The Handstand Life 365


Handstand Happiness

I've embarked on a 365 day challenge to do a handstand everyday. My goal is to be able to handstand in the middle of the room by next year at this time! I've committed not just to doing a handstand everyday, but also to photographing the process and sharing with my community.

I've started a tumblr blog for just the pictures so that this blog won't get too cluttered with me standing on my hands, and would love to have you follow me there as well.

I've already realized that I'm going to need more props, costumes, and locations to make this an interesting project. So look out for some fun ahead.

Welcome to the Handstand Life.

***

You can read about my first ever handstand back in 2010 right here.

The Everything Paradigm

My voice was cracking, sitting over breakfast on our last day of teacher training, just a few months ago.

I was weighing the pros and cons of what I wanted to do with my life and what I wanted to be when I finally grew up. It was a bit of heavy conversation over pancakes and an extra order of hash browns (to share, but not really : o)...but it was that kind of weekend.

What - I pondered out loud - if I try to do something different with my life...and it turns out to be nothing?  

It was fear talking, not really me. But it felt real all the same.

My friend Linzi leaned over - without missing a beat, and said simply:

What if it's everything?

It was a simple moment. A gut reaction from a friend, and small, simple words.

It has changed the way that I look at my life.

Every day I get up and think that EVERYTHING - the great big possibility of life -  is out there.

I do this even when I'm scared.

And the great big Everything is pretty awesome. It still scares the living shit out of me sometimes, but life is meant to be a verb. It is meant to be an action, not a passive object.

Everything is teaching even when you are worried you will forget your left from your right, volunteering in a jail, and finally feeling comfortable with assisting. It is sharing in your workplace that you teach a "real" yoga class.

Everything is trying out a new way of approaching coworkers at work. Of standing up for myself. Speaking truth even when it's risky. I've worked so hard to find out who I am - I should really BE that person!

Everything is believing that no pose, and no possibility, is out of reach. It is putting yourself out there and loving the act of trying, not the success.

Over the past months, while this blog has been a tad neglected, I have been trying out everything.

Just because it doesn't seem like you, doesn't mean it won't fit just right.

Like dressing up:

Photo courtesy of my favorite pap, Scott Finsthwait, http://www.greatscottphotography.org/
And getting down:


Photo courtesy of Linzi Oliver

Next week, Everything will be trying camping for the first time.


Practicing, courtesy of Christa Schnur
The minute that we look at life through this lens, the view shifts. Our life shifts. The world shifts.

This is the good stuff. This is Everything.

Breathing Behind Bars: Be Here Now

I took the day off yesterday and went to jail.

More specifically, I spent the day at San Francisco's Juvenile Hall, assisting five yoga classes there.

Juvenile Hall, SF
I am on the board of Lemonade - A Yoga Program, an organization that has been providing weekly yoga classes to the Hall's units since 2009. Lemonade was founded by my good friend and teacher, Sandy Till. We just received official 501(c)3 state and federal status this past August. While I have worked with aspects of this program for over a year, one of the reasons I completed Yoga Teacher Training was to be able to physically assist inside the facility with the kids.

Despite orientation and several long discussions about what it would be like inside the hall, I was nervous as we entered the facility. As we stepped onto the actual unit floor, I heard the click-click of the door behind us and realized that I was now on the other side of a locked door. Just a momentary twinge of panic and then it passed.

Five minutes into the first class, it hit me: we are teaching children. Little beings that are still growing. I am not sure what I thought these young boys and girls would look like. It might be that at 32, I simply do not realize how much older I look. I expected - maybe even wanted - for them to look older.

It does not matter what they did or what brought them to this place of incarceration. I am not a judge, and I am not the justice system. I am here to hold space for these kids. They show up to class, and we show up for them.

When I first started practicing yoga (coincidentally, in 2009 - the year Lemonade started), I remember coming back only because that hour was the one time during the day that my brain felt calm. I didn't yet realize what it would do for my whole life.

Programs like Lemonade have to start their focus with that same simple approach. Making a bad situation better. Making a life better. Starting with 45 minutes, and hoping it stays longer.

Throughout the five classes that I assisted, I helped several kids get into handstand, watched a first-time student pop into dancer, and saw a young girl put herself into her very first bird of paradise. I turned around after assisting a young man in handstand, and looked over to see one of the students assisting a fellow teacher into handstand. Almost everyone landed crow. A kid popped from crow into handstand. Wheel with a leg up. These were just some of the firsts.

My heart was bursting. I don't think they realized that what they were doing was so inspiring. I wanted to tell them over and over: You are amazing! Do you know how long it would take an adult to get that? Do you know how strong you really are?

Maybe, I thought to myself, when you have seen the type of violence and despair that these young people have, a yoga pose doesn't hold the same type of fear. Maybe it's more like freedom.

Several times throughout the day, the kids spent a few minutes looking at books that Sandy had brought with her - including BKS Iyengar's Light on Yoga and Ana Forrest's Fierce Medicine, both of which contain pictures of yogis in advanced poses. Their eyes wide, fingers pointing - they asked - Can you do this? Can you show this? I was heartened by their interest.



