Thursday, March 9, 2017

Balance

"There will be an answer. Let it be.”     ~ Let It Be, The Beatles

I’m on my way to yoga. It’s the middle of winter, but I’m dressed as if it were spring!

The temperatures outside are a little out of whack, and, aside from the politics of the day, it’s all anyone seems to be talking about. As a matter of fact, just as soon as the Obamas left town the weather seems to have gone upside down! With their departure came a major shift in the atmosphere, and ever since then the heavens above have been a reflection of the chaos down here.  

In just a few short weeks, Mercury has gone into retrograde and back, and there’ve been bans and protests and alternate facts. And when the Snow moon tried to appear, full and big and bright one night, an eclipse swallowed it up and promptly turned off its light. And of course there was the shortage of yarn for certain pink hats, and then a comet streaked by soon after that!

Nobody likes it when things are out of whack. When that happens, most of us just want our balance back. And usually we’ll do anything to accomplish that, especially if we want things to be fixed fast. 

I leave the house in a sleeveless top and drive with the windows open to a practice that’s not too far from home. Within a few minutes, I’m already at the studio and parked. It’s been a while since I’ve practiced here, but these days I’ve somehow circled back to where I began, and I’ve been glad for the chance to learn as much as I can.

I used to be someone who had to fix things fast, whenever anything was out of whack. I think this was because for so long I was usually able to do most of what I set my mind to, and so I never really had to learn how to wait anything out. Most things just worked out. It was the same for my best friend. I even remember her mother fretting over our various successes.  

“What’s going to happen when one of you girls fails at something?” she would ask.

I never understood her worry; but, at the time, we were still young and hadn’t really made our way out into the world. Of course, since then, many years have passed, and during this time my train hasn’t always stayed on its track. I’ve had some times when I so desperately wanted my balance back, and I could never fix things fast enough for that.

But I’ve learned something important from all of those times. I’ve learned that even though life can turn on a dime, my balance can make its way back, if I just give it time. For the universe is a patient place, and it always circles back with a plan, if I can just wait.

I enter the studio and put away my things and roll out my mat in the practice room. Without realizing it, I’ve already gravitated toward a particular spot each time I’m here. It’s in the middle of the room, right up front where the wall breaks. It’s a good spot to go upside down, with the wall nearby to secure my inversions and with some extra space to my right, too, in case I lose my balance.

The music starts and we’re called to the top of our mats. Haste makes waste here, and before I know it we’re sitting in Chair pose. Right at the top of the practice and all the way through, we work on our balance. While still in Chair pose, we simply lift one foot and then place it down, and then lift the other and put that one down, too. 

Slowly the practice builds, and we start doing all sorts of things while still balancing on one foot. We lean into Warrior Three and bend at the knee and then straighten again. We turn to the side and fill the room with many Half Moons and then reverse our hips for their eclipse. 

We do this on the right and then we do it on the left. We’re told to move slowly, and it’s a challenge to keep my train on track; but, each time I wobble, I try not to fix things too fast.

“Relax,” the instructor tells the class. “Breathe.

I pause and take a breath. The wait works and my balance circles back. 

Still on one foot, we return to Warrior Three and from there we tip into Standing Split. I tilt forward, lifting my back leg higher and higher, until I can’t help but keep going, and I place my hands on the ground and then lift myself upside down.

And this is what it’s all about for me. The practice of yoga is a quest for balance, and each practice is another chance for me to find it. And when I’m able to find it like this, I feel strong and brave and spry. And when I can’t, I don’t have to wonder why or fix anything fast. I just have to wait for the balance to make its way back. And that’s a good thing for me to practice. In fact, it’s the biggest lesson that I’ve learned on the mat.

“We’re in Plank!” I hear the instructor say.

I lower down and rejoin the others, and soon we bring ourselves even closer to the ground. We’re on our forearms now, and we tiptoe forward, hiking our hips up high in Dolphin pose. And, as before, I can’t help but keep going, and, in the same quest, I lift myself upside down again, only this time I’m trying for Scorpion.

Scorpion is a backbend, and I seem to have some resistance to it. The instructor comes over to help. He wants me to make a better circle by bending my knees with my feet toward the ground and then bending my back so that I make myself round.

“There’s balance in the circle,” he says.

He points out the part of my back where I need to open more in order to make this happen. It’s near the top and in the middle, in a spot that’s hard for me to find. But he tells me that once I’m able to find it, my whole practice will open up. And this plan appeals to me, even though I know that I’ll have to be patient. There’s something about the circle that’s universal, and that means it’ll take some time. 

