Sweet Surprise

You like honey, don’t you, mommy?

That makes you Pooh Bear.

– My son
Picture of woman with black background practicing trikonasana
Trikonasana

When I made the inaugural post to my blog on March 18, 2019, I typed that this was a blog to keep me accountable. I have not kept to my goal of posting once a week and this is due to an unexpected but good situation that came up which left me with less time in the day. However, I have still continued to post with it being more like once a month. Now, back to what I was saying regarding this blog keeping me accountable. It was to keep me accountable because I had a goal to start yoga teacher training.

There were a couple of barriers to yoga teacher training. A big one is the financial barrier. I was taken aback at some of the costs of the courses, upwards to $5000! Of course, yoga teacher training will cost money but $5000 is a bit daunting for regular people. Even $1000 can be challenging when you have a family to care for and bills. You wonder if that money could be used for something else.

A 200-hour yoga teacher training will generally run from $1,000 to $3,000 and a more advanced yoga certification course can be anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000.

Book Retreats

Yoga teacher training was looking like a pipe dream and I set my goal for it anyway. Then I got a text from my sweet friend (whose name is one of the colors of honey – what are the odds???). She knows my other obligations but felt I would still want to see this information. In the text was a link to a yoga studio that is offering a Yoga Teacher Training Scholarship for Black Wellness. The teacher felt the need to offer this training under a scholarship to help increase diversity within the yoga community and in the health and wellness world as a whole.

We are needing light in our world right now. We are dealing with a pandemic and the tragic death of George Floyd which has rocked the country. All this combined has left me reeling and feeling overwhelmed, then I received this drop of honey. It was a reminder that there is support, light, and love still here. I have enrolled in YTT and I will reach my goals.

Love Yourself

Hello, honeybees! It’s been a while since there’s been a post. In my life, the quarantine has made things even more busy. What have you been doing during this time? Have you been taking care of yourself? Businesses are starting to reopen and many people are living their lives as if COVID-19 doesn’t exist.

There are those of us who are making small and conscious changes to improve our lives spiritually, mentally, and physically. A couple of days ago, I was thrilled to get a text from a really good friend telling me that he had begun practicing yoga daily. He has been practicing for 12 days straight. That may not seem like a lot but it is for someone who has not done it before. To take the leap to care for yourself in healthy and sustainable ways is to be appreciated and applauded.

As much as I practice the physical part of yoga, it’s been a challenge for me to focus on the more meditative aspect. So for the past two weeks, my goal has been at least one meditation session a week. The session could be as short as five minutes. Even five minutes has made a difference. I meditated before work and a stressful day was handled a lot better because of the grounding that had been done that morning.

The pandemic has made many people even more on edge and agitated than usual. High levels of stress is deleterious to not only our mental states but our physical states as well. These high levels can increase our blood pressure, mess with our immune systems, impair our judgement, hinder our memory, essentially wreak havoc. We must be mindful of our stress levels. It can be difficult when we have so much to do. That is when we must stop and even if it’s just for five minutes, breathe. If we have too many thoughts in our head, have a notebook next to us, where we can write those thoughts that we don’t need in that moment. Let those five minutes be your time and your time only. Be your own shelter of peace.

Power and Grace

“Healing is not about ‘staying away from something bad’ but about living a life led by positive values & intentions’”
~ Gabor Maté

Yoga is a physical practice for a spiritual purpose. Powerful words from Rajat Thakur. Yoga is like a dance, it is communicative, tells a story. It combines power and grace, words that seem to have different meanings. When we think of power, sometimes violence or aggression comes to mind or being in control of others. Yoga reminds us that power is beautiful and graceful when you are in control of yourself. The name of the poses themselves are even powerful yet they look graceful such as reverse warrior. The word “warrior” itself speaks of power, yet when you look at the pose, it is reminiscent of a dancer. There is an actual asana called “dancer” which requires a great amount of internal power and flexibility.

Yoga teaches us about the power and grace within ourselves. Working on giving grace to ourselves and others can be very challenging. Even in my practice, I find myself losing grace towards myself. I judge myself and nitpick. It takes away from the power of my practice as well. That also affects my whole day, if I lose power and grace within my practice. We are also living in a time where I am feeling powerlessness creep in and a lack of grace. We are dealing with COVID-19 and if I am being honest, there is some anxiety. I am worried and at the same time telling myself “It is what it is.” We cannot live in fear but we can be cautious. This why I need to ground myself in my internal power with yoga, find balance to bring grace. The schools are closed which means my son is home during the day when he normally would not. Instead of fretting about it, this is a time to strengthen the power of our relationship and teach him more about grace.

Taking care of your spiritual self helps not just you but others and their spirits. In stressful times like right now when we do not know what each day will bring, it is even more important to feed our spiritual self with power. This can be done with the grace of prayer, yoga practice, and any other type of physical movement. It is also important to wash your hands.

