Archive | August, 2012

My mom is a yogi.

28 Aug

There is so much ongoing suffering in this world. And, it comes from this idea that we are separate, alone, cut off from one another. It manifests itself in brain diseases, physical afflictions, weird ticks, aberrant anti-social behavior  and I could go on. (Of course, I am not a doctor or psychologist, I want to be clear about that. I am basing this off what I have seen in people’s behavior and what I have read in texts.)

My mom, see, has been any form of several types of addict throughout her life. Those addictions have been largely based on her feelings of disconnect from others. She could insert many things, loneliness, despair, abuse, etc, but the amazing thing about my mom is that at 63 years young she is addressing all of these things. Addressing them through addressing that feeling of separation. When we “sense that everything is intertwined in continuous movement…We discover we can let go and trust, we can let the breath breathe itself and the natural movement of life carry us with ease.” (A Path with Heart, page 52)

She has moved across the country, lives downstairs from her daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson. She doesn’t have any “people” here. She has herself, her god, her breath, her body, and a want to make her life an amazing tribute to love.

Sometimes when I look at her, I think, holy hell that is crazy, but she is walking her talk. Of course she would never call herself a yogi. But she would give pretty much anything to someone in need, without a grudge, because she always knows there is more. That and, she knows that person IS her, whether today or yesterday, they have walked in the same shoes.

That is good enough for her.


Fridays are fun days

24 Aug

The last few days have been tough, no time for such frivolous things as writing or breathing….

After a plane trip with a toddler, a couple glasses of spilled milk, and some QT with my life coach, I am due for some serious self reflection (svadyaya). After about 20 minutes of crying with my coach and wondering why my path in life is support others in attaining their goals and never my own, I just sat in silence for a minute. It is so easy for me to talk to others about these things. I make sense, I have humor, poignant moments of grace, and yet when it comes to myself, I am not even able to see that I am worth my own time.

The YellowBlanket made a comment about my last post and it struck a chord with me. “Sometimes I wonder, though, how we can tell the difference between the things that insult our soul vs. the things that insult our egos? I think it’s extremely important to be able to shake off criticisms and negative feedback, but how do we know what to choose to let IN? How do we allow scathing criticism with those little seeds of truth assist us in developing more wise, more informed, more well rounded self? Without self destructing, that is?”

As I was sitting in silence, I thought about those criticisms that come from the outside and how they are so tiny in comparison to the ones that come from the inside. That all that work and study are so personal, that very few others can be any more specific to what is broken than you are to yourself. That the ones that hit the hardest most often resonate with the hard hits you place on your self every day.

One of the things I love so much about yoga is the insistence on self love and acceptance, the repeated message that all the mindless chatter that you are bombarded with from within and without are complete and total illusion and that the truth of who you are inside is infinite.  My biggest moments of self reflection are around the deep searing personal criticism that I have for myself, whether physical, professional, or emotional.  There is this cool skill mentioned in the Sutras called pratipaksha bhavana, or “practicing the opposite.” It is an opportunity to counter a negative feeling with a positive one.

I am not advocating ignoring the hard stuff or pretending that there are not challenges, but instead suggesting that we sit with it and recognize it for what it is, just stuff, not bad or good, just stuff. And after practicing not reacting, allowing ourselves to see these challenges for what they are, an opportunity to learn, to let go, to grow, to change and be more truly who you are in the next interaction.

I have moments to grow and learn, like 200 times a minute. I have a toddler, he throws things at me, bites, me, and creates scenes in public. I am also pretty hotheaded, I come form a long line of mouthy, bossy ladies who want their opinions known. I practice things day by day, and if I end a day having been able to let several things role of my back and integrated something new into my way of thinking about the world, it’s been a success. My friend Megan says, “when you have a newborn, if you get dressed and take a shower in the same day, it is a success.” Yogic living, I think, is the same way. Baby steps.

Loving self love.

16 Aug


You can change anything.

15 Aug

I know IT IS really positive. I am hanging there these days, in positivity. Namely because it get’s things done. And, because it cuts down on headaches and backaches and silly disagreements. Though, let’s be honest, I am lured by sarcasm and irony from time to time, just because of their sheer hilarity.

