Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Posted by on in Off the Mat

Anyone else feeling a teensy bit of pressure to be quarantine fabulous these days?

Think: baking photogenic bread, creating cute craft projects, sewing adorable masks, learning the ukelele / spanish / how to ride a unicycle / and on and on and on....

I'm as competitive as anyone. No, MORE competitive.

Despite my 20+ year yoga and meditation practice I've still been known to taunt my kids with a "YESSSS!" and a fist pump when I beat them at a board game. All in good fun, of course. At least for me. Not sure what the losers think :)

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Asmita alert! In yoga philosophy, asmita is one of the kleshas, or afflictions of the mind. It's often referred to as "I-Am-Ness," the ego asserting itself for fear that if it doesn't we will not be good enough, liked, or valued by the outside world.

My competitive, comparing spirit follows me everywhere I go if I let it. This is the #1 reason I got off social media a few years ago: it consistently made me feel sad and less-than any time I got a glimpse of someone's beautifully filtered life and compared it with my own present circumstances that usually included children arguing and on at least one occasion involved a smoke alarm going off because the new plant-forward recipe I was making had burned while I scrolled my way to a Facebook jealousy stupor.

But right now my professional self is necessarily in research mode. I'm on webinar after webinar learning the best ways to offer online yoga. To get a sense of the landscape I quickly drain 30 minutes bopping from one online yoga site to another, and afterwards I feel something not unlike that post social media depression that used to plague me.

This is the thing that always bugged me in yoga philosophy class: in theory it sounds nice to not compete or compare. But how can I be a responsible, relevant business owner without doing that research? How can you find fun ways to occupy yourself during quarantine without looking at what everyone else is doing?

The answer is subtle, as it usually is in yoga. That's what I love about it.

Yes, do the research and planning (abhyasa, practice). Just don't latch onto that info to compare or judge yourself against what you find (vairagya, non-attachment).

My other tips? Pick a day (or even just an hour) when you can turn off email, work, social media, all of it. Then show yourself some compassion and head to the mat for simplicity practices - not fancy, Instagram-worthy asanas, but something that changes how you feel on a nervous system level. Today I enjoyed a lying-down practice of sama vrtti (even inhale, even exhale) that was nothing to brag about, but I felt so balanced, smooth, and connected afterwards.

No matter how competitive you are, you get to decide how you play the game.

You don't need to impress, compare, or judge yourself, especially right now. Here's to showing yourself a little more love, and to leaving the spirit of competition to the Monopoly board.

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My husband Zach and I found ourselves with unexpected early morning childcare last Friday, and while my first instinct was to cram in some work time, I thankfully shoved that nonsense aside.

We grabbed our bikes and pedaled through an unseasonably warm November day to our favorite brunch spot.

As is so often the way with parents of young children when given solo time, Zach and I spent a while just sighing over our scrambles and celebrating the fact that no small people were arguing in high-pitched voices over the fairness of maple syrup distribution.

Then I scanned the restaurant for cute babies I could drool over to quell that nauseating feeling of delight and heartache over being away from our own sweet little miss.

But after a few minutes, it hit me. What are all these people doing here on a regular Friday morning?

We were there on a lark, cashing in on a childcare jackpot. But these Friday morning brunchers all looked so comfortable, so guilt-free, so self-possessed in their decision to take time out of a plain old weekday to do something for themselves.

I wanted desperately to just enjoy my scramble in an uncomplicated, non-analytical way. Wished I could stop questioning the smiling faces of my fellow dining companions, and just accept this blissful time out of my normal routine. But along came judgement nonetheless, and I was incredulous: “Who do these people think they are, just going to brunch because they feel like it on a Friday morning?”

I snapped out of it pretty quickly, but the judgy unease lingered for the rest of the day like that brunchy smell on my coat.

It’s time to just come out and admit it:

Hi, I’m Kerry. I’m tired, and I struggle to make time for myself. And it’s been that way for a long, long time.

Some of that is my kids’ fault (love you, kiddos!). But mostly it’s my own.

My kids aren’t the ones who decide it’s a great idea to cram five activities into a day that should probably accommodate three, max. They don’t tell me I should prioritize answering emails over yoga, that the overflowing basket of clean laundry trumps the need to book my monthly maintenance massage. Heck, my 8-year old daughter used to come into the living room while I was practicing yoga and insist upon giving me a “masshage” (after which she’d ask for one back!).

