Monday, May 3, 2010

The Present of Spring

Spring is weird. I mean, it’s awfully pretty, with all of its new green grass taking the place of, well, brown dirt and all the blooming flowers and trees, which are achingly beautiful even though they make me sneeze. But Spring is just…weird. Somehow, it’s never owned its place on the calendar the way the other seasons have.

Winter is all about ‘The New Year’. It’s a literal new beginning, a chance to close one chapter and start another, to crystallize some hopes, even reinvent ourselves. It’s the re-set button, the new beginning, the re-boot. Fall, otherwise known as the ‘academic New Year’, is kind of the same thing -- new school year, new notebooks, maybe a new pair of jeans or two -- but it mainly affects people who go to school and the parents who help them get to the school bus every morning. And Summer? Well, Summer is its own ‘thing’. It’s that time of times when we vacate our ‘real lives’ and are…free – of homework and grades, of boots and coats and mittens and (kinda, sorta) of responsibility and everything that isn’t fun (I’m exaggerating a bit but you get the picture.)

But Spring just doesn’t completely fit.

And I think it’s Summer’s fault. Once the temperature inches above 55 degrees and we feel more sun on our upturned faces, we get drawn forward, drawn towards Summer, making Spring that season where we forever have one foot in the next thing.

Here’s a thought, though. Maybe we’re missing something that Spring has to offer by being in the next moment rather than in the present. Maybe there’s something to being MORE than half-way aware of the budding flowers and blooming trees, something to paying attention the actual moment when the thermometer tips from 55 to 65 degrees.

The practice of and philosophy behind yoga is very much about being in the present. When we are not worrying about what happened yesterday (or a minute ago) and not anticipating what will happen tomorrow (or a second from now), we are right here, right now, ‘in’ today, able to experience what is happening in the moment more fully and, if you think about it, not wasting energy on what’s already happened or hasn’t happened yet. Paying attention to our breathing keeps us in the present. So do the yoga poses, the shapes we put ourselves into on the mat during a yoga class. But being in the present is one of those things about yoga that you can really take OFF the yoga mat. It might help you enjoy (and remember) what you’re reading in that History book if you’re not thinking about everything you’ll do when your homework is finally done. It might help you feel less frazzled if you take things one at a time instead of looking at the whole list of things you have to do by school year’s end. And you might really dig what 65 degrees feels like the very moment it happens if you’re not daydreaming about the beach.

Try this: when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your schedule, when you find yourself anticipating, jumping ahead, try to catch yourself and pull yourself back to right now. Take a few deep breaths. Focus on what’s right in front of you and be there. I bet you feel better and have all kinds of energy to really enjoy what comes next when it does.

You are, as ever, beautiful, yoga girl! In the present, and beyond.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Take Good Care

Parents say ‘be careful’ all the time. Especially in this day and age when internet news and Youtube don’t let us forget that anything can happen, anywhere, anytime.

You go to school: ‘’Have a good day. Be careful!”

You walk to your friend’s house: “Have fun. Be careful!”

You go to your first Green Day concert: “BE CAREFUL! BE CAREFUL! BE CAREFUL! DID I TELL YOU TO BE CAREFUL? BE CAREFUL!!!!”

And it’s not like it goes in one ear and out the other, like they might think, because your parents are generally pretty smart people, so it’s good to listen to them, probably most of the time. But you don’t really THINK about the words – really think about them – because, let’s face it, you’re busy.

But let’s think about it now. It seems to me that what lies at the heart of ‘be careful’ is that we -- each and all of us -- need to TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES, on every level, all the time. So while your parents et al are talking about things like Purell-ing yourself from ponytail to platforms during flu season and not taking a ride to school from a guy you hardly know, no matter how cute he might be (and these are two INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT pieces of wisdom to be listened to at all costs!), what I’m talking about here is not judging yourself harshly if you don’t look like a Juicy Couture model or Blake Lively, not pushing yourself to the point of pain just to fit into a pair of size 2 jeans, not giving Doritos and Vitamin Water too much real estate on the food pyramid, not allowing people into your life who don’t show you respect.

For those of us who practice yoga, this whole idea is covered by the word ‘ahimsa’ which is Sanskrit for ‘non-harming’ (take care of yourself…don’t harm yourself…you get the picture). And on the yoga mat this translates into not getting down on yourself if you can’t get your foot behind your head, forgiving yourself for not being able to express a yoga pose as fully on your right side as you can on your left (or on Friday as completely as you did on Tuesday), relaxing into a forward bend without judging yourself on how far you go. The idea of taking care of yourself in a yoga class certainly keeps you safe and makes a class more healthful and even fun. But I think the lesson of ahimsa when taken off the mat means a whole lot more.

Just for fun, try this: sit up straight, let your shoulders relax away from your ears and your spine grow a little taller with every inhale and every exhale as you hook into a smooth, slow, ever-deepening breath. Your legs should be stretched out in front of you and you should feel nice and grounded in your seat. Now, on an in-breath, raise your arms overhead alongside your ears and on a slow, relaxed ex-breath, bend forward at the waist. Maybe your hands reach your toes, maybe they reach your shins, maybe they reach your knees, but practice NOT JUDGING HOW FAR YOU REACH and just breathe. See what it feels like to just be okay with yourself no matter where you are.

That, Beautiful Yoga Girl, is a fine example of ahimsa -- non-harming, taking care of yourself -- in action. Take care:)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween? Seriously? Just Breathe!

So, it’s Halloween.

Amazingly enough, school is seriously underway, the soccer/hockey/volleyball seasons are two months in, plays are in rehearsal…



I remember getting thru the beginning of the school year mostly by surrendering to the momentum, the forward motion of the calendar. I wasn’t the most athletic gal on the Upper West Side of Manhattan so for me, it went something like this:

Math quiz Tuesday
Glee Club rehearsal Wednesday
Play auditions Thursday
History test Friday
Paper due Monday
Play call-backs Tuesday
Glee Club rehearsal Wednesday
Spanish quiz Thursday
Yearbook meeting Thursday
Ideas for end of term paper due Monday

And so on until Winter break. You just hit your deadlines, you keep showing up where you’re supposed to having done the best job on A, B, or C possible, you embrace the one-thing-after-another of it all like the good girl you are as you tumble along like Jill after Jack. You do it cuz you have to. You do it cuz you can.

But, at a certain point, you might find yourself stepping back and saying ‘Whoa’. At a certain point, you might find yourself feeling more than a little overwhelmed, feeling the weight of a plate that is overly full.

And I’m sure you know this but I’ll say it to you anyway: totally normal. What you might not know is that it’s completely in your power to slow things down, even for a few minutes, and regain some control, perspective and calm.

Try this: take a seat on the floor. Sit up straight – against a wall, not against a wall – Indian Style (in yoga we call this Sukasana or ‘Easy Pose’), eyes closed, hands on your knees. Let your shoulders relax, your shoulder blades almost drip down your back. Now, take slow, easy breaths thru your nose, each inhale and each exhale getting a little longer, a little slower, a little deeper. Let go of your full plate, your schedule, the quizzes and papers, the call backs and rehearsals, the ‘what comes next and next and next’, and just breathe.

In this simple act of breathing for even as little as 5 minutes, a lot of what yoga is comes together: staying in the present, letting go physically and mentally, connecting to the breath, carving out time for yourself to just be still. There will be more as we take this yoga journey together but for now, for 5 minutes out of your incredibly busy day, let this be enough.
You can do it! Remember, you’re awesome! You’re a Beautiful Yoga Girl!