I still weep at least once a day. That is okay. I’d rather the body process and release than trap sorrow.
Each day I open my inbox to see her smiling face framed in a halo of red curls. I click the link to read a memory of her life. It is a gift that I sometimes find heart-wrenching, but always soothing. Part of me dreads the day when these posts will disappear. I’m not ready to retrieve the words she wrote for me during our years of correspondence. I am trying not to need them. I am trying to let go of what once was and move into what is.
As my mentor through the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, she taught me about the mysteries of what we call “life.” All those illusions we hold onto that bind the larger truth called “union.” You’d think I’d know better. I stand before my own students and teach union. Together we practice yoga, which translates into “union.” On our individual mats, we move the energy of the body to release what binds, while focusing the breath on what unites. Together, and individually, we create union. Or should I say reunion. Sometimes it is more accessible as a concept than it is to practice.
Knowing that she is now in all things is not enough for me yet to bring a steady state of solace. I search out the essence of her that lingers in the words she wrote, reading each post that appears in my inbox. It matters little that I’ve read most of them before. Each one brings a fresh wave of her magic.
This is what I am missing most these days. The magic that felt uniquely hers. We may be sparks of the same light, but through the process of our individuality, this light morphs into personalities that cannot be replicated or mimicked. I have convinced myself she is irreplaceable, and of course she is. It is now that she might remind me that I should not look for a replacement. That this is both futile and unnecessary. She would tell me that she has not disappeared, but is now in all things.
It is true. When I walk outside she is the woodpecker, calling me home. At night, her love pours out of the curl of the cat nestled into my legs. In all moments of stillness she is the soft dance inside each cell. I am familiar with this transfer of love. I have felt it in other losses. But it is not yet enough.
I don’t know why I am feeling it. There’s no rational explanation. Yet, there it is, the feeling of possibility stirring the cells into the flutter of excitement. Perhaps it is the quickening pulse of Spring that vibrates within my being. The Earth’s re-awakening becoming my own. It is, after all, the time of growth and movement. But not all moments are like this one.
Today has no set agenda for me. This morning, after I ensured that my daughter had a hearty breakfast and everything she needed before she headed off to take her SATs, I checked my phone and realized it was unlikely the call would arrive. Today, it seems, I am not needed outside of the home. I have started subbing at the middle school in town and usually the call for assistance arrives by 7am.
The day spreads before me a promise only I can fill. Some days this might bring the feeling of unease. The unknown agenda pressuring the need to be useful. Even though I am a Virgo, the mutable element of water flows strongly through me. I find grounding in routines when life feels uncomfortable, but there is the ever-present spark of magic waiting to be ignited.
There is something wondrous about a day unfolding without knowing what each minute will bring. Time is freed up to capture and weave together an infinite number of patterns of creation. It becomes the choice of the seeker to choose which path in this labyrinth to walk. We become poised, ready to receive what awaits. And how we navigate this spread of possibilities is also up to us.
When we open to the agenda-less, we allow that spark of magic to be ignited within. The outer world responds to our desire to be awakened into joy. We learn and discover in subtle ways that reveal to us their immeasurable value. It need not be, and often is not, a radical offering that awaits us. Most days we do not win the “lottery.” Most of us never will. How many people who do receive an over-load of abundance all at once know what to do with it to find true joy?
It is the offerings that may, at first glance appear tiny, that reveal the hidden gems that spark the life within us. Overload often brings overstimulation and chaos. The body and mind can only process so much at once. Conversely, one silken moment threading into a new one, nearly invisible in its form, can become something exquisite. One step into the unknown day leads us into a possibility offered without the force of our own creation. It becomes a gift, an offering to unfold.
As I sit here with one dog on either side of me, and no middle school classes to cover or yoga classes to teach, I hear the soft rhythm of breath mixing with the hum of the artificial life of my refrigerator. Choices unfold before me, but only a few have been revealed. The cat who fears the dog calls out to be visited, and I have decided that I will choose his offering first. But what is offered next, I am content with not knowing. It is the possibility that sparks the quickening, not the knowing.
It doesn’t matter who says it these days. As soon as the expression escapes someone’s lips, the dog comes running, filled with the promise of a dropped morsel. “Oops” is all it takes to make her feet race with joy as quickly as they can carry her into the kitchen. One person’s mistake is another [dog’s] victory.
When my husband dropped a few grains of cereal this evening, sending the dog running to the kitchen to clean up his mess, it got me thinking about this simple cause and effect conditioned response we have created. It did not take long for our Zelda to learn that an error for us meant a reward for her. She’s a smart dog, highly motivated by food.
