Shine

In my purpose, I immerse.

A piece of the puzzle of universe.

I leave an empty place

Without my unique shape in the space.

Being the best me

I can be.

Encouraging others to reach their dreams

Because it seems

My accomplishments do not take from others, nor theirs from mine.

There’s room for all of us to shine.

Forget-Me-Not

If you’ve read my bio, you know that I am a widow. I don’t write specifically about it much anymore, but the experience of loss and living with loss shades my perspective of everything I experience.

Valentine’s Day. It can be a difficult day when you’re “alone.” There used to be flowers and fancy dinners to dress up for and gifts.

Flowers. Usually they seemed like a waste of money to me. They’re beautiful, but cut flowers had their lives cut short. They’re temporary. Finally, they go in the trash leaving some crunchy dried petals that make a mess on the floor and a glass vase that went into the collection of glass vases under the desk in my office, waiting patiently for “someday when they might be needed.” Flowers are expensive. Sometimes they cost more than we really had. But, receiving flowers at school, was a symbol of love and communicated I was that special to someone.

Valentine’s Day. Even after Alan was gone, every year someone has made sure I felt special. The first two Valentine’s Days I was still working as a principal and someone at school helped “my kids” send me flowers. I never found out who took the time to be kind and remind me that I was special and cared for.

Last year, I wasn’t expecting anything and was trying not to worry about it, when I was surprised again. I went to Zumba and my dance studio was kindly giving roses to the students. The roses brought a smile and I realized that a night of dancing and rose was a beautiful Valentine’s Day.

This year, I realized Valentine’s Day was coming several weeks ago and started thinking about flowers. After a moment of worry and sadness, I shook it off. It would be fine. Then I was given the opportunity to teach a yoga class on Valentine’s Day. I knew the class needed to be special, so I started curating the playlist and selecting heart-opening poses. As I listened to love songs, it occurred to me that not everyone experiences Valentine’s Day the same way. It’s not all about flowers and chocolates and a significant other. That thought influenced my class plans. My class isn’t about me, it’s about giving to my students and creating the experience they need and want.

I grew really excited about the class and was so happy to have something special to look forward to on Valentine’s Day.

Enter: The Groundhog. Sure. He said, “Six more weeks of winter.” But, did all six weeks worth of snow in subzero temps have to fall this week? The forecast wasn’t great for Valentine’s Day, but the brunt of the snow was for later in the day, so the class went on as scheduled.

I had gone in to the studio for the earlier class. To my surprise, the teacher said, “I had some tulips I repotted that I was going to bring you this morning. Purple ones. But, I forgot them on the counter.”

“Oh, wow! That was so nice of you to think of me!” I replied in surprise.

She said that next time she came, she would leave them behind the counter for me.

Another student commented that they might have gone into shock if she had brought them in such cold weather.

It was probably for the best.

Honestly, the mere thought that went into the kind gesture of planning to bring me flowers meant so much to me. Once again, Valentine’s Day flowers would come unexpectedly.

My class was a fun experience for my students and I. Following it, I made the careful journey home as the winter weather was beginning to defy the best efforts of the city and county road crews. Basically the next couple of weeks were a snow-pocalypse, relegating most people to their homes. It finally melted and the warmer days of meteorological spring ensued. On a rainy day in mid-March, the purple tulips were waiting patiently when I arrived at the studio. The tulips shared the special message that once again, I was not forgotten on Valentine’s Day and that it was time to “spring forward” into a new season.

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Eye of the Storm

Shades of gray drift over the sun like a heavy eyelid.

The scent of rain wafts like a lullaby.

Less light.

More dark.

The rays of the sun shine like eyelashes.

Fighting sleep.

Heaviness closes the eye.

The tears of the sky wash the earth releasing the spring.

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Just monkeying around…

Today I celebrate my 500th class at Kom Hot Yoga. My 500th class was actually a few days ago, but who’s counting? Well, I am!

I chose my “90% Monkey Pose” to commemorate the occasion. Why? Because it represents important things I’ve learned:

*It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect. This is my monkey pose today, and it is enough. I am enough.

*Yoga blocks are not the enemy. They are helpful in making poses deeper, more comfortable or possible.

*Monkeys represent intelligence and cunning. Yoga is a place of continual learning.

*Yoga is a tool to calm the “monkey mind.”

In Sanskrit, the name of the pose is Hanumasana, named for a character in Indian mythology, who is a monkey. But, he’s not just any monkey. As the sun of the Wind God, he was able to leap across the ocean, instrumental in saving Sita, the wife of exiled prince, Rama. The shape of the splits represents this incredible leap. Hanuman is often depicted carrying a mountain because in another feat, he goes to seek herbs to bring Rama’s brother back to life. Because he doesn’t know which herbs are the right ones, he simply brings back the entire mountain, so that he will have the right ones. Hanuman was brave, loyal, intelligent and skilled. These are great qualities to cultivate in my practice.

But, the most important thing? Monkeys are fun and yoga is supposed to be fun. I remind myself not to take things too seriously. I always want to keep it fun.

The Essence and the Flow

“…both essence and flow can exist in the same breath.”

