Redefining failure

[www.danheller.com]

Failure.

What does this word evoke in you?  Emotionally? Physically?

For most of my life, failure, the word or concept has created a knot in the pit of my stomach and one that wasn’t easily undone.  Failure seemed to compound upon failure and each knot drew tighter around the previous.  It almost seemed as if there wasn’t a way to begin to undo all these knots, so why even try?

Instead, I choose to ignore the knots 99% of the time, numbing out through what I knew I was good at; not-eating, being too thin, and excessive working out.  This was a safe place in my mind where knew no knot, no matter how tightly bound could get to me.  Failure after perceived failure grew inside, almost parasitic in the attack, taking up the room that was authentically me.  Perhaps it started with a bad grade, moving on to relationships, jobs, friends, ideas.  Nothing really seemed to be working out and maybe it was just better to throw my hands up and let the monster feed.

However inside this tangle of life, existed a determined soul.  I was going to deal with this whole failure  thing.  Life couldn’t go on this way.  The decision wasn’t so much a cognitive choice, but rather something that unfolded and looking back on the unfolding I can more clearly see the path, as if I had just come over a mountain and looking back I can see from where I had come.

So what is failure? Busting out the dictionary there are quite a few definitions:

  1 a: omission of occurrence or performance; specifically: a failing to perform a duty or expected action

     b: state of inability to perform a normal function 

     c: a fracturing or giving way under stress

  2 a: lack of success

     b: a failing in business

  3: a falling short

The above?  Been there done that.  And then there are the other words for failure: deterioration, decay, deficiency, neglect, negligence, default, misprision and dereliction.  Whew.  That is almost too much for anyone to handle.

So how to flip this definition? This started for me, where else, but the yoga mat.  I began in my yoga practice terrified of making the smallest mistake, getting hurt jumping back, piking up to come forward, and a headstand?  I might fall over?!?!  Over time as I grew to feel safe and at home on the mat and I started to experiment.  Did I fall?  Yes, but I learned that these mistakes didn’t hurt as much as I had anticipated.  In fact they even opened the way for new learnings on how to come into or out of poses and over time I became comfortable that falling or the inability to get into a posture was going to happen and was going to happen frequently.  I better come to peace with it and I can now say that 95% of the time I am ok with it.

The cliché that what happens on the mat translates off the mat is so true in this case.  I’ve started to notice that what I would view as a failure in the past and a blow to who I am as a person doesn’t hurt as much and at times washes over me.  An example: A yoga class I was teaching was recently canceled.  In the past I would have stewed over this and it would have eaten me inside. Perhaps I would have even thrown up my hands at the idea of being a yoga teacher.  Now?  I’m ok with it.  Maybe it wasn’t the right time, style, or location.

Failure is an opening of energies for a new idea or endeavor.

And besides as one door closes another opens.  Sort of like a room with two doors.  You walk in, the door across from you is closed and by closing the door through which you entered the other door magically opens on its own.

Time to go see what is out there.


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Svadhaya

The past three days (and now Monday!) have been a whirlwind of teachings, learnings, insights, challenges, new friendships, and svadhaya, or self-reflection.

I started this post yesterday, but seemed to only get through the title and first sentence before stepping away from the screen.   When I signed up for my yoga teacher training last fall I believed it was simply going to be an experience where I would get a good hold of the philosophy of yoga, more of an idea of sequencing and assists, and a better understanding of the anatomy.  I never dreamed that it would be so utterly life changing.

Last weekend was the second of our longer weekends, a three-day, 30-hour immersion into the beginning of our hatha module after six months of study of the Ashtanga .  In our western culture, hatha, has come to mean a gentle, slow, and often seated practice, however hatha is traditionally defined as “the study of enlightenment through postures” and encompasses all physical yoga; Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Anusara, Jivamuki, and many more.  In breaking down the term hatha into its two parts, ha- mean the sun and tha- means the moon  The masculine and the feminine, the ida and the pingala, the inhale and the exhale….the list continues.  Our study will focus on the Anusara and Vinyasa traditions alongside the influences of Paul Grilley as well as a few others.

