While hanging out with my family over Thanksgiving weekend, we got to talking about my 23 year-old niece’s job. She
drives a commuter rail train in the northeast. We don’t see her very often, so most of us don’t really know what she’s up to these days.
We asked her a few questions and she good-naturedly told us some of the surprising details of her job. She has to push
a blinking alerter button every 45 seconds to confirm that she is actually awake, alive and still functioning. Gasp!
Once we started, we kept going with the questions….How often does she get breaks? Is it hard to stay alert? How fast do
the trains go? What is her schedule like? Was the training hard? She had to undergo stress tests in training? OMG!
Somebody Rescue Me!
After a few minutes it was obvious she felt a little ambushed by this sudden interest in the mundane details of her job. I explained, ”Chelsea, it is hard for us to realize our ‘little Chelsea’ is responsible for hundreds of lives driving this big train at high speed.” Everyone laughed, including Chelsea.
It’s kinda cool that someone I remember as an adorable little girl, and later teenager, is now driving this big, heavy train at speeds up to 80 mph for 8 – 12 hours at a time.
And it IS really something.
We Are All Amazing
This sounds pretty corny, kind of like your mother saying your kindergarten artwork is so beeee-yooooo-ti-ful.
But the truth is…We are all amazing.
You, and me and that guy who cut you off in traffic. And that neighbor who yells at his kids all the time. And that friend who always makes the most annoying observations. And yes, you who maybe feels pretty ordinary most of the time.
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that we feel pretty unexceptional most of the time.
Take a Minute
It really doesn’t matter….what we don’t have or can’t do.
What does matter is that we know that we all have some capacity, some area where we shine.
It can be as obvious as the midday sun. Or it can be something less obvious. You might never see the aspect of your yelling neighbor that is truly remarkable and awe-inspiring. But it is there. It just is.
We Already Know This
The idea that we are all endowed with some unique gift or talent is affirmed by most spiritual traditions. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What lies behind us and what lies before us is small in comparison to what lies within us.”
But we forget, don’t we?
So I like to remind myself of this when I need a lift.
I remember how many times I suddenly learned something new and inspiring about someone that I thought I had figured out. Something I would never have suspected was there.
A hidden talent, an aspect of their personality, a hobby, whatever, that is just really neat, unique, impressive or cool.
Like ‘little Chelsea’ driving that train day after day. I am pretty sure you are in good hands if Chelsea is driving.
We are not just all good at something. We are all FANTASTIC at something, or several things. Really.
I hope you can remember this the next time you find yourself wanting to sneer at your nasty neighbor or roll your eyes at your annoying relative. The same person who gets on your nerves so easily may also be a surprisingly talented photographer, a gifted artist, a mechanical genius, a warm and caring barista, a great cook, or any of a million things.
We may cover up our amazing-ness for a while, years, a lifetime. We may be completely unaware of it. But it is there.
I hope this idea inspires you the way it inspires me.
When I first thought about starting a blog, I saw WordPress promo pages that promised “Start a blog in three easy steps. You can be blogging in 3 minutes.” Their ads suggested anyone can do it, etc. etc.
And certainly, anyone can create a username and password and choose a name for their blog. And most people can write a few sentences and hit publish. So by that definition, anyone can blog, right?
As you can see from my 2 ½ month posting gap here, sustaining a blog can be a little more challenging than 1, 2, 3, publish!
Between writing and editing blog content, learning WordPress formatting, finding and editing photos, getting readers, moderating comments, adding plug-ins and so on, I was quickly overwhelmed.
And since I was proceeding with the expectation that it is so easy that anyone can do it, I felt doubly discouraged, and doubly incompetent. For people who do not love tinkering with technical applications or reading technical instructions, then parts of blogging are not simple. (Unless you have the luxury of paying someone else to do all the stuff you do not understand. That is another story.)
From time to time, I would email WP support for help with various formatting issues. Sometimes I was able to resolve the problem. Other times I got no response. Or the response was written with so much technical language that I had to send another message just to decipher the first one. I found it discouraging to have to contact support to accomplish such seemingly small tasks.