– D. Arguetty. (2009). Nourishing the teacher.

Yoga is balance. Yoga is paradox.

Darkness and light.

Movement and stillness.

Grounding and flight.

Today I consider “essence” and “flow” as it pertains to the study of yoga, inspired by a selection in one of the books I’m reading. I learned about Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, speech and creative arts in Hindu mythology, who reflects the principle of balancing essence and flow.

As learners or practitioners of any subject or art, in the beginning, we learn the basics and build a foundation. The essentials. But, the more we practice and the essence becomes a part of us, we begin to evolve, allowing our own creativity to flow. Innovating and allowing our uniqueness to shape the practice.

Roots grow underground in the darkness, but flowers bloom in the light. Our minds grow in the stillness and bodies need to move. To practice the essence is grounding, but in the flow we take flight.

If we move too far from the essence, we’ve lost the art or discipline we practice. If we don’t innovate as we grow, we become stale and stagnant.

Yesterday, in the darkness and cold of a power outage, I wrote a sequence inspired by mountains. It begins with a standing pranayama presumably at night with a rising crescent moon. Sun A emerges in the middle of the sequence. The sequence is mostly grounding, but from the roots, there are opportunities for flight. Near the end a waterfall replenishes the body, mind and heart, melting into savasana, as the benefits of the practice seep in.

As you read, you may be thinking, I hear a lot that is familiar, and you do. It’s the essence. But, in the order of sequence itself is the flow.

As a teacher, I must always be mindful that “my” class belongs to the students. If there are 10 students, then there are 10 different classes. One on each mat at the intersection of what I share and what each student brings to the experience. I’m hoping that each intersection is a beautiful destination.

One more thing…

Notice I wrote this sequence yesterday, before today’s reading. In that order, I had the opportunity to learn in “the early childhood way” of having the experience first and making the meaning after.

As a “baby yoga teacher,” I suppose that is how it should be. Now off to practice and polish the sequence and prepare this gift for the students.

To learn more about Saraswati enjoy this article, which includes a short video.

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Let Go

Life is an interesting dance.

To live it is to take a chance.

The whole world lives within the heart.

Accept juxtaposition, balance can start.

There must be black, the darkest night,

To pierce the eyes with blinding light.

It is when silence does abound,

Entering the ears is resounding sound.

In the vast expanse of mountain or sea.

Is where you find the smallest “me.”

And, yet the vision traverses far.

The biggest sun appears as a tiny star.

Because you love

Is why you grieve.

Release the grip

Let go to receive.

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Chucks and Pearls

Chucks and pearls

For all the girls

Whose eyes are wide

With dreams inside

With hearts a fire

And intense desire.

You go, girls!

Sporting chucks and pearls.

Your road may be tough,

But, you are enough.

Sometimes it’s a fight,

But winners take flight.

You’ve got this, girls

Running in chucks, wearing pearls.

How does it feel

When dreams become real?

When your spark is a dance

Inspiring others to take their chance?

Lele. Coming soon…

“She had no idea of the impact her work would have, but she did it anyway.” -Rolf & Kenison. Meditations from the Mat. pg. 399.

As I read these words today, I took them to heart. When we have creative ideas, do the labor, and eventually give birth to them, we don’t know our effect on the world will be. Remembering that each tiny drop originates a ripple extending beyond our view, we may never know our impact.

Of course, the authors of the book, were not referring to me. They were referring to Grammy award winning artist, Tracy Chapman, and her 1988 album that brought awareness to suffering of physically abused women.

I say the authors were not referring to me, but as the reader, I bring my own thoughts and experiences to the process. When we “met” today, I felt the words in my heart.

“Lele” is a Hawaiian word meaning “to burst forth,” “to leap,” or “to jump.” My #oneword2021 follows last year’s word, also Hawaiian, “mohala,” meaning “to unfold” or “blossom one petal at a time.” My image was unfolding the many petals of a lotus flower, growing from its roots in the muck, revealing a jewel inside.

It’s still a process, but when the time is right, my 2021 is going to say, “2020, hold my beer.”

Lele. Coming soon.

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Inspire

inspire [in-spahyur] : to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence.

Sometimes people tell me, “You inspire me.” This statement arouses different feelings in me depending upon the day. Sometimes I feel honored and proud that something I’ve done and shared causes another to find inspiration. In my sharing heart, I know that even if an act only brings a momentary smile to another, it makes the day better. Perhaps that little burst of happiness is shared in a new way by the original recipient and the positive energy spreads from person to person.

Or…

Sometimes, I feel that being an inspiration is a burden or a responsibility. I don’t want to be an inspiration. I just want to take a run on a trail in the woods. I just want to stand on my head. I just want to write what I’m thinking about. Maybe I should keep my actions and ideas to myself.

Or…

Nobody really cares if I take a run. It doesn’t matter if I stand on my head. Nobody wants to read what I share anyway.

But…

The inspiring act is like a drop of water splashing into a lake. The initial splash is but a blink, but the concentric ripples expand into the world influencing countless other drops of water. Inspiration is a cycle. In order to inspire others, we must allow ourselves to be inspired, whether it is by another person’s words or actions, a butterfly that lands nearby or a beautiful sunset over the ocean.

