Wellness Wednesday – your body is the authority

Hello Friends,

I was honored to teach 9 lovely women last Friday for my first of three sessions of my “Desk Chair Yoga” series. Wow, 30 minutes can really fly by fast. But it was delightful and I got lots of great feedback after the class.

There is a waiting list for the next time around (I will likely repeat this series in March) and a colleague asked me more about yoga today. She said she had been intimidated to try it.¬† She had been overweight for years, and downward dog just didn’t feel good to her wrists or knees. I get it. One reason I became a teacher is that I wanted to be able to modify for those who (like me) may have injuries or challenges where the “average” yoga class is not suitable.

So I began with what I love about yoga: it means union. It is about union of the body and mind, and perhaps the spirit if you are inclined that way. When I introduced my class last Friday I told everyone: your body is the authority on what you do in this class.

Nothing in yoga should cause pain. There may be some discomfort when you are releasing chronically held tension, or a bit of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as when you do anything new/different with your muscles. However, respecting the principle of “ahimsa” or non-violence is central to yoga. We must have compassion for our bodies, the wisdom encoded within them, and the ways they communicate our needs.

All of this connected with my colleague. Several other colleagues joined the discussion on what they did and did not enjoy about past yoga classes. I am so grateful to share these wonderful practices for calming the nervous system. Remember this:

Your body is the authority. Treat her kindly and as the wise teacher that she is. The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Let your body lead instead. ūüėČ

Love,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Desk Chair Yoga brand snip

 

 

 

 

Yoga for over-thinkers Week 5 – Aparigraha

It is our fifth and final week of this series exploring the Yamas and learning asanas and soma yoga practices to support these principles.

Aparigraha is often translated as non-possessiveness, non-attachment or non-clinging. It is about understanding impermanence and honoring the divine flow of life. Nothing that is vital and growing stays the same. This teaching can help us to realize that what we cling to can keep us imprisoned.

Many of us cling to possessions, like cars or homes, fearing what we will become if we don’t have these things.¬†Sometimes we cling to friendships that have come to an end, not realizing that the energy to maintain those relationships is actually stealing energy from other relationships or own vitality.

Aparigraha can also be applied to our expectations of ourselves or of other people. How often do we become prisoners of our expectations of others, rather than letting people be who they are? Can we learn to let go of those expectations, understanding that we not only free the other person, we free ourselves too?

Letting go w yoga mat
How are we best able to let go and receive? With a closed hand or an open one?

One of my favorite parts of the practice of aparigraha is the letting go of old ideas about ourselves. Sometimes this is scary. We have told ourselves a story of our limitations and this has kept us from being vulnerable, from being truly seen. By getting truthful and current with ourselves (practicing satya), we realize there is growth and possibility that we miss by being stuck in the old story.

Letting go of beliefs and thoughts we have can be facilitated through coaching or mentoring. This is because it is sometimes hard to realize we are not stating “truth” but rather just re-playing an old pattern of thoughts. While they are not true, the may¬†feel¬†true, simply because we have repeated them without examining and questioning them. A good coach can gently challenge our beliefs and help us begin the process of letting go.

For the over-thinkers among us, letting go of worries and concerns may be challenging. In yoga, we settle our nervous systems in preparation for meditation, a practice of watching our thoughts without attachment. Often a mantra can help when watching the breath may not be enough. A mantra or phrase repeated again and again can keep the mind busy, so that the quiet openness does not tempt the mind to run off. And when it does (as mine inevitably does) we apply ahimsa and gently bring it back.

When it comes to letting go, what is most challenging for you? Feel free to post a comment. I am curious.

***

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Yoga for over-thinkers Week 4 – Brahmacharya

This week’s yoga class will focus on the 4th of the Yamas, Brahmacharya, or non-excess. The term literally means to “walk with God” and it is a guideline to leave greed and excess behind while we experience the world with wonder and awe. When we attend to each moment as holy, we are less inclined to feel lacking, and to over-indulge.

Salad from Campus Club
Rather than eat ALL of this beautiful salad in one sitting, I got a to-go box to eat half of it later. Serving sizes are so big!

My experience with this concept is first as a practice with food and with consciousness around eating. For many years I struggled with this, since food was used as a coping mechanism in my family, a way to dull our feelings. We were not allowed to express anger, and I recall getting ice cream more than once when I was sad rather than just being able to cry.

I have since learned that all feelings, even difficult ones like grief or loneliness, are tolerable if we sit with them rather than resist them. Acknowledging that our feelings are valid, and having compassion for ourselves (practicing ahimsa) and our basic humanity, can go a long way toward curbing any sense of “lack.”

Sometimes uncomfortable truths can emerge for us, and that can lead us to want to eat, or spend, or distract ourselves rather than to courageously act to improve our situation. This is a natural impulse, to stay with our familiar patterns rather than to move outside our comfortable habits.

Many of us can relate to an excess of busy-ness in our lives, a pull to be “always on” and always positive. And yet, acknowledging our need for rest, for pauses in our day, and for experiencing the whole spectrum of emotion is how we realize we are whole. We are never lacking. In every moment, there is abundance, if we can take the time and space to become present.

May you, my lovely readers, take time to slow down, take good care of yourself, and realize the abundance within you.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Yoga for over-thinkers Week 3 – Asteya

Asteya, the third of the Yamas of yoga is about living with integrity and reciprocity in our lives. It is about noticing the abundance of each moment, so we have no need to “steal” from it by obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.

In the same vein,¬†asteya¬†challenges us to work for what we want by building our competence. The Sanskrit word¬†adikara¬†refers to the right to know or the right to have. The concept is about exercising our intention and our practices in order to align those goals and desires responsibly. Our¬†adikara helps maintain the “container” for what we receive in our lives.

calvin-during-savasana.jpg
My cat Calvin joins in during my Tuesday savasana practice. He knows when Mom is blissed out and cozy. 

