Thursday, March 31, 2011

Listening is Listening.....Right?

Yesterday in Teacher Training we learned about Empathic Listening. It kinda blew my mind at how close to home it hits. Empathic Listening is listening with only the intent to listen. It is listening with the goal of understanding another human being. And it is almost never done. 

What is done more often is autobiographical listening. This type of listening is when you listen and try to make what the other person is saying fit into your own paradigm (point of view). You might do this by interjecting your own stories, giving advice, asking questions to lead the conversation, interpreting what they are saying, etc.

I had a lot of defensive feelings come up when the teacher was talking (as did others in my class who were more vocal than I was). So am I bad a listener if I try to relate to the person talking by explaining I had a similar experience? And isn't asking questions showing my interest in what they are saying? And me interpreting what they are saying shows I understand - right? This teacher had no clue what he was talking about! Everything he called "autobiographical listening" is what I do to ensure someone knows I am listening! How dare he suggest I am a bad listener?!

But wait. Suddenly I could put the shoe on the other foot. A few months ago I was having a bad day. A really really bad day. I had a "sure thing" penny stock that was going to give me the life I had been hoping for as soon as this technology was approved by the FDA. Over the 2 year approval process, I had convinced myself as soon as this comes in I would be able to move to the location of my dreams. I didn't need a big house, but I needed enough to pay someone to buy my current one (due to the shoddy real estate market) and have a nice down payment for one in the country on a lake. That was (is) my dream. I walked through houses for sale, I had spreadsheets showing my different price points depending on the buy out, I almost bought new bathing suits since I was so convinced I would be on a lake by next summer. Knowing with certainty I would soon be able to move out of my tiny, cramped, thisclosetoneighbors, city house was the only thing keeping me going. Then the FDA concluded their evaluation: NSE. As in, Not Substantially Equivalent. As in, not FDA approved. Shit.

I acted like it was no big deal, but over the course of the day it started sinking in. No moving. Stuck in this house from the 1940s with flickering lights and the ability to see in my neighbors windows from my couch. By the time I got home, I was pretty far depressed. My boyfriend sensed something was wrong and I tried to blow it off like it was nothing when I told him. He bought the act. 

Me: So that stock got denied by the FDA 
BF: That sucks. I told you you shouldn't have gotten your hopes up.
Me: Yeah, but I really needed to believe I was going to be able to move.
BF: I remember when I ..........blah blah blah

All I really wanted from him was to see how upset I truly was - even though I trying not to show it. I wanted him to stop after "That sucks". But instead he gave advice, he related his own stories, he prodded with questions. I didn't feel listened to, even though he was trying his best to make me feel that way. I ended up breaking down and only then did he realize how upset I was. He couldn't have before, he was so busy trying to relate to me, to "help" me, that there was no space for him to pick up how I was feeling. He was too far in his own head, thinking about what he would say next. I didn't care about his stories. I didn't want his advice. I just needed a shoulder to cry on. I needed someone to stay silent and let me bounce from anger to sadness to disbelief to depression to whatever. I needed to feel understood. 

Next time someone seems agitated or gives you clues that something might be on their mind, try just holding a space for them to open up. Let it be quiet for a moment. Let them just start talking. Stop trying to interject your own views or stories or questions or judgement. For any of you who know me personally, please call me out when you hear me begin to autobiographically listen when, in fact, you just wanted to be heard empathetically. Thanks :) I have no doubt this will be a tough change to make!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Many of you had already heard this story. However, it is worth repeating because lately I have been giving a lot of thought about how I respond to things vs how I want to respond to things:

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life, and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it, and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first pot, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what do you see?" 

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," the daughter replied. 

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. The daughter did and noted that they got soft. Her mother then asked her to take the egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, her mother asked her to smell and sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she smelled and tasted its rich aroma. 

The daughter then asked, "What's the point, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity- boiling water-but each reacted differently. 

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. 

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. 

