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Be Like Water

July 8, 2010

During a yin class on recent Sunday night, my instructor used the phrase “be like water” when describing how to surrender to a yin pose.  This was perfect for me, as I have recently read Old Path, White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The book inspired me to think about the nature of self (and selflessness) and the universal connection.  It also made me consider the notion of resistance.

I have to admit, sometimes I have a hard time getting a good grip on the concepts of Buddhism.  I think I have it, and then it slips away from me.  At several points in the book, the metaphor of the ocean is used as an explanatory mechanism, and that has really helped me to feel more comfortable with some of the ideas.  And, as I heard my instructor say “be like water,” I found my focus for the yin session meditation, and for this post.

In the ocean, there are many waves.  Each wave is “born from” the whole, yet remains a part of the whole.  Each wave seems distinct from the others, with its own characteristics, but at the same time has no self that is not part of the totality of the ocean.  As each wave “dies” crashing on the shore, it returns to the pool of the whole and continues on in and endless cycle.  When I utilize this idea to help me think about the connection between all being(s), it becomes clearer to me.  It assists me in feeling my connection to others, which encourages a sense of universal love for all.  This is one way that I understand and utilize the phrase “be like water.”

In another sense, I think of being like water in terms of resistance.  Water does not resist, it flows into the spaces between; it moves into the openings without judgment.  Water also does not refuse what is offered into it.  As Buddha discussed, whether something “lovely” like a lotus flower or something “icky” like garbage is thrown into the water, it accepts without resistance.  I hope to cultivate such an attitude in my life, accepting – rather than resisting – what comes to me with calmness and openness.

I’m working on being more like water.  Care to join me?


You Can’t Always Get What You Want

May 25, 2010

This morning, I awoke to an uncooperative body.  Not only did I have some major allergy symptoms, and highly annoyed joints, but the phases of the moon had created some severe discomfort in my middle region.  Ick.  I felt truly put upon, because I had intended to go to a vinyasa class this morning.  Shortly afterwards (with a dead van battery added to the mix of conspiring forces) one of my friends/instructors observed that it was a case of what my mind wanted vs. what my body needed. Hmmm… want vs. need.  In the hours since, I’ve been periodically pondering this idea, and its relationship to yoga and to my life more generally.

The two things, want and need, are extremely difficult to separate in human existence.  We certainly need the basics of life: food, water, shelter, relatively good health.  I think most people would also argue that we have social (belonging, affection) needs and mental (stimulation) needs.  After that, it starts getting sticky.  We use the word need frequently for items that are certainly more luxury than need (I need a new cell phone!  I need more shoes).  With the extent to which we mingle the ideas of need and want, I suppose it’s little surprise that we cannot easily distinguish them.  I know that often I cannot in my own life decide whether a particular goal or focus (related to personal issues, professional performance, relationships) is something I need or just something I want.

So, what does all of this have to do with yoga? Well, that depends on who you ask, because there are many schools of thought regarding yoga – from the idea that it is a sport to the notion that it is primarily a meditative phenomenon and asanas (poses) aren’t really needed at all.  But, for me, yoga is about oneness – the integration of the body and mind, and the oneness of all beings.  If we are proceeding from the idea of oneness, then it makes little sense to prioritize what a single part of the system wants over what another part of the system needs.  In fact, to injure the body due to what the ego desires pretty fundamentally flies in the face of yogic principles.

Thus, today, I am working on yoga from other angles (so to speak) that are less contradictory to my body’s needs, but still allow me to practice.  Instead of vigorous asana, I’m thinking about the niyamas of yoga.  Specifically, on this day, I plan to spend some time on cleansing my mind of anger and jealousy (sauca) particularly with regard to not having my desires realized, being more content with what I have (santosa), using the energy that is available to me in a disciplined way (tapas) to meet the needs that I have rather than spending it on my wants, examining my own “needs” and “wants” as part of a process of self-study – in part through this blog entry (svadhyaya), and remembering that there is a universal force that is larger than me (isvarapranidhana) and thus I cannot always get what I want.

This, then, will be my yoga for today.  And, the background music of that practice will sound a little bit like…

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well you might find
You get what you need



Judge Not

May 5, 2010

“Judge Not” by Bob Marley

Don’t you look at me so smug
And say I’m going bad.
Who are you to judge me
And the life that I live?
I know that I’m not perfect
And that I don’t claim to be.
So before you point your fingers,
Be sure your hands are clean.