Soon after, the practice is over, and I roll up my mat and gather my things. And, even though it’s time to leave, what I want to do is stay. I want to circle back to the practice room and listen to more music and go upside down again. But I know there’ll be another chance at the balance on another day, and so I say goodbye and step outside.

It’s dark, and the warm weather still surprises me. I walk over to my car and put my mat in the back, and as I reach up to close the hatch, I see a beautiful sight. All the stars are out tonight! They, too, have circled back to where they began, as part of their nightly universal plan. While I was inside practicing, each one had blinked into place, against the blackest sky, somewhere out in space.

And because tonight it’s pretty calm from where I stand, I get to catch the balance again, just by looking up at them.

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Time


This time last year doesn’t seem so long ago.

We were deep in the winter of mid-February, and I was wearing everything possible: my jacket and scarf, my ear wraps and gloves, my leg warmers and tall winter boots. I had arrived with my suitcase in tow at my daughter’s work show to help her manage some overflow. We worked all day and into the early evening, and then we made our way to meet her other half and my son for dinner.

The cold chased us to the subway and then through the streets of her neighborhood and over to the restaurant. The plan was for her man to arrive at the restaurant earlier that evening and put his name down. Then he’d go home to wait until it was time to come back again. My daughter said he promised to meet us there.  

“He’s always there,” I would tell her on more than one occasion. I liked this about him. When he said he’d be somewhere, he was always there.

We burst through the doors of the restaurant, eager to warm up. It was a full house! People were packed into the space, and a row of patrons lined the bar, huddled with their backs to the door. Servers made their way among the people and between the tables, zigzagging through the conversations that rose as high as the steam from the ramen bowls they were serving.

I didn’t know which way to look first, but my daughter did. As soon as we stepped in, she kept going, straight to the young man with the beard and the beanie at the bar. His back was to us, and I watched him turn around to greet her. Of course he was there, as promised!

My son arrived shortly after, and we all squeezed into a corner table. The three of them came to quick agreement on the menu, and we ordered several plates. I now look back on this dinner as one of the best that we had together. On that cold night, it was warm in every way; we were at ease and easily shared everything.

But since that night, time has gotten away from us. It went missing just a few days later when we lost my daughter’s young man. And now it’s hard to believe that he left a year ago today, when that dinner feels like it was only yesterday.

He was someone to everyone who knew him. He was a soulmate to my daughter; a son to his parents; a brother to my son; an uncle to his brand new niece; a brother to his older sister and her husband; a nephew, a cousin, a colleague; a friend to a host of others, and so much to so many more.

We can’t turn back time, but none of us knows where it went. Four seasons have come and gone, and we’ve braced ourselves against each one in the impossible effort to make time stop. For there’s been the feeling that if time passed, then he would be left in the past, and we’ve not been ready for that.

It’s taken a lot to get through the days and the weeks and the months that have followed. All at once there was so much to do, while at the same time there was never enough that could be done. Our loss has made everything new, and nothing is the way we are used to.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago when my daughter put on her favorite red top to meet him for their first date. Nor does it seem like that long ago when she introduced me to him over dinner with carrot cake for dessert. And when they decided to move in together, it seemed like just the right time. And then in no time he was insisting on my staying with them when I visited there, and he easily made himself at home in my home when they visited here.

It’s just that we never knew how short their time would be. My daughter had no idea that he would miss their third-year anniversary.

“Where did he go?” she begs to know. She’s moved into a new home and fears that he might have disappeared, and that makes her afraid for him. “He’s right here!” She points to his face, smiling from the photographs that she’s put around her place.

He’s on the refrigerator with his arms around her brothers and grinning with their friends. He’s on the windowsill, dressed to the nines and pressing his cheek against hers. He’s on the shelf, tying his shoe after a day of skiing. He’s on the nightstand, snuggling close to her in a photo that he wanted kept at her bedside, in case he was away.

We’re doing our best to grasp what happened. Over the past year we’ve read books and attended classes and met with various spiritual advisers in our efforts to understand. But it’s hard. And now I think it just might be something that we may never understand. I think there are just some things that we don’t get to know, no matter how badly we want to, and this might just be one of them.

Maybe all that we’re supposed to know is our part in it, what he meant to us and the impact of his life and loss on us. In the words of one of his closest friends, “We cannot make sense of it, [we can] only fold the experience into our lives and who we are and obviously help all of us who are suffering to be stronger and live fuller each day.”

