Outside In, Inside Out: Reflections from the Mat on the Mind-Body Connection

Tonight’s yoga practice was an unexpected yoga practice (the most meaningful kind). It was one where my body expressed a deep and spontaneous need for it…and I actually listened. More than that, it stirred up so many thoughts on the practice, why I practice and how I practice. Practice, practice, practice.

Tonight’s yoga practice reminded me of Cuba, of my body knowing on the deepest level, what it needed, and when, without me even needing to try. I remember that month of a home practice when I was so far away from home that blew my mind every time I stepped on the mat. I remember exhaustion from Havana heat and dirt, the way it smacked me in the face every time I left the air-conditioned residence. I remember using my practice as an internal refuge during a time of so much transition. Now, four weeks away from moving back to New York, in the middle of a Pacific Northwest heat wave, I find myself doing the same.

So often I get bogged down in formulas: the Ashtanga Primary or a class or even the extroverted fluidity of Lotus Flow. I rarely trust my body to want what it wants…except in those moments when I have no choice but to do just that and trust. Usually, those moments are those of exhaustion, of knowing there is nowhere else to turn to for comfort and that is A-OK, because the tools I am given are enough.

In the nonprofit world that I’ve been immersed in this year, we talk a lot about depth rather than breadth. In my practice this evening, I stayed in the most introverted of poses. I abandoned my wheels and fast chataranga-ed ways of releasing anxiety and surrendered myself to forward folds and Pratyahara, this sense of Drawing In. The beauty of the yoga practice is that it is intended to balance out – to complement – the rest of our lives. Usually, I think this means physical rigor. But then there are nights like tonight when the exhaustion – blissful in its own way – catches up. I spent all weekend being so present for other people and then today, I had the Gift of being present for a group of third graders. And then there is the being present with difficult feelings that working through a trauma and a breakup and struggling family members bring up.

Last night, I read the Young Adult novel that I wrote back in November and found myself gasping with surprise at the plot twists I forgot I included. That was how I felt this evening when I discovered that yes, I can indeed breathe that deep and oh, yes, Karnapidasana was what I needed after my shoulder stand. Sometimes, we are left with no choice but to draw in. To start on the inside and move to the outside. Usually, I choose outside, in. But tonight, I let my body choose for me. Without any further adieu – and thank you, readers, for your patience with this long post – this is what my body chose.

pigeon pose ~ eka pada rajo kapotasana

proud pigeon ~ urdhva eka pada rajo kapotasana

stargazer

vinyasa

other side

seated forward fold ~ paschimotanasana

one-legged seated forward fold ~ janu sirsasana

plow pose ~ halasana

shoulder stand ~ salamba sarvangasana

knees to ears ~ karnapidasana

fish pose ~ matseyasana

meditation ~ dhyana

written from my yoga mat, in pigeon pose

P.S. To find all these poses, and more, check out my e-book Yoga U: The College Student’s Tools for Balanced Living.

Lunar Energy

written at ford food + drink on division st in portland, or

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When typing up a blog post for WordPress, in small gray letters appear the words “Share your story here…” My story, for today, is one of embracing lunar energy, the feminine side, the Shakti that is also the stillness (as always, this will all make sense in a mOMent, I promise!).

In December I, a New Yorker and vinyasa yoga teacher always on the move, was immobilized for the first time. Always Moving was the name of the memoir that my kids yoga teacher trainer wrote. That title always resonated with me, hung in the back of my mind like a reminder of my identity. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve spent time living in over five places over the past four years, states of inertia terrified me. In my yoga practice I grew hungry for surya namaskar: sun salutations. Then when doing my own practice I would skip the cooldown. In my first yoga teacher training we broke up the Ossener practice into two parts that took the shape of a bell curve. The first part of the bell curve was solar. The seller parts of this diagram encompass the warm-up sun salutations, vinyasas, warrior poses, standing and arm balances. The second part of the spell care of the slope downward with lunar energy which income best hip opening back bending, forward folds and all supine postures. I would often find myself is skipping the second part of this bell curve in my own practice. I would call it a day after the stuff that made me sweat was done and I used classes to balance out the practice. Restorative and yin, while I acknowledged that they were good for me made me uncomfortable.

All that said, I named my favorite stuffed animal as a child – a large cuddly soft gray cat – Luna. She represented comfort and sleep and relaxation. Sometimes, we stray from those vital elements of life as we get older.

So go figure that my big sign that I needed to embrace my lunar energy came in the form of a giant scar. On my lower right leg, I have a scar shaped like a crescent moon. I have a dream of getting a tattoo of a crescent moon around it, but then I also realize that scars are their own tattoos…and as my roommate likes to remind me, insurance paid for this one (which it most definitely didn’t for my other two). As a yoga teacher and alum of hippie camp, I try to not ignore signs…especially those that appear on the body.

It took – for me – the sheer force and impact of breaking a leg and recovering from surgery to embrace my moon self. It is only when we are on the way out that we realize all the learning possibilities that were there all along. That’s how my healing process worked anyway. And I would love to share what I learned.

How to embrace lunar energy:

  1. Ritualize ALL moon cycles. This means your own personal lunar cycle AND the new and full moons. Celebrate your body and the natural evolution of planetary cycles through rituals. Rituals can involve whatever feels most loving to you at any given mOMent: half a bar of really good dark chocolate and a glass of red wine, a yoga class self-love treat, a meditation you do during only those times of the month…remember, a ritual is anything that has meaning for you.
  2. Embrace some balanced kapha energy. Kapha gets a bad rap in discussions on Ayurveda and the doshas. Why? It’s the slower, larger, lunar dosha and unfortunately, our society fears stagnancy and taking up space. But who says we have to follow what society says? For a while, I’ve focused on balancing out my Kapha…acquiring less of it, but I have never once worried about doing that with my Pitta energy. Having a broken leg forced me to look at keeping my Kapha, indulging it a bit, letting that gentleness, that sweetness, that sukha.
  3. Practice restorative and yin. Those classes are everywhere. Just go. Or bring your knees wide and feet together and lie down in a DIY suptabaddhokonasana.
  4. Nadi Shodhana. Otherwise known as alternate nostril breathing, this specific form of pranayama channels the nadis, energy channels that run through both the solar and lunar sides of the body, thereby uniting the sun and moon – which is the goal of channeling lunar energy to begin with.
  5. Read about goddesses. The lunar is associated with the feminine – the Shakti side of the body. Lately, I’ve found myself drawn to goddess texts – these amazing Goddess Cards and Sally Kempton’s Awakening Shakti. I highly recommend both for getting in touch with the divine feminine.
  6. Be gentle. Do less. Don’t overthink it.

Rare Friday the 13th Honey Moon Tonight

Rare Friday the 13th Honey Moon Tonight