To my fellow tired, burned out, overextended friends: b2ap3_thumbnail_Reclining-Bound-Angle-Pose-Supta-Baddha-Konasana-Supported-Restorative-29.jpg

You don’t need anyone’s permission to take good care of yourself.

That means:

Your kids, your partner, your parents, your friend, your dog, your boss, your co-worker, etc.

No one.

And while we’re at it:

No one – not even the people on the above list who love you dearly, not even those who give you massage gift cards for your birthday or offer to watch your kids so you can go to yoga – can make time for self-care but you.

No one can make time for self-care but you.

You can wait for it to happen, you can even fume over the fact that it still hasn’t (“……and how can he or she or they not know how much I desperately need time for myself??????”). But if I were you, I’d take a completely different approach. A radical step in the much-needed right direction.

Decide you’re worthy, embrace the fact that self-care makes you a happier and more pleasant person to be around, and don’t make any room for excuses. Be as self-possessed as a Friday morning bruncher and just make that business happen.

It doesn’t take much of an investment in the self-care bank to do the trick, but you do need to consistently deposit. After our quick morning escape into the world of child-free dining, I had the most lovely day! I felt carefree, light, and better prepared to tackle whatever our three rascals threw at us over an action-packed weekend.

 

Self-care only works if you do it, and you’ll only do it if you stop making excuses and accept the fact that this is something no one else can do for you. So seriously. Isn’t it time you got to it?

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Until recently, we hadn’t bought a single piece of furniture in over 15 years. Zach and I picked up a bunch of “firsts” shortly after we were married: first coffee table (which after a few years got a huge crack down the middle due to being too close to the fireplace), first couch (the beastly convertible sleeper sofa that our movers later hated us for), first dresser (a steal from a San Francisco Salvation Army store). Then we just lived with them. First because we couldn’t coordinate a cross-country move AND new furniture purchases, then because we were sure our kids would wreck everything, then because we knew we’d be moving twice in a year as part of our home renovation process.

We decided upon moving back in that it was time for an upgrade. But I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety of:

1. Picking out new furniture, or

2. Allowing our 3 children to touch, breathe on, or look at said new furniture.

When the gray gunmetal barstools arrived, they looked as new furniture should: pristine, almost buzzing with their newness. These stools weren’t over the top fancy or expensive, and I had picked them out in large part because of their stain-resistant fabric. But only hours after taking them out of their protective shrink wrap I had to allow actual children to sit on them while eating. Picture two big kids who mostly remember to put napkins in their laps while eating pasta with red sauce, and a one-year old in a highchair next to said barstools who eats as much as most adults, gets equal amounts of food in her mouth as on her face, hair, and hands, and has incredible reach and quicker hands than you would think possible for a baby, and you’ll have a hint of the nervousness I felt.

Before allowing this dangerous situation to unfold, I read the cleaning instructions with a seriousness bordering on piety. I instructed my big kids what to do if something spilled on the stools with the same seriousness as the talks I’ve given them on what to do if a stranger approaches them in the park.

In the first few weeks we owned the stools, it’s probably most accurate to describe my behavior around them as insane. The kids and their friends would sidle up to the counter for a nice, friendly snack during a playdate, and I’d snarl if I saw any arms drop below the counter top. “Hey! Are your hands clean?” The kids guiltily showed me their paws and I’d make them dismount the stools so I could perform an inspection, only to find that there were just a few crumbs, or perhaps a small drop of milk that I could easily wipe up.b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_20161001_150109.jpg

Then one lovely afternoon while the big kids were in school and the baby was sleeping, I found myself hungry and gloriously alone, so I pulled up to the counter with some chips and salsa. I steered a heaping, salsa-coated chip towards my mouth, and then proceeded to drop the entire thing face-down on the chair. I gasped and stared for a moment, as if maybe it would jump back into my hand and the whole thing would end up being some sort of anxiety dream, but it sat there, heavy and tomato-y on the gray gunmetal fabric.

While racing to get my white clean-up towel I reflexively felt the urge to yell at someone for being so careless. But as I dabbed the salsa, turning my white clean-up towel red, all at once I knew how stressful this stool situation must have been for my kids.

