Four Noble Truths in this tradition.  A great portion of our life energy is spent trying to avoid suffering (Dukkha).  We may try to eat a healthy diet or exercise to avoid the suffering of illness or we may try to bury ourselves in work to climb the corporate ladder to avoid the suffering of poverty.  We go to great lengths to avoid discomforts- both physical and mental.

Our efforts to avoid suffering can even cause us to suffer MORE!!  We injure ourselves exercising too much or we never take enough time away from our job to enjoy our personal time.  We can become ‘stuck’ in this way of being until we can no longer enjoy simple pleasures as our life becomes a constant struggle to avoid pain and chase after pleasure (or material ‘stuff’).   Our resistance to the truth of life (it can really be a pain in the ass and it will end when our body gives out!) does not allow us to see clearly that we are trying to swim against the natural current flowing along the river of our existence.   This current may push and pull us into weeds, over rocks but eventually, we do come to calmer waters.

The ‘best-laid plans’ will often go awry.  Our savings can be depleted by a single catastrophic event.  We can get sick or injured due to an accident or the lottery of our genetic make-up.  Our loved ones will be taken away from us and we will also take our very own final exhalation.  This uncomfortable truth is one we really don’t like to think about and even talking about death is one sure way to clear a room.  Tragedy, comedy, truth and beauty are constantly unfolding around us.

In Yoga, part of the path taught by Swami Kripalu is to practice ‘compassionate self-observation’.  He says: “Self observation brings us closer to the truth”.  When we step back and observe our reactions (even after the fact), we can potentially see the root of our struggle could be fear of suffering.  Perhaps, we can even see that we suffer because we worry about things to come….stuff that hasn’t even happened yet.  The ‘bad thing’ isn’t even real but our mind (and our body) is reacting as if it is real and happening right now!  It’s like walking into a dimly lit room and we see something coiled up in the corner and our brain shouts SNAKE!!  Our heart beats wildly and we feel true fear…but when we turn on the lights, we see nothing but a harmless rope.  If we pay attention in this moment, we know that our fight or flight response kicked in and flooded our body and brain with adrenaline.  It will take hours for our system to return to normal.

Swami Kripalu also says: “The truth is that unmitigated pleasure, devoid of any pain, only tastes stale.  When one gets tired of sitting, one loves to be asked to stand.  Likewise, after a long session of uninterrupted standing, one greatly relishes the chance to sit down.  Pain is the sweetness experienced in pleasure.  Sorrow is nothing but unripened joy, and joy is the ripening fruit of sorrow.”

We can try to embrace the whole of our experience.   Since we are wired for survival, we often try to avoid perceived dangers.  In the past, we were running from tigers but now, we run from the fear of loss, pain or discomfort.  When we practice Yoga, we learn how to breathe through discomfort in our postures and move from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’.  Most of all, we know that in this moment, nothing is wrong.  Once I turn on the lights, I see there is no snake and there is no tiger.  It’s just me and my beautiful struggle to see truth and beauty and embrace the comedy and the tragedy.

Namaste

Renee

Aspiring Yogi*

*still sees snakes in the corners of a dark room and will definitely run from anything that looks like a tiger but there are cute goats in the world so I know it’s gonna be okay in the end.  Did I mention there will be cake in this lifetime?

cake

Remembering Why You Practice

As an aspiring Yogi (and a busy being having a human experience), I’ve come to learn that when I am not paying attention, I can cause harm to myself.  I can do this while practicing or teaching Yoga or while cooking or at any moment when I am in a hurry or distracted.  When I am not present and listening during a conversation, I can miss important details.  When I am eating and not present for each bite, indigestion can cause pain later in the day.

During my teacher training, our instructor asked us: ”Why are you teaching or doing this pose?”  This made an immediate impact on me.  I might say…it’s great for digestion!  It stretches the hamstrings! It’s a terrific opener for the hips!!! As time passed and I continued to ask myself this question, I realized the question goes deeper than an explanation or knowledge of the benefits of a pose.  As a teacher, we can lose sight of the true benefits of a yoga practice as we focus on how to sequence a class and what poses to include.  We may feel that a pose has sooooo many benefits and I NEED to teach this (or I NEED to be able to do this pose myself!)!!  Then, we see that some of our students can’t get their bodies into that shape or we ourselves become injured by forcing ourselves into a posture because our intention is to achieve a ‘goal’.  No pain..no gain? Nope.  In Yoga, there should no pain while practicing the poses.

