Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flexibility of the Mind

The body isn't the only thing that needs stretching. The mind needs to be kept flexible too. Yoga can help with both. By taking the lessons you learn on the mat and applying them to the rest of your life, you might find that more than your muscles become limber.

When you try poses that take you outside your comfort zone, such as headstand or arm balances, you are showing yourself that you can adapt to new situations. You learn that you can challenge yourself even if it feels awkward or you aren't exactly successful with your first attempts. In other words, you learn to go with the flow.

I read a quote once that says, much of our lives are spent either trying to speed up or slow down the river of life instead of going with the flow. This is so true. We always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere and once we are there we are in a hurry to get somewhere else. We get mad when our jobs are too demanding but complain when they don't challenge or fulfill us. Parents want their kids to be old enough to take care of themselves but then pine for the days when they were babies. Life's transitions can also make us feel ridged and insecure.

About five years ago I made the transition from working mainly for other studios and organizations to working mainly for myself. Truthfully, I never thought I could go back. However, recently, I've discovered that my little studio has limited capacity for the demands that are being placed on it. My prenatal class has become a victim of it's own success and I'm now having to turn more people away that I can actually take. This makes me very frustrated as I'm not a person who likes to say "no." So to remedy this situation I'm having to look at other venue options including working for someone else.

In the months to come, I'm hoping to find a partner organization that can host this class and still allow me to teach it. What this will likely mean is that the class will be held at a different site that can hold more students and I will no longer be handling the registration, (something I've never been good at.) I even see the opportunity of more such classes in the future as there seems to be a great need for them. They just might not be held here in the studio.

I think this situation has taught me that life is never either/or but rather fluid. We are always reinventing ourselves and adapting to the current demands placed on us. This is how our bodies grow and how our minds grow. If we don't grow we die. Instead of getting angry at being stuck in traffic we can use the time to breath, meditate and pray. A good friend's departure could mean an opportunity to connect with new people. A spouse's new job might mean being more intentional about scheduling time together. A rainy day might mean time to finish a partially-read book. The more mentally flexible we are the less stress we have to manage.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2011. Every new year seems to start off filled with potential and hope. Right now you might be busy writing and working on your new year's resolutions, which hopefully include regular yoga classes (wink).

But what happened to last year's resolutions? Have you ever noticed that they tend to fizzle out around March and are all but forgotten by April? I think that often our good intentions are fueled by dissatisfaction and self-loathing which burn brightly but fade quickly. Instead, it would be better to approach personal growth and change from a point of self-acceptance.

Yoga's no-pressure, no-competition, self-accepting approach is one of the reasons people stick with it. Yoga isn't about radical change but about doing something good for your body. It's about small steps toward greater health and well-being. I often tell my students at the end of class to take a moment to notice any changes in their bodies. These subtle changes are how we measure progress in yoga. Are you sitting taller than when you entered? Are you more relaxed? Breathing easier?

Sure, yoga can help you lose weight and get in shape. These are good goals, no doubt. However, if you are only focused on one narrow goal you'll abandon it if you fail to reach it in your allotted time-frame. Or if you have a set back you might be tempted to give-up all together. If you approach it from the understanding that as a human being you are prone to mistakes and failures, you'll be gentler with yourself if you do slip-up. After all, how did you get where you are now?

I'm reminded of a poem Anthem by Leonard Cohen that goes, "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's where the light gets in. That's where the light gets in." In other words, no one is perfect. We all have room to improve. Jesus said that his grace is made perfect in our weakness. Weakness and imperfections aren't all bad. It's our weaknesses that teach us how to love and accept ourselves and others.

We are all assaulted daily by images of perfect bodies and what we should strive to look like. It's unavoidable unless you move to the woods and shut out the world, hardly a practical option. However, this doesn't mean we have to accept everything the media tells about how we are supposed to look.  We can chose to love our bodies as they are instead of trying to make them conform to these ideal images.

I don't watch television so I can't say that I've watched reality shows where contestants compete for makeovers which include plastic surgery. From what I've heard though, it sounds like they are sending a dangerous message about the ideal body especially to young women who are the most prone to body-image issues. I wonder what it would be like if instead of nose-jobs and breast-implants, the contestants where sent to yoga classes and self-esteem counseling? Probably not as entertaining as watching someone go through a risky operation but it would be a much healthier, loving approach.

This year as you make your resolutions, try to be realistic and practice self-acceptance. Know that real change takes time, patience and love. It's good to be healthy and let go of bad habits but don't beat yourself up if you aren't able to get it right as quickly as you had hoped. And in the words of India Arie, "Not the average girl from your video and I ain't built like a supermodel but I've learned to love myself unconditionally..."