"Find the comfort within the discomfort that's necessary for facing the reality of our current state of inequality so we can use the power of privilege to shift into equality."
Us & Them
Many years ago my father and I were driving cross-country and we passed a historical marker for The Trail of Tears. My father said, "It's a shame what we did to them." I thought for a moment about something his mother had recently told me. Her great great... grandmother was Native American. She had confided this information to me as one confides a shameful secret. I replied to my father, "It's a shame what we did to us."
Othering is the process of choosing sides. When we line up on opposite sides of the playground it's easier to throw balls at each other. When we go one stop further and dehumanize the other side, it's easier to launch missiles, enslave, and deliver small pox infested blankets to our fellow humans.
The Just World Fallacy
When as individuals we feel helpless, we can self-soothe with a false sense of control based on a belief in a just world. In a just world, everyone gets what they deserve. We victim blame because it feels safer than admitting that we, too, are vulnerable to injustice, violence, and betrayal.
When we combine the just world fallacy with othering, it's easy to blame entire groups of people for systemic injustice. We might even be willing to believe that only the immigrants that deserve to be deported will be deported. And we may desperately want to believe that Eric Garner's pre-existing health conditions were the reason he couldn't breathe.
When we combine the just world fallacy with the sacred myth of the American Dream, we are tempted to believe that billionaire CEOs worked hard for everything they have while their employees living below the poverty line just aren't trying hard enough.
The False Hierarchy of Human Value
The false hierarchy of human value places more value on white males. A white woman, might find it easier to accept this than fight the system. She might put more energy into raising her son than her daughter, expecting that he will someday take care of her in her old age. In this false hierarchy of human value, she has a pretty cushy spot. If she can only make the white males in her life happy, she'll be okay. She might take a few beatings or swallow her pride so often she loses her voice. And 53% of her ilk will throw the other 47%, plus people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, those worshiping the faith of Islam, legal immigrants, migrant workers, refugees fleeing war-torn regions... basically everyone except white cis-males under the bus.
And 53% of white women are not alone. Being one rung down on this ladder is a temptation for many people and they choose to ally themselves with their oppressors rather than the rest of humanity.
However, the reason we call this hierarchy false is because true power is not finite. It just feels finite to those hoarding money and power because they believe power is power over others. They want to hold onto that oppressive, coercive power. True power, though, is power with, built through connection, cooperation, and compassion.
The just world fallacy makes it palatable to believe certain stereotypes about ourselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest part of the work of examining these power structures and our contribution to them. Often the smallest internalized oppressions can be the most mind-blowing. This work is slow because it is depressing. For example, realizing that the heroes in romantic comedies are often actually abusive, creepy, stalkers, left a gaping hole in my life. I needed to replace that with other entertainments and find my new center before facing another internalized oppression.
Re-learning history and re-evaluating your role in society and ultimately history can be very scary. Many people would rather keep their blinders on and not know the truth. However, if you are ready to examine your privilege, you may need support. It can feel somewhat lonely. As you peel back these layers, it can be rather shocking. Those who already know these truths are not often patient with your feelings because they've been living with the truth for years. Those who are not yet ready to see might be defensive in their denial. Please, seek support from a professional or a group of people in the same stage of discovery.
How: Nightjar - master fear
What: Creative Recovery
Mudra: Anushasana Mudra, gesture of direction
Toes: Earth, Air, Fire
I wasn't sure if my practices would follow the calendar months and I didn't want to force them to. However, the transition between my January and February practices was so seamless I'm not even going to worry about the transitions for the rest of the year.
On January 31st, two of my classmates in Advanced Sequencing tackled the theme of Joy with the peak pose Wild Thing. On February 1st I reviewed the preliminary notes I had made for the February cards and postures and realized there was a lot of overlap between my notes and their practice. And as I considered that synergy, my mind was blown.