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

 "Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When trials and adversity knock on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"

Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength? Are you the egg that starts with a passive heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a financial hardship or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside, are you bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or, are you like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you become better and change the situation around you. When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Friday morning I went to an amazing hot vinyasa class that blew my mind and left me perma-grinning, as all of the 6:30am ones do at my studio. That early in the morning it is very easy to get inside my head and block out the rest of the world, since the rest of the world hasn't had a chance to pollute my thoughts yet. The flow was challenging, the dialog was inspiring, and the music was motivating. I left lighter than when I went in, with a definite spring to my step.

Saturday I had to observe a class for yoga teacher training. Just watch how the teacher teaches and keep in mind things like what adjustments were being made and how students were responding to various elements. Basically just observe a class from a technical viewpoint. The class I observed turned out to be taught by the same teacher I had just taken the morning before, who used the same flow as I had just been through. However, what a difference your perception makes in your experience!

As class began in Child's Pose, I felt a bit uncomfortable watching the class. It seemed like such an intimate moment that I was crashing, just hovering above everyone instead of joining in and going deep inside. When class continued, I watched the teacher walk through the flying elbows and legs with grace and intensity while she kept a running monologue urging them to go deeper. I could see the students puff up when she walked by and subsequently collapse as she moved on. Her presence pushed their bodies while her words pushed their minds.

The thing that struck me the most was the lack of emotional response on my part. When I had participated in this exact class a day before, it was beautiful. The energy generated from the flow overwhelmed me. The music inspired me to go further. Her words were that of Buddha himself. But when I took away my participation and observed everyone else instead of myself, the class changed. I could see the connection between the teacher and the students but I couldn't feel it myself. It was as if they were in this glorious bubble and I was stuck on the outside, just blankly staring in. Even the music seemed to fall short, even though it was the exact same playlist that had me scrambling to YouTube after class the day before to bookmark these amazing songs.

It was then I realized just how important your mindset is to your experiences. Some people go through life like I was on Saturday - watching from the outside, not wanting to participate for fear of looking silly or even failure. But some people can go through the exact same experience and feel the beauty of just participating, regardless of how "well" they do. Just immersing yourself in an experience can change it from mundane to magical. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to experience the exact same class from two distinctly different points of view because it showed me how yoga isn't about the teacher or the music or even the flow - it is about what you put into it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Wow - had SUCH an amazing Teacher Training class last night! Got quite a few topics for blogs, but instead, today going to focus on a lesson I learned before TT class even began this week.

I grew up an overachiever. I don't say that with an ego, or with immense pride, it just is what it is. If the teacher asked for a 2-3 page essay I would write 4 pages. If the assignment was to read through 50 pages I would finish the book instead. If I had a week to do a take home exam I would stay up the first night until I finished it. I have always had a need to exceed expectations. To look good in someone else's eyes. It was almost an obsession. And when I didn't measure up to my own expectations, I would be very hard on myself. I will never forget the Biochem class I got a 2.5 in - I was devastated for months (still kinda am and it was 15 yrs ago!). Didn't matter that I tried my damnedest. I wanted that tangible grade to prove (to myself or to others?) how hard I worked.

Not sure if you guys know, but Yoga Teacher Training is not as easy as you might think. There are lots of books to read and tons of written homework. We have to keep 4 daily journals that get turned in each week - yoga practice, meditation, yoga meals, and gratitude. Plus this past week we had 3 reading assignments, 2 sets of questions from readings, about 6 pages of worksheets to fill out, and an essay, not to mention the 2-3 hours we were required to meet with our study group and practicing actual teaching at some point. Don't get me wrong - I am loving it - but it is a huge time commitment.

As I sat down yesterday to pull together all of my homework to get turned in, I realized I hadn't been keeping up with the daily requirements I was supposed to be journaling about. I was practicing yoga daily, but often meditated only a few times a week and kept completely forgetting about eating yoga meals (basically undisturbed conscious meals where you follow some simple rules to more appreciate your meal and get in tune with your body). My initial reaction was to panic. My journals were incomplete! Should I just make up some meals that never really existed just so I have a full and complete Yoga Meal Journal? I truly considered it. But then I remembered the precepts we took before classes began - one of them being "I shall not lie." I didn't know what to do. Either I lied or I turned in something incomplete, which was unthinkable to me.

