Leaning in and looking forward

I’ve been so busy writing in my yoga teacher training journal lately that I’ve neglected this blog. But a weekend workshop with Kathryn Budig at LoveYoga reinvigorated me, so I’m back.

Beth with Kathryn

Kathryn Budig and me at LoveYoga in Beaumont TX

I had an amazing time and just had to share some of the insights I gained. One of the coolest things about Kathryn’s teaching is her use of fun, funny analogies. As we worked on handstands (something I NEVER thought I’d be doing), we had to remember a magical trio of helpers — Marcel, corset, panini.

Some teachers might remind you to stabilize your shoulders. Kathryn had us imagine keeping Marcel the Shell with Shoes On tucked tightly into the shoulder joint. I must admit, I lost Marcel a few times yesterday, which sent me tumbling onto my head once. But then I watched this video and this one starring Marcel this morning, and he’s so freaking adorable I never want to let him go again.

As for the corset and panini, the more traditional instruction might be to squeeze in to the midline. Instead, we went all Scarlett O’Hara with the lower ribs and imagined our thighs as giant sandwich presses. That last part seems karmically appropriate, considering my diet.

Most exciting for me though, I FINALLY GOT BAKASANA!!!

Beth in bakasana (crow)

Me in bakasana (crow)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been trying and failing to master this one, and despite my and my teachers’ best efforts, it wasn’t happening. Somehow with Kathryn’s help yesterday, everything clicked. I think there were a few key pieces I hadn’t thought about before:

  1. Marcel
  2. Lifting my hips high before lifting my feet
  3. T-rex arms (another wonderful analogy reminding us to squeeze our elbows and upper arms in close, leaving just stubby Tyrannosaurus rex forearms)
  4. Leaning in and looking forward

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that “leaning in and looking forward” is more than a good tip for this asana practice; it’s good advice for life. Lean In is even the name of that Sheryl Sandberg book about the ways women hold ourselves back that I’ll probably get around to reading eventually. I don’t know whether Kathryn intentionally made that connection, but it worked for me. It also tied in nicely with her Aim True talk on Friday.

Later, I started thinking about my tendencies to hold myself back personally and professionally. I’m so hypercritical of my writing that I edit myself to death before truly allowing myself to create. When I need to have an important conversation, I overthink and overstress about what to say and when to say it instead of just speaking from the heart. I make safe choices. Even in yoga, I say that certain poses are not for me. I limit myself and then, perversely, complain that I can’t get to where I want to be.

It’s time for that to stop. I need to make myself more open and more fearless — even, maybe especially, to things that seem difficult. I may stumble, but I will try instead of saying I can’t. And with practice and clear intention, I will get there. I will lean in, look forward, and let my feet leave the ground.

Trying new things

One of the things I love about yoga is that it’s YOUR practice. You don’t have to push to conquer every super-duper, mega-tough, look-at-me-I’m-awesome pose, nor should you.

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to master at least a FEW challenging poses. Lately, I’ve been working toward – OK, obsessed with – crow and headstand. In my head, this is me in crow:

budig cropped

Strong, beautiful, in control. By the way, that’s not me. It’s a photo of Kathryn Budig I found on the Internet. She’s awesome. Great photo, too, but I couldn’t find a photo credit.

In reality, when I try crow, I either fall back onto my toes or do a faceplant into the pillow I’ve strategically placed in front of me. I’m still trying, though.

The headstand obsession is working out much better. I’d been practicing dolphin pose to work up to it, but hadn’t had the nerve to kick my legs up and go for it. But, thanks to an assist from my friend Beth Lytle this weekend, I’ve got it now. Well, thanks to Beth and to a lovely wall in my foyer.

Beth is a yoga teacher in Tyler, Texas, newlywed to a longtime friend who plays in a band (Buffalo Blonde!) with my husband. After we got home from their gig about 1 a.m. Sunday, we started talking yoga, and I mentioned my obsession. This naturally led to her teaching me headstand in the wee hours of the morning after an evening of Thai food, a few drinks and much dancing to original rock-n-roll music. Looking at me probably wouldn’t have been very impressive, but it sure FELT awesome! I loved it so much that I did it on my own again the next day. I’m ready to make headstand a regular part of my practice. And maybe one day I’ll feel strong enough to move away from the wall.

Lead with your heart

The phrase “Lead with your heart” has been rolling around in my brain a lot for the past week.

It came up in week two of Love Yoga Teacher Training when we were exploring spinal movement. I told Tiffany Maloney, our awesome instructor, that I wasn’t sure I was moving the thoracic spine (the goal) rather than the lumbar spine (not what we were going for). “Lead with your heart,” she told me with her hand at the middle of my back. It was a simple physical instruction that resonated.

As an admitted lifelong nerd, I often move from the head instead of the heart. I think through what I already know and seek out more information. I read; I analyze (or overanalyze); I plan. I figure it out. But sometimes you need to just feel, and let your heart guide you.

