Morning yoga with devotions

I have a yoga series that I do every morning. It is fast and simple. Sometimes I add some to it, but I always include at least these poses, in this order. They flow nicely from one to another. Recently I’ve come up with devotions that go along with the poses.

Mountain (Tadasana).
I stand before God with joy and openness. I am barefoot on holy ground.

Standing forward fold (Uttanasana).
I bow before the Lord. I look at my past and present troubles.

Standing, with arms up (Urdhva hastasana)
I arise like a lotus, recognizing that the troubles I have been through give me strength. They are the fertile ground of my growth and awakening. The Lord uses them to teach me and lead me in the Lord’s way.

(step left foot back, right foot forward)

Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1). I offer my troubles up to the Lord.

Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) I reach forward into my past as well as my future, gaining strength from both. I remember that now is not all there is. I remember that the Lord is always with me and guiding me.

Side angle (Parsvakonasana). I learn that there is a time to advance my cause.

(transition to Warrior 2)

Dancing (or Reverse) Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana).
I learn that there is wisdom in retreating.

(transition to Warrior 2, then turn slightly left, so that your body and limbs are all facing the same direction)

Five pointed Star (Trikonasana), then transition to hands in prayer position.
I join together my strengths in prayer, uniting past and future in the Now.

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana).
I return to the source of my pain, strengthened by the knowledge that the Lord is with me and is working through me.

Revolved wide legged standing forward fold (Parivrtta Prasarita Padottanasana)
I remember that all I have to do when I have troubles is to ask and God is there, even if I can’t see. I remember that God is always behind me.

(Turn to stretch the other side, so the left foot is forward and the right foot is back. The goal here is to balance out the movements on both sides.)

Warrior 2
Side angle
Warrior 2
Dancing warrior
Warrior 2

Warrior 1
I offer thanks for the lessons I have learned, knowing that God is always with me. I give thanks for my troubles and my triumphs.

Corpse Pose (Savasana) I rest in the arms of the Lord. I gratefully receive the lessons I have learned. I welcome the Sabbath.

Container

We need containers for our feelings just like banana bread needs a container in order to shape it in the heat of the oven. The container gives the feeling shape. The container is a ritual or a practice.

We have to have places to put our feelings. Rituals are the way to do that. Western culture has some rituals and ceremonies for how to handle big events – birth, marriage, graduation, death. But it doesn’t have rituals for much of anything else. Perhaps this is why so many people suffer from depression and anxiety.

When your culture doesn’t have the tools you need, you have to make your own.

Feelings are difficult to handle. Our culture tells us how to handle the feeling of having to go to the bathroom, but not other feelings. When you have the feeling that you have to go to the bathroom, you need to know what to do with that feeling otherwise you will make a mess everywhere. If you have that feeling you know what to do because you’ve been trained. That feeling you have is what lets you know that there something that needs to get out.

Other feelings are harder to figure out, but they are just as important to get out. There isn’t a physical thing that needs to come out of you, but there still is a need to release that feeling. Emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain will manifest in physical ways. Just like with having to go to the bathroom, you need to know how to deal with it.

When you have a sensation of tension in your shoulders, chest, or gut it is a sign that you have a feeling that needs to be processed. The poet Rumi reminds us that grain has to be broken up before it can become bread. But I’ll add that in order for it to become bread it has to be mixed together with other ingredients, poured into a form and put into the oven.

Difficult feelings aren’t ever alone – we aren’t just grain that has been ground up. And the form is our practice. It gives shape to our feelings. What do you do to stay balanced? Do you drift through your days, or are you intentional?

Our practice is our form, our mold for our feelings. If we don’t use it, our feelings will pour out all over everywhere and be a big mess.

When I found out that my coworker had died unexpectedly, I felt a pain in my stomach. I chose to sing it out. Rather than yell or cry, I chose to give it shape. Deep from my gut I sang out a long clear note, simply saying “Ahhhhh……” for as long as I could. Then I took another breath and did it again and again until I released the tension. I have since found out that this is from yoga. It is called “Lion’s breath”, except in yoga, you just breathe out hard. Here, I sang.

I have also used the technique “praying in color” to process my feelings. I have created some other art and started a prayer book that I will use to memorize prayers. I did all of this in his memory. I have chosen to use what I already do to stay balanced as a way to honor him and acknowledge his passing.