My daughter picks up yet another photo and gives his face a kiss and tells me how handsome he is. They’re in bed and he’s sleeping, but she’s looking straight at the camera with such peaceful eyes, as if she knows she’s won the biggest prize.

We talk a lot about where it is that he might be. It’s a short conversation, but we have it often, because it’s been a lot to process, and it takes time. She wants for him to be okay. She wants for herself to be okay.

“He is somewhere,” I tell her. “He is not nowhere.”

This is part of what we’ve learned from all the books and classes and discussions. We’ve learned that we’re all made up of energy, and energy is something that never disappears. And we really want to believe this. We want so badly to have it be part of what we get to know.  

Moreover, we’ve learned that our being here is about more than just the fact that once our parents met. If we’re to believe, then our energy is something that exists long before we are born, and it flows back and forth through many lifetimes, according to a larger plan that we don’t get to understand.

We arrive in this life and put our names down, and after a time we make our leave, and then we wait until it’s time to come back again.

It takes a lot of faith to believe, but we are working hard on it as we grieve. In doing so, we’ve had to expand our minds, along with our concept of time. And there are days when it works and days when it doesn’t, but on the days when it does, it seems to expand the rest of us, too. Somehow it opens us up.

And when that happens, we can embrace the many signs that he seems to send and really believe that they’re from the energy of him. On those days we take refuge in the thought that he is okay, and that how we tell time might not be the only way. 

It's how we have faith that he is indeed somewhere, and that he is still, as before, always there. 

 Anne is the author of  Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blogFacebook and Twitter.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thought


Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe ~ Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Bob Dylan

I started practicing yoga for my body, but I think it’s also been helping my brain.

I wish I had the kind of brain that didn’t think so much, but that’s a thought that’s hard to fathom. I’m jealous of the people who don’t know how to dwell.

At yoga there is no time to dwell, and that’s a good thing. On the mat there just is no room in my head for anything other than what the instructor has said. We are always moving, even when we are still, and if I'm not paying close attention, then I’ll find myself moving in the wrong direction.

At the beginning of the practice we’re told to set an intention. And for all the thinking I usually do, it’s often hard for me to think of one. I think the reason for this is that once I've stepped to the top of the mat I’ve already handed over the keys to the car.  

“Let’s come to Samasthiti,” the instructor says as she opens the class. “Stand tall and set an intention.”

I step to the top of my mat and stand in Samasthiti, or Mountain pose. It’s a stance of stillness where we collect our thoughts before turning on the ignition.

“Surya Namaskar A!” the instructor calls. “Reach up. Press palms. Look up!”

And so begins the 75-minute ride. The music starts, and I lift my arms to the sky and look to my palms pressed over my head.

“Uttanasana. Ardha Uttanasana. Chaturanga Dandasana!”

I fold on an exhale and lift on an inhale. With another long exhale, I press my palms to the mat and jump back to a low push-up.

The music keeps playing and the instructions keep coming.

“Urdva Mukha!” I move into Upward Facing Dog. “Adho Mukha!” I roll over my toes and press back into Downward Facing Dog.

We hold here for five breaths, and by this time whatever my day has been is gone. I’m here on my mat and moving along, and my mind is clearing with each passing song.  

It’s said that a person has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. That’s almost 40 thoughts per minute! That’s a lot of thinking! Maybe that explains the buzz in the air after the holidays when the studios get so crowded. With all the yogis coming and going, the number of thoughts in the space is multiplied, and the surrounding energy gets amplified.

We move into the Surya Namaskar B’s, which take a lot more energy than the A’s. And in between each we’re instructed to work on our Fire Jumps.

I tend to land these mostly by accident. I press into my hands and crouch back, trying not to think. Springing forward, I tuck my body into a ball. Without too much thought, I float up on my hands, stacking my hips over my shoulders and extending my legs up high.

I try this several times. It might make sense that each attempt would be easier, but for me it’s actually the opposite. It doesn’t take long before my thoughts get in the way, and I stop trying after a few floats. I think that my arms won’t hold me. I think that I’ll go overboard with too much momentum. By the time we’re called again to Downward Facing Dog, I am already there, suffering my fears!

There is a Buddhist theory on suffering, and it has to do with our thoughts. It defines suffering as the mental attachments we create regarding the pain we’ve experienced. If we’re hurt, mentally or physically, less pain is experienced if we don’t mind so much, and more pain is experienced if we do.

This theory is actually supported by modern science. Today the experience of pain is measured by several regions in the brain, as opposed to what had previously been thought of as one particular pain center. There’s the part of the brain that lets us know that we are hurt, another that lets us know where we’re hurt, and a complex region that determines how we’ll actually react to that hurt.