Somewhere, the essence of the practice can be lost when we put too much focus on the poses (asanas) and the idea that if we just keep stretching and practicing, we will get there!  Many of us will NEVER get into Lotus pose or a headstand or a handstand.  Does that mean we are less of a Yogi or are we ‘bad’ at Yoga?  (side note: no one is ‘bad’ or ‘good’ at Yoga- if you’re feeling it, you’re doing it!).  The ‘true’ essence of Yoga is Union- a path to re-connect with our true self.  It’s a way to return to balance and harmony between mind, body and heart.  Whether you practice the ‘physical poses’, meditation, breath work or chanting or devotion, you are simply creating union within yourself.  Some of my teachers have referred to this as ‘coming home to yourself’.

How do we keep our attention on the essence of Yoga so that we do not cause harm to ourselves or our students?  I ask my students to have an intention for their practice known as Sankalpa. This intention should embody your higher purpose, your heart’s desire or a dedication in honor of another person or a spiritual deity.  I, too, practice and teach with intention so that my ego doesn’t take over.  Many students come to Yoga for weight loss, strengthening, a less flabby butt, killer abs…but if they stick with it, they get SO much more than a better body.  They can feel happier, calmer, less stressed…and those initial ideas about changing their body fades away to a new feeling of compassionate self-acceptance.

With our attention on our Sankalpa, we are reminded WHY we are practicing Yoga and we can truly be present for the experience and not a ‘goal’.  Instead of the ego telling us we are not doing the pose correctly or not going as far into the stretch as our fellow student or we just need to give MORE effort, we return to that higher intention often during the practice.  It’s a reminder that I can use a block when I am in Triangle pose because that works for my body.  I can sit on a cushion if it feels right for my hips.  Another wise teacher told me- “It takes more courage to NOT do a pose or modify it, than to try and force yourself into something that hurts”.

I realize that the way I teach Yoga will not appeal to everyone and that it may not be physically ‘challenging’ enough.  However, no matter how vigorous a practice you seek, it is still important to know WHY you are doing it.  We can let go of expectations, be present and enjoy our practice with our Sankalpa to ground us and allow us the space to just ‘be’.

At this point, you may be wondering why there is a photo of a goat accompanying this blog.  It’s because I love goats and will include cute photos of baby goats whenever and wherever I can.  If you clicked on this hoping for more about goats, I hope you are not too disappointed.

Namaste

Renee

Aspiring Yogi

Ardent Admirer of Baby Goats

 

What IS Yoga? Are we doing it ‘wrong’?

I just read another article bemoaning the destruction of Yoga by ‘well-meaning’ yet ill-trained teachers and how a certain organization (whose name I won’t bother to mention here) that seeks to create standards for the teaching of Yoga in America is an abject failure and only interested in creating profit.  The writer spoke of his absolute mental breakdown after teaching over 44 (forty-four!) teacher training classes and basically burning out and going to bed for months.   The writer asked a question of his student teachers: What are you teaching?  The answers he received to this question seemed to be one of the primary reasons for the writer’s descent into the abyss of depression.

Supposedly, his students could not provide an answer.  It makes me wonder if he just didn’t like their answers.  It makes me wonder why he thinks he is the only one who has the ‘correct’ answer.  I have encountered many ‘Yoga snobs’ – those who are sure that there is only one path to ‘true’ Yoga.  OH! Music should never be played in a Yoga class! OH! If you play music, it shouldn’t have any ‘words’. OH Yoga is being ‘watered down’ by those misguided Westerners! OH NO- you shouldn’t make a profit from teaching Yoga or running a studio! OH NO this style or that style of Yoga is not what they teach in India!

This really hit a nerve for me.   Now, it’s clear I am very young in my Yoga practice and have barely scratched the surface of all the teachings and I don’t have a guru and I haven’t been to India and I eat meat and well, you name it…I am far from a pure Yogi.  However, I know there is more to Yoga then the physical practice (asanas, postures, poses).  My Yoga teacher training has spanned almost 3 years and my teacher training instructors have top notch credentials and decades of experience. We study the ancient texts, scriptures, meditation, pranayama (breathing techniques), mantras, mudras, anatomy and Ayurveda (ancient science for health and mental well-being).  In a very subtle way, I incorporate ALL of this in my teaching and my own practice.  I don’t need to say to the class- “Today, we will explore the concept of Ahimsa (non violence)”..or “hey, let’s meditate!!!” or “Tonite, we are going to have a Pitta-pacifying practice”!  It’s woven in the fabric of the postures, the words and the music flowing together with an emphasis on reconnecting with our mind, heart and body.  Yoga literally means to ‘yoke’ or ‘unify’.  We start by acknowledging we are a little broken, maybe stressed or anxious or just plain tired.  We agree as a group (not literally!) to be still for a few moments, listen to our thoughts and really BREATHE.  We decide that we may want to have an intention or purpose for our practice that day.  Then, we move.  Once we have worked out all the kinks (physical and mental), we are prepared to rest in the bliss that is Savasana.

