Posted in Life, Teaching

Be the Rubber Band

On Saturday night, while Austin was getting its relatively mild dose of Hurricane Harvey, we ordered Chinese food (and gave the poor delivery guy a hefty tip for braving the rain to bring us kung pao shrimp and egg rolls).

When I finished eating, I opened my fortune cookie and found this:

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Um… what?

I shared this piece of “wisdom” on Facebook and got lots of responses. One person thought I should turn it into a horror story, and another suggested it came from an opium den, but most people seemed as clueless as I was. No one offered up a possible meaning. So I shrugged, chalked it up to one of the mysteries of the universe, and forgot about it.

Until tonight.

After a shortened day of teaching that seemed extra long, I went to yoga. Jess, my Hatha teacher at YogaYoga is amazing. She is a patient, supportive, experienced yogi who helps her students challenge themselves in safe ways, but she’s also just a damn good teacher. People who are truly born to teach can teach anything and do it well. Jess not only exercises our bodies, she exercises our minds. She never fails to inspire positivity and light and compassion for one another (and ourselves) even in the darkest of times, and she does so with humor and grace. I’ve been to her class the day after tragic shootings. I’ve been to her class the day after racist riots. I’ve been to her class the day after catastrophic storms. And every single time, she acknowledges the event and leads us to a place, both physically and spiritually, where we can overcome it. I really admire this woman, and I strive to teach like she does.

Today, at the beginning of class, Jess encouraged us to set an intention. This is common in yoga classes, to give yourself a goal or a focus of some sort. I usually try to keep mine simple. Be creative. Be productive. Be relaxed. Be patient. But today I hadn’t thought about it before arriving, and before I could even consider what I wanted out of my week, this thought floated through my head:

The rubber bands are heading in the right direction.

Okay…

The thing is, I’ve learned to listen during yoga—to my teacher, to the world, and to myself. Even when things don’t make sense at first, their meaning usually reveals itself later on. So I decided to go with it.

Fine, I thought. I shall be the rubber band. And suddenly, it all became clear: I will stretch myself, but not to the breaking point. I will push myself, but not lose sight of who I am. I will reach as far as possible, but always come back home.

During yoga, I expanded my lungs and extended my arms and stretched my muscles, but then I relaxed into child’s pose.

Tonight, I will write and work and take care of my home, but when I get tired, I will sleep and leave the rest for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will give my all to my students during class, but I will sit and eat chocolate for five minutes during my conference period before I check email and grade papers.

And this week, when the rain keeps falling on Houston, I will donate money, send healing thoughts, and welcome with open arms any displaced children who arrive at my school. And I will hope that the people of Texas have the strength to bounce back from this.

***

Note: Hurricane Harvey is no joke. The damage is devastating, and it is far from over. If you want to help, here is a list of reputable organizations accepting donations.

Posted in Life

The Power of Awareness

YogaYoga

I’ve been doing Kundalini yoga for years. I’m still no expert at it, partly because there are ways in which my body refuses to bend regardless of how much “mind over muscle” I apply, and partly because I’m not consistent enough with my practice. Sometimes I go to Yoga Yoga three times a week, and other times three months lapse between classes. During those breaks, when I let words like “time” and “busy” and “tired” keep me away from the mat, I never feel as good as when I snap out of my funk and get back in the routine. It only takes one class after a long break to remind me that I do have time, I’m not too busy, and that yoga is a cure for tired, not a cause.

Kundalini means “awareness.” When I describe it to people, I say that it’s a gentle, meditative type of yoga for people of all levels that is done under dim lights, mostly in a seated position, using various mantras and different types of breathing. A more correct, official, and eloquent explanation can be found here.