Surprisingly, there’s also a part of the brain that makes up our minds as to whether or not we will suffer over our hurts. It’s the conscious part. When we experience emotional or physical trauma, the conscious part of our brain gets to think about it, and we actually get to decide whether or not we will suffer!

The instructor takes us through the rest of our Sun B’s, with another chance at the Fire Jumps in between. And each time I set up to jump, I say to myself, “Don’t think! Don’t think! Don’t think!”

We flow from one pose and into the next, moving on from the Fire Jumps to Warrior IIs, Reverse Warriors, Half Moons and more. And when we land in our forward folds, there’s still no time to think. There’s always more to do and always more to listen to. The instructions keep coming.

“Press your big toe mounds into the floor and fold yourself over. Grab opposite elbows and lift your toes to your nose. Lean forward and pull in your belly.”

When I started writing this, my intention was to write about pain. I wanted to do what Ernest Hemingway once said: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

But writing for me is like practicing. I set an intention when I can, and then I gather my thoughts, and I listen. Next I wait for my mind to clear, so that I can hear whatever it is inside that brings forth the words. And the words might not always be what I thought, but at the end when I read them I get to see what I've learned.

And here in my effort to write about pain, I’ve wound up with an essay on the brain! And what I’ve learned is that there is an intricate link between what hurts and how we think, and between the power of thought and whether we suffer for naught. 

The practice ends and we are asked to come to a seat with our eyes closed and our hands in prayer. I am in the middle row, in the middle of the room, and I sit with my hands at my heart.

It’s quiet and I sneak a peek around the room. The lights are low, and I can see the silhouettes of all the yogis in front of me framed against the room’s front windows. And I know that if I turned around and looked behind me, I'd see many more of the same. 

I am surrounded by dozens of quiet minds, safely tucked in the center of silence.  

“Bring your thumb knuckles to your Third Eye center,” the instructor says, “and honor the intention that you set at the beginning of your practice.”

I raise my prayer palms to my forehead and realize that I never set an intention! But my body feels strong and my mind is clear and I'm so grateful that I’m here. And so with a heart as full as the room, I close my eyes and bow my head and bask in the absence of thought instead.

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Basement

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed. ~ The Monster, Eminem featuring Rihanna

I used to be afraid of the basement.

When I was little, we had a beautiful basement. Its paneled walls enclosed a living room, a toy room, game tables and even a grand piano. A sliding glass door opened onto a patio and into a big backyard.

As children during the day we’d happily play for hours down there, but at night it was a different story. I was convinced that Dracula and Frankenstein had set up home under the basement steps and in the back toy room, too. Inevitably, we’d leave something behind, and in the evenings I’d be sent to retrieve whatever it was. I remember many times peering fearfully down the stairs while building up my courage for a frantic dash down and back.


Of course I grew out of these fears. But once I was grown and married with children of my own, somehow they reappeared.

We had a basement that was monstrously large. There was an exercise room, a guest room, a fireplace, two bathrooms and a huge play area. Another sliding door opened onto a patio that led into a big backyard. During the day my children and I would happily play for hours down there; but at night it was the same old story. As when I was young, inevitably, we’d leave something behind from our day of play, and many evenings would find me once again fearfully peering down another set of basement steps, poised to retrieve a Teddy bear, a retainer or a favorite blanket. As an adult I was the same little girl, building up her courage for the same frantic dash down and back.
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My childhood fears are easy to figure. They were the typical ones that most children have, like fears of the dark or the boogeyman. But the fears of my later years were never really as clear. Maybe they might have come into focus for me had I gathered more courage to look, but back then I blurred what was too painful to see, and I think that’s how a new boogeyman started haunting me.

Our sight is a precious commodity. It’s one of our five senses, and for many of us it’s an integral part of how we experience our lives. So important is our sight that we spend a lifetime seeking a steady gaze, making annual trips to the eye doctor in order to fine-tune the lenses through which we see the world.

But there’s also something else, other than a trip to the eye doctor, that can allow us to see more clearly, and it’s called our sixth sense, or our intuition. It’s what we sense when our other senses are not in play, and if we don’t pay attention, even our sight can get in the way. If we’re not careful, we can lose our steady gaze and deny the things we see. And, when this happens, the truth disappears, and it can make us feel crazy.

That's how things become scary, and I’m thinking this might be what happened to me.

