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September 13, 2012 / Yoga Friends

I see you.

In Africa the Zulu greet one another by saying, “Sawubona” which means “I see you.”   In response a person says, “Ngikhona” which means “I am here”.  How many of us feel like we ar truly “seen” or acknowledged for the person that we are inside.  We greet one another without thinking.  It is just a natural response to say, “Hello.  How are you doing?”  We respond, “Good.  How are you?”  These words are often empty of anything more than ritual.  I love the Zulu greeting as it draws you into a more intimate encounter with the other person.  The words, “I see you,”  are significant with deeper meaning.  The response, “I am here,”  show companionship and support for the other person.  Truly, a more interpersonal encounter is developed!

I teach yoga to 4 and 5 year olds at a preschool in my city.  This has been a very joyful and rewarding experience for me.  I hope that they are learning life skills through the creative play and movement of yoga.  We end the class with an imaginary story and a simple meditation.  Then we place our hands at our hearts and say, “Namaste,” to one another.  The word namaste comes from the Indian tradition and means, “I bow to you.”  The gesture represents the belief that there is a Divine Spark within each of us that is located in our hearts.  In other words, we are saying “The Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in you.”  Back to my yoga kids….  I often run into these same children throughout the year.  They never fail to recognize me as their yoga teacher.  They place their hands together at their hearts and say, “Namaste.”  We have a heart connection to one another.  It is truly an act of grace.  Namaste!  I see you.

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August 27, 2012 / Yoga Friends

What do you do to find your balance?

Each day we are stimulated by positive and negative forces in our life. We engage in conversations; we have daily demands that affect our schedules; we encounter multiple sources of energy throughout our day. So, what do you do to find your balance once again? Do you stuff your feelings and just move on through your day? Do you have explosions of emotion when you least expect it? Do you come home and just lay on the couch to recoup? What do you do to cope with all the stimulus that you experience? Do you absorb it, deflect it, or ignore it? Yoga has been a creative outlet for me to explore my feelings. Whenever I step on my mat I must choose to breathe, to find my center point of balance, and to begin to explore my emotional mindset through my body’s movement. I stand firm in Tree pose and find stability. I twist in Triangle pose and wring out the craziness of my day. I hold Plank pose and discover new strength. I reach up in Warrior pose and receive energy and determination. I flow through Sun Salutations and remember my flexible spirit. I sit in meditation and breathe in new life again. I hope that you have a healthy way to explore your feelings and find a renewed sense of balance for yourself. Yoga is my favorite way!

August 13, 2012 / Yoga Friends

Whole Body Integration of a Yoga Practice

Have you noticed how many workout programs include yoga moves for abdominal strength? That is because yoga is an awesome way to strengthen the whole body. While weight machines and typical gym workouts isolate muscle groups, yoga combines the muscles together in whole body strength and flexibility. Yoga is so transformational. It changes the body like no other workout by integrating physical effort and mental ease creating a sense of balance. As you hold a yoga pose you combine several different muscle groups to strengthen and lengthen the muscles. You even encounter the balanced tension against gravity to hold challenging balance poses. Consider the Revolved Triangle pose. Not only are the muscles of both legs engaged but, also, the abdominal muscles are at work while the the spine is extending. While the poses look passive they are full of energy and muscle work. One of the first things that you may notice when you begin a yoga practice is the transformation of the powerhouse or core of the body. Almost every pose includes the action of one or more of the abdominal groups of muscles. When you find success at one level of a pose you are immediately challenged to take the same pose to a higher level. There is no end to the variety of the yoga experience. You can practice slowly and hold the poses for several breaths or you can flow through the poses with creativity. Both are challenging in their own ways and offer variety to the yoga experience. Even the muscles of your feet get a workout at yoga as the practice is done barefoot. Never underestimate the power of yoga to work your whole body. It is multi-tasking at its best!

