The Tip of the Iceberg

Yoga helps you notice some pretty interesting things. For instance, this is what happens with my tongue when I practice asana:

This is an example of unintentional tension within the body. It is misappropriated effort. We all have this somewhere in our physical bodies. Perhaps it is a furrowing of your forehead, a slight tension at the corners of your mouth or a gripping in your neck. It could be as subtle as a curling of your baby toe. We all have something. We all have some tension, gripping or resistance in our bodies that left unchecked begins to manifest into pain, injury and disease.

This tension in my tongue is only partially due to the effort I am putting forth to be in a pose. It’s also a product of chatter. I’m also noticing this tendency in other parts of my body – most vividly during conversation, either with another person or with the commentary of my own thoughts. You don’t have to “do yoga” in order to begin to understand where these tendencies lie within your own body. Driving is a perfect place to tune in and become aware of your default resistance. Notice where you are gripping in your body while at the wheel by first asking yourself the question, “Where do I have tension?” Often, simply asking the question is enough to bring your awareness to that space within your physical self. Sit back into the support of the seat and lighten your grip on the wheel. Red lights are a great place to do this. You can close your eyes for a moment and scan the internal space of your body. Maybe you are holding tension in your hip or your upper back or your jaw. Just notice where this happens for you. You can do this anywhere at anytime.

A yoga teacher once said to me, “Our issues are in our tissues.” I think this is an example of what she was speaking about. As we encounter experience and build associations and acquire thought patterns, we also develop physical responses to those stimuli. It is my personal belief that we only have two emotions: joy and fear. Everything else is a fractal, a hair split of the primary two. Joy is our natural state, our essence. Fear arises with the insertion of anything that defies or obscures that truth. Fear manifests within the body as tension. We are literally holding ourselves back from experiencing the bliss of our true nature.

Lately, I’ve been working on cultivating a quietness within myself – physically and mentally – as a way to experience and mitigate this tendency toward gripping in my day to day experience (I’ll write more about this later) and practicing noticing what’s going on in my body (these days especially my tongue *see above) during my time on my mat. Fear and resistance work together in a well practiced tango. They are the perfect partners. In the wild or in a truly life threatening circumstance, fear slows down your power of perception. You are able to tune into the environment in a focused, systematic and  methodical way and make discerned choices about where to put your effort and where to conserve. It happens in a split second. Once the danger is beyond you, then the adrenaline leaves and your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, returning your systems to normal functioning.  Hala Khouri has used this example: A possum in danger of being attacked by a fox plays dead. Thinking the possum is already damaged goods, the fox moves on. Once the danger has left, the possum begins to shake uncontrollably for a time, releasing all of the pent up adrenaline and tension it produced during the threat. Once the adrenaline is released, the possum gets up and goes about its day. It does not develop a chronic fear of foxes. It releases the tension built up during the fear response and it moves on. We, on the other hand, often don’t release the pent up tension we experience from the stress of our day to day lives. These repeated experiences and impressions help to form the thought patterns that we utilize to sort through our day to day experiences. These thought patterns create unintended, often unnoticed, tension.

The coolest thing about my crazy tongue is that being aware of it is opening up whole new spaces in my body. It’s opening up a whole new practice for me of becoming more quiet, and receptive to my inner voice. Awareness of this crazy tendency to cling and grip with my body is just the tip of the ice berg. There is a vast universe of space filled with joy and wisdom, love and enchantment resting within me just on the other side of those tense places. It is so within all of us. That is why we cling to that space right at the opening. Our deepest fear is the fear of our own light. The joy and happiness that so many of us seek to the point of exhaustion outside of ourselves is already within us. It is vast and ecstatic and resonant with truth. All we have to do to experience it is let go.

It’s All Yoga. A tale of road rage and redemption.

