Blog

Rhythm and Flow

A thought that came to me recently while I watched my husband (still so new saying that!) jam on his guitar with our friend (who was playing bass), is that rhythm is one of the most effective ways to connect with someone. I think that I realized this before, but didn’t really have words to give to that blip of an idea.

I’ve always been filled with awe at how well music brings people together. Growing up, I played many instruments. I think the first one I played was the recorder in 3rd grade, then flute in 5th-6th grade band class, then ukulele with my church’s band. I went to church a lot in elementary and middle school. To me, music was an important part of church. In high school, I got to take a guitar class, as well as learn how to play the viola for a semester. Also in high school, I took choir and musical theater. As you can tell, creating music with others has been a recurring part of my life.

There is such synergy created when people use something so simple together: a time score. Not only does it create a coherent synced piece, but it seems to bring us constantly to the present moment, in a zone of focus and active listening. I think that this could also be called “flow”:

“In positive psychologyflow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.” The Wikipedia Article about Flow

I have found that this synergy and connection with others from being in the same rhythm occurs in so many other areas of life. Of course there’s dance and yoga, which are synchronized activities. But, there are also things like being synced with someone else through something as simple as the weather in your shared location. Or, if you connect with another because of similarly timed life events, crazy coincidences, or serendipity.

Time is what connects us all and it is beautiful when we get a moment to be truly present with someone else, not thinking about the future or the past, just realizing that we are alive together. Right. Now.

———————

As usual, I like to share at least one song I was listening to while writing: Ian Thornton- Do You Rise

Advertisements

Let’s Talk About Self-Care

Earlier this Fall, I overheard two women talking about wanting to make it to a specific  challenging yoga class every day. They talked about how they would come up with excuses for themselves sometimes for not going every single day. Like, “I’m in pain,” or “I need to rest,”, but they “knew that these were just excuses” and that it was essentially mind over matter. I had a big issue with this because what I have learned from teacher training and my own journey with movement/yoga are two things:

  1. You need a variety of movement: Yoga can at times be very linear or rigid. It’s important to find another activity or a class that uses different kinds of muscle engagement and keeps your mind alert. Perhaps bike riding, hiking, running, or strength training can provide a different pattern of movement. My teacher Annie made me realize through her Primal Vinyasa class that our bodies thrive on adapting to new environments and surfaces. Injury can come out of too much of the same repetitive movement over time.
  2. “Resting is Wisdom”: When a teacher tells you that child’s pose is a perfectly fine place to come to if your body is telling you that you need to take a pause, they mean it! Try not to take that as a challenging statement. Rest brings healing, a chance to reset, a moment to reconnect and reflect. 

Self-care is how we can keep balance in our lives and not get burnt out. Self-care is something that comes as a priority in the Fall because we finally get a chance to slow down after an ambitious summer. Let’s talk about some ways you can show yourself some TLC:

  1. Drink something warm. I’m doing so right now! Yes, it’s instinctual as it gets colder. It is comforting because it warms you up from the inside out. It can also feel nostalgic, bringing back holiday memories, a feeling of cherishing. It is also hydrating. While we are inside for a lot of the colder months, it can be harder to remember to stay hydrated. Tea can also bring different health benefits, depending on what tea you’re drinking. With drinking something warm, it also usually requires a little bit of patience for the drink to cool, which has us slow down a little bit.
  2. Go for a walk/exercise. I know that if I start to feel lonely while I’m inside, or cold, that even though it’s usually colder outside, the action of moving my body at a certain pace warms me up far more than I expect. A walk also revives that sense of gratitude and wonder for the world around me. I remember that I am a part of something bigger and that things are still cycling. Exercise and walking, besides bringing warmth, will help your body not be so stagnant and will get the blood flowing. Your body’s state will effect your mind. Of course, endorphins are important too.
  3. Keep up with your hygiene and maybe even pamper. Allow yourself to take time to nourish your skin, relish in feeling clean, and remember that you deserve to take care of yourself. Going a step beyond basic hygiene and moisturizing, it can be fun to sometimes make a face mask or take a bath.
  4. Nourish your body on the inside. Not only what we put on our bodies, but what we put into them, will effect how we feel. You know that clean, light feeling you get after a shower or brushing your teeth? Your mood can be uplifted like that by eating clean too. With eating healthy, it will reduce shame or any opportunities for negative self-talk.
  5. Tell yourself that you are loved and believe it. It is maybe the hardest self-care tip of all. It can be hard to remember that we deserve love and that we do have support somewhere. Imagine if we were to talk negatively to our friends or children the way that we may talk to ourselves sometimes. We are our worst critics. Loving oneself is a journey. But, it brings confidence and self-respect, which in turn can attract many loving and supportive people into our lives.

