Effort and Ease

If you’ve ever had a regular yoga class with experienced teachers, it’s likely that you’ve been instructed at some point to find some "ease within the effort,” to find places where you can soften or release while still doing the work of the posture, still maintaining focus and awareness. For example, if you are in virabhadrasana (warrior 1 pose), the posture may require effort to stay strong through the legs and shoulders, effort to remain in the correct alignment for your body, but there is no reason to clench the jaw or furrow the brows or press the tongue against the roof of the mouth and these are areas that can be released without interfering with the work of the pose.

I’ve been coming back to this idea a lot lately. If there was ever a yoga concept that felt applicable to day-to-day life, this is it, don’t you think? We all have our work, whether that be the work that pays our bills, the work of dealing with our emotional baggage so that we can move toward the best version of ourselves, the work of life minutia (the folding of laundry and the cooking of meals), the work of mending and sustaining relationships. How often do we make that work harder by the equivalent of clenching our jaws? How often do we bring unnecessary difficulty to this work? What small things can we release that would allow this work to have a bit more ease?

We head out of New England in a mere 9 days and I am writing this morning from Texas, where I’m spending a bit of time with my family before we head back out on the road. When I return home from this visit, I’ll have only four days to close out what I can of life there and pack up for the coming weeks of travel. I meant to get more done before I left. I meant to tie up some loose ends that I won’t have time to get to after all. There is a great deal to sort and organize before we drive away and it’s possible that I will need to put in a few late nights to pull it off. This is just fact, the work of living this way. But there can be greater ease within that work than I often allow. There is nothing gained by my getting snappish at Justin or getting caught up in some idea of perfection (I can be very guilty of needing things to be “just so” before moving on). There is nothing gained by frantically rushing about or needless stress. Yes, things must get done. But I don’t need to be a crazy person in order to do them, as it turns out. As a matter of fact, it could be strongly argued that they could be done with far more efficiency if I’m NOT a crazy person, actually.

As we go about daily life, it is fascinating to observe the ways that we bring unnecessary effort to our work. Preconceptions about someone’s response before we’ve even given them the opportunity to behave differently, the clinging to old ideas or identities that may or may not be true any longer, the stories we tell about relationships or tasks. Maybe folding laundry isn’t your favorite task ever, but is it made easier by repeating the phrase “I hate laundry” or is that something you can release? How about the way we brace ourselves for certain interactions? What happens when we soften those tensed shoulders and save our defensiveness for actual affront rather than anticipated, imaginary ones.

Where can we bring a bit more ease to our efforts? What can we release? Physically, emotionally, spiritually? As you make your way through this mid-week hump, give it a try…let’s see if we can bring a little less unnecessary work to our lives together and perhaps in doing so, make space for a little more focus, a little more joy.   

Happy Wednesday, friends!

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Yoga Teacher Training- Holy Moly

I graduated from Boston Yoga School's 200-hour yoga teacher training yesterday and the title of this post kind of says it all.

Holy moly.

It was a five month journey that I am quite sure I will be peeling the layers back from for some time to come, but I just wanted to share a few initial thoughts here while the experience is still raw. And it really is just that: raw. The sort of raw that comes from the gentle, but ceaseless, scrubbing away of protective layers. 

Here's the thing. It is virtually impossible to spend five months nearly constantly talking about awareness-awareness-awareness without becoming, ummm, more aware. And the tricky thing about awareness is that it's an impossible-to-unring bell. Once you know that something is, it gets pretty hard to pretend it isn't. You know?

And the crazy thing about this training is that more often than not, that awareness joined forces with the teachings in such a subtle way that I would think I walked away from a weekend workshop with one or two new insights only to find myself pummeled by them (seemingly out of nowhere) throughout the following weeks.

Case in point... 

Our final full teaching weekend was an anatomy weekend. As you may expect, much of the theme to our training in general centered around the connectedness of mind/body/energy and the same was certainly true of the approach our anatomy training took.  I went into the weekend prepared for learning about things like the relationship between our muscles and layers of fascia, and how our breathing affects our nervous system. Which, of course, we did. But during the course of the weekend, Zach repeated an idea several times in several ways: the body wants to be healed and it wants to be whole. Not exactly revolutionary on its own, I know, but when it became entwined with a little of that pesky awareness, it became exactly that- revolutionary- for me. 

