I’ll admit to a lot of overwhelm the last few months. There have been several moments of feeling frozen in it, thinking, “Wow! This is a lot”.
Even with the overwhelm, I can’t shake this feeling that underneath the busyness and the heartache of these times, both in my own little world and in the context of the larger world, that all shall be well. Not painless, not easy, but well.
A few days ago we had our first session of competency training with soldiers from JBLM who are receiving training to safely lead yoga practices within their units during PT. As I sat with them and talked about sequencing and principles of alignment among other things, I was filled with a different kind of overwhelm: gratitude. It washed over me in huge waves, nearly bringing me to tears a few times, as I thought, “Wow! This is a lot”.
We do seem to be living in a time of “a lot”. There is a lot of pain, and a lot of fear, and a lot to do. Endless opportunities to become more educated, more involved, and to show up for each other. In that showing up there’s be a lot too: a lot of kindness, a lot of compassion, and a lot of love.
I was doing a speed interview a few months ago with a granting organization and as we talked about our programming one of the committee members said, “Wow! That’s a lot.” And I beamed, thinking of our community and all that you make possible for us to do and be and become.
The unshakeable belief that all shall be well is, I know, rooted in my experiences both within this community and within other communities of which I am a part. I am so fortunate to witness day in and day out that we, collectively, are a lot. We are learning, we are growing, we are becoming. We are curious, we are kind, and we are generous. We are broken, we are whole, and we are resilient. We are brave, we are wise, and we are capable. We are flawed, we are humble, and we are in a constant process of transformation.
The competency training for soldiers is just one of several exciting things going on in the coming months that fill me with gratitude. For our 7th Anniversary celebration this September, we’ll be welcoming Felicia Parazaider and her Revolution of Love. She’ll be offering a day-long workshop on spiritual activism and an afternoon Love Revival. Sooner than that, of course, we have Yoga in the Park on July 22nd, our annual celebration in Wright Park, and before that, Give Big Month, our 30-day fundraising season. Before that, Girish will be here, and this month, the first Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist training on the west coast, which has been here at SKY, will conclude and graduate a new crop of specialists. We’ve also recently started a partnership with Love Your Brain, in order to better serve folks living with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). This isn’t even all of it, but, wow! This is a lot!
Amidst the pain of these times, good things are happening. People are stepping up and showing up and using their gifts and talents to participate in the building of the new world our hearts know is possible. It’s a lot. And so are we.
We are very fortunate to have some talented filmmakers donating their time to help us make a promotional video for the studio. Filming will be happening all day on June 8th, both inside the studio and outside at Wright Park. This is where you come in! We'd love to have you come practice with us bright and early at 8am in Wright Park, and we'd also love to see you in any one of our regularly scheduled classes that day. All classes, the entire day, will be free, and special consent forms will be on hand. (We also understand that some folks will not want to be on film, so we will remind the community as the date approaches in case they want to avoid the studio that day.)
Interested? Click here and fill out this form. We'll send more details as we get closer.
I always appreciate an opportunity for a David Bowie reference. (May he rest in peace.) And there’s no time like Spring to reference this particular song, a time when the world changes right before our very eyes. Daffodils that are closed tight in the morning are opened by lunch, rainbows appear as if out of nowhere, and cherry blossoms bloom overnight.
We’ve been moving and continue to move through some changes at the studio. One big change is that Kate has transitioned out of her role as co-director, after many years of service in leadership, and into the role of staff teacher. Our long-time community member and accounting goddess, Emilie, is adjusting to the sudden loss of her partner. Our long-time teacher Heidi is finding her footing as the director of Yoga Soleil in Puyallup, while continuing to teach here. And we’re of course working on the summer schedule (current class schedule goes through end of May) and the changes it will bring.
My favorite phrase from David Bowie’s afore-referenced song is “stream of warm impermanence”. Despite the fact that we live in a physical world that is constantly changing, we just as constantly forget that the nature of all things is to change, transform, and renew. (How humorous that even our awareness of impermanence is impermanent!)
What does it mean to be in the stream of impermanence? I know sometimes I want to climb right on out of the stream, plop down on the riverbank and make like a stone. As if resisting change slows it in any way. Even the stone that appears to be stable was once just grains of sand, and is slowly being worn away by sun and water and air.
I had a step-mother for a time who used to say to me, “Don’t fight the current baby – you’re gonna lose.” My 12-year old self knew she was right and it’s been proven over and over again. So, for me, being in the stream of impermanence means trusting the current. Knowing that things change and transform because they must. Remembering that we can both honor transition AND keep moving forward. Resting in the wisdom that everything and everyone is in a constant state of becoming.