And, of course, I’m writing.

It doesn’t matter what you use to process your feelings – whatever form you use is good, as long as it works for you. What matters is that you use it.

Don’t wait until the storm hits to have a place to go.
Don’t wait until something bad happens to have a practice.

If you stick with your practice every day, then you will have something to rely upon when the inevitable happens. It will help you keep your balance and not get swept away. It doesn’t mean that you escape your feelings – it means that you don’t let your feelings overwhelm you. You still have them – they just don’t have you.

Way out and way in writing

Writing is my form of self defense. Writing is my way out, and my way in. Writing is how I understand the world and myself.

I’m coming to learn that drawing is just like writing. It is a way of slowing down and really looking at the situation, really seeing what it is. Now, of course, I’m not seeing THE truth of what is there. I’m seeing MY truth. I’m seeing things from my perspective. I can’t see the whole picture, but I can accurately report what I see. I also fully understand that what I see is filtered through my perceptions and experiences, and that is fine too.

Whatever it is that I see, at least I’m looking at it for a change. I’m not running away from it like I used to.

I haven’t written, not really, in the past few weeks. I’ve compiled things. I’ve made some sketches, if you will. I’ve pulled up old notes where I started a piece and finished it off. But I haven’t written like I had been writing. I think I’ve kept my original goal of one post a day, but I’d gotten away from my recent two-or-three posts a day. I’ve just not had the push.

I’ve just not pushed myself, really.

I’ve taken a break.

Just like with yoga, I’ve reassessed it, and my lack of stretching, both with yoga and with writing, has made me feel out of sorts.

While I never want to do something just for the sake of doing something, I’m learning that there are some things that I just have to do. Writing is one of them. But it was starting to feel that I was using writing as a way to hide, rather than a way to experience.

I’d taken to writing while on my walking break at lunch. I was using the walking path as a sort of treadmill. I knew where everything was. There was nothing that was going to trip me. So I could write, using the notes feature on my phone. I was able to get in lots more posts that way.

The only problem was that I was missing all the stuff that was happening around me. I was missing the birds that were nesting in the airplane wings that serve as a sundial. I was missing the little stream that goes into the sinkhole. I was missing the dragonflies.

While I had my eyes directed to the screen and my mind directed to what I was writing, I didn’t have my brain open to new things.

I took time off, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I thought I was saying too much. You know, the whole one mouth and two ears thing. I wasn’t balanced. I was producing more than I was consuming. I wanted to rest and receive.

But then I went too far, and at the wrong time. I’ve been a little tense anyway because my schedule has been weird. A retreat, an odd schedule at work, Circle training, a vacation to pack for… There is a lot going on that isn’t autopilot kind of stuff. A lot of new balls in the air to juggle.

I’ll remember from now on that one of the balls that I have to keep is writing. It seems to center me and ground me. It seems to make me who I am. It keeps me present.

New work practice

I just realized a fabulous practice. All the whining and complaining my coworkers do used to drive me up the wall. Now I see it as an awesome test.

You can’t grow if you are sheltered. If you spend your whole life insulated and protected, you’ll never mature or get strong. This is true mentally, physically, spiritually.

I was at a retreat recently and was given this meditation. If you are in a rowboat in a lake and a powerboat goes blasting by, you can get upset or you can ride it out. It is what you do with it that matters. If you get upset then you are just making it worse.

I used to think that it would be nice to not have any powerboats on my lake. I’m thinking Rolling Stones here – “Hey, you, get offa my cloud”.

I’m stuck here for 40 hours a week listening to people bitch and whine about everything. Lots of complaining. Lots. From the staff. About the staff. About the patrons. About their husbands. About their children. About everything. All they do is complain, and they don’t do anything to make their lives better.

They are “letting off steam” and I’m the one getting burned.

It gets old. I’ve pointed out that if all we do is talk about negative stuff, then negative stuff is all we will see. We have to look for the positive. This advice works for about ten minutes and then it is forgotten.

If you want to get stronger, you have to test yourself. To strengthen your balance and your ankles, do tree pose. If you do mountain pose you won’t get any benefits. You have to stand on one leg. You have to challenge yourself.

So being around all this complaining is a test. How to listen without engaging. How to be there but not really be there.