Food pretty much rules Zelda’s life. She’s an opportunist, ever-ready for the chance to snatch up a meal, whether it be her own, or the remains of someone else’s. When my husband dropped some of his evening snack, I got to thinking about how subjective the meaning of “Oops” can be. Even, you might say, for the person who utters it upon impulse.
In this example of food lost from one mouth, only to be retrieved by another, the idea of a loss equalling another’s gain seems quite simple. But, most of the time what is dropped in our kitchen and retrieved by the dog is mere crumbs and is not really missed by us. The dog, in this case, is doing us a favor by sweeping the floor with her mouth.
At other times, though, the loss is greater. A quarter, or even a half of a meal might be lost with a careless swipe of a hand, resulting in the dog’s gain becoming more of a costly indulgence not just for us, but also for her health. Then, perhaps you could say the “Oops” is a genuine oops.
But I’m more interested in the subjective nature of the “Oops” and how the impulse to utter a word of mistake can, upon deeper reflection, become a gain for the person who might at first glance be thought of as a victim of circumstance.
When an event occurs that disrupts the status quo, it is in our nature to react. Our reactions determine our emotional response to the outcome, and sometimes it is unwavering. For example, if we return to the instance above, the dropped food may be perceived as a careless action that results in self-reprimand. No thought for gain may be considered, aside from the dog’s.
Yet, when we take the time to consider the cause behind the cause and the result beyond the initial result, we might arrive at a different conclusion. We might take a moment to realize that maybe our thoughts had influenced our carelessness, causing the food to be dropped because we had not been fully present and invested in the present moment, or task at hand. Therefore, the dropping of the food becomes an opportunity to reflect and pause. We can consider what has caused us to be distracted and why. We can make a choice to let it go and become more mindful as we carry out the rest of the meal preparation that is underway.
A mistake, then, becomes an opportunity to learn and to grow, even one as simple as an “Oops.” As we do this, the amount of “Oopses” by nature decreases, and the opportunity is seized not by someone else (or the dog), but by ourselves. The reward becomes our own to retrieve if we choose to. And, most likely, with enough exploration, we will find that the gain outweighs the perceived loss.
I chose the above photo as an image for this post because it reminded me of a big “Oops” I recently read about regarding the writer Ernest Hemingway. Early on in his literary career, his first wife, Hadley lost his entire collection of unpublished manuscripts. Deciding that she would gather all of his work to bring to him while they were vacationing, Hadley misplaced the briefcase containing the contents of his creative work on the train. The briefcase, assumed to be stolen, was never to be recovered. It took months, if not years, for Hemingway to realize, with the help of a writer friend or two, that perhaps Hadley’s “Oops” had actually been a gift. His writing, you see, had only benefitted from his loss, becoming stronger and more refined because the page, like our floor, had been whipped clean by a perceived mistake. He had no choice but to start over with nothing to lean upon. Hemingway’s creative hand took not only adapted to the loss, it grew from it.
It’s Wednesday morning and I’m up before dawn to ensure one of the teenagers I said I would not mention, but already have, does not miss her morning class. I’m emptying the dishwasher while steaming a kettle of water for tea and a too loud clink gets an echoing bang from the other said teenager I promised not to mention. Did I mention it’s Wednesday, which means in our small town in NH there is no school (unless you’re taking classes elsewhere).
Abandoning the chore, I decide to salvage some peace and descend into the dungeon of the house to visit the cat-who-distrusts-dogs, Yoda. Yoda, as always, is elated to see me (unlike the teenagers we’re trying to overlook for now) and promptly comes over the his morning pets. As I settle in for a good hand grooming of the feline, my eye catches upon a white and gray mass near the hand weights. “It can’t be,” I think.
I flick pull the string to turn on the overhead light.
Yes it is. Stuck to the wire of a portable fan, and even more stuck to the black mat on the floor, is the flattened carcass of a mouse. As I gather spray cleaner, paper towels, and an old bread bag from the shelf beside the cat food, kept in the dungeon for this very purpose, I recall the evening five days ago when Yoda leapt through the cat door and deposited his live catch before my feet. I had my answer.
The desiccated rodent remains now (mostly) cleaned and scraped from the floor and tied inside the (single use) plastic bag and in the garbage bin, I crank open the tiny window get ready to settle in for a morning workout under the supervision of Yoda the Cat.
In bounds Millie through the same cat door that allowed entry of the rodent I just disposed of. Full of energy after her night in the coat closet, Millie is ready for second-breakfasts and not so ready for pats. As Millie-who-thinks-she-might-be-a-dog, or as we call her a “cog,” polishes off the scraps of Yoda’s treats and the remainder of his breakfast, I zero in to steal some pats. Once again, my eyes hijack the intended moment. “Is it?”
