Truly, there’s nothing like travel to bring out your inner control freak or your inner Zen. No matter how you slice it, you are simply not in charge when traveling. You have to let go and let it be.
My daughter and I recently tagged along with my husband on his recent business trip to Seattle. The chance to visit a city that was brand new to us was a big draw. But if I’m honest with you, the fact that Seattle is the setting for our favorite TV show, Grey’s Anatomy, was our biggest motivator for making a cross-country trip for a two-day visit.
While neither of us is a “master traveler” like my husband, we do get around a fair amount, so I wasn’t surprised when my daughter offered a pearl of wisdom: “It’s funny when you think about it. All you really have to do when you’re traveling is show up on time with the right stuff. After that (to quote our pilot), you just have to ‘sit back and enjoy the ride.’”
Because we had done both of those things, we were feeling pretty Zen as we waited for our flight to depart. But it turns out that “enjoying the ride” is easier when your plane actually takes off.
Our flight was delayed by weather. As our wait on the tarmac extended past the duration of our layover, you could feel the tension in our neighboring passengers escalate. As people around us started speculating about arrival times and later flights, it was tempting to follow them down these rabbit holes of worry.
In times like these, I’m always equally surprised and grateful when my inner yogi shows up. As I listened to the chatter of less-than-optimal “Plan Bs” swirl around me, I thought to myself, “There’s absolutely nothing we can do to manage or control this situation. We’re simply going to have to respond to it as it unfolds.”
This was the perfect situation to lean on one of my favorite quotes by Jon Kabat-Zin:
“It’s not a matter of letting go – you would if you could. Instead of ‘let go’ we should probably say ‘let it be.'” – Jon Kabat-Zin
I definitely did not want to miss our connection. In fact, if you had told me to “let go” of this aversion, I would have been incredibly annoyed. After all, my daughter and I had been really excited about our silly Grey’s Anatomy trip for weeks.
But, sitting there in that airplane seat, it was also clear that going to war with reality was futile. Whether or not we made our connection was completely out of our hands. I also definitely did not want to spend the two-hour flight worrying and fretting and making plans that I may or may not need. My inner control freak didn’t stand a chance against the lure of my inner Zen. I took a deep breath and got comfortable with the truth that there was nothing to do but “let it be” and be receptive to whatever life brought our way. Even if that turned out to be two days in Chicago.
“Letting it be” turned out to be possible. I settled back in my seat and enjoyed both the ride and my book.
Because the pilot was able to make up a little time in the air, because our connection gate was just down the hall from our arrival gate, and because we ran like fools, we managed to make our connecting flight to Seattle.
When we arrived we discovered more than a beautiful, friendly and interesting city. We discovered that we had added to the “right stuff” packed in our bags. We spent two days continuing to “let it be” as we had on the first leg of our flight.
Rather than trying to plan out each day, we chose to let each day unfold as it did. We took advantage of a missed ferry to ride the ferris wheel that towered over the waterfront. When the Space Needle was sold out, we wandered into the Chihuly glass exhibit next door that we knew nothing about and experienced the highlight of our trip.
In short, by choosing to “let it be” and going with the flow, we saw and did even more than we had dreamed of when we concocted this trip. (And, yes, we got to see Meredith Grey’s house!)
If you’re struggling to let go in your life, would like to share your fears, worries, and struggles in a safe environment, and become the YOU you were created to be, why not book a one-on-one Spiritual Direction session with Amy.
“Immobility will kill you. Movement is life.” – Pinterest
Earlier this week a story on the news actually made me freeze in my tracks: Video Games are Now a Legitimate High School Sport.
The mom in me was aghast. Apparently high schools in eight states are awarding varsity letters for students for being on video game teams. As I listened, rapt, I also learned that esteemed universities such as New York University and University of California are offering scholarships to video game players.
Why is this bad news to me?
I am a firm believer that movement is the cure for almost anything that ails you. Aches and pains? Yes. Depression? Without a doubt. Common cold? Definitely. Anxious or worried? Absolutely. People recuperating from surgery or a broken bone benefit (and heal more quickly) with a daily dose of (doctor-approved, of course) mindful movement. The founder of the yoga I practice was known for his work with para- and quadriplegics.
I’m not alone in this belief. It’s commonly accepted that exercise is good for the body. It improves circulation, digestion, skeletal health, posture and muscle tone. It helps to reduce fat. Regular exercise (even the gentle kind) makes us less prone to debilitating injury. Movement is good (and prescribed) for all kinds of medical conditions including arthritis, gout, back pain, sciatica and IBS.