I can’t solve their problems. They have to do it themselves. They have to see them as problems first. The longer I try to deflect or dissipate their anger, fear, frustration, the more I’m delaying their realization that they are causing their own problems.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies. He says that if we just love the nice people, what good is that? Anybody can do that.

So the trick is to love the bad situation, the complaining, the whining. Be loving. Don’t fight it, don’t resist it. Don’t join it, either.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want to go rowing on a nice placid lake every now and then either. I don’t enjoy being the calm one amidst the chaos. But I have to do something with this reality.

I’m not the only person to notice this. There are a lot of people who have worked there who feel that there is a bunch of negative energy here. Perhaps the fact that there is a large sinkhole on the property is part of it. One friend says there is paranormal activity. Whatever, the reason, the result is the same. And I’m trying to find something good about this. It is either that, or join it, and I’m not hot on that.

A pain in the gut.

A regular patron came in recently. Well, by regular I don’t mean he is normal. I mean he has been in often for the past several years. His paranoia has gone to new heights. He makes my former boss’ end of the world preparations look like child’s play.

He has a thirty year supply of seeds. He is raising his own food, and not just vegetables. He is raising sheep and goats and chickens. He even has a beehive.

Or at least I think he has all this. He might just be preparing to be prepared. It is in the works, at least.

He believes that you can’t trust anyone or anything. He believes that the government is out to get us all. He might be right. Who knows?

I’ve noticed that all these preppers don’t seem like happy people. Somehow all of this stocking and storing, this training and testing, doesn’t seem to be making them content. Somehow, instead of getting a sense of calm that they have everything under control and their lives are free from worry about other people and their perceived lack, they seem even more wound up.

I understand some of their desire to fend for themselves and not trust other people. When I was in college, we had to do group assignments. The group had to do the research and work on a project. Rarely did I get to pick the group I was in. I usually ended up doing all the work because I didn’t trust the competency of my fellow students. I didn’t want my grade to be adversely affected by their slack.

So the preppers are doing the same thing, but instead of their grades being affected, it is their lives. They think everything is going to hit the fan and it will be every man for himself.

I can handle only so much of this kind of talk. He has shared some of his theories with me in the past about how things are going to go south and I always feel physically bad afterwards.

I want to be present for people. I also want to be open. I want to study them as well. Sometimes I have to allow myself into situations that are uncomfortable for me in order to personally grow and learn.

But this time was different. Perhaps it was a cumulative effect. Last night’s rambles weren’t especially paranoid, but somehow I was affected adversely.

I started to feel a pain in my stomach shortly after our conversation ended. Now, it might help to know that I have a hernia. I thought it was acting up. I got it when my Mom was dying and I had to lift her from her bed to get her to the bathroom. I remember the feeling of my muscles in my abdomen snapping from the strain. She wasn’t especially heavy her whole life, and she was even less so then because of the chemotherapy, but I wasn’t trained for that kind of lifting.

I’ve strengthened my abdomen quite a bit in the past few years with water aerobics and yoga, but that kind of injury never fully heals. I’ve learned that if I do a forward fold it usually helps.

Not so in this case. I waited a bit, and then went to the bathroom. While sitting there, I thought about this pain. It kind of reminded me of the pain I had when I was in my first year of college. That wasn’t a pain from any physical illness, but it manifested in a physical way. It was a pain from stress, from anxiety, from fear. It was the pain of being too far away from everything I knew and facing a whole lot more of the unknown.

Then, I went to the student health services and they, in their ignorance, gave me an anti nausea pill that knocked me out for half a day.

I didn’t want to be unconscious, but I also didn’t want to be in pain.

So I prayed. What do I do, Lord?

The answer? A hard exhale. Just like in yoga class, the ocean sounding breath. Just like one teacher says “Fog up that invisible mirror in front of your beautiful face.” So I did it. Huhhhh.

And I felt instantly better. I did it a few more times and the pain was all gone.

And now I think I’ll have to tell that patron that I can’t listen to his prepper paranoia any more.

Just like finding out that I am allergic to a certain food and I no longer eat it because it makes me sick, I have to do the same with people and ideas. If they make me sick, don’t let them in my head.

But it is also good to know that the answer to every question is just a question away.

Yoga in the morning.

I’m rethinking my idea of yoga. I think it is better to do it every day, rather than just once a week at a class. I also think it is better for me to do it first thing in my morning routine rather than at the end.