 

I Love

Many months ago, I wrote about how I was starting to feel like I am growing roots here in Olympia. Now, I most certainly have roots, but I don’t feel trapped. Instead, free. I love this place, I really really do.

I fit the stereotype for sure: I drive a Prius, I teach yoga, I help at a non-profit/farm, I’m vegan, I listen to folk/indie, I love to hike, I’m queer, I’m feminist, I care about the environment… The list could go on.

While I was visiting people in the midwest this summer, these stereotypes of myself became more apparent. But, I realized that they didn’t bother me too much, because I love my life! I love being surrounded by like-minded people. We just have to remember that the rest of the world sometimes isn’t as open minded or progressive (adjectives we may use for ourselves here), or sometimes we are less open minded than we think. We live in a beautiful bubble here in Olympia, and we have to remember that it’s a bubble.

I have been working as the Events Intern at GRuB (the non-profit organization http://goodgrub.org/) and have felt so at home and connected to the community. We can talk openly and vulnerably there, giving each other space or hugs or food, or just general support. I would love to continue to work in a place like GRuB, where I look forward to arriving and have a hard time leaving.

fullsizeoutput_1dca fullsizeoutput_1e0f

This summer has also been about delving deeper into relationships, which has been both challenging and freeing. My wedding is in 15 days, ah!

I have embraced the go-go-go mentality of summer by going on many crazy hikes and seeing my physical strength as well as limitations. For a while there, I was worried about our Washington wilderness because of the terrible fires. What a strange and terrifying time for our climate. I will try to take my fear and turn it into passion to do my best for our world.

fullsizeoutput_1b6e fullsizeoutput_1cbf

fullsizeoutput_1e07

Now, many leaves are on the ground, though it is not yet technically Autumn. The air has a distinct chill to it and we’ve pulled our thicker blanket out of the closet. I’m in cozy clothes with my cup of tea. I’m starting to slow down my chase of the sun and am getting ready to embrace this next season of my life.

 

Curious of what I listened to while writing this? It’s down below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Key is to Find Grace in it All

My head is a whirlwind of thoughts, because summer has not brought focus to any one theme really, it has been so many things. So, I’ll use this post as a way to hone in by connecting the many elements that this summer has been into a more comprehensive picture and see how it relates to yoga, because really, things can always relate to the practice.

First of all, I’ve been training with my partner to run in a ragnar relay at Mount Rainier. Many people don’t know what a ragnar is. In fact, the computer is underlining it as a misspelling! It is a relay run, where either the team of runners cover up to 200 miles together on a road, splitting it up and taking turns, following each other in a van, or the team does trail routes that are set up in loops, each person completing the loops when it’s their turn. I’ll be doing the latter with my team. I was so excited in the beginning and I was making true progress with my speed, but something happened where my speed progress retracted, and so I’ve been a little discouraged with that.

On the topic of physical challenges, I’ve set my mind to hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, going from Mexico to Canada) next spring. I remember hearing about it 6 years ago and my mind has come back to it a few times over the years. It wasn’t until recently that I really started getting into researching gear and getting into other peoples’ stories about their experience on the trail. It’s something in my heart, where I know that I will be faced with tremendous challenges (mostly mental) and I will ultimately be relying solely on my own preparation, knowledge, instinct, and body.

Soon before I plan on getting ready for that trip, I will be coming back from my honeymoon! I am getting married in two months and we plan on taking a round-the-world trip in the spring. Wedding planning requires so much more detail oriented thought than I anticipated! All of the things that have yet to be decided and bought are looming over my head all the time. I really just can’t wait to have so many loved ones around me, all meeting each other.

Though I live in an apartment, I have a small “garden” on my patio that I am proud of. I have a tomato plant, kale, broccoli, lettuce, celery, and potatoes. The lettuce, celery, and potatoes were started just by my leftover scraps and a single sprouting potato! I love giving life to my plants every day through water and making sure that they have enough space in their pots.