And that is when it hit me - this yoga teacher training is for me and only me. It isn't to prove anything to anyone. It is for me to experiment and learn and get what I get out of it. Would I grow more by lying, or by turning in only 4 yoga meals taken over 2 weeks time? Obviously the latter. So I sat with that realization for a few moments. I waited for that self-loathing feeling that usually follows me not doing a "perfect" job on something, but it never came. Instead, I was actually happy I even did 4 meals. Before classes started I wouldn't have ever thought to slow down and focus on my meals. Meditating 3 or 4 times a week - although not the 7 the TT homework requires - is 3 or 4 more times that I was doing before. And that's something to me.

Yoga talks about loving yourself first. About showing compassion to yourself, not just others. I think that message is finally starting to sink in. I don't need to prove anything to others. I just need to make sure I keep myself moving forward, at whatever pace I'm ready for.  If I do that, I have nothing to apologize for, nothing to feel bad about, and definitely nothing to prove to the outside world.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Today Ice Cream, Tomorrow the World!

I already shared this with my TT class yesterday - sorry for the duplicate if you guys are reading this!

On St Patrick's Day, my boyfriend, his 4 year old son, and I went out to dinner. I live in a "happening" place, chock full of bars, restaurants and nightlife. In addition to the holiday, it was also the first championship game for a popular local university whose colors match that of a leprechaun.  Because of this, the streets were crowded with every variation of green possible - from a girl wearing a shamrock headband to a guy sporting full neon body paint. Needless to say, it was AMAZING people watching :)

We had a great dinner and went walking around the streets to enjoy both the spring-like weather and entertaining scenery. We didn't want the evening to end, so my boyfriend suggested we duck into a nearby ice cream place.

For a trying-hard-to-be-vegan-person-who-looooooves-ice-cream, I got scared. I had a moment of "S%$#%@, what do I do?" But the festive atmosphere on the streets swept me up into saying "yes" and just acknowledging I was about to fail in my vegan quest. Oh well, there's always tomorrow.

Standing in line, I had an epiphany. I didn't have to get ice cream. I know that sounds silly, of course I didn't HAVE to get it, you're saying. But really, before that moment, I didn't realize I had a choice. We were going to an ice cream place, of course I'm going to get it. But in that moment, I equated my craving for ice cream just like the itch I talked about in a previous blog. It was my brain making a decision for me on autopilot. I never made a conscious choice to get ice cream, I just assumed I was getting it since I was there. My brain was following what it has done every time before in this situation.

Like GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle. As soon as I realized what was happening, I made a conscious decision to NOT get ice cream. It was almost as if a weight physically lifted from my shoulders. Just like that, I took conscious control of the situation. In my head, I resisted the urge that kept telling me how creamy and yummy and delicious it was. I shook off the voice that said "what, you're just going to sit here and watch others eat it? You're going to regret not getting any." Inhale.....exhale......And guess what, once the craving knew it had met its match, it backed off! Over the course of 3 people ahead of us in line, I went from weak autopilot follower to strong in-control leader. By the time we got to the counter, I didn't even have a craving for it anymore. I watched my boyfriend and his son order it, and sat with them at the table the entire time they ate it, and never once had an urge to even taste a bite! I wasn't even resisting anything by this point, I was completely at peace with not having any ice cream. All I had to do was stand up to my brain and take back control.

This may not seem like a monumental moment to most - passing up the opportunity to get ice cream. But it was. It was the first time I took all of those lessons learned during meditation and applied them to a non-yoga situation. My every day life was altered because of sitting silently and acknowledging my breath. Wow.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


In the past 24 hours, I have been to two amazing yoga classes. First with Justin last night, and this morning with Missy. Being in teacher training, I am trying to pay attention to what makes an "amazing" class - you know those ones that blow your mind and leave you with perma-grin?

Let me back up a minute to where we are in teacher training. We are learning the basics of calling out poses and flows. Center For Yoga (where I am learning through) takes a slightly different approach than other places. They seem to cater to the more advanced yoga student and get them into the asana, assuming the newbies can look around and learn that way. This means you say enough to let them know where to go, but don't harp on every single detail of the pose. CFY teaches that breath is most important, and whatever the student is doing is perfect, as long as they are in tune with their breathing. Therefore, we are being taught to call out 3 things for each pose - the breath (inhale/exhale), the body part that is moving, and the drishti (where to look).