July 30, 2012 / Yoga Friends

Yoga & My Christian Faith

 

Growing up, I had a traditional Christian upbringing within several Methodist churches, but I was surprised to discover a deepening of my faith on my yoga mat. I started a yoga practice about 14 years ago at a time when my personal anxiety was at an all-time high level. For many reasons, I have had a struggle with an anxiety disorder over the years. No amount of prayer or positive thinking or medications had helped me to overcome my overstimulated nervous system. My body was in that “flight or fight” syndrome most of the time, and I felt very fragile.  While I struggled to remain present in my body at my first yoga experience, I soon discovered the reward at the end of class… meditation.  It was in this contemplative state that I opened myself to new possibilities and to new life. I prayed for God’s presence and for His guidance. After six years of practice I knew that God was opening a path for me to teach yoga, and I responded. Yoga has given me techniques to calm and integrate my body, mind, and breath.  The continued practice of meditation has given me the ability to open myself as a vessel for the creative flow of God. I know more than ever that, “In God I live and move and have my being.” (Acts 17: 28) God is the creative spirit of life. I see his work all around me. Meditation has allowed me to open myself in ways that I never imagined.  I discovered for myself that yoga integrates the movement of the body and mind with the breath which allows your spirit the freedom to soar.

A few years after beginning my yoga practice, I was faced with more challenges to my personal belief system. As my heart softened, I altered my view of what I thought I believed. I discovered a new vision for the Kingdom of God, one that I was already participating in here on earth. As I let go of the rigidity of my mind, I understood anew ways of understanding the stories in the Bible and the message that Jesus brought forward. By softening the hard edges of my mind, body, spirit connection I leaned more into progressive Christianity with authors like Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, Walter Wink, Brian D. McLaren, and Rob Bell. These authors make me think and re-evaluate my life purpose as a follower of Jesus. At times, I struggled with thoughts like, “Is it okay for me to think like this?” “What will others think about me if I don’t believe the standard message anymore?” and finally, “This is more exciting and amazing information than I ever thought possible!”  In years past I probably would have panicked and run away from anything that went against my traditional theology.  But because I had the tools that I needed to stand firm and open my heart to listen, and to use my mind to comprehend what I was presented, I gained new insight, new knowledge, new understanding.  I believe that my yoga practice has had an influence on how I accepted this new vision of Christ in my life.  There is something about yoga that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone… to be unafraid… to face your fears and let them flow out of your body with your breath.  Thomas Merton said, “When the heart is right, ‘for’ and ‘against’ are forgotten.”  Many yoga postures open your heart, freeing you from fear and encouraging you to stand firm, to find that balance between surrender and strength.  This balance of the body and mind with the breath allows you to flow in synchronicity within yourself, and it has an impact on how open your heart is toward others.  For me, the breath is the God given “pneuma” of life itself in God’s Holy Spirit.  You feel a connection with those near to you and to all of life.  In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus himself tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yoga has introduced me to another culture, to another philosophy, to tools for living, and even to new music. This gained knowledge has helped me to gain new insight for my own culture and religious belief system.  I have fellowshipped with and grown closer to people that I never would have known otherwise.  I have dropped the rigid dividing walls of my mind.  Yoga has given me the tools that I needed to face my fears, to cleanse them with the breath of God’s spirit, to be still before my God, and to serve others in love.

I have heard the Christian naysayers who speak up against yoga saying that the two practices are incompatible. For me, yoga has enhanced my spiritual life especially through the meditation practice.  I have learned how to be still before my God and listen for His voice and direction in my life.  Yoga did originate in India 6000 years ago, and it does have a philosophy that is described in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.  It is a scientific system that enables one to build strength along with flexibility which encourages inner growth and discipline.  Yoga has taught me how to breathe correctly, how to balance effort with relaxation, how to be present in difficult circumstances, how to feel grounded with good posture, how to quiet my mind in order to think or not think, how to move my body with the breath, and how important it is to rest in order to be at ease in the world.  Yoga balances the energy in my body. If I did not feel this balance then I would not be able to interact fully with those around me; I would be on the couch with a blanket over my head!  Through my studies, I have discovered that there is a yoga ‘mudra’ or hand position which symbolizes Christ’s presence in your life, and your hands are repeatedly placed in a prayer position throughout the practice.  Yoga has helped me to free my tense body, heart, and mind to God, to others, and to my own inner wisdom.  From my perspective God has blessed me with this physical practice of yoga.

