Friday, April 30, 2010

Acts of Kindness


"Acts of kindness are hold knots on life's climbing rope." --Elizabeth Berg

Just when I thought everything was going smoothly, things began to turn upside down. (A cavity fixed a second time, and still not fixed!; another medical test at the OBGYN (3 one, praying for normal results this time); 2 yoga instructors resigned, and one I thought was coming on board changed gears and decided not to; my kids are, well, they're busy kids; and a few other set-backs that are probably best described as pursuing things unnecessarily and taking things too personally...) How small our world is when we focus on our own trials. (Which are so minor compared to a beautiful friend who gave birth naturally to a stunning baby boy and can still have a fab sense of humor. Congrats, MS.)

I have to say after a good nights sleep and a leading lovely group of students in a yoga class, things seemed to look a little brighter. (What isn't better with a little chocolate, a good rest, and then moving to get those endorphins flowing?) Another bright spot? Friends. An encourager sent me a text gently reminding me to have Faith & Trust God and to let go and quit clinging on to what I think I can control. And, another friend who simply listened and then took action. She came to my rescue, and it was with such a charitable heart (D, you rock, sister!).

Ricky Tran closed his workshop last Sunday by reciting Yoga Sutra 1.33. Which was fortuitous since I blogged about it last week. In life, we're to cultivate four attitudes: friendliness, compassion, appreciation and indifference. Always a believer in serendipity, how divine to see how others lived this out for me.

Much Metta (loving kindness*),

Mel

*Closing this blog with the salutation Victoria B uses often. (Much Metta to you, sweet friend.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ricky Tran's Yoga

"When you practice without judgement or expectation, amazing things will begin to happen."- Ricky Tran

Ricky Tran's workshop Sunday at Jennyoga was exceptional but not entirely what I expected. I took his Lotus workshop (hip, hip, hip openers!) at the Texas Yoga Conference earlier this year and expected something similar. But, then why do I carry my expectations into my practice? Gee, isn't that what I ask my students to let go of?

He began with Q&A. I asked what his daily yoga practice consisted of. "Depends on how you define yoga... yoga is of course union. Uniting something together, all day." Further, he confided it was "creating stillness." Moving right out of bed into with asana by stretching his arms over head, bowing forward, and a doing a light practice that leads to pranayama which leads to going to the toilet (in yoga you talk a lot about waste elimination, digestion, etc.), followed by meditation for stillness. Later in the day, he might begin again by stretching his arms up...

His daily "practice" seems delightful to me. In comparison, mine is also in search of stillness on the inside, while I do everything I can to enjoy the action around me.... children swirling, technology coming in faster than I can blink telling me which practice and game and class is where. Teaching, eating while driving. (I love those small "cutie" oranges. So much for single pointed focus. I peel and drive very carefully. )

And yet, stillness often seems illusive. Ricky and I are obviously in different season's of life. Part of me envies the time when time was actually your own, when you could stop, stretch your arms up and bow and not come in contact with a dirty sock and shin guard that belongs to a sweet 9 year old. Or practice salamba sirsasana for more than 60 seconds without my son's friend running in saying, look! Your mom's on her head!! Come see! (The prospect of non-swirling activity will come all too soon when the boys grow up.)

Ricky also shared his life journey from drug addiction in his youth into the freedom he now feels through living his yoga (within just 6 months). 2 reasons behind our motivation to do things: 1. We seek pleasure and 2. We avoid pain. When the drugs no longer served to bring him pleasure but precipitated more pain, and his yoga practice gave him more pleasure than pain (In the beginning Ricky couldn't even touch his toes. Ah, hope for the stiffest among us. Difficult to imagine Ricky not being able to reach his toes when you see the amazing feats he can do now). He asked us "to look at the 5 people we hang around the most. They are the sum of yourself." In other words, he's chosen to no longer associate with drug dealers but yogis. Statistics agree, how influential friends can be. So, he made life choices. I was a little saddened to hear him say that he used to play volleyball and now pretty much just practices yoga. Without judgement, I have to say that I'm not sure I would feel as balanced if I let go of other things that brought me joy. But Ricky seems to have inner calm, through a continuous dedicated practice which has given him a whole new life. Still and whole.