Yes it is. A tiny black tick is working its way into Millie’s white coat. Fingers pinch the bugger and the other hand quickly finds the roll of masking tape (also on the shelf for this very purpose) to snuff out the life of the invader.
Thirty minutes later I have managed the semblance of a workout with my trusted guide, Yoda (Millie, true to her nature, has found better things to do with her time) and have also caught myself up on half an episode of ‘The Great British Baking Show.”
I figure I’ve at least faired better with the first half of the morning than some of the contests under the tent as I give Yoda a few more pats and make my way upstairs where the dogs are already taking their second naps of the day on the couches.
I reach for my laptop to go through the morning’s mail and give Rosy a slight nudge so I can sit down beside her. A waft of dog-perfume greets me as my rear-end meets the cushion. “Never again,” I tell myself for the five hundredth time, “Will I buy a couch with unwashable cushions.” Friday, which we’ve dedicated to renting a commercial washer and hopefully scrubbing the scent of cleaner into the couches, can not come too soon.
Rosy, on the other hand, appears quite content with her couch, and not too thrilled with her human invading the tiny space beside her. No worries, soon enough I leave her to her nap, and head upstairs to my yoga room with my shadow (aka Zelda) at my heals.
Ten minutes later, as my busy mind is finally beginning to settle into the flow of the postures, my fifty black shadow with fur, claws and a very loud mouth, leaps onto the window seat and starts hollering her displeasure at an unseen presence.
Just for good measure, I check to make sure. Yep. Not an intruder in sight.
I settle back on the mat, while my shadow settles her head on the windowsill to keep watch, and slowly the flow of life returns. But not for long. With a charming chirp, the cog announces her reappearance.
There is no resisting the cog. Even the dogs who despise all other felines, have been charmed into near-adoration by this would-be-dog. Adjustments must be made and the mat must be shared while Millie graces the day with her presence.
Not to worry, though, she’s soon vanished (again) and I nearly, just nearly get a complete practice in before the not-to-be-mentioned-teenage-son makes his way downstairs and starts rooting around for some breakfast.
Life begins with a spark of light entering a darkened womb. The self dividing itself over and over again until it finds cohesion inside a physical form. Quite often birth involves a struggle of forces. The body contracts as it gathers energy to release this new life through a narrow canal of darkness back into the light. We see this pattern in various lifeforms. The seed of a plant, requiring darkness, the compaction of soil, and a protective womb-like shell in order to grow a new self back to the light.
I tend toward the belief that there are few true accidents in life. Things generally happen for reasons, even when they are unwelcome or difficult to decipher. It’s the simple law of cause and effect. These “things” that happen to us can lead us in many directions, and it is in the path that we choose to follow where we gleam insight into ourselves.
When I made the decision to enroll in a mystery school, a part of me was hoping to learn some magic. You know, the sort that you find in the Harry Potter stories. Although I understood this was not the path of study I was to embark upon, there was a longing to uncover something magical to, let’s say for example, defy the gravity of the mundane existence. Like, you know, learning how to fly.
I flew in my dreams, so why not learn to fly the physical body, like Icarus, but with invisible, magical wings, towards the sun? During my last year of study with the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, I embarked upon the path of yoga. The two paths, I soon discovered, were not so separate. In the yoga sutras, which have been widely translated, the mysteries of yoga are revealed as a path back to the true self. In the final chapters of the sutras, the yogi, if s/he so desires to, and with great disciple and practice, can learn how to fly. Literally. Or at lease levitate. It is revealed that outer manifestations of magic are indeed possible if the yogi learns to how to become a master of energy.
But to what true purpose does one gain this sort of mastery? The whim of the ego, or something else? If we don’t first fly through the dark land of yin energy where the self is formed and molded, exploring every curve and fold — every shadow, until it is revealed as a truth to be learned — to what end will flying serve us? The wings burn when the self fails to understand the form of being.
There are so many things we are being asked to give up right now, and rules that we may resist abiding by. Minds are plunging headfirst into conspiracies of darkness, screaming blame in the voice of ignorance as they spiral deeper and deeper into the abyss. How easy it is to deflect and refuse to examine the interior. How easy it is to erupt in anger instead of pausing to breath into the inner discovery.
If restrictions were lifted, perhaps I would be walking the ancient landscapes of England right now and finding that delicious stirring of cellular memory that fills me with the call of home. But I am here, in my physical home, and somehow that is just right. I find I am relishing, albeit not always with joy, this prolonged pause we are all being asked to take. Welcoming it, for the most part, as a gift of the self that I can unwrap into discoveries inside the inner land I have thus far left unfound.
When I ask, I receive this response, The pause will take as long as you need.
