Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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The Vacation Pose: Dearest Reader

postcard 1Dearest Reader,

First, I need to thank you for showing up. I so enjoy your weekly visits. You arrive, causing my stats bar graph to rise to a satisfying level and I am reminded that I am not alone. You cannot image the value I place on your attention.

I also need to tell you how I enjoy preparing for your company. I derive such pleasure adorning my blank digital home with characters of all shapes and sizes for your reflection or amusement.

Unfortunately, this week I must offer you my deepest apologies. It seems I have found myself unprepared for our digital rendezvous.

You see, I have wandered away from my computer, dug my toes in the sand, turned my face to the sun and drifted off.

While you are here, feel free to wander about. Sample an interesting recipe, peruse my book list or help yourself to the selection of 19 previous posts listed on the lower right hand side of the page.

Looking forward to seeing you next week!

Very truly yours,

Sara

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The Embracing Pose: Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert

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I came across a Facebook post the other day that stopped me in my tracks. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote something on Facebook that forced me to reevaluate a word.

Here it is:

“I felt the need to speak out once more against the subtle tyranny of the word BALANCE, which I think haunts and punishes modern women more and more every day. 

We are constantly being told that we should be achieving balance — that we should somehow exquisitely be negotiating the relationships between our work lives, our home lives, our romantic lives, our health and well-being, our spiritual selves. You can’t read an interview with a famous woman these days that the journalist does not applaud her for having achieved BALANCE….and then if you turn the pages of that magazine, you will find ten more articles showing how you can achieve balance. too!

Be careful. 

The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT — another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other. 

To say that someone has found the secret to a balanced life is to suggest that they have solved life, and that they now float through their days in a constant state of grace and ease, never suffering stress, ambivalence, confusion, exhaustion, anger, fear, or regret. Which is a wonderful description of nobody, ever. 

Balance, when we do find it, is a breathtakingly temporary condition. We stand upon a world that spins at 2000 miles an hour. Our minds, meanwhile, spin at 200,000 miles an hour. We collide every day with other humans who are also sliding and spinning wildly. The landscape of our lives, therefore, changes by the minute. You find your balance one day and think, “Hooray! I have solved it” and then five minutes later the world utterly transforms again, and you’re knocked on your ass one more time.

That’s just how life is on this planet — messy, fast, out of control, unpredictable. It’s all terribly interesting, but also terribly unstable.” 

She was dead right and I was crestfallen.

An amorphous gray area of our daily language had been clarified with concrete implications. I found myself mourning a word that I had come to depend on.

Here, I thought I was trying to achieve balance, but I was really just trying to be perfect.

Drat.

CAUTION: The above image may cause damage to your self-esteem

CAUTION: The above image is unattainable and may cause damage to your self-esteem

The word balance, it seems, is going the way of the word beauty. There are generations of women who were raised believing beauty was defined by the likes of Glamour, Vogue, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated. If their faces / bodies / clothes didn’t match those pictures, they had to deal with that fact, one way or another.

I was one of them.

It wasn’t until much later that I understood how much these images had skewed my understanding of the true meaning of beauty.

Now I feel, I have been duped again.

In previous posts, I explored the concept of balance as an inconsistent state, not a form of perfection. Being balanced is being accepting of what is happening in that moment and dealing with it. That includes the mess, grief, confusion, frustration and disappointments that life brings.

But that is not the way the word is being used in most places.

Balance has morphed into an airbrushed size 2, running errands in designer wear, delighting in all things social, and achieving professional success while never sweating through her blouse, screaming at her husband or forgetting to send a thank you note.

So thank you, Ms. Gilbert, for being the Paul Revere of semantics.

My vision of Elizabeth Gilbert

I didn’t see that one coming.

I forgot how vulnerable we all are to self-criticism cloaked in the language self-improvement.


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The Writing Challenge Pose: Neighborly Regret

The Daily Post – Weekly Writing Challenge: Honey vs Vinegar

For this week’s writing challenge, ponder the significance of kindness in your life. That may mean: Sharing the details of your last act of kindness, or when you wish you had been kinder when you weren’t.


 

Neighborly Regret

We live next to a park that used to be train tracks. The park is a narrow stretch of grass with a bike path that runs from one end of town to the other.

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The Bike Path

Across the park there is a low white rancher. There was a little gray haired woman that lived in the house with her dog. Her windows sparkled, her grass was trim and we often saw her puttering around her yard, neatly dressed, old white terrier shuffling behind.

Once a week her son would visit. His pick up looked too big sitting in her immaculate driveway. She would meet him at the door with a fluttery hug. I imagined him fixing a dripping faucet or moving a heavy TV or taking down holiday decorations then staying for a meal.