Want to have your mind blown by the sheer power of yoga? Don't go to a conference. Go to a place where there are few options, and watch what happens when people are faced with the choice to simply breathe and try.

Yoga is a part of my daily life. Yesterday, without question, was the most rewarding day of yoga that I have ever spent. As passionate as I was about this program before, spending time actually doing the work has only intensified my support. And as much as those kids got out of our work - I also walked out feeling more confident about my ability to touch people, and even stronger in my belief that yoga can bring something to everyone. If you can have breakthroughs here - in these circumstances - surely yoga can be everywhere.

I went to class myself last night and practiced. As we moved towards the end of the ninety minutes, I suddenly felt the heaviness of the day. Some of those kids won't be around in a few years, I thought. They will go back onto the streets, and they will be victims of violence and cycles that might have been started decades before their birth.

That is not a reason not to be with these kids. Yes - there are systemic issues at all levels that need to be dealt with - the drug crisis in our country, mental health assistance for trauma, and issues of race and income. But in the meantime, these young people need help now - to fill the spaces in between the chaos.
That is what the mission of Lemonade is - to be of service in small moments - with the hope that it will lead to bigger breaths and longer, more peaceful lives. And we will be able to provide even more over the coming years with the help of additional grants, time, and more volunteers.

We speak a lot in yoga about meeting people where they are - in practice and in life. If this message is true in our neighborhood studios and recreation centers and homes, then it is also what we need to do in places where it feels like there is no hope and no future.

The future isn't yesterday. The future isn't tomorrow. The future is actually in this moment and this breath. It is as simple and complicated as that.

"Be here now." - Ram Dass

***

Want to help? Want to find out how? Support Lemonade! and like us on Facebook!

Belly Aches: Adventures with the Rolled-Up Mat

I can feel the pulsing in my stomach, like my heart is actually there in my gut.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

For a moment it is all I hear. There is music playing but it seems to have been muted. I am lying face down on my mat but I want to get up and run.

I feel a hand land softly on my lower back and the room comes back into focus - slowly.

Okay?

Not really a question, more of a check in.

The muted sound comes roaring back. I don't answer. I breathe and sink a little deeper. The exhale is heavy and shakes my torso a bit.

Three more breaths and my palms race to be next to my shoulders.

I push back into downward dog.

I grab the rolled up mat that has been under my stomach. I have to remind myself to gently place it next to me and resist the urge to fling it across the room as I come to the top of my mat.

Bring your hands to heart center. 

***

The above scene has played out in numerous classes - more than I care to admit. 

The rolled up mat is a Forrest yoga prop. It is exactly what it sounds like. A mat, folded long-wise in thirds and then rolled tightly. It is used in various poses, but is most famously used for massaging your stomach and releasing the lower back in a pose called "abs over the roll."

My well-loved but much-loathed rolled-up mat.
So why would anyone subject their body to something that seems to cause such panic and discomfort? Some of it is physical: Abs over the roll massages your stomach and stimulates movement in your digestive system. The eventual relaxation of your abdomen releases tension that we hold in our mid-section - which can be the root cause of some back pain.

But it's more than that. The subject feels uncomfortable to talk about, and yet we need our bellies to be healthy so desperately – for quality of life in digestion, movement, and for developing a healthy image of ourselves. Perhaps nothing could be more urgent than learning to handle our gut – a place second only to our brain in the signals it sends to our organs and our nervous system.

What is it about our stomachs that we find so hard to love?

For me, my belly holds the holy trinity of emotions: Fear, Shame, and Anger. When I was heavier, and living a less healthy lifestyle, it represented everything that I was embarrassed and bothered by in my physical appearance. In tight clothes, the pressure of my stomach against my pants was a constant reminder of imperfection. Every nervous act knotted it further, every worry felt as if I was actually experiencing the fear in my abdomen.

Old habits die hard, and I remain a work in progress. When I look at my body in the mirror, my eyes often dart to my stomach first. There are always questions: How does my stomach look? Is it flat enough? Did I do enough abs this week?

Our preoccupation with our physical selves is borne out over years and years. Changing is a slow process, more akin to crawling than walking.

But yoga helps. Yoga helps so much. Perhaps it is the gentle stripping away of ego, or the infusion of self-love that finally begins to seep through the cracks in our armor as we surrender to the practice.

For me, it is also the acceptance that what feels so imperfect is really a beautiful part of myself that I have been missing out on loving.

The rolled-up mat is a physical step towards emotional release and there is something cathartic about the work.

As Ana says:  

Just know that when your stuff comes up there's Beauty in that. It's really uncomfortable but it's workable. There it is. You can reach it. You can touch it. You can taste it. And that's where you can do something with it. Celebrate that uncomfortable stuff. Now you can do something with it.

***

Yoga teaches us that we can always change the endings to our stories.

We are in savasana and the heat from the room begins to cool with the sudden end to all movement.

Eyes closed, my left hand on my heart and my right hand on my stomach, I take a deep audible breath in and exhale slowly, my lower back pressing against the ground.

I feel the edges of my hips relaxing as my belly rises to push just slightly into my open palm and fill the space.

In a few minutes, we will rise and bow and move about our day.