I am okay with that. Most days. Even when the computer broke, again, and left me feeling strangely weightless. If I lost it all, what would really happen?
Perhaps the load of life would feel a little lighter.
Here I was trying to hold onto temporary things until I discovered the gift of the break and sank my belly to the ground to breathe in crumbled grass and prunella vulgaris, also known by the name “common selfheal.”
I peer through the green blades to study the tiny purple pitchers, imaging the nectar of bees. Through the skin of my belly I can feel the tendrils of life pulsing into the matrix hidden from sight. This is magic enough for me in this moment. I need nothing more. The pulse is strong and reassuring. Comfort dances with gratitude in the moment of connection and the outer hold dissipates in the surrender. This is the magic of life.
I have been losing my identity in my dreams. In the span of multiple nights, I have lost my wallet, my car, and my home. I have also watched, as a bystander, horrific scenes of destruction of life and the human form breaking down. Most nights I feel as though I have barely slept. One vivid scene after another tumbles me awake, yet instead of feeling tired, I feel acutely alert as though there is no separation from day and night.
It’s impossible to escape what is happening in the outer and inner worlds, and I know I am not the only one who is feeling the call to let go of what I once held close. Two nights ago, I found myself back at Bowdoin College, my alma mater. I’m here again? It’s not the first time I’ve returned, reluctantly, in the land of dreams. Once again, I felt the pull to reinvent myself. To learn something I did not learn before.
This time, I pulled on a pair of too-big jeans that did not belong to me, and made a messy attempt at hemming them. Still, I wore them as I swung my limbs into a dance in the full light of the sun, amongst my peers, before I dug a hole in the sand and hopped into it. A half-hearted attempt at rebirth before I emerged to find my way back home. Strange, I thought as I tried to find my compartment apartment, I know how to get there. How could I be lost?
But sure enough, the landscape as I had known had changed. I could not find my way back to my apartment. The more I struggled with fear, the more the scene before me grew into one of congestion and confusion. Finally, I entered a doorway I was drawn to, and a vast museum unfolded before me. Each footstep brought new mysteries. I didn’t know where I was, but I didn’t want to leave. Well, not really. Despite the endless wonders before me, there was still the voice of fear nagging to find that place I was used to calling home.
Last night, I was back at college. It was not Bowdoin, though, but a new college by the seacoast. I drove there in my blue car and found myself pulled into the confusion of where to park it. Vast lots loomed before me, and I finally chose one that was raised on higher ground. The alarms rang out while inside the new-to-me buildings. The waters are rising! I emerged to find the land being swallowed by a pale green sea. Half in awe of the power of its force, half desperate to find my blue car, where my wallet was locked inside, I ventured out into the chaos. Confusion and panic took hold as I searched for my blue car while green waters rose around me. Only to find that it had been lost, somehow, despite its elevation, to the sea. Mysteriously, the waters had swallowed my car and left the others beside it. Gone was my ride home, along with my identification cards trapped inside.
I wonder how many people are having similar dreams? Different scenes playing out the same calling for rebirth? Or perhaps the calling is more acute in the reality of daytime. This near-shouting, silent, incessant voice that urges the self as we know it to give way to something new. To something closer to the true self…
Before the virus took hold of our world as we know it, a children’s story poured out of me. I am calling it Joy’s Room. I thought I was writing it for eventual publication. You know, the traditional kind, because I have already grown weary of self-publication. I wrote it and let it sit, until the virus took hold and Joy’s Room began to pester me with the call to reinvent a reality I wanted to cling to.
As Joy’s Room tugged at my shirt sleeves, yoga began jack-hammering the foundation of my home. The place where I had been physically holding my yoga classes. I felt, as many are feeling, that I had no choice but to embrace a new way if I wanted to continue to grow instead of wither. And so I began the stumbling dance into virtual yoga for my adult classes and creating videos for kids. Vanity has been forced to take a backseat as I step in front of the screen and bare myself. The impulse to redo, rejected. Flaws accepted, even embraced, as I give way to the unwrapping of Joy.
Yes, Joy. For I have discovered joy in the process. I cannot help but feel it as it takes hold of me, albeit with some guilt. It seems, in so many ways, “joy” is a word that should not be uttered at this time, but how can it be denied when it is calling for us to embrace it? Amid the struggle against death, life is offering us a chance for rebirth the likes of which many of us have never experienced before. An individual and global rebirth. It feels like a test as well as an opportunity. In part (perhaps mostly) of our own invention. It would be foolish to deny the cries of our planet any longer. More than half a century ago, we we knew the lifestyles we were rapidly creating were not globally sustainable.