So, the ripple can happen, the person can act, the butterfly can land and the sun can set, but they are not “inspiration” in and of themselves, we ALLOW ourselves to find inspiration.

This is the explanation when I feel honored or proud, but it needs to be tempered with the understanding that, it really wasn’t what I did, it was how the other person perceived it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they want to go run on a trail or stand on their head, it means they feel the desire to convert the inspiration into experiencing and sharing their own joy.

This is also the answer to myself when I feel the statement, “You inspire me.” as a burden or responsibility. It’s simply not true. It’s not my responsibility to inspire others. It’s their choice to EMBRACE inspiration in their lives.

Because “your feelings of inspiration are not my responsibility,” the thoughts that “nobody cares” and “it doesn’t matter” are also false.

I know from my days of being a kindergarten teacher and elementary principal that I spent countless hours serving students, encouraging then, teaching them, helping them. I can’t enumerate the number of shoes I tied over the course of thirty years, but it was important enough to one kindergartner to write me a letter thanking me for it when he was in second grade. Why was it inspiring that day? I’ll never know, just as I’ll never know many other acts that mattered to others. So, anytime I feel that something “doesn’t matter,” I remind myself that everything matters, but it is not always my privilege to know how or why.

Yesterday I read this quote: “Rosa sat so that Martin could walk; Martin walked so that Obama could run; Obama ran so that our children could fly.”

The inspiration for this quote is attributed to an email from a 19-year-old single mother from Pennsylvania to her Democratic Party chairperson. When this young lady shared her inspiration, it created a ripple for sure.

On the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, she had no idea that she was a link in a chain of events that resulted in our nation electing our first Black president. The ripples continue through this day and beyond in children of color who can truly aspire to be anything they desire, as they see themselves in others realizing incredible possibilities.

Be the drop of water that inspires the ripples, knowing that it’s not your responsibility to inspire and you may never know how you inspire, but trust that you do.

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What could you “bee” if…

What could you “bee” if you weren’t afraid? What if you didn’t doubt yourself? What if no one said to you, “You’re too …” or “You’re only …” or “You’re just …” or “You’ll never …”? Or “That’s impossible.”

What if you didn’t say these things to yourself?

“Your wings are too thin.” “Your body is too fat.” “You’ll never fly.” “That’s impossible.” Said no one ever to the bee.

So, the bee flies because it doesn’t know it can’t. What would “bee” possible if you didn’t “know” you couldn’t?

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The Monkey and the Latkes

As an assignment in my YTT, for one week we were to keep a log of our daily activities and record whether they were energizing or an energy drain. This was a self-study of brahmacharya, or “right use of energy.”

“Entering this realm of more pervasive exploration, we must still bear in mind that anything in excess can cause distress and lack of focus. The remedy, however, is not repression, but rather a watchful and moderate engagement.” (Arguetty & Budreski. Nourishing the Teacher: Inquiries, Insights, and Contemplations on the Path of Yoga.)

This was an interesting and valuable study in the analysis as I learned several things:

*Activities I wanted to do were nearly always energizing, regardless of the actual energy expended during the activity. I guess it’s kind of like a car… as energy is expended while driving, the battery is also being charged. My personal alternator is working pretty well. I have a lot of energy!

*Activities I “have” to do are energy depleting regardless of the actual expenditure of energy of the activity. Hmmmm… why?

Resistance. (I’ll write more about that later.)

*Multitasking is an energy drain. I engage in multitasking when I lose focus on what I’m doing. Most of the time it’s because something “takes too long.”

It reminded me of a favorite movie reference. In Christmas Vacation, Clark’s boss, Frank Shirley, bellows into his phone to an off-screen assistant, “Get me someone! And get me someone while I’m waiting!” This is me, well not really me; this is Monkey Mind, who doesn’t wish to be still and wait.

What about the latkes? It all started on Thanksgiving, the ultimate day of “nonmoderation” of food (which only comes once a year, so technically it’s moderation in nonmoderation, right?). There were lots of leftover mashed potatoes… the good kind with real butter and cream cheese whipped into a fluffy oblivion. What to do? What do do? I know! Latkes! Potato pancakes! Except I didn’t know how. So, I Googled a recipe that made a dozen latkes and went to work. 10 minutes prep time. 10 minutes cook time. What I learned was latkes don’t cook as fast as regular pancakes… they take 3-5 minutes per side. In my opinion, as a non griddle owner, making them in a skillet, the recipe writer made a serious mathematical error. She forgot to multiply the cook time by the number of latkes. 90 minutes later I was done (apparently my latkes were more generously sized). The cook time for each side, was more than I could mindfully attend to and I found myself multitasking in a major way: eating lunch standing at the counter (the first few latkes), unloading and loading the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen, taking the trash outdoors, checking Facebook, etc.) This was while monitoring the cook time and condition of the latkes in the skillet mostly effectively, with a few panicked returns, running to the skillet to flip them in time.