Beginning bloggers encounter a lot of advice about how to create, maintain, publicize, back up, monetize, enhance, etc. their blog. The mountain of material to digest can easily be overwhelming.
The more I thought about all I need to learn and do to breathe any life into my blog, the more overwhelmed and frozen I felt. I was blocking myself big time by focusing on the difficulties ahead of me.
The Lightbulb Moment
One afternoon, I opened a favorite inspirational book, “Jewels of Happiness” by Indian meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy. I wasn’t thinking about solving my blogging problems at that time. I was just looking for some inspiration to brighten my day and I thought I would read about gratitude since an attitude of gratitude is oft said to be very transformative.
Instead, I ‘accidentally’ opened to the chapter on enthusiasm and started reading. Within a minute or two, I realized what I was reading could apply to my ongoing blogging struggle!
Sri Chinmoy says so many neat things about enthusiasm that I am tempted to include the whole chapter here. Here is one of my favorites:
“To succeed in any field,
Our enthusiasm-eyes must sparkle
And our enthusiasm-hearts
And another jewel:
“Our own heart’s enthusiasm-thrill helps us immensely in all walks of life. If we have an inner thrill, we can go the fastest on any project in any field – whether it is writing poetry or composing songs or running, diving and flying. The inner thrill is of paramount importance if we want to reach our destination.”
Suddenly I realized it isn’t necessary to dwell on all the complicated stuff I need to learn to make a successful blog. My feelings of being overwhelmed and the resulting mental tension were strangling my enthusiasm for starting the blog in the first place.
The most practical step I can take is to pour my enthusiasm for yoga and writing onto the screen!
Coincidently, or not, I have since seen several prominent bloggers say that the most crucial part of blogging is writing good content.
You have probably overheard a comment like this at some point, “I don’t like/can’t do/am not good at yoga….I’m not flexible,” as if the sole purpose of yoga is for flexible people to get together to practice their flexibility.
Sigh. Whenever I hear this kind of comment, I want to jump in with, “No, no, no. Yoga is not just for people who are already flexible. It’s about increasing your flexibility and your strength and your balance, not just on the physical level but mentally and emotionally too.”
I want to say, “Please take a half dozen or so classes and see what it feels like to actually experience the effects of yoga once you put aside the idea that you are not ‘good’ at it.”
Seeing Is Believing
After a couple of weeks (or even one class!), you might notice you can actually move in ways you couldn’t before coming to yoga, or you might observe that you feel calm and grounded in stressful situations. You might find you can comfortably stand your ground in a situation where previously you would run away, or that conflicts with others happen less as you communicate with more openness and understanding.
I do try to say something to this effect, but I usually get the sense that the listener hasn’t really heard me. And the myth persists.
I guess it will persist until people have had a taste of the TRUE benefits of yoga, which is to say the openness and flexibility of spirit, the renewed sense of vibrancy, the joy and happiness of being able to roll with life’s rhythms instead of resisting them.
Just because someone can do a wide straddle split, or put their leg behind their head does not mean their life runs smoothly. It just means that they have an advanced degree of physical flexibility.
Sometimes a person can actually be too flexible, or too open in the sense that they don’t keep any boundaries for themselves. Whatever is asked of them, they give, running here and there trying to accommodate others, but disregarding their own needs.
So, folks, if you are one of those people who still thinks that yoga is ‘for flexible people,’ give it a second look. In most yoga classes you will see varying levels of flexibility. Even among people in their 20’s, some yogis are not all that flexible.
But if they practice regularly, they will become at least a little more flexible. But even better, they will feel more resilient, more patient, more determined, forgiving, accepting, compassionate. Things we can all be good at.
This post was inspired by something I just read about the effect of small positive changes over on John Soares’ Productive Writers blog.
