The Greatest Yoga Lesson

I came to yoga out of curiosity. I was one of those five-day-a-week step class women in the mid 90s. My gym offered a few yoga classes as a tester-to see if the community would take to yoga.

Now, this is weird. Even though I’d never taken a yoga class, I’d thought for years that being a yoga teacher would be an amazing job. Little did I know that winter day in 94 that it would only be 5 years till I taught my first class.

The first time I pressed up into downward dog felt like coming home. I was instantly at comfortable in the practice and it’s whe

re I’ve stayed for almost 20 years. To this day being on the mat is where I’m most Melissa.

I loved the way I felt while I practiced yoga. I loved the buzz of energy combined with the grounded, centered feeling that I got after class. I loved how the effects lasted and lasted. I got to a place where yoga deeply changed me. If I thought about skipping a class my husband would push me out  the door with a kiss because he liked the person I was when I practiced consistently. I did too.

Over the years the lessons deepened and expanded. The practice was about so much more than physical or even mental. I learned to be open to myself. The practice helped me quiet the self-critical loop that ran through my head. I slept better, had less worrisome thoughts, but most importantly I learned a tiny bit of acceptance. I learned to accept who Melissa really is, not who I thought she should be. I learned to accept my limitations. I learned to stay on my own mat and accept my own pace as 

acceptancebeing exactly how fast I was supposed to be progressing. I learned that it’s not all about progressing and that staying in exactly the same place is okay, even good sometimes.

My real lessons began when I became a teacher. I saw my students struggles and their humanity was beautiful to me.  I aspired to be like them; vulnerable, fearless, willing to learn and to try new things. When they relaxed into restorative poses I marveled at their beauty. I felt connected. I felt connected because I accepted them completely and wholeheartedly. And it began to open my heart just a tiny bit more to me.

Over the years I’ve watched my students with awe and love.  I notice that they consistently learn acceptance faster than any other lesson in yoga. They are okay with not being strong enough to do an arm balance the first time, they learn to celebrate a stranger’s victory, they revel in their own successes. Because it’s about being on your own mat. It’s about not comparing yourself, or even caring what’s happening in any other part of the studio. “Yoga is a gift you give yourself.” my teacher used to say as we lay in savasana heavy and empty like a corpse.

I learned that acceptance isn’t about not caring. It’s not about giving up. It’s about letting go of results. It’s about detaching from the endgame.

My practice taught me to let go. It taught me to honor my own experiences. And it taught me not to have expectations about my experience or about my healing or about anything.

And I learned to trust. If I can just be open and willing to be vulnerable the work on the mat always gets me somewhere. If I keep working on headstand, I will eventually get there. If I keep practicing my headstand it will get more solid and I will get the full benefits. If I allow myself to relax into my headstand I will learn that letting go always makes the pose more enjoyable and I will one day get to a place where I can’t imagine not being able to do a headstand.

The key is acceptance. Acceptance makes the work doable. It makes the trust reasonable. It makes the practice enjoyable no matter what happens that day.

The funniest thing about acceptance is that you never graduate. The beauty of acceptance is that it keeps growing and shifting and allowing you to be more and better. It opens you in ways that you never imagine. It’s not easy work. It’s hard to let go of our expectations and our plans and our ideas about the future.

The pay off is huge. Learning to accept puts you right here in the now. It allows you to deal with life on life terms. It allows you to live with your whole heart. Today, that’s the journey.

I’ve been writing a lot about opening the heart and focusing on living with your whole heart. A Yogi Kitchen  has more about heart opening poses and meditations and more about acceptance.

Slowly, ever slowly yoga is teaching my heart to be more whole. One day I’ll learn to use all of it.

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Fennel, mint and pea salad

If you’re as tired as winter as I am this light and refreshing salad might be the antidote to the winter doldrums. Enjoy!

