Just Dance

image by  @anduinvaid

image by @anduinvaid

I'm sleeping in this morning, the sun is glowing orange through the blinds and I'm in bed watching he shadows of my hanging plant dance across the white walls of my bedroom. I have two more hours of morning to lounge. This is how I wished Sunday mornings had been growing up instead of the hustle to dress up, act nice, and go to church. This Sunday morning is my version of a religious experience. 

I drink coffee while I get ready. I put on a tight cropped-top so I don't have to be confined by a bra, and I pair it with high-waisted flowing pants. There's a peek of my midriff so that I'll be able to feel the cool breeze on my skin once I'm lost in the heat of the moment. I don't wear makeup because I'll sweat it all off anyway, plus I don't care much to attract attention. I'm there to move, connect, and not to be judged. 

I arrive at the space and it's quiet. There's no talking here. I leave my shoes by the door and walk gently across the floor, matching the cadence of the slow, melodic ambient music. The energy in the room is calm. It's still early. I see a few faces of friends, but I refrain from hugging anyone yet. Eye contact is enough for now. We start slowly. 

I find a section of sunlight coming through the window and place myself directly in its warmth. I'm lying on the floor, eyes closed. I stretch, bend, rotate, and roll around as the music slowly builds its rhythm and volume. I notice the feeling of another body next to mine but I don't open my eyes yet. I know it's my friend Tom, I can sense his energy. I trust him. 

Our toes touch, our feet dance in the air. Now he's directing my feet, now I'm directing his. Now we're moving in unison and we are one foot, we are only a foot, we are only a body, we are only energy. We learn each other's language of movement and come to anticipate the next gesture, like finishing someone's sentence, or speaking the same thought at the same time. Energy fuses, I'm lost in the flow. 

Subtle movement becomes grander gestures and the momentum elevates us on to our feet. The drumming is intense and loud, steadily thumping with my heartbeat. We stomp our feet and pound our chests. I whip my hair our of my face. Endorphins are coursing through the whole room which is now filled with ecstatic dancers. My nerves vibrate outward,  yet I'm hyper focused on this moment, my body, each movement. I let out a loud, primal scream, which echoes through me. We dance for several minutes or several hours as time plays with our senses. 

The music starts to calm down, and so do we. We're all laying on the floor. Someone drags a scarf across my back and the places his hands on mine. We all lay in stillness, absorbing the energy of the room. A young child giggles. Another person laughs. The room erupts in laughter. I open my eyes and take in the light.  

Grace Flowing

Image by  @alexnero365

Image by @alexnero365

A couple weeks ago I had this brilliant idea to buy a frisbee. In my mind I envisioned myself tossing the neon disc with grace and ease, the frisbee sailing into my friend's fingertips and directly back into mine, as I'd leap to catch it. My first throw went into the trees. My second throw went straight to the ground. My third throw went across the park in the wrong direction. After about 10 minutes of failing, while being heckled by some random guy in the park telling me it's "all in the wrist," I sort of wanted to give up. But I really wanted to be good... 

Finally, after about 20 minutes my body started to remember the pattern. The childhood game came back to me, and I stated to integrate the new techniques I was learning. Soon enough I was ACTUALLY having fun! The frisbee was flowing back and forth, and delight was flowing through my veins. I found the joy! Now, it's my new favorite game! (seriously, if you want to play frisbee call me right now, chances are highly likely that I will)

I see this happen to my students all the time. The first twenty minutes of a practice (or sometimes the first 20 classes), it's a struggle. There is no flow state, it's mostly effort, which may be coupled with frustration and fumbling. The grace and ease only come after the effort, but that takes patience and time. I KNOW from experience that the state of grace flowing freely will come, with time. I've found personally that there's something magical about 20 minutes that helps my brain to switch states. Give it time, make some effort, and eventually the joy comes. 

Here's one of my favorite meditations from my teacher for flowing from effort into grace: 

Close your eyes and relax sitting up or lying down. 