John talked about how small but consistent positive efforts can yield great benefits on your life over the long term. On the advice of a yoga instructor, he does Wheel pose every day to prevent back problems. And it works. He has not had any back problems since he adopted this habit.
That made me think about other yoga poses that are so beneficial that they are worth fitting into your life even when you don’t have time for a ‘full’ yoga practice.
I read somewhere that if your body could choose one pose a day, it would choose Downward Dog because of its detox effects.
Of course, like everything in life, this is an individual thing.
For instance, Vajrasana (hero pose) is said to be great for digestive problems. I have read many times that yogis of ancient times used to say that you could digest a rock (yes!) if you sat long enough in Vajrasana. I have not tried to test this theory by eating a rock. Probably won’t either.
But I have used it for my own digestive problems and it definitely helped. You have to be really patient with it though which is not the easiest thing to do when you are feeling kind of yucky. It can take 10 – 20 minutes or so to feel relief, but it’s worth it if you prefer non-invasive remedies.
Of course, we cannot forget headstand and shoulder stand, sometimes referred to as the king and queen of asanas, respectively. I have always like shoulder stands, and plough pose even more. If I am sitting at a computer for long periods, my shoulders and upper back will get really tight and miserable. A few minutes in plough can usually be counted on to straighten me out.
Someone else said that Virabhadrasana III (stick or advanced tree pose) is great for creating the sensation of swiftness in your life, which is useful to know if you are the kind of person who sometimes needs a little more wind in your sails.
What about you? Do you have a few favorite poses that you rely on to keep yourself in balance?
I spent several hours this afternoon working on my new writing portfolio website (terricarrwritingnow.com). This involved deciphering a bit of technical instruction, something I often find kind of frustrating.
By the end of the afternoon, I felt satisfied that I had made real progress. But I also felt completely fried for anything related to the computer. Or anything requiring mental concentration. I needed to chill.
Eventually I realized the best thing to help me get back to center would be a good home yoga practice. Nothing fancy like I might do at a studio class. I just wanted to unwind and assimilate my day. And since it was evening by now, I did not want a physically strenuous practice.
Shiva Rea’s Compact Routines
For times like this, I often turn to a handful of seated hip opening poses. I got into this habit several years ago by using Shiva Rea’s Yoga Sanctuary CD and Yoga Shakti DVD. Both have short routines of hip opening poses and forward bends.
Generally, she uses a pigeon pose, wide angle seated forward fold, cobbler, the hip opening part of gomukhasana, simple seated forward fold and a few others. Some combination of these asanas does a lot to relax me in body and mind. And after just 20 or 30 minutes, my spirit and enthusiasm re-awakens.
Benefits Beyond the Body
It seems to me that a series of hip opening poses has a similar effect on the body as using the restart function on my computer. Whatever junk was clogging my energy flow is now removed and I can function normally again.
I would like to learn more about the overall impact of hip-opening routines. During one of her routines, Shiva alludes to their multi-faceted benefits by saying that hip-opening poses are “very beneficial for the whole spine” but I suspect there is a lot more detail in some interview with her somewhere.
For instance, pigeon pose relaxes the psoas muscle which connects the pelvis and the legs. This muscle is sometimes called the “fight or flight” muscle because it constricts when we feel tense or threatened.
Luckily, I don’t have to understand the physiology of it all to appreciate how good it feels.
For the last 6 weeks or so, I have been taking Vinyasa yoga classes at Studio DC, here in Washington DC. I just joined their work/trade program which offers free yoga classes in exchange for service at their check-in desk, keeping the studio clean, etc.
I hope that this weekly commitment will motivate me to be more consistent in my own practice. I figure if I have 2 free classes waiting for me, I am at least a little more likely to go.
StudioDC offers a mix of Vinyasa (beginner and intermediate, heated and non-heated), Ashtanga and Yin Yoga. I really like the intermediate Vinyasa class because it feels incredibly detoxing. By the end of class I feel scrubbed clean on the inside. And I have gotten a workout that builds strength, flexibility and balance while also relieving stress.