It's refreshing to watch him practice and lecture. He has a lovely sparkle in his eyes. It reminds me of when my son learned, really learned how to ride his bike. All he wanted to do was ride, fast, all day, everywhere, and he was breathless with excitement. It will also be wonderful to see Ricky in about 10 years, with the wisdom of time as his teacher. Can't wait to see how he grows and matures as a teacher and student, not for his fancy one handed lotus jump back and flip around and fly back up again, but for what his life will teach him through intension ("energy and pure consciousness") and seva (selfless service).

Feet


At most any hour of the day, my kids can be found outside without shoes, gasp! Believe it or not most moms these days tell there kids that they can't go outside, unless they put on some shoes! Don't you remember running around barefoot when you were a kid? I do, and I was not a tom-boy. I was a house mouse. Given a choice of chores on my grandmother's farm, go gather the eggs or possibly pick blackberries, I would choose to stay inside and do the dishes or dust! Now pickin watermelons was a different story. You got to ride in the back of the pick up truck and when we were done, pick any watermelon, and with a pocket knife, eat all you wanted til you were so full you couldn't possibly do anything else for the rest of the day but bask in the sunshine. Those were the days.

Feet. Back to feet. Going barefoot actually strengthens the feet and when kids who seem to have flat arches at first begin to move and use their feet unsupported, arches begin to develop. If an injury already exists or there is pain, then barefoot is not recommended until that injury has healed. Once healed, gradually going back to bare feet will strengthen muscles and naturally break up facia.

A student complained yesterday of a dull ache that transformed into shooting pain on the bottom of her feet. She doesn't feel it all the time, just when she practices her martial arts, runs and now she's done her second yoga class... the pain was intense.

Our feet have 52 bones, a quarter of the bones in your body. The Calcaneus is the heel bone and largest bone in the foot that takes all of our weight when we stand or walk. The smaller bones, metatarsals (toes) are used for propulsion (jump and and move) and balancing. The movements of the joints (33!) are supported by the ligaments (6 in the ankle joint alone) and muscles. There are also 3 nerves that run along the legs (tibial, deep fibular, and sciatic nerves). Neruoma which is a thickening of the nerve sheath on the bottom of the foot, can press cause pain by pressing on the nerve itself. Learning proper alignment of feet in a foundational pose like tadasana and other standing poses will help correct this poor posture pattern. Breaking up the facia (connective tissue) on the sole of the foot with massage or rolling the feet on a hard ball or tennis ball can help. Simple stretches for the ankles (virasana or thunderbolt pose to stretch the front of the ankles in plantar flexion or pointing of the toes and malasana pose to stretch the back of the ankle in dorsiflexion) will improve feet flexibility, as well as improve the flexibility of the soleus (calf muscle) and hamstrings.

There's so much more to healthy feet. But the best advise I can give is to move them, touch them, and look at them... do you rotate your feet in or out? What can you do to improve your feet? Chances are the rest of your body and your posture will benefit. Happy feet.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dallas Event June 5th


This is going to be an amazing event in Dallas on June 5th. $100- all day yoga. A road trip anyone?

The stand against regulation of yoga studios in nation-wide. Jenny of Jennyoga in Houston is amazing -- organized The Texas Yoga Association and the Texas Yoga conference as well as opening a second studio this year. (I'm tired just thinking about all that!)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ashtanga

I have soooo much I want to share from this past weekend's trainings (Ricky Tran!). But, to do it justice, it will have to wait until I have more allocated, quiet time (i.e. my children are not running circles around me asking: mom, can you pour my milk? mom, where are my soccer shorts? mom, andrew hit me. mom, nathan took my toy. mom, can you help me wipe my bo-bo? mom, it's time to go, let's pray. (that one is my favorite, a ritual we started when Nathan started Kindergarten. I would pray a prayer of protection over him. Although now, he's praying. And, they are more like speed prayers and only asking for favor-- Lord help me to have a great time on the playground today... amen!; ) which, for a 9 year old, is pretty cute. I try to slip in a bit of gratitude and grace when I can to the prayer.)

Sunday morning I had the pleasure of taking Ed Bulwinkle's Ashtanga (primary series) class at Tejas Yoga, and soon to be a new instructor at Lifetime at City Center (taking Monique's Wednesday night class- Monique- you will be missed!). He puts a bit of humor with his practice and tried to coax a mixture of conservation and preservation of energy while at the same time showing me where the posture could (should!?) go. Telling me to go for it and hold back at the same time just about had me frustrated by the end of class. But, then, it was exactly what I needed. After doing Ana Forrest on Friday by Sunday my overall zing was zapped! I am thrilled to get Ed over to the big-box of yoga (Lifetime). Not only that but another fab instructor, Dhyana Leyton from Lake Houston's Lifetime will be teaching on Sundays- taking Victoria's (I'm really sad to lose you, Victoria!) classes.