I never saw anyone else visit.

As neighbors do, we became aware of her routine.  We marveled at all the yard work she did. Her frail little body bending and reaching for errant sticks and weeds. I was always happy to see her and I felt a feeling close to relief every time we saw her son’s truck in the driveway.

We discussed walking across our narrow park and introducing ourselves. She was alone, we could be there for her. I planned on baking a pie or maybe bread and bringing it over. We discussed giving her our phone number in case she needed anything.  She seemed so sweet and it was the right thing to do.

We meant to do that. We talked about it. We didn’t do it.

We were pulling up to our house when we saw it.

Her front window, right next to the front door, had been broken. It looked as if someone broke the window to reach in and open the door from the inside. The hole in the glass was patched up with card board and tape. Something had happened, but whatever it was – was over. There was no sign of our across-the-park friend or her faithful dog.

For days there was no movement, no change.

One day I saw her son’s truck, then it was gone.

Shortly after, the house sold and we watched as new neighbors took over her tidy home.

I still don’t know what happened.

I do know this:

We never brought her a pie, bread, or the reassurance that someone was there for her, right across the park.

 

 

 

 


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You Can Lead A Husband to Yoga but You Can Not Make Him Practice: The 7-Year Pose

I believe everyone should have an opportunity to practice yoga. I dream of bringing a regular yoga practice into our public school system. This is a long-term goal of mine filled with some obvious and some surprising obstacles. I am not discouraged because yoga is a constant in a world of variables.

In the short term, I encourage the people in my life to practice. Because I know it will help to keep them healthy both physically and mentally. I do not persuade saying you should, you should. It is more of a how about? or would you like?

Surprisingly, it was the person closest to me that was the most challenging recruit.

When I met my husband I was practicing yoga 5 to 6 times a week.  While we were dating I often suggested he take a class.  He declined, saying he really didn’t think it was his thing. After we got married I continued to suggest he try it. He continued to decline.

I would rattle off all the benefits of the practice from improved brain function to better lung capacity. It interested him, but my husband has conservative roots. The stereotype of bearded yogis in flowing outfits sitting very still was an image he couldn’t shake. After perusing a yoga magazine of mine, he was further concerned about what might be expected of him.

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You will not be required to wear this outfit or take this pose.

Regardless of his misconceptions, I was convinced he would love yoga. One of his sports in school had been wrestling. I knew it required the same flexibility and stamina needed in power yoga.  I was sure he would love the strenuous work out of the Baptiste practice. I just had to figure out a way to introduce him to it.

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Wrestlers warming up. Look familiar?

While I was earning my yoga teaching certificate I practiced instruction on anyone I could get my hands on: Fellow high school teachers, willing friends. I even talked the high school basketball coach into letting me run the team through asanas before their practice.

I was so excited when my husband offered up our daughter’s nap time for me to practice with him. I thought this would be the turning point and he would become hooked. What really happened was a disappointment.

The dynamic of the two of us in our basement rec room did not accurately mimic a real class. I had my nose in my notes, stopping and repeating parts of my instruction that I wanted to improve, our dog wandered about, often laying down on my husband’s mat. I had not orchestrated the ideal introduction to this cherished, ancient practice.

I know a lost opportunity when I see one and I stopped pushing for him to go to the studio with me.

I was content to have yoga be my thing. It didn’t have to be his too.

It was Mother Nature that changed everything.

The winter of 2014 brought some of the worst weather the East Coast had seen in a long time. We were pummeled by snow storm after snow storm, followed by icy winds and impassable roads. It was relentless. We spent more time than ever indoors. The cold seeped into our bones. A couple months into our temporary tundra I found my husband arching his back over the arm of the couch. Hanging upside down, he said, “I really need to stretch.”

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I suggested yoga again for the first time in over a year. He seemed unsure about the studio, but he was willing to try an online class.  I found one that was filmed in a real studio to give him an idea of what it would be like. Feeling like this bubble of interest could easily pop, I was careful not to get too involved as he found his way through his first practice. As I expected, he loved it.

For two weeks we had a standing 6pm yoga date. We would bustle in from our icy commutes and set up our mats in front of the T.V. where we streamed different online classes. I watched as his form improved without much help from me. He was a natural. I was ridiculously proud of him.

One freezing Sunday morning I took him to his first hot yoga class at my favorite studio. The class was packed and full of good energy. He immediately took to the intensity of the workout and the heat of the studio.

It was almost 7 years between the first time I suggested he try yoga and the first time he stepped into a yoga studio. Now, he gets himself to class without any suggestions from me.