Imagine the efforts of your day behind you. Picture it like fire, which takes a lot of effort to create and maintain. When you inhale, see the fire rising up the back of your body. 

Imagine yourself stepping forward into your fullest potential with grace and ease. See that grace in front of you, picture is raining down upon you, knowing that water flows freely without any effort. When you exhale, see the image of water, descending down the front of your body. 

Continue to breathe in this orbit, eventually the effort of imagination may fall away or become more fluid. 

 

 

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/8cUsl9lCWT/?ta...

Transitions

It's Autumn, the season of transition. It's the last sigh of summer and the breath of fresh air that moves the body from the solar, yang energy of summer and prepares for the lunar, yin energy of winter. It's nature's cool breeze that reminds us to let go of whatever past experiences, projects, relationships, and memories that we don't need anymore, watching them fall away like leaves falling off the branches. 

For me, Autumn is always full of nostalgia. I lament the ending of long days and high energy of summer, but I welcome the very visible cue from nature to rest from the activity. I like to play hard and be out late in the summer, pursuing all the joy, fun and conversation that comes with the season. Autumn marks the shift inward. It's the cooling down phase to prepare for winter's introspective, internal, intuitive nature. 

A part of me resists the transition inward. I'm like a little kid who doesn't want to come inside, even though it's getting dark out and it's past my bedtime. I vacillate between wanting to keep playing and exerting energy, and knowing intuitively in my body that it is time to rest. The transition of Autumn is a pause to turn the outward energy inward. 

If you're like me, the transition can be a little destabilizing. To embrace the change I have some of my favorite fall rituals that ease the shift towards inward, intimate, introspection. 

Long walks in nature: The organ of Autumn is lungs, which is associated with the sense of smell. I like to get outside and fill my lungs with fresh air and experience the different sounds, sights, and sensations of the new season. 

Writing: Every day I journal for at least 10 minutes. This helps me get rid of some of the clutter in my mind. I'm also in a writing group, which helps me to explore an introspective activity in the presence of close friends. Introspection and get lonely, so I believe it's important to connect with others in order to maintain a balanced perspective of ourselves. 

Game Night: There's less daylight in Autumn, so we move indoors. Playing games with friends inside can be intimate and gentler than the high energy outdoor activities of summer... unless I'm playing catch phrase... in which case the energy is pretty much through the roof... (sorry friends)

Yoga & Meditation: My practice shifts with the season, and in Autumn we work to calm the heart (the organ of summer) and strengthen the lungs (the organ of Autumn.) Come to class and connect with our introspective and intelligent community. 

Make Something

(image by  @dallasclayton )

(image by @dallasclayton)

I adore traveling to new places to experience sights, sounds, and sensations I've never known. Even in my own city, one of my favorite activities is driving to a neighborhood I don't regularly visit to walk around. I enjoy watching my senses come alive when I'm in unknown territory. Whereas in a known place I'd naturally ignore small details in order to create cognitive simplicity, in a new place, I become aware of tiny details — a red door, a spiraled flower, post-modern architecture, or the shadows of a hundred-year old oak tree. 

Exploration of unknown territory is exciting and stimulating, and can also slightly scary. Most people want to know... what happens if I get lost, what if I encounter strangers, or what do I do if someone recognizes me as an outsider and questions whether or not I belong there? 

The same process unfolds internally whenever I make something new. Whether I'm writing an essay and staring at a blank page, creating an improv scene from nothing, or building an educational program from scratch, there is simultaneous enthusiasm and apprehension.  

The fear of rejection or failure is why most people like to play it safe. Operating within perceived norms and doing what is expected isn't very risky... But it also isn't very interesting. The most revolutionary inventions and creations have come from individuals who break rules, destroy boundaries, and disassemble existing structure to build something brand new.  

Structure, order, and organization are fundamental to a solid foundation. However, stuck inside the fundamentals, the brain can become a fundamentalist, structure can become rigid, order can become obsession, and organization can become routine boredom.  