About 7 latkes in, I realized I was engaging in the energy zapping multitasking and decided to be mindful with the cooking process. I tried to interest Monkey Mind in watching as the potato mixture slowly bubbled and eventually gained enough stability on the bottom side to allow the spatula to gently slide under the pancake and balance the deliciousness just before releasing into a perfect 180 flip and landing evenly on the opposite side to finish browning. Ahhhhhh….

Well, if you are expecting this story to end with an epiphany about focus and mind control, you are going to be disappointed. What I learned was, I am not there yet. Even, when patiently trying to engage Monkey Mind with curiosity and wonder, I was fighting distraction and wander.

But, no latkes were harmed in the making of this story. Well, except the first one, but everyone knows that when making pancakes, the first one is the “sacrifice pancake.” Not so beautiful to look at, but it was still tasty.

 

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Shoot for the moon

To explore Santosa (contentment) on the mat, one of my YTT homework assignments was to design a sequence that built towards Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose) and find contentment in the expression of the pose I created, letting go of expectation or achievement. As a person who spent most of my life with achievement as an internal motivator, this idea is challenging. 

“Nothing to master. Everything to explore.” (Stephens. Yoga Sequencing. 198)

What a refreshing idea!

So, I took the time to create a moonlight themed personal playlist that speaks to my heart and is so eclectic and fun! It’s a tribute to some important people in my life and reminds me of some special times. Some of it feels dark like the night sky. Some of it rocks! Why take so much time?

If I would do it for others, why not for ME? Aren’t I worth it?

(You know the answer.)

The sequence itself is lighthearted, “dancy” and fun. It has some silly cueing. It is a mandala, so there are multiple opportunities to practice the peak pose.

Yesterday, on a Missouri December day, it was 72 degrees, so the only place to practice was outdoors. However, here in the Ozarks, there is no such thing as a flat piece of ground, so that added to the challenge.

How many times did I fall out of half moon pose? A lot. But…

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you land among the stars.” -Les Brown

This is Santosa.

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This is how I roll…

Today when Wheel Pose was offered during my practice, the Yoga Voice from within encouraged, “Do it.” My body resisted initially. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the pose, but when I’d done it before, it was a struggle, with my arms fighting to lift my head and chest. Sometimes I’d get part way up and then rest my head on the floor, while my arms tried to gain a second wind and muscle up that front half of my body. Sometimes it was successful, sometimes not. So usually I just stayed with Bridge Pose, which felt good and stable.

“Do it,” the Voice patiently repeated.

My heels walked towards my glutes and my palms found the earth next to my ears, fingers gently creeping under my shoulders.

“Deep inhale. Exhale. Push into the floor with the heels. Hips to the sky. Chin away from chest. Hips a little higher. Extend the arms.”

(Notice I didn’t say, “Lift the head and chest with the arms.” My much stronger hips and quads had already done this work.)

I felt a rush of elation and joy normally reserved for a first time accomplishment. The surprise and intensity of the emotion broke my concentration, so I had to come down carefully, tucking the chin and rolling down one vertebrae at a time.

After a short break, I took the pose again. (And again a few more times to get the photo.)

It. Felt. Awesome.

It was easy! Well, let me rephrase that. It seemed easy. It felt effortless. It is not an easy pose!

So, there is no prize for attaining Wheel, or any other pose. Or is there?

Not in the “I’d like to thank the Academy…” sense, of course, but perhaps in other ways…

*I listened to the positive voice in my very being.

*I didn’t give in to Resistance. (more to come on this topic)

*I didn’t fight with my body. I worked with it, how it is designed to work.

*I allowed myself to celebrate a victory.

*I let it be easy.

Life on the mat is a microcosm of life. These lessons are the “wins” I can take with me into real life. They work there, too.

So, yeah, there is a prize.

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I am Enough

“Let go of the frustration and the judgment and work with your unruly mind as you would with a child or a puppy.” – Gates & Kenison

I’m grateful to have found my “yoga voice.” When I speak it to myself it is much kinder and gentler than my critical voice that internally spoke of inadequacy and disdain to myself. That voice said ugly things. Things I would never say to another human.

“You are too fat. You would look better if you only lost (5, 10, 20, fill in the number) pounds.”

“Look at those dark circles. You need to cover those. Is that a new wrinkle? *applies make-up* I can still see them.”

“My eyes look tired. They look sad. Why can’t I make them sparkle?”

“My hair is too thin. Especially in that spot right there. Is that a gray hair? Ugh!”

“What makes me think i can (fill in the blank)? Everyone knows I’m just a (fill in the blank).”

“*something goes wrong* See! I told you you couldn’t. I don’t know why you even try.”

And, there are more. If I analyze these statements, what I find is they come from a common root.

I. Am. Not. Good. Enough.

I’ve actually been working on this negative self talk for several years, pre-yoga journey. One time I was listening to Oprah and she said, “Do not speak words to yourself that you would not say to a friend.” These words resonated with me at that time. Wow! How true. Why do I say these things to myself?

But, changing the recording that plays in the mind is easier said than done. It takes time. It takes patience. These thoughts are habitual.

When I first tried, the “thought poison” came out as it always had, but I could bring awareness to it and reframe it.

“My body is amazing and carries me through life. I care for it inside and out. I can dress it well.”