Judge not
Before you judge yourself.
Judge not
If you’re not ready for judgment.
Oh oh oh.

The road of life is rocky
And you may stumble too.
So while you talk about me,
someone else is judging you.

We, as humans, do a lot of judging.  And sometimes, that’s important, because we need to make decisions about the ethics of behaviors, whether someone is doing something dangerous, legality, our own choices, etc.  But, often, we go beyond judging what someone else is doing (or has done) at a particular time, and we start making judgments about that person’s internal state (motives, rationales, etc.), future, or past.  We aren’t just judging, we are being judgmental.  And that’s a problem.  We don’t really see it as a problem when we are doing it, but it seems worse when someone else is judging us in that way.

So, what does all of this have to do with yoga?  A few things.  First, as with every other part of our lives, sometimes we judge others in yoga.  We may judge their motivations for yoga (she’s just here to work out – she doesn’t understand the REAL importance of yoga), we may judge their performance (obviously he is just flexible – it’s all easy for him – that’s not even real yoga), we may even judge their yoga appearance (that outfit is completely inappropriate for class – I think she’s just here to wear the clothes).  Yoga practice is not an area that we always manage to be successful at avoiding judgment.  Second (and perhaps even more importantly), yoga does not end when we leave the mat.  In the yamas of yoga, we learn the principles of ahimsa and satya.  Ahimsa, non-harming or compassion for living things, is difficult to observe simultaneously with judging others.  How are we being compassionate when we look down upon others for not living up to our personal standards?  By doing so, we do not show compassion, nor respect for those around us.  Satya, or truthfulness, is also related to this issue.  When we engage in  judgments like this, we often do so on the basis of assumptions about things we cannot know – assumptions about the internal, the past, or the future.  To do this is to depart from the truth.

Avoiding being judgmental in this way isn’t easy.  I have a very difficult time with it myself.  But, we can try; we can practice.  We can work toward reducing this tendency in ourselves, both for others and for ourselves.  In the words of the Buddha:

Do not be the judge of people; do not make assumptions about others.  A person is destroyed by holding judgments about others.

Or in the words of the Marley – “judge not.”



Thank you, Earth Yoga!

May 5, 2010 has added this blog to their links page – very cool!

Welcome Earth Yoga members!

You Got Some Candy in There?*

April 17, 2010

I’ve believed in the mind/body connection for a long time.  It  makes emotional sense to me – when I feel better physically, my mood is better and when I feel better emotionally, my body feels better.  It makes philosophical sense to me – the human body/mind is a system; each part of the system affects and is affected by every other part.  It makes logical sense to me – the studies on the relationship between feelings of stress, production of Cortisol, and the immune system are pretty astounding.  So, when I heard my yoga teachers connecting the two, I wasn’t particularly resistant.  “If you believe you cannot do a pose, you will not be able to.”  Ok, yep, gotcha.  “Think of yourself in the pose and you can more easily get there.”  Okie dokie.  “Stop letting your mind get in your way.”  RIGHT!

But, when the various instructors I have had mentioned that some yoga poses, by creating an opening in an area of the body where emotions have been stored, can release a wave of emotional reaction, I just wasn’t getting it.  It wasn’t so much that I disagreed; I just didn’t feel it, so it wasn’t really making sense to me.  The only emotions I felt in yoga were happiness related to being there and doing the poses or frustration that I couldn’t.  That was pretty much it.  And then I started Yin.

The first class of yin that I went to, I pretty much spent the entire hour in a state of annoyance, so I wasn’t really considering how individual poses made me feel.  Over the next few sessions, as I found my way into more physical release in the poses, I was able to appreciate the differences in my state of mind.  After a few sessions, I began to notice that some poses made me feel a sense of panic.  At first it seemed that this was because they involved folding over, and I thought maybe I just wasn’t getting quite as much air – thus the panic feeling.  But, as the repertoire of poses increased along with my awareness of them, it became clear that it wasn’t the amount of folding, it was the extent and type of hip opening that was occurring.  Poses that really open my hips in a way that causes a stretch along the IT band area just make me feel panicked.  There is no logical reason for it.  I don’t fear that I’m actually going to hurt myself in Shoelace pose.  But, as soon as I move into it, I start to feel like I’m out of control.  There have been classes where I really was not sure that I could prevent myself from springing out of the pose and leaving the room due to the sense of panic and loss of control that arises.  What the heck?