But at this moment I am finally comfortable, simply loving the parts of the whole.

Candlelight Quiet

One of the greatest gifts of a yoga practice is that you need nothing but your own body.

Everything I need is right here with me.

Every day is a choice of what I want my practice to be or what it needs to be.

There are days for studio classes.

And there are nights for slow candlelight flow on your own.


To a playlist you pick.


With poses that meet you where you are.


Yesterday was one of those quiet nights where I needed peace, bowing forward in gratitude for the practice that is big enough to hold all the different parts of me. 

Am I paying for the dental work...or the mindfulness?

I woke up this morning to realize that I had forgotten that I was having dental work done today.

On the one hand, it was a good thing, because I had essentially "forgotten" to worry about it. On the other hand, I now had all morning to worry about it - and it seemed like my anxiety really needed more time than that.

I put on my big girl pants and went to work, secretly hoping that someone would call and cancel the appointment. Or that there would be exceptionally heavy foot traffic on the TWO BLOCK walk to the office and I would be forced to turn around.

No one called. And I made it there in 2 minutes.

Upon arrival and being seated in the chair, in typical Abbie fashion  - I confessed that I was, in fact, anxious and that I might, in fact, pass out. Truth Speaking 101. (Note: I've never passed out really anywhere, but I always feel the need to throw it out there...in case.)

The nervous part about the dentist - or any situation really for me - is not the pain. I can tolerate a lot of discomfort. The issue for me is the lack of control. And I hate the sensation of Novocaine and how it makes you feel like you don't have control over your mouth.

Plus - it's a big mind game - your lip feels puffy and yet it looks normal.

(Similar to when you put on a brave face and you are really masking hurt or disappointment underneath. You look normal to everyone else, but inside - you're a mess. This would make a great blog post for later - so let's remember that euphemism for another day.)

I was sharing this puffy lip sentiment with Dr. A - when she stopped me in my tracks with this little gem:

Oh, I know. It's so weird. It's because your mouth can't find it's way. We've blocked it's ability to feel.

Numbness is your body's way of saying: I'm lost. I'm looking for you. Help me find my place.

Seriously? Why does this always happen to me? I'm passing out in the dentist office and the universe is sending me this crazy revelation about numbness.

Because Dr. A is 100% right - numbness in our bodies - and in our emotions - makes us feel deprived of a sense of place. If you don't know where you are - it's hard to know where you are going or how you will get there.

Anxiety, stress, and fear - all make my body numb. And when I get on my mat and work through that - there is a sense of feeling lost and, eventually, being found. I would always prefer feeling something than the engulfing, drowning sensation that comes with numbness. That's why I keep coming back to yoga and meditation - I love that feeling of being alive. It's not about getting control back - it's about finding your way when you don't have control.

Which, in truth, is pretty much every moment of every day.

And so that's how my morning went. A little revelation about numbness and a sweet dentist who kept asking:

Are you breathing? Remember to breathe.

I'm not even kidding that this was the book I brought today to the dentist. #theuniversejustknows


Stepping into Truth

This past weekend, our teacher training group taught a second set of public classes. 

It was amazing to see and hear the difference from November.

What a beautiful thing to watch people you care deeply about, and know that they are disarmed and vulnerable, moving from a place of authenticity.

On Saturday and Sunday, I watched eighteen other souls and myself teach from somewhere deeper. 

There have been moments during our training when I have questioned the process of looking deep and going further in connecting with our emotions and spirit, in touching the most wounded and fearful parts of ourselves. How much - I wondered - does it take to find yourself? How many layers? 
Or as I asked two fellow trainees this past week: Are we ever going to get past the shit?

I was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to our November class. That didn't happen this time, and the 90 minutes that I spent teaching and assisting this past Saturday was the calmest portion of my week. 

How did that happen?

This is what training teaches us. Your mouth still forms the words the same way, but you speak from your heart - not your head. You stand up to face a room and you ARE NOT your old story. You are operating from desire, not fear. 
When you strip the old stories away, what is left is the broken open truth in each one of us. 

If we didn't go deep - how would we know?  

There is power in knowing our truth.

With that knowledge, the way forward is clearer. Not planned, or set, or even steady, but illuminated.

It gives us a way to step into our power - not with harshness, but with affirmation of our own value as human beings - with gifts to offer the world. 

All this time, I thought it was yoga that was lighting the path. And it's not. 
It's us: individuals owning and speaking truth. 
That is the light.

Yoga is a tool to get you there, but as individuals, we have to do the work. We have to go deeper.
The real impact of our teaching is getting students to go deeper as well, whether in a pose or in connecting to spirit.

And in learning that it is never too late to step out of our stories and become awake to our truth.


Waking Up Early for What We Love

We were back at teacher training today, which meant an early wake up call.

I parked my car in the same spot on the same street as I usually do. Almost every morning that I go to teacher training, I spot a man in the distance walking slowly down the street. I have to admit, it's early in the morning, it's dark, and his slow, deliberate walk has always set my alarm bells off a bit.

Today, I wasn't watching carefully for much of anything as I was exceptionally tired. I opened my door and found myself face to face with this man.

