Tag Archives: Life

Guest Post By: Liz Fox

I’m 62, And So Are You

As I was checking a visitor into class the other morning, she was asking what style of yoga I taught.  It just came out of my mouth, “I’m 62, and so are you!”  She was likely in her 50s, but she totally got it.  As did I at that moment. I don’t really look my age, and I certainly don’t act my age, and I don’t really feel my age, but my body, especially in the morning, owns its age.

I never thought about it until I started teaching yoga. I would always do the class the teacher provided, inhaling and exhaling on cue, lifting this limb or that, reaching, bending, folding, etc.  It was all fine, but it was actually not fine. I was listening to the teacher, not to my own body.

Once I was in control, it all changed. I realized my body was not usually ready for what the teacher provided, and it was my responsibility to take this on. Let me explain: I remember the first morning I woke up in pain. I was about 28, and had been at an all-day horse show the day before, where I won the All Around. That was 14 classes, really pushing it. (I now wonder how my horse felt the next morning.) I woke up and felt stiffness, and it was really the first time in my life, and I said, “Wow, this is what they are taking about.”

Now, every morning is a form of that first experience. The first thing I do is lower my 14 pound dachshund from the bed. (I try to limit his jumping, which is hard on his long spine.) That experience, which I do every morning, I compare to every other day that I begin with the same movement. Even with super safe lifting technique, I feel it in my back. I joke to myself that I will now move from being a cripple and transform into a yoga teacher.

This is normal for most of us, right? Our bodies have been used, enjoyed, pushed, tested, and that is life.  But many of us, in our 2nd or 3rd acts, are in the best shape of our lives.  I could to a backbend in a doorframe when I was 14, but so what. Those amazing photos on Instagram of young girls doing backbendy and strength moves are impressive, and impossible for most of us. Inspiring, but like a trip to the moon. Yet, we are taking much better care of ourselves now, and appreciate each breath in a way we never could in our youth.

Hence, Morning Yoga.  Sonya told me a story once about a guy in her classes in Mysore. The poor guy was in his 40’s, and the Mysore practice was a strong, early morning Ashtangha practice, so he would get up 2 hours earlier, which was like 3 am, to do Feldenkreiss, to prepare for yoga practice. The point being, that Ashtangha was designed for bodies much younger, like teens and 20’s, the first act of life.

That story resonated with me. First, because I am not that responsible to really get up that early to take care of myself. But wow, yeah, that is what I need. Sure. (Nothing against Ashtangha, not at all. There is so much wisdom in that practice, but it is not for everyone!) But it also gave me total permission, as if I needed it, to look into my own body, and prepare what needs to be prepared, and I saw the value of this.

It is an open secret that yoga teachers teach what they are experiencing. If my shoulders are hurting, I will likely gravitate towards a shoulder opening practice. When my hips feel tight, I will go to that. And since my body is stiff in the morning, it is natural for me to teach to that.

My injuries have been spinal, so for me, a long slow, consistent, somewhat predictable spinal warm up works best. Others might have knee injuries, and need to attend to that. We all have stiff shoulders.

Morning yoga, the way I teach it, assumes we are all 62, or older, and our bodies do not spring out of bed ready for an strong practice. We might get there in half an hour, and might do the most lovely utthita hasta trikonasana of our lives, twisting our spines, lengthening our limbs, lifting our hearts. But first, we listen to our bodies, offer them some time to unwind, and recover the bloom of youth.

Yoga is a journey, often one without goals. Sure, we have goals, and sometimes the goal is to feel better in our bodies, in our souls, to more deeply connect to ourselves. Sometimes the goal is to face reality, putting our limitations into context, yet seeing what might be possible.  For 6 years, I started each class I took with the intention of “I will not get hurt.” Nothing wrong with that, but now I am learning, and hopefully teaching, more thoroughly, that precaution.

My favorite book title is Pema Chodron’s “Start Where You Are.”  Duh, but so profound.  Even if you do not know where you are going, or where you want to go, or where it is possible for you to go, find out where you are now, and start there. Take care, let fear go, and trust yourself.

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time soup

if we had never forgotten
and were in a state of
always remembering

there is no mistake
in being here

we might fall
to our knees
in praise of a bee’s buzz
– their sting –
and harvest

we might be easier
about shitty behavior
and traffic
and rather, focus
on how
to heal a planet
a sick society
our children’s lungs
and their heartbreaks

we might
raise one another
up

it is
quite a magic thing
that any of us
are breathing
can laugh still
and ever
fall
in
love

that these miracles
go down alongside
the nightmares
and the way my heart fibers have known
a version of each
is enough proof

for me

time is a bending
resilient
thing, like us
brewing in
a well and slow-cooked broth

bones and aromatics
bubble away with
dreams
as garlic cloves,
bursting

days
duly become decades
and sip themselves
into
the eternal marrow of a
fortified invitation
to do something
with
and within
this living
simmering
soup

Love from the bubbling broth,

Suki

Walk Strong, with a Gentle Heart

Current political circumstances are intense. To say the least. With blatant outright bigotry, lack of tolerance, and escalating violence it is nearly impossible to stay away from, or uninformed of, the present political environment. In such palpably contracted times one’s commitment to their yoga practice, or any mindfulness practice for that matter, must be exercised as diligently in the world as it is on the mat in order to walk strongly with a gentle heart through this crazy realm.

