Dear Friend of Yoga,
On a normal night of a normal day, I mentally check my calendar, and then physically recheck it, as I begin my mental, physical, and spiritual preparation for the next day. But this is not a normal time, so when I habitually move to check and recheck my calendar, I am quickly reminded of the cessation of my need to check the calendar right now. There is nothing there tomorrow that I have to do, and it appears as though there won’t be anything there for the next series of indefinite days. With this realization, I find my breath almost being sucked out of me by the thought that I not only don’t have anything to do tomorrow, but I can’t have anything to do tomorrow because I have been told to “stay at home!”
I suspect that most people who have been tethered to a work-schedule or a retirement-routine are, like me, more than a bit thrown off by this “forced seclusion.” Ironically, most of us have also long-desired an extra day in our week, or savor that one extra hour each “fall-back” time change we get in late autumn; but this “blessing” of extra time just seems overwhelming! (Of course, the loss of income is no small concern either!) When it first fell upon us, I truly viewed it as an amazing opportunity: the Great Mystery/the Divine/God/the Universe (yes, whom or whatever!) was offering human beings an opportunity to step away from the mean-spirited, self-centered, market-focused mentality that has rippled across the globe, and to rediscover the kindness, the compassion, and the connectivity that could unite us all. While countries, especially our own, were adopting a more isolationist approach, a virus comes along that says, “Oh, so you want ‘isolation’? Try this on for size!” And in this time, yes, are we not seeing (okay, alongside some hoarding hysteria) new “heroes” and servants of kindness stepping up from all walks of life? But underneath the generosity and sacrifice of volunteerism, there is the more challenging opportunity “to face one’s self,” and one’s very existence.
There are so many neglected projects about my home that I could likely spend a whole year busying myself over things that I have long said that I want to do but never have the time for. So here it is – that time – but to just “busy myself” seems to squander an important part of this “blessing” we have unwantingly received. Yes, there is extraordinary goodness in stepping up and being of service to the needs of others, but as this virus has moved us toward isolation, perhaps we should also better realize the opportunity for self-care, at the deepest and most important spiritual level. And here is where so many of us trip and fall into the oblivion of this indefinite period of quietude.
Our present reality reminds me of the throes of starting a practice of meditation. At its deepest level, meditation is the slowing down of thoughts, the emptying of the mind that allows the soft voice of the Self (yep, our connection within to that Great Mystery) to be heard. But such cessation of mental activity, much like the forced cessation of physical activity that we know right now, takes time, and lots of discipline! So, one can begin with “mindfulness” where, instead of emptying the mind, one simply, calmly, and even graciously acknowledges and accepts the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that course through the mind and body incessantly. In this state of mindfulness, however, one might also reach a plateau of awareness from which the observation of these feelings, thoughts, and sensations, leads one to the realization that all of this “busyness” is not as important as one once thought it to be; and so begins the more difficult challenge of letting go of the busyness, setting it aside so that we “hear, feel, and experience” what is truly important.
In a way, perhaps, your practice of yoga has given you the start-up tools for this deeper settling in that has fallen upon us. The practice of yoga invites you, automatically, to take that step of “letting go of the busyness” and to just be present to the movement and the sensations of your practice. But that is the “mindfulness” of our period of isolation. After your practice of yoga, beginning even with your period of Savasana, try to just be still and empty enough – no judgments, no “looking for” – so that as the noise of busyness peels away, perhaps that soft voice, like a subtle incense, will waft up from within, offering you the rhythm of a melody from which you can live more truly. You and I have probably spent the better part of our lives filling our calendars with doing; right now, we have an opportunity to return to our Self, to close the planner and sit still, and to be a human, being.
Adapt - to make suitable for new use or purpose; become adjusted to new conditions (merriam-webster.com)
COVID-19 has brought disruption to everyone’s lives in so many different ways. I never imagined my life and daily routines would be so drastically altered in a week. My kids are at home all day now instead of going to school and will probably finish up the school year interacting with their teacher and classmates through Zoom and being semi-homeschooled by myself and my husband. We can’t go to restaurants or workout at the gym, and a trip to the grocery store feels like a wild goose chase trying to figure out what store stocks when and who will have everything on my list.
My therapy practice has drastically changed as well. Hardly anyone, clinician or client, is in the office, which is normally bustling. We had to shut down our yoga studio, and I haven’t been able to practice in the space that has been my yoga home for years. In just a few days, I had to figure out how to meet with clients remotely in case either one of us is quarantined. Teletherapy never was a platform I wanted to use because of the nature of the trauma work I do, but at this point, it isn’t a choice; it’s a necessity.
In short, everything is turned upside down and what was the norm a week ago, feels like ancient history and who knows if it will go back to that way of life ever again. I spent the last few days grieving and feeling like I was living in crisis mode, trying to make sense of everything and finding a stable footing. I know my family is fortunate; my husband and I both still have our jobs and the ability to work from home, we have our health and endless resources. Our theme for life today is adaptation, and we must find new ways to adjust to these new conditions.
