Unfolding on the Mat
Expanded Content and Thoughtful Guidance
What lights you up?
This was the question my friend and colleague, Tej Arvind, recently asked me, and I was surprised at where it took me.
I often give her a buzz when I'm in a moment of standing still and contemplating a next phase in my life. She has a gift with reading the planets, and this time was no exception. Her insights validated much of what I've been sensing about this strange time in our lives and helped me gain some focus and direction.
Her simple question took me from wondering about what I SHOULD do to what I LOVE to do. Just asking the question lit me up! I mean, wow! There are so many things that light me up! I love teaching yoga, being with my family, visiting with friends, swimming, walking, writing, and studying.
But her question was more specific than that. Within teaching, what lights me up? Within relationship, what lights me up? What is it about writing and studying that brings that inner joy to the surface?
Digging a little deeper brought me to a place where I wasn't sure.
What is the common spark of joy within all these areas of my life ?
Frankly, this isn't a brain or thinking question. This is a spirit question. This is an embodiment question.
As Mark Nepo puts it in The Book of Awakening,
"Though life sometimes begins in the head, the full body of joy cannot be know there."
So how does one answer a non-thinking question?
Take it to your practice.
A yoga practice of embodiment helps you slow down your mind. The control of your breath calms the chatter that repeatedly asks, and tries to answer, the questions meant for your heart.
We will do this in our online classes together this week.
To do this anytime on your own, grab your mat and journal and try this:
May what lights you up from the inside determine your steps on the outside.
Does the question, "Now what?" keep coming to your mind? At least here in Austin, some restrictions are being lifted and there is a sense that life will return to "normal" eventually, and perhaps sooner than later. Some churches have returned to worshipping together with social distancing, some restaurants are open at 25%, and there is a bit of spring/cabin fever in the air. There's also a lot of debate about the right thing to do.
I'm feeling the same for our yoga community.
Do we come back to class at a limited capacity? How can we maintain connection to the online community we have created together? Is it time to pivot AGAIN???
The only answer I get is, "Not yet."
I feel like I/we are standing in the liminal space between what was and what will be. Richard Rohr describes this liminal space as
"where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next."
(See many great quotes and further reading on the liminal space here.")
It's that moment when the ocean retracts before rushing forward again with a new wave. Or it's the pause between the inhale and the exhale. There is nothing to "do" but wait for right timing to move forward; to go ahead and exhale.
It's in these times that I take stock. I look around at what I've been doing, what has changed, and what still needs attention. I let time exist to hold me, rather than me trying to force my hand on time. I do my practice and nourish my soul with breath, prayer, family, and quiet time. And that is all there is for now. Teaching, listening, breathing, and waiting.
Perhaps you are feeling this in your life as well.
So until "right timing" happens, let's keep practicing together online. Let's continue to gather over the ethers. Let's enjoy what each day brings in whatever way we can. Let's count our blessings, because they are MANY.
We can practice together Tuesday/Thursday morning on Facebook, Wednesdays at noon for meditation on the Psalms, and Friday at 4pm through Waking Giants. Take class any time through your own portal at Chakra Savvy. Stay in touch on Instagram and Twitter. Do some self-care with my videos for you on YouTube.
So until I see you again...
May you stand in the liminal space with patience and grace.
Did you know that you have within you a communication device that will tell you exactly what's going on in your interior life? We don't always know that our mind is struggling to digest something, or our emotions are on high alert, or our body is tensing up for combat.
But our breath does.
It's pretty common these days that people know to stop and take a breath. The phrase "just breathe" is fairly ubiquitous in our culture. And I think this is GREAT. The more of us that stop and breathe the better off we are as a society. It's THAT BIG of a deal!
So we've learned to control the breath in order to create a greater sense of calm to our system. Excellent!
But did you realize the reverse is just as valuable?
Recently I was working with a Yoga Therapy client (via FaceTime) and we were going through her practice and talking about how each piece of it is going for her. Interestingly, the ones that I had intended to be the most important in the sequence were the ones she felt the most resistance to doing. So we asked the question:
How can this be done in a way that feels SUPPORTIVE, rather than like a STRUGGLE?
When we struggle, our breath becomes shorter and shallower. There might be a tightness to it. Sometimes we even hold our breath, as if we're waiting to breathe until the struggle passes.
Well my friends, this is a time of struggle--how's your breathing going?
