Posts Tagged ‘yoga’
I like to do hill sprints occasionally to really get my heart rate up. I consider it power and strength training for my heart. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with how changing the manner in which I breath effects my performance.
What truly inspired me was a study I read about in the book “Body Mind and Sport” by John Doullard.
This study consisted of teaching athletes classic yoga pranayma breathing and having them apply it to their sport. This usually took a few months to teach because the athletes had to learn to exert themselves while only breathing through the nose and with very deep diaphramatic breaths.
This study was inspired by top athletes like Roger Bannister who broke the four minute mile. He described his experience as euphoric and not at all torturous. He didn’t feel as though he was working hard, but as if he had found a perfect flow.
I observed this once while watching Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt competing. His sprint looked effortless. His mouth was closed. There was no sign that he was over exerting himself. When it was over, he had so much joy, he ran more laps, waving to fans and celebrating. There was no sign of exhaustion, and yet he beat a world record. Most people in the world couldn’t run that fast if they killed themselves doing it.
What John Doullard’s studies showed was that those who mastered yoga breathing even while performing a seemingly intense, athletic feat felt less stress. Everyone who participated in the study could still perform with high skill. They just didn’t feel like they were working hard. The recovery rate was faster. In fact, many felt they could keep going and they didn’t feel tired after the training if they applied yoga breathing.
So I tried this for myself. First I did the smaller hill which usually takes me between 27 to 30 seconds to complete. I stood at the bottom of the hill and cleared my mind. I started breathing the way I do in yoga class until I felt I had the long, slow and deep breaths down. Then I bolted up the hill. I found that if I could keep the long breaths going, I brought my time down to 26 seconds which is an amazing improvement for a runner. I also realized that it didn’t feel like I was running fast at all. Perhaps it was because I was breathing slow and not panting. The slowness of my breath made me feel as if I were running at a more even keeled pace.
I tried this on the longer hill as well. This hill usually takes me 50 seconds to 1 minute to complete. When I focused on the yoga breathing, I was able to complete it in 46 seconds!
Another book that inspired me to experiment, not just on how hard I exercise but on what my mindset is when I exercise is “Power vs. Force” by David R. Hawkings M.D. Ph.D. This book is based on thousands of studies using applied kinesthiology to test strength. The book breaks down which mindsets give us the most strength. For example, the mindset of shame makes us weak. If we were to push on a person’s arm who feels shame, their arm would fall right away, but if you were to push on a person’s arm who feels joy, that arm is full of strength and energy. This book concludes that after testing thousands of people, that joy and universal love (that stems from compassion not infatuation) has the greatest energy.
I decided to test this theory on a whim as it was a very stressful week for me and I had so much on my mind. I was running my usual pace when I decided to try clearing my mind and focus on something more expansive than my every day worries.
I managed to quiet all the noise in my head. I don’t remember how I did it. Perhaps my own curiosity motivated me, for I wanted to see if my sprint time would improve if I achieved a higher state. I think I connected with the spirit of the hawks that built a nest in that area to lift me up. Focusing on the beauty of nature, put me in a different state, and I swear my time improved by at least 3 or 5 seconds! Some things came to mind. I recalled that my kung fu instructor who said that everything happens for a reason and I was able to rise above my worries and realize that its all happening the way its supposed to.
I invite all of my readers who have experience with yoga and pranayma to take what you learned inside the yoga studio and start applying it to your workouts and your life. After all, what use is practicing meditation if we can’t use it to improve all aspects of our lives? Instead of seeing exercise as torture, see it as a meditation, an opportunity to tap into your higher power. Then see if you can apply these breathing and focusing strategies to career and relationships. Lately, I’ve been training more clients and teaching more classes than ever but I’m learning to breath through my work, to focus on the moment and to start applying my practice to my life.