Chef in disguise

It is time for our secret recipe club reveal and for this month I was assigned Leigh’ s blog  Chit chat chomp.  Leigh lives in  Melbourne and she describes herself as being” in love with pots of tea, farmers markets, French jazz and fresh flowers.  Winters spent rugged up under blankets.It’s the little things in life that make me smile.”

fennel salad

I couldn’t agree with her more!The most beautiful things in life are indeed the simplest ones. Like going on a long awaited trip back home. Cutting lemons off the last few trees of your grandparents orchard , being enveloped by their enchanting smell, that transforms you back to your childhood in a heart beat. Now just looking at the pictures, makes you smile.

lemon

On her blog leigh shares beautiful French recipes,she has a cookbook challenge in which she chooses recipes from her collection of cookbooks and features them.I…

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With My Whole Heart

I’ve had a bit of a block lately. My life has been in transition and I’ve been struggling to decide how to put the pieces together. And here’s the kicker, I have very few restraints. Perhaps, that’s why I’m feeling so guilty. I’m almost paralyzed by guilt.

For years I had all the excuses in the world to not have the life I truly wanted. I was in a crappy marriage and then in a crappy relationship. I lived in a tiny, rural town in the middle of nowhere. I had a small child-at two different periods of my life.  I had excuse after excuse and now? All those excuses are gone. Every single one of them.

I live in a new, exciting metropolitan area. My crappy relationships are behind me and I’m even spending time with someone new and wonderful. My children are older and for a short time living across the country with their father. I am older, wiser and more experienced. I even have a small reputation for being good at what I do.

I’m paralyzed and I’m not sure it’s all guilt.

This morning someone tweeted, “Have the courage to be happy.”- Steve Maraboli. And it kinda stuck in my head through making the coffee, feeding the cats and emptying the dishwasher.

I remembered what I learned last year about courage from Brene Brown. Courage is different than being brave. Courage comes from the Latin for heart. The original meaning is to live with your whole heart.

Sometimes the lessons come so long after we are initially introduced to them, don’t they?

Have the courage to be happy.

Live with your whole heart and be happy. Well, now that makes sense, doesn’t it?

I’ve been so scared so often in my life. I’ve been so lost and afraid. The biggest thing my fear has done? It’s helped me build a protective wall around my heart. Like the henna heart there’s stuff around my heart that takes awhile to wade through. Then when you get there, there’s a door. Don’t get Heartme wrong,  I open it occasionally and I even let a few select people in. And at the same time I feel my heart open to complete strangers, on the street, on television, that I read about. I would say that I’m an open-hearted person and that I have love and compassion for everyone.  Yet, I guess to be honest I would say that most of the time my heart is open when I can stand back. I guess I would say, there this wall and I stand at the door guarding the entrance.

What if Brene Brown is right? What if the answer is to use my whole heart? What would that look like? What would that feel like?

As with so many times when I learn a life lesson, I find that I’ve already been teaching it. I teach heart openers and believe in the health benefits, mental and physical, of having an open heart. I tell clients to look into the places where the heart is resisting. I believe in living more in the heart and less in the brain. I practice heart openers.  And yet again I find myself laughing at my own limitations.

I guess being able to laugh at myself is good.

So here’s what I’ve been doing that so many of us do. I open little parts of my heart, for limited amounts of time. I’ve been thinking that maybe, just maybe I can widen my door and put in a gate. Cause gates are see through. You can even reach through a gate, both from the inside and the outside.

Maybe just maybe I can leave the gate open for longer periods of time and for more people.

So, I tried that this weekend. (Sometimes posts take me several days to write.) I opened and I was happy. I was really happy.

And then I freaked out. I got panicky. My heart started racing. My breath got short.  I picked up the phone. I called three different friends and left long messages. I talked myself through it. I told them I just needed to talk, even on vm, and it was what I needed cause I got over it and I even went back and opened my heart again.

I teach in class that poses aren’t going to feel comfortable right away. I tell my students to be in the pose, to stop thinking about how it’s supposed to look and focus on how it feels. Breathe in the pose. Breathe out from the pose. Find the softer place, the place where comfort might have some space.

That’s what I’m doing. Cause that second time, when I went back and opened my heart again, it was better. It still takes my breath away. I’m walking through it.  I’m breathing and softening and looking for the place where it feels comfortable to live with my whole heart.

Courage isn’t a destination. It’s a space. I am being courageous. I may not be a pro, yet, but I am choosing to live with my whole heart.

If I don’t pass out from the fear I’ll write more about it soon.