I think this suspension of "normal" life is a good opportunity to notice how you respond to stressful stimuli, and your breath is your best diagnostic tool. For me, going to the grocery store and seeing everyone in masks was crushing my spirit. I barely breathed while shopping, which I noticed once I got back to my car and took a deep breath. If I had been listening, my breath would have asked me,
"How can this be done in a way that feels supportive, rather than a struggle?"
I made up my mind to change my perspective on the masks and see them as a symbol of the sacrifices everyone is making in order to protect each other and those on the front line. Now my mask feels like I'm SUPPORTING something beautiful, rather than struggling with the images of this pandemic. I can breathe easier :)
In my online classes this week we will work with ways to notice the breath. I will call your attention to when it's a struggle to maintain slow, deep breathing. Once it's hard to breathe in an asana, there are diminishing returns. It's all about that sweet spot of steadiness and ease.
One new thing I'm doing to promote yoga lifestyle tools to support you are what I'm calling Yoga Life Video Shorts. They are posted on my IGTV Channel, as well as in the Jess G Yoga Facebook Group. I recognize not all of you are on social media, yet I want you to be able to access these fun, quick videos so you can incorporate the things that would support YOU today. It seems I'm a glutton for punishment, because I just set up a YouTube channel with these videos for anyone to see. So, as they say, "go like and subscribe!"
May you always notice the quality of your breath, and let it help you move from enduring struggle to finding support.
Remember how on April 3 I wrote about “building a scaffold in the form of routine to support your day?” How’s that going for you?
Personally, I’m already smiling back at “Early- April Jess” like, “Oh, you think so, do ya? You just wait.” This process has been more like build it, fight for it, struggle with it, let it go...build a new one, fight for it, struggle with it, let it go…
So I guess I’m not building scaffolds. I’m building sand castles. I’m letting go of routine and schedules as I see them get washed away. Only then can I be present with what this time is and has to offer.
I began quarantine time with a schedule including two-hour time frames around rising, eating, moving, working, playing, resting, all posted on a dry erase board. Then I changed it to just a rhythm to the day. Then I dropped the rhythm and it became a checklist. Finally, Havia just erased the whole thing and wrote, “Have a great day!” Yeah, that’s about all we can shoot for.
Each step of letting go has been a surrender of what I wanted to impose on time. (If you’ve been reading my blogs or newsletters for long, you see this is kind of a theme for me. See blog from February 2017) Surrendering to Time seems to be one of the big practices or lessons presenting itself to me during shelter-in-place, and I know I’m not alone in grappling with it. In fact, I believe most, if not all, of us are getting a strong and unavoidable dose of our deep patterns that are ready to be released. (I encourage you to notice what yours are and engage in the struggle and surrender to let them go. If you like, I can help you with this:)
After listening to Rob Bell’s podcast about time last week, I decided to try a total surrender to time over the weekend. I let the day take me where it wanted to go. There was no start and end time to any activity. On Saturday, Havia and I packed a picnic lunch and headed to Campbell’s Hole, a local swimming basin still dry from the winter season. We walked down the path to the greenbelt and started scoping out a spot to sit. But my mind was elsewhere. There is plenty to worry about right now, so I just kept worrying and walking. Then suddenly I realized I wasn’t where we were at all. I couldn’t remember much of the walk down, and I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of me.
So how could I be present with what time was offering when my mind had so much to occupy it?
On my next step I glanced down and saw my foot. Then I remembered to actually SEE my foot. Where was my foot stepping? What did it feel like to step from one rock to the next? For me, being where my feet are grounds me to the present moment and reminds me to surrender to Time in a way that, as Mark Nepo puts it in The Book of Awakening,
“allow[s] [my] time on Earth to be filled and saturated--if just for a few minutes--with a depth of peace that only surrender can open us to.”
And that is exactly what happened. As soon as I clicked into full presence I was able to surrender to what is, and I was indeed filled with a deep sense of peace. I remembered that we only really have THIS step to do. NOW is the only place there is ground beneath our feet and step stones on the path. The future is not laid yet, so there are no stones to step onto. Your foot may hover for a while before it can land, and it can only land when the next stone arrives. Walking this way says, “Be patient. Be present. Have peace.”
There is a wonderful Buddhist practice called Walking Meditation, and it’s where I learned to do this. Now is a good time to do this practice. Go outside. Take your time. Surrender your agenda and your mind to be completely present. Begin to walk, only moving towards a step when you are completely present. If your mind wanders, pause. Wait until you are fully present again. Then you may slowly take the next movement in your step. It's possible you will get caught with your foot hovering for a while!