Sitting with Unease

A sense of wrongness, of fraught unease, as if long nails scraped the surface of the moon, raising the hackles of the soul.

China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

Since the start of the New Year, I have been filled with a sense of unease. The feeling that something just is not right, the feeling of impending doom. I know this is not how people like to start the new year. There is a lot of cheering for a better year, how one will change oneself, but what if this is too much pressure for people? Is it okay to be filled with some trepidation, some dread, some worry? Or is it better to have forced cheer while you feel sick inside? I once read a book by Barbara Ehrenreich “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” and it was a breath of fresh air. Finally, someone put into words that described how I felt about the constant push for positivity. The persistent preaching of positive thinking causes some cognitive dissonance. It makes one feel that she has no right to think negatively. Balance can be achieved with accepting that there are times that you will have negative thinking, it’s the wallowing in it that can further imbalance.

For me, there has been an internal battle to show good cheer when I’m really worried. I know that part of it is due to some choices I have decided to make for myself in 2020. I am actually scared shitless about them. But I know that I will not move forward if I stay in the same place and I want to move forward, not hide who I am, be honest with myself about what I want. The majority of my life I have been told that it is not about what I want, its about the community. That was drilled into me as a child, it was about everyone else and my needs were not important over the needs of everyone. “Everyone” is simply a group of individuals, we are not monolithic. We have our own feelings, if we were supposed to feel what everyone else was feeling, we would be true empaths. However, we were built to have a range of emotions and thoughts so that we were not all the same like lemmings.

Many seem to think that yoga makes one a 100% positive person. That is not exactly the case, yoga helps me accept my negative parts. It helps me realize that I will not always feel this sense of unease. Does it make it go away? For me, no. It makes it a little easier for me to take it day by day. It has made me more ready to admit to myself when I am afraid. Change does scare me, it is the unknown, and so far 2020s seems to have a lot of unknowns. This means my yoga practice, physical exercise, prayer, and eating whole foods will increase. A year of wellness.

No Yoga

Taking a break can lead to breakthroughs.

Russell Eric Dobda

Last week, I decided not to practice yoga. I thought I could use a break and see how my body responded to it. I practice yoga daily, it is part of my life but I had a lot going on last week so used that as an excuse to take a break. So from Tuesday until Sunday, I did not practice yoga. I do not plan on doing that again as long as I am physically able to move.

One of the reasons that yoga is recommended is because it helps the yoga student be mindful in their present moment and this helps regulate emotions. When I review my mood from last week, it was more anxious, and I found myself easily agitated. I practiced my breathing less and I went through each day on autopilot. I just did not feel like myself.

To add to the mental unease, I started feeling physical pain. My calf and hamstring started having sharp pains. It felt like there were knots in them. One morning, I actually woke up with a muscle cramp. This was highly unusual as I haven’t been awaken by a leg cramp since I started practicing yoga and stretching in the evenings.

After a week of this, I decided the experiment was over. Within a day of returning to my mat, my physical pains were gone. I started to feel more at ease in my physical self. The spiritual self took a little hit and has been more challenging to overcome. I realized that even when it felt like yoga was not doing anything, it was doing the most. What I had started taking for granted was because of my consistent practice. I will still take breaks but I will at least try to do five minutes a day. Yoga is like my apple a day.

Who am I?

This is a question that I ponder daily, one that I have had my entire life. Who am I? This question leads to even further questions. Why am I here? Who was I before I got here? In my last post, I talked about breath (pranayama) and how I use it to bring myself into the present. However, I would be remiss if I ignore that it does not help me understand who I am just yet. I admire those who seem to know who they are and where they are going. At this stage of my life, I am still figuring that out and one would think I would know that by now. Sometimes, I wonder if I my life will just be a finite journey seeking the answer to that question.

The fifth limb of yoga seeks to help answer that question: pratayahara. In a basic sense, this is self-examination. For a yogi to self-examine, she must be in tune with her senses. This may involve withdrawing from external stimuli and in today’s modern world, there is so much external stimuli, it becomes so overwhelming and loud that it drowns out our internal stimuli. For me to “find myself” and I say that with tongue in cheek, I need to be able to hear myself and to hear myself, I need to tune out mostly everything else. I say mostly because I still need to work, feed my family, and pay attention to my son and husband. However, even with all that I have going on, I need to find the good in it all, the joy, and with that, I may be able to “find myself”.