Ashtanga classes reveal to me how much the ritual of it does not appeal to me and yet how much I need it. The discipline of the practice (a set order of postures) is really hard for someone who is easily distracted! But, mainly I get discouraged at how tight my hips are, how my body will not do what my mind is telling (commanding!) it to. But then, I'm not "doing yoga" with ahimsa when I'm behaving in a way that is trying force my body to go where it's unwilling. Why is judgement and expectation so prevalent in life (in my life)? We focus on what is behind us and yet can't wait to get to ahead (thanks for that reminder, Ricky). Yet another reminder to breathe. Slow down. And, stay present! "Be here now", as Thich Nhat Hanh talks about when describing how to "discover the magic in the present moment". Here's to patience and conservation... day by day.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Forrest Yoga

Forrest Yoga is quite popular in Houston thanks to Ann Hyde & Catherine Allen, 2 of Ana Forrest's assistants, who live and teach in the area. Ana who created her own unique style of yoga (why not, everyone is these days), with emphasis on abdominal strengthening and incredible balancing feats. Her workshop on Friday was all about a celebration of your yoga practice. A 2 and a half hour workshop that stretched into 3, really kicked my tail after a long week of extra classes taught and a few helpings of additional personal practices.

Now what you'll see on youtube is enough to never want to take Forrest Yoga just due to the intimidation factor. But, what I experienced at the workshop was options. For everyone. She took special care and attention on several individuals who had pre-exsisting injuries, and she offered up 3-4 ways of doing some of the more challenging poses, as a way of "celebrating" our practice of yoga. I'm far from pretzel-like and not sure I even want to be at this point in my life. But, I do admit with practice and patience and most importantly, using my breath, I can really let go of some tension in my muscles and begin to feel them open, expand, and where I am today with a particular posture (forearm stand, handstand, etc.) is completely different from where I was 6 years ago and even 6 months ago. Anything worth while takes time, study (svadhyaya) and consistent practice (abhyasa). Not so I can get all twisted, but so that I can feel the freedom in my body.

Heres's a sample of her amazing feats on Youtube.

Here's something a little more realistic: some wrist stretches we learned.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The path


"The obstacles in your path are the path. Every time we stretch beyond our resistance and our fear, we make a choice for life. And every time we choose life, fear loses it's grip on us. We all know more than we think we do. And, we are stronger than we believe ourselves to be. We come to our mats, and to our lives. To learn by going where we have to go." --Rolf Gates

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mt. Everest

A great start to the day, taking my 9 year old and 2 of his friends to their choir performance (which parents weren't invited to, since the venue was a retirement home with limited space. I really wanted to hear "the pizza song", bummer!) Then, rushed home to make it just time time for Nathan to do an almost Clark Kent/Superman-like change into his baseball uniform from his dress slacks and tie. And when we arrived at the game, he was 3rd up to bat! (The other team won, by the way, with the aid a boy that looked like he was at least 14 and 2 heads taller than the other boys! Oh well, it's about the fun, not the score, right? ; ) )

Then, swung Nathan to his Aunt's and off to the fitness conference to spin with Josh Taylor, spinning master instructor. Followed by yoga with the most well-rounded fitness guru, Robert Sherman. OK... I don't even know where to begin, so I think I'll blog about Josh first, since well, other than having a school girl-like crush on the guy-- can we just say he's an amazing instructor who used to compete professionally against Lance Armstrong?! It was a last minute switch to the schedule, he wasn't supposed to teach this class, but he wanted to fly out since his supermodel- turned marathon runner girlfriend qualified for Boston on Monday (I don't really think she's a former supermodel, but I met her last year, and she might as well be. Not only beautiful, she had a lovely presence about her).
The theme of the ride was Mt. Everest... he basically coached us through something brutal-- an hour and a half of straight up with just 4 short 2-ish minute recoveries. How to overcome the climb?How to persevere? Well, he asked us "what is the one thing that you know you need to get over emotionally." What's has been "in your backpack" weighing you down, keeping you from being great-- who you really are. Then, he shared the story of losing his younger brother to a quick and terrible illness. And, how his teammates pooled money together, had his bike painted with a "T" on the center bar, so that when he raced, if he felt tired or like quitting, and his head began to sag, he would look down and be reminded of his brother, look up and ride like hell. He had something to fight for and to prove. Still not over the loss of is brother today, he used his personal story to coax an emotional connection from his riders.