To read more about the benefits of meditation, click here:
To read more about the benefits of breath control, click here:
For more on applying a positive mindset to fitness, click here:
It was Friday morning yoga class, the day after Thanksgiving. We were doing some poses on the wall when someone started to laugh. The woman next to her laughed. I don’t know what the joke was about but the more they tried to suppress their laughter, the harder it was for them to stop. Eventually, the whole class start bursting into spontaneous laughter. Looking back, it reminded me of the time I was taking a hip opening class and we all started bursting into tears.
The deep, yoga breathing makes our emotions more intense because we are connecting with ourselves on a deeper level. We are not blocking what comes out. Yoga breathing makes us laugh hardier and sob harder. It makes us tune into who we are, where we are blocked, where we are hurt, where we are strong and where we are happy. Our emotions are a sign of us dealing with it and letting go.
That Friday, the joy of yoga filled the room. Is it a coincidence that this happened the day after Thanksgiving? During Wenesday’s class, the day before Thanksgiving, we practiced breathing in everything we were grateful for and breathing out all of our gratitude. This positive meditation recycled the feeling of joy deep within us which positively charged our energy. It is practically impossible to be unhappy while breathing in everything we are grateful for.
Often, people approach their health from a place of poverty. We tell ourselves we must eat right and exercise because we are not enough. We are not skinny enough, strong enough or beautiful enough. We approach our practice from a place of desperation rather than a place of gratitude. We make our practice into a chore that we must push through. However, when we approach our practice from a place of gratitude, we find a great rush of positive energy that moves us effortlessly. If we approach our practice with appreciation that we can move at all–that we have the resources to even get on a mat and do something–that joy creates passionate momentum but it can’t be done until we accept and love who we are.
I have written a couple of posts about the yoga of letting go, regarding the suffering that sometimes comes with facing our pain. You can read them here:
Joy is a letting go as well. It is a letting go of our obsession with what we don’t have. It is a letting go of an attitude that focuses on emptiness and depression. The sheer act of standing straight and thinking of something we enjoy creates energy and confidence. Bring your hands close together, close enough to feel the biolelecctric energy emanating from your palms. The yogis call this energy “prana”. Practitioners of chi kung and kung fu call it “chi” but it is spelled different ways. You may find that if you think of something that saddens you, the energy diminishes. If you think of something you love, something you are grateful for, you will feel a surge of heat or electricity. Joyful and healing hormones fill the body with life supporting energy.
Try this the next time you come to workout, do yoga or when you have a moment to yourself. Think of everything you are grateful for as you inhale. Recycle that joy inside you and breath out all the gratitude. Notice how this changes your energy or mood.
Happy Holidays everyone. Thank you for your stories and for sharing your journey with me. Thank you for the magic of your presence. Thank you for being amazing and inspirational.
For more outpouring of gratitude, click here:
I’d like to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Raj Kumar, who has helped to write a fascinating book which uses classic yoga and body mind programming principles in order to teach the reader how to take charge of his/her future. Raj has worked as a professional engineer and research scholar. After experiencing how holistic medicine changed his health, he became a yoga and meditation instructor in India. I am excited to announce that he and his colleague, Professor K.N.Krishnaswamy, have recently released “Create Your Own Future Through Body Mind Programming.” This post is my interview with Raj about how and why he came to write this fascinating book which I have had the pleasure of reading.
Rhea: In your book called “Create Your Own Future Through Body Mind Programming”- Can you give some example of how a person can create their own future?
Raj: BMP is a tool of ‘Self Transformation’(ST) which means bringing about desired changes in the behaviour – habits , attitudes, belief, perceptions and learning. In BMP we also make use of the inbuilt ‘Goal Striving Mechanism’(GSM) by conveying our goals by BMP vehicles developed by us. The programming is done at deeper levels of consciousness. A person can create their own future by changing their habits, attitudes, beliefs and acquiring knowledge and skills etc. In our book we have given real cases where people could become what they wanted to be.
Rhea: What is BMP ?