Our yoga kula, or family, also had the exciting addition of seven new students as half of our class graduated in June.  It was exciting to meet new faces and energies and by the end of the weekend they were fully immersed into our family!  We also had a visit from a former student, Anya Porter, who now lives in New York City and who has created her own form of movement, a fusion of break dancing and yoga called Breakti.  She taught a beautiful 80-minute class on Sunday full of life, new openings, and an apex pose of Pincha Mayurasana:

[www.sachyoga.com] 

Now back to the life changing part of this whole process!  As I’ve said time and again, it is almost impossible to go through this whole process in YTT without intense svadhaya, or self-reflection, into every aspect of my life.  While the process is invigorating and freeing, it is also at times physically and mentally exhausting, something that manifests itself at the end of these long weekends.  I find at the close of the weekend I need to really engage in self-care.  Perhaps resting a bit more, or seeking out the stillness the surrounds me.  Paired with this exhaustion is also the bubbling of new ideas, insights, and invitations onto new paths of discovery and change.  The combination of this exhaustion and excitement is a duality and as I have written before, the true path lies somewhere in between, in the grey of it all.

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Just Breathe

Sometimes when I am writing a post I am so overeager to get it posted that I forget to totally copy-edit before I hit “publish.”  Yesterday was a prime example of that.  When I first wrote the title of my post it was misspelled as “Reflexion and Regret,” rather than “Reflection and Regret.”  I fixed it pretty soon after it was posted, but not soon enough to escape sending the original title to the e-mail subscribers.  Interestingly enough , the misspelling of “reflection” ends up being an appropriate pun.  Isn’t regret really just a reflex?   And if so is it one that we can unlearn?  This is something to ponder and to challenge yourself with…as well as my own challenge to not be so quick on the publish trigger!

My yoga practice usually occurs in the afternoon.  Despite wishing I could be a morning yogi it just doesn’t seem to happen. Every couple of weeks I resign to myself that I will get up and on the mat first thing, but the alarm goes off, my body feels tight and another half hour sounds good to me!  Besides wouldn’t I just spend the whole practice thinking about breakfast?

So the afternoon comes around and to the mat I go, usually a home practice alternating between Ashtanga and a Vinyasa flow.  I unroll my mat, stand at the top, inhale my arms up, off I go…and then it begins.  The mind chatter of self-doubt, lethargy, fear and worry.  Suddenly the practice I’ve looked forward to looms ahead and I wonder how in the world I will get through it. Do I want to move through the poses quickly?  Do I want a gentle practice?  And then, inevitably, eating disordered thoughts  appear, encouraging me to make this yoga practice into a calorie torching workout.  Or perhaps I should have just gone for a run instead. Faster is better after all, right?

 Many poses stand before me, some simple, some advanced, all equally fearful.  Simple often is accompanied by louder mind chatter, filling the space that physical challenge leaves open, and advanced brings with it the fear of failure.  Will I fall?  Will I be flexible enough? Will I  ever get there?

But where is there?  And where am I going so fast?

Breathe.

The breath is where these thoughts, or citti, dissolve.  As the thoughts make themselves louder, more eager to be heard, my breath responds, becoming deeper, more powerful.  The breath fills the space of mind chatter, still allowing them to pass by, but instead of becoming absorbed in them, I simply notice them and move on.  At times I tell the thoughts I will deal with them later, but later often never comes.  The yoga has done my thoughts.

Breathe.

The breath is often not the first thing we learn in the yoga classes of today, taught in athletic clubs and personal training studios, however the breath is the key to yoga.  Learn it and embrace it.  A wise teacher once said to me that without the breath yoga is simply gymnastics. This stuck with me and acts as a guide both on and off the mat, for without our breath we cease to be.

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Reflection and Regret

Part of being human is to think on the past.  Sometimes this entails happiness, sometimes sadness, and sometimes, regret.

regret (verb): to be very sorry for

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I have gone through long periods of time, years, regretting missing out on life, wishing I had turned left instead of right, and regretting the development of an eating disorder.  I would think “if only I hadn’t decided to stop eating,” “if only I had said yes instead of no,” and I wonder what would be different.  Would life be as I had pictured at age 29?  Married, a family, a perfect job?  Who and what would I be?

This regret only  acted to fill up a gaping  empty space and my mind became stuck in a vicious cycle of negative thinking, a cycle that left room for little else.  Regret only breeds more regret.

Over the past couple years as my yoga practice has developed, as I’ve grown into my body, and allowed other avenues of life to fill my space, these feelings of regret have mysteriously lessened.  Reflections on the past have shifted from sadness and loss to  feelings of gratitude.  I am a believer in some forms of fate, and perhaps I have been dealt the life I have because fate knew I would be able to face these trials and at some point find grace in turning them around to ultimately help others.  While I believe in events of fate, our reactions to these events are of our own choosing.