Take time to grieve and have a breakdown. There is so much turmoil and uncertainty now; acknowledging this can help you cope with these feelings. And it’s okay to be sad about the more superficial changes like not being able to stop by Target randomly or having a mid-afternoon cappuccino at Starbucks. Take the time you need to experience and process these feelings.
Be mindful and stay in the present moment. Even with all the stress and chaos happening around us, there are so many positive moments that we could miss. It could be your kids laughing and talking as they are playing Minecraft together or hearing the spring peepers at night. By being mindful and paying attention, we can strengthen the importance of these positive moments.
Limit social media and the news. It’s so easy to get caught up in minute by minute updates in the news and all of the commentary on social media. It’s beneficial to stay informed but do so in small doses to avoid vicarious trauma.
Find control in the things you can. There are so many restrictions being placed on us right now in regard to where we can go and who we can be around. Businesses and restaurants are being told to close, people are losing their jobs, and normal resources are scarce. This can trigger a feeling of not having control, and it is important to find control in the things you can. It may be as simple as setting a time to get up in the morning or when to eat meals. Take the initiative to turn off the news and limit social media and go outside for a walk.
You are not alone. No one on this planet is immune to what is happening right now. In different ways, everyone is affected by this pandemic. My hope is that we, as a global community, find solidarity in this. It is a time to come together and find strength in this shared experience. If you feel that you are the only one overwhelmed, anxious, angry, remember, you are not alone. We are all learning how to adapt, and we are all in this together.
My St. Patrick’s Day celebration yesterday registered a pretty quiet blip. Although I had been raised with an awareness of my Irish heritage, and later received the genealogical findings of my ancestors, I never felt any strong cultural and familial affinity until I was almost thirty years old. I can almost envision the exact moment that it hit me; I was sitting on the curb with my two oldest children, who were then but a wee lad and lassie, watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Columbus, Ohio. It’s not much of a parade as far as fanfare goes, but I recall thinking how cool it was that on this day, every year, people of Irish descent, and so many others celebrating the culture and spirit of Ireland, could and would shut down central streets in major cities, just to join together and to celebrate “who they are.” I have never just “watched” a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever since.
“Being Irish” is certainly not “who I am,” and while I do not feel that it, or any legacy ought to give anyone some sense of superiority, knowing some things about my heritage is both intriguing and comforting. I am always fascinated when imagining the struggles and decisions that my ancestors must have made; and the simple, but fundamental, awareness of my “belonging” provides me quiet support. As I have come to a deeper appreciation of the genetic influences of my Irish heritage, I have also experienced, more importantly, the significance of my physical and metaphysical grounding.
We want and need balance in our lives - in all of its aspects – and good balance needs good grounding. The grounding, of course, doesn’t have to start with one’s heritage, but it is a deep and rich place to begin if it is accessible. But grounding can be, and hopefully is experienced by all in a variety of large and small communities, as well as in the more private encounters with our deepest Self. Of course, yoga helps to foster all of these. Standing on my mat in Tadasana, Mountain pose, lifting my toes up to draw more deeply into the earth of my mat with the balls of my feet and my heels, I can discover a physical manifestation of “being grounded.” This is where and how I stand. But, where do I stand? And for what? And why?
The ensuing movements and poses of my practice, the challenges and the successes, the fire and the flaw – all of these can sometimes draw me toward the answers to those important questions.
Knowing something about your roots can provide you self-understanding and self-compassion; and knowing where and how and why you “stand” can be the grounding of your stability and courage. Keep standing in your practice of yoga, and notice how it will move you toward firmer ground.
For those of you of (any!) Irish descent, a belated happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! And for all of us, may our individual practice of yoga support us with the grounding of stability, and may we as a community of yogis support one another by being the stable grounding that each of us likely needs in such a challenging time.
Dear Friend of Yoga,
Yesterday was my day off, my “Sabbath” day, if you will, the one day a week that I do not teach yoga somewhere or have some other task to fulfill. Of course, as you might well imagine, quite suddenly this week, every day looks like that. Prior to this period of isolation, however, I most often did all that I could to keep my Thursday “holy,” by not agreeing to take on another task, and by holding fast to my commitment to give myself some space and time to rejuvenate my energy. Usually, that means getting outside, exploring woods, hiking a trail, taking a long bike ride, or paddling a local waterway in my kayak. Nature always provides me a balm, and it is the one counter-weight that never fails to bring me back into balance.
Almost forty years ago, an intriguing indie film of only music and time-altered imagery was released, entitled Koyaanisqatsi, a word lifted from the Hopi language, roughly translated as “life out of balance.” The entire film, a rather mesmerizing menagerie of nature, humanity, and the relationship between them, seemed to say that the turmoil of our modern world calls for another way of living. Today, this global experience of Covid-19 that has made so many of us stand still seems to be a devastating new manifestation of koyaanisqatsi.
