Tag Archives: yoga

On distractions


I talked to my therapist today about what enables good writing for me. What it boils down to is not letting my mind get pulled by the distractions. And wooo buddy are there ALWAYS distractions.

This is why I chose return as my theme for 2014.

I chose to focus on writing for ONE HOUR this afternoon. Just one hour. Just after I’d turned the timer on, I swear to everything holy a car alarm started going off. I had to laugh. I could let myself be distracted by the car alarm, or I could choose to focus on what I wanted.

Here’s what I want: I want to immerse myself in the world and characters I’m creating. I remembered what I wanted. And every time the fucking car alarm went off again (because oh, it did), I heard as a reminder to return to my focus.

I’m grateful for the years of practice I’ve had at meditation. I’ve learned that every moment is an opportunity to return to what I want to focus on. I don’t have to shame myself for getting distracted. I can just return. And so I do.

What are you choosing to focus on these days?

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On Failure

fail harder

My friend Claudette posted this piece today: Since when did the word ______ become dirty in yoga?. I wondered what the word was that filled in the blank, so I meandered over to see. Perfection. Oh. That word.

I read with curiosity, interested to see how he was going to unpack what perfection meant in the context of yoga. He does define it, but that wasn’t what struck me so much as this:

I need to deny this small, measly self within me that can’t tolerate perfection, I refuse to be too fragile to admit that I am not strong enough or devoted enough to reach for such an unattainable place. Instead I humbly get on my knees and cry out for the strength to fail, and to fail, and to fail, and to fail, as happily and as endlessly as is necessary to take one step towards the lofty mastery of perfection. Let me champion perfection, protect it, covet it, yearn for it, breathe it, know it, risk for it, love it, respect it, fear it, cherish it, tolerate my need for it, lay it all on the line for it.

And I realized something. I have defined my own failure as my inability to achieve. BUT. This idea of failing and failing and failing again and again and again in pursuit of a higher purpose – that is not failure. That is the story of Sisysphus as told by Camus, the man who found his meaning in repeatedly rolling the rock up the hill, not in attaining the summit. I doubt David Garrigues is an Existentialist, but it’s where I went.

I’ve judged myself by my inability to achieve, when I should have realized that what I lacked wasn’t results, but focus. I had no defining principle, no purpose that pulled me forward. I was merely bobbing along, adrift and responding to whatever I bumped into.

I’ve decided this year to let my writing be the defining center. And because I did that, I leapt at the opportunity to go on a writing retreat for 5 days when it appeared. In the past, I would have let it go, because I hadn’t had enough time to prepare myself. But what needed preparing? Only my mind, which was already ready.

Tell me about your failures. Fail harder. Fail softer. Fail funnier. Just keep failing.

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spider o'lantern

We’ve passed the nadir and are swinging back toward the light. The light is lasting longer, even if it’s imperceptible right now.

One of my Twitter pen pals, Lou Knight, asked the other day what our one word of the year might be. At first I thought mine was focus, but as I’ve thought about it more, I’ve decided it’s actually return. Because my focus wavers, I wobble and wibble (hee hee), but every moment I have the opportunity to return to the object of my focus. I get to practice this in meditation, gently drawing my mind back to my breath or my mantra. Likewise, there are a myriad of distractions, and I get pulled by them, and then I notice and return my attention back to the work at hand, whatever that might be.

So, in the spirit of return, I’m taking up my friend GG Silverman’s challenge to embrace your fears for total writing awesomeness. GG shared her fear:

I told her my deepest, darkest fear: I was afraid that when I fully came out of my shell as a writer, that I’d be a scary, ugly spider instead of a beautiful butterfly, and that people would hate me.

Her response changed my life:
“It’s okay to be a scary spider. The world needs spiders, too.”

And the challenge:

Your assignment: take ten minutes to make a list of things that scare you the most, then the next time you have ten free minutes, write about one of them, and go deep. I guarantee it will be some of your most powerful, emotional writing. For extra credit, post the results on your own blog, and tag me with your link on Twitter (I’m @GG_Silverman) using the hashtag #FearlessWriting, or let me know if this exercise inspired an amazing story. I’d love to hear from you.