At times like these apathy has no place. The fundamental teachings of yoga demand attention too higher ethical and moral values. Ahimsa-lovingkindness; classically non-violence, is at the top of the list. And what is lovingkindness? In its simplest it is the pure intent to love all with kindness and care. It is easy to get caught up here. Does lovingkindness only exist for that which an individual knows and understands, resonates with and is aligned to in belief? No. Lovingkindness is the most basic notion of its value as the first Yama-precept for being with the world, (and self must be included in this) has to extend to all existence. So then the question becomes, must we be loving and kind to people who actively hate, are violent, seek out ways to harm others maliciously and subversively? Yes. If your aim is to truly practice lovingkindness or non-violence then yes, the teaching demands that you love them in the company of their faults. However, the word love and the practice of love is not synonymous with making oneself available for abuse, nor acting and speaking out in alignment with something bigger.

Mindfulness practice means using the mind in a discerning manner. In this vein to use the mind to acknowledge that while a human or a group of humans are severely misguided they are not outside the circle of deserving love. This discernment is then followed with action. What is the appropriate action to take in the face of true racist hate? When the teaching is to love? Love exists with boundaries. There is too much awareness, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in this world to play ignorant to the harm racism, bigotry, and simply the belittling of any human for any reason. Therefore appropriate action in the company of such ignorance is to first acknowledge with love the lack of value in such awareness and behavior, and to withdraw contact with such a person until the time when they can see beyond the limited vales of their perception. To share the premise of your choice with such a person may or may not be valuable to them, but is ultimately valuable to the greater good. To do so with words that emanate from love is to act in alignment with the precept of Ahimsa. This is Sakriya-with action; one who performs one’s responsibilities; putting into effect what one has learned from their spiritual teachings. Acting with a moral compass.

To do nothing. To say, “it is all good.” To say, “I am practicing non-violence and lovingkindness and they are only doing the best that they can.” To be apathetic. To avoid confronting the ignorance for fear of making waves, especially when the hatred is espoused by someone you deem friend or family, this is Niskriya-without action; one who does not perform one’s responsibilities; one who does not put into action what one has learned.

Apathy, fear of rocking the boat, just plain old doing nothing does not cut it for the sincere yogi. Such Niskriya is far from in alignment with a good moral compass. This is nowhere near doing the best you can.

A true yogi assigns themselves to shining the light of awareness into the darkness of ignorance. Lives in their responsibility of practicing the Sakriya of love in the abyss of discrimination. From love, with love, for love.

A Yogi has a large toolbox from which they can pull the correct tool for the situation at hand. Mudras are such tools. A mudra is a hand gesture which correlates reflex reactions from hand to brain. Mudras are powerful tools which redirect energy flow. And in the case of standing strong with a gentle heart in a crazy world, mudras can bolster a yogi’s capabilities. A combination of Varada Mudra and Abhaya Mudra can be used to support and enhance a yogi’s aptitude of Sakriya in harmony with Ahimsa.

Varada Mudra is represented with the downward facing palm of the left hand. It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the aspiration to devote oneself to human salvation. The five extended fingers of the mudra symbolize respectively; generosity, morality, patience, effort, and meditative concentration. This mudra expresses not only the act of giving and benevolence, but also the act of receiving. Varada Mudra is seldom used alone and is regularly used in combination with Abhaya Mudra.

Abhaya Mudra is represented with the upward facing palm of the right hand. This mudra is not only known worldwide as a gesture of waving and salutation; it is also known worldwide as a gesture which means “stop.” Abhaya in Sanskrit translates to fearlessness, and the mudra is also one which dispels fear and symbolizes protection and peace as well as being seen as a gesture of good intentions, offerings of love, and reverence to the highest.

Together the combination of these two mudras powerfully express an individual’s capacity to simultaneously be generous with love and maintain discerning boundary. This is what is called of all humans who seek to live in the awareness that dispels ignorance in this world, at this time. This is what is called for from those who have committed themselves to the primary tenant of yoga, Ahimsa. As crusaders of awareness, as practitioners of love and non-violence, it is a yogi’s responsibility to hold the human race to a higher standard, knowing that standard can be met. To say “they are only doing their best” when one knows that they can do better if they are liberated from the veils of limited belief, is to be apathetic. Is to walk in Niskriya. This is not the time for apathy this is the time for courage. Now is the time for Sakriya. To speak and act with love and a gentle heart.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

Making yoga

What a whirl. This month has been, in my humble: tough, uncomfortable, awkward, baring, totally expected (did I really think we as a country were in for anything less than a straight shot to the heart?), and raw. Movement and meditation offer a fine tether to peace and calm, especially in strange times. It is a part of the practice to accept that there are always more factors than the business reports, the polls, the media could ever reveal. To know that no thing is severed from the truth, coincidences and circumstance are in fact, alignment, and the result of past thought and action, and anything that makes you feel, is your practice. The Universe is a vast and immeasurably large thing. Yoga helps me to see this and remember the delicate balance inherent in each living, breathing moment. .

