Blog

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ripple Effect

It’s hard not to feel powerless when we are constantly pummeled with depressing and disturbing news about what is happening in our world.  I don’t know if I am getting older…or if the world truly is going to shit.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering the dynamics of our news cycle and recent events.  My only insight is that when incredibly horrifying things happen (mass shootings, a President who frightens the hell out of people, food and water poisoned by greedy corporations, once-a-century storms and weather events that certainly SEEM to happen more often than once every 100 years), we human beings begin to shut down and feel powerless.  Our eyes wide and shining with the reflective glow of our phones and TVs, we blankly stare at our screens as we scroll through the images and hollow words and calls for prayer or donations.  Is this ALL we can do in trying times? Can one individual make a difference?

Until recently, I did not believe one ordinary person could change much about a world that has existed longer than most can comprehend.  This ‘existential’ belief system (while it is partly grounded in truth) did not serve me well.  However, I did continue to seek other ways to look at the world and myself eventually finding the path of Yoga, the practice and science of Self-Realization.  I began to study and learn concepts that I previously shunned.  I experienced a better and happier way to live.  This way of BEing changed me profoundly.  Soon, friends and family members began to see the changes in me that I believed I could only feel.

Of course, my new found path meant that I wanted everyone I know to follow me.  Back pain? Yoga!  Poor digestion? Try some Yoga!  Depression, stress, insomnia, anxiety? Yoga could help!  Some have followed me onto the mat and some…well, let’s just say not everyone is eager to pull on Yoga pants for an hour and a half of deep-breathing and stretching themselves into unfamiliar poses.   At times, I was disappointed when folks didn’t show up for my classes.  On the flipside, my friends and family were ok with me spontaneously striking a Yoga pose or talking about spirituality and the meaning of life over a couple of beers.

With fresh awareness, I began to really hear the feedback I was receiving from people who ‘knew me when’ (before Yoga) and have watched my ‘transformation’.  When they told me how I look healthy and happy, they were smiling.  I stopped taking these statements as compliments (which make me squirm) and instead quietly observed the effect I was having on important people in my life.  A new kind of peace seemed to follow me into every interaction with the world.   It’s like a ripple on a body of water quietly creating a subtle wave- a shift in the ‘environment’ of the water.  I remind myself that “Any action performed artfully is Yoga” (Kripalu).  Yoga is being here now…fully present whether you are washing dishes, taking a walk, sitting in a meeting or sharing a couple of beers with friends.

No, I won’t change the ‘world’ with my Yoga practice or teaching of poses.  However, I can pursue my best life and create a ripple of positive energy in the waters around me.

Namaste!

Renee

Seeker of Wisdom and Happiness

Practicing Compassion (when you really want to punch someone in the face)

I admit it- I am a bad Yogi at times.  There are many days where I get up early, practice my yoga and my breathing techniques.  I sit in stillness and ask for help in my daily quest to just be more compassionate.  I know that I must first practice compassion with myself and I vow to do so.

At first, all is well.  I am patient with other drivers and let them go first…even when they cut me off.  I back off if they are weaving all over the road because they are on their phone.  I read my emails and just smile when Mr. Smith feels the need to DESCRIBE HIS PROBLEMS IN ALL CAPS AND A PLETHORA OF EXCLAMATION POINTS and invokes the YOU PEOPLE refrain we all so enjoy reading first thing in the morning.

Something shifts with the first phone call of the day (if you haven’t put it all together yet, my day job consists of 90% listening to complaining on the phone, 5% reading email complaints and 5% mindless administrative tasks that have no relevance to serving our customers at all).  I realize the person calling is not going to listen to me or my sage advice as I have been doing this for almost 12 years.  I hang up and hurl a well-crafted yet scathing verbal assessment of the caller’s failings as a human being.  I am quite infamous in the office for these outbursts.