“My face is a road map of my journey reflecting the genuine smiles that crinkled my eyes and the ponderings that furrowed the brow. All of the beautiful carefree days where the sun soaked into the skin left an impression. I am beautiful just as I am.”

“It’s okay to be tired and it’s okay to be sad. Find rest. Let the eyes leak. I can allow myself to heal. The sparkle is still there and will show itself in time.”

“My hair is long and the colors of chocolate and cinnamon. It is shiny, soft and strong. I love how it feels.”

“I can do whatever I set my mind to do. Everyone knows I am capable. And, if they don’t? It doesn’t matter. I know I’m capable.”

“Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Perhaps there is a silver lining. Maybe I did better than last time and I can continue to grow. I’ve done hard things before and I can do them again. Keep trying. Keep believing.”

I. Am. Enough.

But, in this process, you must be patient with your mind. I like to think of speaking to it with all the patience and encouragement that I would have for my two-year old self. Or thinking of it as “Monkey Mind,” a cute, impish being that needs to be patiently reigned in and refocused over and over.

The ongoing effort to find this patient, kind voice, the one I now call my yoga voice, has been worthwhile. Why? As Sherri, one of my yoga teachers, says, “Your voice is the loudest voice you will ever hear and believe.”

I. Deserve. Kindness.

So do you.

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Living and Learning

“You can’t step into the same river twice.”*

Each breath is new.

Isn’t that nice?

This is your moment to seize and explore.

When it fades, it returns no more.

The past is over; the future lies ahead.

But, grounded in this moment, find your peace instead.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Feel and let go.

In the living and learning is when you grow.

*Gates and Kenison. Meditations from the mat.

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Wisdom in the Dance (Parts 1 and 2)

“While performing asana, the student’s body assumes numerous forms of life found in creation, and he learns that in all of these breathes the same universal spirit, the spirit of God.” -B.K.S. Iyengar

Part 1

While many of us equate yoga and asana (postures) as one and the same, asana is only a part of yoga. We often strive to perfect our poses by making them straighter, or twisting them to an extreme, or balancing a more complicated form for longer. (Perhaps we get to measure the duration of crow pose in seconds rather than milliseconds.) We believe that the more effort we put in, the closer to perfection we get. Ironically, according to Patanjali, “effortlessness is success.” Attaining “harmony” with our bodies, breath an awareness in that moment allows us to experience the wisdom that is written into our DNA. (Gates & Kenison) While minds must find stillness to be at peace, bodies can be at peace in either stillness or movement. My body typically chooses “the dance.”

One of my teachers often says, “Let it be easy,” in a calm, floaty voice. I have always taken this to mean to stop trying so hard and just let it happen. (Oh yeah, and relax your face.) But, after reading today’s entries in Meditations from the Mat (Gates & Kenison) I can understand that this cue is actually is much deeper. It is an invitation to experience “the wisdom of the dance,” a chance to absorb what my body has to say and the opportunity to be in a moment of harmony. (Enter: The Onion. Another layer is peeled away and I’m reminded that although I’m excited about today’s understanding, it’s not “the final answer.”)

I have a couple of yoga classes in a bit… As of now, I plan to choose a mantra like “Let it be easy,” or “I am Harmony,” or “Find wisdom in the dance.” But, I can’t decide now. I’ll do it in the moment…

Part 2

The focus of the class was pratyahara, or disconnecting with everything except ourselves. The room was dark and soothing.

“I am still.”

The teacher offered these words as our mantra. Seriously? I wanted to dance. Still, I settled into the savasana that began our practice. My breath deepened until it became “the audible breath of the ocean” that I love. Intentional movement began as I breathed the words, “I am” on the inhale and “still” on the exhale. The thought floated through my mind, “I am not my body. I am still, but my body can dance.” As the flow built upon itself, I closed my eyes much of the time, to feel the dance, not watch the dance. There were moments when my eyes opened reflexively as my body struggled to find its harmonic balance without the aid of my vision. Also, I realized, if the muscles of the face began to clench, my eyes needed to flutter open until they could relax, if harmony I sought.

In the stillness was the wisdom of the dance. It was the heat of the heartbeat cooled by the rhythm of the breath. It was the opposition between micro adjustments to find balance. It was the graceful transition between stillness and movement on the winds of the breath.

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I came to do the yoga

“If you never want to be the silohette you got to find your light” – California by OAR

I came to do the yoga.

I didn’t come to do the poses.

I did the poses most of the time.

But, sometimes I didn’t.

Sometimes I flew.

Sometimes I fell.

But, isn’t that life?

In the flights,

And in the falls,

Let your light shine.

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I am a Teacher

This is me reading to Princess Bean, my honorary granddaughter. It’s interesting that I’ve spent a lifetime nurturing a love of reading in youngsters and continue that legacy with Bean (ETA April 2021), but haven’t really read that many books for myself as an adult.

In my YTT journey, there is a lot of reading. A lot more reading than I’ve been used to. Sometimes the words flow through my brain like a river, not really seeming to stay (but I know they are filed away somewhere for a time in the future when they will serve me or serve another person when I can share them) and sometimes the words convey an idea that resonates in my very being, bringing me to a full stop and the ideas are emblazoned on my heart and mind.