The New York Times recently published an article titled To Move is to Thrive. Its author, Gretchen Reynolds, explores the idea that the need and desire to move is in our DNA – and has been since before we were human! A professor of kinesiology (the study of movement) at Texas A&M, Dr. Timothy Lightfoot (love how apropos his name is!) says about early humans, “If you were lazy you did not survive… The physically active lived, procreated and passed on their genes.”
Movement is also profoundly good for the mind. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says exercise is, “vital for maintaining mental health.” Physical exercise has been proven not only to sharpen your cognitive skills, improve your memory, and reduce fatigue while increasing alertness, but moving your body can help manage mental disorders such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Doctors even prescribe movement as a way to stave off or slow the advancement of dementia.
As a yoga teacher, I am constantly astonished at how often I need to remind people of the curative powers of movement. There seems to be something hardwired in us to hold still when something is wrong. We tend to literally freeze up (as I did when I stopped in my tracks to listen to the story about varsity video game teams) when injured or sick or tired or afraid. Yet, gentle movement is often what we need to heal from whatever is going on inside or out. In fact, without movement our recovery will be exponentially slower.
While I have witnessed the internal and external healing powers of movement in dozens and dozens of yoga students over the years, it is anecdotal evidence from my son’s decade long struggle with an autoimmune disease called Inflammatory Bowel Disease that has made me such a fervent and passionate believer. Two years into his (fairly debilitating) illness, my video-game-loving, not-naturally-athletic adolescent son discovered and fell in love with his first sport. He played Ultimate Frisbee, a challenging and vigorous sport that requires athletes to run for miles, jump, twist and spin, catch and throw for hours at a time.
The four years that he played year-round were the four healthiest years of his disease – both physically and mentally. I watched movement bolster his weakened (by the illness and the drugs prescribed to manage it) immune system. Rather than being exhausted by the rigorous training and two-day tournaments, he was more energized than he’d been since his diagnosis. He was better able to concentrate on his academics thanks to all of that exercise. Always an upbeat, optimistic kid, athletics magnified these traits.
To get back to my opening point, had it been possible for my sick kid to earn a varsity letter by pursuing his great passion for playing video games, I am confident that he never would have found Ultimate Frisbee. Much more significantly, he would never have received movement’s gift of feeling well despite being chronically ill. The thought of that chills me to the bone.
There is so much more than the possibility of competitive gaming tugging our youth toward physical stillness. A huge portion of their attention and energy is consumed by their phones. Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix. Truly the list goes on and on. For our family, school athletics inspired our kids to explore the mental and physical health benefits of stepping away from screens and swinging into action.
And this all holds true for those of us who are somewhat-less-young – sitting at desks, talking on phones, typing on laptops and relaxing on the couch after work. We truly (sometimes quite desperately) need to move.
Why not test Albert Einstein’s theory that, “Nothing happens until something moves.” After all, who doesn’t need a little extra energy, a shot of healing, and a burst of mental brightness? Go on! Get moving!
Come join us in one of our classes and get moving to our vigorous, flowing sequence of postures based on Ashtanga yoga.
“Take care of yourself. You never know when the world will need you.” – Rabbi Hillel
For most of the last two decades, taking care of myself has meant taking the time each day to unroll my yoga mat and practice.
The choice to take care of myself – and it is a daily choice – asks a lot of me. Many days, it means waking up earlier than most anyone would choose to be awake. One day a week, it means squeezing in a practice after teaching two classes when I’m feeling pretty yoga-ed out. My practice often requires me to eat at odd times (nothing worse than yoga with a full belly) or to come home from a fun night out with friends earlier than I really want to.
But the costs of my practice pale in comparison to its benefits. I learned early on (when I still had two little ones in diapers waiting for me after yoga class) that if I didn’t take care of myself, I was simply unable to take care of the people in my life the way I felt they deserved to be cared for. Which is to say, patiently, lovingly, creatively, energetically and, most importantly, mindfully.
Day in and day out, by prioritizing self-care, I prove that flight attendants know what they’re talking about when they instruct us to put on our own oxygen masks before trying to help others put on theirs.
Taking care of myself is a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life. The more it works, the more dedicated I become to it. I make decisions that probably look odd to the rest of the world. Years ago, I would choose to pay the babysitter while I went to yoga, even though it meant shopping for groceries with three little “helpers.” To this day, I sometimes wistfully skip walks with friends I love, choosing instead to get on my mat.
I make these choices because I know they make me a better mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter and teacher. These choices would be hard to make if they were only for my own benefit. The fact is, they are pretty easy to make because I know they benefit all the people who fill my life.
In fact, it has proved to be more of a struggle to relax my discipline of self-care than it ever was to establish it. You see, over the last two years, I slowly started to realize that I was tired. Though my yoga practice was well-intentioned, I began to question if the way I was approaching it (to practice – literally – at all costs) still counted as taking care of myself.
In the kind of yoga I practice (Ashtanga), one rest day a week is prescribed. I’ve always been (mostly) disciplined about taking one day off each week. But Ashtanga also prescribes rest days when there is a full or new moon and for women based on their cycles. Somehow, for the better part of twenty years, I decided that practicing was more important than rest and I ignored these “extra” days off.
But for the last two years, I have been dabbling with them. I am a little astonished (and embarrassed) at the willpower it has taken for me to embrace these prescribed rests. I am even more astonished at how nurturing and nourishing they feel.
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” – Christopher K. Germer
I am surprised to discover, as an old, experienced yogi, that I am learning anew what it means to practice as a means of taking care of myself.
This new form of “kinder, gentler” self-care is slowly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life. As I become accustomed to taking breaks from my mat, I am observing myself ease up on many fronts. I am (a little) more tolerant of piles sitting on counters. I am more patient with slower than expected projects. I make dinners (which for some crazy reason had become for me the gold standard of being a good wife and mother) when I have time and energy, and order out when I do not. Daily, I am working hard to work less and play (rest) a little more.
Even with my new, less rigorous, slightly softened standards, my yoga practice is still the best way I know to take care of myself inside and out. Somehow, practicing a little less has made it even more effective at caring for me so that I am better able to care for the people who fill my life.
Take time out for self-care with a private yoga lesson with Amy. These one-on-one or small group sessions can help deepen your practice or address specific issues – tailored just for you.
Walking into my daughter’s last band concert, I felt tears well up. Maudlin thoughts tore through me. “This is probably the second to last time I’ll ever walk into this high school,” “What will we do next year instead of coming to performances like this?” and, “How on earth have our eight years at this school already flown by?” In short, “WAHHHH!”
As I sat in the audience, I was distracted from the music by my wistfulness. I counted the number of band concerts I’d attended in that auditorium. (Eight.) Then musicals. (Nine.) Then choir and orchestra concerts. (Sixteen.) As the sums from my mental math got larger, so did my feelings of “last time” sorrow. I was doing a truly excellent job of working myself up.
What I wasn’t doing an excellent job of, I thought, in a flash of clarity, was enjoying the concert. Which was a shame because (drum roll, please) it was the last time I would have the chance to enjoy listening to my daughter on this stage.
“Look at everything always as though you are seeing it either for the first time or the last time: thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” – Betty Smith
It was a great concert. As always, I was astonished at the talent on stage. I marveled that the music program in our schools is so rich that we can seat two full bands in high school. I was impressed by the solos. I enjoyed the wide-ranging music selections. I tapped my toes. I hummed along (quietly). I enjoyed the heck out of the show – possibly because I knew it was the last one.
I left that last band concert determined not to miss out on the joy that can come from all of the “last times” that lie in store for me over the next five weeks. I don’t want my feelings to distract me from appreciating another precious minute.
This isn’t to say that, in choosing to set aside my melancholy for the duration of the concert, I was no longer sad about this ending that I am navigating. I am absolutely sad. In fact, I was teary and out of sorts as we walked back to the car that night. And this is appropriate and OK. A significant stage of my life is drawing to a close. I need to feel these feelings in order to be open and ready to feel even a little excited about the potential and possibility nestled within this life transition.
Feelings (the good ones and the difficult ones) are real and valuable. They are not to be sneezed at or brushed aside. Feelings help us heal. They help us grow. They help us to clear our slate. Most importantly, feelings help us to understand ourselves better.
But we do not have to be at the mercy of our feelings. We can choose when and when not to allow them to take center stage.
I can honestly say that I didn’t know this was possible until I started practicing yoga. Practicing mindfulness has helped me to realize the fleeting nature of feelings – how they pass through me the way that clouds float across the sky. As the grey clouds obscured the blue skies above Philadelphia for weeks at a time this winter, some feelings can seem overwhelming and endless. But still, they pass.
I have learned to use my yoga practice to help me manage my feelings. If I’m upset or sad or angry or frazzled or devastated or… whatever, I spend some time on my mat. As I move from posture to posture and breath to breath, my focus slips from the feelings that carried me to my mat to the experience I’m having on it: how it feels to stretch; how it feels to sweat; how it feels to try something new or to do something familiar.
Sometimes it only takes a minute or two. Sometimes it takes more than an hour. But I am always able to separate enough from my feelings to focus fully on my practice. In other words, yoga always helps me to disconnect enough from whatever I’m feeling to remind me that what I’m feeling is just a feeling. It is not forever. It will – somehow, someday – pass. I will one day feel other than I do right now.
This is exactly what I did at the last band concert. I plan to – over and over again for the next few weeks – make enough space between my feelings that I am able to see and feel and experience all the beauty and the sweetness and even (to use Betty Smith’s word) the glory of each coming last time. There will be plenty of time to be sad afterwards. And after that? Well, let’s just say I know with certainty that blue skies will return.
If you’d like help dealing with a life transition or becoming spiritually un-stuck, try a few Spiritual Direction sessions with Amy to help you become the best person you can be.
It rained on my birthday.
But the rain didn’t dampen my birthday one little bit. In fact, when I noticed how wet it was outside, instead of thinking about the glorious spring walk in the woods with my dogs that I would not get to take, I immediately thought, “Yay! Less pollen!”
I had to work on my birthday.
But not having the day off didn’t distract me from my quiet, inner celebration one little bit. In fact, as I taught my two yoga classes, I felt peppy and creative, kind of like a secret birthday girl.
My son got on the wrong train on my birthday, so I had to navigate Friday rush hour traffic to pick him up at another station.
As I waited for my turn to go through the third round of green at yet another traffic light along the way, I was not bothered at all. I turned the music up and thought about how happy I was that my boy was making the trip home so all five of us could be together to celebrate.
The manager of the movie theater was super rude on my birthday.
But he couldn’t upset me. In fact, as I watched him yell at the crowds waiting to see the huge new superhero release, I felt a little sad for him. I thought, “What a strange choice, not to have a good day on the best day his theater has had in years.”
I had a great birthday! Yes, my family and friends made me feel special and loved. Yes, I was soaked in an amazing tidal wave of Facebook greetings. Yes, there were some sweet gifts to open. Yes, there was cake.
But looking back I see now that enjoying my birthday was a choice I made over and over again. This realization makes me think Mark Twain was on to something when he encouraged us to:
“Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful day of your life.” – Mark Twain
We have the power to decide if any day – even a random, cold, damp Tuesday in February – is a good day or a bad one. Our power comes from within as we choose our perspective, as we adopt our attitude, as we determine our mindset.
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1:2
Yoga’s seminal text, the Sutras, starts off with the announcement that practicing yoga will help us settle our minds. Anyone who has ever practiced yoga knows that settling your mind is really, really hard to do. Anyone who has ever practiced yoga also knows that, somehow, moving and breathing and twisting on a yoga mat will (sometimes) get you closer to a settled mind than you’ve ever been. Anyone who has ever gotten a glimpse of what having a settled mind feels like, will want to feel like that again (and again and again).
Here’s the thing. Mostly, at least in my own practice, those beautiful days when I get to experience more than a few minutes of a totally settled mind come along about as often as a birthday. My practice has taught me that my “bad days” – days when I’m rattled or upset or distracted or air-headed or hyper can be great days on my mat. These are the days when I am invited – with every breath I take and every move I make (to quote The Police) – to choose my perspective, my attitude and my mindset.
On my yoga mat, this invitation is easier to receive than it is in real life. Yoga simply feels better when you’re focused. In fact, yoga’s breathing and stretching feel so good that it’s hard to stay focused on sadness or madness. Yoga often feels like a physical, emotional and mental “Reset Button” in ways that cold, damp Tuesdays in February don’t.
BUT, if you unrolled your mat and chose to spend a little time moving and breathing and focusing, even a cold, damp Tuesday in February could be reset into a beautiful day (or at least a more beautiful day). All it takes is some practice and persistence in learning to manage your mind, in learning to choose your responses to all that life brings your way. This is what yoga teaches us.
And this is a tremendous gift. You could even say that the ability to choose to have a good day is a superpower of sorts. It can defeat villains of all shapes and sizes: bad weather, work days, mistakes, traffic, rude people. It can even defeat the greatest super-villain of all time: a bad mood.
Looking back at my recent birthday that had its share of “villains,” I think that a superpower like this could make any day feel as good as a birthday. That is a gift indeed.
If you’d like to learn more about your own superpowers and how you can use them to enrich your everyday experiences, check out our Yoga Philosophy Master Class “Becoming You: A Guided Study of Self Through Yoga’s Wisdom.”