A steady gaze is no small matter. It’s what keeps us balanced. In yoga, there’s even a name for it. It’s called the drishti, or focal point. When we practice, our energy follows our gaze, and so every yoga pose comes with instructions on where to look. It’s how we secure ourselves, so that we can lift our bodies off the ground and also turn ourselves upside down. In fact, rarely do we close our eyes at yoga, and when we do it’s always to purposefully challenge our balance.

The other night our practice focused almost exclusively on arm balances, and so there were a lot of instructions about the drishti. We were working on some funky variations, and so where we set our sights was all the more important.

“Look ahead!” the instructor said. “Your energy will follow your eyes.”

I pressed my left hand into the mat with both knees perched high on the back of my left arm. Then I pressed my right forearm into the mat, too, and leaned my chest forward. I lifted my feet off the ground and tucked my heart into my back.

“Look ahead!” the instructor repeated. “If you look down, that’s where you’ll go!”

I didn’t want to fall, and so I locked my gaze at the top of my mat and made like a three-legged table. I lifted my right palm to my chin and balanced on my left hand, my right elbow and my gaze. A three-legged table never falls.

On the drive home after class I found my gaze wandering toward the sky. It was a cold winter night, and two bright stars had caught my eye. They were so close together that it looked as if they might touch, and I wondered if my eyes might be deceiving me. I glanced at them again and again, doing numerous double takes all the way home.

I didn’t know it then but later on I would learn that I hadn’t been seeing things at all. That night, the sky had some funky variations among its constellations, the kind that hadn’t appeared for years! The stars I had seen weren’t actually stars; they were Jupiter and Venus, two planets aligned so closely together that to the naked eye they appeared as one. And apparently I wasn’t the only one to have ever seen this sight. I learned that reports of this sighting dated all the way back to biblical times, accounting for what many believe to be the Star of Bethlehem!  

When I got home I stopped outside the front door and turned to look at the sky once more, but I could no longer spot the pair. And so I went inside and put my keys in the bowl on the front chest that sits right above the basement steps. In this house, the basement has a living area, a guest room, a storage room and a bathroom. As in my previous homes, there’s also a sliding door that opens onto a patio and into a backyard.

I looked downstairs. The lights were off and it was dark down there.

But I didn’t feel afraid at all. Things are different here, because I no longer live with fears. They went away on the day I chose to see what had always been right in front of me. That’s when I knew to look for space, and that’s how I came to find this place.

And now my boogeyman is gone. I can’t find him in this home, and so this basement has always been one that I can roam. On any night I can leisurely walk down the steps and retrieve anything I might have left.

And now, these days, when I look around, the view is always sharp and clear. I look up at night to see the stars, and I feel so safe in here. And this is how I want for things to stay, because it was just too hard the other way.

This home is where I made a table of three, with just my son and daughter and me. It’s where I set my gaze ahead, and my energy followed, just as the instructor said.

Anne is the author of  Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blogFacebook and Twitter.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Goodness

 Baby Jordyn
“In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep from the mountains of faith to a river so deep.” ~ River of Dreams, Billy Joel

I’ve had so much energy these days that I don’t know what to do with myself.

And so I’m doing what I know to do when I don’t know what to do. I’m practicing lots of yoga.

Each night I’m on my mat, trying to expend the energy that I’ve captured in my body. It’s not that I’m not happy to have it; it’s just that it needs someplace to go. Who knows how it got there, but I think it happens while I’m sleeping. I seem to wake up with it, sometimes even in the middle of the night!

“I’m here because I need to melt,” I tell the instructor. It’s as good an explanation as any, and I ready myself to practice in 100 degree heat.

I change into my yoga clothes and open the door to the practice room. Rolling out my mat, I look down at my outfit. My top doesn’t really match my bottom, but I don’t care because the fabrics feel good, and I know that makes for a good practice. It also makes for a good memory. I think back to when my son dressed himself for nursery school. He arrived for class one day with stripes going this and that way.

His teacher was gracious. “I see someone dressed himself today!” she had said while nodding her head.

I still don’t know how all this energy found its way inside of me, but I do know that it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, I think it’s been building for a while. The instructor puts us in Down Dog, and I am glad for this pose, because it sends my energy in three different directions. We have to press down into our feet and also press down into our hands, and then we have to hike up our hips. 

There was a time when I had no energy at all. Back then it was everything I could do in order to do everything I needed to do. It was a time when I lost my spirit, when I couldn’t imagine ever finding it again. This doesn’t make for a good memory, but I still think it’s good to remember. It makes me even more grateful for where I am now and for the abundance of energy that’s been gifted to me.