And I realized he was dressed in the garb of a Hare Krishna. (There is a Krishna temple tucked away on the street).

He stopped his walking and looked at me. He smiled and pointed to my yoga mat slung over my arm.

Are you going to yoga? he asked.

I told him yes and smiled back.

Do you love it? he asked.

I do was my answer back.

He nodded, looked me directly in the eyes, and said:

We wake up early for what we love. And we always learn something from what we do in the morning.

Here was this person I had made an assumption about, offering me such profound wisdom.

I felt a little shift occur in my world.

He wished me a good class, I wished him a happy morning, and he continued on his walk as I crossed the street to the studio.

It was 5.45 am.

He was right. We always learn something from what we do in the morning.

Bay bridge at dawn. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Don't Be a Mean Girl (or Guy) in January (or ever)

I was riding the elevator up to my gym a few days ago, and got on with several girls who (it appeared) were all friends.

I cannot wait, one of them said with a huff, for all of them to JUST STOP COMING. 

Her friend nodded her head in agreement and commented that Nobody even knows how to use the machines or how to wait in line for classes. 

As we filed out of the elevator, I heard their final comment and snickers on the matter:

Don't worry. They'll be gone soon. 

I wanted so much to say something. It was such ugly talk - with no support at all. And in retrospect, I regret that I didn't speak up.

Here is what I would have said:

I get your frustration - but don't be mean girls. 

If just one person that is trying to get healthy succeeds - that's worth any inconvenience to you. 

Oh and by the way - I was one of "those people." 

I have been the girl that wasn't quite sure what the etiquette was at spin class. I didn't know you should try to arrive to yoga class a little early. I wasn't a natural athlete. I stretched in the wrong spot, and put my mat the wrong way. I didn't know where the cleaning cloths were!

January is an interesting month for fitness. Gyms and classes are more crowded - some of it driven by resolutions for the new year, the stress of going back to work after time off, or overindulgence during the holidays. And at a time where we should be encouraging, smiling, and helping - it somehow seems that everyone is judging.

Ask yourself - if you attend any sort of gym or yoga class - as you hop on the treadmill, or line up for spin, or find a spot in a crowded yoga class - are you helping? If someone is struggling with how to use a machine - can you take a minute to assist? Are you quietly letting another student know which way the class is set up? Are you making room in class without eye rolling or judgement?

Ask yourself - if you teach, or own a studio or gym - are you helping? Are instructions and guidelines laid out? Are you welcoming new faces?

Kindness rarely fails. Don't be a mean girl (or guy), please.

Mean girls can wear gym clothes, too. Offer support, not attitude, during crowded January.


Fears for Resolution and the What Ifs of Life

I have never been a big fan of New Year's festivities, and not simply because my normal bedtime is usually 10pm. 

It's the focus on resolutions.

Resolution seems like such a harsh, strict way of entering the new year: so permanent and with such high stakes. There is something that makes me cringe about choosing this one day a year to resolve to change. I think part of my resistance is that I have come to the realization that every day is a chance for a fresh start - really, every moment.

Society puts a lot of pressure on one particular time of year to make these big choices - without a whole lot of support for the occasional failure or fall.

And as yoga has taught me, you have to fall to learn and you have to fail to change.

So while "resolutions" might turn me off, I am a big fan of hopes, dreams, and the glass being half full. And during 2012, I really started feeling the pull of ritual, of seasons, and making more time for self-exploration. So, this year I softened to the idea of New Year's...but with a different focus.

I had this past week off from work and my brain had space and time to think about what I want to accomplish in the near term. I realized that a lot of my resistance to resolving to anything is my consistent fear of failure.

What if I put something out there to the world - and it doesn't happen? Or I change my mind? What will people think?

So I did something that I have rolled my eyes about in the past.

Public note to self: almost all of the things you roll your eyes at or say "I'll never do that" usually turn out to be things that are quite true, important, and awesome.

I made a vision board of my hopes and dreams for 2013. 

You mean - my mom asked me as I explained the project - a collage?

Yes, mom. I made a collage.

Vision Board or Collage - whichever way you want to look at it.
We all need reminders of what we want to be mindful of and the things that we want to manifest for our lives. This board encompasses what I want to embody in my life moving forward.

I also wrote down my hopes and dreams for 2013.


And I hung it, publicly, in my home. And I'll also put digital copies in my office.


And there is plenty of space left on this board for more hopes, dreams, and changes.

My favorite part of the vision board is this quote from Ganga White - about the What ifs.

What If Prayer by Ganga White

I had never seen the quote before...and I actually found it on an advertisement in a magazine of all places. 

There are a lot of "what ifs" in life. And we usually think of them in terms of worry. But WHAT IF we think of the term as possibility?

What if...I put my hopes and dreams and desires out there...and that single act was greater than any of the fear?

What if 2013 was a year of bravery?

Of boldly and courageously stepping into truth? And speaking that truth?

What if New Years Day was just ONE MORE REMINDER that every day is the perfect day to choose the path I want to follow?

I can get behind that resolution.

