Unfolding on the Mat
Expanded Content and Thoughtful Guidance
In my fall semester at UT, I first learned about the "ghost light" in a theater. I remember stepping from backstage into what I thought would be a dark empty stage, but there was a single bulb on a stand, lit up. There was nothing around it but a dark theater. Yet this small bulb shed light on the house, very faintly, but enough to see the first level of seats. It stood alone, keeping the ghosts appeased and the perimeters visible.
If this lone bulb had been lit in that same place during the activity of the performance, we would not see it. It would be insignificant. The stage lights would overwhelm it. It was only when surrounded by darkness that its light proves illuminating.
So often I come to my practice, or my life, with an intention-- a reason for showing up. There is something I'm directing my energy towards. There is a show I want to produce. There are fruits that I desire. Today I practice without intention, without a script, a ticket sold, or a single designed set. My practice, my prayer, is simply a single bulb shining in a dark theater.
Inner room, darkened theater, inner sanctuary--a place within that is vast, lit simply by the single light of the Soul. We see the light because there is no performance, there is no distraction. It is simple, pure, illuminative, quiet, and deeply personal.
The dark of the theater is not frightening. It is necessary. In our dualistic world, we tend to categorize things as good or bad, black or white, yes or no. But we need the dark to see the light. Our challenge is to see them both, hold them loosely, and let them be what they are in our lives. They are the performance space and the performer. The audience is the Divine.
These days, yoga can be (and is!) combined with just about anything: creative writing, dance, music, acrobatics, kung fu, tai chi, art, and even beer! I think my favorite, though I’ve never participated, is yoga and goats. Yes, goats. So I must say I wasn’t surprised when I heard of yoga and cupping, but I was certainly surprised at how effective it is!
Cupping isn’t new. It’s ancient. It goes back to ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern traditions of healing. Today it is considered an alternative medicine used for muscular aches and pains, increased blood flow, detoxification, and excess fluid drainage. It has gained popularity recently due to Olympic athletes, such as Michael Phelps, showing up with the tell-tale cupping circles on their bodies. More information on cupping can be found at the Cupping Resource website.
Recently I was treated to a cupping massage with Cindy Anderson at the Yoga Yoga Westlake Spa. After giving me a little background knowledge of the process and a demonstration of the silicon cups, Cindy got to work on my back, shoulders, legs, and chest.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t often treat myself to massage. I have always enjoyed the process, but like so many of us I don’t set aside the time. This experience rejuvenated my interest in having regular massage as part of my health routine. The cupping was fantastic.
As the cup was placed on a muscle group, it gently created a suction which lifted skin and soft tissue into the cup, drawing blood and fluid towards the surface. Then, as Cindy moved the cups in a zig zag across one area, it felt like she was massaging me from the inside as well as the outside. I imagined muscle and connective tissue being smoothed out from underneath. When she placed two cups on opposing points and moved one cup, it created a lengthening sensation. None of this was painful to me at all, though I have heard of it getting quite intense for some.
Perhaps the best part was the lasting effects. Once I got in my car and drove away, I realized how easy it was to turn my head side to side. Any tension I had before the massage had melted away. Delicious.
So where does the yoga come in? Yupping. Yoga + Cups, of course! As I went through various yoga postures I like to use for detox yoga, I placed the cups on certain points to help create that same sense of inner lengthening as in my cupping massage. Forward folds with cups on the low back: ahhhhh. Seated postures while cups draw on the facia on the soles of my feet: wow. It goes on.
Seasonal changes are a great time to detoxify your system. Summer heat has accumulated in the body, and detox yoga is an effective way to let it go. The detox yoga postures and sequences are designed to squeeze and wring out organs of digestion and elimination, as well as improve circulation to move blood and lymph through the body. It’s like your internal body takes out the trash and cleans the house! With the addition of cups, more of that trash can be drawn from muscles and tissues and taken away by the lymph. Think baseboards, tile grout, ceiling fans, nooks and crannies, to continue the metaphor.
On September 24, Cindy and I are collaborating on a yoga and cupping event at Yoga Yoga called Radiant Everyday: Cupping and Seasonal Detox Yoga. Participants will receive their own set of high quality cups and learn how to massage themselves with this technique. I will guide the group in a detoxifying yoga class, including cup placement ideas and enhancing stretches. It is sure to be fun, informative, and effective. I hope you can join us!
