The Real Yoga

July 2019

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” – B.K.S. Iyengar

Many of you know that my father who is now 97 has outlived the odds. He is a living breathing example of living life to its fullest no matter how many breaths he has left.

As I cherish each and every day that we have together, I see it is one of the biggest lessons of my life and the deepest practice of yoga I have experienced up to this point. While the poses and the physical practice were my point of entry into yoga, the practice has become so much more to me.

Understanding that life is finite has always been part of the practice. Learning to accept that, particularly for those you love, may actually be the biggest test.

As I juggle to find enough hours in the day, I understand that prioritizing and self-care are important, especially while caring for those I love. I learned this early on when I first started practicing yoga regularly as a young working mother. Yoga was my refuge from dirty diapers, endless laundry, errands, daily chores, raising a family and managing my career. Yoga was where I returned to again and again, when my frazzled nerves were fraying.

I find myself here again, in yet another chapter of life and unconditional love. As I work to balance my incredibly blessed life, which includes caring for 4 beautiful generations of family, I’m seeing that all these years of yoga has provided me some perspective on managing this next step in my life. I’m not necessarily ready for it, but I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned.

Patience, perseverance, acceptance, impermanence, practicing non-clinging and non-grasping, adapting to each moment as increased challenge, fear and doubt creep in … It’s a lot, and it’s not easy. It’s what we learn about on the mat. I spoke to my teacher Gabriel recently about doing my best to make the most of the time I have with my father and he replied, “That’s the real yoga.” His words have never been so true.

In watching my tired mother fight to stay strong, I see that compassion for those we love comes so naturally. But kindness toward ourselves is the even loftier goal to integrate into our demanding lives. Trouble is, we often cannot see ourselves clearly enough to recognize that we are deserving of compassion too and struggle with justifying that we actually are. I realize she is my mirror. And so, even when I’m compelled to run on empty, I must turn that mirror back on myself and remember the importance of taking time to re-fill my own well to better care for them.

So as I tread through this next stage of my life, I will again depend on my yoga practice to provide me the strength, understanding and resilience I need to endure and persevere. My my hope in sharing this with you is that when you face similar life challenges, you will do the same. For if nothing else, yoga can help remind us what really matters most and how embracing each of life’s precious moments is in fact, “the real yoga.”

Renewal…

April 2019

As the heaviness of the long winter lifts and a slow, tentative spring peeks through, growth seems inevitable. Nature beckons it.

I’m always amazed at how nature mimics the human experience.  Its patterns are somewhat predictable, yet always with an unexpected twist. Surprising, oftentimes harsh and unforgiving, yet in contrast, inexplicably breathtaking and refreshing.

The change of season assures us that the clouds will lift, the skies will clear, and the light will shine again. While the depths of our achy wants and fears still linger in the underbelly, the lightness of the season ushers in a sense of hope. The first bright crocuses that press upward through the still chilled earth after a long cold winter is so symbolic of the resilience that lives within each of us. Sweet and fragile, but still confident and determined.

While bigger shifts in nature and in life are often obvious, yoga, in all its wisdom, teaches us to recognize the smaller shifts. It helps us to see and understand the subtleties of ourselves, our own patterns and tendencies, so that we can continue to adjust and adapt to whatever life presents more skillfully. It teaches us to continue of the never-ending path of self-discovery, perseverance and learning to let go.

Our yoga practice sifts through the swirling debris and gritty gravel of our minds and helps us find stability and openness in our body and our lives. Our poses help us feel strong enough to go through the process. Our breath clears a path for us to follow as we move through it. The love that arises gives us the strength to keep going.

Now that we’ve pulled ourselves up and out of the sluggish winter, nature is prompting us to breathe in fresh new air into our lungs. bask in the warm sun to propagate new life, and to cultivate new perspective to see what sprouts.

A fresh start awaits…

Compassion

Everyone feels lost and alone sometimes. When we’re in that place, it’s as if no one in the world could possibly understand.

Thing is, more people than not know what that feels like. They just don’t talk about it. But we’ve all been there. Most often, we find ourselves somewhere in the spiral and eventually crawl our way out.

We live in a world of material wealth and instant results with little substance. The light-speed changes in technology, its effect on our culture and our interactions with one another has catapulted us into a world of loneliness, emptiness with no direction and little hope.