Honestly, most students begin coming to class for the physical ‘work out’ to lose weight or stretch out a sore back.  They want to MOVE and stretch and it feels good (well, most of the time!).  If they stick with it, over time, they realize it is SO much more.  It happened for me and I have watched others transform right before my eyes!  They are happier, less stressed and calmer.  Is this Yoga?  I think so.  Does any single teacher or guru or spiritual master possess the knowledge of a ‘correct’ way to practice Yoga?  I doubt it.  Can a good thing like Yoga get distorted or ‘destroyed’ by commercialization? Maybe, but I am not sure Yoga can be destroyed.

So, my answer to the question- “What do you teach?” would be:

I teach people to reconnect with their heart, mind and body through movement, breathing and meditation.  

Through these practices, some people can find a renewed sense of joy in their everyday existence.  Some can reconnect with their personal spirituality.  Others can even find a new way to love themselves and others. Some will feel great, stand taller and that’s all they need to be better human beings.

THIS is Yoga.

Namaste

Renee

Yoga Teacher

Spiritual Warrior

Seeker of Truth

Humble Being Having a Human Experience

The Beginner’s Mind

In my journey through the teachings of Yoga and becoming a Yoga Teacher, I have often considered myself to possess a ‘Beginner’s Mind’.  It is said that a teacher should be just one step ahead of their students.  The teachings should be at a level that’s ‘just right’: not so far advanced that students cannot comprehend it but enough to stretch their understanding of the study.  It’s similar to finding your ‘edge’ in a Yoga posture where more stretch would be too much but less would simply not be enough.  In fact, many of my students have been practicing the physical poses (asanas) much longer than I have- in some cases many years longer!  So, I not only have a ‘beginner’s mind’, I also have a ‘beginner’s body’!!

The concept of ‘Shoshin’ comes from the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, “In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”  A series of experiments was even conducted in November, 2015, by Professor Victor Ottati from Loyola University of Chicago showing that “self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition.”

Okay, what does that even mean?  In my humble opinion (not even close to an expert opinion obviously!), a closed-mind is not present and not open to new beliefs or thoughts leaving no room for growth or full experience of life.  I think we all fall victim to this closed-mind thinking especially as we age or work in a particular industry for years.  The ‘been there-done that’ attitude is a natural part of being human.  We’re wired to process our current experiences in the framework of our past experiences.  However, it’s clear that some of the greatest human achievements have come as a result of innovative thought even when the idea was ‘crazy’ and the experts said ‘this will never work!’.

I’ll admit that there have been times that I feel ashamed of my lack of ‘experience’ in Yoga.  In training classes, I meet other teachers who have been practicing for 10, 20 or even 30 years.  I’ve had to say ‘I don’t know’ in class when asked a question by a student (cringe!).  These questions often inspire me to delve more deeply into a subject or re-read a book from my training.  The beauty of Yoga is that it is a vast and profound study of the nature of the Self and the Mind.  This ‘self study’ (known as Svadhyaya) is a part of the ethical path we undertake when we become teachers of Yoga.  Watching our thoughts, watching our conditioned responses and how the Ego responds can be uncomfortable, humbling and life-changing.  It begins on the mat as you observe the ‘way’ you practice Yoga.  Am I forcing my body into postures?  Can I follow my own cues…breathe, be present, playing my edges…not causing injury to my body to satisfy my ego?  This self-study should be done with ruthless compassion.  It naturally flows into daily life…how am I reacting to the temporary nature of EVERYthing?  Is there a point to this existence if absolutely nothing is permanent?

Well, I sure don’t have these answers and they can’t be ‘taught’ in a single Yoga class.  Ultimately, we all want the same thing from life: Happiness.  This is the one thing all human beings have in common yet how we get there will be a very personal choice.  As a Yoga teacher, I am merely a facilitator if you choose Yoga as part of your path.  Together, we’ll explore the path to better understanding of our minds and bodies..and I’ll try to stay one step ahead.  As a human, my ego will get bruised because I cannot answer every question and I cannot even get into every single posture (there are thousands of Yoga poses and some of them are just not a good idea if you are 52 years old!).  There will be times when I learn more from my students than I teach them.  This is why I hope I never lose my ‘Beginner’s mind’ about Yoga.  However, the true challenge is how to apply this to ‘real life’…playing our edges…not allowing the ego to push us over the edge and approaching each day with an open mind and a humble heart.

Namaste!

Renee

Humble yet Bossy Yoga Teacher

Teller of bad jokes and puns

Ardent admirer of baby goats who shamelessly posts cute photos to draw attention to personal blog unrelated to goats

Sorry

Not Sorry