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Why I hated bridge pose

p223-001Well, hate is probably a strong word.  Let’s say that I strongly disliked bridge pose and would love to avoid it, when and if possible, during a yoga session.  Yes, the bridge pose has many benefits–it strengthens your back, your butt, and your legs.  It’s great for your neck, your chest, your hips, and your spine.  It improves circulation of the blood.  It aids with digestion.  It’s said to calm your nerves and alleviate stress.  Yet, it is one of the asanas in yoga that I do not look forward to.  It’s a heart opening pose, which means that both physically and emotionally, you’re opening yourself up.  You’re opening your heart to others and to the world.  It can also symbolize being a “bridge” from yourself to others and to the world–building connections in your relationships.  Not only is the pose sometimes physically challenging for me, but emotionally and spiritually, I’ve come to realize that there are even deeper reasons for my disdain.

Taking care of others. Being responsible for others.  Just being there for others.  My identity has been wrapped up in being the strong one, the reliable one, the one you can depend on.  I grew up the oldest child so I come by this honest.  But, being the big sister who is a caretaker and nurturer, I have a hard time trusting that I can depend on others.  So I’ve learned to take care of myself–I’m hyper independent.  Always feeling responsible is exhausting.  Not surprisingly, my expression in bridge pose is often one of exhaustion and weakness and not of strength or confidence.  While I may not like to admit it, I’m tired of being the bridge.   But, letting go and trusting that others can have my back sometimes is not easy for me.

Yesterday in my yoga teacher training, we did an activity that was all about building trust and depending on others.   In this activity, I stood in the middle of my group with my feet together, arms crossed, and my eyes closed.  I was instructed to fall back and allow myself to be passed between my four group members.  As I fell back and leaned from side to side, my group members were responsible for catching me and making sure that I did not fall.  I knew from the beginning that I was going to have difficulty with this activity–you’re asking me to close my eyes, fall back, and trust that these folks won’t drop me? Oh hell no! is what I was really thinking.  Now, I am the person that you want on the outside of the circle–I will not let anybody fall.  But, trusting that others will do the same for me has been my challenge.  As I began being passed between my group members, I was quite stiff and nervous.  I could not relax and let go.  At one point, one of my group members paused the passing, held me, and said, “Relax.  We got you.”  And, in that moment, I did just that–I relaxed and trusted that my group had my back, literally.  My group members said that my body began to feel much lighter, and I was passed between them with ease and speed.  After the activity, I had to work to hold back my tears.  I was struck by how someone’s simple affirmation of “I got your back” calmed and relaxed me.  And, I was also overcome by my willingness to trust that they would.

I’m learning to trust that others can have my back.  As I continue to give to the world and to others, I witness how the love and support is returned.  The bridge is not one-way but it is reciprocal.  I look forward to practicing bridge pose now because I have a new outlook on it.  Being a bridge is my gift to the world.  It is my way of showing how much I love and care about others.  But, the bridge also needs to be strong so that I can receive the gifts that so many have for me.  I no longer hate the bridge pose.  Instead, because of it, I am so grateful.

In my solitude, like Billie sang

I’m just resurfacing from observing silence for the last 24 hours (this was part of my pratyahara homework for my yoga teacher training).  That meant, no talking, emailing, Facebooking, TV watching, reading, writing–nada.  I didn’t interact with my family.  I didn’t even listen to music.  I basically went inward and spent some quality time with me, myself, and I (queue the De La Soul!).  Funny thing, once alone with my thoughts, I seemed to go on a musical tour of songs that reminded me of being alone, from Billie Holiday’s Solitude to the Geto Boy’s My Minds Playing Tricks on Me.  While Scarface’s lyric “I sit alone in my four corner room staring at candles…” was somewhat appropriate, my time of solitude was a much more positive experience than it might have been if I was doing this, say, 5-10 years ago.  It was a much needed pause for me.  I was able to slow down and pay attention to myself–mind and body.  I spent time washing and conditioning my hair, giving love and care to each strand.  I massaged my sore feet with this wonderful lavender mint salve my sistafriend, Tanya, sent me from a local farm in San Antonio, TX.  I cooked and savored every bite of vegan spinach ravioli with sauteed fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, and red peppers.  I enjoyed some quality time, alone.  One of the reasons that I did not instantly gravitate toward yoga and meditation in my younger days was because I did not like being alone with myself or with my thoughts.  I was constantly seeking connection with others, and approval from others.  When alone, I only had me, myself, and I.  And, what if I wasn’t enough?