As I began my study, one of the first things I read (in the introductory section of Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison was, “The word ‘educator’ comes from the Latin word, educere, which means to lead forth or draw out.” As a retired principal and teacher, who had desired nothing more in her life since first grade, but to become a teacher, this resonated with me. However, it also created a little anxiety. I wondered, “Am I trying to go backward in life to my place that is comfortable. To my life that I have always lived since I was five, in “school world.” Or, is this truly moving forward?

As more ideas and information washed over my dendrites, the thought occurred to me that being a teacher did not have to look like standing in a classroom in front of students. Maybe it was in a discussion or a conversation. Possibly I share my heart and mind through writing, allowing the readers to bring thoughts and experiences to the story with my words flowing through their minds. Perhaps some nugget attaches itself and sparks thoughts in another being.

“A Course in Miracles reveals, ‘To teach is to demonstrate’.”(Gates & Kenison)

Hmmm… that doesn’t say anything about standing in a classroom.

To put things in my own words, “To teach is to share.”

Wow, this idea is a little scary because I don’t know that I always want to share. I once listened to Oprah say that as a child anytime she had something, like even a candy bar, she always wanted to share it with someone because it made her happier than having it all to herself. I can’t say that. I had been taught that it was nice to share and I should share, but deep down, I really wanted the whole thing. It didn’t really bring me joy to give half of it away. (I’m working on that.)

But, in my perception, knowledge is free flowing and when sharing what I know can support another person on the life journey, it does give me the good feeling.

I’ve always felt that I could teach anyone anything, as long as it was inside of me. As a child, my elementary teachers nurtured this, as I was often allowed to be the one that could get up out of my seat and assist other students when they needed help. When I was in sixth grade, my teacher selected another student and I to be his assistants to help other kids when he was busy. At the conclusion of the year, as a thank-you, he gave me a comical figurine (undoubtedly a recycled Christmas gift) that said, “World’s Greatest Teacher.” I don’t know whatever happened to it, but the memory lives on.

I’ve taught kids to read, to count, to sing, to dance, to somersault, to skate, and to float on their backs in the pool. Most of all, I hope I taught them that they matter and can do whatever they set their minds to do. Teaching is making a difference.

When I first posted online to my friends that I had embarked on YTT, a fellow retired educator commented, “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” At first the comment made me smile and the thought crossed my mind “takes one to know one.” (Will I ever grow up? Probably not.) Then the six words began to resonate with me and I realized she was reflecting my truth. I was a teacher. It reminded me of a time I was in an updated rest area with sensors to operate the faucet at a time when they were unusual. As I washed my hands, I noticed the little girl next to me didn’t understand how to make the faucet work, so I began explaining how to turn the faucet on and how the sensor was like the faucet’s eyes, so you had to show your hands to it so it knew you wanted to wash them. The little girl followed my instructions and happily began washing her hands. A voice from behind a stall asked, “Who are you talking to?” The little girl replied, “A lady. She was helping me.” Her mom emerged and we greeted on another. She commented, “You must be a teacher.” I smiled and replied, “I am.”

In the version of the Sutras I am reading, near the end, the translator explained how some people are born to be teachers. It’s not enough to know things for themselves, but they want to share what they know. It’s their purpose, their dharma. It is their nature. It’s written in cosmic law.

So, today’s “ruby slipper” gem for me? I’m a teacher and I’ve known it all along. Am I going backwards to the life of the comfort of the known and the security of the familiar? No. We have the desire to become more of who we are and who we’re destined to be. Yoga is a mirror and we begin to see our true selves in the reflection.

“Everything in life is pointing us back to our true nature.” – Stephen Cope.

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Atlas, Ruby Slippers, and the Onion

As I delve into the 5000+ year history and philosophy of yoga, I’m learning more about the spiritual aspects and working to develop my own understanding and way to explain my understanding, if someone asks me. In addition to reading assigned texts, I’ve done a little Googling on the topic to read what others have to say. Many, many opinions. I’m not one to adopt another’s beliefs “hook, line and sinker,” preferring to be informed by my own thoughts and experiences as I listen to learn and consider what I am hearing.

Still not feeling a clear grasp of the topic, I asked an experienced yoga teacher how she explains this if someone asks. With openness and clarity, she explained her thoughts and beliefs that she has developed over time through her study and experiences. Another yoga teacher chimed in on an important part of the conversation, “It’s not my responsibility what others choose to think or believe.”

Coming from a career where being responsible for other people was, well, my responsibility, I realized that feeling this level of responsibility for anyone but myself, currently no longer serves me.

I know why I practice. It feels good. It is a release. It’s healthy. It’s fun.

Enter: Atlas.

This morning, I read a list of “wisdom nuggets” a man in his seventies had learned. Number 2 was: “I am not Atlas. I don’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.”

Note to self… I’m not responsible for what someone else thinks or believes. I am responsible for my own heart and my own intentions. I can share what is in my heart and my understanding, but it is not my job to convince you to think or believe like me.