Thank you for being co-creators of the constant becoming that is the SKY community. The stream of impermanence is most certainly warmer for having all of you in it.
Some things to put on your radar:
2 April, 4 to 5pm – Once monthly Kirtan
Episode 17 of the podcast is up!
We’ll have a reduced schedule over Memorial Day weekend and our summer schedule will begin June 1st.
Give Big Month begins June 22nd and Yoga in the Park will be on July 22nd!
We’re going to have to be willing to take in the fullness of the pain, the injustice, the oppression, and allow it to break our hearts wide open. The heartache, the shame, the fear – all of it can be composted and transformed into renewal, but only if we are willing to do the long and hard work of justice.
In the traditions of my Celtic ancestors, today was considered the first day of spring: St. Brigid’s Day, or Imbolc. A feast of hearth and home, this was also the day when the Goddess Brigid began bringing the world out of the womb of winter’s dark and into the awakening of the seasons of light, sparking the new growth of tree buds and sprouting plants. Winters in the north Atlantic can be dreary (I happened to have lived in Ireland during the the rainiest it had seen in 60 years! It was dreary indeed) so it seems reasonable that spring would be so anticipated. It is also fitting that it marks my first day back from my winter sabbatical.
For anyone who wasn’t involved at the time, I went on leave back in early December for mental health (read that post here). After a good long rest, I am returning today to my teaching and administrative duties. I feel well and ready.
I know what you’re saying: Really? That’s it? Do you really feel well? Yes. Truly. My own journey through and with depression has I’m sure been both unique in ways and mundane in ways. I can’t speak at all for what anyone else may experience. But what I can say about this last period is that, with the great privilege of my position, and with the help of so many, I got to take the space to experience what I was experiencing. I am deeply humbled and full of gratitude for the opportunity to have done this. That it was possible to ask for what I needed and have many forces rise to make it happen was a healing in itself.
Beyond that, I can’t fully explain, but here’s what I know. There was a period of feeling very lost. And then a period of incredible opening. A new energy flooded through me. Ideas came and I felt such a sure presence of Unconditional Love. And the depression just simply passed. It moved through. It lifted. It circled the perimeter of my experience as if guarding what was happening inside me. It I-don’t-really-know-what. I am coming out this side feeling peaceful and trusting the forces of Good that have brought me through. I am coming out feeling sure about a few things, and opened to a good many still uncertain things. And though I can’t say that I will never experience that again, though I can’t know why I experience depression the way I do, I know my relationship with the experience of depression—and what is possible for me within and through it—has forever changed.
There are many more things I could tell you about this time—wacky things that happen when you follow the trail of breadcrumbs of your soul: an image from a dream that re-occurs in a comment made by a person who gives you a book that tells a story about an animal that you encounter the very next day, that you find out is the symbol for some ancient wisdom and on and on. Subtle messages and mysteries unfolding.
I passed the time in beautiful and normal ways. I prayed the Psalms and fasted with nuns; I took lots of walks in the trees and by the water; I daydreamed—literally laying on the floor and waiting for an impulse or a thought that came or didn’t; I binge-watched the OA on Netflix and read sacred texts (ie. Harry Potter and books about the Goddess); I had lots of talks with a few dear friends and elders; and lots of not talking and just being in the fluctuations of my Being; I had moments of insight and revelation; moments of desperation; moments of “this again?!” I had beautiful and sad nights of prayer for our nation and all of us tasked with living and loving in this time. I got a lot of care, healing treatments and delicious food from my community. I practiced ceremony and ritual and also frivolous things. I spent the New Moon (this past weekend) on Shi-Shi Beach, out at Neah Bay, just barely escaping the rain to arrive home for a hamburger, fries, and a bath. In short—I just was alive, having a lot of human time.
About a week ago, I started to peer between the threads of my cocoon at the world I’ve insulated myself from over this time—the heart of a seed pressing up through slivers in the casing, an urge to move up and out at Brigid’s beckoning. I started listening slowly to the podcasts and news stations I follow, popping on social media for a few minutes here and there—not posting, just peering. I see you, World. And I’m ready for you.
I don’t have a cohesive analysis to deliver on my return. I have lots of little messages: Think less. Feel more. This is the Voice you can’t ignore anymore. We have always been loving you. Whatever you reject is an abandoned part of your heart. Let your grief rest in the Loving Earth. Let your Warrior self be in service to your highest purpose. Don’t be afraid to Let Life In…) so I’m just going to ask that you let me re-enter gently and share of myself gradually. I’m still me of course! Hopefully all the more so. And I’ll be returning gladly as me to my classes and offerings at SKY. But like any wintering or time of metamorphosis—precious, essential times—there is always something fundamentally changed on the other side. What that is exactly is still unfolding, integrating and finding its way into my story.