One of the things I look forward to each time I drink tea is reading the little affirmations on the labels.  It’s just as exciting for me as reading my fortune from a fortune cookie.  So, last night, as I was drinking my Yogi Bedtime tea, I decided that I would meditate on whatever affirmation I received.  It read, “I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am blissful.”  Okay, I am, I thought.  yogi tea 2Then, my mind starting wandering, and I was replaying the scene from the movie, The Help, when actress Viola Davis, who is playing the Black female “help”, affirms the self-image and self-esteem of the little White girl that she cares for, telling her, “you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  So, as you might imagine, this wandering went all kind of wrong for me.  Trying to stay mindful, I worked hard to stay focused on the Yogi tea affirmation.  What did it mean for me in that moment?  I reflected on how being in my solitude was a welcoming experience for me because I enjoy being me.  I am at a place in my life where I finally understand that I am enough.  I am all of those things that my Yogi tea affirmed–I am beautiful in and out; I am blessed and have many gifts to share; and I am peacefully satisfied with life.  Needing someone else to affirm that for you is a dangerous place to be in–you’re vulnerable, you’re weak, and you’re lonely.  That is quite different than embracing a space of solitude that you choose and because you look forward to your own company.

morning teaThis morning, the affirmation on the label of my morning tea, Traditional Medicinals Organic Peppermint Tea, read, “be heard.”  I didn’t really know what to take from this since my 24 hours of silence wouldn’t end for another 6 hours or so.  And, generally, I don’t have real issues letting my voice be heard.  So, I shifted my meditation to this morning affirmation, and after a little while, I realized that the “being heard” isn’t as much about making sure others hear me as it is about me listening to my inner voice.  I needed to stop and pay attention to my own voice.  If I truly believe that I am enough, then I am worth pausing to listen to my own thoughts.  Cultivating an intuitive spirit only happens when I slow down and clear my mind space.  Listening inward is also important because it forces me to focus on my body.  I observe my breathing, I pay attention to my heartbeat.  I need to understand what it feels like to be in this body so that I am aware of how it changes and evolves.

I learned a lot in the past 24 hours–one, I think musically; two, I am confident in who I am and know that I am enough; three, I need to listen inward; and four, it’s good for me to slow down every now and again.  I plan to deplug and turn off my phone (though my family and friends complain that I never answer it anyway) more often.  And, daily, I plan to pause to honor and listen to my own thoughts.  It’s so important.  Now, queue the Brand Nubian.

ZenG Interviews LaToya & Detra

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My girls, Detra (l) and LaToya (r)

In a recent post, I reflected on the role my circle of sistafriends plays in my overall health and well being.  Taking on and accomplishing new health goals feels more attainable knowing that my girls got my back.  In this post, I am featuring a conversation with two of my girls who truly inspire me–LaToya and Detra.  They inspire me for several reasons.  I met LaToya almost five years ago when I first moved to central New York.  A wife and a mother of four school-aged children, she was working full-time and juggling the demands of maintaining her household.  And, at that time in her life, she was looking for something more so she decided to pursue her doctorate in composition and rhetorical studies.  The same year that she began her doctoral studies, she also decided to homeschool her two boys.  And, of course, she blames me for convincing her to add this new level of craziness to her already busy life.   We’ve bonded over homeschooling our kids, navigating the academic life as Black women, and our fierce pursuit of self-care rituals, including yoga.  She is now working on her dissertation, her four children are thriving academically and socially, her partnership with her husband is solid, and most importantly, healthy living is one of her main priorities.  Over the years, I have been in awe of LaToya.  She is my little sister, and I feel so privileged to witness her journey.  She optimizes the notion of getting her life.