Tonight I lost it. My cool, my center, my common sense all in a matter of seconds. It was admittedly not my most yogic moment. For those of you who need not the gory details, I commend you. Skip down to paragraph 3. For the rest of us, here’s how it went down:

I have a persistent habit toward road rage and tonight my demon reared his ugly head. Again. I was driving home from work, but not on my usual route (not that that is of any real significance or excuse). As I left the office I called in take out and I was on my way to retrieve it. My delicious and much anticipated paneer tikka was awaiting my arrival, and I was praying my love wouldn’t grow cold. Much to my dismay traffic sucked, and I was clearly in the wrong lane if I was going to make the most of this unfortunate situation. So, I signaled. I am sure the woman in the other lane saw me. She flinched. She took a second, and then she decided. Not to let me in. I sped up a bit, with my blinker still blinking, and still she refused my entry.** So, I made her. I got far enough ahead of her to squeeze the front end of my car across the line and I dared her, “Let me in you witch, or else hit me!”. Needless to say she didn’t like my ultimatum one bit, and she made her dissatisfaction duly known. As if my behavior up to this point had not been bad enough, I proceeded to yell something like, “You SAW me!! I had my damn blinker on!!!” For added effect (since I was aware enough to know she couldn’t hear me), I proceeded to engage my blinker in this fashion: rightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftmyblinkermyblinkermyblinkerrightleftrightleftahhhhhhhhhh. Somewhere around that point I started to calm down. Then it hit me. That was ugly. That was embarrassing. That was dangerous!

As the incident wound itself down, I began to notice myself compiling a laundry list of reasons why I was justified. She SAW ME and she DENIED me. I couldn’t let her get away with that. I have TANDOORI to pick up dammit! All very sound and justifiable reasons for cutting someone off in rush hour traffic. Right? Wrong. Why had I done that? What is this slip up all about? I’d been doing so well managing this! I’m a yoga teacher for cripes sake!! Then I remembered a blog I posted on my Facebook page about the the guru principle and misunderstanding about the role of the teacher and I remember what my own teachers, Laura and Cat said just this weekend, “Everyone is always doing yoga all the time; practice comes in when you are aware and skillful. Everyone is on the path.” And so since the yoga had clearly already begun, I decided to put on my big girl panties and take a look at why I’d fallen off the wagon and straight onto my ass.

I had to get honest. First, to admit that I was wrong. I was wrong and she was right less wrong. I was angry with myself for not taking advantage of choosing the quick route when I could, and admitting I missed it because I wasn’t paying very good attention to begin with. Humph. Now why might that be? I was playing with my phone (insert sheepish look here). Traffic was bumper to bumper and I wasn’t really being that negligent, but that’s beside the point. If I’m going to be truly honest this isn’t the only area in which I’ve been less than mindful this week. My house is a mess, I’ve been sleeping later than usual, I’m wasting time at work, and not only am I not trying to meditate I am actively and with full awareness ignoring the voice in my head that is telling me to “sit down and shut up”. Double humph. Triple humph. Shit.  I haven’t been very engaged with my yoga.

So, here I am. Turning my gaze upon awareness and engaging as honestly as I can. I am confessing to you as a means of holding myself to the highest accountability (and hopefully I will give you something of value to receive). Getting on my mat isn’t enough. Not when I’m escaping into negligence of my other practices. I wish I could apologize to the woman I cut off. I hope she was engaged enough with her yoga to let it go. We are all human and perfectly imperfect. Completion is unattainable, and it isn’t the goal to begin with. The goal is recognition and the expression of that awareness. I may always struggle with a tendency toward road rage. If I’m skillful enough to remove it from my path, I can rest assured that there is something else waiting to engage me underneath. Tonight, I’m hitting the reset button. I will clear my house of the clutter, and resolve to wake with the alarm in the morning. When my inner voice says “sit down and shut up”, I will take my seat and I will breath. AUM.

It isn’t whether your are right all the time that matters. It isn’t important that you always be perfect or even always good. It is about paying attention, listening, and being honest. It is about putting that awareness and knowledge into action, and forgiving if what you discover disappoints the grandest illusions you hold of yourself. Be kind. First and foremost to yourself. Don’t be afraid to look at the parts of you that are ugly. It’s all yoga, and we’re all on the path.