Tragic, in many ways, but also beautiful, is this breaking down to begin anew. To recreate the self, and the whole, in a more sustainable way. To rewrite the script that is life on Earth. Already, we are changing. Hearts that were closed off, are opening as Fear struggles with Life. The Wheel of Fortune is in our hands. We can turn it forward, or in reverse. The cards are stacked before us for us to reshuffle and deal. The hands of fate, our own. We may feel helpless, but that is the old voice of fear speaking. The familiar tendency to be the victim and not the hero of our stories/story.
Now more than ever, perhaps, we are being asked to turn inward and listen to the wisdom of the inner Hermit. To heed the unspoken words that whisper truth beneath the shouts of fear. The Hermit is offering us rebirth. To bring the Fool’s Journey into the Land of Joy. To stand before our own future with the fortitude of the Magician that also resides inside each one of us. Alchemy transmuting fear into love. Death into rebirth.
The number 9 from 10
The 0 from the reduced 10
This is not an easy journey, as we are witnessing. And there is the feeling that the more we resist rebirth, the more physical death and turmoil will occur. There is the feeling that this will persist as long as it takes. Yet, Joy’s threads weave a constant, unbreakable strand of gold through each of our hearts. Their tensile strength stronger than fear. While fear works towards separation, Joy dances to the song of unity. We are all in this together.
Through no choice of our own, we are all being called to pull inward, to the comfort of the hearth fire. To our homes. At night I dream of old homes and new. Of fireplaces in rooms they have never been before. Reality is teased into new forms and one wonders what is real.
No doubt I am not the only one who is losing track of dates and even minutes. Each day feels like a Saturday, wrapped inside of itself like the planet in the distant sky. There is comfort to staying within. Avoidance, though, does not always equal protection.
The further we retreat inside, the more we are beckoned by what resides within the shadows. As we walk the familiar hallways of our “homes,” the eye is pulled to see what it has easily overlooked due to the hustle of distraction.
Never before, in my lifetime, have I felt the collective pull into the present moment. Each breath feels like a gift. Each inhale an opportunity to receive or let go. As I healer, I have come to know the feel of fear and how it likes to wrap the chest like armor. I will protect you, it whispers promise.
Fear lies. The promise of protection becomes a trap when it is held for too long. The breath shortens and becomes shallow. Instead of coursing on the wave of life throughout the body, it pounds for freedom off the walls of the chest.
I cannot help but think often of the breath during these days that feel like one endless cycle of rebirth. Within the endless minute I notice how long my body holds air before it lets go. How much life it is willing to take inside, and how much it is willing to let go.
We may cling to the belief that there is little we can now control, but this too is a false whisper belonging to fear. Never before, perhaps, have most of us been given a greater opportunity to take hold of the reins and ride into wild freedom, or pull tightly into restraint.
By freedom, I do not intend to imply a reckless abandonment of judgement. True freedom is a personal ride to find one’s own natural rhythm among the outer rhythm of life. When the outer slows down its hustle, the opportunity to find the cadence within is opened, its dance tantalizingly electric.
The outer eyes collapse into the inner and life is explored in new ways. Dormant seeds begin to find the light you bring to them, and new growth starts to take hold and even flourish. When the outer world as we knows it collapses into a new fold, so too must we.
Even though the dance may at first feel awkward, Joy’s hand is always there ready to be grasped. My own inner journey during this long stretch of Saturdays, has found me exploring virtual yoga. Instead of grasping the familiar of avoidance, I found it was time to let go resistance and find a new home teaching remotely, through a screen.
This new gift of collapsing space to find connection through a screen brought some frustration until I acknowledged the vice of Fear attempt to trap. And there was Joy on the other side. Waiting for to laugh we me at the missteps. Waiting to take my hand and waltz into this new land. Joy never promises the dance will be easy, but it always lead with the light of truth.
Although I’m married to a physician, I’m not what you’d call a model patient. Last week I had my second ever mammogram. I’m 46. I also got a pap smear. My last one was five years ago. Both appear to have yielded normal results, so for now the cards seem to be stacked in my favor.
I’m up-to-date on my vaccinations, and I get the one for flu each year. Aside from going to the lab to have my TSH checked semi-regularly to ensure I’m on the proper dose of thyroid medication, I’m not a frequent visitor at the doctor’s office. My approach to wellness, you could say, is part conventional and part unconventional.
In this time of hyper-fear over the latest virus to spread across the land, I thought I’d share some of the ways I have found to stay as healthy and balanced as possible. I believe there’s a no one-size-fits all approach, but if something here rings your bell, perhaps it means it was worthwhile to write this.