****

Full text of Ganga White's What If Prayer

Comfort and Joy

We all want comfort and hopeful assurances that things will be alright in this life - whether found in a manger story or in the ritual of the solstice or in the glow of candles on a menorah.



Life is about finding what comforts us and what brings us joy, even in the wake of uncertainty.

It is the time of year when we ask: What are we seeking?

The real beauty of this life is that life itself is fleeting.

We would never love a moment if we could have the same exact one any time we wanted.

Part of the real urgency of mindfulness is that we have no guarantees in this life.

We are promised nothing but one moment at a time.

And so above all, I think we all seek the same thing:

Peace in this moment.

Whatever the season means, may it bring you closer to peace.   

Tidings of comfort and joy.




The Bridge Home

It rained during our teacher training this weekend.

It poured in the early morning and during our breakfast breaks. The Bay Bridge had high wind advisories each day.

It pelted down all throughout meditation and this morning the lights flickered and then simply went out - leaving breath as the only soundtrack for our practice.

The theme for this weekend was the emotional body. It was as if the weather knew.

We focused on how emotions show up in yoga, but also how they show up in our life.

There is a part of me that has always been resistant to this type of exploration.

Simply stated: This isn't practical. This isn't fun. This is scary and uncomfortable. Let's keep moving. 

But a funny thing happened over the last three months: I decided that maybe I had some work to do on going beneath the surface of my emotions. I started looking deeply into what triggers me, what emotions I hold, and where I hold them.

The exploration, as it turns out, doesn't have to be dramatic - but it does have to be purposeful. Looking at what we feel and how we react to it. How can we change? What do we love? What can we leave behind? What no longer serves us?

Not to "cure" an emotion - but to name it, to own it, and to address it - to change the power dynamic and use the emotion in a healthy way. In my case, to begin to sift through fear, anxiety and anger, and come out with insight - not insecurity.

Ultimately, it leads me to this shifting of my own paradigm.

How will I heal without knowing what I feel? 

I can't.

How will I help students heal if I can't access what I feel?

I won't. 

Everyone has a different definition of healing. For me, it is finding peace in the places in my spirit that feel broken. 

I have been blown away watching my fellow trainees embark on similar journeys. All of these souls - so different - and yet all trying to use a new language to frame their teaching and their lives.

This is an act of bravery that a lot of our world sees as a weakness.

Understanding what we feel isn't an indulgent practice. Caring for ourselves and learning to help our future students is a step on a healing road.

The work is hard, but it's worth it.

As training ended today, breaking until the new year, we stepped out of the studio and the rain was gone, leaving behind the sweet chill of early December air.

Peace in broken places.

And this:

My view on the bridge home...Changed. Clear. Beautiful. Calm. 

Remembering

I co-taught my first yoga class on Sunday.

Many weekends and evenings of practice and feedback culminated in a rather surreal walk to the front of the room at Yoga Tree Telegraph.

I was blown away after taking a seat on the teacher's mat in front of the class and seeing - for the first time -what practicing yoga looks like from that perspective. Most of the eyes that were meeting mine were entirely new. There were a few friendly faces that had come specifically to support me, but I was also staring out at strangers.

I tend to get caught up in the technical aspects of teaching because so much of my day job depends on making the right choices. Moving into a place of leadership where feeling and intuition are more important than thinking has been incredibly challenging for me - but freeing as well. I have always relied upon the rational side of my brain. I am only now in the process of learning to trust the feeling part of me.

As I knelt down to help a student in dolphin pose, showing her how to clasp her hands to be more comfortable and supportive of her shoulders, it was easy to remember being new to yoga and work with her from that place. When I am assisting, I find myself dropping into feeling almost instantly - because the intention is to make that person feel MORE.

Where does that feeling come from? I have to draw from what I know - from how I experience yoga.

I was scared on Sunday. Nervous and anxious and a whole host of other emotions. But yoga has never failed me. Years of practice and none of it has ever been wrong. Of the thousands of adjustments and pieces of advice that I have received from teachers on my yoga mat - there are a few that have made me cry, a few that have made me stay, and several that have changed my life. That's powerful stuff. More powerful than fear.

We all want to be seen and heard as we are. In the end, it doesn't matter where yoga started or what it was originally intended to do. The true lineage of yoga is passed from one teacher to one student. It happens in very simple, individual moments.

Before the students were guided out of savasana, we gathered at the front of the room as a teaching team, seated together, each with a hand on our heart. It is a simple action - a reminder to breathe - and to feel. To stop and acknowledge and be present in the moment. When the class came back up into seated, I met the gaze of the woman who I had assisted during savasana and she put her hand to her heart.


Lighting the Path Yoga Teacher Trainees gather at the end of class.
 
It is almost astonishing. Yoga is so big. But the actions are small: Taking a deep breath. Relaxing your neck. Feeling.

Yoga is about remembering:

How we got here. Who we want to be.

Zen Traveler: Keep Calm, and Carry On (Your Mat)

Zen Traveler is a recurring series of posts here at Grateful Yogi about mindful travel.

You know who I see a lot of?