Woman Divine

Yoga scorpion pose woman silhouette

Yoga is a spiritual experience. It is a conversation between my soul and my body. The asana or posture is the third limb of yoga. On the outside, the asana can appear as a beautiful display of strength and/or flexibility such as Vrschikasana I or scorpion pose (see header image). It can also appear as a very relaxed pose such as savasana. Both asanas are beautiful as the intention of the asana is to “reduce fatigue and soothe nerves” (Iyengar, 1966). When practicing asana, the yogi is mindful and focused completely on nurturing herself. Of course, we are human, so our minds tend to wander.
When my mind wanders in yoga practice, I will fall out of a pose or start holding my breath. The more I practice, the more I find it easier to stay focused within.

Our bodies are to be respected as they are divine. The asana helps us to show respect to our souls that reside within our bodies. As a woman, there are days in which I look in the mirror and I like what I see. I like what I see externally and internally. The more I practice yoga, the more days I have like this as I recognize that God is within me and all around me. The asana of yoga helps me in making that connection, in understanding my own divinity. My mind is more peaceful because of my practice of asana, the third limb of yoga. It is more peaceful because the practice of asana increases health within the physical body. When your physical body is healthy, this affects your mind. Your physical body sends signals that says “Hey, everything is all good here” which leads your mind to respond by having clearer thoughts, being able to relax, or being able to be completely focused on tasks.

Yes, asana practice exercises your body but its purpose is not to make your body look good, its purpose is to make both your mind and body feel good to lead to acceptance of your own divinity. Isn’t that what we all want?

Less is More

When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and past in order, too.

Marie Kondo

Currently, I am reading multiple books simultaneously. This does not seem very mindful, does it? It is for me as they each serve a specific purpose but a the same time, one purpose. In fact, they work together, specifically Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. You may be asking yourself how right now. For the past month, I have been writing about the first limb of yoga: yama. I have now come to the fifth yama: Aparigraha which means to be free from hoarding and collecting.

Marie Kondo works to help people essentially declutter and she writes in her introduction that when people declutter their homes, this affects them in a myriad of ways including aspects outside of their homes. For me, clutter in my home also leads to clutter in my mind. I am not referring to the normal clutter that brings me joy such as my child’s toys scattered everywhere or my many books on my bookshelf. I am referring to the clutter of objects and things that I do not need. Kondo mentions those who are very good at prettily storing things are still essentially hoarders. Is what you are storing something you actually need? Iyengar connected aparigraha to another yama: asteya which is non-stealing. Just as I do not steal things that I need or do not need, there is no need to hoard and collect things that I do not need immediately or even in the future.

This does not only apply to items. Holding on to anger or hurt, allowing it to build within is the same thing. There is no need to hoard and collect anger and hurt. It serves no purpose besides causing further pain within and eventually without. Hoarding negative energy is stealing positivity from your life. This is not to say that you nor I will not experience negativity, this is to say, we do not need to collect it and carry it with us like extra luggage. Yoga helps me to release negative energy, not hold on to it, leaves me feeling lighter yet full. I practice yoga in a decluttered space because with clutter, I am focused on the clutter around me rather than tidying the clutter that is within. How often does your mind feel cluttered? When you look at your surroundings, what do you see? A tidied space or a space cluttered with items you have no use for? What about in your mind? Is it cluttered because you are hoarding thoughts that serve no purpose besides making you feel worse than you already do? Tidy up your mind just as you would tidy up your personal space.

Since its Earth Day, when you are tidying up, make sure you recycle and if possible repurpose items.

Thou shalt not steal joy

“A complex is stealing energy from our personality.”

– Sunday Adelaja
Woman sitting cross-legged backlit by sun

I have recently downloaded an app to monitor my app usage, mainly my use of social media apps such as Instagram and Twitter. I had come to believe that these apps, specifically Instagram, were providing me with no substance and I was wasting time, time in which I could be productive. For example, the app called Stay Focused indicated that I spent 46 minutes on Instagram one day, granted this was due to watching an episode of Lizzo discussing overcoming problematic life views which was inspiring and motivational. However, was it a productive use of my time? Was I stealing time from myself that I cannot get back that I could have used focusing on projects and tasks that I needed to do or say that I never have time to do? Depends on whether I was being mindful in the moment, if I were really focused on what Lizzo was sharing in the video.

We have come to the yama of asteya or non-stealing. I am not a thief of physical items but I have been stealing from myself on the mat and off the mat. I do not allow myself to fully experience the moment even in my yoga practice. I find my mind wandering in mostly everything I do. If I am practicing yoga, I become engrossed in a stray thought which can lead me to falling out of a pose. I am aware that this happens and I am actively working to become more mindful and present. I am distracted, non-focused, thinking about everything else that I have to do rather than focusing on what I am actually doing. My time on Instagram is mostly mindlessly scrolling and a mode of procrastination. I am actively avoiding the tasks that I say I want to do and need to do. I need to practice yoga as it does much more than strengthen and stretch my body, it does the same action for my mind. I need to focus on my family’s growth and success. I need want to travel more but this requires intense planning. So I am starting from scratch to reclaim my time.