Supplementing with Inner Wisdom
Please know this is not something I recommend everyone adopt instead of following the advice of their medical provider. That said, there’s an innate truth to the wisdom you hold inside of you. Although my husband has urged me, in the past, to take a multivitamin, I found that my body rejects a formulated blend intended for daily intake by women. Within five minutes of taking the multivitamin, my body attempts to vomit it out of its system. Clearly there is something in there that my chemistry does not align with. We’re all unique.
Instead of the multivitamin, I have found my body likes to have enough vitamin D (many of us in northern climates especially do not get enough), which I take in capsule form. When I feel vulnerable to viruses and other pathogens, I find myself drawn to natural sources of vitamin C , as well as a wider than usual variety of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet each day. Organic and free of pesticides, if possible (I use Misfits Market for an affordable source).
I also drink (organic) tea. Sometimes three cups (usually not all the same kind) a day in the winter months. I tend to accumulate a variety of tea boxes in my pantry, and at the moment my go-to is Dandelion Root. My body craves it, so I give it a cup almost every day, with a swirl of raw, organic honey (as local as possible). Note: raw honey is not recommended for infants.
Balance, though, is not always easy to achieve everyday. There are days when I eat more sugar than I probably should and scoop ice cream instead of quinoa into my bowl. But there’s something to be said about eating love instead of fear, but more on that later. Instead of worrying too much about the occasional over-indulgence, I have found that my body will eventually tell me what it does or does not need. Often-times that wisdom will appear in my dreams.
When I dream of food, I pay attention. Dreams are tricky creatures and they like to speak in allegory and metaphor. Becoming attuned to the language of your dream-self can be incredibly valuable, and if you don’t know the answers you seek, your dreams will often reveal them to you in some form. Sometimes the answers are subtle, and sometimes they shout results without a shred of doubt as to their intended meaning. When my body was lacking calcium and magnesium, my dream-self brought through the message loud and clear one night, “you need more calcium and magnesium.” Okay. Roger that. If you are just beginning to explore the wisdom of your dreams, there are lots of resources out there. Denise Linn has a wonderful book about dreams, which helped to guide my own journey into dreamland.
Taking Care of the Subtle Energies
Science is just starting to prove the existence of the “subtle” energy centers in the body, popularly referred to as the chakras, but our far-distant ancestors never doubted their power to heal and transform the mind and body. Acupuncture, which targets the meridians that run through the chakras and the various organs of the body, is widely used in both the eastern and western sides of the globe.
Whenever I feel “off,” a half-hour or so of my time devoted to the practice of yoga will inevitably make me feel better. The physical practice of Yoga moves the subtle flows of energy in the body. It clears the channels that are blocked and aligns and balances the body’s energy systems. Whereas yoga works for me, another form of subtle-energy-focused exercise may resonate more for you, such as Tai Chi or Qigong. All work with the “Chi,” or “Qui,” the life force energy that moves through the body.
This life force that resides within the breath. There is, perhaps, nothing more important than the breath that moves through us. It carries our life force. A shallow breath impedes the flow of chi, and the held breath in fear can create density. Multiple studies have shown that mindful breathing calms the nervous system. Taking time to focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully (please google mindful breathing if you don’t know how to) will be a gift to your body’s overall wellbeing.
Integrated into almost every yoga practice I teach, and in my home self-care regime, I like to incorporate some version of Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine . My yoga students love it and can attest to how it makes them feel better. It takes just five minutes (or less, I don’t always do all parts, but follow what I feel I need). Donna’s routine works directly with the body’s meridians and chakras, using tapping, gentle, targeted pressure, and the body’s breath.
Nourishing with Words
I am fortunate to have the means to support a healthy diet by purchasing mostly organically grown sources of food. Not everyone does. Perhaps equally important as the foods we consume, though, are the emotions, or words, we consume. We all know how awful negative words can feel when they are directed at us. The same rule applies to our own thoughts and self-directed words. What we say to ourselves matters. Which means what we say to ourselves while we eat matters too. Changing the chemistry of our words can change the chemistry of your body.
Sometimes, when people I encounter seem to be wrapped up in the fear, in particular over food, I like to share the story of my grandmother (who, by the way, is still living). Although my grandmother is not, by any means, positive with all the words she speaks to herself and others, she eats every bite of food with gratitude. Most of the good she eats is not organic, or even fresh. She grew up knowing starvation, and as a child who suffered the effects of the Great Depression, she also learned the power of gratitude on the body. Every bite of food, and every drink of water, is a gift she brings into her body.
What we say to our bodies matters. Nourishing them with love can go a long way to improving our state of wellbeing. Be easy on yourself. Forgive, love, and express gratitude for your body and what goes into it.