Mondays are “calendaring” days for me. I sit down with emails, requests, invitations, carpool schedules, and after- school activity times to lay out the week ahead. I find it very satisfying to plot things in on my calendar. I get them lined up perfectly to go seamlessly from one thing to the next, allowing for travel and hiccups. I set up my Waze app to send me notifications for 10-minute warning for when it’s time to leave, taking into account all Austin traffic along my path. I think about what bags I’ll need each day and what goes in them to be sure I have everything I need to stay out as long as needed. And yes, mealtimes and potlucks are accounted for as well.
Like so many of us these days, my Google Calendar is full of colorful blocks. Sometimes very few blank white spaces are left. Most time is accounted for. I used to look ahead trying to find “time off.” When will there be nothing to do? When is my break?
One of my past yoga teachers once said,
“There is no time off. There is only time.”
This I had to chew on for quite a while. I lived for time off! I looked forward to it! Then I realized what I think he was trying to convey.
There is only time. Sometimes we are spending time traveling from one activity to the next. Sometimes we are spending time in our vocation. Sometimes we are spending time preparing. Sometimes we rest. Sometimes we engage with others. Sometimes we serve. All the time, we are spending time. What is different or the same in all of these times? Perhaps it is our presence.
In yoga we “slow down time” by slowing down the breath. The mind begins to settle, the nervous system relaxes, and we have a chance to have a moment of clarity. A chance to really see what is happening in the present moment. In a moment such as this, I remembered the yogic teaching of attachment and aversion. In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, (yogic teachings), Sri Swami Satchidananda says,
“We attach ourselves to pleasure because we expect happiness from it, forgetting that happiness is always in [us].” (p 90)
Aversions, on the other hand, evoke strong feelings of dislike, or unhappiness. This leaves us swinging from one side of the pendulum to the other, depending on if we are in a “like” or a “dislike” activity or place in time. Or “like” time off and “dislike” time on!
Now I try to stay tapped in always to my timeless inner experience. In my head it sounds like this: “Now I’m doing this...and Now I’m doing this…” I try to stop looking ahead to when there is nothing happening (because there never is! Even while resting, something is happening) and be present in what Time is offering me now. I remember the “hard times” teach me, and the “good times” nourish me. The “doing” times move life forward, the “resting times” rejuvenate my body and soul. They are not on a scale of good to bad. They all just...are. Happiness, Joy, Ananda, The Kingdom of God--all of this is within--not in the clock or on the calendar. It is unattached to space and time. This is where we are fully present.
Now I try to see calendaring time both as something in and of itself, and as setting up for a successful week. The structure of my week lays out ahead of me, so I can fully live into each moment, just as Time presents it.
My morning meditation space is in my front room, facing the window. It faces east, so when I begin, often it is dark outside or just starting to glow. This time of year, however, I'm facing the Christmas tree that stands in front of the window. It has its own glow. It's covered in ornaments. As I'm "supposed" to be meditating, I can't help but reflect upon these ornaments. They are like stories of the past whispering to me as I look at each one. There are faces of my kids, crafts, ornaments from our travels, gifts from friends~ they each bring me to a place in time that was lovely. I FEEL that sense of lovliness as I look at them. My meditation is happy.
Why focus on these ornaments? This is active linking. It gives my whole being/system a sense of joy, peace, and love. This moves me away from suffering--stress, grief, etc--and towards satva, or equanimity. Yoga is the ability to keep focus and attention on a single object and maintain that direction of the mind. As I look at an ornament and maintain focus there, I link to the memory, and I feel what I felt when the ornament was purchased or received. Now I have a tool, through this image or symbol, to recall a sense of peace when I need it. Through active witnessing, I see when I begin to move out of balance towards overactivity, negative thought, or anxiety. Once I witness this, I can call upon this symbol and the feeling from my meditation and return to a more satvic state.
Symbols of this season keep our hopes alive and evoke peace in our hearts: light of a candle shining through the darkness, a star that leads the way, a baby full of possibility and promise, gifts given and received because you care for one another, evergreen to show life continues during what looks like earth's death, warmth of the fire, miracles that show God's providence.
This is not nothing! The active linking of the mind to these and other hopeful symbols changes our experience of life for the better. But it takes effort.