Raj: BMP stands for Body Mind Programming and it is about tuning the resources we possess – body and mind – to create a new way of living. In this new way of living we accomplish our goals whatever they may be. The path of BMP has a basic rule: know what you want and have the conviction that you need only to transform yourself to get what you want. Normal changes take a long time. BMP speeds up the process of change. The systematic seven step procedure is highly effective and efficient and takes a fast track to the desired changes by changing the impressions or programmes. BMP is coupling of Yoga and Science and is a new paradigm for self transformation. BMP is also a scientific way of prayer to our inner divinity which has infinite knowledge and capability. Our studies and research in the art and science of self – improvement led to the concept of programming the ‘Inner Human Computer’ and we named it Body Mind Programming
Rhea: How does BMP relate to Yoga/ NLP ?
Raj: In BMP we have used the tools of Yoga like Pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation for reaching the deeper levels of consciousness and to convey the goals through affirmations and visualization to the supraconscious mind. We have developed four vehicles – Rhythmic Balance, Pacific Harmony, Implantation and Synthetic Nurturing. These vehicles make use of relaxation methods, breathing, affirmations and creative visualization for accessing the ‘Inner Computer’ and conveying our goals and burning desires to it. BMP is a whole brain approach and uses both the hemispheres of the brain for programming our inbuilt inner computer. The methodology is systematic and consists of well defined seven steps. Through repeated ‘Synthetic Experience’ over a period of time the existing programmes or impressions stored as engrams are changed to the desired one enabling self transformation resulting into changes in behaviour- habits and attitudes.
BMP is quite different from NLP in basic approach however both BMP and NLP uses anchoring (mudras), neuro associative conditioning and pain and pleasure principle. Further BMP makes use of the inbuilt Goal Striving Mechanism of our brain. In BMP mind cleansing to overcome negative attitudes and habits is inbuilt. BMP also helps in making the goals more clear if the goals are not clear and visible
Rhea: What kind of studies have been done on this method?
Raj: Our experiences are deeply embedded in our brain similar to the stored programmes in the computer. This aspect is well established by the neuro sciences. The central issue when applying BMP is that the human nervous system cannot distinguish between a real experience and a vividly imagined experience and the stimulus passed to the body – mind complex from the brain will be the same in both cases. In the application of BMP for every aspect of living, this basic characteristic is exploited in bringing about the desired changes. The research studies on this aspects have given rise to ‘psycho motor activities’ and ‘psycho neuro immune system’. In BMP we have developed the methodology of creating the desired synthetic experience to make use the above researches. Many of the tools and aspects used in BMP have a scientific basis and we are also planning to have scientific studies on the effect of BMP. At present one of the leading chain of hospitals in Bangalore has invited us to train their people and patients referred to Integrative Oncology department. We are regularly going to the hospital and there is good response from the patients and doctors. In collaboration with them a research study on the effect of BMP on Health and Wellness is also planned.
Rhea: Can you give me some examples of BMP practices? What are their stories?
Raj: Gita (name changed) who had passed engineering with distinction could not get any job for a long time. She used to pass the written examination but due to her getting nervous during the interview failed to get selected for the job. BMP helped her to overcome the interview fear and succeeded in getting the job. There are many success stories for overcoming depression, anxiety, fears, back pain, respiratory and cardiovascular problems. It has helped people in becoming what they wanted to be like engineers, doctors, chartered accountants and lovable teachers. Our book gives number of real stories.
Rhea: What motivated you to create the system?
Raj: I would like to share with you one incident which motivated us to start thinking, working and researching which gave the birth to BMP. In one of the International Conference on Holistic Medicine a leading neuro surgeon during his key note address narrated an incident. A fairly young lady had a brain tumor which was tested malignant. The neuro surgeon opened up her skull for the operation and found multiple tumors spread over a large area. In a distracted state if mind, he told the lady the operation had been performed. Later the doctor told his juniors that the chances of her survival were very low whether or not she was operated upon. After a few months a bright and healthy lady met the surgeon with a bouquet of flowers and thanked the doctor as she was perfectly feeling well. The doctor did the scanning and was amazed to find all the tumors have just vanished.