At another point in the development of this practice, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I had set for myself. I needed to write my personal practice, a short partner teaching practice, a long group teaching practice, and an individual passion-project practice- all for the above-mentioned course. I had ideas for all four and yet couldn't decide where to put my energy first. Then I remembered to "keep it simple," and something my instructor had said. He suggested that we use parts of our individual practice toward the group projects. That seemed like good advice and yet also impractical because they would have different themes. Then I realized... The individual assignment is due last. Why not use the group projects to create the individual assignment and have that be the same as my personal practice? Same advice, just comprehended in reverse and it worked for me.
The first time I was asked to do Wild Thing in a studio yoga class, my reaction was, "You have got to be $h#!#@* me!?!?" There was no way I was going to do that. I was so scared. During this January 31st experience, I didn't feel like I could do Wild Thing... yet. I wasn't anxious though. The other pose that scares me is lowering into the chaturanga, the bottom half of a push-up. So, yes, it's time to push the edge of my upper body strength and work on my plank and wild thing. The pose that I'll be cueing for our group project is dancer and one of the suggested poses for preparing for dancer is wheel. I have yet to attempt wheel. I could do it in my limber youth. So, I will also start working toward my wheel. There are a lot of fears here to master and I may not master them all this month. However, I will have recognized them and begun the work of reframing them into an expression of trust.
I had already chosen the Breath of Joy for my February practice as it can be used for cultivating compassion. And while Joy wasn't originally one of my themes, the synergy once again had my thinking. Someone told me once that they were looking forward to attending my yoga class because they assumed it would be joyful as I'm a generally joyful person. I had been working on giving myself permission to not smile if I'm not feeling it, so the assumption did not align with my personal work at the time. Perhaps this February practice, though, can be an experiment in teaching with authentic joy while maintaining a moving meditation experience.
My idea for the passion project assignment was to incorporate the elements and toe reading into the asana practice. I'll write more about toe reading, I'm sure, soon. The important thing to mention here is that yoga is the practical, physical, method for effecting change in the toes. So integrating a yoga practice with the intention of affecting the toes is meta-powerful. There is no particular compassion toe. However, compassion is the purview of the heart chakra. And the heart chakra can be read in the air and fire toes. These toes are associated with communication, expression, and action.
I am really in awe at the power of this practice. The end of the month was fast approaching and I had completed and taught the assigned yoga sequences for my course, yet I hadn't recorded or practiced my February sequence. And then I realized that my February practice was off-the-mat yoga. I faced and released several fears this month. I spoke my intuition in several ways that developed into opportunities for me to put my compassion into action. Even the group yoga teaching projects helped me release some fears. I could record our group sequence or my individual sequence, however, this month I am allowing myself the grace of not recording my practice. I am standing up to the social media pressure of "pics or it didn't happen." Yes, it did happen. And no, there is no video.
Higher Self: Warrior
How: Turkey (Gratitude)
Action: Tune in
Mudra: Shakata Mudra
Writing the Sequence
Warrior seemed pretty self-evident, there would need to be a warrior flow in the sequence.
Gratitude was a little more tricky. There was nothing listed as having the core quality of gratitude in the appendix of the Yoga Toolbox. So, I googled "gratitude yoga sequence" and found this lovely yin sequence from Yoga Journal. That seemed synchronous since yin provides opportunities for tuning in. I used their first three poses and then the fourth pose struck me because I have been sleeping or at least beginning the night of sleep in this position, supported chest and heart opener, for a couple of days. I had one of those yoga-is-life moments and stared into the distance for a while.
I realized that all of the Yoga Journal poses were on the floor and that I needed to transition up to warrior at some point.
In the meantime I had pulled a few cards from the Yoga Toolbox based on the core quality listed in the appendix. They seemed to be related to the idea of Tuning In: Discernment, Intuition, Receptivity, and New Possibilities.
Warrior is so appropriate for my January 2018. At the beginning of the month I participated in a firewalk hosted by Southwest Institute of Healing Arts and facilitated by HeatherAsh Amara, author of Warrior Goddess Training.
During the first practice of this sequence, I found it difficult to hold the mudra while in savasana. I ended up separating my hands and imagining a line of energy still connecting them. I might try to support my elbows with bolsters tomorrow.