I feel like I learned a bit more about gardening at GRuB, a non-profit organization in Olympia. Every time I drop in during the volunteer hours, I feel so accepted and at peace knowing that I’m helping the community by taking care of the farm that feeds so many. I love the manual labor of it, digging my hands into the ground, pulling out weeds, all the while talking with a new friend or just hanging out by myself. I also take pictures for their events, which I love doing with my whole heart. I love seeing the people that GRuB draws in, because they are the people that want to give back. I have gotten a couple of thank you notes from GRuB for my pictures and help, and they made me feel more appreciated than I have in a long time.

At the moment, I’m reading the famous book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. My mom gave it to me a few years ago and I’m finally getting around to it. I like the lessons that it teaches, though I’m not totally keen on the writing style. I find it very repetitive and simple. But, the chapter I’m on right now is the one about not taking anything personally. It comes at a good time in my life because I have subconsciously been making assumptions about things, or having expectations, and the book explains how those things lead to disappointment and miscommunication. I know this too! I have a post-it on my wall that says “Expectation leads to disappointment”. But, sometimes we do these things without even realizing. The book explains that assumptions happen when we don’t have answers to things, so our brain just fills what we don’t know in with whatever information we do have. As humans, we want to understand things all the time. This is why open and honest communication is always key. Asking too many questions is better than asking none.

 

So, how does all of this relate to yoga? I think that my personal summer illustrates the pose Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose). It is a pose, that when broken down, is really a complex map of different actions (push, pull, lift, gaze, breathe) that come together to create this one intense balancing pose. A true balancing act, juggling all of the things at once. The key is to find grace in it, and often grace comes with not taking yourself too seriously and knowing when to laugh at your own mistakes.

[http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/natarajasana-lord-of-the-dancers-pose/]

Constantly Learning

First of all, here’s a song I found recently that I love:

I think I’ve written a lot about accepting and allowing on here. So often I find that I’ve just started chipping away at something bigger than I realized. And sometimes it takes so long to integrate lessons into daily life. I’ve gone in and out of my meditation practice, though I have moments of mindfulness every morning, it’s not quite the same as intentionally sitting down to relax and train the mind for 10 minutes a day. I’ve been feeling the need for more acceptance and allowance of certain situations in my life and remembering to breathe can help a lot with that. Why do we forget to breathe so often?!

Anyway, I’ve finally gotten the app that everyone’s been raving about: Headspace. I love it. I get excited about using it again every day. I really feel more content and relaxed after each “take 10” session. I love Andy’s voice and the visual aspect of the animations. I find that the app really drives home the message of allowing thoughts, sounds, and feelings, just noticing them without judgment.

I’ve been talking with someone recently about a relationship in my life that I tend to hold a lot of negative feelings around because it feels inauthentic. She advised me to go about the situation a different way: to hold compassion for the other, to keep their needs in mind as well as my own, and think about the interactions being genuine in that they are coming from a true place of compassion for the needs that exist. Basically, being accepting of it on a whole new level.

That’s essentially what love is, isn’t it? Acceptance? Right now, for me, it’s easier said than done. I find that it’s hardest to always be accepting and not critical of those we are closest to (e.g. our significant other, once we’ve lived with them for awhile), ourselves, and of course, those we don’t like so much. So, those are the people that are my top priorities right now. I am working on being more “watery”: neutral, flowing, giving, allowing. And I must say, I have been feeling a bit more “airy”: light, excited, new, clear.

 

Spring Cleaning!

A few recent things that tie together:

  1. I have been so inspired by minimalism the past few months. I generally consider myself an organized person to begin with, but I did have my closet and a few areas of boxed clutter that needed to be sifted through. It takes time, but it feels so good to let go of things that no longer have a function or you simply don’t feel as much attachment to anymore.
  2. I have also started a running training program that my friend (also a personal trainer) created for me. We will be running the Rainier Ragnar in August. So far it helped me get more ready for my annual tradition of doing the Shamrock Run in Portland, but it has also gotten me a little more familiar with things I need to work on with my form.
  3. I am feeling a bit more established in Olympia, especially since starting volunteering at GRuB (an educational community farm). I have what I need, and I can see staying here for longer. I have a feeling of fulfillment from bare necessities.

After a walk in the woods, these three topics came up in my mind. I noticed that they all shared a theme of clarity and being attuned. Once you sift through the static, the fog, the clutter, you can find underlying tendencies. I think it’s interesting that in the two definitions that come up for “attune”, there is “make receptive or aware” and “accustom or acclimatize”. It’s like the definition is set up in helpful steps: awareness, then adjustment.