**Let me just take this brief aside to air a little gripe. Women, you do this. You see people with their blinker on, and you pretend not to see them, and you don’t let them merge into your lane. You do. Don’t deny it. I see it all the time. Not to mention the thousands of times I myself have done the same (I’m working on it). What’s the big deal anyway? So we let someone in. It doesn’t make us pushovers. It makes us considerate. Think about it.

You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

One of my favorite instructions to give in a yoga class is, “Turn up the corners of your mouth.”

I had a revelation sometime last year that I wasn’t getting the most out of my greatest asset – my smile. I just didn’t smile at people, more specifically strangers, as often as I could. Passing someone in the store or the gym, exchanges with the clerk at the check out counter were all missed opportunities to smile. It’s not that I was unhappy or rude or shy; I just didn’t think about it. I had never really noticed before that moment that I wasn’t smiling. So, I immediately set out to smile at everyone – intentionally. The results were pretty awesome.

People often seemed a bit surprised to find me smiling at them, and they almost always smiled back. I liked to image they would go off into the world smiling intenionally too, just because they were reminded how good it felt. They say your brain doesn’t know the difference between a genuine laugh and a forced one. It responds the same way to both, and all of your cells benefit. You can change your whole state of mind (and being) just by laughing, even if nothing is funny. I think smiling is the same way, and most of us don’t realize when we aren’t smiling. We’re just caught up in the fluctuations of our thoughts, and opportunities pass unnoticed. The more I smiled at other people, the more I noticed how good it made me feel.

I just had one of those experiences a moment ago.  As I paid for my lunch and the cashier told me to have a nice day, I smiled. She, with a hint of surprise and delight, smiled back. I was already having a great day, but suddenly I felt lighter and my mood lifted to an even higher level of contentment. As my mind registered awareness, I immediately took a deep breath and checked in with the tone of my inner body (a practice I’ve been focusing on lately) to see what physical sensations I could pick up. There, in the very center of my chest, was a little vibration. The more I focused on it, the more it grew. Our mutual smiles had stimulated my heart chakra*, or at least made me more aware of it. That’s when I had a new realization: Our faces are super sensitive, super subtle translators of internal vibration. Not only do they translate and relay our own state of being, letting others know when we need help, they also hold the power to help us shift the vibration in others. Think about when someone you really know well is sad. You can see it written all over their face even if they’re trying to hide it. When you share a smile or mirror their painful expression you show them they aren’t alone. Suddenly they are connected; their sense of safety and security is strengthened. Likewise, if you laugh at someone who is in pain or your face reveals your contempt then you convey separatness. You enhance their feeling of insecurity with a simple look. Our faces are perhaps our most dynamic and subtle communicators. As an actor I know this well.

In that moment I shared a smile with the cashier I understood that smiles are clear, profound communicators of compassion and community. They carry a special vibration that has only one meaning: love. They are a direct clear, signal from our truest Self. Whether you are the giver or receiver, you feel it. You get the charge, the upliftment, the sense of security and connection. Notice it next time. When you smile at someone or someone smiles at you, notice how it feels in your body. Notice the affect viscerally. It’s amazing. Try it out, try intentionally smiling. I promise it’ll uplift you, and you’ll be surprised with the positive experiences that arise from it. Today, this is my mission: change the world one smile at a time. You can’t start a loveolution with a puss-face.

*anahata chakra – a.k.a heart chakra (or for our purposes: coeur); the vortex by which vibrations of love and compassion enter and exit the body; the first of the upper chakras and the central integration point within the human being.

What’s in a Dream?

Its hard to explain how I feel about this time in my life. It’s like I’m on a precipice. This feeling isn’t new; I’ve actually been in touch with this sense for a while. Now something is shifting. Suddenly the depth and breadth of what is before me seems to be growing. It’s as if I am relatively still and the picture before me is expanding ever outward revealing more and more and more. It’s kind of exciting in a dizzying, scary sort of way. I’m not a big fan of heights.