Amazed at the power of my legs and unexplained energy I felt as I summited my Everest and mentally put my flag at the top. A sharp pang of grief for the loss of what I was "getting over" flooded through me immediately post summit. There is beauty in our own strength. And, what we can do with our bodies when we truly let go of holding back for fear of failure, fear of success, for pain, because we didn't eat well that day, didn't like the music or instructor, got distracted by our thoughts, or we just don't feel like giving it our best or anything at all.... I could go on and on with the excuses we make for our lack of will and desire or even our inability to grasp how to balance our own abition with softness & discernment.

If only I could convey to my students, as Josh did to me today in a way that spoke right to their hearts, helping them realize they already have inside them what it takes to do whatever it is to fulfill their passions, their dreams, their dharma. It already resides in you and in me. We have to accept it graciously, abundantly and live like we have it.

Today I walked away drenched, grieving, and yet strangely contented. Knowing that regardless of loss, I am in full bloom, as long as I'm willing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yoga Sutra 1.33

Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam sukha duhka punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam

Yoga Sutra 1.33

maitri- Sense of community with likeminded people. Creating relationships within a community; collective pain builds community and draws people together (as in tradgedies in Hatti or New Orleans)
karuna- Compassion which brings joy to you and others. Compassion empowers you in the end, while pity only makes you weaker. Pity takes in and brings on pain and misunderstanding.
sukha- joy
duhkha- sorrow
punya- virtuous
aunya- wicked
vishayanam- in the case of
bhavanatah- creating attitudes
chitta- mind-stuff
prasadanam- indifference or awarenss without wasting energy; Where there is no williningness in the other person, seek prasadanam or indifference so that you're not taking part in their drama. You cannot force another to transform.

There is so much that this sutra says, it's hard to take it all in. These are the notes that I scribbled down over 9 months ago in Oregon during one of our satsongs with Anand. The essense of it that speaks to me is our ability to choose how we relate to others in crisis. We can bond together without pity, with compassion and act. Together. Or we can react and see no results only dukha or sorrow. To find those dark spaces within ourselves and replace them with light takes willingness on our parts to change our attitude and transform moment by moment.

Will and desire without a sense of ambition requires balance, equanimity. To do that, whew, it requires giving up... control. And, if I've learned anything lately or at all, it's that I'm truly not in control of the universe anyway. Thank goodness! How much lighter I feel already knowing the balance of the world does not hinge on me-- even though I act like it does a lot of the time. Moment by moment there is sukha, joy.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Right here, right now

"My life is right now. Stop looking. Life is already right here." -- J Lasater

I was talking to a wise friend last night and asked her what her plans were for the summer. She said, while planning is important to her, she tries not to focus and the what-ifs or what might be, but on the here and now. So, here and now, I'm in the midst of planning the summer camps and activities for the boys, and it's easy to get carried away with keeping them busy-- too busy. I took a look at all the challenges I was creating for myself shuttling them to and fro and chose to erase quite a bit and wrote: "take time off. play". When there's nothing scheduled, I hear the word "bored" which I have oficially banned from our house. 'We are the maker of our own fun', is my favorite saying when they start to whine about not getting to watch TV or play on the computer when it's so lovely outside! When you're older, I say, you'll be wishing you had more time outside, I promise. I sure do. Heading out now to blow some bubbles.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yoga Retreat June 15 to 19th


I'll be teaching at a yoga retreat with my friends & yogis, Laurie & Janet in Colorado, June 15-19th, Tuesday to Sunday. Only 11 more spaces open. Would love to have students from Texas come with me!

A nourishing yoga retreat for beginners and intermediate level students in the Hath yoga style provided to you by cousins, Janet Crawley and Laurie West, both YogaFit trained teachers. Mixed level to more challenging classes held by Melissa Smith, 500 RYT. Three sessions of yoga per day to participate in as much or as little as you wish. On your own you may enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, river rafting, fishing, exploring the old mining towns of Crested Butte and Gothic, shopping, eating, reading in the sun, or soaking in the hot tub on the beautiful outdoor deck. The Nordic Inn is a pristine family-owned lodge located right next to the ski mountain. You may also choose to schedule a massage with Laurie, LMT, or take a Precious Metal Clay Jewelry class with Janet.