The first step to solving an issue is to acknowledge and accept a tendency. It doesn’t do you any good to see the tendency, then deny it or to beat yourself up about it. Simply noticing a possible problem and being honest with yourself brings you closer to finding tools to help you when it comes up in the future.

Seeing tendencies using minimalism: When I sorted through my box of stuff in the closet, I noticed that I held onto a lot of sentimental things, especially if they were gifts. From there, I could ask myself if the gift was still relevant to my life or if the person would even care that I had kept it for years. I also found a lot of things that were simply remnants of who I used to be and what I used to care about. I was able to move on from a lot of those things.

Some other examples are when I go for a run with a clear mind, I am more able to notice what habits my body has. Are my shoulders stabilized? Am I running evenly on both feet? Are my feet flipping out behind me? On a similar note, when I still my body and only focus on my breath in meditation, I can notice thought patterns that constantly surface. Sometimes I’m planning. Sometimes I’m remembering events. Sometimes I’m being a perfectionist about my breathing or posture.

When looking at the seasons, we go through a bare winter, all the leaves have shed, we may even get the blank slate of snow. At that point, we can get attuned to what’s going on inside and perhaps adjust. Once spring comes, we are more able to grow, to build, to branch out, to blossom.

SpringFaves

Resetting/Union- Yoga for Anxiety

fullsizeoutput_20f

It actually wasn’t until I was in the middle of my yoga teacher training that I realized my true reason for sticking with yoga all these years. It was while I was visiting the Oregon coast one weekend (pictured above) that I suddenly experienced something I had felt in my body a couple of times but hadn’t had a name for. It was like all of my nerves were overly aware. Where my legs met the seat, there was enormous pressure, everything itched, if I touched anything, I was aware of the painful pressure on my fingers. This has a few names and it is something that stems from anxiety. It can be called hyperawareness, depersonalization, or hypersensitivity. I recently read a description that perfectly resonated with me:

In depersonalization disorder we are often hyperaware of our bodily sensations and our environment. An important component of overcoming DPD is mindfulness, but sometimes mindfulness can lead to hyperawareness OCD, where we become aware of our own awareness and develop fears about this.

This most commonly manifests itself in sensorimotor OCD where a person becomes very aware of their breathing, swallowing or blinking and then is distressed, usually developing a catastrophic fear that this “will never stop and I’ll never be able to function again”.

Hyperawareness OCD is basically when our own mindfulness process becomes hijacked. The real solution is not to distract ourself (avoidance) but to actually amplify our mindfulness of these thoughts and realize them for what they are: just thoughts (exposure).

– http://depersonalizationrecovery.com/articles/hyperawareness-ocd-and-depersonalization-derealization/

I hadn’t taken my anxiety all that seriously until it caught up to my body like this. Our bodies keep score. That is the fitting title of a good book called The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

In my final part of teacher training, we had to select a topic for a research paper that related to yoga. In my paper, I researched the relationship between depression/anxiety and exercise. As you may guess, depression/anxiety is usually worse when there is a lack of movement in a person’s life. Now, there are certainly a good amount of people who need medication to correct a chemical imbalance. But, otherwise, having a movement practice was incredibly helpful in many cases because of how effective exercise can be in reducing stress, which is the leading cause of these disorders. In our culture, there is so much emphasis on being efficient. We can get so caught up in the rush of things. But, if we are truly after efficiency, we have to take some time to breathe and move. Balance is the most sustainably efficient route.

Hyperawareness can be a vicious cycle of being hyperaware, getting distracted and forgetting your discomfort for a moment, then noticing that you forgot, leading back to your awareness of the hyperawareness. The way out is to be truly mindful. That is to not only be aware, but not judging your sensations or thoughts. Yoga is a mindfulness practice. It gives us time to notice what is going on in our minds and bodies without judging the experience.

It can be a vulnerable thing to talk about anxiety, but I hope that through yoga, I can connect with others who may suffer from it too. Even if a student keeps it private, I know that our mutual practice of mindfully moving and breathing can bring us closer. That’s the great thing about doing yoga with others, we are all there to feel more balanced within. Union with others in finding union within.