Although I love the results of these sessions, I have to say, it is not a walk in the park.
The term vinyasa apparently refers to yoga done in a flowing manner. So instead of doing a pose like Triangle, and then coming back to a neutral standing position and then going into your next pose, between most postures, you include a sequence of four poses (plank, chaturanga, updog and downward dog) to keep the whole body fluid and the muscles warm.
Doing this sequence repeatedly throughout a 1 hour practice requires a fair amount of upper body strength. Let’s just say the first class was quite an adjustment for me.
I do not usually do upper body strengthening exercises, so while I am not exactly a weakling, my shoulders and arms could be in better shape. During my first class we must have done the plank/chaturanga/updog/down dog vinyasa sequence 25 times, maybe more. I decided that vinyasa really means, “Yo, baby, you’re shoulders sure better be in shape!”
The routines in the intermediate level classes are fairly demanding, in addition to the vinyasa flow between poses, there are many warrior and lunge poses. Even in the unheated classes, you can work up a good sweat.
But like anything that requires serious effort, the payoff is pretty good. After even one class, I notice it is ten times easier to get up in the morning. If I go 3 or more times in one week, I notice a dramatic decrease in my snack cravings. That is a huge plus for me!
As I keep going a few times a week, it is gradually getting easier. And nothing else gives me quite that feeling of being scrubbed squeaky clean on the inside.
It seems many studios in the area offer great intro packages and/or a work/trade program of some kind. I hope to do a post on some of these deals soon, and maybe start a section here on the blog listing all the discount yoga packages.
Til then, Namaste.
I saw a greeting card recently that says, “I just want to look and feel as if I do yoga.”
Most of you have probably seen a set of Russian nesting dolls at one time or another. They are sets of colorful painted doll figurines encased inside one another. You open the outermost doll and inside you find another smaller painted doll. You open that doll and find another smaller doll inside. And so on.
Regular yoga practice may feel a little like opening set of those dolls. The more you practice, the more of yoga’s gifts you uncover.
When you first begin yoga, you have some idea in mind about what you will gain from the practice. But then you are pleasantly surprised by some of the unexpected ‘side effects’.
For instance, you might take up yoga in hopes that it will reduce back pain. After a few classes you notice your back pain is noticeably lessened AND you realize that since your first class you have been sleeping more soundly than you have in a decade. Or you notice that your interactions with one of the difficult people in your life lately feel less difficult. You find yourself having a more expansive perspective on a troublesome situation. And on and on it goes.
Whatever we expect yoga to yield to us, it ends up being so much more.
I have experienced a kind of clearer perspective from yoga so many times. And I hope to experience it each and every time I practice. To me these effects sum up what yoga is really about.
It is great to feel ease in your body, but so much better to feel you have learned to “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows” as Thoreau sagely advised.
The spring 2012 issue of Pathways Magazine just came out. While flipping through it, I immediately noticed several yoga-themed items.
There’s an ad for an Iyengar yoga conference (May 3 – 6) here in DC in early May as well as an accompanying essay about the life of Iyengar. The conference does not fit my budget right now, even with no travel costs, but I am sure it will be fun for those who attend. Go to www.iyengarconferenceDC.com for more info.
Then there is the Pathways six-week series of Monday night yoga workshops featuring six different styles of yoga. This is a very affordable series at $10.00 per workshop. AND all proceeds go to www.AWiderCircle.org.
It looks like this series is happening at Pathways’ own facilities at 9339 Fraser Avenue, Silver Spring, MD. The workshops run Monday nights at 7 pm from March 26 through April 30. Go to www.PathwaysMagazine for complete details.
Those workshops are more in my price range and several of them look pretty interesting. I am considering the first one on March 26 and a later one about Svaroopa yoga.
I took one Svaroopa yoga class once about ten years ago with my older sister. It is an almost effortless restorative style of yoga, probably similar in effect to Yin Yoga which I talked about a while back.
Looking forward to it! Hope to see you there.