I hear it is best to do yoga before having breakfast. This would certainly take care of my need to get my morning started but not be in the way of my husband. Our day overlaps by about thirty minutes and if I go into the kitchen where he is it is a little chaotic. I’ve discovered that it is best for both of us if I don’t try to start my morning in the same place where he is trying to finish his.

As an alternative, I’ve been bringing my Kindle into the bedroom to write during that time, and while I may still do some of that, I think that doing yoga then would be good too.

I’d been leaving yoga for the end, just after my shower. Somehow I was running out of time and I was either rushing through the poses or just skipping them entirely. So that isn’t working. When I had been making time to do it I’d also been doing an example of “Praying in Color” and that was good too. In the past several months if I’d done either they were done as a sort of afterthought.

If I do them first, they are done. No excuses.

I like how I feel during the day if I’ve done a little yoga. Things seem to go better. I’ve actually found myself sort of checking in with myself. Did I write? Yes. Did I do yoga? Yes. It is like taking a multivitamin for my soul. If I’ve done it, I feel better.

Now, do I feel better because I’ve done yoga, or because I’ve done something I feel is good for me? I don’t know. This has long been something I’ve wondered about. Is it the activity that matters or the commitment and discipline that matters? Sometimes I think what helps me the most is intentionally living my life, rather than just drifting aimlessly through it.

This is part of why I write. Writing keeps me awake. Writing means I face things, rather than running away from them. Writing means I don’t hide behind the unknowing, behind the questions. When I write, I dig, and when I dig, I learn. I start to uncover, and recover, the truth, and with it, myself.

Writing is yoga too, like that. Yoga isn’t just poses. Yoga is a way of thinking. Yoga is sticking with it and working through it. Yoga is leaning in and being patient. Yoga is trying. Yoga is sometimes just showing up, bored and tired, but there anyway. Yoga is finding the center calm. Yoga is better lived off the mat. Yoga is being awake in the moment.

So why wouldn’t I do this every day? Why wouldn’t everybody?

Practice

What is a “practice”? You may have heard this word before and wondered. People these days will talk about something that they do as being part of their practice. Your practice is anything you do mindfully and intentionally.

In the same way that you have to practice playing piano to get better at it, you have to adopt a practice for life to get better at it.

The interesting part is that there is not just one way to practice. Anything you choose mindfully can be your practice. You can have several practices and they can change over time. You don’t have to keep the same one. In fact, when your practice becomes stale is a good time to reexamine it. It may be time to change it. It may also be time to stick with it and dig deeper.

There are just as many practices as there are people. Gardening can be a practice. So can walking outside. So can painting, drawing, and writing. Eating vegetarian, or raw, or local can be a practice. Being part of a group class at the Y is just as valid a path as exercising at home alone to a video or making it up yourself.

The only constant to a practice is that it must be intentionally chosen. It can’t just be something you do because that is what you’ve always done. It can’t be something you do when you are bored. It has to be the exact opposite of an addiction.

How do you pick a practice?

First, think of where you want to go. If you don’t have a goal, you aren’t being intentional. Now, your practice may be the goal. You may find yourself opening up and growing just by adopting a practice.

A practice is like a map that gets you there. If you want to go to Cleveland and you have never been there you’ll either ask someone who has or you’ll get a map. The same is with a practice. Ask people who are good at what they do and enjoy it. Ask people you admire, either friends or experts (the two can be the same thing) what they did (or do) Read a book or twelve. Pray for guidance. Ask God/Source/the Divine to show you what direction you should go.

Then pick something and do it. It will be awkward at first. Give it some time. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, try something else. You can’t get there if you have on the wrong shoes. Sometimes the practice works for someone else but it doesn’t fit you. That is normal. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means the practice is wrong for you.

Your practice may be to fully participate in your religion. Practice doesn’t have to be something new, it can be something old. You don’t have to take up a new habit or hobby. You can just do what you already do, but more mindfully.

You can find enlightenment through almost any path. Even doing a jigsaw puzzle can teach you a valuable lesson. Being open and childlike is essential. If your practice becomes like a job, then it isn’t a practice anymore.

It helps if your practice helps others. Sure, you need some inward focus too. You can’t help others very well if you are broken. If you are off balance and you try to catch someone else who is off balance you will both fall. But a practice that is all self-focused will be tight, like a flower bud that isn’t open. Flowers are made to open and be delightful. So are we.