Of course pangs of regret still appear, but when I notice their presence I react by questioning them and act to reframe my thinking.  The energy of thought is much better spent in a positive mindset than a negative one!  The more you can practice this the more it will flow naturally into your life; effortlessly.

The next time you notice yourself getting into one of these mindsets, acknowledge what you are thinking or feeling without judgement and without a reaction.  View these thoughts as if they are streaming on a marquee and only them begin to ask yourself these questions:

Why do I think this thought is here?

What are my choices to react to this thought?

What will benefit me in the long run?

How can I reframe my thinking?

Is there a way to find gratitude in what I am feeling or experiencing?

These are only a few ideas of ways you can begin to question yourself.  I strongly encourage you to try them out!

Love and light,

Hannah

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Song of the Soul

I am neither ego not reason, I am neither mind nor thought,
I cannot be heard nor cast into words, nor by smell nor sight ever caught:
In light and wind I am not found, nor yet in earth and sky -
Consciousness and joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I.

I have no name, I have no life, I breathe no vital air,
No elements have moulded me, no bodily sheath is in my lair:
I have no speech, no hands and feet, nor means of evolution -
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss in dissolution.

I cast aside hatred and passion, I conquered delusion and greed;
No touch of pride caressed me, so envy never did breed:
Beyond all faiths, past reach of wealth, past freedom, past desire,
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is my attire.

Virtue and vice, or pleasure and pain are not my heritage,
Nor sacred texts, nor offerings, nor prayer, nor pilgrimage:
I am neither food, nor eating, nor yet the eater am I -
Consciousness and joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I.

I have no misgiving of death, no chasms of race divide me,
Nor parent ever called me child, no bond of birth ever tied me:
I am neither disciple nor master, I have no kin, no friend -
Consciousness and joy am I, and merging in Bliss is my end.

Neither knowable, knowledge, nor knower am I, formless is my form,
I dwell within the senses but they are not my home:
Ever serenely balanced, I am neither free nor bound -
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is where I’m found.

~Author unknown – taken from B.K.S Iyengar’s LIGHT ON YOGA.

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Beauty

Last night I came across an article on CNN about a new exhibit, “Beauty Culture,”  at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.  This got me thinking about the ever-so-popular topic of beauty and its definitions and how that has changed throughout time, evolving in the media to standards that are almost impossible to achieve by ordinary means.

Taking a step back lets look at the definition of beauty according to Mr. Merriam-Webster:

: the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit

 Society sells beauty, yet at the same time if you read between the lines the same people who are selling beauty never want you to achieve it.  If you actually felt beautiful you might stop buying whatever product, idea, or program that was being sold.  Beauty is marketed as this elusive thing that if achieved will create the perfect life.  This, my friends, is a lie.  Perhaps as an adult some of us are aware of this, but I shudder in thought at the young minds of children, teens, and young adults who still buy  into this scheme.

As an overweight (yes I was!) child  I believed that if I could only be thin then I would be beautiful.  Worries, fears, and doubt would fade away and life would achieve an “ah” factor.  Several years were spent harboring these thoughts until I finally took action.  I began to lose weight, at first healthfully, resulting in  positive feedback from family and friends.  Suddenly I wasn’t such an outcast.  I thought that if only I could accelerate this process then what was good now would become even better.  So as a determined 13 year-old does I started to work-out for hours a day and basically stop eating.  Good idea? No.

I believed wholeheartedly that I could stop when I reached my goal weight, and while some people could perhaps do this, the switch had flipped and an eating disorder was born.  I was at last thin, but I don’t think that beauty even crossed my mind.  By that point I was too far gone to even be thinking about beauty.  Thus my plan backfired. Instead of feeling better I was more unhappy, lonely, and fearful than ever before.

The beauty that is sold to us through ads, merchandise, tv, music, and movies is elusive and a fallacy at best.  The achievement of it is perhaps a fleeting happiness, but then quickly consumed by the fear of loosing this “beauty.”  Countless women can speak to this and the destruction that it can place upon their lives ruining relationships, jobs, finances, and even at times taking a life.

Real beauty comes from within and isn’t something that can be bought, sold, used, or captured.  Perhaps you see it in the unaware child, the dog walking down the street or the leaves blowing int he wind. Maybe as a human you have experienced it when you least expected it; usually when we go looking for something so intently it isn’t found.