Part of the path of Yoga is to practice Ahimsa or ‘non-violence’.  It’s often the first step we take on the Eight-Limbed Path and it can be something that we study and practice for YEARS.  Ahimsa is not limited to actual physical violence but includes THOUGHTS.  After all…our thoughts are the birth of our deeds and actions.  Whoa.  Whenever I am ‘working’ on myself in this way, I start on the mat when I am physically doing my Yoga practice (Asanas or postures).  I set an intention to practice non-violence- no forcing myself into postures, no berating myself if I fall out of a pose.  As I move through my sequence with this focused awareness, I can change my reactions.  I can be kinder and gentler…I have given myself permission to ‘take it easy’.

Sometimes it works…and sometimes, well, I still get pissed that I cannot hold a Standing Half Moon. So, what’s different? Has anything changed as a result of all my studies if this happens?  I think so. Awareness is EVERYTHING!  This awareness means that I ‘catch myself’ and can stop the process from ruining my whole day or causing injury to body or hurting someone’s feelings.  I can step back and say…’Okay, yep, I just lost my cool but it won’t run away with me this time’.   I won’t let the anger fester and I won’t take it out on the next person I encounter.   I remember, this is temporary and I can let it go.

Before Yoga, I wasn’t aware that I could actually make my life better just by being more aware of my reactions.  Life isn’t happening to me….I am creating my life one moment at a time.  If this brings a bit more peace into my life (and those around me as a result), that’s good enough for me.

Namaste

Renee Howerton

Aspiring Yogini and Guru to Myself

 

 

 

 

Apples and The Nature of Our Thoughts

If you had told me five years ago that I would be embarking on a ‘spiritual’ journey at this time of my life, I would have choked on my beer and tripped over my pool cue.  To say I was cynical would be an understatement.  I truly didn’t believe you needed spirituality to be a good person.  I still believe this. I think we are all ‘wired’ for knowing right from wrong.  However, I now ponder and study the very questions about the Self, the Universe and the nature of happiness that I once disdained.

There’s one caveat to this path- it must be experienced.  It is not merely ‘knowledge’ from a book or a lecture.  It WILL NOT make ANY sense if it is not a direct and sincere experience.  I didn’t ‘see’ this before I began the practice of Yoga and the study of its ancient wisdom.  Personal experience, increasing awareness and self-observation have been my greatest teachers.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1.2 (this celebrated Yogic text is organized into four ‘Padas’ or chapters), states: Yogash citta vrtti nirodha, yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind.  What are these ‘fluctuations’ and why would we want to stop them?

If you give it some thought (pun intended), our minds are busy and at times, chaotic.  Through practice of Yoga and meditation, we seek to still the mind because it is so calming and relaxing when our thoughts aren’t racing.  Here’s one way to consider this:

Begin with one simple image or thought- something like ‘red apple’.  Then, close your eyes and ‘watch’ as the mind takes this simple thought and literally runs away with it.  Here’s the flow of my thoughts starting from ‘red apple’.

Red apples.  I like candy apples. I haven’t had one in awhile but that would be good. I doubt I could make it myself. Probably have to wait until Halloween to get one. Last Halloween, I didn’t do much – no parties and certainly no candy apples.  I do need to go to the grocery store for some cat food. Mickey (my cat) is really constipated right now and I really need to do something about it. He looks fat but he’s actually full of poop.

We experience thousands of thoughts each day.  Most are random but some are worries about events that haven’t happened yet and cause us suffering.  Quieting the mind (even if it’s only temporary) can give us some space in the current moment to explore deeper meanings or patterns in our life.  I have experienced ‘light bulb’ moments during meditation that a busy mind would not have allowed me to grasp.

As I continue on my path, I find proof that Yoga is more than just a bunch of poses.  It’s a philosophy of living life and finding your way to contentment.  Years ago, as I railed against Religion and the damage done in the name of it in an effort to convince someone that ‘God’ doesn’t exist, a good friend told me – “Don’t take away another’s hope. It may be all they have”.  She was right.

Namaste!

Renee

(Yoga Teacher, Seeker and Aspiring Yogini)