Irritated as I was at my carelessness, the day I spilled salsa on our brand new chairs (no more than three weeks into owning them), was a great day. It was the day that the stress of perfection flew out the window, that pristine became well-loved, and my craziness was revealed for what it was so I could stop being such a freak about the chairs.

This doesn’t mean I’m so zen that you can wipe your PB&J hands all over our barstools, but I won’t ruin your meal by hovering over you with my white clean-up towel. If you spill I’ll know that I can probably get the stain out, and even if I can’t, it’s okay. Some of the best stories involve the accidents that leave a memorable impression.

There’s a name for this. It’s called Wabi-Sabi, and you can see it as an extension of yoga practice.

(Bloom insider secret – our front desk has its own Wabi-Sabi story. Ask the managers to fill you in if you’re interested. Here’s the cliff notes version: it involves my elbow, an enthusiastic jump, and a huge crack in our countertop.)

Wabi-Sabi is a commitment to the beauty of imperfection. It’s cultivating contentment (santosha) rather than wishing for things to be different or better. On your mat, Wabi-Sabi is acknowledging that the external expression of a pose may look completely different from right to left side, it’s smiling when you can’t stop wobbling in a balance pose, and it’s being kind to yourself when your mind refuses to slow down as you’re attempting to practice meditation.

 

Bringing the concept of Wabi-Sabi into your daily life is a great way to reframe life’s spills and take some of the pressure off yourself. Celebrate the woops moments in your own life and on your mat, knowing that the stains, dings, and dents are part of what makes life well-loved and beautiful.

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I’m a sucker for stories that remind me what’s important in life. In the hustle of the day-to-day it can be easy to forget the big picture; an expertly crafted analogy, like yoga practice, can wake me up and shine a light on the richness around me.

Life's Rocks

You’ve probably heard the story about the philosophy teacher who showed her students a jar that represents life. The teacher filled it with three big rocks and asked her students, “Is the jar full?” They said yes.

Then the teacher poured in some pebbles, filling in the gaps around the big rocks. “Now is the jar full?” she asked. The students nodded somewhat uncertainly, getting the sense that the teacher was up to something.

Finally she pulled out a bag of sand and poured it in to fill in the tiny spaces around the rocks, leaving the students nodding so hard that two of them later reported having a headache.

This one’s a bit heavy handed, so you may have already guessed what all this stuff represents. The rocks are life’s essentials: family, health, and relationships. The pebbles are other things that are important to you: work, school, hobbies, and passions. The sand is all the “small stuff:” material possessions, doing laundry, and other minutiae of life.

The lesson? If you fill your jar with sand, you’d never be able to fit the rocks or pebbles in. But as long as you have your rocks, life will be worthwhile.

Yes, wise philosophy teacher. Health and family are important, probably two of my top values.

But.

I also value leaving the house in a shirt that isn’t decorated with my baby’s strawberry hand prints.

Being somewhat contrary, my favorite part about this story is the pause afterwards where I’m trying to figure out all the exceptions to the rule (is it just me who does that?). 

This particular story leaves a distinct aftertaste of guilt. I’m a mom and a business owner. Does that mean that every time I put Bloom before my kids I’m foolishly forgetting my rocks?

Here’s my yogic twist on this story. All life’s things – rocks, pebbles, and sand – are important. The key is learning to pay attention to what’s important RIGHT NOW. It’s the difference between having a jar that represents your life overall vs. a jar that represents one hour, one day, or one week of your life.

For this hour, being timely about getting my strawberry-stained shirt into the laundry before I forever have little red fingers decorating a formerly white blouse is priority #1. Cuddling with my daughter is one of my favorite things, but unless I want to get a new wardrobe every week (or wear stained clothes every day), right now it can’t be a rock.

For this day, I’ll hug my kids and tell them why it’s important for me to be gone the entire afternoon and evening so I can celebrate our two yoga teacher training graduations, even if that means missing family dinner. Family dinner is a top priority for me, but today is a special day to celebrate the accomplishments of our amazing graduates. 

For this week, in order to get out the door in time to make it to the restorative yoga training I’m attending in the suburbs, I’ll need to forgo my usual morning yoga practice or run. When I don’t make adequate time for my health on a consistent basis, I feel lousy. But this training will enable me to share the powerful health benefits of conscious relaxation with so many people, so it’s worth sacrificing my usual routine for a few days (as long as I get back to it when the training’s done).