Every so often, it's essential to break down existing structure in order to build something new. Interesting creations rarely come out of that which has already been done. What's new today will be old news tomorrow, which, I think, it a good thing. It means that our ability to create will continue to expand and evolve, as long as we are willing to test the limits of our own potential. 

Observations

Yesterday during my 5:30pm yoga class, which was filled with accomplished adults with refined practices, a young curly-haired boy stared into the window, gazing in awe at the shapes we our bodies made. Probably about 3 years old, and he looked on in complete wonder. I mused that one day, 30 years from now he'd be in a yoga class and a very strange memory of this moment would arise, and the we all laughed. We continued to flow, and I encouraged my students to practice with that child-like sense of curiosity, exploring movement unhindered by preconceived ideas about our range, tension, flexibility, or lack thereof. 

All day long our senses are taking in so much information, more than ever. Our brain chemistry and structure is changing to adapt to the stimuli, attempting to process, organize, and assimilate new information. It's an incredibly amazing time to be alive, and at the same time it's often overwhelming. 

Finding space and quiet time to process what we take in is a luxury. Many of my students, curious about meditation, complain that when they sit with their thoughts, the steady stream of thoughts won't stop. It's chaos in there, and people are looking for a way to reorganize. 

Meditation is an intimidating word, and misinformation has led many students to try and fail at the practice, assuming they are supposed to close their eyes, immediately clear their minds, and reach nirvana. Rather than strive for instant enlightenment, I like to start with observation. Observation is different than rationally organizing. In observation, we aren't looking for patterns or meaning, we are simply taking in information without judgement or discernment.

I think the word judgement gets a bad rap. I hear people say to completely let go of judgement, but good judgement can be extremely helpful in discerning potentially harmful circumstances, or recognizing that it's safe to take a risk, even if it's scary. It's not that judgement is inherently bad, it's just inhibiting when we can't shut it off. Practicing simple observations helps us to build the skill of watching, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting, moving, or breathing, as if it were the first time. 

Right now, look away from the screen and look at your hand. See something that you've seen a million times. This time, look at it as if you've never seen it before. Stare on in awe at the magic that is your own hand. Observe the lines, the colors, the shape and size. Notice how you immediately label or critique, and then go back to gazing. Be curious. See something in a new way. Then go do that with someone you love, with someone you hate, observe yourself observing. Watch and absorb.  

Creative Discipline

I'm working on the discipline to write and publish weekly. Some weeks it's torture, and some weeks it's effortless. Regardless, I show up and write. Whether I feel inspired or not, I write, because I said I would. 

By nature, I'm structured, disciplined, and I tend to follow the rules. I'm the type of student who sits in the front row, nods while smiling, and turns in my homework early. My well-mannered parents and polite southern schooling taught me the rules, and I memorized them so I could play the game and win. But eventually the game got boring and I started breaking rules just to see what I could get away with. I desired creativity and freedom, but I didn't know how to find it. 

Creativity breaks rules. Creativity isn't straight, like straight A's. Creativity is curvy, wild and unwieldy. Creativity can seem like some elusive magical nymph who occasionally shows up, casts a spell, and then dissolves back into the ether. No matter how hard I've looked in the past for a magical formula or the hidden trap door, I've had a hard time figuring out the rules of creativity. 

How can creativity and discipline coexist without negating the other? Creativity is like water - it flows freely and changes forms. Discipline is like the container, and without it, creativity can float away. So I've become a disciple of creativity, using just enough structure to architect my freedom.  

Without discipline, creativity could take years to show up. Discipline creates rhythm and habit so that creativity can be free to flow, circulate, and undulate. 

Discipline says that I'll write and publish something every week, even when creativity wants to go roller skating instead. Discipline makes me stick to a specific topic for ten minutes when creativity wants to switch to dancing five minutes in. Discipline gets the work done, even when creativity is unreliable or shows up late to the party. Little by little discipline fosters more creativity, and eventually the two become best friends. 