I’ve felt my heart fill time and time again as I’ve watched Tiffany and other Love Yoga teachers lead from the heart recently. Our community suffered a tragic loss the day before my teacher training began when one of our teachers was killed in an accident. Grace Lee was a gifted teacher with beautiful spirit. Even in the short time I knew her and the few classes I took from her, she taught me to be more patient with myself and to have more fun in my yoga practice. Her signature line was telling you to move the corners of your mouth toward your ears, her “sneaky yoga teacher” reminder to smile. I loved that! It’s still hard to believe that someone so young (24) and so full of life is gone from this life. My heart goes out to her family, friends, fellow teachers.

Even as they struggled to process their own pain, Love Yoga teachers have done an amazing job of leading. The studio filled beyond what I thought capacity would have been for a beautiful practice in memory of Grace a week later. Her mat, covered with flowers and surrounded by lit candles, became the heart of the room as Tiffany’s gentle instructions and perfect playlist guided our movements. It was an unforgettable celebration of a well lived but too brief life.

After the practice, Tiffany invited everyone to write tributes or memories on the wall. I thought about picking up a pen, but my head still couldn’t find the words I wanted to say. Trusting enough to lead with my heart does not come easily for me. Maybe that’s why that instruction kept echoing when Tiffany said those words a day later in teacher training.

Instead of writing on the wall, I guess I’ll write my tribute to Grace here – Thank you, beautiful teacher, for sharing your joyful spirit with us. Your light lives on. Namaste.

Body consciousness – in a good way!

I’m barely a week into teacher training at Love Yoga and already noticing benefits. The first to draw my attention was an increased sense of body consciousness.

Now body consciousness is not always a good thing. Like just about every woman out there, I’ve struggled with SELF-consciousness about my body from time to time. Junior high (miserable and mostly blocked from memory). When I gain weight. When I make the mistake of looking around the yoga studio and comparing myself to others.

But the body consciousness I noticed after starting teacher training is an intensified version of what I’ve found in the past 15 years or so when I’m practicing yoga regularly. I notice my posture, so I correct my posture. That improves my spinal alignment, so my back, shoulders, and neck feel better. I look better because my belly isn’t pooching out — as much. I could still stand to lose a few pounds. But — get this — one of my friends asked me the other day if I had lost weight!

The cool thing is that now I’m more aware of my body and how it moves, thanks in part to my required daily yoga practice and in part to the mountain of reading I had to do in the past week. I came home from Day One of training with about 10 pounds of books covering a range of topics – philosophy, Sanskrit, and anatomy. In the anatomy book alone, I’ve read about Dynamics of Breathing, Yoga and the Spine, the Skeletal System, and the Muscular System in the past week.

Even though I’ve always been bookish, science is a subject I’ve generally avoided. So this anatomy stuff is new to me and helped heighten my awareness of my body.¬† To people with a background in exercise or athletics or dance, this body consciousness thing probably wouldn’t be such a big deal. But as I’ve mentioned before, I try to steer clear of exercise. My few forays into athletics did not go well – two years of T-ball, two years of fast-pitch softball, and one season as the second worst player on the JV volleyball team in high school. And most of my dancing happens in the living room or at live music venues.

Yoga is different because you pay attention to how you move your body and what it is capable of doing, but — if you approach it the right way — there’s no judgement. If I look at yoga as a staircase, I might be on the fifth step on one day, down to the second step the next day and up to the seventh step the third day. And that’s OK. A yogi friend and I spoke about this the other night, and she observed that yoga might be the only place in American society where that happens. That’s a shame. But if she’s right, at least we have that one place.

Charity and Prayer

I’m not a big fan of Twitter, but I do come across valuable info there sometimes. Earlier this week, I saw a tweet with a link to a comprehensive newspaper investigation into the worst charities in America. I haven’t had a chance to read all of it yet, but what I saw turned my stomach. How can people stand to profit wildly by preying on the compassion of good people who want to help those in need?

I found myself thinking again about that excellent piece of journalism from the Tampa Bay Times in the shower the next morning. I thought about charities I’d given to and read about and how to evaluate whether they’re using donations wisely. From there, my brain jumped to specific charities working on clean water access issues globally. I’ve read about some of those and meant to check into them further because their work sounds SO critical. And from there, somehow, I jumped to the memory of a moving prayer I heard offered during last year’s political season. I think it was at the Democratic National Convention, and I think the eloquent young woman praying worked at one of those international charities.

This is how my mind works. This is why I take too long in the shower.

Her prayer struck me because it was not of the “God be on our side” variety, but more for wisdom, strength, and compassion for everyone involved including candidates on both sides and their wives by name. She clearly took the imperative to pray for our leaders seriously.

Before I knew it, my mind wandered into prayer for our leaders as I put conditioner in my hair. Give them wisdom to see what is right. Give them strength of moral character to do what is right. Give them humility to admit their mistakes and learn from them.

Wait, I realized; I need that, too. So I prayed the same for me.

We all need those things. The world needs more people with those things. So I pray for anyone reading, may God give you wisdom to see what’s right, strength of character to do what’s right, and humility to learn from your mistakes.

PS – I found the prayer I mentioned above. You can see and/or read it here.