During the second practice, I did support my elbows with bolsters and I still ended up releasing the mudra half-way through and allowing my palms to open up to receive on the mat at my side. I also noticed that by releasing with knee-down twist and sleeping pigeon at the beginning of the practice, my hips were much more open during the warrior sequence. I find myself in knee-down twist as well as the supported heart opener in bed - both as I'm settling in for the night and as I'm waking. I've been doing the full practice two to three times a week and affirming or supporting the practice with movement and gratitude in between practices. That feels right. It feels like gratitude for life's grace.
I was feeling as though I hadn't reflected on the practice or processed the experience enough and then I realized that because I'm doing this work through movement, in my body, I don't need to process as much verbally. In fact, I've already naturally flowed into my February work.
With each repetition of this practice, I go deeper in. Several times now, I’ve needed to adjust the practice to meet my needs. First my quads were not warmed up enough for my attempts at camel to be comfortable. So I added some variations of sun salutations that included runner’s lunge.
Then I also found myself pausing the audio so I could stay in bound angle, supported bridge, and savasana longer. For other poses, I found that I couldn’t hold it for quite as long as I was telling myself to, so I would return to tadasana, child’s pose, or continue onto the second side.
It is nearly February and I have yet to complete this reflection. I feel like my focus on the details above speaks volumes. It was such a new process for me, such a new experience to be open and vulnerable and share myself in a less than perfect expression. And yet, as I look back on the other side of my January practice, I see how much this December practice set the stage for so much growth. No wonder the cards jumped out in three groups of three... there was so much intense work to do that it is difficult to put into words.
The aftereffect, though, is that I feel much more connected, authentic, and free to share myself and my journey in my humanness.
Please consider this blog entry my bibliography or credits page for my 2018 Personal Intuitive Yoga Practice series. My intention is to link to this page in future posts.
Earlier this month I was inspired by my good friend Michael who was doing a Year Ahead reading on Facebook live for a lucky viewer. It was quite amazing. I encourage you to check him out.
I was not the lucky viewer, so I pulled out a few decks of cards and my Carolyn Myss' Sacred Contracts: The Journey board that just so happens to have 12 spaces, which I reinterpreted to represent the 12 months. The board also has three concentric circles. I interpreted the outer circle to be how my higher self will be showing up each month. I drew one of Carolyn Myss's Archetype Cards for each month, plus a 13th card that represents the overarching theme for my year. It was The Guide - no pressure.
For the middle circle, I asked what I needed to know in order to bridge the gap between my little s self and my big S Self. This card answers the question, "How?" My mother comes to me in the form of birds and I felt like I needed her support for the first six months, so I pulled from the Bird Cards oracle by Joyce van Dobben and Jane Toerien. Then for four months I pulled from the Sacred Geometry Activations deck by Lon Art. And the last two from the Earth Magic Oracle deck by Steven D. Farmer.
The innermost circle is the practical question, "What do I need to do?" For this circle, I pulled from The Artist's Way deck by Julia Cameron, Messages from the Mat by Shine, and one card from the Past Life Oracle deck by Doreen Virtue.
When I decided to base my yoga practice on these readings, I also pulled 12 cards from the Mudra Card Deck by Joseph and Lilian Le Page. And of course, while creating the yoga sequences and affirmations, I always use their Yoga Toolbox for Teachers and Students.
Today I practiced my first Asana from this reading and it was amazing. 2018 has a lot in store for me and I'm excited to show up for it!
Note: For some reason not all of the photos I took of these resources are showing up as JPEG, so this may get updated as I figure that out.
I was just listening to Julia Cameron's Reflections on the Artist's Way. (I'm working on updating the week on creativity in a life coaching course for my day job.) She said, "Discipline is a word that we use to beat ourselves up.... It's fun to do something creative. Once you get used to doing it, it doesn't take discipline."
I beat myself up about my lack of discipline as recently as June 2017. I remember thinking that I should take some work with me to Jamaica to prove to myself that I have the discipline to be an entrepreneur. That sounds ridiculous to my ears now. I'm not exaggerating, though, those were my exact thoughts.