We did a similar practice to this last week in the class titled, "Presence in Transition." The challenge was to keep your mind on your body and breath even when just going from one pose to the next. (If practicing with others helps keep you present, scroll down for FOUR opportunities for us to practice together this week!)
With these practices you just might find there is deep peace within you, you only have to take it one very slow step at a time. Let the rest wash away.
May you surrender your time to the Time of All and find peace in the present moment.
I am writing this on April 13, 2020. This is the one month mark of shelter-in-place for the Goulding household. It was March 13 that the schools here in Austin closed down and we all stared at the harsh reality that this is bigger than we thought.
When I think of teaching, I'm already thinking of the technical logistics rather than whether my props are clean and ready to go to the studio. "Seeing" my students now means looking forward to their emails, comments, and posts rather than laughing together and sharing those important and nourishing hugs.
Clearly, this has changed me and us.
Which brings me to the word and essence of what I'm focusing on in this stage of our shelter-in-place: CLARITY.
I got a piece of it yesterday as I watched Anthony Bocelli's live stream concert from the Duomo di Milano. What struck me, other than the incredible beauty of Bocelli's voice, was the line he sang in Amazing Grace
"I...was blind, but now I see."
Yes, I saw the clear streets of Paris, London, and New York. We all saw what the world looks like right now. We could all see the air in the cities was clean, like the dust of pollution had settled. There was no denying you can SEE the difference a pause in human activity has on our Earth.
My daughter even pointed out that Bocelli is blind and singing about seeing. She understood that there is more to see than meets the eye.
The purpose of yoga is to pierce through illusion and see what is true and real. Illusions come in the forms of denial, ignorance, attachment, aversion, misconception and misapprehension. Illusions don't just put a veil over our eyes--they put a veil over our entire experience of the world and how it works.
Perhaps you, like me, are getting a clearer idea of what your own illusions are, now that we're forced to stop and see them. Seeing those clear skies made me ask the hard questions of myself about how this time will change me. For example, how can I return to life but still drive my car as much as I did before? I simply can't. I've seen the beauty of clean air and I can't deny my part. How can I go back to a full hour-by-hour schedule when I've felt the ease of a fairly open calendar? How could I ever again take for granted visits with my mom now that I know what it feels like to be unable to see her? If our economy is in peril when businesses shut down for two weeks, how can we go back to believing the foundation is secure? These illusions have all been shattered--and I don't want them back.
I know there's talk now of easing up on restrictions, which is all well and good for whenever the time is right. But I'm in no rush. There are so many layers of clarity to this experience, and I want to see them all.
Clarity takes time and patience, like watching disturbed sand settle to reveal to the bottom of a pond; like seeing the shining buildings once the pollution has cleared.
You can bring this to your yoga mat with your breath. (Or go back and practice April 9: "Remedy for Overstimulation or Too Much Togetherness" on Facebook or Chakra Savvy.)
Turn your attention to your breath.
Slowly even out the inhale and exhale.
Begin to count at a slow, even tempo:
May you engage patiently with this time and allow illusions to be dispelled to reveal the truth of your existence and the clarity you have within you.
Have you ever practiced a balancing pose like Garudasana (Eagle Pose) in a crawlers and toddlers Mommy and Me Yoga class? Well in case you haven't, I'll tell ya: it's like balancing in chaos. (Heck, even the pose looks chaotic with its twists and turns, binds and crosses.) At least in the case of crawlers and toddlers the chaos is cute. COVID-19...not so much.
I was reminded of this pose last week when I was mentoring a very bright young yoga teacher who lives in Portland. She plans to teach this pose to her online class, so we discussed a sequence that would prepare her students to achieve this tricky posture.
There is a LOT to it. To practice eagle pose, you need to prepare with poses that help you get
All that to stand on one foot with arms and legs winding like vines!
Sometimes these days it helps me to remember to take things step by step, one thing at a time to get to where I want to be. Just like we do in yoga. I've never been to a class where we did a little breathing, then the teacher said, "Ok! Now eagle pose!" Nope--we spend 40 minutes doing small things, step by step. Then when the time does arrive, we're ready! Our bodies are prepared, our minds are focused, and our intention is lined up with our action. (This does not guarantee your internet will remain stable during Zoom. It only means you will. You are not your internet connection.)