Instead of spending all your time on outer beauty take time to cultivate from within.  Send out gratitude, sit in silent meditation, or give a few moments of reflection each day.  It will be more than worth your time and energy.

How do you experience beauty?  Do you conform or do you have your own ideas?

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Duality

Recently one of my favorite website , the elephant journal, posed an opening blogging question on duality:

Do you recall a time when you allowed yourself to experience the “dark” side of an emotion in order to later experience the “light?” What dualities does your yoga practice bring to you? Does experiencing dualities on the mat serve as a guide to living through them in your life? Yoga teachers out there, can you give some insight into leading your students into this experience (and hopefully out the other side)?

I’ve often commented on my own tendencies (as well as societies) to definite things in a dualistic  manner, as black or white,however in truth little exists at these two extremes.  Life is not 100% one way  or another.  Life exists in the happy medium of grey.  I take for example my two loves, Othello and Winston, dualistic at the surface, but when you look closer you find that my black pug is not completely black (or pug!), and my white (or fawn) pug is not totally white.

The beauty of grey!

From an early age my understanding of life centered around a duality.  I was either accepted or not, fat or thin, happy or sad, stuffed or starving, full of energy or exhausted…the list goes on.  Was it impossible that I could live outside of these definitions and just be Hannah?  Did I really need to be bound by these words?

I believed these things for a long time.  Looking back over the years of school, works, relationships, and friends I find many examples of extremes in regards to what I was doing or who I thought I was.  Much of it didn’t come from inside and instead was dictated by the dualistic gods in my head.

As yoga became more and more a presence in my life I began to notice the subtleties of  these dualities I took on and questioned how or why I felt such a need to have them in my life.  The yin and yang of the yoga postures allowed me to be open to the physical feelings of extremes and the beauty that exists in the combination of the two, stifling my need to restrict to choice A or B.   A yoga practice that is too extreme in either way leaves me  feeling unbalanced and anxious.   My body asks for the calming variety of the yin and yang and it has become innate to answer with it.  This practice on the mat has slowly moved its way into my life and allowed me to experience both the dualities of emotions and experiences and I find comfort in knowing  that the balance exists in the experience of both.  I don’t need to define life or emotion as black or white.

If we never experience utter sadness, despair, loneliness, or fear how can we ever really know when we experience utter joy, love, and happiness?  If we never look into the dark we can’t ever see the light.  Life, contrary to what many strive for, doesn’t exist in the steady hum of machines, cars, and monotony.  We live in a cyclical universe and to pretend otherwise is to defy the laws of nature; only resulting in the chaos that is so prevalent in acceleration of global warming, the increases in mental illness, sickness, and obesity, as well as in the violence of war.

Open yourself to the freedom that is possible and innate to being alive; to being human.

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Divine Play

Think back to when you were a child.  School was out for the summer and nothing but endless hours of play stood before you.  The constraints of time were absent  and fear was a foreign concept.  Thus you could be found atop the highest tree in the neighborhood or balancing on logs spanning across a creek.  The worries of adulthood and intrusions of responsibility had yet to shatter your world.  You were able to play.

Another word for play is frolic.  To me this word evokes images of a deer bounding through a field full of high grasses and embodies the full meaning of what it feels like inside to play.

Childhood is over in the blink of an eye and play seems to fade to the background of life.  The growth, turmoil, and discomfort of the teenage years give way to adulthood and life becomes full of the constraints of responsibility.  Play?  It is gone.

This is where yoga enters the picture.  Yoga is the means by which you can again reclaim the joy that play brings.  Yoga is divine play.  The mat serves as a safe haven where you can move freely; allowing untapped emotion to come to the surface, and perhaps feel the same joy that you once felt as a child.

Often we come to the mat feeling that yoga is “just another workout” and at times feeling inadequate because we can’t do the pose “correctly.”  Perhaps we feel we aren’t “good” at yoga and stumble home after class discouraged and exhausted.  I want to challenge these ideas.  Although yoga has become a visual activity; the way the postures appear, the trendy clothing, the toned bodies, this is not what it is all about.  Yoga is an internal experience, feeling the alignment in your body, the release of emotion formally bound by fear.  This internal experience is play.  Feel the freedom of your mat.  Look silly in a pose or perhaps make up your own.  There are no rules.  Each day is different from the next and let your mind align with your body with this concept.

Next time you come to your mat do so with the intention of play, perhaps offering up your experience in a way to make it divine; divine play.