As it turns out, awareness had been nudging a bit at the edges of something I'd been hiding from. Something that I'd formed a little protective container around so that I could stick it on a basement shelf in my consciousness and ignore it. It had a little bit to do with ego and identity. It had a little to do with my cancer history. And when awareness decided to meet up with this idea that Zach kept repeating, I suddenly found myself standing with the container shattered and this realization naked and throbbing in my hands: I've thought of my body as a separate entity, an enemy who wanted to kill me, since my 2004 ovarian diagnosis and I've been punishing it in one way or another ever since. If what Zach was saying was true, and awareness seemed to be backing him up, then my body wasn't the enemy, it wasn't separate from me at all. It was trying to heal itself, trying to be whole. And my punishment was not helping. Maybe this doesn't seem like much of a revelation to you, but it rocked me to my core. And it re-wrote every decision I've made about how I've cared for myself over the past decade plus. 

And this is my experience in a nutshell. Zach was talking about body systems. Chip was talking about the origins of Sanskrit and the Yoga Sutras. Brenna about how to do physical adjustments in a conscientious way. Kevin about daily practice and movement as a tool to gain greater awareness. But each time we gathered for learning and practice, it seemed that awareness took those teachings and used them to scour away more of the ways I hide, more of the ways I rationalize. More of those protective layers that really only form barriers to the person I want to be. 

So...after five months of this, I still have no idea how to describe my experience in a way that can even come close to capturing it. All the words that come to mind make me feel like I should have my very own episode on JP Sears's Ultra-Spirituality channel (which, btw, if you haven't seen this, go over right now...hysterical!). So suffice it to say that it is an experience I'm still absorbing and expect to for an indefinite period of time to come. I learned SO. MUCH. MORE. than I was expecting to on every conceivable level. It was phenomenal.

The Boston Yoga School- Maine class of 2016!

The Boston Yoga School- Maine class of 2016!

***I would also very much like to publicly give my special thanks to Terry Cockburn of Freeport Yoga Company. Not only was she a dedicated and knowledgable co-director for our program, but she was unbelievably supportive on a personal level throughout the entire process. Her own dedication to study is an inspiration and I am just more grateful than I can express for her unwavering support!***

Yoga-ing in Caye Caulker

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." 

We are all familiar with this phrase, whether from it's proverb origins or it's more sinister role in The Shining. But I've long held that the reverse is equally true. All play and no work makes Jack (or, *cough*, Jane) just as dull. 

I find a deep satisfaction in work well and truly done. In projects that challenge and stimulate me, that push my creative boundaries. I don't want to "phone it in" when it comes to my work, to show up and merely deliver the minimum expected of me. I want to push and experiment and come at the work from every conceivable angle. 

I want to grow.

Looking at these images shot for Freeport Yoga Company, now a full year old, it's thrilling to see the work done and all the growth that has occurred since.  

I am fortunate in the work that I do. I am fortunate in the clients that are drawn to my work and who hire me to do fantastic jobs for them, like capturing a yoga retreat in Belize. I am grateful every single day for being privileged to do work that I love. But make no mistake, it is, indeed, work, no matter where in the world I'm lucky enough to be doing it...and that's part of the joy as well as part of the pain. 

 

 

 

Oneness

Oneness by Pablo Neruda

There's something dense, united, sitting in the background,

repeating its number, it's identical signal.

How clear it is that stones have handled time,

in their fine substance there's the smell of age,

and water the sea brings, salty and sleepy.

 

Just one thing surrounds me, a single motion:

the weight of rocks, the light of skin,

fasten themselves to the sound of the word night:

the tones of wheat, of ivory, of tears,

things made of leather, of wood, of wool

aging, fading, blurring,

come together around me like a wall.

 

I toil deftly, circling above my self,

like a raven above death, grief's raven.

I'm thinking, isolated in the vastness of the seasons,

dead center, surrounded by silent geography:

a piece of weather falls from the sky,

an extreme empire of confused unities

converges, encircling me.

{translated by Stephen Kessler}

Terry Cockburn, owner of Freeport Yoga Company, in Caye Caulker, Belize

Terry Cockburn, owner of Freeport Yoga Company, in Caye Caulker, Belize