As he narrated this, I got lost in the thoughts – what made the tumors vanish? What was it that was better than the great surgeon? After a couple of days of contemplation and sleepless nights, I met my Prof. K.N.Krishnaswmy and discussed this case. He had a similar information to share. He recounted how he had come across a case of miraculous self cure of cancer (Leukaemia), which he had read about in Reader’s Digest. Both the authors started enquiring into these issues and started researching which consisted of going through lot of literature particularly the cases of great and unexplained phenomenal, achievements in various fields psychology, parapsychology, physics and medicine. We read about Yoga and Vedantha ( both the authors being Yoga Practitioners and students of Vedantha for decades). This finally resulted in the development of the concept of programming the inner computer and gave birth to BMP.
Rhea: Tell me a little about your background. How you became a self help advocate and a Yoga Practitioner?
Raj: Professor K.N.Krishnaswamy has several years of executive experience in defense and has done masters in Aeronautics Engineering and Ph.D in Operations Management and has been teaching as Professor of Management Studies at I.I.Sc, He has keen interest in Yoga and Spirituality and has studied Gita and other Upanishads deeply and practiced Yoga. He has interest in creativity and research in general. Taught privately Yoga and meditation to a number of people.
I (Raj Kumar Dham) am from a middle class family. My early years were spent in refugee camp. Through sincere hard work and by winning scholarship I did schooling and college education. I completed my bachelor in mechanical engineering and post graduation in Industrial Management by securing first rank. For sometime I was a research scholar at Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore and also published papers in national and International journals. I started my professional career as an Industrial Engineer at Bharat Electronics Ltd. In 1982 I became an entrepreneur and started small scale Industrial Unit. In 1986 due to some business problems my health deteriorated very much and through a ‘Holistic Healer’ I got the quantum relief. I got associated with him, learned and started helping others through free sessions, camps, lectures etc. I found Yoga having a great potential in healing and Self transformation. I started conducting free Yoga and Meditation classes at my Atamabodh Canter. Thousands of people have benefited and the most encouraging thing is doctors have also started recommending people to do yoga.
Rhea: Are you working on any future projects?
Raj: A leading group of Hospitals have shown interest in our BMP based on Holistic Health for the patients especially Cancer and Cardiology. We have developed “Heal Your Heart” – A Cellular Level System based on BMP. We are teaching this to patients in the hospital itself. The main objective is to provide deep relaxation of body and mind, to reduce anxiety levels, to improve quality of sleep and quality of life with a view to enhance the inbuilt defence immune system. We are also training their staff consisting of psychologists, counsellors, social workers, physiotherapists and staff nurses etc with a view that they can help the patients with this. The initial response to this is very positive and encouraging. This project will continue and the research study to evaluate the impact of this is also planned. We also plan to start a scientific study in a school to study the impact of BMP on their personality and performance.
We are also working on BMP for executives, managerial staff and IT industry, for increasing their work, performance and improving their quality of life . We intend to motivate researchers from various walks of life to do research in BMP and we are ready to provide them guidance. We have developed a basic frame work of programming the Inner Computer but a lot is to be done now and we call upon interested people to join us in this endeavor for taking it further.
You Can Order Raj’s book at lifepositivebooks.com or click here
Every once and a while, my students will ask me questions such as, “What is better Pilates or yoga?” I have a very hard time answering these types of questions because Yoga is a practice that has layers and depths to it. It takes lifetimes to master and it has a rich history, spanning thousands of years of philosophy, tradition, culture and eras. All yoga schools take different approaches and many people will go to one yoga class, only to find that it is nothing like another yoga class because it might focus on a different aspect of the extremely large world of yoga.
The word “yoga” means to “yolk”. It means union. It is a holistic practice that helps us become whole with ourselves and our environment. Another traditional definition of yoga is any practice that helps us become a better person. Therefore, yoga consists of practices such as healthy living, exercise, meditation, study, prayer, and doing good deeds so we can stay connected to our higher selves. It helps us determine truth from illusion and live in the highest state of happiness.