For example:

  • Inhale your arms up over head, look up
  • Exhale, fold at your hips, look down

You would think this would make it easy, right? We just have to give a tiny snippet of explanation - who couldn't do that?!? That was my thought until I started doing it.  Since we are working on the Sun Salutations, we are doing things at the speed of 1 breath 1 movement. I don't know if you can tell by my blog, but my thoughts tend to ramble. So here I am trying to lead a Sun Salutation A and the poor students are holding their breath because my words are still going on a pose they got into 30 second ago already! Ugh! I am having the hardest time being brief and just saying enough to trigger the student to think "I know what to do." Instead I'm touching on every part of their body and where is should be and what it should feel like and blah blah blah.

So back to what an "amazing" class is. My recent observations are that these teachers don't even think about calling out the poses - it comes so naturally for them. What makes the class great is the supporting elements - the stories they tell, the knowledge they impart while we're holding Cresent Moon for 15 breaths, when they turn up the music and when they turn it off altogether, the rise and fall in the tone of their voice, the dramatic pauses, the knowing what is long enough to bring us to our edge but not so long that we give up. These are the things that leave me feeling I had more than just a simple exercise class. It is almost like they are performing a scripted play, because everything flows together so seamlessly.

If I cannot even get the rhythm of calling out the poses, and that isn't even on the radar of what makes a class great, can I really do this? I feel like there are so many more subtleties and I'm really starting to wonder if I can live up to my own expectations of what a great yoga teacher is. The ones I enjoy are performers - I am not. They put together amazing flows - I blank and come back to the Suns when practicing at home. They make it seem like what they do is not something learned, but rather who they are and always have been. Do I have a shot at this? Can I ever learn to do what they do so effortlessly, when a simple 10 breath sequence leaves me flustered?

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Scratch, Or Not To Scratch?

How many times have you driven to work and, if you think back, you don't remember most of the ride? How many times have you brushed your hair out of your face today? Scratched an itch? Corrected a typo while typing? Inhaled? Chances are, you don't have any recollection of doing any of the above, or if you do you don't have recollection of every time you have done it. That's because you have done these things so much your cognitive (thinking) brain region is no longer used and it instead the task is handed over to the "autopilot" region of your brain.

I attribute a lot of things in my life to yoga. And I often get funny looks because of it. To those on the outside, it is just a form of exercise such as spinning or step aerobics. But the physical part of yoga (the poses - called asanas) is just one of many tools used to get you to the heart of the practice - internal awareness and control. The goal of all yoga - whether physical, meditation, chanting, etc - is to get yourself off autopilot. 

As you progress in a yoga class, you begin to feel more. Feeling something is the same as using your active brain - you are consciously aware of what is happening. You can tell if you are stretching too far by how shallow your breath gets with the effort - something you may not notice regularly. You feel your spine stack upon itself to give you a solid base for headstand. Lying in Child's Pose the entire class is extremely valid as a yoga workout, if you are consciously noticing the sensations that come up in your body and breath. Yoga isn't about being flexible, or working up a sweat, or losing weight. It is about doing something - anything - that will wake up your brain. This goes for all types of yoga (officially there are 6: physical yoga, selfless service, meditation, sound and chanting, devotion, and knowledge). They are all tools meant to switch off your autopilot and become consciously aware.

So why is it important to make conscious instead of unconscious decisions? Why do we care if we automatically scratch that itch? The reason is, the more you can control the little things, the better you can control the big things. Think of those little things as training. Resisting an itch does a few things: (1) it make you aware there is an itch, (2) it makes you aware how strongly you want to itch it, (3) it makes you aware that very soon, even if you don't itch it, it will go away. Those little training tools can be stepped up into real life. You are on a diet and find yourself constantly looking into the fridge but don't remember getting there. By taking more control of your thought processes, you can become aware of having the craving, and resisting the craving because you are in control and know it will pass, just like that itch. You can use it when you get angry - instead of snapping back a comment you can acknowledge this feeling of anger, understand where it comes from, take a step back and come at it from a more productive angle. Being in control of what your brain is doing - instead if just letting it react like it has every time before - gives you the power to accomplish anything. 