Those of us who have practiced yoga for a while know that pain–physical, mental and emotional–is real. Yoga heightens our sensitivity to what’s really going on in our bodies and minds. Often when people first come to yoga, they have no awareness they have tightness or restrictions in their bodies. But once they start really feeling what’s going on in there, a whole new world of awareness opens.

Regardless of your personal history, repressed feelings have been held in our bodies for years, if not decades. Through the increased awareness we’ve gained in our yoga practice, we find out we’ve held on to a lot! The best part is that we’ve discovered one of the most effective ways to alleviate this kind of pain is through simple yoga practices that lift the heaviness of our minds, lighten the weight on our neck and shoulders, and eases the pain in our low back and hips.

Without the release and reset that we experience in yoga, many end up feeling depressed, anxious or hopeless, often frustrated or angry at themselves for even feeling this way. When suppressed feelings accumulate and turn into tangible pain in the body, the first natural go-to is reaching for the bottle of something. Whether it’s an anti-inflammatory pill, alcohol, an anti-depressant or nerve-dulling prescription, that’s our first response to pain. It’s how our culture works. It’s how we’ve been trained to manage pain, physical, mental or otherwise.

This conditioning, coupled with the isolation resulting from device-based social interaction, suicide, addiction and violence have reached epidemic proportions. It has touched all of us, adding to the hopelessness that we feel. From teens to young adults, 30-to-50-somethings, to active seniors and those nearing the end of their lives, depression and anxiety affects everyone.

A sense of belonging through community, support and connection can provide the life-saving rope that gets thrown out to the man overboard. A little help from a friend–to really feel a human connection–is often all it takes to pull someone out from drowning in their own sea of despair.

Merriam-Webster defines compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

In this season of giving and receiving, compassion is where the story truly began. Understanding that by helping others, you too can realize purpose and meaning. It’s a chain reaction that can support us all at a time when answers seem out of reach.

And it might just be that this heartfelt desire could hold the secret to creating our eternal wish for Peace on Earth.

The Way …

Sometimes life feels empty. Sometimes life feels full.

Like the breath, it is the way.

As winter blows in, the cyclical tide of life crystallizes.

Letting go of the warmth of summer, welcomes the warmth of family and friends.

Finding solace in nature is replaced by the comfort of hot tea, warm socks and a good book.

Each change of season ushers in new perspective.

It begs the question: What does this next shift mean for me?

So too, the seasons of life signal a time for introspection.

Like an archaeological dig, the answers come slowly.

What will this next expedition reveal?

With patience, endurance, tenderness and tenacity, a glimmer is unearthed.

Discovery unveils new questions.

Like the breath, it is the way.

Bridging the Divide

September 2018

Wherever you look, humans somehow find a way to separate ourselves from each other. Not sure why, really. Most things in nature realize they need to co-exist and even rely on one another, despite their differences.

Political positioning, socio-economic disparity, racial and gender variances, geographic, religious and cultural discrepancies across the globe and within this country can drive a wedge between us, somehow convincing us that we are all separate and divided. Surprisingly, even in the world of yoga, whereby its very definition, “union” implies a sense of oneness, we still have somehow created a unique divide among ourselves.

In the ever-expanding world of yoga, it seems we have now created a division between social media yogis and old-school yogis. External performance yogis and introspective yogis. Instagram yogis and studio yogis. Hot yogis and alignment yogis. Vinyasa yogis and therapeutic yogis. Power yogis and restorative yogis. Just feel-good yogis and do-it-the-right-way yogis. Yin yogis and yang yogis. Young yogis and old yogis. The list goes on… Our choice of style, our decision to learn from a teacher in person vs. from a person streaming through device, and our level of commitment and experience in the practice have divided us too.

When I first started on my own yoga journey more than 25 years ago, I experienced that same level of questioning from more experienced yoga practitioners. I also remember feeling hurt that they questioned whether my intentions were pure or my skills were up to par. Admittedly, all these years later, I have also caught myself in that same mode of questioning of enthusiastic budding on-line yogis. While raw passion and talent is clearly no substitute for studying face-to-face with an experienced, knowledgeable teacher, I also realize that we all start somewhere. We all find yoga the way we’re meant to and when we’re meant to. And we all resonate with it in the way that makes sense to us at that particular time in our life.