I used to spend time planning my yoga practices for the month. Each week, I targeted an area that I did not feel particularly strong in or needed more practice. It kept me consistent but over time, I stopped doing it and my practice suffered because of it. Not only my practice but my balance off the mat. I started to feel old insecurities and doubts creep back in, my energy began to decline, my worry levels increased, and I was losing my joy. I was stealing my joy by not providing time for myself, for the services that I needed, yet I was keeping things that I did not need. I do not want to steal from myself any longer. I have recommenced planning my yoga practices; even just the planning gave me joy. And I am left with a sense of accomplishment when I follow through on my practices. I want to grow within my spirituality and move beyond trying and into doing.

How often do we find ourselves not doing what we say we would do? We find ourselves participating in activities that serve no purpose; as in they are not providing us with joy or balance? Stealing from yourself is just as egregious as stealing from others. Our time on Earth is minuscule and we should not rob ourselves of our own lives.

Going Out on a Limb

Compassion is the signature of Higher Consciousness. Non-violence is the tool to evolve into the Higher Consciousness.
― Amit Ray, – Nonviolence: The Transforming Power

The Yoga Bible

I not only practice yoga but I am a regular in the gym with weight lifting as it is one of my most favorite forms of mental health therapy. Therefore, my posts will not be focused completely on yoga. The purpose of this blog is health and wellness which is multifaceted. With that said, let us get to the point of today’s post. In my last post, I mentioned that I would talk about “yoga personality”, well, I changed my mind. I can tell you that is probably going to happen with my posts. And not every post will have a picture of my practice. Hey, I’m human.

My first blog series will focus on the Eight Limbs of Yoga and how they impact my life within my yoga practice and outside of my practice. When I first started practicing yoga, I had no idea about the spiritual component or what I refer to as the more academic portion of it. I had an idea that there was meditation (boring!) involved but I thought the meditation part came in while actually practicing the poses. Even whilst going to the gym on a regular basis to lift weight, I still felt something was missing. I began yoga because I knew that I needed to become more flexible. What I did not realize was that there is much more to yoga than “stretching”. As part of my yoga journey, I purchased “The Yoga Bible” by Christina Brown. And this was the first time that I was introduced to the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

The first limb that I will be discussing is “Yama”. Yama essentially means “moral constraint”. There are at least five parts to yama: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigaha. There will be a post dedicated to each part. The part of the limb that will be in this post is “Ahimsa” which means “non-injury” and “non-violence”. It relates to compassion to all living beings which reminded me that I should show compassion to myself. It is not selfish to show compassion and love to oneself. In our effort to show compassion to others, we forget to care about ourselves and oftentimes the realization comes too late. This is an issue that I know all too well. On May 3, 2016, my best friend for over a decade passed away unexpectedly. She was 33 years old and had a 7-year-old daughter. The official cause of death was “natural causes”. I had last seen her two weeks prior and she looked incredibly tired. I had asked was she getting any rest and her daughter responded for her “She can’t sleep, she has too much to doooo.” We chuckled but that was not a good sign. The day of her passing, we text the whole day which was unusual for us as we were always very busy.

In these texts, she told me that she had not been feeling well but she had once again said “Yes” to another obligation. I text her that she needed to start saying “No” because it was too much and if she did not take it easy, something bad might happen. I had no clue that my words would come true and in the worst way possible. In my mind, when I said something “bad”, I thought maybe her going off on someone or she would become very ill. Death was the furthest from my mind. Admittedly, I was very worried about her that day and had planned to actually call her when we got off work and I never got the chance.

My friend gave more to life than what life gave to her. We both lived in fear of life and this caused us harm in the sense that we took no chances and ignored our pain. I no longer want to live in fear, I know that means making scary and painful decisions but life is fleeting. I will take baby steps and the first damn step I’m taking is compassion towards myself. This means not speaking negatively to myself, not calling myself names such as weak when I cannot lift a weight I think I should, getting angry with myself because I cannot do a specific asana (yet!), no longer being afraid to speak up about an idea or issue, and to respond to others with kindness (that kindness can simply be silence).

One thing to consider is that practicing compassion for oneself is difficult. It takes time to learn how to treat yourself with love and kindness. We are our own worst critics as the saying goes and we will make mistakes. However, in learning compassion, we will accept and acknowledge those mistakes and learn from them. We (this includes myself) strive for perfection but I wonder many times “What the hell is perfection?” Whatever it is, its probably boring. This constant need for perfection was a violent act against myself. It was not helping me mentally or physically. It led to bad decisions that I am still paying for and I am still working on not having regrets about those decisions. I am working on mercy and forgiveness to myself. Once I have forgiven myself, I will be able to work towards mercy and forgiveness towards others.

Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on Satya – truth.