"Our study found a significant relationship between patterns of activity in the default mode network and future onset of Alzheimer's disease.....These findings may help explain why mental engagement may protect against Alzheimer's disease." -  Dr. Jeffrey R. Petrella, MD

So get yourself to a yoga or meditation class today!!!! And share this blog with anyone you know who might benefit from a little un-autopiloting of their brain :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gnihtaerb Sdrawkcab

Before we get into the topic at hand, try this simple test: stand with your arms at your sides, take a really deep breath - the deepest you possibly can - and hold it. Make a note of what happened to your stomach. 

A few days ago my mom asked me a simple question: when you inhale, is your stomach supposed to go in or out? I said "out" and she said "hmm..mine goes in." Fast forward to doing some TT homework and reading Power Yoga by Beryl Bender Birch. There is a section called Backwards Breathing (also the title of this post if you reverse it, in case you didn't catch that). 

Backwards breathing is this interesting phenomenon where at some point in their lives, many people stopped noticing their breathing and unconsciously allowed their diaphragm to shut down or seize up. It could be due to emotional baggage or stress or anxiety. Anything that repeatedly shallows your breath, so you are not consistently taking nice deep oxygen-full breaths. Instead of filling your entire chest cavity with your breath - which then pushes down your diaphragm and makes your belly expand - you are taking in only enough air to fill your lungs and maybe pushing it a little bit into your shoulders.

So what's the problem with that? Well, according to Birch, it causes all sorts of abdominal issues. 
With improper or shallow breathing, the nerve cells (neurons) in the solar plexis are not fully nourished. A nerve cell's job is to generate and conduct electrochemical energy force called nerve impulses. Without sufficient prana (energy), the cells become inefficient conveyors of nerve force. In a physical sense, all abdominal viscera, fed by the solar plexis, suffer. - Birch (pg 41)

The thing that sticks out so strongly to me, is my mom has always had abdominal issues. Certain foods would upset her stomach, medications, stressful situations, etc. It is something we have grown up just accepting about her. What if her entire life of suffering from a "bad stomach" could be cured by breathing? It seems ridiculous, yet what Birch describes makes sense. Because my mom has been breathing backwards for so long, it is very possible her abdominal organs have been consistently malnourished.

I wanted to put this post out there, because according to Birch about half of the people she runs into breathe backwards. That's a ton! So maybe it could help one of you as well.

If you find yourself breathing backwards, try what Birch describes as "Active Exhalation" exercises. Sit or stand up straight. Close your mouth. Put your palms on your lower belly. Focus on your out breath - exhale with your mouth closed and press the lower rib cage down and back while simultaneously contracting the belly back towards the spine and lifting it up into the thoracic cavity. Push as much air out as possible, and then hold it for a second. Repeat. Notice everything that is happening. You don't need to worry about inhales because your body will automatically fill back up when you stop holding your exhale. Work on "retraining" your breathing by practicing this active exhalation every day. Soon, it will become more natural and make its way into the subconscious breathing you do all day.

Good luck!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

So many choices

Had a wonderful TT class yesterday - so much knowledge and just plain fun as we all explored yoga behind the scenes. But it was something that a student said that I have been thinking about all night, so I have decided to focus on that today instead of what we did in class.

We were assigned the book The World Peace Diet to read before teacher training began. It is because of this book I am on this vegan journey at all. But while I was focusing on the animal suffering part of the book, another student, Megan, had focused on a deeper issue the book touched upon - our subconscious beliefs. I remember reading about this, but for some reason it didn't stick with me then as it did when Megan eloquently summarized it last night.  So thank you, Megan, for making me take a second look at this concept.

The concept is that there are two ways for us to make a choice: consciously and subconsciously. Conscious choices are the ones we have a say in. Whether we show up for work on time. What outfit we wear. What to do Friday night.

The subconscious choices are the ones we didn't get a say when they were first being made, someone made these choices for us. And because of that, our mind considers them as non-negotiable. We never think to question them because we never knew a world without them. For example, someone in an abusive relationship may not have chosen to get beat up as a child, but their subconscious doesn't know another option. So they accept that is part of life and usually repeat the cycle.