 

The Efficiency of Fun Equation

Having fun at Station Theater. 

Having fun at Station Theater. 

At the beginning of this year I started taking improv classes. I was immediately delighted, my classmates became close pals, the supportive community embraced my efforts, and I continue to anticipate every class, every show, every laugh, and every bad joke. I love doing improv, yet I know that I'm not that good just yet. I don't say this to self deprecate or to seek internet compliments, I say it realistically, knowing that it takes time and practice to be good at anything worth doing. 

Not every scene is hilarious and fun. It's mostly fun, but sometimes it's hard. Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing. Some days I'm tired. Sometimes I don't listen. Sometimes I just get in my head and think way too much about the concepts I've learned and haven't yet had time to process and integrate. Sometimes I forget to have fun. 

I love improv because it challenges me. I love it because I still have so much to learn and practice. I love it because I'm not the best at it and I have lots of people to look up to. When I watch improvisers who have been practicing for years, I value how effortlessly funny they are, knowing how much effort they put into their art form in order to make it look so fun and easy. 

As I grow up I continually seek new activities, projects, and relationships in which I thrive and continue to develop and evolve. If I'm truly patient, diligent, and willing to put in a significant amount of effort, eventually I become experienced and sometimes even an expert in new domains. That's always when the fun kicks in, and when I begin to thrive on the joy and energy I gain from being skillful and producing fruitful results. 

If I'm being smart, I occasionally let go of some areas of focus in order to hone in on specific domains that produce the maximum amount of joy for the least amount of effort. This is known as what I call the efficiency of fun equation. 

Once I've maximized my fun, something interesting often happens... once I get so very comfortable getting results without trying very hard, I get bored. My brain is wired to solve new, creative problems in order to continue developing. It needs new pattens, or else the old ones make me dull. If my mind doesn't encounter new challenges, it will start to make them up. Sometimes this happens in the form of obsession, ruminating, or even perfectionism. I sometimes catch myself creating fake problems to solve rather than seeking to adventures. I once heard an artist say, "If you don't keep creating, your mind will creatively sabotage you."

The tricky part is that, the older I get, the less willing I become to be bad at something. Starting from scratch is hard. Once the beginner's luck and the novelty wears off, I have to face the fact that it might take years of practice in a new activity before I experience that joyful state of steady flow. It would be easy to give up after the honeymoon phase and never really get good at anything, but just keep hopping around and constantly trying new things. However I know from past experience that the best kind of fun takes time and patience while I build up my skills. 

So my recipe for a lifetime of fun goes something like this - make effort, have fun, find new challenges, repeat.

 

Handle It

One of my favorite teachers, Richard Rohr, has said that suffering occurs when we aren't getting what we want. In a society, age, and culture of instant gratification, in which most of us are accustomed to getting what we desire in one click, this sets us up for severe disappointment on a fairly regular basis. 

In this life, disappointment is inevitable, and the sooner we learn, experience, and accept let down and rejection, the quicker we develop the necessary skills to bounce back from the hurt.  Essentially, we learn to handle strife by working through it and coming out on the other side – stronger, more flexible, and transformed.

The Buddhists say that in any situation YOU are the deciding factor. You can take a good situation and make it better, you can take a good situation and make it worse. You can take a bad situation and make it better, or you can take a bad situation and make it worse. You're at the middle, you are the deciding factor, and you get to decide how to handle it. 

If a situation keeps deteriorating, or if you seem to encounter the same issues in every job/relationship/activity, eventually you have to look at the common denominator.. The person in the middle of our circumstance is always us, and everything around us circumstantial. And I think that's good news! It implies that we have a say in how our life unfolds. It's not happening to us, rather it's a happening thing, and we are learning to handle ourselves with more grace. 

Slugging through the muck of a terrible situation doesn't have to be so terrible when we let challenging circumstances be our teacher. Through the difficulty we gain essential tools, skills, and techniques to become the master architect of every situation. 