In yoga, the concept of discipline, is called tapas. And in my study of yoga, I have really grappled with the meaning of tapas, probably because discipline is such a loaded word for me. The literal translation of tapas is "to burn". It is described as austerities, self-discipline, and purification. The hermetic yogis are put on a pedestal of fasting, celibate, self-denial. It seems completely unattainable, and to be honest, undesirable. I do not cling to enough guilt to be a self-flagellator.
Which brings me to another point raised by Julia Cameron: artists do not start off doing amazing work. She said that even George Lucas's student films were not brilliant. The creative journey is one of small steps; we do not jump from novice to academy award or hermetic yogi in one leap. In fact, the desire that we do so is one of the causes of suffering.
So, if the journey of self-discipline does not start at renunciation, starving, and self-flagellation, then where does it start? Tapas is that feeling of being uncomfortable and breathing through the discomfort. It's standing up in front of the class and speaking even though butterflies are setting up a mosh pit in your belly. Every time I follow through with something instead of talking myself out of it, I'm practicing tapas. So, ironically, being on vacation and enjoying my trip to Jamaica could be considered discipline. I breathed through the gamut of shoulds and let them go so I could relax and just be.
"Once you get used to it, it doesn't take discipline." That edge is always moving. As one behavior becomes a pleasurable habit, we try something new, continually growing and stretching ourselves. That is tapas; that is discipline.
When we add svadhyaya, or self-study, to the tapas, we get curious. Right now, in my yoga practice, I'm curious about my fear of chaturanga dandasana, the lowering part of a push-up. So far I've discovered that my imagination of plank is much too literal. That line is not really as straight as a board, which explains why I never know what yoga teachers are talking about when they say chin, chest, and then belly. Boards do not move that way. I don't even think bamboo moves that way. I had been assuming I was too weak or too out of shape or maybe I had fallen from a really low height as a child and landed on my chin.
After a while, though, that explanation ceased to satisfy me. I've been reading articles and watching youtube videos, showing the smaller steps leading to chaturanga. And I've been recording myself so I can see if my elbow is really at a 90 degree angle. What is happening in my body at that moment when I get scared and just flop to the ground?
In this practice of self-discipline and self-study there is an ebb and flow, a balance between effort and ease, as there is with any yoga asana. If we force the discipline, we become out of balance. If we force the practice, it does not turn to pleasure. Forced practice turns to resentment and shame. Don't expect to see a perfect chaturanga from me in the next blog. I will be cycling through from practice, to curiosity, to study, to reflection, and back to practice, with surrender and patience, for as long as it takes for me to enjoy chaturanga.
Beauty. This one was tough and that's why I paired it with Savasana... I wanted this work to be done while I was asleep. Well, the joke's on me, because this entire process of filming my personal practice has been the work of this card.
A few months ago I had an inspired thought. I have been resisting suggestions that I try Louise Hay's mirror work. When I look in the mirror, I see a distorted image of myself. When I look at a photograph, it's a distorted image of myself. Because both the mirror and the photograph are two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional person. And yet, when I look at a photograph of a loved one, I see all of them. The reason for this is that our brain fills in the gaps. I may be looking at a photograph, but I'm remembering their full self in the world. I see a certain tilt to their smile and I combine that with my memories to imagine the rest of their body language and laugh and spirit.
I have no such visual memories of myself because I'm not looking at myself while I'm engaging with the world. I don't see the love shining out of my eyes as I listen to a friend. I don't see, I feel myself being in the world.
So, in this process of filming my yoga practice, I'm experiencing my movement and meditation and then seeing myself moving and meditating. I'm consciously associating my non-visual experience with a visual. I'm intentionally filling in the gaps of the 2-dimensional visual with my 3-dimensional experience. It's not automatic. I'm probably having to create new neuronal connections between different parts of the brain. And yet, even after watching these videos with an eye for editing, asking myself if the visual representation matches up with my experience and the intention of my practice, I feel like my reaction to my 2-dimensional image is a little less disjointed and jarring.