Here is my armchair yogi interpretation of this.  I’m a person who likes to be orderly.  I don’t need everything to have a perfect logic fit (i.e. I’m ok with knowing that I love physics puzzles and also abstract painting, even though that may seem oppositional).  But, I like to have control of what is going on around me.  I’m getting better at dealing with uncertainty, and I would say that I have made some big strides in this over the last few years.  My friend Erica, who has seen me go from someone who could not stand camping because my kids might get dirty to someone who barely insists they bathe during several days of camping, would probably agree.  But, there are a lot of years in my past of trying to tightly control myself and my life.  Apparently, every time I felt a sense of panic or lack of control, I just “stuffed” it all into my hips.  Yep, they are packed full of panic – weird, huh?  So, now when I stretch and open them in that way, it seeps out and causes me to feel a little like I’m being deprived of all oxygen.

I would guess that not everyone is stuffing their lack of control into their hips.  Perhaps you have been putting your sadness in your abdominal muscles (yeah, unpack that idea!).  Maybe you have been putting your anger in your shoulders.  Maybe your hips have something else in them – fear or even joy.  The next time you feel an emotion arising unexpectedly that seems to be unconnected to what is going on at that moment, take some time to observe whats going on with your body.  What are you releasing?  Have you got some candy in there?


* This post title refers to a joke between some of my “mom friends” and I.  Back when our children were toddlers, and in the phase where they just wouldn’t stop following mommy around for 2 minutes, we used to laugh about the things they would yell through the bathroom door when we were inside .  One of those included, “hey! You got some candy in there?”

Drama Free – Enjoy the Dance

April 15, 2010
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There are those who enjoy the drama. They would say that they don’t. They would tell you that the fury and the spinning and the ranting is fully justified in every moment. Yet, they cannot be appeased. As one “crisis” is resolved, another arises to take its place as the lead in the drama. I won’t be a part of this play any more. It exhausts my body, my mind, and my soul. Instead of always finding the crisis, I want to always find the dance.

Dance when you’re broken open.

Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance when you’re perfectly free.

Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,

like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,


Maybe you don’t hear that tambourine,

or the tree leaves clapping time.

Close the ears on your head,

that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.

There are other things to see, and hear.

Music. Dance.

A brilliant city inside your soul!


Would You Please Stop Interrupting?

April 12, 2010

A month or so ago, I had a bout of IBS.  After a few days of trying to just tough it out, eating the usual fruits and veggies – even though I wanted crackers and bananas more, I did some research about what I should be eating to calm the system down.  Interestingly, I found that the items I had felt like eating (crackers, bread, bananas, applesauce) were exactly what I needed to eat to get my system back on track.  Having been authorized by Google, I accepted that diet for a few weeks and now feel much better.

Last week, my body seemed to need a rest day from yoga, and I was not happy about it.  But, after arguing with myself, I took it.  And the next day my yoga practice went really well – I felt strong and good and the back pain I was having started to dissapate.

Toward the end of last week, a friend was worrying with me about why she wanted to eat so much (and mostly carbs) during the week before menstruation.  We did a little research and concluded that, between the drop in estrogen and the drop in serotonin that  seems to occur at that time, it makes utter sense to consume more complex carbs.

Then, yesterday (Sunday), I found myself totally exhausted at 10 a.m.  I was so tired my eyes were burning and I had to go lay down for an hour.  As usual, I was scolding myself about it, when it occurred to me that a similar thing had happened the previous Sunday, but I blamed it on going out Saturday night.  And, when I thought about it, the Sunday before had been the same way, and so on.  After pondering for a while, it finally struck me that I have been taking my weekly large dose of methotrexate on Saturday evening.  And what is a major side effect of MTX?  Fatigue.  Ohhh.

So, what’s the moral here?  I think it’s that sometimes, or often, our bodies know what they need and they try to tell us.  We just don’t always listen.  Toddlers get it.  They will sometimes go a day or three eating next to nothing.  And then suddenly eat 6 bananas in an afternoon.  And maybe the next day they only want green beans and chicken.  It drives parents insane.  We think our little dears are going to starve, but they don’t.  If we make healthy food available and let them make selections, they do pretty well.  They haven’t learned how to shut down that body voice yet.

Maybe we should take a page from the book of toddlers.  Eat when we are hungry (though we may have to think about what we are hungry for, because as adults we have hunger all mixed up with other things), nap when we are tired, smile when we are happy, cry when we are sad.  We probably shouldn’t bite anyone, but other than that it sounds not so bad.

What is your body trying to tell you?