This challenge nearly sets my teeth on edge and turns my innards to liquid, but what the hell, it’s probably not going to kill me. Ha! Would love it if anyone else wants to join me in “hugging some spiders” this week. I don’t know that I’ll post what I write, but I may share a snippet. Who’s in?

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On Struggle and Bliss


For the last two months my yoga teacher Rainey was using the koshas as the lens for our yoga practice. The idea is that there are five of these sheaths or layers, and the innermost one is the anandamayakosha. Ananda is often translated as “bliss”, which I find very difficult to access. I will get back to this in a moment. Rainey likes to translate it as “unreasonable joy” – that is, joy that is unbounded, unconditional, without any cause. And even that is hard for me to get to. I’ve been working with the idea of satisfaction, rather than bliss, joy, or happiness, because it’s much easier for me to be clear about whether or not I’m satisfied. And often, satisfaction brings contentment, which is a flavor of happiness/joy/bliss. I love that in French one says Je suis contente to say, “I am happy.”

That is the foundation. Rainey suggested at the beginning of a class what we might do to reveal that innermost kosha, so that it remained undiminished. I have been working the last several weeks on noticing when I’m telling stories (which are often lies) about my own experience. I often skip feeling the emotion and go right into interpretation and storytelling, which ironically has the effect of keeping me in that feeling (and is often downright unpleasant). I realized that when I can let go of the story about the feeling and just experience the feeling, it dissolves rather quickly. Pema Chodron explains it this way:

When you give your full attention to your knee or your back or your head—whatever hurts—and drop the good/bad, right/wrong story line and simply experience the pain directly for even a short time, then your ideas about the pain, and often the pain itself, will dissolve.

It is the stories I tell myself that create the struggle (c.f. first paragraph on “bliss”). When Rainey said undiminished, I heard in my mind undefined. Can I just let my experience be, without telling any stories around it? And can I find that satisfying? And will that reveal that inner joy/satisfaction/bliss that much more?

How about you?

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I Know Where I Am


The last month or so I’ve been working with the idea that I know how to protect myself. This came up just last weekend, when a man I’d never met attempted to engage me in conversation in a public setting by telling me that he followed me. Immediately a red flag went up. There were people around me and I wasn’t worried for my safety. When he asked if he could sit with me, I just said, “No, I’m busy.” And he left.

In my yoga classes, we’ve been focused on handstand. I probably write about handstand more than any other pose because it induces such intense reactions for me. I suppose some people would say it’s juicy. On Monday, once I was upside-down, I went to the panic place. This is where I feel like I don’t know what the fuck is going on, which way is what and so on. And then I heard this little voice say, “You know how to protect yourself.” And then I thought: I know where I am. So when I came down, it was not out of a panic, but out of certainty. I’ve been exploring this pose for 13 years and this may be the first time I’ve ever experienced it that way.

In my class today I had another opportunity to try this out. The entire time I was going up I thought, “I know where I am.” And I did, it was true. And while the pose was intense and required my full concentration, I wasn’t panicking. I hope I can keep remembering this the next time I start to panic about something.

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No Effort Is Wasted


I’ve been feeling low-energy this week. Yesterday in my yoga class, my teacher asked if I would demo kicking up into handstand with a partner. I felt extremely depleted, but I agreed to try anyway. Despite not feeling full of energy, I made it upside down. This is the only way I’ve ever been able to get into handstand – with support. I have been practicing yoga for over a decade. And handstands have been on the menu for just as long. Some of you know how much fear I have with this pose.

“No effort is wasted.” My yoga teachers say this all the time. There is also the concept of a “lifetime pose” – as in, it may take a lifetime to get there. I’m not sure in which lifetime I will get over my mental blocks and kick up into handstand on my own, but I’m certain I will surprise myself so much I will fall out and have to do it again.

I judge myself against my classmates, many if not most of whom can kick up on their own. I wonder what is wrong with me that I am not like them. But the reality is, I am not them. Each of us has her own struggles. I do know that over the years, my relationship with this pose has changed in subtle ways. There have been small and subtle shifts, perhaps like the movement of the tectonic plates. I trust in the process and recognize that even if these changes aren’t visible, they are still happening.

Yesterday, after I demonstrated kicking up into handstand with support, a classmate approached me and said, “I aspire to do what you just did.” Wow did that expand my perspective. We are all on a continuum. We all struggle. Only some of us keep coming back and making the effort.

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