So what had just happened?
I was standing outside the improvised yoga studio where I had just taken my first class for 20 years. The poses were familiar, the feeling was not. I was tired, tingling and energized, all at once. Every cell in my body seemed to be reminding me that it was there. My body and mind felt light. My mind had been so focused that 90 minutes had felt like 9 minutes – or 9 hours. I had no idea what had just happened to me, but I knew I wanted more of it.
Over the next few years yoga, in my case in the Iyengar tradition, became an important part of my life. I found my teachers, studied hard, practiced, and slowly built confidence in the reality of what my body and mind were experiencing. I appreciated the physical benefits of improved strength, flexibility and balance. I also appreciated the slow retreat of anxiety and mental dullness, replaced by calm and a sense of vibrant energy. Subjectively I could feel that my yoga practice was helping me maintain my health and mobility over time, but, as an engineer and a researcher, I wanted to understand the what, why and how using a more familiar frame of reference than the yoga sutras or ayurveda. But when I looked at what the Western scientific tradition had to say about what I was experiencing there was almost complete silence.
Move forward a couple of decades, and I am still experiencing the extraordinary benefits of yoga. And Western medicine is catching up with our lived experience. Within the last 10 years we have seen well-designed experimental studies that demonstrate the efficacy of different practices – to which long-term yogis tend to say “What took you so long?” But real advances from physiology to brain imaging to modeling body mechanics cast more light on the “what”, the “why” and the “how”. And it works – when I know how specific techniques address what specific challenges, I am able to focus in my practice and be clearer in my teaching. Understanding why something happens helps me recognize the strengths and limitations of yoga. If I can communicate basic rules that can be incorporated into a home practice, people are more likely to do that practice. And I see what relating yoga to Western frames of reference gives to my students. Often, working with familiar concepts gives people confidence to explore and build. And as the body of Western work grows, it becomes easier to incorporate yoga into a range of health practices, allowing Western medicine and yoga their appropriate complementary roles.
I have had help along the way, especially from the great people at “Yoga for Healthy Aging”. This group of researchers, teachers, Ayurvedic practitioners, doctors and therapists – all longterm yoga practitioners – straddles yoga and Western medicine, and has built a wonderful knowledge base embedded in their blog. I had the privilege of being among the first class of certified “Yoga for Healthy Aging” teachers.
Today, I see my work as sharing the good news of what yoga can help us with, while sharing the why and the how in Western terms. Yoga is not a quick fix or a miracle cure, but if practiced diligently it allows us to take some responsibility for, and exercise some control over, our wellbeing. Think prevention first, not radical intervention. The 8-hour program, “Yoga for Vibrant Living: Preparing for the Second Half of Life” that I am offering at SKY this year shows concrete ways in which yoga can support your physical, mental, and emotional health as you age, with practical preventative strategies for bone strength, muscle strength, flexibility, agility, balance, stress management and equanimity. All yoga based, all supported by Western studies. I hope that you will be able to join me to share them.
You can register for Yoga for Vibrant Living here.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I’ve found that change, for me, does not come on specific dates but rather in specific circumstances. When I’m feeling seen and understood - exactly as I am and not how I hope to be - I feel safe to notice and explore the areas where I’d like to change.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been influenced by the prevailing culture of bigger, better, faster, thinner, stronger, etc. So many “–ers”. We can be forgiven for believing that we’re meant to be on an ever-increasing-in-speed treadmill of self-improvement. The yoga industry, like so many others, has played into this, selling a gospel of happiness and peace as long as you get with the program: Learn to stand on your head to get a new perspective! Twist out the negativity! Meditate the hate away!
What feels true for me today as I sit with a challenging year behind and a fresh year ahead, is that the world will be needing us. We’ll be asked to show up in ways we can imagine and in ways we can’t imagine. And I believe we’ll need to keep reminding each other that we are needed exactly as we are. We don’t have to be better, stronger, smarter, thinner; we don’t have to be more flexible, more successful; we don’t need to have it all figured out. But we do need to show up and remember who we are.
For this work of remembering who we are, community is essential. In the eyes of each other we see ourselves reflected and in the hands of each other we feel ourselves held, exactly as we are. In each other’s strengths our weaknesses are met and in each other’s wounds, we find our capacity for mutual healing. In true community, where everyone thrives, we can trust that if we listen and are willing, we will know the next steps and changes needed.
I spent the last day of 2016 in community on a day-long retreat through our friends at Source Yoga. This beautiful poem was offered and I offer it to you now.
Happy New Year to all! See you in the studio.
With immense gratitude for who you are,