Retreat cost: $599 per person when payment is received in full by May 14, 2010 (extended!) or $649 per person after May 14. Hotel cost: The Nordic Inn will provide generously discounted room rates for retreat participants of $85 per night for a regular room with $10 per additional person.

We are going to extend the early bird discounted rate until May 14th! An added bonus: $20 discount for each person who gets a friend to register with them.


FYI: An airport shuttle can pick them up in Gunnison and bring them to the Nordic Inn in Crested Butte, which is 30 miles from Gunnison. There are free town shuttles going down the mountain for shopping and restaurants, and returning to the mountain. The Nordic Inn is walking distance to the shuttle. Free guided hikes are available where people may carpool with those have transport.



Hotel: Nordic Inn

Invite or share with friends: Facebook link


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Patient




patient |ˈpā sh ənt|adjectiveable to wait without becoming annoyed or anxious : be patient, your time will come.slow to lose one's temper with irritating people or situations : he was always kindly, patient, and considerate.
PATIENTS requires no real discussion does it? Either it's preset in your action, or it's not. Today it was... my son's 9th birthday. He was so full of delight... every moment was special to him. He took so much pleasure in everything from pirate hats to the chocolate icing to time with friends and family. His joy is so contagious. I always get compliments on his positive outlook and how friendly he is. I think there is so much to learn from our kids... from my half glass full first-born to my half glass empty second-born.... there is amazement in every moment- we just have to be patient and open to what life brings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Balancing


"Mindfulness is a way of being fully present, to be genuinely who you are, a way to look deeply into the nature of things, a way to discover the peace you already possess. It is an attitude of openness."-- E Lesser

Where the eyes go, the body will follow, is the cue I use when teaching balancing postures. Allow your eyes to be so intently focused on one point that your mind can will your body to remain steady and sure-footed. I think most of the time I fall because I have allowed the obstacles of insecurity or fear tell me that I should come down. When, in reality, I could have remained... undeterred. Still. To abide in the present moment is the challenge. So often, when I get ahead of myself, I can talk myself out of anything.

Staying focused and getting stronger, moment by moment. Fully enjoying this gorgeous spring.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NYC


What I love about NY City is not the shopping (some might disagree if they looked at how much I spent, I mean "saved" : )), but the rush, the busy-ness, the activity and non-activity, the people, great coffee on every corner, the people watching, and the choices... there is variety.

I was in Union square on my way to a yoga class at Jivamukti Yoga, and there were over a thousand crowded into a little park having a pillow fight. That's right, mostly NYU students, parents with kids, and other strange folks pillow fighting. Not sure why. Nathan, my 8 year old would have loved it!

Did I mention that the yoga is pretty great, too? Classes at OM, Yoga to the People, and Jivamukti yoga were all solid, strong classes. Each of the instructors were young-ish, tatted, clear principals of alignment weaved in with great hands-on adjustments, sanskrit, mantras, and yoga pilosophy, and all of the instructors taught without any demonstration. The classes were obviously not beginner classes (all of them were posted as "open" or all level classes on the schedules). It takes an experienced teacher to not demonstrate at all and solely use their verbal skills to communicate the essence of a pose.

I'm a huge fan of teaching off the mat. I feel that when an instructor is glued to the mat, their awareness of who they are teaching to and what those students are doing diminishes. It also leads me to wonder if the class is for the students or for the teacher's own benefit. I know there are some who like to do it with the students so that when they cue it, they are feeling what they are cuing. And, certainly there is no right or wrong in the choice to demonstrate or not. Personally, I feel that if you're in it for the students, more time should be moving around the room engaging in the student's form (which enables them to practice safely and to possibly feel the pose in a way they haven't before), and challenging the students not to just follow you and do what you say- but to challenge them to truly listen and do the posture in a way that is safest for them. (If the instructor is always doing it full out, the students whether or not they can do it full out will attempt to follow, possibly injuring themselves in the process.) What it boils down to is: Awareness. Can the teacher teach the students to cultivate awareness in their bodies? And, is the teacher aware of her students? I don't know-- not judging just observing and exploring what works well for me.