The instructor takes us through a bunch of Sun A’s and Sun B’s, and I move through them seamlessly. And later I take him up on his offer for deeper expressions, because my energy still needs more places to go. And so I stand on my hands and on my forearms, too, and I also balance in Side Crow.

I say that my energy’s been gifted to me, because it truly feels as if it’s been bestowed. These days I’m especially aware of all the blessings surrounding me, and there seem to be so many! And since I’m someone who processes things visually, what I picture is a river of goodness flowing down through me.

I don’t know how this came to be. It’s not as if it’s been smooth sailing. This year, personally, there’s been such great loss, and our days are still sprinkled with tears. And on a global scale for a long time now, and especially more recently, the world seems sprinkled with fears.    

At work, our CEO spoke about the gift of energy and asked us to put ours to good use. The office had just sat down to its early Thanksgiving meal, and he stood up to remind us about how fortunate we are. He spoke about the power of goodness in times that aren’t. 

“People can still do good,” he said, “even in a world where bad things happen.”

The instructor asks us to stand on our knees in the middle of our mats. It’s time for Camel, the first pose of the back bending series. I place my hands at my heart and lean back until I’m so far back that I reach up and land them behind me. I rise into a back bend and stay for a count of five.

I used to hate the heart opening poses, but tonight I can’t seem to get enough of them. We move through another Camel, and then through a few Locusts and Bow poses, back bending on our abdomens. After, we jump through our hands for some back bends on our backs, rising up into a few Bridges and several Wheels, too. This is the peak of the practice, and for me it’s always the hardest part.

The heart opening poses take so much work! But it occurs to me that maybe they're the reason so much energy has found its way inside of me. Maybe after so long my heart is finally more open! Maybe that’s why I’m so energized.

This is why I consider energy as a gift bestowed, because suddenly I can see so much of what’s around me. I see blessings and love and even peace. And, who knows, maybe all of that was always there, even when my energy wasn’t.

If that’s the case, then it’s surely cause for faith, which is sometimes an even harder exercise than a heart opener. But while I would never be one to profess to know the key to an open heart, I would think that faith has got to have something do with it.

How else is it possible to have hope in the face of loss or even joy in the face of pain? Somehow I’ve had both, which I figure is evidence that our energy is capable of flowing in all directions, whether or not we are suffering. At the very least, it explains how goodness is still possible when bad things happen.  

It’s time to go upside down, and I stand on my head in the middle of my mat. I like this part of the practice. I find it relaxing to stand on my head, and I like how it feels to pull up through my core and lift my feet toward the heavens. This upward pull is called celestial energy.  

Just this past year, a little girl was born in the wake of our loss. She was named for the young man whom we are mourning. She is called Jordyn, and at her naming her parents spoke of the River Jordan, a river that flows with goodness, just like the one that I picture when I sense a gift has been bestowed.

With open hearts, they explained that they gave this child her name so that the goodness of this young man would flow down through her. And I think their plan is working, for she shares the same engaging energy, and we can’t help but love her. She is the hope that arrived in the face of loss; she is the joy in the face of pain.

And when we hold her we can feel her celestial energy, and this brings a certain peace.

The practice is over, and I lie back on my mat for Savasana, or final resting pose. The heat has done its job. It’s taken an hour and a half, but I am finally melted. For the moment, my energy has settled, and the instructor allows us to stay like that for a while before closing the practice with three Oms.

The room begins to empty out, but I want to go upside down again. I wait until almost everyone has left, and then I press into my hands and lift one leg and then the other. My hips stack over my shoulders, I pull in my core, and I hoist myself to the ceiling.

I catch the balance on the first try, and so I plant myself there in a meeting with the sky. My hands are rooted into the mat, and I straighten my arms and stretch my body higher, and then still higher. 

And I’m able to stay like this at length, because the energy is making its way back into me. It flows down through my body like a river of goodness, and I float for as long as I can. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Agony

This is agony, but it’s still a thrill for me. ~ Agony, Paloma Faith

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

These are the words of the great poet and storyteller, Maya Angelou. I’m guessing she knew a thing or two about agony, because she spent her lifetime writing her stories.

By comparison, I’ve only spent about a moment of mine. And that’s because, before yoga, I didn’t even know I had any stories inside of me, much less any kind of agony.

But once I started writing I got to know myself a whole lot more. Writing down my stories helped me see inside in a way I wasn’t able to before. I’ve even solved the mystery of the writer who lives in me. I wasn’t even aware that she was there, but she came to light one night when I checked in at yoga.