At the beginning of September, 2016, I started studying the yoga sutras and then in February, 2017, I started my yoga teacher training program at Spirit of Yoga in Tempe, AZ. So, the philosophy side of yoga is what drew me in. I have done yoga in the past, inconsistently. And honestly, my practice during teacher training was also inconsistent. So, as I enter 2018, I’m slowing down with my classes and taking time to develop my personal practice.
It's an intuitive practice, inspired by oracle cards I draw. And I'll continue with this particular practice until I feel complete with it.
I find it interesting that the part of a coaching session that usually takes 15-20 minutes has taken me at least two weeks. There’s a reason they say every great coach has a coach. I’ll eventually increase the efficiency of this process by seeing a coach. In the meantime, I sense there are a few more things I have to learn by doing this the long way.
One of the struggles I had with this practice was opening my hips for gate and half circle. One morning I was reading an article a friend posted about full lotus (https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4437/Why-Is-Lotus-Pose-So-Darn-Hard.html).
I think it was the word intimacy that helped me connect the dots between my tight, painful hips and emotional, energetic holding in my hips. And this a-ha moment of inspiration allowed me to see the theme of my intuitive practice. It connected the dots between the cards I had drawn and the poses I had selected.
Sauca is the first of the yamas, or codes of self-regulation or restraint, within the eight limbs of yoga. Sauca translates as cleanliness or purity; both of these words tend to be shame triggers for me.
Even Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati’s translation of sutra 2.40 gets my back up a little.
“Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), one develops an attitude of distancing, or disinterest towards one's own body, and becomes disinclined towards contacting the bodies of others.”
I was forced to rebel against our clean-obsessed culture during my two-year struggle with an autoimmune condition. My immune system reacted to nearly every personal hygiene product out there. For a while I was limited to Dr. Bronner’s unscented baby hemp-oil soap. I couldn’t wear any deodorant. Three times a week I received IV therapy, which encouraged substances to leave my body via my sweat glands and there was nothing I could do about it. By the time I finished my treatment, my sweat smelled good and I didn’t mind not using deodorant. I was a hippie rebel.
In an effort to engage with this yama in a meaningful way, without judgment, I’ve decided to unpack these words and their antonyms.
What does it mean to be clean and pure? Dirty is the opposite of clean. What is dirt? Soil is made from minerals, gases, microorganisms, and water. One to five percent of the composition of soil is dead and decomposing cells from plants and animals. This is probably the part that grosses most people out and, ironically, it’s an indicator of the fertility of soil. Minerals, gases, and water, that all sounds clean. In fact, we need to ingest those substances for our own survival. What about microorganisms? Well, we’ve learned that as humans, our microbiome or the microorganisms living on and within us out number our human cells. Our human bodies are giant transport ships for microorganisms. And in return, in a symbiotic relationship, they provide so much for us.
So if dirt is not inherently bad, then the virtue of cleanliness must also be more nuanced than my feelings of shame and reactive rebelliousness would have me believe. Perhaps it’s as simple as non-cleanlines, impurity, or asauca, being that which does not serve me. Sauca would then be the practice of aligning myself with that which does serve me and my community of micro-passengers.
Perhaps I can reframe Sauca away from the shame triggers of cleanliness and purity and toward the practice of self-care. – Sauca as self-care.
This reframing is having a snowball, rollercoaster effect. Chores are now “Self-Care Opportunities”. Dusting is a way of reducing stress on my lungs. I remove dust from my breathing environment, preparing for pranayama. Picking up dog poop from the back yard is a series of forward folds, in addition to limiting opportunities for non-beneficial bacteria to grow and spread.
I have several opportunities for self-care throughout each day. I focus on those that I choose rather than the ones that were left undone. In fact, for 2018, I’m considering making myself a sticker chart, to provide a visual of my self-care abundance.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ChbJeqBSi_A" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>
After burning out from a long career as a middle school/high school reading/math/science teacher, I returned to school to study massage, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and yoga.