That is the great thing about yoga, it is a constant, continuous rhythm of inhalations and exhalations that is always there when anyone is ready to jump in.


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Meditate on This: The Most Imortant Pose

When I first practiced yoga, I was annoyed with savasana.  I could not wrap my mind around laying still for close to 20 minutes with all the things I needed to accomplish in a day.  As a result, I was missing a huge point. ShavasanaThe purpose of the asanas is to arrive at perhaps the most important pose, savasana (corpse pose). A place where the mind settles as the body rests and there is a natural transition into meditation. Just to drive home the importance of the pose, here is a list of its benefits:

  • a decrease in heart rate and the rate of respiration,
  • a decrease in blood pressure,
  • a decrease in muscle tension,
  • a reduction in general anxiety,
  • a reduction in the number and frequency of anxiety attacks,
  • an increase in energy levels and in general productivity,
  • an improvement in concentration and in memory,
  • an increase in focus,
  • a decrease in fatigue, coupled with deeper and sounder sleep, and
  • improved self-confidence.

Savansana allows us to detach, regroup and reset physically and mentally.

Students at a Sankrit School in daily practice

Students at a Sankrit School in daily practice

Often western culture places a low value on down time.  There is pride in the ability to hustle and power through without much thought to what is missed without real rest.

In 5th grade, I had an unfortunate incident related to this exact concept.  During home room, there was always a math exercise posted on the board.  We were instructed to spend our free time working on that until the bell rang and attendance was called.  It was never collected or graded.  It was an activity to keep us busy and the classroom quiet. I rarely completed it.  I chose to spend that time staring out the ground floor window at the suburban morning that was unfolding outside of our school.  I loved the few minutes before the bell rang  and our bustling day began. Sitting silent and staring, I remember wishing I could hop out the window and lay down in the large rolling lawn and stare at the clouds.

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One morning mid-trance I heard my name being barked from the front of the room.  I turned to see Mrs. D’s trim, imposing figure at her desk, beckoning me towards her with the crook of her finger.

When I arrived at her desk, she leaned in close, treating me to the distinct smell of coffee and something rotten on her breath.

Her sharp pale eyes drilled into me as she asked, “Do you know what you are?”

I don’t remember having a response, except a sickening twist in my gut.

“You are a dreamer.” She sneered loud enough for my classmates to hear. Her tone implying that this was not a good thing. “I see you staring out that window every morning. You do nothing.” mean-19025194883_xlarge She paused dramatically, surveying the classroom, nodding as if this was a consensus, then leaned back in, “You’ve got your head in the clouds and it’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Looking back, it is no great mystery why I dreamed of hopping out of that classroom window.

At the time, I didn’t have the back bone or the independence to stand up to Mrs. D’s berating. I assumed, given her position of authority and her seemingly expert status on things such as 5th grade math and social studies, that she was right and I was headed down a road to ruin.

Terrified and humiliated, I committed to “keeping my eye on the ball” and “cracking down” by completing the free time math exercises.

Scurrying back to my seat, I was determined to tamp down my dreamer tendencies.

I quickly discovered that was nearly impossible.  The anxiety around the free time math exercises held a tight grip on my brain. I was terrified those eagle eyes would catch me dreaming again. The figures I scratched down on my scrap paper seemed shifty and elusive. In those few minutes before the bell each day, my gaze and my mind wandered outside again and again.  However, the delight had been drained from my morning reprieve.

Mrs. D was right.  I was a dreamer. I spent the rest of that year in the dark shadow of her disappointment.

As a former teacher, I am furious with that woman.  As a yogini, I am equally impressed by my 5th grade discovery of morning meditation.  I would like to gather up my 10-year-old self in my arms and tell her Mrs. D was unfair and possibly dealing with some emotional issues of her own. meditate_istock_000016078540smallI am happy to report I have moved on from the incident, but there are times when I do battle with my own internal Mrs. D. I have had stretches of time where I run myself into the ground striving to feel accomplished or silently shamed myself for low productivity.

It’s my yoga practice that allows me to reflect on these moments and find balance.

To put the importance of meditation in perspective, think of the daily global effort made to secure time to recharge cell phones, ipads, and lap tops.

Shouldn’t that same priority be placed on finding time to recharge our minds and central nervous systems?

I like to envision a world where everyone can silence their internal Mrs. D and carve out even 5 minutes a day to meditate.

I would love to know your favorite method of meditation.  How do you fit it into your day? Do you have a meditative activity that allows you to recharge? What are your challenges to finding that time?

Take a moment and share out in the comments below.