In the bared face of our country’s state, I am heartened to hear conversation, rather than silence. I am waking up. I am thankful to know that other people are waking up, too. And I’m crying a bunch, as things are cutting deeper lately, hitting home and so, opening gateways for communication – that butterfingered pathway of speaking the heart’s world through the mouth, so oft and ungracefully led by the mind. I believe though the stakes may seem incredibly high, that we as a populace of loving and respectful beings, can overcome hatred and bigotry, we can foster trust even in the bungling waves of the body politic, we can forgo destructive behavior and choose salubrious habits for the earth of our bodies and the body of earth, and we can write a future tale that is peaceful and hearty. There may be no training program to download and unpack, that kind of practice, with a standard protocol for all, is over. But we can all tap in and find a way that is clear for us.

Recently, I led an evening of deep healing at Shree Yoga with two dear friends who I have learned and grown with, like, a ton. The event is called R&R+ and the offering is a two hour restorative yoga practice, with reiki and really sweet singing. It seemed like perfect timing, what with all the difficult truths and future challenges presenting themselves so blatantly, for a shared space of rest and mellow. We’ve offered R&R + three times now, and for some mystical reason, in the preceding days to the most recent gathering, numerous people asked in class about their role in the singing portion. “How will I know the songs?”, many asked. No verbiage was changed in our promotion – we sing to you is the whole idea, while we offer reiki, and allow the nutritive effects of gentle restorative postures to do their work. I think the current situation is asking everyone to step up, and this collective call to participate, make better, and GROW UP was directly reflected in the conversation. This is good. We have to ask now what we can do, how we can help. And we also have to take care and rest, in the same moment, same breath. This is masterful practice, friends, and no small feat.

May we learn to settle our minds, and bridge the gap between true feeling and phrase. May our actions reflect the highest. May we all find a path that calls to us, and follow it into our particularly individual, completely irreplaceable, and perfectly generous role of making a difference. Coming together, not all isolated and alone, but courageously as a community of individuals, is the answer. These down-to-earth words from Sri Nisargadatta have been helping me, maybe they are encouraging for you, as well. I brought them to teach with on election day and found my fellow teacher, Sonya Luz had brought the same exact quote to class. “The real world is beyond our thoughts and ideas: we see it through the net of our desires divided into pleasure and pain, right and wrong, inner and outer. To see the universe as it is, you must step beyond the net. It is not hard to do so, for the net is full of holes.”

The Queen of Distress

A student of mine recently gave me a new nickname, the “Queen of Distress”. The student informed me, after I queried, that this was a compliment and not otherwise. I am pretty confident that the nickname came about as a reflection of the subject matter I have been unfolding in my classroom recently. All recent themes have been spokes off of the hub of adversity.

The reason for this focus in my class themes is not me working out a current personal journey through distress, but rather my continued desire as a teacher to relate the asana practice to something greater off the mat. And I am pretty sure that no matter how open, strong, or flexible someone is, asana practice invites adversity. With this in mind I often teach on the theme of rising above or navigating through adversity as the great opportunity to translate the practice off the and mat into ones life.

While I may not be perceiving my life currently in a specific state of adversity, I am aware that there is always a bit of challenge to be navigated in the course of every day. This is one of the many reasons I return to the mat regularly. Each time any of us returns to our practice we have the opportunity to reset any states of discord to something more harmonious, or to set the stage for harmony before the discord arises. Be it physical, mental, emotional, energetic, spiritual, or otherwise.

The practice of traversing adversity mindfully and with courage can eventually lead us deeper into the more esoteric qualities of our yoga practice. As we learn to navigate the rising and falling of life’s challenges we become more capable of seeing what exists in the steadiness beneath those waves. Through this lens we become more capable of discerning what is temporary and what is eternal. In Sanskrit this is Viveka, or the practice of discernment. In time our practice of Viveka enables us to experience ever more harmony in the midst of whatever life hands us, and the fact of the matter is that life will hand it to us.

So I may now be the “Queen of Distress” but I am comfortable with that. Even though I may not percieve myself in the midst of the shit today, I know I have earned the title. And I am happy to share my knowledge with others in the hopes that something helps.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, For Peace,

Genevieve

Into The Great Wide Open

I love the Tom Petty song “Into the Great Wide Open.” I love the idea of myself on adventure out in the world of the unknown eyes wide open. There is no contesting that like the protagonist of the song I too embody the rebel without a clue, a contrarian by nature and often times holding a stance on a subject I am truly ignorant about. In Sanskrit this is called avidya and is a state of being in delusion, illusion, and ignorance. More succinctly, it is not understanding the big picture.

Continue reading Into The Great Wide Open