Enter: Ruby Slippers

In case you didn’t already know it, “The Wizard of Oz” is a metaphor for life. When it comes to this question of yoga and spirituality. I have the “ruby slippers.”

Note to self: My answer is inside me and I’ve had it all along.

Enter: The Onion

I realized that although I possess my “ruby slippers,” they are buried within the heart of an onion. With each passing moment of presence, the onion is peeled revealing a new depth of understanding.

So, this post may not have ended as you thought it might with a clear explanation of my new philosophy of yoga or an eloquent differentiation of yoga and religion.

Note to self: It took 5000+ years for yoga to evolve into what it is today. Why should I expect to understand this after five weeks of YTT? Honestly, that’s pretty unrealistic.

So, I’m still peeling the onion, knowing that in the heart, lies a sparkling pair of ruby slippers.

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Teaching is a work of heart

“To teach a yoga class well, the teacher must hold back nothing. The teacher’s heart must be entirely open.” – Gates & Kenison. Meditations from the Mat. Page 127.

This quote jumped off the pages of my book this morning, the day following my first experience teaching a public yoga class. My yoga school arranged opportunities for training students to teach in-studio classes provided at no charge to the attendees. Attendees knew that the instructor was in training and since they hadn’t paid, it wasn’t as pressured for the trainee.

But, stepping into the room full of yoga peers gave me feelings of both excitement and nervousness. I was excited that people actually came and that I finally was going to be able to share the beloved Hawai’i Flow Sequence that I had spent weeks painstakingly creating and practicing.

I was nervous because people actually came and I wondered if I could really lead this sequence so that the students felt what I wanted them to feel by the end of the class, the feeling of relaxation as if they had visited my beautiful Hawai’i.

Excitement and nervousness are actually the same emotion, one seemingly a positive manifestation and one not so much. The time came to begin and after the awkward feeling of introducing myself, we settled into our breath work to the songs of the ocean and whale calls. The playlist carried me through the postures and cues, mostly peacefully with only a few minor errors that likely no else noticed.

During my first couple of downward facing dogs, I noticed my muscles were quivering. It was too early for muscle fatigue to be the culprit. Then I realized that, as I had learned the day prior, muscles quiver to release excess stress as a natural response.

Of course, I’ve been stressed to this point many times, but this time was different. Instead of fighting my body to stop shaking, I realized my muscles were just trying to help me, so I let them do their thing. And? Guess what? When they were finished, they stopped on their own. I felt relaxed.

The playlist continued and carried my mind and body and words through the entire sequence. When I was finished I was happy and relieved. I was exhausted.

Then, Excitement opened one eye and said, “Can we do this again?”

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I am Santosa (contentment)

I am Santosa. I am that beautiful, wonderful self that resides in my very being. I am not my body. I am not my mind. I am not my abilities. I am not my mistakes. I am not my accomplishments. I am not my roles.

I nurture my self with kindness, using words of ahimsa as if I was encouraging a two-year-old, because on the inside, like rings of a tree, there is a two-year-old (along with all the other ages I have ever been) that desires to grow and desires to explore.

Growth happens best with patience and nurturing. A lone dandelion can grow through a barren crack in rocky soil, but how much more would dandelions flourish in a sunny meadow kissed by an occasional gentle rain at nightfall?

Unlearn fear. Accept love. Make peace with your past. Make peace with the future. Enjoy the present.

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Plot Twist

I had many ideas for where my life was going after retirement. Traveling. Mine eyes would see many sparkling seashores, majestic mountains and colorful valleys, desert sunrises and ancient rock formations. I would have the adventures, take the photos, write the blog and basically find freedom riding off into the sunset. Only that’s not what happened. That outward journey started, but thanks to a worldwide pandemic, it’s almost halted for now. So, while there is beauty in my own backyard and I’ll create space for nearby places, I’ve mostly turned the journey inward through yoga teacher training. Five months and 200 hours of history, philosophy, anatomy, and building the capacity to guide others on their yoga journeys. Five months from now, I won’t be the same person as I am now. What am I saying? Tomorrow I won’t be the same person as I am now. Neither will you.

Happy Trails

Temps in the 60’s with light cloud cover were the perfect ingredients for a hike in the woods. My dad and I decided to try out the Blair Ridge Trail in the Hercules Glades Wilderness Area near Bradleyville, MO today. The trail is rated moderate, but most of it is very easy with only about 400 feet of elevation change in route to the falls. The approximately six-mile, out and back trail varies from dirt, to gravel to larger rocks with some noticeable inclines and declines. We ran into a few downed trees, but overall the trail was in great condition. I definitely recommend shoes specifically designed for hiking or trail running, not sandals. The trail would be safe and do-able for children. Although it runs along the top of a ridge, the trail is never anywhere near a drop-off.

It is a multi-use trail, including horseback riding, so you do have to watch your step. Wilderness camping is allowed in the area. There are no amenities and you must pack in and pack out everything. Trail users out here have been really responsible, as the area was devoid of litter.

Due to significant drought conditions in the area, water was not running at the falls, but there was a small spring-fed lake and the large smooth rocks were a great place to sit and have lunch.