“Oh, you’re the writer!” exclaimed the young lady from behind the front desk when I told her my name.

At the time, I never saw myself as such, and I almost laughed. But I found her looking at me proudly and expectantly, and the importance of taking myself more seriously suddenly dawned on me.

And so I caught myself and answered, “Well, yes, I guess I am!” not just for her but also for me.

In order to write honestly, I’ve had to admit to some agony. If nothing else, it’s made me recognize a lot of who I am inside, all that’s good and all that’s not. And as I’ve never been one to share much personally, writing it down for others to see has been somewhat of a big deal for me.  

The agony first appeared in my practice. I think it had something to do with the poses. Early on, an instructor explained how the poses heal us by releasing our emotions. At the time, I didn’t understand how something like this could possibly be true, but it wasn’t long before I was experiencing it for myself.

Like the breath, the poses drew something in and let something out, and somehow that made it easier to breathe. Once I noticed this, my practice gained momentum, and I flowed as if I were desperate for air. I felt an urgency to it, as if something in me knew that I needed to do it.    

All that moving moved me! I felt as though I had spent forever in some kind of traffic jam and suddenly all of the cars were moving. I think that’s why in the beginning so many emotions arose all at once. I felt amazing and awful; awake and tired; happy and sad. And, like a driver wildly alternating lanes, I did my best to navigate these new highs and lows.

The practice invigorated me, and I loved it, but the chaos it revealed was surprising. I think what was coming up for me was what Maya Angelou might have called my agony. Apparently, she was right about the stories that get stuck inside. When we ignore them, they can hurt!

And so this was the shape I was in when I said yes to an opportunity to write about yoga. I was surprised to have agreed, and even more surprised to discover how much I had to say! With so many emotions driving me, my writing quickly gained the same momentum as my practice. It shared the same urgency, and I wrote in the same way, as if I were desperate for air.

Like the breath, the words also drew something in and let something out, and that made it easier to breathe, too. The words were as healing as the practice. In them I sensed the same flow of energy, and very quickly they worked the same magic. Each story released a little bit of agony, and that was a good thing. It’s why I had to write them down, as soon as they came up.  

So, really, it’s the poses that help reveal our stories. Like positions of recognition, each one shows us who we are. We twist and we turn and we stand on our hands, and somehow the shapes undo our traffic jams.

The poses release our karma, or what some might call our agony, and that clears the way for a smooth flow of energy. Like the words of a story, the poses synchronize our bodies, minds and spirits, and that’s how we really heal. Because when we are aligned like this, there is a clarity in how we see ourselves, all that’s good and all that’s not. And this is how things start to make sense. It’s what makes it possible for us to connect the dots, so that we can tell our own stories, if not to others, then at the very least to ourselves. 

Before yoga, it had been quite some time since I was properly aligned. But the practice has worked. It’s connected me with myself and with others who also do their best to see, one of whom happens to be a master of astrology.

I’ve met him a few times. He is an author, too, and his writings connect the dots of all mankind, all the way back to ancient times. With stories based on the galaxy, he’s told me the story of me, which of course includes a little bit of agony.

At the end of our most recent session, he pulled a deck of Tarot cards from a blue velvet pouch and spread them face down across the table.    

“Close your eyes and see yourself,” he said. “And now pick a card.”

I closed my eyes and looked inside to all that I have synchronized. And then I selected a card and handed it to him.   

“This is you!” he exclaimed, and he showed it to me. “It’s the card of the High Priestess!”

I looked hard at the card. On it was an image of a woman, seated in Lotus pose with a scroll across her lap. She was a yogi and a writer. He said that she was royalty. He said that she was me!

And then he sat back in his chair and looked at me, proudly and expectantly.

“It’s time you saw inside,” he said, “to what it is that I can see.”

And then he simply shrugged his shoulders, because it’s up to me to be the story of my own discovery. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tikkun

“I’m here, and I’m on the mend, my friend.” ~ On the Mend, Foo Fighters

For almost a year, I’d put off getting my elbow checked out. I was afraid that if I did, I’d be told to stop practicing yoga. But what had started out as a dull ache had turned into a sharp pain, and so I set up the appointment.

I was diagnosed with tennis elbow, which for me these days is writer’s elbow. Who knew that writing could hurt? But apparently I had some microscopic tears that only rest could heal.