Another example is most people did not get a say in whether or not they initially ate meat. They were given it as a baby and because of that, it is routed in their unconscious as a way of life. Do you think if the first time you had the choice to eat meat - ever - was when you were 20 years old and had to watch the cow suffering before being slaughtered so you truly understood the consequences of your actions, that you would make the conscious choice to eat it? There is a good chance you wouldn't. But when something is routed in your unconscious, you don't realize there might be another way so you dismiss anything else.

To most people, my first example above will get an "ah - I could see that" reaction and my second example will  be received by readers more as "there she goes on another vegan kick." Why is that? Could it be because the first example is not part of your subconscious "truth" but the second one is, so you cannot see around it? Both examples are identical, but depending on what choices were made for you, it might be difficult to let go enough to admit it.

To become truly enlightened, truly free, we need to break free from all subconscious dictation. We need to understand the reasoning behind our conscious choices - having that steak tonight, going to that church this weekend, making up an excuse for that black eye - by figuring out which subconscious belief led to it. And then crush that subconscious choice so it can no longer decide for us. Only when our choices are truly conscious can we live in wholly in the present.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mind Control - just for aliens?

You hear yoga teachers talk about your breath over and over (and over and over and over...). "Yeah, I get it - focus on your breath. Now stop saying it!" But I don't think I really "got it" until after contemplating things I learned at the retreat. Everyone knows if you're upset taking some deep breaths helps to calm you, but why? Why does simply breathing make things hurt less? Make your heart slow down when you're frightened? Make anger subside? The answer is simple, because you take the focus off of the issue at hand. 

We like to think we were made to multi-task, but we weren't. Our cerebral cortex can only handle one task at a time (if you want more detail, here's a great article explaining it: Therefore, our brain cannot handle say, acknowledging both a pain in your leg as well as the feel of your breath just below your nostrils. 

Most people don't have enough control over their own minds to dictate which one to concentrate on. The pain/anxiety/fear/anger is more demanding so your brain jumps to that one. However, the purpose of meditation is to strengthen this control over your brain. So that in a pinch, you will be able to say "Brain, you are now going to notice the breath instead." By removing focus on that other issue, it goes away. Internally you might struggle - breath, pain, breath, pain, breath, pain - but even removing focus from the pain for a split second makes it less powerful. The longer you can divert your focus from the issue to your breath, the less and less powerful the issue becomes. 

I got to test this out last night.  I was in one of Jonny's Hot Vinyasa classes and it was a killer (in a good way). After an hour of flowing we started holding some poses - starting with Crescent Moon. I have never been able to hold Crescent Moon as long as he makes us hold it. I see people around me straightening their legs, or going down onto a knee, and I always end up giving myself permission to do the same. Last night it was coming down to the wire. I had a cramp in my bent leg and just wanted, with every inch of my being, to straighten it out for a second. Instead, I focused my attention just below my nose. I began to feel the wind hitting the skin, in and out, in and out. God my leg hurt. Wait, back to breath. In and out, in and out. Ugh, am I going to survive? In and out, in and out. Then the most amazing words in the English language: "triangle pose." I had made it! For the first time ever, I had held the pose without letting my mind give permission to my body to "take a break." Holy crap - there is something to this controlling your mind thing! 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Silent Retreat

One of the precepts I agreed to upon entered teacher training was to speak only honestly. And I put off writing this blog about my meditation retreat because of that. I wasn't sure exactly what to say about my weekend, because I didn't want to diminish the retreat for anyone else. But then I was reminded (thanks Erica!) that my blog is about my own experiences. And my experience is just as valid as someone else's.

This past weekend, our yoga teacher training class went on a 3 day silent meditation retreat. I had never meditated before and had no idea what to expect, but I had heard such amazing things about meditation that I was excited to go.

Showing up and meeting everyone was amazing. I felt so close to these people already, even though we had only had one TT class together. However, then Noble Silence began as well as countless hours of meditation.

