Why do I work with people with movement disorders? We are all ‘disordered’ on some level. If you polled all the participants of any particular yoga class, they would regale you with stories of their various and sundry body issues, injuries and malfunctions and at some point you might actually be shocked when someone tells you that they are relatively healthy. We all deal with pain, disease, loss, and age transformation (my compassionate way of saying “getting old” ;) Some of us decide to become victims of our bodies and the aging process, and some of us smile knowingly and cultivate gratitude for the fact that we woke up this morning.
Whether we are movement functional or movement disordered, each of us chooses where we put our thoughts. We choose the level of consciousness with which we walk through the world. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices teach us to align a little more authentically with the truth about ourselves. So, when I walk into a class full of students who have Parkinson’s Disease, and they are light and lively and pregnant with possibility, I feel a sense of delight in our humanness. I feel real and inspired and in awe of beauty and tragedy, of the paradox and ambiguity of life.
Radical Consciousness Rocks!! Authenticity Rules!
“My Prayer for Peace (or, my attempt to make some sense of this craziness…)”
So, they killed Osama Bin Laden, and a good deal of America is celebrating, while others are searching for conspiracy and still others have hopped up on the political bandwagon. I just feel sad. Sad and somber. Not sad for Osama; he chose to live his life violently and caused death for thousands of beings and pain for millions. But sad for us as a people. Sad that we are throwing celebrations for a murder. Sad that on some level we feel righteous when violence begets violence. Sad that our differences so divide us and so separate us from love.
About four years ago I went on a news fast because every morning after reading the newspaper I felt angry and ill and out of control. I knew that wasn’t the mindset I wanted to create for myself. So I have voluntarily given up knowing things in order to live and walk more peacefully in the world. And I spend a great deal of my time finding strategies for opening my heart and for loving more. I have a strong desire to multiply love. When I feel angry or afraid I try to remind myself to “just love more”. My new years intention this year was simply – love more.
This morning as I gorged myself on headlines from the NY Times and the Huffington Post on-line and checked out postings from facebook friends, I felt a little dirty. Dirty and sad that I’m living in a world where we treat difference with fear, paranoia and violence; and we fight violence with more violence and then throw a party for anyone’s death. The celebrations outside the White House feel to me crass and naïve. Today is a day for sober and mature reflection, not glee. I feel like praying for all those who have lost their lives or their loved ones in this epic conflict, I want to pray for a peaceful solution. I want to teach myself and others that all life is precious and sacred.
After this long absence of daily media in my life, today I feel bombarded and intoxicated with information. I couldn’t stop reading all the various stories and angles of coverage. I felt shocked and amazed, and occasionally proud and more than a tiny bit judgmental at some of the things my facebook friends were posting. And now I’m not sure how I feel. Honestly I’m just a bit numb. And so I try to make my life a practice. I notice my numbness and fear and come back to the moment. I see and feel my judgment and resistance and then I choose to open my heart. For years my teachers have said that the practice of ahimsa (non-violence) begins with ourselves. That loving others starts with loving oneself. And so I turn off my computer and TV and fold up the newspaper and allow myself to quietly feel and contemplate… this body, this breath, this moment.
Vickie Russell Bell
So I’ve basically spent two days not talking to anyone, except a “how’s your day” nicety to my roommate, and trying to explain to the Vietnamese nail technician that I want them all ‘this length’. Oh, and I’ve been on a cleanse. So what does that mean, my students asked on Thursday night? Well, it means no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no caffeine, no alcohol. I think that pretty much covers it. These are all things that I would probably tell you that I ingest in moderation, so how hard can it be? I’ve done major cleanses twice before for health reasons and I had absolutely no problem giving up everything for two weeks, and it helped immensely.
But this cleanse is a different animal. My health doesn’t depend on it; I feel great. I’m doing it for much more of an ego driven reason. I have a photo shoot with Yoga Journal on Wednesday – and I want to look fabulous. There you go I said it, the ugly truth; it’s all about how I look.
So I kind of thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, one week giving up a bunch of things I don’t care that much about anyway. Ha! The mind is a very tricky, slippery thing. I didn’t realize just how often I distract myself from feeling edgy: anxious, lonely, and bored. And its even more amazing how much you want something when you tell yourself you can’t have it. I was convinced on Friday afternoon that if I could just have a Coke, or a diet Coke for that matter, all would be well. (Did I happen to mention that I very rarely, maybe once a year, drink a soft drink of any kind)? And yesterday I asked myself numerous times “who watches the NCAA tournament without drinking a beer”?
Day one was easy, but for the last two days as I fantasized about crusty French bread, margaritas, chocolate chip cookies and extra tall lattes, I realized just how unconsciously I often walk through my life; and how rarely I refrain. Refraining is the quality of not grabbing at entertainment the minute we feel a slight edge of boredom coming on. It’s the practice of not filling up space just because there’s a gap. And we don’t just fill up space by eating and drinking; we email, we text, we twitter we watch TV we chat on the phone, we do…
It became obvious these past two days that underneath all the socializing, and teaching and feeding my senses is a feeling of groundlessness. It feels really edgy and agitated. It feels like fear. I think it motivates addiction, passion, jealousy, pride, and holding on, and we hardly ever get down to the essence of it. Refraining is the method for getting to know our restlessness; for settling into groundlessness. If we always immediately entertain ourselves we’ll just keep speeding through our lives.