Today I will attempt to explain what traditional yoga is. I will break traditional yoga down to four main styles. These styles are:
Hatha yoga: Yoga of posture and physical health.
Jnana yoga: Yoga of knowledge and truth.
Karma yoga: Yoga of right and selfless action.
Bhakti yoga: Devotional yoga that brings us closer to a higher power.
Each style of yoga helps us become better in each very important aspect of our lives. Hatha yoga helps us with our physical health. Jnana yoga strengthens our mind and mental will. Karma yoga helps us build healthy social connections. Bhahkti yoga helps us cultivate our reverence for God if we are religious; or our deep love for our higher selves or for the grandeur of the universe, if we are secular. This holistic practice helps develop a healthy mind, body, spirit and community. It creates a balanced lifestyle.
Examples of Hatha Yoga is “pranayama” or breathing exercises that help us understand our posture or “asana”. Asanas consist of postures such as, “Adho Mukha Svanasana” or “Downward Facing Dog.” This posture is an inverted V. We do this pose to master our posture and alignment which helps us create more strength, flexibility, deeper awareness of our body and more energy. Most yoga that is taught in gyms teaches asana or posture. Posture is very important for our health and well being because it helps unblock places where we are holding tension which creates a better flow in energy. Many studies have showed that our posture affects our hormones and our psychological well being. When a person is standing straight, they automatically become happier. If a person is slouching or cowering, they tend to feel more depressed. Yogis understand how our postures relate to our emotions and use posture to help us control and understand our internal selves, psychologically and physically.
Jnana yoga consists of study, awareness and meditation. It is taught in many yoga studios, ashrams, self actualization institutions and meditation retreats. Sometimes it is taught in conjunction with hatha yoga. For example, when I first started practicing yoga, it was in a studio where we spent the first fifteen minutes of each class studying yoga texts and meditating. Some hatha yoga teachers teach from the yoga texts while you are practicing a posture.
Learning to control our mind helps us become more focused, happier and content. Jnana yoga consists of silencing the mind so the voices in our head do not make us crazy and so we can differentiate what is important from what is not important. It also consists of stepping outside of our selfish ego so we get the bigger picture. It consists of contemplating and reflecting on life or dissecting our problems. It consists of reading, learning, science and even chanting mantras in order to create positive patterns in our subconscious. At its highest level, jnana yoga helps us understand and accept our place in the universe. It helps us overcome our fear of life and death, master our emotions and have a greater perspective of the ups and downs of life.
Karma yoga is all about action and social responsibility. It consists of being a good teacher, parent, grandparent, daughter, son, friend, etc. When we give or volunteer at a local charity or community, we are practicing karma yoga. When we realize that healthy living goes beyond ourselves and that we all need to do our part to make the world a better place, we start practicing karma yoga.
Great examples of karma yoga gurus are: Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela. These were people who put social responsibility above their own needs. Karma yoga creates happiness by practicing the act of making others happy. It fosters love, gratitude and a more harmonious society.
Bahkti Yoga or the yoga of faith or devotion consists of chants, prayers and singing. It is a cultivation of a deep love and reverence of God or a divine power. When you go to church, a mosque or a temple, you are practicing bahkti yoga. Anytime you are praying, praising or connecting with a divine power, you are practicing bhakti yoga. Although this is a religious or spiritual aspect of yoga, secular people can still practice yoga because of its many other aspects.
In conclusion, I have described the main traditional styles of yoga. This is the foundation of yoga. You might ask about many other styles you have heard of such as Iyengar, Anusara, Bikram, etc. These are usually derived from or are named after a particular guru (teacher) or lineage. Since yoga has evolved for thousands of years, there are some philosophies that have branched off. However, it is still yoga if it incorporates the ideals stated above.
For more information about this many thousands of year old practice, check out these links:
Yoga and The Eightfold path…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=17
Meditation, A Running Into Reality…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=206
Meditation, The Illuminated Perceiver vs. The Afflictive Mind…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=653
Demystifying the Chakras (From a Hormonal Perspective)…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=50
A popular study done by David Libet showed that when we make a decision to move, unconscious parts of the brain are activated before we even make a decision. This tells us that most of our actions are not determined by our rational conscious mind, but by our subconscious. Does this mean that we don’t have a choice over our actions? Is everything predetermined? This study brought back the age old question, do we have free will?
