stop your wiggling.

Lately I’ve been enamored with the dichotomy between stillness and movement.  You may remember this post where I talked about travelling horizontally vs. travelling vertically. To borrow from Pico Iyer,  travelling vertically means traveling into Stillness within. I’ve discovered that I’m fairly skilled at resisting extracurricular fidgeting in two areas of stillness: savasana and seated meditation.

But I’m nearly terrible at finding stillness inside a yoga pose. 

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This is one of my favorite poses, but I’m constantly wiggling once I’m in it. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

It’s part career hazard: as a yoga teacher, my eagle eye is scanning the room, looking for any opportunity to help a student move more efficiently and enjoyably in and out of each pose.

And it’s part habit: I always want to find a way to make my pose look and feel ideal.

But what if ‘ideal’ for today is exactly where the pose landed in its first mental conception and physical manifestation? What if the pose doesn’t require a shifting of the hips, an extra elongating of the spine, an extra stretch of the ribs, or an extra visual scan around the room to see who’s doing the pose better than I am? It usually doesn’t.

One thing I adore about the Ashtanga asana system is that I only get 5 inhales in each pose. I sure as heck better get myself into my pose in one movement. Forget about wiping sweat, drinking water, fixing bobby pins, adjusting bra straps: there is simply no time for these shenanigans. There is only time for stillness.

Again, to quote the very wise Pico Iyer, “Stillness is not an indulgence… it’s a necessity for anyone who wants to gather less visible resources.”

Meaning: we don’t need 3 hours in meditation to find stillness. We don’t need to indulge in a three week sabbatical to make stillness a part of our lives. (Although, how cool is it to get into the mountains, set up your yoga mat on a pine needle carpet and start your day with birdsong? It’s really cool!)

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Travel, if you have the chance.  But also be brave enough to be still.

I’m working on finding stillness in each pose—getting into the pose and staying as still as possible. Physically, this could conceivably be a long time but mentally, this is SO difficult for me! I want to wiggle my way to perfection– shifting ever so slightly with each breath, nailing that pose and moving on to the next.

But when I do this ‘quick and conquer’ thing– what mental resources am I gathering?

Perhaps not the ones I need.

What do I need?

I need patience.

I need patience, patience, patience, and the tenacity to be imperfect. I need to gather up all my courage to get myself into an emotionally uncomfortable place and stick it out. This freedom to find stillness, to gather up the less visible inner resources feels like the ultimate prize.

My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. 

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My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

When you are practicing yoga (or not… maybe you are just trying to make it through the day without losing your mind at work and your temper at your kiddos) can you be brave enough to stop fidgeting and fixing? Can you be brave enough to be still and gather up resources that will ultimately fill you up? These are the resources of patience, gratitude, resilience, and ease. The resources that allow you to look around the room with your eagle eye and assess your life as being blessed, even if you are momentarily uncomfortable.

If you aren’t great at doing this, perhaps try listening to one of my Guided Meditations. Give yourself time and grace; expect a natural learning curve.

In the meantime, let me know which inner resources you’ve gathered while in a moment of stillness, and how your outlook on life is beginning to shift.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

-lisa

Author’s Note: this article first appeared on MayaYoga.com in September 2016. Lisa Ash Yoga retains the rights to this article 

breathing through allergies.

My allergies are killing me.

Last Tuesday I woke up at 3:30 am gasping for breath. It seems I accidentally closed my mouth while I was sleeping (which wouldn’t be a problem if I could breathe through my nose like an ordinary human, but apparently it’s a death sentence for someone suffering from spring seasonal allergies.) During my yoga class last night, I not-so-sneakily-snuck out of the studio while everyone else was in savasana for dose of decongestant spray and peppermint oil… oh the joys of loving to play in dirt and take long walks in the Great Outdoors.

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the promise of all things allergen

I almost skipped my Mysore Ashtanga practice on Monday because my nose was completely stuffed.  Ujjayi breath in and out of my nose seemed impossible.  And it was, at first.  My initial downward facing dog felt like I had wrapped my face in a cotton pillow and plunged it underwater.  That great.  But something miraculous happened: by my first Sun Salutation B, I could breathe. I mean, really breathe into the opening of my throat and listen to the familiar sound of ocean wave that the ujjayi creates.  It was as if breathing deeply… helped me breathe deeply. (Novel, I know.)

Instead of feeling frustrated and fatigued, I felt relaxed and rejuvenated.  I could literally feel myself becoming happier and less anxious every time I inhaled.  I felt my spirit lift—I felt connected with my body, instead of feeling annoyed with it.

And it reminded me of this beautiful explanation of Breath from Max Strom’s book, A Life Worth Breathing:

“In our breath there is so much power to be harnessed, so much grace to be found. Many ancient languages associate breath and spirit, or breath and soul, as the same word. Spiritus comes from an old Latin word, meaning “to breathe” but also [meaning] “soul” or “spirit.” Another example is aloha which originally meant, “Breath of God” in ancient Hawaiian. So, when we say aloha to each other, it essentially means “I breathe God with you.” It seems … that human beings understand the act of breathing to be much more than mere physical survival, but as an intimate connection with the divine source, and that breath is actually associated with spiritual life.” – Max Strom

I often tell my students that if they ‘do nothing else but stand here and breathe, their practice is already a success.’  But I often wonder: do they really get it?  Do I really get it?  When I am powering myself into arm balances, am I looking for grace within my breath?  Or am I just using it for the power it provides my muscles?  Probably the latter.

When I take a deep breath after (waking up from) savasana (relaxation pose) do I remember that it is a Divine Gift?  Usually my first thought is to check the clock and see how many minutes I have to change clothes and get to my next class.  So… no, I’m probably ignoring that wake-up-inhale as “an intimate connection with the divine source.”
Fact: being unable to inhale through my super-stuffy nose reminds me that breathing is a gift.  (Trying to look on the bright side here.)  And with that gift, my Spirit is connected with every living creature in the past, present, and future.

If you too struggle with seasonal allergies, check out this article from Gaiam which gives advice on the best yoga poses to relieve allergies.  And if you are a science nerd, like I am, this article details the physiological details of respiratory allergic reactions.  And lastly… take a deep breath and cherish it like it is the only breath you will take today.  Cherish your Spirit.

Get on your mat, even if your allergies are killing you.

photo cred MAD

photo cred MAD

Aloha,
-lisa