This man:


Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
 This is Jeff Smisek and he is the CEO of United Airlines. His title isn't really important or relevant. Mostly, I mention him because I see him quite a lot. He is the star of United's in-flight advertisement and safety video. Usually, by the time his smile flashes in front of me on a television screen, we are 5-10 minutes away from wheels up.

Which is how I ended up in Gate E6 in Minneapolis-St.Paul - staring at a board proclaiming that our flight was leaving 2 hours late at 7pm - even though it was already 7.15.

And in my head I was thinking - I just want to see Jeff.

Our issue wasn't weather - but something with the steering on the plane.

Side note: Take all the time you need with making the plane safe. While I wish the parts you needed were in Minneapolis, and not Chicago - I'm looking to make it home alive.

You can learn a lot about people in an airport, and even more about yourself. Air travel makes the world accessible to us, but it also means that unless you are a pilot, you relinquish a lot of control.

Which makes the gate area a great place to carry on with life despite delay.

Yelling, screaming, and complaining will never get the plane there any faster, and it will certainly not make the situation any better.

So when the staff at the counter announced that it would actually be a 9.30 or 10pm departure (pesky little part that was needed to help the pilots fly the plane), I grabbed my iphone out of the socket in the wall and wheeled my bag into the bathroom.

And changed. Into my spare set of yoga clothes. Because Gate E13 was about to become my yoga room:



This section of the terminal was fairly empty - most flights had already left and the only people around were my fellow UA 519 passengers and the night cleaning crew.

I always carry on a very thin travel mat and a spare set of clothes (I promise you this takes up minimal space as I am a confirmed overpacker and still can fit it in). I actually found myself elated at the amount of time that I had.

I made a quick playlist to help me drown out the airport noise, and got started: pranayama, abs, sun salutations, standing pose series, warm down, savasana. 70 minutes.

I know that some of you are thinking - aren't you worried about what people think?

Actually, I'm not. And it took me a while to get there. In the beginning, I might have been more self-conscious. People say that travel "beats you down" and it can, but it has mostly made me more patient and empathetic. Every single person in that airport has somewhere to go - and we all have the same goal - to get there. Almost 100% probability that I'm not going to see any of these people again. Plus, I'm also hoping that they might see me doing yoga and at least take a deep breath. Or be reminded that it's all okay.

I finally saw Jeff at 10.20 that evening, half-comfortably snuggled in my seat with a faux-pillow made from my sweatshirt (I'm fairly confident that I could craft you a usable pillow out of most any item of clothing.). It was late, I had just worked out, and I fell asleep before the flight attendants had a chance to come down the aisle.

When I landed - Jeff had emailed me and sent me 3,000 bonus miles for the incovenience. Thanks, Buddy!

We don't get a refund on our time when we are sitting at airports, or train stations, or in traffic. Life just doesn't work that way.

 Delays happen that are outside of our control. How we choose to fill the time is a deliberate choice. 

Where I Am: One Third of a Journey

Today, I finished my fourth weekend of Teacher Training. And with some shock, I realized that we have now completed one-third of our course.

Much like the past three Sunday sessions, my brain feels completely full, and my heart seems to be 18 sizes bigger than when I arrived in Berkeley at 5.45 am on Saturday.

I expected to be changed by the teacher training, but four sessions in, I am dumbfounded by how my perspective has shifted. Not just my perspective on yoga, but my thoughts on how I want to live my life, what I want to fill my days with, and my intentions for how I greet the world.

This blog has been dormant for a few weeks because honestly, it's hard to verbalize the impact of the training. But here are some of the many lessons that Lighting the Path has taught me:

Our bodies might be the greatest overlooked wonder of the world. The human body is amazing. Absolutely, positively amazing. The yogis that first started this practice 5,000 years ago knew that. These individuals didn't have the scientific words or finer points of anatomy that we now have access to, but they understood the connection. It is a powerful thing to better understand this one body that we have to work with in this life, and to see how our teaching can help shape healthier, happier bodies for students. Today, I spent 5 minutes pondering how truly incredible the radius is and realizing how important my scapula is to my shoulder. How had I missed this before? To be filled with a sense of wonder is a reminder of what a gratifying experience it is to be learning.

Um, what was the cue again?

There are many different ways to learn. I used to think that I was solely a visual learner. And I still believe that this is primarily how I best take in most information. These past few weeks of teaching have helped me to realize that depending on the situation, I might need a different avenue. I have been working a lot with kinesthetic learning - and particularly when it comes to moving my body - learning by doing has given me a new space to explore. I hope to be able to transfer this to my students - so that I don't assume that they learn exactly as I do. 


I am slowly taking the fear out of failure. I have always been afraid of failure. Largely because I am afraid of being embarrassed and worried about not living up to expectations. Learning to teach means moving on quickly from mistakes. The only way to learn how to teach is to do it - not try to teach - but to really do it. I have had to work very hard not to "start over" after a mistake in a sequence - a typical go-to response for me. Instead, I move forward right from where I was in the sequence. Learning to embrace imperfection also means that when Pete comes over and tells me that the cue is wrong - I just change the cue. I don't need to have a conversation in my head about how he probably thinks that I am stupid or unprepared. I know that he doesn't think I am stupid. I know I am not stupid. I prepared to the best of my abilities. We move on. I would never view a student or colleague's learning process as a failure - I need to give myself the same space.