Meanwhile, today is also the first full day of spring (and, my goodness, has it arrived with a thorough washing!), a time when we typically think and act in aspects of renewal. Yesterday’s vernal equinox (a day earlier this year than normal due to the leap day last month) has long been a special reminder and encouragement to me to correct the koyaanisqatsi of my life. Every month, the moon reminds us of our “true Self”: a full and vibrant light; and twice a year, with the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the universe provides evidence that balance is possible, however fleeting, as the day and the night find equanimity.
Every day I step on my yoga mat, I am also seeking balance. Standing on two feet, Tadasana, is an act of balance. Raising one leg into Stork (Padahastasana), or Tree (Vrksasana), or Dancer (Natarajasana), or Warrior (Virabhadrasana) III, I challenge the foundation of that balance as I reach up and/or out, while holding myself up on the base of one leg. Some days those efforts come more easily than others, and isn’t that just like our lives off the mat. Cosmologically, each year, no two days are the same in any and every way, and for each of us, though they may sometimes feel like “the same old, same old,” no two days are ever exactly alike.
Most of us spend a tremendous amount of time doing, and very little time just being. That is a fundamental koyaanisqatsi of our lives, and it is why a “Sabbath Day” of some sort is so important for each of us. Yoga can be, in some small way at least, part of the balance that your busy and energetic life needs. Interestingly, this virus is forcing many of us to be more than to do. Oftentimes, when we are busy doing, we have to make or find time to be with our yoga practice; for those of us who might find ourselves just being a bit more these days, perhaps we will gift ourselves with the opportunity to do our yoga practice more regularly!
This spring when life, for many of us, seems more out of balance than ever before, look to the universe for inspiration. It’s the equinox, a time of cosmological balance! Yes, in the chaos of it all, and on the mat, we can still discover our balance.
P.S. I am close to offering a live stream of a class from my home. I will try to work out the kinks today, and will get back to you if it looks like a workable offering. My hope is to offer you something this weekend. I’ll be back! :
Unknowingly, but not actually surprisingly, I held my last yoga class at LA Fitness for an indefinite period of time last Sunday. Before class began, there was some discussion about the “what ifs” and the “where will we” when the next hammer from this unprecedented experience of the Coronavirus comes down upon us all. I talked then - just two days ago! – with hope about, perhaps, finding some space for those who need and want to continue their yoga practice together. Today, that tone of hope is considerably less confident. Yea, I have probably done a rebellious thing or two in my lifetime, but right now, with all due respects to the “situation at hand,” I find myself bowing to the mandates of “those in charge.”
As I have often said before or during a class, what we do, in this case, yoga, can be done on your own; it is not like some game or competition that needs a team, and certainly not an audience! But what is gained in “sharing a practice with another or others” is not unsubstantial. While it is not unique to yoga alone, there is a rare confluence of energy that emerges from a shared yoga practice. One’s effort in a practice is always personal, but when that practice is shared with or alongside others, that effort creates and becomes part of a larger stream of energy upon which each individual can glide, ride, or surf. Imagine the flow of a strong, energetic river that is fed by innumerable streams that both empty into as well as weave in and out of that river’s surge. The stream of one’s individual practice can flow with clarity and grace (or, amble over rocks and fallen limbs), but alongside others, the energy often swells, and not only buoys one’s physical effort, but also uplifts one’s emotional and/or spiritual well-being, so that when our stream cuts away from the larger flow at the end of class, the momentum carries us further and deeper into our experience of Life. Contributing to and sharing in that outpouring of energy is what many of us will miss most about a suspended “shared practice,” no matter where it might be.
For me, leading a yoga class is far more than simply guiding people through a series of poses and movements. Perhaps more importantly, I try to create and hold a space where that shared energy can more easily come together and be experienced. The practice of yoga gets us “out of our heads” and more into our bodies, and when the play of movement and breath supersede the distraction of negative thoughts and the noise, confusion, and concerns of the outside world, again, that exercise feeds not only our bodies, but our “hearts” as well. So, since we are not allowed to get together, I thought that I might try to encourage you from afar during this interim of cessation by sending out some reflections that might be of help to you or others in getting out of our head, and more into our body and spirit. If you would prefer I not do that, just let me know, and I will simply remove you from this email list I have assembled and/or received – no judgments; of course, you can simply hit the delete button on my emails as well!
So, for now, I encourage you, at least for awhile, to turn off all of the alarming information streaming toward you every and all day, roll out your mat in some “special place” in your home, and step or sit or lay down on it. Then, remembering the variety of folks with whom you have shared the practice of yoga, keep breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, and fully. Breathe in the goodness of all that Life truly is, and breathe out the best of your own Light and Goodness to all of those yoga friends on whose collective energy you have sometimes been lifted. I promise you, I will continue to do that for you!