What’s more important to remember that in whatever form and no matter who is doing it, the practice of yoga is an experience that enhances someone’s quality of life.  We as teachers have the responsibility to provide a safe practice, protect our students from injury and to share the teachings as purely as we can through our own reflection. But we can also work to embrace everyone who is doing their best to find and express their own path to their own truth. It’s a winding road no matter who you are. While ego plays a role in all that we do, so does self-doubt and insecurity. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. Which one came first? And really does it matter? Of course, our little world of yoga is just a microcosm of what is happening on a much grander scale. Learning to respect one another, despite our differences, is the crux.

In the practice of yoga and meditation, we often talk about observing “the gap” or “the pause.” By gaining awareness in that moment, we can get a glimpse of a clearer vision of what truly is, without the forces of opinion, conditioned thought, cultural or external influences. In the quiet of our own practice, between our own reactionary patterns of defensiveness and judgement, my hope is that we can bridge the chasm between perception and reality, and in every realm, someday come together as one.

On Not Knowing…

Even when we try to supress it, from every pore in our bodies, we ooze who we are. Artists express what they feel. Musicians play what they ache. Writers write what we struggle to say. Teachers teach what we need to learn. Yogis breathe what we need to purge.

As humans we share common struggles, but ultimately, we continually find ourselves in search of security, stability and answers to the unknown. Questions of why? What’s next? How will it work out? The unanswerable remains life’s ongoing question.

All day long we busy ourselves with ways we think will ensure the vision we have created in our minds, for ourselves, for our families, for the community, for the world. Yet in the end, as we all know, we only play a small role in controlling what really will happen.

If only we had a crystal ball. If only the proverbial genie could grant us 3 wishes that could guarantee that everything would be fine, that we will be fine, and those that we love will be fine! To end the suffering (dukkha) of trying to predict the unpredictable and control the uncontrollable, humans unlike any other species, rely on faith (shraddha).  Whether it’s in the form of religion, God or believing in something larger than ourselves for support, when life throws us a serious unexpected curve ball, most of us turn to it unconsciously, in whatever form resonates most closely with us.

Having this sense of trust can provide some relief, and remembering that most things do in fact work out can help assure us. And even when it doesn’t work out, the fact that we usually learn something from it provides some comfort.

For me, and as yoga teaches us, I find it helpful to constantly remind myself to notice my thoughts and feelings instead of letting them become me. To maintain some semblance of mental stability when life goes awry, I try to remind myself to try to pause and recognize how I’m feeling before momentum takes over.

So whether you’re plunging into a dark hole of depression, revving up toward a jittery suffocating anxiety attack, or a launching into a fiery angry rage, notice when it’s coming on. While it does take practice and consistent awareness to recognize our own reactionary patterns (samskaras), simple breathwork or a 5-minute meditation can create the pause you need, before the emotions and worst-case scenario imaginings swirl into a tornado of exaggerated negative possibilities.

Even more grounding and tangible is the great example nature continually provides us to lean on. Visualizing small tree seedlings that unearth themselves through the charred ground after devastating forest fires, the first crocuses that peak through the barely thawed ground after a long frozen winter, the majestic mountains still standing after millions of years of storms and droughts, even the defiant weed that miraculously finds a place to grow in a field of concrete parking lots; poignant and endless illustrations of nature’s resilience are literally just outside our door.

Learning to find a sense of contentment (santosha) in the uncomfortable place of not knowing seems to be the eternal question of human existence. Tuning into ourselves allows us to see what we’re feeling more accurately. Stepping outside of ourselves allows us to see what is more clearly. It’s what we practice in yoga. Understanding where we are, learning to be ok with where we are and recognizing that we cannot change who we are or what will happen, but we can accept it, learn from it, be grateful for it, and find peace in whatever the crystal ball may reveal.

On Balance…

I’ve succumbed.

Despite my internal kicking and screaming, I realize that posting pictures is here to stay, and social media marketing is a practical fact of life. Through the process of my reluctant acceptance, however, I’ve learned a little bit more about myself and discovered a new perspective about why we do what we do, and how we can consciously make a choice to maintain balance between the engaging in the world of devices and interacting in the world we actually live in.

After all the daily asana practice, breathing, stretching, etc., yoga ultimately boils down to the study of the Self. So conveniently, social media has given me the opportunity to see more deeply into my own insecurities and perceived shortcomings. I’ve noticed my own behavior and reactions after posting pretty much anything, and honestly, it’s a bit weird.