We were told that April is a great time to visit the area with the falls running and spring flowers along the trail. While flowing water would have definitely added to the beauty, I think fall has its own colorful charm.

If you are headed this way, let me give you some specific directions to finding the trailhead, that would have been helpful if we could have found these online prior to coming. The map we found was of limited help. GPS only got us so far, to the intersection of Cane Creek Road and Blair Ridge Road. From this intersection turn left (NE) and go about three miles on gravel. You will see the Ponderosa Ranch, which is private property and you will wonder if you have missed something. Keep going. You will see a small dirt area where you can park on the right side of the road and the trailhead (marked Hercules Glades Wilderness Area) on the left side of the road. I was only able to verify this was the correct trailhead after I opened the sign-in log. The trail itself was easy to follow, but not necessarily well-marked. Signage near the falls where three trails come together was visible, but were wooden, so they didn’t stand out much.

We had a little “wildlife fun.” I got a photo of this little guy in the dry falls area. We also saw a tarantula, squirrels, a deer, birds and several daddy long legs. We didn’t see the bears that the signs warned about or a mountain lion.

So, if you find yourself in Taney County and you want to find a place to hike for the day, the Blair Ridge Trail could be just what you’re looking for!

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The Elephant in the Room

About a mile of paved trail in Elephant Rocks State Park leads through a field of giant pink granite boulders that are approximately 1.5 billion years old. Some stand over 20 feet tall and weigh 600 tons. They were formed from molten rock as it bubbled up from the earth and cooled. The row of elephant rocks get their name from the fact that they look like a circus elephant parade.

The rock formations are varied and off-trail use is acceptable to climb and explore. This park is the only place in Missouri to go bouldering. It’s simply a natural playground!

The view from the top of the elephant rocks, looking out among the St. Francois Mountains, is amazing and fairly easy to access due to the paved trail and a small flight of wooden steps.

The lake in the park is lovely and reflects the surrounding geological wonders.

Off of a small unpaved trail, there are remnants of a old railroad engine house, evidence of the quarrying history of this part of Missouri.

The park actually reminded me of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, only much pinker and rounder. There is nothing like a 600 ton boulder to make you feel small.

Or holding up a boulder with one finger to make you feel powerful.

Of the destinations on our Show-Me September Adventure, this tied for number one in my opinion with Alley Springs Mill. The destinations are so different and beautiful in their own ways, that they really cannot be compared. But, you don’t have to choose. Just do both!

On the way back to the cabin, we found the highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain. It was easy to access via car on several miles of gravel road. The view from the top was nice, but I would advise not going out of your way to visit this state park. There’s not much there. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, it’s worth getting off the main road and wandering that direction. Been there. Done that. No t-shirt. As mentioned in the blog post about the Johnson’s Shut-ins, it is possible to hike from that park to this one, if you want that level of hiking.

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Escape to the Shut-Ins

I had previously heard of Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, and that it was very popular, but I really didn’t know exactly what a “shut-in” even was or why I would want to visit. But, it was one of the destinations for my dad and I on our 2020 Show-Me September Adventure.

The shut-ins are a unique geological formation. It is when a river is limited by erosion-resistant rock. The water cascades around the smooth igneous rock and creates a natural water park to the delight of swimmers of all levels and observers of the beauty of the gorge. There are areas with water low enough for wading and small children, much deeper areas to explore and rocks to climb for those who want that challenge. There are places in the rocks that are filled with water and look like little hot tubs.

If you are planning to swim, be warned that the parking lot can fill fast in the afternoon and the area is closed to additional people. The day we were there was just after Labor Day on a weekday and by afternoon, the lot was about half full. I would imagine in the middle of summer, you would have to arrive in the morning to secure your spot. Life jackets were recommended and sturdy water shoes are a must. We saw several random lost sandals at various locations. With the movement of the water, sandal straps can become soaked and loose and you can be suddenly without a shoe that you may never see again, if you are in an area with rushing water. They have a flag system tied to the rate of the water flow that allows visitors to know how safe the conditions are. At a red flag level, the area is closed to swimmers.

Because I had a new full-face snorkel mask I had never tried, I decided to bring it and my snorkel vest along to test them out. It wasn’t the ocean or the Great Barrier Reef, but I did get nose to nose with some local fish and was able to advise my dad about the fishing possibilities in the Black River. I had fun.

The park was originally the homestead of the Johnson family who eventually sold the land after three generations to Joseph Desloge, who was a St. Louis community leader and conservationist who developed the park and donated to the state. There is a family cemetery at the park that my dad and I explored.

Swimming, of course, is the big deal, but you can enjoy hikes of different levels, including a short accessible hike on pavement, a boardwalk hike with a lot of steps to view the shut-ins and a deep blue-green pool. There is gravel trail to view other sections of the park. There were also a couple of dirt and rock trails that were rated moderate.

In addition to the scenery of the shut-ins, you can also view the surrounding St. Francios Mountains, that include the highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain. If you really want to make a day (or two) of hiking or backpacking, the Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park adjoins the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park via the Ozark Trail. It’s 12.3 miles one way. We did not hike any of this and from what I have read, sections of it are quite challenging, so definitely do more research on it.

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