I met Detra in 2006 when we were both fellows in a national mentoring program for emerging scholars of color.  Ours is a sistahood that has grown over time, to the point that it seems like we’ve known each other since forever.    We have a lot in common, especially when it comes to our diets–I’m addicted to Pellegrino and she’s addicted to Coke; she’s looking for a Shake Shack when I want the nearest vegan restaurant; she eats the Reese’s peanut butter cups and I’ll have the darkest chocolate.  What I love about our friendship is that we support what makes the other person happy–no judgement, period.  Detra is another woman to marvel at–she’s a wife, a mother of three children (one in diapers, one in middle school, and one at college), and an accomplished scholar and teacher educator.   Last year, she lost the first love of her life–her father.  I witnessed how she cared for her father in his final months and how she lived through his passing with such grace and strength.   She is a constant reminder for me that we must focus on what’s most important in life and eliminate the foolishness, as we like to call it.

My girls, Detra and LaToya, are both simply beautiful–in and out.  Through life’s ups and downs, they remain grounded, and I imagine that part of this is because they’ve found ways to incorporate a yoga practice into their lives.  So, a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to have a conversation with them both about their thoughts about yoga, what it is, and what it means for them personally.  Here’s what they said:

What is yoga?

Detra:  Yoga is patience and grace.  It’s being patient with yourself–giving yourself grace to deal with your mistakes.

LaToya: It’s a spiritual practice that helps me to connect and be more grounded with myself.  It’s physical.  It’s an integration of the physical and the mental.  I really appreciate that.

Is yoga a religion?

LaToya:  That’s a hard question.  I see religion as something that is systematic or that has ritual.  I guess it depends on how a person practices it.  I think it can be a religion for some.  I treat my practice like I would treat prayer.  For me, I don’t label it but I see how it can be considered that.

Detra:  I need to think about what religion means.  Is religion a set of doctrines?  I don’t know that yoga is a set doctrine.  If it’s personal, I’m not sure if it can be a religion.  I don’t know.  I just think it’s a practice.

Do you think a person has to be vegetarian to practice yoga?

Detra:  I never thought about that as being a prerequisite.  Maybe there is something that says you honor the life of living things.

LaToya:  I practice yoga and I’m not a vegetarian.  I think it’s an individual choice.  You’re supposed to try to avoid doing harm but I eat meat.  Yoga allows you to get more in touch with yourself and pay attention with your whole self.  It helps you to be more attentive to what your body needs.

What benefits do you receive from practicing yoga?

Detra:  Mental health. Emotional benefits.  Social benefits.  I feel healthier.  I think about what I’m eating.  I’m more thoughtful about what I put in my body.

LaToya:  There are so many benefits.  The main thing it does for me is to help me relieve stress and anxiety.  They’re also physical benefits in terms of toning and flexibility and pain relief.  I have scoliosis so sometimes I have pain in my shoulders.  When I’m consistent with my practice, I don’t have those issues.  I think it also has helped me to be more mindful and stay in the present.  It helps me to make choices, to grow a lot.  It helps me to grow in a good way.  I feel more authentic.

Detra:  I feel more at peace.  I have a higher tolerance for foolish, ridiculous people.  I am kinder.  I feel more hopeful before and after.  I plan for my future in ways that are more thoughtful, and I am always thinking about the positive and possibilities.  After a session, I always want more people to have that feeling.  I want more people to experience it, and I want to share it with other people.

Namaste, my beautiful sistas.

The Power of Sista Circles

The other day, I watched this video of Lakeisha Shurn, a woman in California who took a challenge to videotape her workouts for 100 days straight.  At the time of the video, she weighed in at over 300 pounds.  She shares how, because of her weight and body image, she felt discouraged and depressed throughout her life.  At the start of the video, I could sense her feelings of defeat and even despair.  But by the end of the 2:59 minutes, I was rejoicing with her.  Her attitude and energy just came alive.  Over the course of 100 days, she lost 18 more pounds and made it out of the “300 club”, as she put it.  I may never meet LaKeisha, but I wanted to embrace her and let her know that she has my support to keep going.  I also wanted to let her know that her story inspired and encouraged me and all of the other thousands of people who have watched this video.  Thanks to social media, the video has gone viral, reaching millions.