What is your symbol of the season? Look for something from around your house that, when you focus on it, gives you peace. Or go into your memory to a place of sanctuary for your soul. Listen to your breath and breathe slowy as you look at or recall your symbol. Witness the thoughts and feelings that arise. If your thoughts move away from the symbol, bring them back with love and patience. If you are kinetic, you can inhale and reach toward the symbol, exhale and bring your hands to your heart. Experiment to see what works best for you. Give yourself this gift of meditation!
May peace, joy, laughter, warmth, and prosperity be with you now and into 2017. I hope to see or hear from you in the New Year!
Thank you for your interest in my first-ever blog post! I hope the thoughts I share here will serve you in your own life journey. Here is mine...
In the big “pink” room of Yoga Yoga, Westgate, in Austin, Texas, I have evolved from a young 200-hour teacher with a couple classes per week, to an “Experienced” 500 hour teacher, and now level 1 Yoga Therapist teaching six classes per week and serving many students one-to-one. Over my first years of teaching, I had two babies and created a class where I could both teach and be a mother at the same time, hence Postnatal Yoga. As my babies grew, we needed Crawlers and Toddlers, so that evolved.
For many years I worked diligently in my lineage of Anusara to achieve their highest certification (a grueling process of written exams and video assessments), only to see the lineage fall due to the abuse of power by its leader, John Friend. After a few years of feeling a bit lost and studying with various teachers and exploring my own philosophy, I again found my footing and began applying therapeutic concepts in my public classes. I imagine this, too, will continue to evolve as I step into a mentoring role and guide new teachers in their own journeys.
That’s my professional yoga journey. Those are the major moments of my teaching career.
That’s what was unfolding on my mat.
My life off the mat was a full reflection of the changes in my career, or vice versa. When I started teaching, my father had just died, my husband and I had just moved to Austin, and we were preparing to enter parenthood. I needed a strong lineage and teacher to hang my hat on in such changing times. I taught a lot on themes of fortitude and courage. With my local teacher, Christina Sell, I went deeper in my asana practice than ever before. I was strong, flexible, and growing in understanding the mechanics of the human body.
With motherhood came a new body and a new phase in life. From meditating on strength, I moved to acceptance and Grace. It was a time of creativity and problem-solving both in the studio and in the home. With the fall of Anusara came a crushing break of trust and a bit of a crisis of faith (especially in myself), not to mention anger. Long-held friendships seemed to vanish overnight. This really launched a campaign of self-inquiry and study to both figure out how I got there, and how to avoid having the same experience again.
We can’t really separate what’s going on emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually on and off the mat. They are a reflection of each other. When I sit and tune-in before practice each day, it’s like gauging where I am compared to the last time I sat and tuned in. It’s tuning into the current of my life. Is my mind racing more? Am I agitated? Do I feel calm? Am I connected to God, or do I feel a sense of separation? Does my body hurt?
I once had a student write me a funny and poignant email, explaining to me all the various parts of his life that he “brings to the mat.” He mentioned everything from the joys and challenges of work, marriage, children and grandchildren, to the difficulty of Crohn’s disease and struggles with the past. It all shows up. This is a beautiful thing. It demonstrates a continual study of and reflection upon one’s life. As BKS Iyengar puts it in Light on Yoga, “the [practicing yogi] reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it.” By paying attention to what is unfolding in our life, to what is evolving in our practice, we have an opportunity to see the path that lays before us most clearly. We will make decisions not based on attachments or aversions, but on the truth that lies within the stillness.
Contrary to this, several years ago a student walked out of class on a September 11 anniversary when I invoked it’s memory in our intention. When later I asked what upset her, she said she didn’t want to bring her outside life into her practice. Her yoga is her escape. Though I completely understand this desire, and have certainly escaped through practice myself, what a missed opportunity that was! (Unless of course the memory was still so charged that her emotional response would have left her too vulnerable or felt inappropriate for a public class.) What if, instead, the breath was a vehicle of letting go of the grief? What if her Om was a vibration of healing? Couldn’t her asana be a way to wring out the trauma? How about her meditation as a prayer for the love and healing of the world?
Each time we sit on the mat and tune in, we are met with our life. We see it, we study it, and, eventually, become intuitive within it to know the next step in the journey. Daily suffering decreases as we write our story from a place of clarity, rather than reaction or fear, ignorance or delusion. When we close our eyes we see the whole picture unfolding together, on and off the mat.