The practice of yoga is a constant journey and evolution. This blog is about experiencing and learning through the journey. There are countless opportunities for discovery, challenge, enjoyment and comic relief. It’s a journey that will never end, always a Yogini in Progress. Enjoy the journey!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Finding Balance

Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order rhythm and harmony.”
-Thomas Merton (monk, poet, social activist)

Hard and soft. Ebb and flow. Yin and yang. Teeter and totter. Life is a balancing act. The thing about balance is that it requires constant adjustment, alignment and calibration. Balance is important in every aspect of life; food that fuels your body, work that provides for your family, play that renews you, and faith that sustains you.

When I think about finding balance on the mat, regardless of the pose, I'm reminded that it's the minor, more subtle adjustments that are effective at bringing me back to stability. Big, grandiose movements or changes just create more unsteadiness and cause plenty of other problems. Finding balance on the mat requires strength and softness, activity and stillness, focus and release.

Consider ardha chandrasana asana (half moon pose). The bottom leg is rooted to the earth, strong and stable, creating a sold base. The hips are soft, open and effortless, providing realease and a gateway for the energy of the pose. The back leg is active and expansive. The torso is lifting and lengthening, providing space for soft, full breath. The heart shines forward as the arms and hands radiate. It is one of my favorite balancing poses. It requires balance and minor adjustments throughout the pose to feel the stability. When I can really settle into ardha chandrasana I can feel the full potential of my strength and the full comfort of my grace.

When I find that same balance in my life, possibilities seem endless. Finding balance off the mat requires similar minor adjustments and movements. There are lots places in my life where minor adjustments can have a big impact. Providing a little extra care and attention in a hug, an unexpected kiss or unscheduled date for my husband. Taking time to cut loose and play before chores or work is done with my children. Doing that one extra assignment or duty to make a co-worker's day a little easier. Smiling and breathing as my bags are inefficiently packed by a store clerk. Little adjustments and small changes can make the balancing act of life a little more stable.

How do you find balance? What adjustments or changes work best for you?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Get Out and Play!

"It's too nice to be inside today, go out and play!" These words can be heard any given day at our house. Thankfully, the kids can usually find something fun to do outside on a nice day. Swinging, shooting baskets, playing catch, drawing with sidewalk chalk and biking are some of the regular activities seen near and around our house. There's just something about the fresh air and the sun on your shoulders that makes being outdoors refreshing and fun.

This holds true for yoga. I love to practice outside. Last year, I was on a family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. We had a comfy little cabin with a narrow deck that sat just several feet away from the lake. Since I'm an early riser, I would venture out with my mat and enjoy a simple practice before everyone else awoke. It was lovely. The warmth of the air, the gentle breeze off the lake and the water lapping against the rock wall provided a soothing environment and soundtrack for my practice.

I also had an opportunity to practice with my mom and sister on that vacation. We would meet early in the morning, when only the serious fishermen stirred, but the rest of the world was sleepy. The resort's tennis courts overlooked the lake and were the perfect place for our practice. We took turns leading the practice and then went our separate ways to pursue the activities of the day. This vacation solidified my love of outdoor practice and left me wanting more.

Practicing outdoors can be so invigorating. The connection with nature can offer a new opportunity to feel rooted and connected with the earth. The change of scenery can motivate you to explore your practice in new and different ways. A shake-up to your normal routine can feel like you are experiencing a flow or asanas for the first time. Enjoying the beauty and majesty of nature can directly connect you with the Divine.

An outdoor practice can also offer some challenges to help you grow. Differences in terrain, whether it's concrete, cobblestone, grass, sand or dirt, can provide new perspective for rooting and balancing. Random noises or pesky bugs can increase your need to focus and prioritize your drishti. Other distractions like on-lookers, pets, heat or humidity create the need to turn inward.

It can be a little daunting to move your practice from the comforts of your DVD player, gym or studio. If you are interested in giving it a try, here are a few suggestions:

      1. Do a few sun salutations on your back lawn, patio or deck. Try it when the actual sun is coming up and you are in for a real treat.