Watching this clip and the way that LaKeisha is receiving love and positive vibes from folks all over the world also made me think about my own circle of support, the sista (and brotha) friends that have supported me along my wellness journey.  Having a community of support is paramount to maintaining my wellness commitments.  Staying the course has required that I stay surrounded by like-minded individuals who understand and can relate to the struggle.  These sistafriends bring light into my life in ways that they probably aren’t even aware.  So, I thought I’d make it plain and dedicate this post to my circle of sistafriends who,

Maintain a yoga practice despite having crazybusy schedules as mothers, partners, professionals, academics, and so on and so on, and share their journeys with me;

Convince me to sign up for 5Ks, not knowing that running would take my workout regime to the next level (good luck getting me to do a 10k though);

Drag me to spinning classes even though they know I hate it;

Go on spiritual yoga retreats with me when I know that’s not quite their thing;

Don’t look at me crazy when my order at the restaurant becomes so complicated because I have to ask the waitstaff to inquire about how the food is prepared;

Pick up the phone or chat with me on Facebook (because I refuse to text) about how to deal with the stressful moments in our lives;

Post tips and articles about all things health-related to my Facebook timeline;

Read, comment on, and share the ZenG blog.

I only hope to be half the friend my sistafriends are to me.  I want to give back to our sistacircle in ways that are meaningful and that help them to accomplish and sustain their health and wellness goals.

I’ve learned that as I evolve and grow in this life, not everyone is going to come along for the ride.  And, that’s OK.  I don’t want to impose my lifestyle on others, and at the same time, I do not want to be surrounded by naysayer or negative energy.  That is why, today and always, I am so grateful for the sista circle that embraces me, feeds me, and keeps me going.

I’m in YTT

Today was the first day of my 200 hour yoga teacher training (YTT) at Lotus Life Yoga.  I have anticipated this day for some time, with both excitement and anxiety.  I could barely sleep the night before because I was/am so nervous.  Yes, I was/am ready to take my practice to the next level, and I do have specific goals for wanting to be certified to teach yoga.  But, I have to admit, I have wanted to back out of this training many times.   Am I really ready for this?  Do I have the time in my already absolutely crazy life to take on another thing?  Why am I really doing this?  What do I hope to get out of this? 

I’ve set a few goals, or rather, intentions for my training.  Today, in our first class, we read about and discussed the yoga sutra, yogas citta-vritti nirodhah, which means yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind, or if you control your mind, you have controlled everything.  Ultimately, if I can control the mind stuff, nothing in the world can bind me.  So, setting and stating intentions for my training journey is important for me to overcome my fear and anxiety.  If I set the intentions in my mind, there’s a better chance that the body will follow (right?!).  So, here are the agitations of my mind I hope to resolve:

1) I want to be more present.  YTT is intense.  This is our opening week.  We meet Monday through Wednesday, 7AM to 4PM, and again on Saturday and Sunday, 8AM to 4PM.  After that, we’ll meet every other weekend, Friday through Sunday, all day, until April.   Every hour of this 200-hour training is accounted for and it is required that I be present.  Logistically, I have to be present in order to be certified.  But, being present is more than just logging hours.  It is also about focusing my mind on the experiences that take place throughout the training, checking my cares and worries at the door.  I have to be honest, the timing of this opening week is challenging my ability to meet this intention given that this is also the start of my spring semester as a university professor.  What made me think that I could take on YTT at the same time that new course syllabi must be prepared and that manuscript deadlines must be met?  I digress.  This training will provide me with lots of opportunities to exercise my intention on being more present.

2) I want to learn to trust myself and let go of my fears.  As I said, I have been second guessing myself since I first registered for the YTT.  I’m afraid that I’m not ready.  I’m afraid that I’m not good enough.  I’m afraid that I won’t successfully complete the training.  The first class helped to alleviate some of this fear–I quickly learned that I am not alone in having these fears.  But, learning to trust myself is an internal exercise.  I can’t rely on comparing myself to others and my perception of their insecurities to alleviate my own fears.  Today, I attempted a supported head stand, and I was able to go farther in setting up the head stand than I have ever gone before.  I know that this tiny accomplishment was because of my intention to trust myself and to not be afraid.