But, you CAN change ANYTHING! So to drive this home, I’ll explain my little boy. When he is angry about something his breathing changes, it gets shallower, quicker, more ragged. In turn, he gets more and more agitated, more and more upset. On the other hand, if I hug him, belly to back, and breath deeply, evenly, and calmly, he slows down, drops into his own belly, no longer gasps for breath, and in moments, is over the possible tantrum.

I am sure that you have already heard a million times that breath can change anything, and I am reiterating the truth of that statement. Slowing down your breath, making room in your body; slows down the mind, makes room for following the breaths and the thoughts and gives you a chance to consciously make decisions about the how/what/when of anything under the sun.

So you CAN change anything by CHANGING YOUR BREATHING.

As an experiment, try out the pranayama (breath practice) that we did at Laughing Lotus this morning, Sitali:

1. Sit upright with your hands in your lap, eyes closed. If you use mudras choose the one that you are loving right now. Or rest your elbows on your knees and cradle your right upward facing palm in your left upward facing palm.

2. Stick our your tongue and curl it into a little flute (this is genetic, if you can’t do it, make a kissing mouth).

3. Breathe in, over your tongue, through your open mouth.

4. Seal your lips.

5. Exhale through your nose.

6. Repeat 10 to 15 times

You should feel calm, cool, and collected. I can think of so many uses for this. Maybe rush hour? You would probably illicit a laugh or two from other people on the interstate, changing something for them in the process. I use my breath before I make big decisions, or answer a question that really annoys me. I even watch my breath before eating the second (ok, really fourth) cookie. How could you use it?

Make mine a ham sandwich

14 Aug

Um while on the idea of ahimsa (do no harm) I just had to tour the idea of vegetarianism. I have been a flip flopper for over 20 years. More veggie than not, but honestly it has been relationships that caused the scales to tip in favor of the fleshy variety of sustenance. Recently, I was very non nonchalant about it claiming that I was a vegetarian only because my teacher, Jasmine, requested that we do it during yoga school. But of course after this flip comment, I was given the real deal challenge.

Picture this, Glide Memorial Church (side note, if you do not do service work, do it here, NOW, it will change your life), preparing food for thousands, I am put on meat duty. I joked with my friend Alli about how it was perfect that it was me and not one of our classmates. I was, of course, being a recent meat-eater, of stronger mind and constitution. I made it through the 50 lbs of sausage. Though with each casing pop, I was a little more put off. But then, out cam the ham. I don’t know how much I chopped but I am sure it was over a 100 lbs and it had tendons and muscle fibers and like when I was a teenager refusing to prepare chicken, I could imagine the animal that it came from, but worse, the smell did me in. 100 lbs of ham, processed, oh god, how.

So the visceral nature of the experience of course reinvigorated my commitment to vegetarianism, though not because I love pigs or cows or chickens. I mean don’t get me wrong, I do realize that they have feelings and souls. It’s just that even while being a hippie I am also a bit of a pragmatist, and I do think that there are instances when meat consumption is appropriate. In the US, by me at this point in my life, that is not one of them. HEAR THAT BEFORE YOU COMMENT. It’s actually a little science. I was reading Whole Living Magazine yesterday and they had an article on holistic dentistry. The short of the long is that an acidic body creates an environment for decay. Human bodies are made more acidic by the consumption of dairy products, alcohol, sugar, and you guessed it meat. You are basically asking your body to age more quickly with eat piece of flesh you put in to it. Wait, what?

So by being a vegetarian I can, do less harm to the planet, do less harm to living beings and do less harm to my own body. I am in. What tipped the scales for you? Or are you still thinking about it?

Sometimes I do flip off the Prius driver

10 Aug

I can fight. I’ve worked for the city of Chicago and the city of San Francisco. I do community organizing. I have a chip on my shoulder about privilege. So I can fight, and I do fight. But for some reason I had a bird in my ear. In my yoga class at Flying Yoga in Oakland, yesterday during bow pose, my teacher just sorta whispered “what would happen if you didn’t fight?” After being a little bit, “oh yeah, easy for you to say, you can bend your spine in half miss dancer lady.” I thought, “ok, Gretchen, what if I don’t fight.” And I breathed, and my chest expanded across my shoulder blades. My legs pressed back against my hands, I ascended (and I didn’t cry).