      2. Strike a few simple poses; tadasana (mountain), vrksasana (tree) or adho mukha svanasana (down dog), at a park. Make it a game of Simon Says if you have your kids around.

      3. Just sit quietly outside for a few minutes on your porch or a park bench for a brief meditation on creation, nature or the elements.

      4. Suggest your studio or gym to hold a class outside. On a hot summer day, try a poolside flow and then slip into the cool water after a mellow savasana.

      5. Find an outdoor yoga event in your area. Just search the web for “outdoor yoga your city” to find great events. There is such great kula (community) and energy at these events and they are typically attended by yogis of all levels.

So, give it a try, get out and play! It's too nice a day to be inside.

Have you tried practicing outside? If not, do you think you'll give it a try?

***For those of you in the Omaha area, be sure to check out Yoga Rocks the Park this summer for a great and fun opportunity to bring your practice outdoors. ***

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In Honor of My Mom on Her 70th Birthday

Recently, my sisters had an enlightening email exchange about what we learned from our parents, what we took away and what we would do differently. It really got me thinking about my parents and how they have influenced me. It did make me realize that I probably don't give my mom praise for the things she did well. So, for the record, here are the things for which I give credit to my mom. (A big thanks to my sisters for their help on this one.)
  1. Dinner time is family time. In a family of 9, it's almost impossible to coordinate schedules to honor the family meal time. There were always lots of after-school activities, sports and jobs that kept everyone coming and going. Mom always made it a priority for us to sit down to a home-cooked, well rounded meal which included fruits and vegetables. Mealtime was such a priority that my parents had a custom-made, round table, with a lazy-Susan, built to accommodate our large crew. The importance was not missed. Mealtime is now a priority in my home and the homes of my sisters. Even when we vacation together, almost every night the 30-40 family members will sit down and feast together.

  1. Say please and thank you. Mom stressed the importance of good manners. Through proper grammar, writing thank you notes and table manners she tried to make us respectable members of society. She's been know to take it a bit too far. One time, she corrected an Iowa news caster, while listening from another room, for saying, “Another great win for UNI.” The news caster was talking about the University of Northern Iowa, not “you and I”. But, her point was made. I almost never end a sentence with a preposition, try diligently to send thank you notes and usually know which fork to use.

  1. Trust the design of the body and nature. The body is designed to give birth naturally, breast-feed, be fueled by natural whole foods. Babies are designed to need and be near their mothers. When I made the choice to have my children at home, it was considered by many to be a radical choice. In fact, it was a very natural, logical choice for my family considering my mom had her 2 youngest children at home and my sisters collectively had 10 children at home. My mom, blazed the trail by just doing what was natural and what was meant to happen with the body and birth.

  2. Traditions are important. Traditions build connection, memories and comfort. Sometimes they were around how holidays were celebrated. It was also about not missing a birthday celebration, even if everyone was sick, just bring on the birthday Jell-O. One Thanksgiving, even though she was a vegetarian, she still cooked the turkey and slid the cranberry sauce out of the can because that was the tradition. (Why we trusted the turkey to the vegetarian, I don't know. The duties were later transferred to my dad. Also, I don't think anyone ever ate the cranberry sauce, it was just always there jiggling on the plate.)

  1. Be empathic. She never gave up on trying to teach us to be concerned with the greater good. There were countless rice bowl projects, justice and peace conferences, rights walks and other efforts to teach us about the world we shared and the immoral conditions. She exposed us to a variety of people, places and challenges and helped us to realize that the world was bigger than just us. Trying to get my own kids to try a third-world lentil recipe as a sacrifice helps me to know how tough a job this really can be.

  2. Make healthy choices. Throughout her life, she has gone through an array of exercise regimes, diets and lifestyle changes. All had the same goal of creating a healthy vessel. Today, she is a vibrant, healthy, raw, vegan, swimmer, cyclist, yogini and plans to live for another 70 years, I'm sure. She encourages this in others by sharing her passion for raw food, acting as the “bike-fairy” for her grand children and supporting other healthy pursuits (especially yoga).

So, thanks mom. The credit goes to you.

Mother's Day is just around the corner, don't forget about yours. What in your life can you credit to your mom? What have you learned from your parents?