Attune with Nature
There are so many benefits to being out in nature, and there is probably no need to list them all here. But, sometimes we can forget how powerful the natural world’s effects on our individual wellbeing are. I can think of no greater healing balm than that of the embrace of Mother Nature. For myself, I have found that walking outside, each day, with my two dogs is something I have come to depend upon. My senses attune to the frequency of nature’s rhythms, calming the troubles that might be weighing down my mind. The scattered mind and body ground through my walks, especially when they are on nature’s paths and not pavement. The energy of the trees lend specific wisdom and healing, as do the animal and insect visitors I encounter along my journeys. As within the world of dreams, I find that realm of the natural world is always ready to gift me with the answers and healing I might be seeking. I just need to open up to receive it.
If Your Teenager Won’t Hug You, Hug Your Pet(s)
In all seriousness, I have found my furry companions to be invaluable to my wellbeing. It’s true, I have two teenagers who don’t think hugging their parents is cool, so my dogs and cats get the bulk of my affection most days. Anyone with a beloved pet knows how valuable they are to our health and wellbeing, and there’s science to support this. Animals are highly tuned into our emotions, and I have found proof of this in my yoga classes. Without fail, Zelda-the-faithful-yoga-dog or Millie-the-sometimes-yoga-assistant-cat will make an appearance beside the mat of the person in most need of their love. Nothing quite compares to the love of an animal companion who is unconditionally present in our times of need.
What About You?
I’d love to hear what you do to stay balanced and maintain wellness, especially during times of increased stress. Please share your tips in the comments.
I think sometimes parents and teachers are surprised when they pop in at the end of my classes and don’t see a group of children engaged in yoga postures such as “Downward Dog” and ” Warrior.” Instead, we’re often gathered on the mat looking at colors settling in a jar, rocks or feathers. Sometimes our hands are taking turns tapping mallets to metal bowls or rods as we listen for the final sound. Today, we were coloring. Valentines. Six bodies sitting around a floor table the size of a large book focused on a task together.
Yoga, by definition means “to yoke,” or “bring together.” It is, in essence, union. Union of the body, mind, and spirit. It is a union of all the senses present in the moment. And, as was exhibited in the later portion of today’s class, it is union with others.
There were a few polite questions, “Did you do yoga today?” And a few surprised smiles. We did yoga, and we were still doing yoga at the end of the class, even though were were not actively stretching our bodies into asanas. Instead we were creating Valentine’s for our loved ones. Together.
Earlier, we also gathered together and read a story about a sloth teaching his friends how to slow down. And we talked about how that was yoga too. Later, when I took out paper cut into hearts and we gathered around a small table no bigger than a book, everyone was happy to slow down. No one pushed or shoved. No one stole the one color everyone wanted. No one threw their papers or gave up on their masterpieces. It was union. It was yoga. It was a harmony that rarely can be achieved with six young bodies that want to run, bump, wrestle and and be silly during the active part of yoga that we often think is the only form of yoga.
So, I didn’t worry that it might look strange to have five students and their teacher sitting in a very cozy circle around a tiny table, sharing stories, markers, and stickers while creating symbols of love for brothers, sisters, and parents. Our small space was permeated with palpable peace and joy. We were practicing yoga. Together. Long past the end of our half hour of class time.
Due to low enrollment this session, preK and elementary classes have been combined into one on Mondays, which means I could leave a half-hour earlier than I used to. Instead of rushing out the door, I have found there are benefits not to linger. To allowing the children to teach me what they need from the afternoon. Today, it was creating hearts of love instead of joining their other classmates for recess. “I don’t have boots today.” “I don’t have boots either.” Sometimes it’s okay to stretch the truth a little. To find an excuse not to go run around and to just be still in union with others. Creating some love to share. And, so, we lingered together. Surprised teachers popped in to make sure that we were okay. “You sure you want to stay?” They asked. How could I not?
This was yoga.
Perhaps it a bit confusing for those who observe small moments of our classes to see that we are practicing yoga together, but I think the kids understand. They know that yoga is not just about jumping into silly forms and balancing on one foot. They know that yoga is sharing and observing. It is movement but it is also stillness. It is laughter, but also silence. And, most of all, yoga is union in its many forms.
Since the writing of my last post, my thoughts have turned often towards empathy. And, specifically, how our world seems to be starving for lack of it. It is not that it is gone entirely. But it has become endangered, and more so in certain areas of the globe than others. I live in one of those areas.