Regret and remorse consistently arise almost instantaneously, combined with a sweaty mix of anxiety, apprehension and self-doubt. How many people looked at it? Who “liked” it and who “loved” it. But moreover, who didn’t? And why not? Is the picture lame? I thought it was kinda cool/funny/smart/cute? The self-concocted questioning and explanations can go on and on … I mean really, it can get downright ridiculous.

What I’ve grown to understand, however, is that most of us as humans have a conditioned insatiable need to please and be validated by others. We were raised that way. We were brought up being rewarded for our successes and if we were lucky, comforted in our failures. Makes sense, really. Encouragement and compassion should result in growth. Posting, blogging and sharing on social media does allow for that, but by the same token, it also can make us vulnerable to judgement, criticism or worse. Ironically, it exacerbates our need for approval, real, perceived or otherwise.

After a recent discussion with a fellow teacher about yoga’s profound impact on calming the Fight or Flight response, I realized I had been flight-ing from social media. I also realized that, I’m generally a flight-er. My version of flight-ing, however is not exactly running away. Instead, it has been doing my best to not be noticed. Growing up, the unspoken message was: Always do your best, remain quiet, reserved, controlled and blend in the best you can.

This kind of unobservable perfectionism allowed me to avoid fanfare, go unnoticed and stay disconnected. Yoga, however, has taught me to be more open. To express my feelings more openly, to find my connection with others and muster the courage to live with an open heart. Granted, there have been times when I’ve been hurt by this choice. But after living the shorter half of my life one way, and the better part of my life this way, I still believe it’s the way to go. The rewards have been immeasurable.

So, while technology now has an undeniably huge place in all our lives, human connection is irreplaceable. Now the task is to unearth and discern the line in the sand. Where can we find a comfortable balance between love and boundaries, extroversion with introversion, fighting and flighting, social media/texting with real-life socializing? Guess it’s like catching that moment of perfect balance in your yoga practice, amid the constant teetering between strength and effort, flexibility and determination, focus and ease.

Where we find balance, whether it’s on our mats, in our lives, in our emotions, reactions or relationships, we will always be subtly shifting, adjusting and evolving, day to day, moment to moment, breath by breath.

Now, I’ll just try not to sweat it…

On procrastination…

We all do it. Even when we look like we’re busy. And oftentimes, it’s what’s keeping us from achieving what we desire most.

Whether it’s working too much, checking your inbox, taking care of others, cleaning the house, running to the store, doing the dishes or another load of laundry, our to do list can become our secret way of avoiding the things that we’re putting off. While admittedly, all of these things must get done and there’s only so much time in a day, sometimes our daily realities of existence become our subtle excuse for not doing the things that don’t come as easily to us.

As the new year marks a time of new intention, most of us have already created new resolutions for ourselves. But if previous years often reveal, as the weeks, and if we’re better than most, sometimes months later, we oftentimes find ourselves feeling disappointed, discouraged, frustrated and doubtful about why we even bothered trying in the first place.

The routine busyness of our lives, compounded by the time-sucking abyss created by our phones, tablets, laptops, Netflix and the like, has created a slew of unconscious obstacles keeping us from achieving our deepest desires, and has made our goals feel seemingly even more insurmountable.

Although the minutia may shift from one year to the next, I’d guess the theme remains the same among all of us. It is our life itself that we’re all hoping to enhance each year. We all want to grow, become a better version of ourselves and improve our quality of life.

So what’s stopping us? Why is it so hard to just stick with it if we want it so bad? Is it busyness? No time? No energy? Or maybe a lack of commitment, discipline, or self-confidence? For most of us, it’s probably some unique combination of all of it. How do we jump off of that endless spinning wheel?

Maybe by stepping back and honestly assessing first what is pulling us away from what we wish for in our lives can be our first step. Take a little time out to really quiet down. Recognize what’s holding you back. Build up what’s lacking and let go of what’s accumulating with no purpose. In yoga, we’ve learned that this is actually all possible in our practice on the mat. So in theory, we too can translate those lessons into our life.