I wouldn’t jump on the determinism band wagon right away. As a personal trainer, I have learned that if a person doesn’t believe in their ability to change, they have nothing to motivate them. A large study in New Zealand showed that people who believed in their own free will were much more likely to be successful in any undertaking.
The truth is, much of what we do is determined by our subconscious, but if we force ourselves to be aware, it becomes conscious. For example, some clients come to me with incorrect muscle movements. For any number of reasons, they move in ways that can be harmful to their bodies. While they may not be aware of this, something in their subconscious makes them think it is okay to let’s say, hunch their shoulders while doing a deltoid lift. When I try to correct them, their first reaction is to say, “This is the way I am. I can’t change.” Unfortunately, being content with this line of thinking will lead to shoulder impingements later on in life. I know many older adults who have shoulder issues because they have been doing exercises wrong for so many years.
When a person trains with me for a few more weeks and I make them concentrate on ways to use the correct muscles so they can change their incorrect and dangerous movements, they succeed in moving a different way. With practice, they start subconsciously moving the correct way. This proves that even subconscious movements can be changed to conscious movements if we apply awareness. Once we do this, we change our subconscious habits. This is good because we can change negative habits that sabotage our health into positive ones that feed our health. We can change our habits.
Even the act of breathing, once thought of as an involuntary movement can be made into a conscious movement. The yogis have proven that control of the breath can even give them the power to change their own heart rate and blood pressure.
More on breathing here:
The other day, I was listening to a lecture by Bruce Lipton on epigenetics. This is a new science that explores how our genes react to our environment. For example, if we feed our cells certain foods, they either become healthy or intoxicated. How we breathe, move and think greatly affects our health and our genes. Many times, it is our attitudes and perceptions that make us healthy or unhealthy and we can see this when we look at how stress affects our body.
Stress is caused by perceived fear. When we are afraid, our body secretes hormones that cause us to fight or run from the danger. All the blood in the body is rushed to our arms and legs for survival purposes. The body takes blood away from digestive organs and the organs that are used to fight disease. While this helps us survive a dangerous environment where predators lurk in every corner, our body was never meant to be stressed on an ongoing basis. Taking blood away from other functions makes our immune system weak and more susceptible to all diseases. It also takes blood away from rational parts of the brain and puts it into more primitive parts of the brain, lowering our I.Q. Stress seems to be a catch term in our modern day society and people are constantly complaining about it.
People perceive dangers in every corner. Is there someone at your job who rubs you the wrong way? Does she bring you stress? If we think of her as an evil witch who can take away our personal power just by looking at us, then yes, she will. She will make our stress hormones release every time we see her, markedly lowering our immune system. But if we realize that she is just human and has no power to hurt us just by saying the wrong things, then we won’t be stressed. We can brush off her attitude and move on with our lives. So, our perceptions have a great influence on our health.
We may not be consciously aware of the reasoning behind our perception. Perhaps we were abused by a family member who looked like her or said the same things that the person who rubs us the wrong way does. Maybe we were bullied by a kid that said the same things she did and whenever we hear her words, we want to run or fight. Subconsciously we see her as a threat and become stressed by her even if we don’t want to. Unfortunately, many people can’t help the way they react in life because of how they were conditioned growing up. People ask themselves, why can’t I change my situation? Why can’t I stop the negative thoughts in my mind? Why can’t I end my addiction to food, drugs, television or video games? The reason is because they are subconscious reactions to how we were taught to perceive the world. We never made a conscious choice to be stressed, overweight, addicted or weak in the wrong muscles. We are just reacting to our environment.
