Sunday, November 30, 2014

Simply Savor

We just hosted Thanksgiving with my sisters, their partners, my niece and three family dogs. There were nine people at our table and we were all grateful to be together and share an outstanding meal. Our menu: Baturducken (a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey, wrapped in a bacon lattice), stuffing, roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower (olive oil, garlic and rosemary), chai mashed sweet potatoes (mascarpone, butter, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon), celery root and butternut squash gratin, homemade cranberry relish, pumpkin and pecan pies. The leftovers were as good if not better than the main meal.

Our family guests stayed for two nights. I am always grateful when I see my extended family members, as well as any guests we have in our home or people we share meals with in other venues. I am becoming increasingly aware that my siblings and I keep changing as we get older, our kids are all growing so fast that it's hard to keep up with their developments, and a year can pass without me even realizing I haven't talked with certain friends in far too long.

My father-in-law once mentioned to me that we are all "slipping away" from each other day by day. This is a true statement. This life we live is not permanent. Nonetheless, we cherish it. The fleeting nature of all relationships, all experiences, all emotions--this impermanence reminds me to savor every pleasure to the fullest, which is something that's easy to forget. I can be very forgetful. I forget to really look at my children when they are talking to me. I forget that this face they have today will be not be the same even in a few months. I want to look at their faces now. I want to hear my husband's voice now, really hear it...he is pretty loud in general, but I still want to hear him with my full capacity for hearing. I want to hear him now before we slip away from each other.

I want to taste and smell and see and hear and feel my life while I still have it. I want to savor it. There is an art to that. It's not just automatic. To truly savor anything, we must be present to it, and to ourselves. Presence is also an art, and it must be practiced. How do we practice presence? How do we teach ourselves to be fully present just where we are? I try to teach myself through yoga, through savoring my breath and my movement, savoring rest, savoring direct sensations. When I meditate, I practice savoring stillness. I know that if I train myself in these ways, the ability to be present and savor the other parts of my life will come easier.

In this month of gift preparing and gift giving and generous gathering with friends and loved ones, our spiritual practice, our physical practice, all of our practices can be aimed toward the goal of savoring all of our gifts. Our very life is a gift. In the grand scheme of the Universe, if we blink, we can miss it. I don't want to miss mine. I need my yoga practice to help me be present to my life.

This life and this body are gifts I wish to simply savor; therein lies the gratitude.

When we savor each moment, fully present in our experience, there is no past to cling to or future to anticipate; so much of our stress can dissolve that way.

Do something each day to train yourself in this art.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let Go to Grow

Over the past two weeks, my life and yoga practice have revolved around letting go, loosening my grip and releasing certain ideas, beliefs, places, people, physical and mental habits I have been holding onto assiduously.

Because I couldn't let go of certain ideas, people, and even the need to frequently work and practice in a particular studio, that studio owner who is also my teacher terminated my employment there. At first very shocked by this turn of events in spite of how hard I had worked there (too hard, teaching three regular classes without fail, subbing at every opportunity, devoting extra unpaid time) and how much I loved the idea of teaching there (too much), I now understand that my attachment was imbalanced. It was for me as if my life depended on how well I was doing in those classes and whether I not I "belonged" with that group of teachers and practitioners. Seeing this, and not arriving at any kind of easy solution for it, my mentor simply decided to fire me. In the grand scheme of my path as a yoga practitioner and teacher, it was the best gift I could have received at the time.

In Yoga philosophy, the concept of vairagya is given in the Yoga Sutras and the direct translation of that word is usually "non-attachment," which implies something a little different from letting go. Non-attachment implies the equanimity and wisdom inherent in not grabbing on tightly to things in the first place. Detachment is letting go of something you've already grasped or held onto. Since I am still learning a lot about vairagya, I have to start with detaching before I can learn non-attachment.

Fortunately, since beginning earnestly on the path of yoga I have had some honest and humble teachers I've been able to watch as they modeled both detachment and non-attachment. Just as it is helpful to see a yoga teacher model a posture for the class, it is also helpful to witness a teacher model the application of yoga philosophy.

The teacher who fired me has been instructing his staff and students in the ways of letting go of cherished beliefs about what Yoga is and how it should be practiced and taught. A lot of this instruction is based on a solid knowledge of anatomy, sports biomechanics, functional movement and a studied approach to the history of Yoga and how it has been adapted and taught in the West. In keeping with this instruction, I signed up for an anatomy workshop for yoga teachers that I attended this past weekend, with some of my current and former yoga teachers. Everyone who participated in the workshop had to let go of some formerly held beliefs and habits to make room for valuable, new information on how to more skillfully cue and give hands-on assists to yoga students. There was a lot of cringing, jaw-dropping, head shaking, and even some face palms!

Yoga teaching is rapidly evolving as an occupation and the number of teachers graduating from training programs is growing exponentially. The anatomy teacher who conducted our workshop spoke positively about trends toward peer review for articles written about yoga. He spoke of himself and those of us present as teachers as trailblazers who are taking responsibility for evolving the yoga teaching profession to make it safer, more skillful and more credible.

Several years ago I regularly attended the classes of two of the teachers taking the training; I trusted them completely and their classes were a true refuge for me. One of them inspired me to learn to teach so I could attempt to share the gifts she imparted to me. This past weekend, my teachers' example of openness, humility and willingness to let go of what they have taught over the course of their career, (things I heard them say many times, cues I followed, assists I received) set the perfect example I need in my life and practice right now. I was touched very deeply by their example of non-attachment. I need to learn to humbly and graciously let go of ideas, attitudes, things, people and places I held onto tightly.

Not being able to let go is a serious mental and physical handicap. When we let go we open ourselves up to receive continual blessings, knowledge, information and nourishment. Gripping, grasping, hanging on for dear life, these behaviors prevent us from relaxing, receiving and renewing. They halt our progress. They keep us stuck. A concrete example from the weekend workshop is that isometric contraction of a muscle prevents blood flow into the muscle, so that circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle are temporarily cut off. When we grip with our muscles, we are contracting them. When we grip with our attitudes and behaviors, we are also contracting our selves rather than expanding them; hanging on for dear life prevents the flow of life and energy.

When we hold on, we're held back. When we let go, we grow.

What can you let go of to allow yourself to grow? Sometimes we can let go on our own and other times we're forced to let go. Either way, try to see it as a good thing.