Even though I was a newbie to meditation, many of the ideas were ones I have lived with since I was a child. I have never been one to tear up at commercials, or lash out in anger, or freak out during tragedy. I am usually the calm level headed one who sometimes comes across as "cold" because I don't let my emotions take control (for example, I don't think that I have ever cried at a funeral). I would detach myself from emotion to get done whatever needed to get done. One of my mom's friends even nicknamed me "The General" at a very young age. It was just who I was (am). I wasn't suppressing anything, I could just see the bigger picture when it seemed like others couldn't - how acting on impulse rarely made a situation better.

So the goal of meditation was a very familiar one for me: become an observer to your thoughts, emotions and actions. Step outside of them. Control them instead of letting them control you. I am always up for learning and practicing, but the way in which we practiced it over the weekend didn't really do much for me. I don't think I was ready for 15 hours of sitting in meditation right out of the gate. I did learn a lot about myself during it, little lessons that I am sure will be discussed in future blogs, but I didn't feel this life-changing sensation that many others expressed. There was nothing spiritual for me, nothing cosmically-altering. This was strange for me because I am an extremely spiritual person. Maybe I wasn't ready, maybe I didn't do things correctly, maybe I expected too much going in, maybe, maybe, maybe. When it was over I was just ready for it to be over. It didn't leave me wanting more - like some people who were eager to go to a full Vipanassa 10 day silent retreat. I didn't feel accomplished. I felt pretty much blank by the end of it. It was what it was and then it was over. I was hesitant to be this honest because I felt like it makes me lesser than someone who had huge awakenings during the retreat. Like I am so far behind everyone else on this journey. But I need to be honest to myself in order to grow and so I needed to write the truth.

That said, I am excited to begin daily meditation. I do feel I can learn a lot about myself through this ancient practice (when done in moderation). I think I needed to work up to a retreat that intense in order to really appreciate the benefits.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Last night was the first class of yoga teacher training! First off, it was amazing to meet the people I have only known thus far online. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone better and learning from them. To have a room full of people as passionate as you are about a certain way of life is an unbelievable feeling of acceptance.

We learned a lot in those first 4 hours, but the biggest lesson that stands out is Observation. When most people think of a teacher - whether in a classroom or yoga studio - they think of someone who lectures, directs, takes control. Someone who leads. But a good teacher's role is opposite. To be a successful teacher, 90% of it is just observing. Listening. Watching. Sensing. Being so in tune with each individual student that you can deliver to them exactly what they need in a package they recognize.

Everyone has knowledge to share. Everyone has the capability to be a teacher to someone at some point every single day. But whether or not the student benefits from your knowledge is in how you deliver it. You need to sense what that student needs in that moment in order to get that lightbulb to go off in their head. To doso, you need to watch how that student approaches things themselves and mirror their own actions. Maybe someone is a visual learner whereas someone else seems to make the leap from metaphors. Maybe someone learns more while pushing themself whereas someone else is scared to move beyond that comfort zone. Maybe someone encourages debate whereas someone else gets defensive. To connect with someone, you must talk their language if you want them to respond. Teaching isn't about the knowledge you have, its about how well you can get it across.

The good news is, this intense observation is something that you can learn and cultivate. We did an exercise in class that I had done once before in a meditation class. I encourage everyone to give it a try and see just how observant you are.

Place a raisin in your mouth and close your eyes. Now just observe.
Where did you place it in your mouth? What shape is it? Can you feel the ridges? Can you feel where it is touching your tongue? Your cheek? Your teeth? What was your first instinct when you placed the raisin in your mouth? Did you act on this instinct or resist? Take a bite of the raisin. Which teeth did you use? Did you bite all of the way through or just a little bit? What feelings arose once you tasted it? How did your body react physically? Was there more saliva? Was it harder to resist just finishing it off was the flavor was released? Can you feel how many separate pieces there now are?

Just taking 5 minutes a day to really observe a situation as "insignificant" as eating a raisin (or getting into your car, or turning off your alarm, or taking a shower) gives you a glimpse of how many things happen that our brain never alert us to. We are missing out on all of this amazing intel about ourselves because we go into auto-pilot. By taking control of our observations, we can learn more about ourselves and can, in turn, more readily help others.

Here's a few to quick start your observational journey. What do you see?