This is where awareness comes in. If we can end the chatter in our minds that is nothing but a subconscious recording of how we were conditioned to act in life, we can start to consciously make changes. Yoga teaches us to still the mind and bring awareness to what we are doing right here and now. Even doing physical yoga poses, and teaching ourselves to bring awareness to how we feel in the poses teaches us to use our conscious thinking to guide us. When I teach my regular yoga classes, I try not to preach. What I have to say doesn’t matter. My main goal is to help the students still their minds, be aware of their breath and bring awareness to how the poses affect their bodies, so they can be aware of their own habits and tendencies. Only then will they be able to change anything.
Taking the time to practice awareness can literally change a person’s life. It teaches us to stop reacting to what is going on in the outside and pay attention to who we are on the inside. What do we want? How do we want to live our lives? What makes us happy? What feels good? What doesn’t? Why?
So in the end, yes, much of what we do are just subconscious reactions, and if we were ever raised on any negative ideas, that isn’t very good news. However, through awareness, we can change those patterns in our muscles, our brains and in our cells. There are many resources out there to help us do it. Guided meditations help because they help us tap into that subconscious state so we change our unconscious patterns of thinking. In fact this is the idea behind hypnosis and this is why it is often used to help people lose weight and end addiction. We can take yoga or pilates class that emphasizes awareness of the body. We can find a personal trainer who will make us aware of how we move our bodies and help us change our habits. We can also learn to meditate or try neurolingquistic programming techniques. These are coaching and psychological techniques that teach us to ask specific questions and replace old perceptions and habits with new ones.
For more information on relieving stress, check out these posts:
For more information on using meditation to help change our habits check out these posts:
Today, I took a yoga class with Chaz Russ and burst into tears in happy frog pose… again. The first time this happened, I was taking a hip opening class with Vinnie Marino at the Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival.
The trauma I hold in my hips, thighs and lower back stem from abuse, fear, poverty, anger and athletic injuries in the past. Some of these issues go back years and are invisible to me until I focus all my attention on those areas. When I indulge in my own practice, and experience my own pain, I become more compassionate towards everyone else living in this world who ever had to suffer. I become so grateful that I found the yoga path and that I share the same room with people who are going through the same thing. Years ago, I thought I was alone.
There is a famous quote that has been attributed to Plato and John Watson (aka, Ian MacLaren) that goes: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
This quote is my mantra of teaching. It is also the hardest part of teaching. I know that people come to class expecting to suffer. I know how hard it is to have a body that might have been neglected or traumatized by injuries, aging or disease. The courage that it takes to focus on something that most people choose to ignore is immense. When we challenge ourselves with any fitness regimen, we have to face our greatest weaknesses. We have to fight the demons and the shadows that put us down because we aren’t as energetic as athletes, or strong as superheroes or beautiful as supermodels.
When I say, “isn’t this fun?” while teaching a class. It’s a bit of a Zen koan. I am poking light at our suffering. After all, I wouldn’t want to make things worse. Also, I’m sending you a subliminal message that will hopefully make you want to come back. Yes, I know it’s not always fun but if I can shift your awareness for a moment by saying this, sometimes your grimace turns into a smile and when this happens, it makes my day. I think there is a reason why the pose that makes me cry is called “happy” frog. These funny names are chosen to make light of our struggles. Even though we have to face ourselves and our suffering, we don’t necessarily have to dwell on them.
A woman once told me that she was cycling up a mountain and really struggling to get to the top. She said that when she reached the peak, she heard my voice in her head saying “wasn’t that fun?” I was so pleasantly amused by this story. I am happy that she heard me say this over anything negative.
That being said, I still understand that we are all fighting our own battles, whether mental or physical, outward or inward, in public or in private. When you come to me with your questions and ask me about the trauma you experience in your body, I am grateful because it makes me realize that I am not alone in dealing with my own trauma.
Ian MacLaran expressed this state of compassion well when he said:
This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.
