Who am I?

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am the soul that lives within
~India.Arie

This morning I caught a TEDxTalk “The art of being yourself,” and winced as Caroline McHugh said: “You’re not your thoughts, because you think them, you can’t be your feelings because otherwise who is the ‘you’ that feels them. You’re not what you have. You’re not what you do. You’re not even who you love or who loves you.”

A few moments later a photo came up in my Facebook feed reminding me that six years ago today a surgeon carved a quarter size hole in my upper lip. I am not my skin. Two years ago a surgeon removed a large egg-sized benign tumor from my breast. I am not my bust size. I lament the hormonal decimation of once strong brows and a thick mane. I am not my looks.

Eyes, lips, bust, hair – each time these hallmarks of femininity become altered and reduced by disease or age, I find myself grappling with the notion of what does not define me.

That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt

That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth

That I would be great if I was no longer queen

That I would be grand if I was not all knowing

~ Alanis Morrissette

I finish my daily workout. It’s month four of the program and the hardest cycle so far. I’m crushing it. I get a glimpse of muscle definition. I feel pride. I feel strong. And I forget. I am not this body.

I catch the latest news about the our world’s health crisis. With significant and potentially catastrophic social and economic change seeming inevitable, I find myself pondering the possibilities and wonder: Who am I if I no longer have my job.. or teach yoga… or own my dream home? What if I’m no longer the one caring for others, creating art, or writing copy? Who will I be?

I work on remembering I am not what I have, I am not what I do. The true self can’t be explained by things that are transient because the self is not.

What changes is not real, what is real does not change.

― Nisargadatta Maharaj


The Bhagavad Gita tells us: Yoga is the journey of the Self through the Self to the Self.

Yoga is remembering who we really are.

For me to know who I am, I’ve mostly come to understand what I am not. And yet I have experienced times when I vividly see my place in the world, feel my connection to all that is, and clearly know who I am. These occasions are rare and ephemeral, usually sparked by an experience of awe or sustained meditation. When it happens, letting go of the importance I place on the things I believe define me is effortless. I find that I need nothing but to simply be and I know peace.

So hum. I Am That.

Remembering who I am during moments of beauty and what I’m not during periods of distress is the ebb and flow of life. It’s a practice of returning home, over and over and over again. It is yoga.

“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, Love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.”
― Nisargadatta Maharaj



Family Karma

(Written June 17, 2018)

In today’s class, I talked about using yoga to help release ourselves from the emotional cords that exist in family karmas.

Since it was Father’s Day I was prompted by the words I wrote shortly after my dad passed away. What many didn’t know is that until about two weeks before he died, it had been nearly two years since my dad last spoke to me or my sisters. He was holding a grudge that none of us understood. He did that throughout our lives. He’d play the loving father for a short time and then disappear for long stretches. It was easy to welcome him back and pretend like nothing had happened. But his repeated rejections left a deep impression in different ways on my siblings and me.

I’ve long understood how deeply impacted Dad had been by the loss of his own father who died when he was just two years old and also by the later temporary absence of his mother who was quarantined with tuberculosis. But I hadn’t understood how those feelings of abandonment my father felt, the demons that haunted him, had a huge impact on how he parented and his relationship with his children.

It was during the two-year absence before he died that I grieved my father and the kind of father-daughter relationship that eluded me. I dove through anger, disillusionment, and did a lot of soul searching to gain acceptance for who he was and what we shared. I credit yoga and its ability to help us see things as they truly are with giving me the perspective I needed to understand and appreciate how his actions ultimately shaped the person who I am.

I felt at peace when I wrote the tribute below because it helped me realize that I had found the maturity to honor my dad in a way that was true and without pain. And while I certainly spent countless years wanting more from him, I realize now that what I had was enough. And I am grateful. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

 

A New Way to Resolve in the New Year

BAMBU Yoga

The new year is brimming with new beginnings, new commitments, and new resolve. An estimated 45% of Americans make resolutions at the start of the year. According to one study by the University of Scranton, those who make a resolve are 10 times more likely to meet their goal than someone who does not. However that same study also shows that only 8% of those who set their resolve actually succeed.

If stating a commitment increases the likelihood of following through, what is that keeps 92% of those who do from achieving the goal? The problem is likely the resolution itself. Typical resolutions stem from a place of negativity, rooted in the belief that the person making it is not good enough and needs to change and improve.

In yoga there is an alternative approach: the practice of sankalpa, a resolve or vow that stems from your heart’s desire. A sankalpa…

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Happy Endings

I close every class I teach with these words from a loving kindness meditation:

May all beings everywhere be healthy

May all beings everywhere be happy

May all beings everywhere be safe

And may all beings everywhere find peace.

Meditating on loving kindness (also known as mettā meditation) is a practice intended to develop benevolence. Through this process, the practitioner can experience joy in celebrating the happiness of others. It’s a somewhat simple, yet potent practice. I find reciting just the four lines above – a mere portion of a complete mettā practice – is a powerful reinforcement of my intentions and aspirations for compassionate living.

A traditional mettā practice begins with an offering of loving kindness directed toward oneself. The offering is then repeated several times, each time directing the energy to a specific person or group such as a ‘neutral’ individual, a loved one, an enemy, and then to all beings throughout the universe. In the meditation, the practitioner breathes in suffering and exhales happiness.

Research on the benefits of mettā meditation are mounting. This post by Angela Wilson on Thrive (the Kripalu blog on yoga, health, and wellness) highlights a number of recent studies that show how mind training in loving kindness impacts the practitioner’s own happiness. The evidence shows that it:

  • increases the variety of  one’s personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health
  • activates the areas in the brain responsible for our ability to empathize and attune to the emotional state of others
  • improves feelings of social connection

Mettā meditation is a highly accessible practice. I’ve even used this with my kids as a bedtime ritual to close out the day. As with any practice, the key is to – well – practice.

This 30 minute guided meditation from Sharon Salzberg author of Loving Kindess: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness provides a lovely introduction.

 

 

Are You Ready to Go Beyond Asana?

One of the greatest benefits of being a yoga teacher is that it makes me a diligent student. Each month I use the Focus of the Month set by the studio where I teach to explore different aspect of yoga’s philosophical and ethical offerings.  I hunt down related lessons in classic yogic texts along with research studies in positive psychology to prepare for my classes. I seek out music, poems, quotes, and stories to help bring the focus area to life for my students. It’s a gift to have this structure not only for my teaching practice but also for the self-study part of my continuing education in yoga.

I use a variety of resources for my studies including blogs, videos, workshops, and books. One recent addition to my library that I’m really enjoying is The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. (The chapter on aparigraha, non-possessiveness, provided a great framework for the March focus “Let Go.”) Using everyday language and illustrations, Adele takes a deep dive into parts of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, specifically the five yamas (restraints) and five niyamas (observances) that make up the first two limbs of yoga.

Focusing one chapter on each yama and niyama, Adele uses real-life stories to give a down to earth look at the teachings.  Each chapter ends with suggested practices to further cultivate the lesson. Adele also offers a corresponding website with free videos and downloadable teaching content, providing a robust platform for exploring these important yoga concepts.

The easily digestible content in the book combined with the digital material make learning the yamas and niyamas easily accessible.  The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice is the perfect place to start for anyone who is ready to expand their knowledge of yoga beyond the asana practice.