The last two days have felt slow, really slow. I almost didn’t know what to do with so much time. And I watched myself desperately wanting to entertain myself; to distract myself from my own edginess. And I refrained, I had to wrestle with my mind and all my desires. But I feel really good this morning, pretty clear. If nothing else, cleansing is an amazing way to get to know myself and the nature of my mind…and if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be a bit more present for my photo shoot.
“On Being Content”
There is something about this morning; the quality of the light and the air that reminds me of a morning half a lifetime ago. It feels so strange when this happens. I was 22 or 23 and had just moved to Cincinnati. I was going to work somewhere that morning – god knows where – freelance PR job of some sort. Anyway, I was living with my boyfriend at the time, I think it was in Mariemont, but maybe it was the condos on the west side of town. I remember that I was ironing something to wear to work. I’m certain I had been outside with CD the dog. So I think it was the condo because you see, we had big sliding glass doors out onto a narrow lawn and I would take her out to go to the bathroom and she would try to run away. It was a game for her really, “chase me and catch me if you can”. It was frustrating, but somehow being young and naïve I didn’t put her on a leash, but just kept thinking that each time would be different; which of course it never was. So my best guess from this vantage point is that we had gone out (I truly don’t remember that part) and perhaps I took a shower, and then set up the ironing board in the living room, and I can see the way the morning light was coming in through the sliding glass door as if it were yesterday. And it was feeling a bit like spring, maybe mid-March. As I stood at the ironing board with a navy skirt, I experienced one of those pure moments of being present (which back then were somewhere between non-existent and few-and-far between). And I remember that I felt a seed of happiness. I felt like I knew for a fleeting moment what life was all about – like I understood something mysterious, a great secret. In that moment I felt like I could look out across the expanse of my future and all would be well; that everything was going to be all right. I suffered from depression a good deal back then. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. But in THAT moment, I was content. And I will never forget that feeling. Somewhere inside of me for the past 23 years, I have carried the knowledge of what it feels like to be content. Of course there have been many other such moments where presence lays itself down like stepping stones that make up a lifetime. And this morning as I walked outside with Leo my dog, to take him to the bathroom (on his leash), it hit me, the memory, the pink dawn light, the cool air on my skin. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing with my life and I’ve felt some signs of depression since my mom died last year; but at this moment I tap into that seed of happiness and the sense that from here I can gaze out at the remainder of my life and that all will be well. For a brief moment I am completely content.
and happy almost summer! it has been such a pleasure seeing so many of you in class this spring. we have been working on opening the uppermost regions of the lungs/chest/heart. difficult and fulfilling work. we have also been focusing on staying in the moment:
“these are the right people, this is the right place, this is the right time...”
i am flying to ohio this week in order to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary! i feel very blessed to have them around and to be celebrating such a momentous occasion. while i am there, i will also be celebrating my goddaughter’s 10th birthday!
“Bodhichitta — the awakened heart”
This week in class I’ve been talking about Bodhichitta, “The Awakened Heart.” Sometimes the circumstances of our lives cause us to protect, to contract, to harden our hearts. But if we practice awareness, we notice this, and we just might be able to see the chink in the armor, the soft spot.
See if you can go toward the soft spot, allow it, sit with it. Empathy and compassion arrive from being willing to sit in the tough places. Pema Chodron explains Bodhichitta in an article in Shambala Sun. Click here and read it... let me know your thoughts.
“To Have Without Holding”
Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.
It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.
It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.
I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
you float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor's button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.
twisting and side-bending sequence
Adho Mukha Svanasana — Downward-Facing Dog
Three-Legged Dog (R leg up)
High Lunge (R leg forward)
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana — One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (R leg forward)
Walk hands forward, backbend.
Baddha Konasana — Bound Angle Pose (L leg forward)
Ardha Matsyendrasana — Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (twist R)
Bharadvajasana I — Bharadvaja’s Twist (twist L)
Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana — Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose (twist L)
Pasasana — Noose Pose (face L, L elbow over R knee)
Uttanasana — Standing Forward Bend
Twist L, R arm between legs, L hand behind back, clasp.
Adho Mukha Svanasana — Downward-Facing Dog
Repeat sequence; reversing all directions.
Try the sequence slowly at first and then try speeding it up to move with the breath!
the wheel of reflection
Passed down through thousands of years through Native American tribes, the Wheel of Reflection is used for wisdom and guidance in one’s life. It allows us to look at our lives as observers, as we do in the practice of yoga. By examining the surprises, successes, failures and learning of the past year, you’ll be better able to move into this new year fresh, taking only what you consciously decide is worth keeping.
Use a journal and start with surprises in 2009. Think back over the entire year and write freely. Then move to successes, failures, and then learnings. Go back and read all you wrote, and notice themes. Ask if there is anything else you need to let go of, and listen.