As usual, I don’t have the answers, as we are all a work in progress. But maybe if we can unplug from our devices and our own conditioning long enough to tune into ourselves, we can learn from the patterns in our life and our practice on the mat. If we can merge these life lessons together, maybe we can reach a place of freedom from our own unrealized expectations of ourselves, live our life with vigor and purpose, and finally live our fullest, best life one moment at a time.

Going deep…

November 2017

I just returned from 7 days of yoga and meditation in Santa Fe with one of my master teachers, Tias Little. During this week, three of the days were spent in silence, with no talking, no TV, no cell phones, no computers. The silence was profound, if not deafening at times. But as I spent these days of quiet, alone time, with just me, myself and I to contend with, I was able to reconnect with myself and the person who I know myself to be, but often forget that I am.

Because we were there during Halloween, Tias tied one of our days of silence with All Souls Day, and reminded us that each and every one of us is on our own soul journey. It was a time for us not only to honor those who have impacted our lives and since passed, but also the souls of all of us still here on earth and traveling our own unique path, with lessons to learn and grow from, heartaches to endure and joys to lavish in.

As I practiced yoga and sat in silence day after day, the settling of my mind became easier. My connection to my deeper self, removed from the chatter of technology, the voices of other people, and finally the thoughts of my own mind, was almost within reach. Although there were only brief moments of time that went unnoticed in my mind, I think it was in that space, that I understood and accepted myself fully as I am. As fleeting as those moments may have been, there was recognition that despite the struggles that I might have in my daily life and in my mind, that’s not really me. And while we can choose to stay there in our minds, we have the power not to.

So often our ego tells us who we are. What we’ve accomplished, what we’ve achieved and what we’ve lost. What has happened to us and what hasn’t. Where we’ve been, who we’ve met and what we’ve done in our lives somehow makes us feel as if that’s who we are. While those experiences certainly enrich and flavor our lives, in reality, they are just aspects of our lives. Not who we are.

While trying to describe to you who I am is probably not possible, I can say that I’ve met her throughout my life, over and over again. And that version of me is my true self. And despite my unconscious efforts to derail her, I realize she’s actually ok. Yes, I’m actually ok!  And although I cannot tell you who you are either, I can venture to say, you’re ok too! In the quietude of your own practice, if you are able to access that truest version of yourself, I hope you’ll remember that too.

As you travel along your own soul journey wherever that may take you, may you trust and be consoled by the truth of who you really are.

On forgiveness…

September 2017

Sometimes mistakes serve as a catalyst… And blogs are modern day’s form of catharsis.

These days, with one press of a button, a mistake can be instantaneous, broad-sweeping and out there for all the world to see. So as I work to come to terms with my latest hasty and relatively meaningless Happy 2014 email blunder, I figured why not “kill two birds with one stone,” as my parents used to say, and process and hopefully let go of my self-deprecating frustration and write my typically procrastinated blog too!

For me, like most of us, I tend to be the toughest on myself. Brewing, stewing, and internally beating myself up over even my smallest errors is cultural, familial and a conditioned response that lives in the marrow of my bones. When I was young, I didn’t realize it. As I’ve grown older, I’m more aware of it, but it doesn’t make my emotional auto-response necessarily disappear forever.

Because of the power of the Ego, any mistake that others will witness often feels the worst…  I can tell you that as soon as I realized my subject line flub, a wave of panic moved through my body, heat radiated from my head down to my toes, beads of sweat formed on my brow, and a sick feeling seeped into my gut as my heart sank. These days, in my yoga-sensitive body, my physical reactions have been quite telling of how powerful the mind can be. Thoughts in your brain can overtake everything, creating a hyper-focused fixation on something as ridiculous as anything.

Beating your head against a wall and tossing and turning all night won’t help. Trust me. Recognizing, processing, re-framing and re-training your brain hopefully might. So as I move through my mistakes, which we all must do regardless of how trivial, let’s collectively promise to give ourselves a little slack. Perfectionism is a losing battle, since as we all know, no one can be. It’s the antithesis of being human.

Learning to forgive yourself is the biggest challenge. Thankfully, yoga can and has helped me combat my tendency to hold onto my mistakes forever, and age is trying to teach me to learn to laugh at myself more and embrace my imperfections with pride.

So in hopes of moving forward, I will remind myself that “falling is good.” And now, let’s once again just “enjoy this moment.” 😉

With love and humility,

Cara

p.s. Please disregard any typos here, there and forever and ever…