Safe space matters. For those that seek it, yoga is also about tracking what shapes us as evolving beings - including the dark, silent places that we don't normally share in public. The nature of training is deep introspection and self-discovery. For me, this has meant a lot of thinking and self-contemplation, facing difficult truths and staring down some tough decisions. Having a space where this type of discovery is supported is absolutely vital. The better we know ourselves, the more authentic we can be in our teaching. Recently, I walked into Pete's class with every intention of banging out a solid practice. Five minutes in, I was crying during the warm up. My face was covered with sweat and tears during abs. And well before the class joined me in savasana, I found myself giving in to just being still with my tears. This is safe space. Sometimes, the gift of letting someone be is the sweetest, kindest action to take.

I can teach. I really can. And knowing that I have tools and resources to translate the practice that has transformed how I live my life - gives me hope that I will be a good teacher.

Family Yoga class - teaching Elbow to Knee.

Touch is important. We can all be healers.  It really is a crazy world we live in. We barely touch each other - even close friends. I was very nervous about the assisting part of yoga training - where you help students to better shape the pose for their body and assist them in alignment, breath, and relaxing by literally having your hands on their bodies. Despite my nervousness about my own abilities, I carry with me the memory of a handful of adjustments that have been game-changers in my life and in my practice. All were yoga assists that healed a part of me with the deep kindness and compassion that were delivered in the touch. I have been shocked at how much I like this part of the training and relish this aspect of the teaching. At how profound it is to put your hand on someone and feel their breath and use your body to give them relief from pain, coax them into deeper feeling, or encourage movement into a better rendering of the pose. I am confident that we were meant to connect in this way - and that it truly is healing work. When approached appropriately and with compassion - touch says "I see you. I hear you. I want to understand. I want to help."

Adjusting...
We are all human. And that means that we are more similar than we are different. In this microcosm of training, I have met eighteen other souls that are actively shaping my life and my teaching. All of our perspectives are valuable and vital to learning. Not because we have any special skills, but because we are human beings.

Yoga connects us, but we choose to meet each other on the journey.

I'm so grateful.
Yoga Tree Telegraph. Photo courtesy of Yoga Tree.



Calling Our Spirits Home

Do you remember when you believed you could do anything?

Ardha Chandrasana: Early Half-Moon in roller skates.

When you didn't worry about hitting the ground? When the world was your prop?

That is me up there. Even now, I recognize my spirit in this picture. Strawberry Shortcake socks to my knees, Smurf skates, and a nightgown (hello,1983). I am sure that I was putting on a show or singing or dancing - likely all three and maybe to no specific audience. I clearly didn't care who was watching. I was wearing those items because I loved them and moving my body in a way that reflected my joy.

(As a quick side note to all of my yoga teachers - this picture is irrefutable evidence that those hamstrings have, in fact, been tight for almost 30 years.)

When we are young, we have an amazing connection of mind, body, and spirit. We are honest and eager humans. We soak up everything in our world and we are not in the habit of looking before we leap. If we stumble, we fall. We cry a little and laugh. We get back up. Or we hang on to a Little Tikes playhouse and pretend it was all part of the original plan.

Perhaps it is the true cost of the age of reason that we start to disconnect and withdraw from this sponge-like experience of the world. Our brains rewire around the very harsh realities of growing up: changing bodies, fitting molds, experiencing fear, and acknowledging our own mortality.

We push out the unity - the connections we are born with start to break down. We see our body, our mind, and our soul as disparate parts of a whole.

Yoga can slowly weave those connections back.

I have been struck over these past two weekends of training at how physical this process is for me right now. It is not just the mindfulness that brings me back - my body needs to be part of this story.

As a result of the intense, deeply personal learning that we are doing, I have found that trusting my body is a new path to opening up more of this connection.

When I physically let myself go to find - instead of force - the pose, I feel my muscles fire and feel the grounding that is happening around the emotional edges. It is still a learning process to use my mind to help this process, not hinder it, but the sparks are there.

I am also trying to find a stronger boundary in speaking my personal truth. It sounds odd, but the more I do this- the less restricted I feel and the easier it is to breathe. 

When yoga is translated from sanskrit - the foundational meaning is "to unite."

This practice is crazy and wonderful at the same time.

This process of growing on the mat is really calling our spirits home into our bodies.

If the girl in the smurf skates can do it, I am quite certain that the woman she became can figure it out, too.  


A New Teacher in Town

When I decided to do teacher training, my mom sent me something special in the mail.


Your eyes were not deceiving you - it's Barbie.

But not just any Barbie. This is Yoga Teacher Barbie.

She is from the "I can be" series...of different occupations for today's girls. (They are trying).

Mattel was sweet enough to let this particular Barbie have something she didn't have when I was a kid - joints! And although she still has feet lifted for heels, the movable extremities have made her job as a yoga teacher SO MUCH EASIER.

Plus, she came with a promise for healthy fun!

Practice yoga with Yoga Teacher Barbie!
The tough part, though, was that Barbie really wasn't exhibiting the strong type of yoga I was hoping she would.