Noting, Recognizing

fullsizeoutput_11fa

I have been working on a certain “track” on this website called Happify. The track is called “Mindfulness at Work: The Modern Secret to Success”. Within it are many meditations which have been helpful to the way I meditate. I’ve heard many times that while meditating to see your thoughts as passing clouds and to focus on the breath. I liked this image, but in this most recent practice, I’ve been learning about being very specific about those thoughts and noting them. For example: remembering, planning, wandering, picturing. Usually, when we take a moment to note things that come up, our mind doesn’t get so caught up with them and we can then return to noting the rising and falling of our breath. I have also learned that one shouldn’t try to control the breath during meditation. This is because meditation is practice for being mindful in daily life, which is not controlled. With breathing naturally, it can actually be a little more challenging to note the breath after a while, but it is a neutral and more realistic state. The things that come up in our lives that can cause us to be reactionary, are usually not in our control. Meditation is a practice of noting without judgment so that we aren’t so reactionary. It is meant to be a training for leading a more peaceful life.

I think that yoga can be such a great tool for that very same reason. Or even just exercise in general. When your mind is so present and it is often just noting a single action at once. “Push”, “engage”, “one, two, three..”, “lift”, “left, right”. And usually the breath has a big part in the movements too.

On a slightly different note, I’ve been finding myself resisting starting certain things for the fear of lacking originality or function. But, some wisdom I’ve been hearing is to recognize that I am unique and so is everyone else. If someone doesn’t appreciate the project I did, I did it for myself, which is not a bad thing at all. Sometimes following a feeling or thought that comes up in say, meditation, can be productive. Also, realizing that the act of allowing doesn’t always mean that you’re indulgent, but in fact can keep you on track in a more sustainable way. It’s about finding the balance between yielding and being firm. It’s about enduring, lasting like a tree that has gone through many storms.

The Books

17

Much of my inspiration comes from music. For my latest yoga class, I was inspired by a band that I’ve come to love in the past couple months. They’re called The Books. They often have clever song titles and some silly dialogue in their music that makes me smile. The overall theme I’ve found is that they primarily use samples in a creative way. Sometimes the samples are from everyday dialogue or from a profound speech or maybe even from some random television show. When I am able to truly tune in to the words, I am usually always left with a sense of awe or enlightenment. I think that it’s because they have the ability to highlight the mundane and make it into something extraordinary. When I was studying photography, we had an assignment to go out and shoot pictures of something commonplace and find a way to make it look interesting in a photograph (the photo above was from that assignment). This is what The Books do, but in audio form.

The way they approach making music is with sense of play. In some of their songs, they delve into topics of the human condition and our strive for knowledge and understanding. As a whole, it seems that they have a curiosity for life, but figure that we’ll never quite know all the answers, so why not have fun? It is the attitude of Open to Grace, the first principle of alignment in yoga. Otherwise known as “the beginner’s mind”, open to whatever happens, full of awe, unbiased, non-judging.

This theme was quite fitting for the month of January, the start of a new year. Fresh year, fresh eyes. The winter can be so dreary, heavy, and sometimes uninspiring, but not with a “beginner’s mind”. For my class, I wanted to focus on many poses that may be overlooked in a general class. There can be a sense of appreciation for a typical sun salutation when you do it over again many times in a row and get an embodied understanding of it’s effects. Or to hold plank and notice how proper alignment makes a huge difference. Or just to experiment with a different version of downward dog. I also wanted to emphasize an open chest and breath, allowing for a sort of “cleansing” and openness.

I would recommend any of The Books’ music, but a fair example of what I have explained may be in their song “Take Time”. One of my all time favorites is “Smells Like Content”.

Hello December

fullsizeoutput_10feLately, I’ve been set on figuring out my long term goals and finding what I really want to do. Don’t get me wrong, yoga will be a constant. But, what else? I have found some passions that have also stayed constant: love of nature and helping with a worthy cause. I have applied to a few positions that fit both of those interests and haven’t heard back yet. I’m patient.

From what I have learned from the Native American Four Directions is that North correlates with Winter. North/Winter are a part of the cycle where we come inside, share with friends and those who support us, connect back to the basics, feel the firm foundation of the earth, give gratitude for the fullness of the present, and honor those who created who we are right now. I always think of an image of bare trees in winter and how they bring their energy inside. Their branches reach upward and their roots continue downward, sturdy in the earth. Perhaps they are also a little like The Giving Tree, selflessly providing parts of themselves for the benefit of others (firewood).

So, here I am trying to keep North/Winter in mind. I will cherish what and whom I have in my life, write gratitudes everyday, and hope for the best. The yoga I share this month in class will have North/Winter intentions and I hope that I will be able to be grounded and thankful with my students.

Also, one of my teachers at Yoga Union in Portland is a music genius. Chris Calarco always creates the best playlists for class. I recently got to see his Spotify. If you’re interested, here’s his December playlist: