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.

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.