I shall put my heart on my sleave share an excerpt from my diary. This was written a couple of years ago, after experiencing a huge crying fit during Vinnie Marino’s hip opening class:
He had us sit with one leg bent back and the other straight to the side and we had to fold into the center. I don’t know why it hurt so much. Probably ’cause I actually hurt myself a while ago, long story. I found myself adjusting myself a lot and then it happened. This uncontrollable sobbing just spewed from me. It wasn’t sorrowful. I hadn’t just dealt with loss. I honestly can’t say what it was that made me cry but I cried and cried and continued with the class. I’ve cried before in yoga. I cried once during shavassana after doing a heart opening workshop. But this was half way through an hour and a half class, and the funny thing was, I couldn’t stop crying. I was in a class of a hundred, in a huge tent overlooking the mountains. Everyone was in their own world on their mat. I didn’t stop crying until the end of class.
The teacher just gave us the poses and let us experience them. He played very specific folky music with very significant lyrics. Almost as if the songs were guiding us through. I remember lyrics that dealt with letting go, with being okay with who we are. One song said, “I know you’re in love. I can see it in you.” He didn’t have to explain anything. The crying didn’t stop and I was okay with it. I was breathing deeper than I ever did in my life as I struggled through the poses, yet I wasn’t struggling. I was letting go of something that had wanted to be released for a long time. I once wrote in a blog that we are in love with everyone we have ever been and change is hard even if we are changing for the better, but its okay. We’ll change when we’re ready. I would deepen my poses, then ease off, then deepen them. I kept breathing and experiencing everything and I felt that nothing else mattered than that moment and the crying was ecstatic almost. I couldn’t be happier.
At some point, the teacher made us do happy frog and Danny started sobbing too. I don’t know if it was because I was. At the end of the class, I learned that other people had cried and Danny also didn’t know why he cried. It just happened. This was one of the most profound yoga experiences I ever had because it was completely out of my intellect. It was pure acceptance and experiencing. The only thoughts that went through my head was that I’m okay and that everyone is okay. It was complete non-judgment and I loved everyone in that moment and it was okay if they were ready or not ready and it was good enough if they tried and I thought of my friends who were struggling with one issue or another and I thought, “they’re okay.” No one was at fault for anything. I also thought that we could all put our energy towards self destruction or doing things that would lead to growth, like yoga. I felt cleansed after that. That was the true beginning of my vacation, a real shift from my everyday tasks.
Last week, I took a yoga class with Chaz Russ for the first time. Chaz quoted Joseph Cambpell in the beginning of class by saying, “we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
Chaz explained that a caterpillar must, one day, shed its skin in order to become a butterfly. If we are to mature and grow in life, we must “shed our old skin.”
We tackled poses such as eagle or cow. We crossed our legs tight and bound our arms; so when we finally opened up and let go, it felt so good. I could feel myself shedding my skin, not just the trauma and stress I hold in my hips and shoulders, but the silly restrictions I have put on myself by planning out my life.
At a young age, I created an identity for myself. I was to be an edgy artist. After many years of hard work, I realized that the lifestyle of an actress didn’t suit me at all. This was my decision, yet I have found myself beating myself up for never making it.
I guess I’m at that midlife crisis age when we realize that we aren’t the person we always thought we were. All the creative visualizing that I have done in the past, regarding who I was going to be in the future got shattered by the lessons I learned along the way. I’m so much more now, than the person I ever thought I could be.
I never knew I would grow up to be a fitness professional. I never imagined the growth and contribution I have achieved from completely re-inventing myself.
So, I ask myself, does it matter if I become a successful billionaire if all I cared about was that goal and learned nothing along the way? Or is it the quality of the journey itself that matters?
How did I love? Did I appreciate life? Did I enjoy the view or was I so preoccupied by my plans for the future that I missed out on all the little moments in between?
Do I bind myself to identities and expectations the way I bind myself in my poses? Do I sometimes forget to release the bind, let go and open up?
Am I so set on sticking to one path that I lose my sense of the adventure, forgetting that other paths may open up?
I am reminded to enjoy the feeling of my yoga practice, to appreciate the serenity and peace that it brings me, and not to beat myself up just because every pose isn’t perfect.