Think of a current situation that's giving you a headache or heart ache. Make a list of how you're handling it. Ask yourself if you're gripping, grasping, clinging, manipulating, carefully finessing, patiently sculpting, or even letting a good opportunity slip through your fingers. If you'd like to handle it differently, look at it as the perfect opportunity to practice. 

 

Am I Doing It Right?

"Am I doing it right?"

This is the most common question beginners ask in yoga, and really in any new activity. I find this to be such a complex question to ponder, and if we venture to delve a little deeper into the inquiry, we will find that the answer isn't so clear. 

The tricky part about yoga, and about life in general, is that there isn't always just one way to do anything - whether it's a triangle pose or building a cathedral. A creative life is not always so black and white. Our dualistic, rational mind would love for everything to be so simple. With beginners, this is generally the main concern - right and wrong, black and white. When we advance in our understanding, we have to gain higher levels of consciousness to access a transrational mind that can think critically and decipher which way to move in the moment. 

Being a yogi means letting go of either/or thinking and attaining both/and thought processes. The question of straightening your legs in a fold isn't really about that - the real question is, what happens when you straighten, and what happens when you bend? The linear, logical mind wants it to be about straightening or not straightening, yet the creative mind bends around obstacles, moving fluidly through thought forms. "I can do both, and I get to decide what to do when," says the creative, transrational brain. 

The real question I encourage all of my students to ask is, "what happens when I do what I always do, and what happens if I do something different?" When we start to check in moment to moment, we learn that there is never one concrete answer to all of life's dilemmas. In one moment we need to be strong and set good boundaries, and in another situation we are safe to be vulnerable and open up. The really tricky part is that, what's divine for me might be hell for the next person. It's only through personal inquiry that we learn the difference. 

Eating For Joy - Whole 30 Starts Today

At Joy Yoga we are taking a community challenge to eat clean for 30 days. Whole, real, nutrient dense, vitamin-filled FOOD. That means no crap. 

I'm so excited for this challenge, as my sugar addiction has gotten OUT OF CONTROL (Girl Scouts, you are cute but you aren't helping stabilize my energy levels). As a yoga teacher who is always active and always on the go, I needed to do some prep for the week. 

I'm sharing my favorite recipe so far, this Madras Chick Salad from NomNomPaelo. It's ridiculously good. I ate it on romaine leaves, because I'm an animal and I love eating with my hands!

Share your recipes with me in the comments and join me at Joy on Voss on Friday for yoga and a potluck! More info over here. 

 

Finding Calm in the Chaos

In front of you is the future, a new year, the unknown, the potential. As you constantly move forward, you take the risk to move beyond the comforts of what you know. Behind you is a past, the memories of everything you have experienced, everyone you have met, and everything that has led you to this point, this single moment in time. This moment. Time continues to move forward, the moment becomes a memory, and we are reminded that the only constant is change.

Amidst the movement, our yoga practice continually teaches us to practice finding a stable source of joy within. By remaining flexible, we flow with the changing times. By creating structure and ritual in our daily routine, we can find stability. By making connections with others and building a network of like-minded souls, we realize that we are not alone in this journey.

As we move into the darkest days of the years, I invite you to reconnect with sources of light in your life, including your yoga practice, your community, your sangha here at Joy. Let's uplift each other, even in times of darkness, even in times of chaos. Let us create a calm amidst the chaos.

Know that there is always a constant source of peace within you, and use this winter to go inward, to go deep, and to reconnect with your roots. Nurture yourself with activities that bring you warmth, that soothe your soul.

And if all else fails, and if the Christmas music and your family, and the constant reruns of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation finally start to grate on your last nerve, remember that we are always here for you at Joy. Let us offer you a calm, safe place to help you find inner peace amidst the chaos of the holidays. Or better yet, bring your loved ones to yoga! It may be the best gift you could give.

See you at the studio!