 

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What can gratitude do for you?

I am liking these definitions as of late…

Gratitude, as defined by Merriam-Webster

: the state of being grateful: thankfulness

and thus

Grateful

: appreciative of benefits received

How often do you offer out gratitude?  Do you offer it just for the big things or perhaps for the simple routine parts of life?  The person at the checkout line at the grocery store, the car letting you in, or the sun peeking through the clouds?  If you choose to look the possibilities to offer gratitude are everywhere.

Each time I come to my mat, sit in silent meditation, or practice becoming present in my breath, I offer out gratitude.  I offer out my energy and movement sometimes for a specific person or situation, or sometimes for myself and all that surrounds me.  Over time and with the strength of my intention  this offering of gratitude comes back tenfold and I find myself further down a path of life that is true to my authentic self.

This morning I came across an interesting web page that shows brain scans of people in different life situations and also brain scans pre and post gratitude.  Very telling!

These pictures are evidence of the immense power of positive thought and what the human brain is capable of.  This makes the mission of yogaServe all the more relevant to those who we will be offering our classes too:;women affected by domestic violence and trauma, those affected by mental illness and substance abuse, and children and teens in difficult life situations, as well as those seeking to empower themselves.

This Tuesday, June 21st is the summer solstice and as is often practiced a group will be coming together to practice 108 sun salutations.  We will be meeting near the central building at Goodale Park at 5:30 PM and moving to a grassy area to practice.  I am inviting all who are in the central Ohio area to come join us for this offering of gratitude and convergence of positive energy.  This will be a self-led practice, however if you need a quick refresher I will be more than happy to help.  108 sun salutations is a lot and even if you don’t think you can complete it please join!  Bring your own mat and water!  It is supposed to be a hot one!

Why 108?  108 is a divine number and it has many meanings.  Read here for several of them.

I hope to see you all Tuesday!!!

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Flexibility

Flexibility, as defined by Merriam-Webster

: characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements 

This is something I think about a lot, be it in terms of mental flexibility, social flexibility, or physical flexibility.  We live in a society that encourages planning, schedules, living with every moment so full that there isn’t room for any give.  The slightest deviation in what is “supposed” to happen often sends people into a tirade manifesting so often as road rage, shouting matches, and angry words that while sounding harsh rarely have little meaning behind what is heard on the surface.  This inflexibility is equally manifest in the body showing up in the back, neck, and hamstrings as tight and bound muscles, or even more severely appearing as disease and sickness.

I used to characterize myself as a unflexible person, in all manners of life.  I did what I was supposed to do, college, work, grad school, more work, and as I have pointed out many times, I failed during those times to live my life and allow for the unexpected shifts in what is “supposed” to be.  This manifest greatly in my body both mentally and physically and aside from my two balls of fur I wasn’t a happy or fulfilled person.

Then I found yoga.

Yoga saved me.  I disproved my belief that I was inflexible, mentally and physically.  So many people often come to yoga telling me that they aren’t flexible, and rarely believe it when I tell them I wasn’t either when I began this journey.  I opened myself to allowing that space to develop and with slow and consistent effort it did.

Sunday marked the first time I got into the full splits, Hanumanasana.

To me this represents again, both mentally and physically, a certain opening within.  In a future post I will go into how to develop this asana, but I want to further discuss the endeavour, yogaServe.

I am currently in my 200-hour yoga teacher training and a couple of weeks ago one of my classmates, Jaime, came to me about a possible project to reach out and bring yoga to the underserved.  Since my experience working at Children’s Hunger Alliance I’ve always wanted to return to working with underserved populations and quite often the idea of bringing yoga to them has crossed my mind.  However the self-talk of “you can’t do this” has always won out and I’ve had never moved forward with it, until now.  The power and positive energy of the group has given this endeavour a different and exciting spin and with teamwork it seems in reach.

yogaServe is now it is beginning stages and we are setting up programming at a few sites in Columbus.  We are getting some mat donations from Manduka and have also purchased two giant rolls of yoga mats for us to cut and bring to the sites.  At this juncture we are asking for small donations, monetary to cover the cost of the yoga mat rolls, old yoga mats, or even positive energy! Anything will make a difference and the rewards through donating will comeback ten-fold.  We have a link on the yogaServe blog, but here is also a link to PayPal.

I will also be blogging at the yogaServe site so please add it to your regular list of blogs to read!

Love, light, and pugs!

Namaste!

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