For the last two nights I’ve dreamt of a new house.  Neither were actually new, at least not spanking new, just new to me. Night before last I was shopping for a rental. It was a smokey blue victorian with a huge front porch that wrapped around two sides in one big curve. The paint was chipping and it was dangerously close to train tracts – the edges of the house seemingly crept up the raised ground that led to the tracts themselves. I only saw three empty rooms of the house during the dream. It had huge windows and imperfect wood floors and a long window lined hallway along one side that didn’t match with the exterior. It was perfect. I wanted it, and just before I woke I had a realization – an inspiration really – which provided all the justification in the world for getting it.  But, I hesitated and woke up. Last night I was in a fully furnished, not fancy but cozy enough modest home. Brick I think, a little cluttered with a pool that I wanted desperately to swim in but was too afraid to walk up to much less dive in. Standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window at the blue waters of the pool I came to understand that this house was mine now. The more time I spent there the more comfortable it became. It had strange lattice work around every threshold that was quirky and a bit bizarre and I liked it.

I looked all this up on Dreammoods this morning. I rarely remember my dreams for this long. Occasionally I’ll carry dream memory (I like to imagine these memories are stored in my cells) and when I lay down at night I pick up snippets of old dreams just for a second. I rarely carry in my mind memories of my dreams that last into the night, but sometimes I do. It all feels magical. I used to have dreams about a white house with a wrap around porch. For years I sporadically had these dreams. It was the sweetest feeling place I’d ever been to. I can remember the first time I dreamt of it. I had been walking down a long path, through the woods I think, and suddenly there it was. I don’t remember if anyone was there the first time, but I knew immediately it was special. The next time I dreamt of it I was surprised that there it was again and each time it appeared in my dream it felt like a gift. At times I’ve wished and prayed and begged the dreammakers to dream me to that place again. I haven’t been there in a dream in what feels like a really long time – several years I guess. I still think about it though. It’s become a special place to me. A place that if I ever happen upon in real life I’ll probably faint or pee in my pants.  I’ve always had a sense that it was somehow connected to my soul or my heaven or something really mystical and spiritual and totally and utterly mine.

As it turns out I was right. According to Dreammoods to see a house in your dream represents your soul or self. An old run down house “represents your old beliefs, attitudes and how you used to think or feel.” Alternatively, “to see a new house in your dream, indicates that you are entering into a new phase or new area in your life.” This all seems to fit perfectly with my precipice. I’m not sure what it means that my old blue house was meant to be a rental and my new house was a bit cluttered. Maybe I’m ready to branch out in some way. Maybe there are too many chiefs and not enough indians leading the way. I wonder what it means that I don’t get to visit the big white house anymore. The one that felt so calm and wonderful when my waking life was, well, what it was. Here are a few explanations of some of the elements in my last two night’s dreams:

The color blue: truth, wisdom, tranquility, heaven, devotion and openness. It may symbolize your spiritual guide.

Railroad tracks: you’ve laid out a set track in achieving your goals, you’re disciplined and secure in your life OR you may be too linear in your thinking, you may need to go off track and explore other possibilities. (probably a bit of both in this case) To cross tracts signifies you are doing your own thing or a transitional phase. Considering my “house” was creeping up onto the tracks I thought this was significant.

Swimming pool: Need to acknowledge and understand your feelings. Its time to dive in and deal with those emotions (No wonder I was afraid of it!! Emotional exploration is not my forte.)

Threshold: You are entering a new phase of your life. (since I wasn’t being carried across it I disregarded the other meanings.)

Clutter: Let go of the past.

Empty house: Insecurity

I find all of this fascinating (enough to share the inner workings of my psyche with anyone who happens upon this while browsing the internet) because like I said, I don’t usually remember my dreams in this detail. However, recurring themes typically get my attention. If you’ve never taken time to look up your dream themes I highly recommend it. It isn’t always easy to figure out what they may mean, but it’s usually interesting nonetheless. I’m curious to see what I dream about tonight now that I’ve gotten all of this into some perspective. I can’t help but think about the big white house. Recurring dreams usually indicate unresolved issues or emotions or unhealthy behavior. A part of me hopes that it’s absence for all this time doesn’t mean that it’s gone; that it’s recurrence wasn’t linked to something negative that I’ve resolved and it’s time in my life is past. It seemed too perfect and sweet for that. Perhaps in the future I’ll get the chance to revisit it with more clarity. Perhaps there is an even better place waiting to be dreamed.