In many Scandinavians countries such as Denmark teaching empathy in the classroom has become a normalized part of the curriculum. The results are obvious: less bullying and more compassion. Happier students and teachers. It simply makes sense. Although we consider ourselves a progressive country here in the US, we are often slow to follow progressive-minded methods of educating our children. We are a country founded upon colonialism. I live in a place of stolen land build upon the backbones of slaves. Children are taught to strive to their highest ideals, without too much regard for the child that may be struggling beside them. Here, we still cling to the notion that the more successful you are in life, the happier you will be. Yet, our standard of success is still measured in the highest GPA, the number of goals scored, and the most money earned with the highest educational degree. I know plenty of people who are not happy and can click off all of these boxes.
So what is missing? We can look to places like Denmark, or we can simply look inside and around us. We need not travel across the globe to realize what is lacking. We are a nation of souls starving for love. Not just for ourselves, but for each other. And many of us, I suspect, do not even know how much we hunger for it.
Yesterday, I treated myself to a facial. It was the first one I have had in my 46 and a half years on Earth. Not because I cannot afford it financially, but because I never before allowed myself this gift. Last year, like this year, my husband and children gifted me a certificate for a Spa. Last year, I gave my certificate to my daughter.
I rationalized the reasons why. She was struggling with acne, and I knew how hard that struggle could be for a teen. I told myself I didn’t really need any of the services the spa offered, and if I could gift my daughter with one of them, I would. You might say I responded to my gift, in part, with empathy, but at the cost of the self. Maternal guilt had replaced self-love. I struggle with giving my children what I never had, as many parents do. Perhaps you will understand why when I take you with me to yesterday.
Despite this, I have been working on a personal vow this year. There is a mantra that plays from the muffled speakers inside of my mind. Sometimes it is loud. Sometimes it is soft. Its words are, “I am worthy.”
Yesterday, I entered the doors of the spa alone. For the past year, I had visited several times, with my daughter and/or my son. But never just me. It was my turn, and no guilt followed me inside the room where I was met with the promise of an indulgence that had been gifted to me.
I was nervous at first. I wasn’t sure what to do with the wrap, and got it all wrong. No big deal. It was soon in its rightful place around my shoulders. A pillow was slipped under my knees and I lay back upon a bed that felt like heaven. Blankets nestled around me as an almost hot and moistened towel wrapped my face.
I began to sink into bliss. Soft hands lathered with warmed oils moved rhythmically down the sides of my neck and onto my shoulders where they found my knots of tension, pressing gently into surrender. Although the hands that touched me barely knew me, they felt like love, and I was over-whelmed momentarily with the impulse to weep. I thought of my mother. I thought of my children. I thought of all that my body longed for, and what I never wanted my children to miss. This body that still remembered the last embrace of her mother, years ago. A mother who had pulled tight with a desperation for my love. My body still remembered who she had chosen, long ago, to give her love to. Not to herself, or me, but my stepfather. Long before she decided never to hug me again because she wanted to believe I had written her a hate story instead of a love story. Yet, I was being reminded, in that moment on the massage bed, that I was still worthy of receiving love.
It is not easy to give when we are not used to receiving. And as I lay there on the table, feeling the foreign hands of love, I realized what a gift I had been given. The woman who had been scheduled for my facial held an innate ability to heal and give. Her nature was compassionate and maternal, and I had no doubt she had both an empathic and empathetic soul. She didn’t know my history. She didn’t need to. She simply read my body’s needs.
And as I lay there, receiving, I thought of my children. No wonder, I thought, they both love coming here. Even though they are teens, and no longer run to me for hugs, their bodies still hunger for the touch of love. They need it, as we all do. And sometimes we need an excuse to receive it. With a twinge of remorse mixed with guilt I made a vow to hug each of them more. Adolescent indifference would no longer be an excuse. Their bodies need the regular touch of love. As all bodies do.
When I began to teach yoga to young children, I worried about how to respond to their touches. Children, by nature, are tactile beings. They use touch to figure out the world, and themselves. They also use touch to express love, and I didn’t want to shy away from their expression of it even though I live in a culture that is riddled with fear around touching a child in any way that can be deemed inappropriate. Hugs can be forbidden. Yet, I knew there is more damage that can occur if a child hugs you and you don’t hug her back. They learn through our actions, and I am discovering that I want them to know that they are loved above all else. That it is okay to give me a hug and I will return it with as much love as they gave to me.
It occurred to me this morning, as I was thinking about empathy and children and what the world seems to hunger for, that perhaps I had a new mantra to share. The word “Namaste,” used so often in yoga, is often translated, “I honor the light in you that is also in me.” This phrase is more easily understood by older minds, and I have not quite found the words to replace it. Until today. The simplicity of the solution, I realized, is not just in the replacing of the word “light” with “love,” which is what I have done before, but in the emphasis that this love is ever-present. And that it is for you, and also for me. And so, I think perhaps we will share these words upon greeting and parting:
“I have love in my heart for you and also for me.”