3) I want to be OK with not being the “star” or being at the top of my game.  This training will be a real challenge for me.  In other aspects of my personal and professional life, I’ve experienced much success.  Others look from the outside in and speculate that I’ve gotten my life.  Truth is, everyday, I’m getting my life.  Success is not a static or finite achievement.  It is something that you constantly have to work toward.  Why would YTT be any different?  I know that I’m going to feel a huge sense of accomplishment once I’ve completed this training because it is challenge for me.

4) I want to forgive myself and let go of past hurts and mistakes.   I wrote about this in a previous post about what I’ve learned from the warrior pose.  I see YTT as an opportunity for me to let go and to work on forgiving myself time and time again.  During this process, I am going to experience failures.  I am going to make mistakes.  But, I will let it go, get back up, and try again.  In the first class today, we also talked about the first yama, AHIMSA, or being nonharming or nonviolent (see Deborah Adele’s The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice).  According to this ethical aspect of yoga, it is important that I be open to my process of evolution, that I be OK with my process of constant erosion.

5) I want to learn as much as I can.  This 200-hour YTT will cover a lot, including the study of the history, philosophy, anatomy, and physiology of yoga.  We will practice and teach using various techniques.  I have a lot of reading and reflecting to do.  But effective teachers of yoga must never stop being students of yoga.  This is just the beginning.

6) I want to have a good time and meet some new people.  I like to pretend that I’m introverted, but ain’t nobody got time for that in YTT.  The journey will require my getting to know my fellow travelers, and at times, in ways that push beyond my comfort level.  One of our exercises today required that we hug our partner for 4 minutes.  That is, I had to embrace a person that I had just met for an entire 4 minutes.   During the exercise, I certainly experienced moments of discomfort, but eventually, I settled into the embrace and appreciated the warmth of my partner.  After the exercise, I reflected on the power of human touch and in witnessing and honoring the humanity in others.

7) I want to learn to be more precise in the poses.   I’m always concerned that my downward dog is not quite right.  But, this goes back to an earlier point.  I have to learn to be OK with not being so precise and not being “perfect”.  There is no one way to do a yoga posture.  No two people are the same and no two people will experience asanas in the same way.  What’s more important is finding comfort in the pose and breathing in and through the pose.

8) I would like to practice yoga on the mat daily and 9) I want to discover and maintain a home practice.  The only way to grow in my poses is to practice daily.  One of my intentions is to maintain a home practice even if I only practice for 5-10 minutes a day.  By the end of the YTT, I want to be able to work into a strong, confident head stand.  Through consistent practice, I’m well on my way.

10) I want to maintain a healthy vegan diet.  As part of my home-study portion of YTT, I had to interview people on their perspectives about yoga and one of the questions was about whether or not a person needed to be a vegetarian in order to be a yogi.  Everyone answered No despite acknowledging that one of the ethical aspects of yoga is to not do harm to living things.  But, this is not why I eat a vegan diet.  Honestly, I like the way it makes me feel.  I feel lighter and freer.  To go deeper into my practice, it is important to me that my body is as free of toxins as possible.  So, I don’t want to put toxins in my body.  I’m trying to eat raw, organic, and minimally processed vegan food as much as possible.

11) I want to develop a teaching style that is culturally relevant and community based.   This intention is what fuels my desire to become a certified yoga instructor.  I want to be able to bring more yoga to communities of color, and more specifically, I want to offer classes for Black women and girls in my local community.  Deep down, I was hoping that I would walk into YTT this morning and meet at least one other person of color.  But, not surprisingly, I am the only person of color in this training program just as I am often the only person of color in yoga classes I take.  This has to change, but it changes with creating yoga spaces where people of color feel invited and welcomed.

12) While going through training, I want to maintain this blog.  So far, I’m doing alright with this intention.  YTT is a significant part of my health (r)evolution.  Writing this blog is one way that I’m keeping myself honest, by being public about my agitations of the mind.  If I set and make my intentions known, there’s a better chance that the body will follow.  I’ll keep you posted.