Why I needed someone to tell me that part of me was hurt and needed rest, I really couldn’t say. But my plan to dismiss the ache hadn’t turned out so great. Of course I was glad for the X-ray and to know that nothing was broken. Still, it wasn’t lost on me that I’d ignored this signal from my body.

Stopping my practice was a very big deal. Yoga gets me out and about, and the schedule shapes my week. Plus, I remembered another injury from before that had been tough to wait out. Back then, I was certain my practice would leave me if I were to leave it first, but in the end it proved loyal. When I got back to the mat it had been there, waiting for me.  
  
Having certainty is no small thing. On the contrary, it’s everything. If I’d been more certain, I probably would have addressed my elbow sooner and not been scheduled for physical therapy. In fact, if I were to look back over the years, I probably would have addressed a lot of things sooner. But certainty is not without its challenges. I can get stuck when I have big doubts, which fills me with anxiety, and that messes with the signals that my body sends to me. 

Last winter, when I was out of town, I attended classes on Kabbalah, the tradition of ancient Jewish mysticism. I learned all sorts of things about the meaning of life and about how when we have doubts, we should seek the light. When I returned home, I continued the classes online, but I’d long since fallen behind. Luckily for me, the topics I’d missed were on certainty, and so a decision to catch up now seemed to be timely.     

“Certainty is the way to fix your Tikkun,” the Kabbalah instructor says. “It’s what you apply in the tough times to correct the darkness.”

Tikkun is the Hebrew word for correction, and the Kabbalists identify it as the purpose of our lives. And they don’t believe that doubt is a bad thing. We’re here, they say, in order to correct things in our souls, and our doubts are simply the signals for what needs fixing. According to Kabbalah, we are supposed to do this through certainty.

That's not to say that we need to be certain of knowing exactly what to do, because sometimes we just don’t know. All that’s called for is the certainty that one day we will.  

If this is true, then it means that it’s okay if we can’t fix a problem right away. We can allow ourselves the time to rest and mend, so that we can be calm enough to let the answers in. And this, I think, makes for a compassionate plan, especially when we find ourselves having to begin again.

And so I did my best to remember all that and to view my break as a finite amount of time. I was certain that it would begin and it would end, and that after that my elbow would mend. This made everything so much easier. I watched movies and caught up on television. I went on walks and out to dinner. And I even got the chance to catch up on my sleep.

In the end I was away from the practice for two months, until one day while traveling I realized that my elbow was better! It was finally time to come back.

I awoke early and walked to a familiar studio just around the corner from where I was staying. The streets were empty and the sun was barely up. It was my favorite time of day. I checked in and put my belongings in a locker. I’ve always gotten a little confused with the locks at this studio, and, as usual, I accidentally scrambled the combination. When I entered the practice room, I knew that I’d need some help at the end if I were to see my things again.  

I rolled out my mat in front of the mirrors in the big empty space. The heat felt good, and so did my mat! I sat for a while and then braided my hair, tying it up in a ponytail. And that’s when I looked around and noticed that I was still the only one there! Someone popped her head inside the door, and I asked where everyone was.

“The class is in the other room,” she said gently.

A rookie mistake on my part, but I told myself that it was okay as I gathered up my mat. I was giving myself a pass on my first day back, figuring I needed to be as gentle on myself as the practice I was hoping to have. I followed her out the door and into the other room, where everyone except for me had already known to be!

I have to admit that, even while studying the topic of certainty, it was hard to keep all of my doubts at bay. But the practice was indeed gentle, and my elbow was feeling okay. And so I made plans with myself to come back again the very next day.

And this time I set my locker combination correctly, and I chose the correct room, too. I settled in among the others and braided my hair, tying it up in a ponytail. And then I laid back on my mat to wait for the class to begin.

But still I was bothered by a niggling doubt. It’s hard to admit, but before I came back I had started to wonder whether I still belonged on my mat. I sat up and checked my reflection in the mirror. Why was I questioning my loyalty? And what were those puckers on the sides of my top? Uncertain and without answers, I dismissed such questions and made myself lie down again.

And then the instructor walked in and it was time to begin, and right away the practice started to work. The flow was more rigorous than the day before, and I relished every stretch and every fold and each release after every hold. The poses awakened all of my muscle memory, and I moved with what I can only describe as an inner certainty.  

And this is why I always come back, for certainty is a gift, and the practice is precious because of it. When I practice, the movement smooths out all of my puckers of doubt, even those that had appeared with my shirt inside out!

And this gives me the chance to heal my Tikkun, because for the moment my questions are gone. And then at the end I get to lie down again, and I’m certain I’m where I belong. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.