I have continued as a yoga teacher for the past 8 years and even share my passion with children by teaching yoga through story and movement.  There are wonderful yoga stories available for children that teach ways for them to deal with their emotions, to playfully imitate animals, and to learn to quiet their mind and bodies. My yoga practice has been an amazing and opening experience for me. Each class is a time of present moment awareness and of opening myself to God’s presence and to His creative flow. I believe that God is working within me to share this practice with others. Relationships have grown with those who practice with me as we have become more connected through our shared experience. I know that I can’t help but include my Christian faith as part of my yoga practice. It is a part of who I am; however, I have discovered that yoga encourages the same qualities of love, compassion, peace, patience, and humility that Jesus shared with us as the fruits of the Spirit. I encourage you to add a time of meditation to your daily life and experience the ever present Spirit of God for yourself.  Every breath we take connects us to God if we acknowledge Him. That breath flows through every organ and vessel of our bodies, cleansing our systems and filling us with new life.  Experience the connection for yourself, and open your heart to new possibilities.  Find your strength in stillness before God.

 

July 17, 2012 / Yoga Friends

Behold the Plant

Take a moment to meditate on a plant. When it is fully watered and cared for the plant blossoms and grows. Then, the plant extends its roots deeply into the ground keeping it steady. The soil has nutrients to give the plant strength. The summer heat of the day is harsh but the plant survives through the nourishment of daily renewal.  Now compare yourself to this very same plant.  If the plant does not receive enough water it will wither and dry up resulting in death.  Are you drinking appropriate and healthy fluids to replenish your organs and skin on a regular basis?  And, what about your spiritual nourishment?  Where do you find your strength?  Are you planting your roots deeply?  One of my favorite things about Summer is that you feel free to let go of some of the busy-ness that we create for ourselves throughout the other seasons.  Be kind to yourself and allow a time of renewal.  Deepen your commitment to living a more holistic lifestyle.  Namaste

Allow yourself to bloom!

June 19, 2012 / Yoga Friends

Fake it until you make it!

If you have experienced yoga before then you probably realize that there are some poses that are beyond your present ability. In fact, some poses are difficult for the most experienced of yogis! However, it is good to explore new and challenging poses with your body. Headstand, Crow, and Side-Arm Balances are all advanced poses that require strength, balance, and ability. For others, Half Moon or Warrior III might be difficult to hold. Make a commitment to work on a pose that is beyond your present capability. Blueprint the pose in your body by going through the preparations for the body position. Explore moving your body weight toward balance. Use props or the wall to help you feel the reality of the pose. Our muscles have memory, and our bodies grow in strength and balance in small increments. Slowly your body will respond until one day you take flight discovering that you are able to do something unexpected. Perhaps, there is something in your life that is keeping you from moving forward. Using the same tools that we learn through yoga, try exploring new and challenging places for your life to grow. Focus on that goal and begin to make the needed preparations to achieve it. One day you may surprise yourself by taking flight in a place that you did not expect to be.

June 5, 2012 / Yoga Friends

Becoming Conscious

As my Dad declined through his journey of Alzheimer’s I noticed that he lost the ability to write words with the confidence and legibility of the past. His handwriting became less fluid and more scrawling. His mind affected his motor skills and his ability to write. When I am having stress in my life I have also noticed my handwriting changes. In fact, I would venture to say that the more hurried that I am the more scrawling the letters become. This reflects what is happening in my mind, as well. We need to become more conscious of the state of our minds as we go through our daily lives. Have you ever been in a crowded room where the noise is quite loud from people talking? It makes it very difficult to hear someone that is right next to you! When our minds are full of noise we are unable to hear the voice of wisdom inside of us. My yoga practice has helped me to tame the chatter of my mind. Yes, this takes practice and discipline to draw your mind over and over back to the present moment. It is so worthwhile though because as my mind calms, my body responds with a more relaxed state of being. I am able to relax and enjoy the present. I am able to see outside myself to connect with others in honest relationships. I am able to hear the guidance of the voice of wisdom that I call God. Begin your own practice of present moment awareness with the breath. Then, perhaps move to a mantra that brings peace and calm to your mind. Hold onto this mantra, your own special word or phrase, so that whenever you need to add a spirit of calm to the moment all you have to do is repeat your mantra in your mind. Your body will remember how to respond and will begin to let go of the tension. Seek more tranquility and calm in your life. It truly is a gift to yourself and to those around you.