When she demonstrated Abs...something was...missing.

Pre-Transformation Yoga Teacher Barbie

And then it hit me. She needed some Forrest training.

And some tie-dye pants. So we did a makeover, and took her to a Forrest class.


We taught her some of the basic moves. We had to skip the active feet because sadly, Barbie can't do that in her current plastic state (no movable toes). And while expanding and telescoping the ribs was also difficult, she gave it her best efforts.

Barbie can do so many other things!

Like Elbow to Knee:


And Abs with a Mat:


Gate-Opener:

In case you were wondering, Barbie also has a love-hate relationship with the rolled up mat.





Of course, an inversion:

This is where poor Barbie really needs those active feet!

And she has been working very hard at wrapping her shoulders during Down Dog:


She loves teaching advanced poses, like Scissors:


And easy bird of paradise:

 

But like all of us, she lives for Savasana:


If Barbie can do yoga, anyone can!

------
Do you like Barbie's ensemble? Curious where some Forrest Yogis get their flashy pants? check out Wildflower Dyes

The Injury Report: Tahoe

I hate being on the DL. Particularly on vacation.

This is so fun:


Me and my mat in Tahoe.

And this is so NOT fun:


Hot night in Tahoe: Icing the knee

I rarely have any aches or pains to complain about from a physical perspective. I would like to credit this to yoga, but it is just one of the factors. My neck hurts after a long day on a plane, or my lower back or shoulders are tight - but most of that is from having a day job involving a computer. I do yoga six times a week, I run and I swim. I am sometimes sore, but very rarely would I call myself "injured."

But every so often, something gets out of alignment - usually my wrists, or my ankle.

Or as is the case right now, my knee. Even at the peak of my distance running for two marathons, my knees never bothered me.

Because it is a new and different area to hurt, I was slow to really honor the injury last week, and I tried to accommodate through my studio classes as best as I could. Read: I'll push 80%, as opposed to 100%. (Note to self: I should probably be paying attention more during the "ahimsa" section of teacher training).

And so here I am on vacation - trying to balance this knee situation.

I had grand plans for several long hikes and attending yoga classes all week - as there are some great studios here in Tahoe. But my knee doesn't want vinyasa. It wants ice, low-impact cardio and restorative poses. It actually probably wants me to do nothing at all, but that is harder than not going to yoga class.

I think my knee secretly knows that we have week two of yoga teacher training this weekend and is sending me signals to rest up, maybe even via my mother. (My mom sent me a text indicating her prefence that I: take two alleve and take a few days off from all exercise). Note: I did take the Alleve.

And so I'm making friends with the elliptical, dialing down the hiking (boo!), and taking advantage of the hot tubs and the private yoga room. And I'm working on a TON of empathy (and some sequences) for my future students with injuries.

It might not be the type of practice that I am used to, but you simply can't argue with this view:




And despite an unusual amount of Alleve, ice, and laying around - I'm still on vacation - still spending quality, quiet time with my husband enjoying one of the most beautiful places in California.

And that's a pretty amazing opportunity to have - gimpy knee or not.

But, please, Universe, if we can just clear this one up quickly - I would be really appreciative.
XOXO - Abbie

The Year of Taking Chances

In early January of this year, I found myself lying on the floor at Yoga Tree Valencia.  We were winding down from what had been a tough practice.  I felt as though Pete had been pushing, pushing, pushing on my inversions and arm balances. If I was in forearm balance at the wall, he asked for my arms to be flat instead of clasped. There were not so subtle hints about handstand splits at the wall. In truth, he was offering these options to me - he was not actually pushing that hard. But my head came back again and again to my fear - of falling, of embarrassing myself, of failing when I tried to get into the tougher poses. 

Plus - my head said - you might hurt yourself.

I had moved beyond my natural edge and I felt raw and tired. Lying there on the wood floor in spinal twist, Pete came over to adjust my hips slightly.

He paused.  I took a breath.

Maybe - he said quietly - 2012 can be the year of taking chances.

It was not a big conversation about fear. It was a simple, kind suggestion.  It was good teaching.


And I took that to heart.

I started showing up to class with a different attitude. And, for the most part, I have kept to my word.

I still have tough, emotional practices where fear wins the day. 

But I have taken more chances this year - on the mat and in my life.

Not the least of which was walking into Yoga Teacher Training this past weekend. 



For the next 6 months, I will be learning how to teach the practice that I love so much.

And I was terrified walking into that room.

What if everyone else has a super-advanced practice? What if I simply can't remember my right from my left? What if I absolutely can't learn how to cue the poses? What if teaching yoga ruins how much I love it?


I thought about all of these fears as I crossed over the bridge at 5am into Berkeley on Saturday.

I walked through the door anyways.

And I never looked back. Here were nineteen different people - and every single one of us had a fear. Over the course of the two days, I managed to remember everyone's names, taught a basic meditation and some basic moves, and I walked away feeling confident that I could learn to teach.

The greatest gift a teacher can give is to believe in a student.

The greatest chance I have taken this year - is the chance that I have taken on myself.

That is where I want to teach from.

And this is the learning. The practice. The yoga.