What I Like About Kundalini

  • It teaches me to be still both mentally and physically.
  • It brings me calm and reduces my stress and is sometimes (but not always) a physical workout.
  • Kundalini teachers say, “Challenge your muscles, honor your joints.” They push students to work past mental barriers and transcend discomfort while always reminding them to be safe and know their limits. They modify for injuries and other health issues so that people of all ages, body shapes, and athletic ability can benefit from the classes.
  • There are literally thousands of different kriyas (sequences of exercises, postures, etc.) in Kundalini, so the classes are never boring and rarely repetitive. Also, some of the exercises are actually pretty funny. At times, I like to pretend I’m a fly on the wall watching a room full of people donkey kick or flop like fish on their mats.
  • Each teacher brings his or her own personality and perspective to the class. One of my teachers gives a lesson at the beginning, explaining exactly how the day’s work will affect our bodies and brains. Another begins class by telling us what constellation the moon is in and what sort of activities are best completed (or avoided) that day.
  • Each class ends with a deep relaxation while the teacher plays the gong. I cannot explain how relaxing and rejuvenating and powerful this is after an hour of practice. You just have to try it for yourself.
  • Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be quieting my mind, during Kundalini I often get solutions to problems, new perspectives on struggles, or ideas for writing pieces I’m working on. They just appear in my head as if they’ve been there all along (which of course they have). Once in a while I even get answers to questions I never saw coming.

Epiphanies, Answers, and Interior Decorating Tips

Most teachers ask students to set an intention at the beginning of each yoga class and it is something I now do regardless of whether or not they say it. Usually mine is something like relax or be positive today or be productive or be open to what the day has to offer or be creative. But four years ago, just after I got married, when my husband and I were turning his house into our home and painting all the rooms, I went to yoga with a very silly (and very specific) question in my mind. What color should I paint my kitchen? Everything else had been a pretty easy choice, but I kept waffling about which color to use in our kitchen and dining area to cover up the previous owner’s flower stencils.

I hoped that in my meditative state the answer would come to me, an epiphany that would take this silly but somewhat stressful decision and make it clear. I, of course, didn’t expect my yoga experience to literally tell me what color to paint my kitchen.

But it totally did.

For the first time ever in any yoga class I’d attended, our kriya included a meditation where the teacher asked us to picture the colors of the rainbow in order, slowly visualizing each one. When we had done this for a little while, she then asked us to focus in on a deep rich blue.

My kitchen, I kid you not, is painted blue.

Kitchen

Recently, I’ve been on one of those tired-busy-no-time breaks from yoga, but this week I finally went back. Yesterday morning I woke up for the 6:30 a.m. class with the teacher who likes to tell us what sign the moon is in.

I drove to Yoga Yoga, thinking about the manuscript I’m revising, about the cuts I need to make, the subplots I need to focus on and the ones I need to eliminate completely. I was thinking about how I’ve just been dabbling at the edges of the changes I need to make rather than really diving in.

When I got to class, I found a quote from Yogi Bhajan, who introduced Kundalini to the United States, taped to the classroom door. It read, “When you come upon a difficult task… start.” I went inside, and when my teacher talked about the moon, he told us it was a good day for cutting out inner conflict and detoxing. He said cutting out the unnecessary stuff would make the things we create stronger and our communication better.

And once again, I thought, I have time for yoga. I’m not too busy. Where have I been for the last month? Then I took a deep, cleansing breath.

Quote

NOTE:

Some people would say these Kundalini epiphanies are hogwash. Those are the same people who cry “hogwash” at horoscopes and Tarot readings. “People see what they want to see,” they’ll say. “Some people can make any horoscope fit their current situation.”

I agree. But not about the hogwash bit.

I don’t think it matters whether mantras and Tarot cards and horoscopes work or not. Awareness is awareness, regardless of where it comes from and a physical workout is beneficial to the body regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with the “divine.” Maybe these experiences are windows to mystical realms that allow our futures or our answers or our needs to become clear to us. Or maybe they’re just mirrors, allowing us to see or define what, deep down, we already know. Personally, I don’t care too much what the source is, as long as I get my answer, my epiphany, my physical exertion, my blissful feeling of calm.

ONE MORE NOTE:

I totally borrowed that window/mirror metaphor from Paper Towns by John Green, which I just finished reading today. “A Margo for each of us–and each more mirror than window.”