So when the list of things that need to be addressed or that I need to do in order to keep teaching, keep parenting, keep cooking, keep in touch, keep SANE in unprecedented times that feel like slow-motion chaos comes at me all at once, I do like we do in yoga to prepare for a peak pose:
See you online as the eagle you are!
May you build your life step by step, remaining balanced within, conquering the chaos without.
I don't know about you, but Tuesday and Thursday mornings are more of a highlight in my week than ever before. It feels almost normal to gather together, virtual as it may be, and think about what yoga teaches us during these times. I can even FEEL our community, spread across the country, moving and breathing in harmony.
It is so healing. So THANK YOU for showing up!
Last week in class I started a three-part series on the 3 Paths of Yoga, and I'm teaching the three warrior poses. Last week we used Warrior I as our peak pose, and considered the path of Karma Yoga. (You can catch that class on my Jess G Yoga Facebook Page, or at Chakra Savvy.)
The three paths are:
Karma yoga: the path of Selfless Action.
Bhakti Yoga: the path of Devotion.
Jnana Yoga: the path of Knowledge and Wisdom.
Can you tell already which one resonates with you the most right now?
Just something to think and journal about this week :)
Keep in mind, no one path is greater than the other! In fact, it is well and good to have one path as your primary path, and the other two as secondary parts of your life of balance.
May you wander the paths of yoga with devoted action, loving devotion, and infinite wisdom.
What a new world we are in.
Everything before this pandemic seems like ages ago. I'm finally returning to my weekly blog and establishing routine at home.
We are all being rocked at Chakra One (Muladhara: root support). Our feelings of safety, security, health, and abundance are on shaky ground. Our tails are drawn under in fear, as my friend Dr. Deb Kern would say.
One of the first things to do to fortify strength at your base is establish routine.
Erect a scaffold so you can build your day.
In our house, I didn't attach it to time but more of a rhythm. (The openness of time during this global pause of all activities is to be cherished, in my opinion.) When thinking of the rhythm, I keep remembering how I established routine when my kids were babies. (Thank you, Baby Whisperer!) Babies don't know time, but they have a rhythm that we can create a container for with intention.
In a New Time like this, aren't we all babies? We've never done this before!
Babies, like our nervous system, thrive in a solid container of safety. For them, it's the arms of their caregivers and the predictable home they create. For us adults, grounding comes through connection to the earth and a healthy routine. Let's see how we can apply the wisdom of the Baby Whisperer to our life today and establish a routine that will hold us so all the feelings can move through. The rhythm has an acronym: EASY
1. Rise around the same time each day, do your morning routine with breath and movement (yoga!), and EAT a healthy breakfast.
2. ACTIVITY: Do some work, chores, or home project.
3. SLEEP or Rest. The world has given us a moment to rest, take a nap, read a novel, meditate, or just stare out the window. To pass up this opportunity would be a shame! Learn the power of powering down.
4. YOUR TIME: What's that thing you always wish you had time to do? What if you allotted time each day to work on your novel, learn to paint, start knitting, or support a charity in whatever way you can right now? NOW IS THE TIME!!
And now it's time for lunch :) and the cycle begins again!
Actually, for us adults this would probably take the whole the day, since we have the attention span to do it. We just fold our meals in (at regular times!) where they make sense to us. But for those of you with small or bigger kids, you can cycle through this 2-4 times, depending on their age. (YOUR TIME is kids' nap/rest time for you to do that stuff you can't do when they're around.)
When you set up your routine and rhythm, be sure and include Tuesday/Thursday 9am Yoga on Facebook LIVE in your weekly schedule! And if you're not on Facebook, you can access the class recordings on Chakra Savvy. They should only be a day behind, if all goes well on my end.
Another friend of ours, the fabulous Renee Trudeau, shares with us her favorite self-care resources for unprecedented times. She's the guru of self-care, so I recommend you check her out!
One last thing I want you to know, which I talked about on my first Facebook LIVE class and posted to my podcast as well, is that we ourselves may be babies to this pandemic experience, but our genes are not. I recall my grandmother and great-grandmother and how the Spanish Flu of 1918 affected them--and I inherited their genes that have done this before. Which means that I, too, have done this before. I have already survived. I have within me the fortitude to persevere...and so do you!
Someone in your history has had this experience. Chakra One connects us to our roots, our ancestors. Let that give you strength!