This morning, as I was trying to print out documents at 7:50 am when I had to leave at 8:00 am. I remembered that the driver was not installed on my computer. It was a freaking mess, I was so close to yelling at my partner. I thought, what would happen if I don’t fight? Answer: no crying and I left at 8:03. Walking into Pete’s for a much needed cup of coffee, with 10 minutes to spare before my first meeting, I saw a line snaking outside the back of the store. No fight, really? Ugh. Left with 4 minutes to spare, no gnawing in belly and arrived at my meeting on time.

No fighting for me has it’s roots in the idea of ahimsa, or to do no harm. It is the place that yoga starts. And it is really really hard. Who doesn’t want to flip off the road-rager cutting across three lanes of traffic on the bridge, or the snotty retail clerk that insinuates that you are fat, tacky, and poor (no, really, happened) in the first five minutes that your in the store? How can I practice ahimsa with my constant conditioning to combat lack of access and unbalanced power dynamics? To start small and with the things that I can control, like whether on not I fall apart when my computer is on the fritz or I can’t find my keys. To decide in the moment if I can make my day better, or better for the people around me.

Of course, sometimes, no, I do flip of the Prius driver with the co-exist bumper sticker, that can tell by my haircut that I am from the mid-west. I mean really, how can you tell, do I really drive that slow? And, you NEED to tell me?

Wait sister, we are in this together, thanks for letting me know that I screwed up your day, I am sorry but thanks for the opportunity to remember that I don’t have to throw it back at you. Thank you and have a great day (today, I actually meant it.)

It’s real.

9 Aug

So my life. It’s a wife, a baby, friends, their relationship problems, my relationship problems, my love of wine, late late nights, and a deep rooted feeling that there is so so much more.

It’s 10:17 pm, the second day of my blog. I have an overwhelming urge to eat about six tons of salted caramels. I went to a 1 1/2 our yoga class today. I sweat it out for an hour in kickboxing. I’m good, right, tapas? Heat, hard work, constant and continuous, er, right. But I am feeling so off.

I titled the blog, prana project because I was thinking about the energy and life force that I was committing myself to. The thing is, I forgot about the other stuff that happens while I am sweating in my class, or working on my root lock. I forgot about all of the distractions that require constant and continuous attention, in order to attend to my feelings about them. No epiphanies, just a wrinkled brow.

And, as I write this sentence I think about my teacher, Emily, saying “sit back, take a breath (or three) and decide what you reaction is going to be, study what your habit is, let go of that habit if it doesn’t serve you.” Maybe today it’s my too quick wit, maybe tomorrow, my love of wine. But just like the challenges, it’s constant attention and continuous action.

A little bit of real everyday.

It begins

7 Aug

After spending the entire month of July in yoga teacher training, I am more flexible in mind body and spirit and yet I have so many questions about my life path and my point of focus.

I have wanted to be a yoga instructor for most of my life and like so many things I didn’t do it because I was afraid. Because there were obstacles in my path, because I didn’t think it was for people like me. We all have obstacles, mine happen to be 50 extra lbs, 20 years spent pursuing a career path that I am very good at but less than passionate about, and a habit of putting other peoples wants and needs before my own.

It is interesting that today, when attending a class taught by a fellow Summer School Graduate, her intention for the class was kleshas. Of course we talked about klesha in depth during yoga teacher training but it was sitting as a student in front of Lisa that allowed me to really think about how my afflictions had been hold me back for so many years. I had already committed myself to blogging about my path for the next year, but I didn’t know where to start. And, it was so clear when she started to talk. I let these obstacles prevent me from doing the very things in life that would allow me to live most fully. The same way that so many of my friends do. The same way our parents do or our grandparents did. It is an epidemic really, and essentially we let imaginary things distract us from our true selves.

So after I had my AHA, I see light shooting out of Lisa’s ears moment, I thought damn, ok, here is my starting point.

And, so it begins….

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