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.

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

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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.

 

Resetting/Union- Yoga for Anxiety

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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.

The Books

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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”.

So, I hiked to the top of a mountain.

I was waiting in the studio for somebody to come to my Sunday vinyasa class. I felt a surge of energy flow through me as my music picked up it’s rhythm and I moved through some poses that felt good for my post hill run from the day before. I burned some palo santo after the clock showed that it was 10 past class time. I was going to meet up with my friend once class was over so that we could drive to the Olympic mountains, but it was obviously too early for her to pick me up, so I locked up and ordered some chai next door. I took my drink and walked down to the dock to sit in the sun, eat my lunch, and wait.

Everything was so blue: the sky, the water, my sweater, my ring. I closed my eyes and heard the seagulls, heard children laughing and screaming on the playground. People passed back and forth on the old wooden planks. Children went running towards the playground once they saw it. I thought about how pleasant it is that playgrounds allow children to amuse themselves with what is already there, without rules, letting their imagination take over.

The sun was warm, the air was cool. I sighed a satisfied sigh and noticed how it sounded like “home” and how “om” also sounds like “home”. Both sounds representing states of being connected with all that is, being content, being at home.

I noticed that the longer I sat in one place, the more satisfied and loving I felt. Everything continues, there is stillness in the movement. Everything is okay.

Once my friend showed up, we exchanged smiles and hugs and were soon on our way to the mountains, particularly to Mount Ellinor. I navigated. We grew increasingly excited the closer the mountains became. After making our way off the highway, we were on 7 miles of gravelly, windy, pothole-ridden  road. We finally made our way to the parking lot and prepared for our hike: sunscreen, hat, bathroom, water. This hike was only 1.6 miles to the summit, but a 2500 ft elevation gain. The first five minutes were some of the easiest, which is saying something, being that it was all uphill and I was already short of breath. My friend brought her dog, like many of our fellow hikers, which I feel helps people to continue being motivated.

This hike required a lot of concentration, lots of tactical foot movement. My quads were feeling it. The higher we got, the more the trees cleared and the rocks became less slippery and more sharp. The view also got more impressive. Once we got up a rocky staircase, to a part that was only about 10 minutes from the summit, we could start seeing the rest of the Olympics. Finally, we made it to the tippity top. We could see Mount Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, the rest of the Olympics, Seattle, and even a shining sliver of the ocean on the horizon! I was surprised to see a tiny finch-like bird flitting around the rocks at the top.

Whenever I’m out in nature, I’m reminded of my own simple truth. I am always here, in my body, like a single tree in a forest. Things are constantly changing around me. I may adapt, change, and grow with time, but I am always here, existing.

I am honored to be a yoga teacher. I am simply reminding people of these tools that are our bodies, our basic foundation, and how connecting back to what is can bring peace to our racing minds.