May you be fortified in your courage by taking action through routine and remembering your connection to your ancestors.
How much do you love waiting? I don’t mean the fun, anticipatory waiting like for the start of a movie--I mean the finger-drumming, “when’s it going to be time??” waiting. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan. But I’m getting better at it.
In this week’s podcast, I tell a funny story about waiting as a fruit of maturity, and I offer calming breath instruction and mantra help you release your agenda and be open to the timing of the Universe.
We do get better with waiting as we age, but maybe that’s just because we don’t really have to wait much--especially not these days (thank you, Amazon :). Most of us have been around long enough to know that with enough time and right effort, “good things come to those who wait.”
But how about some of that deeper stuff? How do you do with waiting for
These are tougher. This is where we have to exercise that patience muscle.
Or do we? What if instead of requiring fierce determination and great effort, patience was easy and beautiful? What if it were there all along? What if patience were a natural outcome of your yoga practice?
This is how I prefer to think of it.
One of the things I love from my Judeo-Christian background is the Biblical teachings of the Fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are defined as Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control (Anyone keeping score? That’s nine...and yes, I can rattle them off like the alphabet, I love them so much.)
This means they are what naturally happens when you are connected to Spirit more often than not. In the yoga context, when you do your yoga practice (which is not just asana but also meditation, pranayama, and ethical disciplines) consistently, over a long period of time, without interruption, you will become more patient. The idea of waiting for your body to heal will become as natural as breathing. You will have the freedom between stimulus and response to wait for clarity and wisdom. You will identify with the hope within you more than the suffering of waiting.
A dear friend of mine gave me The Book of Qualities, by J. Ruth Gendler. With her words, she paints a picture of different human experiences and gives them a character you can see. Here’s how she describes Patience:
“Patience wears my grandmother’s filigree earrings. She bakes marvelous dark bread. She has beautiful hands. She carries great sacks of peace and purses filled with small treasures. You don’t notice Patience right away in a crowd, but suddenly you see her all at once, and then she is so beautiful you wonder why you never saw her before.”
Awww, she is warm and beautiful and she was there the whole time. We just have to recognize her in the crowd of our experience.
May your daily practice of yoga reveal the beautiful, bread-baking, peaceful fruit of Patience.
Today I’m asking how well you operate in chaos. Even when you read the word ‘chaos,’ how does your body respond? Does it sound like a thrill ride or horror movie? Or, are you more like me, and think, “well, it depends.”
In my experience, short bouts of chaos, disorder, or confusion can be fun and even hilarious. (Ever been to a tee-ball game? How about middle school play rehearsal?)
But there are bigger, more long-lasting life-disruptors that feel like chaos and can really take a whack at your well-being, such as
Things are changing fast, there’s no playbook, and there’s no end in sight. It’s chaos. You just want things to settle back to “normal.”
What if I told you chaos has a place in our lives? Straight out of the Big Bang Theory (the theory, not the TV show), we learn that just after the Bang there was a brief time of chaos, (Science Daily) then the universe started to find order. (And aren’t we glad!?)
Our bodies are the same! It turns out, underneath the brilliant organization of cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems that make up our body, there is a little protein named NF-kB who loves chaos. According to a 2019 Science Daily article, “chaotic swings in the concentration of the protein...can increase the activation of a number of genes that are otherwise not activated. In other words, when in a chaotic state, the NF-kB protein is most effective at activating genes and optimally "tuning" the immune system.”
So this underlying chaos is tuning our immune system?
Taken on a larger scheme, perhaps the chaotic times in our lives tune our resilience, or mental/emotional immune system.
The practice is to maintain Yoga, or remain yoked to what is eternal, so we don’t get jerked around by the temporal chaos that life can sometimes be or feel like. The messes of life don’t go away, but they have less of an effect on us when we keep proper perspective and give the chaos a container. We keep our surroundings tidy, we keep our body toned, stretched, watered, fed, and slept. The chaos will be there, but it won’t be such a disrupting force in our day. Chaos isn't going anywhere, so we best learn how to deal with it!
In this week’s podcast, I talk about the effects of chaos and how it can be hard to focus and to be in your body. I also take you through some directed attention and breath, considering what is your current mental state. The intention is inner peace.
May you accept chaos as an underlying part of life, and always practice yoga to remain yoked to inner peace.
Jessica lives, has a family, and teaches yoga in Austin, Texas.