When we are on a path that honors our greater sense of purpose in the world, we have no need to envy other’s accomplishments. We can feel joy on their behalf, as we acknowledge universal possibilities for success. We can feel curious about others and excited to connect and learn from them.

Practicing asteya can help us understand how to lift others up without putting ourselves down. Of course, it is always important to keep the first two yamas of ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness) as a foundation to this practice.

At times we steal from our own energy when we feel compelled to work beyond our needs for rest, for example. We then risk working beyond healthy boundaries, and not honoring our truth in needing replenishment. This can arise from a scarcity mindset.

When we live in our own abundance, we notice just how many beautiful gifts surround us. Whether they are parks, libraries, forests, lakes or rivers, these gifts represent grace that we do not earn. We can contemplate how to live in reciprocity with this beautiful earth that we will steward for our collective future.

And on to design some practices to embody this concept. Did I mention how much I love teaching?¬† ¬†ūüôā

***

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Yoga for over-thinkers Week 2 – Satya

Hello Friends,

I really enjoyed teaching week 1 of my class last Thursday. Five wonderful students joined me and were able to help me practice my cue-ing and my teaching. I’m so grateful for that.

This week we will focus on satya or truthfulness, the second of the yamas of yoga. I have in mind some physical practices to allow students to experience their true range of motion. In soma yoga, we are taught to start with the center. So this means we start with a stable pelvis and build the poses from the central axis or spine, and then radiate outward.

soma-yoga-movement-yoga-north.jpg
From my Yoga North SomaYoga Guidebook 

Too many students (myself included) have had the unfortunate experience of getting “pushed” by a yoga class to go too far. We go beyond our true range of motion (ROM), and may find ourselves injured. Our body instinctively protects itself. Our range of motion may even decrease over time because our body knows the truth (even if our mind wants to make the image of the yoga teacher standing in front).

Life is like this too. Our bodies sense and know truth often before our minds’ start to manufacture stories and explanations. When we get quiet, and listen internally, we can detect truths emerging from within.

However, truths are not always comfortable or convenient. Sometimes a deep yearning for growth can mean that we must leave certain people behind in our lives. As humans we are biologically wired to seeking belonging, as it was part of our early survival. At the same time, our brains are wired for growth and change as adaptation is necessary.

Thus there can be some tension here, in terms of the actions we must take in our lives. We want the comfort of belonging. We also know that by not risking some discomfort, we are in danger of stagnating.

There was a time when I identified strongly as being a runner. It served me well. I got to “run out” the craziness of my mind when I felt stressed by work or life. I met my husband (9 years ago) and a wonderful community of running friends, many who are still close. I still run and enjoy the occasional race, but do not feel compelled to build up my mileage each week.

Yoga beckoned much more strongly as I sought to integrate my body and mind, rather than simply escape the busyness of my mind. Running can still feel like a cleansing process for me. And at the same time, yoga helps me direct and focus that energy in a mindful way.

So the truth is not an either/or proposition, but in this case a both/and situation. Getting current with ourselves and knowing what we need in our lives is part of satya. Tuning in regularly to ask ourselves what we most need is a practice which serves us in the long run. At times our bodies crave motion, dance, action. Other times they crave rest, pausing and turning inward.

Being able to embrace satya in each moment leads to freedom.  If you feel internal resistance you might ask:

What truths am I avoiding? Is there anything I may not want to see about my situation?

And of course, applying ahimsa, some self-compassion will go a long way here in allowing those truths to emerge.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Yoga for over-thinkers Week 1 – Ahimsa

Hello Friends!

This week I will start teaching my 5-week class on Thursday mornings. I have a good number of sign ups, and a couple of yoga teaching friends that may drop by, and I am excited to start.

Since I am preparing for that, I will be writing a weekly series on Wednesdays in October focusing on the 5 Yamas, Sanskrit for “restraints” which are part of the gems of wisdom making up yogic philosophy. These are: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess and nonpossessiveness.

Yamas and Niyamas
This is the book we studied in YTT-200 teacher training, highly recommended if you want to learn more.

The first week we start with Ahimsa, or nonviolence, literally to “do no harm.” This is so fundamental to the practice of yoga. Yet it is not always respected in our desire to “get things right” or to imitate our teachers.

We do violence to ourselves when we strive for perfection rather than balance, when we overdo rather than just do. The hardest part for me in this lesson was realizing how hard I was being on myself. My inner critic became apparent when I started listening to the thoughts in my mind more often.

Learning to bring some compassion to those “sub-personalities” that were driving some of my behavior, I have embraced a new pattern of nonviolence by becoming curious about that critical voice. Rather than believing it, I realize it often comes from that protective part of ourselves that is driven by fear and by the conditioning of our families of origin, and society as a whole.

By directing our attention to the breath and the body, getting “out of our heads” for a moment, we can step back from that inner dialogue. The mind’s stories create a cacophony of noise that is not the REAL self. Developing compassion for that inner voice, rather than criticizing ourselves for having it, allows us to move forward with greater ease.

This is in line with Kristen Neff’s work on Self-Compassion which I explored in an earlier post. There is a way in which treating ourselves with kindness flows out to our relationships with others as well. As Deb Adele’s book on The Yamas and Niyamas points out: “If you are a taskmaster with yourself, others will feel your whip.”

What I have noticed in practicing self-compassion with my flaws and short-comings is that I have so much more compassion for others as well. In this way, ahimsa becomes a powerful foundation for living well.

May you, my lovely reader, practice ahimsa by noticing where you are not being as kind to yourself or others as you could be. In what ways can you more easily accept yourself as you are without judgment or criticism? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com