Long term, health and family are what matters. Of course. It doesn’t take a philosophy degree to understand that. But the daily life picture of what’s important is far from static. Rather than guilting myself, I’ve decided it’s more useful to hone my observation skills so I can identify the shifting priorities, the changing “rocks,” as they arise.

Yoga practice, above all its other benefits, teaches me to pay attention to what I need on a moment-to-moment basis. Each time I’m reminded to take a deep breath, my unruly mind with all its swirling activity and distraction is momentarily brought back to right now. After a deep breath and some reconnection time on my mat, the picture gets impeccably clear. Only then can I identify what this moment’s “rocks” are – more rest or more activity, more work time or more family time, more laundry or more cuddling. 

So yes, keep your rocks at the front of your mind. You can check in with those important things on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly?). But also give yourself permission to identify what’s important for this moment, hour, and day, so you can choose to prioritize your changing rocks without guilt.

There. I woke up before my big kids did, asked my husband to be on morning breakfast duty for our baby, and I finished this. Now if you’ll excuse me, this weekend’s rocks involve family, beach, and fireworks.

 

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While driving out to the suburbs for a cousin’s birthday party a few weeks ago, I readied my answer to the quintessential kid-in-the-car question. Depending on my mood, my answer can be compassionately accurate (“It’ll be a while – maybe another 30 minutes”) or sassily sarcastic (“I hope we’ll make it by dinnertime tomorrow”).

As an adult, I’ve grown out of needing to continually wonder when we will arrive at our destination, mostly thanks to Google Maps, but also because I’ve come to realize that life is a journey and blah, blah, blah. But when I’m not in one of my sassy moods, I can completely empathize with my kids’ question, both because I was an “Are we there yet?” kid myself, and also because I still get that same sort of unease during in-between moments as an adult.

My family is moving back to our house in a matter of days. We’ve been out for a year while renovations were being done, during which time we also welcomed our newest family member. So it’s been a full year, to say the least.

b2ap3_thumbnail_InBetween_20160428-142745_1.jpgOur life right now is boxes, tape, and Sharpies; it’s deciding what to keep, what to find a new home for, and what to donate; it’s not being able to find some crucial something that has inexplicably been packed away too early despite our best efforts at strategic packing plans (why did I think I wouldn’t need my yoga props this week??!?!?).

This is an uncomfortable place to be. Not really because of the boxes and the not finding stuff, although that’s certainly part of it. More because we’re not really here, and not really there. We’re nowhere. In-between.

Yesterday, despite the fact that there’s still plenty of packing to do, I needed to make time for yoga. And of course I couldn’t find my mat, so I just rolled myself out on the hardwood floor.

Lying on my back, I contemplated the in-between, practicing being comfortable there. I began to deepen my breath. I practiced being completely there to watch the way my rib cage expanded to accommodate the breath, and on the exhalation I practiced letting go of the effort of breathing. With my eyes closed, accompanied by my familiar friend the breath, I was at home, despite my bare, boxed surroundings.

At the top of a deep inhalation, I paused for a moment. There I was – not in the inhale, not in the exhale. I was hanging out in some other place, a quiet state where I could feel my hearbeat, a pulse in my belly. I took a long, slow exhalation and paused at the bottom, noticing a feeling of emptiness, of grounding, and a slight panic: is this enough? will I ever inhale again? Of course, it’s okay, I soothed. And then the cycle began again.

Life is full of these in-between moments, in big and small ways. There are job changes, times of illness or loss, relationship shifts, welcoming a baby, and of course, the ever fun home renovations and moves.

These moments are when we need to rely on some kind of inner sense of home, a strength that helps us feel unshakable even on unfamiliar ground. For me that means yoga, and my breath specifically. It’s the constant, the thing that has been with me from the day I was born, a tool I’ve learned to wield as a yoga-practicing adult, and it will be my daily companion until the day I die. 

Over the years, I’ve been here, I’ve been there, I’ve been in-between. I know I won’t have time to roll out my mat (if I could even find it….) on moving day. The truck comes at 8am and we’ll be going non-stop until we fall into bed in our new environment with all its unfamiliar sounds. But fortunately my breath doesn’t need to be packed away, so I’ll know just where to find my yoga that day.

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